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Aiden Boramont collapsed on the floor in a pool of his own sweat. His knees hit the ground far harder than he had hoped for, sending a shock of pain that tickled his spine. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the wooden blade coming down hard on his head. He clumsily threw his body to the side, narrowly avoiding the potentially devastating slash.

He grabbed his practice sword on the roll, lying on the ground to his right. After finishing his role he went to bring the sword up in a block, however, the sword was caught in his legs. Before he could untangle himself, another blow landed square into his chest, forcing the breath out of him and cause him to full back on to his bottom.

“You’re dead.” General Mahr remarked, with little humor in his voice.

“It’s these damn swords,” Aiden replied after he regained some of his breath,” They are stupid, I can trust my hands, I can trust a gun, but a sword has no real point.”

The General rolled his eyes, “Some would argue that a point is all a sword really has.”

“You know what I mean, sir,” Aiden replied in exasperation.

“You are the next in line for Lord Regent, you have a responsibility to uphold the traditions of House Boramont, and one of those traditions is skill with a sword,” Mahr stated, offering a hand to Aiden, “I trained your brother for many years and he was an explementary student, reserved, efficient, and skilled. I expect no less from his brother.”

Aiden reluctantly took General Mahr’s hand and helped himself back up to his feet.

“All of that skill, it didn’t save him in the end,” Aiden said.

General Mahr let out a throaty growl, “He made mistakes too. The best you can do is learn from them. Learn from his mistakes, learn from your own. What mistake did Demetry make?”

Aiden glanced up at the general, who was staring at him intensely, “He..he let his guard down?”

“In a way. However, his biggest mistake was that he underestimated his enemy; this is one of the most foolish mistakes one can make. Never underestimate your enemy. There have been countless great men that would have gone down in legend, only to be defeated by someone they considered their lesser.”

Aiden nodded, not wishing to argue with or continue the point. There must have been something in his eyes, for after a few seconds the old General sighed, his features relaxing a bit. This is to say that his face was still carved from stone, but a slightly softer and more understanding stone.

“Your brother’s loss was unfortunate, but you will be his successor. You have the capacity for greatness, just as he did; do not let your doubts drag you down, as his arrogance dragged him down,” Mahr lectured.

Aiden detected an edge of anger in General Mahr’s voice that he didn’t expect. He had been upset at Demetry’s death as well, or rather, the nature from which he died.  Demetry was killed by the Lancers. More specifically, by some boy who was with the Lancers. That wasn’t exactly right. That archeologist Tanris had said he wasn’t a Lancer, but some kind of research subject. The Lancers were trying to kidnap him. However, he did kill Aiden’s brother, and Aiden wanted vengeance.

Mahr watched Aiden as he thought about what Mahr had said, Aiden’s eyes lowered. After a few moments, he sighed, moving to the side of the training dojo, putting up the wooden practice sword he had been using before sitting on a nearby bench and dabbing his face with a towel.

“It is growing late, and I have work that needs to be accomplished. You will need to meet with your father soon. It will be the first time he has invited you into his confidence and you do not want to be late. Make sure your appearance is befitting an heir, and that you do not embarrass him in front of his advisors,” Mahr explained.

Aiden nodded, moving to put up his practice sword as well. He would need to take a shower and change his clothing before the advisory meeting began as well. He still struggled to cope with the reality that this would be his life from now on. He was always the second son before. His only requirement was to ensure that his brother lived and was successful.

He had heard of other houses often having bitter rivalry, with brothers and sisters often at each other’s throats, using backhanded assassination to rise in power. However, he was raised with honor and integrity, a sense of duty and purpose. His father had never put a lot of time into him, but General Mahr had acted almost like a father figure or at least a supportive uncle. It was perhaps General Mahr who gave him that drive, responsibility, and purpose.

Aiden picked up the things he had brought with him to the dojo and headed to the door.

“Wait a moment,” General Mahr called out before Aiden reached the doorway.

General Mahr stood up and walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I don’t know if I ever understood why your father never put the boy to death who killed your brother. I know you want vengeance, and I suppose I do too,” he sighed, his facing becoming more resolute,” I was not originally planning on giving you this, but I have found sources that were able to provide me a little more information the Chronos experiment.”

Aiden froze, staring at the small drive between the general’s fingers. After a few moments, the general put it in Aiden’s hand, closing his fingers around it, the look of resolution solid in his face.

“My hands are tied; I obey the Lord Regent, but between you and me, make him pay. If you can.”

General Mahr’s fingers patted Aiden’s shoulder before he turned back to the sword rack and walked over to it, sitting back down with the towel around his shoulders. Aiden gave him a nod before turning and leaving the room. He made his way back to his quarters.

The Taerrean Palace in which the Boramonts lived was not their original home estate. Their original home was located in on the second planet from a sun named Boramo. The family themselves did not know if it was the Boramonts named after the planet or the planet named after the Boramonts. However, when the Boramonts managed to secure the Taerren SPIG during the second rebellion they had moved to the capital palace and had remained there.

Aiden preferred the Boramont estate over the Lord Regent’s Palace, if for no other reason than that he saw it at home, away from the political intrigue of the palace. The palace had many numerous functions. Besides housing the royal family, it also housed a large number of dignitaries, ambassadors, and a private army worth of guards set at protecting the residence from any potential dangers.

The hallways were large and lavish, with enough room to allow at least ten men to walk abreast.

The floors were lined with lavish Akari carpets, the walls covered in tapestries and art of various styles and designed. The art had been in the Palace before the Boramonts moved in, having been placed and added to by years and years of caretakers following the wills of their previous tenants. It left a variable hodgepodge of inconsistency, with styles often changing from hallway to hallway.

Aiden quickly made his way to his suite, located on the Mozaic wing, named for a large quantity of art dedicated to mosaics and cubism. Once he reached his room, he removed his clothing and quickly cleaned up. He did not have time to bath, but he used a washcloth to quickly wipe himself free of sweat followed by towel to dry himself.

He had his dress robes picked out and quickly assembled them, making sure his clothing and braid appeared perfect. His father would not be kind to him if he found imperfection on his body. He had learned a long time ago that doing as expected did not earn him praise, but failing to meet expectation did earn him ire from the Lord Regent. Since his brother died, that expectation had grown exponentially.

He looked as his braid, hung over his right shoulder. It was not as long as Demetry’s had been, but it was closely approaching that point. It was not as well braided as it could have been. He would need to have his servants redo it soon, but right now he did not have the time.  He made sure to don his sword at his hip before leaving.

He turned to leave the room, but a flicker on the screen of his personal computer caught his eye. He quickly tapped the screen, bringing up a message he had received. The message was encrypted, but Aiden had long since memorized the code and could read it almost as easily as he could read common tongue.

The message stated “Orange Room, 22:00”. Aiden smiled. He knew who the message was from and what it meant. She had picked a time that was particularly pressing. She knew he was unlikely to get out any later than ten minutes before that time, he would have to run to meet her on time. She wanted to see him run to meet their appointment. Why would she pick the Orange Room of all places? It was an incredibly gaudy room filled with baubles and other decorations left over from a particularly flamboyant leadership.

He left the room and headed to the council chambers. The council chambers were a few hallways away in the central wing of the mansion. They were one of the few rooms that were designed with the current Lord Regent in mind. This meant the room was minimalistic in design. Blacks and reds were his primary colors, and the room consisted of no lack of these. Over the back of the room spread a massive sigil, a black silhouette horse reared up in front of a red sun.

A long table filled up most of the room ending at a large rounded half globe at the end. The globe was black with white dots over it, signaling the design of the stars that made up the Taerren Colonies. Stars that were not part of the empire were dotted as red. Aiden’s father had told him once that the reason the stars not controlled by them are red, is so that you never forget that anyone who is not a Taerren is a potential enemy.

The Lord Regent, Mortimer Boramont, was standing at the front of the room in front of the round landscape. He stood with three other men. The first was Peter Lamur, the head of one of the major houses. The second was Staff Knives, the master of secrets. Aiden did not recognize the third man but suspected he was one of the Knives’ sources. Knives was a very analytical man and often felt the need to support the information he provided Boramont with physical proof.

“You’re late,” the Lord Regent stated as Aiden approached the group of men.

“Practice went longer than expected,” Aiden responded.

Lord Boramont hadn’t looked up from the table he was examining. His finger was pressed up against one of the white stars on the map. Aiden recognized the star as Ophran System. It was one of the less accessible systems but offered rich deposits of ores that brought in a decent amount of income for the empire. It was also one of the older colonies, having been a part of the SPIG for almost as long as Taerra itself.  Lord Boramont’s finger pressed harder on the star until his finger turned red from the pressure before releasing.

“Are you sure?” He asked, glancing at Staff Knives, already ignoring Aiden’s indiscretion.

“Positive my lord,” The man responded as his left hand stroked his coat lightly before nodding to the unknown man.

“Sire,” the man said bowing, “Lieutenant Kim, Cyan Guard, 254th Regiment. I saw the sector fall. I was called in from the Serah system. The rebels had moved far quicker than we could have anticipated. They had already in the process of taking over the jump gate by the time we jumped in. They instantly began sending over boarding parties. My commander ordered we retreat before they were able to take any of our ships or spread the rebellion to Serah. We barely made it back to Serah before they snapped the connection.”

The Lord Regent did not move his eyes from Knives as Lieutenant Kim gave his report. He continued on discussing the casualties he believed they obtained. The commander himself had not survived. His ship had been in mid-jump when the connection snapped, either ripping his ship into shreds or tossing it somewhere randomly between Serah and Ophran. Either way, the man was dead or as good as dead and would never be seen again.

“Advice?” The Lord Regent asked once the report was done, his eyes returning to the half globe map.

“We should strike back. Hit them hard. Overwhelm them before they have a chance to celebrate their victory. We need to teach them that this kind of behavior will be punished. We need to wipe out the Lancers once and for all!” Peter Lamur responded anger in his voice and a dark look on his face.

Staff Knives coughed politely, drawing the eyes of everyone except the Lord Regent, “While I do admit I am no strategist, I would think it might be wiser to wait, my lord.”

“Wait? What would waiting do?” Lord Lemur retorted, “Waiting will only make them think they can get away with it.”

“With due respect, my lord,” Staff bowed as if to stress that point, “Attacking now would cause them to simply flee back into hiding. Instead, if we let them grow. Let them build an army, let them think they have a chance, then we can show them our full might and crush them.”

“You’re talking about letting them build an army and then starting a full out war! Absolutely ridiculous, you’re talking about a war that would cost millions of people their lives,” Lord Lemur responded.

“I agree that the cost would be high, but the defeat would be equally complete,” Staff replied, his voice remaining constant and calm, “The leader of the Lancers would make themselves the general of their army. It is human nature, they couldn’t help it. Sometimes, when you have rats in your walls, you need to turn out the lights and wait for them to leave their little cubby holes.”

“To use your analogy, you’re talking about letting them sit and breed until we have a full infestation,” Aiden cut in.

The two men glanced at him, apparently having forgotten he was there while the Lord Regent continued to stare at the map, making no indication he was listening to their conversation. The Lieutenant said nothing his head bowed, waiting for himself to be released. Lord Lemur seemed pleased, with someone supporting him. Staff Knives seemed impassive, his face expressionless.

Aiden cleared his throat before continuing, “Lord Lemur’s idea wouldn’t work either, for the same reason Knives suggested.”

That removed the smile from Peter Lemur’s face.

“And what would you recommend,” The Lord Regent said, his eyes finally glancing up from the map to look at Aiden.

“There is only one way to deal with rats, you set a trap and wait for it to snap,” Aiden said, trying to imitate his father’s sense of authority.

“We have tried traps before…” The Lord Regent responded.

“There are many different kinds of traps, sir, and there is more than just one kind of bait,” Aiden proposed.

The Lord Regent pondered it for a few moments before nodding, “I will put you in charge of this, what do you have in mind?”

Aiden began to explain his plan. He had thought of this for some time now and had worked out a plan for it. He hadn’t expected to reveal it at this meeting, but he had always remained prepared. After a bit, Staff Knives began to look thoughtful and even Lord Lemur’s frown disappeared. By the end of his speech, even his father looked almost like he might smile.

When they were finished, it was five past twenty-two. Aiden smiled as he left the room, leisurely heading towards the Orange room. When he reached the room, he was fifteen minutes late and the room was empty. He chuckled when he realized she hadn’t waited on him. He headed back to his own room, anticipating an angry message on his personal computer.

When he reached his room, he immediately grew suspicious. There was something wrong with the room, some things had been moved. He glanced at the desk, realizing that his personal computer was gone. He drew his sword. The whistle of the sword leaving the scabbard rang into the darkness. There was a light in his bedroom, which he could see through a crack.

Very slowly he pushed the door open, glancing into the lit room. He sighed, putting the sword back away. Marice Tarris raised her eyes from his personal computer sitting open in front of her as she lied across his bed.

“You’re late,” Marice said with a smirk in her heavy Ertlander accent.

Aiden raised his eyebrow as he glanced down at her. Marice was the daughter of an Ertlander ambassador who had moved into the Palace until his embassy had been completed. That had been over five years ago and still, they remained as distinguished guests of the Taerren palace. Aiden had never understood the Lord Regent’s acceptance of this, but the ambassador and his family followed Tarraen law and Taerren rule without problems, so there was no real legal reasons to evict them.

Aiden supposed he needed to be more careful with her. While they were at peace with the Ertland Colony, they did not have any particular Alliance with them as they did with the Akari. Ertland was the third largest Colony, right after Taerrens and the Usar, whom they had continuing conflicts with, and were thus a government that the Taerrens had to respect.

Marice moved to her knees, her small framed body moving sensually in a brown two-piece garment that fit too tightly and too form-fitting for Aiden’s comfort.  Aiden fought the urge to look away in embarrassment. It was improper to be put off by another diplomat’s appearance. Still, it was also improper to glance at her too fully as well. Aiden concentrated specifically on her face.

Marice had very short cropped hair, curly black hair that was only a few inches in length, curling across her forehead and around her ears. It stuck against her skin, almost as if her hair was wet. Like the rest of her body, her face was petite. A small pouty mouth, small ears, and high cheeks set in a heart-shaped face. The only attribute of her that was large was her brown eyes, with long lashes that only seemed to accentuate those eyes.

After a moment, Aiden succumbed and looked away, almost being able to feel Marice’s smirk increasing as he did so. She was not dressed in the tight clothing that shaped her small breasts and exposed her navel to entice him; it was simply a proper garb for Ertlanders. Taerren guards often spoke about exotic Ertlander women and an unrepressed society. Those who had never met someone from Ertland often spread rumors about their unsatiable appetites and lust. Meanwhile, Ertlander men would respond that the only person who could satisfy said lusts was an Ertlander man.

Of course, Aiden knew the stories to be false. Ertland simply had a different culture. They saw the body as a form of art, one meant to be displayed. Still, sometimes Marice got a look in her eye during a meeting here or a discussion there and Aiden had to wonder. Knowing the effect of her attire on Taerren men, Marice thought the whole thing entertaining. Although the primary person she liked to tease the most was Aiden himself.

“What are you doing? Those are private,” Aiden demanded, meeting her eyes again.

“It’s not very interesting, Private things are the things you don’t want anyone else to know, and so far I see nothing fun,” Marice flippantly responded.

Marice assumed a bored expression, putting both hands over her head and stretching, arching her back in a way that exposed even more skin between her midriff. This was the second time she managed to get Aiden to lose composure and break eye contact. This, of course, made him more annoyed.

“What is Chronos?” Marice asked before he could say anything, her eyes attempting to look innocent.

Aiden frown before looking down at the computer, the data drive plugged into it. He cursed, moving down and grabbing it before walking out of the room. He wasn’t sure whether to be angry at her or call the guards. She often pushed the lines between being coy and noisy and violating Taerren global security. Aiden placed the computer back down on the desk and began reading the information in front of him. It looked like she could not open the data drive. The information was encrypted and safe, other than for the name, Chronos, appearing as a file name. Aiden took a breath of relief.

After a few minutes, Marice walked out of his room, her eyes full of curiosity. He ignored her. If he acknowledged her, he would just encourage her. Although ignoring her is what got him into the situation in the first place. Perhaps that wasn’t the best option. Either way, he ignored her and started reading through the first batch of files. He figured that making an attempt to hide the information would only make her more intolerable, and he didn’t fear her finding out anything on the disk. She would keep his secrets, at least, from his father.

“What are you doing?” she asked, pushing her hip against his shoulder in a too comfortable manner, her hand touching his other shoulder.

He continued to read as she looked mildly interested at the files over his shoulder. His eyebrows began to rise as he started to realize exactly what Chronos was. Then he began to smile.

He leaned back, looking at the picture of test subject 131, a boy a few years younger than himself. The boy, who almost two years ago, killed his brother. Finally, he found him.

“Nothing unusual,” he finally answered, “I just have someone I need to kill.”

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