+ inload: Coronation +

+ inload: Coronation +

Idly carressing the balustrade with his fingers as he continued along the walkway, Boliti's eyes glittered in the darkness. Without warning, he broke into a sprint, bare feet drumming on the cold tiles for a scant few steps before his legs bunched and he launched himself. 

He hung exultantly in the air for an instant before reaching the apex of his jump. Swinging his arms back for momentum, he twisted then shot out a hand to grab the decorative stringcourse. Two fingers arresting his fall, he swung on his outstretched arm and sprung away from the wall with a two-footed kick. 

His body momentarily blocked a thin beam of light falling through one of the gaps in the mouldy and much-patched roof. Far below, a tardy servant squinted upwards nervously, before shaking her head and scuttling away.

Boliti landed in a crouch further along the gallery, breathing heavily. His calf ached, an old injury. He ignored it. Grinning – though given his lipless mouth, this was largely involuntary – he slowly stood, and looked back across the gap where a section of the gallery had broken off, long ago. His footfalls were quiet, though not silent. There was no pressing need for stealth here. The only other footprints were those of Boliti himself, made during previous visits. Even those had been part-filled with drifting dust. 

He passed dozens of windows as he continued. Most were blanketed with the blotchy black ivy that rose up the mountainside and broke against the great bulwark of the palace like a suffocating tide. Many panes of glass had shattered under the weight. Exploratory leaves, sun-starved and pale, carpeted the tiles and woodwork. Some windows were still relatively clear. Many were decorated with glass traceries of saints, picked out in bright primary colours. To Boliti, the figures' expressions were furious, desperate. Necks twisted at oddly-observed angles, their madly-starting eyes made them look like men drowning in the ivy. All the windows were achingly tall. A gap in the partition revealed them to drop a hundred yards or more. Light rising from beneath gave a telltale hint of colour and lead.

These forgotten upper galleries were almost at the roofspace of this section of palace, and its owl-haunted heights were thick with vermin-earth and ashen scraps. It was completely unlit, but the dilapidated state of the roof and those windows that still admitted light meant that the paint of the frescos was bleached back to the plaster through simple time. Where black mould and creeper flowers had not corrupted and undermined the images, Boliti could see hints of rose-clouds and the inevitable black tarnish where once gold leaf had sat. 

That areas of the palace clearly meant for few – if any – passers-by were once so richly decorated went unmarked by Boliti. He was a man untroubled by sentiment or introspection. Even the age of the palace failed to impress him. Like most Imperial citizens, such prehistory was an irrelevance. He idly rubbed his thumb across two forefingers, enjoying the feeling of the dust between them. Padding forwards, he hugged the wall and stepped lightly across the head of an impassive Cyclopean angel to reach the next gallery without ducking back into the roof corridor. 

This part was his favourite. As he rounded a swelling inverse dome, light began to fill the air. It was a good light. Warm, golden. He glanced back, seeing the cold light of the Cephean sun fall in hard lances through the squinting windows and pocked roof. The hard black silhouettes of carpentry and stonework seemed already distantly unwelcoming. Turning back to the warm light rising up from far below, he walked to the very edge of the gallery. 

Here, the palace opened up into a vast dome. It curved upwards to an oculus, which permitted light – and other things – to enter. Currently, thin drizzle and ash, carried up from the fires and war below, was falling in. It looked like it was weeping. The warm light from below met the thin sunlight defiantly.

Even from Boliti's soaring vantage point, the dome rose much higher, extending up at least another thirty metres in overlaying scallop-shaped arches. Here the decoration was much more well-kempt. Each composite sub-arch was richly decorated with gilt, and supported dangling censer-chains that formed a cobweb of glittering crystal glass and smoke. The upper recesses held beautifully executed artworks – faces, foliage, animals. Some were more unusual, showing stars in significant arrangements, celestial chariots, or groups of figures engaged in odd tasks; like stretching some indeterminate beast out lengthways, or touching one another's eyes. Boliti knew little of local culture or history, and cared less. 

The styles varied. Towards the base of the arch, far below, were the oldest artworks. He could see that these would be hidden from below. Perhaps as a result, they were in as poor a state as the rest of the roofspace. Out of sight, out of mind. He liked the simple lines and colours of these artworks, flaking and half-submerged in dust as they were. They reminded him of the mad stares of hte saints in the windows. Many of the figures here were identical in posture and expression, marked out only by the shape of their coronets, the colour of their robes, or what they bore in their long, stylised fingers. Boliti liked the ones with blades the best.

He had seen these all a number of times. He had slept here, sometimes, when he was not needed. Like many Veet-Lingese, he liked the height and the isolation. Up here, he was reminded of the sprawling and rambling holy places of their homeworld. He was glad, in a way his fizzing madness rarely allowed, that the King had brought them here.

Ah, the King. Yes, the Sun King. Boliti looked down, to the source of the warm light. He did not like other people, but he did like the King. The King was good. The King was making things better. At home, the King had sat with them and shared. Then he had moved away from the jungle. Here he sat out in the light, and talked with other people. People from this world. Boliti did not understand why, but he assured himself the King was doing things for the best. After all, the King had not come from Home himself, but he had made things better. Better for Boliti. Better for people.

He lay down on his front, resting his chin on his scarred arms. Below the cobweb of chains, below the fug of smoke, a small flock of winged sustentet-putti darted about replacing candles in the immense chandeliers, their childish forms made monstrous by the sores around their badly-maintained bionics and their rivetted-on masks. Below these – far below – was the Throne. 

It was old. Very old. It had sat in every iteration of the palace; from the clean STC lines of the pre-Imperial settlers, to the smoke-haunted wattle-and-daub long hut on the hill that had sat amidst their ruins for many centuries. Subsequent generations had enlarged and expanded and improved the palace, so that it had grown, coral-like, over and around the striking crag of the hillside. It plunged deep down towards the sea and the city, the pediments of its buttresses stretching kilometres out in every direction. Rib-like structures reached out back towards the city, bracing and rooting the massive edifice against the craggy mountain. Peat walls had given way to stone, then brick, then steel and marble as the Imperium arrived. Its high point had been brief. Ten thousand years of neglect had seen parts reduced to rubble. Most had returned to brick. Patched and cannibalised and repaired and added-to, its towers and domes bristled and proliferated in an uncontrolled and undirected way. The palace hung over the city like an overripe windfall, dug through and fungus-ridden and old.

Near the centre – every centre – the Throne had sat. It had not always been called by that name, and nor had it always looked the same, but the core of the Throne remained. The oculus high above permitted a beam of light to fall on the dais upon which the throne sat. At certain times of the year, the light fell on the focus. These marked high holy days, when the King traditionally held court personally and met with petitioners. Today was such a day. The first, in fact, since Good King Sciriusc had overthrown his predecessor. 

The throne had pinioned and overshadowed every King that had sat upon it, its esoteric function long-forgotten, but its brooding and oppressive effect readily felt. Every King, that is, except Sciriusc. 

He owned the Throne. Where his predecessors had sprawled langurously across it in robes and furs and gold, attempting to smother its oppressive nature with gilt and frippery and decoration, the new Imperial Commander had stripped these all away, leaving the throne bared like a snarl. It was a day of many firsts. The first Cyngmoot since the outbreak of war. The first to have an off-worlder enthroned for millennia. The first where the inevitable treasonous whispers had met with Imperial technology.

Banks of spiralling galleries looked down on the dais, a haze in the air indicating the power field. The generator was old, but reliable. It sat to one side, partly covered over with military-issue flakboard and sheeting, and attended fussily by rust-robed priests. The King himself sat broodingly in his warmask, a richly-decorated and trimmed robe draped over the ceremonial armour which he filled well. Despite the rococco ornamentation of the armour and the simpering expression etched onto the mask, the Sun King exuded a sense of purpose and puissance. 

The rainfall weeping through the oculus dissipated in the roaring heat of ten thousand candles long before it reached the dais. The room was uncharacteristically hushed. Boliti watched as the light from below faded in ancient response to the thin sunlight. It felt like a murder. A shaft of hesitant light agonisingly crept down the wall like a stepparent's unwanted caress, highlighting the cadavorous faces of several Welleborne families in their heraldic cell-pews. 

Their clothing was outlandish to Boliti, exotic. He watched in idle interest as the sickly finger of light highlighted one layer of the galleries after another. One minor Welleborne, highlighted for a brief second, wore a peacock-headdress that trailed for ten yards behind him. The next terrace below seated three identical sisters, their necks elongated and eyes hidden beneath a single immense hood. Below them, nearer the dais, were the real nobility. Some looked barely-human. One wallowed in a jar of sustenat fluid, his flesh lanced through and scourged with thousands of needlewires. His neighbour was a swollen ogre of muscle, wrapped about with flounced ribbons and leathers. His face was an exquisite sculpture of stylised features; rendering him with the appearance of an overgrown child. His companion reclined on a hovering chaise longue seemingly made from tiny interspaced and unconnected cubes. At least a dozen stunted servants fussed about her, their fingers lingering and groping, their faces drawn into the tight smiles of masturbating idiots.

The light crept inexorably down the chamber like a trickle of cold sweat until it met the floor. From Boliti's point of view, it began tracking back across the floor, over a silent choir of castrati-boys, over a serried rank of honour guards in their bright plumes and ruffs, over the advisor-pit, where the King's closest allies sat. Finally, it broke upon the dais itself. The dead silence this caused revealed the earlier quiet to have been an anticipatory susurration in comparison. 

The King rose to his feet. The crowd did the same. The choir broke into voice, the pitched note rising high and strong. As an invisible organ joined with a descending shriek to reach the choir's din, even Boliti felt the hairs rise on his back. The coronation began. 

Boliti ran his tongue over his dry teeth. Soon, the old war on this world would be over. The way would be clear for a much more important war to begin.

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