Chapter 8 Exeunt and Enter The Nocturnes of Kaustir could feel a growing sign. The blood tasted sour. Though connected under the desert moon, the sometimes cloudy Chersonese severed them from each other. An ill omen for the superstitious. In the complete darkness, a rectangle of light streamed from a door ajar and at the end of infinity dimly bisected an obsidian coffin. The Czar was ready for death, but was taking a moment to pass on his last words. Into the pristine room Lut Sar intruded with billowing sand and harsh footsteps. The clip of his boots rang forever before stopping in front of his monarch. He dropped into the deepest of bows. "You knew." "I did. But this was not my doing. I am only guilty for not doing anything." The Czar's sunken eyes swiveled to transfix his Inquisitor. "Why?" "Succession under your rule is impossible, Des'Sun." Lut Sar fought back the tears. "I love you. You adopted me. But Kaustir also adopted me, Burning One. How can I fail both?" "I will give the people a tyrant. And from the ashes of your death, your successor will be forged." He swiped the blood from his eyes. "Are you afraid, my Sun?" "No." The Czar struggled to turn his head to him. Though his eyes dulled with the veil of death, something still boiled underneath. They grasped hands. "I own this death, I return its gaze and will not falter. This, however, is a very sudden exit. I expected to die in the crush of battle, or a decrepit senile emperor ... not to Viridosian poison, planted in a whore." His eyes swiveled to regard the only other one in the room - Korsch, the slave that Nassad brought as tribute for the games that had selected Amalia as the people's first general. "Korsch. You serve Des'Sun, do you not?" "Correct." "Then your service shall continue." Upon the Czar's death Kaustir would consume itself in a frenzy of factional struggle. The ambitious engineers would take to the sky and rain bombs down upon Kirtin's army, numerous enough to become the bloody topsoil of Sunne. In the background the inquisition would conduct sly assassination and intrigue, poisoning any hope of Kirtin seizing power and stabilizing with his overwhelming force. Without a guiding effigy of vengeance, Kaustir would crumble. Nothing could be allowed to change. Lut Sar would perform one last, great magic trick. Il mago would face dance the Czar. Why had he never given his aux a name? Why were his talents so forgettable and unimpressive? Why had he forged his early life in the blood of war, sacrifice and love, then settled into the unrewarding backdrop of politics and bureaucracy? Why was he known by name more than face, by his connections rather his feats? He was a faceless creature. Only few could claim to have known him. Perhaps, in his selfish way, he had groomed Nu to remember him as a person, so someone would know that he existed. "Say 'hi' to Ilium for me." Every twelve hours Korsch refreshed the bowl of untouched blood at his side. "I will sacrifice one to help two." In dim memory, his tirade at Nu echoed in his mind. His knuckles whitened around the hilt of an obsidian blade. When Korsch had come and gone six times he began the ritual. The black glass slid from the Czar's ear to ear. Foul blood welled from the incision. "Even if it is myself ... " Lut Sar had never revealed his second advent. The Nocturne bureaucrat trained his hearing immaculately, faking the glow of advent light every time he pretended to eavesdrop. His aux was not a scarab, but a carrion beetle. Once in his life, he could discard his shell and infest a dead body, taking on its appearance, aux, and advents as replacements for his own. Only once. The Czar's body ruptured, and Aukhmos leapt from the corpse anew. In the rain of blood, Lukesh turned away from the gory, deflated corpse on the coffin and to the slave in the dark. "Korsch." "Yes, Des'Sun." "Bring me Chelena." The slave steadied the emaciated Czar. "There are matters of the 3rd Group to attend to, Czar." Lukesh-Lut gazed upon the discarded Wraith's mask. The oval piece of lacquered wood fit awkwardly on his face now. Lut would never again show his face on Sunne ... but he still existed in the mask. In this way Lut would continue to exist, and as one they would ensure Kaustir's stability. "Send an edict to the First and Second army groups. Tell them to prepare to move North. Then bring me Chelena." He flung the robes around him and departed in their swirling wake.