Vicar Zhaspahr Clyntahn’s Office,
The Temple,
City of Zion

Vicar Zhaspahr Clyntahn, Grand Inquisitor of the Church of God Awaiting and Father General of the Order of Schueler, looked up from the paperwork on his desk, eyebrows knitting in anger, as the door to his sumptuous office in the Temple was opened abruptly. The upper-priest who had opened it so unceremoniously bobbed in a rushed bow, and Clyntahn’s eyes flashed dangerously. Father Dahnyld Fahrmyr had been one of his confidential secretaries for almost eight years. He knew better than to burst in upon his patron without so much as knocking first.

“What –?!” Clyntahn began thunderously, but the upper-priest actually had the temerity (or desperation) to interrupt him.
“I most humbly beg your pardon for intruding so abruptly, Your Grace,” Fahrmyr said, speaking so rapidly the words came out almost in a babble. “I would never have done so if it hadn’t been — that is — I mean . . . ”
“Oh, spit it out, Dahnyld!” Clyntahn snapped, and the upper-priest swallowed hard.
“Your Grace, Vicar Zahmsyn is here!”
Clyntahn’s corrugated eyebrows flew up in surprise.
“Here?” he repeated, his tone as close to incredulous as it ever came. “In the office?”
“Yes, Your Grace!” Father Dahnyld nodded almost spastically, but there was relief in his voice, as well. As if he were astounded he’d gotten his message out without being incinerated on the spot by the thunderbolts of Clyntahn’s well-known temper.
The Inquisitor General sat back in his chair, mastering his expression of astonishment while his brain raced.
No wonder Fahrmyr seemed so stunned. The Chancellor of the Church of God Awaiting didn’t just casually “drop in” on the Grand Inquisitor without scheduling his appointment well in advance. In fact, no one “dropped in” on the Grand Inquisitor without an appointment.
Clyntahn spent a handful of seconds trying to think of any reason for Zhamsyn Trynair to have just suddenly appeared in his office anteroom, but no explanation suggested itself to him. Not, at any rate, any suggestion that he cared to contemplate.
“I assume, since you haven’t told me why he’s here, that he hasn’t told you, either,” he said in a tone which suggested that that had better be the reason Fahrmyr hadn’t already told him, and the upper-priest shook his head sharply.
“No, Your Grace.” Fahrmyr’s own intense uneasiness at such a radical breach of procedure showed in his eyes, but his voice was coming back under control. “He just . . . walked in the door and ‘requested a moment of your time.'”
“He did, did he?” Clyntahn snorted like an irritated boar, then shrugged. “Well, in that case, I suppose you’d better show the Chancellor in, hadn’t you?”
“Yes, Your Grace. At once!”
Fahrmyr disappeared like a puff of smoke. He was back a moment later, followed by Zhamsyn Trynair. The Chancellor’s expression had been trained by decades of experience — first as a priest, then as a diplomat, and finally as the true ruler of the Council of Vicars — to say whatever he told it to say. This time, though, there was a glitter in his eyes, a tightness to his mouth. Those who didn’t know him well might have missed seeing that, but Clyntahn did know him, and he felt his own stomach muscles tightening.
“Good morning, Zhamsyn,” he said.
“Good morning.” Trynair’s response came out half-snapped, and Clyntahn looked over the Chancellor’s shoulder at Fahrmyr.
“That will be all, Father,” he said, and Fahrmyr vanished with even more alacrity. Whatever curiosity he might feel — and Clyntahn suspected he felt quite a lot of it — the upper-priest didn’t want to be anywhere in the vicinity. Obviously, he, too, had read the storm flags flying in Trynair’s expression.
Of course, only a blind man could have missed seeing them, the Grand Inquisitor thought dryly.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked, since there seemed little point in indulging in polite nothings.
“To this, Zhaspahr.” Trynair reached into the breast of his orange cassock and extracted a sheaf of paper.
“And ‘this’ would be exactly what?” Clyntahn’s voice was more brusque as his hackles rose in response to the other man’s obvious anger. Anger which appeared to be directed at Clyntahn himself. The Grand Inquisitor wasn’t accustomed to confronting anyone with the courage — or the stupidity — to show open anger with him, and he found that he didn’t much care for the experience.
“It’s a semaphore message, Zhaspahr. A message from King Zhames in Talkyra. Or, rather, from Bishop Executor Frayd for King Zhames. And himself, of course.”
Clyntahn had never heard that particular note out of Zhamsyn Trynair. The Chancellor’s voice sounded like hammered metal, and the emotion in his eyes burned hotter than ever.
“Obviously something about it has upset you,” Clyntahn said, trying to make his own voice come out more naturally. He wasn’t accustomed to trying to defuse someone else’s anger, but it looked as if Trynair was whipping himself into an even greater rage with every word he said. “And presumably, since you’ve come storming into my office without even warning anyone you were coming, whatever it is that’s upset you concerns me, or the Office of Inquisition.”
“Oh, yes,” Trynair agreed. “Yes, indeed, Zhaspahr! I think that would be a very good way to put it.”
“Then tell me what it is and let’s get on with it,” Clyntahn said flatly.
“All right, Zhaspahr, I will tell you.” Trynair dropped the folded sheets of paper onto Clyntahn’s desk. “King Zhames and Bishop Executor Frayd have sent word that the Charisians have burned half or two-thirds of Ferayd to the ground. You remember Ferayd, don’t do, Zhaspahr? The place where all of those Charisians ‘foolishly resisted’ the Delferahkan troops who attempted to sequester their vessels on your orders?”