What Frightful Gaze
10th of Foundation, YD 180
The Ashen Palace
The audience chamber at the Ashen Palace is lined with pillars. Six pillars, three a side, rising to the vaulted ceiling. Each is inscribed with the names of the fallen, each assigned to a different House. At the head of the room, the Onyx Throne is enwrapped around the pillar on which the dead of House Djuke are remembered. The light is never so bright as to illumine the whole room, and those wishing to pay respects must bring a torch or eyes that care not for the dark.
Imperus’ eyes are of that sort, piercing violet in the gloom. Zher talons click in slow rhythm on the arm of the throne, and zher gaze lingers on the ornate gauntlet which sits on a pedestal to zher left. Perhaps there will be need of it, in future.
Valdis Linnet, the Seneschal, bustles across the empty room followed by a figure in a pointed hood and dark grey and purple robes. Imperus’ talons cease tapping. More figures gather at the door, unwilling to cross the threshold.
“Your Excellence,” Linnet says in her melodious voice, bowing. “You said now was the time for audiences and pleas.”
“Yes, Seneschal,” Imperus replies, softly-spoken words echoing across the room. Zher gaze is on the hooded figure, an old man clearly straining to remain standing.
In the end, Imperus’ will is the stronger, and the man prostrates himself.
“Forgive me, your Divinity!” He cries. “I wish only to serve.”
Imperus ignores him.
“And the rest of his flock, Linnet?” Zhe asks.
Linnet grimaces, like eating a sour candy. “Persistent, your Excellence.”
“Leave them be,” Imperus sighs. “Anything else would only encourage this nonsense.”
Linnet nods, even as the hooded man shouts “At your command, Divinity, I rebel!”
Imperus snorts and debates signaling the guards hidden invisibly around the room.
“Send in the first supplicant,” zhe commands, and Linnet bows again before leaving. The ‘high priest’, as he styles himself, remains. The herald enters and stands at the foot of the dais on which the throne sits, and turns as a delegate from Kaer arrives flanked by armed guards. The herald takes a breath.
“The Kaeri Ambassador to Throne, Manda Braithe – you stand now before Djuke Imperus, King of Kings.”
The ambassador bows low. Her escort does not, hands on their rifles, visibly struggling to stand straight. The Ambassador cannot straighten.
“Thank you for seeing me, Excellence.” She says.
“You are welcome, Ambassador Braithe,” Imperus replies. “How fare your people?”
“We thrive, Excellence – the recovery continues apace.”
“That is good news. Why do you seek my counsel?”
“Excellence, it has been made known to us that Towerpeak is riven by civil war. We seek permission to contain the threat.”
“But… but your Excellence, the leeches are weak and disrupted, we-”
“Denied,” Imperus repeats. “The Kromsians are free to practice their faith and resolve their conflicts without intervention. You would do well to remember my decree.”
“… Of course, Excellence.”
“Roisin Dubh, Crantire Ambassador to Throne – you stand now before Djuke Imperus, King of Kings.”
The elegant, dark Dryad bows, creaking under the pressure.
“Your Excellence, I will not waste your time – we seek Inquisitorial support.”
“And why do you come to me?”
“Lord Inquisitor Mormont believes our concerns to be unfounded, but there is a… a contaminant on our border which we can neither identify nor contain.”
“The wreck of a skyship, humming with perverse energies. We understand one of our wayward saplings was sighted recently and fear his hand in this transgression.”
“Feidhlim of The Black Gate.”
“Just so, Excellence.”
“I will request that this be investigated, but recall I do not control the Inquisition.”
“Of course, Excellence.”
“Chancellor of Treasury, Izzot Tux, you-”
“I know damn well where I am, Poster.”
“At ease, herald. What is it, Izzot?”
“We cannot support your new directive, Excellence,” Izzot says, fuming. “It will drain our coffers to complete the new military hires, and I cannot fathom the need for some of these materials-”
“That will be accounted for, Chancellor.”
“I’m doing the accounting, Excellence, do not think me remiss in my duties.”
“I do not, Chancellor. Find me in the observatory after sunset and we will discuss this further.”
“…As you command, Excellence.”
“Lord Commander Deadwood of the Bulwark Regiment – you stand now before Imperus, King of Kings.”
“Your Excellence, I beg your aid,” says the kneeling soldier, his long coat thick with the dust of the road. “We have lost no less than fifty troops to the Grievers in the last week. I beg you, deploy the Aerial Legion or lend us soldiers. We cannot cleanse them otherwise without unacceptable losses.”
“You are negligent to come here yourself at such a time of need, Commander.”
The old soldier flashes a feral grin.
“I have brought forces for a pincer on their hideout, Excellence. We need only the numbers to deliver the killing blow.”
“Granted. You are exempted from this service, Commander.”
“More losses would be unacceptable. I am sending the Talon.”
Deadwood slumps with relief.
“Thank you, Excellence.”
“Eight Days Darkness, Kromsian Ambassador to Throne – you stand now before Imperus, King of Kings.”
The vampire showed no sign of strain or fatigue, standing regal and steady with barely a shred of clothing. Their form was attenuated, tall, with long fingers and softly luminous patagia. It bowed, and returned to full height.
“Your Excellence, we would request aid to end the turmoil which plagues our home. A band of Necromancers and strangers have murdered our charges and our agents, and sought to destroy all that we have built for reasons which yet elude us.”
“Troubling and tragic in equal measure, Ambassador. What need have you?”
“Anything you might spare, Excellence. We are in sore need of means to find and root out these terrorists.”
“I will summon the Hulbradim, Ambassador, and recommend you contract a Desolator in the meantime.”
“Your wisdom is equalled only by your beneficence, Excellence, and we-”
The guards did not move with zher order – and so the young man dashing into the room, dressed in the raiment of the cult that insisted on worshiping Imperus, was unimpeded. The Dragon-Emperor was impressed; he managed to stand, sweating, not ten feet from zher. A pity.
The herald stared in horror, mouth agape. Linnet was hurling herself behind a pillar. The onlookers at the edge of the court yelled and cried.
The young zealot was not calm, but in his fervour Imperus saw a kind of serenity; the tendons of his neck taut, his teeth clenched in rictus smile of dark intent. He drew from his coat a pistol – new and smelling of gun oil, sleek and modern – and pointed it at Imperus upon the throne.
The assembled crowd cowered in the report, deafened by the blast. His cry – the shooter’s cry – was expected; “Defiance is Victory!”
The bullet hung in the air between Imperus eyes for a bare moment, before zhe reached out and held it between zher talons, and cast it aside. The young man quivered before zher gaze, blood running from the corner of his mouth in a thin trickle.
The gunshot still seemed to echo in the sonorous hall. When Imperus stood, the martyr’s knees shattered, the crack and shriek following in the explosive wake of his failure.
“You know who I am, mortal, that you should dare.”
“I-I am blessed to die by your hand….”
Imperus picked him from the ground in one hand, gently, tugging the weapon from him and crushing it in a flash of violet light.
“You are mislead, you idiot child.”
A figure in dark clothes melted from the shadows and stood behind the martyr.
“Take him to the hospital. Have him healed. Assign a counselor.”
The dark-clothed agent nodded, and slung the protesting shooter over their shoulder.
Imperus swept the room with zher gaze, and many flinched as it passed over them.
“Mistake not my kindness for cruelty, nor my silence for consent. I demand no worship, only obedience.”
A chorus rippled across the assembly. “Hail Imperus!”
Imperus nodded, returning to the throne. Adequate.