The pacing of this chapter doesn’t fit, but I’m not sure how to make it fit. And the politics in this chapter were also hard to write! This is why I stick to fight scenes and fluff. DX
Okay, back to the other 20 fics I want to write, with priority on the Star Wars prequels and Devil’s Due. And SMDS (new long-term project). And playing through the Doom series.
Chapter 9: The Queen
He stood near the throne, with Akuliina’s other close companions, waiting for the woman of the hour to arrive. Jaesa had nearly arrived late, and was catching her breath over by Pierce. The other members of the Kuati court were scattered throughout the hall, and lit from below in red as they were, he couldn’t help but imagine them all as wicked demons. A ridiculous notion, but secretly he was looking forward to seeing how Akuliina looked.
Vette had been given a holocam and was enjoying it greatly-, though she was grumbling softly about the recording conditions. “I’m getting nothin’. The lights are about all that show up, you guys are just blobs.”
He leaned over her shoulder. “Have you tried increasing the gamma pick-up?”
She batted his hand away. “I’m workin’ on it! Man, if you ever have kids, you’re going to either be a great dad or a really overbearing one.” His spine stiffened, but she couldn’t know. Could she?
Had anyone else noticed his reaction? No, even the nobles he suspected might be Force-sensitive, even Countess Mareet, hadn’t so much as glanced at him or… read his mind, or whatever they did. No, he was wrong again, Jaesa had noticed, and was smirking. His gaze sharpened with a touch of icy glare, and she giggled quietly.
“This place is gonna need redecorating anyway,” Vette rambled on, quietly, so the courtiers standing nearby wouldn’t overhear her conversational chatter. “If Lina decides to move here, I know she’ll like it to look different.”
“It’s rather dreary, even for military architecture,” Quinn agreed, looking about at all the black… and more black… and more black. Even the floors were black carpet. The lights were all red and dim and it was difficult to see to the end of a hallway. Claustrophobic was the word that came to mind. It was much worse than military architecture; barracks might be depressingly austere, but at least you could see in them. “Why do you suppose he designed it like this?”
Vette shrugged; he could see her, at least, in her white vest. Broonmark showed up decently as well. But he and Jaesa and Pierce blended right in, and many of the nobles did as well. A firefight in here would be a nightmare for non-Force-sensitives. “He wanted to be ‘cool’ like an emo teenager, maybe? I bet Lina’s Dark Council friend would love it.” She made a ‘spooky’ face at him. “I mean, this spiky evil throne is super tacky. Or maybe he gets powerrrrr off living in literal darkness like a mynock.”
“I like it,” Jaesa said. “I got to come here a couple days ago. Killed a bunch of his apprentices right here in this room. It was great.”
“Of course you’d like it,” Quinn muttered.
“Don’t make me punch you,” she threatened. “I’m only playing nice because it’s a special occasion.”
“Don’t punch the Commodore,” Vette scolded her. “It’s mean.”
“At least not enough to cause permanent damage,” Pierce said. “Commodore Squishy needs to keep his pretty face, after all.”
“Don’t make me shoot y- put you on report,” Quinn retorted, and Vette giggled. He glanced at the closest courtier, a veiled woman in a hoverchair, but she showed no sign of having overheard their undignified banter. Who was she, anyway, so close to the throne as she was?
<Quiet! Sith approaches!> Broonmark burbled at them.
The great double doors to the throne room slid open before her, and she stepped forward into the escalating anticipation of the court beyond. Like stepping into the krayt’s den, except that she had already killed the dragon and this was now her den. But killing her predecessor had only partially proven her worthiness as ruler, and her youth certainly won her no respect. Conversation stopped as she entered, and she took a moment to look at them, and allow them to look at her. She kept her face coolly, elegantly neutral. This was not the time to gloat. Perhaps when the conference was drawing to a close she would engage in some self-indulgent megalomanaical cackling. Not yet.
Then she strode forward, the skirt of her grey dress snapping about her ankles in a most unfeminine way. A ripple of bowed heads and bended knees preceded her as she made her way boldly towards the throne. Her husband and companions followed suit, as was right and proper.
She stopped right in the centre of the hall, and turned to look about her again, scanning faces for ones she knew. She gestured for the assembly to rise, then looked at two particular nobles. “Emizoe Deespen and Tryterr Coultimm, come here.”
The nobles in question approached her and bowed low. “How may we serve you?” Lady Deespen said. Akuliina raised an eyebrow. “…My lord?”
“Better,” she said. “You may serve me by not resisting.” As if from nowhere, six guards appeared around the two nobles.
“M-my lord! What is the meaning of this!? What have we done?” Lord Coultimm exclaimed as the guards wasted no time in shackling them.
She chuckled. “You really thought you could prop up Kadolan’s last apprentice as the next ruler of Kuat? Even if he wasn’t your puppet, he hardly had the power to take over from me. My apprentice already made short work of him.” She felt rather than saw Jaesa’s grin. She’d felt her apprentice’s satisfaction the moment she entered.
“My lord, this is preposterous!” blustered Lady Deespen. “Where is your proof?”
“First of all, I don’t need proof as Lord of Kuat. But for your peace of mind, my proof comes from my new chancellor,” Akuliina said, striding past them and to the throne, where she stopped next to the veiled woman in the hoverchair. She felt the curiosity of everyone, probing at her, and reveled in the anticipation. “How are you, Feuseldt?”
The woman lifted her veil, revealing braided red hair and a deceptively placid face. “I am well, Lord Akuliina. Neatly done.” Akuliina shrugged. It had hardly been complicated to arrest the two conspirators after hearing her account.
“Feuseldt- Feuseldt Kadolan?” rippled through the crowd.
Feuseldt shook her head. “I am Feuseldt Kuat once again.”
“And in case you missed it, she is my chancellor,” Akuliina said. “Torring, if you have any objections, tell them to my apprentice.” The former chancellor blanched and bowed. Akuliina turned and frowned at her prisoners. “Why are those two still here? Throw them in prison.”
“Y-you turncoat!” cried Lady Deespen. “Feuseldt, you bitch!”
“Bump up Lady Emizoe’s termination by an hour,” Akuliina said casually to Feuseldt, who nodded and made a note on her datapad. As the prisoners were hauled away, the lady struggling still, she turned to the rest of the court with every bit of arrogance she had. “With the opening festivities out of the way, thank you all for answering my summons. I’m disappointed in those who took the day off…” She made no threats; they could wonder and fear as they pleased. She fixed them with a stern look, chin high, arms loose at her sides. “Make no mistake, I am here to stay. Calamit provided stability; Kadolan promised new life. I am both, and I will take Kuat to new heights for the glory of the Empire. Impede me, and you will be removed as swiftly as those two. Work with me, and we shall all prosper.” She finally took her place before the throne, though she didn’t sit in it. It was an ugly throne, not suited to her. She needed a new one, needed to redecorate this room, immediately. Beginning tomorrow, even. “Come before me, house by house, so that I may look upon you and know you.”
As her subjects formed a line, Quinn edge closer to her momentarily. “My lady, how…?” he murmured, his stoic deadpan perfect but his mind roiling with questions.
She smirked a little at him. “I’ll fill you in later, Commodore. But to answer your most pressing question, yes.” Yes, Feuseldt was the right decision… for now.
She’d been cramming economics reports earlier in the day, in a tower of the palace, with only Pierce and Broonmark to guard her door. When she heard Broonmark warble-snarl, she looked up. She had thought no one would find her here, and it didn’t sound like it was Vette or Quinn. “Who is it?” She didn’t feel overt hostility, so she wasn’t completely paying attention. She was finding it hard to concentrate anyway, and was considering blaming it on the baby. Why’d she agreed to continue this pregnancy again?
“Some crippled woman, my lord,” Pierce said through the door. “She’s asking to see you. Demanding, even.”
“I thought I said I’m not to be disturbed. Send her away.”
“Akuliina Volkova!” cried a voice, and Akuliina stiffened momentarily before she sprang to her feet, smacked the door control, and stepped forward, one lightsaber clenched in an angry fist.
“Feuseldt Kadolan,” she growled. “You’ve saved me tracking you down to kill you, at least.”
Evryn’s widow sat in a hoverchair, dressed entirely in indigo blue as the colour of death and mourning on Kuat, with a veil over her head that was cast back to reveal her face. She showed no sign of fear at Akuliina’s anger, which only made her angrier. “I wonder if you injured yourself on purpose so you wouldn’t have to grovel to me for your husband’s crimes. It won’t avail you.”
She reached out to drag Feuseldt from her chair with the Force, but Feuseldt reached out her own hand in a futile, Force-less attempt to stop her. “I was injuring protecting you!”
She stopped. “How’s that?”
“I’ve been working against Evryn since I learned he was trying to kill you. May I tell you the story?”
Akuliina lowered her arm and huffed a pout. “I suppose you may. As swiftly as possible, please.” She stood aside and gestured for Feuseldt to enter the room she’d been reading in, nodded to Pierce, and keyed the door closed and locked.
Feuseldt arranged herself across from the console Akuliina had been reading from, recovering her dignity. Akuliina threw herself down on her own chair and crossed her knees. “Begin.”
“You know the beginning, I think,” her former acquaintance said. “Evryn Kadolan came to me first through you, on behalf of his father.”
“And you married Konris Kadolan.”
“I did. But when Evryn returned a little over three months ago, the first thing he did was dispose of his father. The second thing he did was take me as his wife.”
“And what did that gain him?”
“Control of half the fleet,” Feuseldt said very matter-of-factly. “I thought you knew; I may despise leaving home, but my family is very influential in Kuat’s economy. Captain Lannes, who aided your Commodore, is my cousin.”
“And you control this personally?” Akuliina said. She’d known Feuseldt was important as the eldest daughter of the Kuat clan, she just hadn’t known specifically how. “And ordered them to assist the Commodore when I set my own plan in motion?”
“Precisely,” Feuseldt said, open, guileless.
Akuliina’s golden eyes narrowed. “Evryn said you wished to see me in chains. He made it sound like you were most eager to see me defeated so that you could crow over me.” It was possible he’d been lying to get some sort of reaction from her, he was a good liar… But without even telling her that Feuseldt was the one he was speaking of, even gloating over her ignorance of his wife, what would that accomplish?
“The middle of the story is a little more complicated than the beginning and end,” Feuseldt said, bowing her head. “I supported my husband fully against Calamit. I helped him raise recruits, resources, information. The old man had held Kuat long enough; it was time for someone new, younger, with new vision and energy. Even I could see that, and Evryn was… well, you might know as well. He was so daring, confident, but intelligent – or I thought he was. And then, the same day that he declared his war on Calamit, he attempted to kill you.”
“I vaguely recall that,” Akuliina said sardonically. “So you had nothing to do with that.”
“Not at all. I didn’t even know until a few days later, when his next attempt to kill you failed and he grumbled about it. That was when my opinion of him began to change.”
“So you say,” Akuliina said. “Then what?”
“I was upset, for several reasons. On the one hand, he knew that you would undoubtedly come to kill him someday, possibly even as soon as you knew he was still alive. I didn’t even consider what you might think until I heard him speak of you again. And I don’t think he had a choice in attacking you and Calamit simultaneously, to take you both by surprise. However… since you escaped, he simply brought your wrath down upon himself. He could not hope to replace you to the Dark Council, and I feared he would ruin Kuat in fighting both of you for a prolonged period. He only wanted power; he didn’t care about our world. Not like you do. Any world would have done for him; this was only the one he had the best chance at.”
“You think I care about Kuat?” Akuliina asked curiously.
Feuseldt nodded. “I remember how you spoke as a girl. Surely the short time between then and now has not completely eroded your feelings, despite your apparent disinterest since you left. Not only that, but I still… thought fondly of you, though you may not believe it.”
“Whatever I believe of your feelings pales in comparison to my impatience now,” Akuliina said. “You realize I have other things to do today.” She tapped the console impatiently. If she didn’t have some semblance of a solid plan to bring before the court, they’d reject her as a child as surely as Calamit had.
“Very well. After I learned of your… landing on Myrkr, I began my plan to bring you back. I did ask to see you in chains. I pestered him, claimed I hated you, that I wanted to see you humbled before you were killed.” Akuliina’s nostrils flared slightly. “And it worked, to some extent. He agreed to attempt to capture you and bring you before me, at which point I would have released you.”
Akuliina was silent for a moment, processing what that meant for her history. She and her companions were all in Feuseldt’s debt, but not as much as if her plan had come to its full fruition. “You would have supported me in killing him?”
“Yes. You are distractable, ego-driven, and callous as any other Sith, but in the end he was worse.” Feuseldt offered a wry smile. “For those of us without the Force, we must do what we can to ensure that anything we value survives.”
“So, you save my life by pretending to desire its end, betray the person who ought to be one of your closest allies, and insult me to my face,” Akuliina said. “I like you, and I hate you. I can make use of you, and I don’t trust you farther than you can walk at the moment. How were you injured again?”
“Evryn realized I’d ordered ‘his’ fleet to aid yours, and flung me down a flight of stairs before leaving to fight you.” Feuseldt shrugged. “I got off quite easily, all things considered. He threatened to dispose of me when he returned, but I thought it quite likely that he wouldn’t return.” She leaned forward suddenly with another dry smile. “If you ever marry, Akuliina, never, ever trust your spouse. Even if they’re not Sith.”
Akuliina snorted. “If I marry, Feuseldt. If.”
“In any case, I am getting rid of the Kadolan surname. I have no loyalty to his house, not now that it is defunct, and I’d much rather be Feuseldt Kuat again.”
“As you wish, I don’t care.”
She considered. She couldn’t just dispose of Feuseldt. ‘Pushing her down the stairs and making it look like an accident’ wouldn’t fly. Neither would Feuseldt simply disappearing; she would undoubtedly have left knowledge of her location with someone. Perhaps she was even transmitting her bio data to her base at this moment. Certainly, she could deal with the fallout… but it would be bad to begin her reign this way.
And Feuseldt was clever. She could use someone with the cunning to outsmart her own husband without even the Force. Someone who most people didn’t think much of, someone who could pull strings behind the scenes despite her seclusion.
She swung back to Feuseldt with a devilish grin. “Well, I think I’ve worked out your reward – or punishment, if you like.”
The older woman blinked, trying not to look alarmed. “I await your word, my lord.”
“You will be my chancellor.” Feuseldt’s jaw dropped and she cackled. It was worth it for that reaction.
“M-my lord, I don’t understand.”
Akuliina shrugged. “You don’t have to.” But she could already see Feuseldt thinking out the implications. She was a clever enough woman that if she ever turned on Akuliina, she might see it coming as little as Evryn had. If elimination wasn’t a good option, then keeping her close was. Treat her well enough, give her enough real power in addition to what she already wielded, and she wouldn’t want to betray her. Even though Feuseldt had wished for revolution, she also wished for stability. She didn’t worry about whether Feuseldt would approve of her plans or not. Show enough responsibility, and she’d tag along eagerly enough. They all would.
And the old chancellor might retain some loyalty to Calamit. She didn’t want that. She should probably kill him at some point, in fact.
Feuseldt shook her head. “I don’t suppose I have much of a choice.”
“You always have a choice,” Akuliina said. “However, declining would only make things more difficult for everyone. Accept, and we both benefit.”
“I don’t know how much use I will be. I hate interacting with most people.”
“Do you have to interact with people? Shun the court and become an eccentric surrounded by droids for all I care. But I wouldn’t have made this decision if I thought you would fail.” Idly, she supposed she could have appointed Feuseldt to a job she was completely unqualified for, then kill her for failing, but that would have been stupidly transparent.
Feuseldt straightened in her hoverchair. “In that case, I accept. I’m not completely comfortable with the idea, but I suppose it’s a better fate than being Evryn’s wife.”
“Glad you concur,” Akuliina said sardonically. “Now, I’m trying to figure out who gets priority on reconstruction, post-reconstruction investment, and new contracts. I understand you’ll be biased towards your family, and I am towards mine. I mean besides that. Does Captain Lannes have any preferences?”
“I will ask. Discretely. And I have some observations of my own.” Feuseldt pulled a datapad out of the arm of her hoverchair and began to tap at it. “Before we get too deep into that, however, I have information you may find of value. Do you know Emizoe Deespen and Tryterr Coultimm?”
Meeting the nobles was both tedious and uneasy. Even the ones she’d known before had cautious minds, uncertain what she’d do next. They hadn’t expected her to win, didn’t know what she was like as a ruler.
Except her mother, who should have been perfectly contented with the way things were going, but her mind was clouded, too, and Akuliina couldn’t tell why.
But she smiled at all of them, and let not a hint of her own thoughts break through. Always watching, evaluating, judging which of them would be good allies and advisors and which she could ignore in the future. Which ones would turn on her the fastest.
She spoke first to Morgan Kuat, Feuseldt’s mother, the head of the Kuat clan. They had been third in power after the Volkovs and the Kadolans, even though they were the oldest noble family on the planet. Now they were second, since her mother still controlled the Volkov estates. Still, anyone in power on Kuat would do well to gain their esteem.
Morgan thanked her for not only sparing her daughter, but for elevating her so high as well. She sensed confusion and suspicion in amongst the gratitude, and resolved not to dissipate it. Morgan could underestimate her own daughter all she liked, could believe that Feuseldt and Akuliina were closer than they actually were; it just meant she could be kept easily manipulable. And if it were necessary to reveal the truth one day, then she would. But not yet.
The line of nobles slowly made their way past her, and she heard their names and houses again, putting personalities to the names and faces she’d read about that morning. She stayed out of arm’s reach and wished she’d paid a little more attention to the intricacies of court when she was a teenager. Back then, she’d learned enough to get her way, to have her fun, and only a little more to support her father’s agenda. But it was the same, only larger-scale, wasn’t it? And of course, with no way to mitigate her visibility. She allowed no sign of her doubts to appear in her body, her spirit. There were enough minor Sith around. Besides, she wouldn’t fail.
And then, once she’d learned of all the nobles present, and heard a little of those not present, came one of the more fun parts, where she got to tell them some of her plans. Plans to rebuild what had been lost over the last month of conflict, plans to expand the economy, plans to expand the Empire’s fleets. And to make it autonomous enough that she wouldn’t be too distracted while assisting in the rule of the Empire. And yet not autonomous enough that people could claim she didn’t rule, that she abandoned her duties to subordinates. Managing her estate while quashing a rebellion had been simple enough. Managing a whole planet… not so simple. She would have to delegate well. Feuseldt would have to delegate well.
She was returning to the head of the room when she whirled, lightsabers blazing to life just in time to block a blow from a violet double-bladed saber. She felt surprise roll through her, too rapidly to be checked. “Mother?”
Why now? What was she doing? She was forcing her final confrontation too soon, and then Akuliina would need to find someone to administer her father’s- her estate.
Everyone was watching. They had expected it even less than she had, and they were backing away rapidly – though her companions were edging forward. There was no need. She might not be an expert in politics, but she knew this ground.
Her mother was laughing softly. “I almost had you, darling. You know better than to let your guard down here.”
“You hardly had me,” Akuliina said, contemptuous. “You are no match for me.” She drove Mareet back, not yet striking to kill, but to dominate, intimidate, and her Darkness poured out of her, overpowering her mother’s sense. She hadn’t expected the challenges to her power to come so soon, and from so close. She should have. Her mother was probably trying to sacrifice herself to solidify Akuliina’s position with her court, in addition to forcing her hand in her inheritance. After all, if she could kill her own mother, who else was safe from her?
The lightsaber twirled and shimmered, leaving brilliant trails through the darkness. Akuliina took as wide a stance as she could in her dress, her guard impenetrable, preparing for the inevitable. “If I’m so easy, then destroy me!” her mother cried, breathing hard.
Akuliina set her face, steeling herself, then struck her mother’s guard aside and ran her through to the hilt.
Mareet Volkova made a tiny pained sound from behind locked teeth, dropping her lightsaber and holding her midriff. Akuliina waited a breath more to be certain the fight was gone from her, then dropped to her knees beside her, holding her as she collapsed to the ground, her life ebbing away from her swiftly. “Mother, you fool…”
“No, this is… this is right,” her mother breathed. “Now there will… be no excuses… no distractions – you will be the… Empire’s flame… as you were… born to be.”
Akuliina leaned in very close. “I had wished…” She dropped her voice to a near inaudible whisper. “I wish you could have met… my child.”
A faint smile blossomed on her mother’s lips. “That was… the last thing… that could make… me happy. Rule well, my daughter. Father and I will… watch you.”
Her head fell back, and her Force-sense faded completely.
She needed a moment – only a moment – to compose herself, then turned to the silent observers.
“And now,” she said, with a slightly twisted, triumphant smile, “let us commence the rebirth of Kuat.”
A little over a year later, two ships crouched in a clearing of a forest on a small, unnoteworthy planet. One looked remarkably like the Fury; the Fury II was even faster and fiercer than her predecessor. The other looked like a tub with engines attached.
“You sure about this?” Vette asked doubtfully, cuddling the sleeping infant close to her. She wasn’t a girl anymore, but a young woman, for all that she was blue and had tentacles for hair. “It’s your last chance to change your mind.”
“I’m not changing my mind,” Akuliina, Lord of Kuat, said firmly, squeezing Quinn’s hand reassuringly. “It’s too dangerous to raise her on Kuat or Dromund Kaas. The court at home still hasn’t completely accepted me yet, and there are those on Dromund Kaas who would love to see me fall somehow. I trust you more than anyone else. When it’s time, you can bring her back home.”
“And you promise to visit, right?” Vette said. “I don’t want her thinking I’m her mom somehow.”
“We promise,” Quinn said, his voice almost perfectly steady. “As much as we can without arousing suspicion.”
“Which should be fairly frequent, given my job,” Akuliina said. “Twice a year, probably, as I said before.”
“Well… okay. I don’t know why I let you talk me into this.”
“Because it’s an adventure,” Akuliina said, smiling a trifle smugly. She’d asked Vette nicely, and not really expecting a positive answer: surely, with the Kadolan conflict resolved, she’d wish to return to her friends on Nar Shaddaa. But Vette had been intrigued by the mission as Akuliina had described it. And if she tired of the duty… perhaps by then Akuliina would have found a substitute. “It’s only ten years.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The baby stirred, and Vette bent her head, cooing into her white hair. “It’s okay, Zana, it’s okay. Just saying goodbye to Mommy and Daddy.”
Little Snyezana’s eyes opened, revealing deep blue, and for a moment Akuliina wanted to take her back. Her eyes were just like her father’s. Who knows if they’d stay that way; she was only six months old, but still…
She must stay strong, and turned her attention to Vette. “Take care of her.”
“I will,” Vette said solemnly, and turned away to the little ship she was to live in for the next decade. It looked beat-up and trashy on the outside, but her engines, sensors, and weapons were all state-of-the-art. If anything caught her, it wouldn’t be from lack of preparation.
“Goodbye,” Quinn called, waving to his daughter. She should say something too, she should-
“Goodbye,” she blurted out, and heard Snyezana squeal sleepily, vaguely unhappy at being separated from her mother’s Force-sense. Vette turned one last time and waved Snyezana’s tiny hand at them, then disappeared into the ship.