SORAH SUHNG & KATE COLORS
Lost in the Burn
After the assassination attempt on the first day of the summit, Karnal’s guard was up, and Lucia’s interrogation, following the recusal of their leaders, only worsened her apprehension.
As Neros and Overseer cloistered themselves once again in a private room, Lucia and Karnal were huddled in an adjacent hallway; speaking in hushed and harsh tones.
“I already told you, Lucia, I don’t have actual proof of anything.”
“But you suspect the Blessed and I need to know why!” The hissed out of gritted teeth. Lucia’s eyes were darting around wildly as she spoke to Karnal, and the Ambassador wondered if Lucia had gotten any sleep at all.
Unlike the humans that the fourth dimensional beings ruled over, Neros and Overseer did not need to sleep. And despite Karnal Sin’s best efforts of using stimulants to keep herself awake, the lack of sleep during the days-long summit was starting to get to her. She felt like shit, and she was pretty sure she looked it too. Lucia was clearly not far behind her.
“Accusations are unseemly at a time like this, Secretary Lucia, and I think we are both in need of rest.” Karnal offered rationally.
“The safety of both our rulers are at stake here, Sin.” Lucia narrowed her big brown eyes at the petite blonde woman.
The Ambassador took a slow breath in and out of her nose before responding, leaning her body against the wall, crossing her arms, “We both know that attack had nothing to do with the safety of our Masters, but the cameras that were pointed at them.”
Karnal’s smirk was mirrored, “True,” Lucia admitted.
“I do not envy your position, Secretary, but in the Dominion Systems, we cannot just accuse and rendition people.”
“So then why tell me what you did, then?” Lucia snapped back at her, “And need I remind you, that Neros is not currently a part of the Dominion System.”
“Yet.” Karnal finished for her, the eyes of her counterpart widening at the implication. But Karnal acquiesced, licking her lower lip before speaking. Her mind, tired and trying, picked over her words as carefully as it could, “I do not claim to be a cultural envoy, but the tone in which I have been treated by your nobles…”
“The Blessed,” Lucia corrected her.
“…yes, the Blessed – it has been less than warm, and while on paper there would be no way for me to prove their negative intent, that tone taints every interaction I’ve had with them.”
“You’ve felt this way for the entirety of your time here on Neros?”
Karnal Sin nodded, “At first I thought I was being paranoid, and part of me thinks I may still be paranoid. But even yesterday when I left your office, the three Blessed made threats.”
“They did no such thing when I was there.”
Exasperated, Karnal rubbed her temple, “They’re not idiots, Lucia, they spoke to me further after you ran away.”
“I did not run away!” Lucia looked taken aback.
“Secretary,” Karnal changed her tactic, trying to overcome her exhaustion and annoyance, “Your people, especially the Blessed, are clever and industrious.” The flattery seemed to calm Lucia’s defensiveness a bit, “However, what they said to me would constitute a threat on my world.”
“What did they say…exactly?”
The blonde woman looked up to the ceiling, eyes open as she recalled the quip, “Do take precautions at the summit.”
Lucia’s carefully manicured dark eyebrows furrowed, “That sounds like solid advice…how is that a threat?”
“It was preceded by a confirmation that there are interested parties out there who do not agree with the blending of our two societies.”
Lucia was still disbelieving, and Karnal didn’t blame her. Lucia herself was of the noble class, though because of the edicts of no-power usage inside of the palace, the Ambassador had no idea what the woman was capable of.
A silence fell on them as they stood, staring at one another, waiting for the other to blink. Karnal Sin had just accused the highest class, those closest to their Emperor, of outright treason, with no proof to back it up, but she knew that the possibility had to gnaw at her counterpart’s mind, as there was almost no other explanation available for what happened during the gift exchange.
“Secretary Lucia, if I could gather the security perimeter I set up prior to the conference, I may be able to get one of our technicians to apply the data for visual mock-ups.”
“What would that show? It was a peasant that attacked.”
“We could see the reactions of the Blessed in attendance. Maybe even identify the peasant. And…,” she paused as her tired mind worked itself out, “we could also find out who wasn’t in attendance against who was invited, just to cover our bases.”
Lucia twisted her mouth to one side as she thought, her eyes unfocused as she processed the possibilities, “Very well, I can instruct the Chosen to retrieve them for you.”
Karnal stopped her, a firm but gentle hand raised in opposition, “I think it best if I let my people handle it.”
Lucia, so used to objecting to Karnal Sin’s insistence and so used to always looking at pushing the benefits of her own kind, stopped herself before responding with an assured nod.
Karnal stood silently for a moment, communicating with the entourage that arrived with the surveillance equipment via her piconet cell.
Lucia stared at her, blatantly confused as to why the Ambassador froze in place.
“It is done.” Karnal smiled at her, blinking her eyes to clear them.
“Are you telepathic?” Lucia asked her curiously, breaking the propriety of not inquiring on peoples’ abilities within the hallowed walls of the Citadel.
“No,” Karnal continued to smile at her, “We have portable communications systems that greatly reduce the time between orders and action.”
It was Lucia’s turn to lean against the wall, her shoulder almost touching Karnal’s, though acutely aware of her proximity to the spikes adorning the Ambassador’s shoulders, “I think I would like to visit the Dominion one day.”
Feeling for the first time as if she and Lucia had found common ground, Karnal lifted her hand to rest on the shoulder of the Imperial Secretary, “I’d be happy to show you around. But first, let’s try to stop a war.”
The data the Dominion staff had retrieved from the DISKs was already on its way to Protium, with strict instructions for encoding the details through hard encryption to avoid tampering.
Meanwhile, both Karnal and Lucia resumed their duties of conducting the remainder of the summit for their respective leaders. They had less than twenty-four hours left, a single formal meal to attend, and then they could both be discharged to the sweet release of sleep. As the leaders exited the privacy of the chamber for the last time, Overseer walked straight to Karnal, whose head was bowed deferentially.
“Ambassador Sin,” he spoke loudly enough for Neros to hear, “Shall we adjourn to your quarters?”
Tired, and starting to get hungry despite dinner being a couple hours away, the thought of being able to rest was enticing and it showed on her face as she beamed lovingly up at the god she called a man, “Yes, Master.”
He reached out to her, tucking her hand into the nook of his arm before they both suddenly vanished from the foyer.
Overseer almost never engaged in a localized Jump Himself, but Karnal recognized that this was for show. She knew that Lucia, if not Neros, was left slackjawed at the show of power they didn’t understand. Whatever Neros’s and the Blessed’s ties were to Deltria and the fourth dimension, traveling through it was not the norm.
One to rarely crack his neutral expression, Overseer looked down at his Consort with a warm smile as they appeared in the privacy of her assigned quarters, “Pet, it does Us well to see you.” His hand stroked the length of her cheek and she nuzzled into his palm.
“And I, You.” She responded.
He lifted his other arm, moving it in a sweeping motion to direct her movements towards the chaise in the room, “You may sit.”
She welcomed his command, rushing from him to the cushion and practically flopped down, her red cape billowing around her unceremonious movements. Karnal wasn’t going to be able to take a nap, she had to get ready for the dinner shortly. But, she also knew this time wasn’t a true reprieve, Overseer would be full of questions.
Closing her eyes, she rested her head back on the cushion, breathing carefully before speaking, “I take it the meeting went well, My Lord?”
She heard him move across the room to her, the weight of his cape brushing against furniture as he sat down next to her, his black-clothed thighs touching against her bare skin, “Incredibly well, We think, despite the early interruption.”
Leaning forward, she turned her head to look at him, “I have sent security data back to the Homeworld for analysis.”
“What do you think it will show?” He asked.
Karnal knew that Overseer, while needing proof in things Himself, trusted her instincts. As the Castra of the Dominion Intelligence Agency, those instincts were honed from deep experience and knowledge, not just from data, but of people.
She gave him a sharp glance.
Without missing a beat, Overseer waved an elegant hand in a small circling motion, creating a bubble of Deltria around them. Neros, the planet, was abundant in Deltria, and the palace was so thickly laced and made of it that Overseer could treat any room as if it were his Sanctuary back on the Homeworld, manipulating the space between planes of existence.
Once securely in private, Karnal updated her Lord and Master, “I requested the DISKs from the DIA because of my rising suspicions about the Blessed. As I had previously communicated on reports over the last few months, the nobles here are not happy about a potential demotion, should this merger go through.”
“Three Blessed approached me the day before you arrived and made a threat, but I don’t think they’re the ones who planned this. This is layered. It’s why they sent a peasant,” she continued.
“Yes, We did wonder why they thought a simple blade could harm Us.”
“It wasn’t for You. It was for the media to catch. Neros doesn’t seem to be all that concerned with His public image in that his absolute control allows him absolute freedom. His overpowered court provides protection…” she shook her head, looking down as she thought, “I can’t quite make sense of it yet.”
Overseer put his hand under her chin and lifted her gaze to meet his, “You will.”
The words were both encouragement and a command.
Karnal nodded, still resting her chin in his hand, “Imperial Secretary Lucia and I have come to a tentative understanding in that we are intent on getting to the bottom of this conspiracy. I will make sure that it is dealt with, and Lucia assures me she will deal with it definitively.”
“You did say they seem to revel in their brutality.” His hand was urging her to move ever closer to him, pulling gently at the underside of her chin towards his face.
“They do.” She whispered out, her mind was swimming in exhaustion while her body was swimming in a slow burn desire of physical release.
“Do you prefer it?”
Her hand moved to rest on the firmness of his thigh, her nails digging into the chiseled muscles of his frame, “Prefer what?”
“Brutality.” He punctuated the word with a harsh grasp of her chin. He kissed her then, the softness of his lips pressing against hers with force.
She couldn’t help it. The way he has grabbed her face triggered a flashback to the torture she endured on Auxidian, and she pulled away, her heart racing. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a fun game for them, but ever since she had returned from Sicarius’s home planet, she had been haunted by memories of what she went through. Her palms began to sweat and every muscle in her body tensed as her breathing shallowed.
“You do not desire Us, pet?” Overseer seemed unaffected by her recoiling.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what came over me…” fighting through her reaction, she went to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing the underside of his chin, “I’ve not slept in days and my mind is fixated on the security issues. I’m-I’m...jumpy.”
Overseer bent down and kissed her softly on the forehead, “Very well, We sought to provide you with some comfort, but it would seem you need the comfort of your bed.”
Standing tall, he picked her up, moving the bubble of privacy with his movements as he joined her on the bed. “Rest, Mistress.”
It was all she could do to comply. Laying in the crook of his arm, she fell asleep almost immediately upon command. She glanced at the time display by the side of her bed – she only had an hour or so before she had to get up.
“Time means nothing here.”
It felt like hours later when she finally awoke, Overseer had laid patiently, serving as her pillow, the entirety of the bed encased in a shield of Deltria.
Groggily, Karnal sat up, rubbing her eyes.
“Rested?” He asked her.
Grateful for the reprieve, she did feel better – though that’s not what he asked. Part of her was always bothered by the clinical way in which he addressed her wellbeing – it was never about how she felt, it was always a status check.
“Very. Thank you, darling.”
He stood up, “Do you need to prepare for the dinner?”
Karnal had been debating with herself if she should dress up for the occasion. It was a formal affair, and she had avoided doing it since being here on the fact that she had been the sole representative of the Dominion at these events. But with Overseer by her side, she had the option to embellish her appearance.
“No,” she responded, “I think it best if I maintain my attire as is. I still have to deal with these people after you leave tonight.”
He nodded, “Very well,” and with another minor wave of his hand he dismissed the bubble of Deltria that had surrounded them.
Instinctively she looked at the clock – she had to have been asleep for hours, but the display showed only an hour had passed.
Overseer and Ambassador Karnal Sin arriving to the Summit's final ceremony.
Overseer extended a large hand in her direction, ushering her to him, “It’s time we arrived.”
Appreciating his calculated dramatics, she went to him, brushing out her hair with her fingers as she closed the gap between them. As soon as her hand touched his, they suddenly appeared in one of the many banquet halls, scaring a handful of Blessed by their entry. A wave of whispers traveled gently through the throngs of nobles present.
His hand lifted shoulder height, palm up, allowing Karnal to keep her hand resting unrestrained on top of it as they walked purposefully towards the head of the table where Neros was seated, two empty chairs waiting for them.
Ordinarily, Karnal Sin had been relegated to sit much farther away at these dinners, never in proximity to the ruler of the planet, but the presence of Overseer had quickly changed her status. She expected Lucia to be seated across from her, to Neros’s right, but she saw her counterpart further down the table. In lieu of the Imperial Secretary, across from her was Diamante and his masked companion.
“Overseer,” Neros’s voice rolled across the table, a deep resounding authority as the room hushed at the sound of his voice.
“Emperor,” Overseer returned the formal greeting. Karnal realized in that moment that she hadn’t asked her Lord what exactly had been discussed in those many hours in private between the two men. She had been so preoccupied with her debriefing and need for rest that it had slipped her mind.
Probably for the best, she thought to herself, when I return to the Homeworld I can ask him then.
The two gods-of-men exchanged pleasantries in hushed tones in the dimly lit chamber, as the room resumed its general hum and activity as the Blessed spoke amongst themselves. Unsure of what to do with herself, she turned her attention to the man sitting in front of her.
“Diamante, it is a pleasure to see you here,” she nodded to him, and then smiled at the man in the mask, “And you…although I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.”
Diamante spoke for him, “This is Javan.”
It was the first time she got a decent look at him, although once again he was cloaked in the noble hood and wearing an ornate mask to shield much of his face. He had green eyes, and she thought she saw blonde hair, but it was hard to tell in the layers of shadows cast. The mask he wore covered almost three quarters of his face. The mask was opaque with lace-like filigree on it, trimmed in gold and silver. His frame was solid, but lithe.
Physically, his build was near the opposite of Diamante – who, even seated at a table, was broad shouldered and commanding. His deep blue eyes were set back under dirty blonde eyebrows that had a near perpetual scowl embedded in them.
“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Javan. I hope you two have fully recovered from any trauma experienced at the press conference the other day.”
Diamante grunted. Javan said nothing.
Oh, this will be a thrilling dinner.
Karnal turned to Overseer who was in the middle of discussing the same topic with Neros.
“Our intelligence agency has theories on the attack…” he motioned to Karnal, “If you would permit my Ambassador a meeting with you, she would be happy to share what information we have.”
Neros didn’t look at her, although from this angle it was hard to tell, given his pupil-less eyes. But she didn’t feel the normal heat of his stare as she had before when he spoke directly to her.
Overseer continued, “You are doing yourself a disservice by not optimizing your media communications with your subjects, Emperor. Controlling the image you project to your people is a form of power that you have denied yourself.”
Neros had been patiently listening to her Lord share his wisdom, his brows only slightly furrowed as he drank from an ornate tankard to his right. But the implication that Neros was less any power on his own world irked him enough to respond demandingly, “How so?”
He seemed irritated, she could hear it in the shift in his voice. She leaned forward, bowing her head and not looking directly at him, “Emperor, if you’ll permit me…”
The Blessed closest to them audibly gasped, as she had directly addressed their God. Overseer rested his hand on her shoulder, though she wasn’t sure if he was reassuring her or indicating for her to pull back from interjecting.
Either way, she didn’t look up to verify, keeping herself in deference to Neros.
“Proceed.” He finally answered.
“The Dominion has learned to control the output of information to its citizens, thus controlling the narrative – we, in the hierarchy, dictate fact from fiction.”
“I am fact, Ambassador. I have no need to lie to my people.”
“Your Highness, it is not a matter of lying, but that of control.” She looked up then, her azure blue eyes meeting the bright whites of his glare, “You have a system in place here, from what you have permitted me to learn, in which your court’s privileges are maintained by the lessers.” Trying not to speak with her hands, she rested one on top of the other in front of her, to the side of her empty plate.
“If you rule by narrative instead of fear of reprisal, productivity and output from those beneath you increase. Willingly.”
She offered him a smile, though he seemed little interested in her social platitudes.
“And this is how the Dominion does it?” Neros leaned back in his large seat, his frame filling the back of his chair.
Overseer stepped in, “We have a great appreciation for the talents brought to Us by many individuals and cultures we are tasked to take care of. By forming a symbiotic relationship, there is a mutual guarantee of cooperation. This is not how We’ve always done it, but it is how We’ve learned to do it.”
There was a silence between the three of them, and Karnal leaned back, tentatively lifting the tankard in front of her to take a drink of the wine.
“I wish to learn more of this narrative control,” he put the emphasis on the concept, “LUCIA!”
Immediately, Karnal’s counterpart rose from her seat and moved with long strides to the head of the table. Lucia’s gown was a deep teal color that contrasted beautifully with her dark skin. The flowing fabric criss-crossed her body until it met her hips, where firm structures splayed the remaining material out dramatically. She bowed deeply to Neros first, and then to Overseer, “Yes, My Lord.”
“Arrange a meeting with the Ambassador.”
“She and I have a meeting scheduled for tomorrow already.”
“Not for you.” He corrected her curtly, “For me.”
Lucia’s eyes widened at that, but nodded in affirmation, “Yes, My Lord.”
She gave a quick, bewildered look to Karnal before returning to her seat.
Karnal Sin had no idea what Overseer was up to, but she was determined to find out before the end of the evening. He was positioning her to speak with Neros in private – but why?
Her thoughts were interrupted when food was finally served. A parade of delicately prepared masterpieces were presented in front of each attendee. Decadent smells of savory meats and sauces wafted across the room.
It was then that she noticed that the people that had been refilling the tankards and glasses weren’t actually the service class, but other Blessed. The people now bringing out the food were also Blessed.
Lucia isn’t taking any chances.
Karnal wanted to dive into her food but was acutely aware of everyone watching her, even passively, around the table. She’d be lying to herself if she didn’t hesitate just a bit before taking a bite, as poisoning was a worry she had regarding the dinner, but once everyone began to eat, her worry was put somewhat to ease and she eagerly feasted.
Overseer’s plate remained empty, per his request, as he had no need to eat or imbibe. She looked in fascination as Neros, another fourth dimensional being like her Master, methodically ate from his plate.
Why does he have to eat?
She took another bite, chewing slowly, savoring the taste.
Maybe he just enjoys eating.
She mused to herself how, if that were the case, the two rulers chose their corporeal qualities differently – Overseer for function, Neros for pleasure.
Taking a sip of her drink, she looked to the two Blessed in front of her. Diamante attacked his food with a blade ruthlessly, while Javan cut his meat with more precision.
Opposites attract, I guess, she thought.
As the evening came to a close, and after many diplomatic toasts, Karnal was surprised at the uneventfulness of it. Her mind was fixated on her ruler, and as the final dishes were cleared, Overseer prepared to leave back to the Homeworld.
He stood tall, with Neros following suit.
The two gods clasped their forearms to one another as they made their goodbyes.
“Overseer, I am sure we’ll meet again soon.” Neros assured his counterpart.
“We look forward to the day.” Overseer responded.
Lucia hurried over from her seat and ushered the two foreigners to the exit.
“Your Excellency, Ambassador Sin, we thank you for taking the time to meet with us for the summit.” The Secretary said with grandeur and formality.
Overseer did not respond to her, and Karnal didn’t expect him to, so she took the reigns of the exchange as they walked with long strides, “Secretary Lucia, I look forward to our meeting tomorrow.”
Tilting her head, she gave a subtle signal of dismissal for her as an envoy, and Lucia deftly extricated herself with a flourishing bow before making her way back to the banquet hall, her gown sashaying behind her prettily.
Karnal immediately turned to Overseer, “My Liege, should I expect a debriefing of…” she paused intentionally for effect, aware that they could be monitored, so she chose her words carefully, “future plans?”
“Mistress Sin, We expect you back on the Homeworld after your meeting with Neros.”
She wore her concern on her face, not hiding her confusion.
“You will be fine, pet. Just do as you were instructed.”
Karnal Sin found the ambiguity of her assignment in this case disquieting. She much preferred to be in the loop – she knew that knowledge was power, it was how she thrived so well as the head of the DIA, “Sir…”
Overseer turned readying himself to make the Jump back home.
“Oh, another thing…”
She looked up at him obediently.
“Something you said at dinner. We know they keep you on a tight leash here, but We need to know more. We expect you to remedy your ignorance of what occurs outside of these walls.”
“Yes, My Lord.” Karnal Sin bowed to him.
And before she could look back up, he was gone. Disappeared into the ether of the fourth dimension.
Lucia was seated behind her desk again, her brows furrowed closely together as she listened to the Ambassador of the Dominion, Karnal Sin pacing the floor as she read the information provided to her off a tablet. Protium had been thorough in his analysis.
“I both love and hate being right, Secretary.”
Lucia shifted in her chair.
The data showed the two representatives the reactions from the Blessed during the summit’s press conference, and as Karnal Sin suspected, some of the Blessed did not behave in a way that someone should during an unexpected skirmish – specifically Fara. While others had pulled away and ran during the attack, Fara had kept her seat still, as did Diamante.
She showed the visual interpretation to the Imperial Secretary.
“This doesn’t necessarily prove anything.”
“Isn’t it enough to drag those two in here to question them?”
Lucia crossed her arms obstinately, “Diamante comes from an abnormally powerful family, I need more than his lack of reaction to a surprise attack to justify dragging him in here without specific permissions.”
“Permissions?” Karnal looked at her, her head tilted to one side.
“Neros is the law, but I am not Neros. I do not intend on bringing this up to Him until I have something more solid to go on.”
Karnal plopped down into the chair across from Lucia, “Well, this information is what I can offer you, darling,” she sighed out.
Lucia’s eyebrows shot up at the at the use of the familiar endearment.
“Sorry…Secretary,” Karnal corrected herself.
Lucia took a slow breath in through her nose, the sound of which was loud in the otherwise silent room, “If we’re going to be working together to figure out the origin of the attack, I think we can dispense with the formalities, Sin.”
Karnal flashed her a dazzling smile, “Thank God, it’s been exhausting.”
Lucia chuckled at her, “It’s what I’m used to, unfortunately.”
“Well sure, me too, but you Nerians take it to a whole different level than we do in the Dominion.”
“I’m still the representative of my people, Karnal.”
The Ambassador waved her hand in acknowledgement, “Look, I understand, but this is going to make things a lot easier, so thank you.”
It was the first time she had thanked the woman and meant it, and the tonal difference was evident to Lucia who smiled at her, “You’re welcome.”
“So what do we do now?” Karnal asked her.
“I can’t approach Diamante. He’s too influential.” Lucia stated matter-of-factly, leaning back in her chair as she peered up at the ceiling thinking. “But I can do some digging with Fara and Gallus. They don’t have the same kind of protective status.”
“What can I do to help?” This was the first time Karnal Sin had felt genuinely comfortable since being on this planet, and Lucia’s normally annoying qualities were somewhat dampened by their newfound allegiance to uncovering the conspiracy to thwart their efforts. They both had worked hard and long hours to make this merger happen, at the behest of both their sovereign rulers. So, for someone to attempt to dismantle everything they had built between their two societies had allied them in a deep and visceral way.
“Nothing, at the moment. I’m not even sure I entirely trust this information you’ve given me. What’s stopping you from tampering with this data?”
Karnal rolled her eyes, understanding but tired of the suspicions, “To what END, Lucia? You and I want the same goddamn thing, I have NO motive to screw this up.”
Lucia smirked at her, “True…” she looked at the time display suddenly, “Karnal!” The Imperial Secretary stood up suddenly, “You’re going to be late for your meeting with the Emperor!”
Karnal stood up just as suddenly in response, “Shit!”
Despite herself, Karnal Sin was slightly nervous for the meeting. Her lack of real interaction with Neros had left her at a loss on being able to read him in any significant way, and her ability to anticipate someone’s responses was one of her strengths as an intelligence agent.
Instead of meeting in the throne room, which she half expected, he had instead put them in one of the private chambers that he had previously used to speak with Overseer during the summit. The room she was now in was like many other rooms in the Citadel, except that there were almost no windows to the outside. Located in the interior structure of the palace, the walls were instead grandly decorated with paintings and drapery. All the walls were adorned except noticeably for one – nearest to where there were two identical wingback chairs near the hearth-like formation. There was no fire, and the room was poorly lit. It had a cozy feel to it, despite the room being quite large, but the ceilings were not nearly as high as in the main halls of the structure. This was less formal, and far more intimate.
One of the side doors opened, leading from an antechamber, and Neros strolled in, his deep red cape trailing behind him luxuriously.
Karnal Sin stood where she was, unsure of how and when she was to address him. She was his subordinate in status, and wanted to make sure she didn’t cross any protocol lines. The Ambassador lowered herself into a deep bow, but otherwise stayed in place.
He was a tower of a man. Standing six feet and six inches, she felt immediately diminutive around him. Neros approached one of the chairs, his feet thudding on the Deltria-marbled flooring loudly in the silence of the room. He flung his robe-like cape across the back of the seat, sitting down, his long legs stretched out in front of him.
She didn’t move.
She didn’t say anything.
Her heart was pounding in her chest as she kept her eyes averted, but she was still able to see his movements from her periphery.
One large, red hand extended to the empty chair, “Ambassador Sin…”
The use of her formal Dominion call sign irked her, and she resisted the urge to immediately look at him.
“Yes, Emperor Neros.” She responded with calculated neutrality.
“If you would please join me.” His voice was deeper than anyone else’s she had heard before, save for maybe Sutu’s, but it was a close comparison. It was the kind of voice that reverberated inside of her, massaging her molecules with its deep baritone and purring. It was the kind of voice that crawled inside of her head and trickled down her spine.
Taking a quiet, slow breath, and lifting herself from her bow, she finally looked directly at him, walking with purpose to his offer. Her high heels clanged loudly against the marbled flooring as she narrowed the space between them.
Standing before him, she reached back to grab the mass of her own cape and, pulling it to its side, draped it carefully across the armrest before sitting down. Her back was straight from the corset. Her head held high from the posture collar. She demurely lowered her lashes to show her deference.
Neros flicked his wrist nonchalantly and a fire appeared in the bare hearth. The warmth of the flame masked the warmth she felt from her nerves.
“You may look at me.”
And so she did.
It was the first time she had ever had a good look at him – he had always been at a distance, or he had been in shadow or dim lighting – but here he was, firelit for her consumption.
Neros was a beautiful man – a man who clearly reveled in his own masculinity. Brandishing a widows peak, the long darkness of his straight jet black hair was slicked back behind him, though some errant strands flowed with his posture as he leaned back and forward in his movements. His brilliant white eyes were deep set in his skull housed underneath thick, dark eyebrows. Heavy lids of his red skin gave him an almost perpetual glare to his gaze. His perfectly sculpted nose was long and proportional to his face. In fact, everything was in balance, the planes of his face reached down to the fullness of his lips with ease, clean shaved, showing off the hallows beneath his high cheekbones. He had a strong and wide jaw that matched the thick cords of his neck that flared to athletically expansive shoulders. He was physically fit, broader than expected with a solidness to him that she found intimidating.
Part of her had thought that he’d look like Overseer, but he didn’t. Other than his glowing and swirling white eyes, they were different. She had always found Overseer attractive, but Neros had a different aesthetic to him that she couldn’t quite figure out. He had a gentle, welcoming look on his face now, but somewhere behind that warmth she sensed something else – something dangerous.
She could only imagine that he was sizing her up in the same way she was with him, and the thought of it made her somewhat vexxed. Karnal Sin had always been comfortable in her own skin, so to be put off by the simple gaze of a man, albeit a supposed god, unsettled her.
She finally stopped herself from practically gawking at him, “I apologize. I’m unsure how I’m meant to proceed with this meeting.”
Neros chuckled, a warm and rumbling effect that carried with it an arrogance, and leaned back into the bowed concavity of the chair, his large arm resting casually on the swooped armrest, “Then I shall do the talking until you are comfortable enough to tell me about my lack of control of my people.”
The ambassador nodded, crossing her legs and resting her hands delicately on top of her knees.
Neros reached out one large red hand to her, beckoning her to touch him.
Unsure of the procedure, she acquiesced to his silent demand, placing her small pale hand in the mass of his blood red palm. He didn’t grab at her, but instead seemed to examine her hand, as if he was trying to figure out how the whole of her worked.
“So…Karnal Sin…” she felt that he knew that the usage of that title, coming from him, was off-putting. He released her hand, letting it fall back into her lap, “…what are Overseer’s plan to kill me?”