No assassin had ever made it across the channel surrounding the Capital Isle in over two hundred and sixty years, yet four assassins had disguised themselves as three bodyguards and a senator with fake papers were about to attempt it. They had crossed one of the mighty bridges and over towards the Golden Palace itself. They cleared the inner gate of the island and now marched up a small hill. As they neared the Senator’s Gate four of the Emperor’s Guard marched out of the doors with a man dressed in red senator robes. Two of them held him by his arms and dragged him along the floor while the other two covered the frontal and rear flank, clearing the small amount of people out of their way. There was no movement on the walls but for the occasional Emperor’s Guard marching across. The vast courtyard was occupied by all manner of people. Inquisitors, Judges, Priests and Senators. The only soldiers allowed to occupy the island were the Emperor’s Guardians. These soldiers were the best in the Empire. Endowed with inhuman strength, wit, metabolism and grace, they were ten times as strong, clever and fast as a normal human soldier. Over five thousand guarded the Empire’s heart. The assassins continued towards the Senator’s gate. The Golden Palace loomed over head, its great spires and towers dominating the landscape over the cities surrounding them. Shaped from a material known as goldstone, it was constructed in days of Emperor Keron, The Father and Creator of the Empire. Four entrances allowed access into the palace; the Senator gate, the Master gate, the Emperor gate and finally the Immortal’s gate. As they passed under the great arch, two assassins dropped back towards a small alcove near the great entrance and into the guard room. The other two continued towards the Master gate at the end of the small road. They passed men talking on matters of the Empire and Her enemies. As they reached the Master gate, the third assassin, one dressed as a bodyguard, he bowed to the senator he was with and stood close to the giant portal. The last assassin walked through the small door and up towards the Emperor gate. He had to walk around the length of the Golden Palace. He passed Senators in heated debate on taxes or soldiers, Generals bickering on troop garrisons around the Black Mountain. A Judge stepped in front of him, the assassin stopped immediately and bowed. The Judge turned to look at him. Judges of the Empire were the upholders of the law, commanders of the Inquisition and masters of justice. Therefore, they obviously commanded a fearful aura.
The Judge looked down on the assassin through the slits in his visor. He was dressed in a lavish set of full plate armour. On his cuirass held the Star of Scion; symbol of the Empire's ruling house, and the Eye of Justice, the All-Seeing-Eye of the law. The assassin now feared he would be caught.
“Papers.” The Judge demanded
He rummaged for his papers hidden in one of his inner pockets, he handed them to the Judge who nodded to him as he accepted them. As the Judge opened them fully the assassin looked down to the floor were the Judge's cape trailed amongst the flagstones. He noticed a long silver war hammer locked at his side. The Judge folded the papers and handed them back.
The assassin bowed once more and walked around the Judge, who subsequently walked off towards a lone Captain walking towards a General, demanding to see his papers. The assassin sighed in relief. The Emperor gate now stood before him guarded by twelve Emperor’s Guards; six either side of the road. He walked under the enormous arch and continued out into a lush courtyard. It was a vast garden set out in a circle with a cross through the centre as a gravel path. It was quiet here. No man stood still long enough to admire the garden with its perfectly placed trees and rosebushes. The assassin walked down through the centre of the garden, and as he reached the end he was greeted by a General who nodded and blessed him with a good day. The assassin bowed his head in reply, not daring to speak lest his accent loose his disguise. The General seemed content with the reply and continued down towards the wall. The assassin began to climb the stairs to the Immortal’s Gate. As he reached the top it was clear that they were sealed shut, and twenty four heavily armed guards stood at attention. Only now did the assassin look at their armour. Under the normal circumstances the assassin would be trembling in fear. The guards were dressed in full plate armour and carried tower shields. All men held a halberd in their grip, the point of which rose to the sky. By their sides hung a long sword and on their backs a morning star. The design of the armour allowed the men to move with ease among the battlefield and not lose their greater endowments. The assassin turned to see two men and a woman walking in his direction. The woman and the man furthest away from the assassin wore black robes with three gold rims along the outer and inner robes, a blood red sash about their wastes. The man leading them was dressed in similar robes however he wore a grim battle mask of dark gold and held a staff of silver with a large blood-ruby perched on its top. The assassin froze in fear. The Grand Master of the Imperial Priesthood walked towards him with two Grand Priests following him closely. The assassin stood for a second longer watching the trio then moved backwards as a sign of respect and well out of the way of the Grand Master. The woman glanced at him and bowed her head to show thanks. The contingent marched to the sides of the great alcove in the palace. Four of the guards raised their halberds in perfect unison then smashed them onto the floor, causing four loud thuds. The gates began to open slowly grinding their way apart, and only then did the assassin realise how heavy these doors were. Four-foot-wide steel gates parted. The assassin felt his breathe leave him. He had never seen the likes before. Even the Shogun's Citadel didn’t have gates this wide or strong. He turned from the gates just as the Grand Master entered the palace. Now that the gates were open, the assassin could not let this opportunity slip.
- - -
Opening the doors of the Imperial Throne Room, Aratha stalked inside, he looked around at the small collection of people huddled in the shadows of the immense statues of past Emperors. He noticed the guards stood at his side of the small pool that mapped an exact replica miniature of the vast continent of Epicurea. He walked towards the guards. The dim blue light hid their faces. They bowed their heads to him and stood to attention. He crossed the small ornate bridge and down onto a small parade ground. He looked up and clasped his hands behind his back. The Emperor sat in his large golden throne on top of a small flight of stairs.
He bowed low. “Command and I obey.” He recited.
“Aratha I was waiting for you to come.” The Emperor was an elderly man, his health had greatly deteriorated over the past year and now his son, Prince Aslander, was ready to take his place. “Tanith will soon be here and I will give him his orders ratified by the Senate.” Aratha bowed once more
“Highness how goes the war to the East?” The Emperor looked at Aratha.
“It goes as it always has done. We win a few battles, they win a few. The war never ends nor does one side ever gain advantage over another.”
“I see. Has Tanith not been able to use his greater tactical mind to defeat the Black Apostles?” Aratha clasped his hands behind him, breathing in deeply upon uttering the name.
“No he has not. The war is not in his hands. It is within Second General Baltion and High Marshal Clayr.” Aratha looked up at the Emperor as he signalled for the guards to allow someone over the bridge. Aratha guessed it was Tanith and his entourage.
A tall, well built, man came to stand two arm lengths away from Aratha and dropped to one knee.
“Command and I obey.”
Aratha looked at his counter-part. Tanith stood a head taller than Aratha, his golden war helmet was tucked under his arm. He was dressed in complete battle armour, as was custom in the Emperor’s presence. He had short, black hair with large, dark eyes. Two black lines of war paint were smeared from his eyes to the corner of his mouth.
“Tanith and Aratha, the two most powerful men within my Empire, I have a mission for you both. The Empire’s resources are strained. We cannot continue the fight against the Black Apostles for much longer. In the East they have routed the 86th and 42nd armies and sacked fifteen towns and villages.” He stopped to let the realization sink in. “The Black Mountain is showing signs of a possible eruption which means the city of Arca will soon be under attack.” He stood up and waked towards the pair. “Tanith I want you to send every single army we can spare and recruit more if need be to defend Arca. I also want armies from Imperadon and Keskadon to assist our own in the East.” Tanith bowed “Aratha I want you to dispatch you Priesthood to the battle zones to help with wounded and also to provide combat assistance to the strained Mage Guild.” Aratha bowed “Let not even my own death stop you from carrying out these orders.
“I obey your command.” They said in unison.
- - -
The assassin had waited for more than five hours inside the central courtyard. It was getting dark and he was getting irritated by his senator robes. Just as he wished he was back home with his wife a dark shape caught his attention above one of the many windows looking onto the courtyard. The black shape jumped from above the gate towards were he was stood. His fellow assassin bowed to him. He tore his robes to reveal a similar garb underneath. The assassin removed a black leather mask and helmet from a strap on his back and covered his face. He nodded to his counterpart and they both ran in silence towards the wall. Just as they reached it they sprang upwards and slowly climbed the palace wall. On the roof they slid onto the walk way and were met by a third assassin who had a large bundle of cloth on his back. He laid out the bundle as the others watched for signs of movement. As the third assassin unfolded the black cloth he removed four long daggers and another four slim swords. He handed them to his companions and kept the rest wrapped in the cloth. They all ran silently towards the tower to the far right of the walk way and began to scale the wall like large black spiders. The fourth assassin was scheduled to meet them at the top of the tower. Yet, as they reached the top of the tower, the first assassin peered over the edge to see one of the Emperor’s Guard stood watching an Imperial Battle Ship encircle the island. He signalled for the others to stop. They couldn’t kill the Guard as it was impossible for a mortal man to slay him, but instead swung around the towers to the opposite side and down onto the wall walk, were the fourth assassin waited hidden in the roof racks above. The third gave him his weapons and they all proceeded towards the Emperor’s private rooms.