Zenos returns from Ala Mhigo as bidden – with not a single Tribunus in tow, nor any of his other soldiers. He is alone, his men holding the fort in Gyr Abania while he goes home to play politics. It’s the middle of winter in Garlemald, thick fog blanketing the tall spires of noble estates and smoky factories for malms around. Visibility’s so low that the airship can only dock where it sees the brightest of lights, and it comes to a halt surrounded by glowing blue orbs. Zenos disembarks in a swish of red and black and gold, all silk, steel and resplendent majesty. The landing guards salute him, one of them fainting on the spot when Zenos’s gaze passes him over. No-one speaks: the Prince knows just where to go and what to do, for this is his home no matter how displeased he seems to be in it. Lips curled and eyes heavily lid, Zenos simply looks bored. The beauty of snow-capped rooftops and glittering ceruleum lamplights are lost on him, his mind turned towards what the hell his father wants. Varis only ever contacts his son when he needs something he can’t do himself, and being the damned Emperor of Garlemald, it’s probably going to be a pain in the ass.
Zenos strides through the palace not a whit fatigued from his journey, sheer annoyance keeping him strong and stoic on his way through the sleek grey halls. He arrives before his father’s throne perhaps sooner than expected, as Varis snaps awake when Zenos stands to attention, one boot slammed against the marble floor.
Varis blinks, forming some semblance of composure in hope of Zenos being unable to tell just how terribly hungover he is - at seven in the afternoon, on a Tuesday. “Zenos.” His voice, deep and rich, crawls through slack lips. “Punctual as ever, I see.”
“Get on with it.” Zenos hasn’t the patience for pleasantries or pity, near shaking with anticipation. “You would ask something of me, yes?”
“You could say that, yes.” Varis yawns, hand to mouth, and groans softly. “Mrrgh. I’ve been hearing some interesting reports about that new Pilus of yours.”
At once, Zenos stiffens. ‘Who told you? I’ll have their heads, their hearts, their fucking-”
Calm. He has to stay calm; Varis could just be preparing to congratulate him on a job well done with the Resonance project, or his leadership, or something-
“You’ve made him Tribunus after what, three months of service? Hardly appropriate.” Varis’s brow creases with a pained frown. Whoever had the idea to make his throneroom so well-lit needed to be shot.
“He is a capable leader and favored among his men.” Zenos replies crisply, shoulders squared and feet set apart just like any good soldier at rest.
“What men? You know full well that a Tribunus answers to none but the Legatus, and the Pilii take orders from who?” Varis cups his ear in Zenos’s direction. “The Legatus. That’s you, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Zenos barely resists the urge to roll his eyes, muttering under his breath. The guards by either side of Varis’s throne stiffen. “Have you called me all this way to lecture me on rank and file, Father? In case you’ve forgotten, the savages are already forming up to take back Ala Mhigo.”
“And I’m sure they’ll pave it with their bodies once you crush them to pulp. That’s what you’re good at, yes?” Varis shakes his head as if disappointed. “Nothing but killing.”
Zenos’s heart twists, black though it is with simmering malice. “Say nothing of my leadership and scientific genius, nay. Oh, how modest you are.” He leans in and snarls. “Your Radiance.”
“Watch your tone, boy.” Varis is a little more awake, now, and narrows his golden eyes. “Sponsoring a madman’s pet project does not a genius make.”
A cruel smile curves Zenos’s lips up at the corners when he thinks of just what he has achieved by sponsoring said project. “Oh, how little you know.”
Varis doesn’t like that look at all, not one bit. “What secrets have you and mal Asina concocted now? Not more of that aether nonsense, I hope.”
“That aether nonsense as you so eloquently put it is the sole reason why Batiatus has made rank. There isn’t a man in my entire legion who can match his strength.” Pride sings through his velvety voice and he looks to Varis as if daring him to deny it – or perhaps to validate his choices as well-made. In true Galvus fashion, Varis simply raises a brow in silence.
Zenos’s gaze darkens. “Have you nothing to say?”
“The reports I’ve been receiving are troubling, Zenos.” Now the Emperor is serious, the set of his jaw brooking no argument. “Sas Naevius reports several instances of informal conduct the likes of which ill befit a Legatus and his… what was it? Laticlavius, you made him? Without preparing him for the-”
“ENOUGH!” Zenos cuts through the air with a gauntleted hand, startling the guards. “I will not have you slander my finest Tribunus-”
“I will slander whoever I damned well please!” Varis snarls, clenching the armrests of his throne until his knuckles turn white. “You forget yourself, boy; your loyalty is to Garlemald, not this… thing. I’ve read the reports, I know what you’ve done to him. You and mal Asina both.”
“That is classified-”
“Frumentarium sees all.” Varis leans back, gaze fixed on the smoldering rage behind his son’s eyes. “Withholding information is treason, you know this. Why would you not tell me that you experimented on people – killed over half of them, in the name of some… some pretension? We are Garlean, boy, we’re not supposed to wield magic.”
“And you would see us succumb to the nature of our birth, then? To suffer as the savages laugh at us, frolicking with their conjury and their – aether nonsense, you said? Oh, we are much more than that.” Zenos turns his nose up and tosses his hair back. “You wouldn’t understand. It was Mother who saw fit to grace me with this gift, this Resonance. Mal Asina simply redefined it, and if you could just see how powerful we’ve become…”
“Would you listen to yourself?” Varis near pleads with Zenos, yet only anger carries his voice. “We? What we, you and that abomination? You think you’re something else, having ripped apart the very nature of your being in pursuit of power? People have died, Zenos, good men every one.”
“We can make more.” Zenos shrugs. “And before the Resonant shall Gods be made to kneel.”
Varis shakes his head violently, crown teetering. “You are utterly mad, boy, and I thoroughly regret setting you free.”
“How free can I be if I still return here at your beck and call, hm? You are the Emperor, after all. I have little choice but to listen as you prattle on, confused and afraid.” Zenos puts a finger to his lip, head tilted to one side. “And alone. Never forget that.”
“Zenos, I have acknowledged several reports regarding both your activity and that of Batiatus.” Varis speaks as quickly as he can to get it all out, over and done with. “I will not deny how others have spoken of his skill. But you and he are ill suited together – to lead an entire Legion you must be of one mind, and that is in service to the Empire. Not to each other.”
Zenos shifts, the clink of his armor betraying a soul-deep discomfort the likes of which Varis has never seen. He draws no breath to interrupt, but the flicker in his eyes reflects a heightened state of awareness, his tongue poised and ready to strike. Varis resists the urge to put his face in his hands, and inhales.
“Batiatus is to be moved to the IVth Legion, effective immediately.”
The tension drains from Zenos’s face, along with any remaining life in his eyes. “No,” he breathes. “No.”
“No?” Varis actually looks amused, the bastard. “I did not raise you to defy orders, now, did I?”
“You will not take him from me.” Zenos hisses through his teeth, mouth full of acrid loathing. Bubbling fear. His whole body leans forth, fingers already reaching for a sword. Varis blinks at that, his guards taking a half-step out of position.
“Mind yourself, boy. You forget your place.”
“My place is with THE XIIth!” Zenos rips a katana from the revolver at his hip and points it at Varis, howling a curse in his direction. “Bastard! I’ll slaughter the entire damn IVth if you so dare to move my man!”
“Your man,” Varis says evenly, “Is a monster. Just like you. Tch, no wonder you like him. Like peas in a pod.” He presses a hand to his brow, the ache almost too much to bear. “Listen. A strong Legatus makes for a strong Legion, and the IVth has recently lost theirs in Othard. The Domans have their land back, and-”
“I DON’T CARE!” Zenos shrieks, slicing through the air with enough force to displace Varis’s finely combed hair. The guards draw their gunblades at once, both pointed at Zenos’s chest. His armored chest. “HE IS MINE, DO YOU HEAR ME? I put WORK into Lucius, I put LOVE-”
“YOU WOULDN’T KNOW LOVE IF IT BIT YOU IN THE FUCKING BACKSIDE!” Varis roars, and just as the final echoes thunder from his lips do the guards aim down and shoot into the creases of Zenos’s sabatons. He falls to his knees, tendons severed. His eyes gleam white as if rabid, hysterical sobbing caught in his throat. Varis eases back into the throne quite unwilling to go anywhere near his son, scowling at him.
“You shame yourself, Zenos. I should have you executed just for your tone, but alas.” He shakes his head. “So many chances and yet you squander them all.” A tap of the foot, and Zenos pitches back with a hole in his shoulder, again through a gap in the armor. His hold tightens on the lone katana drawn and quivering, Resonance doing little to save him in the face of reflexive gunfire. The guards move without thinking to protect their Emperor, and Varis is full glad of it knowing just how fast Zenos can be.
“You will calm yourself and we shall speak on the morrow.” Varis growls, gesturing for Zenos to be taken away. Drawn by the gunfire, twelve guards run down the hallway and approach Zenos with a little more hesitance than Varis would like. At a gesture from him they disarm the Prince, hauling him up while blood trickles along his loose limbs. His face is completely aghast, eyes huge and glistening while any color rapidly drains from his cheeks.
“No,” Zenos breathes. “You can’t. You can’t take him from me.”
“Oh, shut up.” Varis snaps. He looks to the head of the guards, a man dressed in red. “Take him to the dungeons.” Zenos is hauled off still muttering desperately to anyone who will listen, and it takes all twelve men to carry him. The two of Varis’s personal guard lower their weapons and look to their Emperor, who nods approvingly.
“Very well done. You two will guard my chambers tonight; change with III and IV at twelve.”
“Yes, Your Radiance.” One of the guards salutes, then puts a finger to her ear and relays the orders by means of a tiny communication device. Once that’s done, she resumes standing at ease despite being very much alert.
Varis leans back and promptly decides that he needs another drink – maybe three, and then a late supper. His spy, too – he needs to speak with him, glean what he can from Zenos’s behavior. All signs point to an obsession the likes of which has no place in Varis’s army. But five thousand men, each loyal to Zenos? Suddenly, he doesn’t like the thought of that very much at all.