CONTENT WARNING: This post contains a depiction of graphic violence.
The Royal Palace
1 Palace Square
6 February 2024
7:04 PM Tavari Mainland Time (UTC -8:00)
“Good evening, Tevri.” The Emperor smiled warmly at the Marshall posted at the door of the state apartments, clad in that elegant, silver-trimmed, midnight purple dress uniform that denoted the Royal Honour Guard of the Royal Tavari Marshalls. The soldier dutifully opened the door as the monarch approached, just as he always did, in a perfect fluid motion so tastefully executed that Otan almost didn’t notice that the Marshall did not reply.
That was unusual.
Still, it wasn’t as though Tevri were required to answer. Otan hadn’t issued him an order. Perhaps Tevri was not actually having a good evening. He was an orc too, after all. Otan didn’t make anything of it.
“Good evening, Mantova.” The Marshall on the other side of the door nodded to him, but she didn’t answer either. She remained standing ramrod straight, jaw firmly shut, eyes looking straight ahead—as if the Emperor were not even there.
“Good evening, Emperor.” At the other end of the room, another Marshall seemed to pick up on the awkwardness. One didn’t typically speak to the Emperor before he spoke to you, and this was a Marshall that Otan didn’t recognize. That wasn’t unusual—duty postings changed all the time—but there was clearly something going on.
“Good evening, soldier.” The Emperor warmly greeted the new Marshall, who was waiting at the door to his bedroom. There were still a few memos Otan wanted to catch up on, so rather than his bedroom, Otan made his way toward his private study. Strangest of all was the fact that there wasn’t a Marshall posted at the door to his study but a black-suited palace valet, a member of the civilian support staff. The Monarch was typically attended to by the Honour Guard in the state apartments, with the civilian staff posted elsewhere in the palace. But the valet, Otan recalled as he got a closer look at him, was one of the ones assigned to the staff of the Shrinemaster of the Royal Shrines. Which was to say, the King Emeritus.
Otan had been hoping this could wait until tomorrow.
“Good evening, father,” Otan called out before even seeing him. Leave it to the King Emeritus to waltz into the monarch’s private study as if he owned the place.
“Good evening, my son.” Zaram Nuvo Šolosar’s voice was unusually quiet.
Otan sighed. “I know why you’re here, let’s just get it over with. I’m sure you’re not happy with-”
The former King Zaram V walked out of the royal study with skin the approximate colour and pallor of dead grass and a mouth that was a thin, straight line. It was as though he had aged twenty years in the past day. Apparently he hadn’t been looking forward to this either.
“You have committed a grave error, Emperor.” Otan’s father did not, apparently, see any benefit in mincing words. “You don’t understand what it is that you’ve just done.”
Otan rolled his eyes. “I joined the Prime Minister and the Matron in singing a song.”
“You are the King of All Tavaris-”
“I am the King of Tavaris, and I am the Emperor of the Tavari. I sang a song that means something to millions of Tavari people. For hundreds of years, people like you told the Akronists they weren’t allowed to sing their song because they think that Akronists ought to just shut up and go away-”
The sickly yellow-green of Zaram’s face was replaced in a single moment with blazing crimson, and his weariness replaced with rage. “A MONARCH DOES NOT SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM OF A FOREIGN COUNTRY, OTAN. I TAUGHT YOU THAT WHEN YOU WERE BLOODY TWELVE.” A vein pulsed in the King Emeritus’ neck, but he forced himself to lower his voice. “You… you… it doesn’t matter if it’s Acronis or bloody Tretrid, I don’t care who it is. A monarch does not sing a foreign anthem, does not salute a foreign flag, and does not bow to a foreign head of state. You aren’t the President of some two-tani republic. You are Tavaris. Tavaris does not sing the songs of other countries. And more importantly, Otan, do you know what else you are?”
Otan did not answer. He was well aware his father was about to answer his own question.
“You are the Spiritual Head of the Tavat Avati Shrine Association, the closest thing that exists to a leader of the Tavat Avati faith, you are the descendant of the man who wrote the Tavat Avati, and, not to mention, YOU ARE THE SPIRITS-DAMNED CHIEF OF LINE NUVO! YOU ARE THE PINNACLE OF THE LINE SYSTEM. FOR TWO THOUSAND BLOODY YEARS THE TAVARI PEOPLE HAVE DIVIDED THEMSELVES INTO CLANS WE CALL LINES. IT IS WHAT DEFINES BEING TAVARI. IT’S HOW OUR BLOODY DEMOCRACY WORKS. THE LINES ARE QUITE LITERALLY THE UNDERLYING STRUCTURAL FOUNDATION OF TAVARI SOCIETY. BEFORE THERE WAS AN EMPEROR, BEFORE THERE WAS A KING, BEFORE THERE WAS A CONSTITUTION, BEFORE THERE WAS A TAVARIS, THERE WERE CHIEFS AND THERE WERE LINES. AND YOU—YOU—ARE THE ONE WHO IS CHARGED WITH KEEPING THEM. YOU ARE THE LAST CHIEF. YOU ARE THE CHIEF. AND YOU JUST STOOD IN FRONT OF MILLIONS OF TAVARI PEOPLE AND TOLD THEM THERE ARE NO LINES BUT AKRONA.”
This, rather than the sickly pallor of dying suburban lawns, was what Otan had been expecting from his father. His father was actually quite fond of yelling, truth be told, and quite fond of expecting that his son bend the knee once the volume rose. But Otan was indeed the Emperor, and he was done with the likes of this.
“Lower your voice before your Chief, Mister Nuvo Šolosar.” Otan’s voice shook with far more rage than he had intended it to. His father responded as though he had been punched in the gut.
“Don’t be petulant.” Zaram was bearing his tusks.
“I will not be spoken to in the manner in which you are speaking. I am the Emperor, and you are here in this house on my gracious invitation. I should have listened to Žarís. I never should have let you come back here. A bigot like you, just waltzing into my private office, presuming you can shout me down about protocol or optics-”
“OPTICS? OPTICS? YOU THINK THIS IS ABOUT OPTICS? HAVE YOU LISTENED TO ANYTHING I HAVE JUST SAID?”
“THERE ARE PEOPLE IN PACKILVANIA WHO LISTENED TO WHAT YOU JUST SAID SINCE YOU WON’T STOP SHOUTING,” the Emperor bellowed.
The vein in Zaram’s neck pulsed again, and he scowled so deeply that for a moment Otan thought his father might actually be having some sort of spasm, but eventually the King Emeritus finally managed to speak again. His entire body trembled as he forced out the words “Please forgive me, your Esteemed Majesty.”
“I do not.”
“You petulant child. You really don’t understand what you’ve done. You really think this is about… bigots. You really think you can just… make it all go away, don’t you? Just wave your magic wand, sing a little song, and then all of a sudden everything’s perfect and no one hates Akronists anymore. You… you… this isn’t just… This isn’t the same as a platitude like saying ‘Akronists belong’ or ‘Akronists are Tavari, too.’ You, the Emperor, the head of the Tavari state, just got up in front of all those people and sang that there is no line-”
“The lyric is ‘we have no line but Akrona,’ not ‘there is no line but Akrona.’ I did not get up in front of millions of people and call for the end of the Tavari Line system, and no one with a functioning brain stem thinks so. There are, indeed, millions of Tavari Akronists who agree with the sentiment “we have no line but Akrona,” which is clearly a statement about Akronists in particular, of which I am not one, also something no one with a brain would think. I, the Tavari head of state, joined my Prime Minister and the leader of the religion followed by nearly half of my country’s population, in singing a song that speaks about how Akronists view themselves. It is people like you, who insist that real Tavari people are defined by their line, who insist that all Tavari must be defined by their line, who are the problem. I refuse to let this be blown out of proportion. I trust the intelligence of the Tavari people. No one in their right mind-”
“Otan. What about the people who aren’t in their right mind? Did that thought ever occur to you?” Something had changed in his father’s voice, Otan noticed. The rage had broken, and the trembling had ceased. Zaram’s shoulders had drooped, and suddenly he seemed so much smaller. The anger had given way to something else. Fear.
“What, you think someone’s gonna shoot me because I sang a song?”
“Otan, do you remember two years ago, when there were buildings blowing up every week? Do you remember two years ago when we almost fought a civil war?” Zaram’s lip quivered. “Oh, Otan. I… I shouldn’t have… I should have done this differently. I’m sorry I shouted at you, my son. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But you don’t… you really don’t understand. You really…” He sighed bitterly. “You’re young. I was too, once. I… I… You…” He choked up, and only then was it truly apparent to Otan just how affected his father was. He could count the number of times he had seen his father cry on one hand. “Yes, Otan. I do think someone will try to shoot you because you sang this particular song. I… you trust people. Of course you do. What a noble thing. It… it didn’t even occur to you, did it?”
There was a hotness on his face that made Otan feel small and stupid. “I suppose I considered the threat minimal.” It was much easier to stand against his father when he was being irrational and bigoted. But his father had remembered himself now, and now Otan did too. His father was right, of course. It made him feel sick.
“My son. My beautiful son. You… you think I’m a bigot. You think I hate Akronists. But I am… I’m not even close. I’m not in the same ballpark. I’m not even in the same sport, son. You have no idea the depths of evil that exist in the hearts of millions, millions of Tavari… I wish you would understand… I… Do you know what? You were right earlier. This is about optics. This is about symbolism. You’re a symbol. I taught you that. You know that. Your job is to be a symbol. The symbol of Tavaris, the symbol of the Tavari people, the Tavari culture… of Tavari unity. That matters to people. Every Tavari person owns a little part of you. You belong to them. That’s what being the K- the Emperor means. Each and every Tavari person owns a little share of you, because each and every one of them have the right to see themselves in you. You have to represent all the Tavari people, all the time. And, my son…” The King Emeritus sighed. “I… of course it isn’t fair, of course I understand why you felt that it was right to… to give this to the Akronists, I guess. You wanted to show the Akronists that you are their Emperor, too. But, Otan… you are also the Emperor of the nationalists. By singing a hymn today, you gave a few million people the warm fuzzies in their hearts for a few minutes. But most of those people live in another country now, and by singing that hymn—not just any hymn, but the most reprehensible, most repulsive, most enraging hymn in the entire Akronist hymnal, you deeply offended millions of your own citizens. You’re the unifier. All you did today was… divide.”
“For hundreds of years, Akronist Tavari have had to sit by and just accept that their government doesn’t care about their wants or needs and that, though they were technically allowed to be Akronist, they had to accept that their state followed the Tavat Avati faith, and that they lived in an Avatidar society, and that they really ought to just be happy they were allowed to be there at all. And here, just once, just this one time, the Tavari monarch sang an Akronist song, did something for the Akronists. Just once. And I am told that that is too much. Not just too much, but an urth-shattering, devastating apocalypse that has destroyed the fabric of Tavari society forever, because the Tavari monarch did something that was just for the Akronists one single time.” Otan’s voice was much smaller now, but he refused to be cowed completely.
“We aren’t ready, Otan. We aren’t ready.” Zaram was crying. “I’m so sorry. I feel… so sickened. So ashamed. What a disgusting society we are. You… you’re right! You’re right, Otan! It’s terrible! It’s unfair! But we aren’t ready! It isn’t the monarch’s job to make us ready. I… in the Division Crisis, after the Prime Minister laid into me, I let her put all those pendants in the windows, I went to that temple for Vana Dandreal to yell at me, I let her have the Court put out statements ‘welcoming the full moon’ or whatever… And do you have any idea how many death threats I got? I got! Me! For being too welcoming of Akronists! Do you… do you have any idea what this stun- I mean what this is going to lead to? You’ll have to wear a bulletproof vest! Maybe even for the rest of your life, Otan!”
“You know, father, I was in the military. Every single solitary day, from approximately February 20th, 2008 until December 5th, 2020, I went to work prepared to lay down my life for my country. Not to be haughty, but arguably more than any Tavari monarch since Melora II, I understand that my life doesn’t belong to me. I put my life on the line for Tavaris every day for more than 12 years. I’d do it any day. I would do anything for Tavaris. I would kill myself if that’s what Tavaris needed. I am not afraid of bulletproof vests or bullets.”
“Of course.” Zaram stared at his feet and watched his tears fall down onto them.
“I will review my security protocols. I will have my staff pay close attention to the incoming mail. And… I don’t know, perhaps I’ll visit the Shrine of National Heroes. Give something to the nationalists. Sure, it’ll piss off the Akronists… and the Banians… and the Xoigovoi, the Vonatani, the Ekvatori, the Cescolians, the Balistrians, probably even the Rodokans…” He sighed. “Everything I do will be opposed by someone, why is it that it is only when Avatidari are upset that it matters?” Otan crossed his arms and stared at his father, but his father would only look at his feet. “No! I want an answer! Why is it that I simply must listen to the angriest, most hateful of the nationalists, but angry Akronists are expected to just shut up and deal with it? How many death threats did you get because you interrupted a religious ceremony to tell the Matron of the Church of Akrona she had no right to mourn Shano Tuvria? Did you wear a bulletproof vest and go around moping and handing concessions to militant Akronists after that?”
“I abdicated in shame and moved into my brother’s basement in Dravai,” answered Zaram flatly. “Where it seems you think I ought to return.”
“Oh, don’t give me that. Don’t be all wounded. You came in here shouting at me, calling me young and naive and stupid-”
“I didn’t call you any of those things! Well, only one of those things!” Otan’s father, still with streaming eyes, tore his face back up to plead with his son. “You… I’m afraid! I’m so afraid of what’s about to happen! You’ve torn the social fabric, son! You ripped it up and spat on it, because you think that it’s old and needs to be replaced, and yes, there are millions who agree with you, but there are millions who don’t! I… being a Nuvo matters to me! It means something to me, that I can trace my ancestry all the way back, to those same people who laid down the first paving stones in Nuvrenon, who spent their days building boats to cross the Strait of Kings and sail all across the world, following the stars in the sky… When Akronists go around singing that ‘we have no line but Akrona,’ it… it makes me feel as though I shouldn’t be proud of my line. As though lines are… obsolete, and ought to be left behind in the dustbin of history. That I should want to abandon my identity and pick up this new one, because my old one is wrong. It was hurtful to watch you sing that song! You know that? It really stung to watch you stand up there and so happily sing of abandoning everything we have held dear, our entire collective history, to follow this one particular religion that I don’t ascribe to. And, you know… Akronists have a history of going around and telling other people they ought to change their religion. You decry Avatidar bigotry, but seem to ask all of us to simply set aside what we know of what Akronists and Akronism have done all around the world-”
“Oh, spirits take me now, are you really going to ‘but what about’ this? I… I can’t take any more of this. We clearly aren’t going to agree on anything here, so why don’t you just leave?”
The King Emeritus sniffed unceremoniously. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll just leave.” The former King of All Tavaris, still crying, still slouching, and once again that same, sickly colour of dying yellow-green, shuffled sadly out of the state apartments, followed by his silent valet who looked as though he might actually burst into tears.
There was a moment of heavy silence, and then the Emperor sighed. “Tevri? Call Hendrik for me, won’t you please?” The truth was, Otan had no idea what continent his husband was currently on. He could be somewhere else in the Palace—it was a cavernous building, Otan himself still found himself lost in it on occasion, and he grew up in it—or he could be in Yasteria. He certainly hoped he was close by—his heart hurt, and he was suddenly so, so very tired. With a sigh, Otan forced himself to walk to his desk, sit down, and attempt to look at the memo on his desk about Metrati Anar self-governance. He had almost made it through a paragraph when he realised Tevri hadn’t answered him. “Tevri?”
A shadow blocked the light in the office door frame, and Otan looked over to see the Marshall standing in it with an unmistakable scowl on his face. “You should have listened to your father. He was very reasonable.”
The Emperor’s blood ran cold, and suddenly it occurred to him that, while the Royal Tavari Armed Forces was well-known to attract nationalists, there was one branch that was especially known for its right-wing bent: the Royal Tavari Marshalls. The very same branch responsible for his own security.
“I have been very stupid,” the Emperor said aloud as he slipped a hand under his desk and pressed the panic button.
“Yes. Yes, you have.” Tevri took one step forward but still remained squarely between the Emperor and the only exit from the room. “If I was your father, I’d have beaten your arse bloody and then broken your damn jaw so you could never speak with that mouth again. Oh, and I disabled the alarm to your little-”
Tevri had, apparently, expected the Emperor to cower in fear, as evidenced by his total surprise at the Emperor’s fist making contact with his face. “I’d like to see you try,” said Otan as his fist shattered the Marshall’s jaw. The truth was, however, that Otan was surprised too. He didn’t even remember getting out of his chair or running up to the Marshall, or even thinking about doing anything at all. He was just… there, all of a sudden. His chest was heaving, his heart pounded in his ears, and behind it there was a dull, terrible ringing. He had trained for something like this for years, of course. In his training drills, he had always felt confident, proud, even excited. Nothing got the blood pumping like close quarters combat. But in the moment, all he felt was all-consuming, manic fear. A blood-curdling scream broke out as Tevri involuntarily lifted up his hands to cradle what remained of his jaw and the teeth and blood that were cascading out of it. When he did, Otan saw the gun in the Marshall’s holster, and he saw his hands move to grab it.
Time slowed, and it felt like moving through water. Someone was moving Otan’s hands. Someone was pulling the trigger. Someone had just shot and killed the Marshall who had proudly and happily served in the state apartments for Otan’s entire tenure on the throne. It certainly couldn’t have been Otan doing those things, since he was busy watching himself, looking down at his hands making all those eerie, fluid, machine-like motions.
Outside the room there were two terrible sounds, the unmistakable cataclysmic noise of the exchange of gunfire. It was only then that Otan snapped back into reality. Suddenly, everything was chaos. Everything was screaming, everything was ringing, his ears hurt, his face hurt, there was blood everywhere. He was drowning in blood. Everything was pain, he couldn’t look at anything, he couldn’t see anything. Everything was moving. Everything was heavy. There were footfalls somewhere, they sounded like they were avnai away and they sounded like they were on top of him. Weakly, Otan went to turn and noticed that he wasn’t standing anymore. When had he fallen? Why couldn’t he see anything? It took a moment for Otan to realise he couldn’t see anything because there was something blocking his face. It was Tevri. Tevri had fallen forward onto him and pushed him down onto the floor.
Weakly, and yet with all his might, Otan tried to shove the body away from him, but his body didn’t want to listen to him. There was only ringing, there was only chaos, there was only fear. The Emperor did not even see the other Marshall burst into the room, himself bleeding from his own bullet wound, himself blinded by chaos. The Marshall saw the bodies move just slightly and couldn’t be sure. Was the Emperor alive? Was the assassin? The soldier only had one choice, the choice he had been trained to make his whole career. In that fraction of a second, the Marshall lifted his gun and pulled the trigger. He couldn’t have known that it would be precisely then that the Emperor moved, pushing the body on top of him away.
It was Major Borandi Acašta’s first day as an Honour Guard when he shot the Emperor of the Tavari.
The Marshall screamed, but Otan was silent. He slowly turned his head to face the soldier, and he managed to smile. “These things happen,” he said weakly.
“Emp… Emp… I…” Remembering himself, the Marshall found his walkie talkie. “Code Eleven, royal study,” he said as if no one else had heard the gunfire. There were, in fact, already sirens blaring outside. “We need medical evac.”
“Soldier,” the Emperor groaned. “Listen to me. List… you must listen carefully.” Otan weakly lifted his arm and reached toward the Marshall as if to pull him close. The soldier complied, lunging closely to the Emperor and cradling his head.
“Yes, sir.” Borandi was crying.
“In my authority… as Chief of Nuvo… I hereby order… Zaram Nuvo Šolosar… Line Šonai.”
The Marshall blinked. Was the Emperor delirious? “…Sir?”
“Zaram Šonai Šolosar. It is ordered.” Otan furrowed his brow as he attempted to remain conscious. “And… H… H…”
“Yes? What is it? What is it?” The Marshall pressed his ear against the Emperor’s mouth, desperate to hear him.
“Hendrik is Chief.”
The eyes of the Emperor of the Tavari rolled back into his head and he collapsed, unconscious.