Alex was fast asleep in his bed when a powerful explosion ripped through the night sky causing him to leap out of bed, completely startled and very confused. Throwing on a pair of sweatpants and a shirt, he raced out into the common room, half expecting to see the beginning of Armageddon. What he saw through the window was most certainly not the start of Armageddon. However, to the young and sheltered eyes of a man from a backwater darkspace world, it was almost as bad. Anti-aircraft cannons along with orbital defense guns were opening fire all around the capital city of Portus, and, from the foothills, the flashes from more guns could be seen. Meanwhile, the warships in space poured fire down, and all the explosions and lights made the night sky light up like a pyrotechnic nightmare. Among the explosions, laser bolts, plasma beams, and fighter craft could be seen dancing as they attempted to either gun down shuttles ferrying thousands of invading troops or prevent the same craft from being shot down. Every so often, one could see a red explosion as a fighter craft or troop transport was taken down. While Alex and his friends stood there watching, no one noticed that one of their number was missing.
Suddenly Brother Martin burst into the room, shouting, “All of you follow me now! We have to get out of here while there is still time!” His trainees just stood there looking at him rather dumbly, so he grabbed the arms of Alex and Sierra and yelled, “Move it!” And with that not-so-subtle prompting, they all began running down the hall, following their rescuer toward the main courtyard. As they spilled out of the doorway and into the courtyard, they all just froze in place, and Alex felt he had quite literally stepped into hell. The entire compound was ablaze, and everywhere, both upon the walls and on the ground, men wearing the black and white of the King’s Guard struggled valiantly to keep overwhelming numbers of men dressed in red battle armor at bay. The infantry of the Redband had exchanged their traditional red robes for battle armor and helmets, and, as Alex saw them, they reminded him somewhat of demons in the light of the fire.
Most of them were on some sort of battle stimulant, and, as he saw the maniacal grins on their faces and the blood dripping from the blades they carried, he shivered in fear. However, what truly made him afraid were the creatures, ranging in height from three feet to over fifteen feet tall. If the invaders looked like demons, then the creatures truly had to be, thought Alex. He watched as one of the creatures on the wall picked up two defenders and hurtled them down to bounce off the buildings below. Looking elsewhere to avoid staring at the broken bodies, he saw a black-garbed warrior slam his sword into an enemy. As he ripped his blade back out, another attacker opened fire at point-blank range with his plasma disrupter rifle, leaving a gaping eight inch hole in the man’s torso. Looking elsewhere he saw an enemy slam his axe blade into his assailant’s head as he took a bayonet to the gut and both toppled to the ground never to rise again. Suddenly he looked directly into the red glowing eyes of some creature he had never seen before, and it began advancing towards him, death clear in its eyes. As he stood there rooted to the spot in fear, it advanced upon him. Without warning, Brother Martin was in front of him wielding a battle staff and yelling at him to run.
Nearly jumping out of his skin as he felt someone grabbing his tunic, he nonetheless turned around. Seeing it was only Jonathon and Rebecca, he allowed himself to be dragged in the direction of a nearby side door. Looking back around one last time, he saw the broken body of Brother Martin lying over the creature with his staff embedded in the creature’s throat. With that he shut the door behind him and followed Jonathon and Rebecca into the town. It looked as if the entire town was ablaze, and the sounds of small arms and heavy artillery could be heard from all over the place. The three of them moved slowly through the town having to hide every few minutes as they came across bands of Guardsmen, Family Guard, and invaders battling to the death. War cries from soldiers near and far could be clearly heard intermingled with the clash of steel, the discharge of plasma, energy and ballistic weapons, and the cries of the wounded. Somewhere along the line, Jonathon managed to acquire a Dieron assault rifle with half a clip; and Alex found a dagger bearing the Leopard insignia of the Family Guard pressed into his hands. Rebecca refused a weapon but instead salvaged whatever bandages and medical supplies she could from the dead.
By this point Alex had lost all sense of time. Twenty minutes or two hours could have passed for all he knew. They were currently crouched in the rubble of what had once been a hair salon, watching a battle unfold across the street and directly in front of the spaceport entrance. Arrayed on one side of the entrance was a force of one hundred defenders in a square formation. Coming from both directions with all the speed they could muster were around six hundred screaming attackers. When there was less than one hundred yards between them, the defenders opened fire in a continuous volley that dropped almost three hundred of the attackers in less than one minute. The attack stalled in that rather dramatic fashion; the surviving soldiers dove for cover. Then, the ground started shaking beneath everyone’s feet. Lumbering down the street as if it was out for a Sunday stroll, came a monster that had to be at least twenty feet tall. It was outfitted with large plates of metal armor, and, needing no weapons beyond its massive clawed hands, it strode toward the defending warriors, simply brushing off the bullets as if they were less annoying than a gnat. The creature leapt the last six feet, crushing four soldiers, as it landed. It began tearing the others apart with claw and tooth. Within about twenty seconds, the surviving fighters broke and ran down the street pursued by this nightmarish creature. After the invaders had moved on, Alex, Jonathon, and Rebecca slipped across the street and entered through a broken window into the once proud spaceport’s main terminal. Looking around they saw the evidence of a fierce and bloody battle with broken bodies lying everywhere and bits of the building lying haphazardly around the place.
However, what really caught their attention were the two things crouched down at the other end of the room and just staring at them with eyes full of hunger and hatred. These creatures both walked on all fours and looked like particularly large wolves that somebody had taken the time to break every bone in their body; then taken even more time to ensure all the bones were fused together in unnatural and painful ways. The faces were elongated and narrow with golden eyes that had red vertical slits in them. The jaws which stretched over three quarters of the face were filled with several rows of black teeth that dripped with blood and flesh. The two creatures leapt the ten yards separating them from the three trainees, and, as Alex dove to the left, Rebecca dove to the right, and Jonathon just stood his ground and unloaded his entire half clip right into one of the creature’s face. It dropped to the ground, dead. Just to make sure, Jonathan also stabbed it several times in the throat and torso with the bayonet attached to the rifle. Alex slammed into the ground wincing as his shoulder struck a piece of what use to be a stairwell. Turning around he raised his dagger just as the second creature lunged for him with unnatural speed. The Overlord only knows how, but Alex managed to raise his dagger just in time for it to impale the creature in the throat. Both of them fell to the ground, the jaws inches from Alex’s face. Less than a minute later, he felt someone pushing the dead creature off him, and he was helped to his feet by Father Saxus and a guardsman who looked like he had definitely seen better days.
Looking around Alex saw that they had been joined by the head of the Training school and four rather tired-looking soldiers. Taking charge of the small band of trainees and warriors, Father Saxus led them out onto the flight line and, sticking close to the walls, led them towards the deep space shuttles. As they crept along the walls, Alex heard one of the soldiers mutter, “I sure hope we don’t run into any enemy soldiers.” From somewhere behind him, Rebecca said, “Uuuhhh, why’s that?” At that, the man directly next to Alex replied, “Because between the eight of us we have one dagger and maybe three hundred rounds of ammunition. In other words, about enough firepower for the first forty seconds of combat.” Rebecca simply said, “Oh,” while Jonathon commented, “Well, that sucks.”
After about half an hour of sneaking and ducking around the flight line, they finally reached a suitable long-range shuttle craft. Boarding the vessel, Father Saxus and one other Guardsman went up to the flight deck and began the launch procedures. While they began take-off, the rest of them settled into the back compartment and waited. Twenty minutes later, the shuttle roared off the tarmac, through the atmosphere, and past the battle fleet hovering in a blockade fashion around the planet. As they shot past the enemy warships, the small craft bucked and roiled as it was fired upon. Fortunately most of the shots missed, and five minutes later they were leaving the Portus system.
Once they were in deep space and Father Saxus was sure there was no pursuit, he punched a command into the navcomp and inserted a small data crystal into the comm unit. With those tasks completed, he went down into the passenger bay to see how everyone was doing. Noticing the rather dejected looks on the face of soldier and trainee alike, he put on his best command voice, saying, “Alright, everyone, pay attention. I have sent out a comm wave calling all surviving White Falcon members to the Mollux system which is where we are going.” Alex suddenly interrupted, “Are you insane? The Mollux system… Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire!” Nodding her head in agreement, Rebecca said, “Not only is that system in the middle of nowhere, it is populated by nothing but outlaws and brigands.”
At those comments, Father Saxus continued. “Exactly! We can rely on the local population’s desire to not get involved to help us stay under the radar, and their natural distrust of any authority will also help.”
At that the four Guardsmen simply nodded their heads, but Jonathon just shook his head, “And what exactly are we going do once we get there?”
The Father shrugged his shoulders, “We will gather up our forces and strike back.”
This statement caused Alex to burst out laughing. “And I suppose for an encore we’re going to visit Helle for a line-dancing tour?”
“Well how about one thing at a time? We can arrange that at a later date if you really like” was the sarcastic response from Father Saxus. Seeing the tension between the two of them,
Rebecca interjected, “Who exactly attacked us and why?”
Looking at her, with a face that was deadly serious, Father Saxus responded, “Good question! The full answer is too long for right now, but, in short, they are the slaves of the Master.” There was dead silence for a full minute, and then Alex burst out laughing.
“You have got to be kidding me? Are you seriously telling us that the Master is real?” When Father Saxus simply nodded his head in the affirmative, Alex just shook his head fiercely, “I don’t believe it, and I won’t believe it. Nothing can live in darkspace; much less launch a full-blown invasion.”
Father Saxus stood up, “Whether or not you believe it is irrelevant. The fact is they have conquered the Dieron Federation. Very soon all of civilized space will be in full blown war again as nations and races take sides either for or against the Master. Our only choice is to flee to wild space and gather as many as we can in order to fight back against them. The only other option is for all creation to be plunged under the control of the Master.”
Seeing both Rebecca and Jonathon nod their heads in agreement, Alex simply shook his head in utter disbelief. “You all do what you want. As soon as we hit Mollux, I’m out. I didn’t sign on to fight in some foolhardy crusade with a bunch of nutjobs!”
Standing up Rebecca looked like she was about to say something when Jonathon put a hand on her shoulder, shaking his head for her to stop. Father Saxus simply looked at him. “We will not force you to fight alongside us. Just know sooner or later you will have to face the truth and take a stand one way or another.” Alex simply shrugged his shoulders as he turned his back to them. Walking over to a port window, he stared out at the stars, hoping the rest of his friends had found a safer and less insane route out of the fighting.