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Deathstalker 06 - Deathstalker Legacy

Deathstalker 06 - Deathstalker Legacy

Titel: Deathstalker 06 - Deathstalker Legacy
Autoren: Simon R. Green
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Chapter 1
    THE CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE
    It was a Golden Age, dammit. People tend to forget that, in the wake of all that happened. They forget from how high a point they fell, or were pushed. Or jumped. But for over a hundred years the Empire had known peace and prosperity, unbridled growth and progress, and justice for all. A golden Empire; the very best parts of Humanity writ large across the stars. It was a time of unprecedented breakthroughs and advances made all the more glorious because its wondrous spoils were shared so freely with those who were not human. The Empire now embraced clones, espers, aliens, and even those who had once been the official Enemies of Humanity: the AIs of Shub. For almost two hundred years these disparate elements had labored together to forge a new Empire from the ruins of the old, to produce a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Triumph followed triumph, marvels and miracles were the order of the day, every day, and no one could see any reason why it shouldn't continue forever.
    Sparkling cities on shining worlds, a civilization born of hope and honor, and dreams come true.
    It wasn't a perfect age. There are always some who cannot, or will not, embrace the oldest dream of Humanity, to live in peace with itself. Even standing in the brightest sun, some parts of Humanity see only the dark shadow they cast. Who'd rather live in Hell than see their enemies enjoy Heaven with them.
    It was a Golden Age, then, for all its occasional faults, which makes it all the more sad that no one seemed to appreciate it till it was gone, torn apart and cast down by the arrival of the Terror, and the wounded pride of one terrible man.
    It was Christmas Eve on the planet called Logres, once known as Golgotha, now the center of the greatest Empire ever known. Logres; a bright and glorious world, whose cities were famous throughout the Empire for their sights and wonders, their heroes and celebrities, their innovations and achievements.
    The finest minds and hearts and souls came to Logres, to be a part of the great advance of Empire: the warriors and scientists, the poets and philosophers, the"' daring and the divas. To kneel before the Golden Thrones, and ask how best they might serve the greatest adventure of all.
    And in the most noble and exalted of all these cities, the ancient Parade of the Endless, full of marvels and wonders and the pride of Empire, it was a time of hope and renewal and great Celebration; for this Christmas Eve would see the crowning of a new King.
    Douglas Campbell, Paragon and wielder of the King's Justice, entered the Imperial Court from the back, slipping between the heavy black velvet curtains as quietly as possible, hoping not to be noticed. He leaned against the middle of the three Thrones, carelessly elegant in his Paragon's armor, and sighed quietly. He had hoped for a little peace and quiet, a moment or two of reflection, but it was not to be. It was a good six hours before the Ceremony was due to begin, but already a small army of people were bustling back and forth across the vast floor of the Court, shouting unheard orders and complaints at each other as they hurried on their urgent errands, determined that everything should be absolutely perfect for the Coronation.
    It was going to be a day to remember, a Ceremony viewed across all the Empire, and no one intended to be found wanting in the crunch. Still, they all seemed very sure of what they were doing. Douglas could only envy them their certainty.
    He stood quietly beside the King's Throne (huge and ornate and reputedly hideously uncomfortable to sit on), looking about him. The Imperial Court was just as vast and impressive as he remembered it, still as steeped in history and pageantry and significance, which was probably why he'd avoided it so assiduously for more than twenty years. He didn't like to be reminded that he was not only a Paragon, but also a Prince, the only son of King William. A Prince soon to be made King, much against his will.
    It wasn't fair.
    Only forty years old, and already the days of his freedom were over. He'd always known this day would have to come eventually; but though he had to admit he had a natural gift for authority, he'd always had a quiet dread of responsibility. He hated the thought of other people's lives and happiness depending on his word and decision. He wasn't up to it. He knew that, deep down. Even after twenty years as a Paragon, meting out the King's Justice ...

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