In the Court of the Ascending God

Callidus Magna sat upon his heavily bejeweled golden throne with the luxurious ermine covered cushion. He did not have to shift and adjust for comfort, although he held a golden scepter in his left hand while his right hand rested motionless on the armrest next to a small ornate table upon which sat his equally elaborate prayer book and a goblet made of platinum. It was here that he held court at all hours of the day and night without cessation unless he was officiating over a religious service. Both high priest and king, Callidus Magna wore the whitest robes imaginable. They were so white as to actually glow, and the lines and creases were so perfect that one might rightly conclude that they would stand on their own if removed without folding or crumpling. Callidus Magna himself appeared to be a man of close to sixty years old, with a head of pure white receding hair that left a perfectly shaped widow’s peak. The wrinkles on his face gave him a decidedly benign appearance, and a beaming smile and irresistible twinkle in his pale sea-green eyes. As one might guess from a man of his unrivaled position Callidus Magna was not alone in this hall. In addition to the courtiers and officials that were needed to run the day today operations of the Fourth Imperium there were hundreds of workmen doing their best to bring life back to what was not long ago close to becoming a crumbling ruin.

A tremendous amount of work was being done to restore the grandeur of the ancient Divine Hall of the Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Imperium Church since the reunification of the Forkanzan Peninsula under the governance of the Fourth Imperium. Artisans from all across the land were brought to the crumbling capital of Gothartus and by force or by the allure of generous payment were set to rebuilding the entire city. Special care was given to the newly reopened temple complex and the palace of the Supreme Pontiff who was now recognized as the Imperator of the Dominion in a dual role never before seen. This joining of the Church and secular governorship made Callidus Magna the most powerful figure in the entire combined history of all of the Imperiums that had spawned from Gothartus, and the power he wielded would not go to waste without the garish embellishments that Callidus Magna felt he so richly deserved. He was already having the historic records rewritten to highlight his ascendency to this lofty position and naturally he would need a throne room befitting his status as a god among devoted mortals.

The grunt work of what was being hailed as “the final restoration” was being done by undead laborers. Once the minions, warriors, and enslaved souls of the undead lords of Gothartus these mindless automatons were tasked with hauling the materials to the worksites, removing debris, and generally tidying up. Untiring and ceaseless in their work these horrors were overseen by even more powerful undead who were in turn reporting to greater and greater entities who long ago had shrugged off the concerns of mere mortals. It was not their natural inclination to care about the beauty of the great city that had long been cast into ruins as they had fought amongst themselves for centuries in battles that resulted in immense destruction but no actual casualties because those involved were dead to begin with. However, Callidus Magna was not going to govern a land of walking corpses who were content with decay and abandonment. Callidus Magna meant to rule over everyone and to that end his capitol, his palace, and his temple would need to be greater and more glorious than any other that fell into his iron grip. Marble was quarried and brought to be finished. Precious metals were mined and rounded up from the spoils of vanquished enemies of the previous years’ worth of fighting. The finest and most rare of lumbers were hunted down and repurposed to fit the needs of the Imperator who now asserted himself as the King of all Kings. Tribute would be demanded and delivered to maintain the indescribable greatness of Gothartus even if it should mean the ruin of his lesser vassals. But the work would continue around the clock and without cessation to bring his vision to fruition.

With the din of the work as a backdrop to all else it was still necessary for Callidus Magna to conduct the business of securing his control over the newly reformed Imperium and setting in motion the ambitious plans he had for expansion. The first order of business would be to ensure that the Forkanzan nobility, who had up until recently ruled their little city-states as kings in their own right, would be properly subservient in how they functioned in their new and greatly lessened roles. All men under arms, be they local militia or hired mercenaries, were now drummed into service as part of the Imperium’s legions. Outdated and somewhat lax rules of military discipline were quickly replaced by a rigid and considerably harsher standard of behavior that many attempted to rebel against. To address this matter the Supreme Pontiff and Imperator of the Dominion had placed in overall command of the legions a person in the rank of “Summa Militum Reginae” to guarantee that the new rules would be followed and that the armed forces of the Imperium would be given a clear and well-defined view of their purpose in the grand scheme of things. The Summa Militum Reginae was the same supernaturally gifted strategist that had overseen the rapid expansion of the city-state of Lombardia which had almost overnight given rise to the Semi dell’Impero, or the seeds of the Imperium. Less than a year later Callidus Magna now ruled, and it was his intention to reward the faithful.

Octavia of Lombardia was the adopted daughter of King Soccorso III and her paler complexion and bright blue eyes betrayed her foreign origins. Her hair was black as a raven’s feathers, and she spoke with no hint of an accent and in a bold tone that encouraged those listening to hear and obey. She openly defied the conventional wisdom that a woman could not hold her own in war and had proven it time and time again in the last year alone. Crowned with the fervent belief that God himself had blessed her with the divine power needed to restore the Imperium to its former glory and to destroy once and for all the enemies that had grown fat and wealthy on the lands once controlled by the Forkanzan nobility, Octavia was determined to claim her destiny as the Queen of Soldiers. It was perfectly within her nature to draw her sword to assert that fact, too.

Callidus Magna had chosen Octavia from before her birth to serve in this role now. The machinations of the Supreme Pontiff and Imperator of the Dominion were without rival. In fact, he had secured the fates of three women that would become the lynchpins of his reign. Currently he had all three of them in his court, but it was to the Queen of Swords, the Summa Militum Reginae, that he now listened to with rapt attention. Seated upon his throne and with the endless hum of workmen all around, he processed Octavia’s every word as she detailed the progress being made in the formation of his legions and that which still remained to be completed. He nodded approvingly as her report ended, and with a grandfatherly smile waved his hand to give her leave to go and continue this most urgent work. As Octavia strode purposely and somehow elegantly from the hall, Callidus Magna could not help but be filled with pride. However, there was more to keeping and gaining power than mere muscle and military might. He would need to keep a firm grip on information as well. What were his nobles up to? What were foreign monarchs doing in reaction to his sudden and unwanted rise to power? For this he turned to yet another of his most trusted and well-regarded councilors, the Regina Speculatores Altissimum, also known as the Queen of Garrotes.

Olana of Avondace wore a dark hooded cloak, beneath which were tight fitting clothing befitting those used by rogues and assassins to avoid making unwanted noise or catching on obstacles to inhibit the wearer’s movements. She had tucked in her pockets a garrote of course, and on her person were secreted a number of stiletto daggers, each coated in a different toxin to accomplish different ends to her victims. As was Octavia, Olana had been chosen from before her birth to serve in this capacity, and she had risen to the occasion like a shadow rises from the streets as the sun sets. She knew everything that happened anywhere in the jurisdiction of the Imperium and her spies abroad kept her well updated on the activities of potential foreign enemies. Her reports were delivered in hushed tones scarcely audible over the crash and hammering of the restorative workers. Far from being distressed by this low volume whisper Callidus Magna merely nodded in agreement with a pleasant smile as the report was delivered before dismissing her in the same manner as he had the Queen of Swords.

The next to step forward and deliver their report was the Quem Summum Crucis, the woman that was the head of all administrative matters for the entire Holy Imperium Church. A devout nun and highly regarded as the Supreme Mother for the Sisterhood of Delilah, the most widely known and recognized religious order in Partum, Ophellia of Trésor wore an exceptionally conservative pure white nun’s habit that covered nearly all of her face except a narrow slit for her eyes. Her only adornment was a simple wooden crucifix on a string of wooden beads. Her report was as bold as that of the Queen of Swords, but nearly as hushed as that given by the Queen of Garrotes. This was precisely what Callidus Magna wanted from the Queen of the Cross, a mix of zealous and pious. The routine day-to-day operations of the Church were going to be crucial to the manipulations of the Imperium and the report given by Ophellia delighted the Supreme Pontiff and Imperator of the Dominion as to the progress that was being made. Callidus Magna had every intention of turning his quest for dominance over all of Partum and beyond into a Holy Crusade and for that the Queen of the Cross had performed stunningly. The tithes that would be collected would be turned into funds to further embellish his capitol, and the fervent fury of the faithful would fuel the conquests of his legions.

Only after hearing from these three, whom Callidus Magna viewed as the most crucial of his operatives and advisors, did the Imperator turn his attention to lesser matters. The first to approach was a creature that made full use of his mystical powers to disguise his true self in this physical world, and today he had a familiar visage to this hallowed court. In the robes of a high-ranking Principale, one of the governing princes of the Church, the creature approached the throne of Callidus Magna with obvious timidity and reverence. This was the lich known as the Patriarch of Fate, the only remaining clerical member of the Diosian Lodge. After the fall of the Third Imperium the Patriarch of Fate had seized control of all Church lands and authority in the sprawling region known collectively as Sikilia. After the Fourth Imperium began to rise the Patriarch of Fate knew the time had come for him to rejoin the Church hierarchy and Callidus Magna had rewarded him with the rank of Principale of Sikilia. As his own title would suggest the Patriarch of Fate had a knack for divination and it was for this reason that Callidus Magna kept this particular lich close as a member of his court.

“My most gracious and holy liege!” declared the Patriarch of Fate as he bowed low to the ground before the Supreme Pontiff and Imperator of the Dominion. “I bring distressing news from the north. I foresee the Green King facing calamity and defeat in the spring!”

Callidus Magna continued to smile and closed his eyes as he nodded his head. “This is acceptable.” He answered solemnly.

Taken aback somewhat the Patriarch replied, “But my lord! If he fails in the north will it not spell doom for us as well?”

Waving his hand dismissively to illustrate his lack of concern Callidus Magna said, “He has done his work. He has accomplished more in the face of impending failure than have the rest of you in the certainty of success. Only he and he alone did as I commanded him to do over a thousand years ago when the last vestiges of the previous imperium collapsed and began to rot in obscurity. Whatever he loses now is not his own, nor is it mine.” Leaning forward and with a grin unsuited to his words the Supreme Pontiff continued, “We must invite warfare between others if we are ourselves to be left alone. In this the Viceroy has excelled beyond measure, and it is to him that you should look for inspiration. Has he not heard my commands and faithfully carried them out without question? So too shall all!”

Sitting back in his throne Callidus Magna allowed a few moments to pass as the Patriarch processed this information. When the Patriarch finally spoke, it was with a renewed spark of subservience. “Are we then to not exact revenge for his defeat?”

Callidus Magna chuckled and shook his head. “He is exacting his own revenge and in his own time. And remember this, my feeble seer of dreams, that the Viceroy harbors more genuine vengeance for the misdeeds of the Diosian Lodge than shall you ever seek to exact from anyone else! Did you not abandon him to defend Karinthia when Geldenreich decided to steal his lands for themselves? Did you not support the Ash King as he ran roughshod over the Viceroy for centuries, reducing him to the rank of errand boy? How little you comprehend of the hatred he has fostered and developed for your treachery and spite! Neither I nor anyone else shall meddle in the storm he creates. Let his thirst be quenched and in due time turned more fully to our advantage. Until then, confine your visions and inquiries to more pressing concerns. Bring me news of the Illyrians and the Torkans.”

Unsure of how to proceed the Patriarch bowed low again and retreated from the hall. The truth of the Supreme Pontiff’s words burned in his mind as the Patriarch of Fate vexed over how best to appease his master. It was difficult enough to serve a god, much less one that was ascending.