“The only measure of power a man has, is that allowed him by men better than himself.”
General Artimec Caetaus stood on the bridge of his cruiser, Victory’s Sword, looking through the glass unto the planet below.
Edamas, the crown jewel of the newly established Kathral Empire. It was beautiful, seeing it again brought tears to Caetaus eyes. It had been six long years since he had left. six terrible bloody years, but now their enemies were destroyed and home called to him. His fleet had brought victory after victory to the empire, conquering or destroying whatever was in their way. His enemies had created the title, “Caetaus the Unstoppable” for him. He ensured that he didn’t disappoint.
“Yes commander what is it?”
“We’re preparing our final approach.”
“Good, see to it personally commander.”
It was good to be home again, nostalgia filled his nostrils, and joy his heart.
All enemies had been destroyed, only allies remained.
All was well in the empire, and he had made it so.
Caetaus turned and walked back to his cabin, the Emperor would want to see them as soon as they landed.
Caetaus had fought with these men for over six years, he thought they deserved some much needed relaxation. They would all be treated with the best of care, he would ensure it.
Their conquests were substantial, he was fairly certain that Victory’s Sword carried more currency than the galactic treasury at this moment. Not to mention the endless resources, technology, and knowledge acquired through the war.
He was certain those were more valuable than anything else they had captured.
A few of his men were unhappy with his policy with prisoners, but in war mistakes couldn’t be tolerated.
Caetaus walked into his cabin, closing the door behind him.
This cabin was too small for him, it barely had room for him to sleep in, much less prepare for battle. He found himself spending more time on the bridge than in his actual cabin. Caetaus couldn’t remember the last time he slept, nor for how long it was.
Caetaus set out his nicest uniform, standard black with some metals and his battalion insignia.
If you were to put every metal Caetaus had earned on this uniform, you wouldn’t even see an inch of cloth.
He began packing up his cabin, since it was peacetime there would be no reason for the ship to remain in service. Doubtless it would be decommissioned and perhaps sold for scrap. An unfair end to a glorious vessel, but that was a decision Caetaus wasn’t allowed to make.
“Sir, we’re coming into dock right now.”
“Very well, open all doors. We’re disembarking.”
“Aye aye sir, it’s been an honor serving with you sir.”
“The same to you commander.” Caetaus said with a smile
These men had been through hell, they very much deserved to live the rest of their lives in luxury. If only it were so simple.
The rest of the fleet came to dock all around the high city of Horizon. The chair of government, and dwelling place of the newly crowned emperor.
Caetaus pulled up his monitor and watched as the crowd cheered for his men as they set foot on shore. Word of their exploits had reached home almost instantly.
Glory would be shown to them, for they truly had accomplished the impossible.
His personal display beeped, indicating that he was being summoned.
Caetaus pulled it up, the emperor had requested his presence in the throne room.
Just as Caetaus thought.
He put on his uniform and embarked for the throne room.
As soon as Caetaus stepped outside the cheers of the crowd turned to yells.
“Caetaus the unstoppable! Caetaus the invincible! Caetaus the god!”
He had been called these names and many more before, but these were his people. The people he had fought to defend, he basked in the glory they gave to him.
For he truly did deserved it.
The walk to the palace was long, through the crowds even more so. But through wit and strength Caetaus eventually found his way there.
He dusted himself off as he climbed the great stairs to the throne room.
A bright light greeted him and the cheers continued.
When Caetaus could finally see, he saw
All six heads of all the high families! With the emperor and his many wives with them!
Caetaus bowed in respect for all these great individuals.
“Bow not to us, great Caetaus. If anything we should all be bowing to you.” The emperor said
Caetaus remained where he was
“You may rise General” The emperor continued
Caetaus stood up
All six heads of the high families greeted him warmly, even his own father, Achilles Artimec head of the Artimec family, wore a smile today.
“The great general Caetaus. Tell us, how goes the war?” The emperor asked
“Finished your majesty, all the rebels have been destroyed there is no remainder of them.”
The emperor shouted for joy
“Truly today is a merry day! Let us hold a feast today. With the great general as our guest of honor. Come let us celebrate!”
Before Caetaus could object he was accosted on either side by beautiful young women, being taken away to the grandest of pleasures.
“The feast shall be held tonight, and shall go for a full year. In celebration of peace!”
The entire empire celebrated with Horizon, the greatest of traditions were resurrected for this great honor. Cheers, wine and the greatest of delicacies were dispersed across the empire. Everyone celebrated the unification of their galaxy. With Horizon being the center of it all.
Caetaus awoke to find himself surrounded by many beautiful women of various sizes and species.
All slumbered, he prided himself on more than just his tactical skills.
He stood up and walked over to the window, his domicile was almost at the top of the great city. The place where only the most prestigious could live.
He had been given this place as a reward for his service. He could have had the entire lower city if he wanted. But he enjoyed this area, the view particularly.
He got dressed and walked around the city, taking in the new sites and areas.
He found that much had changed in his time of being gone.
The war had cost a significant amount, so taxes were at their highest he had ever seen them.
The price for food was high, due to a shortage that was on going.
Yet food was being given out freely to celebrate using up what little was left.
Caetaus found these things troubling. The emperor must have some plan to restore balance to the economy and agriculture. Otherwise they would be facing a depression. Which wasn’t a thriving environment for a new empire.
Caetaus walked to the lower blocks. In time to see 3 rapes, and 4 murders along with 6 thefts and 1 kidnapping.
Crime was out of control!
If this was how apathetic the officers were here in Horizon, then what of the rest of the galaxy? If order could not be maintained than there was no power structure. No power structure meant that there was chaos, and chaos could destroy everything.
Caetaus mind was clouded, he returned to his domicile to prepare for the feast tonight. Hopefully that would get his mind off of what he had seen.
At the feast so many were drunk that conversation was more difficult than serving. But no matter how much wine Caetaus drank he could not remove himself from the horrendous spectacle that had played before him today.
“Why do you not drink my son? We are celebrating you and all that you have brought to us!” His father said, in his usual jolly tone.
“Forgive me father, i’m afraid I am somewhat distracted.”
“I see, tell me what bothers you son?”
“The condition of my empire is what bothers me father.”
At the sound of this his father recoiled
“What about the condition of the empire?” He said in an offended tone
“It’s strong, virile, and able to move mountains.”
“you do not understand father.”
“Oh, but I think I do.”
His father made a motion with his hand and Caetaus was taken away by a whore, truly his father wanted to silence Caetaus, and this hopefully would be the answer.
Caetaus sat on the bed the whore caressing him, whispering in his ear.
“So the great general has finally filled his appetite for conquest?” She said
“What do you mean?” Caetaus said, only half listening
“I simply wish to know what the next challenge will be for a champion of your caliber.”
“I’m afraid I do not have an answer.”
“Oh, don’t you?”
Caetaus didn’t like the woman tone, she put her hands on Caetaus shoulders whispering in his ear.
“You’ve seen it yes? The way everyone looks at him? The way they all silence themselves when he speaks? The way they all hold him up as a god? Simply because of the blood that runs through his veins? Tell me oh great general, why must you play lapdog to one such as him? You have proven that while he may be the son of a god, you are god. Everything he has he owes to you, every single thing that has made this man great he owes to you! Tell me, why can’t you be what he is?”
Caetaus mind twisted, this whore had made a true point. The emperor had never seen war in his life, while Caetaus was built in war. Forged in it. Caetaus killed for a living while this emperor sat on his thrown getting fat.
Caetaus seared with rage, his teeth began to grind together, that man took what rightfully belonged to-
Caetaus pushed the woman away from him.
“Silence!” He shouted “I will not go against the man who leads our great empire! Regardless of what I am owed.”
He turned to leave
“And what then shall become of your…great empire?” She said
This women had him right where she wanted him and it was unsettling
“What do you mean?” He asked
“Our emperor has shown himself inexperienced in the matters of great importance. Militarily he is a laughing stock, politically he is ignorant, economically he is naive, worse yet If he cannot even manage his own city, how then is he to manage a new empire. Especially one as sensitive as this?” She said, blasphemy oozing from her lips
Caetaus turned, anger burning inside of him
He raised his hand, and took one step towards her
“Take one look at this empire and say that my words are untrue.” She said, unafraid of the general
If the emperor were to let a few planets backslide, even a slight bit. Then they would lose their strong image before a day had passed. If his complacency caused the planets to become irritated or worse prideful in their own ventures. Then dissension would arise, a new rebel cause that would unite the bitter planets against their ruling empire. A rebel cause that would be in a perfect position to cut off already low supplies. Having easy excuses for their exploits. If they kept it quite enough, then the entire empire could fall in only a few short weeks.
All due to one man’s laziness and arrogance.
Caetaus anger burned hotter than any furnace that had ever been lit. If this childish and foolish emperor continued in his ways then all of Caetaus work would be for naught! All these 6 years would have been wasted! Every life that was lost would be pointless! Every city destroyed would be resurrected! Every enemy felled would arise again even stronger than before, and he would be helpless to stop them!
Caetaus mind began to think of a counter offensive.
The entire fleet was being dismantled, he may be able to slow it, but he could not stop it. Not without the emperor giving an executive order. Which…as Caetaus knew, he never would.
Without a fleet they were defenseless, without supplies they would not be able to build more.
They had no counter offensive. If things progressed as they were, they would all be destroyed.
He would not let that happen. Never again.
“I could…implore the emperor. Tell him that this cannot continue…I-I could”
“You know as well as I do that that is impossible. He will not listen, but if you honestly believe that you hold as much pull with him as that. Than I will leave you to it.”
She turned around, ignoring him.
“There has to be a way! There has to be!” Caetaus shouted, his mind trying desperately to find a different solution
The whore remained silent, she had said all that she needed to. She arose and began walking away, just before she left she turned and said:
“There is only one way this ends…emperor.”
Caetaus entire world stopped,
Had she just-
He turned and ran to find her, but she was gone.
Caetaus rubbed his forehead
There had to be another way, there had to be
Caetaus had requested a meeting with the emperor as soon as he found his beacon. The emperor didn’t understand the desperation of the situation, but Caetaus would make him see. He had to. Caetaus had been waiting to meet with the emperor for hours, the whore’s words poisoning his mind. The empire was weak, he needed to ensure it’s safety under any circumstance.
If he failed then there was nothing that could be done. He felt as though he carried the entire galaxy on his shoulders.
The doors finally opened, revealing the emperor is his spoiled, discredited state.
“Ah, the great general welcome…back to our palace.”
He was drunk, hope slowly began to fade from Caetaus.
This was all useless, he knew that as soon as he saw him.
“Thank you emperor, I have something very alarming to tell you.” he began to say
“No need, we’re almost out of wine. I ordered more the morning before last. This festival will be glorious!”
He was spending the last of the treasury on wine for the palace, Caetaus kept his tongue behind his teeth.
“Yes emperor but we must discuss something very important.”
“Important? Yes! We must discuss the tablets you brought!” The emperor said, angrily
Caetaus was somewhat alarmed at the emperors sudden change in tone.
He must be talking about the Tablets of Amular, old pieces of stone that held inscriptions for some of the most powerful medicines in existence. He remembered the battle to get them, The ravaging of the Sitarians. Every battle they came back stronger than before. These tablets had been their secret, and Caetaus had annihilated them to get it. He destroyed every temple until he found them, 6 months later.
“Yes, I remember.” He said, trying very hard to be patient
“None of my art dealers wanted them, they said that they ‘weren’t designed for this’ the hell is wrong with you!”
The emperor hurled a bottle of wine at Caetaus head, he dodged it easily
Caetaus tried to get the words out but the emperors temper had flared.
“Get out!” He yelled
Caetaus was escorted out by the guards, who couldn’t even walk straight because of how much wine they had.
They slammed the door behind him.
Caetaus slammed his fist against a wall, the whore was right! The emperor wouldn’t listen to their demands, his complacency and idiocy would cost them dearly.
Caetaus anger burned, he had tried but there was no other way now.
The choice had been made by the emperor himself.
“Very well, your highness.” Caetaus said, anger burning in his voice
“You have brought this…on yourself.”
He would have to take matters into his own hands.
He would become the emperor, even if he had to kill the sniveling drunk to do it.
He walked to his domicile, he would need to plan.
Caetaus paced back and forth, thought and strategies racing to and fro in his mind.
The empire was too new for an heir system to be set up for the emperor. That worked in Caetaus advantage, but he didn’t need a civil war on his hands. In order for everything to go over peacefully he would have to win both the higher officials and the common peoples respect in each of the six families. They would be able to pacify most of the systems, while the rest would follow like cattle. The mid rim and outer rim planets would not concern him, they cared little for who sat on the throne. They only cared that they got what they needed, protection and he would give that to them. His own family would stay by him, along with the Vexens. The two families were very close and held him in high regard. But the others, Orlac, Reecon, Flaris, and Illes would be much harder to win. Orlac may come to him because they respect his warrior status, however they would want a strong military, which he would not be able to provide until he was on the throne. They would not accept that as a suitable answer. Reecon would want more territory, more room to expand their business interests. This too would require a strong military, which again he was unable to provide. Flaris was the wild card, he didn’t know what they would want. Or what they would ask of him, whatever it was, he would have to supply it. Finally there was Illes. They would want the military to be shrunk down and the remaining resources to be used for philosophy and technology. They would be the most difficult to please, as Illes and the Orlac have a long standing feud. He would have to either render them politically mute or convince them to temporarily agree. The agreement was the more favorable option, simply because six families are better than four. But most important of all, he would have to do this all under the emperors nose. If the emperor caught even a hint of betrayal he would send the entire empire into political lockdown. Destroying any hope that Caetaus had of saving the empire. If the outer rim heard that the core worlds were infighting it would start the spark of rebellion. Which was the absolute worst case scenario.
Caetaus sat at his desk, pouring over all the data. Studying each families members, tactics, stances on topics. He would educate himself in the ways of politics. So that the emperor would have no idea what was coming.
Until it was too late…
Caetaus sighed, his father had followed him home.
He supposed that now was as good a time as any.
“I understand you met with the emperor today. What did you discuss?”
“My candidacy for emperor father.”
Caetaus father looked at him like he had just cursed his own mother, he walked swiftly over to his son
“Please tell me that what you say is not true. Please tell me that I did not hear what came from your mouth.”
“I’m afraid you did father.”
His father had the look of fear in his eyes,
“I-I do not think you understand the applications of what you are saying.”
“Our emperor is completely inadequate. He does not know how to lead an empire.”
“He has time to learn.”
“No, father i’m afraid he doesn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
Caetaus smiled, his fathers naïveté was adorable
“You see Father, the empire is actually in quite a vicarious position. As i’m sure you could guess, if we appear weak then it will be the undoing of us all.”
A grim expression made its way across Achilles face.
“Think father, truly is this man as strong as he could, or even should be?”
Achilles gripped unto a chair as the realization suddenly hit him.
Caetaus wouldn’t have told his father unless it was necessary.
His father held his face in his hands as all the thought that had come to Caetaus rushed into him, and he fully realized what was necessary.
He looked up grimly at Caetaus,
“What do you purpose?”
“We need to unite all six families, only then can the emperor be disposed of-”
Achilles jumped up from his seat
“You must be as quiet about this as you can possibly be my son!”
Achilles looked over his shoulder
“The emperors spy’s are everywhere.”
“Then we’ll use that against him.”
Achilles marveled at how easily his son embraced the darkest of actions.
“Uniting the families is impossible, that’s precisely why the empire has allowed them to-”
Achilles suddenly quieted
Caetaus full attention was placed on his father.
“Speak father! Why has the empire allowed the families to remain?”
His father had a nervous look in his eyes,
Caetaus noticed that his father had begun shaking irregularly,
“Father, are you well?”
“Yes, yes I am fine.”
Achilles pulled up a chair and sat himself down once again.
“The empire knows that the families collectively have more power than any military might in the galaxy. So it has…taken steps to ensure that the families can never be united, not fully anyway.”
A wicked smile twisted it’s way across Caetaus lips,
This was exactly what he needed. With this information he could easily turn all the families to his cause and the emperors demise.
“My son, I beg of you”
His father set his hand on Caetaus arm
“Find another solution, find another way. You are preparing to open a flood gate that will consume you.”
Caetaus heart softened,
This man had known Caetaus for years, he had raised and trained him in all the ways of art and war. He had sent him off to war and was the first to greet him when he returned. He cared and calmed him whenever he acted rashly.
But this was something else. Caetaus wasn’t doing this because he thought it would be a better decision, he knew it was the right one.
Caetaus kneeled next to his father,
“Father, I understand your reluctance. But this must be done, the consequences are catastrophic. You and I both know what will happen if this continues.”
“Then my son turn a blind eye to the sins of our emperor. Let his mistakes be his own burden, not yours.”
Caetaus felt tears cloud his vision,
His father was wise and perhaps if he spoke to a different son his words would be correct. But unfortunately he spoke to Caetaus, and Caetaus had made his mind up long before this.
“Don’t you see father, when you sent me to war. When I decided to follow that man…”
Achilles wiped a tear from his beloved sons face
“I swore to carry his burdens, I chose to repair what he had destroyed, I have to do this…or everything I’ve done. Everyone i’ve hurt, every single moment of every day will have been wasted.”
Achilles eyes held tears themselves, as Caetaus spoke he knew that he could not dissuade his son.
And he couldn’t be more proud.
His son was going to become the emperor, an Artimec would sit on the throne.
It was a tragedy, that Achilles would not live to see it.
Achilles wrapped his arms around his eldest son, his birthright, his oath keeper.
“Go then, my son. With my blessing and the full support of the Artimec family.”
“Thank you father.” Caetaus said
“I will garner us the support of the Vexens, and give you my contacts within the Orlac, Reecon, Flaris, and Illes families. You will need them for what you are purposing to do.”
“I very much appreciate your service father.”
“It is my honor.”
His father saluted him
The sight almost brought Caetaus to tears, his father, the one man he respected more than anyone had just saluted him. This task would be tiresome, aggravating, and strenuous in more ways then he could even imagine. But still, he would find a way.
Caetaus awoke the next morning to the sound of summoning.
Achilles was summoning Caetaus to come to the public dwelling, why he would want to meet in such a public place was a mystery to him. But for whatever reason he was sure it was valuable.
When Caetaus finally arrived he found quite a mysterious sight.
An officer in full uniform, holding his fathers beacon.
“You had better have a good reason for possessing property that doesn’t belong to you.” Caetaus said menacingly
The officer turned,
Caetaus saw the seal of the Vexen’s upon his uniform
“General Caetaus?” The officer asked
“It is an honor, I am Commander Haestrom.”
Haestrom offered Caetaus the normal greeting for a superior officer.
“The pleasure is mine commander, why have you summoned me?”
“You father sent me with the word that I am to function as your right hand. As well as the phrase ‘a dragon with two heads flies overhead’ if I am correct.”
Achilles had acquired the Vexen’s support, Haestrom was the symbol of that.
“very well Haestrom, I will ask you the same question I ask all of my lieutenants. Why are you here?”
Haestrom didn’t even blink and stood at full attention
“To carve out a place for my clan in the future.”
Caetaus looked harshly at Haestrom, he knew the real purpose.
Caetaus threw a punch at Haestrom’s head,
Haestrom used his elbow to block the blow and countered by causing Caetaus to stumble backwards.
Caetaus turned to block but found the Haestrom had faked him out and now had both his hands around Caetaus throat.
Haestrom’s arms were too long for Caetaus to counter.
“Am I worthy?” Haestrom asked, tightening his grip
Caetaus refused to answer
Haestrom picked up Caetaus and slammed him into a wall.
“Am I worthy!?!”
Caetaus choked out.
Haestrom released him
“I look forward to working with you…Caetaus.”
This man had won more respect from Caetaus in 5 minutes than most win in years.
Caetaus had disrespected Haestrom so he acted accordingly.
Caetaus couldn’t possibly be happier with whom father had chosen as his right hand.
“And I with you…Haestrom.”
They each exchanged the military greeting.
“Come Haestrom, let me share with you my plans.”
“Firstly general we must pledge our loyalty.”
“Ah, yes indeed.”
Caetaus rolled up the sleeve of his uniform.
Whenever a family pledged loyalty to a cause of individual, if was tradition that the superior be marked. So that they would forever remember how they once led a family.
A ceremonial knife was always used for the mark, Caetaus hopefully would brandish seven by the end of his days.
“The Vexen family pledges ourselves from the shadows. From darkness and endless night we come to burn your soul alight.”
Haestrom cut deep, but Caetaus drank eagerly of the pain.
Two marks now brandished his left arm,
Artimec and Vexen,
Now time for the others.
Caetaus stood at attention, his father had garnered him a meeting with the Flaris family. If he could establish their support then he would be in a very good position before the other families. Flaris was known for its political skill and intrigue. They had few warriors but many politicians, they were able to talk their way out of anything.
Caetaus hoped he could keep up.
Haestrom was by his side the two had spent the next several days establishing plans and meetings. If things went sour then Caetaus needed to ensure that none of it could be traced back to him.
If this failed…His own fate would be the least of Caetaus worries.
“Do we hold any kind of pull?” Haestrom asked
“No” Caetaus asked
“Do we have any incentives?”
“So we have nothing to bargain with, nothing to offer and nothing to lose correct?”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself Haestrom.”
The doors to the chamber opened,
7 individuals all walked in. Each looking majestic and wise in ways beyond either of their comprehensions.
“Welcome Flaris family.” Caetaus said, cordially
“Greetings to you general Caetaus, and you as well commander Haestrom. We have been informed of your…position.” One of them came forward speaking
Caetaus was shocked, how did-
“Perhaps this is something best discussed in frank terms.” Haestrom said
“Very well” The man continued
“We understand that you are eager to displace the current emperor. Placing you yourself in his position. You have come to us so as to have enough allies to overthrow him. So tell me, why do you deserve to be our new emperor?”
“Excuse me.” Caetaus asked
“We have many among our own number that would make a suitable emperor or empress. Why should we allow you to rule over us? When we prefer to rule over ourselves?”
Caetaus liked the way this family thought, they kept their own interests ahead of everything else. A skill he would do well to learn.
Caetaus stepped forward
“My kind sir, answer me this, and I shall answer your question.”
“Very well, ask your question general.”
“Have you ever watched a man die?”
The man was taken aback at the question
“Have you ever stood there and watched the life drain from a man’s eyes. Ever seen his blood run dry on the ground?
“Of course you haven’t! Nor has anyone you claim to call worthy! You all are the same as our pathetic and childish emperor! You have not seen what is needed, you have not inclined your ear to the darker side of nature. “
All seven began to wear a face of fear, which was exactly what Caetaus knew would happen.
“You ask why I am worthy” He continued “You ask, ‘what makes you better than us?’ well it’s quite simple! I can do what none of the rest of you can! You pride yourself on your political skill and eloquence of speech. But that will not sustain an empire! An empire needs strong willing leadership that it willing to put it’s hands in the blood so that the empire can prosper! You arrogant whelps wouldn’t have the decency to drown a man so that million more can live! So tell me then oh great Flaris family! Who is more worthy than I!? Who can take this position and ensure your safety better than I!?!”
The room was silent, all of the great Flaris family was silenced,
They all shared frightened looks.
“We-we must d-discuss among ourselves. If we may?”
“You may.” Caetaus said, bridling his fury
Caetaus and Haestrom went into another room.
“I must say I am impressed my lord. To silence the loudest of shouters is indeed a feat.”
Caetaus knew at that exact moment that he know had not only respect, but admiration from Haestrom.
Perhaps today would bring two victories when he only asked for one.
After hours of waiting Caetaus and Haestrom were called upon once again.
When they entered the room Caetaus could tell that the atmosphere of the room had changed.
The fear had been quelled, if only momentarily.
“We have heard your request.” They began
Haestrom looked at Caetaus, hand on his weapon
“And we pledge to you our support.”
They held out the ceremonial knife.
Caetaus walked forward and prepared himself for another dose of pain.
a smile crossed Caetaus face, he had outwitted the-
“But we have conditions we wish to have fulfilled.”
A catch, he should have known.
“Speak then.” Caetaus said, a hint of annoyance in his voice
“We long for you to have a ruling council beneath you. To create legislation, they would still be beneath you of course. But we long for some type of democracy.”
A council? As long as Caetaus ensured their loyalty, he was not resistant to the idea.
“Very well. Your demands will be met.”
They pushed the knife deep into Caetaus skin, leaving a mark more clearly defined then the others. 3 down, only a few left to-
“And finally, you will take an Ishtal from our family.”
An Ishtal! The thought had not even begun to take root in Caetaus mind. A mate? A companion? Someone to bear his children…now? Of all times.
“D-do you have someone in mind?” He asked, attempting to organize his thoughts
A woman stepped forward from among the seven, Caetaus had noticed her before. Her beauty captivated him, but he had pushed those thoughts from his mind.
He had too much to focus on.
“I am Wynn. Firstborn daughter of the head of our family, you will take me as your Ishtal.”
Caetaus was stunned, this beautiful, bold woman was staring him down with eyes like the sun. Words failed to come to him, his mind blurred.
“Why this particular one?” Haestrom asked, maintaining focus
“She has been raised in our house all her life. She knows policy and the ways of eloquence better than most. Also she will maintain our interests in the coming empire.”
“Do you agree Lord Caetaus?” Wynn asked
“Y-yes, I agree to your conditions.” Caetaus said, unable to pull his sight from the- his Ishtal.
Caetaus entire world suddenly shifted in all new and very unfamiliar direction.
The ceremony through which two individuals join into an Ishtal bond is short and easily done. Then why did it feel so strange?
No matter how hard Caetaus thought over this union, is still unsettled him. He had led entire armies through hell and back.
And yet…having to lead a woman through life? Having to provide for her, both physically and emotionally? Having to care for her? This entire mindset frightened him.
What if she got sick? What if the empire’s new vision was not realized? What if-
He turned, she had come.
He walked closer to her, fear permeating his entire being.
Her expression changed, before she carried a somewhat solemn and uncaring face. But…with just the two of them alone. Her face softened, her eyes filled with tears.
“I see fear in you, and I wish you to know that I myself am terrified as well. I had not expected my life to be like this, a doll for some man to simply look at and then throw away. I-”
“I swear to you!” He said, barely managing to get it out
He took a breath
“I swear to you, that I will do the best I can. To be what you need me to be. I will always care for you, even if it comes before my own vision.”
She began to cry
“And I swear to you” She said “That I will never go against you. I will fight for you against whomever comes against us. I will help you accomplish you vision, even at the expense of my own.”
They embraced, neither had any idea what they were doing. But…sometimes you don’t need to know what your doing.
They performed the ceremony, and entered into Ishtal together.
The two spent the next several weeks getting to know one another, simply as individuals and then as companions.
With the ceremony behind them and Wynn by his side, Caetaus set a meeting with the Reecon family. He knew their demands would be exceptionally difficult to accomplish. But hopefully with the support he had already gained, he could perhaps tide them over. At least until he was in a better position to give what they wanted.
He had fought beside many Reecon soldiers. They talked of how they missed their homeworld, far into the mid rim. If he was able to give them this one single planet that perhaps they would pledge their support.
Without a need for much more territorial dispute.
His father had neglected to inform him of how things were developing on that front. So he had sent Haestrom to ensure all things went well. He didn’t want to be too far away from Wynn so soon. So he had kept her with him. She continually impressed him both with her diplomatic skills and her strong will to accomplish his mission.
He should have met her sooner. Perhaps everything would be done by now if he had.
he stood looking at the galaxy map, charting out the easiest ways for the Reecon to claim their homeworld without gaining much more territory in turn.
The doors opened swiftly, hitting the walls on either side.
Three large men strode in, one heading directly to Caetaus.
Caetaus leaned back, his hand on his gun. He didn’t like where this was going.
The man stopped a few inches away from Caetaus face.
He smelt like defection and gunpowder, a strangely relaxing smell.
“Listen here so called general! I don’t have time for your annoying talk, I’ve heard what you want and you know what I want. Make it happen!”
He was direct, Caetaus liked that
“Very well, your homeworld then?”
“Exactly, plus the quadrant!”
Caetaus held back a shriek, that was exactly what he didn’t need.
“The quadrant?” he said holding back
“The whole thing! If that’s too much than count us out of your “revolution”
Revolution? He had said nothing of a revolution, but he liked how it sounded.
“I’ll see what I can do.” Caetaus responded, unintimidated
The three turned and walked out of the room.
The entire quadrant? That was a gigantic amount of territory! That cut into both Artimec and Vexen claims. Neither of which would allow themselves to be weakened so extensively.
Artimec would have it the worst, that was almost half their claims.
His father would be unwilling to give that much, hell Caetaus would be unwilling to give that much.
But he had no options, if he didn't gain the favor of the Reecon family then the others would view him as weak. Even his new allies would look unfavorably on him. There was no decision to be made.
He would appeal to Achilles and Haestrom, if they refused…then their paths would have to end there.
Caetaus leaned on the wall, and grit his teeth.
This was unexpected, and unwanted.
“Father I need to ask something of you.” Caetaus said uncomfortably
Achilles sat in his chair looking slightly more pale than usual.
“Speak my son, hold nothing back.”
“The Reecon’s want the entire quadrant surrounding their homeworld.”
Achilles was breathless for a few moments before he was able to answer.
“That is over half of our allotment. We-we cannot give that to them.”
“We must father we must.”
“But my son this is-”
They had been interrupted, by an imperial guard
“Yes, what is it?”
“The emperor demands your presence.”
Achilles face reeked of fear, he began to tremble even worse than before.
“Very well, I will not keep him waiting.”
Caetaus maintained his composure, he was in far too precarious a position to do otherwise.
Perhaps this could work to his advantage…
Caetaus walked into the throne room.
He began to hate the very sight of this place, it’s mere atmosphere angered him. It was all embellishments and altars built to a false god who sat on a throne of lies.
Caetaus was dangerously close to snapping the man’s neck right now.
The emperor could not detect even a hint of disapproval.
Caetaus bowed deeply before the the emperor.
“Greetings great general.” He said,
“Greetings your highness.” he said, keeping his true thoughts to himself.
“It has come to my attention that you have taken interest with the Flaris family.”
The emperor smiled a wicked grin.
“Yes I have your highness, I have recently selected an Ishtal from among their ranks.”
The emperor almost bounded out of his seat, the amount of childlike giddiness amazed Caetaus.
“So you have finally found a woman who can tame the great general. I wonder who is perhaps then the greater? Well this then is the answer to the questions I ask. You sought for yourself a woman that is why you have been discussing with the families.”
A smile twisted it’s way across Caetaus face,
perhaps this could work to his advantage.
“Yes my emperor, and I find myself in a very uncomfortable position. My Ishtal is not content with me.”
“Ah, the great quest of all men.”
“I seek to have…alternates should this union be unfavorable.”
The emperor was overjoyed
“I absolutely agree!”
“But one of my newest conquests, of the Reecon family demands the return of her fathers homeworld. As well as the quadrant surrounding it. As i’m sure you know I cannot grant such a request. Nor allow it into the public eye, as my Ishtal would be quite unsatisfied with me.”
“Say no more oh great general. I shall grant you your request, without a second thought and go with my blessing and find out for me, who is the greatest women of them all.”
“Absolutely my great emperor.”
Caetaus left the throne room,
he chuckled to himself, that pathetic child had eagerly taken every spoonful of deception that Caetaus had offered. Not only had he solved Caetaus greatest problem, but he had done so in complete ignorance. Caetaus chuckle soon turned into full bodied laughter, this would be much easier than he thought.
The Reecon family pledged their support within the next day. With the message,
“Truly you have proven who is superior.”
Caetaus had been marked with their knife before the sun rose on the next day.
four of the families had pledged themselves to him. Now he had general opinion swaying towards him. As long as he stayed in each families good fortune than he would surely achieve victory. Only the two remained, and then he could finally move.
Haestrom entered Caetaus chamber with a solemn look upon his face.
“I take it from your disillusioned demeanor that we have encountered a dilemma.”
“The Orlac and Illes families have both been involved in a diplomatic incident.”
Caetaus sighed heavily
“What is the incident?”
“Orlac infantry have been spotted in Illes territory. Their reasoning is unknown.”
“Are either willing to negotiate?”
“Orlac claims that their entire garrison is in port, and Illes won’t back down.”
“Then we will have to appeal to their better natures.”
“How so?” Haestrom asked
Haestrom and Caetaus walked towards the meeting point.
They already heard shouting, When they entered they saw the Orlac and Illes representatives at each others throats. Caetaus took control of the situation.
“This crap pile insists on lying!”
“The only crime I have committed is one of desiring to exterminate you, vermin!”
Caetaus rolled his eyes, he really didn’t have the patience for either of these.
“Listen.” He said, assertively
“You will both tell your ruling hierarchies that this situation is officially over.”
They both looked at Caetaus as if he were crazy.
“Both Orlac and Illes depend upon Artimec for security and safety. I have withdrawn our aid.”
“You son of a-”
Orlac and Artimec had made many treaties in the past for aid. Artimec had long since fulfilled it’s side of the bargain. Orlac still had yet to. Illes depended upon Artimec patrols for security, without it they had no defense.
“And depend upon Vexen financial gains in order to fund your militaries. They have come to collect.”
Vexen was by far the richest family, everyone had borrowed money from them. They had controlling shares in every family.
“As well as armistice with the Reecon family. Which had been annulled, with their homeworld reclaimed. They now have a significant advantage over both of you in any conflict. Finally the Flaris family had sent you into a political lockdown. You are unable to negotiate outside of this room.”
“T-that’s not possible.”
Caetaus hadn’t wanted this to happen. He had wanted to win each of their respects amicably, but this situation would take far too long to resolve otherwise. So he had to use his newfound power to force them to cooperate, and hope that the political fallout wasn’t too bad.
“I am in complete control over the fate of both of your families. I can say a word and you will be totally decimated.”
The Orlac representative looked frantically about, hoping to find some kind of solution. The Illes representative sighed deeply.
“What do you want?” he asked
“Want?” Caetaus said
“You obviously want something from us. So say it! Rather than dangle our deaths above us!”
Caetaus smiled, he could make this work.
“A unified empire.” Caetaus said
Both of them stilled, unsure of his meaning.
“Our empire has begun to fail. I intend to mend it, to make it better than before. As you can tell, I am very close to being there. Neither of your families makes much of a difference. But the effort to destroy them both would drain more resources than I am willing to expend. So put basically it’s easier to keep you alive.”
The Orlac representative smiled
“The enemy of my enemy eh?”
The Illes representative started breathing rapidly.
“What you purpose is open rebellion!”
Caetaus raised a hand
“Not rebellion, simply the exchanging of leadership.”
That caught both of their attentions.
Caetaus had lost all patience he had left.
“Raise a hand against me and I assure you, you will not live to regret it! Join me however, and you will be rewarded handsomely.”
They both were unsure.
Caetaus smiled, time for his bargaining chip.
“The emperor is responsible for this incident. As well as many others, he has played you both against each other. “
Both were shocked, but knew that in an instant that it was true.
What can an emperor not do?” Caetaus asked
They looked at each other, and nodded.
They both bowed deeply.
“I had hoped you would see it that way. Now swear your loyalty to me!”
Caetaus now held the destiny of the galaxy in his hands.
And it would be a swift death.
Caetaus arm bore all six marks from all six knives. He had been brought this far, now it was time to finally execute his plan. No more skulking and hiding, now was the time for action.
And for execution.
“My lord.” Haestrom said
“Yes Haestrom what is it?”
“Your father…he is dead.”
Caetaus breathed softly,
He knew it. As soon as his father had heard the news of Caetaus plans his health had deteriorated, at an unfortunately disastrous pace.
That meant that Caetaus was head of the Artimec family now. His father would have already sent word throughout the family. Caetaus blamed himself, if only things didn’t have to be as they were. If he could have sat by and enjoyed this past year as he once had. But the fate had different plans.
And Caetaus was helpless to stop it.
“Go and see to preparations Haestrom.”
“Yes my lord.” Haestrom responded
Haestrom left the room, there would be time to mourn the dead later.
“I have heard of your father.” Wynn said, appearing once more
Caetaus had sent her to prepare should the Orlac and Illes families refuse. Luckily everything had gone according to plan. But it almost had- and that was perhaps worse.
“I do solemnly wish that he were here…to see me ascend.”
“You mean to continue with your plans then?”
Caetaus breathed in deep
“Yes. Tomorrow I will march into the emperors chamber and end his miserable life. Everyone knows what to do.”
“And what is that?”
Caetaus turned, looking his beloved in the face.
“The Artimec, Vexen, Reecon and Orlac families have already sent fleets to secure the outer rim. While the Flaris and Illes pacify the politicians in the center. The mid rim will follow the center, as it always does, the transition will be seamless.”
“It seems to me it already has.” She said
Caetaus looked at her again.
She was right.
He was emperor in everything except title now. All those of power and influence answered to him, and no one else. The emperor was merely a child crying in the corner, beginning to be noticed.
Perhaps he should be spared? To maintain what little dignity he had.
No, Caetaus could not allow even a hint of the old empire to remain. It must be cleansed, purified. So that it could begin once more. Better than it ever was before.
“Yes, you are right. The new empire has begun to arise, but now it needs something drastic. Something radical to shake it from it’s slumber.”
“Such as killing the emperor?”
“Very well then my lord, if you must undertake this course then promise me one thing.”
He leaned in closer, listening intently
“Don’t miss.” She said
The next morning Caetaus and his own personal army were escorted to the palace, along with each of the heads of the families.
He had seen to it that they were unannounced and unheard. The emperors spies had been blinded long ago, he was helpless. Caetaus walked up the stairs, a legion of armed men at his back.
His empire would prevail.
The doors opened to the sound of gunfire and explosions. Any attempt at battle were useless. The palace guard had been downsized, and their armory depleted. While the families were perfectly prepared for this confrontation.
What few who were loyal to the emperor were destroyed within the hour. Replaced with Caetaus own agents.
He ascended the stairs. He remembered at this time exactly a year ago he bowed before the emperor. Now the emperor would bow before him.
Caetaus kicked open the doors to the throne room.
The emperor cowered behind his throne, shaking violently.
“Come out!” Caetaus yelled, any pretense of loyalty finally discarded as he stepped forward.
The whelp crawled out from behind his cover and wrapped himself around Caetaus knees.
“Oh thank the heavens! O general there has been another uprising! We must quell this rebellion! Quick go I will stay here and-and-stay safe!”
Caetaus kicked the child in the jaw. Sending him onto his face before Caetaus.
“An uprising? No, you fool. This is your execution!”
Caetaus grabbed the fool by his throat and held him above the ground.
The emperor saw the marks on Caetaus arm, and Caetaus finally saw what he waited almost this full year for.
Fear, not only fear but absolute horror. He had finally realized what was happening, and it was glorious. Caetaus grip tightened around the pathetic child’s throat.
He tried to fight him off but it was already too late.
Caetaus twisted with all his might, hearing the emperors spinal cord snap. Caetaus tossed the lifeless body behind him. It tumbled down the stairs, leaving blood all the way.
Caetaus Artimec climbed the steps leading to the throne, and sat upon it. Gazing around at the empire that he built and that he now led.
His army gathered around him, bowing before him.
Caetaus looked all around and began to laugh.
The laughter of power, absolute power.
That belonged to Caetaus and him alone.
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