Empress Nykostra sat on the huge marble throne that was built to a scale that would have been too large even if she were an adult. She hated the monster seat, as she called it, but tradition dictated that she sit on the throne whenever she directed official Empire business. The heads of the nine Kastra of the Empire stood in a line before her. They were all elderly males, white of hair and long of tooth. She hated them. They were wrinkled, old and smelled stuffy and foul.
Several of them had issued orders to kill her in the short time since she had taken over the throne. They had successfully butchered her mother and half her immediate family. To say she despised them was an understatement. She loathed them on the same level that one reserves for only the most despicable and lowly insect. All her life she hated koichs, the black, hard-shelled insects found wherever food was stored. She hated stepping on them in the dark and hearing them scraping around on the floors of the castle at night. These Kastra Lords reminded her of koichs. They scurried around behind her back and squeaked orders that had on more than one occasion led to a physical attack on her.
The last attack was nearly a harvest ago and she had killed the assassin with his own poison tipped falchion. So offended by the attack was she, that she sent the man’s head back to the Kastra with a warning that if it happened again, she would personally behead every adult male in that Kastra’s ruling family.
Votainions respected bloodletting more than any form of law or verbal agreement. Now that she was big enough to successfully swing a blade, she did not hesitate to do it. She was known as the Blood Empress but only out of earshot. It started with the first attempt on her throne by the Soothsayers. When she had suddenly and without mercy lopped off the head of the Kwizarra Lonn, they immediately stopped whispering into her ears and kept their distance.
It was long known that the Soothsayers, with their witchcraft and magic had influenced many generations of Emperors and Empresses. None of the former leaders had stood up to the Soothsayers for fear of upsetting the prophecies that guided the Empire ever since its founding nearly three thousand years before.
But Nykostra did not believe in the same fates as her ancestors. She had her own ideas about how the Empire would grow and what her role would be. She had sent Lord Kantor on his mission to the far side of the Empire to find the origin planet. He had succeeded in his mission, despite failing to return. She believed beyond a doubt that the enemy’s home world was the planet of origin of her people. The legends she read as a child and still believed in with all her heart were in fact true. Now she would send her armadas into battle to retake that home world and reclaim it as the one true home world of the Votainions.
“Leaders of the Nine Kastra, hear me clearly. We shall mobilize our forces on a scale never before attempted. We shall follow the river of stars to the enemy’s home and destroy them all. When we have cleansed the planet of their disease, I shall transfer the throne and rule for the first time from our one true home world – Kerra-jorro.”
The Kastra leaders mumbled to themselves and shook their bearded faces. They clearly did not agree with her plan. She stood up quickly and screamed at the top of her lungs. The high-pitched screeching caused all of the men to stop talking abruptly and look at her. Some probably thought she was being stabbed in the back. They were soon disappointed when she stopped and drew her red blade.
“Let any man who opposes me step forward now and strike me down!”
There were no takers. The youngest Kastra leader was well into his eighties and none of them could match her youthful energy. Her dark eyes swept over their heads as if she were trying to find the one she wanted to separate from its body.
“This Empire will be fully engaged in this mission until we have met my objective. I will no longer tolerate infighting amongst the Kastra. If it takes until I’m as old and fragile as you all, then so be it.”
A Soothsayer stepped out of the antechamber beside the throne. Nykostra whirled with her falchion pointing to the man’s head. He was bald and his skin was a deep, blue-gray shade that was nearly black. Heavy set eyes and a large, smooth forehead framed an indifferent face.
“It is my duty to inform you of the eventual failure of your mission, my Empress. We have searched the possible futures and can find only one, long and bloody path forward. That path leads to the end of the Empire itself.”
More unrest from the elderly House leaders, they all trusted the Soothsayer implicitly, especially the new Kwizarra Lonn. Nykostra looked at the Soothsayer with disgust. She could easily lop off his head with one quick slash. But that would not win the confidence of the Kastra leaders. What she needed was to prove to them that Kantor really did find Kerra-jorro.
The Empress lowered her falchion to her side and stepped off the dais of her throne. The adult Kastra leaders loomed over her like great, snowcapped trees. She breezed past them in her modest silken robes. They turned to face her as she strode up to a communications station and started punching the controls that were too high for her to reach comfortably.
A blue and white hologram of a planet appeared in the center of the room. The Kastra leaders watched it with suspicion. Slowly they surrounded the transparent image.
Nykostra pointed to the planet with her falchion.
“Behold, Kerra-jorro. This image was sent to us before we lost contact with Kantor’s warship. She pressed a button and the clouds were stripped away. There was a mountain range across the northern hemisphere. She traced the image in the air with the tip of her falchion.
“These mountains are remarkably similar to the ones here on Voton; this peak in particular. The hologram changed again, fluttering as it morphed into the topographic relief map of the mountain where Kantor died.
“In a cave, at this peak, Lord Kantor found evidence of our ancestors.”
The men seemed unconvinced. They waited patiently for her to provide further evidence that what they were looking at was in fact the legendary birthplace of their people.
Nykostra’s thin blue lips parted in a wicked little grin. It made her elfin face seem mature beyond her years.
“Behold the legend of the Origins, as told by our ancestors, light years from here on our home world. Kerra-jorro,” she said.
The image changed again to a scan of the ancient cave paintings that Kantor captured and sent back to the ship before he died. It was a long mural that she rotated in front of the Kastra leaders. The faded images were outlined in red to clarify what they were. The minute they saw the outlines, the leaders began whispering amongst themselves.
The Kwizarra Lonn stayed on the dais; his eyes flashed blue with the flickering light of the hologram. She could tell he was not prepared to counter visual evidence. He was probably trying desperately to peer into the minds of the weakest leaders and fill them with fear and doubt.
“The invasion must not be delayed further. I want the armadas moving into enemy space now. We are going to take back our heritage. We are going home.”
The leaders all nodded their approval. She put her falchion back in the sheath at her waist, turned off the holo-projector and walked to the center of the room. They moved to surround her but she was not on her guard. She didn’t have to be. She had their loyalty. Not only for this mission, but for every mission the Empire would embark upon for the next thousand years.
In Book 2, The Rising, we will continue Nykostra’s story. She will grow into adulthood and write her name into the history books as one of the most powerful leaders of the Votainion Empire. We will also continue with Devon Ardel’s story as she transitions from being a pilot leader into a starship captain. But perhaps the most important story in book two will be about the fate of the sentient androids known as Silicants.
Look for The Rising, Book 2 of the Star Saga late 2013.