Chief among the Shoal Baronies, Carrigan hangs within the great tapestry as a blue and grey marble, flecked with verdant lowlands and shallow seas. From this bustling world extends the reach of House Celan, an economic hammer to blunt any sword of conquest – as has been proven, time and time again, since the settlement of the world in the mists of antiquity.
However, as with every prize, there stands one poised to play for it. The Baron Celan has made many enemies, scorned trading partners, ousted corporate powers, distant players intending to move into the Shoals – and, as the sun sets on Carrigan, tonight is to be his last.
We do not, however, focus on the Baron, tonight.
We focus instead on his heir.
So it was, as Kye Celan wandered the sprawling gardens of their estate in the golden evening sun, following their usual route along the walls that overlooked the vast city beneath, they felt… nervous.
A sickening, twisting feeling in the depths of their gut, as if they were once again in their years of tutelage and had forgotten to study before an exam. It had been this feeling that had drawn the leporine posthuman from their room into the garden proper in the first place, seeking fresh air and tranquility beneath the guanya trees and roses.
Perhaps, it was also what spurred the scion to bring along their weapon – or perhaps merely contributed to their heightened awareness, realizing nearly immediately that something was wrong as a distant shout sent a flock of catha screeching away into the sky in a flurry of feathers and protest.
Confusion gripped them as their gaze drifted back from the city to the gardens, spotting for the first time one of their father’s guards, orange and silver armor impassive and imposing, making their way down the aisle. Two lances of ferroglass hovered behind their shoulders like the wings of a raptor.
Kye palmed their weapon, the hilt of their blade sprouting holite blooms as the n-link synched.
“Your father…” The man trailed off behind his tri-visored helmet, seemingly trying to think of what to say next. “Requests your presence in the August Theatre.”
“Does he? And why was a guard sent to inform me?”
That damned pause again. “The adjutants are occupied with other matters.”
None of this added up. Nothing was fitting together properly. Kye, sensitive ears picking up the distant sound of shattering glass, sprung into action – just as the guard, clearly prepared for this, open palmed the air in the rabbit’s direction just as Kye hit the ground, coming up with their sword bared. The resultant wave of force tore lilies from their beds, scattering guanya seeds to the wind. Glittering motes of exotic energy drifted in the air around the two as they faced off, faintly glowing eyes meeting impassive visor.
The guard slammed their palms together. Both lances of ferroglass, standing to like guard dogs alerted, shot forwards with blinding speed. With a panicked slice that made the blade sing in resonance Kye brought their blade up, shattering one of the lances as it swooped past, but missing the other, taking a long, bloody gash along their left flank for their trouble.
Pouring more focus into their blade, Kye made a clumsy strike at the guard, only to be rebuffed by an armored forearm plate and backhanded onto the soft grass with a surprising amount of force. Unfortunately, the blow had left the combat-averse scion winded, and at the greatest disadvantage of their life.
The sudden sensation of being crushed gripped Kye as their body was lifted from the grass into the air, exotic force whipping around their body like a silent hurricane. The guard, helmet off, gazed on as they tightened their outstretched grip. Kye knew this guard – one of his father’s personal retinue, a Captain Gaynes.
“My orders were to take you alive, and this I swear I shall.”
The squeeze grew tighter.
Kye’s lungs burned, the pressure having forced whatever air remained within them out – and, as their vision began to swim, the last few thoughts that swam through the murky depths of consciousness were of home, and the stars.
The Count Illor was smiling from ear to ear as the reports came in. The plan had, without even the smallest amount of boasting, gone off perfectly. The elite House troops of House Illor had caught the guards of the Baron unawares, dispatching them and replacing the last shift with their own men without losing a single man. It was a shame about the court adjutant who’d discovered their deception, but… these things simply happened, didn’t they?
Still, as he steepled his fingers and leaned back in his stolen throne, he imagined the Baron’s family kneeled before it, the red and silver crest of House Celan alight. Yes, that would do. That would do nicely. He glanced to his left, at the hawkish man standing rigidly a few steps from the throne.
“Callister. Have the remaining members been found, yet?”
“Yes, my Lord. Master Kye was apprehended by one of their very own protectors in the palatial gardens. One of the few we managed to pay off, if I recall correctly.”
“And the… husband? His whereabouts?”
If a grimace could smile, this expression haunted the crypt that was his steward’s façade. “Dead, my Lord. A nasty business involving the north walls and the sea below.”
“Hm. Break a few eggs, and all that.”
As Count of Olesia, Jayne Illor had long fallen into the long shadow the Barony of Carrigan cast – a founding member of the Shoals Baronies in eons past, the world of Olesia had been in economic freefall for centuries as piracy in the Far Shoals grew rampant, driving trade away into safer seas. Determined, some would say to maddening lengths, to restore the prosperity of his world and lineage, the Count today intended to force legitimacy by the point of a sword.
“My Lord, your guests have arrived.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? Send them in.”
The doors opened, and in walked three pairs of guards – each escorting a bloodied, defeated figure in robes and holite imagery. The Baron, Hallek Celan, his heir Kye, and the Steward, Manche duPasse. The Baron’s consort, Rhys Celan, had… fallen. Quite some distance, if Callister Rhose was to be believed.
“Oh, Hallek. To see you like this breaks my heart.”
The Baron’s bloodstained face darkened, almost to the point of bared teeth. “Treasonous bastard. When the others find out what you’ve done, they’ll-“
“They’ll thank me for, what was it, “ending the influence of the man who would be king”, I believe?”
Hallek Celan, with the dawning horror of a man realizing his own doom, stared up at the sneering despot sitting upon his throne.
“Now, then. Your trial.”
The air in the throne room began to grow stifling, as if the greatest electrical charge in history had begun to build within it. The Count, raising his palms as if moving mountains, slammed them down on the arms of the glass throne with a force that beggared belief – and, in response, reality itself shrieked and folded back.
From the howling madness of the Wild Mesh crawled a pair of error-beasts, gnashing clouds of raw data-holite and arcane ancient knowledge formed into the idea of a beast, vicious and unyielding. The guards – and even Callister Rhose – recoiled slightly as the breaches sealed themselves, every piece of technology in the room reacting to the beasts’ presence.
“These,” The Count said calmly, holding his palms out in reference. “Are to be my Arbiters. I am your judge, and jury, but they,”
He gestured, and the one in his right stepped forward with a horrible gurgling bitcrushed growl.
“Are to be your executioner.”
The Baron attempted to protest, trying to stand – but one of the guards buried a stunstick into his ribs, sending the white-furred posthuman to his knees coughing.
“Piracy has long been rampant within the Baronies,” The Count began, gesturing in great histrionics. “For six centuries the Far Shoals have been plagued, our worlds despoiled, our shipments stolen. Is it not the Baron’s responsibility to oversee his realm?”
Hallek did not rise for the bait, fuming quietly as blood dripped to the lapis tiles below.
“For a man who has consolidated so much, demanded so much authority, you yet shirk this one. For shame, Hallek Celan. But this is not the crime that brought me to your doorstep.”
Jayne Illor stood, arms spread wide. “Hallek Celan was not satisfied with merely the Barony of Carrigan, no. He desired the Shoals, a fiefdom all his own. He funded the pirates to weaken Olesia, to strike Talega until her military relied on you for rations, and to render the Baronies subservient to you, alone.“
The Count had rehearsed this so many times on the journey he couldn’t help but be impressed with his own delivery, so heartfelt and earnest he might be mistaken for a true patriot fighting for a state he believed in. Might.
“That’s all lies, you sack of shit! You think these people are stupid? You think I’m stupid? You’ll be killed for this!”
Kye tensed, hoping that something, anything would be said in opposition. Nothing came.
The Count turned to his steward, ignoring the Baron entirely. “What say you in the matter? As a part of my jury, what verdict do you pass along for treason against the Baronies?”
“Death, my liege.”
“Hm. And you, Captain Gaynes?”
The man holding Kye stiffened. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was an arrest, not an execution. “I… do not know, my liege.”
“So it is settled. I, Count Jayne Illor, hereby sentence the Baron of Carrigan, Hallek Celan, and his steward, Manche duPasse, to death. So it is written, so it shall be.”
With passive disinterest the Count ordered the error-beasts forward, both descending upon the two men like a swarm of Victrian skin-cleavers. It was an over in a single, horrible instant – neither man was armed, nor were they shielded. They lasted no time at all.
As the error-beasts returned to their posts, the Count could hardly contain his glee. “It is a grand day, Kye Celan – to witness such an august and just ruler ascend to their throne. Long have you prepared for this… and long shall you still.”
The Count stood, gesturing to the guards to clean up the mess and to bring Kye to their feet, wracked with sobs.
“I hereby proclaim myself and my house as the sole rulers of the Barony of Carrigan, and hereby… remove, House Celan, from it. The line ends today.”
In a flash, despair turned to rage – and, if Captain Gaynes had not stopped them, Kye too would have died that day.
“My liege,” The Captain interjected. “It would be… prudent, to not kill the heir. The other baronies may object, and damage your claim, here. To have killed an aspiring tyrant is one thing, but to replace him in that, as well…”
Captain Gaynes shared a look with the scion, trying his best to will the heir to be quiet. It appeared his intent was, at the very least, acknowledged.
“Hm. You may be right. Callister?”
The Steward, squinting at the two of them on the dais below, shook his head. “I do not believe it wise, my liege. While politically savvy, it may… lead to trouble.”
“Trouble I can handle,” Jayne Illor scoffed. “Your plea is heard and granted, Captain Gaynes. Lord Kye Celan, you are hereby expelled from Carrigan, and shall you return you shall be sentenced as your fathers were. Leave this world, and do not return. Such is my edict, and such shall it be carried out.”
Fury in their eyes, Kye did not break eye contact until the doors to the throne room hissed shut.
There was silence in the vast hallway as they were led through the palace, unfamiliar guards cleaning up blood and shattered furniture and bagging things Kye didn’t want to think about, until finally they emerged into the cool, night air of Carrigan, the vast landing yards of the Autumn House sprawling out before them.
Kye paused in their thoughts, looking back slightly. Gaynes, helmet removed, had the absolute gall to look apologetic. “I… I had no idea any of that would happen. We were told… told it was an arrest. Nothing more.”
“You lay with vipers, Captain.” Kye hissed, shock having finally abated enough for the pain in their flank to burn through. “A shame you escaped its venom, today.”
Gaynes, turmoil falling away behind a stoic mask, simply looked out over the landing yards towards a distant pad, lit up beneath the stars. “Pad 6D. Light-skipper, helmed by an Orold Uves. It’s under orders to take you as far as Jhut, and from there…”
He shook his head.
“A word of advice, Master Celan.”
The guard, reaching behind himself, unsheathed Kye’s sword, handing it over to the shocked scion.
“Few things you can trust in this universe. A blade is one of them. Trust it with your life, and it will save yours, and end those you despise most.”
With that, he touched the reinforced collar of his suit, sliding his helmet back into place – and left the stunned scion staring down at the brass-and-blue blade, reflecting the stars and their tears back at them.
Carrigan fell away, gossamer threads of star-sails pulling the light-skipper skywards. Orold Uves was an unbound, housed in a marble and gold statue of a body adorned with a solid onyx death mask. Evidently, it was something indicative of whatever culture it hailed from – Kye simply found the rictus it displayed unsettling. Still, as the light-skipper rode the currents away from Carrigan into the great Tides of infraspace, they kept returning to their blade, chipped and worn from years of barely any use, reflecting their face – and reminding them of their father, hands up to protect himself as the horror descended upon him.
A sharp prick brought their attention back to the present, as they’d clenched so hard the blade had bitten their palms.
One day they’d return to Carrigan.
One day, they’d topple the Count Illor.
Beyond the windows, the distant disc of Carrigan faded away as Orold Uves slipped the ship into the in-between nothing of the Tide.