“Un-fucking-believable,” Colonel Dagon grunted while staring at the ashen-faced Ensign Balin. “You let him die because you wanted to watch the fireworks show?”
“No,” Balin forced himself not to shout, “you misheard.” He huffed, “he’s passed out in the Break Room. He needs a doctor.”
“Then why is he here?”
Unable to control himself, Balin blurted, “he and his bird freaked in the hospital. Demanded to come here. Thinks he’s being hunted.”
The cousins silently stared at each other, heads tilted at matching angles.
Balin’s shoulders slumped as the weight hit him, “war…” trailing off, his lips slammed shut forming a thin line of regret.
“Get him to the Field Medic,” Dagon ordered. “The Celatrix will relieve you.”
Balin popped to attention, dropped his fists to his sides, and bowed slightly before pounding his fists twice against his thighs, “Aye! Aye! Sir!” He twirled about, marching toward the stairs leading down to the basement floor where the 10-bed Trauma Unit was tucked. Ir rested in a reinforced bunker on a dead-end branch of an emergency tunnel leading from the Templus de Ambros.
Sitting down on the edge of his desk, Colonel Gawain Dagon watched his office door slowly close as his cousin marched down the hall. He reached down with his right hand and pressed a button on the back of the desk. When he heard the familiar click of the latch disengaging and the low rumble of the hidden drawer sliding open, he got off his desk, walked around it and pulled back his chair. Opening the top drawer, he reached inside it, fumbled with a secondary release and then removed a palm-sized leather-bound book imprinted with a gold-inlayed Eye of Mercury. He lifted its embroidered royal blue and white tassel and quickly read the last entry:
[22nd Year of Our Lord Gryphon, Rudolpho Imler, Ides o’Aprilis, 21:45]
The web includes Chief Justice Adonis. The Kaiser cannot accuse him without evidence. The servant boy is being groomed to obtain that evidence. Under the Kaiser’s orders, Adonis will be left in place as Chief Justice: Enemy that we know and all. Who else?
Col. Gai. Dagon
He stared at the empty lines below. Then, scratched:
[1st Year of Our Lord Gyphon, Arceleus Imler, X11 Kalends o’Maius, 06:50]
Adonis had Kaiser Rudolpho Imler murdered. Adonis in custody. Assassin at-large. Bard Fintan also murdered by Assassin. Kaiser Rudolpho interred. Child Heir, Praeceptor Archeleus confirmed. War Cabinet: 0700. Bells: 08:00.
Col. Gai. Dagon
It took a couple tries to get his passdown log back into its cubby. Once he’d secured it, he locked up his office, and then followed in Balin’s footsteps down to the underground passage. Rather than dipping into the Trauma Unit, Dagon quickly walked the length until he came to a chipped beige door with an equally ragged thumbprint scanner. A light, but distinct clack sounded and he pulled on the steel security door. Walking through the door, he glanced at his watch, late. Damn it. His pace quickened as he navigated his way to the Kaiser’s chambers.
The head of Public Works, Craig Archer, stumbled through the War Cabinet’s conference room. Under one arm he carried a bundle of rolled up maps and plans, in his other hand he sloshed a nearly full coffee cup. By the drooping faces and whispered mumblings of the various Advisors, Archer saw that exhaustion was a common factor. He dropped the maps onto the table, sat down the coffee cup, and pulled out his swivel chair.
One-by-one the other Advisors took their places, when all were seated, General Nelson Whistler said, “I call this War Cabinet to order. Do I have a second?”
Standing Archer said, “seconded and so-called,” he unrolled a map of Poterit Don. Using pens notepads and other Advisors’ drink cups to keep the map from rolling up, he pointed to a red X over Avalona, “here was the initial strike.” Moving his finger up to Ambrosia City, he said, “the assassinations of the Kaiser and Bard occurred here and here.” He sat back down, nodded his head toward General Whistler, and then leaned back in his chair. Unless there was some specific question about city’s public works, he’d be a silent observer.
“Until the other generals arrive,” Whistler remarked dryly, “we’ll be unable to give any Force preparedness assessments.”
“What’s the ETA?” Jerry deBoca, the Director of Transportation, asked.
“Varied. Closest is Tomlyn, in Avalona. He’s interrogating a suspect.” Whistler sighed, twisted his pinky ring and then added, “the Oathbreaker Fraunx Adonis.”
A collective sigh broke the silence. And then, Archer said, “he has proof?”
“A witness,” Colonel Dagon answered from the doorway. Nervously standing behind him were Cassie and Archel.
“Who’s the witness,” Louisa Prescott asked. She sat behind a little hand written card she’d made that read: Agriculture and Market.
“I am,” Cassie said from behind Dagon. She peeked around the Merc before stepping into the room.
The half empty conference table reverently stared at the tattered girl wearing Mercury’s Bracelet and Circlet. The testimony of the Messenger was above reproach. Jerry deBoca bowed his head, whispering “Messenger,” to which the Advisors pushed back their chairs and took to their knees.
“Oh,” Archel whispered as he walked up next to her. “Will you all please get up?” Archel asked.
“Sir, I’d introduce your Advisors, but we’re pressed for time.” Dagon said as he escorted Archel to the chair at the head of the conference table. “Until you come of age, you are tasked with learning the Realm. If you have any questions, ask them,” he waved a hand at the table. “In the mean time, they have to debate.”
General Whistler smacked a hand on the table, “there’s nothing to debate. We’re at war.”
“We never received a declaration from the Kaiser…” deBoca said. “Oh, uh, from Kaiser Rudolpho.”
“It doesn’t matter. We have to retaliate,” General Whistler demanded. “We can’t stand idly by. Not now. Look at what they’ve already done. Unchecked? Absolutely not!”
Archel cast Cassie a longing look from the chair that had swallowed him. She shrugged and winked.
“Shall we vote?” Louisa Prescott asked.
Dropping his jaw, General Whistler sat back in his chair. He said, “of course,” picked up his pen and notepad from their position on the spread out map which promptly curled. He quickly scrawled, “WAR,” folded up the paper and slid it right to Archel who stared at it as if it were contagious. Slowly the slips of paper before Archel grew, one part of him thought to grab them, but the reasonable part of him shrunk into the chair and looked for an escape route. Finding none, he closed his eyes, gingerly reached out a hand and dragged the small pile closer. He opened a paper, read, “war,” and dropped it on the table. On the way to opening the second slip, his stomach flipped, real? This. This is unreal. What’s wrong with these people? I’m not whoever they think. I-I I can’t be. It’s too much. He thought of that terrible dream he’d had about being stuck as a griffin. His heart rate increased as he opened another slip with “war” written on it.
The Ambrosian Fields were already filled to capacity when the Templus Bells tolled. The normally frolicking sound of 12,000+ people was eerily silent as they waited. Archel stole a view of the crowd through a backstage curtain. His stomach dropped, and then he retched all over the floor. “I can’t go out there,” he said to Colonel Dagon.
“You have to, Praeceptor,” Dagon answered.
“I can’t,” Archel mumbled as he searched for something to clean up his mess.
“You must,” Dagon insisted. Archel used a towel he’d found to cover his vomit, as he bent to scoop it up, Dagon grabbed him under the arms and swung him away from the offending heap. Kneeling down in front of Archel, Dagon said, “never again. You have a bigger job now.”
“Someone could fall,” Archel pointed out.
“It will be cleaned. This way, milord,” Dagon pointed to the stage stairs where the Advisors were disappearing.
Archel struggled not to run back the way he’d come, so many expectant faces stared at the stage. As he walked to the podium, he fumbled to recall what they’d made him memorize. At the podium, he found a step and a set of note cards with everything written in the same flowing hand of Louisa Prescott. Using the step, he glanced over his shoulder at her and was met with a smile and a nod. Archel nervously flipped through the notes, doing anything he could think of to delay the inevitable. Finally, he put down the papers and said, “I am Kaiser Archeleus Imler. Today, we’re at war.” He glanced back at the Advisors, wondering if they’d be mad if he just told what happened. Sticking to the script, he read the second note card, “we have enemies in custody.” Placing the notes down, he said, “I used to be a servant for Chief Justice Fraunx Adonis. He did this to us,” Archel glanced at Dagon, bit his lip when he saw the disapproving expression, but continued anyway, “I need your help.” He gripped the podium with both hands, “please.” The silence erupted in a righteously enraged roar that bore down on Archel. He stepped back from the podium, walked to Dagon and whispered, “I’m so tired. Can I go to bed now?”
Pointing back to the podium, Dagon smiled sadly, “not just yet, milord.”