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Meanwhile, in the Imperial Palace...

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It isn’t often that Varis has a moment to himself. Sure, there are peaceful evenings when there’s no work to be done, no messengers or reports or other riffraff clamoring for his attention. But even when sitting on his throne, wine in hand and mind far away from the issues plaguing the realm, he has to act.

Playing the part of Emperor while an Ascian pulls the strings is starting to wear him down. Every one of Solus’s little jabs chips away at his sanity, unraveling the threads of his radiant veneer bit by bit. His face is almost permanently tense these days from resting in a stoic scowl (and such a thing does exist, if only by his spiteful elegance), every fiber of his being taut as his mental defenses pile higher and higher. The Emperor’s self control has long since been the stuff of legend, only now beginning to take its toll. Myriad aches manifest in parts of him he’s not wounded in decades, while the golden lustre of his hair seems to fade day by day. It’s a mere whisper of platinum now, three fulms of it framing his pallid face. He stares dead-eyed at nothing, the guards by either side of his throne unmoving as they have been for the past hour. It’s always like this – when he has nothing else to do, he’ll sit here and brood. Often, and evidently, to the detriment of his health.

His servants have not the place nor right to interrupt his self-imposed stupor, and almost all of his Legatii are out and about, minding their own damn business. Just the way he likes it, lonely though it may be within the palace, knowing his favourite will never, ever return.

He thinks of Regula and his heart hurts. He drinks, and drinks until it no longer does.