The Sky was grey. A single blanket of varying shades, some almost white, others nearly black. From horizon to horizon, unmoved by even the strongest gusts of wind. Beneath it a sprawling city, a sheer endless maze of streets and alleys, of sky piercing spires, luscious parks, majestic temples and shady slums. Above this monument of human civilization but beneath the sun covering shroud, almost at the mid point between heaven and earth, carved into the flank of a barren, reddish coloured mountain, an expansive palace made of white stone. On one of its many balconies a man, tall and lean, clad in a tunica made from simple white cloth. Tanned skin, marred by dozens of scars. Some small almost unnoticeable dots, others vast patches of rugged flesh, all coloured in faded grey. A large stretch of scarred skin covering the right side of his throat and reaching up till it disappeared under a neatly trimmed grey beard, was the only notable feature in what many would consider an average face. A sharp chin, high cheek bones leading toward a hawkish nose, small grey eyes residing above them like glowering holes. Looking into it one could only come up with old. This was the man that ruled the world. The man that had reigned over a thousand peoples with an iron fist. A titan that had won a hundred battles. A Tyrant, a Monster, cruel, ruthless and unfeeling. This was Emperor Seron Valerian. Seron the Kinslayer. Seron the Red. Seron the Tired would be much more fitting. His mouth twisted into a scowl. He had been staring at the horizon for the past few hours, watching as black turned to dark blue and then grey. A passing servant may have confused him with a statue, unmoved by biting winds and the occasional short burst of rain. He had never been much of a sleeper. A few hours a day at best and if needed he could work for days on end, never even thinking about it. But in the past few months it had just been No. Stop lying to yourself! This has been going on for years. Sixteen to be precise. There it was again. That nagging voice at the back of his conscious. Scratching, piercing, unceasingly warring against his mental defences. He disliked...no he despised it. Not just because it was a constant annoyance but because it was simply- ”My Lord!” Stepping into his personal chamber, which opened up to the large balcony he stood on, was a young boy. Going by looks alone he couldn't be more than fifteen years old. Clad in the more regal cloth of a court servant, his blue eyes nervously darting left and right and what appeared to be a rather pathetic attempt at a beard sitting under his nose, gave him an unimpressive appearance to say the least. Seron, having turned around at his call, was now walking toward him. Taking a slow, steady pace Seron build himself to his full height and straightened his shoulders. The scowl remained firmly in place. He could see the boys nervousness, he’d have to be blind not to. His reputation did have that effect on people and while he did feel a certain amount of pity for the boy he really wasn’t in the mood to show any crack in this mask he had crafted so carefully over the past two decades. He stopped about an arms length away. “What is it that requires my attention?”, his voice nearly emotionless, only the slightest hint of annoyance noticeable. It did the job fine enough, the kid going from fidgeting slightly to outright shaking. “I ah...eh well I…” A little growl immediately put an end to this sad attempt at speaking. “Boy, stop this senseless blabbering, take a deep breath, think for a few seconds and then speak!”, his voice was iron. At first the servant shrunk like he’d been struck but then straightened. Taking a few deep breaths, he began to slowly state his reason. “General Emerion sends me, my Lord. He wants to let your grace know that the Great Council is gathered as ordered. They are merely waiting for you.” Fear, so easily visible. In his eyes, the slight shaking of his hands, clasped behind his back and the general meekness of the messenger. Understandable really. Here he stood in front of the most powerful man in existence, even worse he seemed in a bad mood. Vardanian children learned early on to respect and fear him. The story of the Shadow told them to always listen to your parents, the tale of the Idrin to always beware of strangers and the tale of Seron the Red to respect you leaders. “Tell them I will be there in a few minutes.” As fast and respectfully as he could the boy bowed, turned and hurried out of his chambers. It is pathetic really. People treat me like the fucking God of War but one cold night and I’ll be lying in bed, coughing my life out like Keithon… If anything his mood darkened further. Memories surfaced. Faces, blood, fire, screams of anger and agony. Pushing them back into the deepest recesses of his mind he turned from the door and moved across his expansive chambers. Now, many would imagine it to be overflowing with luxuries, pieces of the finest art dotting the walls and lamps burning exotic incense filling the room with the strangest yet dreamlike scents known to man. A dream worthy of the highest of high offices. Reality, however, is often disappointing. The room could be described as bare at best. Two bookshelf's on the right, claiming the wall between entrance and the door that lead out on the balcony in it’s entirety. On the left another two bookshelf's, a small table by the windows that overlooked the great palace gardens. A desk stood at the rooms centre, littered with papers and books. Walking around it Seron made his way over to the far corner. Various maps hung on the walls, every land of the known world from the vast plains of Campestria to the icy marshlands of the Far North, from the hellish ocean of sand that was Harenara to the fertile paradise that was the Reach. Tucked into the corner, furthest from the rooms door stood a rather large closet next to a simple bed. He took out a simple purple tunic to wear above his white one. While not as regal as his ceremonial clothing it did give him a more dignified appearance. Meeting the most influential clique on the planet he at least could put some effort into his looks. Navigating around the labyrinthine corridors of the Imperial Palace was something he did unconsciously by now. Moving past beautiful wall carvings, masterly crafted statues and priceless artefacts, the combined history of two millennia, he tried his best at keeping his minds focus away from anything in the past. A strenuous effort yes but for now successful. After all to many minutes he finally reached his destination. The palace was a vast and sprawling monument, almost as expansive as a small city. Its heart however, the rooms and halls from which the world was governed were all located within a single elongated building, sitting at the centre of it all. Here, in its north-eastern corner, a mere ten minute walk from his chambers was the Hall of the Great Council. Passing the guards, who while attentive before now stood straight like stone figures, he entered a circular hall. Light flooded in from the glass ceiling above, illuminating an ancient table made of wood. Surrounding it were carvings of the great rulers of the Second Hegemony, from its founder to Seron himself each lifelike and crafted by Vardanias greatest artists. Seven seats, five of them filled at the moment. The most powerful men in the world, rose and bowed as he passed them. Taking his seat under the grinning visage of Nerva, the empires founder, he let his eyes wander around the table. “You may sit.” It was downright hilarious watching these titans among men scramble like children under his every word. “Now that General Emerion has arrived personally”, he motioned toward a somewhat short, muscular man with a shaved head,“we can finally discuss the recent events. Now General, while your message was quite concerning I would rather hear the full story before taking any action.” Said man rose from his seat again, his armour creaking slightly and his grey travelling cloak shaking, small bits of dust falling off. Small, green eyes peered from what could only be considered an ugly face. Taking a quick look at everyone gathered before finally settling on Seron the bullish man began, his deep voice echoing in the high chamber. “My lord, all reports we received from governor Melios are in fact lies.” “So the Vitrians have not revolted? The city of Onera is not being fought over?”, a higher pitched voice interrupted. Opposite of the general, a man of average height and clad in the finest of cloth had spoken up. His head, framed by a luscious blond hair, was held up by his right hand, a number of rings on each finger. “If you would let him finish you may hear the answer Amarin.” A man looking even older the Seron himself spoke now. Blue eyes flashed from a face covered mostly in white hair, a long beard reaching down to his stomach in stark contrast to the dark blue tunica he wore. “I am merely trying to get answers Menis. Not everyone has as much time as you do. Holding the realms finances in order requires a bit more effort than sitting on your ass looking at dusty old books all day.” “My lords please! This is not the time. As I was...”, a clearly put off Emerion tried to intercede. “How dare you?”, Menis’s face had taken on a dark shade of red. “I won’t let the importance of the realms health be questioned by some impudent, upstart brat that...” Thump The echo of a fist hitting the table echoed throughout the room. Its occupants, three of which had so passionately argued just a second ago, were now stock still, eyes looking toward the head of the table. Seron’s face remained emotionless, yet his eyes held a distinct look of disdain. His fist remained were it had hit the wood, his gaze locked on the others, looking at everyone and yet no one at the same time. He began to speak, voice unnervingly calm. “I distinctly remember calling upon my ministers, not a bunch of children. You may continue now General. There will be no further interruptions.” The bullish man, forehand glistening with a slight sheen of sweat, took a second to gather himself. “Thank you My Lord. Now as I was saying, the governors reports are lies. Onera is not being fought over...It was burned down.” A look of slight shock passed across the gathered peoples faces. “It is not a mere scuffle with an upset rabble like Melios wanted us to believe. The city was conquered, its garrison and populace slaughtered. The group responsible has moved on, several patrols and villages throughout Ikara Province have been attacked.” “By the gods!”, a rasping voice from the tables left called out. A man clad in expensive cloth, his body formed like a wine barrel, to the common people know as Honorian Geloris, Imperial Master of the Fleet, was wringing his hands, his face beginning to go white. “So it is not just a minor annoyance but a...” “An actual rebellion we are dealing with.” Seron finished. He folded his hands in front of his face, looking directly at Emerion now. “Have the provincial regiments been made combat ready?” “That was not possible.”, came the shaky response. Seron’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly. “Why?” “They...eh they have...been destroyed my Lord.” “What?”, came the high pitched question from Honorian, the sound he emitted sounding curiously similar to a pigs squeak. “How is that possible?” “Indeed.”, Amarin’s soft voice joined in. “As far as I know the standard provincial garrison consists of over two thousand soldiers.” “Three thousand five hundred to be exact.” “Three thousand five hundred then. Point being that this should be more than enough troops to deal with a rebellion. While the sacking of Onera is indeed tragic, it was merely a small city in one of the safest provinces of the realm. It couldn’t have held more than a few hundred city guards. A rabble of a few hundred Vitrians could deal with that but would be no match to trained soldiers.” The general looked ever more uncomfortable with each passing second. His eyes moved rapidly, stealing frightened glances at Seron every so often.”Centurion Julian, commanding the 25th Auxilar Regiment thought the same. After hearing the news he lead his troops south from his base in Aetria to end this conflict. He engaged the Vitrians three days north of Onera.” He looked as if he had wanted to say more. Seron’s gaze bore into him. “What happened General.” It wasn’t a question as much as a command. “They were annihilated. Five thousand Feran Cavalry including Julian.” shocked silence from the councillors. Seron however simply remained impassive. “When was this?” “About a week ago.” “And why am I only informed about this now?” his voice held no emotion. It was cold and sharp, steel cutting through their ears. “Because we the messenger couldn’t get through to me until yesterday. Its not only Onera and the surrounding lands. Its the entire coast, from Nikoria to Aetria. The harbours are closed, the roads into Ikara, Mekin and Aetoris Provinces have been blockaded. The Vitrians have slaughtered the garrisons and plundered the weapon storages of Nikoria. At first they came upon us like locusts, strike everywhere at once. Now they have coalesced into a single force. Aetria was simply overrun.” No sound followed. A feather could have dropped and sounded like the heavens thunder. The Great Council of Velaris, ruling body of the greatest empire the world had ever seen was simply overwhelmed by the news. “Do we know how many there are?” a new voice, calm and soft cut through the silence like a knife. The last person at the table had finally spoken. He seemed the same age as Seron, of middling height and lean stature. Grey hair tuning white in some areas, wrinkles framing two friendly blue eyes and a short, crude nose. A grey beard that was finely trimmed completed the picture. Like Emerion he wore leather armour and a cloak, however his was white and marked by a symbol, a black short sword surrounded by a circle of thorns. He now leaned on the table, arms crossed in front of him. His gaze was locked with that of Seron who until now had remained in his previous position. Their faces betrayed little emotion but their eyes told of concern, dread and the memory of darker days. Emerion took a shuddering breath. “The last report spoke of over two-hundred-thousand.”
A small fire in the middle of the woods. Shapes and shadows dancing in its shine. And eyes staring at him. Boring into his soul. Green, grey, yellow and blue. Hateful, sorrowful, utterly desperate and so full of innocence… How much did it cost you Seron? His eyes snapped open once again. His head, until now supported by his hand slowly moving around as he tried to gain his bearings. A hardwood desk, maps and books carelessly strewn about. A barren, unfriendly room. Yes, definitely his chambers. Grey had once again turned to black and the room was illuminated only by a handful of candles placed on the desk in various places and a lamp casting a long, foreboding shadow across the floor. He knew that the last part of his name had not been said by any of them and so wasn’t surprised to find an old man standing in the door. He also knew the look in those blue eyes and answered with a slight glare. A small, almost unnoticeable nod and the conversation was over. The were more important things to discuss after all. “Any changes?” “No. The rebels are still holed up in Aetria. They regularly send out foraging parties but other than that nothing.” The old man had slowly moved into the room while speaking, coming to a stop directly in front of Seron’s desk. Seron merely folded his hands. “They are waiting for the Grain Fleet from Heronia. Two-Hundred-Thousand men want to be fed after all and last years harvest has been sparse at best.” “I have tasked Emerion with the reconquest of the southern roads and recalled Amelian from Tarquinnia. In a few days time we can begin to root out the rebels support network. There is however, still their main army to deal with.” The sound of screeching wood filled the room as Seron stood from his seat and moved toward the rooms large windows. Starring into the night, he remained silent for a moment. “How many Legions can be made ready?” “Six could be mobilized and moved here within the next four weeks. Additionally, five Auxiliar Regiments are stationed around the region.” “Warmaster Godaris.” Said man stood ramrod straight. The Emperors voice, calm throughout their conversation now cut into his ears like steel. “Minister Honorian is to rally the Western Fleet. They will intercept the Grain Fleet and guide them toward a harbour on the Summer Coast. You will take command of a Legion and remain in the south, near Nikoria until I say otherwise. The remaining Legions shall assemble near the city of Fugeris. It is only about a weeks march from there toward Aetria.” Seron hadn’t turned around but Godaris could clearly picture his face. Features like iron, eyes narrowed, a dark glint in their depths. The Emperor’s arms remained at his side, hands balled into fists so tight that Godaris could see the white of their bones shining through. “And notify the Imperial Guard.” Godaris thoughts wandered briefly to those Vitrians in Aetria, probably drunk on their recent successes. He hoped they were praying to whatever gods they held in their hearts. “We will march at noon tomorrow.” For he could hear the God of Death's laughter echo in the darkness. Seron The Red was going to war. Vardania would once again shatter under his step.
The air was filled with smoke and blood and dry winds brought the stench of death. Two vast oceans of man had gathered under an orange sky, the suns last rays slowly fading as the night claimed its rightful place. An even plain was to be the place for the upcoming battle, both sides forming up on its edges, surrounded by the burned remnants of a once luscious forest. One side a sea of sound and colour, men in various types of armour singing and shouting in a hundred different tongues. The other side a wall of silence. Row after row of armoured warriors, stoically watching their counterparts, no shout, no song, no noise. Vardanias Legions, the epitome of discipline. Among them was a group of about twenty riders. Faces hidden by grey metal masks, helmets topped by green plums and a black cloak, one glance was enough to know that these weren’t mere Legionaries. These riders belonged to the Imperial Guard, the elite of the elite, warriors specifically chosen for one purpose: protect the Hegemony’s rulers. And in their midst a tall man on a white horse. Grey armour similar to that of the Guard, a grey cloak and a helmet topped by a purple plum. Seron the Red, a grey spectre in a grey land. Just like old times. Good to be home eh Seron? Taking a deep breath, he couldn’t help but agree with Gordian, whose baritone voice thundered at back of his mind. War, Battle, that was where he excelled. He didn’t enjoy death or slaughter, no that was part of a soldiers duty. It was the freedom, the feeling of being on campaign, the rush of battle, systematically dismantling your enemy. While his features remained emotionless, his eyes held a dark glint in their grey depths. Five months ago the Vitirans had revolted, had dared to attack the nation that so graciously had offered them a home. Seron had shown them how Vardanians dealt with traitors. Had cut off and destroyed their supplies, taken out important or dangerous leaders. When their army had marched from Aetria he had simply withdrawn, fed them rumours and false information, constantly harassed them and let them dance to his every whim. Now they had assembled for the final battle, backed against the coast, tired and starving. They still numbered in excess of Two-Hundred-Thousand, while his own army barely exceeded One-Hundred-Twenty-Thousand. Still, four Legions and five Auxilar Regiments where more than enough to deal with this rabble. Training, discipline and tactics would always triumph over fanaticism and raw numbers. Seron slowly rode forward, coming to a halt a meter in front of his guard. A soldier handed him a cone made of wood, an array of membranes on the inside. A look to the side where General Emerion sat upon a black horse. The General nodded, all preparations were complete. Seron put the cone to his mouth and began to speak, his voice washing over the plain. “Soldiers of the Empire!” Thunder of a hundred thousand feet stomping was his answer. “Look upon the enemy! Those western savages our ancestors welcomed with open arms. Traitors that received our help and only gave bloodshed in return!” Like a rolling wave, a booming sound grew, Legionaries hammering sword against shield. A slow rhythm at first. “They think us weak! They want our our houses, our fields, our cities. Wish to enslave us to their tyrannical gods and oppressive customs!” The thunder grew in intensity with every word he spoke. “Let us give them what they deserve! Let us show them the might of Tarquinnia’s Legions!” A cacophony of sound had risen, drowning out everything except Seron’s voice. “Death to the Traitors! Soldiers of the Empire!” The booming thunder reached its crescendo. Seron took a deep breath and when he spoke his voice washed over the plain like that of a god. “Send them to Oblivion!” The young darkness of the night was ripped apart as thousands of glowing light rushed into the air behind him. Balls of fire flew through the air, a high pitched whistling accompanying them as they descended from their high arc down upon the Vitrian lines. The enemy army was torn apart in a storm of fire, blasts of yellow, orange, red and green flame consuming entire regiments at a time. Explosions threw men into the air, debris cutting through those not taken by the fire. The Vitrians rushed forward for the next wave of death had already risen into the air. A chaotic mass, bellowing war cries as they stormed against the Legions. Horns blared, trumpets sung and the mass of grey moved forward as one. Like a wall of steel, the Legions advanced step by step, longbows and fastbows behind them preparing to fire. Seron looked on as the lines collided, as storms of arrows rose into the sky. Ferans may keep their valour and honour. Vardanias fights with steel and fire. Again it was Gordian who disturbed Seron’s silence. For a moment he revelled in the destruction of the Vitrian dream before another voice cut in, hoarse and dry and about as pleasant as a broken bone. And turn our own land to ash. Still, more pleasant when the enemy isn’t of your kind. Vespasian. He rarely heard him. Maybe because the old man had been similar to Seron, in both attitude and behaviour. Already his mind was drifting into the past again. For a moment the scene before him changed. The Vitrians now in grey armour, marching in disciplined lines, familiar trumpets, fire and death raining from both sides. And in the centre a banner he knew very well, a golden wolf on black, the banner of House Valerian, his family’s banner. A shout from Emerion shook him from his vision. On the right the Legions hadn’t advanced as fast due to uneven terrain and now the Vitrians were menacing the centre’s flank. With a few hand signs Seron ordered a regiment of Imperial Guard to reinforce the position until the right had caught up. An array of flat pipes brought his command to the troops, the extremely high-pitched sound penetrating even the chaos of battle. In a few hours all would be over. He held the centre, competent generals the flanks. The Vitrians were branding against his lines like waves again and again. Storms of arrows and catapult projectiles tore holes into the writhing mass. His cavalry was making its way around the enemy formation. In a large bow they would come around and smash them. A simple but effective manoeuvrer. No need for suicidal charges or duels to the death this time, don’t you agree brother? Seron couldn’t help but chuckle. The arrogance of these rebels! To think they could outsmart and beat him! He had fought a hundred battles by the time they had learned how to stand! A shame most of those were against your own family. Brothers, Uncles, Nephews...How many did you kill? As he listened to Adeon, his silent form watching the carnage, he could not help but think that out of all the many nicknames he held… Bloodfist, Kinslayer, Usurper, Monster, Tyrant, the Red, Ironside. So many and all of them true. ...he despised Last of the Seven Princes the most. He took a deep breath. The air was filled with smoke and blood and the stench of death covered all.
Like thunder rolling across a plain, the heavy step of steel covered feet echoed through the darkness. Where shadows reigned for millennia at a time, fungi and moss crawled across the walls, invading even the tiniest of spaces and in some places even replacing entire sections of slowly decaying, red tinted stone. Whatever manner of creatures called this forsaken place their home, hurriedly scurried away as the light of two torches drew nearer. Three men made their way through moist corridors, passing half rotten doors. Two Imperial Guards, flanking the tall, grey figure of Seron the Red on either side. Silent sentinels, faces hidden behind metal masks. Stopping in front of one of the few solid doors, he motioned for one of the guards to hand him a torch. A single glance from glowering, grey eyes told them all they needed to know. They would wait in the corridor until their Emperor had finished what he had come for. The heavy door swung open, revealing a small cell made of the same red tinted stone. Seron’s eyes moved from one corner, where an old wood bucket released the stench of human faeces to mix with the already rotten air to another where a figure huddled on a wooden bench. “Tell me, in all your dreams and visions where did you see yourself? Ruler of a city? Or maybe commander of one of the great bastions of the west? Perhaps even the Imperial Throne, me beaten at your feet? I am pretty sure none of them showed you this humble abode.” His voice held no mirth despite the mocking words. The figure in the corner rose suddenly and turned toward the light, the chains around his feet rattling all the while slanted blue eyes glared with utter hatred. “I saw us free Kinslayer,” he spat, dirty blonde hair falling over a scared face, yellowish tinted skin drawing tight over the bones. “Free of your Tyranny and the grasp of your rotten city.” “Tyranny...what an ungrateful pack you Vitrians are,” Serons eyes narrowed and in the flickering glow of the torch the harsh features of his face looked all the more inhuman. “We took you in, scrap covered beggars that you were. Shared our food, sheltered you from the horse worshipping savages, gave you the opportunity of a new start, a new life on a prosperous continent.” Each word cut through the stale air like a knife. “Yet all you return are upheaval and rebellion. But it fits. What are you but wild animals after all? Savages that bite the hand that feeds you so graciously.” His answer was a hoarse laughter, a throat straining under the action after weeks without a single spoken word. “We merely exchanged the whip and sword of the Hijin with the chains of Tarquinnia! What are we but the fools working ourselves to death in your Labour Corps, Slaves in everything but name? You cram us into slums, choke every last coin out of us through your taxes. Do not insult me with your mirages. What do you want oh Devourer of Your own Family?” He had probably hoped to gain a sign of weakness, a flinch or something else from his counterpart but instead Seron simply smiled. “Indeed, there is something I want to know from you. Rather a few things. Names of those that aided you in planning this little act of yours.” He could clearly see the disbelief on the Vitrians gaunt face. “You expect me to talk?” he spat, a wide grin exposing brown teeth. “I’d rather burn than expose my comrades.” “Burn? Like all those people you lead toward Aetria?” Seron’s smile widened. A cruel, vicious gesture that visibly put the Vitrian on edge. “I have more than enough of your army’s remnants to question. Sure, it might take longer but I will get what I want.” Seeing Amaric’s defiant gaze his grin widened. “You think they’ll stay true to your cause? We will see how loyal they remain when my armies raze their villages, cut their wife's apart and throw their children into the flames.” His counterpart paled, eyes widening, defiance replaced with dread. Seron simply continued. “One thing you quickly learn in my position is that even the most steadfast and loyal of people will talk once their close ones are threatened. Only one of them needs to talk and give a few names. One of those people will give names as well and so on and so on until I have all the information I need to take out your rebellion with all its roots.” Amaric merely stared at the figure in front of him. This spectre of death, wrapped in shadow and the flickering glow of the torch. “What will you do?” he asked with a strained voice. The memories of that battle returned; the utter carnage that had been wrought that day. Seron’s gaze became unfocussed for a time and when he spoke again it seemed as if his voice was not really there but came from some distant, long lost place. “Gordian would have executed every single one of your warriors, Miera killed every tenth relative to leave a lasting message and Adeon simply put you all into the mines to work yourself to death.” It returned, cold as ice and sharp as steel and Amaric couldn’t help but wince at every utterance. “I won’t do any of these things. Instead I will deport you, your family and all those that live in the three rebelling provinces north of the Northern March.” Amaric’s eyes shot open in utter disbelief. “Into the Far North?” “The weather is getting colder again and food is scarce beyond the March. If hunger does not kill you it will be the savages in their icy marshes. They aren’t picky in what they eat when it comes to surviving up there.” Full of rage, Amaric threw himself toward Seron, the chains holding him in place straining. “You think that will be the end? You will only fuel the fires of rebellion. We will rise again and again until your rotten hegemony is but ashes!” “Then I will destroy them like I did your little revolt. Again and again, until either your kind learns their place...or your people are bled white.” As bright as his rage had burned just a second ago, it now withered under Seron’s iron gaze, grey eyes so utterly inhuman. Amaric could feel his heart squeezed by a fist of ice. He couldn’t believe it. The wild lands of the north...They would never survive out there! His family...His son had just turned three... “If...I gave you a list of names. Would you pardon me and my family?” His voice barely a whisper. Seron merely smiled, grabbed a little booklet that hung on his belt and put it on the bench. A small pen was attached. “Write any name you know into it. My men will take it by tomorrow evening. If what you write is true then your family and you will be freed within a week, I swear it on my name.” He turned around and walked toward the door, heavy steps echoing in the mouldy halls. “Amaric,” said man’s head shot up, eyes focussing on the man standing in the doorway. Seron didn't turn around but Amaric could still see those grey eyes boring into him. “know that those that try to decieve me will wish to receive a sentence as merciful as the northern wasteland.” With that he was gone, the door falling closed with a thundering clank. His room now lit by Seron’s torch, placed into a holder. Amaric could only stare, his face as pale as a corpse. Shadows danced across the walls.
How old is she Seron? Not much older than Metachares was, right? When are you gonna cut her throat? Ignoring the sneering voice of Miera at the back of his mind, Seron gently put another white stone unto the board in front of him. The square board he had placed it on already had over two dozen little stones, some white and others black, put in various positions. At the moment black had surrounded white. If anyone had been witness to this they would have been either amused or flabbergasted. Not at how Seron the Red was being beaten at a game of Ruon, but rather by whom. Opposite of the grey figure, sat a little girl, at best twelve years of age. Soft features and bright grey eyes, framed by long brown hair, she looked utterly misplaced when compared to the tall, iron faced spectre all the world called Emperor. Observing Seron’s move, she simply placed another black stone onto the field, surrounding yet another patch of white. Smiling at the harsh features opposing her she spoke, her melodic voice dancing through the room. “Looks like another win for me. Maybe you should try and practice a bit more Pater.” The mirth in her voice could be seen. A dark chuckle was her answer. “We'll see about that. Want to play another round?” The way her face lit up was all the answer he needed. “Defeat is part of life. Wars aren’t won or lost in a single battle after all.” Her eyes narrowed and Seron couldn’t help but smile slightly. “But what about the Battle of Haridin when Emperor Auron destroyed the Feran Kingdom or the Battle of the Aulian Fields, when the Feran Knights crushed Enlil the Despoiler?” Clever girl. Seron thought and felt a tinge of pride well up within him. She was smart for her age, a lover of history. At the rate she devoured the books in his library she would have nothing to read by the time she turned sixteen. A shame she will never be able to. The thought filled him with dread. On the outside his expression hadn’t changed. “Good thinking.” He began to gather the black stones back to his side of the table. “It all depends on circumstance. A healthy realm won’t break under a single defeat, no matter how devastating. But a weak nation...” “...only needs a single strike. Like a house of cards! Remove one part and it all comes down.” She finished, eyes gleaming at the thought of war and politics. “To defeat your enemy you need to find his weakness, right Pater? It was a word used for every male figure of authority regardless of relation but Seron knew from the was she spoke it that she meant it literal, meant father. Something you aren’t. And looking at your own family that's a good thing wouldn’t you say? As much as he despised her voice, it was the simple truth. Technically she was his granddaughter, the bastard child of his son. Others wouldn’t have spared her another glance but Seron had taken her in. She was family after all. The last of your family. The voice again, this time calming and soothing like his fathers. “Indeed. Know your opponents weakness and you will always have an advantage.” His face didn’t betray his troubled thoughts. They both had taken their stones of the field now. Seron focussed on her eyes, saw the mind behind them working rapidly. A small grin showed on his face. The courtiers called her Serina, seeing as she had inherited most of her self from him rather than his son. Her wit, intelligence, brash nature...really she was a little version of him. And after he had prepared her for nearly a decade she would be a great ruler. But she will never rule the Hegemony. Another truth. Not because she was a girl. Unlike Ferans or Mykarans, Vardanians didn’t care if their leaders were male or female. He had never understood why they put so much weight on it. It was so limiting, so utterly foolish to possibly favour an imbecile just because there was or wasn’t a cock between their legs. No, it is because there won’t be a Hegemony after you. Why did the voices always have to tell the truth? It had been a year since he had crushed the Vitrian Rebellion and deported the survivors beyond the March. On the surface the realm seemed to have calmed, but he wasn’t a fool. Underneath the peaceful veneer there was a smouldering fire. Rebels, traitors all of them waiting for his heart to stop beating. The Hegemony was long past saving. He would not leave her to be ripped apart by savages and usurpers. He wouldn’t fail the last of his family. No he couldn’t! Not like Adeon! Not like Miera! Not like- “Pater!” The voice ripped him from his thoughts. He had sunken into his mind again. Hadn’t noticed his hands grip the table so tight that his nails bore into the wood, the bones white visible. Looking up he saw her leaning over the table, face dripping concern. “Is something wrong?” Her voice was as soft as a kittens fur. She hated to see him sad or angry, would even break into tears when she was younger. A larger smile, a sight so foreign to everybody but her, appeared on his face. As much as she was like him, her compassion came from Lucius, his precious Lucius… “No. Just remembered some nobles annoying me with their senseless squabbles.” He noticed a single white stone on the board. She had waited for him to make a move. “Lets continue. Your defeat is waiting.” It had the desired effect, a small oh so familiar smirk appearing on her face. “Now don’t be so hasty. Older men shouldn’t over exert themselves.” A dry laugh was her answer. Nearly identical smirks on their faces, grey eyes sparkling they began to play. Where was this care when you slit an innocent boys throat Seron? You can’t protect her! Monsters only destroy. No, not this time! Grim determination filled him. Hera, such an old name. Such a proud name. She wouldn’t be another Adeon. If he couldn’t save the Hegemony, he would save her. This time he would put family over power. And yet your name tells of a different story. For you bring only pain, blood and fire. Even to those you claim to care about Last of the Seven Princes.
A piece of wood and metal, decorated in gold and silver. What a pathetic thing to burn a continent over. Letting his eyes wander through the throne room, Seron couldn’t help but agree. Ruling the Hegemony, the known world, a thousand people. The prospect drew the people like moths to the flame. They see the power, the riches, the glory. But not the price you have to pay. As much as he despised her, Miera had always understood what it meant to be a ruler. How truly draining it was. Seron was the perfect example. He appeared a man in his late sixties, a hollow shell of what he had been. Barely fifty-two and yet he already saw the end coming. The Medicae always said that he was as healthy as could be, how he had another thirty years in him. But each new day would proof their words lies. For he could feel his body weakening, his will and energy slowly fading. Consumed by this monstrosity of a realm. Adeon had known. You know it as well as I do Seron! The Hegemony is lost! Not even the gods can save it! The night in the woods re-emerged in his mind. The last time he had spoken to his brother. The last time they had treated each other as family. Before the battle and that fateful duel… His musings where interrupted by the sound of the throne rooms heavy door opening. A man entered. Young, tall and of a broad build. A handsome face framed by short black hair and a trimmed beard. His grey and white tunic was spotless, a small black sword on a circle of thorns sitting above his heart. Seron merely awaited the man’s approach before speaking. “You are lucky that I have not as many duties today, Amelian. Whatever you wish to talk about better be important.” Despite towering over the already imposing figure of Seron, Majorian approached carefully. Halting a few steps away he bowed before speaking, his deep voice muted as if he feared to be heard by others. “Apologizes my Lord, But I felt that this matter was better discussed in a ehm more private environment.” His green eyes talked of respect, even admiration but Seron had long ago learned to peer behind such a veneer. To him the ambition and loathing in their depths was clearly visible. Let the fool think his intentions secret for the time being. On the outside Seron’s expression remained one of disinterest. “Yes, yes, you already told me as much. Now speak what has occupied your mind.” “As Warmaster I have received reports of unusual troop movements. More specifically the 7th and 13th Legion.” The satisfaction he showed when speaking of his new title made Seron want to frown in disgust. Majorian was the type of man who saw titles as ways to power, riches and glory and not the duties they truly were. “Both of these are directly under my command and have been for more than two decades by now. I do not see how my Legions should concern you.” Majorian’s confidence wavered a little, the skin around his nose paling. “Of course not my Lord! I merely wanted to inquire for which reason they are moving into Moira Province. I am still in charge of resource allocation and need to know their specific duties.” “Of course.” Liar. You just want to keep an eye on my personal army. “The recent Vitrian uprising has cause a bit of a stir among other subjects. Moira lies in-between two Feran strongholds. The Legions are merely there to remind them of the fate of traitors.” Seron’s gaze bore into Majorian, the warning hanging clear in the air. Majorian began to speak but the noise of a door opening stopped him in his tracks. On the right side, slightly behind the throne, another entrance had opened. A small brown haired girl entered, followed by the silent figure of an Imperial Guard. Seron turned and with a small smile stepped toward the approaching figure. A raised finger stopped the question from being spoken. “Yes I haven’t forgotten our next game session. I was merely discussing a small matter with Majorian.” Hera pouted at being read so easily and Seron merely smirked a little in response. Turning back toward Majorian, his face once again lost all emotion. “The discussion is now over. I am sure you have duties to attend to.” His voice left no room for arguments. The broad warrior merely nodded and bowed but Seron could clearly see the anger in his eyes. Dismissed for a little girl and addressed without a title, a humiliation to such a proud man as Majorian. A name unfitting for such a waste of air. A true titan once wielded it. But what is left of past glory except ashes and scavengers? Taking Hera’s hand he walked toward the room’s rear entrance. He could feel the Warmasters gaze bore into his back. This little humiliation would only fuel the man’s ambitions. Seron knew that he was planning something but he couldn’t care less. It would take a while till he would be able to act and by then it would all be for naught. Leaving the room Seron cast a glance back, seeing Majorian staring at the throne with clear hunger. Dream of power and glory but all you will gain are the scorched remains of a nation. How fitting. Ashes and ruins, that is all you ever leave behind. Miera was right again, he couldn’t deny that. But looking down upon the little girl skipping merely at his side he knew that this time would be different.
It was nothing personal Seron. I had to do it. You were a threat. You had to be eliminated. I know Miera. I do not fault you for it. I had to do the same after all. What did...NO! You didn’t...You...No...He was just a child… He was a threat. One that had to be eliminated. For peace. Grey eyes shot open. Peering into the darkness of his room, Seron lay still, listening intently for any sound. It hadn’t been the memory that awoke him, he had long since accepted his guilt. Which left a sound from outside as the answer. And Seron had learned early that for people like him, a sound in the night could easily mean death. And indeed there was a slight shuffling on his rooms balcony. His eyes adjusted to the weak moonlight peering into his chamber. There! A shadow stepping across the balcony. Seron’s right hand moved to a small slit in the wall behind him. Carefully gliding along the sharp steel he found the grip and drew the weapon from it. A short blade, not a dagger but shorter than a short-sword. When the shadow finally entered the room, it was greeted with the sight of a wake Seron, standing in front of his bed and watching him. Right food slightly backward, right arm positioned behind his body, obscuring the weapon from his assailants sight. Shoulders slumped, head slightly downward, eyes wide and heavy breaths moving his chest. An old man, a weak man, an easy target. Seron knew it was useless to call for his guards. He would be dead by the time they entered if he couldn’t defend himself. The assassin took the bait. He rapidly moved forward, right hand holding a dagger. Aiming directly for the old man’s heart it shot forward, only to be cracked to the left by the flat side of a blade. His momentum carried him forward and the blow send him stumbling. Seron’s left shot upward, nailing him in the chin. It carried enough force to halt his assailant in his tracks. Confusion and shock clear in the masked man’s eyes. It took him a few seconds to recover. All the time Seron needed to draw his right back into position. It shot forward. “Arrrghhhh!” An ear tearing wail echoed through the room as steel pierced leather, cloth and flesh. The blade was embedded to its hilt in the assassin’s torso. With a thud his body slumped to the floor. A pool of blood began to form under his body, scarlet red staining white marble. The door burst open as his guards rushed in. Starring at the bleeding body to his feet, Seron could only sneer. Someone thought he could gain something by shortening his life. Assassinations had become more and more common. Politicians, generals, governors, no one was safe anymore. Another sign of the decay. “Remove this filth from my room.” The command held a distinct tone of anger. Fools. His death was inevitable. Everyone had to die at some point. But Seron the Red would not fall to some assassin or some arrogant generals ambition. He would die on his own terms! Wouldn’t want to end like your family, would you Seron?
Time does not wait for anyone Seron. Eventually it catches us all. Slowly moving through the dimly lit halls, Seron had to agree with Amelian’s gravely voice echoing in his mind. The last few months had made that clearer than ever. His life was slowly fading from his body. Whoever had send that assassin a month or so ago really had been impatient. A few more months and this problem, known to all the world as Seron the Red, would solve itself. The room around him was mostly empty, a few chests standing to his right. On the outside they looked akin to ordinary storage chests for pottery or the like. Opening one however revealed stacks of books, heavy and old, the covers somewhat damaged. An ordinary sight but worth more than a thousand gold pieces. The rarest and oldest of scriptures gathered over centuries and from all over the world. The Emperor’s library, his library and than only a small part of it. Other chests contained more valuables. Artefacts, weapons, statues and gold. Tons and tons of gold. Waiting to be transported east. This was the last in a long line of transports. Over months he had secretly ferried the largest part of his wealth toward Moira. And a week ago, Hera had followed. He couldn’t help but smile. She had been so disappointed. They shared a birthday. It was a week away and she was adamant about celebrating it with him. Will she love you as much once she knows who you truly are? He scoffed at Miera’s sarcastic question. Of course she wouldn’t. Directing his attention toward the book he had under his right arm a smirk came to his face. “War of the Seven Princes by Darius Kaseidis” it yelled from the cover in gold coloured letters. Truly an impressive accomplishment. The Historian had combed through all the accounts, all the myths and legends already being spun and had compiled an accurate report about this devastating foolishness of his family. It left nothing out, embellished none of them. Other men would have demanded the book destroyed and its author killed. But Seron didn’t care. The world already knew him a monster, so what did it matter if the book told of his crimes? Nothing. Nothing mattered to him any more. Except the little girl currently sitting in Moira under guard of his most trusted and loyal guardsmen. He remembered how confused she was at his goodbye. “Its only for a few months so why are you making such a show out of it.”, she had asked giggling to herself. If only she knew. Putting the book into the chest and closing the lid Seron let a satisfied smile come over his face. “I hope you enjoy your birthday gift little Serina. I hope you aren’t too disappointed with me.” You should count yourself lucky if that is all she feels for you Kinslayer. Its time she sees you for the monster you are. Seron couldn’t help but chuckle. A monster he was. And if he was honest with himself so had they been. His guilt would never overshadow the truth. Monsters and fools, that's what they all had been. Greedy and ambitious, they had torn the world apart. Millions of souls had paid with blood. And in the end, atop a tower of corpses Seron alone had remained. They had brought it upon themselves. A voice he hadn’t heard in years suddenly spoke up. It sounded like him only younger, spiteful, angry and bitter. They all deserved it! All except one. He reminded himself. The image of a ten year old boy flashed through his mind. Blue eyes starring at him in wonder. To the little boy it had been a game. With heavy steps Seron left the room, his mind already returning to darker days. All except one.
The Sky was grey. A single blanket of varying shades, some almost white, others nearly black. From horizon to horizon, unmoved by even the strongest gusts of wind. The city under it as majestic and chaotic as ever and the palace, still an ethereal mosaic of white stone. Seron had not changed in the past two years. At least on the outside. He still towered over most others, his hair was still of a light grey colour. His eyes still held a dark gleam and any man withered under his gaze. To the people of Vardania, Seron remained a grey spectre. Yet behind that appearance is only the hollow remnant of a man. Gordian had never minced his words. One of the many things the common people had liked about him. Seron turned around and walked from the balcony he had been standing on since the early hours of the morning. While moving through his quarters and into the wide halls of the palace he could not help but wonder. When had he accepted the voices in his mind? He couldn’t really remember a specific point. It had happened gradually as the weight of ruling the Hegemony increased so had the frequency of the voices. Miera, Gordian, Amelian, Vespasian, Votarian and Adeon...illusions created from memories and guilt. So many years wasted. So many lives wasted. All for a piece of wood and metal. As much as he despised them in earlier days by now they were almost welcome. At least they kept him company. One by the one the old generation had left the world of the living. Friends, rivals, companions, all those that had lived through the same as he had. Had seen the same horrors and weathered the same storms. One by one they had died and been replaced with young, ignorant fools. Godaris had been the last to go. A few months after the Vitrians had been smashed. His old friend, the man that had accompanied him from the very beginning. Now Majorian wore the white cloak and Seron was alone. A smirk appeared on his face. Majorian was such a fool thinking his little plot had gone unnoticed. Brat would need another forty years to even try and deceive someone like me. The Warmaster, so sure of his own power planned a coup. With two Legions he would enter the capital and either force Seron to abdicate to him or simply kill him and usurp the throne. His gaze moving over now barren halls, Seron’s smirk only grew more vicious. He had no intention of stopping him. When Majorian entered the palace all he found would be dust and dirt. The Emperor’s riches, his artefacts, weapons and books where all in the save hands of his granddaughter. At barely thirteen she was more capable than most of his Ministers and under the care of the few people Seron knew he could trust she would only grow further. Protected by his personal Legions, men that had fought and bled with for more than twenty years. Their loyalty was absolute. Bastard or not they would defend his blood. She had enough wealth power to weather the coming storm. For he knew that the Hegemony was lost. It was a rotten carcass on feet of clay. Perforated by corruption and ambition. The people of the world had enough of Vardanian rule, the Vitirans had only been the beginning. Rebellions and revolts were brewing in all corners of the empire. Generals, their command giving them illusions of grandeur and conquest dreamed of styling themselves ruler. Nobles, governors, senators, plotted and schemed at every opportunity. There wasn’t a week without an assassination. The economy was stagnating, chocked by a bureaucratic malaise that washed most of the money into private pockets. The Empire is dead. It has been since the war. Seron thought with a sneer, his feet guiding him through the vast and empty palace halls. The only reason it hadn’t collapsed was Seron himself. The world feared him, feared the punishment he dealt to anyone going against his will. If the war so long ago hadn’t shattered him...By now he was freely admitting that the Seron returning from the battlefield had been a mere shell. Maybe he could have brought the nation back to its glory days. The days of Julia the Golden. It is pathetic how they celebrate this woman but will curse you. Amelian’s words as always biting and unapologetic. Seron merely huffed in agreement. Julia had been a great ruler, but ruled over a healthy nation at its peak. She merely earned the fruits of her predecessors. Ruling a healthy realm for fifty years was easier than ruling a sick one for five. And he had kept this rotten, maggot infested corpse together for nearly fifteen! It took me nearly fifteen years to figure it out myself. There is no saving it. No salvation for this dying, decaying monstrosity. But Adeon...You knew it back than as well didn’t you? I was just too stubborn, to ambitious to truly recognize it as well. As he entered the larger, more open part of the palace leading up to the throne room, he began to think about the actions he had taken in the past few weeks. One last reminder of why he was so feared, more done out of duty and pride than any real hope of saving his nation. A realm wide purge. Bureaucrats, governors, officers, traders executed by the thousands for corruption. Rebel cells crushed, their members deported beyond the March. He had reminded all those vultures that even a dying Seron was to be feared. A smirk returned, more vicious than ever. His face distorted to an inhuman snarl. Let that foolish Warmaster take the throne! Let him rule over fire and ashes! Pushing the heavy doors of the throne room open, he made his way toward his throne. With a heavy thud he fell into his seat, grey eyes peering into the grey sky. He was tired. So utterly tired. It wasn’t the lack of sleep. He had slept well the past few days, better than ever in fact. And he had dreamed! Of a different world. One in which he had burned and cut the corruption from this nation, had scorched the earth so that Hera could rebuild. His eyes grew heavy. The throne was strangely comfortable. He had dreamed of his son. Oh Lucius, kind, soft-spoken Lucius. He had loved his son dearly. He had never even considered having another child after Lucius died. The thought had filled him with a strange kind of revulsion. The memory of how his family had destroyed themselves and the world always at the back of his mind. Seron sighed. His eyes closed again. Each time it became harder and harder to open them. His mind drifted through the past. He saw the clearing in the forest again. The fire and Adeon sitting and waiting for him. But he wasn’t alone. Miera, beautiful as ever holding little Metachares at the hand. His big blue eyes looking at him with such innocence. He had been ten. It had all been a game to him. Even at the last moment, he had no idea what was happening. His uncle Amelian, a proud man with thinning white hair, eyes boring into his head. Cousin Vespasian, a true scarecrow of a man. Anger, hate and a broken dream in his light blue eyes. Gordian and Eugenius, the brothers whose ambitions had started it all. Votarian with his friendly green eyes. A man of two worlds, never accepted in either. And in the twilight, where the fires light dimmed where many more. Amelian “the Younger”, Octavius, Juliana, Eria and even Lucius! And in the far back he could make out the kind figure of his grandfather. Old Eugeron sat atop a large tree stump, eyes filled with regret at what had become of his family. And then there was Adeon. There was no anger in his eyes, no hate, no resentment. Just sadness. House Valerian, the family that had set the world ablaze. Whose struggle for power and caused so much death and despair. And for what? A piece of wood and steel? Pride? Honour? Ambition or some sense of Duty? By the gods he was tired. His eyes closed again and he could only barely open them this time. A wry chuckle escaped him. Look at this old man talking to ghosts. He thought to himself. His family was still there, waiting for him. Like in so many dreams before he entered the clearing. A smile appeared on Adeons face. You look like shit. Seron simply grinned back. And sat atop his throne, Seron the Red, Tyrant of the Second Tarquinnian Hegemony and Last of the Seven Princes closed his eyes for the final time.