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17 August 2012 @ 05:55 am
FIC: Ouverture  
Author: Osiris Brackhaus
Story Title: Ouverture
Part: 1/1
Rating: PG
Configuration: /
Warnings: cybernetic monster Emperor
Word Count: 3.000 / 3.000
Setting: 'Phoenix Empire' verse, see Phoenix Empire Timeline & Index
Characters: Emperor Hyperion, Superintendent Kroll
Summary: One night, shortly after the Concord of P2 had been signed, the superintendent of the Old Opera in Imperial City receives a most unexpected nightly visitor...
Feedback: Yes, please!




The knocking on his office door was firm, but a little shy, almost as if trying not to startle him.

At his desk, Johann Kroll closed his eyes. It had been a long day.

It was two o’clock in the morning, and he had just finished his last round of the house, checking on the cleaning crews. Now he was compiling a list of small repairs that would have to be done first thing in the morning, so that everything would be perfect again once they opened their doors, writing dozens of little to-do-notes for his dozens of employees. Being the Superintendent of the Old Opera in P2’s Imperial City was a prestigious job, but working hours were ridiculous.

Though it was getting better, day by day. Now, with the war finally over, a new Emperor crowned and all the Dukes having left P2, things were slowly getting back to normal here in the capital. There had only been a minor disturbance during this evening’s show, a few young nobles trying to duel in the hallways. Damage had been almost negligible, only a few scorch marks on a wall, one ripped curtain and some blood. But negotiating with hot-headed, teenage Nobles high on wine and honor had still been draining.

He had managed to make them leave, though, quietly even, before they could disturb anyone of the other patrons or, God forbid, even manage to irritate one of the singers on the stage. The Emperor had been in attendance tonight, and Kroll would rather drop dead than give the impression that he didn’t have his house in perfect control.

Again, someone knocked at his door, this time more insisting.

“Come in!”

The door swung open, and for a long moment, nothing happened.

Then, two long, many-jointed artificial legs entered his office, a third one clutching around the doorframe as if a giant spider was carefully gauging this new territory. The legs were connected to a man’s torso, obese and pale among all the black, gleaming steel.

“Do you have a minute, Superintendent?”

Kroll barely managed not to flinch. He had greeted this man on several occasions already. But the sight of him still triggered some deep unease, and not only because he was the Emperor, the Great Dragon. There was something so fundamentally unsettling about this specific man/machine amalgam that it made his skin crawl.

For a heartbeat, he had to fight the urge to throw himself on the floor and grovel, but then be just rose and bowed deeply. As deeply as it befitted a commoner greeting his Emperor, but not an inch more.

“Always, your Majesty.”

“Sorry to barge in here like this.” Emperor Hyperion stated, squeezing his wide body through the door. It was odd to see this brutish man take obvious care not to scratch the wooden frames with his cybernetics. “But your secretary didn’t seem like he was going to say another word tonight.”

“What have you -” Kroll started, but caught himself in the very last moment. “Has anything happened to him?”

Hyperion turned around, casting him a wryly amused look. “I think he was just too scared to talk, so I allowed myself to come in unannounced. He fled, but he’s fine.”

“He’s young. Please forgive him.”

Hyperion waved away Kroll’s concerns with a mere gesture of his hand. “Never mind, it happens to me all the time. And I prefer the scared ones, anyway. Means they are smarter than most.”

That was a barely veiled threat, but somehow Kroll was sure it wasn’t directed at him. But what was the Emperor doing here, at this time? And why hadn’t he just called for him, as it would have been proper?

For the moment, Hyperion seemed distracted by the wall of memorabilia in Kroll’s office, and the Superintendent used the moment to study his unexpected guest.

Hyperion looked like he always did - a middle-aged man, massively overweight and sporting an eight-legged cybernetic lower body since his own had been blown away by a bomb supposed to kill him. His organic body was naked except for the black cloak around his shoulders, and despite his bulk he moved with a grace and caution that seemed at odds with the loud and violent man he displayed in public. Kroll also noticed that Hyperion had neatly tucked his two front legs under his abdomen - the two legs that ended in almost meter-long monoblades that he used predominantly for fighting. Also, the Emperor was walking on his knuckles, with the foot-long blades that tipped his six walking legs carefully folded inwards, as if trying not to damage the floor.

Whatever the Emperor was here for tonight, it didn’t look like he was expecting a fight.

“How may I serve you, my Lord?”

Hyperion didn’t answer immediately. Instead, his look lingered on some of the faded photographs on the wall, the old ones from the time they now called the Dark Ages. When he finally spoke, his voice wasn’t the booming basso everyone was used from him, but a very normal, resonant man’s voice. He sounded... surprisingly human.

“I have come here to thank you, Superintendent, and to apologize.”

This was so unexpected that Kroll couldn’t suppress a slow, surprised double blink.

This was the Emperor, for all that was holy! He was in the one position where he didn’t need to thank anyone at all, and much less apologize. He was this Empire’s ultimate power, and he had just proven it in one of the bloodiest wars humanity had ever seen. This was the man who, just a few month ago, had declared the war over after beheading a sobbing, nineteen year old boy in the throne room. His taste in classic music might have been impeccable, but that could hardly distract from the trail of cold-blooded murder he left in his wake.

To say that Kroll felt uncomfortable would have been the understatement of the year. But once again, he managed to keep his mouth shut, and instead only nodded.

“You are Superintendent of this house for fifteen years now,” Hyperion continued, now turning his attention fully to Kroll. “And never in all these years, despite the war, despite the bombardment, despite the battles fought in the streets right outside this office, the Old Opera has never missed even a single show. At eight o’clock on any given day, the curtains rise, and you give a show to the people of this city.”

“My Lord, I am merely running the business end of things here. There’s almost a hundred people - “

A sharp gesture of the Emperor cut off Kroll almost mid-word.

“I am very well aware who is doing what here in this house. And it was you personally who has kept this a place of civility among all the barbarism of the last years.” Hyperion seemed to struggle with the words, and it dawned Kroll that this wasn’t some rehearsed speech, but a deeply personal conversation. “The stability of this house gave us hope that we hadn’t sacrificed the last of our humanity in the war. You gave hope to the Empire. And to me.”

Coming from anyone else, Kroll would have dismissed this as overly flowery platitudes. But coming from Hyperion, a scarred veteran of two ruthless wars, here, in the dead of the night, with no witnesses but the two of them, it was a stunning admission of a man the world only knew as a merciless killer and ice-cold politician.

“Even if the Empire may never understand what you have been doing here, Superintendent, I want to express my personal gratitude.”

Startled out of words, Kroll realized that he was biting back tears. And not because an Emperor said something nice to him. That wouldn’t even have touched him. It was because that Emperor had understood why Kroll had kept this place running, why he had made it a point of pride that despite everything, the Old Opera would put on a show every night. Kroll would have never worded it this way himself, but Hyperion had pretty much nailed it down. The Old Opera had been a bastion of human civility and culture. Failing to put up a show would have been a defeat that could not be measured in human lives. It would have been a defeat of the soul.

Realizing that the Emperor understood this very well was unexpected, and a revelation indeed. Maybe Emperor Hyperion was a ruthless killer, but he hadn’t forgotten what he was fighting for.

“Thank you, my Lord.” Kroll replied after he was sure his voice would be steady, this time bowing as deeply as he could. “That means a lot to me.”

“Ah.” Again, Hyperion waved his hand dismissively. “It’s not as if you can buy anything with it.”

“Still. It is worth a lot to know that the Emperor cherishes our continued efforts here.”

“Speaking of which -” Hyperion suddenly interjected, his mood instantly shifting from thoughtful to belligerent. “You’ve had a little disturbance today during the second half, didn’t you?”

“I am awfully sorry that your Majesty noted.” Kroll replied glibly, hoping that the Emperor wouldn’t notice his growing concern. “The cast was admittedly worried that you might have taken offense when they noticed you had left right after the curtain fell.”

Hyperion allowed himself a feral smile. “I hunted down those fools who thought they could ignore the peace of this house. They will not bother you again. Ever.”

Astonishingly, Kroll’s reply was more frosty than grateful. “I had talked with them about the matter, and I agreed to consider the matter closed once they left without any further noise. They did, so the matter was over.”

“Not for me.” It was obvious that Hyperion was still angry, though Kroll couldn’t really say what it was that angered him so much. “I have hunted them down but for the last three bastards, which I couldn’t get the names out of any of the others. But I am quite sure you know who I am looking for. They were House Castella, if I am not entirely mistaken.”

“Your Majesty. I consider the matter closed.”

Hyperion’s smile vanished. “Give me those names,” he growled.

“No.”

In less than a blink, Hyperion jumped at Kroll, his scythe-like fighting arms out faster than the eye could follow. Before Kroll had closed his mouth, Hyperion was over him, pinning him against the wall, the blades of his fighting arms crossed right underneath Kroll’s chin.

“I said: Give. Me. Those. Names.”

“And I said: No.”

There. He had done it. Directly disobeyed an order by the Emperor. An offense that would spell a death sentence to any Noble, much more so to a commoner. And yet, Kroll knew there was no other choice for him.

“I am merely a commoner, my Lord, but I also know how this game is played,” he explained calmly, trying to ignore the blades at this throat and the hulking half-arachnid beast above him as best as he could. “‘Within my walls, my word is law.’ Who’s to respect my word if even I don’t?” Then something from the corner of his eyes caught Kroll’s attention, and with a tiny smile, he added: “And besides, my Lord, your threats would carry much more weight if you weren’t still taking so much care not to ruin my parquetry.”

Following Kroll’s look, Hyperion stared at his own walking feet, the blades at the end of the cybernetic limbs still politely folded inwards, twitching ever so slightly with the sudden attention.

A soft, rumbling noise escaped Hyperion, a sound that only bit by bit turned into an identifiable chuckle. Obviously trying to bite down his amusement, the Emperor let go of Kroll, instantly sheathing his arm-blades again. But his efforts to stay calm were unsuccessful, and within seconds he broke into loud, gut-breaking laughter, holding the wobbly folds of his belly with both hands, tears in his eyes.

Still standing at the wall, his heart racing, Kroll wasn’t too sure if this was a very good or a very bad thing.

“Well played, Superintendent, well played indeed,” the Emperor said as soon as he had calmed down sufficiently. “You’re a good man, Kroll, you know that? I wish I had more of your sorts.”

“I still won’t give you the names, my Lord.”

Almost snorting, Hyperion waved the problem away. “Go, have it your way, protect those idiots, if you want.”

“So I take you are not going to execute me for disobedience?”

“How stupid do you think I am?” Grimacing, Hyperion added: “I said I came here to apologize, but I am really not good at it.”

“You see me utterly unsurprised, my Lord.” The remark was out before Kroll could think better of it, but apparently, it didn’t bother the Emperor the slightest. If at all, it seemed to make him more relaxed.

“You are doing an important job here, and you are doing it very well.” Hyperion started, still smirking amiably. “And I ought to have supported you much sooner. Pitting a commoner against all the noble hotspurs of the Empire is below even my standards.”

“And... what do you suggest?”

Hyperion scoffed. “I don’t suggest. I act.” Straightening his body into a more upright and somewhat official pose, he changed back to his trained speaker’s voice. “Superintendent Johann Kroll, from this day on, as long as you speak within the Old Opera and on behalf of the Old Opera, you will speak with my voice, and I will stand to your word as if it were my own. So swear I, Hyperion the first, Emperor on the Phoenix Throne, Great Dragon of House Dracon.”

This time, Kroll could have sworn his heart missed a beat.

The Voice of the Emperor was a legendary Oath of a ruler towards one of his subjects, allowing the subject to act as a direct representative with full powers of the Emperor under certain circumstances. Only a handful of people had ever been given this oath in the entire history of the Empire, most famously the Phoenix Knights of Emperor Alexander. Basically, Hyperion had just made him the equivalent to the highest ranking Noble next to the Emperor within the walls of the Old Opera, with full command over any military or administratorial staff and resources. And these were only the hard benefits.

Staggering back towards his desk, Kroll allowed himself to fall onto his chair.

As far as he knew, Hyperion hadn’t given this level of public trust to anyone in the Empire so far, not even to his son, Prince Gregorious. The moment this would become public, Nobles all over the Empire would fall over themselves just to gain his favor. It was a horrifying thought.

“Your trust humbles me,” Kroll finally managed to say. Only, it wasn’t what he felt at all, and after what had happened tonight already, he felt there was little point in remaining polite. “No, actually I am scared shitless. What the hell?! Do you really think this is a smart idea?”

Again, Hyperion laughed, a surprisingly honest and relaxed. “I think it was one of the best ideas I’ve had in a very long time. You’ll do great.”

“I am not so sure.”

“I am sure enough for both of us.”

“That is... still scary.” Struggling with the staggering implications, Kroll asked: “Would you mind sending me a written copy of this?”

“Isn’t it enough that I swore an oath to you?! You can trust my word.”

“It’s not your word I don’t trust, just my memory. I don’t want to have to call you just to reassure myself I haven’t been dreaming this conversation.” Waiting until Hyperion’s renewed laughter had subsided, he added: “Also, it might make things easier with a lot of Nobles doubting my status.”

Thoughtful, Hyperion nodded. “I’ll have a nice scroll made for you, with all those official seals and ribbons.”

“Thank you.”

“I have to thank you. And apart from that, I think I should leave, we both still have work to do.”

“Rarely an hour off in this job, isn’t it?”

For a moment, Hyperion seemed startled at the ambivalence of the remark, then he smiled, his sly eyes sparkling.

“Indeed. Have a good night, Superintendent.”

“Same to you, my Lord.”

Silently, Hyperion turned around and squeezed his massive frame through the door. Despite the awkward angles and inhuman look, it was an oddly smooth motion, and soon the Emperor of the Phoenix Empire was strolling down the corridor, his six walking feet tapping an alien rhythm on the hardwood floor.

“Majesty!” Kroll called after him in a spur of the moment. “I didn’t congratulate you to your recent coronation yet.”

Hyperion turned around, a questioning frown on his face.

“It’s a good thing to have an Emperor again,” Kroll said. “May your reign be uneventful, and not a day longer than you want it to.”

Smiling, puzzled and apparently more than a little touched, Hyperion nodded, tipping his imaginary hat.

“Thank you, Superintendent. I’ll see you next Saturday at eight.”

“We’ll have a show for you, Highness.”

Watching Hyperion walk down the rest of the corridor and disappear around a corner towards the staircase, Kroll couldn’t help but smile at the tiny but hard to overlook swagger in the Emperor’s six-legged walk.

Maybe Hyperion was a brutish, cold-blooded killer.

Maybe he was the strong Emperor that the Empire needed more than a kind one.

But also, maybe this was the beginning of a most unexpected friendship.


 
 
 
Milady OMlady_om on August 17th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
That's interesting... Why would he need six walking legs?

beheading a sobbing, nineteen year old boy in the throne room
Call me twisted, but I'd like to see that...

“May your reign be uneventful, and not a day longer than you want it to.”
Damn, that's such a great toast. I'll have to "borrow" it.

I enjoyed this little battle of wills and wits.
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 17th, 2012 07:42 pm (UTC)
Well, a hexapedal setup is very stable, and once you manage to get a sufficiently effective energy source, it is one of the most agile and dependable system there are. It is also freakingly inhuman, especially with the two fighting arms, much like a man-sized praying mantis. But Hyperion had a good reason for choosing this shape - maybe you can figure out a hint here: http://osirisbrackhaus.livejournal.com/17662.html

No need to feel shy, you're among friends here. I'd like to read that myself. I am sure we will visit this particular moment one day, though we're still gathering the details right now.

He. Thanks, and of course you are welcome to borrow the toast. I think it's been one of the nicest things someone has wished Hyperion in a long, long time.

Tanks for taking the time to read and comment!
Milady OMlady_om on August 18th, 2012 01:31 am (UTC)
Ok, I defer the issue of six legs to the experts :)

But actually when reading I kept picturing Otto Octavius from the second Spiderman movie...
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 18th, 2012 04:34 am (UTC)
I thought more of something like this: http://lodias.deviantart.com/art/Cyber-spider-148735317

But DocOc isn't too far off, either, just not scary enough. ^^
BerthaBlueberthablue on August 18th, 2012 03:11 am (UTC)
Thank god I'm not the only one who's ears perked up at the very mention of a sobbing nineteen year old boy being beheaded!
idolme922idolme922 on August 17th, 2012 03:18 pm (UTC)
Ohhhh! This is so interesting. I imagine the Emperor as a bit like one of the creatures in Men in Black! The contrast between the rather nice man and the cold blooded killer had me going. I half expected him to lop off the Superintendent's head! (Glad he didn't!)

A lovely slice of existance in the Phoenix Empire. Thank you! ☺
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 17th, 2012 07:45 pm (UTC)
I am the one who has to thank you!

Hyperion is one of the most complex characters in the Phoenix Empire, and even though I don't think he'll ever get a proper storyline, he'll show up every now and then again. And I am personally really fond of him, so who knows, maybe we'll see even more of him yet.
debbiemethosdeb on August 18th, 2012 01:46 am (UTC)
loved it ,you have to respect someone that stands up for what he believes in,good for him not giving those names out,they owe him big time(he just saved thier lives).
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 18th, 2012 10:47 am (UTC)
Lifesaver indeed. Can you imagine a bunch of noble kids, running through the streets of Imperial City at night, shooting at an eight-legged shadow that hunts them relentlessly? :D

Thanks for commenting!
BerthaBlueberthablue on August 18th, 2012 03:12 am (UTC)
I approve of this friendship :D Seems they are pretty evenly matched - Hyperion's over-the-top-ness and Kroll's calmness and ability to have moral standards.
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on August 18th, 2012 10:49 am (UTC)
Yep, they have a lot in common, actually. Both try to do the best job they can, and are not overly happy with what it turns them into. But both are men of integrity, and I think they'll end up haven a lot of friendly conversations over the next years to come.
hab318princesshab318princess on September 22nd, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
really enjoyed the story
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on September 23rd, 2012 06:05 am (UTC)
Thank you, dear!
triptyxtriptyx on October 29th, 2012 06:30 pm (UTC)
Is it wrong to love the Cybernetic Monster Emperor? :S :S :S ;) :D I think I am getting hooked on all your characters that maybe will never appear in person again!

I still cant imagine how Amadeus being the last of the Habichtswald house AND lover of his son and future Emperor, could have made points with THIS father in law? :S >:D :D

Kroll is way braver than I will ever be, refusing a direct order from a Cybernetic Monster Emperor!!! :D :D :D Totally my hero! :)

I look forward to seeing pieces of this friendship in other stories! :)
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on October 30th, 2012 08:10 am (UTC)
Don't worry too much - they will all appear occasionally, but not as main characters, at least as far as we can see. That would give away too much and at the same time need too much background info / knowledge to have their actions make sense. But you'll meet them again, I promise.

Amy and Hyperion bonded over strawberry tartlets and the perceived cruelty of dire necessities. And their shared love for the opera, though Amy rather prefers the soapy kind...

He doesn't see himself as brave, only as very aware of his options - had he refused, he'd lost what little standing he had against all the other nobles of the city, and that would have been a slow death to his house. He'd rather die quickly.

*HUGS tryptix* Yes! This is exactly how these stories work. You'll see them again, over the years, and knowing what happened in this particular night will make everything much more interesting.