Chapter 7

At the long table of her council room on the fleeing warship Eligos Lex V, Caiatl sat with her advisors. An ugly panic gripped them.

"Their war moons are too powerful," said Councilor Taurun. The tactical display, where Hive ships and war moons floated like innumerable dust specks in space, flickered.

"They are not deterred by casualties," rumbled Ca'aurg. "All loss is acceptable loss to the Hive."

There were murmurs of assent across the table. "Ghaul diverted some of our best generals," lamented Tha'arec. "All to the damnable Sol system, for his idiotic crusade…"

"They will not return," said Ca'aurg. "And neither will Ghaul." He clenched his fist. "But this weakness didn't start with Ghaul. It started with that bloated traitor, Calus."

Ca'aurg and Tha'arec glared at each other from across the table. They shared a look Caiatl knew very well; it often preceded bloodshed. She watched them for a tense moment and then raised her voice to say, "Enough."

All looked to the Princess-Imperial.

"My father was infatuated with the myth of his own benevolence," Caiatl said. "He gorged himself and his people on stories of what the empire could be and took half-measures to make it so. But he never succeeded. He never wished to succeed. I am not my father.

"Dominus Ghaul was obsessed with his own redemption. He imagined debts owed to him and sought their fulfilment. He used the Legion as a tool to secure himself and his legacy. He saw the empire as one more thing he was owed. I am not Dominus Ghaul.

"Umun'arath misled me—misled us all. Our people are not meant to flee our battles. But neither are we the Hive, throwing ourselves on the blade again and again. There is strength in tactical retreat."

She studied the worried faces of her councilors and felt shame for their weakness, but responsibility as well. "We'll direct all our surviving ships to the Sol system to reclaim whatever remains of the Legion. This is my first order, as empress of the Cabal."

The next day, as they fled their homeworld, a coronation was held upon the Eligos Lex V, royal flagship of Empress Caiatl, leader of the Cabal.