…’I have been a long time out of O, and I have not been under a lawful roof with a man of the Way for many months. Therefore, join me. We will put aside protocol on this matter. I am hungry, and I bid you sit and speak with me, Sentinel. It is my will: it is the Way.’

Shion, I hear and understand’ said Shinsota, and sat down, a little gingerly, across the table from the Lord.

The Lord, having uttered another of those deep, single coughs, paused, drank more wine, then began eating.

There was a pause of some moments. Shinsota sat, awkwardly, with his head half-down, but not fully deferential.

‘Well, we may speak. It is permitted,’ the Lord said, encouragingly.

‘Speak, Shion?’

‘Yes. Speak. Converse… I see you are not familiar with conversation, Sentinel.’

‘No, Shion. I am limited.’

‘Well, try.’

‘Try, Shion?’

‘Yes. Try to converse.’ And then, wryly: ‘You are commanded.’

‘Er, sai, Shion. Converse.’

Shinsota paused. Zyso could almost hear Shinsota’s thoughts, clambering slowly from a known place into a wholly new position.

Finally, it came.

‘Have you – any news, Shion?’

‘Excellent, Sentinel. News? News of what?’

‘Erm… How is the emperor, Shion?’

‘Well, last I heard of him.’

‘I am happy. Emperor Tzu-so-maika IV is well. It is –’

Zyso could hear the words that were about to come: it is the law, it is the Way. But the Lord interrupted Shinsota:

‘Tzu-so-maika IV? You are a little – behind the times, Sentinel. Tzu-so-maika IV has joined his ancestors.’

There was a long pause while Shinsota considered this.

‘So? Then long live the guardian of the law, Emperor Tzu-so-maika V.’

There was an odd, laconic, almost mocking tone to the Lord’s voice.

‘Tzu-so-maika V has also joined his ancestors.’

Now Shinsota was growing very flustered.

‘Erm… Tzu-so-maika VI?’

Zyso could see the Lord shaking his head. Shinsota seemed unable to grasp where he was to go from here.

‘But, Shion, surely, not…’

‘Please – arithmetic is not my strong point, and this counting could go on for a long time. Tell me, Sentinel, how long is it since you last spoke to someone on this road?’

‘Two years or so ago, Lord… maybe twenty five months… I’d have to check the log… Perhaps twenty six, or seven months…’

‘No, no: we’re back on arithmetic again. Who was this person you spoke to?’

‘He was – Lord, I am not sure. He came from the east, but he had no rights under the law, Shion. He was a man without place. I think he may have been a soldier once… He had no right of entry to the tower. I did not speak with him long, Lord.’

‘I see.’

There was another pause. Then, a little to Zyso’s surprise, Shinsota, began again:

‘Not, surely, Shion, Tzu-so-maika VII as emper–’

The Lord cut Shinsota’s question off.

‘Sentinel, the Maikan dynasty is no more. The line is extinct. As is the successor line, the Vaidu. The eternal reign of the Vaiduan dynasty lasted three months. Two emperors, three months.’ Zyso saw the flash of the mailed arm, and the wine being raised again; and again he heard the laconic, mocking tone. ‘Long life to the Vaiduan dynasty.’

‘Then, er – who…’

‘Sentinel, we are in the third dynasty of the Era of the Gathered Ways, line of the Karna. Or at least, we were when I was last reliably informed of events in the City of Towers.’

Shinsota’s words came out slowly, as if he was inventing them for the first time.

‘The Karna line?’

Once again, the Lord raised his glass: ‘Long live Emperor Vyma-so-karna I, first emperor of the immortal third dynasty of the Era of the Gathered Ways,’ he said. And he added, rather moodily: ‘His Majesty is from the Xira clan. A noble family’…

Zyso thought this was strange: it was the emperor he was speaking of – the emperor, the guardian of the Way – and yet the Lord seemed to show little reverence.

Shinsota had subsided into a silence even more considerable than the ones that had preceded it. Again, Zyso could virtually hear the thoughts moving slowly through his father’s mind.

After they had moved for a little while longer, Shinsota appeared to have reached some sort of conclusion.

‘Then, Lord – all is not well with the Way.’

‘Indeed, no, Sentinel. All is… not well.’

Excerpt from The Tower, Volume 2 of Dustless


Volume 2 | The Tower


Dustless | Volume 2 is approximately 75 pp./a5

status | published 14 02 2013

Amazon Kindle Store:
UK | Dustless | Volume 2  |||–––––|||  US | Dustless | Volume 2

ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) | B00BFSMD3I