The winding tunnels beneath the earth were a sight few would have the opportunity to witness. Fewer still would have the opportunity to watch the very rock and crystals hidden deep within the dark confines of the land slide away and grant one safe passage through them. Acheu traveled rapidly beneath the earth with only the constant beat of his clapping hands and timed intonations.
His journey was echoed by the flight of one saffron dragon that charted a precise course through the now darkening clouds that littered the sky. With each beat of its wings, and every undulation of its serpentine body, Nicodemus soared through the air intent to reach the Seat of Faith as soon as it was possible. The dragon ignored the brimming tears that trailed wandering rivers down its scaled cheeks. It ignored the still existent but rapidly fading presence of Vandross' words in its thoughts. All the dragon knew was that there was no denying Vandross has finally found his Other, and as was the practice of the Faith, Vandross and his Other would have to be tested.
That, and the fact that it meant Nicodemus was no longer to be a part of Vandross' life.
"He will have to face me," Acheu mumbled aloud, even if there was no one around to hear his words. Acheu felt a greater sense of courage, and the pretense of speaking aloud his plans gave him a certain degree of fulfillment. It was a false mask of courage, however. As it was typical of Acheu, such admissions were things he typically could only speak of only though letters. Or through the rumors born from his actions or stories. He was brave so long as there was no one to contradict him. But when it came to face to face confrontations, the truth would always be far too strong for him to twist. But in the solace of the dark tunnel beneath the world which his intonations effortlessly carved, Acheu felt such pronouncements to be empowering words. The confrontation he was bringing himself towards was one that he had long delayed. When questioned, he had many excuses ranging from lacking the necessity to deal with such things immediately, to feeling physically exhausted or under the weather, to even claims that he was the one standing upon a higher moral ground and to act first was to lose that standing. But the truth he would never admit was the fact he was absolutely aware the confrontation would be an admission of his failure in his responsibilities and role as the father of his children. An admission of his inability to provide what was expected of him. And it was an admission Acheu's pride would never allow him to make.
He planned to confront his son, Sunaj, and tell him the world has come to provide him an opportunity to regain honor in the family's name. He planned to tell him that destiny has provided Sunaj a second chance to prove his love for his family.
He could never do so in the past out of the sheer brutal truth that Acheu was fully aware of: Sunaj would not want to. Sunaj would have no reason to do so. Not after the neglect, insult and abuse he had to endure from his father for the last few years when Sunaj still maintained ties with Acheu. Sunaj's choice to cut himself free from Acheu was not an act of cruel malice or vengeful selfishness. It was liberation from abuse and pain. It was freedom from being long imprisoned beside a monstrosity that devoured another's self-esteem.
"This is a real opportunity," Acheu rehearsed into the shadows that blurred past him and imagined Sunaj's reactions. "A real opportunity stands here."
And that was what made today different.
Acheu realized with reports regarding the Other, the Patermaster would truly have the need to confirm and capture this pair. And if Sunaj were to succeed, Acheu's family would truly regain honor and esteem among the Fehbed. To not confront Sunaj today was to waste an opportunity to further Acheu's standing among their people. And Acheu realized that was far more important than his pride.
"They will be tested," Nicodemus mumbled to itself as he sliced through the sky, "and if this... Other is found to be unworthy..." Nicodemus desperately wanted to imagine scenes of triumphant and rightful vengeance. It wanted to visualize a montage of brutally just punishments to be dealt upon this intruding serpent whose green scales lacked the vibrance and beauty of its golden ones. It wanted to bear witness to this unimpressive ursurper being caught as merely some pretender who had through some form of unknown incantation twisted truth and emotion to its liking to deceive and destroy everything that Nicodemus held sacred.
But Nicodemus could not.
In the mindscape, the two dragons had confronted each other and within the undeniable incorruptibility of that psychic communication, Nicodemus had clearly seen it was Vandross' image that shone upon Savat's own soul.
And Nicodemus knew all it had was empty threats.
A growing dot upon Nicodemus mindscape flickered.
Nicodemus realized, an opportunity.
A chance to spin the story in its own favor.
An opportunity to be seen not as the false partner, but instead as the discarded treasure.
Nicodemus realized it was in its power to lie. All it had to do was ensure that others would not have a glimpse of Savati's mindscape. And that, Nicodemus realized, was something far easier to accomplish than others realized.