(Set directly after Perfection Marred)
It’s only later that he thinks to check one last time before dark: past dusk when he finds himself reeling, scrabbling at the edge of the wall for support, and missing by horrified inches.
His first, half-insane thought is Glassinger, before logic overtakes panic - at which point, unaided by complacency, panic deepens into pure self-loathing. Every second since the discovery brings fresh dismay; every stolen moment he continues to breath is testament to his utter and complete idiocy, to the point where he’s half choked by the messy encroachment of his own incompetence.
In a word: fuck.
Is this what it’s like, to be truly under the gaze of the gods?
Truly, he hates himself, more than a little.
“I am Armand Cargan-Graves the Rightful,” he mutters. A pause. “And I am a priest of the -”
He can’t even bring himself to say the word.
Armand Cargan-Graves the Rightful slumps to the floor, wide-eyed and appalled.
Beside him is an empty box.
At the end of it all, it had probably been about as undignified as embarking on the path to personal divinity could feasibly get. Which, crucially, is not nearly as non-undignified as one might be given to expect - the monkey notwithstanding, even. Backroom deals with prostitutes and primates rarely achieve the kind of gravitas one might hope to elicit.
Naturally, it hadn’t mattered. It was the end, not the means that he valued; if he’s learned anything at all from his ill-starred dalliance with the godsdamned Civil Service, it’s been that. And at the time, he’d scarcely had the foresight to mourn the anticlimax.
(And, okay, he probably shouldn’t have been so - discourteous - to Vulcan.)
Still, coming into his power within a fucking dragon had been something. Asserting his identity in the face of would-be annihilation had been something else - something almost uncontrovertibly impressive. And amidst it all, here he is: alive, and so powerful he almost aches with it - unexcommunicated and still endowed with every title he could hope to hold. Besides Mayor. But that particular dream had always carried a pinch of unreality to it: a hand-sketched ambition with that never really progressed beyond the rudiments of intent - one that he could honestly hate himself now for failing to form a definite plan to achieve.
Right now, in the wake of the Traitor’s ultimatum, it feels oddly beside the point. The point is no longer to garner as much power as he can for himself. The point is legacy.
Francesco had been so ready to leave, before they met. Had he stifled the same half-broken apprehension every time Armand spoke of the future - crushed at the same dregs of his resolution until he could summon up the will to still pretend he was of this world, and that direct influence was still - still fitting for him? Armand still feels very much of this world. Very much a direct political player. But every obstacle feels even more insurmountable than before, and whilst he had thought he had decades at least to weather them, it turns out the one thing he lacks now is time.
It is not a day shy of six months since I, Amadeo de Coverley, first put pen to paper - and then, stereotype to press - in order to grace the citizens of Acryn with my musings on Current Affairs of Note, he writes. However, one might say unaccountably, I have yet to embellish these ad hoc editorials with any concrete political manifesto. Hence -
The paper no longer makes the same muted thud as it hits the wall - but rather, a pathetic, drawn-out rustle, as the projectile embeds itself in a pyramid of its fellows. Failure has entirely ruined his filing system.
Education is paramount to my manifesto - and indeed, to this city’s prosperity. Therefore, my first, and arguably most significant proposal is to universalise state-provided -
In addition to these amendments, I would propose a bicameral legislative assembly, in which chief lawmaking responsibilities resided with the first, quasi-elected, quasi-appointed Council-as-stands, whilst any excesses, biases, or unfeasible segments of policy would be checked and amended by those of a wholly-elected second chamber -
Swish. Rustle. Thud.
Policy is difficult, and the Council inept: my “aunt” a puppet; Salic a mere populist; and Hoskins a charlatan -
He cannot quite bring himself to discard that one. Instead, cupping a match in ink-spattered hands, he lights the lamp and settles in for a long night.
He’d trusted her. He’d been determined to meet her as ally, as equal, and to devise a plan for the city’s ongoing prosperity, and - when put in those terms, is it any wonder she turned around and betrayed him? Fuck.
It sounds asinine when he forms the actual thoughts in his head, in as many words. He’d trusted her. That itself was its own warning - not a warning, even; no-one needs to be told not to shove their arm in the mouth of a tyrant lizard. And he hates this - hates making the obvious blunders. Exhibiting the obvious flaws, for no other reason than the fact that he has always possessed them.
’She betrayed you’ indeed. It is her literal purview, you unbelievable cretin. Gods damn it all.
The bathroom mirror is still slightly skewed from that one time he attempted to summon up Howard Branch in it.
He confronts himself and is - as ever - shocked to see what he actually expects to see: a face that is all hard lines and penetrating stare; the firm set of his jaw no longer only stubborn, but unyielding; a face that is meet of storybook prince and religious fresco. There is nothing distinct to a god, of course, save their aura - outward change is smoke, mirrors, and style, nothing better - but it’s satisfying nonetheless. A physical rupture, then, from the idiot boy who stepped onto the docks of Acryn over a year ago. Or even from the enamoured, unmarried fop of a few months ago: all saddled with naivetés and the desperate urge to do better.
He wasn’t a child before. He wasn’t. But godhood has made him immeasurably more than a man.
It occurs to him for quite possibly the first time that he has never known Francesco as anything other than a god. It was a god that he fell in love with, and a god he continues to love now, as a god himself - and how ridiculous it was to worry that Francesco’s feelings would alter upon ascending, when he has only ever known him for what he is: he might as well ask if Francesco the mortal man would have felt the same. And would he? Armand feels certain he would - and that is its own reassurance.
“Of course, in that case, I might have actually been stupid enough to challenge you to a duel,” he mutters, with a grin that still looks provokingly foolish against his new features. It fades in the ensuing silence.
He’ll be going to bed alone tonight. Whether that’ll be the case for a month, a year, or longer is - is the question, really.
Does his heart still beat between her fingers? Every time he accesses the stores of his newfound power - does she feel it race?
Penelope wouldn’t have understood. Or, worse, she’d have imagined she understood too well, and been wrong about that too - wrong in her assessment of his intentions, and uncharitable where she ought to be aware more than anyone of what he’s sacrificed. What he continues to sacrifice.
If nothing else, she’d certainly disapprove.
And yes, fine, despite everything, it had always been about love. It was about telling Francesco that other people managed just fine with a lifetime, and then realising, by sheer dint of saying it out loud, that a lifetime was no longer enough. And becoming frantic, even, in the urge to catch up to him.
But, at the end of it all, it had also been about autonomy. It was about saying that worshipping gods, not understanding them, was his sole prerogative - and then being granted the opportunity to do both, and realising that neither was enough. Realising that the lifelong urge to subordinate himself to some perfect authority was, in actual fact, a longing to assert his own will. To see principles - his own - write large, and enacted on a grand scale.
If this is egotism, then he is hardly the only offender.
“No kings - no tyrants,” he mutters, still bent over the latest scrap of blotched parchment. “Gods. Do any of us ever learn?”
The hypocrisy of it all is blinding. That she, who has acted so decisively against tyranny in Acryn, would go to such means to stifle the efforts of any who would oppose her will…!
Rationality blanks at the glare, every time he so much as approaches the subject. She’s wrong, is the crux of it - and in the thrall of her mistakes stands the city. Reason doesn’t come into it; she is subject to no reason save her own: and that lost all semblance of worth long ago.
However, he’d been lovesick, enamoured with the very idea of it. Hailed her as martyr. Claimed that what he owed her was not worship, but respect, and - at the very apex of his idiocy - acted as such.
Suspending judgement in the face of a figurehead. The family temperament, apparently.
But arguably, he is accustomed to losing idols. One might even say he has outgrown the notion.
A manifesto, then. And a question: how much power can one individual reasonably be expected to hold? How much can one family prosper before it counteracts the good of the city at large?
His son, with characteristic self-consciousness, would make a case for self-denial. An egalitarian society: no mark of distinction between men of rank and the common masses. His husband, true to form, would consider anything of the sort as a personal affront.
Has he ever been able to place himself, in that respect? Lately, it seems all he’s been able to do is identify what’s wrong. And maybe, at this point, he’s realised that it’s a case of people, not structures - of vigilance, and not always ideology. You could fill several folios with the differences between Astraeus and Francesco, and he’d still trust either of them with any political office you’d care to name.
Virtue, then, is key. Maintaining a hierarchy, after all, is not the same as enforcing it. It’s about making the existent system workable. Filling the seat of power with people of principle.
It begins with taking charge of his own narrative - and that of his family's. It begins with Viciona. Where it will end is a matter of judgement.