Chapter 2: Illusion of Power

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Training to become the Emperor of the Empire Among the Stars was hardly a simple task. The kings and queens of old had it easy: they could inherit their throne from their parents or simply kill their predecessor. There was little additional burden when it came to acquiring the throne. Now, keeping it was another matter – but keeping the throne was not yet the concern of the new heir apparent Amarissa Mith.

Her new concern (beyond mourning for her brother and tending to her dying father) was Ascendancy. One was chosen to prove themselves Ascendant just like the kings & queens of old earned their crowns. But merely possessing the right bloodline or having killed the former Emperor wasn’t enough to become the Emperor.

Moving from Ascendant to Emperor was the nature of the Ascendancy. It was a trial of two sorts. First, the want-to-be-emperor must receive the support of the Great Houses. There were dozens (perhaps hundreds) of houses, families with some significant interstellar presence, but there were only seven generally agreed upon Great Houses. A typical sign of a Great House was having an important monopoly: for example, the Mith family had a monopoly on dragon breeding. Such a monopoly could only be acquired if the house held up other key strengths like military might, economic agility, and political ingenuity.

Anyways, the seven Great Houses were as follows:

  1. The Mith family (dragon breeding)
  2. The Asolla family (water)
  3. The Numoni family (exchange)
  4. The Jelta family (weapons)
  5. The Yenite family (gems)
  6. The Cara’tel’var family (medicine)
  7. The Vertun family (alchemy)

Winning the favor of at least four of the seven was a strict requirement of ascension. Realistically, so her father had told her, it was best to court the favor of at least five of them as one was bound to turn their back on you by the time of the vote.

If the Emperor was the heart and mind of the Empire then religion was the soul of It. The most universal religion since the dawn of the Empire is the Church of Stars, an organized effort to worship and deify the Wyrms of the pre-Imperial era and to hold all dragons sacred.

This, as you might suspect, was a major reason why the Mith House had such an easy time sliding into the throne. There was no Great House that had been awarded a monopoly on religion and so the Miths were as close as one could realistically hope for in that regard.

Unlike the Great Houses, earning favor with the Church of Stars was not a democratic process. It was its own two-factor trial. First, a sort of dissertation presented against a wide variety of high-ranking church officials. Second, a baptism by dragon’s fire (amongst other things).

The unfortunate reality for Ascendant Amarissa Mith was that she had received very little preparation in Ascendancy. She had received a little bit of training when she turned 13, as was customary for the second-in-line, but nothing since (beyond what would transfer from her own studies). Traditionally, the Ascendant spent their entire life preparing for the trials to ensure their rise to Emperor. Amarissa would not be afforded that luxury.

The other great misfortune that had only just dawned on her was that attending the Royal Alchemist’s Academy would no longer be in her future.

There was a third and final painful truth that came with the responsibility of the crown. Something she only realized now, staring down at her father, weak and withered and desperate and hungry on his over-sized bed. The truth that being Emperor was only an illusion of power. Her father, she thought as he was still sorting through letters from all of the Great Houses and many of the minor ones even here on his death-bed-to-be, was not a dictator with boundless power. He was an orchestrator of a fragile peace. His goal – his only goal, near as she could tell – was to prevent the Seven from tearing each other apart.

Peace was impossible: people under the banner of stars were an ambitious lot. This much was evident by the rebellion on Vel’garde. They weren’t rebelling because they hated the Mith House or because they loathed her brother Lourn. They were rebelling because they wanted a taste of power. They would be stopped, removed, and summarily beheaded, whether it was under her father’s rule or her own, that much was an inevitability. But their type – the rebel’s sort – would still do it over again even knowing their fates just to enjoy that brief drink of power.

“Do you think they were sent by the Jelta?” Amarissa asked, somewhat absentmindedly, while thumbing through a report on Vel’garde.

Taigon looked up from a letter he was reading from a Numoni Baron. He was sitting up with a wall of pillows fortified behind him. He rhythmically released a cough every couple minutes. “Hmm?” he asked with a glance.

Amarissa folded the report back into its envelope. “Well, I was just reading this report from Captain Mason about the attack on Vel’garde. I did a little bit of research in your library earlier and it doesn’t really seem like the type of place that would have well-armed citizens.”

“You need to look deeper. The Jeltas are too smart to directly fund a rebellion against another great house,” Taigon said before signing the request-letter in his lap.

“Like a minor house?”

“Perhaps. Or a guild. Or simply a local business. Maybe even the church,” Taigon said with a smirk.

Amarissa raised an eyebrow and then withdrew the report once again. She read the section on her brother’s slow execution with held breath:

It is with great sorrow that I must inform you of the death of Lourn Mith, son of the Emperor Taigon Mith and the heir apparent. According to our illusionists, he was captured, tortured, and slain on the day of the siege of Mith Keep. One report skimmed over the method of his death, however the others offered more insight.

Duke Mith was seen rallied at the front of the Keep with the royal guard and what few banner-men remained. They barricaded the great door well, but the Vel’garde rebels brought flasks of dragon’s fire and quickly stormed the keep. Rebels died at a ten to one ratio with the defending force, but their numbers were still too great and they soon overwhelmed the Duke and his troop.

The Duke ordered the remainder of his force to stand down when he realized they could no longer win. The rebels gathered the Duke and the two dozen defenders that remained into the great hall of the Keep. Then the leader of the rebels, one Vorn Telmont, went through the defenders one-by-one and slit their necks open. It is said that he cut them ear to ear and then held their necks up. As this was done, another man, possibly a lieutenant of the rebel force, held the head of the Duke and forced him to watch each of his guard bleed to death one by one.

When all twenty-four of the Duke’s remaining supporters were slain, Vorn came to Lourn and began torturing him. One of the spy’s reports says that they had taken a hot coal from the banquet hall and pressed one against the Duke’s face until his nose had melted down to the depth of his lips. Another says that his ears, fingers, and toes were all slowly detached one by one. It is difficult to ascertain the full extent that Duke Mith was tortured, however it is agreed by all of our spies that he was killed when Vorn drove a greatsword through the top of his skull.

Captain Mason, Imperial Intelligence

Amarissa sighed. She would cry, but she’d seemingly run out of tears. Beyond that, she found herself distracted from sorrow and met with a rather new emotion for her: an insatiable need for vengeance.

Taigon had gone through another half a dozen letters or so while she was reviewing the report. He took his reading glasses off and set the remaining letters onto his nightstand. He looked at his daughter thoughtfully for a moment and then said, “You know, your theory is growing on me.”

“The Jeltas?”

He nodded and relaxed into the pillow-wall, “Indeed. They haven’t targeted us in several eras, but they love starting shit – if you’ll pardon my language.”

“See, I knew it. Those fuckers killed Lourn.”

“We need proof. Learning how to deal with a maze of proxy wars is a chief responsibility of the Emperor,” Taigon said with a hint of suggestion.

“You want me to go talk to Imperial Intelligence?” she laughed. It was a sign of how quickly things could change; the Emperor Taigon of a week ago wouldn’t have wanted her interacting with any violent types more than absolutely necessary and certainly he wouldn’t have wanted her talking to the skulkers at II.

“It would seem a better use of your time than reading that report for an eighth time,” he said with an especially miserable cough.

She couldn’t disagree with him there.

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