Chapter 32: Way of the Empty Spirit

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His servants attended him with adoration, yet he barely noticed them. His plan progressed perfectly, yet he knew the nature of whom he conspired against. A single misstep could earn the ire of a very formidable and precarious archon – as well as the collective strength of the cabalistic al-Jahi clan. Visnau's thoughts were entirely internal, focused on the maneuvers designed to bring Danna under his control, and Donald Calvin to his knees.

No, he won't have any knees left, Visnau thought. A sly smile curled his lips, and his nearby servants shifted uneasily, though the motions were almost imperceptible. They were trained well.

Visnau considered the actions his favorite servant, Atanasia, would take in his stead. He was the master, and she his marionette. He was so absorbed in her purpose, he almost failed to notice when his most capable servant entered his lounge.

"You have come with good news, I assume, my pet," he said, not bothering to look at her. "Danna and Donald have not yet emerged from the al-Jahi plantation, I hope. It will be time to move on them soon, but not yet."

When she did not answer, his brow creased in irritation. He looked up to see her step to the side of the doorway and lower her head in shame. Visnau's brow wrinkled further until an old man wearing a colored galabiya shuffled around the corner and into the room using a cane. Visnau smiled and addressed his servants, though he never looked away from the old man.

"Leave us," he said. "Not you, sweetling."

"Vincențiu," Bakaris Riyad Khamet said in greeting and gave the archon a slight bow. "It has been a long time, has it not?

Visnau stood and returned the bow, bending deeply. "It has." He waited, letting Bakaris make the first move and set the tone for their reunion.

Bakaris regarded the extravagance of Visnau's temporary home and settled his eyes on Atanasia. "It saddens me greatly, old friend, to see how lowly you have fallen."

Visnau snorted and shrugged. "It could not be helped. This is who I am, Bak. I cannot change that now. Nothing can, and nothing will. Do I make myself clear?"

"Agreed," Bakaris said, nodding. "It is a sad fate you bear, my friend, but you must endure it or we are all lost."

"Yes, but something tells me that isn't why you've come to me," Visnau said.

"No. I've come here to warn you against your perilous scheme. The girl you seek is more than just another archon. She holds power beyond measure, beyond Teijurzi even, and she cannot be controlled – not by me, not by Calvin, and not even by herself, I believe. Do not tempt her."

Visnau chuckled. "Do not concern yourself with my plans, Bakaris. I will do what I must to learn the secrets of the seeker's 'daughter.'"

"Ah, I see what this is about now." Bakaris shook his head. He glanced at Atanasia and then stared back at Visnau. "I warn you out of courtesy, Vincențiu. Stay away from the girl and her ward. If you come for my guests in my home, you will be denied."

He turned to go, and Visnau laughed and stepped forward, squaring his shoulders. They were once nearly the same height, but age had shrunk and stooped his former ally. Visnau towered over him. Though Visnau was an archon, a being of light and power and pure energy made flesh, and Bakaris was merely a mortal man without the benefit of archonic mana, the man returned the archon's glare with equal intensity.

Visnau sneered and touched Bakaris. Green light flowed from the archon and into the man, unmaking him and remaking him into something else. Bakaris helped Visnau once in the past, and would do so again. He would become a servant to help him orchestrate his plans – an ally on the inside.

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