“Some say that the Empire’s nobility controls its population through oppression and slavery. They have no idea that the Empire itself is caught within the confines of its own culture.”
***Ogarth, The City of Glass, Empire***
***Jules, the Seventh Emperor***
I am listening to my military advisers when a flash of light startles them and causes the guards to raise their weapons. The flickering light which appeared in the middle of my throne room grows and forms a small portal, spitting out Wisen.
The fool of a son lands spread-eagled on the floor, planting his helmeted face on one of the smooth marble-tiles, breaking it in the process. His shiny armour is dented and wrinkled like a sheet of paper which was crumpled and unsuccessfully smoothed out again. Due to the impact, the helmet loosens and falls off, rolling loudly over the floor.
Wisen’s war-hammer, which he got from me for his coming of age ceremony, is bent in an awkward manner. Altogether, my son is a truly sorry sight to behold.
A feat which should be almost impossible. In my younger years, I bought his armour from the Consortium. Countless battles proved that the legendary artefact is almost indestructible. Once, I was hit by the enhanced fireball of a spell projector and the breastplate barely had a dent.
The portal allows me a short glance at a battle-scene. A horde of zombies is tearing into my soldiers. Foreigners in strangely modern armour are charging towards the portal. The green aura of a necromancer draws my attention and I recognize the Mirai Sovereign. Next to her is a woman who looks uncomfortably similar to her. Unfortunately, that’s all I can glimpse before the portal winks out of existence.
With a silent 'woosh' and 'pop', the planar bridge closes and disappears.
Wisen rises to his hands and knees. “Father!” he shrieks. “They are all-”
My voice booms through the throne room, causing my advisers to jump in surprise. Along with it, I throw a stunning hex at my son, shutting him up. Wisen's eyes widen as his muscles tense up. He opens and closes his mouth several times without producing a sound. It's clear that he is in shock, but I still can't allow him to show weakness in front of the court.
Looking at my advisers, I move my chin towards the door. They get the hint and leave in a hurry, forgetting about the proper protocol of moving backwards until they are outside the throne room. After a quick glance, the guards also leave and close the door behind them.
The large throne room is now empty. Its white marble is clear of any blemish and the silver runes which cover every tile should prevent any sort of spying. The tile which was damaged by Wisen has to be replaced, but its loss shouldn't affect the overall function of the room. It was constructed with plenty of redundancies.
Once I am sure that we won't be overheard, I turn my attention to Wisen. Raising a finger, I cast out a single strand of energy, dispelling the hex I placed on him. “Explain! You should be on your way back from the World Assembly. And where is Hesh?” I placed the advisor with my son to keep Wisen from causing trouble. So why did Wisen end up using his amulet, clearly fleeing from a battlefield?
Wisen nods, shuddering. He starts telling his story. At first, the bits and pieces of his story don't make much sense, but he is too shaken for a proper recount of the events. Knowing that reprimanding Wisen would only complicate things, I stay silent and allow him to gather his courage. Something shook him to his core. It's only at the end of his story that he manages to tell me of the events in a manner which at least resembles a report.
Some things sound a little too fantastic to be true, like Nova’s godlike voice which slew my son’s entire fleet. Given no choice, I am forced to take Wisen's words as the truth. I only don't dismiss Wisen's testimony because I clearly recognized Janice at the other side of the portal.
My son’s description of the other stranger makes her identity clear, though, it should be impossible. Unless… grinding my teeth, I come to my own conclusions about Nova’s nature. It’s indeed unfortunate that someone like her fell through my fingers. I assume that she even tricked her keeper for several decades until she broke free of her constraints.
When Wisen is finished, I reach up and rub my temples. “So, you managed to lose your whole fleet on a purely diplomatic mission?” The fleet which I gave to Wisen was only composed of experimental and old ships. They weren't supposed to engage in a battle.
Losing the ships won't matter much in the short term since I wouldn't have put them on the front lines anyway. Though, losing the power stones will affect the war with the Alliance in the long run. We will have to expand our mining efforts to replace the lost power stones. It won't be popular if I tighten the thumbscrews on the population even further to press more people into slavery. Unfortunately, a steady supply of slaves for the mines is very important.
And then we have the Resistance. I have to find a way to keep them from spreading their influence too much.
Blinking, I return my attention to the matter at hand. Hesh was an intelligent man. Had he been there, he would have stopped my son. Did this Nova know that Hesh was the one who kept my son from doing something stupid? Anyway, Illum shall not be underestimated a second time.
I start chuckling as I try to puzzle out the sequence of events. If this Nova isn't an impostor, then Janice is indeed a lucky person. Who would have thought that, after all these years, she would gain another reincarnated person as an ally? And it's her own flesh and blood to boot. Sometimes, I wish that I had that much luck. Let's hope that the bond between the two of them isn't too strong.
After all, being reincarnated comes with a lot of mental baggage.
It also throws a new light on Orwen's destruction and the new spell which devastated several villages. It isn't too hard to counter once you know the theory behind it. The spellware is surprisingly simple, but this world's people simply weren't prepared for the concept.
I held back on introducing too many new things. It simply wasn't needed to build an Empire and – let's be honest – savages are easier to control.
Wisen balls his hands into fists. “We have to strike back! They challenged the might of the Empire!”
I raise a hand to stop him. “We have to do nothing, son. The Alliance takes all of my attention, so I am happy if the Mirai-scum stays on their island! They already rampaged across our northern coast and you losing so many power cores didn't help.”
Also, my breeding program spectacularily failed and had some undesirable side effects. Too bad that I didn't realize Nova's true nature in time.
It's unfortunate, but looking back, many things make a lot more sense now.
I glare at Wisen. “The Alliance and I are currently in a stalemate. They pushed through the pass and into Orwen's former territory. Time will show if they have enough troops and resources to conquer the area. I am willing to let them be while we prepare our counter-attack. Then we will see what they think about our new slave troops.
“The Sociocrathy has its own problems with the orks and the Rebellion, so they at least shouldn't be a problem. They don't have the Alliance's distinct aversion towards slavery, but I am sure that their ideology could become a problem. It's not unlikely that they would take advantage of any weakness to spread their sphere of influence. The orks' uprising might be a good thing. It makes it less likely that they try a scheme against me.”
Wisen shakes his fists and rises to his feet. “How can you say that? The Sociocrathy and even the Consortium admitted that Nova has to be dealt with!” Being in safety, Wisen's shocked state quickly turned into anger.
I place my hands in my lap and lean back against my throne. “Stupid little fool! They used you to check out Illum's capabilities! Compared to you, neither of them lost too much, though the Sociocrathy gambled a little high. Either way, you were the one who committed most to the effort. After learning about Illum, you should have asked yourself why the Alliance would allow an uncontrolled element to run rampant on their territory.
“It seems like their leaders were smarter in weighing the risk versus the possible gain. You should have deployed spies and assassins before you went all out in a military engagement. Know your opponent and know yourself before you charge into battle!”
Sighing, I look at the ceiling. “It was really unfortunate that they took out Hesh.” Maybe I should have sent more babysitters. Who would have thought that someone is brave enough to risk an attack at the World Assembly?
After a few moments of brooding, I decide that I am wasting time. What happened can't be changed. There is always a 'What if?' “I should have done this sooner. Given your character and the mistakes in your education, you should have never been given command over so many airships and men.”
Wisen steps away from me. “What do you mean?”
Reaching into my pocket, I retrieve a golden amulet and study it. Rubbing the smooth surface of the flat disc with my thumb, I get to my feet. “I mean that you have been a bad boy. Naughty children need 'special' care, so you will get this amulet from me. It will make you stronger and wiser, just like the rest of the family.”
He narrows his eyes. “How should an amulet be able to do that?”
“Oh, it will simply force you to follow my instructions. If I tell you to go on a diplomatic mission and report to me, then you will go on a diplomatic mission and report to me. You won't devise any foolish plans of your own and you won't give in to your emotions. Don't worry, your mother and your sisters are also quite fine with their amulets. You also have two brothers who can act as replacements while you get your new instructions and training.”
Wisen's eyes widen and he sucks in a sharp breath. “Slave collar!”
“Oh, no. Don't say such things aloud. It would be bad if the public realizes that the royal family is kept in line with the same tools as are used to control the lowest part of our society.” I look down at the amulet in my hand. “It's a pity. When you were small, I saw so much promise in you. You were smart and proud. Most importantly, you were loyal to the Empire’s ideology. Maybe a little arrogant, but I hoped that you would settle down over the years. That's why I didn't collar you.”
Remembering hammer in his hand, Wisen raises it defensively against me. The act is nothing more than funny and pathetic, given that the weapon is useless in its current state.
I look at the hammer and then at his eyes. “Really? Do you really think that you can oppose me in your state?” Calmly walking towards him, I narrow the distance. “It wouldn't matter, even if you were at the height of your power and had an army behind you. You know that as well as I do.”
His face distorts in helpless terror and tears appear in his eyes. With his hammer shaking, he screams and charges towards me, ignoring all the odds. Puckering my lips, I marvel at his reaction. Does he really think of himself as being any better than the countless others who serve me?
I really fathered a fool.