Chapter 2

"How many, Taurun?" Caiatl asks wearily.

An air of palpable tension permeates the room. In the time since the Imperial fleet had formed a blockade around the Leviathan, three separate frigates had defected to Calus's side. A fourth has just followed suit.

Caiatl began this campaign with fire in her heart. Now, she feels only cold and tired.

"A total of 250 soldiers, Empress," Taurun answers.

"We must strike!" Ca'aurg shouts suddenly, slamming his fist on the table. "Anything less will be seen as a sign of weakness!"

A clamor ripples through the rest of Caiatl's advisors. Only Valus Forge remains silent.

"Inaction is anathema," says Tha'arec. "Our warriors long for the glory of battle, not the dormancy of a blockade."

"Even if it means fighting for Calus," sneers Ca'aurg. He spits the name as if it were made of bile.

A bitter fury builds in Caiatl toward her father. He had ushered in an era of decadence that left the Cabal military dull and complacent; she had sought to be a different kind of leader. But her people remain adrift—this time, among the stars. Perhaps her defectors prefer the pleasure of certain death over the agony of uncertain survival. Or perhaps, she is merely the next in line to lead the empire to ruin.

"The Leviathan reappeared with no warning," Caiatl declares. "We do not know what else lurks beyond our sight. Our blockade may soon see more battle than we bargained for. Until then, we hold the line."

She speaks in a tone that brooks no argument. Her advisors leave the room, wisely keeping any further misgivings to themselves. Saladin nods to her, as if to say he and he alone agrees with her decision.

Caiatl can only wonder if she agrees with it herself.