Tales of the Old Empire

Daonlathas, Ryccian Empire
1400 years go

The Empire has stood for almost four millennia as an authoritarian state that allowed little popular participation in the processes of governance. The humanocentric, greedy and ancient aristocracy dominated society. Although the power dynamic between the nobles and the throne had shifted both ways in the Empire’s long history, the Empire as a whole remained constant in its total authority over everyone and everything, both humans and aliens. The vast majority of the ruling elite were strongly in favour of the status quo.

The vast majority.

The Empress of this era, Luxia III, was a rare exception. Despite being educated from the beginning to be the next ruler, her habit of scouring the Royal Archives to read the most obscure books and texts led her to find documents that no one would’ve known otherwise. They dated from the earliest days of the Empire, when its founders, former oppressed slaves who fought for the freedom of the human race, genuinely cared for the welfare of the Ryccian people. While many revolutionary leaders and the population at-large saw authoritarian leadership under their legendary saviour, Imperial I, as the way forward, some proposed another path: popular sovereignty. Popularly-elected public servants, separation of powers, and so on…they derived these ideas from the pre-slavery Ryccian society. However, this same society was seen as one of the main reasons for their predicament that they had freed themselves from. Democracy breeded instability, weakness, paralysis and stagnation, so went the narrative. Only a powerful state led by an enlightened leader could prevent such a disaster from happning again. So, the democratic old ways were discarded and a new Empire was born. 3800 years ago, the fate of Ryccian civilization was sealed forever.

Or was it?

Luxia III was one of the few liberal monarchs of what is now known as the Old Empire, and she was determined to restore what had long been forgotten. She challenged the elites, privately proposing to liberalize the regime for years. Even as the aristocrats pressured her to abandon her plans, she did something no monarch had done in eons.

Publicly care about the people.

Previous monarchs had kept the mighty image of the state: all-powerful and distant. She changed this gradually. Luxia appeared on state television to address the Empire regularly, giving speeches on the state of the country that were initially apolitical. Next, she publicly visited various human planets, greeting the people in royal visits. Notably, she openly disciplined local authorities, sometimes even dismissing governors on-the-spot. Many political players who were outside her royal court assumed this was an unorthodox strategy to centralize power in the institution of the crown, and so many centralists initially supported her, unaware of her true agenda. They let her play her populist game, using the people as a tool to undermine their political opponents. Luxia, for her part, initially favoured them and let them believe that lie.

Luxia III became the most popular monarch in eons. She was hailed by the commoners as the “People’s Empress”, using a new style where the monarchy was seen as receptive to the people’s concerns. Her public image and prestige was at its height. However, among the traditional power base of the Empire, the aristocracy, she was increasingly viewed with suspicion, even among her centralist allies. She became gradually hated. However, any radical acts to undermine her would undermine their own legitimacy, and so their power to oppose her was limited.

If she had been allowed to rule longer, perhaps the New Empire could’ve eventually emerged from the inside, not through a bloody war almost three and a half centuries later. Unfortunately, you can’t uproot millenniae of governance in one reign. Historians today now see Luxia III as an idealist who tried to dismantle authoritarianism in her lifetime, but she didn’t realize just how long an internal reform process would need to take. She moved too fast, and she eventually got too close to the sun.

Fed up with her liberalizing style, several cliques of aristocrats began to plot her demise. Some tried to poison her to take her out. Other cliques, ironically, secretly protected her from such assassination attempts, seeing a sudden death as too destabilizing. They waited for an opportune political moment to dethrone her instead of just killing her. However, the latter would not get a choice.

Feeling influential enough to begin meaningful reforms, Luxia III started circulating plans in her court to relax censorship laws, allowing some organized opposition to the regime to form. The elites panicked upon hearing about this. Led by a senior member of the royal family, the first coup d’etat in millenniae commenced. Luxia was no fool, and she protected herself from assassination attempts with her own private intelligence network. But, as the day for the reforms moved closer and closer, the aristocrats opposed to her decided to take a risk and violently depose her.

Troops and mercenaries loyal to the aristocrats moved in quickly, taking over key buildings and complexes in the capital quickly. The Royal Guard fought fanatically to defend the Empress as was their mission, but, placed under siege in the Imperial Palace, they were eventually defeated. All news of the events were censored, and only residents of the capital, in addition to those senior enough to be involved in the machinery of the state, were vaguely aware of what was happening. The rest of the Empire was largely in the dark.

The Empress knew her reign was over. One of her closest friends, a fellow reformer, was a proficient hacker and allowed her to briefly gain access to state media. In a short video, Luxia quickly talked about the reforms and her violent overthrow. Shots outside the palace could be heard.

The state apparatus tried to go on as normal. Claiming the clip was faked by anti-Empire alien rebels, the new Emperor, John VII, gave the official version of events, saying the Empress had died of cancer. A formal state funeral was broadcast like in any death of any monarch, and she was conferred the routine honours and ceremonies like usual. Many people believed it, but some didn’t. Protests flared up in the biggest challenge to the regime’s authority in centuries. They were efficiently and brutally suppressed, but Luxia’s miscalculated reign was still useful: it sowed the seeds of an organized opposition in the human regions of the Empire based on her liberal values.

Today, Luxia III is remembered as one of the precursors of the Democratic Revolution and the New Empire. She is one of the few monarchs who is near-universally honored as a hero, a modern glory usually reserved to the first few monarchs from the earliest days and leaders who engineered times of prosperity for all. What made her special was her bravery to break from the despotic rule of her realm, and even if she failed in her mission, she remains a glorified figure by both the state and the people, even by non-humans.

Sometimes, one’s impact is not what one did, but what others did because of you. You can move mountains and oceans even if you don’t do it yourself.

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