Night closed in on Sampetra, and stuffy heat settled over the palace like a blanket. Ublaz loved it.

He locked the door of his chamber and checked the braziers. They smoked softly, turning the room into a dimly-lit, incense-reeking cave, hot as Hellgates. He took a sip from a goblet of wine, then drifted to a velvet cord hanging from the ceiling in the corner.

One swift pull, and the velvet and silk wall-hangings fell to the polished floor. Every wall was covered in faceted mirrors. Every way the Emperor turned, a dozen images turned with him. He smiled and toyed with the fastening of his robe.

Soon the silken robe dropped to the floor along with the wall hangings. Ublaz wiped sweat from his brow and pulled his undershirt over his head, revelling in the feel of the cloth brushing against him. He slunk up to the nearest mirror-wall, watching himself strike a pose against the background of glows and heat-shimmers from the braziers, reflected infinite times in the mirrors. His fur gleamed softly and his teeth glistened in the dimness. He stared intently at the image, seemingly attempting to turn his hypnotic power against himself. His smile widened and one paw toyed with the white fur on his throat, then his chest, then started to slide slowly further down.

"So who is the fairest of them all?" the marten murmured to himself. He moved forward, stared directly into the eyes of his looking-glass self, then pressed his lips to the cold glass. His paws pressed against the images of themselves, as if trying to reach through the glass and silver to embrace the copy. He broke the kiss, leaving a steamy mouth-shaped mark, rubbed his cheek against the mirror and eased back slightly with a sigh.

"No need to ask, my love."