'You wanted me to give You everything I had, and I did. You wanted me to be able to serve as a distraction when matters of state weighed too heavily on Your shoulders, and I did. You wanted me to support You in Your daily duties, and I did. Why have I never received any recognition, not one sign I was doing what You wanted me to do? I would have slaughtered the entire world, Artabanos, if you would only love me."Artabanos grabbed a packet of tissues from the dark oak dressing table inside His bedroom and violently threw it into Richard's teared-up face, whose red cheeks and wet blue eyes no longer even seemed remotely attractive to the Emperor. He was feeling like one of the Inimician Kings of old, who were assassinated, plotted against, by their own lovers and closest advisors. Their plots were sometimes foiled, sometimes successful, but had, whatever their outcome, been the inspiration for many modern-day television dramas. Would there, in five hundred years' time, be a television drama about this? No, there would not be, Artabanos was sure, as this would never reach the outsides of the Palace walls. No one would know. Well, no one except the Barringtons, the Strathclydes, the Cocxes, and all their affiliates. No one except Estelle the housekeeper, who had been most useful and a capital investment by Artabanos two years ago. But they could all be kept quiet, at the right price."So rather than approaching Me and telling Me about all this, you just scurry away in silence, and then plot - nay, actively attempt - to assassinate Me?""You left me no choice."Artabanos had to end this. In a way, He felt sorry for Richard, whose crying was now becoming unbearable. The Imperial Wardens - not the treacherous bunch this time - who had dragged him to Artabanos's room hadn't been very kind, but if Richard had wanted to be treated kindly, he shouldn't have attempted to assassinate the Emperor of Inimicus. The same went for that disgusting figure, Marquis Maximillian de Barrington, who had received an incredibly well-deserved Imperial fist to the Marquesal nose. The other families would receive the same, albeit figuratively. But Richard, well, something very different was waiting for him. Artabanos knelt in front of His former lover, who was sitting, still wailing, on the side of Artabanos's feather bed. "Richard", He began, both genuinely in affection and ironically to seem more in touch, "I won't deny I've been at fault. If only we could understand each other a bit more, and take each other's situations into account. I cannot give you what you want, and you cannot give me fulfilment. We can start improving on this, but only by increased consideration of one another's roles. Will you forgive me?"The Emperor stretched out His arms, and embraced the man He had gone out to see covertly during most nights in June 2015. But Richard would not escape from this hug. Artabanos clutched him in His hands, and did not let go until He heard the snap.
Sir Jonathan looked at his brother, silently gesturing the person with the highest fuction ought to speak here. As such, Maximillian stepped up and spoke: "First of all, David - I think I can call you that, eh - I and my brother Sir Jonathan would like to thank you very warmly for what was an extremely productive and worthwhile meeting. Not only did we discuss and agree upon a set of measures that will enhance the relationship between Kingdom and Empire, but I think we have forged the foundations of friendly understanding that will last well into the future. I have to apologise, by the way, to the UK government, on behalf of My Emperor, for His inability to come Himself today. However, I think that despite this lack of Imperial representation today, we have had a most fruitful and efficient meeting. Not only will the Empire and the UK engage in more and more free trade, but we will also be working together to advance our interests internationally. These are valuable achievements that will strengthen both our nations, and I am proud to have been here on His Imperial Majesty's behalf. I feel this is an evident example of how the Empire is continuing to work with our current and our new partners internationally, despite seeming internal strife. Again, warm thanks to the Number 10 administration for having us."If I'm not mistaken, we'll now have a short playing of our anthems, is that right?", he then said, slightly confused and receiving a nod from Mr Cameron. The three statesmen then formed a neat row and awaited the playing of their anthems. It was then that Max was reminded of the horrible mistake that might have been made in this. And as the first tunes of the Imperial Anthem were set in, his suspicions were confirmed. Oh, the 1700s. A time when states pilfered and plagiarised off of each other, the Inimician Kings being no different. The Imperial Anthem had been shamefully modelled off . . . God Save the King. Max quickly cast a glance at Mr Cameron, who was looking around him in a rather confused state. "Where is the King?", he must've been thinking. This was rather embarrasing.... And moreover, the Marquis wasn't quite sure whether or not this was the right anthem for the occasion: after all, the Emperor was not personally present, and the Imperial Anthem was only played when He was. But then again, Consuls were acting with Imperial Prerogative. But there as no time to think about any of that. Sir Jonathan and Maximillian attempted to laugh the matter off before the British Anthem started playing. The Inimician delegation was most relieved to find that, like the Empire, the Brits operated a dual anthem system, God Save the Queen only being used on Royal Occasions. This made the entire situation just that tad less embarrasing.Having said warm goodbyes and exchanged the necessary laughs with Mr Cameron, the Inimicians embarked on their journey home. Satisfied. No longer hungry. Glad to be the first non-Emperor delegation to have successfully achieved something abroad. Maximillian quietly hoped this would not be the last time.
PART IV - FINALE‘Well, well, well’, Emperor Artabanos said patronisingly, ‘Who do we have here? Ex-Emperor William, again; Mr Carmichael, it’s been a while; ah, and my good yet treacherous friends, Gerard Sergent and Rupert Harrison. Quite the lovely gathering.’‘I wouldn’t be so cheerful, Artie’, William replied, ‘Your reign ends today.’‘And who will succeed me? You? Such a strange thing, an assassinated man as Emperor.’‘Oh, it’s not going to be me’, William said and looked at Benfield, who waved at us childishly.‘Emperor Nicholas, well well’, Artabanos said, ‘You’ll have to manipulate an awful lot of ballot papers to make that a reality.’‘Fortunately, here’s our local expert.’‘I thought you were Republicans anyway.’‘Republic is a relative term.’‘Is it?’I looked at the Emperor, and He looked at me. I wasn’t sure how He could stay this calm under pressure like this. ‘Right’, Benfield started, ‘We’ve got a few things to take care of to ensure the gradual transition of power. First of all, we’re taking you all to a hidden underground location in the east. From there you will all be provided with a guarded internet connection, from which you will continue tweeting, Facebook-ing, broadcasting, and what-have-you. Then, we will announce Artie’s resignation from the office and the total abolition of the Emperorship. The NIC – i.e. you – will then announce yours truly as interim Dictator, or something to that effect anyway.’ A wall of noise erupted from the Councillors, quickly stifled by a pistol shot – which ruined both the already pressing mood and the expensive ceiling fresco. ‘Alrightie?’, William said as if he were addressing a group of primary school children going on a field trip to the science museum. The three “hidden” figures were disguised as arrestees, and bound, bagged, and escorted outside. The doors to the Imperial Palace opened; it felt like every camera in the world was on me, even though I knew any caught footage of this process, if it existed at all, would immediately be wiped.So this was it then. My time in the Palace had been shorter than I could ever have imagined. I knew the closest circles around the Emperor were a treacherous mess of lies and deceit, but I hadn’t expected – and couldn’t have expected – this level of backstage lunacy. I felt my phone vibrate, but as I was bound I asked Jeff Speller to take it from my pocket and Hugh Doyle to read the notification.“It’s all right. Find some place to cover” From Wilfred Cocx.Benfield rushed
to one of the armoured cars, abandoning everyone else. He got behind
the wheel and attempted to kickstart the heavy vehicle. Meanwhile,
the rest of us attempted to turn back inside, but were stopped by two
Wardens who commanded us to walk. Imperial Guard helicopters, five of
them, were circling above the Palace. Three armoured vehicles,
painted black and sporting the Imperial Crest, rolled up the large
Square, almost but not quite guns blazing. More trucks followed the
Saxon Personnel Carriers, hosting more Guardsmen.Without
hesitation, the Wardens sought cover and opened fire on the Guard. I
didn't know what to do: this is why I hadn't joined the army. I an
two of the Barringtons hid under one of the Warden jeeps, all I could
think of was the way in which we were going to cover up this mess.
But Max Barrington made a good point: 'Where is the Emperor?' I
didn't know. I'd lost sight of Him, shamefully enough. If we got out
of this in one piece, but the Emperor didn't, I would never be able
to forgive myself.'Can you see
Him?', I asked, even though I knew the answer. Gunshots were now
heard almost uninterrupted, but I had no way of seeing what was going
on. Before I was able to poke my head out from under the car, though,
I found out the hard way that Benfield was behind the wheel.
Apparently he had finally managed to find the acceleration with his
prosthetic legs, and put the car into motion – I knew his
experiences with fast-moving vehicles, so really didn't want to be
close to him when he was driving one... The Barringtons were lying
parallel to the vehicle's direction of travel, but I wasn't, so in
reflex I shot back across the black tarmac, bringing my head and the
precious brain within to safety. However, in doing so one of my feet
moved backwards as well, and without realising it was on a collision
course with the left rear wheel, I stopped moving.A quick yet
stinging pain was the result. With the car gone, we were also out of
cover, and the Barringtons, showing their true colours, left me and
ran for safety. I saw them limping towards the Guard trucks, but not
before Sir Jonathan suddenly grabbed his knee and fell to the ground.
I was unable to move, my foot crushed and blood seeping out. The
noises around me were unbearable. Guns firing, meh shouting, Max
Barrington screaming and dragging his brother towards two Guardsmen.
We would never be able to cover this up, I thought, before I felt
someone grabbing my hand. Maybe I'd been shot, maybe there was an
afterlife after all and I was being dragged in by the god I'd fought
all my life to disprove the existence of.But no,
fortunately my life's work was still intact, and I saw Emperor
Artabanos – a deity, but an actual one – dragging me off to the
side of the gunfight.'Are
you okay, Sire?''My tie is
creased, for goodness' sake. But I see Benfield messed up your foot
somehow.''It's all right,
Your Majesty.' It wasn't. It was the worst pain I'd ever felt. The
Emperor had saved my life, but He hadn't been able to save my foot.
We were hiding behind a corner of the thick shrubs to the flanks of
the Palace facade. From there, we had a good yet hidden sight of what
was going on. From the Imperial Square reinforcements for both the
Wardens and the Guard were arriving to the fight. The Wardens, who
had been arresting us a few minutes prior, had been driven to the
south side of the Palace, whereas the Guard were advancing to secure
the Palace entrance – and therefore the inside – from the north.Shouts of “All
Enemies of the Emperor Must Die” came closer and closer to His
Majesty and me, although there was no clear party gaining the upper
hand just yet. 'Let's get out of here, Christopher', the Emperor said
as Guardsmen were coming closer.'I can't really
move. You go. You're more important.' Instead of leaving me, though,
Artabanos lifted me up and carried me towards the Guards on His
shoulders. I knew I was considered as having the Emperor's back, but
I never expected that to be this literal.The Emperor put
me down rather violently – although I ought not complain – behind
an Imperial Guard truck. To my surprise, Wilfred Cocx appeared,
wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, and with side-arm in his hand.
'I told you we had this', he said, looking at the firefight a few
metres from us. 'Unfortunately, Benfield's escaped. We've got a
people chasing him but there's little chance.'I could hardly
hear his soft voice over the helicopter noise, gunfire, and shouting.
I'd never thought Cocx was a soldier, let alone a Guard Commander –
that's what his rank indication said. 'Get the Emperor to safety,
Cocx', I told him.'Where do we take
Him to?'He had a point.
The Imperial Palace had many secret exits leading to many tunnels
which in turn led to many mainly underground safehouses outside the
Palace. But with the risk of Wardens still infiltrating the Palace,
sending the Emperor in there was not an option.'Take Him to the
Triclops HQ', I proposed, remembering the heavily-guarded structure
in the secret location just outside Telum.And so it was
that the Emperor was rushed off to an international organisation in
unforseen transport while under fire by His own investigative force.
How it came to this was something I still did not quite fathom. But I
had no time to think about it, as an Imperial Guard medic arrived and
attended to me. 'Cocx', I asked to stop concentrating on the pain,
'What's happened?'Cocx knelt down
next to me, put off his helmet – rather imprudently – and told
me: 'Benfield has the provincial forces of two Terras behind him.
Rita apparently used provincial funds to bribe the Wardens. And John
Jolly has rallied fascists and national socialists throughout the
country. We are, I daresay, on the brink of civil war.''Careful. Check
every corner and do not rush.'Cocx had never
intended to become a soldier, let alone Acting Commander of the
Imperial Guard. And above all, he'd never expected to be liberating
the Imperial Palace from armed rebels. Yet that was what he was
doing. Since the formation of the National Imperial Council, Cocx had
been preparing for an eventuality like this, training and solidifying
his relations with the Guard, assuming near-total control this
seemed to have vacated the Palace to combat the Guard outside. Cocx
had taken a small contingent inside to sweep the capital's most
important building while the other battalions continued the fight
outside. The moment the Guard scouts on top of the Palace reported
the Warden vehicles pulling into the driveway, Cocx's Guard regiments
had scambled and within minutes they had been in position to strike.
The first and foremost priority had been to secure the Emperor and
Consuls, who had all been brought to safety more or less unharmed, so
already the operation had been successful. However, about a dozen
Imperial Councillors were still behind enemy lines, so nothing was
yet finished.When Cocx emerged
from the Palace after a total sweep, though, the gunfire had died
down and no Wardens were in sight. 'They're gone, Sir', a sergent
reported.'Where to? With
what and whom?''More Wardens
vehicles came to pick them up. We've got two choppers tracking their
every move. They've taken a number of hostages and are heading east.''Keep me updated.
Where is the Emperor?''In the building
you wanted us to take him to.'It was time to
address the press and assure the people and the international
community everything was all right. However, before Cocx would walk
over to the array of Nuntius Inimici reporters which was being held
at a safe distance by Teluminan Police, a concerning message came
through on the radio: 'William Jameson is joining with Benfield's
forces in the east, with an army of Kaasian mercenaries. Moreover,
Hugh Doyle has proclaimed himself rightful Emperor in the south,
managing to convince provincial officers and regiments to back him.
Only three provinces and the Capital District are still supporting
the True Lord.'Cocx almost
collapsed. This news endangered the Inimician people, Inimician
society, Inimician status abroad, and maybe most importantly: the
near-finished Inimician nuclear weapons, now in the hands of Nicholas
Benfield, a climate change sceptic with two of Inimicus's wealthiest
provinces behind him.
"well, since being appointed to the position of Secretary of State I have come across some very secret documents which are so secret that they have only been recorded on paper. There is no digital record. Anyway, in the summer of 2015 senior representatives of the Davishirian and Inimican governments met to discuss the possibility of cooperation, notably in the areas of defence. To be even more specific, this discussed the matter of nuclear weapons and whether our nations would be prepared to cooperate with eachother. Now obviously, this discussion must remain top secret and the Prime Minister and I were wondering whether you would be prepared to discuss the possibility of cooperation on the nuclear front again now? Not necessarily on creating a weapon that Davishire would be able to possess and use, but perhaps some kind of nuclear defence agreement."