Tepet Fokuf, Regent of the Scarlet Dynasty for nearly a year, signed another bill into law alone in his room and sighed quietly.
When the position was foisted on him, he had known that it would have none of the power that a true Emperor might aspire to. Not that he had wished for such power, or expected it, but the virtual death sentence of regency had not escaped him. He was, in fact, quite pleasantly surprised to still be alive after nearly a year on the throne. However, that did not change the fact that he was sitting alone in his rooms, signing bills into law without even bothering to give them more than a cursory look.
Once, he had made a small suggestion to a bill, and his handlers had not taken it well. Even now, months later, he could hear the disdain with which his suggestion was treated, along with the subtle but clear message that he should stick to approving laws, rather than trying to change them, and he would be happier.
As he reached down to sign the next bill, he caught sight of something jutting out from just underneath it. With a faint frown, he reached down and pulled out the small letter that had been pressed between two laws. He recognized his auntâ€™s seal, and considered it thoughtfully for a moment. She had rarely had so much as the time of day for her un-Exalted nephew, and Fokuf had not expected that to change lately. Perhaps the recent military defeats in the Northeast which had set tongues wagging had her planning long-term strategies. If Tepet continued to lose forces against this â€˜Bull of the Northâ€™, she would have every reason to want more connections with those who had not gone.
The letter, when he opened it, was written in his auntâ€™s crisp, no-nonsense style. But as he read the letter, Fokuf felt his world falling away.
I regret to tell you that your cousin, Tepet Vallen, was among those killed in a recent military endeavor in the Northeast. Vallen was leading a detachment of warstriders that were ambushed by dark sorcery and destroyed; only a tiny handful of his men survived to pass the news back to the Wind-Dancer. As you were one of the few relatives that he enjoyed visiting, I felt that you should be told of his loss. His funeral will be heldâ€¦â€
Fokuf stopped reading, slumping back against his chair. He remembered Vallenâ€™s expression when he had learned of the new Regentâ€™s appointment, the incredulity and joy, changing to bemusement as he realized the danger of the role. He thought back to the times that his cousin had helped or guarded him, and he felt a bleakness welling up inside him at this news.
And then, all at once, his despair was shifted to suspicion. This was personal mail. Why had it been placed below laws, instead of on top of them to be considered first?
Quickly, he took up the law he had been about to sign, reading over it carefully. It hadnâ€™t drawn his attention; it was simply a call for more legionnaires to be deployed to the Linowan coast, as a reserve force for the Tepet. However, in light of his cousinâ€™s death, Fokuf found himself suspicious, and he read over the law more carefully. As he did, his confusion grew, because as written, the law would only support the Tepet in the event of a victory.
Quickly, Fokuf shifted his attention to the reports that were delivered to him as a matter of politeness. He had always read those about the Bull, out of interest, but now he scanned through them, looking for the tell-tale signs of hidden information and outright lies. It took him only five minutes to realize that his cousinâ€™s warstrider column was still listed as active, despite the fact that if his aunt had time to send this letter, the Legion command must have known for days that it was destroyed; that it was, in fact, listed as a crucial component in the current battle being waged. From there, it took only a few minutes more to realize that many other troop movements made no sense, or were relying on clearly incorrect information. Based on that, the information that he had became frightening. The Tepet legions were in the process of a rout. Dozens of columns were misplaced or simply had dropped from reporting altogether. It was a complete disaster, and the law he was about to pass would ensure that none of them survived their retreat. Passing such a law was madness! What possible reason could the Deliberative haveâ€¦
He was regent.
The knowledge exploded into his mind. House Tepet was proud and mighty, and growing ever-stronger. That was how they had successfully forced a regent onto the throne, even if they had little chance of scoring a true Emperor or Empress. However, their power was enshrined in their military, and their military was being pureed in the Northeast. If they did not return, it didnâ€™t matter how much influence his House could get through the regent.
â€œThose bastards.â€ The words slipped out, as rage filled Fokuf. Not this time. Reaching for his quill, he looked over the law. It was all but impossible to make the changes he wanted without ruining the law entirely, but he would be damned if he did not try. He would not abandon his House and his people, and he would not give another victory to the men who would use Vallenâ€™s death as a political weapon.
And as he wrote, he felt his righteous fury rising, merging with his knowledge that such atrocities were carried out across Creation, in the name of power and glory, and that no one expected him to stop them. He saw, in his mindâ€™s eye, the Deliberative passing law after law opposing the Threshold for power. He saw the mighty Dragon Kings bowing their heads and fading away. He saw the Mountain Folk, their very existences proscribed and restricted because a Deliberative had considered them a possible threat to their own incredible, world-spanning power. And he spoke softly to himself, his face a mask of concentration, sweat and light pouring from his brow. â€œNever again.â€