Decima lost her train of thought when the door burst open, dashing a naked servant against the wall. Blood trickled from his nose as he slowly sank down to the floor. A second servant nearby eyed him with concern, but she made no move to help. If he was weak, he would die.
Through the open doors raced Cardinal Severus Tyrannus. He dropped quickly to a knee, barely touching his fist to his forehead or his knee to the ground before springing to his feet with an open mouth.
“Does this boy irk you so much, Severus?”
Severus turned beet red and snapped his jaw shut, clearly rethinking whatever it was he was going to say. Before he could regroup, the Lord Tenth rose and turned to face him. Under that relentless gaze, the red drained from Severus’ face.
From her vantage point Decima could see but a profile of the church’s intimidating patriarch, with his angular nose and pointed jaw. His head was covered with a fuzz of close-cropped grey hair, neatly and practically trimmed. Anything less would be inefficient; anything more a waste of Apollyon’s time. He had a long face with pronounced, nearly concave temples that seemed to pulse with blood whenever he fixed his dark brown, nearly black eyes upon you. Although approaching seventy years of age, his skin had not begun to wrinkle so much as stretch across his bony features, like protruding sinews on a hungry animal. And why not? Eating was as much a waste of time as grooming – requirements of his mortal body that he tolerated moreso than indulged. Indeed, with his unfailing diet of boiled potatoes and dry bread, the Lord Tenth was utterly, without doubt, the most humorless person Decima had ever met.
Having overcome the obvious slight of addressing him without his title, Severus found his tongue and explained his grievance, “This, this… ANT has declared himself a Cardinal!”
“I am Sheppard to peoples from Dragon Isle to Le Marke – some of the most populous regions of the entire world! That includes Copo Deus Bay and the smugglers hold where this ant has established his base of operations!”
Standing there with his hands clasped behind his back and drawn up straight as a board, the Lord Tenth seemed much taller than he really was. “Tell me, Severus, do you know of a man named Ezra Cardon? Because he has stolen some of your sheep.”
Decima couldn’t help but flinch at the Tenth’s continued refusal to address Severus by his title. In this conversation it seemed that which was not said was spoken loudest of all.
Severus’ response was positively dripping with ambivalence, “Master, I am well aware who leads the Order of Storms, and he rules a tiny island, no bigger than the city of Le Marke. It is a weak religion for a weak god. I have chosen to focus my efforts on bigger prizes; my followers on Dragon Isle alone are countless.”
“Apollyon’s followers. And Nameless is small, but populous.”
“It is not my place to convert every fisherman, pirate, and salt wife on some remote island. We have friars for that kind of work, I am a cardinal!”
Decima swallowed hard as she watched the two men staring each other down – Severus, with eyes that seemed to be on fire, and the Tenth, with eyes that seemed to be made of stone.
“It seems there is one who would dispute your claim. Crush him.” With that peremptory dismissal, the Lord Tenth turned around and sat back down in his chair facing Decima. “In the meantime, I have sent funds to this An’Drow, to bolster his effort in Nameless. From what Cesnael tells me, it goes well. He has built a small city. Use this asset. You are dismissed.”
Severus remained for a few moments, trembling. Decima thought he might actually strike out at the Lord Tenth, who for his part did not even seem to notice that Severus still stood there. Then, without a word, Severus Tyrannus turned and skulked out of the room. However, before he could get to the door, the Tenth called to him, “Severus, one more thing.”
“Yes, ‘master’?” The mocking tone didn’t seem to faze the Tenth.
“Ants are very strong.”
Severus didn’t need to hear any more to know the conversation was over, so he departed as fast as grace would allow and the Tenth’s gaze turned back to Decima, “Now, Cardinal Decima, where were we? What is it that brings you all the way from Sol Povos to see me?”
Decima turned the small, dissolvable pill over in her hand, thoughtfully eyeing the unadorned glass of water that had been unattended these last few minutes. This had been an interesting visit – a very interesting visit. She had never been to Nameless. Slipping the pill back up her sleeve into its secret pouch, she answered her superior, “Just a simple pilgrimage, my Lord. To visit the ancient church, study in its archives, and partake in your sagely wisdom.”
By: Mike, 02/18/13