The city was dark and brooding; a jet black pall of cloud clung perpetually to its tall spires. No breeze gently stroked its filigreed buildings, no laughter rang through its vaulted halls. Death had stalked its once bright streets and garlanded avenues, and had decided to stay.
At the centre of the gloomy and pain-ridden metropolis rose a tall thin spire, its top sharply truncated, clashing with the clean lines of the surrounding buildings. A ridged shape was wrapped tightly against the fluted tower, terminating in a diamond like block which lay flat and unmoving.
The base of the structure flared outwards, inside was one circular room; symmetrically perfect in construction. Its walls were covered in jewels whose reflective brilliance was hidden behind the shadowed façade.
One pulse of light stroked the walls, their reflective properties enhancing its purity and clarity. Bouncing rays struck again into the centre of the room, and the beacon awoke.
Now the pulses became stronger, reinforced, and finally a pure beam of energy thrust skywards, its progress halted momentarily by the block laid flat over the tower’s pointed tip. Insistently the beam struck again, forcing its way outwards.
With a protesting roar of anger, the creature raised its head and saw the lance of light escape, tearing out into space, where it struck against a series of revolving shapes. These too flared into life, sparkling with energy. They spun faster and faster, resonating in time with the light’s waveform. Reaching their utmost capacity of charge, they began to broadcast a low and repetitive song.
The beam suddenly winked out, the creature lowering its head and once more closing its eyes. Deep in the tower, light continued to flash, the jewels ensuring that the newly awakened beacon would not die. They illuminated the strange dais set to one side and the dry and desiccated pair of wings resting upon it.
Second Church Protectorate
Funeral pyres burnt across the extent of the battle field, soldiers using flamethrowers to ensure the vile and rotted corpses ignited. The battle was long over and Walters and his men were, in their own way, cleansing the memory of the conflict.
Troop transporters settled slowly to ground, their cargo doors folding outwards with steady grace. Of the original regiments only the Lutheran and Eyatolians remained. Those others who had survived had been press ganged into service, helping to ferry the dismembered remains to the central pits along with the other soldiers.
They would now all be leaving this world, Walters had promised that none would be left behind. Their new commander had already been ferried up to the Galleon with his bodyguard and advisors. His remaining command structure had remained behind to organise the uplift of personnel and machinery.
None of them had been informed of their next destination, but even the least of them was less than concerned. Walters had proven to them that he was much more than a simple leader and they would willingly follow him wherever he went.
Marius watched as the last of the tanks was backed on board and waited until his men were also inside. His combat helmet dangled by its straps from his arm, ready to be placed on his head before he climbed into the waiting fighter. Fuel had been found and so he and the remainder of his wing were to fly the craft off this world. Walters had explained it simply enough, where they were going they would need all the firepower that they had. He had promised various upgrades to the craft and the chance to use them once again in combat.
The captain was not so sure, he had enjoyed fighting close alongside his men; the disciplined strike of their short swords, the adrenalin rush as they had driven their enemies into dust. It was not something he could give up lightly.
As the transport heaved itself up into the air, he shook his head and raced to his waiting fighter. This was one rush he knew about and if this was to be his last time, he was determined to enjoy it.
Viker huddled close to the rest of the members of his platoon, although some of them, particularly Alana looked at him strangely, reverentially. He had been blessed on the battle field and many still yearned for the privilege of that honour. Corporal Johns also treated him differently, more like a brother than a common soldier and he was still finding that hard to come to terms with. Shouldering his pack, he moved to take his place in the line, but Johns pulled him aside.
“No, son,” he said, “Leftenant Krantu has asked that you join his command directly.”
“But …” began Viker, but Johns shook his head and clapped him on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about the rest of us,” he said, “we’ll be joining you soon enough.”
With a friendly shove the Corporal pushed him towards the waiting Leftenant and his men, who were about to climb aboard the pinnace. Looking back once, Viker saw the envy on his companions’ faces, quickly replaced by pride as he was welcomed into his new role.
Finally all of the troops were lifted off the planet’s surface, the ships taking their place alongside the Galleon and the other warships. A command was given, then one by one they jumped into the waiting anonymity of fold space.
Second Church Protectorate
“Where are they!” screamed the Admiral, as report after report came in from the planet.
“They’re all dead, Sir,” replied General Grimes, doing his best to calm the explosive situation.
“Three full Regiments? How is that possible?”
“You’ve read the reports on the debris from the space battle, I assume?” asked Grimes carefully.
“Of course”, snapped the Admiral, “Do you take me for a fool, sir?”
“No,” responded the General, trying to keep his temper in check, “my only point is that we can see from the hulks floating in space, the myriad of destroyed vessels and other things, that a major Tauran Fleet was defeated here. The amount of men and machinery they would have thrown at the planet, would indicate that three Regiments would have been significantly outnumbered.”
“Granted, Grimes….”, an incoming transmission, broke into their conversation and the Admiral listened intently, before turning to the General once more, a small smile of satisfaction on his lips, “they’ve found a survivor and they’re bringing him here right now!”
The Church Fleet had recently arrived after a fruitless search for their enemies. They had continued with the plan of garrisoning worlds, but with no news of contact, from any of their outposts, they had begun retracing their tracks. When they had emerged into real space around Argent III, every single alarm had sprung into strident life and what they found was incomprehensible to them.
There was evidence of a major battle; broken ships, countless corpses spinning in the cold vacuum of space and the residues of vast discharges of energy. Painstaking examination of all that was left, still weakly held by the planet’s gravitational pull, revealed nothing.
Deployment of troops onto the planet’s surface was even more disheartening; vast swathes of land were burned and blackened, pits containing broken and twisted bones still smouldered and stank with the familiarly sweet smell. Discarded equipment lay as a mute testimony to the ferocity of the conflict waged there.
Squads of men and machinery combed the land and any hope of finding survivors fast disappeared. That is until they found, hidden and partially crushed beneath the remains of a battle tank, the sole Tauran Elite.
“Where is he?” asked Grimes, as he entered the hanger bay.
“They’re bringing him up now General,” said the Sargeant in charge of the squad of Guardsmen.
“How is he?” queried the General, quickly looking over the heavily armed group of men.
“Apart from being the mis-begotten whelp that he is?” responded the Sargeant, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth, “Well he’s alive, if that’s what you want to know, sir. That is, he’s clinging to the parody of plague-infested life that represents his existence.”
“Is he still dangerous?” questioned Grimes, a slight tremor of fear apparent in his voice.
“Always …” replied the Sargeant, turning to watch the shuttle which even now was entering the bay.
A tramp of feet heralded the arrival of the Fleet’s own pet Inspector, accompanied by a bevy of troopers. They were heavily armed and carried great lengths of silvered chain with them.
“General,” acknowledged the man, dressed in a high necked tunic, his long hair tied in a pony tail which cascaded down his back. His clothing was free of any adornment, yet he carried himself with an inherent air of arrogance.
“Frings,” said the General, nodding in recognition of the other’s rank and station.
“We’ll take it from here,” said the Inspector, in his tone an implicit dismissal of the superior officer.
Grimes started, as though he had been slapped, but gracefully withdrew. This man was dangerous, his reputation preceded him.
Inspector Frings watched the General leave and then turned to the Sargeant, “Very well, Sargeant, it appears as though we are ready. You can bring him out now!”
They did as they were told, the body strapped to a medical gurney, ties around the man’s remaining arm and leg. His armour was cracked and broken and a black miasma leaked slowly outwards. Now and then a horrific face seemed to peep out from between the fractured remains of what had once been metal, snarled and then disappeared once more. A putrid stench of rotting flesh instantly pervaded the area and more than one of the troopers gagged and fought the urge to vomit.
With a peremptory wave of his hand, the Inspector indicated that the chains be brought forward and his men obeyed, more in fear of Frings than the Tauran himself.
“Bind him,” he snarled, removing a handkerchief from his tunic pocket and genteelly covering his nose with it.
Horrid curses filled the air and the smell became stronger as the bound figure struggled, a rotten yellow fluid leaking to the decking. Straps began to strain and without any command, the Sargeant strode forward and slammed the hilt of his pistol between the Tauran’s eyes, who slumped back against the bed of the trolley.
“Thank you Sargeant,” murmured Frings, “that was exactly what was required.”
Now chained and bound, the limp figure was wheeled away, Inspector Frings in silent pursuit.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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