VI. The Negotiation

His plan was…working, he supposed. By ensuring that the campaigns receive as little resources as possible, the simple conquest became difficult even for the great Commander Lucem. No first ministers dared to question why the emperor refused to answer any of the messengers from the frontlines even as each became more haggard, dirty, or injured. Yet for some reason, as though fate smiled upon that talented son of a whore, Commander Lucem still managed to keep the enemies at bay for the past year. The idea made the cold, hard throne even more uncomfortable to Luctus as he wandered.

But, he should not allow himself to be troubled over the bastard: he had much more important things to tend to.

No, he was not referring to Sapphira, whose connections and vague resemblance to a certain object of his fixation recommended her enough for him to give into her mother’s demand, marrying her in a modest celebration befitting of any imperial match.

No, he was not exactly concerned about his infant daughter either: she just tried to scream her little head off whenever he dared to hold her, anyway.

He was referring to an unexpected development of his plan. As the frontlines wore down and the prolonged battles began to become obvious, the Grand Priestess shut herself off from the empire to her father’s chagrin with an excuse to fast and pray solely for the conflict. Yet nearly nine months into her protest or a couple days ago, she broke out of her isolation to request for an audience with the Emperor.

Very well, the voice began to conspire the second Luctus received the request, a little flattered by the opportunity as it was not possible for anyone, including the Emperor, to summon the Priest or Priestess at their disposal. We shall use this to our advantage.

So yes, it was this meeting that occupied his mind until the moment she entered his field of vision: they met in the more obscure corner of the palace as per his request. Too occupied with her burning purpose, the Priestess was unsuspecting as she swept in with the grace of a songbird, her usual dress of dark emerald replaced by black silks as though in mourning.

“Your Excellency,” She acknowledged without bowing, for God forbid that His priests should bow to an earthly king.

“Your Holiness,” He attempted to match her expressionlessness as they both seated at the table of mahogany where a pair of twin goblets carrying fine wine along with a crystal bottle provided the sole color to the rather empty room.

“I shall speak bluntly for there is very little time,” No matter how harsh the tone of her voice was, it was music that nourish his soul. “It has become apparent to me that you are being selfish in your dealings of Amzra’s invasion.”

“What makes you think that?”

Clearly annoyed by his innocent pretense, Morgain sighed, “Luctus, don’t take me for a fool: I have known you too long to not know that you are simply trying to destroy Lucem’s reputation.”

Oh, that is what she thinks the true intention is? Perhaps she has been too engulfed by that fool’s attention to notice…so naive, “I have to deny your preposterous accusations, Morgain.”

“Then you lie to me, the empire, and yourself,” The blazing fires in her beautiful eyes burnt him, and he couldn’t help but take a long sip from his goblet before he replied.

“Do you truly love him?”

The fires died down in confusion, “What?”

“Do you truly love Lucem?”

A new realization dawned upon her intense gaze, which slowly morphed into disgust as she narrowed her eyes, “Who are you to doubt our relationship and how is this relevant to the war?” She posed the questions almost as a rhetorical and frowned.

He sighed at her hostility, “You deserve so much more than someone like him.”

“He is perfect to me. You are not one to judge.”

“Become mine, Morgain,” Her eyes widened at his boldness. “I can ensure your happiness, I can love you–”

“–Do you even know what happiness is, Luctus?” She slapped the table and stood up. “It is the product of a conscious choice, not the product of the environment, for the latter only guarantees temporary, earthly euphoria. And, it has become obvious to me that you have never truly made the choice to be content or happy: love me? What of Sapphira? Lyra?”

He thought a little before remembering that Lyra was the chosen name for his daughter.

Morgain was not finished, “I do not deserve more: Lucem is all that I could desire in my entire life. And, how could something lesser hope to provide more than the greater? ‘Be mine’? Our precepts of love differ much, Luctus, for no one should have claims over me,” He clenched his jaws to suffer through the humiliation. “The only ones that deserve more are Sapphira and Lyra, Luctus, and I really hope that you would let go of your unnecessary idealisations so you can actually hope to be a true Emperor.”

Silence fell between them, and Morgain stood her ground though slightly hunched over in regret as she remembered that the man she just belittled was the only one capable of ordering relief for her beloved upon the battlefield.

Finally, he found the words, “I understand. You are right, I had been quite foolish.” She opened those full, red lips of hers as though to speak, though he interrupted her, “You need not to worry, I should make arrangements for reinforcements tomorrow.”

A flood of relief softened her as she lowered her head, “Thank you, Luctus.” After some thought but before the quiet could settle too densely between them again, she picked up the goblet and raised it with slight reluctance as to give an end to the negotiation as per tradition, “To your merciful heart and the Empire’s future.”

“And, to where your wisdom and where your heart lies,” He adopted the slightest smile at the dainty clink of metal, watchful eyes peering beyond the rim of his cup to dote on the pale skin about her throat, which moved just the slightest as she downed her drink.

The movement paused as she froze, fright took over her and slapped the goblet out of her hand.

She blinked profusely as the deafening clatter of metal against marble further tilted the grounds twisting beneath her feet while her fighting conscious bemoaned before her entire body began to betray her, “Wh-What have y-you…done?”

Luctus merely stepped forward for her to crumble into his arms. At last. He didn’t indulge too much in the way she leaned against him, her broken breaths burning his neck. Instead, he swept her willless body off its feet, carrying her into infinite darkness.

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