“Do you even believe that the gods exist, Historian? Is it possible that mankind is truly controlled by a higher being—either male or female—that forces them to submit and do as ordered with no argument?”

“The gods provide mankind something to aspire to.” My logic was simple and sound—or so I thought.

“But is it really necessary to aspire to become something that destroys, maims, or kills?”

I had to agree.

“The gods of Atlantis are sanguinary in nature, I do admit. I have always preferred the Oriental belief in reincarnation according to one’s actions in life.”

“It does seem much more humane, Historian. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to submit to the practices made popular by the masses. Those promoted by that repulsive creature, Orgas.”

She shivered in disgust at the thought of the corpulent high priest. I had to admit that he was no favorite of mine, either.

“So, we are left to follow the polytheistic teachings of the masses, and the empress must be a devout follower for appearance’s sake. And yet, I question what is truly in the heart of the Immortal One when she is alone.”

“That is for your empress to know, and her Historian to wonder.”

“My liege.”

We both enjoyed these exchanges greatly.

“I question what you believe, Historian. You say you prefer the Oriental beliefs, but do you believe in the deities worshipped in the far off lands?”

“I must admit, Immortal Empress, the thought of a deity or deities having rule over me is unpleasant. I much prefer the unlimited power bestowed upon the ruler of Atlantis. I would rather receive commands from her wise lips than from some unknown being that I can neither see nor feel.”

“You have a tongue of honey, Historian, yet beware lest it becomes cloying. Were I not so fond of you, your head might find itself removed from your body.”

Her smile showed the emptiness of the threat.

“As you wish, Immortal One. To be completely honest, I do not believe in any deity. I believe that I am free to choose my own actions, choose whether they are right or wrong. Gods and deities are for those who think themselves less, thus they demand something to elevate themselves above their fellow man. The only being worthy to be called my ruler is my Immortal Empress, and seeing as I cannot worship you, I have none worthy of my adoration.”

“Historian, you are as egocentric a man as an empress could ask for. You serve me because it is in your best interest to do so.”

“Nonsense, my Empress. I serve only the Immortal House of Tah in their infinite wisdom.”

“Leave off the flattery, Deucalion. If I wanted cloying words, I would have installed Lord Armark in your place.”

I saw the man himself approaching.

“Speak of the devils, and they will find you. Here comes Atlantis’ most beloved noble as we speak.”

The empress followed my gaze, rolling her eyes as she saw the lord in question.

“Greetings, Lord Armark!” I called out cheerily to the heavily sweating man, who was just being admitted past the guards protecting the empress’ private booth from which she enjoyed the spectacles in the stadium. “What brings you to the stadium on such a fine day as this? Surely it is more enjoyable for you to be in comfort at home rather than amongst the sweaty crowds watching this barbaric spectacle.”

The man did not smile as he addressed me. “Your jests are as meaningless as you are, Historian. Beware, lest one day you try my patience beyond its breaking point.”

Rebuke complete, he turned his attention towards the figure seated next to me.

“Salve Imperatrix Immortalis. I apologize that you find yourself in the company of such a boor, when one so lovely as yourself outshines the sun.”

And thus began the fawning of Lord Armark—Lord Aardvark as I loved to call him thanks to his prodigious nose. His remarks lasted for a few minutes—each dripping with more honey than the last. By the time he had finished, the forced smile on the empress’ face looked to be paining even her. I knew it took every ounce of her self-control to restrain herself from calling for her Protectors to drag off the obsequious lord.

“Greetings, Lord Armark. You seem to have much on your mind, but I have little time to spare. I must be about my preparations for this evening’s ceremony if I am to arrive on time.”

“I had always thought your Immortal Highness greeted the day with such beauty without the need for adornments.”

Lord Armark truly was adept at pressing his thin lips to the backsides of those in power.

“What might I do for you, my lord?”

Her voice was tired and had an edge to it—a fact completely lost to the self-absorbed Lord Armark.

“I would request an audience with her Immortal Highness on a matter of urgency. I must resolve the issue with haste, therefore I humbly beg for your ruling.”

The Empress made a supreme effort to hide her distaste for the man as she turned to me.

“Chancellor Deucalion, when does the Imperial Court next convene?”

“Empress, you will be in attendance at the next turn of the moon—just three days hence.”

“Then you have your answer, Armark.”

“But, Immortal One, it is an important matter that must be resolved immediately.”

“Very well, Lord Armark, I consent to attend you immediately upon the rise of the sun. At the turn of the moon three days hence.”

“But, Empress-”

“Armark.” There was steel in her voice. “Push the matter further, and you may find yourself in my disfavor.”

He fought to keep the anger from his face as he bowed deeply.

“You are most gracious, Immortal One. Until the morning of the turn of the moon.”

Struggling to control himself, he backed out of the empress’ box. When he turned around, I saw the vitriol on his face as he pushed past the guards standing at the entrance.

Unfortunately for him, just as he forced his way between the motionless Imperial Guards, he bumped into another figure making his way towards us. The collision had disastrous consequences for the retreating Lord. He rebounded off the solid metallic form standing in front of him, and crashed unceremoniously into the wall.

He reeled from the impact, but managed to retain his feet as the commanding figure strode past. If looks could kill, Lord Armark would have impaled the man on thousands of poisoned daggers. He regained his balance—but not his composure—and straightened his clothing as he set off down the stairs angrily.

The smile playing at the corner of the empress’ lips mirrored my wide grin.

“It does the heart good to see Lord Armark, doesn’t it, Immortal One?” My whisper was low and mocking.

“Enough, Historian. You have a visitor, I believe. Captain Phoris.”

She nodded by way of greeting to the figure entering the box, and turned her attention back to the spectacle below.

“Salve Imperatrix Immortalis.” The salute was crisp and done with military precision. “My Lord Deucalion, we have matters that require your attention immediately.”

“My Empress, if you will excuse me…”

“Something you would rather do than spend time with your Empress?”

“Unfortunately, gracious ruler, my other duties beckon.”

“Working behind my back again, Historian? What secretive duty to attend to now?”

“Nothing of an urgent nature, Immortal One. Private business between old friends.”

“As you say. Now, do be sure to prepare adequately for tonight’s ceremony, as you will be accompanying me. I’m sure the High Priest will have an apoplectic fit if we arrived late.”

“You can be sure the rotund Orgas will have a fit over anything her Immortal Highness does that causes any interruption to his plans.”

The Lord Orgas, High Priest of Atateide was a notorious schemer—almost as adept at political intrigue as Lord Armark of Carnalia.

“Be wary of speaking your thoughts out loud, Historian. Should someone else overhear your kind remarks towards our high priest…” She trailed off with a wry grin.

“As you wish, Empress.” I sketched a deep bow, and had turned to leave when her voice stopped me.

“Oh, one more thing. I wish to speak to the High Priest in private after the ceremony tonight, and I would have you in attendance. Bring along a few of your Imperial Guard if you would. I never feel at ease around that man, and-”

“You can be certain nothing good ever comes from the scheming brain of the High Priest.”

“You can be certain interrupting me is never good for your health, Historian.”

“Your pardon, your Imperial Majesty. It is a mistake I shall never make again.”

I bowed low, but the sarcasm in her voice showed just how much she believed me.

“Of course, Historian. Now, don’t you have business to attend to?”

“I depart chastened and humbly ashamed. Until tonight, Empress.”

She had already turned back to the spectacle below as I strolled from the amphitheatre.