This is the fourth volume in the series of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Planet Trade Organization. Volume IV consists of accounts documenting Icer's rule of the Planet Trade Organization up until its total fracturing in Age 777. In this volume, empires will rise and fall, galactic trade routes will be destroyed, and trillions of lives will be lost. This volume, the last in the series, shows not only the fall of the Planet Trade Organization, but of order in general within the universe.
This volume's theme song is Wicked Campaign by Modest Mouse.
The previous volume in this series, volume III, can be found here.
- 1 Planet Trade Organization Leaders: Start
- 2 Maps
- 3 Chapter I: A Scar-Flash of Blue
- 4 Chapter II: Where Hope Goes
- 5 Chapter III: Absolution
- 6 Chapter IV: Ctha'Naka
- 7 Chapter V: Katchiguri
- 8 Chapter VI: Uoto Calling
- 9 Chapter VII: Pax Arcosia
- 10 Chapter VIII: The Chaos Imperative
- 11 Chapter IX: Wrath of the Gods
- 12 Chapter X: The Snow Maiden's Fury
- 13 Chapter XI: The Color of Royalty
- 14 Chapter XII: The Order of Melrin
- 15 Chapter XIII: Farthest Outpost
- 16 Chapter XIV: Size Matters
- 17 Chapter XV: Bael
- 18 Chapter XVI: Give A Little Back
- 19 Chapter XVII: Medler's Price
- 20 Chapter XVIII: Affliction
- 21 Chapter XIX: First Contact
- 22 Chapter XX: Pride of His Father
- 23 Chapter XXI: New Power Rising
- 24 Chapter XXII: You Win or You Die
- 25 Chapter XXIII: Deep Fissure
- 26 Chapter XXIV: The Only Good Faerin
- 27 Chapter XXV: Making Peace
- 28 Chapter XXVI: Saving the Universe
- 29 Chapter XXVII: Last Remnants
- 30 Chapter XXVIII: At War's End
- 31 Chapter XXIX: The Broken Empire
- 32 Chapter XXX: Imperishable
- 33 Planet Trade Organization Leaders: End
- 34 Appendix
Planet Trade Organization Leaders: Start
This section will detail who is in charge of the Planet Trade Organization as of the start of this volume:
|Leader||Role||Number of Soldiers||Relation|
|Icer||Ruling King of the PTO||Several trillion||Younger brother of King Cold|
|Hail||Princess; Military Admiral of the PTO||Several billion||Daughter of Icer|
|Polaria||Princess; Military General of the PTO||Several billion||Daughter of Icer|
|Kuriza||Prince of the PTO||Several million||First son of Frieza|
|Yuki||Military General of the PTO||Several million||First daughter of Nitro|
Please note: this section contains spoilers for this book. Light grey regions indicate unclaimed territory. Orange regions indicate officers in rebellion from the Planet Trade Organization. Brown regions indicate areas infested by space pirates.
The Planet Trade Organization's map orientation considers the western region of Universe 7 to be in the north. As a result, Earth and the rest of the northern territory are located in the western region of these maps.
Chapter I: A Scar-Flash of Blue
|Position:||Governor in Icer's Empire|
|Date of account:||February 17 - March 10, Age 767 (first scene)|
March 12, Age 767 (second and third scenes)
Wings spread… piercing through the light… impossible in length, feathers like globulets of boiling gold. Not long before… screaming till I was deaf… bleeding talons punctured… the splendor of the gods before my… A scar-flash of blue remained imprinted on my eyes. Don’t wake…
The etchings of a madman had been cut into the wall opposite the energy-shielded door, having been worn away by grime and time. Next to me, a man was banging his head against the wall. I would have let him continue, but whenever he pulled back, a smattering of blood ran down his face to the floor. It did not take long before I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Hey, what are you doing? Stop that… you’re hurting yourself! Hey… doesn’t that hurt? Stop it!”
His breath was sour, his voice surly. “Get offa me! Leave me be. I’m good. I’m good. Ain’t done nothin’ to nobody. Leave me be!”
My fellow returned to his previous activity. I shivered, looking away. At least he wouldn’t be able to put up with that for much longer. He’d be out of it soon enough. But was that what I really wanted? Surely not. The guards would come, cart his body away, and I’d be alone. I didn’t want to be alone. If you’re alone, you’re forgotten. Or worse, I’d get a new companion. There was a good chance anyone else I got would be a raving murderer liable to choke me in my sleep. I preferred this sort of madness, as grating as it was.
Mold covered our cell in pink-green splotches. There was hardly anywhere to sit. The rough black stones could not possibly absorb any heat. My bed had been laid with only a single pillow and a single blanket. They had already taken from me my armor and clothes. I wore a simple, roughspun tunic and shorts. No socks, no shoes. The stones were icy cold–enough to suck the life from me.
He kept on pounding away at his head. What was he trying to accomplish?
I called for the guard. He took his sweet time before appearing before the barrier. The patterned crease on his cheek showed just how deeply he had been sleeping. I wanted to sleep. I had to get out of here. This wasn’t right. I shouldn’t be here. I wasn’t fit for prison. Bael had made a terrible mistake. The man’s yellow eyes were the eyes of a commoner, the eyes of a man who had spent all his life in service of other, wealthier men. He reeked disdain in my general direction.
“What’re you crying about, inmate?”
“You need to do something about him. He’s going to crack his skull open if he keeps up with that…” I pointed to the bleeding Faerin behind me. He’d gotten blood all over his prison garb. “Look at him. He’s gone absolutely mental. You have to do something.”
“I do?” Disinterest flooded the guard’s eyes. “Or what? You’ll complain to management?”
“But, he’s going to kill himself! You have to–”
“I don’t have to do shit, inmate. Now shut up, or you aren’t getting any dinner. Would you like that? Heh, thought so.”
With that, the man marched back up the stairs, his periwinkle cape fluttering like tearing skin. My companion had not ceased his compulsive behavior. There was nothing for me to do except return to my bed and watch him. My thoughts had clouded over, becoming as difficult to grasp as shadows on the wall. I was numb in the fingers. My belly rumbled, but I was not hungry. My eyelids grew heavy, but I was not tired. My body and mind had diverged paths, it seemed. I was so cold.
He went to bed, or maybe he bled out. It grew quiet. I had never tasted such bitter relief before. Sitting up against the wall in bed, I tried to come up with a means of talking my way out of this, or perhaps blasting my way out of this, but I could come up with nothing. The collar around my neck, glowing faintly blue, prevented me from powering up. I noticed that my companion wore no such device. He was no threat. He was a weak Faerin–a typical Faerin. Not like me, who grinded my way through the officer’s academy, who distinguished myself in dozens of battles, who was promoted to the honorable rank of governor of Planet Frieza 068.
None of this was fair. I didn’t deserve to be here. That was obvious to anyone–even the guard had to know deep down that he was playing a part in this injustice. Maybe he liked that. The emotion of self-pity passed through me like light beams. For one moment, I was ensnared by it; in the next, I let go. This would not be my end, I told myself over and over. For Polaria’s sake, I would get through this. I would see her again.
She was not dead. Everything Bael had told me was a lie. In his vanity, he had misled us. I would not believe his treason. I would see her again. But why? If he knew Icer yet lived, if he knew the twins yet lived, if he knew Arcterial was alive… why did he murder Avalan? Had he even murdered Avalan? Was that nothing more than a test of loyalty? But why? To what end? I had displayed loyalty many times already. He never made anyone else work so hard. The Council of Faeri had been purged on my orders. Why had he doubted me after that? Was Bael truly so paranoid as to believe I was working him over by following orders?
Maybe he didn’t trust me because of Polaria. It made sense, I had to admit. That’s why he had chosen her as the one who had been consumed by Mal Vexus. Curse him. His story was too on-the-nose. I should have seen through that damn ruse. Why was I so dumb? Why had I taken the bait? If he had the courage to face me again, I would not hesitate. He had to die for this. I was no longer the warrior I had once been, but that didn’t matter anymore. I would get out of here, and I would see her again. I kept telling myself that, repeating it to the low drum beat of a cracked skull against stone, still echoing in my mind.
They were intentionally underfeeding us. One meal of watery soup a day was all we got. The guard came down, a hover tray on either side of him, unlocked the door, engaged our throat collar overloads, making it impossible for us to move as burning electricity coursed through our veins, and served us with a grim, satisfied look. That was so kind of him.
The first day, I said nothing to him. My vocal cords having just been fried, I couldn’t find the words.
My companion resumed his compulsory activity after dinner. I had nothing to do but listen. I tugged at the device around my neck all day, hoping to break it. But any time I put too much strain upon it, the nasty piece of metal gave me a zap. It was no use. There was a camera in the corner of the room, watching me constantly. Even if I got it off, then what? Maybe that’s what Bael wanted.
Deep in the bowels of the prison, I had no sense of time. The only regularity was the guard appearing once a day with two food trays. Days blurred to weeks, and hunger began to take its toll. My cheeks and fingertips tingled constantly. I was unable to get out of bed. My hands had contorted in pain. I was unable to grip the sides of the bowl, having to lap at it like some feral space-badger. My companion had a good pace to him now. It sounded like every time he cracked his head against the wall, his skull was going to shatter like an egg. I began to take comfort in that thrumming.
I was too tired to be angry anymore. My thoughts were with my love. I would be reunited with her soon, I kept telling myself. If it was Bael’s plan to starve me to death, that wasn’t far off from succeeding. I no longer felt my belly rumbling. A pressing feeling, like Sennoni lying on top of me, held me down. I had not the strength to speak to the other inmate anymore.
My dreams were no different than waking life. Everything had become one. I wondered vaguely if my companion had been the one to scratch that nonsense into the wall. Closing my eyes, I yearned for that flash of blue, whatever it could be. What had he seen? A simple energy attack? An explosion? What else could it have been?
… feathers like globulets of boiling gold, I remembered. I was too weak to return to it. Much of the ramblings had been lost to filth and mold, but that line stuck out, had remained, and I remembered. My mother returned to me then, like a shadow demon dancing through the smoke and mist. The Meyhr Vehki. The Galactic Phoenix. It is said whoever captures it and manages to pluck a single feather from its wing will have eternal life. Mother laughed and melted into the wall. I laughed with her, stumbling to my feet.
My bones ached. I collapsed against the energy door, moaning in pain as it burned my hands and chest. It took all of my effort to roll away. I called for the guard. Tears ran down my cheeks. I didn’t feel them. There was no emotion within me. I was an empty husk. Why was I crying? I couldn’t know. It was like bleeding. It had to be. I had no control.
“Guard! Guard, I need you! Guard!!”
My voice was hoarse and weary. I could barely raise it above the sound of my companion’s crunching. How could he bleed himself like that every day? The room was spinning. I called out again. I begged, pleaded, sobbed. Trying to orient myself, I tried to picture Polaria, but all I could see a failed wax figure, one-eyed and wobbly-footed. My imagination was broken. I slept and woke and ate and slept and woke and ate and slept and woke and slept and woke and slept.
“Come, please! Guard! I need you! Emergency! Guard! Please, it’s an emergency!!” I cried out. Was it day or night? How long had I been here? “Bael! Bring me Bael! I want to speak to him! Bring that coward to me! Bael!! Bael?! Where are you Bael?! Bael!! Show your cowardly face!” I roared brazenly, knowing that such hostility should be enough to make the guard at least come down to threaten me with another collar overload. “Where are you, Bael?! Face me, coward! Bael! Do you think you can lock me away and shut me up?! It won’t work! Show your face, murderer! You craven! Don’t want to sully your boots down here in the filth?! How typical!! Bael!”
My throat was dry enough to choke me. I banged my hands against the wall until the pain overwhelmed me. My burnt palms were covered in blisters. Not realizing that, I slapped the stone wall as hard as I could. When the blisters burst, I fell back screaming, the pain overwhelming my vision. All I saw was piercing light, comfortless and cold. A governor’s blood smeared on the wall, and no one cared.
“Bael!! Show your face, coward! Face me like a man! What are you so afraid of?! How dare you treat me like a piece of garbage! I am a Fleet Admiral! I am your equal! Coward! Murderer! Coward! Murderer!”
My voice broke every time I yelled, but I didn’t care. I was parched and starving. My body was buzzing in pain. I had nowhere to run, nowhere to go. Every part of me was on fire. I would see my love again. This would not be my end. Defiantly, I cried out again. The thrumming of a skull against stone continued with the same tired plodding pace as my heartbeat.
Falling to my knees, my chest heaving, I called for Bael to show his caitiff face. I wanted nothing more than to beat the life out of him. My collar was suffocating. I pulled at it, but felt no shock. So I tugged it again. It was a snug fit, and I lacked the strength the break through the metal. I called for the guard. How could he be so lazy?
“Get me Bael! Guard! Bring him to me! I need to see that coward at once! Urgently! Bring him to me! Where’s he hiding? I need to talk to him! Guard!”
The Arcosian with pink skin, spiky body armor, and a green head jewel so light in color it might have been mistaken for yellow, descended the staircase before me. My love glided over to me from the darkness. My waking eyes could not be deceived.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Lychin,” she replied, her voice deep and manly. “I’m afraid Admiral Bael had an accident, and he won’t be able to see you ever again.”
“Wha… who are you?!” I cried, tears obscuring my vision.
Polaria smiled at me, her form dissolving away, and there stood Icer in his final form, arms folded, looking straight into my eyes with pity. The energy door powered down. He unhooked the collar with ease, throwing the twisted piece of metal into the corner of the cell without care.
“The other… his head wound needs treating…” I gasped, pointing wildly behind me.
“What are you talking about, Admiral? There’s no one in here except for you.”
My face was tingling. My neck was covered in sweat. I felt dizzy. Trying to stand, I whispered, “B-but… Bael… the g-guard… they put me in with him… I’ve been here forever. Where’s Polaria? Where’s Bael? Lord Icer…”
I collapsed against him. He caught me with ease. “You need to rest, Lychin. Tell me, have you gone mad, or are you still intact?”
“I-I’m here, my lord,” I cried. “I’m alive.”
“Excellent. Much has happened since he locked you away down here. Not all of it is good. But I am emperor now, and Bael is dead. I will need you to save this planet from itself… after you get some rest, Lychin. You look absolutely dreadful.”
“My lord…” I tried to say, but there was nothing for me to grasp onto. Polaria was a shadow of a memory in my mind. I couldn’t form her anymore. Bael and the guard were likewise faceless shapes swirling in my mind. The inmate with the cracked skull looked up at me and giggled, a trickle of blood falling from his wound down his cheek. He was real. I had tackled him, and he had spoken to me. This was a nightmare. What was going on? Nothing remained for me to tether myself to reality. I felt the darkness and the weariness come over me again, and this time, I did not try to fight it.
Admiral Jahu was leaning against the open balustrade when I came to. It felt good to feel sunlight on my face again.
“So you’re alive,” she said, walking over as soon as I opened my eyes. I realized she had been watching me sleep. That was weird. “You’ve been out for almost two days, Lychin.”
I sat up, feeling empty, but not weak. “Where… where are we? Where’s Lord Icer?”
“Ikestal. Doctors have been monitoring you since you were found.”
I noticed the IV device floating next to the bed. This was a small room with muddy blue walls and white tile for the floor and ceiling. From where Jahu had come from, I could make out buildings rising above the fog in the distance, black and grey and sparkling like plastic toys with all their lights.
“Jahu, where’s Lord Icer?”
“He’s returned to Lipanto, I’m afraid. He wants you to stay here. You are now in command of Faeri. He’s appointed you the military governor.”
“Why? What happened to Bael?”
“He’s dead.” She was chewing on a fingernail absentmindedly. “Brain hemorrhage, apparently. Captain Cermani found him in his quarters. He had been asleep.”
“Of all the ways to go…”
“He was preparing the fleet to hunt down Kuriza when it happened. He thought Icer, Hail, Polaria, and Arcterial had been vaporized in Mal Vexus’ hypernova. That proved to be… incorrect information.”
“Tell me what happened. I don’t know much about it. Bael only relayed a few rumors on the day… on the day he murdered Avalan.”
Jahu nodded, her eyes flashing darkly. “Lord Icer won the civil war. He killed his brother and brought both Kuriza and Yuki to submission. There were heavy casualties on all sides, courtesy of the hypernova, but none of the senior officers were killed. Arcterial’s former officers now serve Icer.”
“And what of Polaria? There were rumors… I mean, Bael said there were rumors…”
“She was maimed by the explosion, yes. They are currently treating her at Lipanto. I have not seen her with my own eyes. I don’t know how bad it is, Lychin. Icer seemed no different than usual, but he is not one to wear his emotions openly.”
“He’s not. Well, I can’t say I’m surprised he was able to bring the boy and the hybrid under his leash. But he killed Arcterial? Seriously? I would not have expected that.”
“He hurt him greatly in their duel. Apparently Arcterial was unable to recover, even in a rejuvenation tank, before they met again about three weeks later. We don’t know much of the details. Kuriza was there too. Icer defeated both of them, one after another.”
“What the hell? He’s a lot tougher than he lets on. At the outset of the war, few would have pegged him to come out on top… and so cleanly at that. He’s been severely underrated by all of us.”
“And he chose not to destroy our world, even after Bael’s act of defiance. I’d like to think I convinced him,” she sighed, sitting at the end of my bed, looking off out the window, “but I don’t think he much cared what I had to say about it, one way or another.”
“And we’re sure Bael was killed by a hemorrhage? Where’s Cermani? I want to speak to him.”
“Executed, along with all the rest of the officers in service of Bael.”
Blood rushed to my head. My heartbeat throbbed in my ear, and I shuddered, remembering. “Every single one? He didn’t speak to Paprikan first?”
A shadow of doubt crept over her face. “Paprikan? N-no, I don’t think he was present on Splendor of the Gods when Icer arrived… not sure where he was, actually. But he’s escaped now, no doubt. News of what happened spread like starfire. The emperor executed every officer in service of Bael–every officer he could find. So at present, we have a fleet of fifty ships without anyone capable of commanding them.”
This was too much information for me to retain. “Fifty?” I was at a loss. “Our fleet was much larger than that.”
“Icer took the rest. His forces were depleted by the hypernova. There are probably only around three hundred ships left. Kuriza and Yuki have less than that combined. If anything, he’s being generous, allowing us to retain such a large security fleet.”
“That pirate–Medler–he swore he’d plunder and pillage through Faeri until the planet was reduced to ash.”
“Yes, I was made aware of that by Meiquano.”
“He did good helping you weed out Sennoni’s lackeys in the Council. The emperor thought it best to spare him. Speaking of which, the next Great Council of Faeri will be in session soon. It was only put on hold so you could recover. Seeing as you are alive and capable, that session will begin in the coming days, I think. You must be present for that session, Lychin.”
I was flabbergasted. “They’re all dead, Jahu. We killed them. Who exactly am I supposed to be meeting with?”
Patiently, she continued, “There are six seats occupied right now. Elder Statesman Saphodine is the current head, but she will defer to you if you so desire.”
“No, that’s fine. She should lead it. I have enough to worry about.”
“Lord Icer thought it best to keep the number at six. He does not want a large council.”
“Neither do I. Who are the other members?”
“I still have a seat. Statesman Eldrin Farneth has retained his as well. Lord Icer granted Meiquano a seat for his loyalty. And he also appointed Spicemaster Calansi. Saphodine is with you, as am I, Lychin. I am less certain about the loyalty of the others. Yet, Lord Icer did appoint Calansi and Meiquano himself, so perhaps we should trust them.”
I didn’t feel entirely intact. My body felt so heavy, but it wasn’t exactly painful either. “Trust no one. Not me, not Saphodine. No one.”
“Regardless,” she continued, “are you ready to call the council into session, governor?”
“We’ll convene once I return from Lipanto.”
“Save your breath. You won’t convince me to stay. I won’t be gone long.” I got out of bed, looking for my armor. I only realized as I found my footing that my head was killing me. “You’ll remain here to train new officers for our defense fleet, I assume?”
She too got up, returning to the sun-painted balustrade. “That’s correct, sir. Is there anything you require of me?”
“No. I have my own transport vessel.” There was an awkward tension building in the air. I knew she wanted to say something, but it didn’t matter. There was no way I wasn’t going to Lipanto. Icer himself would have to appear and throw me back in that cell if he wanted me to stay. And even then I’d go down kicking and screaming. Someone had folded my clothes and armor on an end table across the room. I changed with her back to me. “If Medler shows up, annihilate him. Don’t let him get away.”
“That Jolean bastard won’t show his face… not so long as we retain the fleet. Not to mention the orbital defense turrets will be operational within weeks. We could get by without a fleet, but he wouldn’t be dumb enough to attack us even then. Our turrets would shred his pirate scum before they could get their boots on the ground.”
“We’ll discuss this more during the Council, but Icer has approved installing orbital defenses around the core planets–Atjoh, Nyare, Peregari, Viziri, and the like. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build them around all of our planets, eventually. Then fleets won’t be necessary. We won’t have to chase pirates across the damn galaxy anymore.”
I slipped my chest piece over my head, and in that brief moment I closed my eyes, I could feel my forehead throbbing, as if a deep fissure had been pressed into my skull from the base of my nose to my hairline. But that couldn’t be. Had I really hallucinated everything? Had there actually been a guard left to watch over me? Regaining my composure silently, I clasped my indigo cape to my armor and cleared my throat. “Well then, Admiral, Faeri is yours until I return.”
Twisting in the light, she bit her lip. “There’s one other thing, Lychin. Lord Icer told me to leave this to you… if you’re going to Lipanto, I think you need to deal with this first.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Bael’s family–his wife and three daughters. Lord Icer spared them, but only temporarily. He’s left their fate in your hands.” Her purple eyes found mine, and I shivered without warning. “Are you going to execute them, governor?”
“Where are they being held?” I asked flatly.
“In an apartment downtown. I’ll give you the address.”
“I’ll stop by on my way out. Guards at the door?”
I groaned, pressing my fingers to the bridge of my nose. I didn’t want to deal with this right now. Lipanto was calling. Polaria was calling. I needed to see her. I would see her again. “Were they involved in the plot?”
“No. His daughters are only girls, Lychin.”
“I know. I know.”
Half of Mithlon lay in ruin. I could not see it from the window. That only made its presence tug and gnaw at the corners of my mind, the destruction and horror building up in my imagination like a volcano ready to explode. I blinked rapidly, spun on my heels, and walked out the door. I was the military governor of Faeri. The future of Bael’s bloodline was in my hands. The vacuum that man had left with his death… I knew I could never step from the shade of his shadow. None of us could. Had it really been a brain hemorrhage? Somehow, that didn’t seem right. Too easy. Too convenient. That old bastard deserved a far worse end in my estimation.
But what did it matter? He was dead, his doctor fled, and we who had survived had to find a way to move on.
Lady Marmela threw herself at my feet the moment I entered the cramped, sweltering room she and her daughters were being kept in. “My lord, please…! Mercy! Please, we had nothing to do with Bael’s treachery! Lychin… You know me… you know I’d never do such a thing!” She dabbed at her wet eyes with a gold-bordered handkerchief with cobalt isaki flowers sewn into the face. What a poor lady.
I knew her vaguely, and realized with a throbbing start that I had never spoken to her one-on-one in my life. She had always been riding on Bael’s arm, saying little, laughing loudly. Her bright smile was gone now. She wore only a simple indigo-and-cyan nightgown, indicating that she had been taken in the dead of night, likely still asleep when they came for her, and posted in this room. Yet there were no energy barriers holding them back like caged animals, no stone floor they were forced to sit on, no stink of mold, no energy collars, no itchy, unwashed prison garb for them to wear. And I highly doubted the guards had fed these four the watery soup I had been forced to endure for weeks on end. Why Icer had not executed Marmela himself, I did not know. Perhaps even he detested the feeling of murdering innocent women.
I didn’t believe it. This was a test I was not in the mood for playing.
Her daughters were named Atoka, Huila, and Imbe, the guards outside had told me. The twins Atoka and Huila were almost ten. Imbe was seventeen. It was rare for babies of my species to be born alone. Twins were most common, though triplets and quadruplets were not unheard of. Perhaps she had been born a twin, but the only survivor of that birth. So too was that reality a common one, sadly. It was true of myself.
There was something deeply ironic about the fact that Bael had fathered only girls. After Atoka and Huila had been born, Marmela had been deemed too weak to bear any more children. Such talk was common gossip in the noble class. Everyone knew that she was barren now, that Bael would never produce a male heir.
And here they were before me, the four of them, sulking in a single room, stiflingly humid. The lack of air conditioning was appalling. Maybe they were being mistreated.
“Has anyone told you the news of your husband, my lady?”
She nodded fearfully. “He was a proud man, Lychin. Please, you have to understand. All he cared about was his image–the way people saw him, thought of him, praised him. That’s why he did it. You know that, Lychin. Please, don’t harm the girls. They knew nothing. They’re innocent, good girls! If you must have blood for my husband’s treason, take me instead! Please… I never wanted him to kill the boy. Had I known, I would have tried to stop him. He didn’t tell us. We didn’t know, Lychin. We didn’t. I swear! Please!”
She was an enigma, but not an interesting one. Was this an act? Perhaps not. Marmela was a mother after all, fearful of the fate of her children. Any mother would act this way, say the things she was saying–whether they were lies or not. She held neither political nor martial power, so of course she wasn’t responsible for what had happened. That was not to say that she wasn’t sympathetic to Bael’s actions.
“On your feet, my lady.” Her girls were huddled behind her on the bed, looking up at me with fearful orange eyes. They had their mother’s eyes, the three of them.
“Lychin… please…” She put her hand on my chest. I did not recoil. Groggy though I was, I knew there was nothing to fear. I was feeling light again. “Let the girls go at least.”
Her hand brushed across my collarbone. The look in her eyes was helpless, desperate, and resigned. That mixture of emotions disgusted me. “Stop it! Don’t touch me!”
Clumsy as a tavern wench, she recoiled from me. “I-I’m sorry my lord, please… just don’t hurt the girls!”
“Imbe,” I muttered. “Come here.”
The eldest daughter glanced to her sisters in silent panic; her mother ushered her to me quickly, hoping not to rouse my fury once more. Hopping off the bed, she glided over to me, bowing to the floor, pressing her nose to my boots obscenely. “My lord?” Her voice was sweet but uncertain.
“Rise.” Childishly, yet somewhat gracefully, she did. “From this day forward, you are to become my steward. I need you at my side at all times, do you understand me? We will presently be leaving for Lipanto. You will accompany me there. Afterwards, you will join me for the next convening of the Council of Faeri. Do you understand me, girl?”
“Yes, my lord.” Less uncertainty that time. I liked that. She was a fast learner.
Her mother’s eyes were less sure. She didn’t know what to make of this. I didn’t much care. The noblewoman wasn’t in a position to demand anything of me. “Lychin…?”
“I do not believe the crimes of one man should condemn his entire family. You will be allowed to return to your home, once my men have combed through it for anything Bael left behind. If you need financial support, we can discuss such matters when Imbe and I return. We shan’t be gone longer than a week.”
She stood trembling for several moments, saying nothing. “I-I… don’t know what to say, my lord.”
“Nothing needs to be said. Lord Icer let you live, didn’t he? Why would he do that if he planned on executing you? He may be ruthless, but he is not cruel. You and your daughters are guilty of no crimes. However, I will keep a guard posted outside your manse for the foreseeable future. I don’t want some loyalist hooligans to attack you, mistakenly believing that you are your husband’s will incarnate. I will make sure your daughters are protected. Imbe will replace Elder Statesman Saphodine on the Great Council of Faeri when the time is right. Your other daughters are too young to steward for any politicians quite yet, but we’ll work something out in the future. How does that sound?”
She leapt up and hugged me tight. “Thank you, Lychin! Oh, thank you! You are a noble man! May good fortune shine upon you!”
Her perfume was of summer isaki by the shore–sweet but not entirely ripe. Was this really my test? If it was, then it was a pretty basic one. Was there no more to it than this? Surely Icer had not wished for me to murder an innocent woman and her children. I would not do it even if he commanded me.
Marmela hugged her twins in a moment of pure catharsis. I couldn’t watch. I had to stay detached from this family. Already I had done much for them. “Say goodbye for now,” I commanded Imbe. “We’re leaving.”
“Yes, my lord,” the girl replied. I noticed that that time her enthusiasm faded, but her manners remained sharp, albeit robotic. She was a clever one for sure. Must have gotten that from her father.
Chapter II: Where Hope Goes
|Position:||Supreme Admiral in Icer's Empire|
|Date of account:||March 23, Age 767 (first, second, and third scenes)|
March 27 - April 1, Age 767 (fourth scene)
April 3-4, Age 767 (fifth scene)
The Faerin looked as if he had swallowed poison when he appeared at the door. The girl by his side was stone-faced, placid, like a doll. Who she was, I didn’t know at the time, and I didn’t care either.
“How is she?”
“Awake.” He would not make eye contact with me. “She desires to see you, Lady Hail.”
My only escape was the sultry emerald skies beyond the hall window. I found myself focusing on my burned hand–the bad one, the one I would never choose to show if I had a choice in the matter. But life is not so simple. We have to react to our circumstances, no matter how desperate they become. That’s all any of us can do. We react the best we can till we no longer can, and by that stage we’re dead, so what does it matter anymore? I was the daughter of the the Emperor of the Planet Trade Organization. I should fear no one. I knew it was not my place to be craven-hearted. I had to be better.
“I heard Father appointed you Governor of Faeri, Lychin,” I whispered. This was trivial. I had nothing truly to say to the man. “This turn of events has suited you well.”
“Hmph. If only that were the truth of the matter. I must be leaving soon, my lady. My apologies. The next Great Council of Faeri will soon be called to session, and I cannot miss it. She wants to see you. Regardless, I must take my leave, Lady Hail.”
He was a fidgety Faerin, appearing to my eyes older and older by the day. I had never much liked Lychin. Why had my sister chosen to latch herself to this husk of a man? He was weary and grey, an old politician without the decency to pretend he cared about what happened to his constituents.
We should have destroyed Faeri and all those damn money-grubbing elfin bastards along with it. I despised Avalan more than most, but so what? He was my brother, and they had dared to disobey us. They had dared to provoke us. Why had my father been so weak in his response to Bael’s treachery? I cannot fathom it. It was exactly what they had hoped for. I knew now they would return to the shadows and bide their time, feigning loyalty for years if necessary, waiting to strike at the next opportune moment. If I were empress, Faeri would have already become a faint memory, a graveyard of dust and rocks and ruin that not even pirates would care to pick over like the vultures they were.
Polaria and I had been born twins. How was it that she had turned out so different? How was it that we were as dissimilar as Sobren and Uttovelm? Was this but a cruel joke? There was no reality in which I could have ended up as she had. Lychin of all people. His figure sickened me to my bones. And now he had a young girl following him around, so loyal and proper. Was she his consort? I wouldn’t put it past a man like that. How could she be so stupid? She had always lagged behind me as a child. I remembered during our water dancing training how she had taken so long to master the most basic of forms. Even then I had been embarrassed for her.
“Go on then.”
He bristled, but nevertheless said nothing else to me. The man fled like the pushover he was, disappearing around the corner with his underage lover hot on his heels. Good riddance. I didn’t need him here. The thought of that old fool going down on my sister made me queasy. She was a girl of poor tastes, I thought. But even she did not deserve this fate.
My uncle was dead. We had won. Why did this feel so unreal? I looked down at my fingers. This was not me. I was not here. This body was not mine. I was a spectator, a spectre, a shadow. I was not here. This wasn’t happening. I wasn’t ready to face her. My thoughts went to Incyse, the last of my handmaidens. They had been left with Polaria that day. Every one of them had burned in the death throes of Mal Vexus–every one of them except for Incyse, my innocent Arcosian jewel.
My mind lingered on the last of my handmaidens. She was slim, neither toned nor weak. Her body was veritably that of a woman’s. My stomach twisted pleasantly thinking of her. How I wished to have her then. A woman’s body was what I needed.
Indulging my lust in a time like this was selfish of me. I was such a girl–such a child! My sense of duty quelled my desires to the best of its ability. The attempt was, as I had learned over the years, never going to be wholly successful, however. She was lithe and pale and barely matured. I swallowed, trying to clear my mind.
“There you are, Hail.”
A listless world was Lipanto–a world in hibernation, a world persisting without motion. The palace stone walls, dark and bare, were the greatest mockery of all. One would not have known this was the home of the most powerful family in the universe by looking at it. What my father valued in this world, I could not understand. He was like Polaria in that way–both so foolish and aesthetically immature.
I knew not what to say; the air was tainted with awkwardness. “You’re finally awake. How are you feeling?”
My sister was sitting up on the end of her bed, staring at her new hand. Black metal alloy covered most of her body now. She hardly looked as she once had, save for her face, but even that was twisted and burnt. Her eyes were puffed up, and her head jewel, once the most delicate shade of yellow, had been removed and replaced by unreflective metal.
“Bring me a mirror. A tall one.”
The last of my handmaidens did the honors herself. Polaria stood, silently looking over her new body. Vapid as an icicle, she never blinked.
“You’re lucky, Polaria. Really. You’re alive, you’re able to stand again… you’re whole again. Just think of this as an upgrade, sis. You’ll be much more powerful with those cybernetic enhancements. You’ll lead our father’s forces on the battlefields again soon.”
“Father was here earlier. He told me…” She looked away from the mirror, shaking her head. “Well, I know what happened.”
The walls were black; windowless, unadorned, without any furniture but the bed, a table, and three chairs, this was a prison cell. And all that artificial light floating down from above… it was nothing like snow, but I felt a chill. “He didn’t deserve that. He may have been a twat, but he was our brother.”
“Bael got off too easy. That’s so typical, isn’t it?” She was flexing her new fingers, her arm raised awkwardly, unnaturally. There was no life in it. And yet her fingers danced like popping sparks. “The worst ones die in their sleep while we have to continue suffering.”
Her hand curled into a fist. Despair rippled across her lips. “How bad’s your pain? Do you need me to get you anything?”
My hand found her shoulder. Touching cold metal, I had to catch my breath, blinking rapidly, thinking of Incyse, of Father, of home, of water dancing in the gardens with my sister as girls, sunlight warming our smiles. Reality was slipping; I held. “Polaria… it’s okay. I’m alive, aren’t I? You’re my twin. I know you can survive this. We’re not easily destroyed, now are we?”
“Your handmaidens… the officers… the ships… it’s all my fault. I didn’t listen to Daddy. I was too damn slow! I let them die. It’s my fault. I didn’t deserve to live.” Her eyes brimming with tears, she collapsed on the bed, leaving me alone to gaze down at her uncomfortably. “It wasn’t Mal Vexus, Hail. When we were leaving, h-he… It was Sta Fu… he poisoned my tea… murdered your girls and everyone else before my eyes… and I couldn’t stop him. I couldn’t save them.”
My fingers were twitching. I couldn’t even make fists. I had to sit down. I was going to be sick. I didn’t want to think about Nimbi and Kurai and the others. It wasn’t fair. Their beauty snuffed out, and for what? “Sta Fu…? Zashisaro murdered him along with the rest of Uncle Cold’s prisoners, didn’t he? How could he have survived? Are you sure it was him?”
She stood up again in exasperation, her hands on her head. I noticed she never once looked in the mirror. “I’ll never forget his face, sis. Don’t doubt me, please. He would have killed me if not for the hy-hypernova. I don’t know how he found me or why he did it. He was rambling, and I can hardly remember it anymore…”
“Don’t blame yourself,” I said, deepening my voice. “You couldn’t have expected that, Polaria. That’s outrageous. What could you have done? Even if you had outsped the explosion… he was on the bridge?”
“Hiding in plain sight. I should have spotted him sooner. We met him at Uncle Cold’s feast all those years ago… remember it, Hail? He was thrown in the dungeon for making fun of that old drunkard. Glacial and Frost and Frieza and Cooler… everyone was there. That feels like an eternity ago now.”
“He had to have been working alone if he confronted you himself. But now he’s dead, and they are too, and there’s nothing any of us can do to change that, sis. Don’t be taken by the past. Come now, I know you’re better than that.”
Nodding, Polaria whispered, “I’m so tired.”
“Please rest. Take as long as you need. Don’t feel pressured to come back too soon, okay? We have the best doctors in the universe here to help. You’re going to be alright. You sure you don’t need anything?”
“Alright. I’ll be back when you’re feeling better. Don’t sleep too long now, okay? You don’t want to end up getting sucked into your dreams.” She scoffed. “What?”
“It’s just… we’re Daddy’s little monsters, Hail. All of us. Even Avalan.”
I bristled. A flood of memories returned to me like a vat of water being dumped onto the floor: of him sneering at me, lobbing food at me during family feasts, mocking me after I was burned, his relentless, inane banter, making snide comments to the Blue Queen, and oh how I could have left him to die, and how I wanted to after he looked up at me in revulsion… yet a foul taste remained in my mouth. “He was our brother, Pola–”
“I don’t mean how he looked. You and I have been maimed, but he was far worse off. He was like that from birth. Never had one moment where people didn’t see him as a disgusting creature. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve always thought it was. It wasn’t his fault. I think it hardened him. Made him the way he was. If only he had been born like us… normal, happy, loved…”
“We’ll see him again if there’s an afterlife. Don’t lose hope.”
“There is none. We get one shot, Hail. This is it. Uncle Cold, Uncle Arcterial, Frieza, Cooler, Nitro, Glacial, Frost… they all got one shot too. And now they’re gone. Everyone goes away eventually. What’s the point?” she sniffled.
“Daddy won. This is our empire now. We can do with it what we wish. We’ll kill everyone who stands in our way, and then there won’t be anything or anyone left to fear or hate. Daddy is the strongest warrior in the universe. We are safe.”
My twin returned to bed, entombing herself in her fire-orange Atjohnian space lynx fur blanket. “Maybe we are, but I would rather be whole than safe. I know you feel the same. What does it matter if we won if we’re broken?”
We said our goodnights. I closed the door behind me, soft as a shadow, finding Incyse waiting for me in the unlit hall. Neither guards nor officers were around. It was just the two of us. I could always look back on these moments afterwards and analyze them with a logical eye. But in the heat of the moment, I was no less swept by passion, by nature, by biological desire, than a drunkard or an addict.
And that was why, I thought at the time, she was wrong. It was not Avalan who had had it worst, nor even my sister. She had Lychin; the boy had had to hire whores, true, but he had gotten what he had wanted whenever he had wanted it due to our family’s riches. There was no shame in their lust. They were normal.
Polaria would soon return to combat-ready status. Her cybernetic enhancements were not really part of her, but what did that matter? I suppose it was true that I too could have gotten such attachments, but that would require them to amputate almost all of me. I could be powerful again, yes, but I wouldn’t feel anything anymore. Was that really such a bad thing?, I wondered, as my eyes returned to the slender Arcosian girl, looking her over like she was a sliver of hard candy unwrapping itself before my eyes. Her aroma of honey, neither overpowering nor weak, was enough to tempt me onward.
Saldari’s Puhsa Tnia’ii claimed it had persisted for more than a thousand years, outlasting the Lipantan Republic, the Empire of the Golden Monkey, and my father’s annexation of this world. I could believe that like I could a Faerin’s promises in bed.
We went for a drink, Incyse and I, to get away from the palace. I felt like I could finally breathe again when we stepped inside. Even as little as ten years ago, pirates could be found here. But once Daddy started taking a more active role in managing his empire from this planet, the customers of this place, along with everywhere else on Lipanto, were reduced to bored off-duty officers and soldiers. It wasn’t as violent and imposing as it once had been. But there was no shortage of drunk men guffawing together, making lewd comments about the female soldiers, playing knife and dart games, wasting their money on sniraak. It was always the same.
“Gin,” I told the bartender. “Nyarin… uh, Maulxe flavor,” I said slowly, glancing up at the menu. There was no reason I had picked the most expensive flavor. No good reason, at least. All alcohol has the same effect once it’s inside one’s belly. Doesn’t matter what it tastes like going in. But if that were really true, I would have bought us a couple bottles of Uu’goc and been done with it. “Four shots.”
They all knew who I was, obviously. The cantankerous bar noise had died down; none of them would approach us. They feared me, even burned. Rightly so. Some months back, a drunken officer had thrown a dart into my back accidentally. His head had been soon parted with his body. I had not been so much as spoken to by any patron since. That was fine by me. They were low-level scoundrels, mostly. Nobody I desired to waste time with. I wondered vaguely what Daddy would think if I brought one of these men home as my new lover. Somehow I didn’t think he’d appreciate it much. Polaria had Lychin. I needed to wed someone equally as important. I wondered too what would happen if I brought Incyse back home. Father didn’t know–at least I don’t think did–yet some part of me, some dark and twisted part of me, wondered what he’d say.
I took my shot, and she took hers. How pretty she looked downing the glass, scrunching up her face, clutching the shot glass in a way that was too cute for words. What was wrong with me? I took the second, and she followed me. Her eyes were green like Kuriza’s, so bright and big and bursting with love.
The taste was hard and dry, like metal, but sweet enough so that I wouldn’t gag. “Two more.”
“M-my lady… I’m, I’m not as experienced as you in these matters… I may not be able to hold another one.”
Feeling my face smile, I sighed as the heat raced through my veins. This was a nice feeling. I could relax and let go. Polaria became a distant shadow in my mind. We took our shots, the girl swaying on her floating stool, everything rushing and slowing in my vision like I was in a vortex.
“A bottle for the road,” I commanded the bartender, and he returned at once. “No, make that two.”
“Aye, my lady.”
I paid and we set off towards the door. A pair of Brench were huddled over steaming cups of tea giggling at us when we walked by. Ignoring them, I put my hand on the door. My girl held the bottles; I nuzzled my head against her neck, feeling good.
That was when the orange-faced Brench slurred, “Taaaakin’ ‘er backta bed… m’laaaaady?!”
His compatriot giggled, downing the rest of his drink, his narrow skull bobbing from side to side.
For a second, half the bar stopped to stare at us in stunned silence. My patience had slipped. “That’s right, little orange boy,” I replied, “but I’ll be the only one of us getting the girl tonight, I think. You two couldn’t pull an alley whore if you spent all night trying.”
Fizzing crimson Death Beams flew from my fingertips, hitting one in the cheek, the other in the belly. They fell screaming, shattering their glasses and flipping the table as everyone gawked at us. The bartender had gone white. As the men bled out on the floor, I pulled out a few coins to pay for the damages, tossing them to the counter. Then with my tail up, I led my handmaiden out.
She said nothing on the journey home, though she was not particularly good at flying either. Maybe that’s what she was concentrating on. We returned to my chambers before the alcohol had worn off, and I poured each of us another shot before locking the door behind me.
Her aroma perforated the room. I looked over the painting of our Chillrose Estate back on Arcose as I took my shot. How I wanted to go back there. I poured us each another.
“My lady, is this wise?”
She had grown bolder since I had first been introduced to her all those years ago. Her beauty, however, had not faded with time. Arcosians, in general, are either male or female. The distinction between the sexes is not as pronounced as in some other species, such as the Zar-Degar, yet it is not difficult to tell if one is male or female just by looking at them. Incyse was slender, pale-skinned; her curvy body and small breasts lent no doubt to which she was.
However, my family was not like most families. There was a reason we had taken over the universe, and not them. We were mutants, all of us. We produced asexually. My father created my sister and I, and then Avalan. Cold created Cooler, Frieza, and Nitro. That was not to say that we did not appear either male or female, however. We did. My sister and I were female. Avalan, despite his sickly growths, had clearly been deemed a “male” at birth. That was by far the more common of the two for our family, it seemed. Only Frost, my sister, myself, and Raimie were female-looking. I don’t count Yuki because she is a genetic freak.
But this is all to say that what Incyse was to give me, I could not give her back. What Lychin could give to Polaria, my sister could not return entirely. We have ways of hooking up with others; my father kept a paramour named Neiyme that I knew about. He could have more. It’s not uncommon for members of my family to become intimate with members of other species.
I’ll not go into specifics of how my family reproduces. Let’s just say that my father more than I could do to a girl what is expected. Being mutants, certain things were retained in our biology. Others were removed or modified. I still loved her.
Playfully inebriated, I settled on the bed, motioning the girl to come forth. Nimbi had always been my go-to. I had even done this with Kurai a few times. Incyse on the other hand… well, this would be our first time. I desperately missed my other handmaidens.
“O-on the bed with you, my lady?”
My flush was spreading beyond my control. The room’s grey-blue walls were swirling, the paintings hung around the room mixing into rainbow whirlpools and multiplying every time I moved my eyes. “I know Nimbi instructed you about this. I told her to. She said she did. Was that a lie?”
The girl rubbed her elbow, looking away from me. Her face drooping, she was almost as drunk as me. “It was not, my lady.”
“Get on the bed, Incyse. I don’t have all day.”
“Why did you kill those men, my lady? I-I-I meeaaan, why not imprison them for a while, or fine them, or…?”
“Strength devours fear,” I replied. “No one will mock me, nor will they mock you. They were. Weren’t you listening, my sweet girl? They dishonored us both.”
“Get on the bed.”
Now she was worried. “B-but… my lady… I think, think I’m going to be s–”
Teleporting behind her, I spun around, wrapping my tail around her neck and throwing her on the bed in one motion. The bed was my world, our world, all that mattered. My chest pressed against hers as I slid lower and lower. She struggled, fear in her eyes, slapping my side softly, asking me to stop. Only when my lips found a sensitive spot did I loosen my grip.
Breathing hard and hoarse, the girl arched her back as my tongue flicked against her breast. My lips found her nipple, warming it with their wet embrace. The girl sighed. I wasn’t sure she was faking it. Nimbi and Kurai had faked it for a while. Still, they had not forever been able to pretend they didn’t like it. Neither would this one.
My hand was around her shoulder, rubbing her sweetly, my sweet honey princess. I was lost in our movements. My mind was numb, humming, an urgent rushing feeling pulsing in my chest, just below my throat. That was the moment my scouter lit up from a call.
At first I didn’t recognize it, my intoxication being too deep, so she had to point and, in breathless whimpers, get my attention. The eye-piece was glowing purple on the nightstand. Sighing in annoyance, I whispered, “I’ll get it later.”
“But my lady, look!” Her eyes were shining unwaveringly emerald in the near darkness, opposed to the artificial purple blinking of my device. “It’s your father.”
I went back to what I was doing. The light faded. Her eyes, which had been so hopeful, now cast a tired look down at me. I despised this part of it. When would she realize I was here to make her feel good? Nimbi took three times to get to that point; Kurai took just two. Surely Incyse couldn’t take much longer…
“He’s calling back, my lady. I think you should get it.” She sat up, drunkenly pulling away from me, falling against the pillows as she reached for the scouter.
Mumbling to myself, I licked my lips, glancing at the mostly-filled bottle of gin on the table. My blood was running too hot to stop now. It was pain having to endure the wait. My flesh had warmed; it felt as if it were on fire. “Answer it.”
“Lord Icer, hello!” the girl chuckled. Though her voice remained professional, the way in which she addressed him was certainly careless. She had taken great pains to make sure he couldn’t hear that she was drunk, and yet the words she had chosen could just as easily have betrayed her. Was she not capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time? “I am Incyse, Lady Hail’s handmaiden. What may I do–” She paused, listening, looking over to me as she wore the scouter. I had to admit she looked nice in it. There was a certain absurdity in a non-military person, slender and graceful and courtly, wearing such a device. “I see. Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh, my apologies, my lord! I’ll get her at once!”
I didn’t catch the scouter. Luckily it landed on the bed. “What is it?” I whispered to her between bared teeth. I was getting angry now. I didn’t want to put up with any of this shit right now. Why did this have to happen now? Couldn’t whatever my father wanted wait just a little longer?
“He wouldn’t ssssssssaaaaaaay,” she whispered back, her voice high and afraid and at the same time slurring as that Brench’s had. “It’s uuuuuurgent. Cannot waiiiit.” She smiled sheepishly, but that smile vanished in almost the next instant as she jumped off the bed and vomited all over my imported Atjohnian shag rug. That’s just the type of rug you want to get vomit in, after all. Falling to her hands and knees, the girl continued to vomit, moaning like a dying animal between each exhale.
“What’s up?” I jumped up, sprinting to the bathroom and closing the door behind me. “Father?”
“Get down here.” I could hear it in his voice. My heart sank. My blood froze. My fingers twitched. My head cleared. I was drunk, but I wasn’t lost in it anymore. “Your sister’s room.”
“Get down here now. Don’t make me ask you again.”
The call ended. I had never heard grief fill my father’s voice before. It sounded so unlike him, so foreign, that I wasn’t sure I was lucid. But staring into my bathroom window, I saw the slumping, drunken body of a girl who’d once been physically superior to most. Now my body, tattooed by scars, my muscles having been eaten away by disuse, my belly having swelled somewhat, was nothing worth looking at. Shame usually pressed me when I looked upon myself like this, but that was the furthest thing from my mind at that moment. For when I dreamt, I was never in this body, but in the one I had grown up in alongside my sister, dancing and fighting and playing and feeling light and free and powerful in.
This was no dream. Daddy’s tone meant only one thing. I knew it even then, but would not believe it until I saw for myself.
Her room was much as I had left it. The chairs and table had not moved one inch. The walls were as bleak as ever. Only the bed had changed. Like a ribcage torn asunder by a superheated ball of energy, the frame had fallen back, broken and cracked, the mattress and blankets and pillows vaporized, a dark stain being all that remained at the center of where she had only a few hours ago lain.
My memories morphed into something hideous and surreal. The gin didn’t help. I had seen her with my own eyes. We had spoken for a long time. I had tried my best to comfort her, to empathize with her, to make her confident again. I had never gotten so much as an inkling that something was wrong.
Father looked as if he had been forced to stay up for a week and was now being dragged into the sunlight. We didn’t speak for some time.
“Are you sure, Daddy?”
He nodded once, not looking at me. The man’s eyes were focused on the scene of the crime. I couldn’t blame him, but I didn’t have the stomach for it. Collapsing into one of the chairs, I buried my head in my hands. Because I was so drunk, the emotion I felt was more intense, but got stuck in my throat. I couldn’t cry. Guilt followed. Why couldn’t I cry? Was I a sociopath? She was my sister, damn it! I should be able to express some emotion.
Perhaps it was due to my father being in that room with me. It had always been harder around him. But this was unlike anything we had experienced before.
“Did she say anything to you… to anyone… anything at all?”
“Not a word.”
“Damn Arcterial! Damn that lizard!”
My breaths came shallow. My fingers were tingling. All I saw when I closed my eyes was that beautiful girl soiling my rug with torrents of yellow-blue. “She… she… Father, Polaria told me that the hypernova was all that saved her from Sta Fu.”
“Neither one of them should have attacked her!” he roared suddenly. A bright blue ki blast flared in his hand. He threw it into the wall, leaving a crater and a puff of smoke behind. “Bastards, all of them! If only I could kill him again. And Zashisaro… that cunt disappeared. If he’s not dead, he’ll beg me to kill him before I’m done with him! If he thinks Torlini’s suffering was unbelievable, wait until I show him what an emperor can do!!”
His voice shook. Goosebumps covered my flesh. I wanted to cry. Why couldn’t I? All I felt was this heat, this building feeling that Daddy was lighting with the flames of his fury. Why had she done this to herself? Why had she done this to us?
“Father… there’s nothing we can do. There’s no bringing her back.”
“Do you think of me as a fool?!”
“What…? This room–”
“Lipanto.” He gritted his teeth, marching back to the door, his wine-colored cape billowing behind him. “Hold the planet while I’m gone.”
“Where are you going, Daddy?”
“Faeri. The next Great Council is about to start. I must be present. It’s not a choice. I can’t trust that traitorous lot.”
“There is no time to wallow in sorrow, Hail! The Ctha’Naka are butchering the eastern territory, Pukcoläsic has raised an army in rebellion against not only Galactrix, but us too. And the Corvos League… I’ve told you about them, haven’t I?! Or have you forgotten already?”
“I remember, Father.”
“We have no time to stop. The Faereth are most likely still plotting a way to assassinate us. They know now they cannot beat us in open combat. I’ll just destroy their planet if they try again. It’s something deeper than that they’re plotting… poison, most likely. I cannot stay. You must hold Lipanto. Do you understand me? Stay here. Keep the soldiers in line. Work with my admirals to come up with a strategy for defeating our foes. I’ll settle for taking out Pukcoläsic and those damn Quglith. Do not go after either of them yourself, do you understand me? Wait for my return.”
“I don’t know what technique they’re using, or what trick they’re playing, but the Quglith have some kind of weapon that is laying waste to our forces in the east. I can’t guarantee it’s safe for you… just stay here, alright? Pukcoläsic was the Premier League champion for the Galactrix Arena. I’ll need someone more powerful to fight him… Yuki, or Kuriza, perhaps. If I don’t deal with him myself, that is.”
His words burned, but they were not untrue; I felt my face reddening again. “I understand, Father.”
“Do something useful for once, Hail! I shouldn’t have to baby you like this. You’re a grown woman. You’re my Supreme Admiral. I trained you for this. Don’t you dare wallow in grief,” he said, grabbing me by the shoulder. His eyes were livid, but he was not looking at me. His gaze extended over my shoulder, always looking onwards, always looking past me. I gulped bile down my throat. “Begin coordinating the installation of orbital defense platforms on all planets–not just our core worlds. Got it?”
“I understand, Father. Sh-should I tell them about…”
“Not until I get back.”
He was gone before I could reply. It was only after he’d left that I felt the vacuum. It hit me like a full power energy wave. The floor punched my knees; my vision blurred and wavered. Cold as the eye of a storm was that room. I had never been alone before. Polaria had always been there with me. We had come into this world together. We were supposed to leave together.
Her voice came to me as I knelt in ruin: We get one shot, Hail. This is it. Everyone goes away eventually. There were no Arcosian deities in modern times. We’d never believed in any anyways. None except the Destroyer. But he was as mortal as any of us. Uncle Cold had assured us of that. If there really was an afterlife, whatever it was, Polaria and Avalan were together again.
“Get some rest, you two,” I muttered to myself. I wasn’t the superstitious type. But to be rational in this instant would be to cut myself open and rip out all that remained. “I have work still to do. I can’t come home yet. Sorry. You’re just going to have to wait a little longer.”
What did it matter if we won? What was the point of ruling an empire of bones and ash? My head was spinning. This gin was too much. I was a pathetic lightweight. Why was I so weak in so many different ways?
Admiral Ersi, the former rebel, awaited me in the strategy room. Holo-maps, floating chairs, tables of tea and wine and snacks adorned the war room. With the green-skinned Novalisian were Commander Jolen, a chubby Inovian woman, Commander Lanzo, a white-haired Jolea, and Captain Tuchete Chero, a compact, but muscular Tahmier.
“My lady,” Ersi began with a bow, smiling warmly, “greetings. How are you today? Are you ready to begin our task? I believe your father has gone over with you what we’re–”
It burned, this blood inside of me. That was the only reason I knew I was still alive. “My father changed his mind. You four. Gather a fleet of one hundred ships, and be ready to leave in three hours.”
I turned and walked out of the room with haste. As I went, Ersi called out to me again, “My lady…! Please, wait up! Where are we going? What’s happening?”
I stopped. My heartbeat quickened. I would prove him wrong. I would prove everyone wrong. “The Quglith thought that our civil war would be enough of an excuse to rebel. They mock our empire in doing so, and spit upon its image. Do we not have the strength to challenge them? Are we not the dominant force in the universe?!”
They nodded and murmured in agreement, perplexed though they were.
“It’s time we pay them back for all they’ve done to us.”
Lanzo stepped forward, clearing his throat. “My lady, we don’t yet know the strength of their force, nor why they have been able to devastate so many planets in such a short amount of time. Without your father or Prince Kuriza with us… I don’t know that we can safely attack an unknown force like this. It will be an extremely risky campaign, my lady.”
Defiantly, I replied, “You have me. A rebellion is not above my ability to deal with! Do as I say, or I’ll find officers who will.”
Ersi and Jolen exchanged a look. How bold they were to try that in front of me. Once more my fire was burning hot. I was about to explode when the admiral bowed again and swore, in his high-pitched, womanly voice, that my will was their command.
It was farther from Lipanto to Faeri than from Lipanto to the warfront. Lucky me.
Every world we came across was either a smoldering, dying rock, or had already been shattered into a billion fragments. Those parasitic squid-jaws had pillaged and burned every world in their path. Ctha’Naka wasn’t an empire so much as a plague.
“It’s interesting,” Ersi remarked once, as we orbited over what had once been Planet Cooler 299. “They leave us nothing to reclaim. It’s almost as if they expect to be beaten.”
“I wouldn’t want to disappoint them, Admiral.”
It was over the cratered-hull of what had once been Planet Nitro 124 that we found our first signs of rebellion. It was a tiny fleet of thirteen vessels–eleven of them space pods. Chero went out in his space suit to greet them for us. That was mighty kind of him. I watched from the holo-screen, prim and proper, lady-like and no longer the warrior.
The Tahmier returned with a wrinkled snout, his golden eyes burning intensely. “Our men. They were turned.”
We found a second lance over Planet Cooler 313. Captain Chero did the honors a second time, though this time, he brought back a hostage for us to pick the brain of. The man, an elderly space-badger with a spotted brown and orange fur coat, begged us to return him to High Priest Nuktolen. If we did not, he would die. He needed another injection, whatever that meant. He cried and screamed and got violent, and that was when Chero snapped his neck.
“What do you make of that, my lady? What the hell was he screaming about?”
“Serrokin perhaps. Kooli is not beyond a doubt either. We also cannot rule out Nil. Maybe they’ve developed a new way of ingesting it since closing up galactic shop. Who knows what those traitors are up to?”
“I don’t like it, no matter what it is,” Ersi whined. His mouth was drawn back in a scowl. “This reeks of something dangerous.”
Jolen shook her jowls carelessly. “They’re fanatics, what would you expect? Hell, I bet they’ve got our soldiers addicted to some new, potent strain of Nil. That’s the only logical explanation for why they would turn to rebellion!”
“I’m more interested to know why they are so disorganized. Why have small fleets scattered around like this?”
“Forming small strike teams to take out as many planets as possible, most likely. They’re spreading like ravenous beasts, hitting as many worlds as they can before we reign them in.”
“Why would they become suicidal? What do they have to gain from this?”
“No idea. None really. They’re fanatics. They’re crazy! How can we reason with madness? Maybe their tentacle god in the sky told them to do it. Can’t exactly say no to your god, now can you?”
I was pacing before the looking window. Starlight always looked the same to me. It was better to look than to dwell on thoughts, however. “In that case, we need to find where their High Priests are hiding out. Probably Ctaedi, but you never know. They are surely using the majority of their fleet to protect the priests. Run a full scan with the long-range scouters, Jolen. We’ll set out for the highest concentration of power levels in the contested territory. Sound good?”
“Aye,” she replied, bowing.
Before long, Daddy would know what we were doing out here. I just hoped, as we drifted over a dead world, all my pained memories crumbling under the weight of one another, that he would find out what I had done only after I had collected the heads of the Ctha’Naka High Priests and laid them at his feet.
The next series of events happened only yesterday, but I still have difficulty believing.
Per Jolen’s direction, we came to Planet Cooler 202, also known as Mirocus by the native Torrn species. I had been in my bedroom when it had happened. Incyse had been there with me. We were sipping ice wine and discussing our favorite Galactrix Arena gladiators while watching old reruns of the now-defunct leagues. The girl was playing it nice and cool, acting cordial, acting out her part beautifully. In time, I knew, as with Nimbi and Kurai, she would shed the act and live in my world without falsehoods. I hadn’t dared try anything with her again. No, my belly had soured since that night, and kissing her, pretty little ice princess though she was, was not even a spark of a thought in my mind.
It was good to sit and relax, to be amongst friends, to take my mind off war and death and destruction. I needed this. I had not spent much time around the officers. I’m sure Daddy would not approve. Even now I can hear his voice, quiet and deliberate, commanding me to gain rapport with them, to go over strategies with them, to discuss all that is happening so that I will never be surprised, so that I will never be taken unaware by foes, and so that I will be able to react instantaneously and decisively. Yadda yadda yadda.
He could be such a bore. But in this instance, it would have been right of me to have heeded his caution.
For the previous two planets, Chero had gone out in a space suit to destroy the tiny fleets himself. This time, however, being that there was a fleet almost thirty ships strong with an estimated total crew of over five thousand, they decided to go at it differently. Indeed, we had arrived as the Siege of Mirocus had only just begun. The planet could be saved. Ersi called me to the bridge to debrief me.
I brought her along. I doubt any of them knew who she was to me. Incyse was my handmaiden. She was meant to go where I went. There was nothing atypical about that. The bridge was a sterile place, a cold place, a room of chirping bright monitors, of soldiers sitting nervous and focused in rows of chairs, not a painting to be found on the walls, not a shag rug to be found on the floor.
I was bitterly reminded of the past in negative.
“Status report, Ersi.”
“The rebel ships are moving towards the planet. I assume they’ll be unloading troops to sweep it of all resources before glassing it from space.”
“You must stop them immediately, Admiral.” I had had two or three glasses of ice wine. Who can keep track of such trivialities anyways? Three glasses was not as much as I could hold, but it was probably too much for this maneuver. Daddy had never taught me fleet strategy assuming I’d be drunk while in command. Incyse giggled at my side. I had them bring her a chair to place next to my captain’s seat. She had brought her glass of purple liquid with her. What a brazen girl she could be sometimes. “Chero, you have command of the army.”
“Shall we meet them in space or on the surface, my lady?”
“In space, Captain. Take everyone. Those power level readings were… unnaturally high. I wouldn’t have thought there were such powerful Quglith anywhere, but it appears to be our reality, and we must deal with it. Don’t do anything rash out there.”
“Aye, my lady.”
And so he left, and so the battle began. Lanzo kept me updated. At first, it was a simple affair. I barely paid attention. The girl and I continued our idle chatter. There was nothing to fear. My force outnumbered this one at least five to one. Led by Captain Chero, they would surely be the more disciplined side. I had our ships surround the Ctha’Naka force, putting the flagship and its protectors between the planet and our enemies. There was nothing especially complex needed of me. Chero just needed to do his job. It was simple, really… elementary, one could say.
And then the fireworks began.
It was soundless from where we watched. The light enveloped Chero and his men, blooming outwards, enshrouding our ships, vaporizing most of them in a heartbeat. Our ship was hit hard by the blast; the looking window cracked; power went out, and the back-up generators came online. The bridge was bathed in low red light.
I stood, feeling tension and surprise mixing to form an intoxicating emotion. “What… what was that?”
“An explosion, my lady.”
“Of course it was, you fool! But from where?! What was the source?! Get Chero’s line. Now!”
The light was just beginning to dim when it burst again, like a big white balloon that had exploded. We could physically see the ripples spreading through space, racing towards the ships. There was no time to run. Again we were hit; more cracks formed in the window. Smaller vessels around us burned and vanished.
I grabbed my scouter, looking down at the girl with fear in her eyes. “Chero! Chero?! Are you there? Chero?! Come in!”
“We have hull leaks on decks five through seven, Admiral,” Lanzo said calmly. “Damage to the generators is spreading. There’s a fire spreading…”
“Fuel leakage on the starboard side as well,” Jolen added solemnly. “This ship’s finished, Admiral. We won’t get far.”
Ersi stood gravely before the cracked looking window, his arms folded behind his back. “Abandon ship. Everyone, get suited up. We’re going planet-side. That’s an order–”
The third pulse rang out without sound through space, tearing our ship apart. I watched in horror as Jolen’s eyes oozed out of her thick skull, her scream being sucked away along with the rest of the air, her body spinning end over end. Lanzo grabbed his neck, but he was dead before he could feel it. His face sizzled and burned blue and black and white, blisters forming across his chin and under his eyes as his body, unaccustomed to such harshness, touched the void for the very first time.
I did not see Ersi go. As the ship tore itself apart in the rippling energy, he was hit aside by a falling monitor, and that was that.
The girl and I were all that remained. Floating bodies surrounded us. Ice wine, like congealed blood, dribbled slowly out of her glass, which was spinning acutely towards the planet. She placed her hand on my shoulder, and I shivered. All this metal and all these bodies were little more than garbage in an ocean too deep to escape from. Mouthing ‘run’, she spun and flew towards the surface, and I followed.
Whatever had been back there, I still do not know what it was, nor do I have any guesses as to what it could be aside from an absurdly powerful Quglith. But that doesn’t make sense. No Quglith has ever had a power level even at 50,000. These pulses were six times as powerful if not more. My scouter can’t get a clear reading on numbers so high.
It’s been almost a day since we were marooned on Mirocus. The fighting between the outpost’s defenders and the Ctha’Naka destroyed the space pod hangar bays. And those pulses of energy had also crippled most of the remaining ships. One good thing was that the Ctha’Naka soldiers had been burned up by it too, so the fighting was over with… perhaps. I can hope. I will hope. My scouter’s still picking up huge readings not far from here. I think they’re set up on one of the moons. Who knows? I don’t want to speculate too rashly right now.
I sent a message to Faeri as soon as we landed. Daddy will be so displeased. I hope he’s not too mad when he gets here. I hope he can get here in time, but I know it’s not likely. I was just trying to help, to do my duty. But now it’s looking more and more likely that I’ll be reunited with my siblings before Daddy can save us.
Chapter III: Absolution
|Position:||Thrall of Ctha'nhalath|
|Date of account:||April 3-4, Age 767 (first scene)|
April 11, Age 767 (second and third scenes)
I waited too long for them to make their move. Two fleets were lost. I should have saved them. If I had been quicker, maybe I could have. Ultimately, however, we got back much more than we lost during the Siege of Mirocus.
Expecting either Prince Kuriza or the hybrid monstrocity Yuki, I was surprised to be faced with Hail of all people. Of the Planet Trade Organization’s illegitimate royal family, I knew I could only defeat Hail and Polaria with my raw strength. The rest required something special. They would all die, one way or another, Ctha’nhalath willing. I was his scion. I was Nyuktali. I was here to save the Quglith. I feared none of them. But to send the weakest Arcosian against me was just asking for it.
Cthka was my form. It held me. I was patient. They struck two decoy fleets first. Hail’s force moved faster than I had anticipated. They burned the decoy fleets before I could get there to set the trap against her. That was no matter. I had waited patiently for them to come to me. Was it my fault that Kuriza and Yuki had been utterly useless cowards? No. I was the Scion of Ctha’nhalath. I would not suffer their vanity.
Too patient was I. They snacked on bait more than once. I was there for the third attempt. When the opportunity presented itself, I did not let it get away. I struck with the force of an alpha predator, taking Hail’s pitiful crew unaware, killing thousands in seconds.
The soldiers I used as bait had been absolved of their heresy. They were loyal and good. To be disloyal was to die. But it did not matter if they were lost in combat. I, Nyuktali, was the Scion of Ctha’nhalath. The rest were meat for the war machine. I used them accordingly, as my masters had instructed. I would not fail. I had to succeed–my people were counting on me.
It was odd that they sent Hail to me, for even when I had been part of that family, I had been stronger than her. She’s a girl, after all.
The size of her fleet surprised me. They didn’t expect me to be leading this. They thought it was a bunch of zealous Quglith rampaging through the eastern empire. There were no Quglith who would make Hail sweat in combat, even marred as she was. There were no soldiers in the empire whom her bodyguards should fear. They all thought me dead.
At Mirocus, they caught my band of slaves assaulting the planet. Dozens of ships, brimming with battle-ready teams, awaited my bait. We pulled back from the planet’s devastated surface to face them. Then, they unleashed the hordes. It was as I expected. Captain Tuchete Chero led the force against me.
I drew them to me. Only when he and his men began swarming over my soldiers did I release the first pulse of Nyali. My energy was purifying; it tore through their suits, popping gas–oxygen, nitrogen, helium, fluorine and the like–into the void, like spilling ice wine on a fine cape. They sputtered and detonated, screaming noiselessly, as I emerged from the ship I had been hiding in near the back of the fleet.
The vessels too were decimated by my technique. Hail’s fleet had surrounded us. That was their mistake. A second pulse radiated outward as I closed my eyes, focusing my thoughts, exhaling through my fingertips. It took a quarter of my energy to summon an energy wave of this magnitude.
Though I did not yet know his name, Captain Chero had disappeared with the rest. In fact, all of them were wiped out by that second blast–all except for Hail’s ship. Drifting aimlessly, its lights blinking erratically as if it had been concussed, the saucer leaked air, its life-support systems critically damaged. That wouldn’t matter for the admiral, but her crew…
One more Nyali was all it took. The ship tore itself apart, the metal burning and twisting, leaking out fresh bodies and cargo as vomit.
Ctha’Nuktolen had taught me a method to sense energy, but I was not adept at using it yet. I could only sense a vague reading (no numbers as with scouters) so long as I closed my eyes, blocked out the distractions of waking life, and focused in a particular direction. For that reason, using this ability during battle would be almost impossible, and foolhardy to say the least.
But here, with a hundred ships destroyed, thousands killed in a matter of seconds, I was able to detach myself from the carnage and bloodshed, close my eyes, and focus. I was the Scion of Ctha’nhalath. I would not fail in my mission.
As I had expected, she fled to the planet. We were both alone now. The Mirocian outpost had been partially destroyed by our assault. The soldiers remaining on-planet should have numbered no more than a few hundred–nothing I couldn’t handle.
The Torrn populated their entire planet, though much of it was covered in ruins from wars of ages past. Cooler conquered Mirocus before I was born. In terms of outposts, and soldiers who could protect Hail, there was only the half-ruined capital.
I decided not to pursue at once. We had already destroyed the space pod bays, and the fleet protecting Mirocus had likewise been reduced to space junk. She had no way to escape me. And after three Nyali pulses, I was absolutely knackered.
Returning to the station on the moon Narelus, which my soldiers had already conquered for me, I reported back to Ctha’Nakki, Head Priest of our Ctha’Naka, on my progress. He was most pleased with the developments and instructed me to return her body to Ctaedi as an offering to the Deep One. I could not refuse such a humble request.
I rested, meditated, and drank only water. I did not wish to be slowed down in what was to come. A day passed. I smoked a stick of Nugahl Djio-Nil. With Minister’s Fire producing in me that killer headrush I craved, I was ready to go. Today would bring about the start of something big. What I did today would provoke Icer, Kuriza, Yuki, and the rest. They would soon learn that the Ctha’Naka was not to be trifled with. We were no petty insurrection. We were the next universal empire–the new empire. The Planet Trade Organization was wounded and sick and needed to be put down. We would do so.
With concentration, I found her hiding in the city of Galein. Ravaged by our assault, Galein was pock-marked by skyfire, its stone buildings cracked and collapsed. Even the sturdier Planet Trade Organization buildings were mostly leveled. Bodies lined the streets–I noticed some of my own amongst the dead. The city was quiet, awaiting its fate. Shame the girl was not so compliant. This could have been a lot easier.
She had called up all remaining soldiers from across the planet, no doubt. Before the capital building were arranged rows and rows of them. Perhaps there were three thousand of them; they were lined up neatly, flaunting their discipline. I was reminded of the bitter frosts of Planet Frieza 068, of a foolish, vainglorious boy, of a portal opening overhead, leading me to salvation. Those times were in the past. My past was not my future. I was Nyuktali, and these damn alien soldiers were standing in my way.
At their head was Governor Ryboa, a bearish-looking Faerin. Most of the governors in this decaying empire were. He had grown three chins, and stared back at me with the brightest purple eyes I had ever seen. His armor was golden and silver, shining in the morning light like he was a tin can. His soldiers had his back, though not every alien wore armor. Given the suddenness with which we had appeared and begun our siege, I can’t blame them. They were staring me down when I reached the capital, the governor being the only man willing to break the calm.
Walking towards me, an ornate gloved gauntlet raised, Ryboa said, “Glacial?! Glacial, is that you? What are you doing here?”
“I am Nyuktali, Scion of Ctha’nhalath, and you’re standing in my way, good sir. Step aside, let me through, and after I’ve secured the admiral, I’ll let you and your soldiers join our glorious Ctha’Naka. What say you, old man?”
He was bald, except for wispy white strands above his ears, dangling like spilled intestines. “So this is your doing, eh? Tell me, traitor, how did you control them? The men you sent against us. They were ours… loyal to Emperor Icer. What lies did you tell them to make them forsake their duty?”
“No lies,” I replied, taking another step through the shattered cobbled street until I was less than three meters away from him, “only the truth that Yhun brings.”
“Yhun? What’s that?”
“I’ve said too much,” I smiled. “Do you want to feel its power? Or would you rather feel nothing at all?”
The elfin man snorted. “Another drug, eh? More potent than Nil, is it?”
“You’re a smart man, governor. Tell me, would you rather you and your men die right here, right now, or would you like–all of you–to taste truth?”
“Soldiers, aim!” the man barked.
I exhaled, my mind empty and clear. So be it. They would die. Disloyal animals. The ranks of aliens raised their hands or blasters at me, energy of a dozen different colors flickering into existence with sharp buzzing noises.
I felt a shiver of excitement. I should not be excited. I must remain detached, focused on my objective. Swallowing, I cleared the sensations from my brain with some effort. “The High Priests of the Eternal Ctha’Naka have forced me to train everyday. This is why.”
With a shout, I spread my arms out, lurching forward, my arms coated in a mist of white energy. This was Nuloté. The Faerin hardly had a chance to scream as I wrapped my fingers around his throat and watched his body light up, his eyes sparkling like amethysts before rupturing. By the time I had dropped him, the rest had released their attacks. Not one of them commanded a power level over 3000. It didn’t matter that there were 3000 of them. Such things weren’t prone to being multiplicative. I needed only to focus, to dodge the first salvo of their angry energy by spinning on my heels, flipping into the air, and releasing a pulse of Nyali.
The white-hot energy burned them to dust. It decimated Galein, too. Every building that had weathered the storm of yesterday’s battle came crumbling down–even the capital. And indeed, immediately thereafter, amongst the wreckage and dust and smoke and ash that clung to my tongue and made my eyes lethargic, I found her.
I’ll never forget the shock and resignation in her voice. “I am Nyuktali. Glacial is long dead.”
She would have been alone if not for her Arcosian handmaiden, a pale, icicle-thin girl, clinging to her leg. There was a gash on her cheek, but she wasn’t crying. Hail, on the other hand, was burned, just as they had said, like wax that had melted and cooled. What a hideous specimen.
“What did they do to you, Glacial?”
“I have been absolved, Admiral. And it is my job to destroy the Planet Trade Organization for the good of my people.”
She was trembling, though she tried still to put on a brave face. I had taken her horribly by surprise. I needed to clear my mind. Excitement was bubbling to the surface with persistence. It would not own me. I was an empty husk. Of all the enemies she and Ryboa could have faced, I must have been the furthest from her mind. “Glacial, please… Stop this madness. You don’t have to do this.”
An energy beam formed around my fist, sharpening to a point. I took a step towards them. The girl screamed. “I don’t have to do anything. This is my choice. I mean to provoke your father into coming for me. Oh, he will. He will!”
The air stirred. I should have reacted faster. When the Tahmier appeared from nothingness to my right, I had no chance to react to his own energy beam slicing towards me. He severed my hand, just below the wrist, in a whirling move. I never felt it. There was no blood, no pain. Maybe that was the Djio-Nil. Maybe not.
He was bloodied, the visor of his space suit cracked. Removing his helmet, the captain stood between me and them, his bright blue energy sword raised at my heart. “Hail, run!” he barked. “Go now! I’ll take him!”
I had fallen to a knee, panting. It wasn’t pain I felt, just emptiness. Then came hate. “You will die by my hand, space rat!” I snarled, rising to face him again. “I am the champion of Ctha’Naka. You have no chance against me!”
The furry-faced soldier cocked his head carelessly. “I like my chances better with you disarmed, Glacial.”
“Don’t call me that!”
I lunged at the man; he caught my fist, peeling it back and kneeing me in the chest. “I am Captain Tuchete Chero, honor guard of Admiral Hail. And I’m the last damn face you’ll ever see, Glacial.”
His kicks were weak. I spun around the man, shooting a flurry of energy into his back. As he stumbled forward, I lunged at him, wrapping my tail around his neck, rising into the air, and throwing him back to the ground. When the dust cleared, he had disappeared again. Cursed Tahmiers. They could turn invisible if they wanted, but I thought that was only possible in low light. It was almost midday.
I felt something moving behind me. Turning with a punch ready, I was hit in the back of the head by a flying kick. He was faster than I had assumed. Or maybe I was just getting slower. I still wasn’t feeling any pain. That concerned me. Even if I couldn’t feel it, I was surely getting sluggish. My body could not handle this sort of shock, no matter what the Djio-Nil made me believe.
I threw several punches and kicks at him, but without my right hand, I couldn’t block his attacks. The Tahmier was pathetic, but so was I. That was the wrong mindset. I couldn’t give up. I had to feel the emotions pass through me, let them go, and stay true to my mission. Ctha’Naka was counting on me. I noticed that below us, in the rubble, Hail had not fled. Why she never left, I will never know. Perhaps she knew if I won, she would never be able to outrun me, no matter the head start. She would be right about that.
He disappeared and reappeared to my left. I blocked the first punch, but missed the second. He got me good in the jaw before I slapped him away with my tail. Before I could follow up with a high kick, he disappeared into thin air. As he vanished and reappeared around me, almost as if he were teleporting (but he was not), I stabbed at him with my tail and feet, missing every time. My stamina draining quickly, I unleashed an explosive wave, catching him mid-flight. As he was stopped by the force of my ki wave, the man had nothing to do but attack again. He was persistent. I liked that. Shame he had to die.
Chero swung at me wildly. I ducked under his attack, then flipped behind him, elbowing him in the back. As he staggered, I created a ball of energy between my fingertips. He was lunging for me again. I could feel it in the air. I side-spun over him as he came for me then. As he missed, I landed before him. The man let out a cough of surprise before I blasted him in the face.
The light was bright enough to blind me. I blinked and saw his smoking corpse land unceremoniously on a partially collapsed wall, his arms and legs splayed brokenly.
I landed, holding my cauterized stump gingerly. I had to remain focused. My stamina would not last much longer. I had to get back to Narelus soon. One of my soldiers who remained there had to be a doctor, right? Walking up to the women, I whispered, “Now it ends. With this, the illegitimate royal family will be reduced to four.”
Something dark flashed in Hail’s eyes. Maybe she wanted to spit on me. “Uncle Cold should have executed you for what you did! He let you live… and this is how you repay our mercy?!”
“That man put me on a torture barge, took years from me, made me suffer! Death would have been a reward compared to what he made me go through!”
“You tried to kill him! What did you expect would happen?”
“Enough of your drivel!” I bellowed, breaking into a run, my fist pulled back. There was nothing to think about now. I was empty-minded, clear-headed, feeling the Djio-Nil carrying me forward.
“Nooooo!! Stop it! Stop it! Let her go, please! Please, Lady Hail has done nothing t–”
The handmaiden’s last word was exhaled into my fist. I pushed it through her mouth, through her skull, teeth and bones and blood and brains splattering against my knuckle. My chest was on fire. I was ready. My mind was clear. I was moving with purpose. I was a tool of the Deep One. I would bring our people salvation.
She screamed pathetically, dropping to her knees, tears streaming down her face. Why she cared so much about a servant, I’ll never know. Perhaps the admiral realized, in that moment, that it was all over.
“Glacial! Glacial! Glacial!! Wait…! Wait, stop!”
She put up her hands in self defense, but I was on her like a Wintaar waking from hibernation. Slapping her cheek, I took her to the ground. Chunks of stone and glass and metal surrounded us, embedding in her flame-scarred skin. She tried to speak, but I wrapped my tail around her throat. I punched her once in the face. She was weaker than I would have expected. That punch nearly knocked her out. Blood leaked down Hail’s nose. Struggle though she did, it was no use.
I gripped her by the back of the head. “Ctha’Naka is eternal. We are the chosen. You will not stand in our way. It’s over.”
With that, I slammed her face into the ground. The first time, I felt her nose break. Then, her teeth shattered with the second and third hits. By the fourth hit, the only sound she made was that of wet smacking. A bloody pothole had been left in the spot I was pushing her face into. Her body began to spasm, shuddering against my grip. I did not let up. There was no mercy in me. Ctha’nhalath had willed this result.
I lost count of how many times I did that to her. Maybe fifty. Maybe more. When it was over, sweat stinging my eyes, I collapsed against a rock to catch my breath. And that was when the bitch rolled over, sitting up with all the strength she had left to stare me in the face. How she had survived that beating, I do not know. She wasn’t even high on Nil. Her face was bloody, her eyes shut, her mouth a purple ruin. “He killed your fahda…” she breathed. “You can’t take dat back… He’ll kill–”
A Death Beam through the heart put an end to Hail. Silence returned to Mirocus, but I was not at peace. Her corpse lay before me; I should have felt exalted. I should have felt triumphant. All I felt was the choking pain, finally rearing its ugly head, cascading in panicked sprints up and down my arm. It would have been enough to knock me unconscious if not for the Djio-Nil.
I had missed feeling, I thought to myself, as if that philosophical inanity could provide me any tangible comfort.
Powder blue skies greeted me on my return. It was a bustling day in N’gatiq. The city looked like it had been entirely reconstructed. Ever since that rogue Planet Trade Organization officer had led a force here, butchering Quglith by the millions and razing dozens of the sea-floating cities, it had been difficult to look upon the capital city covered in its hundreds of black-burnt war wounds. In recent months, most of the damage had been repaired, and now Quglith were returning, thankfully. Breathtaking to behold were the rebuilt white towers of Cthal. They were robust as lightning bolts and taller than any other building in the city–a most fitting temple design for the Deep One, I thought.
It was there I went first. Ctha’Aalglak was waiting to greet me in the halls of Qhonar Vas, the chamber of sacrifice, where I was to make my offering. I set the Arcosian’s corpse I had slung over my shoulder on the nearest stone table. The High Priest followed me there, looking over Hail’s body like she was a fish carcass washed up onto the shore.
“Nyuktali, it is good to see you!” the High Priest smiled. Then she noticed, and her expression changed, like a rippling tide. “Your hand… did that happen in your fight against the admiral? Oh my!”
“Her captain surprised me. It’s no matter. The surgeons will make me a new one.”
“Are you in pain, Nyuktali?”
“Good. That is good. Well… make sure you choose an appropriate strain for this sacrifice, Nyuktali. And here…” She handed me a needle with a gloved hand. I took it freely, letting it touch my skin. “There’s enough Yhun in there to kill Icer, Kuriza, and Yuki. I assume you won’t need this for Polaria, but if you need to…”
“I’ll try not to use it against her. I am more powerful than that one. I know I am. My faith is strong. I will not let you down.”
“Very good, Nyuktali. You have taken the first step. But the road we are traveling is long and treacherous, and we are not nearly to its end. Icer will come for you next. Kill him first. Once he’s dead, Yuki and Kuriza will fall into a second civil war. That will be to our benefit. If by some chance they remain in an alliance, however… the Yhun will silence them. Take care of it. I do not have any more to offer you.”
She withdrew, slipping behind a pale seastone pillar. All I could hear for a time was her feet on the stone, echoing idly. I knew I had to follow. Nyuktali was the tool of the gods, but he was also the servant of the High Priests.
I hopped into her shadow in a breath. “Is something the matter, Ctha’Aalglak?”
“Nyuktali? Oh, it’s nothing.” She took five steps and stopped. “Actually, no. I need you. How did you know? Did you receive a sign from Mighty Ctha’nhalath?”
“This one is but a tool of the gods. Command, and it will be done.”
She smiled, parting her mandibles in a rare friendly gesture. “You are a faithful scion, Nyuktali. That is why I know I can trust you with this information.”
My skin grew warm, though I knew not why. “Anything. I am yours to command.”
“Ctha’Nakki and Ctha’Nuktolen have continued selling Nil to foreigners. I caught them myself… they were in a room with a host of spicemasters… Corlini, Faereth, Joleans–you know, the usual. There were crates of Nil being distributed. I saw it with my own eyes, Nyuktali.”
“Such actions go against Mighty Ctha’nhalath’s will for his chosen. We are not to greedily mine the wealth of Ctaedi and export it off-planet… such actions are heresy.”
“That they are,” the old woman replied gravely. “Ctha'Mokkatteti is aware of my claims. She is with me, as are you.”
My phantom fingers ached to clench into a fist. “I am.”
“Then you know what must be done,” the Quglith replied flatly. “They are on Qhonar Verandi at this very moment.”
“Once I have completed my offering, I will go.”
Her watery eyes drew away from me, her voice falling to a whisper. “Good. Very good… Fortune be with you, Nyuktali. Be strong.”
The aged woman’s sigh was not one of relief. I could not share such emotions with her; I was a scion. I felt nothing but the grumbling in my belly. My fingers were tingling. It had been hours since I’d smoked Nil. I needed to try a new strain for what was to come.
The hallucinogenic Sukhin strain seemed to me the best option for these proceedings. I smoked a full stick of it before returning to Qhonar Vas. Thankfully, the chamber was empty when I returned… well, the corpse had remained. I was not meant to feel, and yet all these betrayals, piling up like gut punches, became too much to bear.
Once, there had been five High Priests. Ctha’Ghull had paid for his heresy. Then there were four. The fifth rank had never been replaced, tainted as it had become. History could be so cruelly cyclical.
I did not wait for the surgeons, talented as they were, to craft me a new hand, before doing my duty.
Her corpse was decomposing before my eyes. It was time to bring an end to this. I had cleaned the blood from her face. Why, I do not know.
“I present this offering to Mighty Ctha’nhalath! My opponents fell before me. In my faith, I was able to defeat the most worthy of opponents! To the Deep One, eternal be his reign, I present this humble offering!”
Silence filled the chamber. I was alone with the corpse. She was nothing to me. She was just another enemy, defeated by my might. I could not feel anything. I was Nyuktali, the Scion of Ctha’nhalath. I was an empty vessel. My purpose was to serve. I held no desire in my heart.
“Cousin…” I breathed, trembling. “Were it not for the Nykkarins…” I could not finish my sentence. “You fought to the end. You fought well. Given the circumstances…”
My voice broke. Suhkin was my life. Tentacles, black and wriggling, sprouted from the crown of her head, her green head jewel having already been shattered. Grotesque an image as this was, I was enthralled. My body felt warm, felt alive. I was an empty vessel, after all. It would do me no good to exert my own opinion. I was not an individual anymore. My opinions did not matter.
Her body vaporized. In red-black squares, she de-materialized before my eyes. It was clean and direct. There was no room for interpretation. The Deep One had received his offering. It was good to see those tentacles, black and wriggling, disappear into nothingness, never to return. Suhkin was no novice’s stick. I would need to have better control when I confronted the traitors.
Regret bubbled in the back of my throat. I tried to swallow, but could not. I blinked, and Qhonar Verandi was there, the Nubasan fields laid before me.
“Nyuktali, what are you doing here?” Ctha’Nuktolen asked me, his voice slick as a tepid pool of water.
“I have heard of your dealings with foreigners.”
A simple statement produced simple results. Nuktolen screamed and ran, shitting himself on the way. Nakki, the placid, self-appointed master High Priest, dared not move. He knew that to flee was to admit guilt. He was smart; his fellow was not.
I blasted Ctha’Nuktolen’s brain out before he could reach the nearest door. Thankfully, they were alone. Had there been any spicemasters present, I would have had to kill them too. Nuktolen and Nakki were my tutors, my masters, those who had taught me numerous techniques and battle forms. And they were heretics. To be disloyal to Ctha’Naka was to die. I wanted to eat them whole, to consume their transgressions, to put such filth inside me as to make me responsible. Such a reality was not possible, however.
Ctha’Nakki grinned, spreading his arms outward to welcome me in. “Nyuktali, you are pious and without doubt. I commend you fo–”
His blood was blue and bubbly. Nakki fell, clutching the gaping hole in his neck. I would not be deterred. To doubt was to be a failure. I would not fail.
Two High Priests remained. They were our future.
I left. There was nothing more for me to do there. Cobalt splatterings only made me queasy.
Minister Ctugyol was waiting for me in the hall. How he found me, how he knew, I’ll never know. “Nyuktali…” his voice squelched, clicking mandibles and tapping his fingers against one another in uncertainty.
“Minister.” I knew him not well, but I knew of him. “What do you require of this tool of the gods?”
“Don’t do it,” he said humbly, stepping up. “Don’t continue with this madness. Our species… our way of life. It will all end if we don’t back down!”
My chest swelled with pride. He was another heretic. “Or what, Minister?”
“We will be doomed if you do not make peace with Icer. Unwrap yourself from arrogance! Do what is bes–”
I punched through his skull, feeling a wet, ripe explosion around my knuckles. The minister’s brains painted the wall in a deep shade of blue. His did not bubble so much. I found my way to the window, thumbing the needle of Yhun. Wind caressed the Nubasan fields outside. This was the only strain of Nil that was not grown underwater. That did not make it cheaper, for some reason.
Blood trickled down my fingertips. I longed for my right hand, for what was my dominant fist. My phantom fingers burned. It was too much. I pulled away, fantasizing. Icer would come for me now. I had stirred the Wintaar’s nest. It would only be a matter of time. Yhun was my answer; it would be our salvation. I touched it with my fingertips, the feeling producing no reaction in me. Ctha’Aalglak had needed gloves. She was not tainted. What did it matter? I was the Scion of Ctha’nhalath. My purpose was to protect the Quglith. I would do so at any cost.
At any cost. Some would characterize those words as nothing more than foolish idealism. Not me. I twirled the needle between my fingers, relishing, in fantasy, when I would get the opportunity to confront Icer and destroy the Planet Trade Organization once and for all. Only a prick would be needed. Not even the Golden Emperor would be able to resist Yhun. I smirked. This was, truly, the beginning of the end. Ctha’nhalath have mercy upon their souls, for I wouldn’t.
Chapter IV: Ctha'Naka
|Position:||Emperor of the Planet Trade Organization|
|Date of account:||April 4, Age 767 (first scene)|
April 12, Age 767 (second scene)
April 17, Age 767 (third, fourth, and fifth scenes)
Where there are Faereth, there are liars. I presided over the Council of Faeri this time around. Of the six who served, I partially trusted four: Governor Lychin, Admiral Jahu, Spicemaster Calansi, and Statesman Meiquano. Nevertheless, trusting a Faerin is not an easy thing to do. They’re only slightly more trustworthy than pirates. Ureigo, vile as he could be, was more faithful than all the damn space elves combined.
To destroy them would be a poor choice. I would be making enemies all over the universe if I did that. Making profits was what kept my empire in good health. It’s one thing to manage a territory, another to conquer and destroy without restraint. If I executed everybody who ever had a treasonous thought about me, there wouldn’t be anybody left to rule over.
Jahu was a capable fleet admiral. Lychin was a reliable governor. No one could replace them. That, however, did not make them worthy of my trust. A wise emperor must be cautious. I had been taught years ago by my brothers to always assume the worst.
In the past, the Faereth had used this council as a means to gain support for treason. Once, this council had seated dozens. Six would do for now. Perhaps I would need to lower that number. Time would tell. The fewer of them in charge of making important decisions, the better.
This meeting chamber was not the usual place they held Great Councils. Evidently, the old one had been destroyed when Lychin executed the Faerin Empire traitors. This was a cozy room. Unadorned black stone walls, a viridian glass table, curved like a waning moon, and steaming Green Liani Tea were laid out before me, elegantly minimalistic. Wrinkled and hook-nosed, Elder Statesman Saphodine began the proceedings.
“The first matter of contention on our agenda today…” The old woman looked up as I paced around the room, though there was nothing she could do to stop me. Everyone else remained seated around the table. It was only mercy on my part that had saved her. I could have easily purged her along with the rest of Bael’s officers if I had wanted to. But she had not openly supported them (Farneth hadn’t either); Lychin had personally vouched for her. This was no matter so easily cut free. “Protection of the core worlds in our empire.”
“There are many worlds that require orbital defense platforms,” the nobleman Eldrin Farneth spoke up. “Not least of which, Peregari, Atjoh, Nyare… Loru Qir, Lipanto, Faeri itself… these are obvious choices.”
“But do we have the resources for such expenses?” Spicemaster Calansi complained. “Of all these worlds, surely only a few are necessary for our continued existence. Faeri and Atjoh surely are.”
“The thirty most populated planets in Emperor Icer’s region hold priority,” Governor Lychin said. With him was his steward Imbe, Bael’s daughter. I found it amusing that he had spared the man’s family. Perhaps some good would come of that. Not likely, though. She was a Faerin. That girl still blamed me for her father’s death. I could tell by the way she was sitting–her back erect, her head down, hands folded on her lap. She would make a move against me or him some day. I hoped that man knew what he was doing. “We will expand from there in due time. And we must not forget that there are worlds in Kuriza’s and Yuki’s sub-regions that deserve protection.”
This was inane. I was growing tired of the triteness of these Faereth. “Admiral Jahu!” I barked They froze. My tail stirred. Enough of this nonsense. I was emperor. “I need you to clear out the pirates to the north of my region. All of them. They are taking over world after world on the unprotected frontier. Their marauding is hurting trade, and I’m losing too many soldiers out there. Wipe them out.”
“My lord… must I depart now? We’re right in the middle of–”
“Yes, my lord.”
She bowed and was gone. The five of them were staring at me. “You don’t need to debate which planets are important. We already know. Find the resources to produce orbital defense turrets for every world of mine with a population of over one million. Simple as that. Move onto the next issue.” My tail cracked like a whip through the air.
Eldrin Farneth cleared his throat. “Indeed, there are other matters we need to discuss, my lord.”
“Get on with it then. I’m listening.” I had half a desire to shoot him through the throat with a Death Beam.
“The spice has run dry. Real Nil–quality Nil–has vanished from every galactic market I know of… and what little is technically available is being sold at exorbitant prices. It’s absurd. Something must be done about this! The average spicemaster’s profits are dramatically slipping even as we speak.”
“I already decriminalized Nil consumption,” I told him. “You have nothing to worry about. Once the zeal of Ctha’Naka is brought into line–”
“And when will that be?” Farneth interrupted, his mouth contorted in a humorless smirk. “Suppose we win the war against them. So what? The Quglith will be condemned to die, and all the Nil will vanish from the universe. Is not profit the purpose of our empire?”
“The spice must flow. That will not change after the Quglith are punished.”
“Correct,” I said. “We will spare the Nil producers at least until their craft can be taught to more loyal servants. Spicemaster Calansi has already been briefed on this matter, have you not?”
“Lord Icer’s right, Farneth. We have nothing to worry about. Once the rebellion’s put to an end, Ctaedi will be given to the spice lords.”
“There are none who can stand against me. Those who would dare have already decided their fate.”
They all murmured in agreement. Next came Saphodine, her hoarse, dry voice indicating rather harshly her age. “There is also the matter of the defense fleet requiring new officers. And what should come of those who rose in rebellion with Bael.”
Not one of the four responded. Silence filled the chamber. I wondered if they would have been so tight-lipped had I not been present. “Admiral Jahu is to train them. As I have re-assigned her temporarily, that burden will fall on you, Governor Lychin.”
“I’ll get to it at once, Emperor. Do I have full discretion in the matter?”
“Pick whomever you desire. Of the soldiers who rose in rebellion with Bael,” I said coldly, pacing before them, “the officers have already been executed, as all of you know. But many common soldiers still hold the same thoughts in their hearts. It is up to you to find out who they are and deal with them appropriately. Should Faeri ever rise against me in rebellion again, I will not be merciful to your kind.”
Farneth had lowered his eyes. The rest stared at me unflinchingly. Even the girl had dared to. I noticed her father’s defiance in her high cheekbones, in the way she maintained a passive, calm expression.
Afterwards, Lychin, Calansi, Meiquano, and myself had tea. The other two had business to attend to, sadly. I made note of that. I was already suspicious of Farneth, but perhaps Saphodine as well was someone I needed to keep an eye on. She was, after all, one of the old guard. The other two survivors of that time were firmly on my side.
“Green Liani from Loru Qir. Richest flavor in all the universe,” Lychin chirped as his steward brought us our cups.
“You’re one of Bael’s daughters,” I said out loud. Imbe nodded innocently, masking embarrassment. “What’s your name, girl?”
“Imbe, my lord.” I already knew that, but it was interesting enough to see how long it took her to give up that piece of information. She had a voice like honey–delicate, but not fawning.
“The eldest,” Lychin informed me. “She has been an excellent steward in the short amount of time she’s been with me. One day she will become a statesman, perhaps even a mayor or a delegate of the Great Council.”
“Is that so?” I sipped the tea slowly. It was fine, but nothing worth describing lavishly. I preferred ice wine. “So long as you do not make the same mistakes as your father, you should have a bright future, girl.”
“Th-thank you, my lord. I will try to do my best.”
Once she had served everyone, Lychin asked her to wait outside so we could continue to enjoy teatime in private. The girl bowed and was gone like a shadow in the dark.
Calansi thrummed the dark-wood table. “What if they destroy the Nil fields, knowing they’re going to lose?”
“I am going to Ctaedi first. There won’t be time for a war. In the meantime, that damn Pukcoläsic and his followers also need to be dealt with. I’ll send Kuriza to deal with them. Once these rebellions are snuffed out, then we can focus on rebuilding our trade networks and training a new generation of soldiers to protect the outposts from pirates. And we may have to deal with a long conflict against the Corvos League.”
“My lord, can’t you destroy them yourself? What need do we have of armies when we have the Golden Emperor?”
“If the Corvos League is ruled by intelligent beings–and I believe it is–then their strategy will be to unleash their armies across the empire, and attack us all at once, doing as much damage as possible in a short period of time. I cannot be in two places at once.” I thought of Audacci and her strength. She was no longer my equal–not since I had discovered my golden form. But at the same time, I knew so little of the Corvos League at present. Were there others who served that empire of similar strength as her? If she had, say, four or five companions of similar power, then even my golden form would be taxed dangerously if I were forced to fight them at once. I needed spies to infiltrate the League, to inform me about what was going on in the minds of their leaders, to assess their strength and cunning. All in due time.
“Once they’re brought under our boots, the universe will be firmly in the control of the Planet Trade Organization.”
What an outdated idea, selling planets on the galactic market. How often did a wealthy buyer with need of an entire world come along anymore? More often than not we destroyed the worlds we conquered or added them to my empire. The real profits to be made were in Nil, Kooli, NTT, and the like. Things would soon be changing.
“That will be an extraordinary moment. Even when Lord Cold reigned, he didn’t command the entire empire…”
“We cannot forget the Mrovians either. Those bastards took out Lord Nitro… we have to destroy them too!”
“True,” I thought aloud, slurping tea. I had almost forgotten about that micro-empire. “That’s a task for Yuki, I think. It’s her job to gain revenge on the ones who killed her father. But that’s not a priority right now. They aren’t an expansive empire like the other three. We shouldn’t have a problem–”
My scouter went off. It was Hail, her message marked urgent. I had told her not to contact me on this channel unless something very serious had happened. My blood ran cold. Had news gotten out already? “Excuse me,” I said to the others, standing up and returning to the empty council chambers. When I was sure I was alone, I re-opened the channel. “Hail?! What’s going on?”
She was not there, though I could hear her voice. I realized my daughter had sent me a message: “Father… I’m marooned on Mirocus. We’ve been ambushed by a force of Ctha’Naka… and they’ve destroyed the fleet. A hundred ships. I’m so sorry, Father. Ersi, Lanzo, Jolen, Chero… they’re all dead. I’m stranded! There’s no one else left. I don’t know what did it, what power could have vaporized all those ships, but I’m trapped. I need you, Father… I nee–”
The transmission cut out. Now my blood was boiling. She had disobeyed me, lost a hundred ships, stranded herself on a far-off territory. And she was all I had left. There was no time. I called up Neimye, my beautiful Zar-degar consort, and commanded her to ready the ship. I would be traveling light–first to Mirocus, then to Ctaedi. There was no time to go back and finish my tea; the Faereth would, hopefully, understand.
Dust and darkness were there to greet me. I had only brought Neimye with me, choosing a tiny little screamer of a ship for this trip. We didn’t stay long. She poured me a glass of vintage chillrose from my grandfather’s orchard. I watched the stars and drank and drank. It was freeing to have this young woman as company.
Neither fleets nor armies awaited me at Ctaedi. They knew I would be coming. That put me on guard. They would have been wise to draw me somewhere else. Whoever their champion was–perhaps a Galatrix gladiator, or some mercenary–did not matter. They may have been stronger than Hail, but that was only due to the Nikkarins. I chose my Second Form to humiliate whomever it was.
Not wanting to lose the girl, I left the ship in orbit, finishing off the bottle of chillrose first. She gave me a massage (that’s all I need to say), and I was off. Rarely did I enter battle drunk. That was more my brother’s style. Yet it was not a normal day. I continued to hold onto a faint hope that they had merely taken her, but with Mirocus blasted to pieces, that hope was childish at best.
N’gatiq bobbed and shimmered white in the Luylia Sea. The power I felt was neither immense nor inconsequential. No Quglith had ever been this strong to my knowledge. Not that I cared. They were soon to be rendered extinct.
Although spice was in the air, the Cthal Temple was remarkably barren. Everything was made of stone–the floors, the walls, the pillars, the tables. All of it had been built from seastone, though not all was uniformly dark. Its solitude embodied a hundred thousand years of squid-jaw penance. I sensed no one else inside save for the being of unusual power. His strength, for it felt masculine, was nothing I couldn’t handle in a powered-down state. Fear was an emotion I rarely felt, and certainly not in many years. Right now, the only thing I felt was the twitching in my fingers.
Cthal was empty as a spent bottle of Nyarin gin. Light beams cut like razor blades down from open holes in the ceiling, speckling the ground in bright spots. I found him kneeling before a powder white Quglith fountain, deep in prayer. There was Nil in the air over there, but it wasn’t fresh.
“Glacial?! Glacial, is that you?”
Rising with his back yet to me, the man replied, “My name is Nyuktali, Scion of Ctha’nhalath.”
“What are you doing here? Have they taken you prisoner? How did you escape from 68? Your father–”
He faced me. “I have no father. I am an empty husk. I am a tool of the Deep One. My purpose is to bring his will to fruition!”
A chill ran down my body. “So they’ve brainwashed you. What did they do to you? Torture? Promise you riches? Squid women? Didn’t know they were your type, Glacial.”
“I am Nyuktali, not the other. He is dead. And soon you will join him.”
“It was you who met Hail at Mirocus?” I knew already. I felt it in the back of my eyes. I don’t know why I had to ask. “Where is she?”
“The admiral was my humble offering to Mighty Ctha’nhalath.”
My heart wasn’t beating fast, but its noise was deafening. When I kneed him in the chest, Glacial flew into a pillar, landing in a limp, bloody puddle as cracked stone crumbled around him. I exhaled, walking slowly to him, my footsteps echoing irregularly, waiting for him to sit up. The man refused me even that banal courtesy.
“Did you really think you could beat me, Glacial? Are you so far gone that you deluded yourself into believing such a thing was possible?!” I grabbed him by the neck and threw him into a wall. My voice had barely risen. I needed to remain calm. My emotions would not lord over me. “Or did you think you could poison me? Missed opportunity there, boy. You should have presented me with a cup of chillrose. I’m not my brother after all. Maybe you’d get lucky.”
He neither screamed nor squirmed. His face was eternally blank. The purple mess he had left on the stones was the only sign that he was alive.
“I only need three people dead. You, Yuki, Kuriza. Then the universe will succumb to Ctha’Naka’s truth! We are the chosen!”
“We are not so easily destroyed, as you have learned. Switchie gave me his reports on you, before you escaped. That scar on your head–is that not real? Is your past not a part of you? Maybe you’re so high on Nil you’ve given up.”
“I cannot be beaten. I am the Scion of Ctha’nhalath,” he whispered defiantly as I kicked him again, feeling bones shatter against my toes.
“You think yourself the hero of this tale, rather than seeing this sad, pathetic rebellion for what it really is. Your selfishness and stupidity have gotten you far, Glacial. You’ve outlived your father, your sister…” I wrapped my tail around his torso as I raised him into the air and began punching him in the face. “And it all comes crashing down because your ego never learns. We should have executed you for attempting to assassinate Cold. It was a mercy he showed you, letting you live. And this is how you repay our family?!”
“Mercy?” For the first time, his emotionless expression broke. The pain he showed me then went deeper than I would have thought. “Mercy to be forced into slavery on a torture barge? Mercy to be left there and forgotten year after year by my own family…? Mercy fo–”
I punched his mouth shut. The shit he spewed was almost as unsavory as the blood dripping down his broken body. “You attempted to kill my brother. A penchant for treachery runs in your blood, does it not, Glacial? Arcterial tried to rise against me too. His blunder was in blinding himself to his own weakness. What a vainglorious idiot. His arrogance wa–”
A flash of silver came flying in from the side. Glacial’s hand was raised against me for the first time. Only it wasn’t closed in a fist. He held a thin needle between two fingers–almost imperceptible if not for the light raining down from overhead. I would not have noticed it had I not seen the glint of that needle’s head out of the corner of my eye.
Even in my Second Form, my speed dominated his. In reflex, I caught Glacial’s wrist, clenched it until I felt it shatter beneath my grip, and let him drop. The needle rolled between two stone tiles in front of me. Now he moaned like a dying beast, writhing on the ground, the cuts on his torso, arms, legs, tail, and face painting the sacred white stones of this soon-to-be-leveled temple in zealous shame. I dared not pick the needle up, though I crouched before it, sniffing. Whatever poison it had been coated in was scentless, colorless, entirely invisible. Had he not just attempted to stick me with it, I would have assumed it was sterile.
“What poison was in there, Glacial?! Answer me, damn you!”
He cried for a while before responding. When he did, tears mingling with blood, his eyes red and raw, my nephew glared at me with a level of hate I could readily reciprocate. “Not poison… Truth!! Take it… and join us…! Do it! Are you a coward, uncle?! What are you afraid of?!”
His voice broke and echoed.
I had felt so hot a moment ago. My blood cooling, the chillrose no doubt wearing off, I shivered and folded my arms. “You don’t know fear, Glacial, but you will.”
Nimbly, I teleported behind him, grabbed him by the back of the head, and punched his face into the stone tiles, shattering rock and teeth and a smug little princely nose all in one giant crunch.
It took five days for everyone to get to Ctaedi. In that time, my subordinates were able to marshal the disobedient Quglith in N’gatiq. Their population having not yet recovered from that officer (whose name I cannot remember) running rampage across the planet, every one of them was able to be gathered in the seaborne city. Admittedly, the streets were packed, but that wasn’t my concern. There were twenty million, give or take, at present–99% of the Quglith population. I would have expected to have found some loyal Quglith amongst my armies, or Kuriza’s, but to my knowledge, and the meticulous checking and rechecking of Master Sapras, the historian, no such Quglith existed in the databases. Every single one of them had broken from the empire when Ctha’Naka had been born. It would be dumb to question the strength of their beliefs.
Traitors–every last damn one of them. They believed in their Nil-warped nonsense, so I had no choice. Cut off the head and the body will fall. But why let it decompose, let it stink up the place, when vaporizing the whole thing in one go was a cleaner, more elegant solution?
I met them at the top of the steps of Cthal, the tallest building in N’gatiq. Placed before me were Ctha’Aalglak and Ctha'Mokkatteti, the last surviving High Priests of a doomed religion. Standing in energy bonds, the two were chanting in their ancient, unintelligible language, mandibles sloshing and squelching like rogue waves.
Behind me, I had gathered Admiral Jahu, Governor Lychin, Imbe, Garish Ureigo, my old friend, five of the wealthiest spicemasters in the universe–Nitsh, Gerin, Calansi, Rakawe, and Ashkava–Kuriza, his aged bodyguard Lingon, his fierce-faced admiral Kracchus, Yuki, who remained hard to look upon, and her frail advisor Kirka. Today was a momentous day. Everyone would bear witness. The universe would know me as a just emperor.
“Today, I have put an end to a feeble rebellion.” I boomed to the crowds of Quglith. Floating video screens dotted the skies, enabling those who were not in the immediate vicinity of Cthal to see and hear me clearly. They would all need to. This broadcast was also being watched by every outpost and core world in the empire, and likely even by space pirates beyond imperial space, and perhaps even by some of the members of the Corvos League. That was good. They needed to see this too. “The Quglith tried to rise against the Planet Trade Organization in a time of uncertainty and strife, preying upon dozens of worlds and slaughtering trillions in the name of their false god.”
Disquiet ran through the crowds. What I said was heresy. But I was the true god. Where was Ctha’nhalath to smite me down? Maybe he too feared the Golden Emperor.
“They valued zeal above loyalty to me, to the empire, and to their brethren of every species whom they cut down, butchered, and betrayed. These two right here are the High Priests of Ctha’Naka–their treasonous words spurred the masses to commit untold heinous acts. Such disgusting disrespect has no place in my empire.”
Suddenly, I stepped up to them, grabbed each by the back of the head, causing them to break from their chanting in surprise, and blew their faces off from the back side with two purple ki bullets through the brain. Gasps and cries of shock peppered the crowd as I let the bodies fall. Returning to the stone podium, from which behind many a Quglith demagogue had made his or her name, I continued, “They say that mercy is a trait of a wise emperor. Today I will be merciful… and just. I shall not drag this out much longer.” Again, the Quglith broke into cries, some begging, some sobbing, some shouting at me defiantly in tongues I knew and did not. I suspect many were praying to the Deep One for protection. “They thought that they could best me… could destroy all of us. But their faith in the Scion of Ctha’nhalath was suicidally arrogant. Treason will never be tolerated in my empire.”
I raised my arms above my head, closing my eyes. Their voices rang in my ears for only a moment before the city exploded into a fireball. In a minute, everything had turned to ash. A seawind blew into N’gatiq, and swept it all away. My advisors hovered behind me, having been shielded from the blast by an energy barrier I had created just in the nick of time. When the sky blue ki bubble popped, we were left without an audience above the Luylia Sea. A halo of foam had appeared around what had once been the perimeter of the city, soon melting away as churning black waves swallowed its form whole. There was something missing that would never come back. The sea looked so nakedly new. I exhaled deeply, blinking the salt from my eyes.
“Now then,” I said sternly, facing the group. “Follow me to Qhonar Verandi. There is much business to discuss.”
It was midnight on the moon. The outpost, the Nubasan fields, the hangar bay… everything was so quiet now that the Quglith were gone. Indeed, my group of advisors were the only other people here with me. An eerie feeling filled the blue metal halls. Artificial light gave us an anemic welcome.
In the governor’s office, we settled down. There were matters I needed to speak to each of them about (which is why they were brought here), but not all need be said in the presence of everyone. First, I went to Jahu. Some might consider this me favoring her. I know Lychin thought as much. But me going to her first was simply an exercise in necessity.
“Have the scientists figured out what style of poison Glacial attempted to use against me?” I asked her, holding up the stone carving of the previous governor, Weghotati, before crushing that squid’s likeness to dust as I paced in front of the window.
“Yes, my lord. It’s Yhun.”
“A poison native to Ctaedi. Extremely rare, it’s lethal to all known species. Once one is infected, they must continue to inject Yhun into their body for the rest of their life, or they will die.”
“Curious. So that was his ‘truth’. How long can one go without needing to be injected again?”
“Depends on the species, my lord, but usually no more than a week. I should also mention that we’ve run tests on some of the corpses recovered from the area around Mirocus, and… well, the soldiers Glacial was using were infected. Every one of them. Those who aren’t Quglith, I mean.”
Yuki shook her head. “That explains how they were turning so many against us.”
“Vile beasts,” Ureigo muttered.
“Check if Glacial’s infected,” I ordered her. “Then you may return to the northern empire to continue your campaign against the pirates.”
The Faerin placed her hand over her heart and knelt before me. “Your will is my command, my lord.”
What godly words. After she left, I focused my attention on the five spicemasters, all of whom had been so polite to wait this long in silence. Their aromas were by far the most potent of anyone in the room, especially the three Joleans. They wore bright robes with dizzying patterns, like nidrazi in heat, whose scales turned bright orange, blue, and green when seeking mates. Not even Ureigo was this flashy. He had decided simply (or perhaps lazily) to wear his battle armor and a cape, like the other officers.
“You are the Five,” I told them. “Ctaedi is yours now. The Nil fields will be managed by you collectively. All other spicemasters and Nil providers will have to go through you. The fields of this moon,” I said while gesturing at the window, “and the fields below Nagthalgatta Crater are mine. I will take full profits from them. You will split up the remaining fields amongst yourselves however you wish. I expect it to be equal amongst you five, or I will replace whoever is most greedy. You will take eighty percent profits from the Nil you sell from these regions.”
Their eyes lit up. Rakawe twiddled her fingers. I could see calculations racing through her mind as her second and third chin slapped against each other. “You are too kind, my lord.”
Ashkava fell to his knees, his blond ponytail swaying from side to side. “Showing such generosity to us, mere spicemasters… my lord, thank you! Thank you! You will not regret this, I promise you!”
Calansi nodded stoically. He was the most reserved of the bunch. And the only Faerin. Sometimes that made all the difference. Joleans could be so dramatic.
“We will get to work at once, my lord,” Nitsh, the long-nosed Corlini, said hastily. “The spice will begin flowing again in the coming days!”
“Aye,” agreed the gold-glittering Gerin, whose jewelry rings and piercings and bracelets would have been borderline excessive if split between all five of them. “We’re going to make a killing… the empire will be rich in short time, Lord Icer! I can guarantee that. Nil is a hot commodity! Many people thirst for it.”
“Good,” I replied, their compliments falling off me like sheets of ice into the ocean. “Go then. The Quglith harvesters are being held in the city of Cuelcha. Once your harvesters have learned the proper technique for extracting every type of Nil, execute them.”
“It will be done, Lord Icer!” They bowed low before leaving in a hurry.
Their spice lingered. I was not unhappy. Next I turned to Lychin. We had not talked since Polaria, but he knew now. They all did. It did no good to hide the truth from my loyal officers–him especially. He would have made a fine husband for her. Since the news had gotten out, Lychin had turned a permanently paler shade of lavender, and now his wrinkles, the bags beneath his eyes, and the beard he had let grow out since then made the elf look twenty years older. Even being imprisoned and starved for a month by Bael hadn’t weathered him nearly as much. As odd as it sounds, though, this left me encouraged, for I knew with utter certainty that he had loved her. And that meant his loyalty was genuine.
“Send ten thousand elite soldiers to man the defenses of this world,” I told him. “And I want Ctaedi repopulated with other species–the Torrn perhaps. They were not quite rendered extinct by Mirocus’ destruction. Those millions in service of the empire can be relocated here.”
“I will get right on that, Lord Icer.”
“Additionally, I want orbital defense turrets placed around the entire planet–with additional rings guarding each of the moons. Word will soon spread of what has happened here. Pirates will seek their fortune in raiding parties, no doubt. Ctaedi has first priority over all other planets for turret installation, Governor.”
“Understood, my lord.”
“Finally, you are to send one third of the Faerin Fleet here to protect Ctaedi until the turrets are constructed and we have fortified each outpost.”
“I can do that, my lord, but… we don’t have any officers to lead those ships, or the troops. What should be done about that?”
I stopped my pacing to think for a moment. Then my eyes found the boy, meek-faced and bored. I had to suppress a smirk. When I had been his age, these affairs had seemed hopelessly dull to me too. Well, they still did. That was the cost of being emperor. He would have to grow used to this if he was to be my heir. After recent events… well, he was next in line. I would need to spend more time with him, I realized in that instant, in a painful, ego-shattering blow. Frieza’s son was most likely my future.
“Kuriza, have Sapras go through the catalogue and pick out able-bodied officers from across the empire to take over this detachment of the Faerin Fleet. Their service will be temporary, until Lychin and Jahu can train a new batch of Faerin officers.”
“Yes uncle,” the boy replied politely, reaching for his scouter and turning away so as to not talk over us as he relayed the information to Sapras. For all his defiance, he certainly had manners. That was something Yuki could learn from the boy, I thought.
“You may go now, Lychin. Faeri needs you.”
He bowed stiffly and was gone, his steward girl following him out without a word. Grief is a terrible thing. There was no way for me to comfort him.
“Aye?” the chubby man grunted. In his boredom, he had pulled out a bottle of what smelled like Uu’goc and had begun drinking from it like a newborn on a teat, his blubbery face scrunched up in revulsion as he swallowed the foul-tasting alcohol.
“You are governor of Ctaedi. The Five are yours to supervise.”
Surprise turned to joy before my eyes. He beamed ear to ear, his cheeks flushing. “M-my lord… you honor me.” The big man staggered drunkenly to a knee.
“Get up,” I scoffed. “The Nil trade is yours to command as well. Don’t mess this up.”
“I’ll do you good, Icer, I will!”
“Good,” I smiled, looking around. “This is your new office. Feel free to liven it up a bit. The Quglith were always so drab with their decorations.”
“Aye, Lord Icer.”
“Jahu has left a detachment of three hundred soldiers for you to command while we wait for reinforcements. They are waiting for you in the hangar bay. Go now, Ureigo.”
“Y-yes, of course, sir! Right away!” Wiping sweat from his brow clumsily, the man pocketed his Uu’goc and rushed out.
Now it was just me and my kin… well their guards were present too, but I trusted them as much as I could. I sighed and took a seat behind the governor’s desk, finding a squishy stress relaxing ball in a drawer and playing with it casually as I turned my attention to the hybrid Saiyan.
“Yuki, Yuki, Yuki.”
She was almost scowling, treading the line of politeness by a hair. “That is my name, uncle.”
“I have heard reports of several rebellions going on in your region. I want you to execute the traitors and repopulate the planets with loyal soldiers.”
“I will get to it at once.”
“Do not send soldiers to deal with them. You are to do this yourself.”
She was shifting on her feet uncomfortably. “I understand.”
“You will waste no time with that. As soon as you leave here, I expect you to begin retaking those planets. Once you are done, however, you are to go with a force of seventy ships to the east of your region and purge the pirate dens that have sprung up in recent times. Those infestations have grown considerably since the Ctha’Naka began attacking us. I want that entire region cleared out and added to the empire.”
“Yes, uncle. It will be done.”
“One more thing, Yuki.” I leaned forward to look her in the eyes. She had a hard time looking back for long. “I am surprised you haven’t acted on vengeance yet.”
“Wh-what…? I’m loya–”
“The Mrovian Empire killed your father. They are the only force that opposes us to the far east. I would have thought you would have destroyed them by now, but apparently not. Surprising, really.”
Her cheeks darkened in fury. This was just what I wanted. Perhaps it was dangerous to light a fire under her, but she would thank me later for this, I knew. “I am looking for them, uncle. They have ki-suppressing technology. Their planets are hidden. It’s not so easy. It took my father years to find them!”
Her voice broke, so as I cut in, I softened my voice. “You will find them, Yuki. Keep looking. But they are third priority at the moment.”
She bowed her head and nodded. “I understand, uncle.”
“You may leave.”
She knelt as Kirka whispered something in her ear. Then they were gone. I felt a similar emptiness in their energy as I had with Lychin’s, but theirs was tempered and cauterized, while his had been raw and bleeding. If she was able to destroy the Mrovians, as her father had failed to do, she would regain her confidence.
Yet, I remained concerned about that empire. They had managed to kill a member of my family, and I did not know how. Reports had come out about a Super Saiyan, like the one Frieza had faced on Namek, like the one he and his father and Cooler had succumbed to on Earth. Could this be the same being? I hardly knew. Frieza had destroyed the Saiyans, and yet somehow a few rats had escaped the sinking ship only to show up in the most unbelievable and ironic ways possible. I would eventually deal with them. Once the Corvos League was wiped out and the empire consolidated, then maybe I would turn my gaze towards Earth. But first, we had to find the Mrovians and destroy them to the last. There was much work ahead of us.
“Aw, saving me for last?” Kuriza whined. “Uncle Icer, you really are cruel!”
“There is a major rebellion going on in the southern empire at present,” I sighed again, leaning back in the chair and squeezing the ball as my eyes found the dark wood ceiling.
“Pukcoläsic,” Kracchus growled.
“Destroy what he has built,” I commanded him. “I don’t care what you do with Pukcoläsic. Kill him, imprison him, or send him back to the Galactrix Arena. It matters not. Personally, I would kill him, but perhaps it would be in your interest to win him over. He is a fine warrior.”
“He won’t want to join us after we kill off all his followers,” Lingon pointed out.
I was reminded of the day the four of us had brokered an alliance, my body gold and glimmering, Arcterial’s corpse at my feet, Nil in the air. That seemed like a lifetime ago now. The tension was gone, truly. I liked these two. Lingon had been Kuriza’s bodyguard since birth, and Kracchus was one of the most powerful warriors in the empire. It was good to have them with me.
“Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Gladiators are rarely loyal beasts.”
“Then why should I try to get him to join me, hmm?” The boy’s voice went very high when he asked me that. “Are you trying to get him to backstab me, uncle?”
“Always be on your toes. Enemies may be lurking anywhere. You’re the second in line to the empire now, Kuriza. Should anything happen to me, you will become emperor. You must be careful. There will be a much bigger target on your head now.”
Lingon said, “There is no one who can touch him. Lord Kuriza is eminently powerful. Only you are stronger than he is, my lord.”
“That we know of,” I pointed out. “I have reason to suspect at least a few of the Corvos League elites would be able to kill him.”
Audacci of course could. She wouldn’t need to transform. When I had been but a boy, I had fought her on Lipanto, when she had claimed the world for herself, the greedy, lazy pirate she had been at the time. Since then, however, she had become orders of magnitude stronger due to her training at the legendary Venyi Academy. Truly, I did not know how my strength stacked up against hers. I liked my chances, though. The first time we fought, I won. She had never let that go–she knew someone was stronger than her, and such knowledge pained her ego. Maybe there were others. I still had very little intel on the Corvos League. But if she was one member, I could only guess that others would at least be stronger than the boy.
“Whoa… seriously? Who are they? I want to fight them. Uncle, please, you have to teach me how to do that golden transformation. Please!”
I smiled weakly. The boy was quite something. He seemed nothing like his father at first glance, but the more I was around him, the more uncanny the resemblance was becoming. “After you have cleansed the planets in rebellion in your region–and there are many of them, from what I’ve been told–and after you clear out the pirate dens to the north and east of your region, I’ll consider it.”
“But that will take forever, uncle!”
“You will have to learn patience then. However, it is a lot to ask you to clear out so many pirates. There are far more of them bordering your region than Yuki’s. I will send Jahu and her fleet to assist you once she has dealt with her own foes. That should help speed things up.”
“It’s a deal!” the boy whooped. “I’ll get right on it, uncle. You’ll see!”
“I will. You may leave now, Kuriza.”
Lingon and Kracchus moved to the door, but the boy stayed firmly planted in place. “Oh uncle, I forgot to ask… um, sorry if this is awkward or anything, but why, um, why not have another child? That way you would have your own heir.”
“Doing that takes more out of you than you would think. There’s a reason why your grandfather and I both stopped at three. Arcterial and Cooler had two each, and neither one of them planned on having a third. Your father too showed no signs of wanting additional children. It takes a lot out of you,” I repeated, squeezing my fist underneath the table so hard that I almost created a blast of sonic energy. “It takes a lot out of you.”
“Oh.” The pale boy looked away sheepishly. “I, um, I’ll go now. Pukcoläsic is gonna learn my name very soon! Don’t worry, uncle, I’ll make you proud. ”
“Good luck, and be careful,” I said. “Don’t underestimate any opponent you face out there.”
The door once again shut with a squeak; finally I was alone. My body felt heavy, like after a gravity-enhanced training session in my golden form. I was so tired, so done for today. But there was still one more thing I had to take care of. Exhaling, I got to my feet and, in a flash of light, transformed into my Final Form. The squishy ball, torn and in several pieces, fell from my hand, each bit landing with a dull thud on the governor’s desk.
Jahu was refreshingly expedient in her most pressing duty. I had placed Glacial in the cargo hold of my ship. He hung from energy bindings, battered and bruised, his body coated in dry blood, an energy restraint locked around his throat. Neimye piloted us away from Ctaedi; I closed the door behind me.
There was no light at first. The creaking of his chains was the only sound as the ship lurched up and away from Qhonar Verandi. The faint reek of Nil was still clothed to Glacial like the blood and sweat I could also smell. His head bowed, he didn’t react when I entered.
“It’s ironic,” I began. “If you had stayed, you would have been in line for the empire before me. Had we continued by the old succession laws, your claim would have been stronger than mine. And yet look where we ended up. Truth be told, Kuriza and Yuki have stronger claims than you, so your treachery would have continued either way. I’d bet more than a few planets on that.”
“Do it,” he mumbled, his head bobbing side to side. “You won… coward… get on with it!!”
I walked around him in circles as I spoke. “You came all this way. Survived your insurrection, Switchie’s torture, 68’s destruction, the battle against my daughter… You outlived all your captors, Nyuktali. All your comrades too. Your father, your sister, my children, Cold’s children. Of all our offspring… you are the last one standing. You always find a way. You always do. See? We’re not so easily destroyed, now are we?”
A broken man broke again. “Y-you… murdered him… murdered him…! His claim was better… Kuriza’s too… y-you have no honor!!” He looked up at me. In the darkness all I could see were his wet eyes.
“Strength does not bow to weakness, boy. Your sense of entitlement has not changed even after all these years.”
He was shaking, his chains rattling loudly. “Y-you weren’t stronger… than h-him… I heard the stories… You let Kuriza weaken him…! You coward! You’ve always been one!”
The room erupted in golden splendor. Recoiling, Glacial’s eyes teared up as he squinted at me in my perfect form. “I didn’t need to use this on him. I didn’t want to humiliate him. He really was a lazy old bastard. He could have gotten this form had he put the effort in… Cold too… any of you could have! But only I did. That’s the difference between me and you. I don’t believe the universe owes me anything. I take what I want!”
He spat in my face. “All of them’re dead! You can’t undo that… you never can…!”
I raised my hand to show him the glove I was wearing. In between two fingers was the needle. When he saw that, his face went bloodless. “I was merciful to the Quglith. I gave them quick deaths–even the High Priests. And you know what saddens me the most, Glacial, is that I would have spared you. I would have brought you in, reformed you, worked to heal you. I wanted to. After my brother’s actions… I still see some good in his bloodline. I would have saved you. Even now, this hurts me. I want to save you.”
“That w-w-won’t kill me…” he coughed, shaking in fear. “You don’t know wh–”
“This is Yhun,” I whispered, sticking the needle in his neck. Glacial let out a hard breath of air and convulsed before my eyes for a few moments. I waited until he was finished. “And with how much is left in this sliver, I can keep you alive for as long as I want.”
“U-uncle, please… No more… no more… please…” He was pleading like a child.
“There is no such thing as revenge. You aren’t worth my daughter. I won’t get her back–you’re right about that. This isn’t revenge, Nyuktali, Scion of Ctha’nhalath. This is what you get.”
I moved behind him, grasped onto his tail, and pulled. A spire of blood jettisoned away from the empty husk, sizzling and bubbling in the air as it evaporated against my aura.
Chapter V: Katchiguri
|Position:||Bodyguard of Kuriza|
|Date of account:||May 2, Age 767 (first scene)|
May 6, Age 767 (second scene)
May 10, Age 767 (third scene)
May 18, Age 767 (fourth scene)
May 21, Age 767 (fifth scene)
Following the events at Ctaedi (which I’ve been told were already reported on), Lord Kuriza took us to Planet Frieza 57 to refuel. We were traveling light; no security fleet surrounded the prince’s saucer. The boy had been adamant that he wanted us to keep a low profile. Common soldiers would just get in the way.
Governor Natsumiko had allowed us to use her headquarters to strategize our attack against Pukcoläsic while the saucer was refueled. It was just Kuriza, myself, Kracchus, Sapras, and Epikail, the boy’s teacher, who were allowed in. The pale educator was not part of our discussion, though he was allowed to sit and listen, to witness the boy’s growing intellect and wit in action. The boy had not wanted any other officers present. I didn’t blame him. Too many voices in your ear can be just as much of a detriment as too few.
The hook nose historian began the strategizing. “Pukcoläsic’s empire, if it can be called that, now spans more than thirty systems. If we were to take him out, however, it would soon crumble.”
“Not likely,” Kracchus muttered, folding his arms and leaning up against the door. “Even if we assassinate Pukcoläsic, his followers will just become space pirates. Where do you think they’ll go? Most of them were gladiators too. The Galactrix Arena is gone. He finished them off. His followers have nowhere to go back to.”
It was my turn to speak. I stood on the right side of the governor’s desk where Kuriza was sitting (much as his uncle had been on Qhonar Verandi, I noted with pleasure). “We do not fear pirates. A few teams could wipe them out, and take the planets back.”
“We lost every garrison. It will be difficult to find the soldiers to repopulate the outposts. That’s billions dead or turned, Lingon.”
“It may take a few years for our presence in the region to recover, I’ll admit, but…”
“I shall need a team to sweep up the mess,” the boy spoke up suddenly, leaning back in his chair. “A team that can keep my region in check without me having to go around chasing pirates all the time.”
“Lord Icer has begun a policy of defending our planets with orbital turrets,” Sapras reminded him. “That should do the job eventually, but it will take years before every world under your guard, my lord, will get retrofitted with such technology. This is a wise plan.”
“I know it is; I came up with it. I want Pukcoläsic on the team!”
“And who would lead such a team?”
The boy looked surprised Kracchus had even asked. “Aranya, of course. She’s one of our elite soldiers–she used to work on Father’s ship. Now she’s become the Governor of Nyare. Lingon, order them to take us to Nyare at once.”
“As you command, Prince Kuriza.”
“And you two,” the boy said, looking first to the furry predator then to me, “I want you two to find a member for my Katchiguri Force! Each one of you! It’ll be a race to see who can find me the best teammate first!”
“My father had the Ginyu Force. It’s time I had my own band of stylish mercenary scoundrels to clean up my messes for me!”
I had to cringe from his childish reasoning, loyal as I was. “So now they’re mercenaries? You do know that mercs aren’t loyal, don’t you, my prince?”
“Of course they’ll be loyal! Aranya and I’ve known each other since I was little!”
“You still are little, my prince. I just don’t want to you to be put in unnecessary danger.”
“I can trust Aranya. You remember her, Lingon, don’t you? She was helping that monkey–Vegeta, wasn’t it?–track down the Surgeon. That’s how she lost her eyes. Remember? I told you all about it!”
“If she’s in charge, I won’t have anything to fear. Now then, you two find me another couple of Katchiguri-worthy warriors by the time we capture Pukcoläsic, and that’ll be just enough.”
We bowed. I made note of Kuriza’s change in demeanor from when we had previously been with his grand uncle. After I had asserted (astutely in my opinion) that Pukcoläsic was unlikely to join our side after we butchered his followers, the young Arcosian had sarcastically remarked that perhaps Lord Icer was trying to backstab him by advising him to bring the Galactrix champion over to our side. Kuriza was showing none of his usual naïve nature. He was not going off impulse. Perhaps the way he’d acted in front of his kin had been a performance.
“That’s the real question, isn’t it?” Sapras asked dryly. “How do you plan on capturing a man of such power, my lord? Certainly, if the rumors are to be believed, he is far stronger than any officer in the empire.”
“I don’t wish for this war to drag out. Once I capture him, it’s over. I’m far stronger than him. You know that.” He nodded once. “Sapras, is Pukcoläsic expanding his control in any particular direction?”
“From the south, at the tip of our empire, towards Yuki’s sub-region. He has expanded into your territory, but his forces are moving in the other direction more ravenously.”
He groaned, leaning so far back in the governor’s space leather chair that it was a wonder he hadn’t already fallen over. “Why did my uncle make me do this instead of Yuki?! It should’ve been her responsibility to deal with him!”
“Would you rather refuse him, my prince?”
“I know, I know. Alright… any clue on how I should go about capturing him?”
I spoke up, “If we can get an inside source, some gladiator close to Pukcoläsic, maybe we can learn where he’s going, catch up to him, and snag him before he knows what hit him.”
The pale-skinned teacher was leaning back on a stool, sucking a pen, nodding slowly.
“How exactly will we do that?”
“Long-range scouters will be able to pick up on the stronger gladiators. If we can capture one of them, perhaps they can lead us to Pukcoläsic.”
“Why not use the scouters to find Pukcoläsic?”
I nearly rolled my eyes. The fire in his voice was all pride. Why did every warrior have to be like that? “We’ll get more information abou–”
With a screech, the window shattered into a million pieces. A slimy, green-bellied creature scurried inside, making an ear-tickling clicking noise. Its cone-like mouth fell open from three flaps, and out shot a dozen tendril-like tongues, each forked at the tip. The bug-like animal had wings, and it walked on six legs. Within two seconds, it had thoroughly destroyed Natsumiko’s office, tearing bookshelves down, upending the desk, shredding carpet, and bashing holes in the walls with its slender stick-like legs.
Barely a moment had gone by before the beast threw itself at Prince Kuriza. Epikail and Sapras flung themselves away in fear. The Cuvah was already flying with a boot out towards the thing. Being closer to the action, I instinctively raised my arms, creating an energy barrier between us and the oversized bug. But just like the window, it burst through that without much effort.
I don’t know why I felt so panicked in the moment. Kuriza was far more powerful and agile than I was. He didn’t need my help to dodge it. In the act of pushing through my energy, the creature’s pace had slowed ever so; then came Kracchus’ boot to impact right against the bug’s tail spike. It flew–or perhaps I should describe it as tumbling, for the tubby brown-shelled creature wasn’t the most graceful in flight–directly into the far wall, splitting it and leaving a gaping hole for us to peer out at the blue-leaf forest beyond.
It cried out, clicking queerly as it shot up from the treetops. It flew itself through the hole it had been shot out, causing the walls to collapse around it, covering it in a cloud of dust, briefly stunning it
“The hell is that thing?! Sapras! Is it native?”
The robed man cowered over a twisted chair in the corner, his hands shaking. “I-I don’t know, Admiral… Kill it before it gets any closer!”
The beast had appeared again from the rubble, its tendril tongues shooting out and wrapping around Kracchus’ forearm like wet rope. He tugged a bit, and then a bit more, and when the bug stumbled towards him, he pounded it hard in the mouth area (if it could be called that) of tongues and flaps and slime and teeth. It seemed to be sizzling when it flew back, raised its head, and let out a strange cry. It then spat a gooey brown substance that I had at first thought was blood, but when it landed over the walls and desk and began melting them, we realized collectively what we had before us.
“Finish it, Kracchus! Don’t let it get away!” I shouted.
With ruthless efficiency, the admiral front-flipped over to the creature again, this time creating a ki sword and cutting its legs off one by one as it attempted to parry him. Greenish-black blood flew in all directions. Poor Epikail was sprayed by one severed leg and went to the floor muttering obscenities. Its clicking noises grew more urgent, and once again it shot tendrils of tongues at Kracchus. This time, however, he did not catch them, but burnt them with his sword.
Another gob of acid came flying out of the creature’s alien maw; Kracchus coolly vaporized all of it with a single red energy ball. Seeing itself cornered, beaten, and bleeding out, it attempted to throw itself at Kracchus, wide-eyed and desperate, but all it managed to do was land on his sword.
In the end, it only let out a squeak. That surprised me most of all.
There was no time to gawk, however. My duties were as ingrained in me as breathing and blinking. “Are you okay, my lord? Did it touch you?”
“I’m fine, Lingon,” the boy yawned, leaning back in his chair again. He seemed more bemused than anything else.
“What was that thing?”
Sapras was no longer shaking. He was such a fine man when danger wasn’t present. “It’s not native… I’ve never seen anything like it. Let me take it back to the ship. We’ll run tests on it, cross-check its DNA in the database. I’m sure someone must have run into one of these nasty buggers before.”
“It went for the prince, Sapras. Only after we defended did its focus shift…”
“Duly noted. May I return to the ship?”
“No.” Prince Kuriza jumped up from the chair suddenly. “Get the info about Pukcoläsic’s companions to Kracchus and Lingon first. They’ll be leaving for the disputed territory at once.”
“We’re going with your idea, Lingon. Find and capture one of the rogue gladiators, and force them to take us to Pukcoläsic. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Just do it. Uncle Icer promised to teach me how to transform into that golden form if I clear my region of pirates. I can’t wait! Go! Go on then!”
I glanced at Kracchus; he shrugged. Bug blood coated the walls in wet mud-green smears. I felt a little bad. Governor Natsumiko hadn’t asked for any of this. Oh well. Maybe cleaning up this room would give her something to do.
Just as we were leaving, Sapras on our heels, the governor returned with an escort, having heard the commotion. “What the… Lord Kuriza?! What’s going on in here?!”
Her voice rose high in emotion. We rounded the corner, hearing no more. “Sapras, what do you know about Pukcoläsic’s followers? Any of them willing to talk?”
“They’re gladiators. You may either bribe them or threaten them. I suggest the latter, as you should both be as strong as any one of them. The group my spies have been following work as Pukcoläsic’s bodyguards and his captains. They are expanding his territory faster than he is himself. Word has it that Pukcoläsic has been feasting and partying and getting drunk these past few weeks instead of doing the dirty work himself. It’ll make finding him easier. His lackeys are sure to be annoyed by his behavior. They should be willing to give him up.”
We came to the hangar bay. Two pods were already being prepared for us by a horde of white-furred space-badgers. “Let’s get right to it then. You have any idea where to send us?”
“The border of the disputed territories should be good enough,” the historian said vaguely. “I’ll have specifics for you soon enough. I’ll send the last known picture of Pukcoläsic and his gang to your pods. It will take you a few days before you reach the territory, so look these over. Any one of the gladiators seen in that photo could be your target. Stay sharp.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Don’t get sidetracked with that bug,” Kracchus warned him. “Your intel better stay sharp as long as we’re out there.”
“I would never put your lives in jeopardy, Admiral. Anything you need, contact me on channel 14.”
“You got it, Sapras.”
The furry biped broke off from us, finding his pod, kicking aside the sniveling space-badgers as he hurriedly got inside. His impatience was palpable.
“Good luck out there, Lingon. And be careful. Gladiators are not to be trusted.”
“Tell that to Lord Kuriza,” I sighed. “That creature, whatever it was, was after him. Find out what it was… who sent it, if you can. I’m not worried about Pukcoläsic. But what happened earlier–that cannot happen again.”
He smiled, his wrinkles parting like a flower blooming. “Of course, Commander. I will do what I can.”
I’m sure he would. He’s the one compiling all of these accounts, so that’s all I’ll say.
The two of us together again, out on the fringes of space, reminded me of that final bout between Icer and Kuriza all those months ago that ended the great civil war. Today we would not fail as we had back then. The spies had come through. We had arrived on Planet Frieza 041, a snowy border world manned by little more than a skeleton crew of fewer than twelve thousand, a little more than two hours ago. The group of former Galactrix gladiators who were on swift approach would have decimated them if not for us.
There were two hundred of them, or so. I don’t remember precisely. We’d learned from our intel that they had been taking over the planets they had been assaulting, not simply razing them and moving on. Most of them had power levels between ten and fifteen thousand, so they would easily wipe out the two thousand or so defenders who guarded this outpost. Their leader’s power was over fifty thousand. Not bad for a gladiator. His name was Griele, and he was a purple-scaled fishy-faced alien. Supposedly the only member of his species in this group of gladiators.
They had to know we had scouters. Three dozen scouts punched their way through soot-grey clouds, their energy blasts leading them down to the outskirts of Topiataran City. This had to look real, so we could make sure to lure them in. So we placed several hundred workers (none of our two thousand or so defenders with decent power levels) out there to be vaporized in the vanguard’s charge. They served their role admirably.
The gladiators landed in the craters they had wrought, blasting their way deeper into the city. Kracchus and I held our position out on the pod landing pads, for we had been unsure where the main force would strike first. Yet even as the scouts pushed into Topiataran, we did not move. We didn’t want to spook the rest. We didn’t have to wait too long, for even then, like space rats attracted to fresh meat, the rest of the gladiators appeared in the sky, ravenously approaching us. This was all of them. In their hands glowed energy of every color. He looked to me, nodding once.
I shot off down the snow-clad road, flying as fast as I could to the scouts, all the while keeping my eyes on the sky. Kracchus had approached Captain Ginyu’s power level since he had started training with Kuriza–that much I knew. If he could stop all of them up there, I did not know. All I knew was that I could not. Old as I had become, I was still a respectable warrior, mind you. I had to remain in top shape to remain as Prince Kuriza’s bodyguard. It would be neglectful of me to let my body go. Even so, I was not, nor had I ever been, nearly as strong as Captain Ginyu. This was a task best left to Kracchus.
We hadn’t been entirely sure if this group had any scouters or not. Pukcoläsic had been spotted wearing one, but not all of his followers were as clever as him. This ploy had been devised with the worst-case scenario in mind–that they indeed possessed scouters. This planet would bleed for Kracchus’ plan.
We were both reading Griele’s power level, which was the only one above twenty thousand amongst them. He was up in the group charging down from the sky. That meant I could do what I wished to the scouts.
A burst of reddish light launched up at the incoming attackers, splitting off into hundreds of beams of light like the shattering of glass. Explosions popped through the air, splitting windows. I flipped onto my stomach again, nearly flying into a fleeing soldier, half of his armor blown off, his fur singed black. Not making eye-contact with me, he limped by as fast as he could. Ahead, a building exploded; a team of gladiators, all of them wearing airtight suits, jumped through the dust and rubble, and noticed me, their heads turning to one another in what I could only assume was eagerness.
A pair of crimson eye beams cut them to pieces. They didn’t so much as get the chance to raise their fists. To my left, a wall collapsed, another building tumbling over soon after, and there they were. Those ones managed to fire a few of their energy attacks at me before I reached them, but they were torn apart just as easily as the others. And yet, I was already feeling my strength begin to fade. It had been years since I’d been in open combat, and never against so many at once with such high power levels. Flying higher, using my scouter to track the rest, I led them to me. They clearly weren’t wearing scouters. I may be no Ginyu, but I’m damn stronger than ten thousand. In smaller groups of five or six, it was easier for me to manage to raise my power level high enough to take them out in a single attack. The fools fell for it every time.
Above me, I tracked fewer than half a dozen foreign power levels remaining. Kracchus had made quick work of them. Perhaps he was stronger than I had given him credit for. Pivoting in midair, I shot up at the remaining power signatures, as Kracchus had done just moments before me, his dark red aura cloaking him. I had always thought it funny that we shared the same aura color.
Griele’s power was still up there. His was approaching forty-eight thousand, making it impossible to miss. Kracchus must have held back on his attack so as to allow someone of that space trout’s strength to survive while simultaneously killing all the rest. That’s not to say he entirely succeeded–there were a few stragglers, but a couple finger beams took care of them.
Kracchus reached him before I did. Without wasting time, he clubbed the gladiator over the head, sending him flying down into a tower, crashing through it in a dusty explosion. He landed in the wreckage, his arms folded. By the time I got there, the gladiator was getting to his feet. This was not going as cleanly as I had hoped.
Getting to his feet, Griele was punished by a blow to the cheek. He slid across the rubble. Before he could stand, Kracchus put his boot to the man’s chest, stopping him in place. By the time I arrived, the admiral had subdued him. The snow was evaporating around us as I landed.
“You bastard,” Griele shouted, throwing a punch to gain distance from Kracchus. Alas that it did not work. The admiral caught his fist, twisted it around, and threw him off into the snow.
“My offer to you is simple: take us to Pukcoläsic and you’ll be spared. Try to resist, and I’ll kill you.” Standing over the fallen soldier, the Cuvah made no attempt to hide his disdain.
“I would neve–”
He spun-kicked the alien in the mouth. “Don’t test my patience. You have already committed terrible deeds against our empire. If you do not take this mercy at its face value, that’s it for you. Are you really going to go out like that?”
Snow was falling lightly around us. I saw the range of emotions on his face. It didn’t matter. He was dead unless he accepted. He knew that. I knew that. All of us were keenly aware of the situation at hand. Smoke billowing behind us, Kracchus grabbed the gladiator by the throat, bringing him to the frost-bitten air.
“Okay, okay. I’ll take you to him. But I want a promise–a guarantee–that I’m safe. I won’t do anything for you if that’s not guaranteed.”
“Whatever you say, gladiator. It’s a guarantee. We won’t kill you,” I said. “Now you need to shut up and quit whining. You’re our prisoner. You don’t make demands of us. We’ll find another captain if we need to.”
He looked to me with desperation and hatred, and though I did not trust him, I pitied him to a small degree. It was not my place to question Kracchus, but perhaps that was for the best. This gladiator was playing me. When I recognized that, all compassion faded.
Kracchus dropped him. “If you change your mind, just say the word, and I’ll snap your neck. Otherwise, your assault is over.”
He looked not to me nor the furry admiral. Craters dotted the landscape. Smoke was rising from a few of the yet-intact buildings. I must say, it was remarkable to see how quickly he abandoned his orders. I never trust a man so weak, so willing to compromise. Such people deserve to be vaporized for their arrogance and laziness.
“What do you want?”
“Here’s the deal,” said Kracchus, raising a palm, and enwrapping him in a rope of golden ki. “You are going to take Lord Kuriza and us to meet with Pukcoläsic. You won’t tell him that we’re coming beforehand. How does that sound?”
“And what if I refuse?”
I couldn’t help myself. “Are you a captain or a dumbass?”
His sneer was barely concealed in his scales.
Kracchus had not so much as moved a muscle. “Do we have an understanding?”
To his credit, the gladiator didn’t milk the moment.
“As long as I live…”
Kracchus looked to me. It was hard not to crack a smile. The fool had no idea what he was dealing with. That was emblematic of the entire operation, though. Pukco and the rest of his gang really didn’t understand what they had gotten themselves into. We were not about to pity them–they had done this to themselves. There would be consequences for what they had done. It was just a shame (or perhaps a fortune) they were all so damn stupid.
We met them at Maulxe, Nyare, the capital of the planet. Governor Aranya hosted us in her tower, which rose above all the others in the city. The imperial saucer parked on the main landing pad. Lord Kuriza and the rest of his host were already inside. It was an odd feeling not to be with them. It had been my duty to protect the boy for many years, and yet, as Arcosians aged much slower than many other species, I had grown old since becoming his bodyguard, whereas he had not quite aged as much as I had expected. I suppose it didn’t matter. He no longer needed me. My sense of obligation had never changed, even knowing that.
It was especially warm out, arid as any desert I had ever been to. On the landing pad, Sapras and a host of guards met us. The Admiral had nothing to say, walking past them with a haughty look. I waited until Kracchus had entered the door before asking my question.
“Who did you find?”
“A Heoli named Dhuak. He’s quite capable. One of the most experienced warriors in the entire empire.”
“Would Lord Icer consider it acceptable?”
“He would not know. But why would it matter?”
“That’s a dangerous game you’re playing, Sapras. Should he find out and be displeased by it, it will be your life. I won’t let him think it was the boy’s doing.”
“Dhuak has been working in Lord Kuriza’s territory for the past two years, defending the outer colonies from pirates. I am sure that the emperor will not mind if we re-purpose him. He has been in service to Lord Kuriza for some time, despite originally hailing from one of Lord Cooler’s planets.”
Peregari was where the Heolik were from–Planet Cooler 362. Its oceans of liquid oxygen made it one of the more valuable resource-worlds in the entire empire. I admit I didn’t know if what he said was true. Regardless, it would not be my fault if it was not. I knew the Golden Emperor would never touch me, lest he risk losing the support of Kuriza’s sub-region.
The historian bowed, withdrawing. “Please, come inside. Everyone is wait–”
“If you’re pulling a trick on me, it will backfire on you.”
I must say, his reaction was not at all what I had expected. “Excuse me?”
“I am the Prince’s bodyguard. You answer to me, not the other way around. Tell me right now where your loyalties lie.”
“To the empire.”
“Do not presume you can be as intellectually lazy around me as the others. I could kill you right now if I wanted.”
That made his guards uneasy. A few exchanged looks. Collectively, they fell into subtle defensive stances, as if that would threaten me. They knew who I was; they knew they had no chance.
He shrugged. “Try it.”
“I know as well as you do that this is bullshit. You’re merely trying to pit Kuriza against Icer. I don’t know why.”
I will never forget how he approached me on the landing pad, a smile extended towards me. “It’s not like that,” he said, his voice rising high. “Your wild notions are not based on fact.”
“We shall see.”
I did not wait for him, leaving him and his guards behind on the landing pad. Inside, a small host had gathered in the governor’s office. It was a modest office, unlike that of Planet Frieza 057, with grey stone walls bereft of paintings or ornamentation, a grey stone floor covered in exotically-colored carpets, and a simple wooden desk behind which the Nyarin governor sat. The prince was sitting comfortably in his egg-shaped hover pod, a crimson cape pulled around his chest like a blanket. With him was his ever aging and ever loyal teacher, Epikail, the frog-faced Fusil, and the steadfast Boisenberry. Kracchus was there too. Sapras followed me in, betraying no hint of emotion as he closed the door behind him.
“Tell me, Kracchus, how did it go on 041?”
“We captured one of the captains. He’s agreed to take us to Pukcoläsic himself, in exchange for his life.”
“He will take us to the gladiator, and then he will die,” the boy replied sweetly. “If they think they can survive their coup attempt, they are extremely mistaken. Only Pukco. The rest of the gladiators will be reduced to stardust.”
“As you command, my lord.”
The Cuvah pressed a fist to his chest. “I will go there myself, and make him kneel before me, for all the universe to witness. Then his followers will die, and he will learn the price of disobedience.”
“Why not kill him too, my lord?” asked the froggy Commander.
“He’s an excellent warrior, and will do me more use than harm, so long as he knows his place. The rest have no use to me.”
“With all due respect, my prince, the planets they have taken over will need to be repopulated.”
“Pukco’s rebellion has taken place in my cousin’s region. Yet, it was I whom Uncle Icer instructed to deal with this problem. I will not do anything to strengthen Yuki’s position. We cannot be sure of her loyalty.”
The governor, having watched this conversation unfold with a patient gaze, leaned in, smiling lightly, shaking her head. “Should the emperor learn of your treacherous ambition, my lord, he would execute you himself.”
“War is costly. He cannot expect any of Pukco’s gang to survive.”
I raised an eyebrow. “That might be true, but he will soon learn of your plan to keep the gladiator alive.”
“I do not care about that! I have every right to do with Pukcoläsic as I see fit.”
We were not supposed to stare at her mechanical eyes. It was difficult not to. I’d never seen anyone with those before. The Surgeon must have done a number on her.
“And so you’ll keep him alive to serve you? Do you really believe he would?”
“That will be your job,” the boy said. “You’re going to lead my Katchiguri Force, and keep all of them in line.”
“I am, am I? This is news to me, Kuriza.”
“Why do you think we came here? You’re stronger than any other officer in my empire.”
“Because you forced me to train with you all those years ago. It’s been a while though. I’ve probably lost half a step since you were last here.”
The boy was beaming, unable to hide his adoration. “Well, then, perhaps it would be best if you did leave here for a while. You’re growing soft, Aranya.”
She was trying hard not to show her enthusiasm. Even though this world was her homeworld, being stuck on it all the time must have gotten boring. She let her professionalism slip in that moment. “Who else is on the team?”
He looked to Kracchus, who fell to a knee, bowing his head. I had no clue whom he had picked, but once he began talking, I realized how stupid I’d been. “I would be honored to serve you, my prince. My strength might not equal the gladatior’s or even the governor’s, but I can always get stronger, especially if I were to train with either of them. They’d make for fine teammates.” He glanced at her. “You are the foremost warrior in Kuriza’s empire. I am probably the second-strongest. We could work well together.”
“That may be so. You would be giving up your titles, however. Would you not prefer to be the boy’s admiral? Who is there to replace you?”
“I could ask the same of you,” Kracchus retorted. “As for me, the remaining members of his inner circle are fully capable of giving him good and decent counsel. And if I may be blunt, governor, what does it matter if I command a fleet of five hundred ships, if even a moderately-powerful enemy such as Pukcoläsic could wipe them all out without breaking a sweat? What use is it to be lord over space rats, even if there are billions of them?”
“A fair point. I agree. We could better serve the empire with our strength.”
Kuriza clambered out of his hover pod, approaching the desk. “Should you accept, I’ll train with you too. I don’t want any weaklings on my Katchiguri Force, slandering my name with their incompetence. Come on, what do you say? It’ll be like old times, Aranya.”
She took a few moments to respond. “Alright, I’m in.”
“Excellent! So we have our first two members!”
Kracchus fell to a knee again. “As always, Lord Kuriza, I am yours to command. I still remember years back, during the Nikkarin War, when you were captured by space-badgers. Vermin that they were, I was surprised to find you hanging from that wall in your father’s room, being used as a dartboard by them. Knowing what I know now, after sparring with you…”
The boy raised a finger in the air to quiet them. “Ah, yes. That was a bad one. My memories of the event are hazy at best. They gave me Nhuroggoc. I’d never had Nhuroggoc before. I didn’t know what was going on. They did things to me,” he said, looking around the room. Kuriza had a way of making things awkward when there was no need for such. “I wish I remembered it all. I think they gave me some NTT.”
The way she was smiling said a lot. I had a good feeling that she would be loyal, and strong as she was, decorated as she was, this was a far better match for the prince than Captain Capontari. He had often spoken fondly of Aranya, but I had never put as much stock in his boyish fancies as I should have. Now it was clear that he was entirely smitten with her.
“Nice. That’s some rare contraband. Tend to find that stuff more often in far northern regions than you do down here.”
“I would recommend never consuming Ni Tikei Tahl, my lord,” Sapras said dryly. “Recurring use can produce long-term hallucinogenic effects, affecting your ability to properly perceive reality.”
“That’s not all it does,” the Nyarin shot back. “But I don’t take it that someone snobbish as yourself has ever done it before.”
“On the contrary,” replied Sapras, “I have had intimate experiences with NTT, though, not for several decades.”
“That’s contraband. Lord Kuriza could hang you for that,” I said.
Calm as ever, the historian cracked a smile. Kracchus looked back to me, and I was not sure if he was distressed or entertained. “Forgive me for intruding, my lord. I was just seeking to give you proper counsel.”
“He’s right, you know,” old Epikail said.
“I thank you both for your loyalty,” the boy replied, bowing politely. “In the meantime, Lingon needs to reveal whom he has found for the Katchiguri Force. We cannot depart to Pukco’s location until the squad has been assembled, after all. I will not be some petty charlatan. If he is to join us, we will need the rest of the team there to meet him, to show him our best offer.”
I felt a funny feeling deep inside. “His name is Dhuak. He’s currently patrolling the northern border of our empire, fighting off space pirates and rebel governors alike.
“Accommodations will have to be made, my lord. It will take him more than a year to get here in a space pod.”
“Send Winter’s Dawn if you need to. Just get him here as soon as possible.”
“If he uses your own ship, my lord, it will take no more than two weeks for him to get here.” Lord Kuriza was pleased by that, though he remained stoic, for that is what all good leaders should do. Bowing, the historian glided out of the room.
“He’s strong, isn’t he?”
“One of the strongest in your empire, my prince. I confess, I’ve never met him before. I don’t think he’d match Kracchus in a fight, or Governor Aranya for that matter, either…”
“She’s not governor of Nyare any longer. She’s to be my Captain.”
The blue-furred feline said in a mocking tone, “You honor me with this demotion, Kuriza.”
Few others would have gotten away calling him nakedly by his name.
“Not quite. As Captain Ginyu would say, it’s not in the name, but in the style. You’ll become my second-in-command. Kracchus will take up the vice-captain role, making him third in command of my empire.”
“You honor me,” the former admiral grunted, falling to a knee again, the poor fellow needing to kneel so much today.
Aranya waited a moment before following up, her mechanical eyes spinning unnaturally as she seemingly looked over every inch of the inside of her office in a fraction of a second. He couldn’t stop himself from smiling. There was that childish glee I had seen all those years ago. Not since he had defeated Yuki in the field had the young Arcosian been this happy. And yet, that felt like it had been almost a lifetime ago, at this point.
Hail and Polaria were gone, and Kuriza had become Icer’s heir. Funny how things change over time. That Ctha’Naka rebellion had been a blessing in disguise, though to even mention it aloud could have been the end of me. Kuriza was in a fortunate spot, being the heir. Things were going well.
“Alright, very good, Lingon,” the boy said, returning to his hover pod. “We’ll stay here until Dhuak arrives. I’ll take my Katchiguri Force to Pukcoläsic’s lair. Lingon will come along as well. The rest of you stay here.” He gave us a mischievous grin. “We cannot delay too long; I cannot disappoint my uncle. He trusted me to deal with this threat quickly. And we shall–just not as quickly as he or my cousin would like.”
I was relieved, and I don’t know if I would say that the boy was the most charismatic leader, but he was stronger than just about anyone, and in the end, that’s all that truly matters, isn’t it? Pukco was about to find that out the hard way.
It was just over a week before the third member of the Katchiguri Force arrived. Kuriza, Aranya, and Kracchus spent much of that time training, sometimes off-planet so as to not make too much of a mess. Sapras and myself interrogated the prisoner, learning much about Pukcoläsic’s forces and strategy. There were perhaps eight thousand of them of varying power levels, akin to elite garrison soldiers, but nothing compared to the might of the young lord and his team. He also confirmed the rumor that Pukcoläsic had destroyed Tuhak Ecli and its surrounding moons, thus silencing the Galactrix Arena’s long run forever.
In addition, three more of Yuki’s outposts had been taken by the gladiators. We were lucky it was not more than that, as if we were too careless here, we were sure to rouse the suspicion of not only her, but her grand uncle. That was the last thing we wanted to do.
“Blue fur?” The Nyarin said to him when he knelt before her. “Don’t you think that’s overkill?”
“Can’t help the way I was born, Captain. If you want, I could dye it something more reasonable… perhaps orange?”
She laughed softly. “Don’t worry about it.”
“So where are we off to first, captain? If I’m not being too bold.”
That was when he finally stepped forward to speak, his crimson cape glowing brilliantly in the dying light of day. “To acquire your force’s fourth member. Pukcoläsic is on Planet Nitro 086, supposedly getting himself and his crew horribly drunk off the outpost’s reserves. I’m going there to challenge him to a duel. Once he’s defeated, I will show him mercy, and he will join us. Or maybe he’ll be an idiot and force me to kill him. I don’t know for certain.”
“You sure that’s wise, my lord?” the Heoli asked. “With respect, I’m not sure we can trust any of them… look what they’re doing to our planets.”
“Not ours–my cousin’s.”
The boy inhaled loudly. “Captain Aranya and myself have agreed to add Pukco to your team, unless he chooses death. It doesn’t matter who your teammates are. You will serve your captain loyally, do you understand me?”
“Of course, my lord. Apologies. I didn’t mean to overstep my station.”
“See that it does not happen again.”
He was harsh on Dhuak, but it needed to be done. He had been working alone for a long time, and it appeared he had grown somewhat rough around the edges. That would have to be corrected. For my sake, I hope he didn’t act out again. It was I who had vouched for him, I who had put my honor on the line for him. The least he could do was show us all a little respect.
We returned to the Winter’s Dawn, where Sapras and the rest of the crew were waiting. Commander Fusil was holding the energy-cuffed Griele, who was being kept on his knees, his arms tied behind his back. The boy proudly marched to his chair, past the prisoner, his three-member Katchiguri Force trailing behind.
I was beginning to wonder if there would be a fifth member of this team, or, if as I had long suspected, Kuriza considered himself that member–just as he had with the Ginyu Force. To be fair to him, though, Guldo was hardly a member of that band of mercs. His power level was less than a third of the size of any of the other members. And he was so out of shape that he had begun disgracing the force’s uniform with his slovenly attitude. Kuriza had learned much from them–what worked and what did not. He would not be making the same mistakes with his own elite team.
The five of us and the prisoner went to Planet Nitro 086, leaving everyone behind on the edge of the solar system. It would have been preferable had they not known we were coming, but our powers were amongst the elite in the entire Planet Trade Organization, and masking them was just not possible. They would know we were coming if they were even moderately intelligent. We had to concede we just did not know one way or another.
We wore our scouters, which were indicating that around 400 individuals were living on the planet. About three quarters of them didn’t have a power level above ten thousand. There was, unmistakably, only a single power level that was too high for our scouters to read. They were grouped together inside the main outpost of the planet, located on an island south of the equator. We were told not to touch them, yet (that was, unless they moved on us first).
Breaking through the ceiling, Aranya leading, and me bringing up the rear, we descended in a shadow-flash, stirring the mostly piss-drunk gladiators inside to their feet. I could feel it in the air–the surprise and anger they were collectively feeling. This was the great feasting hall of hundreds of Planet Trade Organization soldiers who had, at one time, lived here. Now, it had been reduced to a hideous den of drunk space rats; decay was rampantly spreading.
They were roused upon our entrance, though only barely. I don’t think they understood what was going on until the boy spoke.
“Good morning!” Lord Kuriza shouted upon his landing, extending his arms to either side.
“The fuck you want, pissant?” some drunk gladiator shouted from the corner.
A flash of crimson silenced him good.
“Who goes there?” said a hairless yellow man whom I quickly realized was none other than Pukcoläsic himself. Sculpted like a god, the hairless warrior was nonetheless drunk off his ass, barely able to get to his feet, clutching a bottle of what looked like Leima Bivo in one hand.
“I am Lord Kuriza,” the boy replied haughtily, “and you’re invading my empire. I won’t let you get away with that. Come on, put ‘em up! I won’t go easy on you!”
The gladiator couldn’t help but giggle as he stumbled to his feet, approaching us. He wasn’t wearing a scouter. If he had ever truly possessed one, we would never know. Given how drunk he and his comrades were, it was likely they were just being sloppy about this whole engagement. They had hit the mother lode and were overwhelmed by its sheer volume. “Knew you’d come.”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Not a clue, kid.”
“That’s unfortunate for you. Anyways, I challenge you to a duel. The winner will gain domain over all of the other’s planets.”
He took a swig of the stuff, but it didn’t stain his teeth, so it had to be some kind of wine. “Doesn’t seem to do me any good to accept.”
“Are you a coward?!” I said suddenly, finding myself operating almost beyond my own station. I don’t know why I went for it. “Are you afraid of losing? The mighty Pukcoläsic’s scared of a child? You’re a joke!”
He seethed, baring his teeth. “Ain’t afraid of shit.”
“Then you have nothing to lose. Go on, or he’ll humiliate you.”
The gold-skinned alien looked around, wild and drunk, and there were so many of his fellow gladiators there to witness it. This was going exactly as planned. “I already said I ain’t afraid of shit. You’re nothing to me, kid.”
Kuriza raised a hand to his mouth to hide his own laughter.
“What’s so funny, you brat?! You should be careful. You wouldn’t want me to get angry and do something really rash.”
“Yes I would, honest. You don’t frighten me. You’re just gladiator vermin, nothing more.”
With the look of someone criminally offended, he roared, “Oh, I’ll make you bleed for that!”
The boy tore off his cape, throwing it to me, and stepped forward. “Gladly.”
The gladiator was wobbling; only half a dozen of his comrades were actively watching. Most of them had fallen back asleep; a few were drinking, a few were pissing, and more than one was looking for food in this stale, urine-soaked room (there was not much that wasn’t moldy as far as I could see). I wondered where all the whores were, as they certainly hadn’t come here to entertain one another. Taking that into account, it was nice to see that Pukco had enough self-respect to challenge the boy, despite the quality of his audience.
“I’m the Galactrix Champion, kid. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Don’t get mad if I accidentally kill you.”
“How about this: if you lose, you will join my Katchiguri Force–see?” He gestured to the three of them standing behind him, all striking obnoxious poses. “Or I’ll kill you.”
“I thought this was just about the planets.”
“Whatever then. Sure. But if you lose, I’ll skin you alive.”
“I’m not losing to you,” the serpentine gladiator said, shaking his head, spitting to the side, and cracking his knuckles.
That was when Kuriza shot himself like a rocket at Pukcoläsic. Shattering the gladiator’s hastily-raised block, he took him with a left hook, staggering the man back. Pukco countered with an explosive wave, shooting into the air, and coming down on Kuriza with a front flip kick. The boy caught him by the ankle, slamming him down to the ground before throwing him aside. The gladiator caught himself in midair, landing on his heels with a back flip, and at once fired a swarm of green ki blasts at the boy. All it took from Kuriza was a half-shield of ki to absorb the attacks.
He hadn’t so much as broken a sweat. Pride welled up in my throat. This kid was something else. One day he would be even stronger than his grand uncle, I knew.
Pukcoläsic lunged forth, breaking through the grey-blue energy shield with a superman punch. The boy sidestepped him, whacking him on the back of the head with his tail, sending him flying into a step-up in the floor. Before the gladiator could rise, Kuriza teleported above him, coming down on his back with a heel kick.
A murmur of shock rippled through the hall. Those who were conscious enough to understand what was going on looked distraught. They knew their party was over. It was done. To his credit, the gladiator would not go down without a fight.
Another explosive wave, green as the boy’s eyes, flared up, but the boy had already disappeared. When the lights dimmed to normal, he teleported again back in place, wrapping his tail around Pukco’s neck and slamming his forehead three times into the stone step. Then, he cast the gladiator aside with a dropkick and returned to us.
“My cape, Lingon.”
I threw it to him. He caught it awkwardly, almost losing it.
A crimson finger beam was growing in front of the boy’s right index finger. He pointed it at Pukcoläsic, who was struggling to stand, his team of gladiators whispering amongst themselves and slowly congregating behind him. They were waking each other up, so that meant it was really serious. Kuriza allowed them to do so, which I thought was especially cruel, but not unearned. They had done this to themselves.
“Will you join me, or do you wish to die?” the boy asked him. “Make your choice.”
He faltered, unsure of what to say. The boy nodded, and in a flash, Aranya, Dhuak, and Kracchus leapt into the air, slicing through Pukco’s forces with energy and their fists before he could so much as catch his breath. Landing behind him before the corpses dropped, the Katchiguri Force fell into their attack stances in expectation. The yellow-skinned gladiator did not move, a smile forming on his bloody lips.
“Call all of your fellow gladiators back to this planet,” I said, as was commanded of me.
“They will pay for your misdeeds. If you allow even a single team to escape the consequences of their rampaging, we will execute you in their stead.”
“He’s right, you know,” said the boy in a childish voice. “That is the price of rebellion.”
Furrowing his brow, the alien’s eyes grew sad. Still, he tried. “Let them live. They could serve you the same as I will.”
I had been told not to back down, and so I shook my head. “I think not. You’re in no position to ask anything of us. You’ve already damaged dozens of our planets. This is the price you will pay. Either their lives or your own. You choose.”
He looked away, and down, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of revulsion rising in my stomach. We all knew what he’d say. Why did he have to make a game of it? It certainly was not for their sakes. Was it for the sake of his own pride? I had no idea. Either way, in the end, the call was made, and within two weeks, every last one of his gladiators had returned to Planet Nitro 086 to receive justice.
Chapter VI: Uoto Calling
|Date of account:||July 31, Age 767 (first and second scenes)|
August 4, Age 767 (third scene)
August 27, Age 767 (fourth scene)
The Uo-Gal-Norrim, U’nabi San, Sao-Il-Borahk, and even my own Uo-Sic-An were no more. I cannot say I wept for anyone who had been part of those gangs, least of all my boss, Sharlyke. They had gotten what was coming to them, as far as I was concerned. Bael had been a genocidal monster, but at least he had been honest about what he was. The ganglords would have killed just as many if not more of their own people had their planned rebellion come to fruition.
Almost the entire population had been lost the day Bael had fired upon Uoto. Every last city had been destroyed in the orbital bombardment, from Uobat to Okubahka. Not even a year had passed since that awful day. Repairs were a long ways off. Without a fleet to protect the planet or bring supplies, the people of Uoto were not going to be able to rebuild its cities soon. That much became clear to me within an hour of touching down.
My planet bled from a deep wound that day. There were not many of us left now. We all knew, I think, in our bones, that our next play would be our last if we did not execute it properly. Only Graliakh, son of Graelikh, of the major gang lords, had survived Bael’s bombardment. Figured, didn’t it? He ruled over most of the survivors. Of course, defectors were to be expected, but they were of little bother, for at present, they had to be more worried about finding food than starting tribal fights.
When I returned to Uoto, I had found him and the others in a makeshift camp called Urarosh. I remember walking through the muddy streets of that refuge town, taken aback by the awful state of things. Nearly everybody was living in squalor. So few of the Uttovelm had survived; many of those who had were barely clinging to life. Men and women, gaunt as I had ever seen members of my own species, were crouching in tents, tired eyes following me as I made my way through. Everyone was dirty, and they hardly cared. The place reeked more than usual. There was garbage everywhere.
We Uttovelm were generally a plump species, so to see this many emaciated people around, while I was well-fed and content, cut at me. I hadn’t known it was this bad. One young girl walked past me on the street, her eyes trained upon me. I called to her, but she said nothing in reply, not reacting in the slightest when I tried again. She moved with a sickly slowness that made me uncomfortable.
There was a deathly silence in town. It was as if everyone was still shell-shocked from what Bael had done, as if this planet truly had died that day, and what lay before me were only the festering and decaying remnants, soon to be picked clean by the space vultures.
Disheartened, I found my way at the end of the road, where a gated building lay with cracks and holes in the walls, all the windows shattered and replaced by wooden boards and its stone surface charred black in most places (it was otherwise supposed to be grey-blue). This was Graliakh’s lair.
Two of his underlings were waiting for me at the gate. They introduced themselves (the tall one was Hamy, and the little one was Bailu), and escorted me inside. More of his gang lurked therein. They stared at me openly–not that I was a looker, or anything–so I kept my head down. Judging from what I had seen outside, it was unlikely that there were enough whores for all of his men. From all that time I had spent in Bael’s prison, I had grown accustomed to what men were capable of doing in times of primal desperation. It was not any prettier with my own kind.
There was power inside, much to my surprise. They wore scouters. Some of their armor was cracked, and some of them had scars, but his gang had healed up for the most part. I briefly considered trying to convince him to send a strike team to Faeri to punish Bael’s followers. Even if the man himself had died (it was a shame he hadn’t been allowed to suffer), they could yet exact some form of revenge. He had a family… that much I had gathered in my time on Faeri. I did not know the specifics. That data had to be accessible, if we had any imperial computers left on the planet. Bael’s family could be taken out. They had to be. It was the least we could do.
It was only a passing thought. By the time Bailu returned with Graliakh, I had discarded it. When he saw that it was truly me, he beckoned me to follow him. We went into a smaller room, an office of sorts, just the two of us, his trusted guards posting themselves outside the door. It was darker inside, with only one semi-flickering light. The gang lord poured himself a shot of Nyarin gin and asked me if I wanted one, but I declined as politely as I could. Still felt as if he were offended by that. I just wasn’t in the mood to get drunk yet. There was much work left to be done before I could relax.
He sat in his chair, exhaling noisily, and then took a long gulp from his cup. “Well, I am surprised. Didn’t think there was a chance you had lived, Ntalou. I guess some small fortunes are necessary to balance out all this shit we’ve gone through this past year. It’s good to see you. Where were you all this time?”
“Off-planet. I couldn’t stop it. Before the bombardment, Bael’s crew took me prisoner.”
The man gave me a sharp-eyed look. “What made them do that?”
I hadn’t planned on going this far today, but the sad state of affairs on my homeworld had crippled my ability to resist. I needed this man to trust me if there was to be any chance of restoring Uoto. “I went to meet with Bael, to try to stop him from his madness before he enacted it.”
“Lot of good that did.”
“I’m sorry. I tried to stop him.”
“Some effort was put in, no doubt, but I’m not sure it was enough. In the end, look where we are.”
He raised a hand, quieting my protest. “Do you know how many of us are left, Ntalou?”
I shook my head. “Can’t be many.”
Having drained his cup, the Uttovelm took that moment to pour himself another. “Fewer than seven million–we don’t have an exact count. But Ntalou, that’s more than ninety-nine percent of us gone. There aren’t enough soldiers left to field an army against the Faereth. Not even enough to stave off poachers. You know we’ve been hit in recent weeks. They’ve been coming for those living in the outlands. I’ve sent my best warriors to patrol the borders of each town, but we are too few to stop every raid. Some of the confrontations have ended in skirmishes. There are many of them, and few of us, so they smartly pick off the guards one by one, leaving only the weak to be preyed upon.”
“Why not have everyone gather into a single city? We could protect them more easily that way.”
“Ah, moving them is not so simple. Not all recognize my authority. Some remain loyal to Sharlyke, some to other dead men, and some flock to new blood. Our population is fractured across the surface. Many were lost to starvation in the days following the Faereth’s treason. That remains a significant problem. Our food reserves are only modestly-stocked. Much of the land has been devastated, reducing our ability to farm. And, unless we’ve missed some hidden population somewhere, the Ualirs were rendered extinct in that attack. There went half of our food production. We’re hurting bad, Ntalou.”
I could see how all of this had drained him. He looked like an old man now, tired of being the one cursed with power in this shitty situation. He had grown bitter and sought relief in alcohol as a last resort. It was clear that our species was at risk if things did not change soon. The poaching could not go on. That much I knew. Letting that continue would lead to the swift demise of our population. Uoto was one of the border outposts in Emperor Icer’s territory, meaning it was prone to being raided by pirates. We needed relief, but I doubted any would be sent for several months at the earliest. We had to stop them ourselves, and at the next possible moment.
“I understand, sir. If you would like, I could join your force here and help you manage this crisis to the best of my ability.”
He took a drink, nodding silently as he gulped down more gin. “Do you know how many of us are left from that meeting the day of the attack?” I shook my head again. “You, me, Hamy, Bailu, and a few others I have patrolling the outlands. That’s it. Can you believe it, Ntalou? We were going to attack them, the best of us, the strongest of our race, and then the opportunity slipped through our fingers… I still don’t know how Bael knew.”
“Spies, no doubt. Some Uttovelm he paid that he also betrayed. I’m sure they were just as surprised as anyone else when he did what he did.”
“Mmm. Still can’t believe it, myself.”
I did not know exactly how to appease the man, having spent my life serving other men. We had had few interactions, so it was mostly by reputation that I operated now (he was prone to short-temperedness and rage, from what I had heard, though I must confess I had never seen any of that myself).
“There will be ways to get them back, sir. We do not need to risk open conflict. Assassins, bombs, poisons, and the like are always options. With that said, this is not our most pressing issue. The poaching must be stopped. We are on the northern border of Lord Icer’s region, sir, and thus cannot expect much help from the empire when it comes to space pirates. They must be killed now, lest they be allowed to ravage across the refugee towns unchecked.”
“They will be,” he replied instantaneously. “In fact, if they keep up their regular schedule, they’ll try again in about four hours.”
“The Uozoku camp southwest of here. Do not fear, Ntalou, I have scouts monitoring the situation.”
I can’t say I didn’t feel a little excited in my chest when I next spoke. I couldn’t help it. “Gather what soldiers you have and prepare them for an ambush then, sir. Eradicate these pirates once and for all, and show the rest of them off in space that Uoto is calling them for any further opportunities.”
“Yeah, we should. Alright, we’ll go. I can’t guarantee we’ll win, however. Our scouter readings so far have given off ratings of twelve thousand or higher. While my elites are certainly that strong, I don’t have even a hundred Uttovelm that powerful. The poachers are many. We don’t know their exact numbers.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” I said with a smile. “My power level’s approaching fifty thousand, sir. I should be able to help.”
Distinctly, I remember how he looked at me with surprise, as if he had never even considered my strength so much as a possibility. I catalogued that, but ignored it for now. His power level was lower than mine. That much was clear from how he had reacted. He had to know then that I would not let Uoto die. It was probably up to me, if it came down to a real fight. Graliakh was a capable gang lord, but he was not suited to be ruler of a bleeding world. He was not right for this. His inaction with the poachers had already proven that.
I realized then that I was going to have to solve this crisis. There was no one left who was capable except for me. That scared me. I knew I would have to think up something clever. This time, at least, fists would be able to settle the matter–or at least, I hoped. I had not met the poachers before, so I did not know how much of a threat they were. If they were beyond my ability to handle, we were, as a species, as good as extinct. I would not accept that. The poachers would die, and we would get our revenge on the Faereth. Perhaps the Uttovelm will go extinct in the distant future because of this. I did not know at the time. I could not control everything. I just knew that I could not let them get away with it. Rage drove me onwards.
I just had no idea, given our current situation, how we could do to those damn elves anything nearly as awful as what they had done to us.
Around us was a lonely expanse of desert pock-marked by craters of glass. These wounds were difficult for me to look upon. Things were falling apart that could not be put back together again, and it was a struggle for me to remain positive, to keep my thoughts trained on the poachers.
There were about twenty of us–Graliakh’s best soldiers, and myself. If we died, there would be no one left to stop the poachers from taking everyone on the planet. The call had already been put in to Lipanto. Who knew if they would send any soldiers out here? We could not wait for them, regardless. We had hidden amongst the refugee tents waiting for the pirates to strike. I was next to the gang lord and his bodyguards, standing behind the remnant wall of some Uobat building. Uozoku was a miserable place, barely populated, full of mud and garbage and the starving surviving population of the city. Where once had lived tens of millions, now lived less than ten thousand.
My patience was tried as we waited. I was not fond of my master’s scouts’ reporting. They were unusually vague. That was unprofessional. But, eventually, Hamy’s scouter beeped and flashed, and then ours did, and they were upon us. We ended up waiting for about seven hours. I think many of the soldiers were in foul moods because of it. The poachers had not come to the exact spot we had been expecting, either. We had to move into different positions as they began scouring the outskirts of the town to the west of us.
The ship hovered two meters above the ground. There was a shield row of two dozen Uttovelm tents between us and them. Eight of them, wearing jet-black light armor, descended from an open hatch in the belly of the vessel. I had heard rumors of poachers, but this was my first time seeing them. They were Joleans, though the armor they wore confused me. I did not recognize the markings on their skin-tight suits, nor the sleek designs. I suppose they looked more like scouts than pirates. Either way, it was confusing. They were too organized to be pirates.
Graliakh and his guards exchanged silent looks. We held our ground. A few of them were breathing harder than before.
It was not until one of the poachers shot into a tent, pulling out a starved-looking woman who struggled and kicked and shrieked in a deep voice, that the other seven followed suit. As soon as they rushed into the tents, Graliakh stood up, raised his hand, and reddish ki began forming around his fist. We got the message soon enough, even those warriors in the tents behind us. The Joleans would not be wearing scouters, as they could sense energy. They had declared war already. It was time to end this. Hopefully they would get the message and not harm any of the refugees before we reached them.
Only after everyone was powered up to their maximum level did Graliakh lower his fist, kick off the dirt, and fly towards the ship. He led the charge. I followed, holding back. Hamy and Bailu were right on his tail, and I could hear the others behind me.
Yet, the poachers had not reacted to our show of force. The first poacher was already returning towards the ship, rising into the air, the struggling woman in tow (though by now he had quite easily subdued her). He was so enamored by her that he was blind to our approach.
My master hit him hard in the back, breaking his spine instantly. Dropping the woman with a gasp, the Jolean fell, none of his appendages moving. The old man caught him in midair just before he hit the ground, kneeing him hard in the side of the head, causing him to spit out a few teeth in a spray of blood. The Jolean went flying away, into a pile of rubble, and did not get up. There was no power reading coming from that area. These guys were strong, but not that strong. My scouter was reading four thousand, not twelve. How could Graliakh’s scouts be so off with their reporting?
When the other poachers returned outside, slaves in tow, Graliakh’s elites came down hard on them from above. I killed one of them myself–a simple energy beam, nothing fancy. It was over without much struggle. Three of them were able to react long enough to get a few punches and energy beams in their way (killing two of Graliakh’s men), but were vaporized on the next Uttovelm volley.
The poor refugees ran wide-eyed back into their tents, crying. Not one of them thanked us. Poor bastards. At least they didn’t get taken. I pitied them for being forced to endure that. It was Graliakh’s fault that such a petty group of pirates had been terrorizing Uoto for so long. He should have taken charge much earlier than this.
He didn’t bother speaking to them. Instead, we formed up below the ship, hovering low in the air. Our scouters were reading several additional power levels inside. We were preparing to blow it to smithereens, the energy already forming in our palms, when out from the open bay descended a gold-and-silver bejeweled Jolean. He floated down to us with his arms folded. We were taken aback, but not frightened. His power level was only twenty-one thousand. He was by far the strongest pirate, but still nothing to worry about for me or Graliakh.
“Good afternoon, Uttovelm,” the Jolean said with a gold-tooth smile. “It’s so nice to finally meet you. You must be the ones in charge of this place.”
“Get off my planet, poacher!” Graliakh roared. “I should kill you here and now for what your men have been doing!”
Bailu didn’t give the poacher time to respond to the boss’ question. “Return those you took!”
That drew the alien’s attention. “Sorry, man. What’s sold is sold. No returns. Not how this business works.”
“We should kill him, boss!”
“Yeah, blow up his ship too! Bury the maggot here!”
“Actually,” replied the Jolean, “I think that, since you murdered eight of my finest soldiers, there must be justice served. That was very bad of you, Uttovelm. I hadn’t expected that this would come to bloodshed. You are a damn hot-headed fool, and this is what you deserve.”
Clearing his throat, the man conjured up bright blue balls of ki above his forefinger and thumb and flicked them, one at a time, to eight of Graliakh’s men. The energy balls exploded on impact, vaporizing each of their heads. That was spooky-good precision. I remember re-checking his power level at that point, just to confirm it hadn’t risen above twenty-one thousand, but as I did, my scouter’s readings went off the charts and before I could turn it off, the screen cracked, and it blew up. He was a sneaky bastard, the Jolean. He could raise and lower his power level at will. I guess that was to be expected. Joleans can naturally sense power levels. They should have more control over that kind of stuff. Even so, it was a rare trick, and not one we had been prepared for. I had no idea how high his true power level was. That was when the fear set in.
There were about fifteen of us left.
“What the fuck?!” roared my master. “You little shit! I’ll kill you!”
He shook his head in resignation of having to fight at all. I guess that made more sense in retrospect. “You won’t.”
Nobody told a gang boss what to do. It just wasn’t done. His response was inevitable. His reaction, however, was not what I had predicted. He grabbed Graliakh around the neck, flipped him over, and threw him to the ground, letting him land in a crater.
It was more surprising than anything else that he had let Graliakh survive. This Jolean was a slippery fellow, but he had unusual honor. “Now, you lie there, man, and you stay there, or we’re going to have a big problem.”
Graliakh didn’t move. It looked like he was bleeding from where I hovered. Yet, the rest of his guards looked as if they were about to pounce. At the last second, the old man shouted out in a feeble voice, “Don’t! You’ll just get yourselves killed!”
They begrudgingly calmed themselves, returning to him. Their tempers had not cooled, but they were loyal enough. I followed with some distance between us, as I had not the fervent loyalty to this man that his other soldiers had. The old man pushed the swarming mass of them off of him, swearing he was fine as he got to his feet.
We all witnessed him spit out a mouthful of blood and shudder. Nobody said anything. His bodyguards shifted on their feet, exchanging another silent look.
“Now, then. Let us start over. I think that would be for the best. My name is Medler. You have heard of me, no?”
My blood ran cold. Everyone knew that Medler was one of the most wretchedly notorious space pirates in the empire. The bounty on his head was a planet; we were not foolish enough to charge at him again once we knew his identity; his power level was north of a hundred thousand, far outclassing all of us put together. No wonder he was so calm. He could sense our powers. He knew where we stood at odds. And so too now did we.
“Aye, we’ve heard of you,” replied Graliakh in a growl.
“Are you the leader of Uoto, man? What’s your name?”
“I am,” he said feebly. “Graliakh.”
“Good. Now listen to me carefully, Graliakh. You have one chance to survive this. If you do not take it, I will murder you and all of your people. I propose a compromise between both of our affected parties: I will no longer take your weakest and most destitute people to the flesh markets in Nuoh. In exchange for this show of mercy, three of your companions will aid me in one insignificant trip. Her,” he said, nodding to me. After scanning the rest of their power levels, he pointed to Hamy and Bailu. “And those two.”
“Wha…? Why them? What mission? What are you talking about, Medler?”
The gold-wearing pirate gave us a haughty look. “They are the strongest of your retinue. The three of them will assist me on a transportation mission to Faeri. Now that you’ve inconvenienced me and killed most of my crew, I need replacements for my next mission. They won’t have to do much, but I need the bodies to move cargo. My shipment must be completed soon, and I don’t have time to restock my crew.”
He grunted deep in his throat, looking to each of us, then turned back to the pirate, spitting out another mouthful of blood. “Deal. No more poaching, and one mission in aid. And that’s that. Don’t come b–”
“We’re not finished, Graliakh. You must also allow my forces to mine your planet of its cobalt ore, and of its metals.”
“What?! You cannot be serious! You will ruin Uoto!”
“Sir, don’t do it,” said I. I was fully willing to fight to the death over this issue.
“This is not a negotiation, I’m afraid. The compromise will be made, Uttovelm, or I’ll kill all of you and mine the planet anyways. Do you want to put yourselves against me? I’ll let you all come at once. I’ll even give you a handicap–I won’t power up past fifty percent. How does that sound? Fair?”
I glanced to the old man. His head was bowed, the side of his lip leaking spittle and blood. In that moment, I was ready to die–all of us were, I think. I could see it in their eyes. I didn’t want to let him defile the surface of my homeworld, mining it of all its valuables–valuables that belonged to the Uttovelm, not that damn pirate. Heat was rising in my cheeks as I grew furious, my fists clenching. Perhaps we had a chance if we all attacked him at once.
Then, Graliakh replied in a tired voice befitting of how he looked, “Deal. Please, no more bloodshed. My people cannot take it anymore.”
My heart sank; everyone’s heads were bowed, unwilling to make eye contact with each other. I think they were as offended as I was. A tittering laugh cracked through the muted zone of Uozoku. I had thought too much of Graliakh upon my return. The warning signs had been there from first meeting him, yet, as I often did, I had let wild hope overcome rational thought to my own detriment. Now here we stood, a defeated species in imperial space being brought to heel by a space pirate.
It sickened me. But what could I do to stop it?
Took only four days for us to get to Faeri. We were hiding out in a nondescript Jolean spice-trading vessel. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. It was just us three, Medler, and a pair of pilots. He seemed most irritated to have lost his crew. He did put it on a bit much though. That pirate was a dramatic one–always sighing and giving us dirty looks. As far as I was concerned, the poachers had gotten what they deserved.
On the first day of travel, I asked him about it, for Joleans are able to sense power levels. It annoyed me that they should have sensed us before we reached them, but they had not. He revealed to me that he let his crew have his way with the Uttovelm they took before returning to the ship. As they were obviously all of singular mind in that moment, they did not sense anyone on approach. There was something suspicious about that. For a moment, just from how he talked about them, I thought that perhaps Medler had tried to get those men killed. But why would he do such a thing? It made no sense to me.
“You sensed us, at least?”
“That’s right, Uttovelm. Had they made a battle of it, I would have saved them, but they were caught completely off-guard. That’s a serious error; they got what punishment they deserved. Nobody of such poor awareness deserves to be on my crew.”
We didn’t really talk to him much after that. I could hardly pretend to stand the man’s presence. It was a lot of sleeping, eating, and muttering between ourselves about where we were going and why. Hamy and Bailu hardly had anything interesting to say about matters. They were dull as water.
Finally, on the third day, as one pilot called out their destination being an hour away, Bailu worked up the courage to ask, “So, Medler, what are we doing on Faeri?”
“You will assist me in wounding them for what they did to your planet.”
“Are you serious?” We couldn’t believe it. It was too good to be true. But we were already there, you see. There was no turning back at that moment. He would have killed us had we protested. Why wouldn’t we have gone along with it?
“I am not lying to you, man. We’re going to give them this stuff–they think it’s puklin spice. Native to Atjoh, pretty rare, but not so uncommon as to raise eyebrows. Just the type of thing you’d expect a noblewoman with plenty of excess space woolongs to order. These boxes are going to a woman named Iriseni.”
“Why her? Was she Bael’s whore, or his daughter?”
“She is a noblewoman who has many meetings with many diverse groups of people.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Medler pointed to the crate of puklin spice. “That’s not really spice from Atjoh, my friends. In fact, it is a substance called Bahkaar’s Mist. Once Iriseni opens it, she will be touch the thick brown powder, which, when stirred, will rise into the air and stick, allowing anyone to inhale the stuff when they enter her apartment. The infectious disease will have her by that point, though she won’t know it for two weeks. Anyone she touches in that time will be infected as well, and so on and so on. It takes three weeks to really start showing symptoms, four to start suffering badly. Five is when most die, though some of strong vitality may persist six or even seven weeks. But they will die eventually. It has, as you may have suspected, no known cure. Do not touch it. If she opens it in our presence, let her touch it, but do not get near her. I will come up with an excuse for us to leave early. We can run if we have to. It won’t infect us if we don’t breathe it in.”
We exchanged looks. Of course, with him standing right there, we couldn’t exactly say anything ill of the plan. I didn’t know what to make of this, nor how to most effectively respond. We were about to unleash a plague on Faeri, in essence. This is what we wanted, I supposed. This is the justice our planet deserved for what Bael had done to ours. He killed millions, so we would retaliate in turn. This was our opportunity to really get the Faereth once and for all.
Maybe the whole damn lot of them would catch the plague and die. That would be a dream come true. They were all vermin. As much as I tried to hold empathy for them, the last time I was on Faeri, I burned all my bridges. Not one of them cared about the Uttovelm, about the plight of those still clinging to life on Uoto. They had nakedly shown me their apathy and thought I would not return home to tell tale of it.
Luckily, it appeared that they thought I was dead. I wasn’t dead yet. I refused to die until they suffered. And they would. If Medler was to be believed, I knew we had a good shot of utterly annihilating the Faereth. This was our one shot. We didn’t have the warriors to harm the Faereth militarily. This was the only way. I was on board, and so were Hamy and Bailu, though it took them more time than me to come around.
An hour later, we reached Faeri, landing in the ancient city of Mithran. It was there we met with Iriseni in one of the fanciest rooms in the Radiant City Hotel. She greeted us out on the landing pad, just below the sixtieth floor. A frail, shaking thing, she was all drawn up in scarves and blankets, her fingers covered in thin black gloves, Pointing to the crates, she demanded that we carry them inside. Doing that was part of our deception, but that did not make it feel any less demeaning.
Bailu and Hamy were forced to pick up the crates. None for me. That was lucky for me. The pilots waited in the ship. I found that odd in the moment, but in retrospect it was obvious why that was. If we were found out, they would need to power up the ship quickly. We followed her inside, up a gravity lift to the eighty-seventh floor, where she was staying at the time.
This was a big risk. If anything went wrong, we could be killed very easily. I never liked this place. The cities smelled like garbage and death here. Somebody could also recognize Medler, and that could blow our cover. None of us had noticed who he was until he had told us his name, though, so maybe Iriseni was none the wiser. I swear his face had been posted for bounties, but again, she probably wouldn’t have looked into that type of stuff, being a person of little physical power herself.
“Oh, do stay a while! It must have been a long journey!” she was saying in a high-pitched, whiny voice. “You traveled many days to get here. The least I could do is give you a place to relax for a little while. How about an hour or two?”
“I’m sorry, but we have additional deliveries to make. We must get going soon.”
She was pouting hard, trying to cover it up. Had she been wanting to seduce the men? I was unsure why she was so displeased that we weren’t staying. That seemed like an unusual request, and one that most drivers would not agree to indulge in. Maybe she wanted to drug us and kill us. That was always a possibility in places like this. “Ah, what a shame. No, no, go on. I don’t want to keep your other customers waiting.”
Inside, she directed Bailu to take the crate to her cooking room. She lit a nil stick and offered it to us. Medler and Hamy both took puffs. I did not. We drank some Loru Qir tea, freshly prepared, and exchanged a few words.
“Puklin is hard to get these days,” she sighed. “I was going down to the market in town, but it was getting increasingly expensive and scarce until a few weeks ago I had to cut it out of my budget entirely. I don’t know how I could have continued to manage! I cook with it almost every night!”
“Glad to be of service, ma’am,” Medler said coolly.
“I see you have Uttovelm in your employ.” She smiled, sipping at her tea in little gulps. “Wise choice. Very strong, but not so, well…” She pointed at her head, tilting it, making a face, and then giggled to herself.
Medler, for all his worth, did not laugh much, though he did humor her a little. The two of them played corhu-corghu (the Faerin not wanting to dirty her darts in Uttovelm hands). The three of us were becoming increasingly impatient. If Medler were lying, and we had just helped him with this low-level mission for no reason, what could we even do about it? We weren’t in a great position at the moment. He was far stronger than us. Still, we had fulfilled our task, so we wanted to go home. Faeri was no place for Uttovelm. We could hardly stand another second.
Yet we waited. They played seven games. Medler won six-to-one. At least they gave us some Leima Bivo. It was piss-weak stuff, though, at least by our standards. I didn’t get drunk at all. That sucked. The Faerin, however, seemed to. She tried to make us to stay for dinner, but knowing that she would be cooking with a plague meant we were not going to stay around much longer. Medler’s delivery excuse was a sound one, one she could not debate, and thus we only ended up spending around fifteen minutes there.
Four days to get there, and four days to get back. Add in fifteen minutes, and it wasn’t even a standard imperial week before we returned home. Medler dropped us off without much drama. We spoke no more of what we had done. We did not see him again, although his Jolean workers moved into the mountains north of Urarosh the very next day, where they began mining away at the rock, at the very substance of our world. On a clear afternoon, one could see them at work, which is why on clear days, I remained indoors. There was much work left to be done to restore Uoto, and I would not get much accomplished if I felt sick.
The bastard never showed his face again. His miners stayed a week and a half. Everything was normal until the day they packed up and left. Then, all hell broke loose. They knew beforehand. Had to. No other explanation for it. I should have looked back on all of this, on all the odd behavior–Medler’s in particular–and realized that something was amiss.
Bailu was the first to come down with the plague, then Hamy, then me. Then a dozen more, then a hundred, then a thousand. We had infected dozens of people, who in turn had infected dozens more until nearly everyone had gotten it. It spread through Urarosh and to neighboring refugee centers. I do not know how many were infected, or are still being infected. Has to be millions already. It’s a disaster. I do not know if my species will survive this. I must hope, but I am getting so very tired of hoping for the best.
I lie dying in bed, the plague having ravaged my body. It’s been five weeks at this point. My skin is turning black, melting off me. It hurts. I am barely strong enough to give this dictation. It is a bitter feeling knowing I will die, that I caused this–that we did. Medler had to have done it on purpose. He also had to have been exposed to Bakhaar’s Mist. There was no way we could have been if he and his pilots hadn’t been as well. So did that not mean there was a cure somewhere? The question vexed me. I did not believe it had been an accident. If he had infected us, he had done it on purpose.
I did not believe that he was dying from this as we were. The Jolean was too alert to allow something like that happen under his watch.
No word of Faeri has reached us. I am sure it’s bad. It has to be really bad. We’ve loosed a plague across the entire empire. Trillions will die. Lying here in pain, it is harder to rationalize my rage. I guess we got what we deserved, both Uoto and Faeri. But was it my choice to make? It should not have been like this. I can’t help but feel guilty now. Our ancestors started it, Bael continued it, and in the end, it was us who have made it this far who had to be punished the worst of all.
Life is cruel. My last wish is that the Faereth will soon begin to understand that.
Chapter VII: Pax Arcosia
|Position:||Emperor of the Planet Trade Organization|
|Date of account:||August 2, Age 767 (first scene)|
August 28, Age 767 (second scene)
Kuriza was the first to arrive. I was not surprised. With him were Admiral Kracchus, Lingon, and Sapras, his most trusted advisors. I watched from the window on the sixth floor, my guards greeting them for me. This was to be a small party. Even so, word of what was to go down today had weeks ago leaked. Most of the empire knew of the impending peace. Now we simply had to formalize it.
The next ship to appear was Yuki’s. With her was the imp Kirka, her father’s old lackey, and an orange-haired Thekar that I did not know. It was a warm day, which had drained my patience. As the pair were taken inside, I remained where I stood. The final representative had yet to appear. The Corvos League had sworn they would show; I knew she would not let me down. The ship that appeared next, almost a quarter of an hour later, was not theirs at all. It was a small transport vessel in the style of the Planet Trade Organization, though its blue-and-pink insignia was unfamiliar to me.
A gale was howling over the landing pad when the guards met him. His armor was grey as ash. His furry blue cape was being assaulted by the wind. I knew that man: Admiral Nectarian. He had been one of Cooler’s men. When Ipha had been destroyed, he had gone with it, or so we had believed. I knew not why he was there. I admit I was impatient to destroy the glass, but there was no quicker way to get to him. I had to know why he came.
He was older. His wrinkles were almost too numerous to count. “Emperor Icer,” he smiled, placing his fist to his breast and kneeling. “It’s been such a long time.”
“We thought you were dead.”
“Why are you here? I have important business to attend to.”
“I am aware. Peace has returned to the empire–that song has been sung even as far as Melirion.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That’s where I fled with the twins when the Faereth revolted and destroyed Ipha.”
He had caught me by surprise. “Raimie and Haimaru? You’re telling me Cooler’s children are still alive? Why should I believe you?”
“We thought you’d say that.” He pulled a metal disc from his belt and threw it to the ground. A holographic projection of two young Arcosians flashed into existence. A chill fell down my spine. I knew at once that they were real.
“Hello, Uncle Icer!” Raimie said enthusiastically. “I’m here with my brother Haimaru.” The Prince, his arms folded, looked on without saying a word, petulant as Frieza. “We have learned of the great peace that will soon be declared all throughout the empire. As our cousins Kuriza and Yuki have been granted great regions of space to lord over,” she said with a gulp, looking away for several seconds, “we humbly request as the trueborn and only heirs of Emperor Cooler to be granted our own imperial region of space. Encoded in this disc are coordinates to our base of operations–a planet called Melirion. Melirion is beyond your territory, Uncle, so we won’t steal any of your planets, promise.”
The boy stepped in front of his twin, looking away as she had. “If you refuse our humble request, it will come to war.”
The hologram flashed out of existence.
“A bold demand to make of me, especially from a pair of children. Who do they think they are? Have they not heard of what I did to Kuriza?”
He gave a mild, but greedy smile. “I’m afraid not. I admit I have not heard any such tales, myself. You will forgive them, I hope. They are young and prideful, my lord. Please excuse their lack of manners. They were raised in a difficult environment.”
“Whose fault was that?”
He chewed on the inside of his cheek. “It was necessary. They are stronger for it.”
“Go inside. The rest are waiting.”
“Aren’t you coming with me?”
“We are waiting for one more. I will be in when she arrives.”
He nodded, falling to a knee again in an unconvincing obeisant gesture.
The skies were almost neon green. It had grown cloudier approaching noon. “Wait inside,” I instructed the guards via a secure scouter channel.
An hour passed, then another. My tail slapped the landing pad. I was growing increasingly agitated. I wanted to kill her for making me wait. This power play was something a third-rate space pirate would do. She was trashy like that sometimes.
Out of nowhere, she materialized on the landing pad, two fingers pressed to her forehead in the manner of Yardratian Instant Transmission. She hadn’t come with anyone else. That made me feel a little more at ease.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Emperor Icer.” The Heran flashed a crooked smile, walking over and leaning in for a hug.
I was a little late to react to her unprofessionalism. “It’s been years, hasn’t it? I don’t think I’ve been here since… well, you remember.”
“I will never forget it. I was only a child when I kicked you and your gang off this rock to claim it for the Planet Trade Organization. My brother held it for years, but I’ve been the one running this place for most of that time. Does it give you chills, Audacci?”
“Shut up. You’re such a gloater.”
“Let’s go inside. They’re waiting for us,” I said, gesturing her inside.
“I’m representing the Corvos League here today, not myself. Remember that.”
“I thought you liked to be called the Blue Queen. More like the Servant Queen.”
She gave me a cold look. “You don’t understand their power, Icer. Their reach extends beyond this universe. Their armies are trillions strong.”
“I am aware of that. Do you think it frightens me?”
“They have only expanded a small portion of their overall strength into our universe. We’re the only ones holding them back, you and I.”
“You told me you went to the Venyi Academy to get stronger and deal with this problem. I hired that assassin to kill the last God-Emperor, did I not? And did she not kill seven of the twelve members of the Elder Circle? You had but four of them to deal with, and did you? Not a chance. I should have expected disloyalty from a pirate.”
Walking past me, she stopped at the corner of the landing pad, away from the pathway leading inside. “It’s easier said than done. Had I killed them, the J’taro–that’s what they call their ‘big daddy’, the guy who runs the Corvos League from the next universe over–the, err, the J’taro would have killed me in an instant. He possesses unfathomable power. I value my life more than I value your empire. Shame that even has to be said.”
I did not move from my spot. “As you said, you’re representing their interests today.”
“I’m not exaggerating, Icer. He can erase anyone from existence at will–even you. It’s an ability I’m not sure any amount of power can overcome.”
“Then why bother getting any stronger?”
“Perhaps if I become fast enough, he won’t be able to detect me before I land the killing blow.”
“That’s risky. You don’t do risky. If you fail, you’re dead.”
“I know. It’s not worth it. So for now, I’ll represent the Corvos League.” Regret was plain on her face. “Let’s go inside. There are terms we need to discuss.”
“The others are in there already. Do not make this awkward.”
“Or what, you’ll slap me? You don’t know how strong the Venyi Academy has made me. Try it if you like.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors of the Golden Emperor.”
“I was hoping he would show up today. I must say, I’m disappointed.”
“Come on. We shouldn’t make them wait,” she beckoned, waving me over to the door.
It was an odd feeling, following her inside. She was a pirate by nature, uncouth and reckless and petty. My interactions with her aside, I was uneasy about this. Nectarian had thrown a wrinkle in the plans. There was little chance the Corvos League would accept another Arcosian empire rising up in the near future. If this was to be a time of peace, though, they should not care. I knew they were still going to press forward, claiming whichever planets they could. Having been satisfied thus far by claiming most of the old Galactic Bank’s worlds, their greed would soon compel them forward and against us. I had seen this story play out a half-dozen times before. They would doubtlessly soon lose patience with the Planet Trade Organization and push into the neutral zone, taking whichever worlds they could. And then what? Would she remain loyal to them then?
I was not much looking forward to a conflict. That would have to be avoided at all costs.
She didn’t make any snide remarks on the walk over, our footsteps being the only sounds in the marble hallway. I overtook her, and led her on. My guards had retreated, leaving this place entirely devoid of life. She was trustworthy, despite her lack of manners. I wanted no one else to represent the Corvos League today. The empire was wounded, and though I knew that I could outmatch her, that I could take on the Corvos League myself if need be, the cost would be too much. Trillions would be lost on both sides. We had been at war for years now. It was time for that to end.
Reaching the door, I grasped the golden handle, and she put her hand on my shoulder. “You won’t join? No matter what?”
“If they wish to submit to me, they may. The Golden Emperor bows to no one.”
She exhaled forcefully, looking away, and I opened the door, quelling her desperate notions. They were all seated inside, drawn into their own little groups. The blue-glass table was bare. At its end, my katchin throne awaited me. Audacci sat at the opposite end of the table in a wooden chair. To my left was the half-Saiyan. To my right was Kuriza. A little further down, Nectarian sat alone, drinking from a cup of steaming Green Liani tea. Everyone but the Heran rose as I approached my throne. Yuki’s bootlicking was obvious; her cousin was less inclined to bend under societal norms, though he did in the end. The Blue Queen met my eyes when I reached the throne, having already taken her seat.
“Let us begin,” I said, ignoring her.
They followed without word. Once we were seated, the feeble-voiced Ocaran spoke up. “My dear Emperor, on this blessed day of peace, let me once again re-affirm our eternal faith in you. We are your loyal servants. Command and we will obey.”
Nectarian studied me for a response. So did Kracchus. I knew the game they were playing. It would have been easy for me to kill them, to wipe them from existence in front of her. Yet in such a case, I would have no one left to rule the vast expanses of my empire. Kuriza, Yuki, and the twins were my blood, despite how openly they were disrespecting me. I hated that I was so influenced by them. Their drama should not have impacted me one way or another. It would be a lie, however, to say it hadn’t.
“My brothers are dead, as are Cooler, Frieza, and Nitro. The Galactic Bank is no more.” Audacci found that rather funny, folding her arms and leaning back in her chair. Nectarian noticed; the rest were looking to me. “So too has the cult of Ctha’Naka been wiped out, and the rebellion by that gladiator Pukcoläsic put to rest. A small minority of planets remain in rebellion. Those will be dealt with in the coming days, or I will strip you of every planet you own,” I told Yuki and Kuriza. “Space pirates infest the outer-reaches of our empire. They too must be dealt with. And, if I’m not mistaken, the curious case of the hidden Mrovian Empire must be addressed as well…”
“As soon as I am able to locate Mrov, I will wipe them out,” Yuki replied.
I let that sit for a while. Her ego needed checking. “I expect that will not take long. In any case, the Corvos League and Planet Trade Organization are now allies. As the last two major empires left in the universe, we have agreed to cease all conflicts, present and future.”
The Heran leaned to the side, obscuring her mouth with a hand. “We have agreed to certain terms, Emperor Icer. One of those being that you and Frieza’s son do not expand your empires any further towards our territory. The neutral zone must remain intact.”
“Seriously? Are you joking?!” Up jumped Kuriza. He looked utterly revolted by what she had said. “Who are you to demand anything of me? Of us?”
“In the best interest of not provoking further conflict, each side must agree to certain compromises.”
“How is this a compromise? What have you given up?”
“We shall not expand further into the neutral zone, either.”
Looking to me, Kuriza’s desperation was difficult to empathize with. “You should go ahead and try that. See what happens when my forces meet yours.” The woman had no response, nor any reaction to the child. “Uncle, this is outrageous…”
“You may still expand your empire to the west. Yuki may do the same to the east.”
Lingon stood, whispering something in his young lord’s ear. Kuriza waved him away, unconvinced. “I do not agree to their demands!”
“It is not for you to decide,” I told him. “This is my decision. I have already made it.”
Aghast, the crimson-jeweled boy made a face and took his seat, saying not another word.
“We agree to your terms,” Kirka said stiffly.
“It was not for you to decide, either.”
He bowed his head, not daring to backtalk as my grand nephew had. He knew I would not hesitate to vaporize him. Pathetic as he was, the imp was more than intelligent. He was a sound advisor to the girl. Shame there was no such level-headedness in Kuriza’s camp. One would think with all the distinguished officers following him, he would be receiving decent counsel. Alas that he was not.
“Then it’s peace,” Audacci said at last. “We find these terms acceptable. The Corvos League is satisfied.”
“Yet, we are not,” said Nectarian, rising to his feet. “Prince Haimaru and Princess Raimie are, by law, your heirs, good emperor. They must be accommodated accordingly. That this half-breed beast maintains an extensive empire is a grave insult to them, with all due respect. We must be able to expand our borders.”
“I decide who my heir is. Cooler’s children have been missing and presumed dead for years. I have not seen them with my own eyes since they vanished, and still you are demanding of me many things. For my nephew’s sake, I will let your rudeness slide. Don’t let it happen again.”
“I don’t understand. Who is your heir?”
“Kuriza,” I replied without flinching.
The boy looked almost surprised, his bodyguard at his ear, glancing to me between bated breaths. His camp said nothing. Yuki stirred, but not too hastily. She knew her place. I thought I had made that clear the last time she was here. Lucky for her, there weren’t any governors around to watch her humiliation this time.
“Cooler was older than Frieza and Nitro both. His children deserve to be your heirs.”
“They have no empire.”
“I still command some men, your excellency, and the children have been trained well in the art of ruling. Should they become your foes, that would not bode well for the Planet Trade Organization.”
I couldn’t help but crack a smile. “Kuriza, my dear, tell that man what happened to you when you stood against me.”
His voice was low. “Uncle Icer is the strongest warrior in all the universe. Those who would dare rise against him are fools.”
The Blue Queen snorted.
“You are in no position to demand anything of me, Admiral. Sit down, or we will take Melirion from you as well. Once this meeting has concluded, I will discuss gifting some of my planets in the northern expanse to the twins. Until then, keep your mouth shut. Hopefully, the Corvos League won’t feel threatened by the twins.”
“We never are. We are a far more ancient guild than the Planet Trade Organization. We will outlast you, Emperor Icer, and every one of your heirs, whoever they may be, unless you join us.”
I knew she had to say it in front of them, to put it in the official record, but it was revolting. “We will never bow to your God-Emperor.”
“Very well then.” She stood up, faking a smile. “Remind the younger ones not to expand their territory towards us. Any provocation could mean a broken peace.”
“Barbaric woman,” the boy whispered loud enough.
“There are three other directions we may expand in,” I replied, not breaking eye contact with her. “Don’t worry.”
She placed two fingers to her forehead, then withdrew them. “There’s one more thing, your grace. God-Emperor Lupharzo IV requests you include us in your Nil trade.”
“What?” We hadn’t discussed this. She knew to spring it on me at the end, when she would soon be gone. That was low of her.
“I’ve left the datapad with the shipment details and the location of our drop-off planet–Dhennon Xi–on the table. It’s just beyond your territory, Emperor. I’m sure it won’t be much of a hassle for your runner to make a slightly longer trip each time. Your forces shouldn’t have to strain very hard to include us in the trade routes.”
“And what if I refuse?”
“Then the peace is off, naturally,” she said with a poisonous smile.
I could not tell if she was joking. It was best not to risk it. A nod was all she needed, and then she was gone in a sudden flash of light, her fingers once again pressed against her forehead. She hadn’t told me that she had learned Instant Transmission. That must have been one of her lessons at the Venyi Academy. She had purposefully chosen to keep that a secret until today, and for good reason. Now I had to be on guard always, lest she appear in a burst of light at any given moment. “Anyone else?” I asked, raising a hand, daring the most greedy to step forward and show themselves. I didn’t expect any would.
Nectarian obliged. “Emperor Icer, first I want to say th–”
“I want you to shut up, Nectarian. Sit down. When we are done, you will take me back with you to Melirion to meet my grand nephew and niece. Until then, you would be wise to demand nothing of me.”
“I-I… as you wish, my lord.”
I scanned the table. All but my kin were looking back, as was their obligation. “Go forth and declare the Great Peace throughout the empire–Pax Arcosia is in effect. The Corvos League are our allies. We will trade with them, but we will not expand our territory any further north. Spread this to all the governors and admirals and advisors. There can be no slip-ups. Even one mistake could break the peace. Use lethal discretion if your subordinates disobey.”
I looked from the Thekar to Lingon, to Kirka, to Nectarian, to Kracchus. “Leave me with my family.”
Like their seats were aflame, they got to their feet. As soon as they had left, Kuriza hopped up with a snarling, furious look. “You cannot mean to do this, Uncle! Who do they think they are? We take whatever we want! We bow to no one!”
“We are not bowing to them. We are forging an alliance. Not all enemies need be defeated, as I’m sure you already know. Your advisors must have taught you how these things sometimes go.”
He knew I knew about the gladiator. That did nothing to quench his spirit. “We should destroy them. They’re sickeningly arrogant, presumptuous to the utmost degree. How dare they define my imperial borders for me? The nerve… Uncle, I will not stand for this!”
“Then rise against me in rebellion, and I’ll cut your head off.” I glanced at the girl, but she had her head bowed, staring despondently into her lap. She was wiser than Frieza’s son. She knew when to shut up and listen. “I learned today that I have an additional grand nephew and grand niece. You’re not as important as you once were, Kuriza. You know it, I know it, they all know it. Haimaru and Raimie weaken your claim. And you’re right. I can very easily give them your territory if I think you aren’t acting in the best interest of the Planet Trade Organization. You have a choice, boy: rise against me and be forgotten to history, or hold your tongue, and remain my heir.”
“You would?” the boy asked, his voice rising.
“They may be Cooler’s children, but it is me, not any piece of paper, who determines the line of succession. With my own children gone, I have already chosen you. Then her. Then them.”
The boy turned away, blinking rapidly, his tail moving about in irritation. “Okay. I accept.”
“It wasn’t your choice. Now get out of here, you two. We have an empire to rebuild.”
“Uncle,” Yuki asked. “Am I allowed to invade Typhon? Per my father’s invasion, it is the only Mrovian world that we know the location of, but I am unsure exactly how strong my father was when he attacked them. He never told me.”
I gave it to her good before responding. “You’re not ready. Use this time of peace to remove the space pirates and officers in rebellion from your sub-region. Once you have done that, I will train with you, and then I will determine if you are ready to provoke the Mrovians.”
“As you command, Uncle, I shall enforce,” she said, bowing.
I followed them out. Nectarian waited for me on the landing pad. The wind in our eyes, we watched the hosts of Kuriza and Yuki depart on their own saucers, soon disappearing into the clouds. “How many soldiers do you command?”
“Twenty thousand.” His response was nakedly smug.
“That is more than anyone would have expected… enough to man dozens of outposts.”
“Where did you get them from?”
“They are Admiral Articho’s men, my lord. He pledged himself to Cooler’s children during the civil war, loyal old chap that he was.”
I did not appreciate how arrogantly he was acting. I was staring off at the outer edges of the floating city, where rock turned to cloud, to get the sight of his ghastly smile out of my mind. There was something deeply unsettling about Nectarian, something I didn’t trust. “Take me to them, now: Articho, Raimie, Haimaru, and anyone else you’re hiding.”
“They’re it, Emperor Icer. I swear on my life.”
We departed thereafter. A short-haired Jolean, wearing single-pauldron armor and sporting a blue scouter, waited for us inside. It was an unimportant thing, I suppose, and one that could have been faked, but I felt some small comfort seeing that at least some part of Nectarian’s wild fancies appeared to be true. Were he lying to me, this would be the end of him. He was too smart to throw his life away in such a pointless way. But he could also be thinking I would assume that. For that reason, I decided to go with him that day. After all, the war was over. Pax Arcosia had commenced. This would be the start of my golden reign.
The ship landed in a place called Keinanon, in the middle of a yellow stone temple–roof-less, of course. It was sunny that day, but nothing too intolerable. They were awaiting us just outside the ship: Admiral Articho and a hand-picked group of half a dozen of his captains, a purple-robed and slender elf-like creature, flanked by two of his own, and standing before them, the toddlers–Raimie and Haimaru. I paused beneath the shade of the transport, certainty flooding my veins. I knew then that it was too early for this. They were too young to rule, and I was not about to put Nectarian in charge of a sizeable empire that he had not earned. He was not about to use my own blood as a stepping stone to his tyrannical fancies.
“Ah, there we have King Malus, and this is, well, his Kingdom of Melirion…” Nectarian said in a melodramatic voice. “As you can see, my lord, the twins remain very much alive.”
“I have eyes, Admiral.”
He had coached them into giving that speech. Disgusting hubris. When we reached them, I allowed them to perform all their polite duties. The king introduced himself, as did the kids, practicing rehearsed lines with articulate prowess. Articho was curt, averting his eyes. I glanced around, finding no one else of note, though who could tell if they had any hidden microphones of some sort already planted here. I wouldn’t be surprised. I had to be careful with what I said. Thus, my investigation of Melirion began with a single question.
“Who rules this planet?”
The space elf looked to Nectarian, stuttering out nonsense, glancing once to Articho for a lifeline, but getting no help. “Ah, yes, um, well, it’s Prince Haimaru who rules over the Kingdom of Melirion. And I rule over my own people b-beneath him, your grace. Please forgive me, it was a complicated question!”
“I see. And how many Planet Trade Organization soldiers are stationed on this world?”
“They only came recently… I would guess around twenty thousand. That’s what they told me, and it looks like as much.”
“You will show me the entire crews of your fleet, Admiral.”
Articho gave a lazy nod. “Aye.”
“Until then, my offer is simple: This is Planet Haimaru 001. Articho’s fleet will be distributed across several of my northern border worlds, many of which are currently unmanned or undermanned. Those will become additional planets in the prince’s name. How strong is your average soldier, Admiral?”
“2200.” He had prepared that statement. I couldn’t know if that was a good sign or not yet.
“Very well. You will distribute five hundred soldiers per planet. That comes out to forty worlds. A fair start for the youngsters, wouldn’t you agree? No one else in my family has held so many planets had such a young age.”
Nectarian had to butt in, his jowls quivering. “How many does Kuriza currently rule?”
“Over two hundred fifty.”
“Over two hundred fifty.”
“So you won’t tell me precisely?”
“You will do what I tell you, Admiral, or I’ll make an example of you in front of your friends. If you think you can back-talk me, or subvert me in minor ways, you will be surprised. I do not tolerate even the mildest forms of insubordination. I don’t know how it’s been for you here on Melirion, but you will have to adapt to the imperial model right now, or you’re dead.”
“Come on, Nectarian,” Articho said gruffly. “It ain’t worth it. You gotta be there for the kids.”
I remember that upon hearing him say that, goosebumps spread on my forearms. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “He’s right, you know.”
It was only a finger beam that did it in the end. The blue arrow of energy cut through Articho’s oily skin, splattering dark blood into the air. He fell without a grunt, which I thought was generous of him, though blood soon pooled out from the holes in his head, staining the temple grounds.
The King hid his aversion, albeit not completely. It was good to know at least someone on this damn rock had some professionalism in their bones. “Do we have a deal or not?” I asked the admiral.
The old man had gone pale. He tried to swallow, and then tried again. “Y-yes, Emperor Icer. Thank you! Your mercy and generosity are a welcome sight.” Falling to a knee, he bowed his head to hide his trembling lip. “Please, let me take you to see the fleet.”
There had always been one good thing about Articho–he was loyal, in the end, to Cooler. That had never been more apparent than now. Five years ago, had I done what I had just done, it would have been quite the scandal. It might have even been the end of me. But now I was emperor, and I would choose who ran my empire. Articho was just the type to foster dreams of rebellion in the young Arcosians’ minds. Nectarian was little different, in truth. At least he had some discretion about him, some self-awareness.
They would have forty-one planets for now. That was far more than they deserved. Dead north of their territory lay the neutral zone, where pirates infested. They would not be allowed to expand in that direction, but only in the direction of my empire. For now, I had no plans of gifting young prince Haimaru any more planets. Perhaps when he got a little older. All that this news had told me, despite the talks of peace and reconciliation, was that I needed to find several loyal and powerful subordinates to replace all of these treasonous snakes with soon. As Audacci had said earlier, such a thing was easier said than done, however.
Chapter VIII: The Chaos Imperative
|Position:||Guard in the Corvos League|
|Date of account:||September 4, Age 767 (first scene)|
September 7, Age 767 (second and third scenes)
The twelve members of the Elder Circle floated in hovering beds over the garden. They were allowed two guards apiece, so it was me and Kubali this time representing the Blue Queen. We were left to stand awkwardly on the grass below with the other guards. There was no small-talk between us; we craned our necks upwards, hoping to be able to hear fragments of a sentence here and there. I didn’t mind. It was nice being here. Dhennon Xi was an exquisite world, and in the floating city of Cuharc that was the God-Emperor’s palace, we were witness to some of the finest imported flowers and trees in the universe, all arranged to his liking, of course. Some of what grew here was native to the eighth universe, my lady had told me–the universe one over where the Corvos League had originated from.
Above them, the holographic figure of the God-Emperor stood proudly, his arms folded, on a floating metal disc. Lupharzo IV was somewhere on this planet, but he was not here, for fear of assassination had kept the old man in hiding. I couldn’t blame him. He would know better than anyone, having previously served as a veteran member of the Elder Circle. Of the five survivors from the last assassination attempt back in Age 735 (which had claimed the life of Takkyi’eil, the Timorous, who had been Lupharzo’s predecessor), four served to this day, and one had been promoted to God-Emperor. Audacci was one of the more powerful and respected veteran members, having gained some years of experience in this governing body whereas two-thirds of her colleagues had had none.
“Icer has agreed to include us in the Nil trade. We won’t have to get it from the black market anymore. That will cut down costs two to three hundred percent, and it will guarantee that our supply lines remain secure.”
“That is most welcome news, Audacci,” said the God-Emperor. “Yet, I am troubled by this late claim–the one presented by Admiral Nectarian. Two more heirs to Icer’s bloodline were not anticipated. This is not good news. Recalculations must be made before we can proceed against the Arcosians.”
“With all due respect, your excellency, their claim changes little. They will receive forty-one planets, none of which will be taken from the neutral zone. Icer is generously giving them forty of his own outposts. Their empire is nothing compared to Yuki’s, nor Kuriza’s, and they don’t command a tenth as many soldiers as either of them. They will not be threats.”
“We do not know who is counseling them, which delusions and expectations they are tempting the young Arcosians’ minds with. By the time they reach Kuriza’s age, they could want a new empire all their own–one in our territory. Their existence alone presents much more of a risk to the Corvos League.”
“I concur, your excellency. This is an unexpected development, and an unwelcome one at that. Had I known about this beforehand–and my fellow members surely feel as I do–I would not have agreed to this so-called ‘Pax Arcosia’,” said the blue-scaled Falufulo, who had originally come from Universe 8, and who was a veteran member of the Elder Circle.
The small furry Tepori, who served as the God-Emperor’s avatar, agreed. “Neither would have I.”
My lady was far from convinced. “You risk open war over a technically.”
“The Corvos League does not suffer slights from lesser empires,” said Sorugh, the Quglith. “They must be punished for their disrespect. The name of our empire has stood for thousands of years, and throughout that time, no one has survived slandering us so. The Planet Trade Organization must be brought to heel.”
“I am with the Hera,” said the nil-addicted Faerin, Bushuka. He was the head of the Order of Melrin, far as my lady knew. “We should not risk war across the entire known universe over a minor issue such as this. As Audacci said, there will be no planets taken from the neutral zone over this development. Icer has taken a personal hit by relinquishing forty planets to appease his grand nephew and niece. We should look to that action as a gesture of good will.”
Several of them began arguing and talking over one another. Raising both arms, the God-Emperor quieted them. “We will honor the Pax Arcosia… for now. Even so, I am enacting J’taro’s edict to Universe 7: ‘The Elder Circle members Kelipho, Valugua, and Becharis shall at this moment leave their seats temporarily in order to infiltrate the Planet Trade Organization. They shall ready themselves to strike at my command.”
“As you command, your excellency, we shall do,” said Kelipho, who had stood from her bed to bow low and long.
The three of them were of the same species and were triplets. That’s what Kubali had heard, anyway. This was the first time either of us had seen them, so who really knows? They were from Universe 8. It did not surprise me that they were loyal to the God-Emperor. He had those three and his avatar, a tiny white monkey-like creature known as a Tepori, on his side. They would vote in his favor no matter what.
There were two other merchants from Universe 8: Shorun, the orange-skinned, bug-eyed fellow, and Falufulo, a lithe lizard. The latter had been here since the last assassination attempt, and had been one of five members of the Elder Circle to survive that horrific ordeal. As should be expected, all the members from Universe 8 were on the God-Emperor’s side, but so too were his old friends who had survived the assassin and not been promoted.
Audacci was one of them. That fact alone swayed three votes in most circumstances, adding to the avatar Byir, and the Triplets. Seven votes was a majority, and so the God-Emperor effectively controlled the Elder Circle as well as serving in his own position.
Kubali had told me that the Universe 8 aliens–those Elder Circle members of species we did not recognize–had been sent by the foreign J’taro, or God-Emperor of Universe 8, where the real strength of the Corvos League lay. They were supposedly trusted associates, having risen high in the ranks, gaining the J’taro’s favor. That was not an unreasonable assumption, for six of the twelve members of the current Circle were of that universe, having been added since the last assassination attempt more than thirty years prior. They were new recruits, and thus it was not unreasonable to assume they had been groomed by the J’taro’s ministers.
With that said, my speculation did not matter much. The Blue Queen had her own plans.
“Does this entail war?”
“”No, it does not, Audacci. Do not interject like that again, or you will be dismissed from this meeting.”
She found her seat, though I bristled. I could not tolerate anyone talking to her as such, even a God-Emperor. I needed to be more like Kubali. He hadn’t moved a muscle. That was true professionalism.
“We do not believe in a war with the Planet Trade Organization,” said Fenuwe, a seven-tailed Inari. “Regardless, this is troubling news. The children cannot be trusted.”
“Aye,” Shorun agreed. “They’re wildcards. We cannot anticipate their thirst for expansion. But their empires are fragile, being held together by fear, not loyalty. The Arcosians are a good deal less charismatic than they think they are. If they weren’t so strong, their armies would have already turned on them. Only Icer, Yuki, and Kuriza are holding their empire together. Haimaru and Raimie may exist, but they are young and weak, and their planets have been given to them. They could not withstand an onslaught from the Triplets.”
“I think not,” said the God-Emperor’s hologram. “Then it is settled. Good. Go. You shall infiltrate each region, sans the babies’, to attack them whenever I give command. You will overwhelm them no doubt–but before you do, you must cause grave injury to their regions. Destroy dozens of their outposts to cripple their economies and armies. Then we shall invade and relieve you.”
“We serve you, God-Emperor”, the three of them said in unison. A chill went down my spine. There was something off in how they had reacted. I can’t say I know how aliens work, but the three of them sounded like sociopaths in my humble opinion.
“Delay any order; we should not go against them at this stage,” Audacci argued. “The peace has been established. If they find any of the Triplets in their regions, it will start war. What do you all say we vote on it? I vote against.”
Bushuka rose from his bed. “Concur. I will join her. Against!”
“Against,” said Shorun.
Medler the pirate shrugged, his arms folded, sitting on the edge of his bed. “Alright, alright. Against.”
“I am with you, Audacci. This is a bad idea. Against,” said Fenuwe, her voice resolute.
Falufulo’s lip quivered. I knew he was slime. The bastard was from Universe 8. I knew in the end, despite his personal feelings, he would have to choose the will of the J’taro, and that was troublesome, for Audacci lacked the strength to go against the Universe 8 God-Emperor–and yet, here she was, doing that very thing. I couldn’t stop her. They would smite me if I spoke up. “I am with the God-Emperor. For.”
Soglefiẗefyunor An thought for a moment before rising and saying, “I am for.”
I winced. Had An joined our side, we could have won. At the same time, I felt a nagging sense of suspicion about him. He could have easily been in the pockets of Falufulo, or the God-Emperor himself. I knew better than to trust a space pirate’s loyalties (we had Medler on our side, so it’s not like I could in good conscience say much about this).
It was true that her species has just been nearly wiped from existence by the Golden Emperor, but Sorugh emphatically said, “Though it pains me, I must say I am against this motion.”
It was split six to six. No decision could be reached. They would soon adjourn in disgust. Before they did, a curious exchange took place, one which I did not quite understand, even now as I am recalling it.
“Medler, update me on your mission,” said the God-Emperor.
“We spread it on Faeri first. Some got back to Uoto without any of them realizing. Admittedly, it was a beautiful accident.”
He grinned a golden grin visible even from the guards’ position. “Oh, it’ll spread. It’ll spread lightning-fast. The plague will crumble their empire, your excellency. You will have no trouble invading them. Just give it a few years’ time. That’ll soften ‘em up enough, I think. Shouldn’t take more than three or four.”
“This is not acceptable! Faeri could be entirely contaminated!” Bushuka interrupted, his face a dark shade of purple. “I have never heard such shit before in my life!”
“We do not care,” replied Lupharzo IV. “I will kill you if you talk ill of this plan again. This is a necessary step to weaken the Planet Trade Organization before invading. If you don’t like it, I’ll find a guard to kill you on your way out.”
Nothing was said, but the quiver of rage was palpable, and not just from the Faerin. Sorun, Medler, and Audacci too were visibly upset. This was probably not going to end well. If it came to blows, the Blue Queen would undoubtedly win, so I wasn’t as tense as some of the other guards.
“Please, sire, do not chastise them. They are ignorant.”
“That may be.”
“They are stupid!” Falufulo’s face was puffing up with air, hiding his forked tongue. “We do not consider ourselves equal to this petty empire. With the removal of Icer, Yuki, and Kuriza, there will be none who can stand in our way.”
“They will declare any attempted poisoning an act of aggression by the Corvos League, and that would be war,” Audacci said. “Are not two deceits enough?”
“Why does that concern you, Hera? Our armies could beat theirs.”
“It would be a costly war,” interjected Bushuka.
The Faerin was right, and his compatriots seemed to be slowly coming to grips with that themselves. They backed off faster than a space viper on sour meat.
“We shall honor the Pax Arcosia for now. Should Bahkaar’s Mist spread through their region, so be it. We have the antidote–Bercharis, Valugua, Kelipho, you’ll be alright. We’ll give you pills to help you pull through should you catch it. But it should decimate them.”
There was much glee among the floating beds. I didn’t know how to feel about it. The Planet Trade Organization was my previous employer and while things had ended poorly between us, I still held onto certain fond memories of my time serving King Cold, and I held high opinions of many who likely still worked there. I didn’t much like the idea of them being destroyed during an assumed time of peace. That was slimy. Several members, mostly those of this universe, were visibly offended.
“Should they find o–”
“They will not.”
“Very well then, sire. What would you propose?”
“That we prepare for their inevitable backstabbing moment by positioning ourselves properly. Bahkaar’s Mist is no joke. They will come begging to us for peace, and we shall absorb their empire into our own when the time comes.”
“And what of Icer? Shall he be spared? Can we even kill him? There have been rumors recently… rumors of his power. We had presumed he was a puppet, not the strongest warrior in the universe,” the Faerin complained.
Everyone ignored him.
“You can assure us that the twins won’t be a problem?”
“No more than I can assure you Kuriza won’t attack us. I have faith that the Golden Emperor will keep his kin in line, but should they ever go out of their way to hurt us… we have full discretion to retaliate. Icer was honest; he wanted this peace more than they did.”
“That’s what worries me,” said Shorun. “Could be Kuriza or Haimaru who ends the peace.”
“In which case the Triplets will be aptly-placed to punish them.” Lupharzo scratched his chin. “Icer, Yuki, and Kuriza are our only fears. But I think our girls from the eighth universe will have them outmatched. The children will stand no chance, and once Icer is isolated, he will be unable to defend the entirety of his territory by himself.”
“The children will indeed fall.” Audacci nodded curtly. “Do as you must. But should you damage major trade planets…”
“You will be compensated accordingly in such a situation,” Byir Forlu said.
“I don’t want monetary compensation.”
“Well, that’s too bad for you, lady.”
“My decision is final.”
Audacci bowed briskly. “As you command, sire.”
Old Falufulo said, “Their empires will hurt for this–a plague of this potency could spread in months. For their defiance, they deserve no better. It could be detrimental, however, to corner them in such a way–could lead to one of them attacking us out of desperation.”
“That does seem likely,” replied the avatar.
Bushuka continued on, ignoring them, “In the meantime, we should attempt to take out Icer however we can. Do we have some kind of poison that could do the trick?”
“He is not so easily destroyed,” Audacci told him. “You could try, but it would be fruitless, and simply set him against us.”
“So he’s not a puppet?”
“He would be a match for almost anyone here. And Arcosians are resistant to many poisons, I have found. Maybe something from Universe 8 could do the trick…”
“We shall look into that,” said the avatar.
There was nothing more to say. We sucked in the perfumed air, admired the garden that had been assembled around us, waited for someone to break the silence. Nobody did. There was no recourse in a mock debate such as this. No one had any say, not even Audacci. She had organized some resistance, but it had not been enough. The Planet Trade Organization would bleed for this, and Icer would likely think something was wrong, or worse… not trust her anymore. She had to know that better than me. What good was forging peace when this was how the rest of the Corvos League leadership was going to act? It was as if they were trying to provoke Icer into attacking them. I did not much see the merit in that.
“I shall expect twenty percent profits for all Nil brought in by my bargaining,” she demanded.
“Granted,” said the God-Emperor, “as thanks for your good work, Audacci.”
“You are too kind, sire.”
“Now then,” continued the God-Emperor, “I will not lie to you and promise everything to be resolved in a few weeks or months. We will need to bide our time and gather our forces without raising their suspicion. Our scientists have also been experimenting with technological improvements to the battle suits which will allow their power signatures to be muffled. That will neutralize our foes’ scouters and turn any conflicts between low-level soldiers in our favor. Finally, as has been recently confirmed to me, the J’taro has allowed us to release twenty percent more of our great ancestors whenever conflicts begin.”
Some murmuring broke out as they talked amongst themselves, but there was nothing distinct that I could hear. The ‘great ancestors’ as they were called were in fact the souls of the deceased God-Emperors. I had learned that years ago. Already thirty percent had been released to attack the Planet Trade Organization. The former God-Emperors had managed to take out several dozen outposts, so their deaths had not been total losses. When Mal Vexus had unexpectedly gone hypernova, it had consumed all thirty percent of the cult of Corvos who had been released upon the universe, and that had done untold damage to our side. The J’taro to this day was displeased about that (again, that’s just what Audacci told me, but I have no reason to doubt her). The ancestors were incredibly powerful, capable of turning anyone they consumed into the same energy-like material as them.
The current God-Emperor had already conducted the ceremony on himself. My queen had revealed that fact a couple months back when she had been unusually drunk. Should he die this very second, his ‘essence’ would be converted into the same matter as the other royal demons. They were, to put it crudely, conscious thirsting energy. They needed to consume the energy of living beings to be temporarily relieved from the pain of their existence in that form, hence the desire for the current regime to unleash them upon the hapless Planet Trade Organization again. When I asked her why the God-Emperors always assumed this form upon death, she laughed and told me it was tradition. They had to be contained in a jar (as doing anything else would be improper, not to mention grossly inadequate); should they be released upon the universe, they would consume all energy they could find until all was dark, or they were defeated, even the energy of supposed allies. They were space locusts, more than anything else. This was not ideal–the former God-Emperors were liable to render many planets uninhabitable after being released, which would ruin the economic potential of this universe. I could see it on their faces. The majority of them did not want this. They could not bring themselves to speak, nonetheless.
The Tepori cleared her throat. “Unless there is anything else, that will conclude today’s meeting.”
Not a one of them objected. Cowards, all. The God-Emperor’s hologram dissolved away. Elder Circle members were getting up and leaving. She had told us not to mention Instant Transmission. We were going to take a ship off Dhennon Xi like everyone else. They were never to know, or it would be our lives. I was not unprofessional enough to have ever been close to failing in that matter. Kubali had not been, either.
We tracked her back to the landing pads, but she lost us in the waiting room. I’m not going to lie, panic did set in for a few moments. Soon into our frantic search for her, we found the Blue Queen on a bridge overhanging a grey canyon leading towards the ships talking to Medler, and we were once again calmed. His golden facial jewelry glinted in the mid-morning light. I found him to be over the top. The Jolean was untrustworthy. His arms folded, he looked bored, as if he were being lectured to. When he saw us approaching, he composed himself, returning his countenance to that of his usual persona.
“Yes, yes, I’ll keep it in mind,” he said, shoving his way past me as we arrived.
“You could have waited, you know,” she whispered before letting out a sigh.
Kubali spoke too loudly. “Apologies, my lady. Was that pirate bothering you?”
“No. Let’s forget about it and head back.”
“As you command, my queen.”
Doing it the old fashioned way was strange, as the last three times I had gone anywhere with her, leading up to this meeting, had been via Instant Transmission. That type of movement was much cleaner than space travel, not to mention safer and faster. I did not wish to return to the pedestrian style of regular space travel. It was a pity we weren’t allowed to use it here, as there was nowhere I wanted to be in that moment but on any planet save for Dhennon Xi. The inanity of the various members of the Elder Circle and their arrogance made me want to punch a wall and break my fist.
I would not be unprofessional on the job. That was not who I was. So I held my tongue, and she didn’t say anything, and Kubali too was silent as a space mouse. We got out of there without anyone suspecting a thing. I suppose that should have been the first red flag–I mean to say, in that moment, I should have known what she was planning just from how she was acting. I confess that I rarely understood what she did, so I could have been way off in my analysis.
The identities of the Elder Circle would not be widely known to most individuals. None advertised their roles, so that was likely the only reason why they were still serving. Some, such as Medler, were braggadocious and drunk and, as pirates, unpredictable. I did not like that, and I don’t think my queen did either.
“I think it’s time we leave. Kubali, you’re driving.”
He wasn’t one to complain. I was happy that I hadn’t been chosen. Never much liked being a pilot. It’s a boring gig. “As you wish, my lady.”
We returned to the Varsavian, a nimble ship that could hold around two dozen crew, but could operate with but a single pilot if needed. It always seemed like this was the ship the Blue Queen used when we weren’t teleporting from planet to planet. Its speed matched that of any other vessel in the dock.
The lights came on suddenly, irritating my eyes, and a groaning of sheer force reverberated through the metal hull. Finding herself a seat in the captain’s chair, Audacci reached for a bottle of fire wine, which had been sinking between the cushion and armrest, and drank from it deeply. When she was satisfied, she threw the empty bottle aside, amber sparks forming around her lips as she fell back against her chair, a troubled look on her face.
“Take us out, Kubali. I don’t want to spend another second here.”
He was a professional guard, I’d give him that. Kubali had the Varsavian in the air before she grew thirsty again. Obviously, Audacci was pissed off by what the God-Emperor had declared–she had forged an alliance in secret with Icer, and seemed to care about him more than the other members of the Elder Circle. I could see where this was heading. I didn’t like it one bit. If it was going to be treason, I might have to run again. Kubali might die for her, but I would not.
As if reading my mind, the Hera looked up at me from her swiveling seat. “Don’t look glum, Puddin. Everything is perfectly fine. You’re going to Pulodan.”
Anyone in the Corvos League knew that to be one of the foremost party towns in the League. Audacci owned the planet of Xanti Lu, and Pulodan with all its winesinks and strip clubs, was by far the most profitable town. I was honored by her gift. Not having to pay meant everything. It had been a good long while since I had last been there. Falling to a knee, I said, “You honor me with this, my lady.”
“You are not going there just to relax, though the both of you have earned that right, as far as I’m concerned. I’m giving you a week to find capable spies who will tail the following members of the Elder Circle: Falufo, Fenuwe, Sorugh, Shorun, Bushuka, and Medler. Their shadowing may take years. Communicate to your chosen associates. They are not to speak a word of this to anyone, nor are they allowed to quit once brought on. Do I make myself clear?”
“Entirely.” She had never asked anything so treasonous of me before. I hardly was able to keep my composure. “But ma’am, why are we doing this?”
“Bahkaar’s Mist. Medler infected the Faereth with it, as well as the Uttovelm. In a few months, it will spread throughout much of the Planet Trade Organization. It’s all fucked. Those imbeciles have ruined half of my trade profits with this fucking idea.”
She found herself another bottle and began drinking from it savagely.
“But why those six, my lady?” asked Kubali.
Wiping her mouth, she said, “The triplets will be deployed into Icer’s Empire. They’ll cause some damage, but they won’t escape with their lives. The J’taro’s warriors aren’t as strong as they think they are. Icer is far more powerful than them, and Kuriza and Yuki aren’t so far behind, from what I’ve heard. They will risk open war against the Arcosians at their own peril.”
“Byir is Lupharzo’s avatar, so she won’t be going anywhere. Wherever he is, she’ll be too.” She got up, hugging her elbows as she retreated to the more comfortable lounge room down the hall from the cockpit. I followed her, as the Varsavian was on autopilot now. “Soglefiẗefyunor An is of no concern to me, as you might have noticed.”
“Medler will take care of him, Puddin. Don’t you worry.” She drank from the bottle again, coughing up embers as she stumbled up to a comfortable lounge chair in the next room, flopping down in it with a long sigh. “It might take years, but that’s the timetable we’re working with, unfortunately.”
Kubali grunted in surprise. “How many years?”
“I need eyes on these six until Pax Arcosia has ended. Whenever the triplets make their move, I’ll counter them. It’s time the J’taro be put in his place. This is not his universe, and we shall not be his slaves. Did you know that I went to the Venyi Academy in order to get strong enough to challenge him? Graduated as the only member of my class–one of fewer than a dozen to ever do that!–and it’s still not enough.” Her face contorted into something somewhat resembling self-pity. “He has godly power. There must be some way to overcome it.”
I didn’t know what to say–whether to agree or disagree. Either could provoke emotion in her at present. I had to walk a tightrope with my emotions. She was getting drunk. “Perhaps this is too risky an idea to proceed any further, ma’am.”
She looked me dead in the eyes, stopping me cold. “Do it, or I’ll find someone more capable of serving me.”
I bowed, promising to complete this mission for her. Kubali of course was blushing with pride. No thoughts of treason ever entered that hollow skull of his, allegedly. It was nothing to my pride. I knew I was perfectly loyal. She could ask no more of me. Audacci was one of the rare people in the universe who had no need of guards. There were maybe five warriors across the universe who could outclass her, if that. She was safe, much like King Cold had been. He had commanded guards only to stroke his ego, only to serve as ears to his nonsensical rants, to act as servants in moments of dire thirst. The Heran woman was not much different, truth be told.
At least she was giving us a week in paradise to ease the pain, even if just a little.
Three of them were of little concern. Falufulo, Fenuwe, and Sorugh were old friends of Audacci, and thus, she knew their schedules well. All it took was a few space woolongs to get eyes on them. No big deal. Five spies apiece, in strict rotational cycles, allowing them to get plenty of rest each day. Fifteen spies wasn’t a lot to pay, but it was, if we are being honest, more than I had expected, and more than I had accounted for. We could easily afford it, but this was not ideal. It was what she had commanded, so we went along with it.
Shorun, Bushuka, and Medler were something else entirely.
The new members whose fates mattered (and, candidly, I did not believe my lady when she stated with utter certainty that the triplets would be slain by Icer, Kuriza, and Yuki; they would surely get at least one royal kill in my estimation, and might even have time to retreat to the God-Emperor’s location before being attacked by Icer) would cost a lot to surveile.
Medler was by no means hiding his location most of the time (his being the largest pirate fleet in the entire universe, as far as I could tell, it was not hard to pinpoint his location), but he still required several spies, none of whom had yet worked their way onto his flagship. That was messy–they could be found out, or fail to even gain positions on the ship. There was nothing to do but hope right now that those spies would pan out in the long run.
Next was Bushuka, whose leadership of the Order of Melrin gang meant that he spent a lot of time on Faeri, deep in enemy space. Without Faerin spies, there was no way to get close to the man, and so far, there weren’t any offers out there. No one was giving this guy up. He hadn’t seemed very charismatic to me in that meeting, but apparently he commanded great loyalty in his followers. That was unfortunate. The best I could do was put fifteen spies on known associates of Bushuka, but even then, my eyes on this guy were tenuous at best.
And lastly, there was Shorun, the bugman from Universe 8. He was by far the most enigmatic of the members of the Elder Circle. Kubali had been able to find several members of his staff who were willing to come over to our side for a fair amount of space woolongs. There was no way to know if this was for real or not. We simply had to operate as if it were. It was all we could do, and honestly, there was no use wasting willpower on worry in this situation. Kubali and I were of one mind. Yet, there was always that dreadful anxiety in the back of my mind that the ‘spies’ we had working on this guy were not actually on our side. Their willingness to come forward had been too convenient, so Kubali and I had resolved to hire five additional spies of Faerin origin to keep a watch on those guys. It was a lot of money being paid out to a lot of people (all of whom could talk if tortured, we knew), but that was what Audacci had wanted.
On the third night, after having finalized all arrangements with our new employees, we went to a strip club called the Maiden’s Look. I’m not going to lie–Kubali and I got extremely drunk. It was mostly Faerin wine that did it. That stuff is stronger than you would think. I still don’t remember all of it. There was this one Zar-degar stripper (I think her name was Sulani) who kept glancing over to me every time I took a drink of my wine. Blue Curtains had a nice, peaceful atmosphere; the music wasn’t too upbeat.
Kubali kept talking to the bartender, which I found to be unprofessional. She wasn’t exactly keeping things professional herself, either. I saw those winks she was giving him, the way she smirked, how she laughed when he spoke, even if he wasn’t making a joke. I felt some mild annoyance, for I was getting tempted into saying something to her, but for my friend’s sake, that raging fire within me had not grown out of control.
An hour later, as we were getting increasingly intoxicated, none other than Member Falufulo entered the establishment. He was known to frequent Xanti Lu, but we hadn’t seen him here in months. Due diligence was something not everyone had in them. Kubali raised an eyebrow at me. I drank a shot of Nyarin gin. Didn’t want to look suspicious. He walked past us, his nose turned upwards. It was not from his coldness, but more because we were off-the-clock, that I felt no love for the man. He was my lady’s co-member of the Elder Circle, and a veteran member at that. I didn’t care. He was a stuck-up old bastard. And our intel was good. He was not one we had to worry about tailing.
Should Audacci ever need us to spring a surprise on half the council, don’t say I didn’t warn you. But yeah, as far as I can tell, we ain’t doing this for no payoff.
The drunker I got, the more I thought of her, and her plan to assassinate half the Elder Circle. My anxiety was caught in a loop. It was quite mad. It is, isn’t it? I’m not just mad myself, am I? What she was doing was reckless and bold. She had graduated from the Venyi Academy, a legendary martial arts school that accepted only a handful of recruits in every decade or so. If the legends were to be believed (and I am not one to give credence to hearsay), only about fifteen percent of recruits ever graduated. She was supposedly one of them. She had to have some unnatural talent, didn’t she? Still, even if she was stronger than anyone else, I didn’t really believe she could do it all on her own.
I had witnessed her fight on three occasions. The poison had been a nice touch for the Galactic Bank, but her cunning wasn’t nearly as exceptional as her raw power. If it’s true that she’s the daughter of the legendary Bojack, I am not surprised. I don’t think anyone else on the Elder Circle, let alone the God-Emperor, were more powerful than she was. The question was (and this was, in my opinion, what she was ruminating on, and why she had yet to make a move) if she could fight off all of them at the same time, even if they were all significantly weaker than her. That could prove messy, and perhaps not entirely feasible. That must have been why we had been tasked with this job.
Our spies were damn good. I had confidence in them. They would not fail us, or it would be their lives (and ours, unless we disappeared before Audacci found out). Knowing that, they would work to their utmost abilities to complete their task. I was finding it difficult to concentrate inside the strip club. I had hardly heard any of the music, nor retained much of what I had seen in the last few minutes. Kubali was having better luck of it than me. A Sobran girl wearing a skimpy black dress was giving him a lap dance, much to his pleasure. I glanced up at the stand ahead, where three more of them were going at it, but none of them were focused on me.
Not all members of the Elder Circle were equals in combat. Sorugh was a frail old woman, whereas Fenuwe was a problem for probably ninety-nine percent of all fighters in the universe. Kubali and I had stayed up the night before getting the document ready for her to read. I was holding the datapad. We’d finished three days early–that gave us plenty of time to enjoy the city of Pulodan to our hearts’ content. We were hoping to get a few days of heavy partying in before she contacted us.
I believe it was fortunate I was drunk. I wasn’t thinking clearly, and my wild fancies only went so far before burning out, like gas-drinking flames. I hadn’t expected much that night. Can’t say I got what I wanted.
She materialized before our table in a flash of white light, two fingers pressed to her forehead. “Hey, you two.”
Kubali couldn’t help himself. I didn’t blame him, even if usually this sort of thing irritated me. “It’s good to see you, my lady! We did it. Just as you commanded. All of them are shadowed.”
She raised an eyebrow, as if having been taken from an altogether unrelated thought abruptly. “And can be taken out at a moment’s notice?”
“The pertinent details are here,” I told her, handing her the datapad.
Not bothering to check it to make sure we were telling the truth, she pocketed it. “Done already? Not bad. Nice work, you two. You make quite the team. It’s expensive though, I’d imagine. How bad’s the blow?”
“Quite substantial, ma’am.”
“Well, it must be done,” she shrugged. “This is great news. I can’t believe you’re finished already. Well done, well done! Alright, why don’t you two come with me to somewhere a bit more temperate, yeah?”
“I thought we were on vacation.”
She scoffed in offense, grasping Kubali’s arm in one hand, and mine in the other, as we always did. This was a well-practiced technique on all of our parts. I was too drunk to wonder at the time why she did it in front of everyone–any one of the patrons could have been a spy employed by one of her rivals.
Oh well. Sometimes you can get away with stuff like that. As far as I can tell (this being only a short while later that I am dictating this) none of them were, so it worked out in the end. Nothing has come up yet, so nothing is likely to come up at all. I can’t tell you what I thought at the time, for the shock of her having appeared in the bar had not yet subsided before we had teleported away. I was, as must bear repeating, extremely drunk at the time, and not expecting to have to interact with my boss like that. It was kind of awkward; I was entirely aware of how little I respected her in that moment, but what else was there to do but go along with her?
Kubali had no opinion on our treason. It would have been unlike him to speak up. As usual, he went along with everything, never asking questions, nor complaining to me. That was his job, and mine too, truthfully. I found mimicking his apathy to be somewhat difficult.
We appeared in a deserted, stone-paved garden that was sparsely dressed by imported alien trees with splotchy yellow-and-black leaves. The air was warm for me. Not many buildings out here. Skyline wasn’t half bad.
“Planet Icer 002. Don’t make yourselves comfortable. We won’t be here for long.”
It was hard to imagine that we had come to the capital of Icer’s empire. The main outpost was smaller than some fringe outpost worlds I had been to. “Thirty-four in close proximity; twelve are approaching.”
She was the ultimate scout, being able to sense energy readings from far away without needing a scouter. Allegedly, that was something the Venyi Academy had taught her. Lucky for us. When they came running around the corner, Kubali and I sat back and watched her vaporize them. It was remarkable how clean it was. Taken by surprise, they didn’t have enough time to scream as their bodies vaporized to molten specks.
“Err, twenty-two. Kuriza and Icer are just ahead. There are only a half-dozen low-power servants over there. Let’s not spook them, alright?”
She was in a playful mood. That usually meant Audacci was drunk. We followed her in somewhat unwillingly. There was no point being disobedient. She would kill us if we deserted. She was the strongest warrior in the universe. She had to be. That’s why I was still with her. That alone kept me optimistic. Otherwise, I thought very little of our chances. I was sure that Icer would not be pleased by this.
We were especially awkward about it, too. The Arcosians were fighting above the island when we approached, but she did not go up to meet them. Instead, by appearing in the center of the pink marble courtyard, to the left of a sputtering fountain, she made them cease their sparring at once. Having immediately noticed her, Emperor Icer descended.
It was odd for me to see this man named emperor. His older brother had served as emperor during my tenure. He had always been the traveler brother–the one who was never in court on Arcose, like Cold or Arcterial. I had seen little of him, and thus did not trust him. I was unsure if he recognized me, but I assumed not. I think they thought I was dead, if any of them even remotely remembered me.
The pale prince was not far behind him. He looked healthy for his age. They touched down within a meter of her. There was no tension in the air, much to my relief.
He was somewhat out of breath, though he did well to hide it. “Now, look at this! This is a rare sight. A Hera has found her way into my empire. Are you here for good?” She shook her head once. “Then why?”
“The Elder Circle met with the God-Emperor. We discussed the terms of Pax Arcosia.”
“They will honor it for now.”
In this time, Kuriza strode up to Icer’s side, scowling at the Blue Queen. “What’s this lady doing here, Uncle?”
“There is more to it, I’m afraid. Do you want him to hear?”
“Hear what?!” The boy’s voice had risen in a whining way, much as his father’s had when he had visited his own father on Arcose for favors.
The older Arcosian replied in a quiet voice, causing me and Kubali to have to strain to listen. “Should you speak out of turn again, Kuriza, I will take half your planets from your empire, give them to Yuki, and cease any further sessions we had scheduled.”
“Uncle, you cannot–”
He grit his teeth and scowled, but didn’t breathe another word. I couldn’t see what Audacci was doing right then, but I assumed she was not hiding her smirk. Unfortunately, guards had to be more professional in these instances. Kubali and I did not flinch. He was eyeing us.
“There are things we must discuss, Icer. Must the boy be here?”
“Must your guards?”
“Say what you will. He is my heir; I trust him.”
She nodded once. The way in which she did it showed both Arcosians just how drunk she was. It wasn’t too bad, but she wasn’t in great condition. That much was plainly apparent. “They plan to move on you sometime in the future. I have… two, maybe three members of the Elder Council on my side. We cannot stop the rest of them from scheming against you.”
“Do you know when they will strike?”
“The God-Emperor hasn’t said anything yet. You should take this time to fortify your most important outposts. You should find yourself commanders, personally trained if you can manage, who will be able to hold back the hordes should they be unleashed upon your worlds. The God-Emperor will send trillions of grunts against you should open war be declared.”
“Orbital defense turrets are being installed across the empire. Priorities have been given to trade worlds and important military outposts. How long do we have?”
“Can’t say for sure. Maybe five years, maybe three… All I’m saying is you should find yourself several personal guards whom you trust who could fight some of the League’s stronger warriors. Your station commanders and governors, for the most part, will not be able to stop them. You might have to train them yourself in order to get them strong enough.”
The boy was biting his lip, looking like he was dying to say something. In the end, he held his tongue. I was somewhat impressed by that. Frieza had lacked patience, even though he had presented himself as a calm individual. His son was near the opposite.
“They will be more formidable than any enemy you have faced before. The Corvos League has existed for tens of thousands of years, though I admit even I myself do not know all their history. Fifteen thousand years ago a cadet branch of the empire came to this universe from the eighth universe. The force present in this universe is only a small part of their overall strength. They don’t tell us much about the main force in Universe 8. I’ve asked. But they’ve got more power than we do here, I know that. The J’taro has the ability to wipe any being out of existence, even those stronger than himself. Supposedly their forces are ten thousand times larger in Universe 8 than here, but I don’t know if I trust that source.”
“That would be quite extensive.”
“This is no joke, Icer. They will be coming for you. You will have time to prepare–five years, most likely. Six or seven might be pushing it. I can’t guarantee anything. You will have to be ready for war now. Him too. How strong is he?”
“Strong enough to kill anyone on that Elder Circle of yours sans yourself.”
“I doubt that. You don’t know who they are, do you? Fenuwe, for example, is a seven-tailed Inari.”
“I’ve encountered those beasts before. They have never been any trouble. Is she the second-strongest?”
“Yeah. Medler’s third. The kid might be stronger than the pirate, but I’d have to spar him to find out. What do you say, Kuriza?”
“Oh, dear heavens, not on my life, woman!” the boy scoffed derisively, backflipping away to the edge of the courtyard, where he landed on the stone wall, the tops of the blue-and-red broad-leaved trees just reaching his heels. The boy’s tail slapped the air repeatedly in annoyance.
“You’re trembling in the wind, boy” she called out with a whistle.
“Enough, Audacci. Leave him be. He does not wish to fight you.”
“I wonder why,” she replied sarcastically. “What about you?”
That was her drunkenness. Kubali and I exchanged a look. This was not going to end well, most likely. We had never seen these two spar before, so clearly we assumed Audacci would win. It was just the fact that she could probably kill Icer here that weighed so heavily on us. Should she do that, the boy would attack her, and that had only one possible outcome. I didn’t want Kuriza to die. Even though I had left the Planet Trade Organization, I was still fond of certain members of the royal family (Icer not being one of them).
The two suddenly threw themselves at each other. She was slow to make her movements. I had seen her try before, and this was not even close to that. As drunk as she was, she could not hold a disciplined stance. Nevertheless, her flame-teal aura formed around her like a spear, while Icer’s turquoise aura was more defensively adorned around him. He looked unconcerned from the force he had faced so far.
Having folded his arms, the young prince watched from the far wall. We did the same.
At first, Audacci went slowly at Icer, throwing a few roundhouse kicks at him. He blocked, surging forward, jabbing at her with his right fist. The Hera was little able to withstand his blows, and thus did she tumble head-over-heel away from her opponent moments later, spitting blood as she flew. That was never a good sign. I was growing concerned. It was a surprise, to say the least, to witness the Arcosian’s ferocity up close.
Catching herself in midair, Audacci wiped her lip dry. “You’ve gotten better since last time.”
“Shut up and show me how strong you really are, Hera.”
That made her laugh. “You don’t want me to, trust me! I’m your only ally in the Elder Circle, after all. We wouldn’t want you to end up as a puddle of gore this afternoon. There’s so much left for us to do.”
“You’re a bullshit artist –adept, but not great.”
That was when her spine straightened, and she seemed entirely sober. Her Venyi training (whatever the hell that had entailed) kicked in, and she threw herself at the so-called emperor, her aura surging. I couldn’t sense power, but that was usually a sign that she was raising her’s up.
They disappeared in a blur of light and wind, and sonic booms. I couldn’t see anything that was happening. They had risen far into the air, but otherwise, it was nigh-impossible to tell where they were. For a few moments, the boy stood on the stone wall, craning his neck to the sky, seemingly following the fight. Then, he jumped to our position with startling agility. Landing before me, I hardly had time to react before he bowed decadently.
“They are clearly half a class above us, to put it mildly,” the boy said with a sheepish grin. “Mind if I join you?”
“You’re Prince Kuriza, aren’t you? I’ve heard you rule over hundreds of planets.”
“The empire my father built, to put it more precisely. But yes. Yes, I do.”
“Must be a helluva feeling to rule over all those people.”
I nearly rolled my eyes. I couldn’t help but question Kubali’s mental state. What was he doing, talking like this with the enemy? What would this accomplish other than slander the reputation of the Corvos League? I resolved to tell my lady what he had done once this was over. He deserved to be punished for this.
Kubali was a more veteran guard than I was. He had been here three years longer than I had. He had been on her side before the move against the Galactic Bank. That was a big deal. I couldn’t question his loyalty officially, although if I’m being honest, sometimes I did. He seemed to be, at best, a medium-tier warrior who was disinterested with his job. At least I gave a shit. Even King Cold, though now he lies dead and buried, would attest to my loyalty. It’s what she saw in me, it’s why I rose in the ranks over those other guards she spared that day she poisoned the bankers. I was loyal and dependable, and I knew bullshit when I saw it.
“I would not wish my position upon my worst enemy. All this empire business and planet selling can be remarkably tedious. I wish I could go home and spend my days in quiet relaxation.”
Kubali laughed; I didn’t see what was so funny. Above us, the sky boomed repeatedly.
“You know, it really is funny,” I quipped. “If you are not interested in being an emperor, give it up, and go home, and do what you said you wanted to do. Stop expanding your territory. If you truly believe that’s bliss, go do it.”
He was biting the inside of his lip, looking as if he wanted to shoot a Death Beam through me. I wondered if he would dare. It would be the end of him if he tried. I hoped he didn’t. The boy was the last good one left in the royal family, as far as I was concerned.
“I don’t think so,” he said after a while, his voice thinner than before.
The boy knew enough to obscure his ambition. He wasn’t the foolish monster his grand uncle was. How was it that the stupid ones had survived? Cooler, Cold, and Nitro all would run intellectual circles around this pathetic lot. It remained my firm belief that injustice had been done to the royal bloodline. As a guard at heart, I could barely stand to see it.
“One day, the Corvos League will show the Planet Trade Organization who really rules over the universe.”
In the moment, it seemed as if he had just been overly blunt, as if he had made a drunken remark he would regret the next day. I glanced at Kubali with distress clear in my face. He didn’t look the least bit affected by what he had just said. You must understand, Audacci could have killed him for that remark had she heard it. He was fortunate she was a mile above us. That’s why I don’t think the fucker is as loyal as me. Stuff like that. He slips sometimes–not often, but enough.
“Let that day come when it may.”
That part of him, perhaps, was his father.
A golden flame grew in the cloudless sky, and soon converged against several points. Its light was blinding even from such range. I had no idea how my lady could deal with it. At the same time, however, I felt a cold fear descend my spine. It had been no lie to declare Icer the Golden Emperor. I saw him hover momentarily, his body gleaming like he had been doused in liquid gold, and I couldn’t help but shiver. Like Cooler and Cold, he had achieved a further transformation. I was a little jealous of the Blue Queen, for I could not sense energy in that moment. That could have been foolishness on my part as well, for it was almost as likely that with whatever power boost the emperor had achieved in his new-found form, he could overwhelm her.
She was a graduate of the prestigious Venyi Academy. She would find a way to beat him no matter what. It was my duty to remain confident in her.
“Should you expand into the neutral zone, we’ll kill you. Make no mistake about it.”
“I heard you the first time, minion.”
A moment later, Audacci appeared in a flash of purple light, hitting the ground hard, impacting in a crater, her body bouncing high in the air, and landing on the pink marble of the garden courtyard again. Jumping up with some difficulty, she dodged to the left to avoid a flying kick that came out of nowhere from the emperor. He landed after the unsuccessful attack, walking up to her.
“What’s the matter, captain? Can’t keep up?” he said in a dry tone.
She was breathing hard, spitting up blood; Kuriza giggled, holding a hand up to his mouth. “Now that I see it, I know I shouldn’t have tempted you to go so far… Our business is concluded for the day, Arcosian.”
She took a deep breath, and then used Instant Transmission to immediately reach us. Grabbing ahold of both of our arms, she once more used the technique. The imprint of Prince Kuriza studying her, watching this go down, his tail pointed up in the air, remained with me even as we landed again in the streets of Pulodan.
I felt a little safer in familiar territory.
She took a few steps forward, staggering as if impeded by a horrible wound (or a nasty hangover).
Kubali was quick to rush to her side. “My lady? Are you alright? Do you need medical attention?”
I did the same, lest I be branded a traitor. I knew she was alright already, though. That’s what separated Kubali and me. My awareness was far higher than his. He outranked me due to seniority. He was neither stronger nor smarter than me. The old idiot was, at best, a year out from retirement, and that was putting it conservatively. He should not have been guarding Audacci. He was a familiar face, neither strong nor capable, but she found comfort in that. For all my lady’s strengths, that was one of her faults.
“I’m quite alright, Kubali, really. It’s okay, you needn’t worry.”
He backed away; I was his shadow.
“Was he really that strong, ma’am?”
“Stronger than I could have imagined,” she said after taking a few deep breaths. Then, spitting blood onto the rainy street, she was hardly able to hide the glee upon her face. “Still not a problem.”
“You let hi–”
“Shut up, Kubali. Some things are better left unsaid. Come, let’s unwind for the rest of the afternoon in the Maiden’s Look. How’s that sound?”
“Now we’re talking!”
I couldn’t help but bow myself, and I wasn’t often the bowing type. “That would be much appreciated, my lady.”
The emperor of the Planet Trade Organization was not as strong as a member of the Corvos League. In effect, the war was over. Our side had won. Yet Audacci was, at best, a neutral party amongst the League’s factions. She was looking for something more than them, and none of the damn fools, as clever as they all thought they were, realized what was going on. We had been able to stalk six of them without getting found out. It had been easy–it still was.
If only she had been on the other side, the war would have been over that very day. As it so happened, the war that was soon to spread across the universe over the next several years would be a costly one for both sides. I can’t help but imagine how many trillions could have been saved had Audacci chosen the Corvos League over Icer. As it was, he was subservient to her, but to what end? She still could not fight the J’taro and his existence-erasing abilities. I confess I did not quite understand my lady’s reasoning in this instance. Still, it wasn’t my place to question her. She was smarter than me, and stronger too, so it was her call.
Audacci knew what she was doing. She hadn’t told him about the triplets, nor about the Bahkaar’s Mist. Her cunning in withholding that information had not been lost on me. Icer was a potential rival. She wasn’t in love with him, to put it crudely. She would abandon him if she had to. At least, I had to believe that of her. As far as I could remember, the Planet Trade Organization never looked weaker than it did in that moment.
Lucky for Icer, and all those loyal bastards under him, they were not going to be exposed any time soon.
Chapter IX: Wrath of the Gods
|Position:||Governor in Icer's Empire|
|Date of account:||September 18, Age 767 (first scene)|
October 14, Age 767 (second and third scenes)
October 22, Age 767 (fourth scene)
Chapter X: The Snow Maiden's Fury
|Position:||Advisor to Yuki|
|Date of account:||October 3 - November 11, Age 767 (first scene)|
November 13, Age 767 (second and third scenes)
December 2, Age 767 (fourth scene)
Chapter XI: The Color of Royalty
|Position:||Bodyguard of Kuriza|
|Date of account:||October 30, Age 767 (first scene)|
November 1 - 18, Age 767 (second scene)
December 7, Age 767 - January 13, Age 768 (third scene)
January 16, Age 768 (fourth scene)
January 26, Age 768 (fifth scene)
Chapter XII: The Order of Melrin
|Position:||Governor in Icer's Empire|
|Date of account:||December 13, Age 767 (first, second, third, fourth, and fifth scenes)|
Chapter XIII: Farthest Outpost
|Position:||Corporal in Icer's Empire|
|Date of account:||December 30, Age 769 (first and second scenes)|
December 31, Age 769 - June 14, Age 770 (third scene)
June 14, Age 770 (fourth scene)
Chapter XIV: Size Matters
Chapter XV: Bael
|Position:||Captain in Icer's Empire|
Chapter XVI: Give A Little Back
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Kuriza's Empire|
Chapter XVII: Medler's Price
Chapter XVIII: Affliction
|Position:||Soldier in Yuki's Empire|
Chapter XIX: First Contact
|Position:||Guard in Admiral of Raimie and Haimaru's Empire|
Chapter XX: Pride of His Father
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Kuriza's Empire|
Chapter XXI: New Power Rising
|Position:||Guard in the Corvos League|
Chapter XXII: You Win or You Die
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Icer's Empire|
Chapter XXIII: Deep Fissure
|Position:||Governor in Kuriza's Empire|
Chapter XXIV: The Only Good Faerin
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Icer's Empire|
Chapter XXV: Making Peace
|Position:||Emperor of the Planet Trade Organization|
Chapter XXVI: Saving the Universe
|Position:||Guard in the Corvos League|
Chapter XXVII: Last Remnants
|Position:||Advisor in Nitro's empire|
Chapter XXVIII: At War's End
|Position:||Fleet Admiral in Icer's Empire|
Chapter XXIX: The Broken Empire
Chapter XXX: Imperishable
Planet Trade Organization Leaders: End
This section will detail who is in charge of the Planet Trade Organization as of the end of this volume: