It was sound in concept; the methods and schemes Emet-Selch had developed to advance their grand labor, each showed remarkable promise and potential to ensure the Ardor. At one time, they were unanimous in support of his ploys. Lahabrea may have even gone so far as to suggest that his plans improved over time, over millennia. And yet, millennia…
Therein laid the snag, that which embittered his waning patience. Fragmented lifetimes passing by; a race they have constructed from cradle to coffin, horrendously ignorant of what they lack. Miserable, broken existences granted leave to grow and grow old, to live and to die, to be given a gift they had been denied; a gift that was theirs by right.
And thus, millennia…
Reduced to bystanders in the flow of time; observers orchestrating grandeurs for stowaways in splintered reality, dripping between the foundations of one empire into the next. Seamless transition in the rise and fall and rise again and fall again; a maddening repetition that stirred memories best left aside. Lahabrea felt no sympathy in the downfalls; it was the closest the fragmented could come to understanding and it was merely a sliver of the torment. He would watch those that survived crawl their way from flame, death, and ruin with resentment. It mattered not, he knew. Emet-Selch’s empire began anew on the eve. Perhaps their pitiful grief befitted their inferior lives.
And so, millennia…
If Emet-Selch resolved to play his vapid games, Lahabrea would not deny him the entertainment but nor would he allow for it to extend their undertaking. And as civilizations rose and fell before his scrutiny, eons slipping by in gradual certainty, Lahabrea concluded that Emet-Selch's methods no longer retained their sound qualities. It had to be addressed and furthermore revised, Lahabrea would not suffer another millennia of stagnant, miserable progress; to endure even a century more as witness to fraudulent beings was a test to his diminishing tolerance that he would not continue to withstand. For the benefit of all, Lahabrea decided to approach his straying colleague.
The lair that Emet-Selch constructed was wasted upon the occupants, miniscule fragments haunting a labyrinth which dwarfed them in the extreme. An empire, he fancied it; not unlike the other projects he developed. A monstrosity of dark metal in a desolate land, wherein the people mirrored the bleak environment beyond the towering walls. Stern mockeries walking lengths, unseeing despite their value being defined in vigils. Gaunt thralls carrying out menial task after menial task, slipping from one chamber into the next in the ill-defined purpose they were cursed with. For all the supposed life that the lair contained, very little of it seemed alive; even in their reduced meaning.
There remained an outlier even amongst the inhospitable, as was typical amongst the fragmented; there was always one. Shrill laughter echoed down the looming corridor, senseless giggling accompanying the quiet patter of a running youth’s footfalls. Lahabrea located the source, watching a robust boy curve around the corner, haphazard golden mane temporarily obscuring his face. The child made no pause to clear his sight, recklessly rushing down the hall. In passing, through the veil of hair, Lahabrea caught glimpse of a wild eye flicking towards him. There was no recognition, yet it remained curious nonetheless. The boy did not slow his path, soon turning the next corner just in time to avoid being spotted by a man entering the hall from the same corner he had previously.
The man, an emperor made, took note of his visitor and the smile melted from his features. A disguise called Solus straightening gradually with a quiet breath to compose himself following a nonsensical chase. Formal, measured strides carried him closer and yet he stopped a distance from the Speaker. Golden eyes watched him expectantly and Lahabrea accepted that as a notion to speak first.
"I see you have become a patriarch in the trifling sense as well, Emet-Selch."
“To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Lahabrea?”
A level tone that dismissed his barb and a simple inquiry, one that Lahabrea readily answered.
“I hold concerns with your progress, Emet-Selch,” he explained, smooth and diplomatic. “Or rather the lack of.”
A challenge it was and Emet-Selch was never one to cower before conflict, thus did Lahabrea adopt a smile from the subtle change in his colleague. A minor fluctuation in aether, ire pricked and swiftly soothed. The flesh he wore responded similarly, bristling in offense as shoulders drew back. Smoothing it over, the vessel eased as Emet-Selch returned the hollow smile.
“So you do? Very well,” he obliged, raising his hand in a short indifferent wave, “Let us address these concerns.”
The dispassionate reply, horrendously nonchalant and dismissive, pricked Lahabrea’s temper and Emet-Selch worsened it yet in the abrupt turn he made upon his heel. Expectant in the way he carried along, he spared no words while he retraced his path down the hall. Lahabrea followed, a spectre to haunt the path, as resentment contorted the scowl across his face.
Traversing as the fragmented did left much to be desired, tediously crossing hall after hall as Emet-Selch meandered deeper into his lair. A singular boon took shape in the space given by the few servants that passed in their journey as none would needlessly interrupt their emperor. It was entirely pointless and unnecessary, Lahabrea simmered in his indignation; he did not have the time to entertain Emet-Selch in this senseless maze. What patience he had for his colleague was nearly spent by the time Emet-Selch reached his destination in a distant corner of his palace.
An indistinct door proved to be the end of his seemingly aimless roaming, unmarked along the wall of an otherwise unpopulated segment. Pushing open the door that protested with a grating scrape, Emet-Selch revealed a simple study, a peculiar dwelling in stark contrast to the realm beyond its door. A singular lamp fastened to the wall kept the compact room bathed in a subtle warm glow, illuminating the bookshelves arming the walls and the dark wooden desk that acted as a centerpiece to the den. Paired with the desk was a plush high-back chair, pulled out and angled away. Dust had since settled in a thin film across the surfaces.
As miniscule flecks danced in the soft light, brought into motion by the disturbance of the owner’s arrival, Emet-Selch crossed the floor in easy strides to round the desk. With the door creaking shut behind him, Lahabrea remained just beyond the threshold. He watched Emet-Selch settle in place, standing behind the desk with his hands clasped behind his back.
“Carry on then. We may address your discontent without concern for prying eyes and eager ears,” he said, returning the severe gaze with a mild one.
“You would spare such apprehension for the fragmented?” Lahabrea could not smother the sneer that pulled at his lip.
“On occasion,” Emet-Selch admitted, tilting his head to the side, “I see no benefit in granting them an opportunity to gain the impression that their emperor is speaking with things unseen . ”
“It is beyond your power as emperor to snuff out such suspicion?” Lahabrea challenged.
“And expend the time and energy to do so when I can instead simply change locations? I think not,” he retorted.
His hackles rose in the candor of Emet-Selch’s dismissive reasoning and Lahabrea abandoned that train of discussion to resume his original purpose for visiting. A meager shake of his head heralded the address.
“I need not stress the importance of our work to you. However I find that your progress has slowed and thus I wonder if your devotion has similarly diminished,” he elaborated, a polite tone contrasting with condescending indication.
“Ah,” Emet-Selch smiled, a languid expression that repulsed him. “How grateful I am to have steadfast compatriots to steer me away from blundering.”
“This is no jesting matter, Emet-Selch,” Lahabrea scowled, his polite facade withering away with the remnants of his patience.
“Perish the thought. Truly, I am grateful to consider you a dear collaborator. Who else but you would offer such baseless slander? ”
The dip in tone betrayed his weightless smile. Emet-Selch’s bark could rival his own and yet Lahabrea had long-since found that his associate lacked the fangs to provide any bite; reduced to little more than a vainglorious fool overfond of his voice. However learned minds as they are, the Speaker deigned to engage Emet-Selch in his barb.
“Baseless? Surely you are not so ignorant as to be unaware of our stagnanting progress. How long has it been?” The question posed held little intention for being answered, this Emet-Selch understood by the slight narrowing of his eyes. Lahabrea granted him no opportunity, “Long enough, it seems, to play pretend .”
His mouth went slack, expression undefined. Emet-Selch’s hands moved slow yet steadily from behind himself and were set forward against the desk’s surface, only fingertips disturbing the settled dust. His silence prompted Lahabrea to continue, unimpeded.
“Once more you have amassed elaborate dolls, Emet-Selch. Do they compare? Can they compare? Have the millenia rendered these broken existences to be suitable replacements to you? Can these fragile aberrations replace our brethren lost?”
Lahabrea stalked forward, venturing deeper into the study as his questions piled in the quiet. Approaching the desk, a sneer pulled at his lips. Emet-Selch did not submit nor object, he merely watched.
“Have you no excuse? No defense? Has your faith truly waned so far that it cannot muster a justification?”
Amidst the interrogation, Emet-Selch flattened his hands against the desk and leaned forward, setting his weight upon it. Each provocation darkened his gaze, anger simmering amongst the gold. Expectant silence awaited Emet-Selch’s reply.
“Are you finished?” He asked, his tone low and dangerous and immediately inciting Lahabrea at once. Emet-Selch raised his hand for silence, dismissing the barb that poised on Lahabrea’s tongue. “Beyond your berating, you have offered nothing. Have you come with a solution to the problem you have conceived?”
“Accelerate your schemes,” Lahabrea proposed.
“Is that your solution?”
“It has been proven that desperation is a prime motivator amongst the fragmented. I know you intend to antagonize them. Hasten the process,” he explained, a set of claws coming to rest upon the desk.
“It is known to us the risks of accelerating a Rejoining as well,” Emet-Selch warned.
“Prospects we can safely skirt now with our knowledge,” Lahabrea insisted, watching his gaze temporarily drift to the side. He would acquiesce in time, Lahabrea was certain of it.
“Have caution in your haste, Speaker," he mused, eyes unreadable even in the absence of his mask. "You would not wish to revisit the Martyr’s folly.”
The warning, ill-placed and unneeded, caught him off-guard, igniting a rage that carved scores into the desk’s surface as claws curled into fists. His response was immediate, a furious display of fangs and claws as he hissed his words.
“You dare think of me a reckless fool?! That I would tempt the unknown and suffer another eon of delay?! I will not!”
Silence met the fury, a peculiar look flitting past golden eyes. With disgust, Lahabrea realized belatedly the transient pity in Emet-Selch’s gaze. Recoiling, he dismissed it, dismissed everything. Turning abruptly, his hand rose to beckon the yawning void.
“I will not tolerate any further delay, Emet-Selch,” he warned, “I will not suffer it.”