Best in the Empire

Spiro tightened the strap of his chest piece just a hair more to straighten it out. It was a worthless bit of frippery. almost more soft gold inlay than actual hardened steel, but if he was to participate in this charade, he was to go all the way.

“Thank you, sir,” he whispered into the looking glass. “Thank you, s— your honor. Thank you, your honor. I’m honored.”

He frowned. Now the chest piece was crooked in the other direction. He loosened both straps with a sigh and started over.

The award ceremony was, in a word, puzzling. When Spiro had pulled his spear from the last enemy less than a month ago, he hadn’t felt like a hero. He barely felt anything at all other than the slightest hint of satisfaction at having survived another battle without breaking and running. He had followed his orders to the letter, nothing more, nothing less.

So why was he being honored with the Legion’s highest award by the Emperor himself?

“Thank you, your honor, I’m hon— no, your grace. Thank you, your grace, I’m honored.”

“I’m sure he won’t mind either way,” a voice offered.

Spiro spun, the decorative knife he had been gifted practically leaping from its scabbard. Ornate gift though it may have been, it was far more practical than the chest piece, and the razor-sharp tip buried into the wood paneling on the wall with a quiet thrum.

“Tsk tsk tsk,” the voice said. “That won’t do at all.”

Spiro squinted. “Who are you?” he asked. “Show yourself!”

The voice laughed a low, sinister laugh. “What, don’t you recognize me?”

The torches in the room flickered, and in the darkness, an apparition took form, a form that Spiro hadn’t seen…

…since before the battle.


Officer Brand turned his head to glance at the knife that had passed straight through him

“Not very polite, that,” he said. “Good form on the throw, though. I wouldn’t have had time to dodge if I cared to.”

The ghostly officer pulled the knife from the wall and dangled it in front of him by the hilt. He clucked his tongue.

“Posh,” he said. “Too posh by half. But a good soldier always keeps his weapons in good condition, doesn’t he?”

“Who are you?” Spiro whispered.

The apparition spread his arms. “I am your commander. Before the battle, now… always. I gave you those orders, not the Legion. I am the reason you, some half-rate spearman, are being hailed as a hero. You owe me your success and your freedom from the front line. All I ask from you is one thing.”


The ghost handed Spiro the knife hilt-first.

“You’re going to kill an emperor for me.”


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