The crowd was in a frenzy. The colosseum’s towering reaches held a quarter of a million people, and it was over capacity with thousands more pressing in to witness this historic upheaval. They were here beneath the sweltering summer sun to see her: Supreme Commander Scandere.

Barely beyond her third decade, she’d had enough blood on her hands to paint the colosseum in several coats, inside and out. Her position had been hard-earned—more than she could say for the High Archon or the Public Executrix—which is what made the occasion so decadent: everyone deserved what they were getting. She would bring the scales to their new equilibrium.

At long last, Scandere stepped up into the presentation balcony. The cheers rolled forth like thunder. She wore an armor of delicate golden scales with a matching helmet adorned with the large, razor sharp plumage of a dragon hawk—the bird on the empire’s official sigil. The armor was more for show than for function, but it did not fail to convey the might at her command. She held her arms wide, fingers outstretched, in acknowledgment of the crowd before her, and they cheered again and fell swiftly silent, anxious to hear her speak. It was her most solemn duty to manifest their will.

“Sisters and brothers, welcome.” There were scattered shouts and whistles, but by and large they hung on her words, anticipating. “As your Supreme Commander, I have the priveledge and responsibility to lead our empire’s Military, the strongest, bravest, and most disciplined force this world has ever known, or ever will know. And for 100,000 setting suns, we have conquered not a nation nor a soul. For 100,000 setting suns, we have been solely in your service as your defenders. We defended you from the warlords in the north in the time of Aeavon; from the raiders of the Kingdom of the Isles in the time of Turix; and from the Hundred Hordes in the time of Ithacus, who shared not our morals but did earn our respect among the blood-soaked steppes of the Resserlands. But now, after years along our distant borders and furthest reaches, I have returned to the capital to defend our great empire from its deadliest detractors: the unholy Archons of the Conviction, and the thieving Executors of the Exchange.” Here there was an uproar, a mix of disgusted booing and heartrending lamentations. Again, she acknowledged the crowd, and again, they stilled.

“Our great empire—your great empire—has stood for 40 generations on three legs: the fairness of the Exchange, the faith of the Conviction, and the force of the Military. But two of these limbs have betrayed you. In my own experience, I have seen more women and men than are here in attendance today lying in the aftermath of battle with their limbs maimed and crushed and flayed. There is only one way in that moment to save them, to allow them to live on. The ruined limbs must be amputated. Without our Exchange and our Conviction, we will have only our Military to stand upon. But I, for one, can endure standing on one leg if it means a prolonged existence. This has always been an empire ruled by its people. I ask you today, do I have your permission to execute your will?”

The crowd erupted, and the colosseum trembled from the conviction in their voices. In the bowl at the amphitheater’s center, the gathered Archons and Executors were executed by the waiting guards, leaving the High Archon and the Public Executrix for last—though it was done swiftly and cleanly; it was important to send the right message. Soft feathers of magenta and teal and midnight blue were tossed from the rafters in celebration of this new dawn, and the sounds of the crowd failed to decrescendo from the heights of their fevered pitch. But Scandere watched on without a hint of joy, nor catharsis. She was merely following the orders of the people.

Or rather, her subjects; she was Supreme Commander no longer. She was Rex Scandere I, the Empire’s Queen. With a minimus of blood, she’d devised her own glorious coronation. And there was still so much more to do.

Notes: I used an image as a writing prompt for this piece. You may be able to find the image on the artist’s ArtStation page. Image by Wojtek Fus, used with permission.

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