Darkness Comes to the Solar Court
Lord Acton left the seat of Zebulon’s power, returning to his family’s city lodgings just outside of the palace, when the royal couple retired to their chambers and took the boy as their guest. Several of his allies and followers left with him, all of them accompanying him to the Acton House. Over the day, a steady flow of callers arrived and left, until the evening when Lord Acton hosted a score of lords at his table for dinner.
Once served, the men sealed the room and the house at Acton’s order. Each man present held forth their hands, making the sign of a pyramid with them. “Masters of the Temple” Acton said, his voice intoning a ritualist’s cadence, “we meet because the Great Design demands our attention. We of the Temple, the true brothers of the Brilliant Ones, must now know that the Usurper’s Master is dead.”
As one, the others responded “The flaw in the Design is repaired.”
“Yet there remains a threat. Ilker’s final student, though a boy, bears the man’s symbol upon his brow. He is not to be dismissed, or underestimated, but treated with the seriousness of a grown man.”
“Yet the Design remains unfulfilled.”
“Masters, now we must decide on what to enact next.” Acton said, and with a wave of his hand the mood shifted and the men relaxed out of their ritualist poses.
A secured servant tended to their wishes for food and drink.
“Lord Acton,” one said, “news of Ilker’s death has indeed moved fast. Already word speeds away to the Sea Princes, to the Legion-Fold Lakes, and one of my sons heard from one of the Sons of Ken that they already knew. That boy’s arrival was no mere fulfillment of a dying man’s wish.”
“All explainable by plain means,” another said, “because as soon as we left court runners and riders and flyers great and small flew away from the Usurper’s seat to all places hither and yon.”
“Ilker’s Peace shall die with Ilker.” Acton said, “The Usurper must know this to be true, so he has to act soon if he wishes some measure of it to remain.”
A third grinned wickedly. “We have an opportunity, masters, one wherein we can regain our former dominion. My spies within the court tell me that the boy intends to seek out the entirety of Ilker’s surviving allies and students, or the heirs thereof, as he did with the Usurper and his whore.”
Acton smiled. “I concur. This boy will lead us to the rest of Ilker’s companions, allowing us to strike them from the Design one by one. I would think that the ostensible reason is to return items of personal value to their former owners, but in fact it is to put this boy on a journey meant to foster his development into Ilker’s true and faithful successor- to recreate our now-deceased foe in a new form. We cannot allow this to happen.”
The other lords at the table paused in their feasting and looked at Acton, stunned.
“Fellow Masters, before the sun rises tomorrow we must move against Zebulon and the boy. Do we not have means available to do this?”
“Hold there,” a fourth said, “for is this not rash action? The boy will be held here for a few days, as the Usurper shall surely seek to assess his late master’s last student for himself, and there is sure to be a state funeral to celebrate Ilker’s death and make orderly the widespread knowledge of that death. If this is to be done, it must be done with precision and accuracy for we shan’t get a second chance.”
“No, think a bit more, fellow master.” Now a fifth spoke up, “We need not succeed in killing either, so long as the Usurper is struck down long enough to remove him and the boy’s flight allows us to track him without error. Only one target actually needs to die, and that’s the Usurper’s daughter.”
The men of the table quickly concurred by nodded ascent.
“Masters,” Acton said, “I think we are agreed on the immediate issue then?”
As one, they acclaimed their consent by a show of hands. Acton then continued: “Then let those with the ears of the disgruntled, degenerate and desperate whisper words into them. Whisper that Old Zebulon intends to marry his daughter to the boy, cementing his hold on the realm past his own days and ensuring that his regime endures also- at their continued expense. Promise them riches and glory as liberators and heroes, and see that foreign treasure fills their purses.”
Already, some of the lords present produced pens and called for paper and ink.
“Then others with the ears of the old houses should warn them of the treachery, and compel them to make ready. Help them put their sons into the watches and stations at the needed times, and their daughters in the beds of unwary allies and minions of the Usurper. Quietly ensure that Solarian gold fills their vaults, so they be able to procure passages fair and foul to see this done.”
More lords now called for ink and paper.
“We perceive the flaw, engage the problem, prompt a reaction- and then enact the solution. Once the Usurper is put down and his ties severed, we let the old houses flood the streets and fields of the realm with the blood of the fools so as to restore order. Their debts to us ensure our continued rule in the manner which we desire. Is this not wisdom?”
As one, the lords said “It is the sublime truth of the universe. The Masters rule, the Servants obey- and none serve best but those unseeing of chains.”