Regent Hakan Adamati of Ranis, paced. His black boots drummed against the hardwood floor. His sleeveless, gray robe billowed as he walked. Under more watchful eyes, he would have composed himself, but alone in his office, he could do as he pleased. In the moment pacing calmed him, as he waited to hear if the task force he sent accomplished their mission. The m-com on his desk beeped. Hakan straightened out his finely pressed black jacket, long sleeves, silver clasp, and matching pants. He swiped his hand over the oval contraption, and a hologram appeared on his desk.
“We rendezvoused with the security detail and recovered his body, ETA twenty minutes.”
“Excellent work,” Hakan said. “Tell the others I said so.”
Hakan rubbed his hand over a full head of gray hair. A few streaks of brown defied the gravity of time. He’d only seen five and a half decades, yet the pain in his eyes told of someone who’d witnessed enough horrors for a life twice as long. “SubCom, I expect a full report when you arrive.
Hakan waved his hand once more, and the hologram disappeared in a blue blip. He would have to wait to find out the exact cause of death. There would be an investigation, and mounds of evidence to look at, but he already knew in his heart who was responsible for Gethin’s death; The Regent of the southern continent, Yasen. This wasn’t the first time Yasen had attempted to take Gethin’s life.
Hakan sat down at his desk, the sand colored amawood sturdy underneath his hands. He pulled out a clump of gilweed and placed it in a bowl his wife had commissioned for him years ago. He used to light a pipe until it spilled over one day and burned a small hole in the wooden floor. She never let him live it down. He never smoked gilweed himself, but the robust, earthy aroma, with a hint of sweet herb, reminded him of his grandfather. Simpler times. He lit it and watched the lines of the dried plant catch fire and begin to smoke. Calmer, he sat back in his chair, beginning to work out his plans. The m-com beeped again.
“Assistant Regent Keelin,” Hakan said.
“Skip the pleasantries Hakan. Release Gethin back into Drorian custody,” she said.
Hakan sat straight in his chair, folded his hands in his lap. “I’m following the wishes of Gethin. I’ll return his body for burial once we have done an autopsy and determined the cause of death.”
“Unacceptable,” Keelin said. She swiped a strand of red hair out of her face. Pale skin kissed by the sun revealed her embodiment of island culture, even if her heritage was not native to it. “The family wishes to honor the old traditions. The body will lie in state for a day, then burn on a funeral pyre, the day after that. That only gives us a few hours to prepare the body.”
“Once we get the materials from the Office…,” Hakan said.
Keelin crossed her arms, leaning in closer to the camera. “I put a stop to the theft of the evidence. You’ve stolen enough!”
“You go too far, Keelin. How long have you worked with Yasen?”
Keelin leaned back in her chair, rolled her eyes.
“I see,” Hakan said. “Well, I have reports of encrypted communications between the two of you. Once we finish decoding them, I’m sure the rest of the Council will see things my way.”
“Are you threatening the Regent of Dror?” Keelin said. Her hands raised in front of her. “Many believe that we would be better off without your shadow looming over us.”
“First, you are the acting Regent.”
“Merely a formality,” Keelin said.
“Second,” Hakan said, leaning forward. “I know you were responsible for the attack on Gethin. I just have to prove it.”
“Seems that you were the one who had a hand in Gethin’s mysterious demise,” Keelin said. “You stationed your elite guard here. You were attempting to take and destroy evidence. You stole Gethin’s body after the crime.”
Hakan stood, placing his hands firmly on the desk. “At least, I won’t be accused of stealing my Regency! You will get the body back after I am satisfied we have enough evidence!”
“Careful Hakan. You might find the Drorian military on your doorstep.”
“Acting Regents cannot declare war,” Hakan said. He sat back in his chair; a smirk peeked at the corners of his mouth.
“Exactly why I have requested an emergency session of the Council of Regents. We will gather in three days,” Keelin said, a patronizing smile frozen on her face.
“You need a majority approval.”
“We have it. Dror requested, one abstained, and three other Regents recognized the claim.”
Hakan shook his head. “In my twenty-one years as Regent, I have never seen a more reckless grab for power.”
“Reckless?” Keelin began as she prepared for another verbal assault.
Hakan swiped his hand over the m-com, freezing the image of Keelin, mouth agape, as her face faded into thin air.
With Gethin gone, the balance of power in the Council was in his enemy’s favor. His head ached, and his heart was heavy. He wanted to mourn the loss of his friend, to remember the troubles and fights they shared. He wanted to hear that raucous laugh that was so infectious. Instead, he was forced to do his duty. If he could not figure a way out of the political quagmire he was in; war was on the horizon.
Hakan pushed a button on his m-com. “Assemble the PrimCom and the Commanders. Have them meet me in the war room. Double the guards in the Regent’s residence and up the schedule of UBV patrols.”
“And have my daughter come to my office,” Hakan said.
“Yes. Right away!”
Hakan grabbed a bottle of vintage edomberry malt. He swirled the dark liquid in a cup; the bittersweet malt stung as he swallowed. He walked over to the window, looking out at the runway of the Malak Basidion, watching the flash of engines until there was a knock at the door.
“Enter,” Hakan said.
A young woman burst into the room, smiling. She clutched a handful of papers to her chest, carefully pressed against her charcoal uniform. To an untrained eye, she looked like one of the many military personnel on the Basidion. Her auburn hair pulled into a ponytail; brown eyes framed by her light brown skin.
“You do look so much like my daughter,” Hakan said sitting down, gesturing to the seat across from him.
Sela bowed politely then took her place. Umber eyes were the only difference between the her and the princess she protected as a body double. At her present age, she was slightly heavier than her counterpart, the difference less pronounced years ago when she came to the Basidion to become a living shield for the princess.
“I finished writing the letters,” Sela said. “It was tough to write with ink and paper. I was trying to get the smudges off when you called.” Sela rubbed her hands.
“Well, it was necessary to make sure we didn’t leave any electronic traces. I suppose you haven’t had much use for that skill after your lessons were over.”
“Not really,” Sela said. She looked down, took a deep breath. “Thank you for all that you’ve done for my family and me. They will be so surprised when they find out I’m coming home!” Sela blinked, emotion welling up inside her chest.
Hakan conjured a small smile. “I have something your father might enjoy. I heard he is fond of emdomberry malts. This one is particularly refreshing. Dry, rustic.” Hakan reached into his desk drawer grabbing a bottle-shaped package, wrapped in crushed petals.
Sela took the bottle. “Thank you.” Raw knuckles and bruises covered her hands.
“Did you just finish up a combat session?”
Sela looked away, covering her hand with the other. “I hope that is all right. I get bored so easily. We’ve been working on punches recently. Nothing too dangerous.”
“That is perfectly fine,” Hakan said, resting his chin on top of his hands. I’m glad you’re able to find things to occupy your time.”
“Every other twenty-two year-old is finished with their four-year military stint. I feel like I’m behind.”
“Well, your service as a double for Callah has been impeccable. Your sacrifice has kept my daughter safe. I can’t thank you enough for that. Rana and I both.”
“It has been my honor to serve my Regents and their family,” Sela said, bowing her head slightly. “Besides, you have done great things for my family in return. The money, equipment. I hear that the farms they own are more profitable than the mines used to be!”
“Is that so?”
“Best in all of Dunstan. If you believe the rumors. I can’t wait to see it for myself.”
Hakan sighed. “Speaking of which, it might take a little longer than expected,” Hakan said. “I’m postponing your release.”
“What? Why?” Sela said, her eyebrows pulled and jaws tight.
“I can’t say much, but events have transpired that show me that I can’t bring Callah home just yet,” Hakan said. “She’s still in danger and will need to remain hidden a little longer.”
“I have been under contract for twelve years,” Sela said. She gripped the sides of the chair, her nails digging into the wooden arms. “Just last week you promised me that I was all set to go!”
“This is only temporary; I assure you.”
“I don’t believe you. This isn’t the first time we’ve sat here and had this same conversation,” Sela shook her head. “I suppose the fault’s mine, for allowing my heart to hope.” Sela threw the papers on the ground, waiting for a dismissal, her eyes fixed on the floor.
Hakan stood, walked to her side, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Sela turned away, removing his hand. “Is that all?”
Hakan walked over the window. “Yes.”
Sela stood, bowed deeply, then hurried off. The door swished, the rustle of movement leaving a distinct silence in its absence.
Hakan grabbed his glass and pulled another swig of malt. He was sure that this would not be the last hard conversation he would have to have tonight. The m-com beeped once more.
“They are gathered, sir.”
As Hakan came around the desk, he saw the bottle sitting on the floor, next to the chair. Pages of handwritten letters strewn all over. He bent to pick them up, then decided against it. He exited his office heading toward the war room.
Hakan walked down long, white corridors, stopping at the end of the hall. A large white door with four guards posted on either side. He placed his arm inside a tubular hole in the wall. A quick scan of his hand, and the door opened after a few clicks. He stepped in, tabling all doubts and worries until he was finished wielding Regental power.
“Commanders, we have a situation.”