Chapter Thirty-Two

69ac40585bab330a5ca2dd03607b0f89

Chapter Thirty-Two – Evil is Reborn

Returning to Kalki, Hesket went to his dark lair deep inside the bowels of the ship. Finding what he wanted, he silently searched through the ship’s interior until he came across a small laboratory. Working quickly he began to carry out a series of experiments. Hours later, he took the results of the experiments to another part of the ship. Hesket watched from the safety of the view screen as the last stage of his experiment took shape inside the chamber. When the process was complete, Hesket opened the chamber and checked for himself. Satisfied, he took the final product of his experiment with him to Kalki’s bridge. The ship scanned Pranash as Hesket searched for, and found, his target. “There!” he said.

The colour of her eyes briefly flashed from blue to dark ruby red, and just as quickly returned to their original colour, while Shu watched Akhen and his brothers make their way to where they had left the shuttle. Shu’s beautiful face twisted into a mask of pure hatred. Her eyes turned dark ruby red again as her anger grew. “There is your murderer, the one who killed you while you slept, lady,” Hesket hissed. “Kill him and his brothers!”

Shu’s eyes returned to their normal colour. “No,” she said calmly, “We leave him here to his fate. The fleet will soon arrive. Maas will show him no mercy!” Hesket’s black eyes stared at Shu as he tried to influence her, but she blocked his pathetic intrusion, turning it back to his own dark mind. My kin screamed in agony as Shu tortured him before releasing him. “You think you can control me Khaz,” Shu said quietly, as her eyes flashed. “I thank you for bringing me back and for that reason alone I will not kill you. You shall join Akhen and the others down on Janus Omega.” Shu seized Hesket by the neck and took him to the shuttle bay. After she had securely bound him, she said, “Tell Akhen that I am alive when you meet, and believe me, you will meet him.” Shu closed the door of the shuttle and sent it back to the planet. Then she took Kalki out of orbit and left Janus Omega.

~~~

The berserkers arrived soon after the shuttle landed. They drew their swords and carefully approached. Besal flung open the hatch. Sword in hand he leapt inside, returning moments later throwing Hesket to the ground at Akhen’s feet. The diminutive Khaz writhed in agony, as he lay surrounded by the berserkers. “What were you doing on board Kalki?” Khan asked, pressing the point with his sword tip between Hesket’s eyes. Hesket screamed for mercy as his body exuded the familiar foul stench.

“Well Khaz, we’re waiting,” Seti added, kicking Hesket’s head. Manesh stamped his foot on my cousin’s trussed up body, crushing his organs inside. Hesket screamed uncontrollably, his body broken beyond repair.

“Well? What were you doing on board Kalki?” Akhen enquired calmly. “Why are you tied up? Who did this to you, and why?”

Through the painful mist that now enveloped Hesket’s consciousness, he struggled to stay focused, knowing that his end was near. The sun mercilessly fried his delicate grey skin and his evil black eyes began to cloud over.

“What happened?” Max demanded.

“Tell us Khaz and we shall deliver you from your pain,” Akkad said, quietly.

“Release me from my bonds, I beg you,” Hesket murmured. Apis and Shansur untied the pitiful creature that my cousin was, and shaded him from the sun with their shields. He told the berserkers everything about his ambitions, about how he and our kin had set both sides against each other in a bid to become the dominant species throughout the cosmos, and lastly about how he had lied to convince Akhen and Hor that Shu was evil.

Akhen’s eyes filled with tears of anger. Because of Hesket’s lies, he had slain their mother. Akhen drew his sword ready to strike. “I should have killed you, not Shu!” he thundered.

“Wait, please wait. There is more,” Hesket croaked.

“What more is there? You have destroyed the most beautiful thing in the cosmos by your lies, stinking Khaz filth!”

Akhen screamed the spine chilling berserker war cry with his sword held high above his head, about to strike. “Wait!” Khan ordered, gripping Akhen’s arm. “Listen to him; let him finish.”

Akhen dropped his sword to the ground, his dark eyes flashed with anger and loathing for the broken creature. “Very well, Khaz, finish your tale if you must,” he muttered.

“After I was returned to the cell I escaped and hid while you beheaded Shu. When you buried her, I captured her essence in a vial and stole aboard Kalki. I put the thoughts into your mind, Manesh, about your brother Nagesh, your father Vishna, and your mother. It was the truth, I swear!” Hesket pleaded, barely able to continue as death crept closer. His skin was gradually changing to a powdery white colour. “After you had slain them both I returned to Kalki and collected Shu’s essence. I tried to manipulate it, to make her obedient to my every wish. But when she emerged from the regeneration chamber, she had become the evil creature I had lied about to you and your family. She was truly the most beautiful being before I began, but now, thanks to my meddling, she has changed forever, leaving Janus Omega and abandoning you and your brothers to your fate at the hands of general Maas.” Hesket sank into unconsciousness. His tiny body now lay at their feet completely covered in a chalky white dust. My cousin’s large eyes turned white and dimmed for the last time.

~~~

They did not have to wait long. A few hours after Shu departed, Eugene’s armada arrived, filling the skies above Pranash. Hundreds of troop carriers descended. Eugene’s marines raped, killed, and looted their way through the city, setting it on fire as they went. By nightfall, Pranash was under Eugene’s control. He left the carrier with my kin Pashtek, hitching a ride and landed close to the walled home of Vishna, and entered the garden. Lighting a cigar he studied the lifeless corpses of Nagesh and Vishna, then shrugging his shoulders, he took over the house as his centre of operations. Over the next few hours, while his marines spread across Janus Omega, wiping out the last vestiges of the Drana, and my cousin hid from the danger, his vast armada sat in orbit empty, but for a small skeleton crew on each ship.

~~~

A captured Drana was brought before Eugene. “Well lizard breath, whadda you want?”

Hasaan raised his bloody and bruised head. “General Maas, I know who killed my Dranaa and his father, sir.”

“So?” Eugene said, pretending not to be interested.

“Sir it was berserker warriors!”

“Ber- what?” Eugene spat a wad of tobacco into Hasaan’s eyes, causing them to burn intensely from the mix of tobacco juice and his salty saliva.

“Berserkers sir, followers of Shu,” Hasaan screamed in agony, as his eyes dissolved.

“Just who in hell is Shu – huh?” Eugene kicked the legs out from under Hasaan, sending him sprawling across the floor. Drawing his colt, he rammed the muzzle into Hasaan’s groin and pulled back the hammer. “Talk bastard, or I’ll blow your goddam balls off – you hear,” Eugene snarled, enjoying the moment.

His ruddy face changed colour, turning white after Hasaan finished telling him about Shu, Akhen, and Kalki. “And where is Shu now, huh; where’s her goddam ship?” Eugene demanded.

Hasaan shook his eyeless head as the salt dug further into his skull. “I don’t know general. Her berserkers disappeared once they had murdered Dranaa Nagesh and his father.”

“Goddam!” Eugene muttered after he pulled the trigger of the ancient colt, ending Hasaan’s agony by rupturing his internal organs.

~~~

The carrier’s shuttle bay was empty, illuminated by the lights in its ceiling. No one was on watch. The four members of the skeleton crew randomly surveyed the ship via the monitors in central control. The carrier’s sensors were unaware of the cloaked intruders on the shuttle bay deck. Silently, Akhen and his brothers crept through the ship to where the crew members played cards while the monitors surveyed every deck, corridor, and companionway ladder. The control of the carrier silently changed hands. Akhen and Max set to work while the others laid Semac charges throughout the hull.

When their shuttle was at a safe distance, Akhen remotely initiated the Armag array’s self-destruct sequence. The brothers watched as Eugene’s mighty armada vaporised before their eyes. Apis turned the shuttle and laid in a course for Cydon and home to the Andromedan galaxy.

~~~

Far below on Janus Omega, Eugene and my kin Pashtek were marooned on the destroyed planet after witnessing the destruction of Eugene’s fleet. Eugene flew into a blind rage killing the nearest marine to him with his bare hands. Young Michael’s face turned purple as he choked to death…

 ~~~

Next time – Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-One

the-norsemen

Chapter Thirty-One – Battle for Dranaa and Reunion

“Sir, general sir! There’s something out here with us,” Michael said, checking the calibration of the sensors relaying their information to his tactical screen.

Eugene came over to see for himself. “Whadda you got son?” he asked, leaning over Michael’s shoulder.

“There, sir, see that!” Michael nervously pointed to a disturbance on the edge of the screen. “It’s big, sir—really big! Some kind of spatial anomaly, I reckon.” Michael was clearly worried and puzzled by what he saw.

“Just keep an eye on it. Let me know if it gets any closer, ok son?” Eugene patted Michael’s shoulder reassuringly. He was as nervous as young Michael. He’d seen at first-hand what the ‘anomaly’ could do and there was no way in hell he was going to do anything to antagonize it. So long as it left him alone, he was happy. Michael continued watching their ‘shadow’ as the fleet headed towards the empire.

~~~

On board Kalki, Hesket fed information into the minds of Akhen and his brothers in readiness for their next task. On worlds and ships across both the Alliance of Planets and the Drana Empire, my kin were still hard at work attempting to influence both sides to destroy each other despite the new threat, in a determined effort to become the new force in the cosmos. Nagesh and his court were fed disinformation about the strength and disposition of the combined armada by Korpak, sent by Hesket to poison Nagesh’s mind and to convince him that Eugene was even now plotting to kill him, and to take over the Drana Empire for himself.

~~~

“Where is Maas now?” Nagesh demanded.

Korpak stared back at Nagesh through his large unblinking black eyes. “Great lord, even now his fleet is only days away on its journey here to destroy Dranaa and the empire.”

“What of my fleet! Why have they not destroyed the rebels?”

“Dranaa, they cannot. They were themselves destroyed by general Maas while engaged in an attack on one of the planets in the Tratass system!” Korpak hissed, his grey face expressionless. Turning to the most senior Drana officer present, Nagesh screamed, “General Omar, the defence of the empire is now in your hands. See to it!” Korpak quietly left the garden and disappeared.

~~~

The disinformation Korpak imparted about the destruction of the Drana fleet was based on truth. In preparation for the defeat of the empire, Eugene turned the Armag array against the Drana fleet, ridding the cosmos of half the armada under his command, reducing the empire’s few remaining ships surrounding Dranaa into an ineffectual defence force. Hesket watched with deep satisfaction from the safety of Kalki, content that his plans to take over were going well. At the heart of the Alliance dozens of my ‘terrified’ cousins begged for sanctuary, willingly revealing under routine questioning, alarming news concerning the dramatic build-up of hundreds of thousands of Drana commando death squads, and the six massive new invasion fleets that carried them. They lay in readiness, waiting for the order for an all out attack on the Alliance’s two strongest centres, Cydon and Earth, spreading panic throughout the many governments of the Alliance of Planets.

Eugene’s armada arrived at the outer edge of the empire above Jalnuur. The mine once more lay in ruins after his marines went about their deadly business, leaving no one alive before returning to the armada. In the confusion, my kin, Pashtek, hid on board one of Eugene’s ships. The next target was the outlying Drana base on Nazuur, which was quickly overrun and captured, with a small force of Eugene’s elite marines left in charge.

~~~

The armada drove on steadily, blasting its way across the empire. Michael called out to Eugene. “Sir, general sir, the anomaly is changing course!” Eugene watched the massive shadow veer away from where it had previously stationed itself and head towards Janus Omega. He felt a wave of relief; at last the goddamn thing is leaving – good riddance! Now he could concentrate on Dranaa less than a day away on their present heading.

Kalki assumed stationary orbit above Janus Omega undetected, hidden by its cloaking system. Akhen and his brothers retired for the night. Hesket invaded their subconscious while they slept. When they awoke the next day, his ‘army’ would do his bidding, fed with pertinent scraps of information. Inside a darkened compartment deep inside the ship, Hesket idly played with a tiny metal vial, turning it over and occasionally shaking it, then chuckling to himself, he closed his eyes and slept.

~~~

The first light of dawn slowly spread across the sleeping city of Pranash. Hasaan was already receiving reports of clashes on the home world of Dranaa between Eugene’s marines and the Drana commandos. General Omar’s severely reduced armed forces were rapidly losing ground against the fanatical human marines across the planet. Within hours, the bloody battle for Dranaa was over. Omar had been routed by overwhelming forces. The empire’s defences were crumbling fast. Soon Eugene’s armada would arrive. The only barrier standing between him and Janus Omega were the three small planetary systems of Andras, Shaktar, and Bhaktur three hundred and twenty thousand kilometres away.

~~~

Nagesh trembled in fear as Hasaan relayed the news to his emperor. What was he to do, where could he go? Ordering Hasaan to continue gathering information, Nagesh disappeared into the house. “Vishna, what am I going to do; there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from Maas!” he pleaded. Vishna held him in his arms as he had when he was a small boy.

Gently stroking Nagesh’s luxuriant braided hair, the old man’s waxed moustache twitched while his facial expressions changed as he thought over the problem. “There is only one way out for you Naga,” he said finally, as he tenderly wiped the tears flowing from his former lover’s eyes. “You must find a ship and flee to the Alliance of Planets and surrender to them.”

Nagesh pushed away from Vishna. “Are you mad? The Alliance would crucify me. They would never give me sanctuary. Anyway, my royal barge is the only vessel still capable of the distance, and it’s unarmed. It would be picked up by Maas’ sensors and I would be hunted down and killed!”

The old man shrugged his shoulders. “You asked for my advice, Naga, and I gave it. I can do no more for you, I’m sorry…’ Vishna slumped back in his chair in the early morning sun and dozed off.

~~~

In the panic and confusion of the imminent attack, no one on the streets of Pranash noticed the hooded barefoot priests make their way steadily through the tree lined streets of the suburbs, towards the walled gardens of the old admiral’s home. Forcing the small door to the inner garden the priests entered and closed the door behind them. Akhen and his brothers threw off the rough priests’ garb and drew their swords. He signalled to begin searching the house and garden, while he and Manesh sat by the central fountain of the garden. The warm sunlight bounced off the burnished metal of their weapons onto the garden walls, where it danced as the two berserkers flexed their grip on their sword hilts. Khan and Shansur returned with Seti and Apis. “Nusaan, Besal, and Akkad are rechecking the upper floors,” Khan said, wiping blood from his sword blade.

“Where’s Max?” Akhen asked.

“He’s bringing the prize,” Apis laughed.

Max appeared with the limp body of Nagesh draped across his powerful shoulders and dumped the Drana emperor in a heap on the lawn at Manesh’s feet. “Is this what you’re looking for, brother?” he smiled. They gathered around the unconscious body as the sun rose higher into the sky. A circle of razor sharp swords pointed at Nagesh.

When he regained consciousness half an hour later, the throbbing pain in his head from the hilt of Max’s sword still blurred his vision. Minute jagged sparks of multi-coloured light flashed and floated across his dark eyes as he tried to refocus. Gradually his vision cleared in the sunlight and for a brief moment, he thought he lay surrounded by tall trees. Then one of the trees kicked his head. “Get up; get to your feet!” Strong hands dragged him from the ground, then he felt a vicious kick in the back of his legs and he dropped painfully to his knees. “Hello brother. Or should that be sister by the way you look?” the voice quietly asked.

Nagesh shook his head trying to clear his vision but the throbbing pain persisted. He put his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun’s rays, but it was roughly knocked aside. He felt a sharp pain in his back drive him forward, falling face down on the marble path beside the fountain. Blood now ran from his nose adding to his discomfort. Through the blinding haze of sparks, his eyes slowly began to clear. The trees took on a new shape as they gradually came into sharp focus. They were the powerful legs of warriors. Strong hands once again lifted him up, bringing his eyes to the same level as the warrior directly in front of him. “I said hello, brother. Don’t you recognize me? Have I changed so much since we were small children playing in the gardens of the royal palace on Banek, while our mother worked in the kitchens? Surely not, brother, surely not! Remember when our mother used to sneak small morsels of food from the Dranaa’s banquet out to us, and we used to hide behind her as we ate them – remember? Well do you? You’ve done well for yourself, brother, considering your humble beginnings. I wonder how many of your court know that their precious Dranaa is the bastard offspring of a slave. And that you’re only a half-breed, not Drana royalty at all, but the youngest illegitimate son of an Arnasian woman torn from her mother as a toddler. Destined to spend the rest of her pitiful life as a kitchen hand and whore in the Dranaa’s summer palace here on Janus Omega!”

Nagesh felt tiny drops of spittle shower his face and slowly slide down to his chin, burning from the salt saliva when the berserker spat into his eyes. Sudden recognition entered Nagesh’s bewildered mind. “Manesh?”

“So you do remember, brother. Do you remember when our dear mother died? Do you remember how she died?” Manesh’s voice turned to steel as he asked the question. Nagesh heard the sound of water hitting the marble pathway, but it was not the fountain overflowing. The white silk of his figure hugging robe turned yellow in the sunlight. “Ah, I see you do remember,” Manesh chuckled, grimly. “Please tell my brothers how our mother died, I pray you.” Manesh’s bitter voice cut into Nagesh like a surgeon’s knife. He released his grip and Nagesh fell painfully to the marble path where he lay in his own filth, gathering his legs up in his arms in a foetal position, sobbing uncontrollably. “Bring me the other one!” Manesh barked. Apis and Shansur dragged the old man out into the garden and pushed him to the floor beside Nagesh. “Greetings father,” Manesh said, staring coldly at the pathetic old man.

“Who are you?” Vishna’s voice trembled, as he spoke.

“You surely remember your oldest son,” Manesh said, as he crouched in front of the near blind old man. roughly seizing Vishna’s moustache, he hauled him painfully to his feet and pulled his face close. Vishna’s old eyes streamed with tears from the pain as he struggled to focus on the face before him. The warrior was a stranger to him and yet the eyes were somehow familiar. “My brother recognized me, father, why don’t you?” Manesh venomously whispered into Vishna’s ear. The slow realization made Vishna shake uncontrollably with fear. Manesh released his grip and Vishna joined Nagesh on the pathway. “Since both my brother and my father are reluctant to tell the story of our family my dear brothers, I shall have to enlighten you myself,” Manesh said, calmly. He stood for a moment remembering the days of his early childhood in silence. Then he sat beside the fountain and began. “My mother was the youngest child of a street trader on the second planet in the Arnasian system – Losha. When she was five, the Drana commandos raided her village, killing most of the adults and stealing the children. She was taken to the slave markets on Dranaa where she was bought by a young officer in Nazir’s fleet – my dear father here. “By the time she was twelve, Vishna had taken her to his bed. When he tired of her, she was sent to work in the summer palace here on Janus Omega. Unbeknown to him, my mother was pregnant and a few months later, I was born. Soon after my birth, another Drana raped my mother. This time he was not an officer, but merely a lowly trooper, one of the thousands who were quartered here, when Nazir was in residence. Mother fell pregnant again at the age of fourteen and duly gave birth to my half-brother Nagesh. “When I was six, I was taken away from my mother and brother and sent to the harsh military school on Dreyga, on the orders of Vishna never to see either of them ever again. Vishna took Nagesh under his wing and brought him up with fictitious stories about being descended from Hanseer, grooming him for his own political ends. When Nagesh reached his teenage years he firmly believed that he was the direct descendant of Hanseer, the most famous and honoured Drana warrior, who lost his life over eight hundred years ago when he led the final assault against the Human-Nephile’s on Earth. While Vishna saw to it that I was sent to the worst battles in an effort to kill me, never quite able to order my death himself, my brother Nagesh was pampered and schooled in the art of politics by Vishna. When he was old enough, Vishna sent him to the elite officers’ academy on Dreyga where his political education quickly accelerated his advancement. I have to admit that in the beginning, Nagesh did distinguish himself in battle before his perverted sexual need for small boys consumed him. Reports of his conquests in Nazir’s name spread across the empire. When he led the revolt against Nazir on Dranaa, I was there to witness his triumph. I tried to get a message to him telling him that I was alive, but Vishna intercepted it and I was once again sent to the farthest corner of the empire. Vishna proclaimed Nagesh the new Dranaa and then had our mother garrotted and buried outside the city limits of Pranash in the poisonous soil of the garbage dumps, to hide Nagesh’s humble beginnings from Drana society.”

Akhen put his arm around Manesh and hugged him while the rest of the berserkers stood silent. “How do you know all this, Manesh; you’ve never mentioned it before?” Apis said.

“I didn’t know until a few nights ago,” Manesh replied quietly.

“Clear thoughts and memories came flooding into my mind. Someone or something triggered them.” Manesh broke down with tears of anger flowing down his face as his body trembled from the release of pent up emotions deep inside him. Vishna and Nagesh shook with fear as they lay huddled together surrounded by the berserkers. Manesh wiped the tears from his eyes and slowly stood up. He turned to look at Vishna and Nagesh, his eyes now cold and unfeeling. “Time to put things right,” he quietly stated, as he picked up his sword. The double-edged sword blade sliced through the air sending a red haze of blood across the path, before Vishna’s head rolled and stopped beside the fountain’s ornate base. Nagesh screamed as the lifeless body twitched beside him. Manesh sheathed his sword. “Get up brother,” he said, calmly and quietly, dragging Nagesh to his feet by his throat. He smiled and looked deep into Nagesh’s eyes as he squeezed the life from him, crushing his larynx, and snapping his neck, before dropping his lifeless body to the ground. Hesket witnessed the end of Nagesh with evil pleasure from the shadows and smiled…

~~~

Next time – Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty

eagle-6

Chapter Thirty – Lies, Deception and Destruction

Above the enclosed garden in a hidden valley on Earth a giant elderly eagle perched, watching the proceedings below while eating the juicy insect it had caught. Below him, an old warrior lifted his magnificent head and looked at the assembled group standing before him. A beautiful young woman was silhouetted by the sunlight that passed through her translucent white sari. His eyes followed the exquisite curves of her body up to her breathtaking face framed with honey blond hair that cascaded across her shoulders. She reminded him of his sister Auset when she had been the same age. Hor got to his feet and straightened his still magnificent frame. It had been seven hundred and fifty years since he had last taken up arms. Now he held the magnificent jewelled double-edged sword that Shu had gently placed in his large hands when she begged him to join them. He turned the blade over admiring its exquisite craftsmanship and the richly embossed shield, which she had also offered. He understood why his young kin Akhen and the rest of his brothers blindly followed her. But something in the blue pools that are her eyes, troubled Hor. He sensed more about her than she disclosed – something dark. A part of her was shielded from his gentle probe of her mind, yet… “I need time to think over what you propose, lady. You shall have my answer when I return. The eagle above our heads will carry any message you may have for me to my home in the city. And now I must take my leave. Farewell Akhen, son of Horus, son of Auramooth; farewell Lady Shu of Kallorn.” He bowed his head and kissed her hand, then strode through the doorway out to his waiting Mordred fighter and flew towards the city beyond the pyramid shaped hill to the south. Hor felt worried for his great grandnephew and the nine other berserker warriors.

~~~

The news that there was now a fourth combatant in the arena flashed through the combined Drana and rebel fleets with the speed of a prairie fire. The panic caused by the catastrophic attacks by the unseen aggressor across the many galaxies, often within days of each other, made Eugene’s senseless wholesale slaughter seem unimportant. Thinking the new aggressor would turn on the Alliance fleet as well, the Alliance of Planets’ diplomats wanted to sue for peace with Nagesh. The military turned their attention to defence rather than offence but as Lord Seth had so eloquently stated in his speech to the Alliance council, “It’s too late for defence, too late for diplomatic solutions with Nagesh, and too late to try catching Maas and his mutineers. The simple fact is we do not know who the new aggressor is. Nor do we know where or when it will strike again. So far, it seems to be indiscriminately attacking all Drana and rebel ships in the war. Soon it will turn on us as well. Therefore, I propose a truce between the Alliance and the Drana. We need to join forces to fight this new aggressor!”

The speech was greeted with jeers and cries of ‘Traitor, resign!’ Seth left the Council chambers for the last time and retired to Cydon. Unbeknown to the Council and Seth, his failed appeal to unite with the Drana, in a way had come true when Eugene and Nagesh finally agreed on their own ‘New Alliance’. Nagesh handed command of the combined fleets to Eugene, charging him with securing all Alliance of Planets’ territory within the five galaxies bordering the Drana system of planets for the empire. In return, Eugene would take planets in any other galaxy system to set up his own base of operations. And the remainder would be evenly split between the two men, with a guaranteed inviolate border between the armed camps and an agreed non-aggression pact. While it looked alright on paper, both men knew deep down they would never honour it once they had achieved their own objectives; but for now it was convenient and served a dual purpose. The first objective was to take territory. The second and most important was to find and destroy the mysterious new aggressor.

The first target in Eugene’s sights was the home of the Suraa people, the Suron system. The Suraa home planet Opaal woke to find itself surrounded by the ‘New Alliance’ armada. Thousands of Drana commandos, together with Eugene’s marines, landed across the planet, destroying everything and rounding up the population, sending them to their death in the reopened Negan mine on Jalnuur. The Suraa chief ministers were arrested and executed on every planet in the system. Nagesh smiled at the news of his latest acquisition. Things were going according to plan at least from his point of view. Now that the Suron system was his, he felt secure enough to shift his base of operations to Janus Omega away from the political intrigue of his court. He made his home in his ‘uncle’s’ house, spending most of his time in the garden where the ‘New Alliance’ had been agreed. But elsewhere events were rapidly unfolding, altering Nagesh’s ultimate destiny.

~~~

A Haast eagle soared on the thermals over the scrub grass covered, pyramid shaped hill, and flew north to the house at the head of the valley. The giant raptor landed silently on one of the pergola beams above Akhen’s head. “Lord Hor wishes you to travel to the city, Lord Akhen. He has something of interest for you there,” the old bird told him. His massive beak snapped shut around the succulent body of a dragonfly. He never passed up the opportunity for a quick snack.

“I’ll get the others and go,” Akhen said, quickly rising to his feet.

“No! Only you must travel to the city; no one else, especially the Lady Shu,” the old bird replied, preening one of his giant wings, while looking for more tasty morsels.

Akhen shouldered his sword and shield, and left the tranquil confines of the house where his Human-Nephile kin Tom had first visited the valley centuries earlier. His effortless loping stride shortened the journey along the valley floor past ancient species of flora and fauna. Reptiles and birds, which had vanished from the rest of the Earth millennia ago, still survived here in the cloaked protection of the valley at the bottom of the planet.

Eventually Akhen stood on the summit of the pyramid hill that disguised the hardened shelter beneath it, looking down at the magnificent city where his grandmother Auramooth was born. As he entered the city the original Human-Nephiles stared at the magnificent berserker warrior in total disbelief as he made his way to the council chambers guided by the eagle above him. Akhen pushed the tall copper sheathed wooden doors open and strode to the centre of the room where Hor sat at a circular marble table surrounded by the council. At his right shoulder was the Lady Auset, Akhen’s great grandmother, still beautiful despite the eight hundred and twenty five years of her existence. And on Hor’s left was Akhen’s great grandfather Tom, balding with white wispy long hair, his face covered with a flowing white beard. “Akhen we have news, grave news for the Alliance of Planets, and for all who now exist,” Hor said, quietly.

Auset got up from her place at Hor’s side and came round to where Akhen stood. “Akhen, my dear, the one you follow blindly, Shu, is not who you think she is. She is more dangerous than our old enemy the Drana,” Auset said, looking into Akhen’s dark eyes.

“You’re wrong lady, you’re all wrong about her. She is the mother of all,” he said.

“Great grandson, listen to my wife. Heed her words,” Tom pleaded, slowly rising to his feet.

“No! I will never believe Shu is anything more than our mother and protector!” Akhen was angered by the way his relations were trying to place doubt in his mind. “If these lies are all you brought me here for, then I will return to Shu and my brothers, and we shall leave.” He turned towards the doors of the council chambers.

“Wait!” Hor commanded.

Akhen turned and looked back at Hor. “More lies, Hor?”

Hor waved his arm beckoning the guard at the side entrance to come to him. He spoke to the guard who quickly left the council chamber. Signalling Akhen to take a seat, Hor sat in silence. moments later, the side door opened and a party of guards entered with a prisoner in chains. “Tell my great grandnephew what you told me,” he commanded.

~~~

Hesket’s dark eyes stared unblinking at the magnificent berserker warrior. ‘So a new sentient species did exist after all; the rumours were true!’ Panic spread among our brethren across the cosmos, when Hesket’s devious thoughts were picked up by those of us still left alive. Unless it could be controlled, what was about to be unleashed would spell the end of everything! Hesket stood for a moment carefully studying Akhen, trying to probe the mind of the new species. He began to quake with fear. The resulting stench filled the council chamber. “Lord Hor, it is far worse than I thought!” Hesket said, trembling uncontrollably. “Shu has created a race of pure evil. If she is allowed to continue she will dominate every known corner of the cosmos!”

“What lies are these, Hor? Do you expect me to believe the poisonous bile uttered by this Khaz filth?” Akhen drew his sword, his black eyes flashing with uncontrollable rage.

The guards quickly closed ranks around Hesket. “Enough!” roared Hor. “Akhen, sheath your sword! If need be I will order the guards to kill you.” Then turning to Hesket, Hor bade him continue.

My cousin began to tell the hushed assembly the reasons why Shu had been imprisoned on Kallorn so long ago. And why her people fled the planet never to return. According to Hesket, Shu was the high priestess of a religious death cult who ruled for years through fear, torture, and bloody sacrifice. The people of Kallorn were peace loving people, simple farmers, and traders mostly. Sickened by Shu’s insatiable appetite for pain and control they searched for a way to rid the planet of her evil rule forever. Then two thousand years ago, a scientific expedition from Dranaa arrived. After they died tragically from exposure to salt, the people of the planet found the abandoned research ship. On finding the ship, they searched its interior.

One of the things they came across was a specimen containment vessel in the laboratory onboard, which they somehow adapted, and gave to Shu as an offering at the annual celebration of the triple suns. She loved the ornate pyramid shaped object and kept it close to her during the rest of the ceremony. When she retired for the night, the containment enveloped her, stealing her essence, leaving her dead body behind. The people buried the pyramid deep below one of Shu’s many temples, burned her body, and made a collective decision to leave Kallorn forever, to escape should she ever return someday and seek revenge. They spread across the cosmos, settling on hundreds of planets and eventually became the many nations that now exist.

Akhen had slumped to his knees with tears flowing down his handsome face after Hesket had finished his explanation and was escorted back to his cell. As much as he wanted to disbelieve the Khaz, the main body of the story was undeniably close to Shu’s version back on Kallorn. Auset held him in a gentle embrace while Tom and Hor offered him encouragement over what he must do. Akhen tearfully ran from the chamber and returned to the northern end of the valley. In the dead of night, he beheaded her, burying her body in the inner garden of the house. Then he left Earth with his berserker brothers.

~~~

Job done, after he absorbed the meal brought to him by a young Nephile girl in his dimly lit cell beneath the council chambers, my cousin Hesket’s large dark eyes flashed with satisfaction as he made preparations for his evil plan. He congratulated himself, content with his work. When the guards left with the girl, the door to his cell silently opened then closed behind him as he escaped into the night.

~~~

Nagesh was beginning to tire of Eugene and his mutineers. While they were spearheading his conquest across the galaxies, reports coming in from his commanders disturbed him greatly. In his own inimitable fashion, Eugene was creating unrest among Nagesh’s faithful commandos, turning them against one another, placing their unquestioning loyalty to him in jeopardy. He had to go. But he was still a useful tool in Nagesh’s plan to dominate the cosmos. Because of Eugene’s bitter hatred of all nonhuman races the progress across the galaxies and the systems they contained, slowed to a snail’s pace. The trouble was Eugene loved to toy with his victims. Often spending days slowly torturing and killing, purely for pleasure. Knowing that with each barbarous pointless act of unadulterated hatred his fearsome reputation grew, putting whole nations to flight as they deserted their homes. With the result that the Alliance of Planets’ two main galaxies, Andromeda and the Milky Way, were now fast becoming the safe haven for all exiles, leaving nothing but deserted planets, devoid of future slaves to the Drana Empire. And since he had temporally halted his attacks on the Alliance fleets, the politicians gave the military leaders of the Alliance of Planets time to reinforce their fleets with new, more powerful ships, and to train new recruits.

~~~

Eugene sat across the table from the Andrasian envoy, listening to what he had to say. “Let’s see if I’m hearing you right, boy,” Eugene said, with a nasty look in his eyes. “The Alliance of Planets wants me to lead an all out attack on the Drana empire, and in return I get to keep the whole goddamn shooting match, providing I guarantee never to set foot inside Alliance territory again?”

Ambassador Tomaa nodded. “That is correct, General Maas. In return for your cooperation, the Alliance of Planets will make you a hero and honour you by declaring the Drana Empire your new home, where you and your people may live as you see fit with no interference from us.”

Eugene rolled his customary cigar across his mouth staring coldly into Tomaa’s eyes. “And just what in the hell is going to stop me coming back here and taking these here galaxies when I want – huh?”

Tomaa returned Eugene’s stare. “Preparations are already under way general, to make sure that you do not I do assure you!” he coldly replied.

“Whadda you mean, boy, you bastards threatening me now – huh! You know I’m more powerful than you or the lizard bastard Drana put together!” Eugene yelled, thumping the table with the butt of his pearl handled colt pistol.

“Perhaps a small demonstration is in order. Please be so good as to follow me general,” Tomaa said, calmly opening the door of the room. The two men stood outside the small derelict building. Tomaa pointed to a small uninhabited planet nearby. “Observe.” The planet suddenly erupted, torn apart by an unseen force, shattering into billions of small fragments, which created a spectacular fireworks display in the night sky.

The smouldering cigar fell in a slow spiral from Eugene’s gaping mouth. “Damn!” Eugene’s face turned white as he stared in disbelief.

“Well general, do we have an understanding?” Tomaa enquired. Eugene nodded his head, his mouth still open, his eyes transfixed by the deadly display of power.

High above the planet other eyes watched then turned away. Kalki, still cloaked, pointed toward Janus Omega. Hidden in the vast belly of the giant ship, not realizing that Tuluk was also there, Hesket’s large dark eyes had witnessed the demonstration with satisfaction. Tomaa had served his purpose. Now it was time to turn his new-found army against his next target – Nagesh!

 ~~~

Next time – Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Twenty-Nine

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Chapter Twenty-Nine – A Shaky Alliance

“Dear Vishna, you are well I hope.” Nagesh greeted the old man with a tender kiss as he was aided by eunuchs into a luxurious chair in the Dranaa’s private chambers.

The Grand Admiral breathed heavily from the exertion of walking through the palace, summoned by his emperor. “I am very well young Nagesh,” the old man said, waggling the ceremonial baton that was his badge of office at the degenerate Dranaa (whose extremely feminine features were adorned with intricate painted patterns in white) as if he were still the pretty young boy he had taken to his bed so many years before. “Why have you sent for me Naga?” he asked, using the pet name he gave Nagesh.

“I have a task which requires experience and cunning, my darling. The kind that only someone of your long years can accomplish,” Nagesh said, avoiding his former lover’s cataract-filled eyes.

“Naga. I am an old man hard of hearing and nearly blind. If you wish me to go one last time into battle then I, Vishna, Grand Admiral of the Imperial fleet, shall do my duty. But if as I suspect you wish me to spy on someone or something, then my sweet Naga, I have to decline. These old bones are too tired to stand in the cold shadows of a dark alley…” The old man’s speech trailed off as he slumped back into the chair, exhausted.

Nagesh knew exactly how to get around him. “Dear Vishna, I beg you please help me. I would not ask you if there were someone else. Unfortunately my best officers are engaged in other tasks and there is no one I trust more than you, my dearest one.”

Vishna opened his clouded eyes and leaned forward to study his effeminate Dranaa, seated less than a meter from him. Even though the Drana emperor now looked and acted like a woman, Vishna still saw him as the cheeky little boy he took to his bed. The old man smiled to himself, remembering those far off days in the gardens of his house in Pranash on Janus Omega, when he taught Nagesh about their great ancestor Hanseer and the many battles he had fought in the service of the empire. “Very well Naga, what is it I must do?” he asked.

~~~

The admiral’s barge docked with the Capital class carrier, flagship of the fleet. The Grand Admiral was taken to the admiral’s day cabin and put to bed. His aid briefed Pasha, Admiral of the Fleet, on the task ahead, as he closed the door. “The Dranaa has asked the Grand Admiral to observe the renegade Alliance leader Maas from a distance, sir.”

“Why?” Pasha asked.

“I am not privy to the Dranaa’s intentions, sir. I am merely to record the Grand Admiral’s findings, and deliver him and the findings safely back to the Dranaa.”

Pasha stood alone on the bridge of his carrier watching his fleet form up behind him as it set off in pursuit of Maas. The task of finding Eugene should be relatively easy. He was creating a path of destruction any fool could follow. Orders or no orders he did not like the idea of shadowing the enemy rather than engaging them face to face. Something at the back of his mind told him that no good would come of this fool’s errand. Plus having to play nursemaid to an incontinent old man who should be at home by the fire surrounded by his grandchildren, instead of lying fast asleep in his bed, soiling his sheets, was simply too much!

~~~

“What is it, boy? What’s so goddamn urgent I get hauled out of my bath?”

“Sir we’re being shadowed,” the colonel said, standing to one side as Eugene shoved his way through the bridge personnel.

“What have you got, son?” he asked, watching Michael shift the magnitude on the screen out by another million kilometres.

“Sir, I count one Capital class carrier, fifteen Battle class destroyers, and eight Skirmish class cruisers sir. They’ve been following us across the galaxy, sir,” Michael replied, reading off the recognition system icons.

“Are they closing?” Eugene enquired, as he bit the end off another cigar, lit it, and inhaled the smoke.

“No sir, general sir. They’re maintaining their distance, sir,” the young marine replied, in answer to Eugene’s question.

“Well, just you keep an eye on them, you hear. Let me know when those sons of bitches decide on joining the party – ok?”

“Sir, yes sir,” Michael replied concentrating more than ever on his screen.

~~~

In the following weeks of Eugene’s rampage across the Andromedan galaxy and on towards the Milky Way galaxy and here to Earth, Vishna followed at a discreet distance, neither interfering nor attempting to attack. Eventually Eugene had had enough of the constant distraction of Vishna’s fleet and turned to face him.

“General to the bridge,” the colonel shouted over the intercom.

Eugene was on the bridge in seconds; his unlit cigar rolling back and forth across his mouth. “Sound general quarters. Prepare for action!” Eugene ordered. The klaxon wailed throughout the carrier and echoed across the armada. Stationing himself behind Michael’s right shoulder he watched as the Drana fleet assumed an attack formation five thousand kilometres away. “Prepare to fire,” Eugene calmly ordered. The colonel issued the order and waited. Michael watched a tiny target leave the Drana carrier and head towards Eugene’s armada.

“Boy, fire when they reach one thousand kilo…”

“Sir, they’re not attacking sir,” Michael interrupted.

“Sure about that, son?” Eugene asked quietly. All the personnel on the bridge knew the total trust he placed in the young marine.

Michael calculated the track and speed of the incoming target. “Sir, yes sir. That’s a shuttle sir,” he said, to the relief of everyone else on the bridge.

“Damn! Whadda they want?” Eugene snarled, spitting the chewed up cigar onto the deck. The Drana shuttle stopped midway between the opposing fleets. The face of the Grand Admiral’s aide filled the communications screen on Eugene’s bridge. “General Maas, I am commander Hakim, Grand Admiral Vishna’s aide. I bring you greetings from the Grand Admiral.”

“Whaddaya want, ya scum sucker?” Eugene angrily spat out the oath like a wad of unwanted chewed tobacco.

“Sir, my Grand Admiral comes to you with a message from our mighty Dranaa Nagesh,” Hakim replied, poker faced.

“You tell that lizard bastard from me, I’m not interested in anything he has to say, you hear me boy!” Eugene’s neck was turning purple as the rage inside him quickly built to a point where he would soon explode.

“Sir,” Hakim continued, “The Grand Admiral anticipated your refusal and in a gesture of good faith places both the fleet and himself in readiness, to assist you in your conquest of the galaxies.”

Eugene’s face rapidly changed, returning to its normal ruddy colour. He lit another cigar and rolled it around in his mouth. ‘Just what in hell is going on,’ he thought to himself, as he paced back and forth across the carriers bridge. “Shut that goddam screen off!” he yelled.

Both mighty fleets faced each other for several hours while Hakim sat in the admiral’s barge waiting for a reply from the foul mouthed renegade. The loathsome man he had spoken to hours earlier reinforced everything he had been taught about humans. They were uncouth barbarians, truly not fit to live. Eugene’s face filled Hakim’s communications screen. “You tell that admiral of yours to high tail it over here and deliver the message hisself – you hear!” After some minor negotiations over how the two leaders would meet, Hakim returned to the Drana fleet satisfied that he had carried out his repugnant task correctly and with dignity.

~~~

Five months later, the skies above Pranash were dotted with reflections, from the combined fleets in orbit around Janus Omega. The garden which Hanseer had played in as a child all those centuries ago, and that his descendant Nagesh fondly remembered from his own childhood, now took on another role.

Seated at opposite ends of a long table shaded by a simple open sided tent, eating and drinking from dishes and goblets made from the rarest metals carefully set out on the finest white silk table cloth, were the two most powerful men in the cosmos. Neither spoke as they consumed the sumptuous meal prepared by Nagesh’s personal chef. Standing at opposite sides of the beautiful, yet simple garden, were the senior members of both men’s entourage, glaring at each other across exquisitely manicured flower beds and lawns with ornate fountains and pools, which ran the length of the walled garden.

Eugene wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his fatigues, belched, and lit a cigar. “Well Nagesh, what about this here proposal. I have to admit you sure know how to feed a body; it would be downright rude not to listen to you,” Eugene drawled, fingering the pearl handled ancient colt pistol given to him by his father beneath the table, aimed straight at Nagesh’s groin.

Nagesh winced at the uncouth behaviour and the almost incomprehensible way in which Eugene spoke. “General – Eugene, I have in mind something which would benefit both of us greatly. An Alliance, a joining to rid the cosmos of the inferior species we both hate.”

“And just what makes you think that I need this here Alliance of yours?” Eugene bellowed. “Right now I out gun you; I’ve got more fire-power at my fingertips than both you and the sorry assed Alliance mothers. Why in hell do I need to do business with a degenerate faggot like you?”

Hasan appeared from one end of the garden and hurried to Nagesh’s side, whispering in his ear. Nagesh looked startled. “You’re sure about this?”

“Regrettably yes, Dranaa, I’m very sure.”

Nagesh silenced him with a wave of his hand. “General, while you believe rightly or wrongly that you do not need to side with me, the news my chief intelligence officer has just brought says otherwise! Hasan, you have proof of what you just told me?” Nagesh calmly asked.

“Yes Dranaa.”

“Then please inform General Maas and all present.” Nagesh invited the opposing sides to draw closer. “Please approach the table, and listen.” Hasan began to relate the intelligence reports coming in from all over the Drana and Alliance held territories. When he finished delivering the information, he bowed and quietly left the garden. The only sound within its perfumed confines came from insects busy at work pollinating the flowers.

~~~

No one noticed the pair of large dark eyes in the shadows of the house at the end of the garden, or the small garden gate silently open then close behind Hesket. It was time for my parasitic kin to abandon his host…

~~~

Next time – Chapter Thirty

Chapter Twenty-Eight

200_s

Part two of Onet’s Tale now begins

~~~

Chapter Twenty-Eight – Janus Omega and Mutiny

In the four years since the escape to Kallorn, the war between the Drana Empire and the Alliance of Planets had raged back and forth across the galaxies. My kin made sure that neither side in the conflict was victorious; nothing short of total annihilation would satisfy my cousins’ evil plans. As the Alliance finally cleared one planetary system the Drana conquered yet another. In the endless bloody conflicts, borders were blurred beyond recognition. Nagesh had finally begun to follow the path of all previous Drana emperors, turning into a crazed effeminate fanatic, determined to expand the empire no matter the cost. The members of his court, on more than one occasion since his declaration of war, had attempted to assassinate him. Each time he stayed a step ahead, publicly accusing the would-be assassins of treason. Nearly every week the citizens of the empire witnessed bloody executions. His war placed an enormous strain on the Drana population. Thousands of families lost their precious sons in Nagesh’s maniacal determination to bring the Alliance led galaxies, and the millions of planetary systems they contained, to their knees.

Diverse factions each with their own agenda within the thousands of diplomatic, political and military sectors, stretched the resources of the Alliance of Planets to near breaking point. The peace-loving member nations of the Alliance were anxious to find a diplomatic solution to Nagesh’s ruthless expansion. While the diplomats argued endlessly over how to achieve their goal, the politicians and military leaders of all the remaining nations fought for control over the vast fleets of ships in the many campaigns against the Drana.

Deliberate political intervention would spell the end of the senior military leaders’ control of the armed forces, and probably the Alliance itself! Officers with political ambitions, selected for key roles by the various governments, placed the military in grave danger of self-destruction by their gross ineptitude. Something had to be done to rid the military leadership of the cancer within. The answer to the problem came from the Varga sector of the Drana Empire, but not from where both sides in the war expected! Admiral Memnet’s armada had suffered heavy losses since the first encounter above Jalnuur. Ships previously decommissioned into mothballed fleets or about to be scrapped by the penny-pinching financial ‘bean counters’ of the Alliance, were now reluctantly released by the civil governments and cheaply recommissioned, transforming the old ships into barely serviceable death traps, sent out as ‘new’ replacements for the fleets.

The army’s losses against the fanatical Drana commandos dramatically weakened Lord Seth’s invasion plans. The number of seasoned veterans capable of turning raw recruits into trained troops was rapidly declining. The main obstacle for both men to achieve their goal of ending the war was quite simply the staggering cost of the entire training phase, both in time and resources. Far from being a ‘short sharp shock’, the war had escalated into a seemingly endless bloodbath. The cost of waging the relentless war spiralled out of control. From every sector of the Alliance, planets were stripped of their populations by the insatiable needs of the military to prosecute the war against the Drana. Millions of men and women were drafted into service resulting in many planets becoming defenceless targets for the Drana, stripped of their own precious defence forces.

Memnet’s latest additions to his armada had arrived from Mars three weeks ago under the command of General Eugene L. Maas, Seventh Mars Marine Corps. Eugene was a cigar smoking good old boy, in the finest human tradition from the Kelno colony of the southern Mars military sector. Eugene was an army brat who followed his father into military service as soon as he graduated from high school. He loved the Marine Corps. Its tough way of life changed the sullen rebellious youth into a seasoned, intolerant killing machine that rapidly rose through the ranks by sheer ruthlessness and his natural ability as a leader. Eugene despised all other races. More than once during his career he had been busted for blatant racism within the Alliance. If you weren’t ‘his kind of folks’ you were dead meat! He enjoyed killing anyone different to himself. ‘Just having fun!’ he called it.

In no time at all he fell out with Memnet, and Seth whose command he now assumed. When Memnet called a meeting of senior officers to welcome Eugene on the first evening after the replacements joined the fleet, the general sent an aid with a clear message saying that ‘I am here to kill goddamn aliens! Not to play pass the parcel with them! And another thing; I refuse to breathe the same stinking air as those scaly lizard-bred sons of bitches!’

Memnet flew into a rage and angrily dismissed the assembled officers and the unfortunate aid after he had delivered the general’s message. The next day Memnet still seethed with anger over Eugene’s disgusting refusal and sent an officer to deliver an ultimatum, ‘apologize or surrender pending courts-martial proceedings.’ A few hours later Memnet got his reply when the shuttle returned bearing the skinned carcass of the admiral’s young Andrasian aid, hideously staked out on the shuttle’s deck, with a commando knife through each limb.

Word spread like wildfire throughout the armada. Memnet was rapidly losing control of the situation as the struggle for power between the two men accelerated. Ship’s compliments divided into racial factions, sending a shock wave of age-old hatred throughout the entire armada. In less than twenty-four hours, Eugene was in control and Memnet found himself and his few remaining loyal officers and men, delivered into the murderous hands of the mutineers. After a kangaroo court delivered its verdict, they were cast adrift in a shuttle. Memnet watched the armada head towards Janus Omega. The war was about to escalate beyond anyone’s control, much to the delight of my kind. Now two madmen, each with their own destructive agenda, fed by their fanatical hatred for all other races, occupied the same bloody arena. When they eventually met, all life across the cosmos would end unless someone or something put a stop to their insanity!

~~~

After the ethnic cleansing within the ships that made up the armada was complete, Eugene led his human dominated mutineers into his second treasonous act. Several small flotillas of Alliance vessels operated independently, surviving on their wits under a communication blackout, cut off from the armada, engaging in hit and run exercises deep within the empire disguised as Drana freighters. Cargo ships supplying Nagesh’s troops with arms, ammunition, food and medical supplies, in addition to the ‘new recruits’ chained up in their cargo bays, became targets. One such flotilla now lay directly in the path of the armada.

The intercom above his head between his two favourite flags, the corps colours and the framed bullet ridden, ancient Confederate flag his ancestor had proudly carried at Shiloh, sounded. “General to the bridge.” Eugene swung his legs over the side of the bunk and thrust his feet into his combat boots. He snapped the lever-action retaining clips into place, securing his feet inside them, holstered his side-arm, lit his cigar, and then grabbed his forage cap as he left the confines of his cabin below the carrier’s bridge. His large frame filled the narrow main flat leading to the ladder access upto the bridge. As he strode along the flat, the men going about their duties dived out of his way, stood to attention, and saluted. Bursting into the bridge lit by red emergency lights, he strode across to where his second in command stood in front of the tactical screen. “What is it boy!” Eugene snarled, spitting a wad of tobacco in a high arc across the space.

“Sir, we have an Alliance flotilla directly ahead,” the colonel reported.

“How far boy; are they in range yet?” Eugene rolled the cigar across his mouth as he spoke.

“At our present speed, sir, they’ll be in range in forty-five minutes,” the colonel answered.

Eugene looked at the icons on the screen merge with others in the heat of the battle. “Huh,” he grunted, rolling the cigar back and forth in his mouth, as he watched the gallant Alliance vessels chase down and eliminate their targets. “Get us within thirty-thousand kilometres,” he said, his eyes narrowing.

“Sir, yes sir!” The colonel saluted and passed on the order to close the distance.

“They see us yet, Michael?” Eugene quietly asked the operator handling the screen’s information.

“Sir, no sir,” the young marine answered, proud that his general always used his name in place of his lowly rank.

“Well, keep an eye on them, son, and let me know the moment they do,” Eugene said, squeezing the young marines shoulder.

“Sir, yes sir!”

“Two thousand kilometres,” the navigator reported as the vast armada closed the gap. “One thousand, seven-fifty… Four hundred kilometres. All stop! We’re parked at thirty thousand kilometres sir,” he reported, not looking up from his navigation console.

“Do they see us yet, son?”

“Sir, no sir, they’re taking casualties, sir. Three of ours are down,” Michael said.

“Huh!” Eugene rolled the cigar to one side of his mouth. “Ok boy, launch all fighter squadrons and clean up Michael’s screen,” A cruel smile replaced the customary scowl on his face.

The colonel gave the order. “Launch!” The space around the armada filled with fighters like a cloud of midges swirling in the sunlight on a hot summer’s day, and headed for the battle.

On board the senior Alliance officer’s ship the tactical operator watched his screen fill with over five thousand Mordred fighters. “Sir the cavalry has arrived!”

“Thank god for that, and not a moment too soon,” the captain replied. The battle was soon over. As the armada sped away from the area, the jumbled remains of all the ships engaged in the fight minutes earlier, floated lifelessly together like wrecked vehicles piled up in a scrap yard. Michael’s screen was empty except for the icons of the armada.

Eight days later a Drana commander watched his battle fleet silently pass through the remains of yet another Alliance invasion fleet. He was totally bewildered. No reports had come from this sector regarding any kind of conflict. His orders were to engage the enemy at this spot, but someone had beaten him to it. He went to his cabin to compose a report describing the situation. Calling for a messenger to take the report to the communications officer for immediate coded transmission, he returned to the bridge of his Battle class destroyer.

~~~

Dranaa Nagesh studied the reports coming in from his fleet commanders. His beautiful face was transformed into a caricature of its normally self. Was there a new force to be reckoned with? If so who, and more importantly – why? Issuing orders for his spies to double their efforts, he turned from his paper strewn marble desk and went out into the walled garden of his harem, to relax in the perfumed air pampered by his most trusted and youngest concubine, Ahmed.

“Dranaa, forgive me for disturbing you, but Hesket awaits your pleasure in the anteroom,” Hasan whispered quietly into Nagesh’s ear, after quietly entering the harem where Nagesh had just finished making love to his second favourite youth.

“Bring him to me in my private chambers,” Nagesh commanded his intelligence chief. Then changing his mind, said, “No, bring him to the outer courtyard beyond the garden.” There was no need to foul the air of the palace with the stench of a Khaz.

“As you command, Dranaa.” Hasan bowed and quickly withdrew. Nagesh arrived at the courtyard via a tunnel in the palace walls. Before he opened the door to the courtyard, he peered past the ornate grill in the door. Hasan stood a little way from the diminutive Khaz spy. No one liked standing too close to one of us.

Opening the door Nagesh walked over to the steps of the courtyard and sat on the gilded chair his eunuchs had placed for him, ten meters in front of the Khaz. Arranging his female atire carefully about him, Nagesh sat for a long time saying nothing, closely studying the brightly painted talon like nails of his delicate hands.

For several minutes he looked directly at Hesket, transfixing him with his cold eyes, which unnerved my cousin, before asking, “why have you come here?”

Like thousands of my kin, Hesket chose to serve Nagesh. Not to aid the Drana domination of the cosmos, but to further our own dark ambitions. Since our home world had been destroyed millennia ago by a massive explosion caused by a giant meteorite plunging through to its core, we had spread across the cosmos by attaching ourselves like parasites to the most powerful species in control at the time. Then like all parasites when their host dies, my kind quickly look for another. As I said earlier, we Khaz are a self-replicating species capable of survival in nearly all environments, but we prefer to live beneath the surface of a planet rather than on it. My cousin’s metallic grey skin suffers from exposure to direct sunlight and their enlarged black eyes, which are equipped for subterranean life, are practically blinded in direct sunlight. We all absorb what nutrients our bodies need through specially adapted pores in the palms of our hands rather than eating in the normal manner that you are accustomed to dear reader. We excrete the discarded remains of our ‘meal’ through our skin, which unfortunately creates a foul stench in the air surrounding us. When we become frightened, our bodies purge the entire contents of our system in a gut wrenching, pungent concentrated cloud of gas, which was precisely why Hasan stood well away from Hesket in the fresh air of the courtyard, and Nagesh held a perfumed handkerchief over his painted mouth. My cousin was absolutely terrified! Hesket cleared his throat and tried shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight of the courtyard with his scrawny arms, hopping from one foot to the other, as the delicate soles of his feet burnt from the reflected heat of the marble paved courtyard. “Great Dranaa, lord of all, I bring disturbing news!” he hissed.

“You mean the destruction of the Alliance fleets,” Nagesh replied.

“Yes my lord. The Alliance now has troubles of its own. They have a renegade in their midst, great Lord, who has seized control of their largest armada and wreaks destruction wherever he goes!” Hesket’s feet were in agony and the rest of his body was beginning to burn under the intense baking rays of the sun.

“Who is this renegade?” Nagesh demanded.

“Great Lord, he is called Maas, a human general in the Alliance military. He has surrounded himself with his own kind, waging his personal war throughout the Alliance, cleansing it of all other races. Daily he grows stronger! Soon he will turn his attention towards Dranaa and the empire, Sire. His armada grows with each conquest. The Alliance is in total disarray. If he is allowed to continue he will become more powerful than you!” Hesket screamed in agony.

Nagesh sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. Hasan circled the Khaz and came over to where Nagesh sat. “Dranaa, we may be able to turn this to your advantage.”

Nagesh sat motionless. “What do you propose?” he enquired, not opening his eyes.

“A meeting between yourself and this General Maas,” Hasan replied.

“To what end?” Nagesh replied, his eyes now open and staring directly into Hasan’s.

“A new Alliance of your own,” Hasan whispered. Nagesh closed his eyes once again and smiled. Forgotten, Hesket hobbled away in agony, disappearing into the shadows of the palace. How he hated all Drana. He swore that when the time came, Nagesh would suffer more than he just had in the burning inferno of the courtyard.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Twenty-Seven

hadescargoshiprender

Chapter Twenty-Seven – Kalki

When they woke in the chilly early hours of dawn the next day, Shu was gone. “She must be in the cave in the cliffs,” Khan said, shouldering his sword and shield.

“Then we join her!” Apis insisted. They stopped at the edge of the cliffs looking down to see where the cave entrance was. The ground where they stood overhung the three thousand meter sheer drop to the pounding waves below. Seti and Akkad walked along the edge, looking for a way past the overhang to the entrance. Besal, Max, and Manesh tore up plants from the area behind the cliff and began making a crude rope from the material. Nusaan and Akhen surveyed the ground about them looking for any clue to Shu’s whereabouts.

“Look!” They all turned to where Shansur stood horrified, pointing at the ground in front of him. Smashed to pieces on a wide flat rock at his feet, were the remains of the pyramid. Tuluk had accidentally released her when he tried to steal the pyramid while they slept!

“Shu’s gone forever,” Apis whispered, carefully picking up the shattered pyramid, trying to put it back together. They all sank to their knees around the receptacle that had housed her, and protected and revitalized them. Despite their new-found strength and courage, the berserkers uttered anguished cries like children mourning the loss of their mother. They went back to the camp and sat in silence remembering the beautiful woman they all loved and followed. While she was not flesh and blood, merely an image, they each shared the sensation of feeling her gentle touch on their brow, and the intoxicating smell of her perfume whenever she was near was more real to them now in their sorrow than ever before.

“We have to get down to the cave entrance and find whatever it was Shu was looking for,” Max said sadly.

“What’s the point,” Apis wailed. “She’s gone. Let’s head back home.”

“Where’s home now?” Seti asked, knowing the answer to the question before he opened his mouth. “We can’t leave the planet – we have no ship remember?”

“This is our home!” Besal snarled.

“Time for that later; now we find the cave and whatever it contains!” Khan snapped, hefting the crude rope over his shoulder. Using a narrow ledge barely wide enough to grip with their toes which Seti had found, they picked their way carefully along it back to where the overhang was. The cave entrance was protected by a series of protruding rocks. Each one would have to be negotiated separately. Roping themselves together, they took it in turns to swing around the rocks while the rest of the party anchored the one suspended on the end of the makeshift rope, which frayed as each berserker swung from it. Nusaan was the last to attempt the perilous undertaking. He took a deep breath before swinging out and down to clear the last rock.

The weakened strands stretched and began parting under the strain of him swinging back and forth in an ever widening arc across the cliff face. As he drew near to the cave entrance and his brothers, the rope snapped. Suddenly released from the safety of the rope he flew through the air and began tumbling down the cliff. Frantically grabbing at anything in the rapid descent to his death, his fingers latched on to a narrow jagged ledge halting his progress. The effect of the sudden stop smashed him into the cliff with such force that the air in his lungs was driven out in one painful burst. But he managed to hang on. Khan and Akhen lowered the frayed rope down to where their injured brother clung by his fingertips. Finding a tiny foothold Nusaan reached out with his right hand and wrapped the rope around his arm. Max, Akkad, and Seti pulled him slowly back to the cave mouth. Akhen and Besal leaned out, held back by Apis and Shansur’s strong grips, and seized him by the shield strap around his shoulders, hauling him into the safety of the cave.

After Nusaan had recovered from his ordeal, they moved further in, led by Shansur. Their path was lit by the flames of the torches they held, made from the remnant of the rope. As the cave took them deeper into the long dormant volcanic peninsula, a faint sound slowly became apparent. “What is that?” Besal said, straining to make it out.

“Sounds like machinery of some kind,” Manesh replied. For countless hours, they moved further into the cave system following the sound. By now, a gentle vibration in the rock accompanied the humming, underfoot and in the cave walls. Reaching the edge of a deep shaft that descended into blackness beneath their feet, the brothers halted. Their way ahead beyond the shaft was blocked by an ancient rock fall.

“What now?” Khan asked, dropping a tiny rock into the shafts depths. “Down or back?”

In answer Akhen carefully climbed over the edge of the shaft and slowly began descending, using his hands and feet in a spread-eagle fashion across the shaft’s width. “There’s another smaller tunnel entrance down here,” he shouted from the darkness below. The others soon joined him and once again they followed its path.

Shansur stopped. “What is it?” Nusaan asked.

“Shhh – quiet,” Shansur whispered, raising his hand. Besides the steady hum and vibration of machinery, there was now the unmistakable low sound of chanting coming from the depths of the tunnel. Carefully moving forward, the group turned a corner. Before them, a vast cavern extended for thousands of meters, lit by an eerie phosphorescent glow. The cavern was not what took their breath away but what it contained. A giant ship, surrounded by the glowing lights of control panels belonging to machinery of some kind, which were connected to it by umbilical cables, stood on the cavern floor. In front of the ship, lying prone was the source of  the chanting – hundreds of Neolithic men, women, and children. Best of all, holding her arms out wide was Shu! Honey blond hair covered her head and delicate shoulders, reflecting the lights from the panels. She was dressed in a translucent robe that clung to the curves of her stunning figure. The brothers watched from their vantage point high on the cavern wall as the leader of the Stone Age people shuffled forward on his knees, head bowed, holding a gift of a stone axe in his outstretched hands. Placing it at Shu’s naked feet he retreated to his position at the head of the assembled crowd. She picked up the axe. Holding it above her head, the crowd began chanting in the same low tone.

Then she threw it into the air in front of the ship. Twin beams of light from the ship atomized it. The chanting turned into wailing and tearing of the animal skins that covered their bodies. Shu held up her hands to silence them. Speaking in a strange guttural tongue, she commanded them to rise. As the crowd stood up, their gaze followed Shu’s pointing finger. The males beat their chests with their weapons and began running across the cavern toward where the berserkers stood. Shu stopped their headlong rush with one command. Then she called out, her voice echoing around the vast cavern. “Akhen, bring your brothers down here to me.”

The berserkers climbed down, brandishing their swords, and forced their way through the angry crowd of Stone Age warriors toward where Shu stood. Beckoning them to stand beside her, she greeted each one of her beloved berserker sons with a tender kiss and embrace. Shu was no longer an avatar – she was alive. The Stone Age people looked puzzled by their high priestess’ warm greeting to the powerful berserker warriors standing in a circle about her. Plucking up courage, the leader stepped forward once again, this time stabbing the air with his stone tipped spear. Seti ran to meet him, sliced the spear in two with one stroke of his sword, and felled the simple creature with his shield. “Seti – enough!” Shu ordered. “They’re just curious, no more than that.” Unconvinced, he pinned the prone man beneath his foot. The rest of the crowd retreated from where their leader lay, in sullen silence. Shu spoke to them quietly, explaining that, ‘the warriors were her kin and protectors’. Tapping Seti’s thigh with her hand, she commanded him to release the man before she returned to where the rest stood ready to fight. Seti grasped the man by the scruff of his neck and bodily lifted him to his feet before propelling him in the general direction of his people, aided by a powerful kick administered to the man’s backside.

~~~

Shu sat silently as the brothers bombarded her with endless questions about the ship and the Neolithic people in the cavern. The one burning question on their minds was, “Why are you alive after being thousands of years inside the small pyramid – why?”

The answer was even more baffling than the question. “Because of the Kaliyuga,” she said softly. Her transformation was no mere accident; it seemed Tuluk was destined to release her!

The Kaliyuga is a series of cycles of creation and destruction, which her people had lived through during their long existence. It could be controlled somewhat, but during the final break up of her people into warring tribes, it moved on towards the destructive upheaval of the planet, which spelt the end of the few remaining peaceful members of her people, including herself. In their case, they reverted to primitive cave dwellers, and in hers, she was trapped inside the pyramid. The giant stellar ship she named Kalki was their ‘Ark’ to escape Kallorn, but was encased inside the rock peninsula by violent geological upheaval. The machinery surrounding Kalki had maintained it over the millennia. When Shu entered it, closely shadowed by Tuluk, the ship, recognizing there was imminent danger, and regenerated her by a process similar to the one the brothers had undergone. This time, just like them, she was mortal flesh and blood but with thousands of years of knowledge at her fingertips. Over countless centuries, the Neolithic people had worshipped and protected the ship in a ‘cargo-cult’ fashion, believing it to be a gift from their god – which in a way, it was. When Shu descended from it a few short hours ago, they now believed their god had sent her to them. “We have one small problem however; Kalki is counting down to something. It began the moment I stepped out of the regeneration unit,” Shu said, looking worried. “I think the Kaliyuga is entering its final cycle, but this time it will destroy Kallorn forever!”

While Shu desperately tried to lure the frightened people on board the interstellar ship, warning them that the only home they had ever known would soon be destroyed, Akhen and the berserkers explored the ship from stem to stern. For the primitive cave dwellers, entering the domain of their god meant they would surely perish. When the first earthquake hit a few hours later, the brothers took matters into their own hands and herded the terrified people into the ship’s cavernous interior at sword point, where they forced them into stasis units. Disconnecting the ship from the machinery surrounding it from within the protection of the ship’s shielded hull, they prepared themselves for the inevitable breakup of Kallorn. The cavern and peninsula began to slowly collapse as the violent quakes increased in destructive intensity. Holes appeared in the roof of the cavern, marked by dust filled shafts of light from the outside. The ship rocked violently, skidding on the floor from side to side, crashing into the cavern walls. All aboard thought the shield surrounding the hull would give out. Eventually the roof collapsed in a tangled mess around the ship, burying the unprotected maintenance equipment under thousands of tonnes of rock.

Shu took control of Kalki and it slowly ascended out of its former prison into the clear air above the peninsula. Then, as the giant ship gained altitude, heading toward one of the eight moons surrounding the planet, Kallorn entered its final phase. Putting as much distance as she could between the ship and the dying planet, she called her berserkers to witness the end of the beautiful blue-green jewel in space. After the last violent explosion that ripped the planet apart had ended, an expanding ring of tiny particles and asteroids marked the point Kallorn had previously occupied in the vast emptiness of space an hour earlier.

~~~

Tuluk remained hidden on board Kalki until he considered it was safe for him to escape, eventually arriving here on earth, where he joined two  more of my cousins, Brak and Lek; but more of them later. You wonder how it is I know all the details dear reader. You may recall that I mentioned that we are able to communicate across great distances simply by our thoughts. How else do you think my cousins were able to create so much destruction throughout the cosmos! Hesket was about to begin his evil quest. Pashtek would bide his time, waiting for Hesket to fail –  and he would fail spectacularly, but not before unleashing a weapon far more powerful than the new species of berserkers!

~~~

Next time – Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Six

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Chapter Twenty-six – Death of a Tyrant

With Max, Shansur, Manesh, and Akkad successfully transformed by the Krattu, Shu’s army of berserker warriors now numbered nine. On their return journey, Akkad told of Hoetep’s violent takeover of New Cydon. Both Akhen and Seti swore vengeance for their murdered loved ones, but Shu put all thoughts of retribution out of their minds as they steadily drew near to the community. To defeat Hoetep they had to stay focused, cool, and sharp witted. Despite their new-found strength, they were not equipped to deal with his magic. By now he would surely have turned the rest of the community into blindly obedient servants, willing to die for him if need be. No! Akhen and the rest must follow her commands to the letter. A mighty battle was about to begin and there could be only one winner.

~~~

Hoetep sat on a rock in the winter sunlight being fed by his semi-naked concubine Nefer, while the rest of his servants built a fortified stockade wall around the lodge and surrounding buildings. Outside the wooden stockade, they had dug a deep ditch filled with sharpened stakes. Between the ditch and the stockade wall, concealed pits full of Punji sticks lay in wait. On the board walk around the top of the stockade wall, rocks lay in piles ready to be thrown.

Kapinski and a few hand-picked members of the community stood guard, manning all the weapons brought out of the ships at Hoetep’s command. Tosar sat ready with the plasma-meridium torch, sweeping across the forest edge to the north with its blue targeting laser. Llokk and Orz stood behind mobile disrupter cannon with a commanding view of the fields behind the stockade to the east. Jamal and Nemaar checked and rechecked the laser minefields between the stakes in the ditch before returning to the relative safety of the stockade. Mdjat, Benton, and Misakk spread themselves along the board walk, armed with disrupter rifles, watching the western approach to the stockade past the ships. In a hastily dug deep pit at the centre of the stockade, sealed by a door from one of the crawlers and weighed down with rocks, Khan was imprisoned in total darkness in the tight confines of his damp cold cell, unable to stand. The stump of his right arm throbbed agonizingly with pain. He vowed to escape somehow and join Akhen the way the others had.

~~~

Nine shadows merged with the trees on the ridge line to the south. Their keen eyesight surveyed the preparations far below in the valley. Shu and Akhen both agreed that Hoetep would only look north for their return. After he had consigned Akhen and his crew to the depths below the tundra in a fit of anger and sheer insanity, Shu finally lost all patience and cast him out from her protection forever. Hoetep was beyond her help now. She could not reverse the Pimaar and he was fast mutating into pure evil. She could no longer influence him. Each time he grew angry the strain of controlling the monstrous berserker’s violent outbursts drained her very being. Cursing her for deserting him he headed south bent on destruction. The last vestiges of the gentle man who she had first encountered that day in the enclosure months earlier, were gone forever.

To help her combat him and to protect the innocent lives he would encounter, Shu had to create an army of warriors physically his equal. The inevitable conflict troubled her greatly. She slipped into the unconscious thoughts of Hoetep’s followers in the stockade below, searching for anything that would work to her advantage. She found Khan. “Khan is the only one who is not under Hoetep’s control,” she told her warriors. “He is beneath the ground in a dark hole and badly injured. Stay here until I return.” The nine berserkers watched her transform into a mist, which rolled down the steep forested side of the valley, drifting across the valley floor to envelope New Cydon blocking it from view.

Under cover of the thick mist, the rocks holding down the door to Khan’s cell quietly floated away and gently lowered themselves to the ground. The door opened temporarily, blinding Khan as light flooded the cell. He felt himself being lifted and drift across the ground towards the stockade wall. He rose soundlessly, floating over the wall. Then gently dropped to the ground away from danger. ‘Follow!’ the voice in his head commanded. The door to the empty cell silently closed while the rocks repositioned themselves. He began running across the valley floor towards the edge of the forest. ‘Follow!’ the voice urged him, as his lungs reached bursting point from the exertion. Climbing steadily up through the thick forest, Khan slipped from time to time, jarring his mutilated arm. Unseen hands picked him up each time until he drew close to the ridge. With his muscles on fire and gasping for breath, Khan struggled to his feet in the course grass of the ridge. The sight that met his eyes made his already overstretched heart nearly give up. Before him stood nine berserkers, each as powerful as Hoetep, grim faced, brandishing swords like the one that had cleaved his right hand from his arm.

“Welcome brother.”

“Akhen? Is that you? Khan asked, unconvinced. The big berserker hugged Khan to his massive chest as the others reintroduced themselves to their old friend. When Shu reappeared from the mist, that now completely covered the valley, Hoetep’s spine chilling insane war cry filled the air. In answer, the nine berserkers uttered their equally terrifying song of death, drowning out Hoetep and sending shivers through his followers and Khan, who sat safe behind the formidable warriors inside Shu’s protective green cloak.

My cousin Tuluk cowered in the shadows. He watched them disappear over the ridge line into the forest beyond. The battle had begun for New Cydon.

~~~

The nine berserkers rapidly descended the wooded slope of the valley like shadowy wraiths in the thick mist. Kapinski cradled the plasma grenade launcher nervously in his arms as he tried to see through the haze. Hoetep knew it was Shu’s doing. She had conjured up the mist to hide the approaching men he had previously buried. What he had not realized till now, was that she had created an army of warriors, each equal to himself. For the first time since he had transformed he felt uncomfortable. He was as blind as his followers in the impenetrable blanket that covered the valley. Despite his powers, like them, he was unable to sense the direction of the berserker army’s war cry. The defenders anxiously looked to where Hoetep now stood on top of the rocks in the centre of the stockade, each one of them shaking with fear. The valley stood silent for over an hour and the defenders began to relax. Then from all around them the air began to pulse with the steady rhythmic beat of swords on shields.

Armed with the knowledge Shu gave them about the laser mined ditch and mantraps, Akhen and his brothers steadily approached the outer limit of the defences. Stopping a little way from them, Akhen picked up and threw a boulder in a high arc. The boulder descended towards the ditch and entered the mine filled interior, breaking some of the laser beams. A chain reaction quickly spread around the ditch encircling the stockade, sending a deadly mix of splintered stakes and hundreds of tonnes of rock and dirt high into the air that reigned down indiscriminately, crushing, and maiming all beneath it. Burning pieces of splintered stake set alight by the huge explosion impaled themselves in the wooden wall and the roofs of the buildings inside, turning the stockade into a raging inferno.

From outside Akhen and his brothers could hear the screams of the defenders. His heightened sense of smell detected the sickly sweet odour of burning flesh. Many of his friends were seriously injured or dying. “Hoetep, your army is defeated. Come out and face your end!” Akhen boomed. The heat of the inferno slowly cleared the mist from the scene. New Cydon would soon be nothing more than a blackened patch of dirt on the valley floor.

A lone figure emerged from the smoke, eyes burning with pure hatred. Seti, Akkad, Max, and Shansur stood ready an arm’s width apart from each other on Akhen’s left, while Nusaan, Manesh, Besal, and Apis took up their position at his right in a similar fashion, forming the two horns of a crescent with Akhen at its centre. Hoetep stopped twenty meters in front of them, his eyes sweeping across the assembled warriors. His gaze slowed while his fevered brain registered the identities of each warrior. Buried deep in dark recesses of his mind the last remaining molecule of the old Hoetep recognized his former friends. The warriors watched as he drove the bird headed staff into the ground beside him. He sat cross-legged in front of them, silently entering his customary trance. His sword lay across his powerful legs while his shield stood propped up against the staff.

High on the ridge, Khan looked down from Shu’s protective cloak at the terrible scene about to unfold in the valley below. The triple suns’ rays reflected back to him from the swords and shields of the nine warriors below. Shu watched the firstborn berserker rise to his feet. Hoetep lifted his shield and shifted the grip of his right hand around the sword hilt. The warriors who faced him raised their swords in salute as Hoetep charged. Shu, Khan, and Tuluk witnessed sword strike shield as Hoetep entered the crescent which quickly closed about him, completing the circle of death. The combined war cry of the warriors rose up towards where the witnesses stood in silence. Almost as soon as it started, the fight ended. Hoetep’s bloody body lay writhing on the ground, his severed head held high by Akhen, signalling their triumph with a spine chilling howl. The nightmare was finally over…

~~~

In the days following the bloody defeat of Hoetep, while Shu transformed Khan using the Krattu, Akhen and his brothers buried their dead friends and loved ones who had survived the rigors of Jalnuur and the many hardships of life on this dangerous yet beautiful planet. Of the small band of survivors, mercenaries, and assorted others who had come to Kallorn, only the ten berserkers were now left alive.

Shu and her army had work to do far from Kallorn but first there was one last task for Akhen and his brothers to perform before they departed. They needed transport off the planet. The small fleet of ships lay in smouldering ruins beyond repair. Hoetep had seen to that!

Tuluk’s description of the battle and the berserker’s potential as a future weapon intrigued our high council. There was one among my cousins who would use this new weapon for his own ends – Hesket.

~~~

Without a backward glance, the berserker brothers followed Shu to the south, spending weeks crossing high mountain ranges, fast flowing rivers, and wide grass and scrub covered plains. The seasons were changing once more and soon they felt the warmth from the triple suns’ rays on their skin as winter turned to spring, then into the early days of summer as they drew closer to their objective at the most southerly tip of the continent. Khan, Akkad, Manesh, and Shansur sniffed the air. They could smell salt. “Fear salt and its effects no longer,” Shu told them in answer to their unspoken concerns. “You are no longer Drana.” The berserker brothers stopped on a hill overlooking a long isthmus that stretched south into the distance like a giant finger in the vast ocean that bordered it. “Our journey ends on the cliffs at the end of the land you see before you,” Shu said, from inside the pyramid. Seti and Max ran forward ahead of the rest, their eyes searching the ground around them for hidden traps. Shu said that their objective was guarded but by what she did not know.

They camped on the last night of their epic journey south, in sight of the cliffs that stood guard against the ocean below. The ten brothers sat around the fire at their centre within the protection of Shu’s green cloak. “What is it we’ll find on the cliffs lady?” Nusaan asked.

“Not on? Inside, deep inside,” she softly replied. “It has remained hidden since the warring tribes left Kallorn to conquer the far reaches of the universe beyond. It waits to be reawakened from its long slumber…”

“Shu, what is it that we seek?” Seti asked. She no longer answered any more of their questions. Instead, she turned her whole being over to the task of locating that which she had brought them here to find, so far from their dead companions and the place they had named New Cydon. They must find the Kaliyuga.

~~~

Next time – Chapter Twenty-Seven