“Narrower Cirio, no wider than your width.”
The young page did as he was told, pulling on the heavy velvet curtains until only a sliver of daylight streaked across the marble floors of the inner balcony area. Done, Cirio turned and bowed to his liege.
“Does this suit your needs Lord-Mayor Barzillai?” Cirio’s voice was rich and measured despite only recently reaching his teenage years.
The Lord-Mayor nodded as he sat reclined in a grand, plush chair that had been brought up from the royal viewing box, a gaudy, gold plated goblet within his hand. Sitting just off from the streaming afternoon sunlight, Barzillai could see past the curtains and the balcony beyond and over Aria Park, a place of so many recent peasant uprisings. Turning his dark eyes onto his assistant, Barzillai’s rich accent filled the room.
“That is all I need this day Cirio, I grant you leave.”
The young man, clad in his finest raiments of Asmodeus, bowed respectfully and headed for the stair beyond his master’s chair. As he swept past, Barzillai reached out and grabbed his arm, shocking the boy. As he looked to his master, confusion obvious upon his face, he felt his hand forced opened and something cold and hard pressed within. Looking down, several Platinum Thrunes sat in his palm, a small fortune for the lad. With the same confused look still upon his face, he looked back to the Lord-Mayor. He shivered uncontrollable as Barzillai leant forward, his features that had been hidden by shadow now clear, the once strong-jawed and darkly handsome man was now shallow-cheeked and pale. Even now, the hand gripping his arm shook, a tremor running through the Lord-Mayor’s body at the exertion.
“I have heard your mother is quite ill. A loyal servant of Asmodeus that none would deny and devoted woman to me in my early days within the church. Despite her piety and conviction, a price will be asked by our church, may this coin soothe the contract asked.” With each word, Barzillai’s voice became laboured before finally let Cirio go and motioning the bewildered but thankful boy to go.
Once he knew he was alone, Barzillai stood, his legs shaking and body wracked with pain and took hold of a polished cane from beside his seat, the head a smiling devil and the tongue the handle. With measured steps, the once physically strong champion of Asmodeus made his way to the curtains, standing just off to the side so that he was unseen from those beneath in the city. As his eyes surveyed southern Kintargo, his gaze sweeping from the black spire of the Temple of Asmodeus down to the sprawling streets of Old Kintargo, he drew a long draught from his goblet, the spiced water soothing his cracked throat. Slowly, a warmth passed through him, the special brew crafted by his loyal witch, Tiarise, restoring some strength, though he knew it would only be temporary. But the pain was nothing, he had given everything to his beloved Cheliax and if his wracked body was the price, so be it.
Dropping the cup, the sound resonating through the hall, he again focused on the few people in Aria Park below, several still protesting the many laws he had brought in. Suddenly, his face creased in frustration and anger, their defiance offensive to his vision.
“Insufferable fools, why do you rage against the divine order of Asmodeus?”
The thought lingered for a moment as the Lord-Mayor calmed his mind.
“You are my subjects, my children. As a father, I can be disappointed in you but I will never give up your future. If I spare the rod, I will spoil the child, how do you all not understand that?”
He slowly drew his gaze back to the Church of Asmodeus, a stark, imposing structure amid a city of colour and varied architecture as his internal monologue continued, the thoughts strengthening his conviction.
“You have been let down by both Crown and Church, this I know, for I have served both faithfully but know neither is perfect. But quell your fears Children of Kintargo, for despite their weaknesses, their strengths are grand. I will serve you instead as a pure form of their ideals and ensure that you are the inheritors of the greatest empire in Golarion’s history.”
“Lord-Mayor Barzillai, the High Priest and Dottari Commander are here to see you.” A voice, high-pitched and clipped called from behind, the small imp an irksome creature but a loyal butler.
The Lord-Mayor did not turn from his city watching as he silently motioned his imp to allow the High Priest and Commander forward. Hearing their heavy steps approach, Barzillai spoke, his voice whispered by clear.
“Have my contracts arrived?”
The laboured words surprised Corinstian and Vannases as they stopped three Kylie lengths (the measuring standard of Golarion) behind their Lord-Mayor. As their eyes adjusted to the dim area and they could see their superior better, they found the rumours of Barzillai’s poor health did little to do his condition justice. No longer did the once powerful inquisitor wear his breastplate as a sign of strength, instead, only robes of office draped the Lord-Mayor’s rail thin body. Their eyes were also were drawn to the cane that Barzillai leant heavily upon.
With measured voice, the well-groomed High Priest of Asmodeus responded, no fear in his words despite the negative answer.
“No my lord, the High Codexer of Laws in Egorian has rejected our request, no further Zebub contracts will be sent to us while the war wages in the south. He was most unsympathetic to our plight, the loss of our contracts to the Silver Raven’s seemingly giving him great pleasure.”
Barzillai nodded as he took the words in, he had expected this outcome, the mewling Codexer had always sought to vex him, the low-blooded adherent jealous of his royal lineage.
“And Commander Vannases, why are you present?” Barzillai suddenly finding his voice as the concoction continued to burn in his body, his tone suddenly full of steel.
The strong woman flinched despite herself, one hand pushing an errant white strand of hair away, her dark locks streaked with a band of white on either side. She suddenly felt Corinstian’s gaze on her as well and she silently berated herself for letting the aging priest speak first, his news to be quickly forgotten over hers. She truly loathed the well-groomed and commanding High Priest, the man wielding power freely and much more trusted by the Lord-Mayor due to his ties to the church. Any chance he got, he mocked the Dottari and used their failures to hide his own. Neither so far, successful in breaking the Silver Ravens.
“The stolen children have been found, a Cult of Mahathallah had grown beneath our streets and had been performing their foul rites.” To her own ears, her voice was strong and unwavering but the Lord-Mayor turned on his heel and stared at her with great intensity, his gaunt features shocking her into gaping openly.
“This is not a victory of the Dottari is it, Commander? A chance to regain the faith of the people we have recently lost, I presume?” Barzillai’s voice was now low but clear, his anger showing through as his face wrinkled in frustration.
Wilting under the Lord-Mayor’s gaze, the Commander shifted her gaze down as she replied.
“No my Lord.”
“SAY IT! SAY WHO DID YOUR JOB!” Barzillai’s fury suddenly reaching its peak as he knew the answer, the Inquisitor suddenly back to his healthier stride as he crossed the marble floor in seconds and grabbed the jaw of the stunned woman. “WHO! WAS! IT!
“Th..th.” The Commander stuttered, the usually unflappable and skilful warrior shaking as her eyes widened as she swore she saw brimstone within her Lord’s eyes “The Silver Ravens found them and destroyed the cult. It is already spreading throughout the city.”
“Flamma Contego!” the divine words issued from the Lord-Mayor without hesitation and a warmth spread through his hand and into the Commander, the woman unsure what was happening.
The High Priest however knew what was about to occur and he swiftly made his way to the far wall and waited. Barzillai let go of the terrified woman and walked eight long strides away from her before once again turning on his heel, his movements now strong and full of purpose.
“The rod child, it must be applied for you to learn.” His words suddenly calm, Barzillai held aloft his precious unholy symbol of Asmodeus and looked to the quacking Commander, the woman unaware of what was about to occur.
Divine power roared through the Inquisitor as he traced an invisible line downwards from the ceiling to the Commander, the air igniting with black flames, the column completely engulfing the screaming woman. In mere seconds it was gone, the floor scorched and the prone form of the Commander shaking from pain and tears. Looking up, the Commander’s skin blacked and burned from the assault, confusion apparent as she looked at her Lord.
“The rod is not to be fatal, for no lesson can be learnt otherwise. Asmodeus’ glory spared you from the flames, only the unholy power of our Great Lord wracking your flesh. Be gone, I will deal with this.”
With great pain, the Commander rose, the very air causing pain upon her tortured skin, and bowed before hobbling off down the stairs.
“Yes my Lord” The High Priest moving back to the centre of the room, his voice and movement still calm, for he felt confident in his position with the Lord-Mayor.
A bushy, white eyebrow rose on the High Priest’s face as he tried to fathom the Lord-Mayor’s words.
“I do not underst….” Corinstian began before he was cut off by the Lord-Mayor who had returned to his covered balcony, his gaze once more on the city.
“Seek Tiarise, get her to gain answers from her alien masters of what would be appropriate and reward the Silver Ravens. They have saved Cheliaxian lives, done what the Dottari could not and have won the hearts of the common folk. To make them our enemies would be to make the city our enemies. Grant them a kingly reward.”
Corinstian’s raised eyebrow did not move, the High Priest suddenly wondering if whatever was destroying his Lord’s body was also now eating away at his mind. He rankled at the order, he did not orchestrate the removal of Shensen, the beloved of Kintargo, and the meddlesome Victocoras, just to have to then prostrate his pride to a new collection of rabble.
“Is there a problem Corinstian?” The sentence more of a threat than question.
“No my Lord, it will be done as you request.” The High Priest swallowing his ire for the time being and turned to leave.
“Yes my Lord?”
“I intend to present them personally, organise that.”
Corinstian stopped, his body turning to argue the wisdom of such an action but he was cut-off.
“The gifts of the city will be presented by me, I want to look into the eyes of each one of them, to see if their conviction is as strong as their actions.” The measured tone brooked no argument and Corinstian just nodded and continued his passage out.
Alone again in the darkened Opera House, Lord-Mayor Barzillai, Paracount of Ravounel, Blood of House Thrune and High Inquisitor of the Church of Asmodeus, leant heavily once again on his cane, a wracking cough causing him to wince as he again surveyed his city.
“Citizens of Kintargo, my time as your Lord-Mayor may be short, but I promise you, you will be set upon a righteous and ordered path, your rebelliousness and chaotic yearnings will be replaced with a glory that will make you the jewel of Cheliax, this I promise you. I will be proud as any father when you achieve your destiny.”