I have spent a lot of time over the years attempting to write a quality book. It has been a learning process for sure. What I had originally intended to be one book has become a lifetime project that is looking like it may be around 6 books or more at this point.
I want to present to you the following snips and reworks for the internet. I hope you enjoy them and I hope they provoke some commentary!
Below is the first chapter of what was going to be my first book, which is now probably going to be the third book… with major revisions.
Tiamat during the rebellion of Lucifer
199,500 years ago.
The man stood on a grassy hill in a vast landscape of beautiful short emerald green grass rolling over countless gently sloped hillocks. In his hand was the delicate, extravagantly jeweled hand of the woman he had loved for over four hundred years. They were tall and pale skinned, as all of their kind. Their eyes, hers blue, his gray, gazed deeply into one another with true love.
The afternoon sky was azure blue. On this world, there were no clouds. A gentle breeze blew from behind him and cast his shoulder-length black hair over his face. His embroidered silk trousers and shirt rippled the same as her silk and lace dress. He placed his hand on her chest over her heart. Without taking his eyes off hers, he whispered just above the breeze,
“I will find you. I’ll not forget.”
Her eyes moistened a bit, and he turned from her to begin his journey. The breeze shifted and picked up slightly, becoming a delicate wind from the northwest, originating between the twin mounts of Zyone. As he walked away from her toward his fate, he clutched his fist tight and held it close to his chest. In his hand was her tear, the only tear she had ever shed in his presence.
He walked away briskly at first and increased his speed once he was a good distance from her. His gait was imperceptible, more reminiscent of a glide than a walk. He did not bounce or wobble side to side with each step, like most people. He was unified with the landscape. The life of the living things was visible to him, bright lines of emanating, fluctuating energy. Every insect and blade of grass sung it’s silent harmonic tune to blend with the entire planet as a whole. Although he could see the wavelengths superimposed over everything, he could not hear the sounds. He had heard once that higher orders of beings could hear the sound, but he had never met anyone that could. Instead of forcing his own path across the grasslands, he moved along the waves of energy, blending his own song with that of nature. It was because of the unity of movement that he nearly flew. He did not walk so much as nature carried him
As he moved away he reached out with his mind, appealing to any spirit or ascendant entity to offer another way, but he knew none heard him because they had abandoned the planet long ago. At least, all the entities he wanted to hear from had left. He knew he was on his own, with no guidance from his betters.
The late afternoon sky exploded a brilliant golden pink light, arcing over the horizon a blazing orange. The short emerald growth of the Grasslands sparkled like myriad stars. The mists began to lift from their home beneath the ground, eventually to form a crystalline white layer that hovers waist high, creating a leveling effect over the hillocks. The animals darted from their hiding places and feeding to disappear into their dens and nests. Birds chirped quietly, the breeze picked up enough to keep the flying insects and lizards grounded. It was the most peaceful time of day. In the old days, families would gather in their yards to soak in the bliss of nature’s peace, before settling in for the evening.
By early evening, his glide over the hills had covered the more than ten leagues to the edge of the Grasslands; a speed and distance few creatures could compete with. Approaching the dense forest of the hinterlands, he took his bearings and aimed for a short barren butte that jutted up like a rocky citadel, just a few leagues into the forest. At a word from him, whispered gently, the undergrowth receded and the trees moved their limbs to form a path through their domain. He walked on, occasionally repeating to himself, “I’ll not forget.”
She stood on the rise and watched him walk away, gazing long after he disappeared from sight, and the hours rolled by unnoticed. In the late afternoon, as she stood silently staring at nothing, an emissary ran up from behind her to stand at her left. Approaching from the left side implied bad news. She turned to give audience with the emissary, nodding consent to hear, and the emissary spoke with quivering lips and a taut voice.
“My Lady, Inn’ahna, forgive my intrusion, but the word you have awaited has been delivered to me.” The girl lost composure as a sobbing fit racked her body. Grasping to regain herself, she continued. “The last City has fallen! The last Hunters have fallen! The Cities of Light are no more!” The girl fell to her knees and wailed into her hands.
Inn’ahna turned from the girl, allowed the weeping, and wished she could join. She had expected this. She stood on the grassy knoll gazing into the distance after her lover, her last crisis. She imagined seeing him as he entered the distant forest. She continued to gaze, though she knew she could not see him. The sun sank slightly to her left, and the new moons began their arc, casting a beautiful silver-blue glow over the landscape. The moon glow illuminated a barely visible rocky prominence jutting out of the dark forest. It was so far away that it seemed to float in the twilight sky over the misted Grasslands.
He leaped from rock to boulder, sailing over chasms that sank deep within the crust of the planet. Within minutes he ascended the highest point on the rocky butte and turned to face the way he had come. The wind blew roughly at this height, whipping his hair and clothes violently. His sensitive eyes pierced the fading twilight. He had no problem seeing in the dark. She was still there, lit up by the moon, though so far away. His heart ached for her presence, and he opened his hand to look on her tear, a small sphere of her passion. He gazed at it for a moment, allowing himself a short repose of human emotion. Pulling his passion together inside his mind, he formed Soul-spent and infused his heart’s feelings into the tear. Then he blew gently on the ball of water and light that hovered over his palm and lifted his hand, palm up, to the sky. The tear floated from his hand and sped forward through the air, toward Inn’ahna. He watched it until it was out of sight and then redirected his attention. Far beyond the Grasslands were seven dark billowing pillars of smoke rising to cloud-like blooms in the evening sky. He counted them carefully. Seven fires, the remaining Cities had been overrun. He grimaced and breathed a short mantra for the people that had been murdered. Turning away, he leaped down the craggy buttresses of the barren butte, more quickly than would seem possible, and continued making his way through the forest.
A gentle wind brushed her cheeks, a slight splash of moisture misted her face, and a shiver ran down her spine.
“I will find You.”
‘He is looking at me,’ she thought. She knew the moon, for him, was like the sun for her. He could see her, she felt it. Her lips parted in longing for his presence.
Just a whisper in the wind, but it touched the deepest part of her being,
“I’ll not forget.”
She stared into the night, silently bearing the pain of separation. He had gone. She could not stop him. Would not stop him. This was how it had to be. Her gaze shifted from the deep shadow of the forest to the brightest moon. She followed the lord of the moons, Kingu, with her eyes as it washed the planet with its brilliant silvery glow.
“My Lady.” The voice startled her. She realized that she had nearly fallen asleep on her feet. The moon, she quickly noted, was disappearing as the sun rose to her right. Her breath revealed the crisp coolness of the air.
“My Lady!” She jolted to full consciousness and turned to face the emissary.
“Forgive the intrusion, but the day is at hand, and already the enemy is advancing across the plain of E’dun. If you wish to escape, this may be our last opportunity”
She stared at the girl for a moment, trying to recall her name. This girl had served as a royal emissary for the Council of Ten for quite some time.
“Ah, yes, dear. Return to your family and go with them to the bunkers, or find a place on a Whirlwind to flee the coming destruction. . . if you can.”
The girl shook her head slightly. “My Lady, Inn’ahna. I have prepared your new robes. They are freshly warmed.” The emissary looked scared to death as she handed the clothes to Inn’ahna. ‘The girl should be afraid,’ she thought. The whole world had been ripped out from underneath their race. She took the garments, but only held them in her arm.
“Where is your family?” She asked her.
The girl looked at the ground, visibly shaken. “They have gone underground with the nobles, to attend the Empress and her cadre until the Twisted are vanquished, my Lady.”
Inn’ahna put her hand on the girl’s shoulder.
“Will you not join them, daughter? I will not hold you here to face my fate. You have many years left to you, go to them now.”
The girl stepped back a half step, unsure how to disobey the order to leave.
“My Lady,” she fumbled for words, “I have chosen to remain by your side.”
Inn’ahna looked intently at the girl with new interest. The young emissary had at least another fifty turns around the sun before the weight of the world carried her into the void, yet she would sacrifice it all to be here with her?
“Why have you chosen this end, young one? You do know what he has gone to do?”
“My Lady, I know this,” the girl said with a nod to emphasize.
“Do you understand that none of the experts know what will happen to those within range? We may be eradicated, omitted from the celestial plan. Or we may face a dire eternity of any unimaginable fate. We may become something hideous, in all creation a thing despised. . .” She let her words trail off into silence and looked over her shoulder into the distance where her Hunter had gone, leaving her last thoughts unspoken, ‘for committing genocide.’
The young emissary gave a moment’s pause before speaking. She spoke clearly and pointedly, “My Lady, I have listened to the words of the Loyal Staff, I have also heard the words of My Lord Hunter. I believe in his explanations of essence and causality. I believe that whatever comes of this, we will share equally in the endless essence of our People. I believe that this is the answer to the problem of the Twisted, and that, though the Son has chosen a response of non-interference, he will not allow us to suffer needlessly. I believe in the Hunter, My Lady.”
Inn’ahna sensed the girl’s passion and tried to understand. She did not believe in the Loyalist faith the way the Hunter did. It was the only division between them. She motioned the girl to stand beside her as she turned her gaze to the distance. The Hunter, protector of the Cities of Light for over four hundred millennia, would be destroying everything within a few mere hours.
“Stand with me, then” she stood facing the horizon between Kingu and the rising sun.
“Stand with me and watch the world crumble.”
The Hunter scaled down a steep rock wall and peered into the shadowy floor of a small, forested rift valley. He leaned out from the rock, clinging with his arms stretched awkwardly behind him. He perched there, blending into the stone, unnoticed by the Twisted soldiers camped below him. He had caught the flicker of their fire as he descended the rocky Butte.
As if on cue, a Lombard cat walked into his view, obviously attracted by the humans. The cat crept forward a few cautious steps to peer toward the fire past a thick scrub. The firelight made its eyes glow, which alerted one of them. The cat was large enough to set the soldiers on alarm, especially since the cats had begun to hunt in small packs. In the general alarm of the camp, the Hunter made a few well-calculated falls, dropping in the darkness down the cliff face from one finger-hold to the next, until he stopped above the campsite. Observing, calculating, preparing the soldiers’ deaths in his mind.
“Did you see that!?” Erion stood up quickly, knocking his dinner to the ground, while simultaneously pulling his weapon to the ready, aiming it where he had seen the glowing eyes. “Eyes! Over there! I think it’s a Lombard!”
Relaxed and half asleep a second ago, five of the six troops quickly grabbed their weapons and went on the defensive, kicking bedding and dinner bowls aside, gazing into the darkness, glancing from tree to bush to rock, and back again in a specific pattern. One soldier threw sticks and dry grass on the fire, and squatting behind it with a bent mirror, turned the reflected fire-light from left to right into the surrounding trees and scrub brush.
“Give me some light, at forty degrees!” Ordered Tirill. Using hand signals, he and two others moved forward in a leap-frog formation to execute a box maneuver, hoping to flush the cat into the open. Three other troops found concealment in the camp, unmoving, weapons aimed blindly into the darkness.
Moments passed, the fire dwindled and the soldier with the mirror, Asniel, stood up and grumbled, “Where are they? It’s just an animal.” Asniel called out to his Second Squad Leader, “Erion!”
Erion looked back, “Sir!”
“Take your team, light up, bounding over-watch, zero degrees to dead space, return direct. Get a location on First Squad. Go!”
His instructions were for the three troops to advance straight ahead past a thin line of trees, then return. It should have taken about one minute, maybe two. He watched as the team flipped on their lamps and moved into the tree line. Their lights sent faint shafts of blue through the branches and leaves, receding. He stood waiting, listening. Moments became minutes. Asniel noticed suddenly that the only sound was the crackling of the dying fire in front of him. Irritation became angst. Asniel was confronted with a new situation. His troops never failed, the Twisting made them better soldiers than their enemies. The continuing silence and the creeping fear inside him made him angry.
“I have decided to retire you, Asniel.”
The voice brought a chill to the night. Asniel stiffened. He recognized that voice from his youth, when he had served the Emperor’s defense ministry. He turned slowly, desperately clawing through his mind for a lie that would give him a chance. But he knew there was no lie that the Hunter would believe. He also knew his men would not return. They were already dead.
The Hunter trekked into the dust and savage nature of the Unkempt Lands, his current bearing would take him to an ancient ruinous city. He had visited it before and knew where to locate the shem. It was an underground labyrinth of tunnels and rooms a couple stories deep. Over it at ground level had been a dense metal composite structure with a now gutted space that had served as the operations office. At the bottom, sealed behind secret walls was the reactor. It drew energy from air by dividing electromagnetic frequencies and converting the rush of energy into usable power. It had been a beautiful structure when it was first built by the alien Annunaki. The city they had built was abandoned one hundred thousand years ago, only five hundred years after the reactor had been built. The years had proved the danger of such reactors; the lands around it had died, slowly sapped of life, and the Annunaki in the city began showing strange symptoms and unknown sicknesses. The Planetary Government had forced the aliens to vacate and placed the area under quarantine, posting patrols and guard stations to keep all living creatures out. But, as is the case with human races, there were those individuals that had their own agendas and cared little for the rules of others.
Five centuries before, the Hunter had personally experienced the true danger of these ancient shems. He had been filling a vacant post as a regimental officer, responsible for shem security. He had organized shifts and facilitated the building of several brick structures, complete with power and plumbing. One day on approach to the station at the ruins, he noticed a strange light emanating from the windows. As he drew nearer, he heard high pitched, undulating screams. Alarmed, he had looked through a window to discover his security agent and an unknown angel on their backs, convulsing and spewing blasts of green light in uneven waves from their bodies. What had scared him was that they were both floating waist high. He had rushed into the building, and as he did so they both crashed to the ground writhing, bleeding from their eyes and ears, and mumbling in a strange tongue. As the pulsating light diminished, they had repeated over and over again in hardly discernible mumbles, “Eloi, Eloi, Lamah Sabacthani.”
Several hours later the angel had finally gained normal consciousness and sat up, facing him.
“You,” he had gasped. “I came here to find you.”
The Hunter had glanced to his agent, saw him still unconscious and asked the angel, “Who are you, why are you here, and what happened?”
The angel replied, “I am here to warn you all, though I apparently miscalculated. All of your agents that have been here for the last ten days are in the most danger,” He coughed, which was strange for an angel, then continued, “Manotia of Nebadon sends warning, These shem are at a peak production point, any biological material within a league diameter may be irretrievably damaged, this danger level will continue unabated for another five hundred years. Everyone must be checked with this. . .” He reached into a satchel near him and pulled out a strange metallic device. It looked like an insect made of gold, slightly longer than a dagger, with two antennae projecting from the front. “This will reveal whether or not a corporeal being is damaged.”
The Hunter remembered how difficult it was to believe this angelic creature, he hadn’t made any sense.
“Time is short, friend,” the angel had spoken quietly, seeming distracted. “I will show you how to use it.” The angel had explained in short sentences the sophisticated mechanisms of the device. As he spoke, his breath had become wheezy and he began to show signs of disorientation.
“Now, take this,” he had finally gasped out, and handed the Hunter another device.
“What is this?”
The angel smiled thinly on one side of his mouth and pulled in a long thin breath. “Angel hand-cuffs. Everything you need to know is in my notebook, in the bag.” He shoved the cuffs at the Hunter, “Use them, now!”
The angel had begun shaking violently as the angel-cuffs snapped onto his wrists. He had struck the Hunter in the jaw, knocking him off his feet. The angel bent at the waist and gave his head a giant shake as the Hunter rose back to his feet, bewildered. The angel had looked up from his stooped position to lock eyes with the Hunter. His eyes had glowed with the eerie green light, and his last moment of sanity was spent with one garbled grunt of, “READ!”
He arrived at the edge of the ancient city. The amber sand-brick ruins were such that they could have been called beautiful. Despite the beauty of it, he hated this place. He could feel the cold death seeping from the ground. As he stepped, the dust plumed up around his feet with green wisps of poison. Five hundred years had passed since his psychotic meeting with the nameless angel. In that time, immeasurable agony had been unleashed on the planet, culminating in the deliberate Twisting of souls and spirits by the Planetary Prince’s rebellious staff. He had arranged to have the old surface operations office demolished and had personally hidden the legendary shem under a two span thick plate of tiamantium, a composite metal that could only be destroyed at temperatures above eight thousand degrees.
He walked into the ruins of the city, straight to the vacant lot where the shem hid beneath blown dirt. He began prodding the dead soil with his sword to locate the lid. No sooner did he hear the dull clunk of the metals meeting beneath, than he heard the approach of several Trachaar. The whining shrill of the giant lizard beasts revealed to the Hunter that they were mounted. He looked over a broken section of a nearby wall to see a full complement of cavalry led by what looked like a Twisted angelic creature. Nearly thirty mounted on the Trachaar were approaching the old city center, and he saw beyond them, three platoons of Shock-Lance troops were breaking out of marching formation into squads to enter the city, at it’s edge.
He ducked down behind the wall, thinking quickly. There were at least 120 troops. On a good day, he could dispatch them all without much of a struggle, but only if he could pick the battlefield, and he didn’t know how many troops were out of his sight behind the crumbling walls. He made a quick decision. Taking a knee, he began prying the Lid from the ground, but a deep voice rasped through the air. A voice that made trained soldiers weep. A voice owned by a Twisted creature that even angels feared.
“Hunter! I would speak with you!”
“Then speak!” He shouted back.
“I will come to you, remain there,” the voice grated.
“As you wish.” He sat down in the dirt cross legged, with his sword in his lap and his hands on his knees. He heard the subtle crunching of the creature walking between broken walls, skirting piles of rubble. Though there was nothing to make a crunching sound, every step sounded like shattering bone. The Hunter sat and waited, silently beseeching the Father of All to grant him a miracle.
The creature rounded a mass of a collapsed building and walked into view. It’s gait was indiscernible, as if the breeze blew the creature ahead of it. Robes the color of charcoal hung stiffly from the creature’s shoulders, draped over it’s dull gray skin as if with nonchalance. The stench of the decay of death wafted toward the Hunter and he inadvertently leaned over to vomit. A shadow fell over him, he looked up into the creature’s featureless face. A whisper came from where the mouth should have been, “Hello, Arjuna. It has been far too long”
“Lady Inn’ahna, I have a call for you from the Emperor,” the girl trotted up the hill from Inn’ana’s groundskimmer, a vehicle that used a combination of thrusters and gyroscopes to hover waist high. She handed the communication device to Inn’ahna.
Inn’ahna took it putting it to her ear.
“My king,” she said, “I am honored by your call.” As she listened, her voice turned to stone. All trace of emotion faded from her heart.
“I understand, Lord Amadon. I will ensure it is completed.” She handed the device back to the girl without looking at her.
“M-my Lady?” the girl stammered, “what is wrong?”
The Hunter slowly rose to his feet, cringing slightly under the creature’s lifeless gaze, “Hello, Prince Caligastia.” The Hunter refused to bow, though Caligastia was the Planetary Prince.
“I will forgive your disrespect, because I understand you have been misguided by your ignorant leadership, young Arjuna, but I am angered that you do not sheathe your weapon.” Caligastia’s voice sounded like a dull echo in a cavern.
Arjuna put his sword in the delicately engraved scabbard at his side. “I have avoided you many years, Prince. Why have you come to me this day?”
“There is a grave matter which we must discuss.” Caligastia waved his metal gauntleted hand and two immaculate carved seats appeared. “Please, sit with me and hear what I have to say. I have provided refreshment, if you care for it.” As they moved to seat themselves, two of Caligastia’s soldiers approached with goblets and a golden pitcher. The Prince took a goblet and the pitcher, waving the soldiers away and pouring for himself. “What you are about to do will have dire consequences for us. I have come here to convince you to desist.” He proffered the pitcher to Arjuna, who took it, warily. “You want to break the reactor, and you are ignorant of the outcome. If you succeed you will kill all of us unfortunate enough to be mutated by it’s power, and you will kill all of your people that are within range of the fallout. But the factor that concerns you most, is that it will not simply kill, but it will eradicate us from existence. It will be as if we had never been.” He let the statement hang in the air, lidless eyes like onyx drew the Hunter’s focus. They were black stars, warping space itself to bend light.
Arjuna stared unshaken into the Prince’s faceless face. He refused to react, the Creature was probably lying anyway. He caught himself about to sip from his goblet, and mentally shook himself. It would be very bad to allow himself to be drawn into Caligastia’s hypnotic aura. “Prince, what is this drink you have offered me?”
“It is water, Arjuna”
“What is it for? What foul mystery will overtake me when I drink it?” He added, “Prince” a little too late.
“It is water, only water. Fresh from a deep spring on the south Mount Zione. An offering of fresh spring water is an ancient diplomatic tradition of the Lanonandek Sons. Drink it, and when you find that nothing has happened to you, perhaps you will be more inclined to value the simplicity and directness of what I am telling you.”
“Prince Caligastia, with all due respect, you are the only Lanonandek I have ever met. And Sir, you have given me little reason to believe anything you say. Our leaders consider you a traitor.”
“There are twelve million of us,” Caligastia offered quietly, looking into his hands, “divided into three orders. The primary Lanonandek Sons are assigned as system sovereigns, secondary Sons are most often positioned as planetary Princes, like myself. The tertiary order function as assistants in varied capacities, as does Dalagastia, whom you have met.”
He paused to let it sink in, taking a slow sip from his goblet.
“In all of time, in all universes, there have been three system sovereigns, of which our lord Lucifer is one, who have deemed to call to question the existence of ‘All-Father,’ whom none of us have ever seen. Three Sons that have asserted themselves and attempted to assert their systems with self-rule and independence. In our local universe of Nebadon, there are ten thousand systems of inhabited worlds. Lucifer reigns from Jerusem, as chief executive of a great system of 607 inhabited worlds.” He paused to sip from his goblet.
The Hunter gaped at him. “Prince, I am shocked at the scope of your claims. We knew there were other inhabited worlds, but that many? My mind can hardly grasp it..” Then he had a thought, “Why are you telling me this? It is obviously privileged information.”
“I tell you this to help you understand that your life, your so-called Empire that you are so loyal to, and everything you have ever cared about, are worth nothing if you presume to overstep the judgment of your God and eradicate my existence. Our overly powerful, dominant universal ruler, whom I will not name for you, has been able to put down every effort that has risen against him, and yet at no time has he taken it upon himself to judge any personality with eradication.” He cocked his featureless gray head a little to the side, as if in question, to Arjuna, “Why take upon your soul the responsibility of so many deaths, dear Arjuna?”
“You seem to fear death. What my people call entering the void.”
“No!” Caligastia leaned forward in his throne-like chair. “Absolutely not. With death, there is an option to evolve, to ascend the orders of universal experiences.” He waved his hand in the air to demonstrate. Death is not an end, child. For you mortals, to live is of little consequence, but to die. . . Well, to die is gain. On the other hand, eradication is the end. It is to have one’s personality, spirit. . . all of it, completely erased from existence. To become as though you had not been. To top it off, we Lanonandek are not evolutionary, or as you say it, ‘ascendant’ beings. We live as we are for eternity, changing only with our passions.”
The Hunter stared hard at Prince Caligastia. For all the animosity between them, Arjuna recognized truth when he heard it. But this wasn’t just truth, this was universal fact. These were things that no mortal on the planet had ever heard.
The Prince continued. “What I offer you today is a choice. It is a choice no other mortal in all of the universe of Nebadon, even in all Orvonton Superuniverse, nor in all Lanonandek history has ever had to make. This shem that has given me such a strange power. . . This emergent technology of Tiamat,” he chuckled, which sounded like breaking glass, “is tied to me. If you break it, I will cease to exist. As long as I am on Tiamat, to destroy it is to destroy me as well. The question you must consider is this: If the Father of All has not taken it upon himself to eradicate any Sons that have stood against His government, do you consider yourself worthy to do it?”
They looked at one another. The breeze blew dust over them. The poisoned dirt swirled around Arjuna’s feet, seeking a way into him, to steal his sanity. The deep black of Caligastia’s lidless, colorless eyes threatened to hypnotize him. Time seemed to slow, almost completely coming to a halt. He watched a single speck of dust, among millions, float in front of his eyes. His eyes lost focus. He blinked, but when he opened his eyes, he found himself standing in a vast emptiness of ethereal white light. He felt himself floating in absolutely nothing. ‘The water was poisoned,’ he thought. But no, ‘I didn’t drink any. But this must be a trick of the Prince.’
In front of him, the blank whiteness suddenly rippled from a point, and began to pull apart in a line, like two sheets of paper separating. Then, a brighter white light erupted in the separation. He wondered, ‘how much more bright, or white, could it get?’ He heard a whisper from the spot, seeming to come from a great distance, “Arjuna,” and again, “Arjuna.” He approached the spectacular apparition, feeling a pull within him to near it. As he did so, a voice like a trumpet called out to him, “Arjuna, come up here, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.” Immediately, the Hunter was in the spirit, leaving his body behind. He moved through the opening to find himself in a throne room. The throne had the color of sapphire, and upon it sat what had the appearance of a man. Arjuna saw the man as an embodied fire, seeing it as if the man were made of flame, and brightness all around it. The brightness about it looked like fluctuating, pulsating rainbows, with the appearance of an emerald. When Arjuna saw this, he became overtaken with awe, and fell to his face, prostrate before the being of fire. He heard a voice that spoke to him.
“Son of Man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” The spirit entered the Hunter when the voice spoke to him, and set him upon his feet.
The Hunter looked and saw twenty-four elders seated around the throne, clothed in white raiment, and they had on their heads crowns of gold. He saw in the hand of him that sat on the throne a book sealed with seven seals.
The one on the throne spoke to him, “Son of Man, take what I give to you and eat of it.” He reached out to Arjuna with the book, and said, “what is within will save your people, both righteous and unrighteous. The One causes it to rain on the just and the unjust, and in like manner is salvation offered to all.” The one on the throne stood and approached Arjuna, placing his hand on Arjuna’s shoulder. He spoke quietly, so that only the Hunter could hear, “My name is Galzu, I have been monitoring the situation here for some time. I will tell you of what is to come.”
Caligastia eyed the Hunter quizzically. The man had stopped moving nearly five minutes ago. He motioned to one of his soldiers with a quick hand gesture. The soldier named Krim trotted up,“Yes, Sire?”
Caligastia stood up, stepping toward Arjuna. He stooped down and peered into Arjuna’s eyes. “This Hunter is away – for the moment.” He pointed at the ground directly in front of where the Hunter sat, “You will alert me when he returns.” Caligastia turned, and his throne immediately vanished. His long strides floated him back to a large tent where his Captains had set up a field headquarters in the ancient ruins of the town center. Krim stood in front of Arjuna and glared at him.
The military officers and civil staff that traveled with the Prince had gathered under a portable pavilion, around a great oval table. On the table were spread several maps with dispatches from scouts and spies. Several holographic images of various sites of interest hovered over display modules, the images flickering gold and blue hues. Several clerks sat at the table recording everything they saw.
The acting Captain in Command of this regiment stood at the end, fresh oil polish making his golden armor shine. He wore shin-high riding boots, ironically made from blue stained Trachaar hide, armored with tiamantium plating over his Achilles tendon and toes. His combat dress consisted of a pair of black trousers tucked into his boots, a white v-necked silk shirt beneath a high collared silk riding jacket with flower embroidered sleeves. He carried a two-handed broadsword across his back. His men often joked about his choice of swords, it was a relic from the old days. He had carried it into his first battle, for no reason other than there had been nothing else to defend himself with, and he had grown to like it.
Dalagastia was Caligastia’s associate, and for the moment he had command of the First Battalion Headquarters Company, which was coordinating the movements of all five of the rebellion’s battle battalions that were fielded against the Loyalist Empire of the Cities of Light. He looked up from a map he had been poring over as the Prince approached.
“How did he take it, my Prince?”
Caligastia waved the question aside with a flick of his hand. “No, he is away for the time being.” The prince’s mouth twitched, just a little, so it almost went unnoticed. “Someone has interrupted our conversation.”
The Prince walked around Dalagastia to pick up the scout reports that had arrived while he was with the Hunter. He leafed through them deftly. “Lucan,” he looked at a lieutenant standing across the table operating a radio, “Order second battalion’s heavy guns to concentrate fire at grid coordinates TS125670, five minutes with the poppers.”
“Yes, Sir!” The lieutenant pushed a button and spoke into the mic. A faint sound of the booms and groans of artillery came through the speaker while he made his broadcast.
Dalagastia raised an eyebrow at the Prince. “Did I miss something in the reports?” He asked.
“Possibly.” Caligastia handed him a sheet. “It was stuck to another,” he offered.
Dalagastia grimaced as he read it. “Blood can be a bit sticky when it dries.” He called to the nearest clerk, “Be sure to re-scribe bloody reports!” He crumpled the paper and tossed it to the clerk, “Pass the word!” He turned back to his longtime friend, “So, who has him?”
“I’m not sure.” Caligastia moved a marker on a map, identifying the area that he had just ordered bombarded. “I did not feel anything when he left, and the sensors did not pick up any coherent light fluctuations.”
Dalagastia thought for a moment. “Do you think it’s HIM?”
The Prince looked up at him sharply, “I hope not.”
Arjuna looked at the panorama before him in anguish. “So, this is where it all leads,” he said softly.
Galzu stood slightly behind the Hunter, looking at him with interest. “Not at all, my dear Arjuna. What you have seen here is not the end. I do not know what will happen after this, my equipment is not adequate to see farther into the direct future. I have shown you what is convenient for you to know. I trust that now you understand the importance of your task?”
Arjuna turned around to face his host. “I understand completely, my lord. But I must inform you that I am not comfortable with it. I never have thought it acceptable to commit such an act of utter violence.” Galzu acknowledged the comment with a short grunt and walked to his pilot’s seat, surrounded by brightly lit monitors and control panels. What had first appeared to Arjuna as a throne room turned out to be a command bridge on a ship the likes of which Arjuna had never imagined. The lights were so bright, they had appeared to his over-sensitive eyes to be some kind of mystical glow around the man, who really wasn’t a man. But he looked enough like one that Arjuna opted to call him a man. He also realized that the ‘elders’ were actually the bridge crew. He made a mental note to stop taking things as they seem at first glance.
“The outcome of Tiamat and her inhabitants concerns me greatly.” Galzu pushed some buttons on a control panel and continued. “I won’t bore you with the details, but some five millennium ago, by local system time, I was summoned by a being that your language has no name for, neither do you have words to describe it.” He squinted his eyes and pursed his lips in thought. “This being told me that my expertise was needed here. He gave me coordinates and vanished. Myself and my crew have traveled almost the entire five millennium, arriving in your system only one thousand years ago, by local system time. I have been assisting within my limits, now events seem to have come to an impasse. At any rate, know that Caligastia is misinformed. Destroying the shem will not eradicate him, or anyone, for that matter. There is still much to unfold in the strange future of the life here.”
Arjuna listened intently. It seemed, ironically, that only minutes before his own death, everyone wanted to tell him secrets of the multi-verse. First the lesson on Lanonandek Sons by the Prince. Now, stories of inter-universal travel, and strange beings that can’t even be described.
He ventured a question. “You say ‘by local system time.’ What is the measure of time where you come from, if I may be so bold?”
Galzu chuckled merrily, seeming to enjoy Arjuna’s question. “It is difficult to explain. You see, I am from a place that is absolutely stationary. It is a place, per se, but it is not in a space-time location. It is the very center of all the multi-verse, but it cannot be said that it is in the center, really. It is not spheroidal like a planet, neither does it orbit anything, so it is better thought of as an island, I suppose. It could be said that all the universes orbit it. Since it is a place in no-place, and it is the center, without being in the center, it is outside any known measurement of time.” He paused for a breath. “Every being there is also outside of time, therefore there is a completely different life-form, lacking material substance in the sense of what you are familiar with. I could very well have been here, at your Tiamat, the very moment I was entrusted with the situation here. However, without some kind of material body, I couldn’t very well have interacted with you. Nor could I have even seen the planet. So, due to the necessity of direct communication with your planetary beings I, and those with me, translated ourselves into what you see before you. And we negotiated the use of this ship from a more technologically advanced. . .” he struggled for the right word, “uh, being, who lives in a galaxy very near to our home. So, it took nearly five millennium to arrive by your time. If you account for the fact that we traveled slightly above the speed of light, crossed from one side of the Grand Universe to the other – you subtract a few of your years and here we are. We have already seen one thousand years pass on your planet.” He raised an eyebrow, lifting a corner of his mouth in a half-smile anticipating Arjuna’s confusion.
Arjuna looked at the floor and gently shook his head, “Huh. Sounds reasonable.” He looked back up at Galzu, “I suppose you told me all of this for a reason?”
Galzu, smiling broadly said, “Absolutely. I anticipate that you will need this information in the direct future.”
“Very well then, sir. How do I get off this ship, then?” The Hunter asked respectfully, tucking the book he had been given into his shirt.
“Ah, yes. . . You aren’t really on the ship. Technically, the ship is in your head.”
“Where is the fire support!?” Jaysun screamed into his comm mod, “What do you mean there is none!?” He listened for a few seconds, then threw the thing on the ground and smashed it with his armored foot. Then he turned to parry a lance that was aimed at his face, and made a quick stab into the throat of his assailant. Bodies were beginning to pile up around him, so he moved forward to a more open area. The line of troops advanced on both sides of him.
Suran looked sideways at him, aghast. “What are you doing? That was the last mod!”
“Never mind that!” Jaysun shouted, throwing a man over his shoulder before engaging in a little sword play with one of the enemy. “That was the last mod, yes! But we are the last unit still in the field, the armies have been routed and the Government staff are high-tailing it for the bunkers! There’s no one for us to talk to!” One of his troops followed behind him, finishing the downed enemy soldiers with a very bloody sword.
Suran slammed his gauntleted fist into the belly of one man and then threw his elbow into another. “Then what are we fighting for! ” He swung his sword in a wide arc to decapitate a rearing, rider-less Trachaar.
“Sound retreat!” Jaysun yelled at a soldier behind him. He gripped the nearest enemy throat and lifted the man in the air, using the body to block several lance jabs. “We fight for ourselves, now!”
Suran threw back his head and laughed heartily. “Yes, my friend, I suppose we do!” Suran grabbed a lance as it bounced off his breastplate and took it from his foe. The man’s eyes widened and watched his own weapon skewer him. Suran put a foot to the man’s chest, kicking the fresh corpse out of the way. “I’m a little tired of killing these guys!” As he shouted, one of Jaysun’s cadre sounded retreat with a trumpet, a shrill blast that shocked the enemies’ Trachaar, and summoned their remaining troops to form up for retreat. They may have sounded retreat, but it would take a miracle to actually get out of this chaotic fray.
Dalagastia dismissed a clerk and turned to the Planetary Prince. “Well, there you have it, my friend. Your bombardment eliminated their fire support unit, and there is only one combat ready regiment left in the Empire’s Defense Ministry.”
Caligastia leaned over the map. The last focus of battle was marked with two magnets, a green representing his regiment, and a blue to identify the Defense Ministry’s regiment. The topographic and partially holographic map clearly showed the last battle was taking place in a broad plain outside what used to be the City of Ur’upak, which had been destroyed the previous night. He estimated the enemy count to be around five hundred men. Almost two hundred of them were heavy-armor infantry, so they were each worth two of his men, easily. Dalagastia confirmed their own troop count at nearly eight hundred men, with a guesstimate of fifty armored mega-Trachaar and only three hundred shock-lancers remaining. The rest of the men were light infantry and Trachaar riders armed with lances, spears, swords, and whatever they picked off their fallen comrades – they had run out of PeeP ammunition a few months ago, when the first few battles had been fought in a maelstrom of violence and bad planning. The rest of their army was scattered across the planet, ferociously defending the cause of Independence from every conceivable group of humans; from socially advanced people across the seas to the savage bands of nomads and tent dwellers that subsisted outside the realms of the Empire.
The Prince moved a red magnet to the center of the battlefield, thought for a moment, and placed four more red markers around the original.
Dalagastia gasped in shock, looking from the map to Caligastia. “You would have us kill our own?”
“I have a feeling that we will only have this one chance to eliminate their last regiment,” Caligastia said, “I just want the pleasure of knowing the Fifth is dead and out of Lucifer’s way. This will clean up the only real fighters this planet has ever had.”
Dalagastia breathed out slowly, tightening his jaw. “So be it.” He hissed, “So be it.”
The lieutenant at the comm mod slowly picked up the mic and gave the order to bombard the battlefield. He had to repeat himself three times before the officer on the other end complied.
One of Galzu’s crew suddenly stood up and motioned to him, “They have arrived on schedule, estimated time until all clear. . .” he tapped a screen a few times, “thirty minutes.”
Galzu walked to the monitor and stared at it with his arms crossed. He turned and spoke quietly to his crew members. Arjuna watched, interested and curious, but he could not hear what was said. He was about to ask another question when a subtle hum sounded on the bridge, growing in intensity, then dying out.
Galzu walked back over to him, “Do not be alarmed, that is our signal to the rest of the ship that we are about to enter extra-light speed.” He put his arm behind Arjuna and walked him to where he had first entered the ship. “Time to go. When you return, act quickly. And do not fear, you are never alone.”
Arjuna looked around one last time as Galzu sat in his pilot’s seat. “It was a pleasure to speak with you, Galzu.”
Galzu pressed a button and said, “Ha! Yes, yes it was.”
Jaysun and Suran directed their cadre, who in turn passed orders down the chain of command to platoon leaders, and the retreat began. Jaysun intended for their small army to escape into the ruins of nearby decimated Ur’upak where they would hopefully be able to ghost away during the night. The retreat required by the Heavy Armored Fifth Regiment had been perfected by Jaysun’s predecessor during the in-fighting at Jerusem, the System Capital. Because of the weight of the armor, hasty retreat was impossible. In a hasty retreat, whoever was most fit and least wounded would probably make it away, but everyone else would be picked off one by one. The strength of the Armored lay in unity. One man alone would die quickly, two could fight side by side or back to back and withstand a hundred enemies, but three were like a braided cord. To break them, you had to eliminate one of them. It was almost impossible to cut through a three-fold fighting unit. So, the Fifth’s originators had established their peculiar battle system. On the field, a wall of two-man heavy-armored teams was established in the front, an unbroken wall of metal bristling with pointy steel. Behind and holding the flanks were the flack-vest wearing light-armored troops, usually armed with PeePs, but with the lack of ammunition, they now carried whatever weapon they were decent with. These troops prevented attacks from the rear and flanks, and cleaned up enemy wounded as the front line moved forward. Behind the light troops were the poorly trained and inexperienced volunteers, and those who were just not-so-good in combat. Included in their number were the GT Techs that manned the scanners that detected the Gamma and Theta wavelengths that revealed most invisible entities. They also manned the electromagnetic guns that were used for various defensive tactics. This respected and necessary contingent of the Fifth acted as field medics, communication relays, and supply forces. But during this battle, they had taken a more active part in the fighting as the numbers of well-trained troops had been dwindling.
The three main groups, acting in three-team squads of two-man fire teams created a human three-fold cord, which is not easily broken.
The retreat called for the light troops to form a line behind the heavy, each light man grabbing the belt of a heavy man. The heavies would then fend off attacks as they walked backward, guided by the tugging of the man behind them. The support contingent had orders to flee at high speed, just get out.
As Suran passed moving orders down the line, the Fifth began it’s slow retreat. Jaysun marked the descent of the sun. It would be dark soon, but not soon enough. The enemy saw the retreat begin and escalated their attacks, hoping for a quick finish. An agonizing thirty minutes passed before they had backed themselves behind the first of the enemy fallen. There was a distinguishable line of dark churned earth where there had once been short wild-grass. The fighting had begun there, and there would be a memorial of blood stained, iron rich soil to mark it. For now, the blood and bodies marked it clearly, and the stench of nine hours decay rankled the nostrils.
The enemy troops pulled back, and it became apparent that they were opening a wide path to allow their armored mega-Trachaar through. It looked like they were going to use the dinosaurs to stampede the Fifth’s retreat.
“Looks like we get to kill some big-ass lizards now,” Suran mumbled to his commander.
Jaysun reached into a pouch hanging at his hip with a half-grin on his face.
Suran looked at him quizzically. “What are you up to?”
He pulled out a fist-sized metal ball with a thin rod sticking out of it. “Something I’ve been cooking up with a couple scientist buddies of mine.”
Both men and their troops beside and behind them looked up at the charging mega-Trachaar, great beasts with hides thicker than a man’s arm, and armored with metal plating. Each animal had two riders, one with an extended shock-lance, and one to steer. It looked like the beasts had been gathered from all over the battlefield for the charge, and they were coming fast. Their Huge four-toed clawed feet shredded the ground and the reverberating beat of their running created a sort of hyper-tension in he air. The retreat halted in anticipation of the clash, but when the lead animals were about thirty feet away, and coming fast, Jaysun pulled the rod from the ball, throwing it toward the lizards. He turned around suddenly, and screamed, “RUN!” He pushed a couple soldiers ahead of him and screamed it again. As one body, they all turned and ran, which, for the heavy-armored troops was merely a slow trot. Suran looked back as he ran just in time to see a brilliant flash of light come from the ball. He stumbled, blinded. Several dozen of their soldiers stumbled and fell as well, tripping on their comrades. The solid line rippled a little, like a branch caught in a wind gust, then surged from the center, making a concave bowl. The center moved with it’s leaders, and the soldiers of the Fifth made their attempt at survival. The enemy reeled in pain. The effects of the bomb were severe; it’s explosion caused brain hemorrhaging, bleeding from the ears, eyes, and nose, ringing in the ears, and overall confusion. The men and beasts closest to the explosion lay on the ground twisting and writhing in pain.
“Help!” Suran yelled to Jaysun. Jaysun grabbed his arm to steady him, yelling to his troops, “Help each other! If you can see, help someone that can’t!”
“What was that?” Suran yelled at him.
“We weren’t sure exactly how it would work,” He yelled back. “We just knew it would be powerful!”
Over the sounds of screaming Trachaar and enemy troops attempting to bring order to their ranks, a high-pitched whine came over the surrounding plains, nearly deafening everyone on the battlefield. All soldiers knew what that sound meant.
“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Suran, still blinded, shouted as he ran with his elbow in Jaysun’s grip.
Jaysun looked back into the dusty sky. “Yes, it is.” He said, just loud enough to be heard. “many, many of them.”
Moments later, a barrage of artillery rounds pounded onto the battlefield.
Jaysun ran from the battle. For the first couple of minutes, he had attempted to remain in control of his regiment. He soon succumbed to the fact that this retreat was an all-out scramble. The missiles fell all over the place, on both armies. It was impossible to see more than a few feet around; the thick, blood-rich dust made it impossible to lead anyone. He threw one leg forward at a time. He breathed hard, spraying saliva with every exhale. Sweat mingled with the dust and blood on his face, streaking him with dark red paste. He had lost his helmet somewhere, and his gauntlets, but he didn’t realize it yet. His legs wobbled, threatening to fold under him. The booms and screams had combined into one unending din of noise in the back of his head. He kept himself going by will power. ‘Keep moving,’ he repeated to himself, ‘left foot, right foot.’ Another barrage hit the field, sending high-speed shrapnel whistling in every direction. Bits of bone, both human and trachaar, became as lethal as the metallic fragments. Weapons became secondary missiles, spears and armor were sent flying into living flesh. Bodies were sped through the air, in pieces. The dirt became so saturated with blood by the fourth Barrage that it was a deep crimson hue. The sky was obscured, the ground itself seemed out of reach. Jaysun stumbled along, dragging his left leg with a long sliver of femur sticking through his thigh. His eyes flooded with the blood, dirt, and sweat, blurring his vision until there was nothing but a red haze. He hoped he was still moving in the right direction.
‘Breathe. Left foot. Right foot. Keep moving. Another barrage, drop and cover your head. Something landed on me, push it off. It’s a trachaar head, and some of the spine. Get up, keep moving. Left foot, trip on the spine. Right foot. Breathe.’
Life becomes very simple and rhythmic in times like this. He felt as though he were trying to run through a sea. He pushed harder. Live. Stay alive. Move. Suddenly the sounds around him changed to a mechanical hum, the sounds of artillery rounds lessened. He stumbled forward and ran into a wall. Bouncing back, he fell to the ground.
Jaysun opened his eyes and saw nothing, darkness with a tinge of red. He rubbed at his left eye. An image of a man came into focus. A very large man, tall and strangely armored. He looked like a monster. Jaysun scrambled to his feet and reached for his sword. The sheath was empty. “Sword!” He yelled. No one answered his call. He decided to attack it with his bare hands. If only he could move faster. He slowly dragged himself toward his target, wiping his eyes, pulling his left leg forward with his hand. He could hear his heartbeat, thud-thud. . . thud-thud. The monster pointed at him and shouted something.
Jaysun, confused, stopped and wobbled left and right.
“I am looking for the commander of the Fifth.” The monster walked to him, his back straight, with sure steps. “I am looking for the commander. Do you know where he might be?”
Good god, this monster is too calm. “This is a war, stranger.” He had more to say, but his throat was dry. He wasn’t sure he had even said anything at all.
The monster handed him something, ‘water bottle,’ he thought. As he pulled in the liquid, Suran crawled out of the dust and collapsed a few feet from him. He threw the bottle at his lieutenant, “Drink brother, this is a fight, not nap time.”
The stranger asked again, and Jaysun faced him on wavering legs.
“Are you on our side or the adversary’s?”
“No. I am the Captain of the Lord’s hosts.” The stranger said matter-of-factly, shocking Jaysun. “I am looking for the Commander of the Fifth.”
“I am.” Jaysun pointed loosely at his collapsed lieutenant. “We are.” Then he fell to the ground. Darkness filled his mind, feeling faded until he felt nothing at all.
Suran lay on the ground, his muscles no longer obeyed him, but he could see. He watched passively as Jaysun tossed the water bottle at him. It landed next to him and slowly rolled until it ran against his foot. He looked in amazement behind Jaysun. Soldiers were twitching, crawling, dragging themselves away from the enemy. There was one man missing half of his torso plating as if it had been ripped like paper. From his neck to his waist was bared muscle, loose skin fell from his elbow like a torn sleeve. Even so, the man was dragging along his battle partner.
Just beyond that scene and slightly out of focus, there seemed to be some kind of shield. He traced it with his eyes, up. A dome. He stared in wonder, watching artillery rounds explode against it, blossoming out colorful flower patterns.
They were safe.
His attention shifted back to his commander as Jaysun fell to the ground in a loose lump, and then to the very tall stranger that had been talking to the Commander.
The stranger approached him, but he faded into darkness.
Sweet darkness. . . no war. . . no pain.
Tiamat’s Final Act
The Hunter felt the chair beneath him and felt the grip of his sword pressing against his inner elbow. He heard sounds, like shuffling feet. He was aware of the presences of several living beings around him. He tried to remember where he was. The ship had been so real, but the man, Galzu, had said that it was in his head. So, it must have been a projection of a real ship into his brain’s information processing system, making him feel that he was in it, rather than vice versa. He still saw nothing but brilliant white light, but he felt his body firmly in place on the seat where he had left it. Slowly the moment came back to him. He had been talking with the Prince. The conversation had actually been wearying.
Now he felt alive. No, alive was not the word for it. He felt powerful, invigorated beyond anything he had ever felt. He felt. . . god-like. The surges of pure energy coursing through him were even more potent than what he had felt so long ago on Jerushem. . .
Subtly, words came through, a sentence. It sounded like Caligastia’s voice, only as if it were heard through thick glass. What did he say? “The Hunter is away for the moment. Watch him.” He heard sounds of retreating boots, and then he felt before him an unpleasant man. Opening his eyes, he saw that it was a former Defender of the Crown, a man he had once commanded.
“Hello, Krim.” He spoke in a subdued tone, looking into the man’s eyes. What was that strange light around the man?
“ah- shi-” Krim took a step back and reached for a voice-comm.
Arjuna wiped his sword clean on Krim’s shirt and dropped the corpse to the ground. He moved over to the thick sheet of Tiamantium that covered the hole of the Shem. Strange feelings. . . what was that? His thoughts seemed to come from some other source. What was happening in his head? He muttered strange words that he could not understand, and the metal plate literally floated away from the hole, releasing old musty air. He heard running feet, swords unsheathing, men shouting. Why was he so calm? Oh, yes, the power in him was great. And with that great power, he ignored the attacks and descended into the Shem.
One unfortunate soldier leaped down after the Hunter, only to discover his own death. It was there before him, mocking, laughing. A cruel death by asphyxiation. Somehow his throat was pressing against his neck bones. How did that happen? Everything was blurry and there was so much pressure in his head. Dizziness. His eyes clouded over as he toppled to the floor. It was more than ten minutes before he finally twitched his death throe.
The Hunter had moved on, though.
He died alone.
Caligastia stood up so suddenly that he shook the command table and his chair flew back into the dust, shattering. Dalagastia choked on his drink, dropping his cup and reaching for the two-handed sword on his back. His chair fell to the ground as well. The air around the command table was thick with fury. The officers looked at their Commanders with fear. They felt it, too. Caligastia’s hand was over his throat, and a pained garble flowed from his lips. Dalagastia was stumbling backward, tripping on his own feet, doubled over and gasping for air. Without warning the table split down the middle, lifting completely off the ground and exploding into a thousand fragments. The officers and cadre were flung by the explosion, tossed into the air for several feet, landing in the dirt with mangled limbs and twisted necks. Shards of the table were sticking from several bodies. Caligastia watched it happen, but since he was more spirit than material, he was unaffected by the explosion.
Then the sound began. It was the most horrible sound imaginable. It was as if the planet itself were screaming in pain, an agony beyond words. The piercing wail continued the killing, dropping what mortals were still alive. One by one they fell down and stopped living, until only the Prince and his associate remained standing. They looked about them at the mangled corpses with horror frozen on their faces.
“Who are you!” Caligastia screamed at no one in particular, eyes darting back and forth, feebly fighting the agony in his mind. He clawed at his throat, it felt like it was on fire. He had never felt pain before. Stumbling over to one of his officers, he kicked the man. But the man didn’t respond. The wail seemed to penetrate his essence, confusing his thoughts and making him forget who he was. Then he heard Dalagastia gasp. He froze and turned his eyes- only to see the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She wore a sheer dress of emerald green, sparkling with the light of a million galaxies. Her hair was green, cascading from the high twists in her gleaming silver diadem to her shoulders, and flowing like silk to her waist. Her skin was glimmering blue like a million diamonds in a calm sea. There was something so familiar about her. What was it? It was her eyes that captured his attention, though. There was nothing beautiful in those green eyes.
“I am the one you are killing, oh Prince of Doom!” Her voice was like a waterfall pummeling jagged rocks, intense and dangerous. She walked toward him slowly.
“I don’t understand,” Caligastia gasped, “I have never met you, neither have I attacked you.”
“You do not know what you do, dear Son of Twisting. I am Tiamat, and you are killing me.”
Dalagastia squeaked a fearful cry and toppled unconscious to the ground, twitching. The Prince backed away from the approaching goddess. He was not prepared for this, how would he escape? “I am the Prince of this planet.” He sneered as he said it. “You have no right to attack me or my forces!” He fumbled for his sword. Why couldn’t he get it out of the damn sheathe? Why did he feel so afraid? He finally jerked the weapon free.
“Your mind is turbulent, You disgrace your noble order,” She continued to approach him and he struck at her with his sword, watching it pass through her. “Your thoughts are evil, Son of perdition, and your actions betray your sickness.” She reached into his chest and gripped his astral Lanonandek heart. He gaped at the image of her arm disappearing into his chest.
“You may lie to yourself,” she whispered, “but not to me.” “You have stolen from me, you have desecrated my creatures, and you have stained the lands. I will no longer tolerate you.” Tears fell from her eyes and burned his gray skin. Her grip on his heart tightened like a vise.
Arjuna’s walk was sure, though the darkness was complete, so complete that even his eyes could not see anything at all. Somehow, he knew exactly where to step, where to turn, as though he were being controlled by someone else. Finally, his feet ceased stepping and came together. He reached out with a hand and felt around. It took a full five swings with his sword to break the wall before him. His powerful battering completely shattered his blade, leaving him only the hilt to finish the job. He tossed it aside and stepped over the broken brick through the hole into a dimly lit room. The whir of machines grabbed his attention and he walked over to a dusty desk. The progress of the reactor was displayed in the upper right corner of a monitor screen, power levels and output displayed on the upper left. The bottom half of the screen was empty. He tapped it with his finger, watched the blank area blink and fill with information. Streams of symbols flew from bottom to top of the text area. He waited until he saw what he needed, and tapped the symbol that represented the central control of the multiple machines in the room. The entire screen blinked off and back on, revealing a four-dimensional diagram of files and programs. He tapped a few more times, finally bringing up a system file that detailed the original commands that had started the reactor so long ago. After scanning pages and pages of technical data, he came to the bottom where there was a diagram of a panel-box built into a wall. Under the picture was a brief description of what was located there, with a strict warning in bold letters, ‘DO NOT INITIATE. WILL DESTROY SHEM. NO OTHER STOP PROCESS DISCOVERED.’ Following this was a basic record of the scientists that had attempted to find a way to stop the machines and disengage the reactor without creating a huge fallout. The description ended with a dark statement. “We have failed. Forgive us. Recorded by the scribe Artil of Magenon, year fifteen of the 2nd Caligastian injunction.”
Arjuna scanned the walls of the room until he found what he was looking for. Using a tool, he began pounding the stonework to crack it. Pieces of mortar and little chips of brick piled up at his feet, until finally the whole section cracked and fell to the floor. Now, before the Hunter, was the panel that held the end of this insanity. He reached for the panel and froze.
Galzu turned to his lieutenant, “Discontinue our link with him. Get us outside the expected blast range.”
The Lieutenant looked over his screen at Galzu, “with respect sir, there is one thing we still want from him. He has not eaten the scroll you gave him.”
Galzu, the ancient spirit from forgotten beginnings, who had seen more life and death than any other creation in the multi-verse, looked at his lieutenant, “One thing I will not do sir, is deny free will. It is a gift from One, and it shall never be inhibited. I will not have it said in the Celestial Circuits that Galzu has stolen free will from a mortal man.”
“Very well, then,” the crewman said, “let’s go.” He pushed a few buttons and initiated the go sequence.
The ship’s crew cut off all monitoring and communication links to the planet they orbited, preparing for departure. Once again, the peal of the extra-light-speed alarm was activated. Moments later, the ship and crew were translated to ether-material, vanishing from sight. It shot across the heavens just above the speed of light on a direct course to the Pleiades’s system capital.
Arjuna blinked. For a moment confusion overwhelmed him, but it was over as soon as it had begun. He knew that Galzu had been in his head, and was now gone. He adjusted his thoughts accordingly. There he stood motionless, with his hand hovering a fraction of space away from a blue button in the wall of the operations office of the ancient Shem. He trembled slightly, overcome with the gravity of the situation. One motion and the world would be irreversibly changed. He asked himself how he rated in the galactic scheme of creation to make such a decision on his own. True, other people of power and right agreed with his decision, and even seemed anxious that he accomplish it. But, what would be the outcomes? What resultant pain and suffering would be absorbed by the people of his homeworld? Would he be allowed to advance to the universal school of Spirits after this act? Would he be held accountable in the courts of the Most Highs of Edentia? Unfortunately, there were no longer any ascended mortals or higher spirits to ask. He had to make this decision here in this dank cave. A lone, hopeful man with a decision to make.
She moved silently across the ruins of the city of the Shem, her fury was slightly bested by her haste, so she quietly walked past the stunned soldiers that were gathered over the entrance to the Shem. They made no effort to get in her way, either. But she did take back her essence from them. It wasn’t her fault if that killed them. It was hers to take, and it had been stolen from her.
She descended into the hole in the ground and made her way down the passages toward the centrifuge of the machinery. That obnoxious noise they made had been so annoying, but the millennium had been but days to her. She was indeed a planetary mother spirit.
She had been patient. She had watched the exultant celebrations of the mortals after they discovered this energy source, and had observed them anxiously as they made attempt after attempt to disable it without blowing it sky-high. But when they had given up she had fallen into a depressed stupor. The agony of the Twistings and the dismembering pain of the energy fusion had left her weak and hopeless. The machine had been sucking the essence out of her, pulling her deeper and deeper into depression. But only a few hours ago, she had received a messenger spirit from Salvington. The Messenger Spirit told her that she was not forgotten, that a better future had been made. “No longer despair,” it had told her, “The Father loves you.” Tiamat had urged herself out of the depths of the planet and into the open air. That was when she had lost her patience. She saw. . .no, she smelled the corrupt Prince and his deranged armies. There they were, smug and confident, destroying her children. Then she heard it, the mournful cry of countless mortal creatures and souls of dead Children of Men. She should have been moved to tears, but instead she had been moved to violence. Her fit was over now, and she had to find out what the Hunter was up to. She could hear the faint but sweet musical sounds of the essence in his blood, mixed with the thud of his natural heartbeat. It was a solitary, unique, and very beautiful harmony of life-force. She had loved that sound since the day he entered the planet’s atmosphere when he returned from his service on Jerushem. He was one of her favorite children, and she had done all she could to ensure his success. Through dreams, she had taught him how to speak to plants, how to use the air and the vital electromagnetic forces of the sphere.
As she neared him in the control room of the Shem, she could discern that he was deep in contemplation. She glided through the hole in the wall and stood still, looking at his back as he stood motionless.
Ever so quietly, she heard a song, like a whisper, begin to flow through the air.
“Ruler of the Universe, higher than the kings of worlds. Long before the worlds began, everything is in your hands. Your kingdom stands forever more.”
Arjuna did not know, but when he activated the control monitor in the shem, the computer had instantly relayed an active communication link to the underground bunker that the Emperor, Empress, heads of state, and every important person in the planet’s native mortal government, as well as their secretaries, assistants, and families, were hiding in. It was a full link, with audio, Gamma, Theta and Beta visuals, and common video, all in real-time. When the Hunter was searching the system files, the Emperor realized the importance of the moment and directed one of the attendants to relay the audio and visuals to the many in-wall speakers and wall-size monitors positioned throughout the bunker’s system of caves and galleries. The entire living remnant of the mortal government of Tiamat would witness what could only be described as “the end of life as we know it.” Everyone gasped in surprise and wonder when the monitors revealed the planetary mother spirit, Tiamat in the ‘flesh’, whom they had never really believed existed. There she was, and though she was half dead and haggard, to them she appeared glorious. And then the song had begun. The most wondrous and hauntingly mournful, yet agonizingly beautiful song ever sung on the planet. For it was sung not with the voices of men and of angels, but with one voice, which was both. It was sung with not just hope, or mortal dread. . . but with both feelings. Joy and sorrow in a voice the universes had never heard song from, until now.
Arjuna held his finger just a fraction of an inch from the end-all button. His mind was impressively calm. He could feel the turbulent storm of emotion surging through his brain, but he was not relying on that purely physical organ. He was reaching deeper within his mind than he ever had before, trying with all his might to approach the Throne of Grace, a mythical place that supposedly seated the Most High God and Creator, the Source and Center of all creations. By focusing on the symbolism of the Throne, he attempted to drive his very being beyond the wall of separation that kept the System of Satania, and thus Tiamat, in quarantine. He wanted to touch the Father. He wanted to feel something he had only heard stories about, something not felt on the planet since Lucifer had made his Declaration of Independence so long ago.
He wanted it more than anything, then he could die in peace. For several moments, his effort had been sustained by his mortal body, but as he continued to reach, striving with every quanta of his essence, his body signed off and the dormant angelic essence in him took hold. And as soon as that happened, he was there. He saw a vast collection of not just universes, but clusters of universes. Brilliant, shining, spinning; all orbiting a central island that was so bright with pure energy that Arjuna knew the Father was there. He could go no closer to the central Isle of Paradise, and as he looked around at the Grand Universe, he had a sudden realization that the Father was in and around and suffusing all of it. His soul was overcome with awe, and he had to express it. That’s when the song began to spill from his lips, and he sang it with his body, his soul, and his spirit. It was all he could do to show his adoration.
Tiamat stood still, transfixed on the blazing spectacle of colored lights that suddenly appeared where Arjuna stood. She realized with awe that he had connected with her source. The very air around her was gently massed with such a glorious sense of Life that she began to weep, tears trailing down her cheeks to fall to the floor. She listened reverently to the strange song emanating from Arjuna. It reminded her of something very important that she had forgotten.
“Ruler of the Universe, higher than the kings of worlds. Long before the worlds began, everything is in your hands. Your kingdom stands forever more.”
Everyone in the bunker with the Emperor had made their way into the main gallery, staring with wide open eyes at the giant screen that covered a five-hundred square-foot section of the wall. The speakers had been turned up so that the whole bunker reverberated with the song.
The bunker fell to complete silence, tears dropping to the floor. Every one of them were awed by what had just happened. Nothing like it had ever occurred, and they wondered why it had not. The Emperor spoke quietly from his location near the center of the gallery, on a platform whereon sat the central communication system that had been established nearly three millennium before. He spoke reverently, not really wanting to break the silence.
“We are a lost people, quarantined from the universal circuits for crimes we have not committed. And yet, we have found a way to touch the One. Let this moment be written upon your hearts, and tell the story to your children and grandchildren. We will take this story to the ends of the universe, until there is not one living creature that has not heard of this grace that is given to us.”
The Emperor completed his speech as the attention of the people was drawn back to the monitor.
Arjuna finished his song and found himself once again in the confines of his body, still hovering his index finger over the button. He did not turn around, but spoke gently to Tiamat.
“I am truly sorry for what we have done to you, spirit.”
The goddess stood unmoving just inside the room, looking at the back of his head. Her green eyes flowed with a stream of ethereal tears. Her gentle whisper echoed through the underground halls,
“Press the button, dear Arjuna.”