Flash Fiction set in Koru
Koru, one of the five countries that make up the continent of Ehrian. Although, that said, one that I'm thinking of changing the name of, mainly because that makes the spoken language 'Koruan', which is little too close to 'Korean'. Maybe 'Korun' works, or 'Kor'. 'Caw, listen to me speak my language'. Bleh. In the D&D campaign we've gone with Koruan.
Anyway! A bit of dunking in the politics of Koru.
General Sun-Ji looked out upon his empire, the ghost of a smile touching his lips. The sun was setting, painting everything in shades of blood; the warmth of the day had already begun to sink into the coolness of evening, and a faint mist was rising from the reflection pools in the shadows far below.
His son, still standing at the desk a few feet behind him, cleared his throat gently. “Father,” the young man said, “The staff are still in revolt. We must do something.” His plea echoed around the hard walls and floor, sounding empty.
“I have already put measures in place,” Sun-Ji said. “Soldiers have set up a perimeter, and the workers are being contained.” He half-turned and graced his son with a smile. “You worry too much, Mako.”
“They will fight.”
“They will die, then,” Sun-Ji said, turning back to the sunset. Even at fifty, his back was straight and his shoulders broad. He closed his eyes and listened. Whoever had designed the Imperial Office had known his audience. Every movement, however slight, was amplified. There was the sound of a step, almost too tiny to hear, and the susurration of fabric moving against skin. The slightly uneven sound of Mako’s breathing, and underneath it, something out of place, off to the right.
He thinks me a senile fool, Sun-Ji thought. He opened his eyes, narrowing them against the dying light, and saw that a plume of smoke was beginning to rise out of the Fourth Quarter.
Being careful to turn to his left, Sun-Ji whipped around, his black cloak flowing smoothly behind him, and walked back into the office. Mako was exactly where he had been a moment ago, nothing to suggest that anything was out of place.
“You disagree with my decision,” Sun-Ji said, placing one calloused hand on the straight-backed chair behind the desk.
“I...” his son began, looking slightly taken aback, then nodded curtly. “Yes. You have power. The Emperor is dead, by your hand or your order. Putting his palace staff to death is...”
“A waste,” Mako said at last. “They would serve you, or anyone who sits on the throne.”
Sun-Ji patted the chair again, his black-lacquered nails tapping on the wood. “Anyone like yourself, perhaps?” He smiled crookedly, watching his son’s eyes closely.
To give him credit, the young man played his part well. His eyes went blank, his face expressionless. And that, my son, is how I know you are already plotting my downfall. By your lack of reaction.
“Father, you can’t possibly think that I would want your death.”
“Ah,” Sun-Ji said, nodding and beginning a slow walk around the wide marble desk. “My death. Who mentioned anything about my death?” He held the stare, allowing every step to make an audible clicking noise that echoed off the polished stone floor.
“Well, it’s a-“
“You have waited so patiently for your father to die in combat, Mako. I respect that,” Sun-ji said, voice dangerously soft. “But here I am. Despite someone close to the Emperor consistently recommending me for the most arduous, the most lethal engagements, here I am.” They were almost in touching distance now, and Sun-Ji could see a bead of sweat on his son’s brow.
Savagely, Sun-Ji lurched forwards and grabbed Mako’s tunic, pulling him off-balance. He spun Mako around, snaking his arm up around the boy’s throat, then stepped backwards. With all his weight on his neck, Mako’s protestations gurgled to a stop.
“I finally come back, after a mission that was almost guaranteed to end in failure, and I bring victory. Is the Emperor pleased? No. Instead I find him in bed with my wife – your own mother, and...” Sun-Ji paused. His son had stopped clawing at the arm around his neck, and he raised both eyebrows in surprise. “You did not know.”
Sun-Ji stepped back again, releasing Mako; he crashed to the floor, face beetroot purple, rubbing at his neck.
“Of course you didn’t know,” Sun-Ji murmured. “The old man played us both for fools.” He walked around and sat down heavily in the tall chair, while Mako picked himself up off the floor and slumped into one of the smaller chairs on the other side. “The Emperor didn’t think I would return. You gave him the information he needed to send me off to war, to get me killed, after which you would have been allowed to find out about your mother’s infidelity and been provoked into a duel with him, which you would have lost.” The general nodded slowly, suddenly feeling weary as his years pressed down on him. “With me dead on a battlefield and you dead in the most legal way possible, the greatest contender to the Imperial Throne is felled in one clean sweep.
Mako coughed, looking at his father from hooded eyes. Finally, reluctantly, he nodded. “When it became clear you were returning, the Emperor came to me in private. He told me... that you were a threat to him. I appreciated his candour.”
“What did he offer you for killing me?”
“I was to be the head of the House, and his advisor.”
Sun-Ji banged the desk with his hand, hard enough to hurt. “Fool!” he spat. “Did you not stop to wonder why the Emperor, a man who has ruled alone for over sixty years, would want the counsel of a mere stripling?” He subsided, shaking his head. “Of course you didn’t. Well, here am I, sat on the throne; here are you, still learning your place. And there,” he said, pointing at the corner of the room, “There is your man.”
“Woman, actually,” Mako said, then rattled off a few words that Sun-Ji didn’t recognise. A shadow detached itself from the deeper shadow of the corner and walked a couple of steps into the room. A Black Claw assassin, Sun-Ji realised. Truly dedicated and particularly deadly. Only her eyes were visible, dead and grey. They are bound to follow any instruction once contracted. His hand twitched, anxious to be around a sword hilt, but one look at his son, defeated and sullen, stayed the impulse.
They sat in silence for a minute, each with their own thoughts. Then Sun-Ji took a breath and let it out slowly.
“I do not wish to be responsible for ending my own House,” he said finally. “Your mother is dead, in the arms of her lover, and there will be no more children born to me. You can learn from me, be my Chancellor and wield my name in your own cause, or I can give you your own House, of which you would be the head.” He shrugged. “Either way, I need your loyalty. I cannot watch my back from you and govern the Empire.” He reached forward and grasped the cut-crystal decanter on the desk, pouring a small amount of amber spirit into two glasses.
“Why did you kill the Palace staff, Father?” Mako said, taking one of the glasses but not drinking from it.
“The people being killed in the Fourth Quarter are your personal guard, your servants and however many of your circle of spies were foolish enough to be caught at your headquarters, Mako. The Palace staff are safely in the cellar.”
The boy shook his head at the blunt admission. “I was never going to out-think you, was I?” Mako raised his glass in salute. “Chancellor, then.” He quaffed the drink down in one and set the glass down.
“I have had a great deal more experience with people and politics than you, my son,” Sun-Ji said, raising his own glass to his lips and swallowing the liquor. It burned all the way down and he suppressed a slight gasp at the quality. Mako looked over at the assassin, still standing there, and rattled off a few more code words. The woman moved towards the balcony, grabbed the railing and swung herself into empty space.
Sun-Ji raised an eyebrow. “Was that necessary?”
“She was dead as soon as she took the contract, father.” Mako smiled, still touching his tender neck. “You taught me well in some things at least.”
Sun-Ji nodded. “Leave none who can tell the tale of your weakness.”
There was a pause, and then a crunch as the assassin’s body hit the ground below.