My father is lying there in his emperor-sized bed, choking, gagging, his hands grasping at his neck. He is desperate for air, reaching for restoration, praying for release. It does not come. His sky-fire blue eyes burn out. Not even Doctor Yomgale, who arrived somewhat tardy, could save Emperor Taigon Mith.
“Useless witch,” Doctor Yomgale murmured while examining my father’s lifeless body.
“Excuse me?” I ask him directly, grasping his shoulder and forcing his attention onto me.
His gaze is everything I hate boiled down into one simplified feeling. He exhibits a sort of transitive property of disgust. In that moment, his examinations of me when I began bleeding rushed back to the forefront of my mind.
He recoils from my grasp, “I called you a useless witch.” The final word left his tongue with a distinct hiss.
“You insult the Empress Amarissa Mith,” Captain Mason said, stepping out from the doorway and into the magically lit bedroom.
“She is no Empress,” Doctor Yomgale said, seething. His temple protruded and his eyes curved like a demon’s.
I reached for my blade: it was a bit longer than a dagger but not quite a proper sword. Nonetheless, it was mine and a gift from my father. The hilt bore the insignia of House Mith: a dark blue crystal split down the middle by a long sword. He’d had it custom forged by the master smith of the Jeltas. I kept it sharp and clean, just as I kept myself.
It felt light in my hand. The weight of its steel did not become apparent to me until I thrust it through the lower torso of Doctor Yomgale. It dragged a bit as I used all of my forearm strength to twist the blade vertically and then pull it upwards, cutting him perhaps four inches deep from abdomen to breast.
He collapsed to the floor as my sword was pulled back. I didn’t withdraw the weapon, rather Captain Mason had grabbed my elbow and yanked my arm back, removing the sword from the inside of the doctor in the process.
All sound disappeared the second my attack began. I felt the vibration of the doctor’s screams. I felt them fade away as his life did. My skull rang with Captain Mason shouting in my ear. Their words were meaningless to me in this moment, in this time.
Who would blame me? I was the Empress by right now. My father was well past dead. I had passed the trials, I earned my Ascendancy. Of course there was the matter of my coronation but that was a simple formality. By all rights, both man-made and divine, I had earned my authority. I had earned the right to strike down naysayers and hypocrites.
Beyond that it felt good, it felt right. I had done a justice not just for myself, but for the Empire. Doctor Yomgale was a vile creature who had poisoned my father’s ear like a worm.
The rest of that evening was a blur. I remember Captain Mason disposing of the doctor’s body in some alchemist’s acid, the type of which I was not immediately familiar with although there was no doubt it was a House Vertun concoction.
That following morning was a hurried process. Coronation was commenced without great delay. The imperial crown was stolen from my father’s bedside table and donned upon my head. It was forged of platinum and held an appropriately colored jewel for each of the seven Great Houses. There were two empty sockets on either side – they dated back to an older era when nine Great Houses existed.
I looked out upon the thousands who’d gathered to see me crowned. I was wearing the Emperor’s armor; a set of which had already been sized for me weeks ago. It was the finest defensive garb money could buy, but it had some decorative flair as well. Red silk epaulets dangled from my shoulders, the House Mith insignia was bright and beautiful on the center of my breastplate, and the entire attire had a slight gold trim running through it like veins in a body.
“Imperial citizens, we enter a trying time. My father led us through six decades of peace. But whispers of war began being spread around like a virus as soon as his death appeared inevitable. Not two weeks before his passing did the Uprising on Vel’garde succeed in stealing my ancestral home, Mith Keep,” I said, amplifying my voice as much as I could.
The people were quiet in reflection. I continued after allowing them a moment, “Reports gather from around the galaxy of similar incidents. The Imperial way of life is being replaced by barbarism and savagery. They hold no respect for decency or law.”
I looked down and took a deep breath. I then held my head up and drew my blade from its dragon hide sheath, “My first act as Empress will be like that of the Warrior-Queen Albeth of legend. She was my great-great-great ancestor and a master of war. She was a warbringer and I too shall bring it. I shall bring its end. No quarter will be spared. The war will end and so with it will the idea of rebellion. Our way of life is sacred and good. We all, even those outside of the great houses, live privileged lives compared to our ancestors. To think otherwise is madness.”
I gathered my army in the stables behind the Imperial Palace. There were dozens of dragons waiting with hundreds of troops beside them. I met with General Zala, who was perhaps the most famous battle commander alive. He was known as the Sword of Belta.
“General,” I greeted with a firm handshake.
He bowed his head. Two months ago I would have never imagined a man of such stature bowing to me, the fledgling alchemist, the quiet girl, the unflinching victim. “Empress, I have gathered here a force that outnumbers the rebels of Vel’garde by at least three to one. Further, their equipment and training is far superior to that of those farmhands and tinpot desperadoes.”
“Good. Acquiring Mith Keep is our first priority. Destroying every sign and voice of rebellion is next,” I said with a slight grin.
Everyone mounted a dragon. Each one, in this case, was a fully grown hopper and could easily carry a dozen or more armored men. I signaled the general to begin and he signaled the dragon riders to take off.
The fields of Nexus were black by the shadows of the great wings. As we approached the clouds dragons disappeared one-by-one from this reality and into the Rift. Vel’garde, in Rift terms, wasn’t terribly far from Nexus. Mature hoppers with expert dragon riders would get there in two hops easily.
And so we did, mostly. We arrived upon the bloody fields of Vel’garde. Where the Imperial Port Authority office ought to have been was a pile of ash and rubble. Similar sights were to be seen all around. The rebels had destroyed all sign of the Empire Among the Stars.
The general did a headcount and then called for me as I dismounted a dragon, “Empress!”
“Yes?” I asked, my boots slapping against the mud & blood below.
“Some of the riders are missing. We’re missing at least three dragons, by my count.”
I thought for a moment, considering the tactical implications of the missing troops. “We still have the advantage by a long ways,” I concluded.
General Zala was a bit taken aback, clearly expecting me to want to go back to the Rift to rescue the men, “Well, yes. But we never leave a man behind, Empress.”
Like I said. “We do today, General. Vengeance awaits and she’s a real bitch if you screw with her timing,” I said.
He gave a brief sigh before composing himself, “Yes, Empress. The Imperial Army awaits your instruction.”
“Now hear this:,” I bellowed to the best of my ability, “we march upon Mith Keep. You will kill every rebel sympathizer you see with only one exception: the man called Vorn Telmont. He will be brought me to with every ounce of blood still in his body.”
There was a loud thud as the entire Army began to march towards the Keep at once. The thudding became a sort of rhythmic echo as we descended upon the capital of Vel’garde.
Along the way a few rebels emerged from their holes. They were cut down without breaking march. The Imperial Army, despite its flaws, was a hell of an effective war machine when it needed to be.
We approached Mith Keep, the one beautiful thing remaining in wartorn hellhole. The fighting had clearly not stopped with the death of my brother. A small force of two dozen rebels or thereabouts met us at the gates of the keep.
“Stop, we have seized this property through the legal means of vassal war!” shouted none other than Vorn Telmont at the head of the rebel force.
“And what vassal would have you, Vorn Telmont?” I asked, gradually moving up the long staircase leading to the great wooden doors of the keep. General Zala and the first row of the army flanked me.
“Why do I speak to a woman? You are not Emperor Taigon Mith,” Vorn questioned.
“You speak to his daughter, the Empress Amarissa Mith, bringer of war and bane of rebels. I am a Warrior-Queen like my ancestor Albeth and I am here to reclaim her ancestral home & resting place. Stand down,” I commanded.
“If you words are true then I would be a fool to stand down,” Vorn chuckled.
“Empress Albeth Mith never took prisoners,” Vorn said without emotion. The rebels drew their weapons.
I charged forward and I felt the rush as General Zala and his Imperial Army followed me to the gates of Mith Keep. Our forces clashed at the top of the stairs.
My blade met Vorn’s. His was damaged, dirty, and bloodied. Mine was pristine and like a beacon in the darkness of battle. Our duel was inelegant, neither of us truly trained to fight, but we fought nevertheless, swords dancing around our torsos and limbs.
Soon all of the rebels were dead besides Vorn. General Zala and a group of six men trained their blades upon his head, not quite hitting him yet. I pulled back from my assault.
“Your rebellion ends, Vorn.”
He looked up at me and smiled, “I have lit the fire in the hearts of the people. Your father was like water to the flame; he kept them complacent because they didn’t know life could be better. I have shown them the truth.”
I placed my sword on the top of his skull. He reached up and clutched the blade with both hands, still smiling up at me, his hands bleeding profusely, and he pulled the blade down into himself.
Sound faded yet again.
My vision of Mith Keep and the corpse of the Betrayer Vorn Telmont was replaced with something bright and beautiful but otherwise indescribable. I felt its presence wash over me like a hot shower.
Amarissa Mith pulled her hands out of the little black box and screamed like a banshee. She blinked back tears. Her breathing slowed as the Church of Stars reappeared around her.
“Fifty-eight minutes. Not bad for a first timer,” Bishop Martin smiled. “We shall try again tomorrow.”