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And now for your enjoyment, Fateless by Adam Dreece circa 1996.
Robson fell into the antique chair, his hair flopping over his face, hiding the newly punched hole through his soul. His mind was numbed, his eyes dulled.
The Emperor’s gravelly voice grabbed his attention, “Do you understand, yet?”
Robson stared through his long bangs blankly. The Emperor’s den, the inner sanctum, had turned years of agonizingly built successes into ashes.
Less than twelve minutes ago, Robson had arrived at the doors to the den and was informed that the Emperor awaited him inside. The grand conclusion to his Coup d’Etat. Fearlessly, Robson had entered and asked the guards to wait outside. Now, he felt himself on the precipice of sanity, awaiting a sudden rise of courage or cowardice to determine the ultimate result.
The Emperor stood majestically with his red and black robes flowing in an intangible breeze, his eyes piercing Robson. The gold embroidery seemed alive, shifting when the Emperor stood still. His shoulder length raven’s hair and glowing eyes seemed to reveal a small part of the mystery of how he had ruled for the past four century.
“We are all the children of Fate, but the blessed of us are those that have the sensitivity to hear what she says, and tunes ourselves to the destiny she has for us. Those of us who become avatars of Fate, learn of her will and become her acting hand.”
Robson slowly leaned forward, staring at the ground. Confused, he said, “There is no such thing as Fate…” Robson kept gently shaking his head. He couldn’t believe that the Emperor was anything other than a man.
When Robson grew up in the Andora province, he heard how all people had come from the stars many centuries ago; how they had traveled through Heaven in ships much like those they used today at sea. The literature told of how the differences between the people, their colours and sizes, their abilities and deficiencies, were a result of the Era of Lost Knowledge. In particular an ancient practice called Jenehtics. His parents told him tales of a special clan who lived separated from all others, not out of fear or elitism but out of consideration for all others. A particular tale spoke of a man from this clan who raised an army, who defeated the tyrannical leader, and who established a unified empire. The man had ruled ever since, though was rarely, if ever, seen. Robson kept avoiding the eyes of the thing with its robes flowing that embodied the legend, in hopes of evading its reality.
Suddenly Robson’s eyes filled with certainty. While it was possible, though extremely remote, that this man was that original emperor he did not believe it was possible that he had powers beyond that of the average man. “I can’t believe I was that gullible. The story about living out the centuries, about how I defeated your defences, which rooms I went to first when I entered our humble home as you call it, that was all based on probability and feeding on traditional legends.”
The fire in the Emperor’s eyes dulled slightly. He turned to look at the golden light that poured in from the vaulted ceiling’s skylight. He sighed and bowed his head.
“Yes, of course. I saw it in your eyes. Given the speed with which today has transpired, I couldn’t possibly remember everything I’ve done. So you simply used my own insecurity against me. Your spies could have figured out what I felt were my strengths and my weaknesses. To further your psychological war on me you used your parlour tricks to …”
“Stop,” the Emperor said with a voice that could shape stone. He sighed once again.
“No, I understand now!” Robson yelled, gesturing sharply. “You don’t understand! You tried to simply defeat me with my own mind, but that won’t happen. All this senselessness you spoke of, Fate and your tricks and knowing me for decades, all of it is a desperate attempt to win in the last seconds of battle.”
The Emperor looked through Robson, “Fate is a Mistress that demands little but respect. She will turn on you if you continue down this path. I hear her thoughts already.”
“Your robe, your eyes, this room, all staged for such mind games. You are but a simple, simple man!”
The Emperor was suddenly by his thirty-foot bookcases that lined half of the circular room. Robson was mystified for it seemed that the room moved the Emperor, rather than the Emperor needing to actually exert any action.
“Resorting to more tricks, are you? Admit defeat, simply say you surrender and I will allow you the dignity of your life. You may live in this room with your books for the remainder of your days.”
A book removed itself from its home and floated over to the Emperor, opening itself to the appropriate page. With a nod of approval from the Emperor, it floated towards Robson.
Robson grabbed the book from the air and threw it across the room. “Stop these palour tricks. You are defeated.”
“One of our greatest philosophers once said Ideas are Weapons and should be wielded carefully. You are wielding this idea of yours recklessly and it will soon result in your death,” the Emperor said, trying to sooth the hatching disappointment he felt.
Robson laughed heartily, “The mighty Emperor, ruler for four centuries, a supposed deity among men resorting to empty threats. This is shameful and sad to see.”
Again, the room seemed to fold, and the Emperor now stood about four feet from Robson. “You are correct that there is sadness, but you misunderstand the rest. I am a man, of flesh and blood, but with a mind unlike any other.” The book suddenly sprang back to life and floated over to Robson. “Look at it.”
Defiantly, Robson answered, “Why? You don’t understand, do you? You’ve lost. End this game with your dignity.”
The Emperor’s eyes narrowed. “Look at it ignorant child!” he commanded.
Robson peered at the book, and then at the Emperor. “By not looking at the book, I defeat you. It’s that simple.”
The Emperor replied readily, “If what you see does not convince you of the truth of my words, then I will admit defeat. You have my word.”
After a moment’s hesitation and glances about the room, Robson answered, “Fine. I’ll see whatever challenge you put before me with open eyes and a sharpened mind.” As Robson read the passage, his insecurities melted away and were replaced by an unnerving, unshakable truth. “This… this…”
“This was your plan of attack of my defences this morning. Including the last minute changes you made on the battlefield. You may have noticed that the ink is long dry and that this event only occurred an hour ago. It has been in my den for days, ever since I saw Fate’s will.”
“That’s impossible, this is but another trick!” Robson yelped, stumbling backwards. “This is unlike any paper I’ve ever seen! Someone could have…”
“On the next page you will see the primary points of our conversation. It is Fate’s will that you take her hand, my guidance, and replace me as Emperor. The people need a changed face. Any and all happiness becomes complacency over time, and that complacency becomes irritation of the status quo and a desire for change, no matter how tyrannical.”
Robson’s colour had left him. “Impossible,” he whispered, falling into his seat once again, this time however, it provided no security.
The Emperor pointed at the bookshelves. “Your history, like mine, is documented in this room. Along with hundreds of others. I do not write the books but I am the author. The strongest of Fate’s children are allowed to see her will, to understand her motives, to humbly affect her decisions.” The books seemed to come alive, each showing individuality in their movements.
“My scribes are men of weak but sensitive minds. They hear my thoughts when I need them to. It is their hand that you read, and a reflection of the power of Fate that you feel. It was your destiny to succeed me.”
“You knew exactly how I was attacking you, and yet you did nothing. You allowed me to destroy thousands of lives for nothing. The battles were made just difficult enough not to draw my suspicion. You are insane,” Robson said shaken, as the earlier punched hole through his soul reopen. “You have executed my soul,” he whispered, fumbling out of the chair. His mind was swirling with the sense of insignificance. “I will never join you.”
“Still, you don’t understand. I have ruled for centuries, benevolently. I have led the people from a tyranny and a time of warring nations to a unified people. However that happiness has passed and the people, unknowingly, want a time of strife. You are to be the leader of that strife.”
The sweat from Robson’s face pooled on the floor. “I will not join you. I will not be your puppet of death.”
“You were not to join me, for my time was to be at an end.”
Robson swayed as he stood, dizzy with growing paranoia. “I will rule better than you did, I will rule the people to even greater unity.”
Dozens of books flew from the shelves and piled themselves between the Emperor and Robson. “These are the destinies that you have put into motion, destinies that were to cross your path and ensure only strife while you were to rule. The people’s unconscious desires need to be sated, and their continued evolution ensured.”
A moment of clarity came upon Robson. “Why are you talking as in the past?” he asked.
“Because Fate has revealed to me that I am not yet to be freed.”
The doors of the den opened, startling Robson’s guards who quickly poured into the room. The body of Emperor lay on the floor, his neck broken. Robson’s face carried a weighted smile.
With whispered cheers, Robson’s lieutenant broke rank and asked, “Does the moratorium on harming any of the former Emperor’s aids and staff still stand?”
The new Emperor’s eyes gazed at the troops thoughtfully. “I have learned much while in this room. The aids and staff are gears in the great wheel of the empire, remove them and the machine will soon fall apart. Bring them into the fold, and see how quickly the empire marches on. It has been this way since the dawn of the empire, it will continue this way.
“Lieutenant, bring me the servant, Malen. The rest of you start repairing the defences, we will not celebrate until we are no longer vulnerable to the plots of others. Go.”
“Congratulations, …Emperor,” said Robson’s chief lieutenant as he left.
As Malen got up from his chair, he remembered one final point. “The funeral will be held next week and the integration of the new soldiers with the old will take place starting tomorrow.”
“Excellent, oh, and Malen…”
“Yes, Emperor,” Malen replied, starting at Robson’s sharp eyes.
“The postmortem status report on the breach of our defences was timely and perfect.”