Prologue: To Vega
Krosil knew what to expect and shouldn’t have been surprised at the ice unexpectedly congealing around his spine. Bertran had told him several times what this meant, and how he should react. But he had never guessed it would happen so soon.
He stood up and took a deep breath, aware of the eyes of his captains, still bent over the maps but silently awaiting his words. Placing his hands squarely on the table, he forced his face into a calm expression.
“King Bertran has just been murdered,” he said. The honest shock and chagrin on the faces of his captains heartened him somewhat. Not everyone had betrayed his king. “He was on Vega. Have the Wendigo troops take the planet immediately. No one gets off the planet, understand?”
His voice was harsher than usual, but he couldn’t help it. Many of the men stationed by Vega weren’t entirely loyal to Mammon and would certainly accept bribes to let people slip by. But the thought of Bertran’s killer getting away chilled his heart.
“Get another fleet ready,” he added. “We’ll kill anyone who gets past the first ring. But I want Adrian alive.”
The men nodded and rushed out of the room as he collapsed and rested his head in his hands. Bertran. Dead. It didn’t seem real. But there was no denying the chill in his bones that Bertran said would accompany his death. Now he had to keep the system together until the legislature chose a new king. Or queen, he considered, his mind inevitably drawn to the woman currently occupying Bertran’s chambers, Bertran’s lover and an exceptionally strong woman. There wasn’t any chance of her becoming queen, though. She had the spirit for it, but not the royal blood. He was the natural choice for king but he didn’t especially want the title. He was Bertran’s nephew but they had never publicized the relationship, so perhaps he could avoid the responsibilities for a little bit by pretending he didn’t know his relationship. The legislature would want to find the king’s nephew, since everyone knew he had one, before they picked someone else. He had time before announcing his presence and taking the throne. And maybe there would be a queen at his side, he considered, his mind still on the woman nearby. She needed to be told of the death and he winced as that responsibility fell to him. He checked his weapons and adjusted his mask as he slowly made his way towards Bertran’s chambers.
Ultia had been staying with Bertran after her own army had turned against her and she was severely injured, but she could still do a lot of damage if she wanted, and she was bound to be upset by news of the death. She and Bertran had been having an affair since long before the king had been engaged to Sabine, and he hated having to be the one to tell her of her lover’s fate.
He chided himself for slowing down as he reached the door. She wasn’t going to react well, but she shouldn’t be able to kill him. She could barely walk and was still recovering. He took a deep breath and knocked. There was no reply. He knocked again, and let himself in. His heart skipped a beat. Shards of glass scattered the windowsill and the room was empty. He rushed to the window and scanned the area. The ground was only a half-story down and she must have jumped, but she had been injured in her escape from Calib and shouldn’t be putting her body under that much stress.
As he raced back to the hangar to alert the guards to her disappearance, he silently sighed in relief. It was just as well that he didn’t have to be in the same room as Ultia when she discovered that Bertran had been killed. No one in a hundred-meter radius would be safe. A chill ran down his spine as he imagined what she would think when she learned of Bertran’s death later. She might blame him and return to Lavos just to kill him. He shivered and shook away the thought as he reached the airdock and slowly scanned the area.
He should have drilled his people better. Several appeared to have no clue where they were supposed to go. He slid into his scout and signaled the pilot to launch while he sat by the main terminal and keyed in the different flight patterns for the trip to Vega. Normally he would pilot himself, but right now his attention was needed elsewhere and it wasn’t unusual to have others do the flying while their commander worked.
It was vital that Adrian didn’t know they were coming. Vega didn’t have much of an army and the number of ships in the area was restricted, but the traders stationed there wouldn’t be friendly to a takeover and might fight back. And if Adrian found out how quickly Mammon was going to respond, he might get away. His eye caught one scout drifting off course as his fleet took to space and got into formation. He checked the ship a little closer. It was headed towards Calib and would have gone unnoticed in the chaos if he hadn’t been looking for it. Ultia had timed her escape well.