Upon landing at the Portus Spaceport, Father Sevas and the survivors from Calos II straggled into the main passenger terminal. They were greeted by Father Saxus and Brother Martin. Several trainees were busy setting up tables with food and drink. Motioning for his small command to help themselves, Sevas stepped aside with Father Saxus. He proceeded to inform him of what had happened on Calos II and his own suspicions as to who was behind it.
“Father Saxus, I believe that the ancient enemy is stirring once more. The Redband has somehow managed to gain control over the whole planet with barely a shot fired.”
Looking somewhat startled at that revelation, Saxus said, “Tell me everything that has occurred. Leave nothing out.” At that command, Father Sevas began talking, beginning with when he picked Alex up at the farmstead and ending with the disappearance of Father Superior Michelson. When Father Saxus heard about Michelson’s disappearing act, he arched an eyebrow, and then asked Sevas, “Why did you not tell me about the attack on the road in your earlier report?”
Sevas frowned at that question but did respond, “Father Michelson ordered me to tell no one.”
“I see…” was all Saxus said in response to that revelation.
“Well, you have told me all you can. Go and get some food, and I will see to accommodations and rest for you and your men.” Sevas inclined his head slightly, and turning around strode off towards the tables. As he walked off, Saxus motioned for Brother Martin to come over. Bending in close to him, Saxus said, “I want you to arrange a meeting with the Council of Patriarchs within the week.” Brother Martin snapped a sharp salute and, striding off quickly, exited the terminal and headed back to the Chapterhouse.
While Alex was helping the wounded get food, he watched everything going on and dearly wished to know what was being said.
Several days later, Fathers Saxus and Sevas along with Brother Martin stood in the Council chamber of the Patriarchs hall. Directly in front of them was a large Golash-wood, semicircular table at which sat the twelve Patriarchs of the White Falcon Order. They sat on ancient chairs made of oak that had been imported from Terra long before the Age of War. The seats had been sprayed with a preserver that made them look as new and untouched as the day they first had arrived over eight hundred years ago. The patriarchs, themselves, were all very old men. Only one of them was under the age of seventy, and the rest were well over ninety, and all of them had silver-white hair and features that were wrinkled and wizened. Behind the twelve patriarchs was a giant black banner emblazoned with a white falcon in flight, the standard of the Order.
Saxus, Sevas, and Martin stood on the mosaic tiled floor facing the front of the semi–circular table and waited for permission to speak. After a few minutes, the Grand Patriarch spoke in a voice like an ancient whisper that sounded as ancient as the man was. “Father Saxus, you may speak. We are all interested in what has caused you to request this council.” Stepping forward he bowed his head briefly, and then motioning with his hand for Brother Martin to hand out the reports, he began speaking.
“Most honored Patriarchs; I come before you with most distressing news. As the reports before you show, the planet Calos II has been conquered by an unknown force. Judging from the lack of open battle, they achieved it through stealth and political maneuvering. Sires, I have reason to believe that this unknown force is the ancient enemy. They are stirring again and this was their first move.” At that one of the youngest of the Patriarchs, a spry man who appeared to be only seventy-seven, interrupted, saying, “How can you be so sure? This so-called ancient enemy has been dead for three millennia. What makes you think they’re suddenly back again?” At that Father Saxus inclined his head. “A most wise question, honored sire. I have bought Father Sevas who was on Calos II at its fall and can give you the best information.” With that he stepped aside and motioned for Father Sevas to take over.
“Most honored Patriarchs, I bring ominous news. As Father Saxus has told you, the planet Calos II has fallen to a previously unknown power. There were no major battles nor was there any obvious change of leadership. Outwardly, at least, it appears the Earl is still in charge. However, judging from the ease with which they attacked the main Chapter House, I think they are controlling him. In the late evening during the change of the guards, we were attacked by at least one full division of infantry. These men were equipped with armor and uniforms that were similar in looks to our own except for the fact they were blood red. They were equipped with a mixture of plasma and energy rifles along with a large anti–personal weapon that is unlike any I have ever seen. It causes an extremely painful death to any person within the firing arc.”
Sevas continued. “Their tactics were very direct and simple, yet carried out with military precision. They do not care about any sentient life, either their own or others. All of these facts, when coupled with the fact that their battle cry is ‘For the Master!’ compares almost exactly with the description found in the ancient texts. The only major difference is that they employed none of the dark races in this battle. However, I believe that is primarily because, apart from the destruction of our people on that planet, they wish to move in secret and not be openly known. Sires, I believe these forces were the advance guard of the enemies’ forces. We must act now to destroy them, before the Dark Lords and the main body of their forces arrive! Without a foothold they will retreat back into darkspace. However, if we do not act now they will overrun Portus and the Dieron Federation and plunge all of known space into a new dark age!”
One of the Patriarchs interrupted him, “Is it not more likely that this is simply a bandit group that is using the ancient texts to increase their power and fear factor? After all, this so–called enemy was imprisoned under the surface of Helle at the end of the last war.”
At that suggestion, Father Sevas shook his head, “No, sire, it is not possible. No marauder band would be capable of seizing an entire planet regardless of how powerful they were. Although the battles for the Calos II dockyards and the Chapterhouse were limited in scope, they showcased a military discipline that no group of bandits could have. Also, were they only pirates they would simply have ignored us instead of sending an entire division to destroy us. Sires, the only logical explanation is that these men were soldiers of the Master and the dark forces are on the move again!”
Just then, as the oldest Patriarchs was about to say something, the Grand Master spoke up. “Leave us. Await our summons in the antechamber.” With that an aide escorted them out of the council chamber and shutting the door behind them, he left them standing in the hall.
Captain Steddard awoke in a dark cell. Groaning, he sat up, and, gingerly touching the back of his head, he winced when his fingers found the large bruise. Looking around he saw the remnants of his crew sitting around the cell looking very dejected. The sergeant of marines, who was standing guard, noticed that his captain was waking up. Moving over he said in a voice that sounded like a mixture of ancient Australia and Ireland back on Terra, “Easy there sir. You’ve got a nasty cut on the back of your head. You’ve been out for almost five days.” Taking the proffered drink gratefully, Captain Steddard downed it and asked for a status report on who was left. The sergeant shook his head, saying, “It’s not good sir. Thirty-two sailors and fifteen marines were captured along with you. The dockworkers fared slightly better, but they seemed more interested in taking them alive than they did us.”
Taking the news in without a change in his expression, Steddard asked, “Is there any indication as to who they are and where they come from?”
Shaking his head, Sergeant Brinoth said, “No, sir. There has not been any indication at all. In fact all we have heard our captors talk about is something they call the Master. Any clue what they are talking about sir?” Captain Steddard shook his head in the negative, but on the inside he thought to himself that this could not be possible. Nuts and kooks serving fairytale boogeymen don’t get enough equipment and training to take an entire dockyard and frigate. Most regular forces could not pull off an operation like they just did.This just could not be happening.
After a few minutes of silent thinking, Argus Steddard suddenly spoke up. “We are prisoners of an unknown force, however, and that does not change our duty. First chance we get we will try to escape and take a ship with us.”
At that a petty sailor spoke up, saying, “Sir, where we going to get a ship from?”
Steddard smiled, saying, “We’re in a major dockyard that has about fifteen vessels we could fly out.” That response caused his crew members to start laughing which he took as a good sign. At least they weren’t looking so hopeless anymore. Looking out over his men, he picked Sergeant Brinoth, a Marine Lance Corporal, and two warrant officers from the sailors to be his command staff and began planning their escape.
Commander Tumak stood in the largest of the five rooms that had been prepared for the visit of the Dark Lords, going over everything for what felt like the billionth time. He knew full well that if there was just one thing wrong heads would roll, and his would most likely be among them. He had grown rather fond of his head being where it was, and he was determined that everything would be perfect. Motioning his aide to him, Tumak said, “There is still some light getting into the room from the outside which is unacceptable. Do what is needed to remove all traces of light. ” His aide saluted sharply and strode off, grabbing two slaves to do his commander’s bidding. Turning and striding off, Tumak motioned for Prelate Marix to follow him. “Prelate, how many naval prisoners did you capture at the dockyards?”
Marix thought for a few minutes, and then responded, “Almost fifty including their captain.”
That caused Tumak to look up quickly, and say quite calmly, “And you left almost fifty men including their leader up at the docks under light guard, with who knows how many ships they could escape in?” At that the Prelate swallowed dryly, fearing the worst. His commander’s tendency to kill officers who failed or made any mistake was infamous even for an officer in the Redband.
Looking at his commander nervously, he said, “Should I bring them down to the surface, sir?”
Tumak smiled coldly at him. “That would be most wise, Prelate, most wise indeed…” Striding off he left the unfortunate subordinate scrambling for the closest comm unit to issue orders for the naval prisoners to be moved to the planet’s surface.
Four hours later Captain Steddard and his men had finalized the escape plans and were now waiting for a chance to put them into action. The plan was very simple, based upon Sergeant Brinoth’s observations it seemed that most of the enemy force was gone and only a skeleton guard remained to keep the dockyards secure. Thus they had decided that the first step would be to kill the guards’ right outside their cell and take their weapons. Then they would move as quickly as possible to the closest cutter in the docks. Finally, with the aid of as many dockhands as could be freed, they would attempt to flee the system before being shot out of the sky. All of a sudden, the door opened to their cell. In stepped an enemy officer with twelve men armed to the teeth. Looking directly at Captain Steddard, he said, “You’re all to be transported down to the surface. So get all your men up and moving, and if you try anything, you will be killed.”
Motioning as discreetly as possible for his men to stand down, he said, “Very well, we will not resist you.” Motioning for his men to follow, he allowed himself and his crew to be transported to the docks. As they got to the docks, they were herded aboard a medium-sized skimmer and forced to sit on seats in the middle of the passenger compartment. Two of the guards went up to the flight deck and two more stood watch just inside the passenger bay. The remaining eight soldiers stayed behind in the dockyards. Five minutes later, the small craft eased out of the docks and began heading towards the planet.
Suddenly Captain Steddard caught the eye of his sergeant and inclining his head yelled, “Attack!” The marines and sailors surged forward toward the two guards. However, these men were well trained and leveling their rifles, calmly opened fire. Two sailors and a marine corporal pitched forward, dead before slamming into the floor of the shuttle. That was all the time they had, though. The other prisoners reached them and, bearing them to the ground, proceeded to disarm them and beat them to death with their own weapons. Argus Steddard, Sergeant Brinoth, and four more marines swept forward into the pilots’ bay in order to complete their seizure of the craft. The two pilots had been alerted by the sounds of conflict and were waiting for them with drawn plasma pistols; as they burst in, the pilots opened fire. The man on the left fired first, and the shot went wide, hitting the bulkhead three inches from the head of Captain Steddard. The co-pilot’s shot, however, was far more accurate and hit a marine rifleman square in the chest. The blast threw him backwards into another rifleman, and they both toppled to the ground with the marine on the top dead.
The remaining four men swept forward, and, tackling the two pilots, began bearing them to the ground. The pilot got off another shot which hit Captain Steddard in the left arm, and he staggered backward, his shoulder blackened from plasma burn. Brinoth suddenly stepped forward with a bayonet he had grabbed from one of the guards in the back. Skewering the pilot through the heart, he threw him on the ground. Meanwhile, the other two marines had grabbed the co–pilot, and disarming him, smashed his head three or four times into the closest bulkhead. Throwing him on the floor, they shot him in the head, causing the floor to be redecorated in an unusual shade of red and grey. Supported by his sergeant, Captain Steddard went into the passenger compartment and ordered two sailors to take the wheel. Once the vessel was heading out of the system, he allowed himself to be guided over to a row of benches where a sailor sat with a first aid kit.
Several hours later, Prelate Marix stood before his superior. He had just finished informing his commander that during the transfer, the prisoners had managed to seize control of the skiff and escape. Now Commander Tumak sat in his chair, behind a large golash-wood desk, with his arms resting on the desk surface. He steepled his fingers in front of his face and just gazed at his unfortunate officer. He wanted to keep this man alive; after all, in spite of this one failure, Marix was a good subordinate. Suddenly Tumak smiled. “Prelate Marix, is the Mark captain who gave you the report still in this building?” Looking somewhat confused, Marix replied, “Yes, sir, he and both of his aides.” Smiling cruelly, Tumak ordered, “Take them to the red room on the third floor.” Not really aware of what his commander had in mind, he saluted sharply and walked off to fetch the men. Five minutes later, he showed up outside the correct room with his three men and was motioned to stand by his commander.
Tumak then spoke up and said, “Captain, I wish you and your aides to go into that room and await further orders.” Saluting sharply the officer walked into the room with his two aides. Motioning for the Prelate to follow him, they stepped into an adjoining room and looked through a one-way looking glass. On the other side, the captain and his men stood in the middle of an empty room which was maybe ten feet by ten feet and lit only by darklight. The room was full of an odd mist that Marix had never seen before. Watching through the mirror, Prelate Marix was very confused as to what was going on. But not wanting to draw any attention to himself, he kept silent and just stood watching his three men. Suddenly his commander spoke up, “The room holds a small gift from the Dark Lords. The failure of your Mark captain provides a perfect opportunity to test what it can do.”
Marix did not miss the fact that the Mark captain was being held responsible for the failure. For some unknown reason, his commander had decided to spare him and use the Mark captain as a scapegoat. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a terrified scream from the other side of the looking glass. Snapping his gaze back to the mirror, what he saw made his blood turn to ice. The mist seemed to have come to life and was tearing the three men apart limb from limb. It would snake around a limb and then suddenly slice through it, taking it away from the body and consuming it. “The mist is a dark creature, so normal sunlight will kill it. This makes its uses limited. However, it is a great tool for punishing those who fail the Master.” The Prelate, without taking his eyes off the creature that was consuming his men, said quite simply, “Understood.” Suddenly Tumak slapped his favorite Prelate on the back. “Now go back to the dockyards and dispose of the rest of the prisoners before the Dark Lords arrive. Take care of it yourself so that there will be no failures. I would recommend you find a more reliable Mark captain. Your old one was somewhat lacking, I believe.”
A very relieved Prelate saluted sharply, and with a look on his face that could cut hardened triduiam, he strode off determined not to be the next victim. Forty-five minutes later, Prelate Marix was standing in the main office hallway of the dockyards. He watched as his men lined the prisoners up against the wall. They had taken one hundred and nine dock workers captive, and they were all currently being forced to their knees to facilitate the executions. Drawing his pistol, he moved down the line, personally shooting each one in the back of the head. When he was finished, Marix ordered his new Mark captain to dispose of the bodies by incinerating them.
Two hours later, the Prelate contacted his commander to inform him that all the prisoners were dead and disposed of. Tumak smiled briefly. “That is good. The Dark Lords will be arriving soon. You are to have a shuttle craft prepared to bring them to the surface. I want you to assign your best pilot to this job.” Prelate Marix acknowledged the orders and, terminating the commlink, turned to his new Mark captain, saying, “Assign pilot officer Torret. He is the best we have. Ensure all the lights are replaced with darklights. While these Dark Lords can easily live in normal light, they prefer darklight and it is best to give them what they want.” His captain saluted and strode off to carry out his orders. The officer had heard what happened to his predecessor and was determined not to be the next example.