“You are a disgrace,” said Fiordespina Maganza. “Did you know that brother? A disgusting, diseased, disorderly disgrace.”
“You should have said ‘dyspeptic’,” noted Asterot, as he slumped forward in his chair. “My stomach is killing me, so it would have been tremendously witty.”
His sister raised an eyebrow, while Pinabel glanced away. “Don’t try to change the subject, Asterot. Not when you’ve tried to kill me. I simply--lack the patience for it.”
Asterot winced and glanced nervously out the window. The airship was over the Shadow Woods. In a little while, it’d arrive in the busy heart that were Altaripa and Altafoglia, the twin cities that the King of Goblins ruled personally. Somehow that failed to cheer him. “I tried to get you to stay with me. Away from the blast.” He took a deep breath. “You’d have been safe.”
Fiordespina’s disgust with her brother only seemed to increase. “You actually think that’s an excuse, don’t you?”
“It is… what it is,” said Asterot, the weariness thick in his voice. “I’ve never pretended to be… excusable.”
“Only you, Asterot,” said his sister, with a sigh, “ would consider that a virtue.”
“I don’t consider it anything,” he said quietly. “It is simply--another thing that is.”
Fiordespina was silent for a moment. “You’re killing yourself, brother. Killing yourself with drink, and spite, and sheer unpleasantness. I hope you realize that.”
“I thought death was your great love,” muttered Asterot.
“I seek life in death,” said Fiordespina quietly. “It helps me to value living more and look on death without fear. You seek death in life. It makes you despise both.”
Asterot gave her sidelong glance. “Well, I just hope you enjoy making love to your corpse,” he said softly.
“That exquisite cadaver makes love to me, brother,” replied Fiordespina, standing up. “I should go prepare my things. And perhaps enjoy less--repugnant company.” She turned to Pinabel. “You are, of course, not meant by that.” She bowed at the High Bailiff. “I must say, cousin, I envy your ability to cope with His Imperial Munificence.” And then with a frown, she left the chamber.
Asterot looked at Pinabel. “Ha. I envy your ability to cope with me. If I had half of it, I wouldn’t be in the awful mess I am now.”
Pinabel gave a single nod. “I would hope not, sir.”
Asterot looked once more out the window. A crowd of Goblins and Erls were gathering out below, waving banners of green and gold. Somehow, that turned his stomach even more. “Be honest with me, Pinabel. I’ve--disgraced myself beyond all measure, haven’t I?”
“You have not covered yourself with glory, no,” replied the High Bailiff, his one eye narrowed. “In truth, sir, I wish you had told me of this plan. So I could tell you not to do it.”
Asterot nodded bleakly and swallowed. “How… how do you live with me, Pinabel? After all… all you lost…”
Pinabel shook his head. “I--still look on my service to you with pride, Your Imperial Munificence. Even when you go out of your way to make it difficult for me.” He sighed. “You’re a better man, sir, then you’ve allowed yourself to become of late.”
Asterot shut his eyes and rested his head on the table.