The last seven days had passed in a massive flurry of activity, in-spite of their being confined to their living quarters. The novice, Alquin had been gathering information through the use of personal and group interviews. He had also been conducting various tests, that would be used to place them in the correct training group; and then in the correct division of the Order. The day before the jump to Portus they had been given their training assignments. All of them except Jonathon were to be assigned to a Brother Martin. What had surprised everyone, given what Alquin had told them about their training Brother, was when Jonathon had requested a reassignment to his group.
Almost ten days after they had set out from Calos II, the Ever Victorious arrived at the space dock of Portus. Alex stood with the other four surviving trainees in the lounge area; they had their satchels slung over their backs, waiting for their escort to the docking bays. There wasn’t much conversation as each one was wrapped in their own thoughts. Not only about the trip; but, also what had bought them here, and what was to come.
Alex was beginning to regret joining the Order. He had joined to escape the draft, and the danger that went with it. But, at least in the army he would have been able to shoot back at people who wanted him dead. In the last two weeks he had been almost killed twice and couldn’t do anything about it. In fact, one of his new friends had been killed; they had just had her funeral two days ago, and although he hadn’t known Alicia well her passing had hit him hard. To make matters worse, he found he actually missed the farm, his parents, and amazingly enough even his sisters. This was unexpected, he had spent the last four years talking about how much he hated the farm and couldn’t wait to leave it; and he had done nothing but argue with his sisters for the last several years. But, he didn’t want to end up like Jonas. Although Jonas was a year older than him, he had been his best friend. Upon being drafted he had been assigned to an elite flyer squadron, due to his skills on a lightboard. Flyers were soldiers who flew militarized lightboards in order to meet Keenerite troops in the air; it was what both of them had dreamed of all their lives, flying for king and country and killing Keenerites. However, all that had changed after Jonas had been killed. He had gone on a cross border raid into the Keener Alliance, and been shot down by a fluke hit from an anti-air defense cannon. Those guns were geared toward shooting down heavy fighters and not supposed to be able to hit flyers; but he had flown into the shot and been blown into a million pieces. That had happened a little under a year ago now, and since then Alex had determined to avoid that fate no matter what it took. He was not going to die a pointless death on some alien world.
Since then Jonas sister had called him a coward, and refused to have anything to do with him. Then after joining the Order Alex had been almost killed twice, and discovered that what he thought was a peaceful order of monks, scribes, and teachers was at least in part a highly trained military force. In fact only one good thing had happened since Jonas had died; and that was his growing friendships with Jonathon and Benjamin. He thought the former was a bit of a nerd, but his knowledge of ancient human history made for some fascinating stories. While the latter had a sharp mind and a quick wit, and his skill at chess positively thrilled Alex. He refused to become friends with Perrin, he was alright for a Keenerite, but he was still a Keenerite. He had to admit that he had been rather surprised when Jonathon had requested a transfer to Brother Martin’s training group; and although he would not admit it, he was quite pleased when he discovered the reason why. Although life had been unpleasant this last year, he had avoided the draft; so, he would stay in the Order long enough to escape the draft fully, and then once he found out what was really going on with these monks he would leave and go live a nice quiet life, far away from darkspace, Keenerites, or crazy people trying to kill him.
Jonathon looked around at his fellow trainees, grateful that they had arrived. His whole life had been controlled by the stigma of Kieran’s syndrome, and now for the first time ever, it wasn’t an issue. He had never been particularly close to his family, and didn’t even miss any of them. While his brothers had been apprenticing in his father’s water purifier business; he had been ignored and left totally to his own device, not even being allowed to eat with the family. Now he had a real family, even Alex who had grown up on the border, and shared many of the same prejudices, had started warming up to him. He didn’t remember much of the last seven days, or what had happened at Gamma Four. Alex had told him everything, and knew he was lucky to be alive, much less able to see. The oddest part of it was that the events had forged a bond between Alex and Jonathan, with Benjamin thrown in as well; which was why he had requested to be reassigned to the same training group as them. He had heard everything Alquin had said but did not want to be separated from the first real family he had ever known. When the transfer was approved it had overjoyed him, now he was truly looking forward to training. Although, part of his motivation to join had been to escape the stigma of his condition, he did want to genuinely serve the Overlord, and would finally get the chance.
Sierra leaned against a wall, grateful that she was finally free. There were some things she missed, mostly Anders, she had met him in school last year and the two of them had grown very close, very quickly. But, he was not nobility, so it wasn’t like they could have gotten married anyway. She did miss her brothers, and the fun they use to have playing around the family estate; she also missed hanging out with Narra, but the girls sacrifice had been needed. Mostly though she thought about her current life; the only person worth associating with had been Alicia, and she was dead now. Thinking about Alicia and her funeral caused Sierra to almost start crying, she felt truly alone. Quickly changing thoughts she decided none of the boys were worth much. They weren’t even rich like Anders, just poor uncouth peasants. She really hoped the academy had at least one worthwhile guy, or life would be rather dull.
Perrin couldn’t help but be more than a little nervous about arriving. The Order had kept his lineage a secret; but, if someone found out, it could be rather unpleasant. He was the youngest son of the king of the Keener Alliance, which during the closing days of the wars had launched a massive assault on the Dieron Federation. It had ultimately failed but, during the month long retreat Keenerite soldiers had at his father’s command massacred the entire civilian population of the planet Kulos, almost six million humans. Ever since then his race was hated by humans everywhere. Granted the Order might accept him, and his fellow trainees might be willing to give him a chance, but, if they learned who he was then he doubted even the vaunted Kings Guard could protect him. His family had never understood why he wanted to join the White Falcons; after all, they followed a human faith. But, Perrin truly believed in the Overlord and had long sought a way to serve Him. This was quite impossible in the alliance, where following any religion but the faith of their fathers was strictly forbidden, and their gods were not forgiving. However, his father was not without compassion for his youngest son, and so he had arranged for Perrin to be taken in by the White Falcons. But, there had been a price; in order to appease his councilors and subjects he had been forced to banish him forever from the alliance.
Benjamin was worried sick about his parents, and starting to regret ever taking the mission. Three months ago a man had approached him and offered to free both him and his parents, in return for a small service. He and his parents were factory slaves and the offer of freedom for him and his family was too great an offer for him to refuse. He had been asked to join the White Falcons and go to Portus, in order to accomplish a few tasks. Upon accepting the job he had been coached on how to pass all the tests and interviews, and been put in contact with the local Falcon Chapterhouse. His foreman had approved his going, which wasn’t too surprising; the White Falcons wielded a lot of power within the Federation. The events of the last couple of weeks had caused him to doubt whether he had made a smart choice. He didn’t care about either the Order or the Overlord, but, this group was far more dangerous than Benjamin had originally thought. Now he wasn’t sure if he could perform his mission, whatever it was. The man had assured him it would be both easy and simple, but he was scared now that it wouldn’t be. This was his families only chance at freedom though, so he had to do it, he just wished it wouldn’t require him to turn on his new friends.
All of them had their thoughts interrupted when the novice, Alquin, came up to the lounge area, “Well it’s time to go. Grab your bags and follow me.” They followed their guide down the stairs into the shuttle bay, and ten minutes later found themselves in a shuttlecraft winging its way down to the planet. They were heading to the training compound, which was located in the capital city of Portus on the northernmost continent. The flight would take three hours, during which they were free to talk, sleep, or just watch the scenery as they chose. They were each still deeply wrapped in their own thoughts, so there wasn’t much conversation. Most of the group just sat in their seats staring out the windows. Only Jonathon did not seem troubled by anything, and he chose to sleep for the entire ride.
While the trainees sat in the back, Alquin and Father Saxus sat up in the flight deck talking about their passengers. “So Alquin, you have spent the last week interviewing and testing our new recruits, what have you learned about them?”
The novice sat thinking for several minutes before answering. Finally, he spoke up, “I get the impression that Alex, Sierra, and Benjamin aren’t overly concerned about serving the Overlord. Oh they said all the right things, but I get the impression their hearts aren’t really in it. I do think that Alex has great leadership potential; the others do seem to follow his lead. The main problem is that he seems to work very hard at avoiding anything unpleasant. Sierra’s biggest problem is that she is too selfish, if she can learn to look beyond herself, well she could be very useful, especially in the humanitarian fields. As far as Benjamin goes, well, like I said he gave all the right answers, but I really don’t know why he is here. His communications skills would make him invaluable. That being said, he needs to open up and learn to trust again. As for Jonathon well he is probably the easiest one to know about. He wants to serve the Overlord, but he also wants to escape the stigma of his condition, hence why he is joining. And Perrin well he truly wishes to serve the Overlord, but he also wants to escape his family and their legacy.”
Once Alquin had finished talking, Father Saxus sat in his seat just thinking. For about five minutes he said nothing, but just absorbed everything Alquin had said. Then he suddenly spoke up, saying, “Most of what you said just confirms what I had learned from the reports of Hy’so and Sevas. However, I also believe that Alex in particular has a very defiant streak that needs some serious tempering if he is to be able to fit in the Order.” After sitting in silence for a little bit longer, Saxus suddenly smiled wryly and said, “I think it is a good thing that they have been assigned to Brother Martin, along with the four trainees from the Terran Empire and the three trainees from the Atrean Commonwealth.” At that Alquin gave a small shudder. He had been assigned to Brother Martin for his basic training. He remembered well the brother’s rather caustic personality and just how quick he could be to use the short, small, slap stick he always carried for any infraction. That being said, he did agree that if anyone could make all five of them more amendable to the way things work and less defiant, it was Brother Martin.
Alquin continued to tell Father Saxus about the journey which had taken him through the Keener Alliance, The Terran Empire, The Atrean Commonwealth, and the Dieron Federation and, in particular, the events of the Waystation. This had been his first trip away from the training grounds since his graduation ten months prior, and it had been very exciting. Father Saxus had already heard about the whole trip from Hy’so, and so he just allowed his novice to talk about it while he mentally reviewed the reports he had read from Brother Hy’so and Father Sevas and wondered why the latter had said nothing at all about the attack on Calos II. These attacks worried him greatly, partly because the descriptions of the human assailants fit the descriptions found in the ancient texts about those who fought for the enemy during the Great War all those millennia ago. The greater part of his concern, however, lay in their use of kirats. According to The Book, they were dark creatures, and their reappearance was most worrying. He knew that many within the Order did not believe the ancient texts, nor did they think the enemy actually existed. However, he did believe them, and while he probably would not be able to convince most of the fathers to put their people on alert or equip their guardsmen, he could at least equip his men and get ready for what appeared to be an inevitable conflict between the servants of the Overlord and the enemy.
While his novice continued talking, Father Saxus reflected that it was a shame that the Ever Victorious was the only warship the Order had built. Even though the budget had only allowed for the installation of half the guns the plans called for, at best. The Patriarchs of the Order had only built this one ship in order to appease the so-called ‘Old Guard’ and then not bothered to build anymore as they saw no need for warships. They had even cut the King’s Guard by almost seventy-five percent, against the advice of himself and several other high-ranking fathers. So now a military force that once rivaled the great ten nations in both size and skill was reduced to a mere ten thousand Guardsmen scattered over four hundred worlds in twelve nations. They had their hands full protecting the various chapterhouses and outposts from raiders, marauders, and bandits. Worst of all, most of them had never used a weapon outside of the firing range. Even here on Portus, which housed both the training grounds and the House of the Patriarchs, they could barely muster a thousand soldiers. He knew that when the enemy struck in force Portus would fall, and all he could do was find a way to save as many of his trainees as possible
Saxus looked out the forward view screen as the shuttle began skimming over the surface of the planet. As the training compound came into sight he unbuckled from his seat, and, going back into the passenger compartment, informed the five trainees that they would be arriving in fifteen minutes. Furthermore, when they landed they were to go stand in the roped-off area and await further instructions
Twenty minutes later, Alex and his friends found themselves standing in a small courtyard under the hottest sun Alex had ever seen or felt. Looking around the courtyard, Alex got his first impression of the place he would call home for the next two years. The buildings were obviously very old and were modeled after Terran European castles from the early medieval period. Directly in front of them was the compound entrance in the shade of which stood Father Saxus and his training brothers. After a few minutes they all walked up, and one by one began calling out names and taking several of the trainees with them to begin their training. When the fifth brother stepped up, he introduced himself as Brother Martin, and called out the following names: Alexander Steddard, Jonathan Litesein, Sierra Zierck, Benjamin Hotspur, Perrin Sufasa, Bethany Von Boren, Michael Serret, Christopher Saxe, Alexander Boret, Sebastian Ammedus, Wulfric Ironspear, and Rebecca Hawks.
Motioning with his hands for them to follow him, Brother Martin led them through the great hall and up a flight of stairs. As the group followed their leader, Alex took the time to observe him. Brother Martin was quite short; he was just over five feet tall and looked like he weighed almost two hundred pounds. However, it was also clear that there was not an ounce of fat on the man as he was built like a bulldog. He reminded Alex of a lineman for a galactic football team. His hair was brown and very close-cropped in the fashion of the White Falcons. He wore the traditional black tunic and trousers, with the black mid – thigh boots of the order. On his right sleeve, he had three silver stripes. As Alex observed his new instructor, the group entered the common room of their dorm, and Alex got his first look at his new home. Arranged in a semi – circle in the center of the room were five black couches with two coffee tables positioned in front of them. Located in the far left corner of the room was a small kitchenette containing a food dispenser, a countertop with a sink, and two cabinets, a three-level shelf unit, a breakfast bar, and a wooden table with six chairs arranged around it.
Directly next to the stairway entrance was Brother Martin’s office, and there were two bedrooms on either side of the common room. Each bedroom consisted of three, simple, wooden-frame beds with mattresses and blankets, and at the foot of each bed was a footlocker for their belongings. Built into the wall facing the beds were three computer terminals and pushed into the far corner of the room was a simple table with three writing pads and styluses. As they entered the main room, Brother Martin directed them all to sit on the couches and began handing out their schedules and room assignments. Alex found himself rooming with Benjamin Hotspur and Christopher Saxe in room A. Jonathon Litesein, Michael Serret, and Alexander Boret were placed in room B. Perrin Sufasa, Sebastian Ammedus, and Wulfric Ironspear were put in room C. and Sierra Zierck, Bethany Von Boren, and Rebecca Hawks were located in room D. As they moved off to settle into their new bedrooms and change into their trainee uniforms, Alex suddenly realized that he was now fully committed, and his training had begun.
While Alex and his companions were getting settled into the training compound, Commander Tumak of the Redband and servant to the Master sat in the antechamber of the Masters’ Grand Hallon a planet known as Helle deep within the boundaries of darkspace. The surface of Helle was always on fire. It had been burned during the Great War by the forces of the Overlord. Because of this, the Dark Lords were now forced to live below ground on this, their homeworld, and what should have been the greatest planet in all space. He had sworn his life and service to the Master; and craved nothing more than to wreak vengeance on the Overlord for what they did to the Master and the Dark Lords, all those years ago. Tumak’s musings were interrupted when the doors opened; and a black wraith floated into the room and informed him that his presence was requested by the Dark Lords. Commander Tumak smiled inwardly at that phrase. The Dark Lords did not request; they stated what they wanted, and it happened. Rising, he straightened his tunic and walked into the Grand Hall. He stopped in the circle in the middle of the room and, kneeling before the Dark Lords, said, “Summoned, I came, my Lords. What is my Masters’ bidding?”
Seated at a dark granite table were twelve individuals; four of them were human; three of them were Sederites; two were Wraiths; one was a Serpetine; and the remaining two were Dark creatures. The Dark creatures were the original slaves of the Master, and the native beings of darkspace. The only light in the room was darklight which appeared to dance and move around like it was alive and gave the cowled faces of the Lords an eerie and ominous look. In a voice filled with hatred and a barely suppressed desire to kill, the Serpetine Lord spoke up, saying, “You have been called to explain your failures! You were supposed to stop any new recruits from reaching Portus, yet almost one hundred recruits reached Portus alive. Now your record to date has been satisfactory, so we give you this one chance to explain your rank failure before we decide whether or not to kill you.”
Without moving from his position or raising his head, Commander Tumak began his defense. “My Lords, as you say, I was ordered to stop any and all recruits from reaching Portus. However, it is impossible for any one man to cover all the planets or routes by himself. So I assigned each Prelate to a different route and took the primary southern route for myself. There were only four routes in which any recruits could get through, none of which were under my command but were on loan from other commanders. All of my direct Prelates performed as the Master commanded. Finally, I have already punished those Prelates who failed in their duty, and it is ensured they will no longer fail the Master!” When he finished speaking, one of the human dark lords smiled in a sinister way and told Commander Tumak to wait outside. He arose, and without turning around, backed out of the room with his head lowered. He did not raise it until the doors closed.
He sat in the antechamber for three hours, guarded by two rather vigilant Wraiths armed with dark guns and short, wickedly-curved swords. At the end of the three hours, the two giant black doors swung open, and he was summoned inside the Grand Hall. Unlike last time, however, only one Dark Lord stood by the giant table. At a hand signal Commander Tumak walked over to the table where he stood at attention. The Redband commander took the parchment he was handed and, as he unrolled it, listened to his superior say in a voice that sounded like silk, “These are your new orders. You are to seize the planet Calos II. However, you are to do it with as little overt force as possible. We do not wish to reveal ourselves just yet. I suggest you meet up with our agent on that planet, a one Father Micholson. He should be able to assist you in taking over the planet quietly.” Commander Tumak took the orders with a slight bow of his head, and, spinning sharply on his heels, began heading out of the chambers and back to his ship. Just as he reached the doors, he heard the dark lord say “Do not fail us this time Commander. We may not be so forgiving next time…”
Without turning around, he nodded his head in acknowledgement and hurried on his way. Walking through the darklight-lit corridors, he was both relieved and surprised that he had been given another chance and was determined not to fail his Master. He could not help but glance over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. He had always thought darklight was alive with the way it seemed to jump from wall to wall. Pulling his greatcoat closer due to the cold, he entered the shuttle bay, and, motioning to his aide, informed him of the new orders. With that they climbed aboard the waiting shuttle and headed back out toward the his warship.
Where the Ever Victorious was graceful and beautiful looking, Commander Tumak’s command vessel, the Dark Raven, just gave off an overwhelming appearance of evil. The color of the hull looked like blood, and there was a string of half-decomposed bodies secured to the front of the ship. Unlike the Ever Victorious in which the gun ports were concealed, all the guns on Tumak’s ship were very obvious and designed to inspire fear and despair in its opponents.
Arriving at his ship, Commander Tumak went up to his ready room, and ordered his Prelates, and aide to attend him. He informed them of what was to be expected, and that they are to have their suggestions for how to achieve this aim on his desk within six hours. He kept the information about Father Superior Michelson to himself though, not wanting to reveal his trump card to underlings that would happily stab him in the back if it would advance their standing. Dismissing his Prelates, he gave the orders for his battle group to head towards Calos II, and then leaned back in his chair, and began thinking of how to achieve the mission he had been given.