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It is a frigid morning in Garlemald, the whole city blanketed in snow and fog. Zenos strides through the lamplit streets with purpose in every step – oh, he could’ve taken some form of transport, yes, but there’s no fun in that. Why lounge in warmth and comfort when he can feel the biting chill upon his face, seeping through the cracks in his armor, freezing him to the bone? It is painful, and it is real. As a shiver ripples through his steel-clad form, he takes in the faces of those he passes. His third eye vaguely registers fear and horror on the slack-jawed civilians who frantically skitter out of his way. A smirk twitches at his lips, yet goes no further. Up ahead, he can see the large crowd gathered outside the Senate – sixty armed guards lining the white steps as Varis, High Legatus of the Imperial Army, speaks.

He can hear his father’s loud, booming voice from yalms away, every sharp consonant and growled stop. Something about Doma – good, he’s not too late. Zenos marches up to the crowd and several turn at the crunching of heavy sabatons upon crisp snow. Curious eyes widen with fright and someone screams – a noblewoman, now fainted into the arms of an equally terrified politician. Zenos turns his head towards the man, who’s shaking his head senselessly, showing the whites of his eyes.

‘Like a rabid beast.’

By now, the rest of the crowd has begun to turn. Like a school of fish they part, whispers from within reaching the fringes who step away to afford their fellows a chance to retreat. Zenos disregards the increasingly wary populace – he is not here for them, even if he is supposed to behave a certain way in the public eye. And right now, under Varis’s stern gaze, he is not.

The crown prince is covered in blood, an eyeball stuck on one pauldron, viscera clinging to his sabatons. There’s a patch of hair peeking out from the steel plates, scalp still attached like a piece of gum. Various katanas fill the revolver at his hip, its ceruleum reserves so low that it hums feebly, thoroughly spent. Oh, he’s had such a lovely vacation in Othard. And he’s going to tell his father all about it.

Varis’s upper lip curls at the sight of Zenos, lacking his helmet and any sort of public decorum. He had just been in the middle of reassuring the people that Doma was still under Imperial control, its rebellion being suppressed in a most efficient manner when Zenos had to come by and show just howit was done. He finishes his sentence – “…of His Radiance’s benevolent leadership.” – and stands straighter, chest puffed out and chin up. He glares down his nose at Zenos.

He has had the ability to command a room ever since he was a boy, and now turns the heads of three hundred people just by standing there. Lifting a hand to salute, Zenos idly takes in the stiffening guards, listens to the imperceptible creaks of their armor. He drinks in their fear and it warms his blood to near boiling, a delicious offset to the dreary cold. Not a single expression touches his placid face, eyes dead and sunken as he speaks to his father.

“The rebellion has been crushed, Father.”

Varis’s quick mind pulls together every thread of information he has – the people hold his message in their heads but he can see it dripping from their ears at the sight of his son, little left to the imagination as to what he’s been doing. They’re afraid, and crowds often feed each others’ strongest emotions whether it be for a rousing speech or perceived threat. The guards aren’t riot police, lacking shields and only armed with gunblades to shoot potential dissenters. Er- rabble-rousers, hecklers, Varis would never have an innocent citizen shot for disagreeing with him.

But Zenos would. And they know.

“Report.” Varis growls. He can’t dismiss Zenos here in public, nor admonish him for his disgustingappearance and even worse timing. Instead he tries to regain the floor with an iron fist, clutching at the fleeting attentions of his people with all the authority he can muster.

Zenos simply smiles, showing his perfect white teeth. One of the guards shifts out of position. “Lord Kaien and all those who would oppose the Empire alongside him will no longer be an issue.”

Varis groans inwardly. Zenos’s wording strikes independent thought in the people surrounding him and that never, ever ends well. Already they’re backing away, some whispering, others shouting.

“He killed them…!”

“All of them! Look at his armor!”

SILENCE!” Varis slams his hand down on the podium and the white marble cracks- he’ll be feeling that tomorrow. The crowd jumps as one, faces turning towards him for salvation, solace, anything. “I do hope you did not murder the entire-”

“Why would I not?” Zenos interrupts, and Varis can feel his sanity slipping away. “Of course I killed them; it was the best way to eradicate the weak and disloyal from further poisoning the Empire.” His hand thumps to his chest in an oddly patriotic manner. “Victory for Garlemald, at all costs. Your words, father. Remember?”

The crowd turns from side-eyeing Zenos to staring up at Varis in shock.

Oh, shit.

Varis grips the edges of the podium, molten gold gaze burning through his son to very little effect. Zenos is still smiling, and half the people around can’t take their eyes off him. “So you disposed of the rebellion by means of slaying their leader and armed forces. That is expected, but your methods-

“Oh, you should have seen them!” Zenos’s voice picks up with a maddened lilt and the ten-fulm clearing around him becomes twenty. “They truly believed they could win. Cut down a good handful of my men before I had to step in and taste it for myself.” His smile fades then, a look of piteous disinterest overcoming his face. “Civilians make for such poor sport. They can’t even run properly. We should do something about the supplying of those distant provinces – I witnessed far too many starving and weak for my liking.” He plucks the eyeball from his pauldron and its juices run down his gauntlet as he crushes it between two fingers. *Splut*. “Of course, they won’t have to suffer anymore.”There’s that smile again, teasing and infuriating to Varis who’s near shaking with rage.

“Doma is under our control, and that is what matters.” Trying to salvage the situation, Varis takes a cautionary reading of the crowd. Several are squirming to escape, others weep quietly into their hands, and quite a few look about ready to violently eject their organs through their mouths. What a disaster. And yet, he cannot look away, nor order Zenos into private counsel fast enough. Zenos goes to say something else but Varis gives him the Look – that which the boy knows will result in a thorough beating if he disobeys. Zenos’s eyes widen marginally before he dips his head, lips curled up at the corners.

He has what he came for – his father’s notice, and a degree of personal interaction beyond the militaristic formalities he’s endured his whole life.

‘Oh, yes.’ He clings to the danger, the threat in his father’s gaze. ‘Yes, I do think I’ve done well.’ Varis is still chewing on his next few words when Zenos turns to depart, going back the way he came through the blue-lit streets of Garlemald. Varis has no choice but to dismiss the crowd and make haste into the Senate, where he locks himself in his office for the rest of the day.

‘Damn it, Zenos.’ He tugs at his hair, face creased with distress. ‘The minute I become Emperor, I’m sending you far, far away where you’re never going to harm our people again.’