“Over this past decade our Imperium has grown weak, and frail. Every day our paragon defers more to the behest of aliens, some of which bear no respect four realm's accomplishments and instead see us as a tool to be controlled. The time for quiet negotiation has passed, and what arrives is the time for decisive action! If our Imperium is to remain strong, then Royal House Ultanos must be torn from the throne!”
- - Taremanon Valocanus addressing his supporters in the Praetor's Council
The Third War of the Draconid Houses, also known as the Third House War, is a civil war that erupted in the height of 2806 AD. Instigated by Grand House Valocanus and its supporters with the ultimate goal of removing a paragon they saw as being overcome by foreign influence, the civil war quickly became a conflict that tested every major player in the Draconid Imperium's political landscape. The magnitude of the conflict drew the eyes of a number of extra-Imperial figures, many of whom - such as the French Empire saw it in their best interests to support the side they believed most beneficial to their relationship with the Imperium.
As well as being a conflict between loyalist and anti-royal forces, some regions of the Imperium exploited the conflict as a chance to secede and form their own unions, with varying degrees of success.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Prelude to Revolution
- 3 Outbreak and Early Conflict
- 4 Two Daggers One Heart
- 5 The Great Game
- 6 Council Verdict
- 7 Flashpoint
- 8 The Breaking Straw
- 9 Operation House Party
- 10 Navigation
Prelude to Revolution
Honour and Discipline
As had been agreed one evening, Leondias Drevex had arrived at one of House Ultanos' sprawling palatial estates. Escorted by an estate attendant and several of the Empyrean Cohort, Leondias was directed to a ballroom in the southern wing of the estate. Preparing himself on the far side of the room was Uriel, removing a velvet red coat and was in the midst of adorning himself with a pair of leather gloves. Hearing Leondias enter he turned around and displayed an intrigued smile to welcome Leondias. Resting next to him was the deactivated plasma-sword he had brought with him.
- Uriel - Good to see you, dear Lord-Admiral.
- Leondias -Paragavatus.
- Uriel - I suppose we should get this over with: The terms.
- Leondias - No personal protection, blades are kept to standard solid-state edges, any augmentations are maintained at baseline operational standards, and our duel ends with first blood.
- Uriel - Reasonable requests. Take your pick of blade.
As Uriel grasped the hilt of his sword, Leondias suddenly held up a finger to ask something of his paragon.
- Leondias - I am aware what that signet ring bestows upon you, my paragavatus. And you agreed on no personal protection or augmentation.
Uriel looked at the hand that bore his signet ring and shrugged.
- Uriel - And you understand the enhancements do not simply "go away" when I remove it?
- Leondias - Yes, but they do support them. Do they not?
- Uriel - You make a fair point. I suppose my heart can handle a few minutes without an enhanced immune system.
Uriel removed the glove that obscured the hand and tapped the ring, deactivating it and slipping it off his finger. He momentarily did not notice his fingers twitching as he removed the ring, gently setting it down on the table he was preparing himself at. Leondias examined the weapon rack that had been provided, an array of finely-crafted dueling swords decorated with fine golden engravings and silver hilts. He then removed his coat, revealing the finely-cut waistcoat that sat underneath, under which was a dark linen shirt with silver threading only on the waistcoat's lapel, trimming the collar and on the top half of the cuffs. Leondias reached for a sword that possessed a a silver cup-hilt frame, with a few swings he smiled at the craft.
- Leondias - Such fine swords. Do you plan to use the ensuing fight as a lesson to your detractors, your majesty?
- Uriel - Far from it. This is a matter between ourselves, but being highborn I suppose it would e impolite to keep to standard military equipment. I hope you do not mind a bit of flair, Leondias.
Leondias snorted with mirth, combining the faring of his nostrils with a widening grin. While "highborn" may have been a reference to his title or his successes, Leondias was no aristocrat. House Drevex was one of draconid society's more numerous common houses, and this duel was to him merely a more elegant, perhaps gentlemanly version of settling grievances with a fistfight. He entertained his paragon, reading the blade and positioning himself in a defensive stance while Uriel stepped up and bowed, keeping his eyes firmly on Leondias before he stood in a similar stance. Not wanting to be discourteous, Leondias did the same.
- Leondias - To first blood.
- Uriel - To first blood.
The two reptiles rushed forward, their blades clashing with a reverberating clang. Holding strong the two warriors locked eyes before the parry was broke nas quickly as it had been engaged. Leondias retaliated with a wide swing, Uriel jerking back to avoid his arm being cut, lunginh at Leondias with thep oint of his sword. Larger and perhaps more acquainted with the art of sword, Leondias was able to narrowly dodge, swinging his blade back to once again meet blade-on-blade. A third clash followed, with Uriel scraping his sword's edge along Leondias' own before removing it with a firm push and swiping at the legs, his attack met by a clang as Leondias quickly recovered, taking a step back as he re-positioned himself to stay sturdy.
- Leondias - Use caution boy, I wouldn't want you to cut me with a blunted blade.
Leondias taunt was met with a swift kick to his opposing leg, sending him onto one knee.
- Uriel - What did you call me again?
Leondias' leg was merely shocked, after another parry he stood up again, rising over his paragon.
- Leondias - Apologies majesty. - he broke his speech with a lunge at Uriel's shoulder, which the paragon blocked with his word. - More acclimatised to less elegant forms of combat.
- Uriel - And your other duel combatants condone name-calling?
- Leondias - I've been called far worse than "boy", so you have it easy.
Uriel grunted and twisted his wrist to flick the blade and strike at Leondias' abdomen. Leondias jerked back as the blade cut against the fabric of his waistcoat at a speed he had trouble countering.
- Leondias - ...We agreed first blood, not first cut
- Uriel - Oh I am aware. - Uriel swung again, narrowly missing Leondias' cheek. - And I do not condone being lectured on combat etiquette.
- Leondias - My apologies. After your engagements with Lord Breek I was unsure if you were rusty.
Uriel scowled and swung his blade again, this time weaving to dodge Leondas' counter and cut into the lord-admiral's shin, cutting the fabric and sending Leondias kneeward once again. Gasping out, Leondias looked down to see the fabric of his trousers marked with an expanding stain of blood.
- Leondias - Gah! Unexpected
- Uriel - And what were you expecting with such commentary!?
- Leondias - I--
Before he answered Uriel grabbed Leondias' collar and pulled him close, within his scowl Leondias took note of a strange glint in Uriel's eyes.
- Uriel - What were you expecting, Leondias? What was flowing though your mind to conceive that disgracing Lord-Councillor Breek's name in my presence would be worth spouting! - Uriel gripped more tightly, tugging against the shirt to Leondias' discomfort - Provocation? Mockery?
- Leondias - It is oly a duel...
- Uriel - This matter is more than the duel Leondias. There's mocking banter and then there is mocking a hero!
- Leondias - To-- To first blood.
Uriel scowled, the glint illuminating his eyes as he cast Leondias to the floor. The latter lay on his side, breathing fro mexhaustion while Uriel stood over him with his sword directed outward. The cut had been quick, and the edge of the sword was largely clean of blood.
- Uriel - You overstepped your boundary Lord-Admiral. You dragged something personal into a duel regarding official behaviour. Now I ask that you explain your behaviour or I may just have to consider over stepping the boundaries of this engagement.
- Leondias - It was not...personal.
- Uriel - Not personal...How could insulting my late blood brother not be an act taken personally?
- Leondias - He...he's what!?
Uriel blinked and lowered the sword. With Leondias largely incapacitated he took large strides back to the table and held his signet ring between his fingers. Leondias only watched as Uriel re-adorned it, feeling tense as its purpose on his boy was restored. Getting to grips with himself, Uriel refused to look at Leondias as he spoke while attendants approached the defeated Lord-Admiral with a nanospray.
- Uriel - My staff can administer you a nanospray. Take it and leave.
- Leondias - Wha--
- Uriel - I drew first blood. The engagement is concluded. Accept the aid and leave the premises.
As the spray was applied, Leondias was helped to his feet and taken out of the room. Uriel however was too fixated on what he had just done, adjusting a mirror to get a closer inspection of his features, and only just catching sight of a strange light in his eyes as it died away. This sight caused hi mto blink a few times, but on a second look whatever he saw was gone, his eyes being the characteristic emerald green they always were.
- Taremanon - Unless you have good news, Aeden, I suggest you get out of my sight. Promptly.
- Herald - Your excellency
Taremanon Valocanus, one of the most powerful politicians in the Imperium underneath the paragon and the chancellor, stood at a large bay window swirling a large glass of black wine. His eyes were closed as he tried absorbing himself in the symphony playing harmoniously within the room. Standing at the corners of the room were mercenaries who wore uniforms emblazoned with the crest of House Valocanus on their right pectoral regions who eyed the messenger with sinister intentions.
- Taremanon - Do you bring fortuitous news?
- Messenger - N-not really.
- Taremanon - Then I dismiss you. Bad news would spoil the beauty of the sympathy that you have the pleasure of bearing witness to.
The messenger bowed and backed towards the door. As he did he felt a bump and turned around in panic to see the regal and statuesque Dracia Ultanos behind himself. He quickly maneuvered around her as she glared at him, before turning to Taremanon with an eager smile. The praetor himself turned around and smiled, raising his glass.
- Taremanon - Why, miss Dracia of royal house Ultanos! I feel honored that of graces me with her presence.
- Dracia - Careful with that tongue dear Taremanon, soemoene may yank it out.
- Taremanon - Oh I doubt that, are things returning in your new realm?
- Dracia - Oh you know, the natives are a little more compliant this time. - Dracia moved herself to caress Taremanon's torso, toying with him as she moved close - And I have you to thank.
- Taremanon - Such silvered words, my dear. But remember our bargain.
Taremanon lifted his free hand and gently held Dracia's wrist, lifting it up to chest level as he rubbed his thumb across the side of her forearm. She looked at him with apathy and smiled.
- Dracia - After the stunts you have pulled recently I doubt Ultanos' patriarch - your old fiend - would approve.
- Taremanon - A shame, we could do so much for the Imperium. But alas, your heroism to return Nivilum Okrumos to the fold and my connections would all but secure the appproval of the royal family.
- Dracia - So what is your grand scheme for acquiring the throne.
- Taremanon - As heart-wrenching as it is, my dear Dracia, Uriel must die.
- Dracia - And if we are found out? For all your wealth, is it enough to spare yourself from being tried for regicide?
- Taremanon - I would not be so incompetent as to be on the front-lines of any coup. It would be heroic but if it fails
- Dracia - What's the real reason?
Taremanon pushed Dracia away, huffing and snapping his fingers to change the view outside to what looked like a view from orbit of Alcanti. He directed Dracia's attention as the view closed in on the French Imperial Archange-class battlecrusier in orbit. Taremanon was easily rather frustrated with the existence of the vessel. Dracia observed the vessel, looking somewhat in disbelief at its design.
- Taremanon - That has been in orbit around Alcanti for two years now.
- Dracia - You fear the ? Dear praetor?
- Taremanon - I fear their capacity. You should spend time outside Nivilum Ocrumos my dear, for the Kraw are nothing by comparison.
- Dracia - ...You speak of the lord-admiral's humiliation.
- Taremanon - More than that. But as if to further insult our movement...Observe the designation.
Dracia looked to the hull of the vessel to see the word Uriel dominating the side of the vessel. She reeled in disgust at the thoughts she figured may have been going though the shiprights' heads. She ten turned to Tartemanon, dark thoughts now in her mind.
- Dracia - If you want the throne and a guarantee of a long reign, then Uriel's lofty position must be toppled before you remove him. Kill him on the steps of the palace and you create a martyr. Destroy his reputation before you end his life!
Taremanon nodded, lettig go of Dracia's arm and walking over to an end table with a large bottle of wine sitting upon it. He drank his glass and removed a second from the cabinet. A house servant came into the room and poured wine into the glasses. Taremanon handed one of the glasses to Dracia before he picked his own up and, with a smile, held it up.
- Taremanon - For six years he has flown high, reaching to ascend for an eternal legacy. Here is to his fall. My dear Dracia.
The two aristocrats chuckled and contact was made with their glasses.
Outbreak and Early Conflict
The Alcanti Conspiracy
Thirty Seconds Praetor
Taremanon Valocanus, presently one of the most divisive of the Imperium's seventy-plus praetors, nodded in recognition as he was attended to by a dozen staff; make-up artists were applying a tint to his scales, decorating his horns with silver thread, braiding his chestnut brown mane while stylists marked his body with patterns of ocean and sky blue, presenting him with the finest clothes of silk, velvet and linen designed by some of the finest fashion-oriented minds of Andromeda. They were all providing the finishing touches to his look, dressing him in a great dark coat over a gilt wine-red waistcoat, his collar obscured by a ruff of powdered white and silver edge. Taremanon preferred to adjust the cuffs of his coat as the stylists draped a large hip-length cloak over his back, the right side embroidered boldly in the crest of Grand House Valocanus.
The man was in a trance as his attendants danced around him like some tribal idol, every fine detail was catered to as he sat in the plush leather chair underneath him, gathering his strength.
Ten seconds, Praetor. The Praetors await your word.
A smirk, a sly creeping expansion of his lipline. With an ancient grace, he rose from his chair, lifting his body to support himself on two great and powerful limbs, ascending his form to stand high above his attendants as they scattered, clearing the way as the elder giant moved forward with each careful footstep towards ebony and mahogany lectern. Embedded into the lectern was a document, his words for the evening. Valocanus approached with no fear; these were words that could very well collapse an empire, bring ruin to a dynasty. But that was what he wanted, two decades now he had slipped from having the sublime ear of the mighty paragon himself to an outcast of the court. Isolated, but hardly alone. Twenty years his envy and lamentation consumed him, his life now having these words as to now be the legacy he would leave behind.
Words that, with the right conviction, would topple the Ultanos dynasty. Taremanon's dream was that without blade nor shot, he could bring low a kind of man he had long been taught had been given such power and right to rule by the great progenitor of his kind. Taremanon did not see Drakon's virtues in Uriel. Instead he had long seen a much darker entity stand as his paragon's shadow.
The conspirators have gathered, sir. You may begin when ready
The projectors initiated themselves. As if dissolving into view, the room around the lectern transformed into a lavish circular hall. Sitting in richly decorated armchairs and enjoying the finest foods were several members of the Praetor's Council, the lords of the various sectors of the Imperium. Not all attended however, this was squarely a meeting of Taremanon's supporters. In the interest of security, many of them had opted to speak to each other remotely, using projection suites that they each possessed to communicate within a single chamber. A place where arguably the real and the unreal blended together. Taremanon took time to examine the dozen-or-so praetors that had joined him on this evening. Taking a deep breath, Taremanon began his speech.
- Taremanon - Greetings lords and ladies of our Imperium. Tonight is when we make history. For twenty long years a shadow has been cast over our illustrious domain. Our great Paragon, Uriel Vossus Ultanos the Sixteenth, has become a puppet. He has grown weak, and indecisive, preferring the wisdom of aliens, upstarts and rivals to the wisdom provided by the very aristocracy he tries to unite. I have called each of you because tonight is when we shall forge history.
- Praetor Gavanis - You are confident this can be accomplished, praetor. We all know the penalty for attempts at regicide.
- Taremanon - But of course.
- Taremanon - The Grand Senate House is where our detractors will be convening. In order to reassure the population, the royal family will be holding a banquet for various provincial dignitaries while the rest of the Praetor's Council will be meeting to recieve them later. This will be one of the few times the entire council will be present in the flesh. So our strategy will be to--
- Praetor Anavias - Raid the Imperial palace? Your enthusiasm for this belief in the paragon's corruption has blinded you.
Taremanon did not even flinch. Under his decoration and make-up, he gave only a piercing glare to Anavias. A huff of frustration carefully expelled from his nostrils over her arrogance for interrupting him and assuming he had not considered a plan to assault what was quite essentially a fortress, without costing his conspirators many lives and considerable manpower.
- Taremanon - May I continue?
Anavias waved her hand and laid back in her seat, expressing that he was free to do so, although in such a way that strongly told him she was expecting something idiotic. Unfazed by her lack of faith, he did however have a strategy.
- Taremanon - Beneath the palace lie a warren of tunnels, which before htis meeting I took the liberty of pulling a considerable number of favours in order ot map as much of the tunnels as we could. These passages are used to evacuate personnel, support palace infrastructure and perform maintenance on the shielding that keeps the palace fomr cooking. We only need a strike team. to emerge where the paragon will be dining, Enough of a surprise and we shall hold the cards. For the Grand Senate, we have more leniency. The establishment's suppression fields prevent us from using firearms but we need only convince as many of the grand senate to see our point of view. Even if we must force them to side with us.
- Gavanis - What of the Arda'Onisi? These... "French" have the gall to establish one of their battle-vessels in orbit over Alcanti, emblazoned no less than with the name of our paragon. What of them?
- Taremanon - Their battle-vessel was to stop the terrorist elements that claimed the archipelago to the east of the city. They are expecting cultists, indoctrinated fanatics, by the time they discover our scheme we will hold the advantages. The grand senate will support us, while they will have to fight though the royal palace or the tunnels in order to liberate their patron.
Anavious scoffed, shaking her head at Taremanon and appearing dismissive. Taremanon, frustrated he was again interrupted, looked to Anavias with a scowl.
- Anavias - All talk, Valocanus. You speak so much of the shadow but you do not want to kill his majesty.
- Taremanon - He is worth more for removing the Ardans' irritance from the crown of the Imperium while alive. We will also hold more legitimate power convincing him to step down than killing him and stealing Drakon's Eye to adorn my collar.
- Gavanis - An ambitious plan, Taremanon. House Tontas will continue it's support.
- Anavias - House Khanarsis, pledges its support.
Other praetors followed the example of Gavanis and Anavias. With the declarations made, everyone in attendance stood up and saluted Taremanon. He aknowledge each of them before they positioned themselves at-ease.
- Taremanon - Excellent, I shall discuss involvement more privately. For your parts in this historical event, I will, upon my ascension, grant each of you privileges befitting of praetors with the ear to the paragavatus. Greatness awaits.
Everyone saluted, chanting "greatness awaits" before disengaging their terminals. While each member disengaged, Taremanon, was approached by a servant ,carrying a tray with a glass of golden wine resting on their palm. It was a complimentary drink that Taremanon accepted with grace and sipped with an aristocratic grace.
Anavias and Tersius were praetors who were not so convinced. They had joined each other in the same room to attend Taremanon's meeting. Anavias, muttering as she too was presented a glass of wine and a plate of snack cakes, looked to Tersian - the praetor of Tholfame 8 and a child of Grand House Evonis, joined her in concern.
- Anavias - Self-important cloaca. He thinks because he was close companions with His Majesty that he deserves to wear Drakon's Eye?
- Tersius - He's delusional. - Tersius also accepted a glass of wine, this one a deep red that was halfway between scarlet and black - The royal lines are always chosen by the patriarch's ability.
- Anavias - Indeed, the old man is so wrapped up in his conspiracy that he does not realise he comes off as a jabbering madman.
- Tersius - Imagine his face when you outwit him. Maybe you are a better choice for paragon than he is
- Anavias - Of course I am. Unlike him, I have worked to ensure House Antalias remains an important element of the council. I think I've proved my worth.
- Tersius - It's not our peers who decide who is worthy of inheriting Drakon's Eye. The great jewel and the ornamentation it adorns are the apex of what we are.
- Anavias - Exactly. Taremanon is old, slow and senile. If he survived to live a millennium I am sure he will be driven mad soon after. What material is that for our next paragon.
Impressed by Anavias' words, Tersius held up his glass, smiling confidently.
- Tersius - There's to sound judgement them. Whoever becomes the next dynasty, I am sure they can do more than the now-ineffectual Ultanos and the stuck-in-the-past Valocanus.
- Anavias - Such a wonderful system is it not, dead Tersius?
The two of them connected their glasses and drank to their health, such was the dangerous nature of the aristocratic Imperium. A world many had dreamed was a life of ease, great luxury and immense importance. Behind the fashionable coats and the luxury starships, securing your place and protecting what you had won was key. Rivals existed in everyone, and alliances such as these were often temporary, a means to get rid of a much larger threat. While Anavias spoke openly to her ally of Taremanon's ineptitude, she knew full well that to toss him from a tower at his current strength would most likely end in her exile, her businesses destroyed and perhaps a Valocanus in her office. In order to overcome him, she firs had to weaken him.
Two Daggers One Heart
The Enemy Within
For a few years now, Hachiman Shinha had undergone a transformation since fulfilling his destiny. Now free to enhance his life, he had set about taking what he had learned and applying it outward, to enlighten and benefit others. One such decision was to become an educator, and one particular student that he had taken on, was Septis Vossus Ultanos, one of the youngest of his old friend Uriel. Septis was not a protege or a student under Hachiman's arts however, instead - at the behest of the boy's father - the young man's education was much more academic in nature. While as a young man he had learned vital skills with a weapon, as well as fundamental understandings of right and wrong, Hachiman's task was instead educating young Septis the understandings of philosophy and culture. On this day in particular, the lessons were on the myriad cultures of the Borealis galaxy and their customs. Young Septis was fascinated with these other cultures, how they differed and how they were similar, offering endless reams of questions for his tutor to answer. But a young man of such station and importance in Andromeda's future had a busy few years of study, and so Hachiman couldn't spend all day answering his student's questions.
As the clock in the drawing room struck five minutes past the fifteenth hour, the lesson was wrapped up. Septis was often disappointed he only had so much time, but he had other studies to attend to, leaving his tutor in the drawing room after gathering up his tools of learning. Exchanging goodbyes with his protege, the renowned Tā figure, a hero and recognized warrior on an extragalactic scale, passed a sigh; there was nothing else that brought him more satisfaction and encouragement in this field than allowing his student's mind to undergo expansion, memorizing a diverse amount of information that would later be put to active use beyond the classroom, and in spite of having thus far lived a life full to the brim with drama, endless drama, and high-stakes, adrenaline-pumping adventure, Hachiman almost never found himself neither bored of nor reluctant to teach. It was when Septis had left his teacher to his own devices, however, that the Tā's smile wore away into a frown - there had been something gnawing at him for some time, and while he had otherwise turned a blind eye to it, he knew that if he did not do something about it then it would only drive him to guilt.
Approaching the sheathed blade that leaned against the wall opposite the door, cautiously placed beneath an expensive black jacket of synthetic leather, its back decorated with a custom insignia while fur coated the trims of the sleeves and collar, Hachiman picked both of his belongings up from the ground, placing his jacket over his left shoulder - which had once consisted of cybernetics and artificial materials prior to his ascension - and departed through the door so that he may finally address the issue that had been upon his mind. Though the room he had used for lessons was otherwise connected to a hallway, as the Tā made his way through the door, he found himself walking through the entrance of a vast, well-maintained library, closing the door behind him as he glanced around at his surroundings - a rather useful ability for an Essential being to utilize should they wish to cut down on time spent for more menial tasks, such as navigation and walking.
As he entered the depository, a silvery cloud descended from near the ceiling, forming into a transluscent silver maiden. Hachiman remembered this maiden as the library's curator, an entity that existed as a vapour until called upon. While normally her task was to guide visitors to the right piece of literary material, what Hachiman sought did not need to be asked, nor did he need help in finding it. Regardless, this maiden was but a simulacrum and greeted him as she did all her visitors.
- Curator - Good afternoon Mr. Shinha. Is there anything I can assist you in finding?
- Hachiman - Not today, thank you. Although might I just say, you are looking very stunning today. You do something with your hair?
The curator blinked. A little surprised by her visitor's compliment.
- Curator - Oh...I...I may have been inspired by a description contained in a document that master Torvos brought over from Drakonmi Terevus. I thought I might see how visitors found it.
- Hachiman - Looks good on you, I'd say. Oh, there is one thing I must ask. Has that little idea I had been brought to the board of whoever owns this place? You know, the section on the history of foreign erotic media. I'd be surprised if they didn't consider it.
- Curator - So far Mr. Shinha you have been the only adult visitor who has expressed a keen interest.
- Hachiman - Damnation. Ah well, I'm sure it'll happen one day. Well, I'll speak to you later, sweetheart. I've got a pressing issue to attend to, hope you don't mind. It involves my good old friend, Uriel.
- Curator - But of course, Mr. Shinha - his majesty is in the royal reading room. But I do not recall him saying he was expecting anyone.
- Hachiman - That's because it's a surprise, so don't tell him. Keep up the good work, angel, and I might come back later to press on about that idea.
- Curator - It might be more appropriate to speak to his Majesty. Have a good afternoon.
With that, the curator burst into a silver cloud and ascended to join the mist that hung just underneath the ceiling. Chuckling to himself for a brief moment, the Tā rolled his shoulders and sighed as he walked forward, evidently reluctant to face what was to come next as he let his eyes blink, opening them once again to find himself not in the great, imposing entrance that he had just been talking with the library's curator in, but in a far more private, less open environment that only the likes of the most reputable nobles of the Imperium would find themselves having access to. Inside Hachiman was almost alone, studying one of the far bookcases was Uriel, examining a bookshelf containing a number of large codices. He did not see, nor hear Hachiman arrive, instead lifting out a codex bound in rough heavy leather. As he moved away from the shelf and turned around, he looked up momentarily and caught a glympse of Hachi standing in front of the door. The sudden surprise caught him off-guard and he stumbled back, dropping the book in the process as he reached to frantically clutch his chest.
- Hachiman - Oh, come on. I don't look that bad, do I? I'm wearing a shirt today, at least.
- Uriel - Apologies I...Normally it is only myself in here...
- Hachiman - Is that right? Septis obviously isn't doing enough studying, then.
- Uriel - Yes, yes... how go his lessons?
- Hachiman - Well, you would be hard-pressed to find him bored of them, what with such a charismatic and interesting teacher like myself, heh. He's taken quite a shine to the cultures and history of Borealis, especially the Zoles. Hm, somewhat appropriate considering the Old Earth folklore of knights and dragons... Anywho.
- Uriel - I presume you wish to speak to me about something.
- Hachiman - Why, you think coming here with an excuse to chat up the hot curator lady is beneath me? Come on, look at who you're talking to.
Uriel chuckled in his usual charming manner.
- Uriel - Age and form is no barrier I see.
- Hachiman - Well, when you spent most of your life in Borealis, you kinda learn to love a bit of diversity. But, on this occasion, you're right; I came here to speak to you. And you'll have to excuse me because I'm going to get straight to the point. ... You need help.
The Tā moved for a chair, utilizing his astromagical abilities to pull one out from a table and perch himself atop it, while he rested his sheathed blade at the chair's leg. He glanced towards Uriel, his otherwise optimistic demeanor vanishing so that an expression of concern could take its place. Uriel appeared puzzled, he gave a curious look to Hachi as he reached to pick the fallen book up.
- Uriel - Help with what, exactly?
- Hachiman - I can see it, Uriel. It's like a cancer; a tumor growing and festering deep inside of you, its black core enveloping your heart while its tendrils branch outward-- Wow, that sounded so much better in my head. Sorry, don't know what came over me then.
- Uriel - ...You've lost me on that elaboration.
- Hachiman - I see it. You know, the thing. The thing that's eating you from the inside out, not literally but... It. ... That dark thing. And you're ignoring it and doing nothing about it. You're also spending less time around your place if you can help it.
Externally, Uriel maintained composure but Hachiman could see it in his eyes. He could see that his old friend was in denial.
- Uriel - This is quite an assumption, Hachi. Rest assured, I am fine. Healthy as a champion sarshan.
- Hachiman - ... Look, I know how you might be feeling. It's a difficult thing to admit to, what with how Tyraz was treated by people for it back when he was still alive--
- Uriel - I am not tainted!
In an instant, Uriel had shifted forward, slamming his fist on the desk and narrowing his eyes in frustration. Not many things could take Hachiman by surprise in his current state, although the Paragon's sudden burst of aggression had been sure to make him reel back somewhat as an instinctive reaction.
- Uriel - Tyraz saw me as a brother. For almost twenty years I was at his side and he was mine. If I was tainted, surely I would demonstrate the signs of his condition.
- Hachiman - Uriel, I have spent roughly the same amount of time fighting daemons, devils, evil aliens, and all that other supernatural crap. A normal person might not see it at first, but I can practically smell corrupt-- I mean, it. Plus, either it's a sign of being "tainted", or you have had some really convincing eye surgery recently.
- Uriel - Eye surgery? Why would I undergo such a thing.
- Hachiman - Because they flashed red when you slammed your fist on that desk just a second ago. ... Look, can we move this elsewhere? Talking about it in here is not doing either of us any good.
Standing back to his feet, the Tā picked up his blade and held it over his shoulder, glancing back at Uriel while raising an arm to click his fingers; within the mere blink of an eye, his surroundings had changed once more, although this time Uriel had accompanied him as he shifted through the fabrics of space and time via the use of his Dream energy. While a mere mortal may not have felt the teleportation, Uriel was certain he felt the sensation of the energies of light raise his bodily temperature somewhat for a brief instance.
As Uriel emerged from the blink his scales fanned out and he gasped. While Draconis were known for being quite warm creatures - something Hachi had to adjust to in his early days visiting Alcanti - Uriel had felt hot. He looked at his friend in surprise, slightly embarrassed as his body engaged a reflex for cooling down. They had both moved to one of the training halls in the palace's lower levels, one wall was occupied by four large tall windows that streamed in light made by a projection, acting as a view to the outside. This room was commonly used by Uriel as a place to keep his close-quarters combat skills sharp, something he practiced every two out of ten days of the calendar.
- Hachiman - Ah, that's better. I'd have felt bad for the curator if we messed up that place.
- Uriel - You are forgiven...the library contains some very rare tomes. Some being the only ones of their kind outside the royal academy's catacombs
Uriel looked about to get his bearings.
- Uriel - Are you confident in dueling me?
- Hachiman - You know, I taught Septis a lesson once. That the rawest, most honest emotions and feelings are brought forth in battle, as the mind cannot place its focus on restraining them while fighting at the same time. That you have never really known a person, or yourself, unless you have been in a fight.
The man threw his jacket to the far side of the hall before removing his shirt and tossing it aside so that the extent of his surprisingly toned, athletically-built body could be shown, although it was still rather minuscule compared to Uriel's own Draconid physiology. Reaching for the handle of his sword, the Tā drew his vibroblade and twirled it in circles as he drew it from its sheath, which he then laid upon the floor and aimlessly kicked it away.
- Hachiman - ... I think it's time you get to know yourself a little better, Uriel, while we discuss your problems like true men.
Uriel's scales had now rested. He smirked and unbuttoned his waistcoat, tossing it to a distant weapon rack. He walked over to one of the racks, a regal stride balanced by a wafting muscular tail and wrapped his hands around the grip of a finely-crafted sabre. He drew it from the rack and twirled around to look back at his Tā opponent. Approaching the warrior while holding a guarded stance.
- Uriel - The heat of the duel, where all men settle their grievances with both actions and words. I trust you understand the customs surrounding how my kind approach these duels.
- Hachiman - Please; I did take a culture course at one of your colleges, after all. Heh, I put a lot of trust in you to show me a good time, Uriel. I won't settle for anything less.
Uriel nodded by closing his eyes. He made the initial gestures - bowing gracefully with one foot forward, one reaching behind, bending the back to be parralel with the floor and gazing into the eyes of the opponent. His sword-hand positiond to the side in a sweeping motion while his off-hand was swung to curl the fingers in front of the right-hand shoulder. Uriel himself had done this gesture so many times he was able ot perform the gesture in a single, flawless flow of his body, before returning to his guard stance. Hachiman, meanwhile, gripped his sword with both hands, twisting his body to the side while keeping his blade low to the ground, leaving much of his upper body exposed - the fool's stance, a means to encourage attack so that it may be parried, guarded, or deflected. While he was indeed an adept warrior, the Tā swordsman found much of his success in more intimate fights via goading the opposition into attack.
Willing to humour his opponent, Uriel made the first attack, swinging his blade in a sideways motion as he stretched forward, moving one foot from the back to the front to help him forward and keep balance. The Tā raised his blade, its edge coming into contact with Uriel's own so as to parry and ward away the swing, a surprising amount of strength to compliment the comparatively small figure's dexterity in fending off his much larger opponent. He twisted his wrists to allow the curved edge of his blade to face a diagonal direction to counter the sideways blow, before allowing the foot he had placed forward to shift to the back. With another flick of his wrists, he brought his blade to guard his front, raised at a slight diagonal tilt with the bottom extending from the right so that the blade may stretch left. With the blade thrown to the side, Uriel countered by twisting the blade around and returning the swing, the blade coming down on Hachi's guard with a hard impact as Uriel shifted his balance to move to the side.
- Uriel - Interesting footwork. I can see why you spent some time sharpening my son's skills.
- Hachiman - Granted, my techniques are more... exotic, I suppose.
The Tā attempted to block, swiftly moving his hilt from right to left to change the course of his blade as he moved to his side, finding a means to adjust to Uriel's more boisterous and offensive maneuvers - in an effort to shift the balance, he made use of his dexterity to keep moving and refuse to be pushed, exchanging the back and forth motions between them for moving in circles that shifted across the floor, moving between one-handed and two-handed swings and counters. His opponent continued to show defiance, as Hachi danced around him, Uriel thrusted and slashed, aiming ot hit his mark. As the nimble warrior did so, it began to show that Uriel was gradually eroding his restraint. While he started the fight with grace and a confident demeanor, Hachiman's constant dodging and parrying gradually wore down this gentlemanly facade; as the battle progressed, Uriel's style became less elegant, more boisterous, his focused expression was contorting into a scowl, dance after dance. When Uriel did speak, there was less of that charismatic man Hachi initially spoke to, and as time wore on even his tone was becoming more aggressive.
- Uriel - You move fast.
- Hachiman - I have to; this is not the frame of a man who can afford to take a heavy blow.
Suddenly, there was a development; with a powerful diagonal swing aimed upwards, the Tā followed up by stepping forward to close the distance, twisting and lowering his blade as he stretched and straightened his wrists, before the head of his katana against Uriel's upper abdomen in mid-cut; he had not completed his manoeuver in risk of drawing forth blood. Uriel looked down to watch as Hachi stopped an drew the blade away, somewhat confused.
- Uriel - ...Are you suddenly hesitant on a first blood engagement?
- Hachiman - I didn't want this to be too short. We've only just started.
Extending a hand, Hachiman recalled back the sheath of his blade with the use of his psychic power so that he may catch it in his grip, swiftly withdrawing the sword and keeping the sheath held at his waist. He stepped back and turned the side of his body towards Uriel, keeping his sword-arm ahead and the hand that clasped his sheath at the back.
- Hachiman - Thought I'd shift things up a little bit... Like in the movies. There is a word for this technique; "iajutsu". It is the word applied to the drawing of the blade from its sheath, with it being the focus of an "iaido" duel. It means that from this point on, you'll not catch me on the defensive, heh.
Uriel returned to a guard position and nodded to Hachi, looking confident.
- Uriel - I'm ready.
- Hachiman - Good. ... Banzai!
With a sudden burst of speed, Hachiman thrust himself forth and dashed across the hall, gaining moment while he kept his hand clasped tightly upon the hilt of his blade; once he closed the distance, he brought on his dexterous maneuvers, keeping his one-handed swings wide and using the momentum gained from his dash to empower his initial blows as he aimed to put Uriel under pressure. Seeing the warrior sprinting for him, Uriel readied his blade and slammed his foot forward into a guard position, angling his body to brace for a powerful impact. When close enough, Uriel swung his blade to stop the charging warrior in his tracks. Sparks flew as their blades connected, the Tā glancing up at Uriel with narrowed eyes as he felt sword being halted from completing a full skyward swing, although contact had placed considerable duress upon both swords. Hachiman kept upon the offensive however, refusing to step back as he swung in nearly all directions - diagonal, vertical, and horizontal - with an agility and stamina not often kept up so consistently in the Paragon's usual opponents. This did not deter him, as Uriel endeavored to block and parry every swing and every blow, bearing his teeth as his features sharpened into a concentrated scowl. This however, is what Hachiman wanted to bring out, and the amount of aggression Uriel showed only mounted as his defences continued to weather the onslaught.
It was, however, a sudden pause in the action among fiery sparks and clashing metal that brought on an almost deathly silence; the Tā had dropped his sheath and discarded the offensive, bringing his free hand forward to place it at the straight rear of his curved blade as he imposed a defensive counter to a downward swing. An otherwise unconventional maneuver, for Uriel knew not many who would actively steady their sword with their hand upon the blade, the straight edge did not cut into the Tā's hand as he both weathered the powerful blow and proceeded to thrust upwards, knocking Uriel's sword-arm away. At the risk of making himself open, he swiftly placed his off-hand upon the hilt of his katana, and, with a shift from a horizontal to a diagonal angle, brought it down across the Draconis' left cheek - although the Paragon's right pectoral had been cut into by the swing's end.
Uriel stepped back from the assault, breaking the heat of combat and looking over to his blade and looking down at where Hachi had cut him. His aggression turned from an aggressive focus to surprise.
- Uriel - Interesting. No blood. You need to strike harder.
- Hachiman - ... I did.
The Paragon had definitely felt a cut, and although it had been light enough to not cause more than a flesh wound as intended, there was expected to be blood drawn from the injury; it was when the Tā swordsman raised his own blade and showed Uriel the crimson life-essence splashed across the sharp edge that should have been leaking from the slash he had been dealt did the silence between them kick in. The surprise returned to a scowl as Uriel tried to comprehend how this bloodless wound left his life-liquids spattered along the edge of Hachi's katana. He joined in the silence, dread encroaching as Uriel attempted ot comprehend what this meant.
- Uriel - No no no I can't be I--
There was horror in Uriel's eyes. He suddenly remembered the infant his consort recently cradled.
- Uriel - Tyrus...
- Hachiman - You know it to be true, my friend. You've known for a while now, I believe. However, there wasn't any other way I could convince you to accept the truth of it.
For the first time in years, Uriel's proud posture lowered into a hunch. He looked at his hands, the revelation assaulting his senses, tearing at his worldview, shattering his reality.
- Uriel - I...I feel it. A sickness. A poison...Clawing for violence...All this time I was in denial. - distraught, Uriel clenched his fists, now struggling to contain the darkness and Hachi could, more than any man could, see the pressure that now flowed though his body. - All. This. Time.
- Hachiman - I won't lie to you; in all of 20 years that Tyraz has been at your side, it has never once shown itself until recently. If anything, I'm surprised. ... Sorry, that was insensitive of me.
- Uriel - ...It has not just been Tyraz. Volkarus...Kordan...What am I?
- Hachiman - ... How about you show me who you are.
- Uriel - ...What?
- Hachiman - We're not done yet. You've been holding back all this time, repressed and reserved... Neither of us are going to bleed out and die from this. You know it to be there... now I'll advise you to let it out before you end up hurting somebody with it.
- Uriel - You want me to let go. To release myself from a century of restraint.
The Tā warrior twirled his blade and placed its edge into the floor, leaving it to stand while he approached the hunched over Draconis, before reeling an arm back and thrusting it forward, letting his fist collide with the bloodless scratch on Uriel's cheek as he let his enhanced, unnatural strength flow through his attack.
- Hachiman - Fights are not orderly things, Uriel; they're bouts of desperation and chaos! What we just had was some poncy duel, with our feelings restrained and bound to honour codes set by other people! This is not about traditions or rules or laws anymore, this is beyond that! I know why you can't let any of it go - because you fear for what will happen to other people, or what other people will think of you! Well, here we both are, and I'd rather you try to tear me apart than some poor mortal soul who can't fight back!
The first few hits got though Uriel's defenses as he stood there, simply breathing ,trying to let go. Several hard punches that corresponded to the cracking of ribs. Near the climax of the onslaught Uriel finalyl reacted, grabbing hold of Hachimans' fist and clasping it tightly. The dignified being Hachi had been fighting was now gone, a crazed aggression now occupied Uriel's eyes as he bore his rippling jaws.
- Uriel - The battles I have seen...The wars I have survived...they are a maelstrom to what you have witnessed!
- Hachiman - Is that right, rich boy? Come on; show me you can fight for yourself now that Tyraz is not here to defend you anymore.
Shifting his weight, Uriel shifted his arm and through his momentum tossed Hachi across the room with all his available strength. The wall of the hall cracked as Hachiman made contact with it, landing upon his feet as he gathered power and energy to continue the fight before glancing across the room to stare down at his opponent; in both of their eyes were bright lights, Hachiman's gold conflicting with Uriel's red, and the true battle that been awaiting them at last commenced.
As the Tā' landed, Uriel shifted his weight and began a fierce charge, resembling a fierce bull as he stampeded towards Hachiman, hunched over and fierce intent in his now-luminous eyes and moving at a speed comparable to such a creature. An excited smile stretched across Hachiman's face as he moved from the wall to dash towards his opponent, tendrils of light extending from his back and spine as his feet levitated off the ground. With clenched fists, the Tā leaned forward and reeled his right arm back, gathering his strength for the inevitable collision.
- Hachiman - I bet you've been waiting for this for a long time! I know I have; deep down, there's always been a part of me that wanted to wipe that smug look off your dumb face!
Approaching with an excited smile as he roared, Uriel hunched forward to deliver a downward blow as he struck Hachi upon collision. Delivering a blow with a force that until now Hachiman had not seen from the regal paragon, who was presently degenerating into a violent beast now that all restraint had been lifted. Stopped in his tracks to reel from the powerful blow, instead of a punch, Hachiman threw a searing orb of light at the Paragon's face, causing it to burst in a small, flashing explosion of light. He proceeded to reach forward and claw across the Paragon's forearm, leaving a trail of four, glowing scratches across his limb as Hachiman fought with the defiance of someone who had thrown down with foes of equal, and greater, strength than his current enemy. Uriel reeled from the burning sensation the clawmarks delivered on his arm, the reflex being a brutal punch into Hachi's torso powerful enough to send him backwards. The regression continued as dark marks began to surround Uriel's blazing eyes as he continued to pant with a primal fury. Extending from his back, the tendrils of light that Hachiman had manifested launched forward and wrapped themselves around the Draconis' arms, coiling and constricting them like snakes before the Tā leaped forward.
Recycling the force generated from Uriel's blow and gaining momentum from pulling himself forward through his tentacles, Hachiman landed a fierce, swift strike across Uriel's face once again with his bare claws, which was swiftly followed up by a jab into the Draconis' side; although it was a pain that burned potentially more than any injury he had ever been dealt with prior, it was, in some way, almost a "good" pain - a pain that encouraged and goaded the Paragon to retaliate further. In retaliation, Uriel roared and threw a flurry of punches to release Hachiman's luminous grip, though his rage began to deliver a burning sensation to counter the light burning his arms.
- Hachiman - You like this... You like to be challenged! And now, you get the chance to act on it as much as you'd like! For centuries, you've hid this all away, and now... we can get it out! Like true men!
- Uriel - To be immersed in an inferno...To drown in anger and panic...this is a euphoria like no other! I intend to savour it before I am locked away!
It was at that moment that Uriel found himself kicked backwards by his smaller opponent, who had used his augmented power and the natural leg strength typical of his kind to hit with the blunt force of a bullet train that had struck the Paragon directly into his gut. While the Tā's punches and clawed strikes were strong, Uriel felt as if his bones had broken and his internal organs were knocked out of place by his kick, before they were agonizingly forced into repair. With as gasp as he felt his body restore itself, Uriel charged again, moving faster this time and charging for a tackle, every footstep impacting against the wooden floor of the arena, and every pant releasing a jet of hot air from Uriel's nostrils. With the final approach, Uriel leapt for a tackle. Instead of bracing himself as a sane person would have, or even attempting to evade the oncoming Draconis, Hachiman leapt in the same direction, his strength mustered into his right fist as he aimed to settle this conflict.
- Hachiman - You'd better be ready! This ends here!
Although Uriel had size and weight to his advantage, Hachiman had speed, the two of them, instead of Uriel flying backward, tumbled to the floor, with Uriel jabbing rapidly and repeatedly into Hachiman's body as they tumbled. The Draconis dominating over his smaller frame once their rolling and tumbling came to an end, the Tā retaliated by sending his fists against Uriel's own; their flurrying blows clashing against one another, each punch empowered with an energy gathered from the very depths of their souls, the strength and speed behind each punch increasing with every passing moment until only red and gold afterimages of light remained of their attacks - occasionally, a fist would strike one another's body, causing bones to crack and organs to puncture until they swiftly recovered. As the two battled at speeds near-imperceptible to the mortal eye, it was difficult ot make out who had the advantage, the sheer power sending shockwaves that strained the wooden floor as the two tumbled. After what must have been several minutes of to-and-fro, Hachiman gained an advantage, gaining an upper-hand over his opponent, who unfamiliar with this strange state he was in began to tire and slow down, becoming open to his opponent's attacks. In one last effort, Hachiman left himself open as he sent an empowered fist to collide with the side of Uriel's skull, although at the cost of finding one of the Draconis' own punches making their way towards his head and face.
As their fists collided with each other's heads, the wooden floor cracked from the shock of collision, and silence resumed; the pain was utterly nauseating, with blood splashed across the ground as well as one another, while the flesh upon their fists had been worn down to the hot, steaming muscle. The Tā panted and breathed heavily as the arm he had used to punch Uriel's temple dropped to his side, unwilling to push his friend any further even if he had the stamina to do so. Uriel simply lay there, too battered and exhausted to move, the light of his eyes dimming and the dark marks receding. He lay there panting, injured as his wounds closed up slowly. Looking up to his opponent and friend.
- Hachiman - ... You done...?
- Uriel - ...What...I...I hope I am...
- Hachiman - ... Do you... still feel it there...?
- Uriel - It's subdued but... - Uriel paused as he attempted to catch his breath - It's quietened down.
- Hachiman - All part... of my genius plan. Glad I got it... while it was coming to a head... It feels good, doesn't it? Getting... Getting it all off your shoulders, I mean.
- Uriel - It...It all became a blur. But. But here I was...thinking my regular sessions were enough...what exactly is inside of me?
- Hachiman - Whatever it was... It's out now.
The Tā stood, moving off of his friend to stumble across the cracked wooden floor. His wounds were sealing faster than Uriel's own, also it was clear that some injuries would take a little longer to be able to hide. His hair had also become a mess, what with it being mercilessly punched and coated in both his and the Paragon's blood. With Hachiman off him, Uriel struggled to stand up, baring his teeth as one of his limbs snapped back together as he put weight on it.
- Uriel - Twenty years of knowing Tyraz and I never truly understood what he fought with every single day.
- Hachiman - You were beginning to lose yourself to that thing inside of you... so I decided I'd let you bring it out so I could punch the shit out of it for you and put it back in its place. ... Hope you don't mind, heh.
- Uriel - Discipline is an ongoing endeavor. Whether it is with soldiers, children...or your own subconscious it seems.
- Hachiman - I needed you to find a way to acknowledge it, because only when you accept it, can you begin to work on it. Denying and ignoring it had made it begin to fester like a bad smell.
- Uriel - I could not allow my praetors to know, least of all Taremanon.
- Hachiman - It will take a while before it gets to that stage again, but... For now, you should be able to rest easy without it looming over you. Hopefully, we can cut it off before it gets too strong again. ... I see your contact lenses have fallen out. Your eyes aren't red anymore.
- Uriel - I ultimately thank you for doing this Hachiman. I do not dare think who I could have hurt had I lost myself in public... or around family.
The Tā had gotten to placing his blade back into its sheath and in turn holstering it upon his belt, before slinging his jacket over his shoulders and placing his hands into his pockets. He continued to huff and he clearly looked as if he had been intensely fighting, although he wore a genuine smile on his face as he recuperated.
- Hachiman - Think nothing of it. Besides, I get to be one of the only guys in the Gigaquadrant who get to say they have wrestled hand-to-hand with the Paragon. ... Oh, yeah, probably shouldn't tell anyone.
- Uriel - Agreed.
Uriel pushed himself up and looked ot observe his body, noticing that the battle had taken a severe toll to his outfit, while the faint signs of bruising and blood clung to his impressive physique. Uriel held out his hand in gratitude to Hachi, firmly shaking hands and smiling. The Tā returned the gesture, scratching the back of his rather aching head.
- Uriel - I thank you once again, for educating my son...and opening my eyes....
A gauntlet decorated with artisan beauty of the highest order wrapped itself around the grip of a fusion rifle. Every squeeze of the trigger was accompanies with a screech as beams of luminous blue plasma launched themselves from the muzzle to twisted Draconid-like monsters that cackled and roared as they weaved about the room. Surrounding him, the Empyrean Cohort, the guardians of their emperor joined in the screaming symphony of plasma and light. Adorning the pauldrons of each monstrosity they killed was the fire-cradled serpent that denoted House Khaxvis, the twisted variations poured out of the doors that surrounded the great chamber they were in.
Uriel had this memory burned into his mind, as the Battle for Alcanti had reached a climax, the house - at the time filled with those tainted by the Descension energies Tyraz had bestowed upon its leadership and champions - had stormed the palace, and Uriel was making his final stand.
What came next was always a blur to him. No matter how many times he relived the day, Uriel found himself in the grip of a demonic titan. Every time he experienced the day the battle would go from fending off the monsters to the bodies of his guard scattered in pieces across the hall as he struggled helplessly in the impossibly firm grip of the demon. He would struggle, and then...the sting. He had always woken up a fraction before, or sometimes as, great dark barbs pierced his armour like it were paper, burying themselves into his skin.
This time, he stayed in the moment. He could feel as his innards cessated from the toxins the dark barbs injected. Even when the demon that held him vanished with a scream as Tyraz appeared, himself a monstrosity, Uriel did not wake this time. Instead he lay on the floor as a figure approached. From a distance it looked like Tyraz, great curled horns extended from the side of the head, a great blade coloured red as hot lifeblood and black as pus was cradled in the figure's hand. But this figure was much larger, and while Uriel remembered Tyraz had knelt to comfort him this day, the figure in his place stood over him. On close proximity, the stranger's features were clear: The horns twisted to resemble the curled horns that extended behind Uriel's dome, the eyes greener than emeralds that shone like suns in the skull, and the face, much resembling Uriel's own. The body it possessed was not quite Uriel's however. It was of a greater statue, of a musculature of volume that made Uriel - a man as high in the peak of fitness as one could ever imagine - seem feeble and frail. Even with such a heroic stature, the entity that stood before him was a Goliath of crafted muscle, but remained proportional. Built like a set of stout barrels adorned to resemble a man. When the figure spoke, it revealed savage white teeth, and a tongue as black as tar.
- Instinct - Do you remember this day, Uriel
Every syllable it uttered shook the paragon a little more. It boasted power Uriel could feel in his bones. But for all he reviled the entity standing over him, he answered.
- Uriel - Do I remember?
- Instinct - Why do you live this day, this one of all days.
- Uriel - I have lived it many times
- Instinct - That is not what I asked.
- Uriel - It is the day I...lived.
The demon chuckled, the baritone volume of this display made Uriel's stomach shudder from its reverberations.
- Instinct - Why, do you live. This day.
- Uriel - Tyraz...He changed.
The entity pressed his foot onto Uriel's stomach. The paragon was on his side, it's how he remembered laying after the titan dropped him. Despite his armour and his stable position, the stranger had little difficulty pushing him with a foot from his side to have his back resting on the marble floor.
- Instinct - It is the day I was born. The day I awakened from dormancy. How long have wee been fighting? A hundred years, two hundred? That was my cradle. Such...energy awoke me for the first time.
- Uriel - What in the Lifefather's name are you talking about!
The figure grabbed Uriel around the chest, planting a hand and burying the tips of his fingers into the underside of the breastplate before swiftly hoisting Uriel into the air. The Goliath held Uriel at eye level but his feet dangled around a distance from the ground as the span between the ground and the monster's knees. It drew Uriel close and scowled fiercely.
- Instinct - Do you remember smelling it in the air! Do you remember as that miasma was drawn to us. I was born from your desire to rend and kill and tear! And this day. The claws Volkarus drove into our stomach killed you but awoke me. That Clericarch's power, the energy she send though us kept us alive!
- Uriel - Just what in the void's name...are you!
- Instinct - What am I?
The beast appeared to chuckle, then without warning slammed Uriel into the floor, burying him halfway though the marble.
- 'Instinct - You sound just. like. HIM! You think I am a monster? Some demon you can cage and ignore? DO YOU!? The mutant seemed to think so.
- Uriel - Hin-Sha?
- Instinct - Who else? - The demon bent over Uriel, approaching Uriel as its eyes burned brighter - You all think I can be caged, contained like some rabid animal! The mutant was an idiot to think I would be quieted by releasing himself. No...he helped me, released some confinement. He FED ME!
- Uriel - F-fed you?
- Instinct - You think I can be beaten into submission like some disobedient pup!? I am you, Uriel. No matter how many times you have been cut, blasted and shamed you have always defied such discipline. It didn't make you submissive, it made you stronger...So have I, grown stronger. Every one of those demons you challenged, every time you were broken, I was there!
- Uriel - Then why...are you assaulting me?
- Instinct - Retaliation, Uriel. You tried once, don't do it again.
The entity let go and stood up, snorting with frustration.
- Uriel - Hachi called you a sickness, he said you were...a tumor.
- Instinct - The mutant is an idiot, he may be a god but he is only, what was it, thirty years of age? You have read accounts yourself, not all tumors are toxic.
- Uriel - Is that what you are, some benign tumor that I must learn to live with?
- Instinct - Accept me, and you will grow stronger. Reject me, and you I will have no choice, I will not be caged!
The titan had let out a loud emphasis when saying he was determined not to be caged. The room shook and dust was disloged, titles were shaken off the walls. But as quickly as it came about, the anger subsided. Uriel was left to pull himself out of the hole he found himself in.
- Uriel - If you're me...you'll know I won't follw your wish simply under pain of death.
- Instinct - How will Alensia feel to see you become a "monster", what will the Praetors think, what will Taremanon think.
- Uriel - I almost caused pain to the lord-admiral.
- Instinct - It was good wasn't it? To put that upstart in his place!
- Uriel - I shouldn't have--
Before Uriel could finish, the being had reappeared right in front of him, in his hand and holding up so Uriel could see, Instinct had grabbed Uriel's right arm to bring the signet ring in full view.
- Instinct - When you took it off, I could taste freedom. I have spent two decades fighting that accused ring! The best I could do...was to make your anger greater, trick it into amplifying the power in your voice, good or ill. Every time you lapse, or take it off, its hold over what I can show you weakens. You are pristine, normal, on the outside. Inside...the mutant is right. You are changing, cell-by-cell. Accept me Uriel, and you would not need the technology or a jumpsuit to throw about Taremoanon like a bundle of rags. Accept me and that upstart Drevex redblood can be put in his place permanently.
- Uriel - An become like Volkarus, or worse?
- Instinct - No...become the real Uriel. The Uriel that burned hives with incendiary bombs, the Uriel that put victory before ceremony. The Uriel that decapitates gods!
The being pushed Uriel down as he let go of the wrist. Standing over the paragon, the entity extended a set of black claws as long as swords, admiring the blades before looking back down to Uriel.
- Instinct - Think on it. I will be watching...
It plunged the claw-swords into Uriel's stomach. This time, Uriel awoke, with a shout of shock and left him taking deep frequent breaths. Uriel was back in his chambers, above him the richly decorated walls of the great bed he slept in, with Alensia next to him. He wasn't sure if it was just a delerious nightmare as he lay in the dark room, with the early rays of the sun, which still lay under the horizon, shining the first rays of the morning. Lifting a hand, Uriel insepcted himself, hoping nothing drastic happened.
For each digit where the claw went under the scaly flesh of the finger, the keratin was black.
The Great Game
To attack the palace of the paragons was suicide. An impossibility.
This was what was concluded by Taremanon's officers. The palace was built specifically to protect the royal family in times of unrest or crisis: Dug into the Khartoba mountains, protected by legions of warriors sworn to the master king himself and every room and corridor built for that eventual day when the paragon's life was in danger. It had taken the gift of immortality and the blessings to shrug off gunfire of any calibre for its last assailants to make it as deep as they had, to the great throne chamber. Taremanon's agents had no such blessing. If House Ultanos was to collapse, it couldn't be done inside their own home. They had to get him away from his guard. Even as tensions mounted however, the great game of the aristocracy played on, and this was Taremanon's opportunity. If Uriel could not be dislodged from his own abode, then the thousands of other palaces that were scattered across the Imperium would have to suffice. The paragon was tied to the aristocracy, and even as head of state he could not ignore the pageantry, intrigue and ceremony that was their daily lives.
Even with tensions mounting, it would have been rude for Uriel to not accept an invitation to a ball in a Valocanus estate. The paragon was not entirely naive, and his arrival to a vineyard palace on Tallosos Prime was joined by a dozen of House Ultanos and a regiment of the Empyrean Cohort. As host, Taremanon had to accommodate for the royal guard acing as security for the banquet, for even the most reliable of private security groups were obliged to accommodate for the protection provided by the royal guard.
The Talleris Vineyard was one of Valocanus' grander estates, a grand three-story mansion with ordered gardens and orchards that extended for kilometres around. Much of the gala took place in the mansion's inner courtyard, a square flanked on three sides by the gold-threaded colonnades of the estate's exterior and opening out were the palace gardens. Hedgerows of crimson foliage, veneered marble that danced with flowery vein-like patterns of all colours and extending out for some half-kilometre a grand square fountain where goblets of water jumped like leaping dolphins from one end to the other, flanked by statues decorated with gold leaf. The air was rich with the sound of an orchestra, and wafting though their air was the scent of incense and the perfumed aromas of a fresh roast and aromatic hors d'oeuvres, recipes from a hundred worlds across the sector.
Galas such as this were a melting pot for the galactic elite, and half of the guest list - a total of which were some two thousand attendees - Uriel knew by name. Each house was the most esteemed in the Imperium. The outfits each attendant wore was the highest example of the High Praetoral fashion that each attendee could afford. In the centre of it all and surrounded by his closest aides was Taremanon himself. He stood almost a head above everyone else, said to be a product of carrying ancient heritage in his blood - the markers of a prior generation of Draconis. Taremanons' coat was distinct, all down his right sleeve were golden geometric patterns, the markings on his crest, the dyed patterns the aristocracy popularly adorned, suggested that this pattern was indicative of similar markings that Taremanon had adorned down his right arm, that a few times Uriel had taken the chance to observe in detail during a number of discussions.
The first few hours of the night were of mingling around the buffet table and dancing to the orchestra whose chords filled the air with a relaxing banquet for the ears. Uriel used this time to dance with Alensia, who like him was suspicious of this evening. One had to be, for the great game was cuthroat as it was glamorous. With the guard and with so many witnesses, an assassination while they danced was a logical impossibility, too crude and too rash an action for a man like the great praetor that was host. For some in fact, such a tactic was so predictable it was considered tasteless, an idea brilliant only to those naive to the intricacies of game.
No, not even with Taremanon's current paranoia would he execute the paragon in full view of the Imperium's highest elite. Poison perhaps but a quick acting toxin would mean either putting risk to his guests - of which both both allies, detractors and rivals were in attendance - or setting a special glass aside, something that his guard may pick up on as they patrolled the halls and watched the kitchens. Whatever Taremanon planned, it would have to be clandestine. But that is when he realised a frequent occurrence in such galas:
An invitation to the private rooms by the host.
Uriel and Alensia danced a ballroom rhythm on the marble floor, below their feet the polished stone reflected their fluid motions as if a phantom pair danced underneath them as in love and in the moment as they were. The music was soft, a rendition of an ancient concerto written by a composer a few thousand years ago and yet its timelessness meant no one was bored. Though all that they had been though in the past few decades, any ulterior motive for this gala didn't matter - the two needed the tiem to relax and enjoy themselves. For now, at this very moment they actually felt safe; to remove a rival praetor was one thing, it happened frequently that competing nobles would lure rivals but to do such a thing the paragon was high treason. Surrounded by guards, allies an enemies, this stone plaza was, rather paradoxically, the safest place in Andromeda.
As the orange sun above crept towards the horizon, Uriel and Alensia ended their trance and sat on a bench together. That was until Taremanon's statuesque figure approached them. With the grace of a tranquil swan he bowed, one hand behind his back and another performing an arcane gesture as if writing the air, his head low out of respect. When he finished his gesture he looked up with a gentleman's smile across his lips. To his right was another aristocrat, not as eldred as Taremanon nor as high-station from his more modest suit.
- Taremanon - Your majesty if I may...Do you have time this evening to discuss a few matters?
Uriel was wary but respectful. He stood from the bench, an involuntary action adjusting the lower half of his coat to organise it and appear presentable followed. Taremanon had since finished bowing and had stood up, still one arm curled behind his back, but the fingers peeking out from the other side.
- Taremanon - Dreadfully important business, I hope you understand.
- Uriel - I understand perfectly, praetor.
- Taremanon - We can speak along the terrace. Your highness I wish to introduce solan Sileus Aruno Akarium. As I understand it her majesty recently became fascinated with Borealis horticulture and the good Solan was able to procure a few species for his greenhouse.
- Sileus - A few from Viniaris in fact, particularly a handful of gossamer pearl. I am told it blooms once every five years and the greenhouse--
- Alensia - Say no more dear solan - Alensia interrupted holding up a hand - Indeed your grace, your stories are correct.
- Taremanon - Perhaps the two of you can discuss it further while I discuss matters with the paragavatus
- Silenus - Y-yes, undoubtedly! Your majesty.
Alensia gave a cmoforting nuzzle to Uriel, brushing her snout against his cheek affectionately. The two momentarily held hands to embrace before she signaled to Sileus with a gesture for him to lead on. As she left, Taremanon gestured to Uriel with a nod and the two of them headed for the gardens.
The terrace Taremanon led Uriel to was a patio overlooking the vineyards, great strips of shrubbery arranged to form artistic geometric patterns that extended towards the horizon. Whe nthe two settled, Two Blood Dragons stood at the building-side corners of the terrace while two more stood at the door on the other side. Keepign discreet there were dragons and House Valocanus security guards combing the vineyards. Taremanon settled in his lounger as a servant poured a glass of crystal-clear wine for him and Uriel.
- Uriel - Quite a view, praetor. I should visit more often.
- Taremanon - You flatter me, your majesty. We know each other well enough, shall we skip all this courtesy?
- Uriel - As you wish...Now, this business, I imagine it is to do with recent discussion in the senate.
- Taremanon - Always to the point. But yes, we are civil are we not? Scions of the elder blood and all that circumstance. I'm sure we can be civil about these matters.
Uriel only nodded, silently he wondered if the rumours had gotten out, that buried in the recesses of the eternal throne was a heart black as tar and radiating the toxic energies. "elder blood" he now came to hear was a much more sinister implication than many of the aristocracy took it for. But few things could be hidden from one of the Imperium's most esteemed praetors, so Uriel merely played along, speaking as if the old and more noble implications of "elder blood" were still in play.
- Uriel - This indeed does not have to come to violence. I can assure you now, your fascination with my connection to the late Lord-Councillor Breek can be put into the past.
- Taremanon - You do not entirely know what sort of sorcery he is capable of.
- Uriel - He lies buried, praetor. He cannot whisper into my skull any more, nor can he lead me like a marionette.
- Taremanon - Just like those foul "champions". I read the reports, they harboured much similar nature and were said to have surpassed death. What makes Tyraz any different from them. What makes you certain he cannot whisper beyond his grave.
- Uriel - If he did...I would know.
Taremanon rolled his eyes and snorted. Uriel was unsure but Taremanon may have crept a smile.
- Taremanon - Listen to us and our talk of magecraft. His influence has been felt and even if his influence has been cleared - be it paranormal or otherwise - I...need trust. - Uriel took a sip of wine and scowled as Taremanon continued. - What rumours have been spread cannot be easily undone. And the rumours are that your line holds itself to the mouth of sorcerors, gods other than the Lifefather perhaps. his isn't an easy thing but if you can convince me you are free of such influence, I can talk my allies among the council out of pushing forward a vote of no-confidence on you and your immediate lineage.
- Uriel - What do you ask for that to happen.
- Taremanon - ...Your abdication, your majesty. - Uriel sat up, clasping the edge of the lounger and learning forward with a vicious scowl. - The least thing that these entities would want is for their agent to consider proposing your own abdication. This makes sense, yes?
Uriel's features did not relax themselves. TAremanon felt a lump in his throat as Uriel stared at him with his intense emerald eyes, one of which was surrounded by his now-infamous mark, the scar Hedon had carved into his face as if to say he were Dominatus in all but form.
- Uriel - You ask..for my abdication. I ask...have you grown senile in your obsession?
- Taremanon - Think of it as a bluff perhaps...
- Uriel - This is no deal Taremanon. This is blackmail!
- Taremanon - A strong word, Uriel.
- Uriel - It is not, Praetor. If I go though, I lose the throne. If I refuse, I convince your pawns on the council that I myself am a pawn. Only you win from this deal, Taremanon. If I do abdicate, your hand swill also be all over this agreement.
- Taremanon - An Ultanos can still stand, your majesty. Your cousin Dracia.
Uriel stood up. He took a stroll towards the terrace ledge and stopped a metre away. Taremanon could feel it in Uriel's voice - he struggled to bury his anger.
- Uriel - My cousin is the granddaughter of Torelenia the twenty-fifth. Are you lind to that history, Taremanon?
- Taremanon - As a scion of Torelenia she is close in line to the throne
- Uriel - Her grandmother was also of the thirty two offspring that my father was chosen over. Cadannis in particular...I heard that when she was young she would tease men for children, her estates were abused to feed her desire for luxury and cared little for international politics or non-imperial citizens. And you think her granddughter is better suited than me?
- Taremanon - Her granndaughter orchestrated the reclaiming of Nivilum Ocrumos and the assimilation of half of the Krawnak Arkil Consulate. Is that not an accomplishment?
- Uriel - She is ambitious and a schemer. I first made her viceroy to satisfy her cravings and hoped real responsibility would dawn on her and change her.
- Taremanon - Those narrow-midned savages? - Taremanon scoffed, letting out a chuckle - Her success after the exodus and during the war with the DCP is a miracle.
- Uriel - I will not step down nor will I accept that silvertongue ascending in my place.
- Taremanon - Then---
Uriel stormed up to Taremanon, now teeth bearing.
- Uriel - The nenough of these games, praetor. You can fight the council's delusion, you can dig yourself out of your own pit, whatever it takes your delusions cease NOW. - With a breath outwards, Uriel calmed, releasing this burst of rage both in words and into the air - I need the Praetor's Council, no, the Imperium to hold together. Tyraz is dead, order has been restored and the Resurgence have crawled back into their holes. What we need, praetor, is to pull each other together. If you are to sustain your current schemes, then I may be the one who has to restore order from the disarray of a peer.
Finishing, Uriel huffed and made strides towards the door. The Blood Dragons standing against thewall moved to surround him but before he left, Uriel turned to look at Taremanon one last time.
- Uriel - The Imperium is at its apex, Taremanon. That has been achieved by cooperating with the other great powers both here in Dranvamus, in Drakonmi Terevus, and Etrunmuscaril and in the cluster where Solinami Fretma shines.
Uriel turned back around, as a courtesy the Blood Dragons protecting him opened the doors for him.
- Uriel - The universe already has one great power self-centred and convinced that all applaud and bow before them. Nothing great ever comes of that number increasing.
With that, Uriel left to return to the plaza, hoping to enjoy the evening. Taremanon, recovering from his paragon's outburst looked out to the vineyards. A servant had refilled his glass and he continued to drink, stewing over the discussion that had transpired and particularly the parting words he was given.
- Taremanon - Neither does the Imperium unconditionally applaud you, your majesty.
The RASC Worldfather's Grace was on tour in the outer sectors. With discontent on the rise, the paragon was needed more to assure dignitaries and statesmen that he could still lead effectively. But the Imperium did not revolve around his schedule, and as Taremanon promised a meeting on his position was called.
Uriel was in the study room of his apartments aboard the ship, a suite of holoprojectors had transformed three of the walls into a balcony overlooking the Praetor's Council. The Imperium's sheer scale meant that travelling between the sectors and the capital was inefficient, so to convert a room into a window to the senate on Alcanti, to have an FTL telepresence was a popular workaround. What intrigued Uriel during the discussion was that Taremanon was oddly silent, it was not him but another praetor who had put forward the motion, and like he had been warned at least a third of the chamber quickly followed him.
He'd heard all the arguments before, for some of the praetors the claims that Uriel had become a pawn and continued to be so beyond Tyraz's grave were discussed seriously given the number of telepaths the Imperium hosted and the godlike powers of those labelled "descended" - blacksoul the Imperial vernacular was calling them - that were observed. Some senators even raised a voice of rumours that Tyraz was not the only paranormal entity Uriel was in contact with, nor was he the only such being with the paragon's ear. Everyone knew Taremanon's stance on such things, which might be why he kept quiet, nor did any of his apparent supporters use him as a means to back up their suggestions. Uriel as well kept silent as he observed the debate rage, it was evident that some believed that supernaturals had far too much influence on the imperial paragon, others however argued why their immortal status was such a concern. That was until there was a knock at the door. Switching the suite to a passive mode - where Uriel's image was present in the senate but in a still position - he turned and called for the visitor to enter, an eye still on proceedings.
In Alensia entered, in front of her an attendant carried a tray with two large cups and a white ceramic kettle, decorated with painted flowers that were highlighted with gold leaf. Although calling her in, Uriel's attention was still on the proceedings. He sighed, knowing what had been placed on the table behind him.
- Alensia - We felt you needed something to relax.
- Uriel - At this point in time, a glass of golden wine might be more suitable.
- Alensia - Taremanon does not like to lose.
- Uriel - He's conspiring to turn the council against me. If he gets his way, Dracia returns from Nivilum Ocrumos to be ceremoniously seated on the eternal throne.
- Alensia - Was her role as viceroy and her accomplishments after the war not enough?
- Uriel - She's that greedy. I have only seen her grandmother a few times but the matriarch is forever bitter over what my father achieved
- Alensia - And now Taremanon's plan is to oust you and put someone he can control on the throne.
- Uriel - Exactly.
Uriel stood up from his seat and walked over to the tray. To calm him, Alensia ran her fingers down his arm as the attendant filled the cups with the dark liquid from the kettle. She smiled and caressed her husband, an expression in particular Uriel recognised.
- Alensia - Taremanon plays the council like seterego. We just have to trap him.
- Uriel - Exactly why I am watching. Taremanon could easily mock me behind the shadows, he has so far been conspiring behind the scenes. Now he must play his game in the open, and so far he's keeping his lips tight. He knows the moment he goes on a tirade, it is over.
Uriel walked over to the balcony, holding the cup in his hand. The debate still went on and a quick check with the senatoral AI indicated that an opinion of no confidence was still in a minority. Taremanon's influence was still present as the minority was very close to being a majority. Uriel took some time to think, he needed to convince the council to move in a direction in his favour, but the shadow of immortal influence remained.
Uriel stepped forward, disabling the standby hologram which morphed into the position he emerged from. With a few breaths, he waited until the discussion approached a climax and called the speaker, drawing the chamber's attention.
- Uriel - Praetors...Some of you will look at me, and see a figure shadowed by a dark hand, a phantom that we thought passed away six years ago. Measure me not by my influences but by my deeds. Consider our accomplishments and ask that if someone were to really control the Imperium, would I be their target? So much of our realm is made possible by all of you and by the lower house. I hold the galactic domains together by title and by my determination but it is all of us that make that cohesion possible.
Taremanon leaned forward, his aides noticed that his lips rippled as he began to snarl.
- Uriel - Millennia ago our founders set the domain on a course that we have long been sailing, that we are an alliance of empires; united by language, vision and heritage. When we crafted the Ecumene we did it using the millennia of experience that allowed our impossible domain to exist. Where else to our extent can kings salute with presidents? Do you find those who fight for order fight alongside those who fight for freedom of essential rights? Where nations with ideas fundamentally alien to each other shape a greater dominion but our imperium? To control its paragon does not guarantee complete control unless the puppet can control the praetors and the senate, they are but an icon and a trophy.
Murmurs arose within the senate with Uriel's words. If he was a puppet, it was a strange gamble to confess how powerless he could potentially be.
- Uriel - I am but the binding agent and the will to direct. The rest of you, praetors, aedens, prefects and consuls are what make the movement possible. You hold the right to challenge my direction and these past few years you indeed have. This meeting proves that whatever phantom you believe haunts me does not haunt the minds of the Imperial bureaucracy. If I am indeed a puppet, then by all means...Continue as you have done for centuries. Like a sarshan and its rider, I may hold the reins, but to move is the ultimate decision of all of you.
There was silence, a few then started to applause, the audience's applause swelled to a cheer and Uriel sat down. Uriel took a glance and as expected, Taremanon's booth was empty. Momentarily triumphant, Uriel let out a great sigh as Alensia began to rub his shoulders.
- Uriel - Indeed he doesn't like to lose.
- Alensia - He's lost the council
- Uriel - But the sectors Valocanus control, he still has those. A police action is insanity and after this, diplomacy is unlikely.
- Alensia - Then we should prepare. We will be visiting lord Daktis soon.
- Uriel - Kervon...Yes. If Tarmanon is falling back to his own sectors, we will need our own allies.
Discussions on the confidence in Uriel's ability among senators and government representatives simmered and died down after the discussions of a vote of no-confidence. Uriel's words were enough to sway enough of the council to die down, but that did not mean the argument was over. In the months following discussion continued in public places and within the forums of the Andromedan Virtual Network. Fringe groups and skeptics of government were not so convinced, rumours even began to spread that Uriel's words only confirmed the stories that the a blacksoul was really in control.
As a constitutional monarchy and in all respects a federation whose higher echelons understood the need for discourse, the administration under Uriel avoided blanket censorship or falsification of rumours, which allowed the claims by some to propagate within a marketplace of ideas. It was up to local governments to handle public discontent as rallies cropped up throughout the public places of the Imperium. While several sectors were managed by councils that understandably saw the rumours as disruptive to public order, it was in the sectors overseen by House Valocanus these rumours were the most prolifically spread. Taremanon kept quiet about this among other council members, but it was clear that although contesting Uriel's competence in the senate would have marked hi mas an antagonist in the senate, to propagate these rumours might make hi ma hero among the public.
To absolve concerns, it was decided that action was needed by the royal family themselves. Under a heavy escort, Paronus Ultanos, firstborn of Uriel's offspring was sent along with Torvos, viceroy of the Milky Way Colonies, and a number of Solans who favoured House Ultanos' administration. Along the way he had read up on the situation, of protests in the streets both against Uriel and against the visiting dignitaries for the upcoming event. Signs proclaiming the myth of blacksouls controlling the royal family, of rejection of a tainted monarchy.
"Taremanon was silent in the senate but has talked his subjects into a frenzy" Paronus thought to himself. It was evident that the patriarch of House Valocanus had used his position as the sector's praetor to convince the population of his agenda. Billions if not trillions calling for a change in leadership from near the heart of the Imperium.
- Torvos - A drawback of our Imperial system, your majesty. Taremanon is expected to govern with some autonomy.
- Paronus - And in doing so he gives the people agency, and a means to better their lives without relying on the verdict from distant Alcanti.
- Torvos - The people would trust him or his prefects more than they would the distant aristocracy of the capital.
Paronus nodded with visible frustration. He was anxious, as the rally they had prepared was in the centre of dangerous territory. The sector's population - at least those who had turned up - clearly did not want him. A large security detail had been prepared consisting of both private security and Blood Dragons, even two of the Caltraxi had been dispatched to oversee security, kept to more distant locations so as to not intimidate the crowd. The plan had been that Paronus would reach out to the population, to reassure them that the royal family was not in the grip of some demon.
Behind the scenes, forces against the royal family's influence worked. As Paronus gave his speech, supporters of Taremanon's agenda prepared. Nearing the climax, a protester barged his way though the crowd, when close enough to the podium he began to shout at the top of his voice. "Down with the puppet kings!" he cried out "Three decades of defiance and the demons enslave us all from the shadows!" he was quickly overwhelmed by the Blood Dragons that stormed to tackle him as he drew a handgun and fired into the air, a shot intended for the prince was directed upwards as one of the roya lguard wrestled him to the ground. But he did not stop screaming until he was gagged, the powered aarmour they wore made it easy to subdue him, but that was not the end.
Paronus' ears suddenly rang and his side was sore with pain, in the panic, an explosion had occurred behind the stage, sending a small fireball, a shockwave and splinters hurtling towards the prince. Torvos was able to jump to protect the prince, exposing himself to the blast and sending them both off the platform. Paronus could hear nothing but a deafening ring, he could barely see as the trauma of the event blurred his vision before slipping into unconsciousness, the last thing he could see was Torvos struggling to stand on his hands and knees.
The Breaking Straw
Rousing from consciousness, Paronus could barely move. The room he was in was clean, the glint of metal bounced off the polished white walls. He could feel his back on a bed of memory foam but his vision, what little he held, was distorted by a glass bubble around him. Paronus had survived the attack, but lay in an intensive care unit, heavily sedated and kept in an isolation chamber that pumped purified air into his protective bubble. The few Solans brave enough to visit were at his bedside, what little he could make out from their voices was that Torvos had survived as well, but remained comatose after protecting the prince from the blast, effectively kept on life support while the heavy burns and damaged organs he had endured were repaired. Paronus was trapped in this chamber, and would be for some time as the burns and tissue he had received were treated with extensive care. His only solace was the interfacing cap he had been dressed with, which allowed his thoughts - unburdened by the pain and a physical inability to speak - to communicate with the outside. But Paronus was lucky, as he had been told that Torvos was in such a state that they struggled to reach him without being invasive and inserting a telepathic lace.
Back on Alcanti, Uriel was also bleeding. News had reached him of this attack, both in a communique from Paronus' attendees and from the new sweeping the media channels. It was already sweeping the inner territories that protesters against outside influences on the crown had attacked violently, a gunman who failed to fire at the prince was aided by detonation packs behind the stage. Taremanon had made his condemning move, and in his rage Uriel had shattered the wine glass he had in his grasp, the red wine he was drinking stained his hand and his sleeve, but strangely he felt nothing of the glass shards that were now embedded in his hand. Or a least, what he was feeling wasn't crippling like it should be. He didn't care if it was simply copious amounts of adrenaline in his blood or if the inner entity was shielding him from feeling extreme pain, he largely ignored it as he focused on the news he had been given. But all he could think of was whatever he was feeling deep in his mind and in his chest, Taremanon would feel for this bloodthirsty act of vengeance.
"Taremanon" Uriel growled "My patience for you...is at an end."
A council of Praetors and their aides had been gathered on the seat of Tarmeanon power within the sector capital of Balas 9. Since the vote of no confidence, some twenty praetors had committed to their opinion of the paragon. Sitting in the seat beside the throne reserved for Taremanon himself was an animated projection of Dracia Ultanos, although her presence was met with hushed whispers. Although she appeared supportive of Taremanon's goals, she was still of House Ultanos, and one of the paragon's close relatives as well.
Their patriarch was yet to arrive, so some representatives had taken to questioning the Ultanos scion. Dracia however was unimpressed as she spread herself within her seat, scowling defensively as she toyed with a glass of wine.
- Dracia - Is this how his excellency's most staunch supporters treat his honoured guest? With suspicion, doubt and whispers of betrayal?
- Praetor Savikos - With all due respect your majesty, Ultanos blood still runs though your veins.
- Dracia - And for that reason you assume I will one day defect to my cousin's side if I don't get my way?
- Praetor Savikos - ...Perhaps.
Dracia let out a frustrated sigh and placed the glass on a table. A deathly glare stabbed that Savikos, a praetor of one of the outer Milky Way territories, in the eyes. She stood up and wandered about the room.
- Dracia - When my cousin divided our Imperium among the galactic realms, do you all recall which of the galaxies I was bestowed?
- Praetor Oviros - Nivilum Ocrumos, the void galaxy your majesty.
- Dracia - Through his wisdom. And so far I remained the only viceroy of his reign who had to evacuate their holdings in a great retreat. With my cousin Uriel's wisdom I was given some superstitious backwater that leaves a foul taste in my mouth whenever I recall the...natives that hold control.
- Oviros - But you reclaimed your right.
Dracia turned around and raised an arm upward, level with her head to highlight the point.
- Dracia - Native incompetence and paranoia lost me my holding, and native incompetence allowed me to reclaim it. It was my cousin's foresight that I was right to manage affairs of state in that piss-stained pen of galaxy. And I reclaimed the right to not by his blessing but though my own merits. Was I applauded in the capital? Did he congratulate me on my accomplishments?
There was mumbling as the attendees were cautious to answer. As they did so, the doors at the back of the room opened and in walked Taremanon, regal as ever in a gilded robe of dark velvet that extended to the floor. Crowning his shoulders was a golden shoulderguard that wrapped around his collar and extended over his shoulders. He walked in hands clasped in front of his stomach and followed by three aides and looked to the assembly with a sly smirk.
- Taremanon - I hope you all are being accommodating to my honoured guest.
- Dracia - Oh they are, your excellency. I can see you chose well...
- Taremanon - Then to business.
With grace, Taremanon sat down alongside Dracia. Wine was poured for everyone by servants either in the room or attending the figures of power in the estates they projected their holographic avatars from. As the wine was poured, Taremanon observed each of his guests, nodding to them in turn. He sat up straight and cleared his throat.
- Taremanon - As we speak, unrest is brewing just as we had planned. Although there was enough influence that the... "beloved" paragon Uriel was not cast form his seat by the decree of the praetor's council, that will not stop our strategem. It merely eliminated the easiest option for removing the throne.
- Oviros - We have been observing the unrest in Balas 9 your excellency and per your request we did our best to spread dissent in our own sectors. But the crown worlds remain steadfast in their support. House Ultanos has the heart of our Imperium firmly within its grasp.
- Taremanon - It is always the way of revolution that those in power who are happy with the present balance will refuse to change it. Despite his weakness Uriel's vision for the Imperium has brought much wealth, especially to the common man and the alien beneficiary.
- Savikos - Then how do we convince enough that they would be better with someone else as paragon?
- Dracia - We appeal to the wider realms. The Crown Worlds are a minority. A wealthy handful in a sea of turbulence.
- Taremanon - Our revolution will start at the bottom. Uriel is praised as the Lifefather's avatar, we just need to make it known that the messiah is more of a demon. Show the masses how they do not benefit from his rule as much as they think they do
- Savikos - Even as that goes on in our own territories, Domestic Security is applying pressure to the unrest.
- Oviros - Yes. Who would have thought that an empire that honed a talent in instigating regime changes, which your fiancee has so deftly demonstrated, would be extremely knowledgeable in countering insurrection at home.
Oviros, one of the more observant praetors in the assembly smirked, a few others in the meeting chuckled in response to his remark. It was only brief, and his mirth disappeared when Taremanon appeared to be smiling.
- Taremanon - We can perform by the book. But there might only be one option after the performance we have had so far.
- Praetor Tamivas - You are seriously not suggesting civil war are you, your excellency?
- Praetor Kosvir - The idea is suicidal. For one Uriel appears to guard himself behind gods.
- Dracia - Demi-gods, praetor.
- Tamivus - The Dragons, the Caltraxii abominations, the ties to the Clericarch and the Kicath, his alien guardians--
- Praetor Sevinos - Not to mention these reports of enhanced Zazane.
- Tamivus - And then what? Storming the Imperial Palace? Drawing arms against House Ultanos is a death wish.
- Dracia - We already did so by blasting the viceroy of Drakonmi Terevus and Uriel's eldest into charred comas. You remember Invictus, praetor?
- Tamivus - I'm sure even his majesty would call that incident a one-off.
- Oviros - Uriel may be corrupted but he cannot be so insane as to annihilate our holdings with such weaponry.
- Praetor Kasmis - They do not call him godsbane, praetor, for a talent of staring would-be mentalists in the midst of a rampage.
As the praetors argued, now somewhat worried about Taremanon's prospect, voices were raised as panic spread among them. This worry was broken when Taremanon responded in a commanding tone that demanded everyone's attention.
- Taremanon - His hand moving to strike us is inevitable. Neutralising two of his was our only option.
- Tamivus - We've goaded a demon. We've harmed his spawn, his family, we know he will not respond to this-- this-- terrorism lightly.
- Dracia - And if need be we will cast the mad king back into the void. Uriel is in the early stages of a demonic madness, how many decades do you advise we wait until he has crushed our resistance underfoot and incinerated our estates with a whisper?
- Taremanon - He needs to be weakened. His advantages severed, his bodyguards turned or killed, his assets frozen. Rather than storming the palace we will imprison him within it until he is a frantic shade.
- Tamivus - Please tell me you already have a strategy for that. Or I may reconsider my vote.
- Taremanon - Indeed I do...
The Spark to the Flame
Protests became riots as riots became unrest. Almost as expected, the Royal Agency for Internal and Domestic Security - the pan-imperial internal security and police forces - deployed in force to planets and sectors stoked by the policies of insurgent praetors. For the first time in decades, the Grand Senate was in deadlock. The Praetor's Council had been divided and talk of revolution had shortly preceded its dissolution. The lower house, one made of representatives alien and Draconid alike felt the tug of the praetors, breaking the sectors down lines of allegiance.
Three months in and the Imperium was split. A third of its galactic sectors, many being the outlying territories but also a few of the mid Balas sectors declared support for the abdication of Uriel the Sixteenth. With control breaking down, Domestuic Security deployments became more militant. Pan-imperial law enforcement fought to keep order in the name of the crown, and officers on dissident worlds found their presence unwanted. Officers deployed to kettle protests were met with a slew of vocal outcries "go back to the Crowns," "the only good DomSec is a dead one" "Guard the crown, not us." Where the praetors' grip on the madness was tightest, towns gradually became zones of conflict. Out on the frontier the unrest became violent as settlers armed themselves and turned on Domestic Security wardens. Those who wanted no part in the revolution were evacuated from hot-zones.
It was in the shadow of the chaos that the praetors played their greatest hand. As Domestic Security were driven out, the grand houses deployed their own security forces; private armies who in more peaceful times were the protectors of the contracting families and their valuable assets.
Their takeover however was not always so quiet. On planets like Pelvas III, Domestic Security forces were forced to retreat when mercenary groups began emerging from houses and discharging weapons. Broadcasts by local governors assured local inhabitants that the private security forces were their to protect them from the oppression that was loyal to the crown. But not everyone was convinced, sometimes citizens threw bottles not at the evacuating Domestic Security, but at the mercenaries the screens were all calling protectors and saviours. What happened to these rioters, according to investigative journalism, depended on them mercenary group and the governor they were on the payroll for. Some groups like Alakoss were lenient, with rioters spending time in prison after deployment of humane crowd suppression o reasonable force. Other reports mentioned groups like Hightower Security and Nighthawk Tactical Solutions were dogged on the Exonet for stories of brutal beatdowns, sending rioters home or into detainment camps with broken bones and bleeding lips.
Five months in, and the battle lines were drawn. Sectors were more clearly identified by the allegiance of their governor. On maps in Talon High Command however it still looked like a mess. To give but a brief overview: Much of Mathist, specks of Anasras and Tholfame and half of the Balas sectors were died an aggressive red, the rest - loyal to House Ultanos - remained a cold blue. Most worriedly of all, Ohlon-3 was the deepest red sector, and by the middle of the fifth month, the Imperial Talon Navy was already surrounding the borders. Of particular positioning was the bridge to Axah, the imperial crown jewel.
Operation House Party
It was a struggle to keep thoughts of an eye for an eye form rising to the surface. Uriel knew he had to maintain the high ground. Taremanon had acted with violence, he could not claim to be the stronger party if the full scope of the scheme emerged. To retaliate, the Wraith Legion would become the paragon's tools.
Taremanon had gone to ground, and in the months following the strike, resoruces were expanded looking for him. He had not completely vasnished as in major cities he continued to convey his rehetoric, calling the paragon a puppet and a pawn of a demon. Even at this stage some would call him a madman, but others had heard stories of Tyraz Breek. Not everyone was convinced Taremanon was insane, and that was the crowd that mattered. To nip the insurgency, the royalists needed to claim a symbol. For that reason, a Wraith Legion unit was deployed to Taremanon's primary estate. If he was there, they could end his insurgency as quickly as it began, if he wasn't they could still drape the estate in the banners of Royal House Ultanos; a monument to the royal family in the heart of the insurgency.
Equipped with the tools for a silent and invisible approach, Wraith team Chidon were quietly inserted into the estate grounds. Optical camoflage skins allowed them to blend into the foliage of the sculpted vineyards surrounding the estate's primary house. Although the overall mission was to take the estate from House Vallocanus - preferably without blood - and hang Ultanos banners, four of the team moved for the study room in the slim hope that the Valocanus patriarch was here, where he might have thought himself safest.
The praetor had, since the attack on Paronus' life, upgraded his security measures; more guards, a new alarm system and upgraded sensor equipment. On a royal contract however, team Chidon had been given the best money could by. To aid in their infiltration a hacker had been contracted and paid handsomely to trick the security features and hide the intruders. Ducking guard patrols and weaving past blinded cameras, the divided legionnaires made for their objectives. The first - strike team Axah - moved silently, taking guards by surprise while the second - strike team Ohlon - moved for the praetor's private apartments. Axah left but murmurs as the guards they struck one by one were silently taken quietly while they moved from the ground floor to the roof.
Outside the door to praetor Taremanon's study, team Ohlon broke their silence. The guards around them lay on the floor, drugged or unconscious depending on who you looked to. With no opposition they entered, weapons raised to the lone silhouette, who raised their arms as legonnaires shouted to them.
- Ohlon One - Praetor Taremanon Kaisos Valocanus. By order of his esteemed majesty, Uriel Ultanos the Sixteenth, you are under arrest on charges of sedition against the crown and for attempted sapicide of his majesty prince Paronus Vossus Ultanos and his excellency Torvos Atorius Ultanos. Will you comply?
The shadow stood silently with their arms raised. He gave no answer, and in response two of the team approached him. As they were halfway across the room, he made a sound.
- Taremanon - Not a step further! I have in my possession a grenade I am ready to pull.
- Ohlon One - You would kill yourself for your opinion on the paragavatus, praetor?
- Taremanon - You think I would let myself be taken by that demon's puppet without any cards of my own? I've heard the stories, sergeant. I've heard the dark tales of what these "descended" do, and I would rather not be at his mercy.
- Ohlon One - You will be tried in a court of law where the evidence of your actions will be measured against you.
- Taremanon - You've recited that line before, haven't you sergeant.
- Ohlon One - You know that we are the dead, your excellency. What we were does not matter now.
- Taremanon - Regardless. You think I would trust the promise of a court trial after the performance my nephew was put through? Your paragon wants my head on a pike for what I have done, I will not comply.
In a command bunker, Uriel was watching the live feed with several military commanders. There was a pain as he listened to Taremanon's words, who was completely absorbed with his own rhetoric. But something was off, it distracted him from the engagement and leaving him drifting for several moments only to be snapped back into reality when the truth was realised.
- Uriel - Captain get those men out of the hot zone ASAP! Get. Them Out-
- Taremanon - Death is preferable to torment.
There was silence. The entire west wing was engulfed in a plasma fireball that rapidly expanded outwards. The first explosion was evidently inside Taremanon's study, a direct feed from fire-team Ohlon showed the blast erupting from Taremanon himself, blanking the cameras and delivering the foreboding ring of a flat-lining EEG signature. The four were dead instantly while the other four of team Chidon were only ready to unfurl the banner of Royal House Ultanos when the west wing detonated.
- Wraith Commander - Team Axah do you copy. Team Axah do you read?
- Axah Three - Gah! Divine mother of the Lifefather did you this command!?
- Wraith COmmander - Copy Axah Three, we saw everything.
- Axah Two - Ahh...what just happened.
- Wraith Commander - Taremanon. Target blew himself right to the garden.
The two surviving team members were stunned into silence.
- Axah Two - Divine shit...really? He actually did it?
- Uriel - No.
- Wraith Commander - Your majesty?
- Uriel - Hologram relay, avatar, android double, Taremanon's losing his grip on reality but he's not suicidal. He's not demented enough to take himself out so early on.
- Wraith Commander - So what did we just see?
- Uriel - A statement. This will make the news but he's left no evidence behind he was ever there. As far as the public will be able to work out, he just incinerated his own estate as we tried to hang our banners from it.
- Wraith Commander - Except there is this footage.
- Uriel - Even with the mission recording, he just told the galaxy that wherever our banners are to fly, even if it is his, he would burn it as a point of pride.
- Wraith Commander - Shit...
- Uriel - Call the survivors back. Mission aborted.
The commander nodded and called for the dropship to return and pick up the two remaining squad members. The two others, caught inthe blast and thrown to the floors below, were picked up by their squadmates. There was no time for team Ohlon, who were in the centre of the blast and on the other side of the estate. Using a coded transmitter, the commander activated their cessation protocols. The Morphis that kept them alive and boosted their bodies overloaded and ignited their hosts' remains to ash if it was no already so. Uriel stood up from his seat and looked to the door; never feeling comfortable watching the cessation protocols play out. As he passed, he gave the commander a solid pat on the shoulder.
- Uriel - If anything is to be gleaned, we understand better how far he will go.