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Was she ready for this? Had they done their job? Would the Red Hydra's gamble pay off?

Questions swam through her mind and nerves flared. The sisters litany of tranquility soothed, for a time, but nerves continued to percolate as the ceremony drew near.

To think, this was to be only her first test. The first test of her late uncle's grand plan for House D'Hauteville. She had thirteen years of savant conditioning, convent tutelage, and a strict regimen of genetic transformation that engineered her mind to this calling.

From the age of 5 she had been hidden away and prepared for her duty as a Regent of a Great House.

In all outward aspects she was ready. Inside she was terrified.

A fresh Dummonian mist cooled her face as she savoured one last breath of the balcony air. Autumn was turning into a dismally grey season. Fog hung over the moors between bouts of pouring rain. Had it been the hunting season, (throne of earth!), there'd be no end to the grumbling!

It didn't matter a fig! The court of D'Hauteville was in an official state of mourning. Her Beloved uncle was dead and the grand plan was suddenly thrust to the fore.

"Aline Chamblee, come in at once!"

The girl sighed and turned at the call of her valet, Perionne.

"It's hot inside," The girl complained

Perionne had no sympathy. She beckoned the girl forward, remaining sternly quiet as she began pinning the girl's sleeves.

"It'll be stifling in the grand hall," Aline said.

"Ten times worse than in here," Perionne remarked pinching dress pins between lips.

They were alone in the dressing chamber. An hour ago it had been a cacophony of activity, a virtual party. The place had been packed with well wishers, court advisors, maids, servitors, officers and diplomats. Some were her favourites, others simply garnering for favours on the dawn of a new era. Others were spies.

They were all gone now. The whole of the Dummonian court now awaited her in the grand hall.

Again the nerves fluttered. Quietly under her breath she began whispering the Litany of Tranquility again.

Even before the Red Hydra, had taken the baton of D'Hauteville for the Conde Aurex bloodline, she had been chosen. The coup to wrest control of the House had been a Conde Aurex plot for three generations. In that time the Hydra, and his mentors before him had carefully laid out plots and counter plots. The bloodline of Brettoni fought them every step of the way, however centuries of planning had paid off. After 13 years she was merely the last brick in a foundation that generations of her ancestors had carefully built.

"I wish I didn't have to wear white," Aline whined.

Again, Perionne ignored her. The girl sighed again; Perionne was not rising to the bait. She couldn't even have fun teasing her favourite. It was futile of course, white being the official colour of mourning for the Dummonian people. No doubt the gold couching along the stomacher was scandalous enough. She had insisted on some embellishment to the coronation robes. Some would see it as sinful vanity, others a direct insult to her Uncle's glorious death on Anvil. She didn't care. No one had loved her Uncle more than she. No one understood what he had done for the House more than she. Part of her conditioning was to have 3 generations of D'Hautville wisdom and history pre-loaded into the mind. The Red Hydra's soul was imprinted into her brain along with scores of great Condes.

"Sit still, one more second!" Perionne snapped. She was stressed. The girl felt a pang of guilt. As her chief valet, Perionne had taken the brunt of the planning and a hundred weights worth of responsibilities in the day's strict agenda. As with any coginae trained valet, she was a perfectionist. From breakfast to the moment of presentation, nerves would be taxed.

The girl kissed Perionne on the forehead. Perionne, somewhat surprised broke her stern lip with a gentle smile.

"Thank you my dear Perionne."

"Thank you mistress, now go, I'll summon the guard. I won't rest until the ceremony is finished."

"I doubt that, you are about to become the most important valet in the quadrant!"

"Never mind that, don't rip your hem and keep your posture like the sisters taught you. One would think you had no Imperial conditioning with that slouch of yours!"

With a compact flip-vox, Perionne alerted the life guards. The girl glanced at her reflection in a mirror and filled her lungs with a deep breath.

The ceremony was about to begin.

Aline Chamblee of Conde - Aurex, mounted the throne dais.

Inside her stomach was churning. She mouthed prayers to the saviour Emperor, asking for a private blessing that he would guide her hand wisely in the next few hours. On the outside the Imperial conditioning took over and she appeared calm, aware of her place in history. She mounted the throne dias amidst cheers, trumpets and a booming choir.

True to her estimation, the grand hall was weighed down by a heat so thick; many in the upper galleries fanned themselves with intricately woven Hippine feather fans.

Sweating under woollen tunics, the life guard escort, formed up on the floor. In perfectly drilled unison they took up positions safeguarding the dais.

The hall was breathtakingly furbished with wreaths and silken banners, in the blue and white of D'Hauteville. Tiny, weightless, and intensely bright glow globes shimmered like a thousand diamonds in the ceiling. Scores of auto-cherubim fluttered on anti-grav automation, carrying banners with the Imperial verses penned in copper plate. Gilt haired children, augmented with aura voxes melted the very air with the purity of their song.

The Coronation aria was composed by the famous Blodsburg maestro Purcieus Ophelia, and its grandeur blasted the hall with hurricane anthems.

"Right on time your grace," A handsome middle aged man on the left side of her throne said, barely audible under the cascade of sound.

"Everybody's in their best dressed! What's the occasion? " She joked.

Assembled behind a ridged line of guards were the Lords of the House and all the worthies of the Dummonian system of planets. They were a bejewelled throng of men and their laced and powered spouses, watching with looks of anticipation, or in one or two cases, grave disapproving appraisal.

"I take it my fans are here too." She stated sarcastically, focusing in on one or two of the more disparaging stares.

The man, House fleet Admiral, Calvet Haute-Brion hid a slight grin as he stood in his official spot guarding the left side of the throne.

"There are two kinds of people in this room your grace," he said, "those that despise your claim and those that adore the late Conde for his infinite wisdom in appointing you."

"Let us hope that there are more of the latter."

The enemies of the Sept Conde were too many to keep count and worst of all, the spectre of a Xenos invasion pressed heavily down upon them. Her handling of the problem would be the life or death of the planet.

At least the Xenos Tau was a tangible enemy, even an honourable one. Unlike the secret plots and combinations that even now, were being networked under her nose among some of the old lords before her.

The moment she said the coronation oath, they would be half way to sealing her downfall in some form or another.

Another man standing at attention on her right glowed in his resplendent uniform. He cocked a glowering eye to a particular corner of the crowd.

"Brettoni watches you like a hawk. I don't like it your grace."

"Fear not General," She said, without even looking. "He's being watched by more than just us."

General Vaubanne was the house hero, and her late uncle's closest friend. He stood in the place of honour as her right hand protector and chief of her advisory council.

Eventually, as the choir rose to a beautiful crescendo, she casually cast her gaze down into the crowd and met the eye of Lord Candonne Brettoni . This was the man most resentful of her position, the ring leader of her enemies. Brettoni was the Sept that held the Regent's throne before the Red Hydra wrestled it from their corrupt hands. If anyone desired the fall of the Conde, it was the Brettoni. If anyone would thwart the Red Hydra's visions as they lived on in the young Regent, it would be the Brettoni network of agents.

Without flinching, without even a hint of her nerves she met his gaze with an appropriately emotionless stare. His return glare was open hatred. He rose slightly on a grav suspensor that steadied his disgustingly corpulent body, in acknowledgement of her attention. Brettoni stood for all that was corrupt and evil in the Great Houses. He and his household were a tumour on the D'Hauteville name.

The venomous stare of Brettoni suddenly reminded her of something. She glanced over Admiral Haute-Brion's shoulder. There he was, among the distinguished men of her council, the fat and odious Saren Milious, looking pleased with himself in his ill-fitting white justacorps. Protocol required she have members of all the senior sept lines, in her advisory council, including a Brettoni. Milious was Candonne's favourite nephew. She opposed it at first but Vaubanne on the other hand suggested she take a page from her late uncle's book and use Milious as the key to keeping a careful finger on the pulse of her enemy's machinations.

To wash the vision of Milious out of her mind she turned to her sister. Standing in place of honour for the lady of the state behind Vaubanne was Aleese Chamblee. The spot was usually reserved for the regent's female spouse. Considering Aline was neither married nor a man, she could choose her own advisor, in this case her twin sister.

Aleese bowed her head and curtsied, her expression set in her typical prim severity. She was her identical twin in all but personality. They had been separated at five years of age for a twofold purpose. One; to allow Aline to be sent for Imperial conditioning. The second, to sever the natural psyk-link common among developing twinfolk. Where Aline was bright, flirty and head strong, Aleese was shy, sober, and gloomy.

Aleese had never recovered from their separation and to this day, remained a serious and often peculiar girl. Enemies of the Condes often called her the "weerd" sister, or worse, the "witch", in their anonymous pamphleteering. It was a grim reference to the psyker academy run by the sisters on the planet Aurex.

In the shadows, never far from Aleese, stood the Inquisition. One of the most prudent things her late uncle ever did for D'Hauteville was bring in the Inquisition to clean house. Behind the throne dais representatives of both the Ecclesiarch and the Inquisition stood in grave state.

Aline recognized the Mother Superiors of the Aurex order of the Midnight Watch, her former teachers and care givers. They stood rigid in their ceremonial power armour, but behind the firm gazes she could see their pride. After all, she was a product of their hands. To them she was a daughter.

Among them stood a curious woman, someone that Aline found difficult to meet the eyes directly. Agent Bethane Katterine was the official liaison to the Ordos of the Inquisition.

Aline liked Katterine. She was a close friend of her sister. She was also an agent of her sister's betrothed Inquisitor Cantimer. However, Katterine had come to them in a state of darkness, a broken body and broken mind. Only the sisters of the Midnight Watch managed to save this woman. It was said she was touched, but no one could ever explain to Aline exactly what that meant. Imperial savants, vicars and nuns alike evaded the question when asked.

If anything cast the shadow of fear on rebellious lords, it was the cloud of Katterine, watching them coolly. Between her and the other Ordos agents spotted around the room, Montagu in the gallery, Asheron on the floor. Dispique by the entrance. The Inquisition was taking a keen interest in the reform of House D'Hauteville and Aline welcomed it.

Orphieas final chorus was building to a finish and the aides around her suddenly stiffened in anticipation of the finale. She herself settled into an official stance, sweeping her gaze left to right in one final check.

In many respects she was very lucky. Her late uncle, had left her in the care of people she could trust with her life. In his short and dramatic term he'd completely reformed the House D'Hauteville, wresting the reigns of power from the Brettoni's and Schwarzchilde septs.

He'd brought in the Inquisition, installed a native Dummonian on the Holy Eparch's throne in Blodsburg and reforged the chains of amity with rivals such as House Fortuna and Dukas.

House D'Hautville was ready to meet a new era, the Xenos enemy and the enemies within with a clean conscious. As the choir voices died, and the Eparch Mazerlieu approached the Diaz to give the Imperial blessing and take her oath, she gave up another prayer to the Emperor.

On the very edge of this ceremony, it would be a matter of weeks, maybe even days before the enemy Alliance launched their assault on the planet. Already there were reports of recon missions touching ground in the Beauprix Wilderness.

It was perhaps, Dummonia's darkest hour, but Aline Chamblee of Conde, about to be dubbed Lord Regent of the House D'Hauteville, shone like a bright light for her people, who would follow her to the end.

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