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by Michael Bard

The meeting had soiled his soul. So soiled that he went straight to his chambers upon returning from the meeting with Exeter.

His room was austere, with only a sleeping gravpad, a workdesk, and a cabinet for clothes and materials. After he removed his robes and tossed them into the cabinet where forces would clean, press, and fold them, for tomorrow, he placed his helm on his desk, and finally removed his undersuit which followed his robe into the cabinet. Padding across the floor as it warmed itself beneath his feet, a blank wraithbone wall puckered and created an opening which he passed through into the bathchamber where the huge tub was already filling itself with water at his preferred temperature.

He stopped at the edge and rubbed the rim, letting his soul intermingle with the simplistic soul in the wraithbone, thanking it, and he heard it purr. Then, with a graceful sigh he lowered himself into the steaming water, laying back into the wraithbone which shaped itself to tightly hold his form. More water flowed in and covered his face making his hair billow around him. Milanus needed to clear his mind, and he needed the calm concentration of deep meditation to start the process.

He was soiled, dirty, and he refused the bath’s offer of a massage as he knew it wouldn’t help the knotting in his muscles until he’d achieved a calmer mental state.

Unbidden, a vision of the meeting appeared in his mind. The rough-hewn table. Exeter and his lackeys at one end, the Enemy at another, the Orkead pounding and growling at another, and he and the Dark Kin alone at the final end, alone in a sea of barbarity. He remembered Exeter commanding, a faint voice that hissed and croaked in his ears, but all the time he’d been watching the Enemy, and they’d been watching him. Both knew that this Exeter was only a sideshow, that the whole Imperium was a distraction. Between them there was only a purity of hatred.

Milanus had been born after The Fall, but he’d seen psychic recordings of the lost worlds. One he’d watched a recording of a decadent play from before The Fall, and he remembered the siren call of the dancers. The same siren call that the Enemy flung across the table towards him. Promises of wealth, of power, of endless pleasure…

A psychic caress that had soiled his soul.

He shuddered, his heartbeat increasing, sending waves cascading across the pristine surface of the water, shattering his sight of the ancient mosaics in the ceiling into a cascade of colour. He willed his heart to slow, trying to force the visions from his mind. Unsummoned, jets of water moved along his back as the wraithbone changed from smooth glass to rough gravel and began to scrape the dead skin, and the dirt, from his body. But the bath couldn’t touch his soul.

He could still hear the siren call, the offers, the promises, the visions of what could be…

But they were not here.

Closing his eyes he slowly exhaled, letting a fine stream of bubbles rise to the surface, each bubble full of the soil on his soul. Each bubble cleansing him. Each bubble relaxing him so that the bath could relax his body.

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