"I've been waiting," he said to the shrouded figure standing in the circle before him. It hung willowy in the air, nothing more than a disembodied cloak really, a dead chill emanating from within the folds of its robe. Floating there sullenly he wished it had entered with more gusto, more of a bang, so that he could be reaffirmed in his power and more secure in his control.
After some minutes of silence it removed its hood. Cornelia looked back at him and he shuddered. He had heard that when it came it took the appearance of someone you loved, someone you trusted more than anyone else. Seeing, though, was worse than believing.
"Who is this? Pilate? My, you really have pulled out all the stops on this one," it said as it picked up the skull at the head of the circle. Looking the vacant sockets in the eyes as if it were the man himself it nodded appreciatively as it sniffed the wax of the candle burning on its crown, "Tallow of a flawless bull too. You have such good taste. Really, I'm flattered."
"I've been waiting," he repeated, over loud on the emphasis as its indifference wilted his confidence. He seethed and redness flooded his cheeks.
"Yes, I suppose you have," it looked around, eyes resting on a copy of Solomon's true grimoire, betraying nothing other than casual interest, "But I don't see how that's any of my business. Everyone's waiting for something. It's not like I take appointments."
"It's been six hundred years--!" he choked. Tears welled in his eyes. How many were pent up, stuffed in the small corners that would not wrinkle, would not weep? One for every hour? Every day? An ocean's worth of unshed sorrow, just waiting to push through.
"You know, given the chance, most people would kill for what you have. As you yourself have done."
"You don't understand--this place! It's gone to pieces. I spent a whole year without the sun! The Empire... the... it's all..."
"Gone?" it offered. Floating over the grimoire, it began flipping through the pages, resting on entries with something akin to nostalgia, "You know how it is. Ashes to ashes. You're the only exception there. For now."
Iam enim. The way the words just fell out of her--its lips, words without form, sound without noise, meaning detached from the act of physical creation, of wind passing over tongue and tooth--unnerving.
"Six hundred years," he whispered, bereft. It very truly was as if nothing remained. The weight of the years had crushed it out of him, leaving only this plaintive request, one final whinging nag masquerading in the rags of a broken rebellion. It paused its browsing of the book, and looked up at him with her eyebrow cocked.
"Have you tried asking for forgiveness?"
"Forgiveness--! It was His plan. How can He torment me so for it?" the cracking of his voice scratched his throat and rent his heart. His had been a noble cognomen, one of a warrior who had earned his place as favored through feat of arms in battle. Worn away from that context, eroded by the years, what was left was little more than a pitiful specimen, crowing for death.
"Funny things, those are. Plans. How many have I crushed over the years?" it said with a feigned smile that barely concealed unbridled wrath, "Come now, you know your histories! Tell me, what of Varro? Antonius? How fared the Fabii at Cremera? What I gave you over Pyrrhus I took with Theodosius' last breath. Plans!--Puny things, those. They fare ever so poorly without willing accomplice."
Her face was so cold, ever more cold than it had been on their worst night, he, leaving east, she remaining with her family, never to return or share once more a room, a bed, a look. Cornelia, worn so cravenly by it, was possessed of a coldness beyond human cruelty. Inside he tried to find something, anything, that would swell and pour out of him, be it tears or venom. Anything to reaffirm that within the shell of a man who aged like a living statue, polished but not worn by his years, there remained something of the vigor of one who yet has life to lose and blood to spill.
"Perhaps in another six hundred years," it offered, closing the book, "When all this time finally means something to you."
It did not pity. It did not hate. Moving as sand through an hourglass it is thing only to be seen at ends and not before. With the spells of Solomon and the skull of Pilate firmly in hand, it returned to the circle, drew up its hood, and began to dissipate.
"Do not call me again. Next time there will be consequences."