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title of emperor was just a cover, also arranged by the Drakh. A means to an end.

But I'm not supposed to think these things, he reminded himself as he felt the presence of the Keeper stirring at the juncture where his shoulder met alien flesh, where nerves and neural pathways merged so that his will was no longer entirely his own. He was able to shield only his most private thoughts; if he subvocalized or brought his thoughts to the surface, the Keeper could sense the shape of them, and relay them by telepathic link to the Drakh, working quietly in the recesses and ancient tunnels beneath the royal palace... building a future for his world whose shape he did not like to consider for too long. But at least it was a future, which is more than his people would have had if he had refused to accept the Keeper.

No one else could see the Keeper unless it allowed them to see it, which was usually a prelude to extermination. He, on the other hand, could see it all the time, but tried desperately not to let his gaze wander in that direction more than necessary.

Denial had always been one of his greatest strengths.

The bells stopped. Had it really been an hour already? He closed his eyes as he did when he was a child, against mornings that came too soon, hoping somehow that the day and his responsibilities would disappear, and he could be free. It was a fleeting hope and, like all hopes, daily crushed under the weight of the waking world.

He opened his eyes, the moment passed, and Emperor Mollari the Second rose to begin the seventh day of his rule.



* * *



Minister Vole was wringing his hands again, one over the other in a motion so tight that Londo couldn't tell where one hand finished and the other began. "I'm sure His Excellency was informed-"

"If
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