Friday, September 25, 2015

My father Michael Time defined greatness itself.  He fought in the great war and created our modern society after the wars end.  The First Emperor, sometimes called the traveller because he claimed to have come from a faraway place.  I simply knew him as papa.

Eunichiwarr, my mother, and my father raised me not simply as the prince elect but as a man who must do his part when the sign appears in the sky.  That day has not yet come to pass so we wait for things to come.  My resolve is to remain prepared as my parents taught me.

A week ago my father transferred to me the emperorship.  Then he vanished.  Last night I found this letter on my bed:

"My son, the hour of the wheel draws near.  I have moved beyond this world to bring forth the next.  You have my promise that I will return.  Until then keep watching and waiting for me."

Without a doubt my father will return.  Until that blessed day I wait and watch.

-Alexander Time, second emperor

As always Ulysses Time remained stronger than his brother John.  Today he proved it yet again with a swift blow to John's left eye.  Still in boxing stance Ulysses looked upon the crumpled form of his twin, curled upon the floor in pain, clutching his face.

I hit my brother, but he deserved it! Thought Ulysses.  He felt a little thrill of both mischief and fear.  A sly grin briefly touched his face.

Serves him right though.  How could he say that the crown would separate the two of us?  It won't!  Twins always stay together.

Four other children, three girls and a small boy, stood at various places on the gymnasium floor.  Among them was Ulysses' wife Hiwrathia  who placed the back of her hand over her eyes and groaned "Not again."

Their assigned exercise instructor, a tall, thin man who was not yet middle aged charged onto the gymnasium floor.  The instructor called out,  "Do I hear you two fighting again?"

John Time rose up, his eye already healed from the fast recovery typical for princes.  Mother does not like to see bruises, thought Ulysses.

Once more the instructor demanded, "Do I hear you two fighting?"  He looked from one brother to the next with his hands on his hips.n Ulysses lowered his head but retained a smirk on his face.

"Yes" answered John as he slammed two fists into the instructor's side.  The older man flew into the air landing like a rag doll on the gymnasium's hard wooden floor.

Ulysses chuckled, "Nice one brother."

"John!" Yelled his wife, Amy Time.  " could have killed him."

"Maybe" said John.  Then, moving like lightning, John's face appeared inches away from Ulysses, his fist looming close behind.

Bloody hell, thought Ulysses as a flower of pain exploded from his nose. He caught a glimpse of Hiwrathia's shocked face from the corner of his eye.  

"Now I call it even, brother," said John.

Amy walked up to John.  She placed her small hand on his shoulder.  "Ulysses you despot!  Why did you hit my husband?"

Despot, thought Ulysses.  Her vocabulary has grown. More weapons for that sharp tongue!

"He must have had his reasons" Hiwrathia replied.

Ulysses quickly shook his nose between his thumb and index finger.  The damage had already healed.  Princely regeneration they call it.

"Don't worry. He cannot hurt me," said John, touching his wife's hand with his own.  They briefly smiled at each other.

Johnny would play more without Amy.  Why do we have to be stuck with wives anyway?  Always meddling in our business.  Ulysses spat crudely onto the gymnasium floor in protest of his brothers display of affection.  Take that!

Hiwrathia suddenly stood and folded her arms over her chest.  "Disgusting, Uli."

Ulysses face blushed slightly.  He did not wish to be shamed by his own wife, especially in front of his brother. Defiantly he exhaled loudly through his nose.

John Time, ever the confident leader, disengaged from his wife's embrace and dropped into one of the gymnasium seats. He rested his hand on the neighboring seat.

What's he playing at now?

John's gaze fell on the small boy.  The child wordlessly traced circles on the floor with his index finger.  William Wolffe despite his obvious mental differences showed great promise as a military prodigy.

"Billy there", said John.  The child's head raised up in recognition.  "For now, small and weak, neither strong nor fast.  One day soon a ferocious soldier."

Ulysses squatted down, hugging his knees.  "Your point?"

"Think!  Little Billy already has kingship.  The Cerverus - just a matter of time with those guys.  Yet he is not the great King nor will he ever be."

"Hey!" Shouted the younger girl, Kaitland Wolffe.

Ulysses stood and raised a hand.  "Don't worry Katy. I think he wants to gloat over being the favored one.  He wants to be emperor after Father.  Right Johnny?"

"Not precisely.  My point comes down to the fact that our world view remains very small.  We only know each other and some of the nobility.  Our lives must consist of more than just this."

Ulysses stood silent for a moment, then he smirked.  "Brother you take that  more to life rubbish, and I will take the Emperorship.   Then you can wait on my every whim."

Ulysses felt very pleased with himself.  Johnny you would make a fine servant indeed!

"You know full well that Father left instructions for both of us to rule.  We have no contests," said John.

An uncomfortable silence ensued.  A soft voice broke the tension.  "I call John a weakling.  He could never be emperor!" blurted Hiwrathia.

John raised an eyebrow. "Oh?" He asked.

"That's right!" Said Kaitland.

My wife knows  that Father all but named John for the crown.  If Father had not insisted that we both become emperor it would be him alone.  Hiwrathia and her ambition.  She stirred Katy up too.  Blast it all!

Caught up in the excitement, knowing better,  yet unable to think of anything else to do, Ulysses addressed his brother, "Tomorrow brings my fifteenth birthday!  Tomorrow I shall be king!  Me, not you John."

John Time rolled his eyes and shook his head.  Amy seethed but said nothing.

With a haughty chin and proud eyes, Hiwrathia took her husband Ulysses by the arm and escorted him from the training room.  Immediately Ulysses regretted every harsh word he had spoken to his brother.

Even if Johnny lost the crown to me, like my big talk back there, it must not separate us.  Twins stay together.  Always together.

Unexpectedly Ulysses found himself falling forward, striking the ground painfully.  His wife lost her footing and tumbled on top of him, another painful blow.

"Well well brother.  So strong but not very fast.  Much like your wit!" Said John.

Wincing, Ulysses righted himself and helped Hiwrathia to her feet.  My twins speed matches my strength, thought Ulysses.

"You're mean Johnny!" Shouted Hiwrathia.

Ignoring his sister-in-law, John walked around Ulysses at a distance.  "Tomorrow you will lose, brother.  King John sounds like a wonderful title.  I look forward to you serving all my meals and drawing my baths."

Before Ulysses could respond a loud scream echoed from the gymnasium.  All three of them ran towards the source of the noise.

What now?  

In the gymnasium Amy and Kaitland attended William who was in some distress.  "What's wrong Billy?" Asked Amy.

The child pointed to the heap of clothes and flesh where their instructor he fallen.  "Johnny I think you killed him" said Ulysses.  

An unnatural cracking sound came from the body of the instructor.  His limbs moved in directions that  arms and legs should never move.  "Ancestors Above!" Whispered Hiwrathia.

John was silent.  We will find ourselves in a lot of trouble for this, thought Ulysses.

The instructors bones continued to pop and crack until the torso lifted.  Amazingly the legs moved into place by going backwards. The spine twisted around, and the arms rotated as the bones broke and reset into new positions.

"No way!" Said Amy.  

The man standing before them looked nothing like their instructor.  His skin was dark with a shock of black hair interspersed with feathers to give the appearance of additional height.  The man wore no shirt but his loins were covered by an elaborate turquoise and jade kilt.  A turquoise belt fit around his waist and fell to a length just below the kilt.

By instinct the two youngest, Kaitland and William pulled away from the group, assuming combat stances.  This is why Father allows us to roam freely without guards.  My half siblings, so young yet they already show enough ferocity to earn the rank of werewolf, thought Ulysses.

Undeterred the strange man stepped forward, revealing his most striking feature:  a turquoise nose guard that resembled a blue hump and two jade loops around each eye.

A mask! Thought Ulysses.

"Nonsense," said the masked man in a booming voice.

John Time moved his half siblings aside to address the masked man.  "What do you mean nonsense?  Just who are you?"

Brother, you should learn to be more subtle, thought Ulysses.

The masked man crossed his mighty arms over a barrel chest.  "My name is Chalaan Balaan.  Once I crowned your grandfather, Upsilon Time, as emperor.  You will not see me again."

Strange how he pronounces our grandfathers name, thought Ulysses. Even Father says it as Youp-sil-on.  

"So what nonsense do you speak of?" John demanded.

Chalaan Balaan unclasped his muscular arms from about his chest and reached behind his back.  He produced a rope beaded with three skulls. "An uncle...your aunts.  The folly of an old man brought them to this state."

"Ancestors!  What's the meaning of this?" Asked Ulysses.  Kaitland and William moved forward, ready to attack at a moment's notice.

Throwing the grisly rope at John's feet, Chalaan Balaan said "This world thrives on child sacrifice.  The Emperor does not share power.  Nor shall you."

John had a look of absolute horror on his face.  "Wrong!  My father would never abandon his family!  He will pass the crown to both of us."

He would not!  Father loves his family even more than his own life:  even those two half squirts.

"Only one may be emperor" said Chalaan Balaan, holding up his finger.  "Only one.  The other must die."

"What?" Cried both twins at the same time.

I will never leave my brother, thought Ulysses.

"By law, your father must decide who dies by testing you. I know he will refuse that burden out of love for you."

Kaitland stomped her foot.  "You better believe it! Father will not do anything to harm his family."

"That's right" said John.

A grave look came upon the face of Chalaan Balaan.  "Sadly that is why you children must decide for him."

"Ancestors above!  You must be joking" said Ulysses.  There is no way.  No way!

Pointing to the grisly necklace at John's feet Chalan Balaan said "if those skulls could talk they would beg you to reconsider."

John kicked the skulls away.

Chalan Balaan continued, "What your father will never tell you, I shall. Your grandfather resisted too.  The dragons came and took his family away.  His wife, his children, the Cerverus, the Iysht, everyone.  When he pursued them the Gorgons dragged him away to hell."

Not going to happen, Ulysses steeled his resolve.  

"I don't believe you!" John said.

Calmly Chalaan Balaan plucked the feathers woven throughout his hair.  "Six white feathers.  Six black feathers. If the father cannot decide, the children must.  Or the dragons will come and destroy everything."

The large man turned and began to walk away.   Suddenly he stopped and turned.  "One more thing.  The survivor will face Typhoeus, the beast with six heads and Loki, the false prophet before the coming of the abomination of desolation.  Perhaps the dead twin has the greater luck."

Chalaan Balaan turned and vanished.

For a moment the room was quiet.  Then a single overwhelming thought filled Ulysses head.  Alone.  His heart sank.

Ulysses ran to John and embraced him.  "I cannot leave you brother!  Father rightly chose you for Emperor.  Take my life instead."

"No" said John.  "We will consult Father.  I don't care even if the Weilkonsalj return in their ships, nothing will part us!"


Veronica Zendova felt the warm touch of the man holding her left hand and the woman holding her right hand.  Their heads were bowed in silent prayer.

Safe, thought Veronica.  For now I feel safe and home with my only family.

A voice boomed through the room.  "Oh Transcendent Lord!  We the faithful remnant who rely on you in these desperately wicked times seek you.  We come to you with our hearts purified.  We seek your blessing.  Receive us Oh Lord!"

Veronica and all the others opened their eyes and chanted "So be it."

Thank you Cardinal Gaius, thought Veronica as the owner of the voice resolved into a wizened old man wearing a red robe.  Cardinal Gaius began pacing back and forth on the pulpit.

"Some one hundred and twenty six years ago Hortense the first predicted that the prophesied Man of Sin would assume the throne.  Edgar Time began persecuting the church almost immediately." Said Cardinal Gaius

At the very mention of the name Edgar Time, Veronica felt her gorge rise up.  Disgusting old emperor!  I wish I could kill him.  Why didn't Master give me that particular duty?

Cardinal Gaius continued, "In a series of purges the Evil One exterminated most of our holy church, including founder Hortense.  Praise that his son survived those awful times.  Praise for the enlightenment of his grandson."

"Praise the master" spoke the congregation in a rhythmic chant.

My master, Hortense the third, thought Veronica.  To think that he found me, a mere slip of a girl, and that he chose me.  Me.

A second man clothed in red stepped onto the podium.   He was dark skinned with curly salt and pepper hair.  Cardinal Xavier, thought Veronica.

"Praise the Master indeed" said Cardinal Xavier, clapping his gloved hands.

A third Cardinal and a white robed man walked onto the stage.  "Please be seated Horatio" said the man in white.  The cardinal bowed and sat with the others.  

The man in white sprouted a long beard.  His skin a rich brown and his hair deepest jet.  And finally, Bishop Sanders, thought Veronica,

"May the Penthort take their seats" said the Bishop.

Veronica sat along with a couple to her left and a second couple to her right.  She and the other four robed themselves in black with hoods covering their faces to conceal their identities from the congregation.  

"Our Master was taken by the Evil One as a child.  His family and the entire church put to death in the most horrific manner," said Bishop Sanders.

"Woe on that sad day!" Said Cardinal Xavier.

Veronica briefly shifted in her seat to adjust her robe.  The five symbolically naked under their black robes to represent purity and having an open heart before their God.  In theory devout, in practice a rather uncomfortable business.

"It was in the hellish castle of the Evil One that our Master transcended." Said the Bishop.

"Praise the holy transcendance!" Said Cardinal Horatio.

"He touched the face of God!  He is the chosen  one!" Said the Bishop.

My chosen one, thought Veronica.

Bishop Sanders motioned to a thin, bearded man with spectacles.  "Transcendent Lord on High" said the spectacled man.

The congregation began singing:

Oh Transcendent Lord on High
Let Your blessings flow
Through the darkest night
Your mercy reaches here below

Shining like a star
Your glory leads the way
Each and every day
We extol the wonder you are

With my Lord so near
Darkness will assail
I have naught to fear
I have naught to fear

The spectacled man raised his hand, closed it into a fist, then opened his hand and made a chopping motion.  

"Ladies and gentlemen we will now break for food and refreshment." Said Bishop Sanders.

Veronica accepted food from a young girl who appeared about eight years old.  A boy of similar age provided her drink.  During each service two random youths received the honor of serving the Penthort.

Cardinal Horatio walked down from the podium to the altar.  "Do the refreshments please you, my Lords and Ladies Penthort?" He asked. The five nodded somberly.

Veronica finished the small meal quickly, as did the others.  Cardinal Horatio nodded sternly.  The youths collected the glasses, food crumbs and napkins.  The man on her left put his arm around her shoulder and whispered, "Ronnie, the man in the back with the blue shirt - a new convert.  Samantha and I won another soul."

"Gerald what fantastic news!" Veronica whispered back.

Inwardly Veronica cringed.  The Penthort serve as the missionary arm of the church.  Instead of winning souls to the cause I build an abomination.  I should do more for my Master than this!

The cardinals and the Bishop walked back into the stage.  "Hala Master!" Exclaimed Bishop Sanders.

A middle aged man, balding and overweight walked through the crowd.  He wore a simple white tunic belted at the waist, with a white open robe.  Hands from all over the congregation reached out to touch him.  

Voices called to him, "Master!  Master!"

"Hala!"called out the Penthort as he walked by.  My Master, Veronica thought with all the fondness in her heart.

Hortense began speaking even before reaching the podium, "The Evil executed my grandfather and my father left us far too early.  I tell you the truth!  I shall never die!"

Hands raised into the air.  "Hala" and "Master" sounded off.

"I bring eternal life!  I bring salvation!  I tell you the truth."  

Hortense suddenly went silent.  He turned towards a young couple who waiting beside the Bishop.  The couple held hands and the wife clasped a small blanket.  "Brother and Sister Montrose, please step forward" said Hortense.  The couple approached, uncertainty in their eyes.  "Why are you here?" Asked Hortense.  Sister Montrose began to cry.

"Master, our son, we found him born dead.  We had hoped-" said brother Montrose.

"Hand me the child my dear," said Hortense.n Sister Montrose gave the blanket containing the stillborn body to Hortense.  He began to coo and talk to it.  An aura of light began to surround Hortense.  

The lightest cry sounded from within the blanket.  He handed it back to Sister Montrose.

"Revival in the body.  Eternal life.  I bring you the way during these darkest of times." Said Hortense.  Sister Montrose peeled the blanket back to reveal a living baby boy.  The congregation exploded into loud cheering.

"Greater is he who is with me than he who is in darkness," said Hortense.  He took a small pastry from a tray left over from the meal and wrapped both of his hands around it.  Once more his body glowed with power.  He opened his hands revealing not one but two pastries.  Those he handed to the people on either side of him.  "Do you believe that the Man of Sin will go unchecked forever?  Do you truly believe that I can overcome the darkness?"

"I believe" whispered Veronica.

Hortense stood up and smashed his fist against his palm.  "I tell you the truth!  Even the least among us here is more powerful than this false Emperor!"  Raising his hand as if brandishing a sword the Hortense proclaimed:  "The Emperor is weak!"  

Cheers greeted his boastful words.

"Those who practice his religion are weak!  Their so called God lies on the brink of his death.  Only those who follow me shall be saved.  For I am the son of our Lord, of whom First Emperor predicted millennia ago.  As my power grows so will yours!"  A wild cacophony of shouts and cheers resounded throughout the room.

Standing up, Veronica spoke softly with tears in her eyes.  I love you

The Master turned and said gently "I know".

The power of eternal life, salvation, miracles, and the transformation of the world, thought Veronica.

"Master" said the Bishop, "Master if I might ask so boldly, how will the evil one finally get vanquished after all these years?"

Hortense was silent for a moment.  He lifted his head, saying nothing.  Veronica, knowing what was to come, hung her head for shame.  Hortense closed his eyes and said "Within his castle the Man of Sin will give life to the abomination, a living statue, and make free men bow to it.  The statue sees the future so we call it the Oracle."

Veronica felt her cheeks burn.  Most of my life spent creating that horror!

Opening his eyes Hortense said "The Oracle knows it's master has no future!   Edgar Time hopes that the Oracle will lead him to the First Emperor, and it will.  However First Emperor will break the conceit of the Man of Sin.  One of Edgar Times eyes shall it put out."

May that blessed day come soon!  Thought Veronica.

"I tell you the truth!  That day rises upon us!  Edgar Time shall live no more but we will live the glorious millennium under First Emperor and His son, Hortense Time!"  

Shouts and praises burst into the air.  Veronica felt herself leaping for joy.

A loud cry interrupted the crowd.  All eyes turned to the pulpit where Bishop Sanders had torn his shirt off.  "Shadow Emperor!" He yelled.

Like the calls of a colony of raucous birds the words "Shadow Emperor" resounded everywhere.  

Veronica glowed inwardly.  Oh Master we shall prevail even against the very gates of hell itself!


Late morning broke over the pyramidal shapes of the ancient castle riding up from the heart of an ancient city where the Time family had ruled the worlds for many generations.  Deep inside the castle interior sat the emperor, Edgar Time, a short blonde haired man who appeared to be in middle age.  An impatient tapping arose from the massive golden throne and as Edgar Time lowered his gaze to the source he stopped in wonder, not for the first time, to look upon the imperial ring.  The ring had only one side which seemed to inexplicably penetrate itself, producing the illusion that the emperors small right hand finger was tied in a knot.

The ring, the book, the crown, Edgar Time thought to himself.

"Visor, make ready the court," Edgar said coldly.  My son's birthday arrives tomorrow and I am eager to see them.

A short, brown skinned man wearing a long black robe with white sequins stepped towards the throne.  The Vizier bowed.  "Yes Emperor."

"Bring them."

The Vizier brought a metal cane from his robe, tapped the hard floor three times slowly.  The sound echoed like a bell.  The large throne room doors opened without a sound.

From outside the door a herald called out, "Lord First and Lord Second of the Iysht."

Blasted noisemaker, thought Edgar.  All this ceremony for a simple meeting wastes my time.

A tall, clean shaven man with pale skin strode in  with a swarthy man if robust build sprouting a goatee.  Both men wore the white uniforms of the Iysht. Edgar's own uniform was similar with a blend of blacks, whites and gold.

"Gilbert, how fare my sons in learning the noble arts as they should?" Said Edgar

The thin man bowed.  "My Emperor, to be blunt, sometimes I am uncertain if Ulysses or Hiwrathia instigate the greater mischief.  Despite their best efforts to the contrary, both have done well in their studies."

Edgar grinned and stroked his short, blonde beard.  "Your daughter found a formidable ally in mischief.  Beware Ulysses when things seem quiet.  He plots you know."

Both Iysht lords laughed.

"Zeus Ramirez, your daughter does she keep my Johnny out of trouble as well?"

"Definitely Sire," replied the robustly built man.

"As if I could believe that!" Said Edgar.  All three men laughed heartily.

My dear sons.  Twin boys, twin emperors, thought Edgar.

Gilbert Fontaine coughed once, covered his mouth with a fist.  "In other business Sire, the Athad war goes unwell.  Rebels have overwhelmed the regimes positions everywhere." He said.

Fie! Erstilz knows better than this.  On his head if those rebels win, thought Edgar.

"Their government has eligibility for Werewolf support if they like.  However if the regime loses to usurpers  the new government must pay taxes for at least two years.  Inform both sides my mind in this."

The Iysht Lords bowed.  "Your will Sire!"

Edgar stood up.  "My other two, Katy and Billy, have they performed their duties well?"

Zeus Ramirez began to speak at the same time as Gilbert Fontaine.  Fontaine nodded for the other man to speak.

"My Emperor the Wolffe children fare very well in all achievements.  In fact Katy got her first blood."

"Oh?  Do tell."

"A lone man managed to enter the castle with a knife.  She sensed him waiting in a service tunnel and engaged in combat.  Her kick nearly eviscerated the poor fellow.  We never told the poor girl he died later from the wound."

Impressive, my daughter, thought Edgar.

"Very well.  I think the time has come for me to  speak to her mother.  Please have Visor send her in."bbThe Iysht Lords bowed and turned away.

Sometimes I have a strange longing for that woman, thought Edgar.  Unusual considering how unattractive I find non-Iysht females.

The Vizier tapped his cane three times again and the herald called out, "Lady Third, The Mistress Kodotova!"

A very fit woman with brunette hair approached.  She wore the brown camouflage uniform of any werewolf ranked soldier.  Unlike all but two other soldiers she wore the three roped sash of Cerverus rank on her left side.

Kodotova kneeled on one knee, bowed her head and stated simply, "Bayah."

Edgar returned the endearment, "Beydan."

Kodotova stood.  A cap kept most of her hair in check but wispy strands escaped.  Edgar longed to touch her hair, to run his fingers around the contours of her slim neck and delicate facial features.  Blazes, he thought.  

"Beydan I hear that our daughter stands out as quite the protectress."

Kodotova shook her head.  "Scoring first blood at Katy's age earns little merit.  Then again the life of a common soldier lies outside her lot in life."

"I should think not!" Said Edgar.  "For her the three strands at least."

"That remains to be seen.  Billy will have them without a doubt."

I love them both - especially my only daughter, thought Edgar.  They mean more to me than simply my obligation to the army to provide Cerverus leaders.  Edgar scratched his nose.  Not to mention their exquisite mother!  Not a queen, but a nice comfort for me nonetheless.

"Time is short today" said Edgar.  Ever the loyal soldier, Kodotova saluted.

"That fool, Erstilz of the Athad all but lost his little war.  I want you to arrange for the rebellion to be put down.  Then deliver Erstilz to me in chains."

"As you command Beyah."

Edgar felt his stomach lighten.  "Also, and. Uhm too long has passed since we had a night.  If you like I can ask Prypiata for one."

"If the Queen gives me a night I will not turn it down." Said Kodotova.

"Very fine.  I will try to get Katy and Billy to spend the night with the boys so we remain unbothered."

Kodotova smiled quickly before returning to her usual businesslike manner.  "Now get along and have the next two brought in."  Edgar said.'nThat was pleasant.   The rest won't be, he thought.

The triple thump of the Viziers cane sounded again.  "Lord Fourth, Aaron Patel and Lord Fifth, Richard Alvarez of Iyex Venrys" announced the herald.

The Vizier came forward accompanied by a dark man with a striking moustache. Both men approached the throne, bowing deeply.  "Magus, is there any activity on Iyex that threatens the peace of the Edict?" Said Edgar.

"No my King" responded the moustached man, Aaron Patel.

"Then I offer you my apologies for being curt gentlemen.  The next visitor has information that is vital to me."

"As you wish Great King" said Patel.  The Lords from Iyex Venrys left.

Good old Magus Aaron, he has never let me down, thought Edgar.v Again the Viziers cane rapped three times.  Thank the stars, this is the last visitor!

"Lady Sixth, Veronica Zendova"

Ulysses sat on the throne again.  Kid you better have good news he thought as he tapped his ring angrily.  A woman in her mid fourties wearing a white lab coat entered the throne room, along with a younger man similarly attired.  They bowed before Edgar.  "Well?" He asked.

The man accompanying Veronica went pale.  Edgar noted this thinking, good thing Ronnie is made of sterner stuff.  She manages these weaklings better than myself.  What would I do without her?

Veronica met his eyes.  "Sire, the delays still continue."

Yes, the waif girl we rescued on Journey's End was the right choice.  No one else could build it.  However the project has taken so very long.  Gazing upward emperor Edgar looked over them in annoyance.  He spoke gruffly.  "A century to build this.  A century!  And the bloody thing will not work. Fie!."

"We know that all too well Sire," said Veronica.

Watch that sharp tongue girl!  My patience has limits even for you.

The pale engineer added:  "Dread sovereign, since my grandfather accepted your charter many years ago my family has lived only to serve you.  However Great Majesty we cannot progress without more data.  The Armageddon Lord cannot distinguish your DNA from that of your ancestor."

"Useless!" Said Edgar smashing his fist into his palm.  "The entire valley trench covered, no littered, with the monuments and tombs of my ancestors.  Then my father made the great face.  The blasted thing clearly visible from space!  I must surpass Father's monument.  We must complete the Armageddon Lord!"

Yes, the Armageddon Lord, thought Edgar as he looked upon the creation that would mark his legacy through the ages.  The Armageddon Lord stood in the throne room like a statue of a man, carved from the finest white marble, it's right arm outstretched and index finger pointing resolutely at the Emperor.  

My finest creation, my greatest failure.  All those years mining the blacklight clouds on Journeys end. All for nothing!

Veronica spoke firmly,   "Sire, we need more data to proceed .  As you know the Armageddon Lord has given false positives for yourself and both of your sons."

"I know" said Edgar.  You have no idea how difficult it is to obtain that data.

"Perhaps there are more artifacts with DNA from the First Emperor?  Anything helps." Said Veronica.

"No promises.  I will see what can progress on the DNA, if anything," said Edgar.

A loud knock resounded on the doors of the throne room.  The Vizier entered.  He ran to the Emperor's side and spoke softly into Edgar's ear.  "Sire the Vicar requests a private audience."

"Thank you Visor.  Perhaps I have missed too many sermons" Edgar replied with a sly wink.  "Send him into the reception room."

The vizier motioned to the door attendant who opened the two grand throne room doors admitting the emperor's guest.  Edgar turned to Veronica.  "That does not mean we stop searching for Armageddon Lord prediction capabilities Ronnie.  Now go."

Veronica and her associate bowed and left.  The Vizier escorted them away.  The Vicar passed them on his way in.  He wore a purple robe and a large bejeweled neckpiece.  Surprisingly the vicar was a handsome young man despite many stories of his deeds from distant years ago.  "My lord.." He began to say.

"Come" Edgar said to the vicar, motioning by waving his arm as he left the throne and began to move toward the private reception room. Once inside the reception room Edgar bid the Vicar to take a seat at the meeting table.  "What do you have to say that cannot wait until my son's birthday?"  Edgar asked in a weary voice .

"Lord Emperor, holy Gemenii calls you out by name:  HORTENSE!  Your hour has come!" Said the Vicar.

Edgar's countenance fell as if physically struck.  For a moment his right hand touched his check only to fall limply at his side.  No!  It is too soon.

"You already knew my true name Vicar.  By what right do you invoke it here in my house?"

The Vicar nodded towards a shimmering near the wall.  Invisibility cloak.  A faint, ghostly figure of a man stepped out into the room.  Edgar Time recognized him instantly:  Hortense the shadow emperor.

"Gemenii himself commanded it.  We have much to do, you and I" said Hortense.

"That must make you very happy" said Edgar. The stark price of Emperorship:  non negotiable child sacrifice. Tomorrow a son will die if they get their way.

"I receive no pleasure from this.  Like Oden at the well you must lose much to gain ultimate knowledge." Said Hortense.

No!  They will not die.  Gemenii will not take them.  The twin emperors will rise. Nothing in this world will stop me from protecting my boys.

"The Princes will required testing.  Testing by you, the Emperor.  We must ensure the succession" said the Vicar.

After some time Edgar spoke.  "Hortense will perform his duty.  Tell your master that."  The Vicar nodded.

"He's lying you know" said Hortense.

With a pained look in his eyes Edgar said "Now get out."  The last word was spat out even more harshly than intended.

As the red satin drapes of the reception room fell back into place with the closing of the door Edgar turned his gaze towards the floor.  Silently he thought to himself Some crimes remain unforgivable even when necessary.  I will not kill my own children.

The debriefing with the vicar completed, Edgar walked into the throne room. He felt mechanical like a clock winding down, ticking away the final hours until one of his sons would be no more.

"Summon the high court!" Edgar commanded the Vizier.

Within minutes Zeus Ramirez and Gilbert Fontaine ran into the throne room.  "What is this urgency Sire?" Asked Fontaine.

Edgar spoke with finality "Gentlemen, my time draws near. A new emperor will be decided tomorrow.  You will immediately bring my sons here.  Additionally take both of your daughters to the empress's private chambers.  You are to say nothing, reveal nothing.  Simply carry out my orders."

"Yes Majesty!" Both men replied.

"One more thing" Edgar added.  "We activate William tonight.  I want him brought to me after the appointment with my sons."

"It shall be done" first minister Fontaine promised.

Twin Emperors, Edgar Time thought to himself soothingly.  The Armageddon Lord holds the key to their survival.

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