A Song of Sorrow, Part 5

A wrathful shadow hovered over the city of Selorin, but the people who lived there were oblivious to it. The shadow belonged to the self-styled Emperor Preclonus IV, standing on a balcony of the Imperial Palace and boiling over with murderous rage. The riots that had engulfed the city were now in their seventh day, and the ISS and the Legion of the Heart had been unable (or unwilling) to do anything about it. The futility and powerlessness that Preclonus felt made him angry enough to kill somebody with his bare hands. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t solve any of his problems.

The irony of the situation was not lost on the man who was once known as Adlamor Finegal. As Finegal, he had been the puppet master. He had known all, and could manipulate anyone into doing his bidding. He had even manipulated the Fangalin leadership into assassinating the Emperor, for the sake of the One! He had been convinced that, as Emperor, his influence would only increase. But it seemed he was better suited to being the power behind the throne than on the throne itself.

For the first couple of months, things seemed to be going well. Sure, none of the provinces had given him their support, but he was working on schemes to get the most powerful provinces to fall in line. But while he was attempting to control the provinces, he lost control of the capital. He still wasn’t sure how it happened. Selorin had been almost unnaturally quiet since the destruction of the Senate. It was almost as if that event had shocked the people into paralysis, a paralysis that had lasted more than three years.

But somehow, the ascension of Preclonus IV to the throne had opened the floodgates of pent-up rage and frustration about the Empire’s situation. Preclonus had assumed that because his predecessor had seized the throne without incident, that he would be able to do the same. But he had badly miscalculated. Now he held just the Palace and its grounds, and that was it. He had contacted various generals and admirals and ordered them to come and secure Selorin and the rest of Trisitania, but had received only silence in reply. The only military force that obeyed his orders was the Legion of the Heart, and even their obedience was just on the surface.

Deep down inside, Preclonus knew that his short reign was already over, but he refused to allow himself to accept such thoughts. He was the puppet master. He was the one who knew everything that was going on in the galaxy, and could manipulate anyone into anything. He would find a way to salvage this situation, and his reign would be remembered as the most glorious of any to ever sit on the Imperial Throne.

He was jolted out of his thoughts suddenly by an alert from his tablet. He pulled it out of one of the many pockets of his voluminous robes, and swore loudly and angrily when he saw what was displayed on the screen. He immediately called up his chief aide, a young man named Vemnor Halais. A few seconds later, a holographic projection of Halais’s face appeared in front of him.

“What the hell is the meaning of this!” screamed Preclonus immediately. Halais cringed at the anger in the Emperor’s voice.

“I don’t know any more than what I sent you, Your Majesty,” Halais whimpered. “I just received this news a few minutes ago, and sent it on to you immediately. I’m trying to get more information, but our network just isn’t what it used to be.”

“That’s no excuse!” Preclonus screeched hysterically. “I should have known about this news weeks ago!”

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty!” Halais said desperately. “I will get you more information as soon as I can! I promise!” And then the connection was severed abruptly.

Preclonus ran back into his quarters as fast as his ridiculous outfit would let him. He needed to get out of there. He began changing as fast as he could into a much more practical outfit, and as soon as he was done with that, he started packing everything he thought he could realistically take with him. Rage and terror were warring on his face and in his actions, with terror gaining the upper hand.

The reason for his panic was still displayed on the screen of his tablet, which lay discarded on the floor by the door to the balcony. On the screen were these words:

Urgent!!

Agents report that Jimalin Redlamin has amassed a fleet of five cruisers and twelve destroyers. That fleet has been gathering near Bliddle for the past two months, and two hours ago, it dropped into subspace. All indications are that it is heading for Trisitania!

Emperor Preclonus IV had no fleet. He didn’t even have a single warship. All he had were a thousand ISS officers, and the 2000 men and women of the Legion of the Heart, whose loyalty was doubtful. His only hope was to get off of Trisitania. If he was still there when Redlamin arrived, his life was forfeit. All of the thoughts he’d been suppressing about the imminent end of his reign came up to the surface, and he suddenly realized the truth of them. The best he could hope for now was survival.

Having finished packing, he opened the door of his quarters, only to find two burly and heavily armed guards blocking his way.

“What is the meaning of this!” he shrieked. “Get out of my way!” The guards smiled nastily and shook their heads.

“Not so fast, Your Majesty,” one of them sneered. “Governor Redlamin is on his way to pay his respects to the new Emperor. You wouldn’t be so rude as to leave the capital before he arrives, would you?” The other guard snickered loudly.

Preclonus dropped to his knees in horror as the door slid shut. It was already too late. His reign, and soon his life, were at an end.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 4

On the 132nd story of Vinallix Tower, Vibal Trogoron was gazing out of the massive floor-to-ceiling windows of his luxurious office, and thinking about revolution. It was not a thought that came lightly to him. Trogoron had been a loyal and law-abiding citizen of the Empire for his entire life, and his entire outlook was built on the concepts of order and stability, but the chaos that had now gripped the Empire had completely destroyed any semblance of order. It was enough to drive a thoroughly conservative man to radical measures.

Trogoron was in his late 50s, with short-cropped, iron gray hair, chiseled features, and round glasses. He was tall and thin, and had a commanding presence, almost military, although he had never actually served in the Imperial Fleet. He rarely smiled, and never laughed. He was the CEO of Vinallix, which was based in Forma, the capital city of the province of Nemixis. It was one of the largest and most powerful corporations in the galaxy, and as such, he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful civilians in the galaxy.

His thoughts were interrupted by the door of his office opening. He turned to see his assistant enter the room. As she was quite beautiful and even voluptuous, many believed that they were having an affair, but the reality was much more mundane. Rel Votulin was as brilliant and efficient as she was attractive. It was just a coincidence that her mind inhabited what could have been the body of a supermodel. The staid and dour Trogoron didn’t much care what she looked like, as long as she did her job well.

“So,” he said as she approached him, “is this news accurate?”

“Yes, sir,” she replied, “Emperor Embamor is dead. He was gunned down in his quarters by Fangalin assassins.”

“Unfortunate, but not unexpected,” Trogoron said, “Has anyone taken his place?”

“Yes,” she said, “Adlamor Finegal has taken the name Preclonus IV and laid claim to the throne.” Trogoron frowned in response to this.

“Finegal?” he repeated, “Fascinating. I wouldn’t have thought that anyone worse than Embamor Etralis would ever occupy the throne. But Finegal could easily claim that distinction. How many provinces have accepted his claim so far?”

“None, sir,” Votulin replied.

“None?” Trogoron said, surprised, “I wonder if that’s good or bad.”

“I wouldn’t know, sir,” Votulin said, “But I do have some more news. Yet another pretender has emerged: Jimalin Redlamin.”

“The governor of Bliddle?” Trogoron said, even more surprised. “I wouldn’t have expected that. Have any provinces accepted him?”

“A few,” said Votulin. “Bliddle, of course. Revlingal, Uarris, Parnora. A few others. That’s more support than Finegal has.”

“Bliddle alone would be more support than Finegal has,” Trogoron scoffed. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he holds little more than the Imperial Palace itself.”

“You’re not far off, sir,” Votulin said. “We’ve been getting reports of protests and rioting in the streets of Selorin.”

“Unbelievable,” Trogoron replied, shaking his head. “What is the Empire coming to? How could things have collapsed so completely in so short a time? Four years ago, we were at the height of order and prosperity, and now? Rioting in the streets of Selorin? I can hardly believe it possible. Four years ago, it was a big deal if somebody got mugged in Selorin.”

“I quite agree, sir,” Votulin said grimly, “it is difficult to believe. Nevertheless, I’m quite confident these reports are accurate.”

“Of course you are, Rel,” Trogoron said, waving his hand dismissively. “I would never think to question the veracity of your information. The question is, what do I do about it?” He frowned and rubbed his chin, and turned back to the window.

“As I see it, you have three potential courses of action,” Votulin said in her typically brisk, efficient voice, “First of all, you could choose to remain neutral until it becomes obvious which pretender will provide the best leadership for the Empire and the best conditions for Vinallix to grow its profits.” Trogoron nodded at this.

“That would be a prudent course, if I thought that any of the pretenders thus far would provide either of those things,” he said. “Meanwhile, while this civil war plays out, the Empire will spiral further and further into madness and chaos.”

“The second option would be to back a specific pretender and support that person with the substantial resources that you and Vinallix command,” Votulin said.

“A riskier approach, but with greater potential benefits,” Trogoron said appreciatively. “If we backed the right pretender, he would be in our debt once he had obtained the throne. Pick wrong, however, and the winner would likely nationalize Vinallix and all its assets. Not to mention that that approach has the same problems as the first option.” Votulin nodded.

“The third approach is the riskiest of all, but with the greatest potential rewards,” she continued. “You could choose to make a bid for the throne.” There was a moment of silence while Trogoron attempted to digest this thought.

“That is a most interesting idea, my dear,” he said slowly. “I cannot say that it hadn’t occurred to me.”

“Indeed, sir,” Votulin said. “It is the most logical course of action. You have more experience managing a vast bureaucracy than any of the men currently vying for the throne. You have substantial resources and control of one of the most powerful corporations in the galaxy. You are well-known and well-regarded by both the elites and the common people of the Empire. You would, in short, be a better Emperor than anyone who currently claims that title.” Trogoron frowned, deep in thought.

“And yet, if I fail…,” Trogoron began.

“It will mean the destruction of everything you’ve worked for, and likely the loss of your life,” Votulin finished.

“A harsh penalty,” Trogoron said.

“Indeed,” Votulin responded. “But a rich reward.” Trogoron thought for a few moments, and then he spoke.

“Rich enough,” Trogoron said. “I will do it.”

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 3

There was a storm raging in the skies over Heretoral, the capital city of Infanalis, but in a relatively modest house at the top of a hill in the upper class Vekmar District, the mood was uproariously jolly. The house belonged to General Erelesk Votalin, also known as Emperor Neminatrix IV, and the jolly mood was caused by copious amounts of rich food and alcohol. The Emperor was throwing a party, which was not unusual in and of itself, as Votalin had spent his entire life using food, wine, and other entertainments to cultivate contacts and put his peers in his debt.

It was the ostensible context for this party which made it special. The Emperor’s only daughter, Shala Votalin, was celebrating her marriage to the Governor of Infanalis, Lorgad Hemetal. Princess Shala, at the age of 26, was 21 years younger than Governor Hemetal, which didn’t matter, because this was a purely political marriage. House Hemetal and House Votalin had long been close allies, but the Emperor wanted to cement those ties as he struggled to secure the throne he had claimed. Not to mention, he wanted to make sure that his heir produced an heir, thus hopefully avoiding a repeat of the mess that the Empire was currently in.

Neminatrix was relatively young for a general, in his mid-40s, and was generally considered handsome. He had wavy auburn hair that fell to his shoulders, bright green eyes, and was clean-shaven. He was moderately tall, and physically fit, but not spectacularly so. He had perfect teeth and a winning smile, and he possessed a charisma and an easy grace that made him instantly likable.

Those were his good characteristics. On the other hand, he was also arrogant, narcissistic, and a brutal sadist. These aspects of his personality were well-known, but seldom discussed. People who were too careless with their speech around Neminatrix tended to regret it. Besides, in general, the Emperor was good company and a good leader. As long as you didn’t get on his bad side.

“Friends and family,” Neminatrix said as he stood up from his place at the head of the room. The sounds of merriment slowly faded as people turned their attention to the Emperor. “Thank you all so much for coming to this little gathering in celebration of my beloved daughter and my new son-in-law. Really, I cannot express to you enough the joy that fills my heart at the sight of all of you gathered here. Thank you so much.” The applause that followed was hearty and long, and almost entirely faked. Everyone present knew that this was a marriage of political convenience, and if the Emperor loved his daughter, then love was something best avoided. But there were certain forms that needed to be observed if the Emperor’s pleasure was to be maintained.

“All of you are here because you are important to me, and to my daughter,” Neminatrix continued once the applause ended. “It is good, in dark times such as these, to take a moment and remember what it is that we are fighting for. But we mustn’t forget that we are at war. All of you here know that I am the true Emperor, and that the Imperial Throne is rightfully mine. I greatly appreciate your support in this war, and I look forward to your continued support in the future.” As the Emperor took his seat, a tremendous clap of thunder shook the house, followed closely by thunderous applause from the partygoers. After several minutes, the applause faded, and Governor Hemetal stood up.

“I would like to echo the sentiments expressed by His Majesty,” Hemetal said, giving the Emperor a slight bow. At first sight, one would have thought that the Emperor and the Governor were brothers, but that had more to do with the way they carried themselves than their looks. Hemetal was tall and good-looking, but not quite so much as Neminatrix. He had a full head of perfectly styled, short brown hair, and brown eyes that twinkled when he smiled, which he did often. He was not quite as charismatic as Neminatrix, but neither was he as sadistic. Although House Hemetal and House Votalin were long-time allies, and Lorgad Hemetal was marrying Erelesk Votalin’s daughter, Lorgad and Erelesk had been bitter rivals their entire lives, and their enmity for each other ran deep. They hid it well in public, however.

“I cannot tell you how much of an honor it is to be allowed to wed such a beautiful and vivacious woman as Shala Votalin,” Hemetal continued, gesturing to the woman sitting next to him. An uninformed observer might be forgiven for wondering if Hemetal was actually marrying someone else. The woman by his side was neither beautiful nor vivacious, and it was hard to imagine a groom so head over in heels in love that he might mistake her as such. The princess was a small, mousy woman with a permanently stricken and vacant look on her face. It was well known that her father had taken out the bulk of his aggression and cruelty on her, and it had left her emotionally and mentally crippled.

“House Hemetal and House Votalin have always been like family, and Erelesk Votalin has always been like a father to me,” Hemetal lied. “This marriage is the culmination of a long and fruitful alliance, and, if the One wills, will be the beginning of something much greater. Once Emperor Neminatrix IV has attained his rightful place on the Imperial Throne, House Hemetal will take its rightful place at the forefront of the Empire. And those of you who have supported us will have your just reward.” This caused another round of thunderous applause to break out, and Governor Hemetal sat down with a satisfied smile on his face. Then he leaned over and kissed his new bride, who sat as still as a stone. There was no change of expression on her face, no acknowledgement that her new husband had kissed her, no sign of life whatsoever. And in truth, though her body was still alive, her spirit had died a long time ago.

To be continued…

A Song of Sorrow, Part 2

Valador Mifalis had a reputation as someone with a great deal of patience, but the woman standing in front of him was doing her very best to test it. Mifalis, who had proclaimed himself Emperor Valador I three years earlier, was sitting on his throne, holding court. Of course, the throne wasn’t the Imperial Throne, and the court was not located in the Imperial Palace, but it would have to do for now.

The woman was an ambassador from the Republic of Hadramoris. None of the three men who claimed the Imperial Throne recognized the legitimacy of the Republic, but Valador was the only one who had not openly declared war on it. An informal truce existed between Valador and the Republic, and the ambassador, Horga Volm, was here trying to turn the truce into a formal alliance. Unfortunately for Volm, an alliance was something that the Emperor had no interest in, and unfortunately for the Emperor, Volm refused to take no for an answer.

Truth be told, Valador had flirted with the idea of an alliance with Hadramoris. The President of the Republic, Eregon Fadlamis, was one of the most popular and charismatic politicians in the galaxy, and he had managed to pull together a formidable collection of provinces under his rule. An alliance would give Valador’s claim to the Throne a substantial boost, which was tempting because Valador’s position was the weakest of the three rival Emperors.

But Hadramoris, like the rest of the known galaxy, was ostensibly Imperial territory, and Valador had no intention of being remembered as the first Emperor who gave away part of the Empire to another state. As much of a boost as a Hadramoran alliance would give him in the short-term, it would cripple his position and his claim to the Throne in the long-term.

It didn’t help that Horga Volm was an insufferable windbag. She was an enormous woman, only about 5 and a half feet tall, but easily weighing 350 pounds, all of it fat. She had a red face, short gray hair that looked a bit like a helmet, and a slight mustache.

“Your Highness, be reasonable,” Volm said for what seemed like the hundredth time, “Your claim to the throne is doomed without Hadramoran aid. General Votalin holds twice as many provinces as you, and his fleet is three times the size of yours! General Etralis has even more resources, plus the Throne itself! An alliance with the Republic is the only logical course.”

“Logical and reasonable as it may be, Ambassador, it is a course of action that would inevitably lead to my defeat,” Valador replied coldly. “What you ask for is impossible.”

“Believe me, Your Majesty, you would be much better off with the Republic as your friend than as your enemy,” Volm countered. “We have more provinces and a bigger fleet than you and General Votalin combined. We could crush you quite thoroughly if it came to war. But we would prefer peace. As confident as we are that we can hold our own against all comers, one less enemy would make our efforts against our other enemies much more effective.”

“I’m not terribly concerned about your war effort, Ambassador,” Valador said, even more coldly than before. “And I think you would find my forces to be a stiffer challenge than your bravado would indicate. But, regardless of all that, the fact remains that no citizen of the Empire would accept my rule as legitimate if I gave away Imperial territory.”

“Come now, Your Majesty,” Volm said with an ingratiating smile, “the Republic is not going anywhere. Eventually it will become obvious that the territory that we have claimed will never return to the Empire. The first Emperor to recognize that fact will not be vilified, but will in fact be lauded for his wisdom and foresight.”

“Your words are bold,” responded Valador, “but the truth is that the Republic is less than three years old. You say the Republic is here to stay? That remains to be seen. It may be as you claim. But that is a risk I cannot take. For me, it is enough that a truce remains between us.”

“If that is your wish, Your Majesty, the Republic will accept it,” Volm said. Her face retained its amiable expression, but her voice had taken on a dangerous edge. “However, keep in mind that a day will come when this war has ended. When that day comes, the Republic will remember its friends…and its enemies.” With that, Volm bowed and departed.

As soon as she left, she was replaced with another petitioner, but the Emperor’s mind remained on the Republic and its emissary. He was too canny a politician to completely ignore this new petitioner; as somebody with a lot of decisions to make and very little time to think about them, he had long ago mastered the ability to pay attention to one thing with part of his brain, and think about something else with the rest. And Horga Volm had indeed given him much to think about.

As much as the Ambassador’s words were full of excessive confidence and bravado, there was a ring of logic to them. Valador couldn’t help but be tempted by the possibility of, not only completely eliminating one enemy, but turning that enemy into a powerful ally. Valador was very conscious of his fragile position vis-à-vis his rivals. He knew that he was a much better general and leader than Etralis or Votalin, but somehow they had managed to attract much larger followings than him. His fleet had used guerrilla tactics to chip away at the territory controlled by his rivals, but he didn’t have the ships or the personnel to win a full scale battle with either of them. An alliance with the Republic would give him both of those things.

He shook his head and turned his full attention to the current petitioner. The cost was too great. He would rather lose his throne and his head than be remembered as the man who legitimately broke the Empire. He would have to find some other way to win.

To be continued…