Marcin Dolecki, Philosopher`s Crystal (Prologue)

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Illustration by Rosann A. Portes

“Commissioner, has lucid dreaming ever happened to you?” Tassatarius asked.

“Yes, Your Majesty. I have found myself in such a situation more than a few times,” the short, graying man in a midnight blue uniform replied, standing by the Emperor’s ebony writing desk.

The large cabinet beside the table was mostly empty. Behind the Monarch, sitting in his opulent armchair, there was a bookcase where along the edges hunched two carved gryphons, a vintage clock in the corner, and a world map in a golden frame on the wall.

Wespe had always felt uneasy when his Lord asked him peculiar questions like this one.

“And when it happened, did you ever talk about it with the people in your dreams?” the Emperor said, slowly turning pages of a notebook in a blue, leather cover. “Did you try to convince them that you were only dreaming of them?”

“I do not remember… but no, I do not think I did,” the Commissioner stuttered.

He did not know which of his answers would be safest for him.

“Perhaps, you should have done so? Don’t you think? It could be quite…” The ruler did not finish, instead he just smiled enigmatically, and whispered, his eyes disapproving, “Perhaps you have already made a serious mistake?”

“It is very… likely…. I do believe it is worth trying,” Wespe answered with a short hesitation.

“What if you do not get another chance?”

He knew that the Emperor was toying with him – he also knew that Tassatarius, who at this time was in his seventies, frequently entertained himself in this manner, which had already led to the death of many of his subjects. The Commissioner had even heard of an incident when the ruler asked one of his generals who had been complaining to him about a rival, “If I could solve your problem quickly or in a subtle yet slow way, which would you prefer?” The general had chosen the first option and the Emperor had him executed the next day. No one had dared ask what would have happen if he had chosen the second possibility, but – most likely – the Monarch would have simply killed him some days or weeks later. In such situations quite a lot depended on the Emperor`s mood, and it was always extremely difficult to guess. Some had speculated that his appearance in silver robes indicated that he was about to implement sudden judgements – but that day Tassatarius was wearing gold attire.

Wespe had brought this mysterious notebook – found by chance in the flat of two former university professors – to the palace, as he believed correctly that it would be of some interest to his ruler. He also expected that by doing so, he would once again find favor with the Emperor; nonetheless, he could also lose his position at court altogether, or even more than that – his life. Still, he had resolved to take the risk, which Tassatarius always encouraged, and was now beginning to regret his decision.

The Emperor placed the notebook on his desk and looked the Commissioner in the eyes. Wespe gulped, reaching for the top button of his uniform jacket to make sure that it was done up. He felt himself shrinking under the piercing gaze of Tassatarius, yet he was not able to shrink down small enough to become invisible. It appeared that this dreadful moment would never end. The lines of wrinkles on the Monarch`s face resembled a map of an evil land. The Commissioner felt drawn into this treacherous terrain by the old man’s blue, mesmerizing eyes. The ticking of the clock became louder causing him to feel a terrible headache. Wespe could hardly stand to continue this life on the verge of existence.

“This notebook is signed with what appears to be a first name only, ‘Oscar.’ You will find out who the author is and, if he is still alive, you will bring him to me,” the Emperor said finally.

“Of course, Your Majesty. I shall immediately interrogate the people to whom the notebook belonged,” Wespe assured.

The corner of the old man`s mouth twitched as he reached for a cup and poured himself some coffee from a brownish jug on the writing table, taking a small sip. He never ever invited his subjects to have a cup of coffee with him.

The Commissioner looked across at the object on the Emperor’s desk: the famous scepter. Tassatarius carried it with him always. Wespe had heard that it was a dangerous thing, but no one was able to explain how so. Papers covered the scepter, and only a tiny part of it – a fragment of a silver tube with a diamond at the end – was visible. Still Wespe knew what it was.

The Emperor noted his curious gaze towards his desk, and then for a moment stared once more at the officer, and ordered, “You may leave.”

The Commissioner popped himself up like a suddenly released spring, saluted, and left the chamber; the two gryphons watched him motionless. It was not until he found himself outside the palace walls that he felt slight relief. There a big, black car was waiting for him. A door silently opened, Wespe stepped in and slumped into the back seat of the vehicle where he wiped his face with a handkerchief.

“Is everything okay, Commissioner?” the driver asked.

“Go to Zera Yacob Street. And no questions,” the officer ordered, closing the tinted car door as his driver sped off.

 

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