|諸行無常||Extragalactic Containment Protocol|
|是生滅法||To Kill a God-Emperor|
|生滅滅已||Memories of a Bloodless Thrall|
|寂滅為楽||Destroyer of Universes|
|The One with Several No Good Rotten Space Vermin|
“They tell me that was your fourth win in a row… nobody else has ever won three Premier Leagues. My goodness.”
She looked away as he unlocked her energy bonds. Letting them fall, Linessi was taken out of her holding cell, where a flying arena bot scanned her vitals with a crimson laser veil, disabling the brain implant that had been installed for no other purpose than to detonate should she ever escape from the Galactrix Arena’s pit fighting world of Tuhak Ecli.
“Where are we going… Master?” Her tongue stung, as if it had been bitten.
“We can discuss that later, my champion.” His blue smile was warm, his robes shabby and ornate, patterned elegantly, and he wore too a dark cape. Her master’s hair was white, pulled up in a mohawk; his bright eyes were watering ever so, his smile spreading almost unnaturally wide from ear to ear. “For now, please,” he said, handing her a small white tablet, “eat this.”
She took it without asking what it was and swallowed it. It tasted like dust.
On the way out, Linessi did not once glance at the other holding cages. One would be empty–Toruk’s cage. She had killed him not even half an hour ago and won the Premier League. And now she had finally been bought; her new master was before her. The thought was more numbing than the roar of the crowd. She scarcely knew what to do or say, so she said nothing at all and kept her eyes fixed upon the ground.
Master Dekiru paid her severance fee, and thus Linessi retired from the Galactrix Arena. There was no time for an interview with the press, nor indeed even time for a trophy presentation. Her master urgently wanted them to get out of the city, for they had business with a most important client very soon.
He would say nothing else to her until they had boarded his ship and taken off.
“I must apologize for how sudden all of this may feel,” he said to her once they were beyond the planet’s orbit.
Her homeworld vanishing in the window, a reflection of her own face, blurred and slightly translucent overlaid on it, Linessi broke the silence awkwardly, saying, “Th-thank you for freeing me, Master.”
“You’re stronger than you look. That was impressive, killing Toruk. He was one of the strongest beings in the universe. Did you know that?”
She shook her head. “I knew he did well in the League, but…”
“It’s no matter now.”
“We have work to do, you and me. I have three things I need to teach you before we begin, however.”
“That’s right,” he said. “Once you have mastered them, we can proceed on our task. Don’t you want to know what it is?”
He is more eager than he lets on. “Alright.”
“Have you heard of the Corvos League, Linessi?”
“N-no, Master. But I have not heard of most things before. They don’t tell us much in the arena.”
“I would suppose not. The Corvos League, however, is a mighty empire, perhaps the only one of significant power in the entire universe that could challenge the Planet Trade Organization. Indeed, the Corvos League possesses something the Planet Trade does not–something I need. You will help me get it.”
“Yes, Master. I will not fail you in this task!”
It had been bred into Linessi at a young age to be like this. She had expected to be sold to some wealthy client several years ago, perhaps after her first League win. But it had taken three more before someone had stepped forth to claim her.
She still remembered the doctor’s trembling voice in her ear, instructing her in rigid, dry breaths to be proper, to be obedient, to listen to her master’s wishes and fulfill them, whatever they may be. Should anyone buy her, she was their property. Such had become her life with Master Dekiru. In the fighting pits, she had fought for herself, for a chance to survive long enough to be bought off and find safety in the hands of some greedy, rich off-world spectator who had become enamored with her. That’s how it always happened with the really good ones.
“You’re going to help me kill the God-Emperor of the Corvos League, Linessi. And his guards–can’t forget them, heheh.”
“Are they very powerful?” she asked, barely hesitating. The glimmer of space outside the window was overpowering her blurry reflection, which itself was growing paler and yellower in the artificial light. It was easier to not have to look him in the face.
“Not as powerful as you. I don’t think many are. At least I haven’t found any who are. Takkyi’eil has grown fat and complacent, if the rumors are true. He certainly has lost a step since he became God-Emperor. You will have more trouble with his guards.”
“Master, are they to be feared?”
She was graceful in her patience. The old doc had taught her well, drilled those manners into her just as he had the movement and attack drills. “They’re about one hundred twenty percent the power of Toruk apiece.”
Her last opponent flashed before her eyes again, his painted beak dripping with life’s blood, his red feathers standing on end, a look of the basest detachment upon his face. He was going to self-destruct, she thought again, just as she had then, before she had hit him with her golden Sango-Ulghir. But I ended it in time.
“How many will there be, Master?”
“Eight or nine, depending on the shift. Their boss is about twice as strong as Toruk. He’s the ninth. Not always there, though. Can’t rely on him. Is that too difficult a task?”
“No,” she replied innocently, thinking it over, clicking her beak. You were bred to be the perfect fighting specimen. Go out there and prove it. The doctor’s words rang in her head. She clenched her fists, knowing this would be more of a challenge than she was letting on. Still, she welcomed it. The prospect of this being a difficult task was what excited Linessi more than anything. She closed her eyes, almost hearing the roar of the crowd again.
The man was grinning ear to ear again. She could see him off in the corner of the window, his face distorted by the angle. “Excellent. We’re going to kill Takkyi’eil and anyone else who’s with him. And then we’re going to take his transport cube–can’t miss it, alright?”
“That’s right,” Master Dekiru mused gleefully. “It’s the only vehicle capable of inter-universe travel. Once I get my hands on it, I’ll be able to return home at last. Ah, won’t that be nice? Do this one thing for me–secure my transport cube–and I will grant you your freedom, Linessi.”
Her eyes grew wide. Freedom? The concept barely made sense to her; the idea of being free was where she was now–free of the constant pressure and life-or-death battles she had to endure daily in the fighting pits of the Galactrix Arena. Where will I go without Master? Fear seized her, but she buried it, maintaining her grace. He didn’t suspect a thing. “I-I understand, Master. I will not fail you!”
Their pace had quickened; the stars were blurring into lines in the windows. She could no longer see herself nor her master in the reflection. “Good,” he murmured deeply, his hand gliding over to her shoulder, patting her stiffly like an animal. “Don’t be afraid,” he told her. “You’ll find that God-Emperors are no different than pit fighters when it comes to dying.”
The path home from town was narrow, the walls high on either side, the stone-set path uneven and twisting this way and that, stretching on for eight or nine kilometers. Doctor Luon met her at the door, taking the package he had instructed her to pick up in town. “You’re leaving,” he had informed her immediately thereafter.
She had just gone out that day to pick up the doctor’s lunch. “But Father…”
“Quiet, Linessi. I cannot guarantee that you will survive for long. You may only have three or four more years left. Do with that what you will,” he had told her awkwardly, looking her over with disgust. “You must go now. It’s time.”
The floating arena bots had come for her not so long after, and she had never seen the doctor again.
Now she stood on the slope of a hill, blinking, her mouth tasting of dust, Master Dekiru standing before her, beneath a giant tree, its pink flower blossoms falling from the fat, reaching branches with every breath of wind. On top of the table were two cups of steaming liquid. Dekiru bowed and she did likewise, not knowing what else she could do. He ushered her over politely and she sat down. Without speaking, he handed her another small white tablet, and she ate it without protest.
“Taste it, please. It’s Green Liani, an exquisite flavor, if I do say so myself.”
There was a vibrantly sweet taste swirling in her mouth, warmer than anything she’d tasted before. It was earthy and rich, and the sweetness lingered in the aftertaste more so than anything else. “It’s very good, Master.”
He was sitting across from her, wearing elegant, old robes, and the look in his eyes with almost fatherly. Snapping his wrist, the blue man conjured up a pale flame of energy before them. It hovered over the table, flower blossoms spiraling around it. One pink strand, already ruined and ripped by the wind, made contact with the energy, sizzling away in a burst of fireworks, its remnants flying in all directions as sparks and ash, and in the next moment, the flame disappeared.
With it went the heat. Linessi placed her cup on the table. “Do you understand, Linessi?”
The blue flame reappeared above the table. Its heat was minimal, but on this cold hilltop, green and pink and white, the clouds hovering just below it, obscuring the view on all sides, it was a welcome beacon. Her cheeks flushed, and she wrinkled her beak, concentrating on the flame. It disappeared again. “Now?”
“No, Master. I’m sorry.”
The flame reappeared. He took a sip from his teacup, and Linessi did so too, draining what remained of her portion in a gulp. The wind blew through the trees, stirring their branches in a shivering trance. The air was full of the mildly pleasant fragrance of flower blossoms. Linessi’s focus lingered on the sweet aftertaste of the Green Liani. I’ve never had tea before, she reflected. They never let us have nice stuff in the arena.
The pale flame disappeared again, and he looked up at her. “Well?”
“Yeah. There,” she said, pointing over his shoulder. The flame could barely be seen against the cloudless golden-white sky above them.
“Good. Now if you’re going to kill the God-Emperor with this technique, I’m going to have to show you how to use Instantaneous Movement.”
Before Linessi could ask what that was, the blue man stood, wiped his mouth, set his tea cup down on the edge of the table, and vanished into the wind, leaving a rolling tide of falling flower blossoms, pink as tired eyes, to swirl upwards in his wake.
It took her four days to learn to suppress her power to any degree. Nine days more and she could follow him wherever he vanished off to.
Master Dekiru was a curt man, interacting with her only during their training sessions. Otherwise, they rarely interacted. She liked his tea, though. But Linessi didn’t even know which universe this strange blue man was seeking, either.
It was another month before she could make that same hovering flame-like energy, but as soon as she could, her master set up the meeting date with the God-Emperor.
The doctor had told her once that she was a biologically perfect being, capable of growth and adaptation at a higher rate than most species. She was quite ideal. When she mastered this technique, beneath that massive flowering tree, whose blossoms had all but sailed by this point, Master Dekiru had looked down upon her, nodding curtly, and whispered, “Just so.”
The Corvos League was, in those days, not quite the power it became in later years. Still, the God-Emperor Takkyi’eil lived very much in opulence, even in those days. Master Dekiru took her to a planet on the edge of the universe, where the God-Emperor was lounging during his summer recess. It was here she was to entertain him with a fight against his own handpicked champion.
With him were seven members of the Elder Circle, elected officials who held forty-five percent of all imperial power to provide some measure of balance to the reigning God-Emperor. There were, by her master’s reckoning, twelve members to this Elder Circle in total. They were the most powerful members of the Corvos League, a vast universe-stretching conglomeration of empires and intergalactic business allies.
For this very reason, there were more guards than expected–more than two hundred, each operating at no less than ten percent of Linessi’s maximum power.
Their lounging retreat was a floating city, or something similar. They were tucked away in a lush garden of imported trees and flowers, not to mention an anti-gravity waterfall and expansive pond, which was home to many exotic, brightly-colored animals. Their guards were positioned along the garden lines three rows deep. The God-Emperor and the Elder Circle sat in floating chairs, hovering just over the ground, no more than two or three meters.
Their fighting stage was made of white-block stones so bright they seemed to reflect the sunlight itself coming down from above the cloudscape. The entire place was decorated with white flower blossoms, courtesy of the shedding trees leaning in over the stage on three of the four sides.
Her master said nothing to her. This was a professional relationship to the end. Regardless of there being so many more guards, she would still be expected to perform her task. So be it. It did not scare her, but made her even more eager to prove herself. Dekiru bowed before the God-Emperor, not being afforded a floating chair himself. He did not talk directly to the man, but to the man’s avatar, who was a young bare-chested girl of some white-furred, pink-faced furry species, who floated in a small chair of her own, next to the God-Emperor. She could not have been more than two feet tall.
As he spoke to her, introducing himself to the leader of the Corvos League, Linessi’s focus shifted to the God-Emperor’s champion, who stood opposite her. He was adorned in silver and black armor, and he wore a sharp-beaked helmet over his face. He was lithe, but tall, with an armored tail and dark claws, left unarmored. He had six fingers on each hand. She could sense in him a power higher than even Ulghir’s–the second person she had dueled to the death to win a Premier League in the Galactrix Arena, and her only friend. Excitement buzzed in her fingertips. She just wanted her master to get his groveling over with so she could tear into this one.
They called her name, and she stepped forward, a flash of pale blue fading to smoke the instant she leaned forward to bow in respect of the God-Emperor.
A cage was erected around the stage, shielding it off from the rest of the world. The fighters bowed before one another. The God-Emperor’s avatar commenced the fight, heralding her master’s champion’s feats as making him the undisputed and most feared warrior in the universe.
The power he used against her was more than she had expected, but not more than she could handle. In his armor, he was slower; his attacks came naked and without pace. She easily dodged around them, moving into the air to gain a quick advantage. All their eyes were on her, especially her master’s. There’s so many more guards than he said there’d be. I have to be quick. I can’t waste much energy on this one.
He was rushing her, and when he feinted to the right, she punished him, using superior speed to leap down upon her prey with a spinning kick to the head. He was falling from the sky, and she knew it was time. The longer I linger, the less likely it is I’ll survive.
A drip of indigo blood had splattered onto her beak. She wiped it away, watching the champion fall before closing her eyes and re-focusing on her energy, now spread and rapidly expanding with her focus given to it completely. The pale little flame lit up in a roar, materializing in a sudden energetic burst and she put everything she could into it. The energy flowed and teleported from her fingertips, reaching its tether, and in half a second, before any of the guards could react, the vast, expanding bubble of flaming blue energy burst, washing the spectators in blankets of raw energy. They screamed and melted, most of them. Master Dekiru had raised an energy shield around himself in expectation, which burned pale pink amidst the smoke and ash, as the fires rolled through the garden, even vaporizing the waterfall.
The barrier around the fighting stage was hit on one side by a wave of fire, cracking it open. In all other directions, the fire spread unfettered, burning through trees and guards alike, until almost everyone was dead. Of the floating spectators, none now remained. Pity.
Landing sharply, Linessi looked over the God-Emperor’s champion, her veins flowing with impatient heat as she watched him struggle to stand.
“You would not have lasted six months in the fighting pits,” she told him sternly before rushing at him with fracturing afterimages. Lunging at the champion with a flying kick, Linessi back-flipped away from him momentarily before lunging again at him, her wine-colored ki surrounding her in a shield-like aura. Connecting with the man’s stomach with her right fist hard, she immediately grabbed his face with her left hand, shouting out as her aura grew in size and brightness around her body.
The champion screamed. She threw him away like trash, and where he landed, he did not get up from. The champion’s armored helmet glowed still, the eye slits exuding white energy. A moment later, the helmet detonated and vaporized in a violent, short explosion.
The guards were already on her, but Linessi was dodging them. She had often faced handicap matches in the Galactrix Arena. Twenty on one odds were uncommon for her. These guards were stronger than her if they combined their strengths together, so she didn’t let them.
They attacked her immediately after she killed the champion, just when Linessi had been taught that most gladiators were most open to a counterattack. She herself had practiced against this specific scenario more than a dozen times. She remained comfortable and calm, even as they screamed at her for committing the utmost treason, for her bloody, horrific work. Seven members of the Elder Circle were dead too. It was a massive loss for the Corvos League. They wouldn’t be able to recover for decades.
She sidestepped the first two, who came at her from either side. Stepping around them with superior speed, Linessi accurately aimed a ki blast at the back of each of their heads, blasting them clean off and causing the rest of their bodies to vaporize when the energy spread down.
The others encircled her, beginning with a barrage of ki blasts. Those were easy enough to dodge when she was at full power, or even full concentration, but she was getting a little sloppy, and her stamina was waning, and more than one blast hit her.
After being battered for a few seconds, Linessi released a green energy wave that hit all of them with a sudden sonic burst. As they went to recover, she materialized eleven little flames of energy next to each of their heads. A flick of the wrist was all it took to decapitate them.
“Magnificent work, Linessi!” Master Dekiru beamed, approaching her a moment later.
Their blood pooled in between bright white stone tablets making up the fighting stage. She was breathing hard, closing her eyes, reliving every move, finding the faults in her form and correcting them. “Am I free now?”
“That’s right. Look,” he said, pointing to the other side of the stage, where her attack’s fire had not reached. On the far side of the garden, several vehicles lay at dock–including the universe-traveling cube. “I will be taking this home. Thank you for your help, I sincerely appreciate it.”
Her blood was flowing hot. Linessi looked around, waiting for the next band of guards to come at her. But they were all dead. Is this all that could be mustered to protect their so-called God-Emperor? I’ve faced stronger stock in quarterfinals.
Linessi watched Dekiru stride off towards the cube, his mouth spread in a wide smile. Looking around at all the blood and ash and bodies, carnage as far as the eye could see, Linessi wondered for a moment if she should go with him.
Don’t be silly.
Just as Dekiru reached the ship, a guard in black armor appeared in a flash of smoke, standing between him and the ship. Linessi couldn’t make out what the two were saying to one another, but it quickly turned heated, and then they started to fight. She wasn’t too surprised by that. What did surprise her, however, was how quickly and effortlessly the blue man was overpowered by the might of the single guard.
Swallowing, Linessi reappeared in front of the giant cube. Blood-purple energy formed on the tip of her fingers like sharpened jewel teeth, and she pointed them directly at the ship, not at the Corvos League man who was attacking her former master.
Dekiru, whose face was bleeding slightly from having been punched several times, looked at her in terrified confusion. “Linessi, what are you…”
She released the attack, and the cube went up in flames before shattering and melting into a pool of glass.
“Y-you…” His face trembled and went pale white as he contorted in the shock of this betrayal. Feeling nothing for the man, Linessi dodged his ki blade, which had come up upon her hard and true, spinning around and back-flipping away from the conflict.
The guard looked at her, cocking his head, but when she didn’t attack him again, he pressed on against Dekiru, slapping the man’s ki blade aside. Dekiru screamed for her to save him, but Linessi just sat back and watched, her chest heaving, her mind numb, her ears ringing with the roar of the crowd.
The corpse dropped with a sickening crunch, spilling its bright blood onto the grass. She finished off the guard with a pink finger beam to the brain.
Stumbling over to the scene came suddenly, from the ash and melting metal, the God-Emperor’s avatar, whose white fur had been burnt off, leaving a hairless little creature no bigger than Linessi had been when the doctor had sold her off to the gladiator pits. “Alright, we leaving now?” she asked with a yawn, not even looking at Linessi. “I suggest we take that one,” she said, pointing to a small, black, arrowhead-shaped ship that looked like it had been carved from stone, not from metal, and that sat parked next to the steaming pile of glass that had once been a most-desired transport cube. “That’s Tuhanlahir, the Wind of Krakatan. That’s the fastest ship in the universe right there. That’s why the God-Emperor, Tippu-ippuli rest his soul, liked it the most! It was his favorite!”
“Is that so?” A grim reek of death was spilling through the garden. It was time to go.
“You’re the new God-Emperor now!” the beast said, trembling and falling to a knee before Linessi. “P-please, your grace, what name will you go by?!”
“That’s not how this works,” Linessi sighed. The finger beam she released almost didn’t make a sound.
The wind rustled through the trees. Linessi’s eyes turned from the burning, bloody death spreading so cancerously before her. Tuhanlahir was waiting.
She had been engaged in an operation in the slums of Seinoco City on Faeri, tracking a petty criminal who had overborrowed from his gang lord, when she’d gotten the contract. A golden holo-message, its form wrought like an arrowhead, had appeared to her in a dirty alleyway, as she stood perched on the window of a building five stories up, looking down upon her target.
“I will repay you with an empire,” the short, blue-skinned Arcosian promised, his form appearing and fragmenting above the holo-drone. “You’ve done this once before. I know that much about you, Linessi. Now I need you to do it again.”
“The Corvos League?” she replied, a little shocked. “Assassinating their ruler…”
“I will pay you handsomely,” the Arcosian said confidently. “My name is Icer; I am the Lord of the Planet Trade Organization. Do this for me, and I will give you all that you desire, Linessi. Kill their God-Emperor, and you will be granted their lands.”
She snapped closed the ball, pocketing it, feeling its warmth against her skin. Once more finding her prey, who had not yet quite reached the end of the alleyway, she jumped.
It was now Age 776. She had been freed from the Galactrix Arena in Age 743, she reflected, the wind whistling past her beak as she tightened her form and came down upon the corrupt Faerin. Her claws dug into his neck, releasing energy like poison. He vaporized from the inside out before he had a chance to scream.
Catching herself in the dank alley, Linessi made sure no one had seen her. It would be interesting to attack a God-Emperor again, she thought. All those years ago, she had been forced to kill one by her slavemaster. But now…
The prospect of an empire did not entice Linessi, as it had not done before, either. Still, something gave her pause. There had been something in the way that emperor had spoken to her that had implied the Corvos League would not be around for much longer. Not just a God-Emperor–the last God-Emperor.
It was true the Corvos League had persisted for the past thirty years, despite what she had done to them. She had no knowledge of how many God-Emperors had come and gone in that time. That was not important to her. Linessi closed her eyes, trying to remember that day, that brilliant, bright day she had killed them all. Something hot and excited flowed through her veins. She was itching to get back there.
“Very well, Icer,” she mumbled, pulling the device back out, raising it to her beak. “I’ll kill the last God-Emperor of the Corvos League for you. But I don’t want his empire in return.”
“Then what do you want?” the Arcosian asked.
Linessi pocketed the holo-drone without replying. Closing her eyes, she sighed deeply, her mind focused only upon her next mission. In an explosion of light and wind, she vanished hastily from Faeri.