Peter Stekin schooled his expression to the carefully crafted mask of disinterest the Emperor must wear. There were no heralds in the antechamber to announce the presence of the three arrivals, the room was empty of the customary courtiers and dignitaries, functionaries and hangers-on who curried favor among those who held power in the Empire. Only those in power remained, nobles and generals of the high council, wizards and scholars of the temple and university. The most loyal men of the Stone Guard lined the walls, an unmoving line of steel and leather, seemingly held in abeyance from violence, waiting only for the Emperor’s slightest signal.
The three figures walked abreast, none deferring to the others as they approached the stone desk behind which sat the throne of the Emperor. Peter’s eyes met those of the man he once thought of as his only true enemy. Daeranindus was no longer the First Lord of the Katari, and the armies of the Katarigeth no longer stood as a bristling wall of defiance against the Empire, but it did not reduce the man’s importance in Peter’s eyes. It was not politic to dismiss Karaiiandralan, the newly appointed First Lord of the Katari, nor Thammas, second prince of Suidina, but Peter watched only Daer’s eyes as they closed the gap to the dais. The man looked tired, but wore a bemused smile. One might take this as a sign that their quest had succeeded, and the danger was past. Peter knew the man too well, however. That same expression of grim humor had adorned this man’s face as he surrendered his nation to the Empire.
“Welcome back,” Peter said, smiling. There were no servants in the hall to serve them, so a glance at Lieutenant-General Rasmortin sufficed to bring the lowest ranking staff officer forward with a trio of cups and a decanter of water.
“I’m parched,” Daeranindus replied, gratefully accepting the drink. He took his time, the damnable man, before raising his voice and addressing the gathered power of the Empire. ”Necromancer Ghert is dead, barring some incredible feat of self-necromancy,” he said. Relieved sighs sounded as some of the men visibly relaxed. Lieutenant-General Rasmortin cast a hard glance toward Peter, and waited for the man to finish. ”What we have found, however, is that Ghert finished his casting almost three years ago.” Peter was on his feet roaring for silence before the gathered lords had more then begun to open their mouths.
“How long do we have before it is too late?” he asked into the silence. Daer fixed his gaze on the Master of the Imperial University, as the scholars began to murmur softly into the silence.
“We will take additional readings, Emperor, with this new information.”
“We have weeks. Perhaps a month,” Lathin responded once the senior scholar closed his mouth. The elf wizard stood among a group of his peers, opposite the scholars in the room, as they so often were in everything else. The wizard said nothing more, and though irritation and interrogatives filled Peter’s mind, he said nothing. The elf had told him often enough that it was too late before this venture had begun, but Peter had chosen the route of hope.
“How are your preparations?” he asked the wizard, instead.
“We have found a suitable location, though we have not yet determined where it is in relation to this world, we have determined it is not, at least, this world,” the elf answered, calmly. ”Construction of the portal necessary to transport the living is nearly complete.”
“Even if we sent word to all of the towers, and the fastest riders dispatched from there, the majority of the people would never be able to reach the portal in a month,” Daeranindus said. There was no accusation in his voice as he regarded the Emperor. His own land, the Katarigeth, was nearly on the other side of the world from the capital of the Empire. A sea journey could take months. ”I’m going to commandeer the Authority and fetch anyone I can fit aboard,” he said. ”With your permission,” he added smoothly. There was no doubt that any attempt Peter made to stop him would end badly, so he gave a dismissive wave. Without further word, Daer bowed and retreated from the room. The Katari and Suidinese nobles who had accompanied him on his journey likewise followed him from the room, likely eager to be on their way to fetch family and loved ones before the world cracked in half.
“Send out word that all subjects loyal to the Empire are to gather only what they can carry, and make their way immediately to the Imperial City. Time is short, and it is already too late. We will begin moving through the gate immediately,” the Emperor ordered. Men who ruled nations moved with the alacrity of trained soldiers to follow his command.