Empire of the Tropics Part 4
Minerva. By Brendan Heard and Iásonas Lupus.
Vasco awoke with a start. A bright light was pouring into the vault, and he could hear running water. The walls were moving and his head swimming, but like a sleeper awakening from a dream, he felt an awareness that the drugs he’d been subjected to were wearing off. By focusing he ceased the dizzying morphing of the stone walls, and brought himself shakily to his feet. He was shocked by his own state: naked and covered in what seemed to be white chalk, with no memory of why or how, only in flashes, which popped into his mind feverishly, more like dreams than real memory. He was priapically hard, painfully so, and the only patches of him that weren’t white were dashed with blood, and he seemed to have blood in and about his mouth, unsure if it was his own.
He reached out and leaned against the wall, and had a flash of memory, of the beautiful priestess Leonor beneath him in coitus, and her whispering to him: “I don’t do this for anyone, ever, just you, Vasco.” He had another then of being beaten, and fighting for his life. Had he killed someone?
The initiation, was not normal. She tried to kill me, then made love to me. How long have I been down here?
A stone door near to him opened with a slow grind, and suddenly Leonor was there, with two priests. She wore a steel iron-maiden mask, surrounded with spikes, and leather armour and cloak, but he knew it was her. She stroked his hair, as the priests steadied him, and she wiped the blood from him, and they draped him in the scarlet robe of an acolyte.
“Never forget.” She said, and they led him out. “You are my special one, Vasco, you have been prepared. You do not recall now, but when the time comes, you will remember, and then you will act.”
They threw him rudely out into the street. The light seemed very bright to him, although it was getting to be dusk, and he was dazed, and it felt as though he had been born that very day. Reborn. He had another startling flashback, of staring closely at her face in the dark, and having that sense again, of a beast, of Pan. He looked behind him, and she was gone, but the two priests remained, and one extended his hand, and in it was a small lizard, and upon the lizard’s back was a large open eye, seeking a target. It was so other-wordly, and repulsive, that Vasco had to wonder was he still hallucinating.
“This will keep you connected to your mistress, Leonor. Don’t lose it.” The priest said, and placed the reptile in a small sack, handing it to Vasco. The other priest began to laugh, derisively – and Vasco, feeling fed up, and no longer like a subservient initiate, but like someone who was being used, grabbed the priests head and brought it down on his raised knee, cracking his mask and knocking him unconscious to the dusty street cobbles. He looked to the other priest, but he only held out the bag.
“Take it. You must.”
Vasco knew somehow he could not refuse, and took the bag, and turned to the busy street, wearing nothing but the robe they had given him, and spat out some blood. A car was there among the bustle of merchants, a silver torpedo-shaped vehicle of many wheels, and steering it was the Duke Orléan. He had been waiting.
“You are with us now, boy. You are my charge.”
“Where is Dom Miguel?” Vasco had expected him.
“He is gone. He has been taken, by pirates.”
Vasco was almost too astonished to reply. “What? How?”
“Whatever went on in there…” Here the Duke looked him up and down, quizzically. “You have not been gone the standard time, you have been in dreamland for a week, boy. Dom Miguel had business in Angola, but his zeppelin was attacked. He has been kidnapped by Moors. For ransom. If you ask me it was all a plot.”
“I must go after him. Please, there must be a way.”
The Duke considered this, his cragged, boar-like face furrowed, then grunted in agreement. “Something can be arranged, get in.”
At that moment the bustling street was suddenly silenced by the sound of a gun firing, three times. Vasco looked up to the top of the street, where there was a distant view of the Lawmaker’s palladio, and there stood none other than the Emperor, dressed in his military vestments, standing atop a balcony, and firing his golden gun into the air. A crowd was amassed beneath this, and as twilight was drawing about them, spotlights from windows in the palladio targeted a dark shape in the distant mountain overlooking Rio. The Duke handed Vasco a looking glass, having one of his own, and they saw this object was very large, and draped in a canvas tarpaulin.
Some nearby drunks began yelling, and very quickly some dragoon cavalrymen knocked them down with their horses, and at least one was trampled. The Duke drove off in his steam-car, while Vasco continued to look to the mountain from the back seat. The Emperor fired his golden gun once more, and the tarp was pulled free, revealing to all a colossal statue of the goddess of wisdom and war: Minerva. A great roar of excitement arose throughout the streets, as the sky darkened, and revelry began.
At the summit of the royal tower, The Empress, alone on her vast couch, adorned in the latest Roman-Egyptian apparel from Paris, stroked her baby jaguar pets, as fireworks went off about the colossus. She found the aesthetics of the new statue exciting, to the point of arousal, as she drew smoke from her impossibly long cigarette holder.