“I’m going to be late again and they’ll never ask me to chair another committee,” Kandri Bayo thought to herself as she rushed through the breezy arcades of Zakuul City. On second thought, she mused, that might not be a bad thing. As a civil engineer working in the Spire, Kandri was highly in demand and constantly overbooked. His Royal Grace, Emperor Valkorion, was always commissioning projects to enhance the already spectacular vertical world with lush gardens, majestic jewel-cut glass towers and steeples of gleaming precious metals. And thus, civil engineers always had plenty to do.
Kandri continued walking briskly through the elegant parks and urban plazas, her ebony hair swirling about her face in the balmy evening breeze. She passed a few people she knew, other professionals working lucrative jobs in the city’s core, most of them headed now to their posh midcity townhomes or tony villas on the edge of the central district. Truthfully there were no bad neighborhoods on Zakuul, at least not in the city. Kandri had heard of regions in the lower levels that still held remnants of Zakuul’s rougher past, in the dark times, before the Eternal Emperor. She also knew that the swamps outside the city were reported to answer the darker needs of the city’s elite, but none of that darkness touched the Spire, or Kandri.
She checked her chrono and smiled, she’d made good time and wouldn’t be more than a few moments late. She rounded the last corner, already thinking ahead past the committee meeting to what she and her partner, Blen, would have for their evening meal, and which new wine Blen might offer for her to try. Kandri had been attempting to develop a more refined palate and Blen, who came from one of Zakuul’s best families, was taking delight in educating her.
Kandri herself had come to the planet as a teenager, and she knew how lucky she was. Becoming a citizen of Zakuul had given her access to all the benefits of the Eternal Empire’s great bounty, including a rich stipend, free healthcare and a top-tier education. When her parents moved back to Coruscant several years ago, Kandri had stayed behind, and had never regretted it, though she missed them dearly. Meeting Blen last year at the People’s Gala had convinced her even more fully that she had made the right choice in staying.
Now, as she stepped into the courtyard leading to the Emerald Tower, Kandri’s musings were interrupted by the cracking of the public holocommunicator. She joined the others in the plaza gathering around the display as a figure appeared. Kandri recognized the man as Arcann, the one surviving son of the Eternal Emperor, but she had never heard him speak. The public holo was rarely used, and never by anyone other than the Emperor himself.
“People of Zakuul,” Arcann intoned solemnly, “the unthinkable has happened. Our beloved Emperor, Valkorion, is dead- murdered by an Outlander who sought to shake the foundations of our great society…”
What? No, it can’t be. Kandri stared hard at the holographic image, even as Arcann’s voice faded in her ears. Shocked, she watched his ghostly face, aware that he was still speaking, even though a mask obscured his mouth. How can this be? For years Zakuul had known only peace, even as the rest of the galaxy wrested endlessly between the Republic and Empire. Unhearing, Kandri continued to watch Arcann’s eyes, her uneasiness growing like a cancer in her. She had heard the rumors about Arcann. Terrible things about him and his late twin brother, Thexan. Things that were not repeated on Zakuul above a whisper.
A man standing next to Kandri bumped her arm, startling her back into the moment. Arcann’s impassioned speech was continuing. Kandri focused on the theatrically restrained voice of the Emperor’s son as his proclamation reached a feverpitch, his cadence that of a righteous warrior, or a religious crusader.
“…as your new Emperor, I can promise you this: Zakuul’s enemies will face the full power of the Eternal Throne.” Oh no, oh no. “And every last one of the Core Worlds will burn!”
The breeze in the courtyard stirred, causing a tendril of hair to blow across Kandri’s face. It stuck awkwardly to her check, held in place by tears that she hadn’t even realized she had wept. The pleasant evening air suddenly felt cold on Kandri’s skin and the sky looked ominously foreboding. Kandri pulled her light wrap tightly across her shoulders against the chill.
Darkness is coming.
No, it isn’t coming; it’s already here.