The Emperor’s entourage walked beneath an open-air pavilion, after passing through the largest valley in all of the planet Wyle. Dawn sun blasted so intensely between Romanesque columns, that the light-play made their vertical ridges glow skeletal. White penetrated every ‘pore of the rock’ it was explained by Crush, the Imperial Sun was so cruel as to play even with molecules, upset and pass through stone. Against the extreme black and white, Liyane barely made out amber-frosted treetops far into the distance, before the snowy summit of a red mountain.
What were they all waiting for?
Through the hard orange hemisphere and the horrible gold scene around the burning rock, it was eventually possible see riders coming out majestically toward them. Hooves of their mounts clicked upon black marble when they arrived. Liyane’s eyes fully adjusted, when she heard, then saw Crush lean in and snap the edge of a golden grape leaf off, in his teeth. The vine could not have grown up on the distressed rock. The flowing branch laden with fresh, dripping berries so hot-green that they burned against one’s pupils shifted in and out of reality it seemed, before Liyane saw that someone was holding it. A woman who was half deer, from the waist down to her split hooves, walked holding the fruit for her Emperor.
They passed through a final white-burning arch. Inscribed glass doors parted for the entire party.
Now, it was necessary for eyes to adjust again. Twisting golden columns, almost crystalline as reaching icicles made everything into a luxurious furnished forest. Decorated lounge rooms and other furless and fully-dressed pretentious menagerie revealed themselves on either side of a cheerful hall. Liyane recognized the bronze arms of the riders serving Crush wine and grapes of which he cared only to eat the leaves. The she-satyrs, wound at waists striped with tribal paints at the part where their humanoid selves blended into what was beastly.
Before, she’d been tempted to become a deer, as all women were who passed the years under dominion watching exotic half-deer women flit ears and peal out the news with needing eyes, dance and frolick with various rose-colored product bottles in their hands or fixed in coiled fetlocks. Now, Liyane verged on hating herself.
When the graceful women sang, their voices were all throaty, hurt ethereal chorus. She did not know the words in the Wylean language, but it surely throbbed a terrible need for the Imperial Buck, who was Tim. Tim become Crush, and he seemed complete master of their affection. It did not flatten him at all, he did not blush or flit off-smile. This was his by right.
Next, their dancing swift cream forms shrouded the man’s body. Flowing ballerina arms received cast-off garments as Crush lazily stripped himself in public, folded arms overhead into a yawn, and was re-dressed, on the move.
Liyane now hated herself more, for having peeked.
Guests came to the edge of these rooms with no walls. Couches and tables were set up around more beacon-black columns. When Crush stopped his parade at the center at the hall, they applauded the ruler of their Galaxy.
And so, at last, without the light of courtroom, the blast of the alien Wyle environment, or the shades of cell-block nightmare, it became possible to see the real Emperor San’ur Crush. Imperial posters were always drawn and the artists focused primarily on ornamentation of the ancient costumes, and sketching every point of antler to precision. The depictions were so exact that the antlers were never, in fact, colored. But she felt it left the bones-in-outline looking like a bruise against the page, or a brand against skin. Now she was left with an impression of the Loving Emperor being less than ritualized. Liyane could perceive freckles on his skin before the morning toga was swathed across his back–and she was embarrassed to have remembered so many of them, after ten years. Then, there were two polished golden eye-holes at his shoulder blades. A leather strap passed across the widest part of Crush’s back.
Even he wore a Nude Form…
Liyane, and the rest of that entourage climbed a set of carpeted stairs, then Crush turned to face the gallery of salons. Many happy forest deer come somewhere, suddenly… Liyane worried that she and the other humanoids in the room were being swarmed by true docile, head bowing, ear-flitting creatures. Together, everyone looked so worshipful and painfully ridiculous.
“Do you all love me?” Crush called out.
“Yes, great Emperor!” they echoed back. Then it garbled into many independent, drunk-ruddy pleas. One delighted set caught on, became the most forceful, “But here we are. You must show us your love. Here we are, so show us your love!”
Crush laughed paternally. Liyane’s frightened gaze wandered to where he caught his bare stomach. Yes, as before, the lower half of Crush was a different color. Gold? Going autumn red? What? He said, “Well, that’s new, isn’t it?”
Crush grasped Liyane, by the hair, pulled her down a step. “For once, we have a volunteer for my next trick. You looked on me so fondly, doe, how could I say no?”
“You promised I was free, of prisons…”
“Shh. Ladies and Gentlemen of the Winter Court, here is my latest dissident feast, this one’s a curio–a human woman who has cheated death on every single one of the Lesser Planets where she was interned. Oh, but I did find her and fish her out of our court system eventually.” to laughter, “But better than some christ’s style skill at resurrection, this female has another unusual charm.” somewhere out there, a trained drummer rolled, “Behold! Enough wounds from nude-form across her shoulders to suggest that once upon a time, she was one of the better whores intent on this court. How did–Lady Liyane–never get here?” Crush then ripped the back of her natty prison garb, for them all to see.
Liyane mouthed her hatred and endured their staring.
“So, I may feast on this one, yet, we’ll see. And another thing, over the next few weeks, you will see a runt, a homewrecker and a whore-convict all in one, restored to her original worth. Let this be a lesson for those rebels and insistent nonbelievers, even you hunters…” the drums rolled again, and the people complained at always being dragged along before his charming punchlines, what awful suspense, “Yes, Emperor San’ur Crush is a full-blooded Ungulati and can achieve real miracles. He can move mountains, he can destroy planets that don’t suit him–he can even restore onto a fallen woman… her self respect.”
Now they laughed as hell-bent and raucous as they really were, meaning all of Crush’s courtiers were, this time, honestly amused.
Liyane was released with a shove, and full Ungulates, armored deer soldiers walking on two legs, helped her back up to her feet and guided her wrists into new shackles. These were gold. Liyane glared at Crush anew–no, he was the same old half-crack, unfunny, slimy chump.
Up the stairs, the true heart of the palace opened up. It felt like they’d come to yet another planet done in warm roasted stone columns and a cerulean sky between every arch. Potted green plants were everywhere. A master-crafted, better, shining Earth.
“How fast some of us part with our scruples. And, at every single turn in our histories. Liyane, don’t be so disingenuous with me again, unless my stomach is ready for it.”