As a believer himself, Varouforos could hardly say this was a bad thing in itself. The particular form of the yashcherit Orthodox tradition, however, caused him no end of trouble. Their incense seemed to Varouforos to be chosen less for its pleasant aroma and more for its intoxicating qualities. Any large enough congregation, given a few years of the Divine Liturgy, would work itself into a fighting lather. Ostensibly under the missionary banner, they would pile into their ships, pillage their neighbors, and retreat to their worlds once more.
Sometimes, though, they stayed, claiming the office of Patriarch on the grounds that their conquests were conversions, and their conversions entitled them to leadership.
That was what had happened here.
Across the dais was the false Patriarch and his entourage. All were yashcherit: tall, slender four-limbed creatures with scales, gray in color, and able to walk with equal ease on all fours or their hindlimbs alone. Their heads narrowed to a pointed snout, which Varouforos knew from experience was filled with a double row of pointed teeth. They averaged about two and a half paces in height, a head or two taller than Varouforos. They could move with great speed, climb walls near the vertical with no trouble at all, and see and smell three times as well as any human. One wore a poor imitation of the true Patriarch’s vestments, including a tall white hat, a cross at its peak, with long tails of fabric draped awkwardly over his shoulders. The rest were dressed as church officials.
Varouforos and Ippocampos approached a table in the center of the dais, set at standing height. The yashcherit delegation joined them.
“Who are you, human?” the false Patriarch said, in passable Koine Greek.
“Varouforos. Who are you?”
The yashcherit’s tongue flicked out of its mouth, then vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He and his companions watched Varouforos’ face unblinkingly. “You may call me Basil.”
“Basil,” Varouforos said. “You know why I am here. The time is come for peace.”
Basil and his delegation made a curious rhythmic hissing, which Varouforos took to be laughter. “That is not the reputation which goes before you, Konstantin Varouforos. It is said you are a man of God. Surely, you see I cannot abandon my flock. It is the will of heaven itself that I should stay.”
Unbidden, Varouforos felt himself bristle. He looked to Ippocampos: oftentimes, strong psions and strong emotions made for some leakage. “My employer seems to think it is not so clear-cut.”
“Yet we are here, and still strong enough to lead.”
Varouforos sighed. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. “We share a Father, you and I,” he said. “I do not wish to fight my brothers, but we will either sign the treaty, or I will make you sign it.”
Basil listened, then was silent. After a few moments, he said, “When the Confederation chose you as its negotiator, I had hoped by meeting face-to-face we might see eye-to-eye. I see I was mistaken.”
The lizard-man produced a plasma pistol at lightning speed. Varouforos closed his eyes. A thunderclap echoed through the amphitheater.