Eteri waited with bated breath for the Zalethi to strike her as well. Instead, she turned to address the assembly at the dining table.
“I expect better for the year to come. Those who will fall short will have to answer to me personally. I hoped that was clear enough but once again, I have to take care of flowers with my own hands…”
Her silence stated the end of the dinner and of every ceremony. Outside, the twilight crept around with its fingers of darkness. One by one, the dignitaries stood up and left, gathering in small groups and chattering on their way out. Eteri had the impression that the Loukomon of Velzna, who was taken away by a group of bulky servants, wouldn’t be the last one to meet with a thorough review.
The servants also finished to clean up the dinner table, and in a few more moments, only the four of them remained.
“I have… ah… always thought you ought to be stricter,” Thesanthei began, “at least as far as the upper echelons are concerned. You turn around to take care of your little history project and this is what happens.”
The Zalethi nodded slowly. She rested her black arm over the Loukomon’s old thigh.
“You will have to write me down a list for the future. I will make sure to read it twice every day.”
“Is my help still needed for now, Eternal Grace?” Lathie inquired. “It is getting quite late and I would like to take a few hours to myself.”
“You are allowed to leave,” she replied pointing at his bag, “but please share your findings with me once again. I want to check on something. Slavegirl.”
Eteri started as she was called. The Zalethi’s voice passing through her like a whip.
“You will wait for me outside of my quarters. I have to finish some business here and then we will meet for the night.”
“Y-Yes,” she replied, standing up and leaving the dinner room. She turned to glance at the ancient Loukomon to see if he could offer some more support yet, but all she saw was the old man falling asleep, forgetful of any company.
With a heavy heart, Eteri walked out of the dinner room back into the corridor and there she found, as if on clue, a Daimon ready to show her the way.
“I will gladly accept your help,” she said, bowing to the newcomer. If anything, the glass statue’s silence would give her time to think. After the show of power at the dinner, she was even more rattled than before. Perhaps, just before entering the Zalethi’s apartments, Eteri would find a way to emotionally deal with what she was about to face.
She looked at Lathie’s notes. She had asked him to leave them with her for the time being, and in return she had allowed him to retire sooner.
Lathie was a good scholar and an even better man. She liked how keen his mind and how he seemed to always know what she would ask of him, whether it was a report or his theories on how to recover a part of the pattern she lacked.
She was close. And every time she did get closer, another little piece of the puzzle shifted further away. The patterns she needed to revitalize the slumbering codes and machines deep beneath her castle seemed to elude her like a half-remembered dream.
What a strange expression. She hadn’t dreamt in…
More than she could remember.
Maybe spending all this time with Thesanthei was making her feel morose. Or perhaps it was the new slavegirl. She had seem knowledgeable enough about her ceramic trade and the skills required there.
But if Lathie had not been able to restore the code after years of research, if even she couldn’t… what chances could a simple girl with her fingers still dirty with mud have?
Her black fingers teased the paper. If only they would just tell her their secrets… but they remained shut in their silence and refused to tell her anything.
But her attempts could not end with the Rasena. Thesanthei, sleeping next to her, was proof of her umpteenth failure. The Rasena strain had proven to be weak to certain diseases, especially the one they called the chalk-illness, together with many other unpleasant traits that she would have wanted to get rid of.
For example the base greed that the Loukomon of Velzna had so brazenly displayed… together with his arrogance. How could he believe he would get away with it?
No, she needed a fresh start. She needed a reset… starting over once again.
Leaning back in her chair, she focused on Thesanthei’s sleeping form.
But not tonight. Tonight she would think of old friends about to leave her… and soon enough, about what to do with her newly-acquired slavegirl.
She stood up and the glass seat that carried the old Loukomon followed her outside. She escorted him to his room for the night and she lifted him from the chair, pouring his form on the bed, making sure he would not stir from his sleep.
Perhaps she would go back to meet with him in a few hours. He always had a habit of waking up in the middle of the night, to think or just to write down a few notes.
Her hand, dark and smooth and shiny, closed against his pale one. Her thumb passed over the blotches of his dried skin.
She tried not to listen to the dying heartbeat beneath, but…
He did not have much left.
“Sleep well, old friend.” She set a light kiss on his forehead and left him alone, at least for the time being.
Now, about that slavegirl… she would have to earn her chains, for sure. And maybe, just maybe, she could play a few tricks on her. Could she really convince her to leave? Would have been the easiest thing in the world if she just allowed her to bend her own rules.
Shaking her head, the Zalethi stepped on a floating glass disc – she looked down at her wrists, thinking of the chains that bound all of them to the pivot of time and duty.
Harvest was coming for the Rasena.
Author’s Notes: we are approaching the last arc of the story. I am not sure if I should continue beyond the original ending I had devised. I feel like this tale is a bit of a curse to me. But still, thanks for staying there. Thanks for reading.