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Part of Bravo Fleet Command: Lore Office Release

The Death of Kings

The Great Hall, Qo'noS
August 2401
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Ambassador’s Log, Stardate 2401.8. The Endeavour has just returned to Qo’noS from their investigation of the last confirmed location of Chancellor Martok’s ship before its disappearance. I remained here with Commodore Rourke, trying to keep tempers from fraying in the Klingon High Council. But these divides go deep. I fear Martok sat on a powderkeg for decades, muffling his people’s fury and ambition without dousing it. Now he is gone – if he is gone – it’s unclear what comes next for the Empire. More than that, it’s unclear what will come of the Khitomer Accords, and the Empire’s friendship with the Federation.

‘…no signs that anyone had even boarded the escape pod.’ Captain Valance’s voice echoed around the shrouded Great Hall, her tone clipped, crisp, and professional even as the bearer of the only thing worse than bad news: no news. Her ship had ventured forth from Qo’noS with the most powerful sensor suite in the empire, trying to uncover the fate of Chancellor Martok and his ship. Instead, they had returned with more questions.

Councillor Koloth, son of Koloth, one of the only steady heads in the crowded meeting chamber of the High Council and one of the only people Ambassador Sophia Hale had been able to count on, drummed his fingers on the armrest of his chair. He was still positioned to the left of the vacant chair of the chancellor, left empty these long days. At length, he stood and straightened his armour’s over-robe.

‘Was there any indication of the conditions of the Rotarran when the escape pod was launched?’ he asked.

If Hale hadn’t known better, she wouldn’t have seen the minuscule adjustment of Valance’s stance.

‘We were unable to ascertain that,’ the half-Klingon Starfleet captain said coolly.

Beside Hale, Commodore Rourke gave a low scoff. ‘We should tell them,’ he muttered to her. ‘Klingon officers interrupted our investigation, attacked our ship -’

‘Not here,’ Hale breathed, silencing him. They stood on a knife edge. Launching accusations at what was feasibly a few discontented renegades with an axe to grind against Starfleet risked disrupting the whole affair. Though Hale was not sure what would constitute a worse disruption than the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Chancellor Martok, and the feeding frenzy the High Council threatened to fall into now they could smell blood in the water.

Koloth was stroking his beard. He looked thoughtful, but Hale knew he was stalling for time. They had both hoped that Endeavour’s investigation would show something. At length, the sturdy Klingon straightened, his gaze sweeping around the High Council. ‘The fact that our friends and allies uncovered more on a closer inspection means there is still much we do not understand,’ he said, his voice rumbling about the chamber. He extended a hand towards Valance. ‘I thank Captain Karana, daughter of Jodmang, for her vigilance and service to the Empire -’

The next scoff did not come from Rourke, loud enough to echo, loud enough to set a rumble through the chamber and force Koloth to fall silent. Hale tried not to brace as another councillor rose to their feet, smooth like a blade through water and yet with enough strength to command the hall’s attention with merely a sound.

‘That’s enough, Koloth.’ Lady L’kor of the House of Mo’Kai spoke in a low voice that nevertheless carried. Rather than challenging, she sounded dismissing, and still that was enough for her to control the chamber. She stepped forward, before the ring of chairs and onlookers, into the centre beside Valance. ‘Starfleet has inserted itself where it does not belong. We do not need to turn to dogs and mongrels to resolve our affairs.’

Hale’s eyes flickered to Valance. I need you to be both. Klingon and Starfleet, she’d told Endeavour’s captain before they’d ventured to Imperial space. The right move was for Valance to stand her ground, answer the insult sharply, demonstrate she was a warrior who needed to be listened to. It was the clearest move for the Federation to maintain a foothold in the situation; Hale could see that, bright as day, and yet Valance merely stiffened, shaking her head with a faint disagreement that achieved nothing.

‘Martok is gone,’ L’kor continued, unimpeded in her dismissal of Starfleet. ‘All we are doing now is picking over his bones to see if they will give us wisdom. You are refusing to acknowledge this unwelcome truth, Koloth. You call it caution; I call it a failure of courage.’

Koloth tensed. ‘What we do here, L’kor, will determine the Empire’s next steps. I will not be foolhardy.’

‘Chancellor Martok set forth for Borath on his ship. Chancellor Martok’s ship never arrived. Nobody can find any sign of Martok, his ship, or his crew. We have investigated. Starfleet has investigated. There is nothing more to find. We must accept this uncertainty.’ L’kor opened her hands, eyes lighting with a wry but, Hale thought, sincerely tired amusement. ‘Or are there too many in here who will doubt my words to hear that? Shall I tell you our blood runs red, and you will question that, too?’

‘You have opposed Martok for years,’ said Koloth. ‘Undermined his rule. Forgive me, L’kor, if yours is not the first voice I would listen to when our chancellor is in danger.’

‘No,’ L’kor sighed. ‘Your Federation friends would hate it if you listened to me.’ She turned to the Federation delegation. In the exchange, Valance had slid back to the side, flanking the other side of Hale. The diplomat could have smacked the captain for ceding ground, but the moment had passed.

L’kor’s eyes fell on Rourke. ‘Tell me, Commodore, how many official complaints has the Federation levelled at me and my House?’

‘Officially?’ Rourke’s jaw was tight. ‘Even that’s a high number, Lady L’kor. Your House has been accused of multiple acts of espionage, sabotage, theft, murder-’

‘But none of them substantiated in this hall,’ said L’kor airily. She turned back to the rest of the High Council. ‘Martok is gone, and we -’

‘And we must have justice.’

The new voice thundered about the hall. Hale had not been aware L’kor could be shocked into silence, but it happened when the doors opened, and a tall, broad Klingon in battered and worn armour stalked in. His kur’leth was sheathed on his back, but in his hand, he brandished a series of PADDs just as tightly and readily as he would any blade.

Koloth’s brow furrowed at the sight of the dishevelled warrior. ‘Toral.’

Toral, son of Duras, stormed to the centre of the chamber. ‘I demand the Council’s eyes and ears. Because Lady L’kor is correct in some matters: our chancellor is gone, and we must accept that. But we must also answer it.’

L’kor turned towards him with a dismissive look, though Hale could see the guarded tension about her. ‘You left in such haste days ago, Toral. Did you find anything? Or did you merely wish to perform as the man of action while wiser heads sought to achieve?’

‘What did you achieve? Talking in circles,’ retorted Toral. He turned to the rest of the chamber, holding his PADDs aloft. ‘You all know me. You know how I hunted the House of D’Ghor to extinction, wiped out a stain on the Empire’s honour. Destroyed a threat that has hounded our people and our name for years while others were weak and inactive. You know I am a man of action, not merely words. So I ask you to listen to me now.’

Hale’s back clenched like iron. ‘We’re about to get hit,’ she murmured.

But there was nothing to do. No interruption of Toral, who had done all these deeds and used them to restore his family’s honour; who had leveraged his successes to become a member of the High Council. They had not the influence or power to dislodge him, and she had nothing but her instincts telling her they should interfere.

‘There is another threat in our midst. We have known this for years,’ said Toral, voice booming about the chamber. ‘Who has undermined us. Our chancellor. Our empire. Our alliances. Made us look oath-breakers in the eyes of the galaxy, or else weak. A snake in these halls. You heard it moments ago: the accusations that Lady L’kor and her House have spied and slaughtered, not just in the Federation, but in the Empire!’

To her credit, L’kor did not flinch. ‘And moments ago, I reminded you all that none of these have been proven.’

Toral tossed one PADD to the floor, where it landed like a whip-crack. ‘The testimony and evidence of Captain Chor’kel, son of Kariok, on your role in the bombings at Klach d’kel Brakt!’ Another was thrown down beside it, his voice as sharp as the impact. ‘The evidence gathered at Khitomer, identifying members of your House as responsible for the attack in ‘94, as assembled by Councillor Vormar!’

L’kor’s lip curled as she looked at the PADDs. ‘Old accusations,’ she sneered. ‘Ones which have nothing to do with Martok’s disappearance. Ones I have answered with steel.’

‘Against Chor’kel’s steel,’ Toral agreed. ‘Vormar’s steel. Not mine.’

In an instant, L’kor was like a cat who had been challenged; her back arched, her hand poised on the hilt of her blade. ‘Is that an accusation, whelp? You came so far in such a short time. Restored a house of dogs. Would you see it fall to nothing?’

‘Enough!’ Koloth tried to yell, but the hum and buzz of the Great Hall was too high, now, the councillors looking on with too much eagerness.

Toral drew his kur’leth slowly. ‘I name you murderer. Spy. Traitor. A snake in our midst. The thorn in our side for years, L’kor. And I charge you with the murder of Martok.’ He spat on the ground.

Hale looked sharply at Valance. ‘There’s no way to stop this, is there?’

Valance shook her head. ‘Not with words like that.’

And before Hale had any bright ideas, the Great Hall rang out with the sound of steel on steel as L’kor drew her sword and the blades of the two warriors met.

L’kor had seen off every challenger for years, used her network of spies and skills in subterfuge to obfuscate all accusations enough that she could demand trial by combat. One of the best fighters in the Empire, that had been enough to see off the first few accusations. Others had then thought twice before bringing anything to bear, so her iniquity had gone an open secret for years.

Hale had never seen so much as a recording of Toral fighting. She’d assumed the stories that he had killed D’Ghor himself in single combat were inflated, used to build this myth of the exiled warrior returned to restore his family’s honour. That was perhaps true, but now she saw Toral match L’kor’s steel, even her inexpert eye knew that the stories were at least plausible.

She ducked back from the crowd, away from Valance and Rourke, and for a moment she wasn’t a Federation ambassador, but a woman much smaller than the towering Klingons who could slip through the proceedings to make it to Koloth’s side.

‘This is chaos,’ she hissed at her old friend.

He was still on his feet and planted a hand on her shoulder. This was, she knew, his indication to onlookers that he welcomed her up here, near the chancellor’s seat, at his side. ‘It’s his right as a councillor,’ Koloth reminded her.

‘He has no evidence about Martok,’ Hale murmured. ‘Or he’d have said it.’

‘He has evidence about L’kor’s past misdeeds.’

‘Which she’s answered. Can he even relitigate those?’ Even for Klingons, matters had to be put to bed once they were answered.

‘He’s not,’ said Koloth, brow furrowed. ‘He’s using those to show she is untrustworthy.’

He’s using those, Hale realised with a sinking heart, to justify blaming her for Martok’s disappearance, even if he doesn’t have a shred of evidence. And nobody here is going to come to L’kor’s defence if she needs it.

‘This isn’t going to help us get to the truth,’ Hale said to Koloth after a heartbeat.

‘My friend.’ Koloth looked at her, his smile more of a grimace. ‘This hall has not been a place of truth in many a year.’

A cheer erupted from the crowd. One councillor leapt up, blocking Hale’s view, and though she heard a gurgle, the impact of a body, the hiss of shock from the onlookers, she did not know if this was victory, defeat, or just a telling blow. Koloth’s grip on her shoulder tightened, there was a beat of silence, and then one lone voice among the councillors struck up – then another, then another.

Toral! Toral! Toral!

The Klingon blocking her view moved. Before her lay the gasping, dying form of Lady L’kor, head of the House of Mo’Kai. Blade dripping with her blood, Toral stood over her. His chest heaved as he shut his eyes, inhaled sharply through his nose, breathed the scent and taste of the moment. When he spoke, his voice was not loud, but it was enough to silence them all, each of them hanging onto his every word.

‘A snake is dead, and for years, we let her writhe among us, lie among us. Martok was our chancellor. He saw us to victory in war, yes. But there was also much he did not see. Enemies he would not face. Weaknesses he allowed to fester.’

It was incredible, Hale thought distantly, how quickly Martok had evaporated into the past tense.

Toral opened his eyes and turned to take in the crowd. As he did, more droplets of L’kor’s blood hit the ancient stonework underfoot. ‘He talked of harnessing the Klingon heart. Turning it to something greater. But all he did was smother it. One snake is dead – where is the next? Will we ignore it as it slithers its way amidst us, as Martok ignored L’kor? Or will we take action? Choke its lies before it can utter them? Stamp out its venom?’

He spoke as if his words could summon a storm. The loud chanting had stopped, but now the gathered councillors took up his name anew; not in yells, but low, rhythmic. Feet stamped on the stone floors in a steady beat, a low rumble of Toral, Toral, Toral, like black clouds gathering on the horizon. As Hale looked around, she saw not only the weaker-willed or more blood-thirsty of the High Council enthralled by the victorious warrior, but Konjah, the warlord; Korath, the shipbuilder; powerful, influential councillors.

‘We defeated the greatest force the galaxy has ever seen, and then we spent a quarter of a century chasing our tails! Our oldest foe dealt itself a mortal blow, and instead of seizing the opportunity for glorious battle, we muzzled ourselves! Jumped at shadows within, and let others leash us! No more!’ When Toral turned to level his dripping blade at the empty chair at the heart of the gathering, a vice had already tightened around Hale’s throat.

‘Martok is dead. I have slain his murderer. I assume the chancellorship.’

Toral! Toral! Toral!

Any dissenting voices, any silent apprehension, any cautious murmurings were lost in the thunder of acclaim that met Toral’s proclamation. But when he took a step towards the chancellor’s seat, Koloth blocked his way.

‘You cannot simply claim it,’ Koloth rumbled, his response enough to hush the raging crowd. ‘There has been no Rite of Succession -’

‘There is no other challenger!’ Toral sneered.

‘We should appoint an Arbiter!’

‘Who? You? Who could not stir himself against Mo’Kai, the D’Ghor, the Romulans when they were weak, but could always find forces to help the Federation?’ Toral pointed his accusing blade past him, and suddenly Hale found herself the unwitting centre of attention. ‘Or should we let your Federation friends decide the chancellorship? Again?’

Hale fought to find her voice and knew she could not stop this storm. ‘The Rite of Succession would give time to understand what happened to Martok -’

‘We know what happened to Martok! L’kor killed him!’ Toral looked back among the gathered councillors, then back at Koloth. ‘Do you want to be the only one standing against me, Koloth?’

This was not the whole High Council. A disappeared chancellor was enough to boil pockets of discontent across the empire to the point of eruption. Many councillors had rushed back to their territories, making sure Martok’s fall was not followed by total chaos. But there was still, Hale suspected, a majority of all councillors stood here chanting Toral’s name. Koloth seemed to have made the same calculation, but though he stepped back, his lip curled.

‘You are not my chancellor.’

For a moment, Hale thought it would come to blows. But Koloth turned aside quickly, and Toral did not move against him. Slaying the hated L’kor on spurious grounds was one thing. A political operator as canny as Toral had to know that navigating the opposition of the powerful and popular Koloth required a more deft touch.

‘You’ll rethink that in time,’ called Toral as Koloth stepped towards the door. ‘There will be glory for my followers.’

‘Glory!’ Koloth scoffed over his shoulder. ‘Petty troubles!’

‘Glory,’ repeated Toral, ‘through battle. Through conquest. Through fresh territories brought to heel, brought under the banner of the Empire.’ That stopped Koloth short, and Toral stepped to the chancellor’s seat, sword still in hand.

‘As soon as oaths of fealty have been sworn,’ the new chancellor said, gaze sweeping over the council, ‘we will assemble the fleets. The time has come to invade the Romulans.’

In the fuss, Rourke had moved to Hale’s side, but he was too slow to stop her when she stepped forward into the new rush of cheers and yells, into the centre of the circle, and faced the new chancellor. Toral had turned Koloth’s snub aside with a promise of greater grandeur, and it might have been wise to stay silent. But she was the Federation’s diplomatic representative to Qo’noS, and she had a job to do.

‘Toral, son of Duras,’ she said, and somehow her voice carried over the baying. She kept her voice as respectful as she could without using the title chancellor. ‘It is my duty to restate the Federation’s firm commitment to our allies, the Romulan Republic. We will not permit the infringement of their sovereignty or territory.’

Permit?’ sneered Toral, rounding on her. She was distantly aware of Rourke stepping up behind her and wished he hadn’t. Gone was the time to handle this like a Klingon. She would handle this like the ambassador she was.

She had chosen her words intentionally and did not need to belabour or explain them. ‘It is evident the High Council has many matters to attend to,’ Hale continued, ‘and we will be here to support our friends, the Klingon Empire, as we have done for many decades. But our treaty commitments are clear.’

His lip curled. ‘Then you have a choice, Ambassador. Bring that to your masters. Stay out of our way – or witness first-hand the conquering might of the Klingon Empire, as you have not seen it for a hundred years!’ He gave a sharp wave before easing onto the seat of the chancellor. Around him, the cheers and jeers of the council continued. ‘Until then, you are dismissed from these chambers.’

Hale gave a stiff, formal nod. ‘Thank you, Toral,’ she said, and still did not use his title.

Rourke and Valance were on either side of her as they headed for the doors. In the archway ahead, they could see Koloth stood waiting for them.

‘We have to leave,’ said Valance in a hushed but certain voice, ‘before someone decides to make him very happy and tries to kill us.’

‘Yeah,’ grumbled Rourke. ‘Because the last thing this situation needs is for the timetable on that declaration of war to be moved up.’