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Chapter 1

They looked like that forgotten, cryptic symbol from Earth. What was it called, and why couldn’t she remember?

Pallas blinked against the deluge of warm light flooding through the wall of open windows. Dripping in sunlight, her closest friend, her Regent and her rival sat with a forgotten book in hand, watching the two children sleep.

Rival, Pallas let the word roll lazily around her mind’s tongue as she too shifted her gaze from the halo of sunlight glinting off of the Regent’s dark, curly head and back to the sleeping children. A boy and a girl, they lay side by side, curved into each other to form a rudimentary oval…or circle.

Rival. And then the word came to her, or the term, at least.

“Yin and Yang,” she smiled.

“Excuse me?” switching off her book, Alaryce stood to her feet to the rustle of her sweeping maroon gown.

“The children,” remarked Pallas, brushing back a lock of the boy’s blonde hair and smoothing the baby girl’s dark curly locks, “remind me of a very, very ancient symbol: yin and yang. It is a symbol from Earth.”

“What does it mean?”

“Very little to us now, but it once signified the duality of life. Most simply, male-female, light-dark,” good and evil Pallas finished silently, disentangling her finger from her son’s grasp.

“Then it means balance,” The Regent drew a finger across the boy’s face and then looped a finger through her own daughter’s hair. “Like us,” she whispered, but Pallas only shrugged.

“You know, it’s funny,” Alaryce continued sweeping the girl up into her arms, “very funny because you are so much realer than I am. When you think about it, I’m just an imposter.”

“A Regent is not an imposter.”

“An imposter.” Turned away from the natural light streaming through the wall of windows, Alaryce’s incandescent, sea green eyes glowed into the shadows.

“Well then, you are the best Imposter that this stabilizing empire has had in a very long time.”

Alaryce shrugged.

“The best,” Pallas insisted, squeezing her shoulder. “There has been peace without the slightest hint of unrest. The economy has never been stronger nor political freedoms greater.”

“All thanks to you Counselor,” replied Alaryce, rocking the still snoozing heir apparent in the mango glow of early evening.  

“You are well liked. You could announce yourself Empress tomorrow, and no one would protest.”

“An imposter.”

“Even my wisdom has its limits,” sighed Pallas. “Please do explain yourself, Your Excellence.” As a stray breeze toyed with a strand of her platinum blonde hair, the Counselor stood perfectly still, though her halogenic blue eyes shimmered with irony.

She knew the answer. Because we both know that I deserve just as much to sit where you stand, Pallas thought.

“You are right, Counselor. I might as well name myself the Empress of this decaying empire because that is what I am in everything but name. My rule is predicated on an ancient myth. I rule as a Regent because we proffer a fanciful tale that the dead Emperor downstairs only sleeps in suspended animation, and one day he’ll spring up like a May Time Parade to rule again. Meanwhile, it’s up to us, his descendants, to keep his throne toasty warm as ‘Regents.’ It’s all so silly.” All this she cooed in a sing-song melody to her infant.

“If any part of the myths are true,” continued The Regent, “then you and I share similar blood. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t rule and I advise you. Or, that they,” she let her arm sweep across the panoramic picture of mountains and hills surrounding the imperial lands, “shouldn’t rule themselves.”

“What? Democracy? Now that’s a primitive tradition,” scoffed The Counselor.

“What is that?”

“What is what? What is democracy? Surely…”

“No, no. I haven’t suddenly become asinine. I’m talking about that.” Alaryce shifted the weight of her baby to her other arm and pointed down at a gathered dark mass of automobiles just outside the palace walls. “I can’t make it out from here.”

Pushing back the billowing sleeves of her navy blue robe, Pallas said, “One moment, Your Excellence. I will consult the Net for you.” The black metal bands encircling her wrists began to glow as she tugged and pulled on the Threadz of the Net until a flat screen shimmered into being in front of her. Milky at first, the outline of the palace walls began to emerge just as two guards threw open the doors to the hall.

“Your Excellence,” called a man of average height, struggling to straighten out his gray robe and bow to the Regent at the same time. “Your Wisdom,” he said, inclining his head towards the Counselor.

“What is it Scholar Hasriel?” asked Pallas.

“Visitors…a…party from…Sylas,” the scholar managed to squeeze between breaths.

“Is it Kelyn?” asked Alaryce, slipping the heir apparent to the nurse, a young man who had just appeared as if on cue. “Very strange of him to not send a formal request for an audience.”

“It isn’t Kelyn,” Hasriel shook his head.

“Who is it then? And what’s his business?”

“Not yet stated, Your Excellence.”

Pallas’s eyes narrowed, “Now that’s odd, wouldn’t you say?”

Alaryce shrugged. Her ivory and maroon robes swept the cool, golden marble as she sashayed towards the door. “Makes little difference in the end. A boring audience is a boring audience. I’ll receive them in Harmony.”

“How many in the party?” asked Pallas following after in lock step with Scholar Hasriel.

“40,” answered the guard, closing the door behind them.

“41,” Pallas wrinkled her nose. “Keep an eye on them. All of them.”

As per custom, Alaryce and her Counselor kept the party from Sylas waiting. All the while the Regent sat in the smaller thrown to the left of the much larger, perpetually vacant Imperial Thrown. Lazily, Alaryce swiped a finger across the glossy screen of her book, turning the pages with lukewarm interest. Meanwhile, Pallas paced back and forth, attempting to reason the spindly erect hairs on her neck back down to flat, and failing.

“Would you quit pacing, Counselor? You’re making me nervous,” sighed Alaryce.

“I apologize, Your Excellence.”

“I assure you, he’s just here for a usual round of butt licking. Don’t grin; just bear it.” Swipe, another page turned.

“I…suppose you’re right,” Pallas replied, settling into her stance at Alaryce’s right hand. “I suppose…” she began to inflate the lie except at that very moment, the castle itself decided to speak. That is to say, her mortar and stone uttered a trembling groan.

“Earthquake?” Alaryce gripped the sides of her thrown. Overhead, illuminated crystal shook, radiating light across the white marble chamber.

“I doubt it,” hissed Pallas, motioning for the guards to bar the doors. With grim silence, the Regent’s Guard fanned out across Harmony, securing each of the five entryways into the semi-spherical hall. “Where is General Faulk?”

“He is not here, your Wisdom,” replied a rather decorated soldier, his metal armor reflecting rainbows of light from the crystal chandeliers overhead.

Eyes narrowing to slits, Pallas shot back, “Thank you for sharing the patently obvious, Admiral.” Again and again, she attempted to draw on the NET to summon the General, but her encrypted codes would not take.

“And he cannot be reached,” added the Admiral, advancing towards the throne.

“Cannot be reached…” A whisper stealing from dark shadows, obsidian truth began to coalesce.

“Tell me, Counselor,” another step and the Admiral unsheathed his saber, “what good is intelligence without knowledge? Wisdom without foresight?”

“Pallas,” lying in a pile of shattered glass at her feet, Alaryce’s book lay entirely forgotten as the Regent’s voice trembled in a barely audible murmur. “What is happening?”

A python squeezing its coils around already ensnared prey, the twenty members of the Regent’s Guard advanced towards the throne, spears tilted. “This,” answered the Admiral, “is a long-awaited changing of the guard.”

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