“That’s a grim vision.”
“It’s an honest one. And a rational one.”
“There are still people in every Dominion willing to try again. They’ve waited two hundred years, and they’re not going to let go of their hope now.”
“Arae ‘ke’ gei let go,” Culus said. “He died two years
“I was . . . prepared for that eventuality,” Pie said. “He was old when I knew him last.”
“If it’s any comfort, your name was on his lips at the very end. He never gave up believing.”
“There are others who can perform the ceremonies in
“I was right,” Culus said. “You are a fool, mystif.” She started towards the door. “Do you do this in memory of your Maestro?”
Pie went with her, opening the door and stepping out into a twilight sharp with smoke. “Why would I do that?” Pie said.
“Because you loved him,” Culus said, her gaze accusatory. “And that’s the real reason why you never came back here. You loved him more than your own people.”
“Perhaps that’s true,” Pie said. “But why would 1 do anything in memory of the living?”
The mystif smiled, bowing to its judge as it retreated from the light at the door, fading into the gloom like a phantom. “I told you Sartori was a broken man, not a dead one,” it said as it went. “The dream is still alive, Culus ‘su’ erai. And so is my Maestro.”
Quaisoir was waiting behind the veils when Seidux came in. The windows were open, and within the warm dusk came a din aphrodisiacal to a soldier like Seidux. He peered at the veils, trying to make out the figure behind them. Was she naked? It seemed so.
“I have an apology to make,” she said to him.
“There’s no need.”
“There’s every need. You were doing your duty, watching me.” She paused. When she spoke again, her voice was sinuous. “I like to be watched, Seidux. . ..”
He murmured: “You do?”
“Certainly. As long as my audience is appreciative.”
“I’m appreciative,” he said, surreptitiously dropping his cigarette and grinding it out beneath the heel of his boot.
“Then why don’t you close the door?” she said to him. “In case we get noisy. Maybe you should tell the guards to go and get drunk?”
He did so. When he returned to the veils he saw that she was kneeling up on the bed, her hand between her legs. And, yes, she was naked. When she moved the veils moved with her, some of them sticking momentarily to the oiled gloss of her skin. He could see how her breasts rode up as she raised her arms, inviting his kisses there. He put his hand out to part the veils, but they were too abundant, and he could find no break in them, so he simply pressed on towards her, half blinded by their luxury.
Her hand went down once more between her legs, and he couldn’t conceal a moan of anticipation at the thought of replacing it with his own. There was swelling in her fingers, he thought: some device she’d been pleasuring herself with, most likely, anticipating his arrival, easing herself open to accommodate his every inch. Thoughtful, pliant thing that she was, she was even handing it to him now, as though in confession of her little sin; thinking perhaps that he’d want to feel its warmth and wetness. She pushed it through the veils towards him, as he in turn pressed towards her, murmuring as he went a few promises that ladies liked to hear.
Between those promises he caught the sound of tearing fabric, and assuming that she was clawing her way through the veils in her hunger to reach him, began to do the same himself, until he felt a sharp pain in his belly. He looked down through the layers that clung about his face and saw a stain spreading through the weave. He let out a cry and started to disentangle himself, catching sight of her pleasuring device buried deep in him as he wrestled to be out of her way. She withdrew the blade, only to plunge it into him a second time, and a third, leaving it in his heart as he fell backwards, his fingers dragging the veils down with him.