/ Language: English / Genre:sf / Series: The Chronicles of Soone

The rise of Lucin

James Somers

James Somers

The rise of Lucin


Date: The Year 9042: Planet Castai III

Zurig felt the screams of the men as they perished in blinding light and flame. He felt the agony of his master, Lucin, as his host body was enveloped in brilliant fire-a trap left for him by the Barudii King, Tiet and his band of survivors before their unforeseen escape. The entryway to the underground base burst outward and the rock above crumbled and shifted under its own weight as the stone beneath the ground became molten and displaced by the massive explosion.

Zurig, a Castillian man, and one of Lucin's servants, assimilated by the symbyte organism well before the thousands that served him now, crumpled to the ground as he felt the loss of strength. The line of communication between minds appeared severed now and Zurig gasped under the pain of the loss.

For years now, his master Lucin's mind had been the dominating force and being within his head, but now Zurig no longer felt him present. The sensation crushed him like a sudden onset of withdrawal threatening to send him spiraling into madness and despair.

The army of symbyte assimilated soldiers, which had responded to their master's call, stumbled around in complete disorganization. And then, as suddenly as the voice and presence of Lucin was taken from him, he returned. At first a crushing weight, but Zurig quickly accepted the presence of his master again. Zurig, my servant.

"Yes, my lord?" Zurig said speaking to the air.

The Barudii king has escaped me, but I will yet have him and destroy him, the mind of Lucin said.

"Of course, my lord."

Zurig, you will be my chosen vessel to lead this new campaign, the voice said.

"I am honored, my master."

Zurig felt himself slip away as his consciousness melted into the powerful mind of Lucin. He allowed his master to absorb him. Zurig surrendered as the symbyte organism wrapped around his brain stem. Its tendrils, fused to his cerebral cortex, exerted the physical control and channeled the malevolent spirit within his new host body. Now, more than any of the other assimilated Vorn and Castillian people, Zurig manifested Lucin himself.

Kale awoke from yet another symbyte induced nightmare. His sheets were soaked with sweat. Their group, led by his father Tiet, might have escaped the symbyte take over of their planet Castai, but he had not. This foul thing, now doing its best to takeover his mind and body remained ever present with him. It desired his power and told him so often.

Even being on planet Kosiva for weeks had not dulled its painful ability to intrude upon his thoughts and play visions inside his mind of killing his own father and mother along with everyone else onboard the Equinox.

Images of the young symbyte controlled girl, which had attacked him and infected him with the creature, came rushing back to taunt him with his own helplessness. Somehow, Emil's immune system had fought off the infection. His mother's medical scans showed it shrinking in size and withering to nothing near Emil's brain stem where the beasts take residence within their hosts.

Kale sensed its thoughts as much as his own. How long would it be before he succumbed to the sinister, murderous visions and unconsciously carried them out to fruition? The thought of his own weakness had become too much for him to bear. Kale knew he had to get away from his loved ones.

Kale turned to the desk in his compartment and to the piece of white paper which he had been staring at recently. He needed to say he was sorry to his father and mother before it was all over for him-needed them to know that his actions were only intended to keep them safe from harm by these terrible creatures. At last, he picked a writing instrument and allowed the liquid pigment to join itself to the parchment before him. Kale knew what he had to do, he only wished with all of his heart that he didn't have to.


A strong wind blew across the grassy plains where the Guniran province stood. Of all of the habitable planets of creation the planet Kosiva was the most sparsely populated, yet one of the most beautiful. With mild climates across most of its land mass and its longer growing seasons, Kosiva remained as near a paradise as one could find among the habitable planets. And most important of all to the Guniran clansmen residing there, it spared them from the ravages of the war.

The province consisted of primarily small homes packed around a small metropolitan area. A number of larger structures stood among them including the Council Chambers for the province. For a small group of people, they had managed to fashion a peaceful and well manicured town.

The delegates from the Guniran council seated themselves inside the ornate council chambers located inside one of the larger two story buildings in the province. The delegates wore similar apparel, consisting of tan trousers and shirts with a long waist coat that opened in front below the waist, even when buttoned. The borders of the garments had been embellished with an intricate pattern of darker material. They wore brimless caps upon their heads and carried themselves like true politicians, which made Tiet uneasy.

Tiet had always been taught that politics tended to be a dirty sort of business with scheming and backstabbing usually taking place. He preferred open combat in a warrior's uniform with clearly defined enemies and a sturdy blade to the sort of dress he was made to wear today. Mirah had insisted that he dress formally for the meeting, since so much depended on its successful outcome. She had selected for him, a dark blue semi-formal suit purchased in one of the province's shops. Similar in style to the delegate's attire, Tiet didn't like it, but he was consenting so long as Wynn and Grod were made to wear the same. With dark wavy locks hanging on his high, tight collar and his olive skin, Tiet looked handsome in the attire but terribly uncomfortable. He would never be a politician.

Tiet, Wynn and Grod took their seats and a beverage was poured for each of them by a servant. "Thank you," Tiet said.

He picked up the wooden cup with its intricate carvings along the rim and took a sip-it tasted quite good, but he wasn't familiar with what it was.

"Gumji," one of the delegates said as he took a drink from his own cup.

"Excuse me?"

"Gumji. It is made from one of Kosiva's native plants. It has medicinal properties."

"Ah… my wife is a physician. She might be interested in knowing more about it."

The small talk grated on his nerves. Tiet wanted to get straight to the matter at hand. "Gentleman, now that you have consented to our staying near the province, I would like to discuss the possibility of enlisting some of your people to aid us in a permanent dwelling for our group," Tiet said.

"And what would you pay our laborers with?" asked one of the other delegates.

Tiet noticed a hint of sarcasm in the man's voice-he didn't look pleased to be meeting with them.

"I'm sure we could come to some sort of arrangement," Wynn said.

"The fact of the matter is you don't really have anything of value that we would be interested in," said a delegate named Onnell.

Clearly the small talk and pleasantries are over, Tiet thought.

"The only reason that we have consented to this meeting is because of Aija's influence," Onnell said.

"Who is this, Aija?" Tiet asked.

"He is the prophet of Elithias, the Eternal One," one of the other delegates replied. "He instructed us to meet with you, since you are the Barudii king."

"Well, that's fine," Tiet said. "So then why do we appear to have a problem if your prophet has told you to meet with us?"

"The problem, Master Soone, is that we know who you are," Onnell said. "We are afraid of the trouble that follows you."

"And what trouble might that be?" Grod asked. His deep voice filled the chamber when he spoke. His muscles looked as though they might burst out of the Guniran suit at any moment.

The delegates never acknowledged Grod's presence. Onnell continued speaking to Tiet. "You are the king that fought and defeated the army of the Baruk and now your planet is under the control of the same being that controlled their clan for so long. You barely escaped the planet with your lives."

"We are not warriors here," another delegate said. "We cannot fight an army if they come to Kosiva looking for you."

"I assure you, gentlemen, it is not our intention to place you and your people in danger. I am the Barudii king in the stead of my father. I returned from exile to avenge my fallen clan, but the time was right to form a rebellion against the Vorn, so we did so and we won. The Baruk answered this defeat of the Vorn with an attack on the twin Castai. It was only with General Grod's help that we were able to defeat the Baruk, but that is when their leader, this symbiotic creature, escaped and began a fifteen year assimilation of the population on Castai." Tiet explained. "We came to Kosiva on the run from this creature. What else could we do?"

"You see Councilmen," Grod said, his voice commanding their attention, "We had peace. This was all due to the efforts of the king. Tiet is not some war monger trying to bring the conflict to your planet. He made peace with me and my Horva brethren, recognizing our struggle for freedom. We, in turn, assisted him against the Baruk. It could not be helped that the creature escaped and later overran the twelve cities. We made every attempt to stop the takeover, but we were simply outnumbered."

"If I may, Councilmen," Wynn said-his voice more calm than the others. "Our way of escape from the planet is the key to the matter."

"I don't follow you," Onnell said.

"You see, we utilized General Grod's transgate portal technology, found only on our ship, the Equinox. It would be extremely unlikely that this creature would make any attempt to follow us and more importantly, it doesn't know where we have escaped to."

Tiet grew nervous. The fact remained that his own son carried one of the symbyte creatures inside his body.

"I understand your dilemma, Master Tiet, but please understand ours," Onnell said. "We are simple people, farmers and merchants. We came to Kosiva to escape the war. We wanted no part of it then and we want no part of it now. This province is all that we have."

"Perhaps we should just leave Kosiva altogether then," Tiet said in frustration. "We had hoped for peace ourselves, but it appears you're unwilling to grant our petition to stay among your people."

"We are not saying that you have to go," Onnell said. "Your suggestion might ultimately be the best solution, but we have been commanded by the prophet not to send you away. In fact, Aija himself desires to meet with you."

"Where is Aija then?"

"He lives on the mountain of Honnib. Aija has sent a messenger proclaiming his desires with regard to your group. He expects to meet with the Barudii king in approximately three months from now and he has instructed us to pay you the kindest hospitality. He claims it by the will of Elithias."

"Well, this is more like it," Tiet said under his breath looking sideways at Grod. "We would-"

Tiet's com-link pin beeped on his collar. "Yes." He spoke chin down toward the pin.

"Tiet, it's Kale!" Mirah said. She sounded almost hysterical.

"Mirah, what's wrong?"

"Kale-he's gone-he's run away through the transgate!"

"Calm down, Mirah, I'm on my way now," Tiet said. He stood to his feet addressing the Gunirans. "Gentlemen, I have an emergency-we'll have to continue this at a later time."

"But we have more details that must be worked out before we-"

"Wynn, Grod, if you wouldn't mind to stay and settle this, I need to get back to the ship and see what's happened."

"Of course," Wynn said. "Go on ahead and we will be along as soon as our business here is finished." Wynn had more experience with this type of situation. He remained measured in his speech, careful never to say more than needed saying and his neatly kept white hair and beard gave him a distinguished look that people respected naturally. Wynn could do this without him.

Tiet walked out of the council chambers. He tried not to get too excited. Maybe his son had simply gone somewhere without his mother realizing. He told himself that explanation, but he wasn't buying it.

The Gunirans had been kind enough to offer his group several animals for traveling after they had hiked into the province for the meeting. Tiet unfastened the reins of his leore and climbed into the saddle. The domesticated hoofed quadruped had a short fiery red coat with a blonde mane flowing down the back of its neck. Tiet turned the animal with a pull of the reins and goaded the leore's sides with his heels. They galloped away toward the outskirts of the province and their ship beyond.

When Kale stepped through the transgate portal onto the planet Draconis, he noticed that it had been raining. He traveled in a wooded area of mostly large trees with very low undergrowth. The cold rain drizzled on him as he walked. He quickly found himself in a miserable state hiking around in it, despite the black Barudii combat uniform he wore. Fortunately, his gear had been packed away in weather proof satchels.

At five foot nine, Kale looked every bit his father's son. He had dark neatly cropped hair-boyish version of his father's handsome features and wiry build.

Kale scouted around for nearly an hour before locating a suitable spot to set up camp. He pulled a small, one man inflatable tent from one of the packs and tapped the gas release valve. The tent inflated itself in the upright position within seconds and Kale moved himself and his belongings inside for the night.

The voice of the symbyte organism stayed with Kale-carried around inside his head so that he could not escape its call. It seemed masculine in nature, but inaudible. The organism's every piercing thought sent a shiver through his spine.

He awoke several hours later to find the rain abated and a cold wind blowing in its place. The tent remained anchored in place by gravity pulls and was in no danger of being uplifted. Kale moved out of his new home and stretched his body. The wind, though cold, still felt good to him.

It was already dark outside, but the twin moons in the sky, one full and the other half eclipsed, provided a great deal of light. He saw quite well already and his vision improved as he remained out in the night. The trees had lost much of their foliage. It must be fall season on this planet, he thought. Back home, spring had come, but this wasn't home-just a place to keep away from the ones he loved so they wouldn't be harmed if he lost control of the organism still struggling for dominance of his body.

In the distance, he saw what appeared to be lights-though not bright like electric lights. He reached back into his tent, into a satchel, and pulled out his uniform's data-lens. He put it on and zoomed in on the lights in the distance. Clearly they were lamp lights. He saw a small town, but the distance was a good twenty miles.

Kale decided to make the trek tomorrow beginning before dawn. By the afternoon, he hoped be arrive and pick up some supplies. He thought for a moment he heard something, but it wasn't an audible sound at all. Mentally he had heard something and it wasn't the voice of the symbyte either. He had grown very accustomed to that voice in his head now-single minded in its struggle for control.

This seemed as though he had heard the thoughts of another-someone or something intelligent nearby. He sensed it again, as clear as any real voice. He whirled around searching with all his senses for the source. Kale felt for a weapon with his mind. His Barudii blade remained sheathed just inside the tent door.

Kale saw a blur moving through the trees about ten feet above him thirty feet away. He followed its movements. Kale tried to gather data mentally on it as it moved, but it was difficult. It seemed to phase in and out of a purely physical form like nothing he had ever seen before.

It slowed and stopped, remaining perched on a branch closer to him now. The being's thoughts changed then and he sensed it. It wondered if Kale was listening to its thoughts. The being must have been telepathic to be able to pick up on what he was doing beyond just watching it. Then a question came from the being.

Do you hear me, my prey?

Kale scoffed at the prey reference, but decided to respond with a question of his own.

Who is the prey and who is the hunter?

The mysterious being responded quickly to Kale's thought. In a flash it flew out of the tree and ran along the ground to him. Kale waited only a fraction of a second then flipped over the attacker he approached. His blade flew to his hand from inside the tent door. He landed again with his back to the being. Kale turned, swiped the weapon at the humanoid form as he released the catch on the scabbard. The scabbard flew away by centrifugal force, but was deflected. The being stopped short as Kale ignited his blade.

"Who are you? You're not like the others?" the man asked.

"Are you asking out of fear or are you just reconsidering your choice of prey now?"

"I assure you, it's not fear, human."

He appeared human enough-puzzling Kale as to why he would use the reference as though he wasn't human. He dressed completely in black with pale skin suggesting he didn't get much sun, and his eyes were distinctly colored by a yellow iris with an inner red ring adjacent to the dilated pupil. He wore some form of metallic pendant on a leather band around his neck and stood straight with his arms and hands concealed within the loose almost robe-like garment.

Kale stood ready and stared at the being waiting for his next move. He stared back a moment longer and then tried to withdraw. Kale seized him with his mind startling the stranger.

"I didn't say you could go yet," Kale said.

The stranger tried to move again, unsuccessfully. Then he smiled slyly and within seconds his form faded almost to a mist and dissipated before Kale could react. He had somehow disassociated his form at the molecular level and Kale could hold him no longer.

Kale extinguished his blade and called for the scabbard to come to his hand. It obeyed and he sheathed the weapon and placed it on his back. Kale decided to pack up for the night and head out for the town. If he was going to have company, at least he could pick his own and hopefully the people living in the town would be more hospitable. He certainly wouldn't be able to close his eyes and sleep out here in the woods with that devilish looking stranger roaming around.

Kale stowed his gear and deflated his tent; packing it away neatly into the small satchel that protected it. My portable house, he thought. This is my home from now on. Kale missed his family already and he wondered if he had perhaps acted in haste. But the voice in his head-its presence running through his body-no, this was the only good choice for their safety.

The stirring of animals and the chirping of insects brought some comfort to him. When the ghostly figure had been nearby, everything animal had been silenced by their sense of danger and the instinct to survive. With their renewed activity, he felt assured, at least for the time being, that he was alone. With his camp packed away, Kale headed off through the tall timbers and undergrowth toward the flickering lamp light of the town below the mountain. It's going to be rough going without a path, he thought. Kale shook away the sleepiness and kept his senses alert to danger and steadily made his descent down the mountain in hopes he would find friendly faces when he reached the town by tomorrow.


Tiet sat quietly as the letter dropped from his hand to the floor. All he could think was, why? His son had gone. The letter gave some answers, but he wasn't able to absorb them now. Mirah still sobbed in their living compartment. She had called for Tiet in the middle of the proceedings with the Guniran Council. He had rushed home immediately to the Equinox and found her hysterical with grief.

Emil, along with Jael and Merab, the brave Horva soldiers who had fought so heroically with them against the symbytes, had already begun working feverishly to try and break the coding on the transgate sequence used by Kale to make his jump. So far, it had been to no avail. He had not intended for them to be able to follow him. His intentions had been to save his family and friends from his self, but that bore them no comfort now.

Tiet turned to Emil and said, "Out of all of the planets listed by the Vorn as habitable, how many are listed as restricted and hostile?

Emil pecked away at the computer controls for the transgate. "Well actually, out of the planets the Vorn military left in this databank, the majority are just traps."

"What do you mean?" Tiet asked.

"You see, the Vorn military evidently figured that if someone stole this technology, like my father took it from them, then they might trap those persons by having them jump onto an uninhabitable world, thus killing their enemies. They've listed a number of worlds that have deadly atmospheres or Ammonia cloud storms and five hundred mile an hour winds and so forth."

"So it's-"

"-not a very good trap, you're right. Actually, all of the known habitable worlds are listed as hostile, I suppose to keep someone from wanting to jump to those," Emil said.

"Print out all of the information for those planets and bring it to me when you have it."

"Yes, sir."

Emil turned back to the computer, the dim light reflecting off of his dark skin and bald head-Horva males did not begin to grow hair on their heads until they became men. They kept it shaved until the day they were declared. Tiet didn't doubt that Emil was going to make a fine warrior. He had his father's tenacity, but it was all bottled up in boyish features and a wiry muscular frame.

Tiet walked back toward the common living area to get something to eat. Wynn and Grod remained with the Gunirans. Even if they found the right planet it would be a matter of searching for one boy in the midst of an entire planet's population. But someone with Kale's unique abilities would have a hard time remaining anonymous among the other inhabitants. If anyone started anything with him he would defend himself and it would break loose from there.


Kale noticed the sun almost at its zenith by the time he arrived in the town. It had taken him longer than expected to get through all of the undergrowth that awaited him along the way. The being he had encountered during the night had never reappeared. He didn't think it unusual for the Vorn military to have classified this planet as hostile and to have ruled it as one not to be considered for conquest.

As he entered the populated area in his uniform, with his gear across his back, all eyes fell upon him. People milling about in the street retreated from him as he walked near, while others came from places within to peer through their windows and open doors at the stranger in their midst. They appeared completely human-unlike the being from the night before.

The town appeared to have nowhere near the technological advancement Kale was used to. They did use machines for travel, but they had wheels and rolled along the ground instead of using hover units. Instead of composite materials, the buildings had been constructed of stone and brick.

Kale noticed that some of the people, particularly the men, wore weapons. He tried not to appear threatening. He had been careful to pack all of his weapons within his luggage, rather than wear them on his uniform when coming into the town. He saw what he hoped was a restaurant and walked toward it.

As Kale entered the establishment, the people inside moved away from the windows where they had been staring at him. Some people ate at tables and others at a countertop. They all watched him cautiously, but no one spoke a word.

Kale sat down at an empty table with his back to the wall. He wanted to be able to see everyone, just in case someone got a little too anxious for their own good. He placed his belongings on the ground under the table. He looked in the direction of the counter where some of the people were eating and raised his hand a little to get the attention of someone serving the others their food.

"I would like to get some food please."

Everyone looked at him like he had two heads.

"I'm not from this area-I really don't mean to disrupt your town. I've just come a great distance and would like to get something to eat and supplies before I move on."

In a moment, the people began to settle down and start eating their food again, but wary looks remained. Kale noticed a particularly nice looking young girl, near his age, peeking out from the kitchen. She gave others in the room a critical look. Then she stepped out and came over to Kale's table. The girl bobbed a bit as she walked and her shoulder length hair was a beautiful auburn, like a dark flame framing her cherubic facial features and emerald eyes. Kale stammered.

"Who are you?" she asked.

She didn't seem nearly as apprehensive of him as the others did. She looked at him waiting for an answer.

"Sorry," he said. "My name is Kale. I'm new to this area."

"Well, I guessed that already, but why are you here?"

"I'm just passing through this area and looking for something to eat and supplies for my journey."

"And where are you going, exactly?"

"What was your name again?" Kale asked in an attempt to change the subject.


"Juli, I'm not familiar with what kind of currency you use here. Is there any way that I might exchange something for your currency or do some work for some food?"

"Don't worry, I'll pick up the tab for you since you're new in town," she said with a sly smile. "But don't be too quick to leave-you owe me."

"Of course."

"I'll fix you up with something good. Be back in a minute."

She smiled at him as she turned to walk away and he couldn't help but return it. He looked around again and found disapproving looks all around the room as the people murmured to one another.

Kale kept his face toward the table for a moment, trying not to incite any further anxiety from the people in the room. He really didn't understand why everyone was so paranoid. He hadn't rolled into town with blood dripping from his hands and all guns blazing. Why did such a thick tension hang over this town?

It didn't take long for an answer to come. Kale heard screams from down the street growing louder as the people outside ran past the window. The armed men in the restaurant made their way to the door with their guns at the ready-they barely paid Kale a passing glance now.

Kale started to stand when one of the men pointed his gun at him.

"Don't interfere, outlander!"

Kale stood still, but did not sit again. The man went on with the others. They fired their weapons into the air and down the street at whatever approached. Black clad figures began to appear as a dark fog swept through the area. They dressed similar to the person he had encountered the night before and moved as swiftly and aggressively as carcarivores on the hunt. These attackers coalesced from the elements of the fog and took form.

The men of the town laid down a steady rain of fire with their projectile weapons, but did not do much damage. Every now and then someone got off a lucky shot, but for the most part the creatures moved too quickly to be hit by the slow moving projectiles.

The beings attacked the townspeople. Kale saw that they were actually vampiric beings. They latched onto their victim's throats, snapped their necks to incapacitate them and then siphoned the life from their limp bodies.

Kale had now had enough of being a bystander. Juli watched him as two weapons flew to his hands from the satchel he had under his table. He shot out the door with them before she could protest his interference.

Kale spotted a woman grabbed by one of the materializing creatures. Kale came upon the creature unnoticed from behind. As the black clad humanoid brought his hands to the cranium of his victim to snap her spinal cord and stop her struggling, Kale struck the man with an ignited kemstick severing his head. The woman screamed as the pale hands fell from her throat, but Kale didn't stop to get a thank you for his timely rescue-others needed help.

Almost as soon as Kale had slain the one creature, the others noticed him and his blade of light and moved in for the kill. One after another, they came at him as he raised his kemsticks for the fight and then laid more enemies down dead next to the first. They swarmed around him and were cut down almost as fast as he could swing his blades. Then they stopped and encircled him. They snarled at him like animals, but dare not to come within his reach.

Kale whirled his kemsticks in circular patterns around his body as a warning to keep their distance-the hunted was now the hunter. For all their ferocity and speed, they appeared quite clumsy to him in their attacks. Of course to a normal human, they appeared to be quite vicious and agile, but his own Barudii skills placed him at a more adept level of fighting than they were utilizing.

Kale commanded all attention. The hunters had stopped feeding and the humans had stopped firing their weapons. The humanoid creatures seemed unsure of which move to make next. Then Kale heard it speaking to him-the symbyte inside his body.

Make them out for the clumsy oafs they are, kill them and win the people to your self.

He heard it, recognized it and for once, agreed with it. Kale extinguished his kemsticks and replaced them on his thigh clips and then stood still in a defensive stance. The creatures hesitated only a second before they pounced on the opportunity afforded to them.

Juli watched through the window; pressed against the glass. As the first humanoid glided into range, Kale altered his position, just enough, and caught his right arm. Then, he spun inside fast bringing his own left elbow up at an angle, under the jaw, smashing into the being's chin hard enough to snap the neck sideways. Kale countered his momentum in the reverse and round kicked the next, precisely in the same place on the head, but the opposite side, snapping his neck with even more force. Kale took no chances-he strengthened every strike and sped up every movement with his Barudii kinesis.

This had become more than defense-he gained pleasure from killing these creatures and it was a feeling motivated by the symbyte organism within. Kale did not fight his surrogate conscience. He felt like he still had control, but there was an uneasy compromise about the situation now. Is the symbyte creature trying to help me protect this body it inhabits, he wondered?

Kale moved through pale faced creatures with a confident ease as he bounced from one to the other in his attacks sending a few down dead and many others to the ground in pain. They appeared very vulnerable in these natural bodies and he was quite enjoying the snapping of bone and the tearing of sinew as his kinesis empowered him to win the fight against these murderers.

The advancing humanoids halted and encircled him again. Kale breathed heavy now as he stood staring down the ghastly wraiths. As he looked around at the ghoulish pale faces of his attackers, he noticed one familiar face among them-the same man he had encountered the night before in the forest. Kale reached out with his mind for the man's thoughts and sensed great concern in him. Kale thought this one might be the leader. He sent the stranger a thought. Back for more?

The dark eyes widened a little as the stranger perceived Kale's goading-his eyes of yellow iris burning like coals of fire upon his pale face. Then he waved the others away. Kale wondered if he might be using telepathy to communicate with them as well. The humanoid creatures around him began to dissolve away like sand blown by the wind. The dark cloud, they had arrived by, reformed. Their leader stared at Kale a moment longer before he also dissipated-just long enough to send Kale a final thought. This is far from over human.

His form disintegrated and was caught away with the ominous black fog as it rolled over and around Kale's body. He sensed pure, malicious evil washing over him as the cloud rolled around him and left him standing among the dead of their kind. Their bodies also lost their physical forms, but were not carried away with the others. Whatever holds their bodies together, he thought, must be lost when they die causing their molecules to disperse completely-total disintegration.

Before he realized what had happened, the townspeople came out from their hiding places to see the warrior that had vanquished the foes. Juli came out into the street also. She walked toward him as Kale extinguished his kemsticks and replaced them on his magnetic thigh-clips. The man who had tried to stop Kale from interfering stretched out a strong arm to stop the girl.

"Don't, Juli, he's dangerous."

"Daddy, can't you see, he's on our side?"

She pushed past her father and ran up to Kale.

"Kale, I can't believe what you did! I mean, how did you-? Are you one of the Guardians? Did they send you to help us?"

"Well I-"

"Are you sent by the Guardians, boy?" asked the girl's father as he approached from behind her. He was a slightly overweight man with dark hair and a full beard that nearly hid his lips from view. Kindness shined in his eyes, yet apprehension dwelt there as well.

"I don't even know who the Guardians are."

"Really? Well, I've never seen anyone but the Guardians do the things you just did to the Agonotti."

"Who are these Agonotti?"

"Well, these creatures-they feed upon our people. We try to fight them, but they become vapor-only taking physical form to feed or fight. They're so fast we're unable to stop them."

"What about other people-other cities on this planet?" Kale asked.

"The Guardians protect most of the major cities. They have special abilities we don't understand, but they are also able to defeat the Agonotti the way you did," Juli's father said.

"Then why don't they protect your people?"

"Very simple," he said. "We aren't able to pay them the price they demand for their protection."

"That doesn't sound like a guardian to me. It sounds more like extortion."

Just then, another man interjected himself into the conversation. "And just who are you to come here and judge. You're a stranger yourself and we don't have any reason to trust you either."

"I am only passing through, as I told Juli inside the restaurant. I just wanted to get some food and supplies and be on my way. I don't mean any of you any harm."

"Just because Kale is a stranger doesn't mean we shouldn't trust him. Look at how he risked his life to save our people," Juli said.

"Still, it's not good for him to remain here among us," the man said. Some of the others nodded their agreement with him. "He will only bring down the wrath of the Agonotti upon us if he stays."

"We can't just send him away," Juli's father said. "After all, he is only a boy."

It might have been meant for his defense, but something about that statement crawled all over Kale. He wasn't a boy by Barudii standards. He had passed the trials. He is only a boy? It made him shudder.

Juli, desiring to come to the aid of the nice young man, followed up with the same intent. "We can't just send him out alone to let the Agonotti come after him." She smiled at Kale as she said alone.

"I still say, you're asking for trouble-you know the laws, Olson Barone!" the man said to Juli's father, accusingly.

"Surely, Master Elam would not deny our people a hero and a hero's welcome," Olson argued. He stepped between Kale and the crowd. They had become eager to brand him a troublemaker rather than a deliverer.

"Young Master Kale," Olson Barone said. "You may come to our home this evening and we will see you on your way with supplies when you are rested and ready."

"I don't want to be any trouble," Kale said.

"Not at all," Olson said for the benefit of the crowd.

Juli ran back into the restaurant for a moment to gather Kale's satchels he had brought with him. Olson guided Kale away, holding the boy by the shoulders as a father might his son. He stood nearly a foot taller and Kale thought that he must be a good half a foot taller than his own father. Juli hurried after them and met her father and Kale at their family's transport.

Some of the crowd dispersed to attend the wounded and dead. The man that had challenged still stared at them and shouted his final warning. "You know the laws, Olson! You know the laws!"


Tiet picked up his supplies and slung the bag over his shoulder. He turned to look over the final jump coordinates as Mirah came into the transgate chamber carrying a small medical kit. She handed it to Tiet and kissed him goodbye.

"All you need to do is give him the injection intramuscularly near the base of his neck. The special Horva antibodies packaged in the serum will hopefully have the same effect on Kale's symbyte organism as Emil's natural antibodies did on the one that was in his body.

It was amazing how quickly Mirah had been able to find a cure once she had zeroed in on the differences in the clone physiology.

"You say that has my antibodies in there?" Emil asked.

"Well, I've engineered them a bit, but basically that's right," Mirah said. "Your father's genetically enhanced physiology has given you the same kinds of ultra defenses as all the first generation clones had. There are really some amazing processes going on when you study it."

"As long as it helps Kale."

"Well you've got to find him first," Grod said.

"We will-I know it, Father."

Tiet and Emil had worked feverishly trying to figure out which planet Kale might have gone to. Hopefully, Draconis was correct.

"Are we ready, my king?" Emil asked.

"Activate the gate, Grod, and don't worry I'll watch out for Emil," Tiet said.

"Actually, I was going to instruct him to keep an eye on you," Grod said. "Be careful-there's no telling what you will face on Draconis. Very little is known about it. Many refugees ended up there during the war, but who knows what has happened on Draconis since that time."

Grod tapped the panel to activate the jump sequence to Draconis. The portal opened up before them. A wall of light quickly gave way to the blurred image of the planet beyond. Tiet and Emil walked through. They had prepared to return with a callback signal generator that could form a portal at the same location they would be arriving at.

As soon as Tiet stepped onto planet Draconis, he sensed kinetic power and supposed it must be his son. Tiet turned and saw Mirah in the portal and nodded to her with a smile just before it snapped shut. Kale had to be here somewhere. Now they just needed to find him.

They had traveled to one of the planet's cities on record in the transgate's database. Tiet had been so engrossed trying to sense Kale he paid little attention to his surroundings and the scene they had walked into.

He snapped back to reality as he noticed Emil's kemsticks ignite in his peripheral vision and cut down a shadowy figure. Tiet realized an attacker closing in on him as well. He dodged an attack. The man rebounded off a building wall nearby and came at him again. Tiet's weapons leaped to his hands, but Emil, with his sticks linked to form a staff, was quicker and cut through the humanoid.

Emil had shared with them all, how Kale had been training him while going through his own exercises with Wynn. Tiet had half expected to be protecting Emil on this search, but he was quickly finding it wouldn't be necessary.

"Thanks!" Tiet said as the attacker fell to the ground.

But Emil had already turned his attention to the scene around them. They had entered the city during a battle. People ran frantically in every direction as dark figures swept through the streets of the city grabbing up people to feed upon.

Emil wasted no time in his response to the situation and quickly ran into the fray with his kemstaff spinning wildly around him. Tiet followed after and began to engage the humanoid creatures as well.

He employed complex mental attacks and took down several foes at a time-throwing them, crushing their organs and hurling nearby objects at them. More humanoid creatures came in to attack-like insects swarming over a busted hive.

Then Tiet noticed, among the chaos of screaming civilians and materializing marauders, another group of people fighting these beings and having success at it. At least, they seemed to be winning. The creatures just ran away from them as the group attacked with their advanced weaponry and special abilities.

Tiet saw ten of them in all-several who were flying and a few others using powerful psychokinetic attacks. Another appeared to have exceeding physical strength and stood twice the size of a normal human. Impressive to watch, but Tiet sensed something sinister in their interaction with the humanoids. They hadn't killed any of them. The special group and the humanoid wraiths seemed, to him, to be engaged in an elaborate dance of simulated combat-a ruse perhaps?

But the creatures fell left and right to Tiet and Emil's efforts and it drew the attention of the other group of warriors. Their dance had been interrupted. Then, unexpectedly, a mental attack sent a large wheeled vehicle at Tiet as he cut down one of the humanoids. He flipped up and back touching briefly on the surface of the vehicle as it spun through the air underneath him and then smashed into several others parked in front of him. Tiet landed in a crouched position with his weapon postured defensively. He quickly realized the mental attack had not come from the feeding creatures swarming about, but had come from among the other warriors pretending to defend the city.

Could it have been a mistake in the midst of the battle? The barrage of laser fire from two of the approaching warriors gave him a fast answer. Emil fought close by-bounding through the air with his staff whirling about him as he deflected the incoming blasts.

The technologically endowed pair of warriors flew at them under mechanical power and rained down an onslaught of laser fire on Tiet and Emil. Emil ducked behind a larger vehicle as the two potted its exterior with their weapons. Tiet didn't care anymore if it was a case of mistaken identity. He seized one of the flyers with a mental attack, sending him crashing into a nearby building's wall of windows. The resultant spectacle sent slivers of refracted light and glass everywhere. As he smashed through the panes the great shards of glass cut him to pieces.

The other mechanized fighter continued his attack on Emil. The young Horva burst up and over the smoldering vehicle he had taken cover behind and let fly a pair of spicor discs. One exploded in flight from laser fire, but the other found its intended target. The warrior's upper body disintegrated in the blue sphere of the spicor ignition. The rest of him fell to the pavement.

Tiet watched the other warriors. They landed just down the street from him. One of the black wraiths approached the leader.

It seemed as though the creature sought an explanation for the counterattacks against his wraiths by Emil and Tiet. Then it happened. A thought, no, a message passed telepathically between them. Tiet heard it loud and clear, though wasn't meant to.

Do not approach me in public! The people may become suspicious! Take your people and go now, I will contact Dirge when I have finished here.

There was an obvious connection between them. He decided to interrupt the conversation.

So, you have a league with these wraiths to destroy the people while you play the heroes for them?

The leader of the human warriors immediately shot a snarling glance in Tiet's direction from down the street-a look that acknowledged his secret discovered.

The large muscular one, looking as though he made up two people, ran in for the kill, wailing like a carmaden stalker. He picked up one of the vehicles near by and brought it right over Tiet and slammed it down at him.

Tiet leapt away just as the object came down on his position. Emil's staff cut through the air, flying toward the giant. The huge man brought his hand full of crushed metal back up from the ground where Tiet had stood and deflected the weapon with it. Then, he tossed the wad of metal at Emil, twenty feet away. The boy dodged away in time.

The huge warrior then picked up another vehicle and brought it to bear on Tiet again. Tiet put his mind on the behemoth and he stopped in his tracks. Tiet found the giant's heart and interrupted the electrical conduction system keeping its rhythm. The mammoth man seized and dropped the vehicle he was holding to grab his chest in pain. He bellowed as he dropped to his knees and then fell over completely with a thud that Tiet felt through the ground where he was standing.

The citizens watched the fight. Their attackers had retreated at the behest of the Guardian leader, Elam, and now he called out to the people.

"Citizens!! These invaders have come to fight for the Agonotti against us!" Elam said. The Guardian leader stood tall with chiseled features. He wore a mane of shoulder length blonde hair that gave him a wild appearance. The man exuded power that could be felt.

Tiet looked at the expressions of the people around them. They began to murmur and others picked up objects as though they would attack.

"Isn't it interesting!" Tiet shouted. "That I and the boy were the only ones actually killing any of your attackers?"

The people stopped murmuring and looked around to find that it was true. The only Agonotti dead, and their remains disintegrating, were around Tiet and Emil.

The Guardian leader became enraged as he realized the people might actually question his authority. "Is this the people I have given my life to protect?"

"But, Elam, we don't know anything about these men," said one of the citizens.

"I have told you all that you need to know! Destroy these invaders or you will be left to protect yourselves from the Agonotti. I will not be questioned by those whom I graciously give my best efforts to protect!"

Tiet realized it was no contest. These people were so terrified of the creatures that had been attacking them, that they would do whatever it took to keep these warriors protecting them-or at least the protection they thought they were receiving.

The men among them pointed their weapons. He and Emil only had a moment and Tiet realized the talking and reasoning portion of the meeting had clearly passed. He grabbed Emil by the waste and leaped over the crowd as they fired their projectile weapons at them. He released Emil as they touched down on the ground again and they ran behind a group of parked vehicles as the shots pounded the area around them.

Windows shattered and shrapnel flew all around them as the slugs of metal zipped wildly through the air. Tiet and Emil dodged about through lots of parked vehicles and building alleyways as the citizens followed after them.

He didn't want to hurt any of them. After all, they felt like they had no other choice. Retreat was the only option at the moment. It didn't appear that Kale was anywhere to be found in this area. But they still had to get out of this city alive to have a chance of finding him.

As they came around one of the buildings with shots pinging against the concrete all about them, Tiet noticed a large drain of some kind running below the street. Just ahead of them, he saw a metal plate that covered an access point to the large pipe below and he seized it with his thoughts.

The cover obeyed and jutted up into the air long enough for them to jump through into the pipe below. The cover came down quickly, but fitted back into place softly to avoid any noise that might give away their escape route. The tunnel stood tall enough for the pair to stand upright. Tiet reached out with his mind in either direction and found that one way ran out of the city to the east.

"It's this way. Come on." He began to jog down the pipe with Emil right on his heels. He ignited his kemstick for light and away they went to find Kale, he hoped.


The hover vehicle they rode in wasn't nearly as fast as he was used to, but Kale found it enjoyable anyway. Juli sat across from him in the large rear compartment while her father piloted the craft from the front.

"Are you sure you're not cold?" she asked.

He shook his head, though his lips may have been quite blue by now. She had the compartment canopy open about halfway and there was snow everywhere around them. Fortunately, his uniform was well insulated and the thermal fibers incorporated within the garment made it suitable for such environments.

Still, it was cold. Juli seemed to be quite used to this sort of weather; thoroughly enjoying the cool wind whipping through her shoulder length auburn hair. Kale thought the sight of her quite nice, though he never would have said so.

The intercom chimed into the compartment with the voice of her father, Olson. "We'll be arriving very soon, young master. If you have any favorites for supper, I can call ahead to my good wife and she will prepare it tonight?"

"Anything would be fine, thank you."

Kale liked this Olsen Barone and his daughter. They had been the only ones willing to trust him among the citizens of the town, even though he had saved them all from their enemies.

Within another fifteen minutes, they arrived at the Barone family's small home, surrounded by snow and trees. This is nice, Kale thought as he scanned the hills around them. The snow had begun to fall again in great flakes, nearly the size of his hand.

Olson put his arm around Juli as they walked from the vehicle toward the wooden house. Kale thought of his own father, far away, without any clue where his own son was. He felt quite sad and guilty at having done this to his parents, but his dreams of murder and the symbyte lying semi-dormant within, cured him of it. This was still for the best.

"Come, Master Kale, Mamma will have something hot for us to warm your bones."

When they entered the house, the scent of burning wood and the wonderful aroma of food filled Kale's nostrils. He had been hooked like a hungry fish. He supposed his last home cooked meal had been before the trials back home-before the symbytes had put them on the run.

An older woman version of Juli met them inside. "Supper's ready, everyone!" she shouted as she hurried back to her cooking. "Juli, help Master Kale to find a spot and then help me in the kitchen."

Juli found him a seat at the small table, big enough to seat about six people then headed off to help her mother. The house was very cozy and warm, with a fire burning in the stone hearth. Even the inner walls remained bare wood of some kind-primitive but peaceful. It reminded Kale of Wynn Gareth's former home for its lack of overt technology.

Wynn had always hated the gleam of it. The old Barudii master enjoyed technology only as a necessity and he had often taken Kale out into the mountains to train for weeks at a time. Even Wynn's Barudii blades and kemsticks were handled in etched wood. Kale had often noted that the ancient Barudii warriors had used adomen blades alone and were still quite deadly even without the use of molecular dispersion fields and pulse blasters.

Juli and her mother soon returned to the table with a number of steaming dishes full of food that smelled even better sitting in front of his face. Kale sat next to Juli's father who heaped his plate and passed the dishes around to him. Kale supposed he would enjoy everything they were serving and piled on the food as her father had done.

When they had all been served, Kale waited. They bowed for prayer and thanked Elithias for their provision and blessings and for the promise to someday return and cleanse the worlds.

That touch of prayer made it feel so much more like his home. Kale felt at ease in a world that he had presumed would be a constant fight for his own life. He felt these people were trustworthy and that he might just find some peace here.


Elam had been waiting too long, by the time Dirge walked into the dank room for their supposedly urgent meeting. And when the Agonotti leader approached, he sensed fear and opportunity on his mind. "Has our arrangement been altered?" Dirge asked.

"I'm not sure I follow," Elam said.

"There are several off-worlders interfering with our hunts."

"What does that have to do with me?"

"My men have informed me that you lost several of your Guardians fighting with them in Sector city." Dirge peered into Elam's eyes, his anger ready to erupt at any moment.

"There was a battle, but we chased them away. They are of no consequence to you-I will deal with the problem," Elam said.

Dirge stalked around the room. "Do not play me for the fool, Elam! I know they are your kind."

Elam did not respond.

"I personally saw one of them, a young boy; walk through a portal of light into our world. I followed him and had my own encounter. He is of your kind, with the same power."

Elam still did not respond. He had wondered himself, if it could be possible, that these interlopers were somehow of his own race, but they had all been wiped out years ago. But the man's face in Sector City-he looked so much like his former king and yet he wasn't. And the young male with him-definitely a Horva, yet with powerful psycho kinesis of his own, a trait never known to the clone race. None of it made sense right now, but it would not do to give away his wonderings and certainly not to Dirge.

"Elam, tell me plainly, do you mean to invade our world with your kind? Has our agreement not been mutually beneficial?"

Dirge baited him. Elam sensed fear in the Agonotti's. "The agreement has indeed been beneficial and it is my intention to continue to make it beneficial, for both of us. I do not know what your people have told you, but these intruders will be dealt with by my warriors."

"We shall see, Elam. Our hunt will continue through Odem tomorrow. My people are hungry. I want no interference with the culling this time!"

Dirge did not wait for a response. He turned and stalked back out of the room. At this point, Dirge's ramblings and pseudo-threats were the least of Elam's worries. He needed information on these off-worlders. They could not be allowed to expose him before the people. The citizenry remained in Elam's grip and nothing would take them from him now.

When he exited the secret room, in the hidden mountain pass where they had conducted their meeting, he made his way to the cliff facing beyond and leapt away from it. His command shuttle hovered just off of the side of the mountain with the gang plank extended to him. Elam made his way to the cockpit, where one of his Guardian warriors, Toa, waited for him.

"Sir, we've received the coordinates from the Briceton citizen. I've already fed the flight plan in and summoned the others to meet us there," he said.

"Very good, let's get underway. We don't want to keep our new friend waiting, do we?"

"Yes, sir. Thrusters online."


Tiet sat upon the grass quietly while Emil watched him, curiously. They had stopped to rest after exiting the drainage conduit on the edge of the city's suburbs. But after an hour here, Tiet had still not said a word. His thoughts appeared so focused that even Emil's voice went unheard.

Then, Tiet suddenly opened his eyes again and stood up.

"I think I've been able to locate him."

Emil was astonished. "Really, where?"

"To the north. It's far from us, probably three days journey on foot and I don't see anyone around here offering us a transport."

"Is he alright?"

"As far as I can perceive. We had better get started."

Tiet reached in his back satchel and pulled out two food bars. He tossed one to Emil as they began a brisk jog.

"Emil, I'm sure you must have noticed the power emanating from that man back there."

"I suppose. It was as though an unseen weight pressed me. How is he able to do such things?"

"I may be wrong, but I believe he must be Barudii."

"But how?"

"I'm not sure how."

"So, what do we do?"

"Nothing. If we can retrieve Kale and get out of here with minimal trouble then I'll be happy. As far as this planet is concerned, he can have it."

"Do you think we can get Kale home safely?"

Tiet looked over at him as they jogged along. "Do you miss him?"

"Kale is my best friend. He always has been and always will be. I only hope that symbyte creature hasn't harmed him."

"So do I," Tiet said. "Kale is very strong willed, but it will be a challenge to fight that thing. I haven't seen anyone, except you, beat its takeover of mind and body."

The pair continued to jog briskly in Kale's perceived direction. They're only hope-to find him alive and well.


The snow fell heavily as Kale stood on the porch watching Olson chop wood for the fire hearth. The wind blew very cold but he was getting used to it now. The countryside around their home was completely white except for the black spires of bare trees jutting up out of the surrounding hillsides. It was absolutely beautiful, he thought.

The women finished the supper dishes together inside and chatted about their guest. Olson puffed on his pipe in between strokes with the axe. Kale thought, how strange to try and do such a strenuous task while inhaling flavored smoke. Still, the aroma was pleasant hanging in the frigid evening air. The sun shone vaguely through the thick clouds, casting a pale glow across the land as dusk battled for dominance.

"Would you like to take a whack at it, Master Soone?"

"Please, Kale is fine, and yes, I would be happy to."

Kale jumped down off the porch and picked up another axe propped there. He took up a position at the stump as Olson placed another thick log on top for him. He raised the axe high over his head and brought it down precisely, sending the two pieces of log down off the side of the stump.

It satisfied, even relaxed him in a way. Olson gave him a sly grin through his beard as he puffed again on his pipe. Kale placed another log up for the kill and then brought the axe up for another hit. He looked at Mr. Barone again. Olson now stared blankly out into the trees around them. He no longer puffed, but listening.

Then Kale noticed that the noises of nature around them had suddenly fallen silent. It would not have been strange had their not been so much activity from the cold climate birds and tree dwellers only a moment before. Kale felt something else-danger.

He heard only a whisper, like a blade dividing the air. The cracking and splitting of wood followed after as a large tree came crashing through the frozen limbs of the other trees. Kale jumped toward Olson and snared the older man in time to pull him out from under the thunderous explosion of wood and snow hitting the ground behind them.

Kale stood back to his feet in a flash, rolling away from Olson as his kemstick leaped off of his leg-clip to his hand. He did not ignite it-not yet.

Kale scanned the trees with his eyes trying to squint through the heavy flakes of falling snow. Olson lumbered back to his feet, shaking the snow off as he looked at the fallen timber lying in the place he had just been standing.

Kale knew it wasn't an accident. His senses surveyed beyond his eyes, taking in every detail he could with his mind. Something seemed familiar about the lack of feedback he was getting from his surroundings.

Then, Kale heard it again-that whisper. He realized just in time. Kale snapped his arm up to the side of his head as his kemstick ignited. Something bounced off of its rod of dispersion energy and landed in the snow. He turned and found a sword, vibrating, blade straight down, in the snowy ground. The sword leaped out of the ground, sailing away to find the hand of its owner. He stood fifty yards away in the clearing of trees ahead of them.

Kale half expected to see the dark clad wraith he had faced in the woods upon his arrival and again in the streets of Briceton. Instead, a human male of regal stature stood before him holding the sword.

"Lord Elam," Olson said in a hushed tone.

"I see they told me the truth, Olson Barone!" His voice boomed across the expanse between them. "You have broken the law by harboring this off-worlder!"

"But he is good. He fought away the Agonotti who invaded our town this morning."

"You do not realize who you are dealing with, Barone. He is working with the Agonotti to deceive you. His people attacked our home city this afternoon, killing the twins and Colossus!"

"Colossus is dead?"

"At the hand of one of these off-worlders, like him!"

That statement peaked Kale's curiosity a great deal. Others like himself-off-worlders? Could his father have actually found him so quickly? The thought actually comforted him at the moment.

"Surrender, off-worlder and I will have mercy on you," Elam said.

"Kale, you had better give up peacefully. We don't dare oppose the Guardians," Olson said, fearfully.

"So, this is a Guardian?"

"Lord Elam, the leader of the Guardians," Olson added.

"I don't need your mercy, sir! I haven't done anything except try to help these people. Surely, that isn't against your law."

"You're a spy and a murderer!" Elam shouted, angrily.

"I haven't killed anyone except those creatures, so far!"

Elam shot forth in fury, his body spinning like a missile on target with his sword extended for the kill. He covered the distance between them in seconds. Kale's weapon deflected Elam's strike. The Guardian leader's sword burst into a dispersion field as well. "It looks like we have something in common after all, Elam," Kale said.

A furious exchange followed between them. Kale flipped away, for a moment sensing something in the trees behind him. Sniper!

He deflected one shot, allowing another to pass near him. He whipped another kemstick from his leg clip and hurled it at the tree about three feet below the sniper's position. It severed the upper portion of the tree which toppled under his weight and came crashing down into the snow with the shooter entangled among the branches. Kale engaged Elam again.

Kale noticed Olson on the porch trying to usher Juli and her mother back inside as the battled raged. Elam showed skill with a blade and Kale knew it was time to up the ante a bit.

Kale flipped over the downed sniper's roost and called his other kemstick to his hand from the snow where it had landed. He launched into Elam again with dual kemsticks, trying to overpower the Guardian leader. The elder man blew him back into the air with a kinetic thrust. Unexpected, but Kale recovered then somersaulted and landed on his feet.

So, that's how it's going to be. Kale noticed others rushing in on armed hover-bikes from the woods around them. He disengaged Elam to dash away from the streams of blaster shots coming at him. Kale ran into the woods as the hover-bikes followed-ten in all.

The shots pelted the snow and timber around him as he dodged through the trees evading the attack. In a moment the bikes would overtake him. Kale flipped back on the pursuer bearing down upon him and made one exacting strike as he tumbled past him in the air. The rider's body fell into the snow as the hover-bike veered and slammed into a tree.


The woods, beyond their home, flashed with an explosion in the night as Olson and his family peered out the large window in their main room. Elam made his way onto the porch, startling the family inside. "Everybody back," Olsen whispered to the others as they made their way through the dark house. Elam looked through the window. He had seen the family go in here and they could not be left alive. No witnesses!

Elam summoned his power. The entire window and the wall holding it, shattered into pieces before him. He walked in through the rubble, trying to sense where the family had retreated. If they reported the attack, it might turn all of the civilian populations against him. The allegiance they gave him as protector, not to mention the great wealth and power he had accrued, might cease.


Kale used the night to his advantage. The headlamps on the hover-bikes crossed back and forth more slowly through the snow covered trees as they searched for him. His black uniform perfectly suited the dark. Several hover-bikes grouped together. Kale decided to become the predator in this scenario.

Kale's kemstick flashed on and off as he jumped on behind the rider of one of the bikes passing nearby. He pushed the body off and took the controls of the speeder-the snow swallowed the rider whole, leaving no trace. Kale steered the hover-bike toward the other speeders still searching for him.

He lined it up and slammed the throttle forward. The hover-bike sped away on a collision course. Kale guided it almost all the way to target-long enough to see the expressions of horror as the headlamps spotlighted the faces of the other hover-bike riders before the impact. Kale leaped away and sailed through the tree limbs to a perch nearby as the speeder collided and ricocheted across several of the vehicles huddled together.

Shots rang out through the darkness into the trees around Kale as another Guardian spotted him. The blasts became more focused. He bolted away. The hover-bike came almost on top of him when he dropped to the ground below and sank completely into a drift of cold powder. As the bike sailed over, Kale flung an ignited kemstick up through the bottom of the vehicle piercing the under plating and severing the left leg of the rider. He wailed and lost control. The whole mess crashed into a nearby tree and burst into flames.

Then Kale sensed his adversary, Elam, and he was on the move. He's inside Juli's home!

Kale ran as fast to save them from the Guardian leader. Then he did not sense Elam anymore. More than that, he did not sense Juli or her parents either. Had they already been killed? Kale began to panic as he approached the stump where he and Olson had been cutting wood earlier.

The whole house suddenly burst up and outward into a fireball. Kale felt completely numb throughout his body. He had the sensation of weightlessness-his body being thrown. He surrendered to the overwhelming force of it then crashed down into the snow somewhere away from the destroyed structure.

Kale only heard ringing in his ears. His blurred vision took a moment to bring the grizzly scene back into focus. The Barone home was completely engulfed in flame. His senses reeled. He knew no one could have survived the inferno.

Kale tried to stand, but he was almost too weak to accomplish the task. Then a pain shot through his head-intense but he couldn't discern its origin. It felt strangely familiar, like the first contact with the symbyte organism as it had fought to infiltrate his body and seize control of his mind and will, but stronger. Kale collapsed to his hands and knees in the snow and gasped for precious breath. He thought he might vomit.


Elam looked on in amazement from a few feet behind the young boy. A voice had called out to him telepathically-not the boy's mind, but from within him somehow. Some creature inside spoke to him, "Help me seize control of the boy! We must overpower him together!"

Elam had no idea what the being was, but any advantage over an adversary was best exploited while it was available.

Elam exerted his great mental power upon the boy's weakened mind and felt that effort bolstered by whatever had called out to him for assistance. The boy collapsed face first into the snow and remained still. It worked! This was more than the Guardian leader had hoped for. Elam tapped a com-link and said, "Bring the shuttle. I have the boy."

"Yes, sir," replied a voice from the com-link.

Elam knelt next to the boy and rolled him over. He noticed the remarkable resemblance to the man he had faced earlier in the day at Sector City-the warrior with the young Horva at his side. Elam felt quite sure this must be the man's son. It seemed unlikely that one so young would be on a mission by himself. Then he looked back toward the woods where his own Guardians had just been massacred by the youth-the hover-bikes still smoldered amidst decaying ambers in the snow. He might be young, but this boy is certainly powerful, Elam thought.

The warrior from the Sector City fight had to be Barudii and he was probably searching for the boy. That might make the youth an effective bargaining tool, should the need arise. Then, the being from within the boy's mind called out to him again. The lad stirred and stood to his feet.

Elam brought his blade to the ready, expecting a fight. Kale spoke, yet it wasn't him.

"Calm yourself, Master Elam. We can be of use to one another," Kale said.

Elam looked curiously into the boy's face. Something sinister and malevolent stared back through the boy's eyes sending a chill up Elam's spine.

"I have control of the boy now. Is it true that others like him are on this planet?" Kale asked.


"It must be the boy's father seeking after him."

"Who is his father?" Elam asked.

"He is the Barudii king."

What? "But that can't be right."

"You're the same as they are, aren't you, Elam? You are a Barudii."

"But my people fled many years ago," Elam said. "Our planet was overrun with the Vorn during the war. Very few of us managed to escape and the king at the time was killed, not having an heir. I've never even been to Castai. My grandfather raised me on this planet after his own exodus during the war."

"He is the king and we must destroy him. I need the boy's power and a way to return to Castai," the evil Kale said.

"That has nothing to do with me," Elam said as he returned his sword to its sheath. "I've got my own interests here to look after."

"If we work together then we could eliminate a common problem."

Elam studied him for a moment. He heard the sound of his own command shuttle approaching from beyond the trees.

"I could help you, but I need you to assist me with a problem of mine first," Elam said.

"And that would be?"

"I have a certain arrangement on this planet."

"I see, and you would like to continue that arrangement?"

"The humanoids that the boy attacked in Briceton are associates of mine. They want a continuing food supply and I want to protect the people from them…to a certain extent."

"I imagine that protection could be quite profitable," Kale said with the slightest of grins.

"Anyway, I've lost most of my team due to these Barudii interferences and the leader of the Agonotti is now getting cocky. They are great in number, but haven't been united. With my Guardians, I was able to present a threat great enough to keep the different groups in check. One of the leaders, Dirge, may realize my position is weaker now."

"And you think he might rebel against you?"

"Exactly. I need to eliminate him without raising suspicions among the Agonotti."

"But won't they get a new leader."

"They're so willing to follow whoever can give them what they want-I believe I can persuade them to follow me."

"So, you can have your cake and eat it too? Very nice for you, but if I execute this Agonotti leader for you then won't they in turn come after me?" Kale asked.

"Not if I appear to kill you first. You kill Dirge and I will pretend to avenge his death quickly in front of his people. The Agonotti will be more willing to follow me then and so they can get the food resources they need. Plus, the people will continue to look to me for the protection they need," Elam explained.

"And as for me?"

"I'll smuggle your supposedly dead body out on my shuttle," he said, pointing to the craft coming in for a landing about forty feet away. "And then we'll see about getting you to Castai on one of the ships I have at my disposal."

"A tidy plan," Kale said. "Where do I find this Agonotti?"

"All aboard." Elam smiled as he waved a gracious hand toward the shuttle settling down on the snow covered clearing.


Lucin was very pleased by the turn of events. This would be perfect. His brother Mithri, the Agonotti, had rejected him after their fall from Mithrium and now Lucin would use Kale's power to kill their current leader, Dirge. This Barudii simpleton, Elam, had no idea they were all actually connected. Revenge would be his and then he could dispatch Elam and use the boy to lead the Agonotti and his symbyte controlled humans back on Castai. The Eternal One will not keep me down!


The temperature had cooled off dramatically, after the sun went down. Tiet and Emil had grown weary, after a half days journey. The pace and the lack of food had made it more difficult, but Emil had gone hunting after spotting game nearby.

"Stay and build us a fire," the young Horva had said before bounding away through the foliage after his prey.

Sure enough, Emil returned within a half hour with some kind of large bird nearly his own size slung across his shoulder. He presented it happily as their dinner for the evening.

The fire's warmth soothed aching muscles and the smell of roasting flesh upon the embers whetted their appetites.

"Master Soone?"

"Yes, Emil?"

"How are you able to sense Kale, when I can't?"

"To tell you the truth, I'm not quite sure myself. I only know that I can. Maybe it's because he is my son. But whatever the reason, I'm glad."

"It's probably because you're so powerful."

"Well, I doubt that. Anyway, I've noticed that you're quite powerful as well. I have to admit I thought I would be looking out for you if we faced any trouble, but you certainly are your father's son. You don't need any minding at all."

Emil smiled as he thought of his father. Grod was a great leader and warrior; worthy of the high standing he had with King Tiet.

"It's taken some time to understand the way of using these abilities we have. I still don't understand how it all works," said Emil

"You're not alone in that. The Barudii have believed different things over the years as well. But we came to understand that it was simply a gift from the Eternal One."

"I read that some of the older Barudii once worshipped these abilities, likening themselves to gods," Emil said.

"That's true. Idolatry comes in many forms and that was one. They considered the energies that are tapped into as more than just a tool to be used, but as some impersonal god. Many Barudii mistook their own ambitions for the will of this god and followed their own hearts for good or bad, all the while claiming to be doing its will. They were even involved in a civil war amongst themselves for a time."

"What happened to them?"

"The Lord, Elithias, sent a prophet to the people during that time to warn them to turn from that deception. Many turned, but most were taken in a great plague sent by Elithias to destroy them."

"That wasn't very wise of them."

"The Eternal One gave them plenty of opportunity to turn, but instead they rose up against the king of that day because he followed the Lord's prophet. As I understand it, that's when my family entered the royal line, much later when a new king was chosen."

"That's great. But why do you suppose Elithias allowed your people to be wiped out by the Vorn."

"I don't know, Emil. Of course, not all of them were. I've been finding that out more and more, as the years go on."

"You mean Kale's uncle, the one he was named after?"

"Well yes, he and my father were both named Kale. But I didn't even know about my brother until he appeared in Baeth Periege and that wasn't on friendly terms, to say the least."

"Kale has told me the story."

"Then again, your father and I weren't friends until about that same time either," Tiet said.

"But now you are…and good friends."

Tiet smiled at the boy's enthusiasm. "Yes, very good friends."

The meat crackled on the spit that had been fashioned from a branch. Emil pulled it out of the flame and sniffed at the smoke rolling off of it.

"I can only hope Kale doesn't have an encounter with this Elam person," Tiet said.

"But Kale is so strong."

"He is, but this Elam is far too dangerous. He was working with those creatures that were attacking the civilians. He's got some sort of racket going on here, playing the two groups against one another for his own gain."

"Well, I know you only want to get Kale and escape, but do you suppose, maybe, Elithias would have us to stop this man?" Emil asked. "I mean, maybe, that's why we've been led here?"

Tiet looked into the fire and considered the possibility. Emil divided a portion of the meat to the king and let the words hang in the air.

Tiet wondered if Emil could be right. His faith had been tested before. Tiet had often wondered why the Eternal One had led him in the way he had gone-through the events he had faced. He had never ceased to wonder why his kingdom had come to ruin at the hands of the symbytes. All he could do was walk in faith and trust that Elithias was in control, as the prophets had written.

"We had better get a little sleep while we can." Tiet said. "I want to get back on the move before dawn."

"Yes, sir." Emil finished off the last bits of meat clinging to the bone in his hand. "I sure hope we can find him."

"So do I."


Within the catacombs of Eseras-jad, Dirge settled himself into his chair. He looked around as the other members of his ruling council did the same. Light shone from oil lamps in the corners of the rock hewn room and one sitting in the middle of the large round wooden table where they all sat. A musty odor hung in the room like a fog. The light cringed away from the very presence of those convened within the chamber. A council of the wicked was in session.

"Tonight, we move toward Odem, but I do not think we will be alone."

"What do you mean, Lord Dirge?" said one of the Agonotti.

"The off-worlders have been present at our last two cullings," Dirge said. "Their power is felt throughout the land-they are near."

"But what of Elam? Isn't this his responsibility?" said another. "He must keep with our bargain and kill these trespassers."

"I don't believe Elam has the power to do what he says anymore." Dirge said. "He has lost many of his own Guardian soldiers in the encounter with the man and boy in Sector City. And our spy at his headquarters has just reported even more casualties when Elam tried to take the boy that I first encountered outside of Briceton."

"Are we to abandon our food supply then? What can we do if we cannot depend upon Elam?"

"Yes, and we also have faced casualties in the fight with the boy and in the city. And your leadership has done nothing to stop them, Dirge!" protested one named Illian.

No one blinked. The challenge had been put upon the table. Dirge bore down on the challenger with looks that could kill.

"Do you wish to challenge me for the right to lead, Illian?"

Illian looked around. Perhaps it was not wise to posture as he had just done. No one appeared ready to stand with him against Dirge. Instead he lowered his own gaze in submission.

"Well then, we Agonotti are great in number when we are united. I not only believe I can lead us to victory against the off-worlders, but we will also rid ourselves of Elam. We must not cower in the face of man. We are higher beings-we are superior!" Dirge cried confidently.

"But we have been cursed by Elithias!" shouted one of the others.

The agitated council member stood as he broadcast his reservations to everyone in the room. He ruffled his midnight, tattered apparel and beat upon his chest. "We are no longer what we were. Our greatness has been reduced to this semi-mortal existence!"

Before anyone else realized his movement, Dirge plunged a blade into the chest of the Agonotti council member. "Then die in your mortality and await the judgment!"

He let the body fall to the ground and did not regard it further as the molecular structure began to disintegrate. "Will anyone else join him or will you stand and fight to take the dominance we deserve over men?"

Some of their fists pounded the air approvingly. The reluctant others joined them as they watched their fellow Mithri's physical form decay on the chamber floor.

"Good," Dirge said. "When the time is right, we will strike Elam down and control the human population ourselves from now on."

"But what about the off-worlders?"

"We will give Elam another chance to kill them. If he wins, then we've not had to deal with it. But if he fails then he will be out of the way and we've not had to do that either. Then we will carry out a slaughter against the off-worlders and overwhelm them."

The others seemed unsure of the plan, but what else was there?

"When we are rid of Elam and the off-worlders, we will ravage the race of men on Draconis whenever we please-no more dividing our numbers to various regions to feed as Elam demanded. Tomorrow, when we descend upon Odem, we will have thousands of our brothers with us."


The restaurant owner watched the two cloaked strangers as they ate their breakfast meal in the booth next to the main window. He didn't have any idea who they were and he didn't like it. Of course, being a stranger in town wasn't against the law, but most townsfolk didn't appreciate having people they didn't know among them.

Their robes were a little upscale for this small town. The farmers made up the majority here would never be found in such garments. The only consolation the restaurateur had was seeing enough of their faces to recognize their humanity-at least they weren't Agonotti. And they had paid in cash, always a welcome sight, even if it was a large piece of currency. "City folk," he mumbled under his breath as he went back to wiping the serving counter.


Elam peered out from under the edge of his hood toward the robed boy sitting across from him. He sure doesn't look like he's possessed, he thought as he watched Kale wolf down his food. Glad it's him rather than me!

Dawn had come in Odem, but no one else was in the restaurant except for them. It was normal for farmers to eat at home in the mornings while doing chores and caring for their livestock. In the city it was just the opposite. People worked outside of the home and stopped along the way for their breakfast.

The Agonotti will be arriving soon, Elam thought as he looked down the main street toward the crowded market area. The Agonotti knew by now when to find the most people milling about in the streets and market day was certainly the time in these small towns.

"So when do the Agonotti show up to feed?" Kale asked quietly.

"It won't be very long. I want you to stay out of sight until I have Dirge face to face. If he spots you he may try to dematerialize before you can strike him down. You must get him by surprise while he is preoccupied arguing with me. He will no doubt want to know why I'm here."

"He won't know what hit him."

"Good. Now, after Dirge is dead, I will pretend to attack you. After some brief sword play to build it up well, I'll knock your weapon away then you will appear to attack me kinetically, knocking my sword away as well. Then I will pretend to attack you mentally, overcome you and kill you that way. There won't be any need for wounds to show the other Agonotti that I have killed you for striking down their leader."

"Neat and tidy, but how will you get me home?" Kale asked.

"How do you think I got here with my family years ago? I told you I have long range vessels at my disposal. I can get you back to Castai with no problem."

Kale sipped on his water after finishing the last of his food. Elam looked down the main road again at the people gathered in the market area. There were several hundred-all waiting for the Agonotti to pluck them away. Then he noticed a shadow, so ominous it threatened to blot out the sun. The dark veil moved steadily down the street and over the buildings.

"Something is wrong." Elam got up from the booth and headed out into the street where he could get a look at what was approaching. Usually when the Agonotti attacked, they comprised a cloud that rolled into a city or town-one or two hundred at best in number. This Agonotti cloud moving in over Odem was absolutely massive. It must have been a number in the thousands to be so large and so dense-full to the brim with the molecular structures of an army of Agonotti.

Kale stood beside Elam, in the street, gazing up at the monstrous cloud. "I have never seen anything like it," he said.

"Neither have I. They'll kill every living thing by attacking this way."

"Does this change our plan?"

Elam looked at the boy again. "Not at all, but if you fail to kill Dirge with your first strike we might not leave this place alive."

Kale did not reply. He remained focused on the massive vortex of terror moving in over the town. The civilians had noticed it by now. Chaos ensued. Most screamed at the top of their lungs and ran for cover anywhere they could find it.

"Go ahead and get away from me," Elam said. "We don't need to be seen together. Find a place where you can strike from quickly."

He had not even finished his instructions before the cloaked young man sped away and vanished within the crowd of screaming people. Elam removed his cloak to expose his garments underneath. People running by looked at him with a small measure of hope, recognizing him now as Lord Elam, the leader of the Guardians, but it wasn't enough to cause them to stop panicking.


It's going to be a hot day, Tiet thought as they continued their jog toward Kale. The night before Kale had seemed so distant from them, but now it was as though he were just over the next rise.

Tiet and Emil had gotten up before dawn as planned and had gotten an early start back on the hunt. Emil picked away at the last of the previous nights meal as he ran beside Tiet, tossing away small bones along the way. A small road intersected their path and soon they found themselves running along it. They passed a sign as they jogged along that read, City of Odem: 2 miles.

Tiet suddenly stopped and Emil, over shooting him a little, stopped and came back to him asking, "What's wrong?"

"That city up ahead, Odem, I think Kale is there!"

"Great! Let's go!"

"Wait, something has happened."

"I don't-" Emil paused mid-sentence as he noticed something approaching from the east. "What is that?" A massive black cloud that looked like death itself moved, not far above the tree tops, toward the city ahead of them. A great shadow covered the land and the cloud seemed to swallow up the sun itself from where they were standing. The wind increased by ten fold from the cool breeze that had been blowing.

Branches snapped as the trees waved together in the wind like great hands coming out of the ground to worship the Eternal One himself.

"I feel like it's alive." Emil muttered.

"It is!" shouted Tiet as the wind blew stronger. "It's those things we fought before, back in the city-only a whole lot more of them!"

The maelstrom moved over the town ahead.

"We've got to get to him! Hurry!" Tiet shouted.

The pair broke into a sprint up the road. Tiet mumbled a prayer under his breath as he ran, hoping that Elithias would give strength to them against their enemies today. Otherwise, they might be about to breathe their last.


The ominous fog descended on the town of Odem and dwarfed it in size. Agonotti warriors began to drop out of the vortex on top of their prey as they took form from the elements of the dark cloud. The civilians of the city ran frantically through the streets trying to find shelter from the onslaught, but there was no place to hide.

Elam couldn't believe the sheer number of warriors coalescing from the Agonotti matrix-and more than numbers the fact they were armed for battle. They hadn't come to feed, but to wage war.

Elam knew it would not take long for them to telepathically inform Dirge of his presence and he was right. Within moments he saw the Agonotti leader form in front of him along with several others who appeared to be acting as bodyguards. Elam determined not to be intimidated by the power play. He kept thinking to himself, you may be alone here, but this Agonotti is about to be dead.

Dirge arrogantly pointed his finger at Elam's face and began his rhetoric as he approached. "Why are you here?" he demanded.

"I have every right to be here," Elam said. "Why have you gone against our agreement and brought all of these warriors to destroy Odem?"

"We have to feed."

"This isn't a culling, it's a massacre!"

"It's our business Elam, not yours!" Dirge shouted. "We are through taking orders from you! For far too long, we have bowed to your terms like lap dogs. We Agonotti have been the element of fear that has kept your greedy extortion enterprise profitable all this time."

Elam became infuriated and would have probably taken action himself, had there not already been another plan in place. Instead, Elam calmed himself and let the Agonotti leader ramble on. He wasn't even listening anymore. Instead, he watched for the boy who he supposed should've already been here by now.

Dirge continued his ranting as the noise of the feeding frenzy continued around them. The screams of hundreds threatened to drown him out, but he stepped closer into the Guardian leader's face to punctuate what he had kept pent up for so long.

A yellow spire suddenly burst through the Agonotti leader's chest, silencing him in mid-rant. Kale withdrew the kemstick and struck down Dirge's guards before they could react. As he cut a great swathe between the bodyguards he finished the arc of his attack just above Dirge's shoulders, catching the Agonotti leader as he sank to his knees from the first strike. Dirge's last look at Elam ended as his head left his body.

Elam stood stunned by the speed and efficiency of the boy. It was time for the ruse to play out. Elam quickly pulled his own weapon and ignited the blade. "Let the show begin," he said to Kale.

Elam struck at the boy and found him more than able to keep up a convincing part of the charade. They dodged, parried and struck at each other over and over again. With Dirge's destruction, they had the full attention of many of the Agonotti warriors now.

While the attack on the town continued, many of the Agonotti moved toward the ensuing battle between the boy and the Guardian leader. Their own leader, decapitated along with his guards, disintegrated as his molecular life bond gave way.

Was Elam really the enemy as Dirge had declared or was he fighting to kill Dirge's assassin? The battle turned to Elam's favor as he made a subtle move that kicked the boy's weapon out of his hand and knocked him backwards to the ground. Elam rushed over the boy with his blade raised for the deathblow.


Tiet and Emil ran hard toward the town of Odem. The cloud had already touched down in the valley where the city was located. They heard distant screams growing in number as they approached. They ran into town on the main road.

The city didn't look very big at all-Tiet supposed maybe a few thousand residents at best and the housing all appeared to be rural with a main city square in the middle. He sensed Kale very strongly now near where most of the attack on the city had concentrated.

Hundreds of people ran in every direction, mirroring the situation they had encountered when they first arrived. But the sheer number of attackers had to be tenfold what they had faced before. Emil dogged Tiet's steps as they made their way through the horrific scene played out around them. The vampiric attackers were took in the precious life blood of their victims-draining them dry and heaving the bodies away to go after the next.

Emil drew his kemsticks and dispatched some of the Agonotti along the way. Emil struck the ghastly humanoids with their victims in their clutches and both predator and prey fell together.

Tiet remained on the mental scent of his son searching through the crowd like a living divining rod. Tiet saw his son up ahead. Kale stood locked in battle with the Guardian leader, Elam.

Tiet watched Kale's kemstick knocked from his grasp. He fell back to the ground with Elam coming in fast for the kill. Tiet reached back to the scabbard on his back. With one quick snap of his arm, he pulled his blade and flung it away toward his son's aggressor, willing the weapon to ignite as it left his hand. The weapon seemed to be suspended in time as he ran behind it on its way to the intended target, its revolutions seeming to last minutes apiece.

He had to be on time, had to be there to save him, to do what he had not been able to do for Dorian or for Orin. He couldn't watch his own son die like they had died, only moments before he could arrive to save them.


Elam brought his blade down and expected the boy to use a mental attack to knock it away in time-he held the weapon loosely to make it even easier when the lad's mental defense came. But as he looked into the Kale's face, he noticed him glancing away at something behind them and a look of horror coming over his face. At that moment, Elam sensed an attack and turned instinctively to face it.

The Barudii blade twirled through the air ever so elegantly with its blade shining like a shooting star racing through the sky. Elam tried to defend himself, but there was not time.

The blade struck Elam's weapon as he turned around. It flew out of his hand and he fell to the ground disarmed. Tiet's weapon ricocheted up and away and hit one of the Agonotti that had been observing the fight, severing one of his arms.


Tiet ran up right behind the blade-strike and went immediately to his son's aid. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Father," Lucin said with Kale's voice.

Tiet helped Kale to stand and the boy leaned on him. Elam started to recover from the hit and Tiet drew a kemstick from his thigh-clip with his other hand while helping to hold up Kale around his waist. Elam sat up slightly, looking at them and trying to figure out what had just happened.

"Now, Guardian, why don't you pick on someone your own size?" Tiet said as he held onto his son and ignited his weapon.


Emil had fallen behind and ran hard to catch up. It looked like Kale had been found and saved from the Guardian commander. He ran to catch up and watched his back for Agonotti who were gathered all around, watching the drama unfold.

Emil watched Tiet stare at the Guardian and dare him to stand and fight. Then he looked at Kale, his lost friend. He looked weak from the fight, as though he could hardly stand without his father's assistance. Their eyes met as Emil ran toward them and suddenly he felt a chill wash over his senses.

The eyes seemed black as midnight. A feeling so familiar and terrifying overwhelmed him. It felt the same as when the little girl in the wilds when she went berserk under symbyte control and he remembered then that Kale also carried one of the parasitic organisms inside him. The beast was in control.

Emil tried to shout a warning, crying out, "No!"

But it was too late. A laugh tried to escape Kale's pursed lips as Lucin looked away from Emil to the man who was Kale's father. Tiet looked away from the Guardian leader, Elam, still lying on the ground, and into his son's face. For the brief moment he was allowed, Tiet saw someone else looking out through his son's eyes and regret filled his soul-regret for what his son was going to do.

Lucin summoned Kale's energies and quickly thrust his hands upward into Tiet's torso releasing a kinetic burst that sent the Barudii warrior's body up into the air limp like an old rag doll. He landed in a heap, nearly fifteen feet away, gasping for his breath.

Emil leaped at his symbyte controlled friend and engaged him in hand to hand combat. Emil didn't want to have to kill him. Then he remembered the med-kit. He had one of the injection cylinders given to them by Mirah in his own pocket. I've got to get it out and inject Kale with it before he gets his hands on a weapon. When they had sparred hand to hand, the odds had been more even, but when Kale had a weapon in his hands he had no equal.

Emil grappled with Kale and blocked several well placed punches and kicks that could have paralyzed with proper contact. The symbyte isn't as good a fighter as Kale on his own, he thought.

Emil whipped the metal injection tube from his pocket trying to keep it concealed. Surprisingly, Elam had not engaged in the fight. The Guardian leader had his weapon in hand again, but remained clear, apparently waiting to see who would win out in the struggle.

Another quick flurry of punches and kicks passed between the two adolescents with Emil being the slightest bit faster. The last kick made contact with Kale's ribs and it felt like a solid hit. The symbyte boy gasped for air and Emil followed quickly with a forearm smash to the side of his friend's face that bloodied Kale's mouth and nose and buckled him to his knees.

He seized the moment and brought the injection cylinder up and plunged the tip down into Kale's shoulder near the base of his neck. Kale jerked the cylinder away, but the payload had already been delivered. Fury passed over the possessed Kale's face and he acted as though he would now explode upon Emil, but the elixir began to take effect.

Kale's body seized and he fell back to the ground gasping and writhing in apparent pain. The Agonotti still kept their distance, allowing the winner to be announced before they made any move to interfere. Thousands of others still pillaged the city and preyed upon its inhabitants as they moved out further into the rural areas in search of food. The city of Odem was already doomed, no matter what.

Elam figured out his accomplice was defeated and blasted at Emil kinetically. He defended himself with a counter that knocked them both backward. Emil retrieved his kemsticks and joined them to form a staff. He ignited it and moved in toward the Guardian leader, meeting Elam's every strike with careful spins and flourishes.

"You're not going to win this, boy!" Elam shouted.

But Emil never answered him a word. He had always been taught never to engage the psychological tricks of an opponent. Ignore the rhetoric and concentrate on the fight. Many a battle had been given up due to emotionalism and he needed all the help he could get in this fight.

Elam pushed hard against him and drove him back with his attacks. Emil sensed Elam trying to get through with a mental attack as well. Elam's mind probed all around the boy like obscene tentacles searching for a weakness to exploit.

Kale still lay on the ground and had apparently slipped into unconsciousness. His body trembled as Lucin's symbyte form fought for life, awash in the antibody injection concocted by Mirah.

Tiet attempted to crawl towards his son. He groaned as he tried to get to his knees. Several of the Agonotti attempted to move in on him-they enjoyed the weak-anyone who couldn't defend themselves.

Tiet pulled another kemstick from its clip and positioned it between the predators and him. Fortunately, they seemed unsure about moving in while he was armed. The boy moaned as he crawled to him. The Agonotti hovered in the near vicinity, watching him for a moment's lapse in his defensive posture. Emil kept Elam occupied, but how long could he keep it up. Emil allowed himself to be driven back again and again by the Guardian leader.

Kale suddenly sat up and Tiet almost brought his kemstick around to defend against his own son. Kale jumped to his feet and grabbed Tiet's weapon as though it were being offered to him. "Thanks, Father."

He leaped away with the ignited weapon. Apparently the serum Mirah had developed had worked and Kale was once again in command of his own faculties. Kale attacked the Guardian from behind and the tables almost instantly turned as Elam began to give up ground to the young man. "Emil, help my father!"

The young Horva complied and headed to the defense of the king as the Agonotti moved in closer, seeking a prey in him. They began to morph weapons from their forms. Their fear was retreating and their confidence growing.


Kale advanced on the Guardian leader, steadily pushing him back as Agonotti warriors parted to allow the battle to continue. Kale decided to up the intensity. The kemstick he had used previously to strike down the Agonotti leader while under symbyte control still lay in the dirt twenty feet away. He called it to his hand. Elam's blade, a well crafted piece bearing crests for his family heritage, was longer than a kemstick's reach, but it made little difference to Kale.

He launched a furious barrage of strikes at the older warrior, but Elam still matched him blow for blow. The Guardian's offense turned to pure defense and the strain of the fight began to show on his face. He had not expected the boy to be so good, even after facing him briefly back at the Olson farm.

Kale sensed the uneasiness of the Agonotti around him. They were just waiting for the right moment to strike. Knowing what Elam had told him about his relationship to the Agonotti and their arrangement to terrorize and capitalize on the people of this planet, he was unsure why they had not already come to his aid. Time to put an end to this fight, he thought.

Kale flipped back away from Elam to gain the proper distance for his tactic and then he flung both of his kemsticks at the Guardian commander. As they flew away, Kale quickly pulled his second pair from the clips on his legs and ignited them. The first pair struck at Elam's defense then rebounded under Kale's mental control as he threw the second set of weapons at the man. A lightning fast series of rebounds and throws exchanged between the Barudii warriors.

One blade against four, it was simply too much even for a seasoned swordsman such as himself. Then it happened. A kemstick blade whirled past Elam's defense, severing his right arm at mid-humerus. Another second later as he screamed for the arm and his blade lowered in the left hand, another rebounding kemstick blade struck him in the sternum and a third followed, whirling across his shoulders, removing his head.

Kale stood with the fourth weapon still in his hand as his opponent slumped over to the ground. The Agonotti cried out for the man. Kale wasn't sure whether it was in victory over him or in mourning, but he doubted the latter. The cry washed through the onlookers quickly then they drew their weapons for battle.


A wave of laser fire suddenly erupted into the streets of Odem. The whine of thruster engines closed in on the masses of Agonotti congregated in the small town. Kale recognized the ship as soon as he saw it.

Elam's personal command shuttle strafed Agonotti warriors as its flight path brought it up to the market area where its owner had just met his demise. Kale called his kemsticks away from around Elam's body and replaced the extra pair on their clips while keeping a pair at the ready.

The mounted guns hanging from the under portion of the wings made the ship look more like a fighter craft than a shuttle. They blazed a trail through the predators which took their attention off of Kale, Emil and Tiet at the moment. The cloud still hung thick over the town and many of the Agonotti dematerialized as the laser turrets blazed through their ranks.

The shuttle came to the place where Tiet and the boys huddled together and landed beside them while the Agonotti scattered. The boarding ramp extended as the shuttle door opened and Kale expected to see Elam's personal escort emerge, but instead Juli ran out the door to meet him.

"Come on, Kale, we've got to get you out of here!"

The Agonotti cloud grew in size again as the individual warriors dematerialized, looking like statues of loose sand torn down by a mighty wind. Kale was so happy to see Juli alive. Looking through the pilot's view port, he saw her father Olson at the controls.

The boys helped Tiet get to his feet and assisted him into the shuttle. He groaned under the pain of his internal injuries. Kale looked at his father and felt sorry for having unknowingly been the cause of his pain for the second time now.

After strapping his father into a flight chair, at the rear of the main compartment, Kale made his way to the cockpit. Juli shut the main hatch again as the cloud of Agonotti swirled around the ship. Kale walked right up to the girl and hugged her so tightly her feet lifted off of the compartment floor. She returned the gesture, wrapping her arms around his sweat soaked head during the brief moment. Kale let her down and for a lack of words he just held her arms smiling like he had just been given a fortune. He looked beyond to the cockpit where Olson and his wife, Aylah, were seated in flight chairs.

"Good to see you well, Master Kale," Olson said as he powered up the thrusters and took the ship skyward again.

"You don't know how good it is to see all of you safe. I thought Elam had killed you all in the explosion."

"We weren't in the house," Juli said. "Father took us to the bunker he built beneath the house. The tunnel goes all the way back into the mountain."

"How did you get this ship?"

"Well, when I came back out of the emergency entrance on the hillside I saw what was left of the house. You were there at the shuttle with Elam," Olson said. "When you got on board with him I wasn't sure if he had captured you, so I shot the hull with a tracker pin."

"Good thinking."

"By the time we caught up with the ship, only Elam's pilot was inside."

"And we got rid of him pretty easily," Juli said.

The shuttle continued to rise through the storm of the Agonotti.

"What course, Master Kale?" Olson asked.

Emil interrupted. "The signs in the place where we came through said Sector City. We have a recall gate that will appear there if we can get to it."

"Take us there, Olson."

The shuttle burst away from the ghastly scene in Odem as the cloud of beings took up the chase. The storm of creatures willed their immaterial forms to follow the craft and they were keeping pace with it. Obscene appendages of the gaseous formation launched outward to caress the small shuttle in flight, but had no substance to hold it with.

The adolescents made their way back to check on the king. Tiet remained only half conscious. His breathing was noticeably labored.

"What happened to him?" Juli asked.

Kale looked at Emil, "It's a long story. I think he may have broken ribs and a pelvic fracture, maybe even some internal bleeding. I've got to get him back to my mother-being a doctor, she can help him."

"I've already activated the recall on the transgate," Emil said. "I don't know how long it will take to transmit the signal all the way back to Kosiva and put a new portal in place.

"Sector city is only about twenty minutes of flight time from Odem," Juli said.

Kale looked out of nearby port holes, on either wall of the craft, and saw the swirling mass trying to overtake them in flight. "I hope we can make it."


Wynn sat at the computer station in his room going over records of the nearby planetary systems when an alarm sounded. The alarm had been programmed to interrupt his current information on the computer screen. A recall signal had been issued. They were coming home, but did they have Kale with them?

Wynn stood and ran down the hall of the ship to the transgate chamber. When he entered, the alarm flashed at several stations inside. Wynn keyed in his own password for the system and the alarm silenced. The computer brought up the relevant data-definitely a recall signal.

Wynn set the calibration and launched the gate immediately. Within twenty seconds, a wall of light burst into view within the gate aperture. Everything was ready. Wynn waited for his comrades to come through, but no one appeared. It was the nature of the field that one could not make out much of anything on the other side unless you were close to it. He saw vague forms of buildings, but no people.

He tapped the communications panel and called overhead for all members of the team to get to the gate room immediately. If Tiet and the boys had activated the field then surely they would be close by to make it to the jump point.

Within moments, Grod, Mirah and then Merab and Jael all came running through the auto doors.

"What's going on?" Mirah asked as she scanned around for her husband and son.

"The recall signal has been activated," Wynn said, "I've already put a gate in place, but no one has come through yet."

"Maybe we should go through and make sure they are able to get to the gate-they may have run into trouble," Grod suggested.

"That's not a bad idea. At least we could guard the gate from the other side to prevent anyone else from coming through," Wynn said.

"Wynn, you and Grod go," Mirah said. "We'll stay here to make sure the gate is maintained."

She didn't say it, but she obviously wanted the two most experienced warriors to be the ones going through after them. Nothing would put her mind at ease though, except seeing her husband and both of the boys coming back through the gate safely.

Wynn and Grod looked at one another and immediately left the room for the armory in the ship. If they were going through then they would be going fully armed and ready for anything.


Sector City appeared on the horizon. The ominous Agonotti cloud continued to track with the shuttle trying to overtake them somehow. The sun diffused through the mingled forms of thousands of the immaterial creatures.

"We're almost there!" Olson shouted to those in the rear compartment.

Tiet moaned from his injuries. Guilt flooded in on Kale as he tried to make his father comfortable in the shuttle while it rocked and reeled from the pressures being exerted on it by the cloud.

"Father, I'm sorry. I didn't want to hurt you…"

"I know. I'll be fine. I'm just glad we found you. Please don't ever think you have to run away."

"I just wasn't sure if I could keep control of that thing in my head," Kale said. "I didn't want to hurt anybody so I ran, but now it's happened anyway."

"Don't worry, soon we'll be home and your mother will know what to do for me."

That thought comforted him a little. Yes, his mother would know, after all she was an excellent physician. According to Emil, she had been the one to find the cure for the symbyte-the antibody formula necessary to kill it. At least, Kale thought it was dead. It certainly had lost control over him and the voice in his mind had gone silent.

Kale looked out one of the portal windows and saw the vile formation crowding around the ship, but then something more. The ship shuddered as something collided with the hull. Kale watched physical forms coalesce on the hull of the shuttle.

Agonotti became solid one by one, clinging to the craft and forming for their weapons large broadswords and battle hammers, all coming into being from the same material that their bodies had formed from. So that's it, their clothing, weapons and bodies are all formed from the same matrix.

The creatures hammered into the ship with their weapons, trying to breech the hull or bring it down.

"What are we going to do?" Emil shouted. "They'll destroy the flight controls!"

Kale didn't have an answer. They couldn't fight them on the hull while they were in flight.

"Father, what can we do?"

"I'm too weak. Kale, you and Emil try to push them off kinetically. Just don't damage the hull."

The boys moved to either side of the compartment trying to sense where the Agonotti warriors stood on the outside. They each pushed the creatures away as they sensed them beyond their touch. As the warriors fell away they disintegrated their forms and rejoined the mass of Agonotti in the cloud. Still, more formed on the outer hull and more than the boys could deal with at one time.

Suddenly, several of the portal windows burst inward and the foul smoke poured through into the compartment. Agonotti warriors formed from the dark vapor ready for battle. Kale and Emil pulled their weapons and began to slash through the creatures physical forms.

Juli and her mother screamed as the Agonotti cornered them in the compartment and moved in for the kill. Emil intervened instantly-dispatching both warriors and then quickly moved on to several more. The compartment was of fair size for a shuttle and Elam had certainly outfitted for luxury, but the battle grew cramped fast with more and more Agonotti materializing from the invading fog.

A warrior tried to attack Tiet, who was too weak to fight-only barely maintaining consciousness. But Kale came to his defense being sure not to allow anyone near his father, the king. The wind howled through every portal window in the shuttle except the cockpit. For some reason, they had abandoned that option when they had gained access through the others.

Olson continued to drive the shuttle hard for Sector City and soon they were flying over the boundaries of Wellor Lake. He looked down at the beacon display that Emil had left in the cockpit for him to follow. The gate showed a location in the heart of the city only a few miles ahead.

The battle raged in the rear compartment with Emil defending the women and Kale standing against those trying to get to the cockpit or to his father. Clanging could still be heard from Agonotti warriors on the outer hull. There were just too many of the Agonotti warriors to do anything except hold their own ground and try not to get killed.

An explosion rocked the craft.

"They've blown out the flight control module!" Olson shouted. "We're going to crash!"

The Agonotti began to disintegrate immediately upon hearing Olson's warning. The battle ended suddenly as the ghastly warriors rode the wind back out of the ship.

"Is everyone alright?" Kale shouted.

"We've got to get strapped in!" Emil said over the howling wind.

Kale went to help Juli get into a flight restraint as the wind whipped through the shattered portholes like a cyclone.

"Olson!" Juli's mother got to her feet and ran toward the cockpit to help her husband as the shuttle pitched to the side. She slammed into the wall as she ran, but frantically continued on, trying to reach her dear husband in the front of the ship.

"Mother!" Juli cried.

The shuttle pitched forward and descended down into the city. It slammed into one of the city's tall buildings full of glass panes. Kale tried to put a kinetic bubble around the ship to protect it as it collided with the wall of glass and steel.

The craft penetrated and came through diagonally out of another side of the building, nearer to the street. The entire compartment rotated as Kale tried to hold the mental force field around the ship and simultaneously get the final click on his own flight harness, but he couldn't manage both in the chaos.

His grip on the strap gave and he flew out of his chair through the compartment as it rotated around him. He hit the top of a flight chair and slammed into an adjacent wall. The mental bubble dissipated as Kale was tossed about like a rag doll. The exposed craft descended toward the street below and slammed into a number of personal transport vehicles. It skidded to a halt on the pavement.

The massive Agonotti cloud descended upon the city as civilians ran through the streets in a panic. People had been killed, when the ship fell out of the sky and plowed through businesses and then into traffic. Everyone recognized the Agonotti cloud.

Agonotti warriors materialized in the streets. They would not waste the opportunity of a feeding among the civilian population roaming the streets during the middle of the work day. The cloud cast a massive shadow and it seemed as though death itself had come to call upon Sector City.


Emil shook Kale back to consciousness. They both lay on the roof of the shuttle in the overturned craft. Above them and down the compartment Tiet hung a few feet away in his flight chair. Juli moaned something about her mother as Kale made his way to release her from her harness. He smelled the wreckage burning.

Kale tried to support Juli's small frame and then released the latch for her flight harness allowing her to fall onto his shoulders gently. Emil emerged from the cockpit as Kale let Juli down to her feet. The look on his face told Kale that her parents had not survived the crash.

Emil came to support the girl as Kale made his way to his father. Using the same maneuver, he released Tiet's harness and took his weight upon his own shoulders.

They heard screams out in the street as the group made their way to the boarding ramp door. The ramp itself was on the roof to them and Emil forced the door open with his mind. Beyond, thousands of people ran through the streets.

The Agonotti rampaged against the inhabitants of the city. Kale and the others walked out of the ship. This had to get to the transgate recall portal. Warriors materialized around them as the cloud hung heavy in the street.

"Leaving so soon?" a voice said from behind them.

They looked back to see more warriors on top of the mangled hull of the shuttle. Emil lit a kemstick with one hand while supporting a slightly injured and dazed Juli with the other. If they had to fight now, the wounded might hinder their efforts.

Suddenly the warrior that had spoken to them exploded in a blue spherical burst. A spicor!

Kale and Emil turned to find Grod running at them firing the plasma glove at the Agonotti as the shadow of Wynn Gareth passed over them. He landed on the shuttle's hull and quickly dispatched several Agonotti before any of the humanoids could react. Without hesitation, Grod ran into the midst and pulled Tiet off of Kale's shoulders, bearing the king's weight. Then he took off running back the way they had come.

"Come on, the gate is this way!" he shouted.

Wynn brought up the rear of the party, engaging the masses of Agonotti that came out of the cloud to pursue them. He thrust many Agonotti away with his mind and cut down any within striking distance. Still they pursued.

It was a short run to the gate. They had crashed just around the corner from its location. Grod blasted away at any Agonotti in his path. He reached the gate and ran through with Tiet. Kale and Emil tried their best to avoid the creatures as they got Juli through the gate with Wynn close behind them.

Chaos reigned in Sector city. Then the scene snapped out of existence as Wynn closed the gate before anything else could come through.

Mirah fell on her son's neck kissing him before he could even find a chair to set Juli in. But motherly smothering and affection quickly took second chair to her need to treat her patients. She saw that the young girl was more dazed than anything. She might have a concussion, but Tiet looked far worse.

Mirah went to him and helped Grod get him into the ships medical lab. Tiet faded in and out of consciousness.

"Wynn, bring the kids to the med lab. I want to get bio scans on everyone," Mirah instructed as she followed Grod through the doors.

Wynn looked at Kale. "Well, young man, it looks like you've had quite an adventure over the past few days-you get a vacation and turn a whole city upside down."

"There's more going on there than you know."

"Boy, that's the truth," Emil said.

"Well, let's get you guys checked out and see how your father is doing. You can tell me all about it tonight."


KALE watched through the transparent med-lab window as his mother, Wynn and Grod worked on stabilizing his father's vital signs. Intravenous drips ran into his arms-Kale wasn't sure what kind of drugs they were. On a computer screen behind them, medical data poured onto a display. Pictures of Tiet's chest and abdomen made it clear, even to the layman, that several of his ribs and his sternum were fractured.

This is my fault, Kale thought. He had been so weak, letting the creature inside his mind take control and do this to his father. Guilt descended with a mighty weight as Kale thought, he is fighting for his life in there all because he loved his son-the son that ran away.

"It's not your fault, you know?" Emil said, sitting in the chair in front of him.

"Then whose fault is it? I did this."

He brushed a stray tear as he tried to remain angry at himself rather than breaking down. "I ran away trying to avoid hurting any of you and what good did it do? Nothing! It happened anyway."

"Running wasn't the answer, but you didn't know that. You had good intentions," Emil said.

"Yeah, intentions," Kale said through clenched fists, still watching the drama unfolding in the next room.

"Your dad is strong, Kale," Merab said from the doorway. He came in and sat next to the young man.

"I think he'll come through this. I've seen him do great things, even before you were born."

The boys became very interested.

"You know that the general and your father were enemies at one time, but when it came time for peace, your father fought his way into Nagon-Toth and practically dared us all not to make treaty. He very nearly died that day, but he wasn't afraid. And now look at us. We're allies, the Horva and the Barudii. He's a great king. If being swallowed alive by a teragore couldn't do him in, then I don't think we should count him out yet."

Kale may have pretended that Merab's words weren't comforting, but he was very glad to hear them. He didn't know as much as he would have liked about his father's younger days, but that was going to change. He just hoped his father would be around to tell him personally.

In a few minutes the med-lab drama calmed down. Grod emerged looking exhausted. "Mirah thinks he's going to be alright. She has him stabilized and medicated for his pain. He may have some hard days ahead, but it looks like your father is going to pull through."

Kale heaved out a sigh of relief. "Can I see him?"

"Your mother would like to hold off on that for now, but she did say you could see him later, after we've all had some much needed rest."

Emil eyed his father, letting him know that Kale was feeling guilty about the whole affair.

Grod knelt down to Kale's level and placed his arm around the boy's shoulder, looking right into his eyes. "You are not to blame. Your father would be very hurt to know that you are blaming yourself for what has happened. We are all in a fight for our lives and that involves risks. He knows those risks and accepts them. Punishing yourself will only hurt him more."

Sobering words. Kale nodded in reluctant agreement. Grod would not have accepted anything else.

"Now, come and let's get you men some food," he said, taking both boys by the shoulders and prodding them out toward the galley.

"Father, what about those people left back on Draconis?" Emil asked.

Grod's enthusiastic smile faded as he walked. "I don't know. We've got a lot to deal with here right now. Anything else is going to have to wait."


"The kingdom of Elithias is at hand!" the Prophet said. The man held a wild look in his eye accentuated by his age and his white hair. He wore a chestnut colored robe with pants that dropped into view near the floor.

Everyone assembled in the Guniran Great Hall sat rigid as a board. No one dared to even breathe heavily. Aija the Prophet glared down from the raised cylindrical platform to punctuate his statement. It was, after all, of the utmost importance that they all understand what the Eternal One wanted them to know.

Tiet stirred a little, seated upon the floor with the others. His injuries still bothered him after three months. He had ended up with a minor concussion, several broken ribs and a collapsed lung, all at the hands of his son, under symbyte control. The wooden floor they were sitting on didn't help.

Kale sat cross-legged, his head propped up by his arm upon his knee. The large room had filled to capacity with every Guniran able to attend. They encircled the prophet who stood upon a slightly raised cylinder in the middle of the massive room. The Great Hall was itself, a large cylinder.

The Prophet had not come down out of his home in the mountains for nearly a decade. This was important. "It has been nearly three thousand years since Elithias appeared on Castai."

Aija began to walk around the pulpit now. "The first time, the Eternal One came to offer mankind a pardon for our rebellion. Soon, He will appear the second time in Judgment. The Day of Elithias is upon us!"

A hushed murmur swept across the room now. It had been a long time since Tiet had heard anything about the prophecies still to be fulfilled concerning the return of Elithias, the Eternal Son. He had appeared long ago to bring mercy, but it had been so long since that time that many had scoffed at the idea of a true return.

"Elithias has been patient with us, but the clans have not turned," Aija said. "The Baruk were destroyed as part of the coming judgment. They allied themselves with the fallen one, giving their selves over completely to him and they have been destroyed. Soon, others will face similar judgment."

Everyone focused now. Anticipation and anxiety preceded every word of the prophet as the people waited to hear if judgment would fall upon the Guniran clan also. But how could it, they had been the keepers and protectors of the prophecies after the war between the clans? They alone possessed the copies that could be saved as destruction and oppression swept from planet to planet. Surely they would be spared whatever was coming.

"As the prophecy tells us, your guardians will be taken from you, for you have not been thankful for the hedge I have kept around you. The Barudii were allowed to be taken from us so that this war could spread," Aija continued. "God intends to purge mankind before the coming of Elithias to establish his kingdom. Many atrocities have been committed against our brothers and it will not go unpunished."

All eyes remained fixed on the man as he made his way down from the platform and walked in a circle in front of those seated on the ground before him. Tears became noticeable in his eyes then-they had become bloodshot as he fought his emotions. Aija stood still among the assembly. "My fellow Gunirans." His words choked. "We will not be spared this judgment."

The entire assembly gasped at that statement. Faces turned pale as the realization hit them. It might not have made much difference, had this man not been well known as a genuine prophet of the Eternal One. He had, according to the Logostus-assembled prophecies, been proven by the fact that his prophecies came true. Before the massacre of the Barudii, Aija had descended to tell his fellow Gunirans that God's hedge was about to fall. The prophecy had been given a thousand years earlier with a link to the last prophet of the age who would herald the coming of Elithias. Aija had given the time of their demise to the day.

Now, Tiet worried. The judgment wasn't over-more people were going to perish. He felt his wife's hand tighten around his own. They had so hoped to find peace-to escape all the turmoil of war among these peaceful people. But there can be no peace when judgment is coming.

The people became restless. Aija raised his hands to still them-he was not through with his proclamation. The room became still very quickly. "We have been the keepers of Logostus, but we have not spread the prophecies to the other clans as we were meant to. The Logostus says, you are set as watchmen to your brothers; so speak my words to them that they may turn from their wickedness and live. If you will not, they will die in their rebellion, but I will require their blood at your hands."

Aija turned from the people and walked back up on the platform and took his place again. "We are guilty of much blood for our failure to warn the clans from this coming judgment. And now we are entering the final days before Elithias comes. It is time to believe on the Eternal one and turn from our rebellion. There's not much time to do so."

Almost the entire assembly disorganized as many cried out to Elithias for mercy. They fell to their faces in prayer crying out to be forgiven. The young and the old weeped as they confessed their rebellion before God and cast themselves upon the promise of pardon for those who would come to him by the pajet-act of sincere submission.

Tiet remained the only one still sitting. His wife, their son, Wynn, Grod, Emil, Merab and Jael had all bowed on their faces committing to Elithias through the pajet. Tiet looked among them and saw the prophet standing over Kale as the boy prayed. Aija looked up from the boy and stared directly at Tiet. His ribs ached again and his breathing became labored. He shook as the prophet's gaze fell on him like a great weight. Aija walked over to Tiet, maneuvering through those on the ground. The prophet stood over the Barudii king. Tiet remained frozen in place.

"Will the king turn to Elithias today?"

Tears threatened to fall across his cheeks. "Why did my people have to die?" Tiet asked.

"Men killed your people, my king," Aija said, "The Eternal One kept you alive and your family and he will yet use you to accomplish his will for us, if you will submit yourself to him and surrender. When Elithias comes, all will be set right-after the darkness of night a new day is coming."

Tiet surrendered his will and got to his knees as the prophet knelt beside him and they prayed together.


The moment seemed to last a long time. But when Aija calmed the people again, only ten minutes had passed. "Men and brethren a wonderful thing has happened to you in turning to Elithias," Aija said. "For all of you that have committed yourselves to the Eternal One, the promise of eternal life is now yours. But the time is still upon us for judgment. Now, go and seek your refuge in the mountains and do not delay for the fallen one has come."

The thunderous roar of a starship's engines howled throughout the small city. People began to scream as they rushed for the building's exits. Tiet and the others made their way out of the meeting hall in turn and saw a building crumble under fire from a Vorn warship coming close overhead. They followed the flow of screaming attendees as they ran toward the base of the mountain that hung over the Great Hall.

A natural alcove in the rock provided extra protection to the building and provided the citizens with a quick way out in case of attack. Tiet saw Aija directing people into the tunnel carved through the face of the rock. Wynn and Grod brought up the rear of their group as they tried to stay together among the throng of people evacuating the provincial town.

Blasts rang out behind them as the first cruiser was joined by others appearing over the horizon. Tiet recognized them as the ships that had been part of their Castillian fleet. The only explanation appeared to be that the symbytes had now decided to use them to launch an attack on this planet. They had left Castai. The thought of other planets being overcome by the Symbytes made his flesh crawl.

Smaller craft streamed out of the fighter bays at the rear of the warships. They swept through the city, tearing through buildings and people who tried to flee toward the mountains.

The approached the entrance to the mountain tunnel, but the prophet Aija was no where to be found now. Behind them, speeder pods closed in. The small one-man vehicles had been built for high velocity ground warfare. They sped across the terrain-their turbines howling with the intake of wind. Blaster cannons on the front of the pods sprayed the Guniran evacuees as they fled for the mountain tunnel. Tiet's group kept up the pace, making their way into the tunnel as the pods approached.


Inside, hundreds of rail cars sat docked while others continued the exodus through the mountain along four point equidistant metal rails. Each car held four people and could travel at speeds up to ninety miles per hour. Row upon row of cars and there respective rails led into the rock wall ahead.

Kale and Emil found two cars together and yelled for the others to get in. Kale and his parents boarded one along with Merab as Grod, Wynn, and Jael boarded the other with Emil piloting. Kale fired up the thrusters in his car and switched on the radio as he signaled to Emil in the adjacent car with three fingers held up to the window followed by one finger. Emil switched his radio to channel thirty one and placed the headset on as the thrusters took up a steady hum in the rear of the vehicle.

All around them, rail cars burst away into the mountain through the one hundred tunnels available to them. People piled up in lines to get safely into a tunnel as the sound of laser cannons continued to pound in their ears from outside.

Emil launched his car as others behind him in line brought their thrusters to readiness for launch. Kale followed suit and they blasted away into the darkness with only a single headlight and the rails to guide them.

"Emil, do you copy?" Kale asked.

"I copy. What's the plan?"

"Whichever one of us gets to the hangar first begins the launch sequence for the Equinox."

The ship had been docked in the Guniran hangar after the Council allowed their group to move into a dwelling inside the province, according to Aija's command.

"We'll meet you there."

"Copy that."


Lucin's fingers drummed along the arm of his command chair as he watched the invasion in real time on the main viewer. He now had the host body of commander Zurig for his use. He leaned forward analyzing the incoming scan data on the display and the reports from the squad commanders on the ground.

What Lucin had feared was already taking place. The collective mind was fading and while he still commanded the individuals, they were not one in mind as the Baruk had been. The number of those assimilated had simply been too many considering the strong will of these humans. He still wanted the boy and his power-a more fitting host for his glorious reign over humanity.

"What are we getting on scans of the mountain?" Lucin asked.

"Not much, sir, we have a lot of interference from heavy metals," the science officer said.

If they are running through a rail car system through the mountain, then they must be expecting to go somewhere that could provide them all with a way of escape, he thought.

"Bring us around, helmsman. I want to be waiting on the other side of this mountain when they emerge."

"Yes, sir."

The Vorn warship left the main group, still attacking the city, and began its trek over and beyond Mt. Ortiss. Smoke pillared up into the sky behind them as the Guniran province fell to their onslaught.


Kale pushed the rail car's thrusters to the limit as they sped through the mountain. The rails groaned under the pressure along with the glide-wheel assemblies on the car as they strained to maintain the vehicle's integrity. The gravitational forces pulled unrelenting on the passengers, but Kale had to keep pushing hard to maintain the distance between them and the attack pods.

Something flashed off of the rock behind the headlights corona. Then the car shuddered as a laser blast sheered off one of the glide-wheel assemblies.

"We've got a pod on our tail!" Tiet said.

"This thing won't go any faster," Kale said.

The car shifted around the next sharp turn on the four point rail and metal squealed for mercy.

"What's that?" Mirah shouted.

"We've lost a rail guide! We're only anchored at three points now," Kale said as he examined the system failure warnings on the control display.

"How long will that hold us?" Merab asked from the rear seat.

"Not long enough," Tiet said. "Kale, if we don't slow down a little the other rail guides will twist off…"

"And if I slow down the pod blows us away. I could collapse the tunnel maybe, but we're traveling so fast it might hit us first or the pod might get through before it came down."

"No," Tiet said, "I want you to slow down a little and-"


"-And then when I tell you, deploy the drag chute."

"I get it."

Kale reduced thruster power slightly and the car slowed a few miles per hour in speed. He sensed the pod gaining on them. At the same moment, Tiet yelled, "Now!" Kale triggered the release and the chute burst away. The wind speed caught the chute's billowing folds and it bloomed to its full circumference, trailing behind the car and quickly reducing its speed.

"Release it!" Tiet shouted.

The pod came upon the rail car abruptly and blasted away with its laser turrets as the billowing canopy flew back and enveloped it like a Carcarion Jellyfish. The blinded pod-pilot failed to follow the tunnel path on the next turn. The pod dragged against the tunnel wall, then burst into flame leaving a burning carcass of debris on the ground as the rail car continued on ahead.

Kale tapped the microphone, "Emil, how are you guys doing? Any pod trouble?"

"No, we've had a pretty smooth ride. We're almost to the hangar. Father will get the Equinox ready as soon as we arrive. How about you?"

"We've had some trouble-we lost a rail guide to a pod attack, but I think we're okay now. I've reduce speed to compensate. We should be there soon-don't go leaving without us."

"Always ruining my well-laid plans-copy that."

Tiet leaned forward behind his son to look at the map readout. They approached the terminal point on the rail that reached into the hangar, but their speed was still too fast.

"Ease off the power all the way, Kale."

The hydraulic brake system flashed a failure warning on the display. His father was right, they were approaching too fast. Better deploy the drag chute…oh boy.

Kale pulled the throttle all the way back to the lowest thruster setting, but the glide rate remained steady.

"We're not slowing down fast enough!"

Tiet reached over his son, pushing him into the canopy with the effort and grabbed the lever for the rear grapple. He pulled the lever and the grapple shot away from beside the thruster vent and found a purchase in the rock wall.

The tow cable threaded out fast and the cable tensioner quickly slowed its release rate to slow the vehicle. The end of the rail came fast and they slammed into it, but not as hard as they could have. Tiet pushed the damaged canopy open allowing everyone to get out.

The rail car had been smashed up pretty good, but they were still alive. Kale helped his mother. They made their way onto the platform where the Equinox was exhausting from its engine vents across the hangar bay. Other cars came through but not many. Evidently the pods had stopped the others before launch.

Kale ran on ahead to the ship. He needed something. The boarding ramp stood down for them and Tiet, Mirah and Merab made their way up into the ship. Kale ran back down past them as they entered.

"Where are you going?" Tiet shouted after him.

"They're coming! Get the ship going, I'll be back!"


Juli came running after Kale in the hallway. "Where is he going? Emil said we were leaving."

"He'll be back in time," Mirah said. "Let's get you strapped into a harness-things are about to get rough." She calmed Juli, who looked like her viral illness had still not abated. Heat radiated from her skin. She had left her in bed while they went to the meeting, but she probably wouldn't be able to go back to sleep now.

She strapped the girl into a flight chair and checked her temperature again.

"I'll be right back. You need something to bring your fever down again."

The whining sound of approaching pods flooded the busy hangar as people boarded several large transport ships. They were large enough together to accommodate nearly the entire population of the province. Not even a third of that number had made it to the hangar. The people scrambled for the transport loading ramps as the pods came through the numerous rail car tunnels. The pod fighters immediately rained down a firestorm on the transport ships and those trying to board them.


Kale ran toward the hangar's rock wall where the pods came through. He had a Barudii blade in hand. A pod veered in his direction. Laser blasts strafed the pavement on either side of him as he seized the attacker with his mind, pulling the pod down. Kale leaped up to it as it descended. He used the pod as a springboard, leaping away higher as it continued downward and slammed into the hangar floor.

Kale flipped over in a tight ball higher and higher and then unfolded to land on another pod. He used the centrifugal force of his somersault to slam his ignited blade straight down through the top of the pod cockpit. He hit the pilot square on and leaped away again as the pod dropped out from under him.

An alarm sounded all over the huge bay. The main hangar door started to retract. Open sky peered inside from beyond-freedom for the Gunirans if they could get the transports away in time. The pods blasted away at the large ships as they groaned to bring their hulking masses up from the tarmac. Other than scorch marks, the small pods did very little damage to these behemoths-flies biting at giants. But for those caught outside the fleeing vessels the pods brought the sting of death.

The Equinox waited to move out. Kale landed back on the pavement and released a few spicors at some incoming pods and then he sprinted for the boarding ramp. All but one spicor slammed into their targets and brought the pods down in flashes of debris and fire.

Kale sensed his father's urgency-they had to escape before the warships figured out where they had run to. He ran up the ramp and triggered the mechanism to raise it. When Kale got to the bridge, Grod had already activated the thrusters to raise them off of the platform. As the ship swung around, three Guniran transports made their way up and out of the underground hangar bay ahead of them.

Huge bolts of blaster fire pummeled the shields of the first transport. It had to be a big warship out there beyond the open bay door-nothing else could bring down that kind of firepower. Grod used the advantage of their smaller size to move the Equinox ahead of the third transport in line to get out. The Equinox glided under the belly of the second ship as more laser fire slammed into the first ship.

As the Equinox slipped between the ground and the second transport two Vorn battle cruisers hovered overhead. The warships blasted both of the transports that had emerged from the hangar bay. One of the Vorn ships launched a barrage of missiles that spiraled individually on track for the first Guniran transport which lost shield power. The missiles scattered along its forward bridge section and along the top and sides of the vessel, pitting it badly with multiple explosions and penetrating the hull.

The first Guniran transport began to drop out of the sky much faster than it had ascended. With a short fall it plowed into the ground creating a thunderous roar felt throughout the hull of the Equinox. Grod kept the ship low to the ground while the other transport climbed for more altitude under continuous fire from the Vorn warships.

Wynn sat at the weapons control console, using their limited fire power as best as he could, but it just wasn't enough to fight a heavy cruiser. Evasion was their only recourse. The warships concentrated their efforts on the big transports. Grod veered hard to port to keep away from a near strafe line that scorched the ground behind them. A crashing sounded from back in the crew cabin area.

"What was that?" Tiet asked.

"I'll check on it, Father."

"I'll go with him," Jael said as he unfastened his flight harness.

The pair made their way to the rear hall behind the bridge compartment, bracing themselves against the walls at regular intervals to counter Grod's evasive maneuvering.

Kale sensed a stowaway in his own compartment. The auto-door slid away to reveal a surprising guest.

"Aija, sir. What are you doing here?" Kale asked.

"Planning to leave, the same as you," he said trying to steady himself against the gravitational forces in play throughout the ship.

"We expected that you had evacuated aboard one of the Guniran transports," Jael said.

"And well I would have, but the Lord bid me to enter your ship before takeoff."

"I don't understand."

"Young master Kale, there is much work to be done, but we must get to the right place to do it. Are we ready to make a transgate jump?"

"No, we're trying to evade the warships."

The prophet pushed past him, heading for the bridge-his cane tapping the metal flooring in time with his stride.

"Aija?!" Tiet exclaimed. "How did you-"

"My King, we must jump to Draconis immediately."


"Please, there isn't time to explain."

Tiet locked eyes with the prophet. "Grod, we've got to jump to Draconis."

"I'd be happy to be anywhere besides here, but I can't program the sequence right now," he said as he fought the ship's controls.

Wynn's flight chair tracked sideways to the transgate controls at the science station. He began setting coordinates for the jump by reinitiating the same coordinates they had used for the recall gate to rescue Kale and the others before.

"We're running out of room fast," Grod said as the Equinox approached a huge mountain range. The ship skimmed just above the tree line trying to remain elusive with the warships after them. Grod spun the ship around and headed back toward the cruisers pursuing them. A total of six now had them in pursuit.

"If you're going to do it, you had better make it fast," Grod said.

Wynn finalized the command sequence and tapped the initiate button. The ship began to stream through a self made tunnel of light as they came upon the Vorn cruisers fast. Just before they would have collided with the warships, the trailing photons enveloped the Equinox completely. They disappeared.


A pungent stench filled their nostrils as they exited the Equinox-the aroma of decay, the scent of death. Kale was glad that Juli was sleeping again-she wouldn't have been able to handle the sight of all this-her former civilization in ruins like this.

Sector City appeared much different than when they had left it three months ago. It looked like intense fighting had taken place all over the city. Nothing moved that wasn't carried on the wind and the only people visible were the multitudes strewn in the streets and even the carrion feeders had long since given up on them.

The tall buildings had toppled in some cases and one might have counted the unbroken window panes on the fingers of one hand. Kale tried to remember where their shuttle had crashed months before, but it was so difficult to discern what had been before all of this devastation.

The boys walked off of the ramp with Wynn and Grod following. The streets had been so littered with debris that finding a level place to land had been almost impossible.

The Prophet had chosen to remain in the ship and still had not commented further on why they were required to return to Draconis. Kale's parents remained on board as well with Juli. The Horva soldiers, Jael and Merab, remained to protect the king.

Tiet wouldn't have liked that. They had barely persuaded him to remain on board at all. Fortunately his injuries still bothered him more than his pride. The limited medical facilities, both within the Guniran province and onboard the ship, had slowed his healing quite a bit.

"Should we split up?" Emil asked.

"No. If we do run into those Agonotti, we'll all need as much help as we can get," Wynn said.

The group surveyed for survivors and any supplies they might be able to use. Medical supplies were especially in need, but the ship was well outfitted with food and water.

"Just mouth-breath, boys," Wynn said. The smell was nauseating. The ramp closed behind them in order to relieve those still onboard from the stench.

The landing party moved cautiously between bodies and debris. They walked toward a group of buildings several blocks away that appeared structurally sound, at least from a distance. They tried to avoid looking at the people. The faces contorted into nightmarish expressions-the epitaph of a doomed city.


Mirah made sure her husband remained sedated and resting comfortably. She had spiked his pain meds a little, but it was for his good. He never would have let Kale go out without him into the city-especially not after almost losing him. Their parental roles had reversed since Kale's return. Mirah had much more confidence in her son's ability and Tiet acted as the protective parent. Juli also slept and Mirah thought of getting some rest as well. But she had to remain alert in case something happened.

She sank into a chair next to Tiet's bed and sighed loudly. The pillow under her husband's head certainly looked comfortable. The bumps and bruises, sustained from the impact of their rail car in the hangar bay ached all over her body. She closed her eyes for a moment, just to rest them. Unconsciousness took advantage of the opportunity and soon she was fast asleep.


Aija sat at a table in the crew galley eating one of the quick preparation meals kept frozen in the cold locker. Jael watched him curiously from across the room. He had a question burning in his mind that only the prophet might be able to answer, but how to approach him, he wasn't sure. Directly was the only way he had ever done anything and prophet or no, he needed some answers.

He got up from his seat and carried his meal over to Aija's table and sat down in front of the prophet.

"You wish to ask me something, Jael?" Aija asked.

"As a matter of fact, I do."

"Well then, don't hold back. I'll do my best to answer."

He took a half second to consider a polite way to address it, but couldn't think of any. "Why did Elithias destroy the Horva?"

Aija stopped chewing the food in his mouth and looked up at the soldier with a slightly puzzled look on his face. "He didn't destroy your people. You're still here aren't you?"

It was too matter-of-fact for him to hear. "What I mean is," he struggled with the words a moment. "Our families, all but the four of us were killed. Why did Elithias let that happen? We were created as slaves to the Vorn military-all we wanted was our freedom."

"Elithias has created beings with free will, but it was not His will for them to rebel, and yet he did not stop them. Both Mithri and man alike rebelled against the Creator. If the Eternal One had prevented it by overpowering our free will, then, would we not say our right to choose was impinged upon-our freedom removed completely? And if Elithias allows us to make those choices and we rebel, then we wonder why he didn't prevent it."

"I know, but still-"

"Jael, the Fallen One started this war among men, against the will of Elithias, but still the He has directed the events in such a way that his purposes will ultimately be accomplished. He is turning what was meant for evil into our good."

"But how? How is that going to be good?"

"The Logostus prophesies of a clan that is removed for its great rebellion and that would be the Baruk. But when the prophecies tell us of the kingdom to come, they include among the clans, the Artemae to take the place of the Baruk."

Now, Jael was really confused. "Who are the Artemae?"

"The word means: taken out of us for bondage. It is the Horva alone who are the fulfillment of this prophecy," Aija said. "The Eternal One has left you a remnant to begin again. Your people will ultimately be accepted and free forever in the kingdom of Elithias."

Hope rose in Jael's eyes now. In the midst of all the talk of judgment, mercy still prevailed in Elithias' plan for them.

"In fact, my friend," Aija continued, "it is only the remnant of any of the clans that will survive this war."

He was right. While concentrating on his own people's destruction, Jael had not really considered that the other clans faced similar circumstances. Only three Barudii remained now and even Aija's Guniran clan would be a smaller remnant after the attack they had just witnessed back on Kosiva.

The Horva soldier drummed his fingers across the table as he sat back in his seat. His eyes were moist, but a smile abided on his face. Jael picked up his food tray and placed it in the waste container. He turned to look again at the prophet.

"Thank you, Aija," he whispered, and then he grabbed his rifle from the other table and went to the bridge.


Lucin surveyed the smoldering ruins of the Guniran province before him. Death meant nothing to him. He felt no regret and no sympathy. He waited for news on the structure he was searching for. The boy had apparently escaped with his family. He had sensed it when the young Barudii had departed the planet. The portion of his symbyte form previously implanted in Kale had been destroyed, but not his ability to sense the boy.

The Vorn warships hovered over the province. Their antigravity generators kept them aloft and their sonic emissions thundered continuously over the landscape. Some of the structurally unsound buildings had collapsed due to the constant resonance of the mighty engines in such close proximity.

"Sir!" One of Lucin's soldiers came running up to him. "I think we have found it."

Lucin followed the man. The soldier led him beyond the greater portion of destroyed buildings nearby. Lucin's bodyguards followed along with them as they walked briskly through the street toward a tented complex not far in the distance. He recognized it immediately. It was the same design as the one from the days of old-a tabernacle.

Lucin's pace quickened at the sight of it. People marched into captivity all around them and shots still rang out at random as his symbyte controlled soldiers went about the business of tearing the Guniran province apart.

Lucin stopped abruptly at the entrance to the tabernacle. A veil hung between two poles comprising the entryway. Did he dare? He had once dwelt in Mithrium itself, the dwelling place of the Eternal One, though not with these mortal members. He had walked in the garden of Elithias, oh so many ages ago. Had Elithias' presence been here, the province never would have been taken. He dared.

Removing his blade he slashed through the poles and the veil between, and walked through. His people had a number of priests secured as prisoners inside. When he walked inside the tented complex the priests were forced to their knees before him.

"These are the books we found inside," said one of his men.

A pile of old parchments and copies of various sorts were strewn on the ground before a wash basin and a table with other artifacts overturned. He picked up one of the documents. Opening it, his eyes fell upon the old language. "…And the one that deceived them, was cast into a lake of fire that shall never be quenched, and so shall he be tormented day and night forever and ever, amen."

Fury welled up within Lucin from the very foundation of his being. He shredded the parchment and then glared at the others before him. "I want all of these burned!"

"Yes, sir!"

Lucin turned to leave the tabernacle. Elithias wasn't going to tell him. The Eternal One would only mock him in his search through the prophecies.

"Sir, what about these prisoners?"

Lucin paused before leaving. "Kill them…kill them all."

He headed back down the street to his private transport. His bodyguards followed their master's every step. Sporadic pulse laser fire erupted behind him from the Tabernacle of Elithias. He really didn't need to consult with the books at all-he knew the prophecies well. He knew that his time was short.

Lucin climbed back into the transport and his bodyguards seated themselves next to him. One of them took the shuttle controls and closed the entry door while powering the engine.


"Yes, sir?"

"Have all of the ground forces finish up here quickly and report back to the cruisers. I want to be underway for Draconis within the next five hours."


Something, other than the total destruction of the city around them, was not right. Kale felt something, as though they were being watched. Nothing but the wind made a sound any louder than their footsteps. It generated a continuous fog of ash from the burned out ruins of the city.

Then it happened-a feeling really-a whisper of danger on the wind. Kale dodged behind a burned out vehicle in the street as explosive shells strafed the pavement where he had been standing. They potted the concrete with miniature craters upon impact. The others had sensed it also, except for Grod, but Emil had pushed his father out of the way just in time.

The air became silent again. Nothing moved. "Who do you suppose they are?" Grod asked from behind a chunk of demolished building.

"I'm not sure," Wynn said. "Probably not Agonotti with that kind of weapon. They're probably scared and don't realize we're on their side."

"Maybe we should tell them," Emil said. "Hello!" he shouted from his hiding place. "We are humans. We don't mean you any harm!"

Another volley of shells strafed across the concrete and steel the group was hiding behind. "So much for that," Kale said as he activated his E.M. shield. He set the parameters to keep the repulsor field on constantly, since it normally only repelled energy weapons.

He looked back at Wynn, who gave a look of doubt about the tactic the young man was about to employ, but he didn't have any other suggestions to pose. Kale jumped up from behind the burned out transport and ran at the source of the weapons fire. Almost immediately, they set upon him with more explosive rounds. Some impacted his shield and burst while he managed to dodge the majority.

Kale realized the shots had come from a shell of a building one hundred feet ahead of them. The enemy gunfire remained constant, but focused solely on him. Wynn took the opportunity and hurled a spicor disc-guiding it to the target with his mind. Kale saw the disc flash past him and into the structure ahead where it exploded.

He saw someone as the disc hit their weapon and vaporized most of it. They turned to run with another person in tow, as Kale entered the building through the window they had been sniping from. These two were quick, dodging and evading him through the wreckage of the building and toppling some of it along the way to slow him. Kale pushed the debris away mentally as he continued to dog their heels in the pursuit.

They were human and young-he saw that much for sure. The pair dodged behind another wall and he lost them for a moment. Then they appeared in the street beyond running into another more intact structure. Kale leaped through a whole in the wall and headed across the street and into the other building trying to keep up with his prey. He spotted Wynn and the others coming down the street running toward the same building.

Kale paused as he entered a great hall with a number of large staircases, some heading up and others down. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted two heads dropping out of sight on one of the downward staircases.

"Where did they go," Grod asked as they caught up with Kale.

"Down there," Kale said as he launched out after them again. The others followed.

The lighting was dim at best as they descended into the recesses of the building's subterranean levels. Kale tried to sense them, but Wynn already had them in his mind and said, "This way, men."

The warriors remained so focused on the pair mentally they neglected their surroundings. By the time Kale and the others finally cornered the pair of youths, they stood in a huge room with hardly any light at all. When Kale's group crossed the space between them, emergency lighting suddenly came on, spotlighting Wynn, Kale, Emil and Grod. They pulled their weapons quickly, but the sound of a hundred gun bolts locking into firing position all around them in the dark caused them to quickly rethink their aggressive posture.

"Lower your weapons," Wynn said as he motioned with his hands to the others and placed his blade on the ground.

The others complied apprehensively. Kale hesitated until Wynn shot him a hard look. He was right. They really couldn't hope to defend themselves like this. Logically, if these people meant to kill them outright then they already would have done it.

Steps approached from the darkness. A young man, not much older than Kale, stepped into the light. He was dressed in tattered clothes and confident enough to stand near them with his rifle slung over his shoulder.

"Why are you here?"

"We're not with the Agonotti, in fact we were fighting against them only a few months ago," Kale offered.

"Yes, and then you ran away through that portal of yours. Now, why are you here?" he asked again.

"We're here to help," Wynn said. Hopefully the prophet had that intention for bringing them to Draconis.

The boy looked at them with skepticism. "You can't help," he said hopelessly. "No one can stop them now." He turned to signal someone unseen. The room lights came on revealing nearly one hundred adolescents and children surrounding them with their weapons trained on Kale's group. They all bore the same impoverished appearance as the young man before them.

"Where are your parents?" Emil asked.

"They're all dead," said the boy leader. "They died trying to fight the Agonotti.

"Has this happened in all of your cities?" Wynn asked.

"I don't know. We've just been trying to stay alive."

"You should come back with us to the ship," Emil said. "Aija may know what to do for you."

"We're not going anywhere. The Agonotti will have seen your ship. It won't take long before they come for it."

"We've got to get back then," Kale said as he reached for his blade on the ground. The boy whipped his rifle off of his shoulder and put the barrel against Kale's head.

"I said "we're not going anywhere," and that includes you."


Mirah didn't realize she had been asleep until she woke up. She couldn't remember, but she thought she had heard something. An image of a small animal, scratching the wall, flashed in her mind, as though she had been dreaming about it a moment ago.

Mirah found Tiet still sleeping in the bed next to her chair. He looked peaceful enough. She got up and decided to go to the kitchen without waking him. She noticed there weren't any voices to be heard in the ship at the moment. The landing party must not have come back yet.

Mirah wandered to the compartment door rubbing the back of her neck. The chair wasn't the most comfortable place to sleep. The door opened automatically. On the other side, great soiled wings unfolded to reveal a horrible man. Darkness emanated from him. Mirah screamed, but her words, her voice, were swallowed up by him. A great sword unlike anything a man would handle came suddenly to his hand. Blood already stained the blade. She shut her eyes, but she could still see him as he struck.

Mirah jumped and fell out of her chair. Tiet lay asleep on the bed next to her. Sweat poured off her and she shook uncontrollably. It was only a dream. She got up and tried to compose her self. Her hip hurt now.

Mirah heard Juli in the next room, calling for her. She walked toward the door and paused as a wave of recurrent fear ran up her spine. The door opened automatically, but no one was there. Mirah walked into the room Juli had been sleeping in. "I'm here. It's alright, Juli."

The girl panted, trying to catch her breath. She was sweating, despite the cool temperature in her room. Mirah sat on the bed next to her. "What's wrong?"

"It was so real-my dream."

"Oh. Well, you've just had a nightmare. You're fine."

"I know," she said as she brought her breathing under control. "He was just so real."

"Who was so real?"

"The Mithri in my dream," said Juli.

Mirah felt fear wash over her senses again. "Your dream was about a Mithri?"

"Yes. He was terrible and dirty looking, not beautiful at all. He attacked me with a bloody sword and I couldn't even scream for help-it was so frightening."

Mirah trembled as Juli described her dream-it was the same dream she had experienced. Her medical training told her that it was logically impossible, but her spirit cried out a warning of danger.

Suddenly she heard something-a scratching like her dream and it was getting louder. Footsteps added to the sounds coming from the ships hull above them. A blaster pistol hung in a holster on the wall. She pulled it as she heard someone approaching the door. When it opened, Merab stood there with his pulse rifle.

"Mirah, we've got company."


The boy kept his rifle barrel pressed into Kale's temple. If the boy leader was to be believed, then the others back at the ship were in big trouble and they had to get out of here now to help them. Kale eyed Wynn, looking for something in his expression-permission to act. Wynn glanced down at the floor and Kale followed his gaze.

On the ground just behind the boy leader, words etched themselves into the thick layer of dust and ash. An unseen finger wrote: Don't Harm and Diversion in the Barudii language of old that Wynn had been teaching him. Some of the other armed children had come to encircle them and stand guard.

"We'll move you to our secret location, where the Agonotti can't reach us," the boy leader said.

Wynn wasn't listening anymore; instead he was focused on the surrounding room. Things began to move in the dark around them-pieces of debris pounded into the walls and bounced across the floor out of view. The children reacted immediately with fear. Their eyes searched for targets with weapons pointed into the darkness around them; their hands trembling with anticipation born of experience with the Agonotti.

The dust on the floor and all around the room suddenly churned into a fog. The lights that the children carried and those mounted above flickered. Many of the children screamed uncontrollably, expecting dark horrors to pop up beside them at any moment and kill them as they had seen happen countless times to other people over the last few months.

The boy had removed the gun from Kale's temple as he searched for materializing attackers. In the chaos, his prisoners disappeared. The lights quickly returned to normal and the swirling storm of debris and ash began to settle as the boy tried to quiet the others. "They've tricked us! They're getting away!"

Kale and the others ran at breakneck speed ascending to the street level of the building. They weren't running for fear of children, but for the lives of all of their people left onboard the Equinox. Mere moments passed like hours as the group sprinted through the ash covered streets and leaped over the dead and debris.

When the team turned the last corner and saw the ship still sitting in the street unharmed, they all breathed sighs of relief. They slowed and walked cautiously toward the entrance ramp-it was no longer extended. Everything seemed just like when they had departed.

"Those children must have been mistaken, everything looks fine," Emil said.

They all holstered and sheathed their weapons as they approached the entrance ramp at the underside of the ship.

Wynn tapped a code into his uniform keypad. The ramp complied with his access code and unlocked itself. Kale continued to survey their surroundings as the ramp lowered. Had the boy really been wrong about the Agonotti? The city certainly looked dead enough. Other than the children, who had managed to survive somehow, nothing remained but decaying corpses and the burned out remnants of civilization. And of course there was the fog of ash that lingered in the air coating everything in gray soil.

He noticed something as he looked at the ground-footrints for the team headed toward the ship. They had been made only moments ago. The unusual thing about it was that at a certain distance from the ship he could see the imprints they had left in the ash when they had departed earlier and yet closer to the Equinox there weren't any. Somehow they had been covered up, but only close to the ship.

The ramp tapped the ground behind Kale and the others began to walk up toward the entry way door. Insight suddenly hit as Kale turned to see the opening in the ship.

"Wynn! Close the door now!!"

The dark ash on the ground all around the ship burst upward in a great cloud that instantly cut visibility to zero. Men formed from the molecular contents of the living fog. Shots could be heard from inside the ship as the others left onboard reacted to the breech by the Agonotti.

A man formed in front of Kale as he ran blindly toward the sounds of battle. He ignited two kemsticks and continued running right for the attacker. Kale blocked several strikes and then he took the wraith down. Someone else stood behind him. Kale reacted but this one got a hit in knocking Kale to the ground. He rolled and recovered with his weapon at the ready.

The cloud spent itself birthing the physical forms of Agonotti warriors. Kale saw the others from the boarding team engaged in the fight to defend the ship. These dark warriors had come well-armed like those they had run from only three months before. The Agonotti use weaponry formed from their matrix.

Explosive shells sailed into the fray from down the street. Agonotti torso's exploded and shadowy wraiths fell dead in the street with each good hit. Kale's team members sought cover behind any debris available as the children who had captured them earlier reigned down a firestorm against the ghost-like Agonotti warriors.

Kale looked back at the ship to see the prophet standing in the entryway with his staff in his hand. He owned a confidence that didn't come from faith in man's efforts. When he spoke, his voice rose above even the exploding shells coming down all around them.

"Here the Logostus of the Eternal One, ye cursed and fallen from Mithrium!"

The words ignited a thunderclap that boomed throughout the city. The battlefield suddenly became quiet as all attention turned to the prophet. Kale noticed about forty Agonotti warriors still standing and another twenty lying on the ground beginning to lose their physical forms and turning to vapor again.

"Does a mere man speak for the Eternal One?" said an Agonotti warrior that appeared to be leading the attack group.

Aija turned an eye to him and said, "A mere man, yes, but I trust in Elithias alone."

"Elithias has abandoned you, old man. You should abandon him, and perhaps I will show you mercy."

"You do not know of mercy, neither will it be extended to you."

The Agonotti warrior sneered at the prophet and walked toward him with his great battle axe raised to strike.

"Your time is not yet, saith the Logostus!"

The wind suddenly roared through the streets, sending debris and dust through the air like a storm. The Agonotti warrior stopped when he noticed his weapon and his hands losing form and substance.

"The breath of the Eternal One shall take you from us," the prophet said, as the physical forms of the Agonotti disintegrated against their will. In a moment, the Agonotti and the wind that carried them had gone and the streets became quiet again. All eyes focused on the prophet.

"Come little children!" he said to the group down the street. "Do not be afraid. The Lord Elithias is our help and our stay!"

The children began to emerge from their hiding places among the ruins slinging their weapons as they approached the ship. The boy leader walked among them, but he didn't even glance at Kale or the others-they all were transfixed upon the prophet. Aija greeted them as they made their way up the boarding ramp. "Please, come inside. We will help you. Elithias will protect us."

Kale and the other members of the landing team followed the children as they entered the ship. As Kale's team came near, Aija turned his attention to them. "Gentlemen, I'm pleased to see you well. Come, we must talk."


The shields remained at maximum, just in case the Agonotti returned. It had been quite difficult to fit one hundred children and adolescents into the Equinox. Every corner seemed to be packed to the max. They had decided to leave the stench of death in Sector City for a more remote area. Aija meant to speak to everyone at once and considering the situation, they needed sufficient room and some place where a surprise attack was less likely.

The Equinox had been cruising through the atmosphere at approximately thirty thousand feet to try and avoid being spotted by gazing eyes. A remote area had been spotted-a grassy area with a lot of open space. They had decided to set the ship down and assemble for Aija's address. Anything the prophet had to say was worth hearing, but especially under these circumstances when direction from the Almighty was anxiously awaited.

The ship settled on the grassy plain, pressing down great swathes of greenery under its landing skids. The ramp lowered and people poured out into the fresh air and sunshine. It smelled of recent rain. Everyone was glad to escape the cramped confines of the ship. They moved out into the field wading through the tall grass, stretching their legs-some of the children chased one another.

Tiet and Mirah walked outside and mingled among the children. It had been Merab and Jael who had protected the ship while he was under sedation. That would be the last time he allowed his wife to give him something for pain. He was the king and he had a responsibility to protect his family and his people, no matter how few.

These children, they were his responsibility now. He had to protect them somehow from the fate of their parents. Tiet looked out across them to see his own son standing not far away. Kale watched the ship, waiting for the prophet to emerge and speak. Emil stood with him.

Kale and Emil remained good friends and excellent warriors. Tiet was proud of them both. Kale seemed especially taken with Aija. He had always longed to know more of Elithias, but Tiet hadn't known more to tell him. Having grown up without his own father and training under Orin all those years had been more mechanical than spiritual and Tiet simply didn't have as much knowledge of the scripture as he would have liked. The Logostus had been lost to his people during the war and according to Aija's preaching, the Gunirans had been the ones preserving it.

Tiet had felt relief after committing himself to Elithias through the pajet, but Kale seemed invigorated. The young man was stoked for the fight ahead. It made Tiet proud, but worried him more. What was in store for his son in this war? What would Elithias make of him-a martyr or a conqueror? Either way, he knew Kale would fly full force into it and not look back. That scared him.


When Aija emerged, Grod and Merab stood beside him. All eyes found him. Now, they would see. What did The Eternal One have in store for them?

When he spoke, all ears heard. "I know you all must be anxious to know what's going on and for the crew of the Equinox, why we are here on Draconis. The Lord Elithias has led you here, my King, because judgment is about to fall on the enemies of man. The Mithri that left their first habitation have been in existence for millennia under a curse from the Eternal One."

Everyone remained motionless. Mithri? What was going on? How could this all be happening? Facing the Baruk and the symbyte takeover of Castai-Rex-these were bad enough, but cursed Mithri? How could it get worse from here?

"The Agonotti that have been ravaging this world are in fact that host of rebels, cursed to half physical forms and allowed to prey upon man because of man's unwillingness to turn and believe on Elithias," the prophet said.

It was inconceivable-man being punished on this planet by the Agonotti. Kale was astonished. He could not grasp the fact he had been facing off with Mithrial beings.

"In their cursed state and partial dependence upon physical forms, the Eternal One has made these Mithri vulnerable to attack, and once killed their spirits are reserved for the final judgment," Aija continued. "Now, that the balance of power here has been disrupted, they have run amok and caused this destruction. Elithias will soon end it."

Murmuring filtered among the group now. The news of Elithias' intervention on man's behalf was so welcome to them after the pain they had all endured. They could barely contain shouts of joy.

"There is more, much more." Everyone stilled their excitement to listen. "My King, the takeover on Castai was not merely a symbiotic organism. This was the Wicked One himself, Lucin."

That name brought chills crawling up and down Kale's spine. Lucin's reputation as the enemy of Elithias and man had survived even with the loss of the Logostus to them.

Kale realized that he had been a pawn to the archenemy of the Eternal One.

"Lucin was cursed to exist among men in the form of the symbyte creature. He had been jealous of the creation of man and rebelled against Elithias. The Lord made him to bear existence from within a human host from that point on. Once again, Lucin's power among his hosts has tipped the balance point with his takeover of those on Castai. Elithias has put a hook in his mouth to draw him here and bring an end to his dominance…but not to him, not yet. my King, you must lead an army against the Agonotti."


Now, Tiet had to respond. He looked around at his supposed army-a few left of his crew and family and a group of one hundred adolescents and children. "Aija, this is no army. These are only children and there are thousands of Agonotti-we're hopelessly outnumbered."

Aija gave a stern look that reminded Tiet who was really in control. "The Eternal One will provide you an army, my King. You must trust Him."

Tiet felt scolded and appropriately so. Aija reached a hand for someone standing back behind him. A young boy emerged to join the prophet. It was the boy leader that had held his son captive in the basement level of one of the abandoned buildings back in Sector City.

"Young Jayce has provided me with information concerning a resistance movement underway here on Draconis. He will take you to their leader and you will find your army among them. Elithias will provide, but the battle will not be easily won. Within the Logostus is found the prophecy of the empty hand. The prophecy tells of one who will come to fight against the rebellious host and shall defeat them with no weapon in his hand. He will be the rod of Elithias' judgment. The power of Lucin's hold on your people shall be destroyed and the Agonotti will be carried away and reserved for judgment."

"So you're saying I will be victorious over them?" Tiet asked.

Aija looked at the king. Then his eyes turned to look at Kale. "The rod of Elithias' judgment will be victorious, my King."

This satisfied Tiet, even if Aija still sounded a bit cryptic in his replies

"There is no time for delay," Aija said. "You must get underway to the place that Jayce will lead you." Aija walked down the ramp and through the crowd. Tiet stepped to him, meeting his son and Emil there as well.

"Where are you going?" Tiet asked. "You talk like you're not going with us."

"I can't go with you, my King. The Lord has called me to depart to a place apart in order to intercede for you."

Kale spoke up and said, "But we can't-"

"Master Kale, you must go on without me for now. I will see you again, when it is time. Remember that the arm of the flesh will fail, but when hope seems gone, pray."

The prophet is certainly mysterious, if nothing else, thought Tiet. The promise of victory comforted him. Aija walked on past them. "We'll see you when you return, Aija," Tiet said.

Aija paused, but did not turn. Then he continued on through the children and proceeded to walk beyond the group through the tall grass stalks toward the hills in the distance.

"I can't believe we have to go on without him," Kale said.

"We'll just have to trust Elithias," Tiet said. "Let's get everyone onboard. Like the man said, we don't have time to waste."


Lucin felt the dull roar of the Vorn cruiser's engines throughout the entire ship. He lay on the bed in his quarters, but he could not sleep. His fleet remained twenty four hours away from planet Draconis and his prey. That's where they would be. He knew it. Time was growing short and the prophecy said Draconis would be the place. He had seen the Logostus many times. It was engraved upon his mind. But it would end up differently than the Eternal One intended-at least this time.

He stood and walked over to the large transparisteel view-port at the rear of the compartment. The starscape spread out before him into the distance. The massive transport ships that had been retrieved from old Vorn stockpiles were capable of carrying up to two hundred and fifty thousand people-they were little more than engines and crew carrier pods that could be dropped from orbit and take troops to the surface. They had been used by the Vorn for invasion purposes when sending their armies to Castai many years ago. He had a total of four allowing him to transport the majority of the remaining population as his new symbyte army.

The transports were useless for atmospheric fighting and too heavy to escape gravity under their own power-built, launched, and used in space only. Fortunately, Lucin still had six Vorn warships at his disposal.

He felt restless. This mortal form-this creature he was forced to be made him cringe with disgust. He wasn't meant to be this way. He had been so beautiful-adored by the host of Mithrium and a favorite of the Eternal One. It was an injustice for him to be reduced to this, but Lucin planned to reclaim his former glory and rise above Elithias in adoration upon these mortal worlds.

He realized Mithrium would never be his, but these created worlds, they would be his to rule forever. Without men to redeem, the Lord would have to leave it alone or destroy the existence of man and surely he wasn't willing to do that. Perhaps, Lucin thought, I might even be able to convince the greater portion of those that have not rebelled with me to finally take their places at my side and know true freedom. He had convinced many before-perhaps it would be possible again.

Dirge had always been an upstart. To think he had actually assumed leadership in Lucin's absence. How presumptuous his brother had been, how naive. Lucin had quite enjoyed the matter of using the boy, Kale, to assassinate the Agonotti leader. He would have his place of leadership among his brethren restored soon enough, but he still wanted the boy. He couldn't assimilate him again, but he could have revenge and remove a key power among the humans. Lucin stretched out his hands before him and the knuckles popped.

This mortal form was not nearly as useful for his needs as the boy could have been. His host body, the man Zurig had never been a warrior. He had always been a politician. The uniform he wore now was more window dressing than anything. Lucin still needed a real warrior of the highest degree, but he wasn't sure who qualified.

Lucin looked out through mortal eyes at the universe beyond the transparisteel. How he longed to stretch his glorious wings again and take flight among the stars. To know no boundaries, no limitations-if this mortal flesh was anything, it was a prison. Perhaps he might bargain with the Elithias-mankind in return for the restoration of his former glory. Lucin caught sight of his own reflection in the window, but it was only the pale reflection of mortal flesh and nothing of his former glory in Mithrium. He clenched his fist and shook it, spitting out words of venomous accusation at the unseen Eternal One through locked teeth. "Look what you have done to me."


Ramah struggled with her heavy load. She pushed a cart of food from the fields back to where it would be prepared for the others. Thousands of other women worked in the fields guarded by the Agonotti. They grew and harvested from fields she did not recognize. They had once belonged to someone, but now they were gone-either the owners were prisoners somewhere, or they had already been killed.

She had a good life once, but the months since the Guardians had been defeated by the outlanders had been the terror of everyone on Draconis. Many thousands had died during wave after wave of Agonotti attacks upon the cities. Many others, both men and women, had been captured for their nefarious plans for the future.

Ramah was seventeen. Her normally thin figure had become boney mostly due to the constant hard labor and lack of food. The sun had darkened her bronze skin further and her raven hair was long and ungroomed.

Ramah wheeled the cart on toward the warehouse compound where their group was being fed. In another building her small sleeping quarters had been a place where animals had been kept and now the tiny stalls were used for the breeders. There were no beds, only straw to sleep upon. The Agonotti treated them like cattle and that was all she could look forward to for the rest of her life-working for in the fields for her conquerors.

Today, something was happening in the ruins just over the rise from their compound. Various clouds of Agonotti had been arriving separately and descending into the ancient amphitheatre that remained mostly uncovered. This is very unusual, she thought as she continued on inside with her cargo under the watchful eyes of a nearby Agonotti guard.


Vock sat high upon the stone terrace that served as seating for the ancient amphitheatre. He had his back to one of the pylons that were located every one hundred feet around the high outer perimeter. He didn't like to leave his back exposed. It wasn't wise to do so with his fellow Agonotti about. Vock considered himself smarter than most and he had seen the deception and murder among their ranks in the past. Down below, he watched one of his old friends approaching.

"Teran? It's good to see you again."

"I had expected to find you down there competing for the position of leadership," Teran said.

"Not I."

"But you would do well," Teran said as he passed through the ranks of Agonotti seated around them and sat down next to Vock. "After all, you were once second only to Lucin himself."

"Exactly. I have no intention of presenting myself as such an obvious target," Vock said.

"Well, I suppose. Who do you think we'll be the victor?"


"But he's not even from among your group."

Vock leaned in close to Teran and spoke very low to his fellow Agonotti. "Oric-tal is quite vicious. The lord of my group is not nearly so brutal-I expect him to be destroyed in this contest."

Below Vock and Teran, on the ground level, five Agonotti lords walked out into the arena. The contest for leadership would be decided today and the various independent groups of Agonotti would be united. Each of the lords took their place at equidistant spaces on the arena floor and a frightening transformation began to take place. The Agonotti lords became mist and quickly reformed themselves into warriors fit for battle.

Their exoskeletons formed devilish armor plating with spikes protruding and their heads became covered with helmets in like manner; all formed from their own molecular structure. Great weapons formed as living appendages in their hands and some had shields upon the other arm. Oric-tal held a mace in one hand with a cord upon it nearly six feet in length, hoping to destroy his opponents at some distance.

Watching from above, Teran pointed out Oric-tal to his friend Vock. "It won't take long now."

"Perhaps, but have you noticed what's been happening to us recently?"

"What do you mean, Vock?"

"Our strength, it's been growing; haven't you noticed it?"

"I suppose so. I just didn't really pay attention. We've always had a fairly easy time culling from among the humans. If we are getting stronger, what's causing it?"

"That, my friend, is what I would like to find out. Something is definitely changing and this contest may be more enlightening than expected."

"I had hoped that my lord Haisn might be the victor. I don't relish the idea of following Oric-tal," Teran said.

"And who says you will be?"

"We have all agreed to follow the winner. Aren't you going to, Vock?"

"Of course, but I only said Oric-tal would defeat those down there with him in the arena. I don't expect him to be the winner of this contest."

"What are you saying?"

"Oric-tal is a fool. He's mighty in strength, but we need more-we need wisdom."

"But we control the planet now-"

Vock looked at him with disgust, almost raising his voice above the level he intended. "Is this all you want, Teran? To be the conquerors of a few weak humans-has your desire been driven from you completely?"

Teran only returned a puzzled look and a shrug of his shoulders saying, "What else is there for us now? We are cursed by the Eternal One."

Vock looked around with his eyes. The other Agonotti remained completely engaged with the contest as the five lords entered into separate battles with one another on the arena floor below. Vock looked back to Teran. "This is a curse, true," he said clutching his raiment. "We once walked among all the worlds of creation-we were meant for much greater things-"

"But we left our first estate, Vock," Teran grew agitated now. "We are what we are now-better to forget the past and make the best of what we have left."

On the battlefield below, Oric-tal charged at one of his opponents. The Agonotti lord, Zoe, somersaulted over him, but Oric swung back in expectation with his heavy spiked mace and met the warrior there. The spikes plunged into him finding purchase through a joint in his armament. Oric-tal did not wait to see the result. He pulled his prey back to him on the end of the spiked ball and dealt the deathblow.

Vock and Teran were drawn into the battle away from their conversation as the first Agonotti lord began to disintegrate upon the battlefield. "Only four of them left," Teran said.

"Yes, only four…" Vock leaned back against the pylon with his arms folded pretending to take interest in the fight. Teran continued to watch and then turned back to Vock. He leaned in toward Vock this time and said, "Alright, what else is there?"


"Mithrium? Now, I know you're crazy," Teran said. But Vock's smug look said he wasn't joking in the least.


Oric-tal moved on to the others as the battle for supremacy continued. He took on two opponents at a time as they joined together to overcome him. Rane and Palice exchanged blows with their powerful Agonotti brother. Oric morphed his mace into a whip and snapped it around Rane's arm. With as much force as he could muster, Oric sent him flying into Palice as he charged. They tumbled across the ground trying to recover as Oric pounced on them and dispatched both without mercy.


"Haisn is the only one left with Oric," Teran declared.

"And Haisn will lose," Vock said confidently.

"So why do you seem so happy? You said Oric was a fool."

Vock leaned in again, speaking quietly as he looked on at the two contestants about to square off on the battlefield. "Watch Oric."

Teran watched as Oric-tal huffed and gulped at the air while stalking toward Haisn. His whip morphed into a great battle axe in his hand.

"What about him?"

"He's fighting in a physical form and subject to its infirmities."

Teran studied him again. "He's getting tired."


The two Agonotti lords, Oric-tal and Haisn, charged at one another. A fierce exchange followed. Haisn struck furiously at Oric, but could not drive him back.

"And-" Teran baited.

"And, he's going to win, but before Oric can proclaim himself the new leader, a challenger is going to come forward according to our right," Vock said.

"And that challenger will be fresh for the fight?"

"Exactly, my friend."

"But can this challenger beat him? Oric is quite fierce."

"What no one seems to realize is that we have been getting stronger, but not in the physical-in the spiritual. I can't explain it, but I have been experimenting. Our former glory, in part, is returning."

Teran looked stunned.

"Now, Teran, do you suppose our brothers would follow such a one that brought them this revelation?"

"Oh, they would indeed."

Oric and Haisn grappled below them on the arena floor. The entire crowd of Agonotti warriors cheered for their respective favorite to come out the winner. Then the two toppled to the ground each struggling to get the dominant position. Oric got it and he used it quickly. He plunged a weapon into his foe and Haisn moved no more.

Oric-tal got up from the ground leaving his Agonotti brother to disintegrate behind him as he presented himself before the crowd as the winner.

"Now is the time." Vock stood to his feet and stepped out from where he and Teran had been sitting. He looked back at Teran. "If you trust me, brother, and still desire the old glory, then back me up when the time seems right."

And with that, he turned and walked down through the cheering crowd of Mithri in their cursed physical forms and proceeded onto the battlefield toward Oric-tal. Oric had not noticed Vock approaching yet.


Oric waved his hands in victory toward the crowd, but the cheering turned to murmuring very quickly with fingers pointing into the arena. He turned to find Vock approaching him from behind-unarmed, but still daring to approach. The council members designated to judge the contest, and representing all of the five groups of Agonotti on the planet, stood as they recognized him. He had reputation and respect among many, but he had never acted so aggressive.

"What are you doing, Vock?" Oric shouted as he turned to point his weapon.

Vock did not speak to him. Instead he addressed the council above them. "I claim the right to challenge!"

Oric's faced burned with fury. "Do you think you can actually win? Turn around now and walk away. I may show leniency toward you when I am Leader."

"I claim the right!" Vock said again to the council.

They looked at one another, considering the request. Oric watched them half hoping they would consent to it. He still thirsted for a kill.

"It is your right!" the head of the council proclaimed at last.

Oric immediately rushed Vock before he could morph any weapons or armament from his form. But when his battle axe found its target, it split only the wind. Oric had charged right through him. Vock reintegrated so fast that he was able to smash his locked fists across Oric's back as he passed.

Oric stood stunned. None of them could do that; at least not that fast. Oric charged his opponent again, swinging as he approached, but Vock pulled away through the air, his feet hovering elegantly just above the ground with a confident grin on his face. He remained just out of reach as Oric ran at him swinging wildly.

"How? How are you doing that?!" Oric shouted as he halted in frustration.

"You aren't worthy to lead this great host, Oric," Vock said as he touched the ground again.

Oric shouted a cry of war as he thought to charge again, but it was cut short. Vock thrust his hands into the air at his Agonotti brother. A force unseen smashed into Oric and yet held it him in his place. With a thought, Vock caused the ground to erupt before his rival. The rock thrust upward and pounded Oric's stunned physical form. He reeled away landing in a heap twenty feet from where it hit him. His eyes remained open, but he didn't move again. Soon Oric-tal's physical form vaporized like those felled by his own hand.

No one spoke. Vock did not wait for the stunned audience to cheer him or the council to proclaim him the victor.

"Brothers, we have been changing in recent days, but we have been very unaware of it! What you have witnessed here today is part of this change. I believe it may be a return to some of our former power and glory!"

A pin could have been heard hitting the old stone comprising the arena floor as he paused. "We are not meant for this," he pleaded as he pulled at his garments. "We are nobler than these physical forms we have been confined to."

A positive reaction swept noticeably through the crowd. "We still have power. We still have some means to get back what we have lost," Vock continued.

His pleading turned almost to accusation. "Is this all you desire? Have you not longed for the power-the glory we once knew before the worlds were?" The reaction gained strength, turning toward resolution, and then to desire unrealized as an evil hope sprouted among the words he spoke.

"Follow me!" he commanded. "I will lead you back to the glory we once knew-glory and power that are already beginning to return to our kind. We just haven't realized it."

The crowd of Agonotti before him erupted into cheers. Now, he could put his plan into action.


The dank atmosphere in the caves almost choked them. Taking a breath seemed like drowning. "Do these people actually live in this environment?" Emil asked.

"It's just this area. We're near hot springs that run through these mountains," Jayce said from up ahead.

His lantern lit the way to guide them. Tiet found it more difficult to maneuver than most. The contorting to move around in the tight spaces rekindled the pain of his injuries. Mirah remained faithfully at his side helping him. Occasionally he had to pause to catch his breath.

Kale looked back at him-watching his father panting for breath. He felt a pang of guilt. He had been the cause of this. Lucin had used Kale to bring his own father to this state.

Tiet caught his stare and appeared to shrug a little with a quiet smile as he gulped in air. Kale turned back quickly to the path and caught up to the others. What could he say?

Tiet looked at Mirah the light began to fade from her face. "He's still letting this eat away at him."

"What do you expect?" she whispered. "You would worry the same way if you were him."

He nodded. She was right. He straightened up as much as possible in the cramped quarters and went after the others with Mirah following.

"I guess its easier being a kid for this kind of stuff," Jayce said as he paused to make sure the king was still with them.

"He'd be ahead of all of us, if it weren't for me," Kale said.

"Kale, that's not true," Emil said. "I was there and you had no control over what happened. It would have been the same for any of us."

Jayce's interest in the full details of the story peeked, but this wasn't the time to ask questions about the king's injuries. He continued on through the winding passages like one who had made the journey many times. "It won't be much longer; maybe an hour more. The air gets better up ahead," Jayce said.

The rest of the children under Jayce's leadership had remained with the Equinox. Grod and Jael had stayed with them, just in case. They had taken the precaution of moving the ship into an area of dense foliage and then had set about covering it as much as possible with vegetation.

Tiet might have stayed as well to keep healing up, but stubbornness prevailed. If he was to lead the underground movement into an attack on the Agonotti then he had to be present to meet and negotiate with them. Anything less would be perceived as weakness.


CHLOE inched nearer to the woman working next to her. She glanced cautiously at the Agonotti guard posted over the field. He wasn't looking at them. She moved closer and the other woman moved closer to her as well.

"Ramah?" she whispered. "What's happening? I heard the shouting and cheering from the arena."

"I didn't get that close. It sounds like they have all shown up for something important though." She continued to dig and seed the ground as she darted between the guard posts with her eyes. "They seemed very excited about something that's happened there."


"Yes, some of them were actually smiling when they began to leave the arena."

"I've never seen any of them do that."

"Neither have I. Whatever is going on, it's not going to be good for us."

The Agonotti guard turned toward them from the short tower between fields. They dug again, looking only at the ground, not at him and not at each other. They began to inch away as they continued seeding the ground on their knees. Ramah's back ached from the constant hard labor.

The guard stepped down from his perch and began to walk slowly in their direction. The women didn't dare raise their heads to look at him, but they saw his feet shuffling the dirt-definitely coming toward them.

The Agonotti guard stood there, staring down at them both for a moment, but did not say a word-they rarely did speak to humans. The women continued with their work as though nothing were amiss. Terror raced through them both.

Then the Agonotti guard snatched Chloe up by her throat and hoisted her into the air. Ramah became still, her hands still covered in dirt and a digging tool in one. She thought of using the tool as a weapon. But that would get both of them killed for sure.

Chloe struggled in his grasp, trying to breathe. Her hands wrapped around his wrist trying to support her own weight and prevent her neck from breaking. As the guard lowered her to eye level she looked into his face. He had the look-the nightmarish look of a predator about to tear into his captured prey. She saw no mercy in those black pools, no regret, not even a notion of afterthought; only bloodlust.

An explosion shook the ground. They turned to find several fireballs rising above the area near the ancient arena. Within seconds each concussive aftershock reached them in the fields.

The guard tossed Chloe aside without further consideration and shot away toward the battle, faster than any mortal. Ramah went to help the young woman as she groaned from the fall. At least she was alive. She saw several small fighters diving in and around the warehouse area. Tendrils of dark vapor rose to engage the attackers. The Agonotti cloud grew quickly as more fighters buzzed in from the hills beyond the compound.

"What's happening?"

"I think the rebels are attacking," Ramah said.

"I've heard of some who were fighting the Agonotti, but never have seen any of them," Chloe said rubbing her throat.

A low hum quickly grew in intensity coming up from behind them. They turned to find ten larger transports flying in low over the fields. The side compartment doors slid back revealing armed men and women motioning with their arms for the women in the fields to hurry to the transports.

"They're coming to rescue us!" Ramah shouted. "Come on!"

The two women ran as hard as they could, their bare feet slugging through the loose soil of their planting. Women swarmed in from every area of the fields trying to reach one of the nearby ships.

Desperation overpowered every ounce of pain Ramah felt. Her legs and her back ached, but she did not care. If it killed her to reach one of those ships, at least she would die among people, free from her murderous captors.

Ramah heard explosions bursting back at the compound area behind her. She didn't have time to look. Her only hope hovered about four feet off of the ground in front of her. Other women climbed in ahead of her-would there still be room? There would have to be-she would cling to the landing skids when it took off if she had to.

When Ramah got to the ship, she pushed her way through several other women, all of them trying frantically to get onboard. One of the men grabbed her and hauled her up into the transport bay as another fired the gun turret. The available room grew smaller by the second and Ramah saw the Agonotti running back toward them.

The Agonotti carried human weapons and fired them at the transport ships as they approached. There had no more time to rescue anyone else-the Agonotti cloud closed on them as well.

Ramah saw small groups of women groping after the ships as they began to lift off, carrying as many people as they could. Beyond the open door and the turret gunner, Ramah saw Chloe clamoring for the hull as the ship rose beyond her reach. Her heart sank as her friend clawed the metal hull-screaming for them to wait. Ramah hear her voice above the other pitiful cries as their hope slipped up and away from their grasp.

Shots clattered around inside the cabin as the men tried to get the compartment door shut. One of the men was hit and fell forward to the ground below. A woman next to Ramah was hit then spun in a daze with blood streaming down her face and neck. She collapsed into a heap at Ramah's feet. The women cried and screamed as they tried to duck down inside the compartment to avoid the gunfire chasing them into the sky. The men shouted orders at one another.

Finally they got the door closed. More shots clanged into the metal hull, but none seemed to penetrate. The pilot whipped the ship around, throwing the passengers to the deck that weren't holding onto the stability handles dangling by cables from the ceiling. He pushed the throttle hard and the transport engines groaned carrying them away from the Agonotti's slave fields.

The gunfire dissipated and some cheered as they blasted away from the former danger. Ramah sat quietly. She closed her eyes and tried to catch her breath. Chloe was still back there. If she was lucky, they had killed her and the others quickly for trying to escape. Otherwise, only day to day terror remained for them.

Ramah listened to the engines as the whole ship trembled with the force of them. It was like being cradled in a strong father's arms as far as she was concerned. Ramah's exhaustion quickly caught up to her and for the first time in many months, she felt like she might actually be able to sleep soundly.


LUCIN requested again for the computer to lower the temperature in the cabin. It was already registering fifty six degrees and his breath had begun to hang in the air. He had not been able to pinpoint the cause of his temperature increase, but his host body was definitely changing and becoming stronger.

Lucin also felt his spiritual power returning in part. He posed in front of the mirror, observing his own movements. He struck at the air with several lightning fast flurries-his movements barely perceptible as blurs. Was it their approach to the planet Draconis? He couldn't be sure yet. But he knew it as the keeping place for his fallen brethren.

He and they were more powerful together than apart, but not quite powerful enough to overturn the council of The Eternal One. No measure of power could ever compare to the infinite, but there were other ways of fighting-smaller victories could be gained apart from the war itself. There were many places under Mithrium that might be his to control.

Lucin called with his mind and a weapon leapt from the table nearby to his waiting hand. His power had definitely increased. Lucin pulled the weapon from its sheath, watching the reflection of the metal as the light played upon its surface. The surges in power he felt were quite real and very deadly. The Barudii he hunted would not survive their next encounter. The king among these men would be struck down as a dog before him.

The thought occurred to him just then, that perhaps with his own power growing and the entire host of fallen Mithri residing on Draconis, he had a greater army than this human one waiting for him to arrive and lead them. But would the Mithri receive him in this man's body. If they will not, he thought, then I will battle my Mithri brethren until every last human under my will has fallen…but cunning is a far better weapon.

If he could merge these great armies of fallen Mithri and men, then nothing would stand in his way of total domination. Lucin tapped the intercom panel on the wall next to him. "Commander, how long until we reach Draconis orbit?"

"Two hours, sir."

"Have all squads prep for a full offensive upon our arrival. We will deploy outside of Sector City," commanded Lucin.

"Yes, sir, preparations will be made."

Lucin tapped the switch again and looked out the view port toward the stars beyond and said, "You have made your throne in Mithrium, but I will yet establish my own."


They came to an underground hangar of some sort, ancient in construction, but very recent in use. Tiet liked the air quality better in here. A breeze circulated through a network of vent tunnels in the walls and ceiling of the cavern.

"Jayce, where are they?" Tiet asked.

"It looks like they've gone on a raid."

"Raiding what?" Wynn asked.

"Agonotti outposts-we rescue slaves."

Emil looked puzzled. "Slaves?"

"Many people are forced to work the fields. The Agonotti use men like cattle," explained Jayce. "Alec-that's the leader here-he says those devils are breeding their own food supply."

The group looked solemnly at one another. "That would go along with the deal the Guardians had with them," Kale said as he tapped on his forearm computer display. He scanned the integrity of the huge underground chamber.

"But they can't just feed without replenishing their resources," Wynn said. "They're breeding men like cattle for the slaughter."

"That wall over there," Emil said as he walked past them glancing down at his own computer display. "There's a very strong reading of temporal displacement throughout this entire side of the cavern."

"These readings look just like the kind of residuals a transgate leaves behind," Kale said as he joined his friend in his survey.

"There's a whole network. That's how they get from one base to another and make their strikes," Jayce explained.

"How extensive is this network, Jayce?" Tiet asked.

"We have a number of bases all over the continent."

"Sooner or later, the Agonotti will figure out a way to infiltrate your network and once they gain use of your transgates then you will have no place to hide," Wynn said.

"How many rebels are there?" Tiet asked.

"I'm not sure, maybe ten thousand. Plus, there are the people we've been able to rescue, but many of them are women and some of them are with child," Jayce said.

"And where are those women?" asked Mirah. "Do they have any medical care?"

"I'm not sure Ma'am. I don't see them very often, but I think they're hidden away together somewhere. I've heard Alec talking about them a little."

Tiet glanced at his wife just behind him. She remained ready to care for the hurting. She could never be relegated to a mere female. In the most difficult situations, she always stood to the task as a physician first-her confidence always unwavering and he loved her more for it.

"This is going to be difficult," said Tiet. "I'd say they already outnumber us, just by the Agonotti we saw when we fled the planet a few months ago."

"With the right strategy, sometimes numbers don't always mean victory," said Wynn, scratching his short white beard.

"-and in this situation?"

Wynn looked right at the king and said, "I have no idea how we can overcome what we are facing."


The rest of the group turned to Kale. He looked over the cavern wall next to Emil, still tapping on his display. Kale looked up wondering at the sudden silence. "The Pajet-we have committed ourselves to Elithias and he will guide our steps," he said matter-of-factly as though it should have been obvious to all of them.

Wynn smiled and looked at Tiet. He knew Kale was right and they should have known that fact already. Kale returned to his computations. He really is unconcerned. Tiet marveled at the faith of his son and realized at that moment that Kale was much stronger than he had ever been. When leadership had been needed against the Baruk he had resisted. When forgiveness had been asked by his brother, he had withheld it until the man's dying moment. Even when Elithias had revealed himself through Aija's preaching, he had hesitated.

But Kale was not that way. He remained steadfast and sure, not only in his own ability, but in his unshakeable faith in Elithias. That was the key. Kale would be a much greater king than he had ever been, because he believed beyond the present circumstances in The Eternal One who holds all things in his grasp.

Suddenly Tiet felt peace in his soul like he had not known since kneeling with Aija in the assembly hall back on Kosiva. Whatever must happen, Elithias remained in control and they were safe in him forever.


VOCK cast a cold glance toward his Agonotti brothers standing downcast before him. "You left your post and we lost a hundred breeders."

The Agonotti warriors said nothing and did not meet his gaze. "What do you say for yourselves?" asked Vock.

Out of five, one spoke up. "We only meant to respond to the attack back at the compound."

"What you meant to do is exactly what they wanted you to do. They meant to rescue some of their own by creating a diversion." Vock stood right in front of the Agonotti warrior that had answered. "And you were diverted, weren't you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Humans outwitting a great host of Mithri-this must stop now!"

He looked up to see his scouts returning to the front of the main group in the arena. "And, what have you learned?"

"The mountains to the northeast-they retreated into a large passage there. When we followed, we found only rock."

"That's where we shall attack."

"But, sir, we-"

"If they flew ships in there, then they have a way through somehow and we will put every effort to discovering it," said Vock, "We will make crushing this rebellion among the humans our highest priority for the moment."

The Agonotti present in the arena nodded their approval of their new leader. Vock was very wise and cunning and they all knew it from his days when he had counseled Lucin-only the forces of The Eternal One had been too much for them.

"I want those of you guarding the fields to remain at your posts this time. Our brothers from the four corners are yet to arrive to celebrate our coming together in unity under one leader, but we will go on without them and squash this human rebellion before it causes us any more problems," said Vock.

And with that, Vock surrendered his physical form and rose up with the others. They became a mass of suspended molecules and the Agonotti cloud took form again. They moved away quickly from the arena and compound area, heading northeast. Time to deal with the lower order of creation, once and for all.


THE wall flashed with light and the hum of engines began to rise. They could feel the reverberations as ships came into view in the transgate portal.

"They're returning!" said Jayce.

Tiet turned to catch his son's eye-Kale took the cue and signaled the same cautious intent wordlessly to Emil. In a moment the boys were already gone; hidden away in the hangar somewhere-just in case.

Tiet and the others cleared away from the landing area of the hangar floor. Within moments the rock wall was penetrated by a number of large ships coming through the gate, followed by nine smaller fighter craft. The howling of the turbines was amplified a hundred times over in the cavern. The wind whipped up into miniature whirlwinds all across the hangar floor as the freighters extended their skids and settled down quickly onto the pavement.

When the side doors slid back, a man and a woman were behind the first with weapons trained on Tiet and his group. Jayce stepped forward quickly with his hands up telling them, "These people are with me, don't be alarmed."

Tiet noticed more people gathering from the other ships with their weapons at the ready also. They were being encircled quickly. The boys were still out of sight. They wouldn't move unless absolutely necessary. Tiet wondered how well he would be able to fight right now if he had to-his injuries were still limiting his activity quite a bit.

Wynn noticed the ships carried quite a few unarmed women as well. Some of them were with child and all of them looked like they had been laboring somewhere. Grass and dirt matted the fronts of their long skirts right where the knees would have pinned the garments to the ground beneath.

Wynn felt confident. He felt limber and ready to defend the king if necessary. But he didn't perceive any unwarranted hostility among these rebels. They were conducting rescue raids and surely their small group didn't appear to offer much threat if these rebels were fighting the Agonotti.

"Alec, this is King Tiet Soone of the Barudii," said Jayce to the first man that had gotten off of the transport ship.

"King? I didn't think there had been a king since the betrayal of King Isic before we were all born." Alec appeared cynical rather than glad to see them and said, "I thought all of the Barudii were dead, along with all the others left fighting the Vorn on Castai."

"We're from the twin Castai," said Tiet. "We came from across the rift where my father Kale Soone was the king before me."

"The king has ruled on the Castai on this side of the rift for fifteen years now," interrupted Wynn. "There was peace between Vorn and Castillian clans all that time during his rule."

"Peace-with the Vorn?" said Alec with a cautious glance at Merab's dark skin.

"Yes. The Vorn military was defeated as well as the Baruk who came to their aid," said Wynn. "We had peace until the infiltration of another being, believed to be the Mithri Lucin himself in some physical manifestation."

"What?!" Alec was taken aback by that possibility. The name of Lucin was well known as the enemy of Elithias-he was the Fallen One. The others with Alec were all looking very puzzled by the tale. "Why should we believe any of this?" asked Alec.

"A prophet of Elithias, Aija, told us of these prophecies from the Logostus," interrupted Kale as he appeared from behind Alec. "Now, you will understand, sir, that if I had wanted your life, I could very well have had it. My father, the king, has come to help you. He has been sent by the prophet to lead you against the Agonotti and Lucin himself."

"Are you completely mad? Fight against the slanderer himself?" said Alec.

"Elithias is with us," said Emil as he appeared from behind another group of the rebels.

"The boy is right," reiterated Tiet. "The Lord's prophet of the last days has commissioned us by the prophecies to lead the people of Draconis against these cursed spirits. They indwell the physical forms of the Agonotti, because of the curse of Elithias upon them and they can be defeated in those forms."

Tiet stared directly into Alec's eyes. This man was obviously leader among the rebels and his concern for them and the people they had rescued was genuine.

Tiet stepped up to the man, ignoring the rifle barrel that almost touched his chest. "Alec, you don't know me; I realize that. You really may not understand what it is we are telling you-believe me, until we were faced with the prophecies in the Logostus, we didn't understand any of this either. Nevertheless, what we're saying is true and we need your help to fight them."

Alec looked nervous. He eyed his compatriots around him. They seemed as puzzled as he was and they were looking to him to make a decision. He stared back at the king again. This Barudii exuded power he could feel and strangely he wanted to believe him.

Tiet reached a hand out for Alec to take it. After a moment more of indecision, Alec's gun barrel fell and he clasped the Barudii king's hand in agreement.

"I hope you know what you're doing," said Alec.

"So do I, my friend, so do I."


VOCK watched the horizon as a human ship made its way closer to the mountain. His preternatural eyes could make out the details even from this distance. It was a smaller troop transport-the ship could only hold about fifty people at its limit.

Vock turned to his warriors and said, "I have chosen you three for this because you are quick and brutal; proven warriors. I want you to remember our former glory and reach within yourselves for the power that is growing inside us again. Use it well and spare no one. At least one of you must find us a way in. I want access to these rebels. They must be crushed once and for all."

"But how do we-"

"They're hold up inside of a mountain. They still need fresh air to breath and that comes in somewhere, and so can we."

"Yes, sir," they said in unison.

"Go in with that ship covertly and find the rest of us a way."

The Agonotti warriors dissipated before him and their mist like forms whirled away together toward the place where the human ship appeared to be headed for on the mountain's face.

Vock and the others would wait and let them do their work. Then when an entrance was revealed, he would move in and gain access to the rebel's network and destroy them utterly.


AS the transport approached the face of the mountain, the Agonotti intercepted the ship as a mist and clung to its surface. The rocky cliffs came up to meet the transport fast and then with a flash of light they were entering a large underground cavern.

It was lit across the ceiling with the landing pads marked out across the smooth concrete floor. Other ships were already docked inside with quite a few people congregated near the ships sitting nearest to the entryway.

The three Agonotti warriors took form fast, leaping away from the surface of the transport ship. They each landed on the hangar floor ready for battle. Armor plating and weaponry materialized from their molecules as they tore into the people before them with all of the fury they could muster.


TIET hesitated only a moment; a sort of shock to his mental faculties as pure power flashed into being inside the cavern in the forms of the Agonotti. The Draconin rebels were unaffected by it. Their pulse weapons blazed to action against the Agonotti assuming form before them.

The flashing muzzles painted stop motion shadow portraits across the walls as the three warriors became a blur of motion. One of them was right on top of Tiet before he could react. One of the rebels was still firing his rifle as the Agonotti cut him down with a pair of massive tri-bladed claws morphed from his molecular structure. Tiet pulled his blade, but he was back handed before he could activate it.

He fell to the ground as more rebels engaged the Agonotti nightmares. Tiet could sense the others of his party-his son, Wynn and the others all moving in various places within the massive hangar as they fought with the Agonotti warriors.

Was this his fate, he wondered? To lie by the way as others fought the battles in his stead-a half crippled king without a kingdom? No! He fought the pain of his injuries and used his kinesis to get back in the fight.

People were screaming everywhere. Tiet spotted Alec moving some of the rescued women toward a portal at the other end of the hangar. It was a transgate arch embedded in the rock wall. Alec activated the gate as the battle raged and began to move the women through quickly.

The Agonotti were so fast he could hardly keep his eyes planted on them as they shredded through the rebels that were laying down a steady stream of laser fire against them. Kale was trying to fight against one with dual kemsticks whirling in a continuous onslaught of strikes, but he couldn't manage to land anything solid. The amazing thing was that the dispersion field was only doing minimal damage against the Agonotti armor. They were now completely different in their fighting style and ability as compared to the previous encounters a few months before. These fallen Mithri exuded the power implied by what they were.

Wynn and Emil were engaged with another of the three Agonotti warriors in a different area of the chamber as the rate of gunfire became slower and more exact-it just wasn't penetrating their armor.

Tiet launched out against the remaining warrior, almost catching him off guard as he slaughtered more of the gun toting rebels. Tiet struck at the creature, but was blocked by the horrible mutated claws covering each fist. As Tiet fought the creature, he roamed across its form with his mind, trying to discover any weaknesses. There, in the joints between the armor plates.

The warrior forced Tiet back and moved toward the return air vent in the wall behind him. Tiet moved in and struck at him again, but the creature wasn't interested in a fight anymore. He forced Tiet back again and jumped to the vent. His form began to shift again. Tiet hurled his Barudii blade at the target but it sank blade first into the wall behind as the Agonotti became a mist that blew right into the return vent.

Tiet recovered his blade from the wall and looked for the others. Then it occurred to him that the warrior had not been running from him. If he followed the vent out then the other Agonotti, still waiting on the outside of the mountain, could follow it back in. It's a diversion!

"Hurry!" he cried out to Alec, who was still moving escapees through the portal. "They've found a way to get in! The others will be here soon!"

Alec nodded as he urged the women on through at a faster rate. "Everyone evacuate!"

Then, Kale got through with a strike to the armor joint of the Agonotti he was fighting against. The Agonotti warrior howled in agony. Kale followed with a quick set of strikes to other weak spots that were now accessible.

"Father, help the others get through the gate," instructed Kale as he joined Emil fighting the last Agonotti. Wynn joined Tiet as they helped some of the pregnant women through. As the two warriors followed the women through the portal, another underground base was suddenly the setting. Mirah had already come through the gate and she was looking to one woman that had apparently gone into labor during the attack.

"Are you alright?!" Tiet shouted to his wife from across the room.

"Fine. Get the boys through safe!" Mirah said as she continued with the birthing.

Alec came through as Tiet returned to the portal. "That's all of the civilians. Your young men and a few of my men are still fighting the last of them," said Alec.

Tiet ran to the portal and started through. As he appeared on the other side, a huge spiked mace on a serpentine cord swung across his path crashing into the gate control board and one side of the transgate arches. Tiet jumped back reflexively as the weapon nearly tore through his upper torso.

The portal of light blinked once and was gone with Kale and Emil still on the other side with the Agonotti. He screamed to them, but they could not hear.


THE ground vibrated with the low hum of the Vorn attack cruisers hanging in the sky overhead. Lucin watched as hundreds of transport pods landed in the valley around him. They carried his precious army of symbyte infected hosts-humans with just enough of him implanted around their brain and spinal cord structures to bend them to his will. Tendrils coursed throughout their bodies and some were specialized; able to emerge through the skin and infect other hosts.

Thousands of humans from the Vorn and Castillian clans back on Castai had been transported with him to Draconis-nearly the entire population of the twelve cities once ruled by Tiet Soone. But that kingdom was over. As soon as Lucin could bring his fallen Mithrial brothers back under his leadership, he would be as Elithias-ruling both a host of Mithri and humans. With his great army he could then move on to conquest of the remaining humans clans on their respective worlds.

Zurig's body had changed somewhat in appearance with his increase in power. It was stronger, faster and Lucin was beginning to see mental powers emerging. In fact his former Mithrial powers were merging with his host and almost nothing seemed to be left of Zurig at all-this was Lucien's body now.

His army was assembling before him; thousands of them, all willing to die for him. Confidence swelled up within Lucin and that sin of sins, responsible for his fall, pride. His power was growing from within and without and all in spite of the will of The Eternal One.

Lucin turned on the hill he stood upon to look to the city in view several miles away. From orbital scans, it was probably the largest out of a few real cities on the continent. The remaining population clusters consisted of small towns and villages.

Lucin knew very little about this planet, apart from its time of creation. It had been sparsely populated, but had been rumored, during the war, to have received a great many refugees seeking an escape from the conflict. Evidently the rumors were true.

But something had happened. The city smelled of destruction, death and decay. The planets largest city was a dead zone. It had to be the handiwork of his Mithrial brethren, the Agonotti, and if so, then they appeared to be gaining power as well.

A fog of ash and pestilence hung over the skyline. He breathed it all in. How wonderful it is. Lucin laughed within himself. He could sense the presence of his fallen ones, somewhere. With the landing of this great army and his warships hovering overhead, surely his Mithrial brethren would have to investigate. Now, all he had to do was to wait for them to make an appearance.


KALE flipped backward over the Agonotti warrior as he struck at him. Emil hurled a handful of spicors at the creature, landing a couple of hits that did damage. Kale was quick with a blade from behind, ramming it through a joint in the warrior's armor plating. The Mithrial being fell over and began to dissipate after a moment.

Both boys surveyed the damage. The hangar was a disaster area, and most of the ships were too damaged to be safe for flying. The two rebels that had stayed on this side of the transgate portal were dead.

"That portal is totally ruined," said Emil.

"Yeah, I don't think we could fix that mess, even if we knew how."

"Did you notice that one of those things shot up that ventilation shaft?"

"He'll probably lead others back in here like my father was warning. Got any suggestions?" asked Kale.

"That smaller transport over there; it looks to be in good shape. Maybe we can use its computer to activate the gate they came in by."

"It's worth a shot," said Kale.

They ran across the deck and slid the side door open on the troop compartment of the ship. Making their way into the cockpit, Emil went to work searching the database for a gate command function. Kale was performing systems checks on the engine and bringing the turbines online.

"I've got the command sequence for the gate-I'm activating it," said Emil.

"Great, now if I can-"

Emil looked over at his friend. Kale was staring out of the cockpit window toward the far end of the hangar. Emil followed his friend's gaze to where he could see humanoids materializing from a dark fog growing in size in the far end of the huge chamber.

"Any weapons systems on board?" whispered Kale without taking his eyes from the window.

"Yes, pulse lasers and rockets."

"Unload the rockets on them when I hit the thrusters," instructed Kale.

Emil nodded and gently slid into his flight chair's harness. The panel indicated that turbines were operating at ninety six percent efficiency.

"Time to go," whispered Kale as he grabbed the flight controls.

"Rockets are locked and the gate is active."

He tensed his grip on the controls and activated the thrusters, just as Emil sent the deadly ordinance hurtling down the chamber toward the Agonotti. The ship reared up into the air, barely clearing the pavement before Kale pulled it into a one hundred and eighty degree turn heading for the portal. A huge flash of light erupted behind them as the rockets hit home. The rock wall came at them fast as Kale sought their escape through the active transgate portal.

"I hope that bought us some time. Open the gate!" shouted Kale.

"Got it!"

The portal flashed into being just before the nose of the ship would have smashed into the rock. They were suddenly emerging into open air outside the mountain; rising off of its face. Gravity fought to pull them back as the thrusters pushed hard away from the ground-the boys were locked into their flight chairs barely able to move. The panel readout was registering thruster power at maximum and a warning light was flashing to inform the pilot of potential turbine failure if speed was not reduced quickly.

Kale complied with the computer and eased off of the throttle as he pulled the ship around and leveled out their flight path.

"Do you see anything?!" shouted Kale over the roaring engine.

Emil looked out of the side window from the cockpit as the ship came around.

"We've got company!" said Emil. "Agonotti cloud, rising off of the mountain and headed our way."

"Is there anything near our position where we could hide or anything?"

Emil tapped into the ships database again. He pulled up maps and triangulated their position. "It says the closest civilization is Sector City-one hundred miles. Probably take about ten minutes at this speed."

"Are they gaining on us?" asked Kale.

Emil looked back at the cloud spiraling up and after them. "Hard to tell-they don't even show up on these scanners at all. What do we do when we reach the city?"

Kale looked at his friend with a shrug and said, "At this point, I haven't got a clue. I'm just hoping something will present itself."


TIET watched the display from behind Alec. The rebels still managed to have access to quite a bit of technology, even with the Agonotti dominating the population.

"It's confirmed, Tiet. Someone has escaped the mountain with one of our ships. The satellite is tracking them on a course heading toward Sector City."

Tiet breathed a sigh of relief as he glanced back at his wife, who was still assisting one of the young mothers that had just given birth.

"Are they being followed?" asked Wynn.

"It's difficult to tell. One of the advantages the Agonotti have is our inability to detect them as they travel in molecular cloud form."

"My guess would be that they are," said Tiet as he stared at the tracking information. "Look at the speed they're traveling. That's probably close to the max for a troop transport of that type, without blowing the turbines."

"Perhaps they hope to lose the Agonotti somehow inside the city," said Wynn.

"We have a large base under the city with some of our best people there," said Alec. "We can call for them to open up a gate here at the holding station and you can try to intercept them inside the city."

A warning alarm sounded at the computer station. "Sir, we've picked up something you had better see," said one of the data techs.

"What is it?" asked Alec.

"It's an army, sir."

"What? Who are they?"

Tiet and Wynn were at his side pouring over the incoming data. They looked at one another with dread as they realized the nature of the warships and the mass of soldiers assembling in the plains outside of Sector City.

"Those are our warships," said Wynn hesitantly.

"You've brought an army with you?"

"Not exactly," said Tiet. "They're all under the control of Lucin. He managed to assimilate the population on Castai through parasitic invasion."

"You mean we have to fight this invasion army and the Agonotti?"

Neither Wynn nor Tiet wanted to answer the question, but it was still obvious to everyone. Tiet stepped to him.

"None of us has any choice," said Tiet. "We either face them with everything we've got now, or we wait to be hunted down one group at a time. We have to trust Elithias, Alec. He has a plan even if we don't understand it yet."

Tiet stared right into Alec's eyes trying to reassure him. It felt good to walk by the pajet. He didn't have any idea how they could hope to fight against the Agonotti and the symbyte controlled army that was awaiting them, but Tiet was determined he was going to obey Elithias' command from Aija the prophet, no matter what.

"Can you assemble your people at the Sector City base, Alec? Will you fight with us?" asked Tiet.

Alec hesitated a moment, examining the faces of his people in the chamber. "Tranner."

"Yes, sir?"

"Ask Sector command to open a gate here, and send out to all commands to assemble our forces at Sector City."

"Yes, sir."

Alec turned back to Tiet and said, "We'll give you everything we've got, Tiet."

"My friend, no one can ask more than that," said Tiet. "Wynn, I think it's time to contact Grod and have him rendezvous with us in the city. Mirah-"

"I've got to bring one of the young women with us," said Mirah.

"What? But we're going to war."

"Ramah needs immediate care in our ship's med-lab," said Mirah, "This place is just not equipped for an emergency."

"What's wrong with her?" asked Tiet.

"She's hemorrhaging," she said. "If I don't get it under control quickly, she will bleed to death."

"Alright, get her ready to move."

Mirah smiled and kissed Tiet before heading back to her young patient. Now, all they needed, thought Tiet, was enough rebels to face off against thousands and thousands of their former assimilated comrades and thousands more wraith-like, fallen Mithri. He would have been in despair already, if not for the words of the prophet Aija assuring him of Elithias' plan and the inevitable defeat of his enemies.

"You don't look so good," said Wynn. "Are you alright?"

"I guess that's the thing about walking by faith," replied Tiet. "It's never easy."


THE ship was shaking pretty badly by now. The turbines were screaming for mercy as the engine core temperature began to overcome the cooling system and climb into the high range.

"I think they're gaining on us," said Emil, from back in the troop compartment.

"I wonder how many there are?"

"I can't be sure, but the cloud doesn't look nearly as big as the time we were here before. How far are we from the city?"

"According to the satellite feed, after these mountains, we'll be crossing through the plains of Jezerit and then we'll hit the city perimeter," said Kale.

"Well, we had better hurry, this thing sounds like its going to fly apart any time," said Emil as he turned away from the side window.

He came back up to the cockpit with Kale. The ship began to pass through light cloud cover around the mountains. "Too bad we don't have really heavy clouds," said Emil. "Maybe we could lose them."

"I don't know if that would work or not, but like you said, this ship doesn't have what it takes to keep ahead of them. According to the map we're coming out of the mountains and into the plains now."

The white vapor obscuring all foresight began to part before them as the ship cleared the last peak. "Oh boy, this is not good," said Emil as they finally got a view of the plains of Jezerit.

A massive troop deployment was in progress in the distance and large Vorn warships were the most distinct objects-several of them were hovering directly in their flight path toward the city.

"Those are our ships!" said Kale.

"And our people-what do we do?"

Kale searched the control panel and said, "I don't think this ship has any decent scanning devices on board. When those cruisers lock on target we won't even know it."

"Since they're symbyte controlled, you know they'll shoot at us."

"Absolutely, but maybe we can make it a little more difficult for them to act on the urge," said Kale.

As they approached the army assembling on the ground, Kale broke his flight path and dove straight at the masses of ground troops.

"What kind of plan is this?!" shouted Emil as he struggled to fasten his flight harness.

"I figure if they want to take potshots at us, then they can take the risk of shooting their own people."

The transport groaned as the gravitational forces played against the hull. They fell to an altitude of thirty feet as Kale leveled out the ship, swooping over the heads of the symbyte controlled soldiers below.

Streams of automatic pulse fire poured upward from the soldiers as they tried to take down the aggressive ship. Many soldiers ducked for cover as the transport steadily descended upon them. The hull was taking a pounding even without fire from the big ships.

"Lower the landing skids," said Kale.

Emil smiled back at his friend. "Now, that's what I'm talking about!"

He pressed the panel button and the control motors could be heard lowering the skids. Almost instantly the ship began to quiver and shake as the extended skids pounded mercilessly through the ground troops that weren't thoughtful enough to throw themselves to the ground.

By the time they had flown three quarters of the way through the soldiers, almost all of the remaining troops ahead had flattened themselves across the ground to avoid being hit. Kale and Emil's ship left a bloody trail in its wake and the landing gear became torn and twisted from multiple impacts.

"I think we're going to make it!" said Kale as they shot away from the ground deployment and headed into the outskirts of Sector city.

Huge pulse laser blasts began to race past them, smashing into the surrounding buildings and shattering them like glass.

"The big cruisers are firing on us!" shouted Emil over the explosions.

Kale was flying erratically and fast as he fought to make their ship a wild target.

"If we can just get further into the city-" he said.

But it wouldn't happen. A blast from the big guns on the Vorn ships incinerated the corner of a nearby building as Kale managed to get the ship around it. The residual energy and debris smashed into the tail end of the transport. They were going down fast.

"Hold on, we're gonna hit hard!"


LUCIN waded through a trail of crimson with a pair of binocs against his eyes as the cannons, from his battle cruisers overhead, pummeled the outlying buildings of Sector City. They were tracking the rogue transport that had appeared out of nowhere and cut a swathe of destruction through his troop deployment. One of the last blasts connected and the ship plummeted fast, trailing its shattered aft section and a plume of flame and smoke. It fell out of view, but the impact could be heard several seconds later.

"I want them!" he shouted.

Around him were the writhing bodies of many of his symbyte controlled soldiers-mortally wounded and gasping their last, completely unable to obey the dominant voice crying out inside their minds.

"Commander!" shouted Lucin into his headset.

"Yes, sir?"

"I want a team of pods sent to investigate the wreckage immediately. I want prisoners or bodies-understood?"

"Absolutely, sir."

A shadow began to cross the plains, veiling the Lucin in its darkness. Lucin looked up at it and a villainous smile crossed his face as he recognized its true nature. Walking back through his troops, in the direction of the cloud, Lucin used his mental dominance to command the humans out of his way.

They parted before him leaving a large area around their Mithrial leader. Then he called out mentally to the boiling mass of spirits hovering overhead. Come to me my brothers. The response was almost instantaneous.

The cloud began to dissipate rapidly as spires shot down to the ground around Lucin, forming powerful Agonotti warriors ready for battle. "How dare you to address us as brothers, human?"

Lucin stared confidently at the one speaking to him as nearly fifty of the warriors encircled him. He had mentally instructed his own human soldiers to make no aggressive moves against them. Power emanated from Lucin's being as he felt his own spiritual power accentuated by the presence of his Mithrial brethren. Then the Agonotti warrior shifted from a commanding stance to one of apprehension.

"Who are you?!" the warrior asked.

"I am Lucin, my brothers."

"Lucin? That isn't possible."

"Are you sure of that?"

Lucin sent out his thoughts to his thousands of soldiers on the ground, while allowing the Agonotti to perceive the mental commands. Hundreds of pulse rifle gun bolts quickly locked into firing position in a consecutive wave around them. A group of pods headed away from a fighter bay on one of the large battle cruisers hovering overhead.

The Agonotti warriors turned to find seemingly every gun possible aimed right at them-thousands of humans moved by this man's will alone. "Can it be true? How can you be our former master?" asked another of the Agonotti.

"There is much to discuss my brothers, but surely this is not all of you. Bring the others to me at this place and we will discuss our mutual rise to power."

"But you don't-"

Lucin cut them off as he turned and walked away, leaving them puzzled and unsure of their next action.

"Bring the others to me!" he shouted back as he proceeded through the ranks of his soldiers.

The guns were still trained on them. It was an unexpected turn of events for the Agonotti scout team, but Vock would know what to do. One by one they dematerialized, reforming the mist they traveled in, and began to move away-back toward the place where their leader was waiting to hear news of the transport chase.


KALE awoke upside down, still strapped into his flight chair. He looked over to find Emil stirring to consciousness also.

"Do we have to end up like this every time I visit this city with you?" asked Emil sarcastically as he unbuckled his harness and rolled out to a standing position.

"I'll let you drive next time."

Kale got out of his harness and climbed through the smashed windshield opening, stepping into the street beyond. Emil was close behind him, wiping glass and debris off of his clothes.

A low hum could be heard rising in intensity as its source approached. They recognized it immediately.


Just as they began to run away from the transport wreckage, the pods appeared from multiple directions; thirty in all. "They've spotted us!" shouted Emil.

"Keep moving to cover!"

The young men moved through the wreckage strewn through the streets like water, fluid and quick, navigating around every obstacle without delay. The pods began to lay down heavy gunfire, but it wasn't very accurate. The pod guns could only fire in the direction of its flight path, and the boys were moving erratically on purpose.

"Head for cover!" shouted Emil as he outpaced his friend toward a nearby shell of a building.

Kale followed him inside ducking and weaving around debris that hung from the ceiling and that which was piled high on the floor. They regrouped while the pods remained outside. Gunfire erupted through the dusty, burnt walls they had just found a way through. The boys hit the floor together as the pulse laser fire scattered all through the room they were in, sending more debris showering down upon them.

After a moment, the gunfire stopped. They could hear the pods powering down their engines outside.

"They're coming in," said Kale as he shook off the dust in his hair.

They looked around. There wasn't much in the way of cover. Then they spotted a staircase behind them-it was completely dark beyond.

"A basement?" asked Emil.

"I don't know, but it's got to be better than here."

Kale and Emil got to their feet and quickly ran toward the stairs. Outside, they could hear footsteps; no doubt the symbyte soldiers from back on Castai as they shuffled through the debris looking for a safe way to go in after the two youths. Kale wondered for a moment if he might know any of them. It was so horrible-all of their friends and associates taken over by the vilest enemy he could imagine.

The boys stopped at the head of the stairs when the odor hit their nostrils.

"What is that?" whispered Kale with a sour look on his face.

"I'm not sure. Maybe people died down there."

"That's not it," said Kale, "The city reeks of death. I can handle that, but this is-"

"Do you want to stay up here or what? Breathe through your mouth like me."

Emil led the way down with his extinguished blade in hand-just in case. Kale followed reluctantly, trying out his friend's advice on breathing. He could see the lights mounted on the soldier's rifles sweeping into the room as they began to cautiously come inside.

Kale and Emil descended completely into the darkness. They could here the creaking of the floor above them as the soldiers proceeded into the large room upstairs looking for them. The boys moved cautiously in the pitch black all around them. The foul funk was worse down where they were and it was surprisingly warmer. Kale could feel sweat beginning to roll down his face due to the humidity.

The boys were doing their best to sense all around themselves; mentally maneuvering through the darkness. Something wasn't right in the vast room around them. Kale could sense life all around, but it was so indistinct. He couldn't locate any one being. It was like the whole room was alive around them.

The stomping sounds were growing in intensity as more and more of the pod soldiers moved around above them. They would be coming after them down the stairs any moment. There appeared to be no exit and no way to find something to hide behind.

"Looks like we're going to have to fight them," whispered Emil from somewhere in the darkness, beside Kale.

"At least we've got better odds down here. We can sense them, but they'll have a hard time seeing us. Just don't ignite your blade."

"Something's not right down here," said Emil.

"I feel it too. But I can't figure it out. It's like the whole area is alive or something."

The soldiers were coming down the stairs behind them about a hundred feet away. Their lights were sweeping across the steps as they descended.

Suddenly a hand clutched onto Kale's arm-it was Emil.

"Kale," he whispered almost in a panic.

"I know-they're coming."

"No. I just remembered where I've smelt this odor before."


Their pursuers were headed right for them now. The sweeping lights began to fill the room and as those lights played across the ceiling above them, Kale and Emil could finally see what their senses had been telling them all along.

"Aerogores!!" shouted Emil.

Mass hissing erupted all over the room as the great lizards sprang to life at the intrusion of the soldier's lights. Guns began to spit fire all around the room as the pod pilots panicked at the sight of the aerogores, cast as horrible apparitions in the chaotic movement of their rifle lights.

Kale ignited his blade as the whole room came alive with the beasts. The indeterminate life they were sensing before was now leaping at them from every aspect of the room. Emil's blade flashed as he seared reptilian flesh, striking down one of the beasts. Kale sliced quickly as he sensed a predator lunging for him from the dark. He divided one of its arms in a quick duck and roll maneuver as the lizard swept by.

"Don't hit the jaw area!" shouted Emil from nearby. "The glands contain an acid; part of the ignition fluid they spray!"

Good advice. Kale certainly didn't want to get hit with stuff like that. Then it occurred to him-what Emil had just told him. "They spray fire too?!"

"Didn't I mention that?!"

Emil took down another one with lightning speed. Everything was happening so fast-an eruption of pure chaos. The soldiers were spraying everything in the room with gunfire. Many were screaming as aerogores took them down; tearing their victim's limb from limb in seconds.

Another one flew at Kale from behind. He reached out and half caught it in a mental grip, using its momentum to hurl the creature over his body as he rolled away and back to his feet. The soldiers beyond got a nasty present instead as the aerogore landed among them and caught the first it could get a hold of in deadly, vice like jaws.

"We've got to get out of here!" shouted Kale as he realized the stairs were now blocked by more of the reptilian creatures.

Emil drew a couple of spicors off of his vestment and flung them into the ceiling. They struck the same spot consecutively, vaporizing the matter between them and the next room above. The hole was just big enough. Emil wasted no time and rolled into the spire of light piercing the darkness. He immediately sprang upward through the hole. Kale took the hint and followed, clearing the frenzy just before one of the winged predators could seize his legs.

No sooner had Kale's feet touched the floor above on the other side, before it buckled upward, sending the young men backward in a heap. Successive blows to the floor followed very quickly, and a hideous triangular head peered through the widening hole and fell back again.

"Let's go!"

They both turned and with their combined mental force, they burst the wall outward into the debris strewn streets beyond and ran with every ounce of speed they could muster. Behind them, the last of the soldier's cries faded into oblivion and the horrible screams of aerogores on the rage grew in intensity. The flooring gave way and the creatures shot upward through it and the stairway opening nearby.

The aerogores flooded out into the street in a rage of bloodlust, screeching to one another as they sought their prey.

Kale and Emil ran into another nearby hollow of a building as the aerogores flew after them. Surprisingly, the glass entryway was still intact-no way in but to go through it. A thought was all that was sent to smash through one of the large panes ahead of them, allowing the boys to proceed inside unhindered. A staircase led upward from the left. They took it-leaping over whole flights at a time, trying to put as much distance as possible between predator and prey.

The brownish scaled aerogores smashed through the entire entryway to the building in mass numbers, each several times the size of a man and winged at mid-body, sending glass and metal framing in every direction inside the building's huge lobby. Those leading the reptilian pack quickly spotted the boys and hurled streams of flame upward at them. They were just beyond range of the searing chemical spray that mixed and ignited in mid-air just beyond the aerogore's faces.


TIET watched the display nervously as the technician adjusted the settings on the orbital satellite. Their group had successfully made it to the Sector City base and had found it to be enormous in comparison with what they had already seen under the rebel's control. Tiet had not been able to reach his son or Emil through their collar pins and he was terribly worried.

"I think I've patched into the Maxus uplink," said a rebel technician. "I should be able to get a live feed of the city now."

Seismic disruptions had been picked up from the sensors throughout the city and were all available through their base computer systems.

"There!" said Alec as the image zeroed in on a commotion in the city.

Relief and panic hit Tiet all at the same time as he saw two young men in Castillian uniforms leaping from rooftop to rooftop, but they had heavy pursuit.

"What are those things?!" said Tiet.

"Aerogores," said Alec. "They're very deadly flying versions of the larger teragores."

"We've got to get the boys out of there fast."

"What about a transgate portal?" asked Wynn.

"I've got something better," said Alec. "You could use one of our recall transmitters-you can teleport in utilizing a localized gate and then once you've got a hold of them, hit the recall and it will bring you directly back here."

"I'll go," said Wynn quickly.

"No offense, but you'll never catch the boys on foot, Wynn," said Tiet.

"Well, you're still suffering from your injuries," he countered.

"To get them back, I'll weather a little discomfort."

"I'm in too," said Grod, walking into the room.

They smiled; glad to see their old friend had arrived safely at the base.

"Then let's go."


STREAMS of flame poured out of the sky at the boys as they leapt to another rooftop. Their only shelter was the various chimney stacks that jutted up out of the buildings. Kale and Emil ducked and weaved through them as they fled from the vicious airborne raptors dogging their steps.

A flash of light caught Emil's eye to their right. Two men were emerging out of thin air onto the rooftop of one of the buildings nearby-one light skinned and one dark.

"Father!" he shouted, drawing Kale's attention to them as well.

Both pairs of warriors were running across the rooftops in parallel.

"We've got to intercept them!" said Emil.

The young men adjusted their path and began to head for their fathers who were doing the same, several buildings away. The aerogores were a dozen strong in the skies overhead; reigning down their lethally combustible chemical mixture. A trail of singed asphalt and burning debris was left in the wake of the two young warriors as the flying predators sought to catch them.

The aerogores were several times the size of a man and had great leathery wings and four legs. They were rare to find anywhere near civilization, but extremely lethal and nasty tempered. The various obstacles the boys were ducking and weaving through presented some problems for their aerial attack, but they weren't going to give up.

Kale and Emil were only two buildings away from their approaching fathers now. As they approached another ledge and began to make the jump across, an aerogore swooped up from between the buildings trying to catch a meal. Emil sailed into the air toward the beast, adjusting his flight just enough to dodge the stream of chemical flame that erupted toward him. He bounded off of the top of the creature's head and cleared to the next rooftop.

Kale was right behind, sending his blade whirling ahead as the creature appeared. Just as Emil's foot touched off of the great lizard, Kale's blade sank into its head. Kale cleared the predator as it began to fall out of the sky; screeching in agony all the way to its death.

As the boys ran across the rooftop, Grod appeared from behind one of the structures-it was a small building labeled hazardous chemicals. Kale looked for his own father, who quickly appeared on the other side of the roof. They ran for each other as more streams of flame came splashing down on the roof after them.

Seeing their prey regrouping, the aerogores began to land on the building with their wings folded back to enable short fast sprints for the prized meal.

Grod and Emil ducked into the small building as the reptiles closed in on foot. Tiet noticed the warning written all over the structure.

"NO! Grod get out of there!!"

The aerogores spat flame at the structure which quickly erupted with tremendous force; killing the predators near it. Tiet grabbed his recall pack as the other aerogores closed in for the kill. They were so close-Tiet grabbed his son and leapt out over the side of the building, tapping the recall as they left the ground with aerogores lunging for them. But the beasts caught only air as the pair dematerialized out of their grasp.


LUCIN stood in the desolate streets of Sector city. Nearby were the pods that he had sent to bring back the pilots of the troop transport that had killed quite a few of his soldiers three hours earlier. The ship was found demolished in the street a few blocks away, but no blood or bodies were found.

Several of his men were running back out of the building in front of the abandoned pods, toward him. A few of the men were deathly pale and two more were leaning against the devastated building vomiting into the street.

"Well, Lieutenant?"

"They're-they're all dead, sir," he said gasping for breath. "Some sort of flying reptiles. It looks like they stumbled into a nest of them. Some of the creatures are dead inside and all of our people are scattered in pieces everywhere."

Lucin did not pretend to feel any loss for his human soldiers. They were completely dispensable as far as he was concerned. "And what about the pilots of that ship, are they among the dead?"

"It's difficult to say, but I don't think so-only our men, sir."

"Then they are still alive," he said as he began to pace. "I want them found, immediately."

"We'll begin a search of the surrounding area, sir."

"The entire city will be searched if need be, Lieutenant. I want them. No one is going to be allowed to insult me this way." He turned and looked back at his Lieutenant. "Is that clear?"

"Crystal, sir," said the Lieutenant and then he spoke into his communication link, barking orders for the deployment of more troops. "I want pod squadrons ready in ten minutes. I want continuous sweeps of the city by section until the pilots of that transport ship are found."

Lucin scanned the skyline. Something moved on a high building ledge a block away-it was watching them. He called out mentally to the creature and it perceived his call-the creature leapt away from its perch into a dive toward the pavement. As the reptilian sailed toward their group, gun bolts began to lock into place."

"What is it?!" asked one.

"It's one of those things that killed our men!" said another.

"Hold your fire," commanded Lucin.

The beast landed fifty feet away and stood still, glaring at them as Lucin calmly approached without fear or reservation. It screeched into the air, but as he got nearer to it, the creature began to lower its head in submission as though a lapdog returning to its master.

Lucin extended his hand and touched it; stroking it like a long lost pet. He and his astounded soldiers heard others screeching and looked up to see more of the beasts perched on the edges of the rooftops around them.

"There, now. You know who I am, don't you? What is it that you have been up to today?" Lucin asked the creature, with more affection than he had ever shown toward his troops. "Have you been chasing after our prey?"

The great beast, easily three times his size, seemed to acknowledge his words with understanding-it bellowed out a low moan. Lucin's troops lowered their weapons, but despite his influence on their minds, they were still in awe of his power and fearful of the beasts.

Lucin appeared to be in a deeper communication with the creature as he pressed his hands around its great head as though searching its primitive thoughts. The other reptiles remained upon their perches, watching without any perceivable malice toward what normally would have been a smorgasbord.

"They've gone," Lucin said to his Lieutenant as he broke off from his mental probing of the aerogore. "They are not here, at least not where we can get to them."

"Shall I stay our squadrons then?"

"No. Have them move throughout the city and secure its perimeters. We will move our legions out of the plains though. And we will move all of the cruisers away from the area except one. We wouldn't want to intimidate our prey too much. They won't poke their heads out from their holes if we standby guarding them."


TIET and his son materialized right back in the place he had departed from, inside one the Sector city base transgate portal chambers. When he looked around to find the faces of Wynn and Grod waiting for them, he couldn't believe his eyes.

"Grod?! I thought you two were caught in that blast," said Tiet.

"You'll not be rid of me that quickly, old friend," he laughed as they shared mutual relief at each others safe return.

Tiet hugged his son tightly despite his passing into the age of manhood.

"You keep getting away from me-"

"And you keep coming after me," replied Kale happily.

"When will I ever learn, huh?" he said playfully as he panted, trying to get his breath back.

"Are you alright? Your injuries-"

Tiet placed his hand on Kale's shoulder to reassure him. "I'm alright. Its worth a little pain to get you back safely."

"I think I can help you with that," said Mirah as she entered the room.

He wasn't going to argue with her. The pain was causing his whole torso to ache considerably.

"You hold down the fort here with the others while I talk with your mother," said Tiet.

He went on with Mirah, following her out of the transgate control room. She wasn't very talkative, despite her obvious relief at seeing them safe again.

"Is everything alright?" asked Tiet.

"I was able to save the girl."

"Do you mean the one that was hemorrhaging?"

"Yes, she's been nearly starved to death and has old injuries that may have been aggravated when she escaped," said Mirah.

She smiled and leaned over to kiss his cheek as they walked. He was in noticeable pain, especially to her trained eye. "This place has remarkably good medical facilities; far better than I would have expected. I may be able to do some therapy to increase your healing and get you feeling better without the pain meds.

"That would be much better. Lead the way, doc."


ALEC approached Grod in the chamber as he stood talking with one of the transgate technicians and said, "Grod, you've all gotten back safely then?"

"Yes, Tiet has gone with his wife to the med-lab, but we're all fine," said Grod.

"Good. I've been in contact with the other leaders of our resistance and they would like to speak with the king about our situation. I expect them to support our efforts, but I think they want to have a face to face with the king himself before they commit to helping us."

"I'm sure it won't be a problem. I once had a face to face with the young king and he was quite persuasive when seeking a treaty between him and my people," said Grod.

"Good. If you wouldn't mind informing him, the video conference will take place in our war room in a little over two hours."

"I'm going to our ship with Wynn and the boys. I'll be sure that we get the message to Tiet," said Grod.

"Thank you. I'll see you in two hours," said Alec and they parted company.


KALE, Emil, Wynn and Grod boarded the Equinox docked in the subterranean hangar bay of the Sector City base. Many other vessels, some even larger than their ship, were also housed in the underground facility. They had a descent sized army in this base, but it wasn't near the number of the enemy waiting out in the plains beyond the city.

As they came up the ramp and into the ship, Juli was waiting anxiously for them. She bypassed the others and threw her arms around Kale's neck. "I didn't think I would ever see you again," she whispered.

He reciprocated the affection; hugging her tightly. "Don't worry Juli, Emil took care of me."

The others proceeded on toward the armory, leaving the couple there in the foyer. Kale was glad to see Juli as much as she was. Since losing her parents during their escape from Draconis months earlier, Juli and Kale had become very close. Kale felt the need to care for the young girl. He felt sorry for her loss, but deep down he knew it was more than that. Juli was beautiful and caring and she made no pretending about her feelings for Kale. He wouldn't admit it to anyone else, but the obvious fact was, he loved her too.


"ALEC would like for us to meet with him in about two hours," said Grod.

"Tiet may still be in their med-lab in two hours," said Wynn.

"We'll have to make sure he is available. Alec is planning on a conference between the regional commanders of their resistance through the communications uplink. Tiet will need to present our plan of action at the meeting."

"I could go over to the med-lab and make sure he doesn't begin any treatment that would hold him up?" asked Emil.

"Go ahead then," said Grod. "I know he's probably hurting again, but tell Mirah that he doesn't need to be sedated right now."

Emil grabbed a few spicors to replace what had been used and a blade for Kale before heading back out of the room and down the hallway. Tiet and Juli were still in the foyer talking as he started past.

"Where are you going?"

"To the med-lab to tell your father about the meeting Alec has arranged with the other resistance fighters."

"Can we go too?" asked Juli. "I'm dying to get off of this ship."

"Sure, come on."

The trio headed back down the loading ramp and ran across the bustling tarmac. Everyone was busy prepping their ships for the impending battle-a battle they prayed they could win.

At their hurried pace, they were able to reach the medical facility within a few minutes. They proceeded inside and headed back to the procedure chambers. "Mother!"

A chamber door slid back and Mirah peeked out to see the young group searching for her.

"What are you guys doing back here?"

"We needed to tell Father about a meeting he has to attend with the resistance leaders-it's in two hours."

She sighed and said, "They always schedule something when I'm trying to treat my patient."

"What's that-a meeting with the resistance leaders?" asked Tiet from inside the chamber.

He appeared at the doorway behind Mirah, stripped to the waist and bearing a number of monitoring electrode pads.

"You three, go tell Alec that I'll be along shortly, okay?"

They nodded and headed back out of the complex obediently.

"Now, how do we get back to the place where Alec is supposed to be?" asked Kale.

"Over here," said Juli. "These signs will lead us back."

"We need to get to the war room, I think."

"Follow me," said Juli as she headed off ahead of the boys.

Kale spotted another sign of interest on the marker and said, "After we relay the message to Alec, we need to go to the library mentioned on this sign. I want to look up some of the details of the prophecy of the empty hand that Aija was talking about."


LUCIN'S troops were already beginning to take the necessary steps to move the encampment out of the plains area they had initially landed in. They worked like insects with a singular task in mind; a singular thought to guide them. They still had personality of their own to a small extent, but they were all completely bent to the will of the Mithrial-man.

Lucin walked back to his temporary command quarters. He passed the other expandable metal shelters that made up his communications and coordination center as soldiers moved about the camp disassembling the other portable structures of the camp before boarding the Vorn cruisers hovering overhead.

His control over the multitude was growing stronger and stronger-a noticeable difference from the desperate situation that threatened his total loss of control when they were back on Castai. Lucin could only assume that it was the result of being so near to his fellow Mithri that resided on Draconis as the Agonotti.

After the reception he'd given his brethren earlier and the impressive show of his power over the human thousands he had ferried to the planet, he wondered how long it would take before a proper delegation from among the Agonotti was sent to welcome their glorious leader back into their ranks. So far, there was no word, but it wouldn't be long. His body was unrecognized by his brethren, but they would soon realize that he was indeed the same glorious spirit that had led them in open rebellion against The Eternal One.

Lucin made his way to the portable building setup for his own personal use. He passed his hand over the bio-signature reader to the right side of the door and it allowed him to enter. As the door slid back and he entered the twenty foot by twenty foot structure, he sensed something not entirely foreign to him. Lucin walked cautiously on, into the room as the door slid back into place. He was trying to perceive any movement as the lights came on automatically; but there was nothing.

Then Lucin noticed something he had not before. The air was heavy with a mist. Suddenly the air became clear and someone was behind him. A coalesced figure, from the fog, sprang into action against him, wielding a large blade in his right hand.

Lucin retaliated, spinning back to catch the weapon hand with his left and following through with a right palm up under the jaw. With great strength, far more than his host body would normally have possessed, he hoisted the dazed attacker over his head. Lucin had quickly seized the advantage and thrust the dazed assassin through the front wall of the temporary building. The dark clad figure landed among the debris outside as the rest of the structure collapsed on top of Lucin.

Lucin burst upward, sending the debris into the air and then he shot toward the mysterious attacker. The man became mist again, allowing Lucin to pass through. He materialized again at Lucin's back with the Mithrial-man in a headlock from behind. Lucin buried several rapid elbow jabs deep into the assassin's ribcage and his grip loosened enough for him to get free.

Lucin took the opportunity and sent a right back-hand followed by a quick left jab into the attacker's face. He stumbled backward and tried to dematerialize again, but he was prevented. Lucin, using his growing Mithrial power, seized the man with his thoughts and stopped his evasive maneuver. "Not so fast, my friend."

The Agonotti attacker was clearly dumbfounded that he could be held in his physical state this way. "How did-?"

Lucin thrust a quick hand to the man's chest and caught him as he tried to pull away from further attack. "Leaving so soon?" he asked sarcastically with a devilish grin on his face. "Haven't you time for your master anymore, Vock?"

The Agonotti assassin was more puzzled now. "How did you know me?"

"It's me Vock," he said drawing nearer to his attacker. "I know I look terrible in this flesh puppet's body; nevertheless, it is Lucin which stands before you."

Vock looked him over; unsure of how to proceed. He had intended to kill this boastful human, but it was proving more difficult than he would have imagined.

Perhaps my thoughts would convince you?

I've met humans with telepathy.

A lack of faith, Vock? How unsettling.

Suddenly, the human army, which had obediently remained still, began to take aim on Vock. Firing bolts locked into position in waves all around them as Lucin called out to his minions with his thoughts.

"Did those humans with telepathy control thousands of soldiers with their thoughts as well?" Lucin asked confidently.

Vock was convinced. "My master," he confessed as he knelt before his former Mithrial leader.

"Rise, my brother. We have much to discuss."

"But I don't understand. How did you come to control these humans and to be confined to this body?"

"It's quite a story and one I may share at a later time, suffice to say, The Eternal One cursed me to a low form and I have triumphed over the condition he left me in to seize the minds of his beloved humans. Since coming to this planet, I have only seen my powers grow exponentially, until now I feel almost invincible."

"My fellow Agonotti have been experiencing the same thing recently," said Vock. "Perhaps it was your coming again to us which has caused the return of the power we once knew?"

"Perhaps. Whatever the reason, we must seize this opportunity to gain full control of the humans."

"Of course, we are at your disposal my lord," said Vock. "Our brethren are waiting nearby and we shall assemble the other groups spread across the continent as soon as possible." It was easy to relinquish his new authority over the Agonotti to his former lord, Lucin. Just being in his presence again was an intoxicatingly evil thrill. Events were changing so rapidly in their favor, that it just seemed right that he had returned to them. "I should inform you that there are rebels working against us on this planet, my lord. We have been working diligently to root them out, but they have proven very resourceful."

"I've encountered them as well. Don't worry, Vock, I've recently sent some new allies to flush out the prey for us. We should see them appearing very soon and we'll be prepared to greet them properly this time."


KALE, Emil and Juli walked into the Sector city base library. There were not all that many people in the place. Half of the lighting was shut down and of the few people occupying chairs and couches; Kale thought most appeared to be sleeping. As the trio passed the attendant desk they saw that no one was even working behind the counter.

"Doesn't look like this part of the base gets much use," said Emil.

Kale made his way over to a group of computer displays stationed on long rows of tables. Juli sat down next to him.

"I'm going to look around a little," said Emil as he walked past them.

Kale tapped the display and it responded by blinking on. A symbol for the base library appeared in color, but there was no keyboard to utilize.

"It's probably voice activated," posed Juli and she spoke a command to the display. "Show library database, please."

The computer responded by changing screens to a catalog of possible selections and said, "Please, state or touch category."

"Religious texts," said Kale.

The screen changed again to another menu of categories. Many religious documents were listed that Kale did not recognize, except for the one he was interested in. "The Logostus," said Kale and the computer responded again.

"What are you looking for specifically?" asked Juli.

"I'm not quite sure," said Kale, "I would like to see something about this prophecy of the empty hand that Aija spoke of."

The computer captured phrases from his statement again and the separate sixty six documents that comprised The Logostus were replaced by specific scriptural references to "prophecy", "empty hand" and "Aija."

This thing is a bit sensitive, thought Kale. He noticed that many of the references were from subheading books of The Logostus that he recognized and quite a few were simply the names of those prophets which had authored them. Under the reference for "empty hand" was the subheading title "Book of the Kingdom Two" and a verse reference with it. Kale tapped the screen to access it and the scripture appeared on the screen. He and Juli studied it carefully. Evidently it was the only reference to the prophecy in the entire Holy Book.

"It says, the fallen shall be taken and reserved in chains unto the great day of Elithias' judgment, and also-"

The computer threatened to take phrases and shift the displayed information again. "Computer, touch interface only," said Juli and then she continued reading the passage as Kale read along with her.

"-on Draconis the Mithrial sons shall fall in Sayir to the one with no weapon in his hand. The fervent prayer of the righteous avails much."

"What is Sayir?" asked Kale.

"It's a mountain, to the west of Sector City," said Juli.

"If the Agonotti are these Mithrial sons, being referred to in the Logostus, then it looks like they are going to be destroyed at that mountain," deduced Kale.

"The reference sounds a bit like prayer does them in, doesn't it?" asked Juli."

Kale tapped the scripture reference for "Aija" that appeared on the screen. The computer brought up several scriptures where the man's name appeared along with a commentary reference that gave general information on the subject. Kale could quickly see from the commentary reference that the prophet they had come to know recently had this person as his namesake.

"This commentary says that Aija was a prophet during the time of Elithias, when he appeared on Castai," said Kale. "Apparently this Aija was a forerunner to Elithias' appearance in human form when he came to provide a pardon to mankind."

"And our Aija is the last prophet; a forerunner of Elithias' return in order to establish his kingdom!" said Juli with sudden insight. "It's beginning to make sense to me."

The pair continued searching other references together. The puzzle pieces of Aija's words were beginning to take on the form of a clearer picture, at least in part.


EMIL had wondered to another portion of the library, away from Kale and Juli. He actually did want to find some information, but not with them present. Emil sat at one of the computer displays running through his own set of references. On the screen, were subheadings for the Vorn clan and for the Horva clones. All of the references were old. Apparently nothing beyond the time of the war was to be found in the system.

Emil was stunned to see all of the information referring to his people having been created as clone mutations of the Vorn for the purpose of fighting their battles for them. His father had never explained their origin and it had never been a subject he had been taught about while in school on Castai with Kale.

The commentary was telling him that the origins of his people were as slaves; highly adept warriors, but nonetheless, made to be slaves. There was also listed under the Horva subheading a commentary on General Grod. Emil tapped the screen and a record of his father's wartime exploits were laid out before him. There was an obvious bias against his father in the wartime commentary. Emil supposed that was to be expected from someone who was on the opposite side of the conflict. He knew from Kale's father that he and his father had been sworn enemies at one time, but that through events taking place during the conflict with a clan called the Baruk, the king and his father had become allies and eventually the greatest of friends.

Emil was glad that so much had changed between the two men. The thought that he and Kale might have been mortal enemies otherwise was very unpleasant. The commentary showed the Vorn clan native to the planet Demigoth. This was evidently where his father and the other Horva clones of the first generation had been created. Someday I must visit this planet Demigoth, he thought. Emil commanded the computer to turn off and he sank back into his chair. He closed his eyes and let the information soak into his mind. All of that is in the past, he reminded himself.


"GENTLEMEN, having explained all of these things regarding the nature of this conflict, I do hope we can count on your support," said Tiet as he stood addressing the other rebel leaders by video conference.

"I think I could speak for my fellows in this-we are worried about the numbers we are going to have to face in comparison with the number of capable soldiers we have," said Commander Jarac. "It's certainly not that we disbelieve the prophet you mentioned or the prophecies-I am personally a devoted follower of Elithias, but how do we know that this is the proper time to face this enemy?"

"Men, I can give you no assurances. I can only speak from what I know and believe, and I firmly believe that Elithias has commissioned me to lead the people of Draconis against this gathering army. If you do not face them now, openly, you will only prolong the inevitable, and end up running for your lives as they grow even stronger. And besides all this, how can we hope to obtain the blessings of The Eternal One when we are not willing to trust him?"

This was a cutting blow-it was immediately apparent on their faces. It was not anger, but guilt that Tiet saw in their expressions. But he had told them the truth and he felt good about it. If it was indeed Elithias' purpose to have him lead these rebels in battle, then he would certainly be leading them.

Alec stepped in before the silence became awkward. "My brothers, may we take a vote to confirm?" he asked as he stepped before the viewer next to Tiet. "All those willing to follow the will of Elithias in this matter and lend us your assistance in this struggle, please signify by the uplifting of your right hand.

Excellent move, thought Tiet. Now, they were cornered somewhat by their convictions.

Slowly but surely, all hands went up.

"Excellent, gentlemen. With the enemy forces already massing nearby, we will need you to bring your troops to our location as soon as possible and-"

Suddenly the transmission was cut and the lighting flickered and went out along with all power. Emergency lighting quickly came on, but it was pale in comparison and no other power appeared to be operating.

"Power is out," said Grod.

"Something is wrong," said Alec. "It would have to have been done deliberately-our systems are completely separate from the city and hidden."

"We may need those reinforcements sooner than we thought," said Wynn.

Tiet's communicator pin beeped to life. "Tiet, what's happening?" asked Mirah.

"We're not sure. Standby; we may need to evacuate the complex."

"I'll get prepared just in case. I may need the boys to help me get my patient Ramah to the ship."



KALE and Juli were holding hands at the computer console. They were still looking through information; at least they were pretending to look through the data. Juli had placed her hand on top of Kale's as it lay on the tabletop. Kale hadn't taken his eyes off of the screen, but he had turned his hand over to take hers and hold it.

The power flickered several times and then the computer and all of the lights went dark. A lone emergency light pod switched itself on in the far corner of the room. Juli squeezed Kale's hand tightly, "What's happening?!"

"I'm not sure, but it can't be good," said Kale.

The pair got up from their seats and crossed the room, trying not to bump into the furniture. "Emil?!" shouted Kale as they searched for their friend.

"I'm here," said Emil as he made his way across the room toward them, "I guess you two didn't turn out the lights to kiss, huh"

Kale would have blushed, had it not been a dangerous situation they were in. "Let's just get out of here and see if this power outage is everywhere," said Kale.

The group made their way through the dark maze of tables and printed books on shelves and out into the corridor in from of the library. "Looks like the power is off everywhere," said Emil.

"We need to get to your father," said Juli.

"Let's make our way back to the war room," said Kale. He and Emil pulled their weapons and kept them at the ready. "Keep your senses sharp, Emil," said Kale. "There's no telling what kind of surprises we might find in the dark."


POWER conduit control boxes, sparked out their anger over the attack by the aerogores. The cables were severed that supplied power to the base and the junction boxes were destroyed. All the lights in the corridor were out except for a few lone emergency lights here and there.

The group of aerogores moved quickly to the end of the maintenance corridor. The door clicked as a manual release switch engaged through the actions of someone on the other side. The door opened and a man with a hand held light moved just inside the door. As his light illuminated the group of aerogores in the corridor, he tried to scream, but he wasn't allowed the time.

The aerogores pounced and the first kill was made. They were inside the main compound now. The group of reptilian predators surged forward in great numbers. There were people everywhere, all waiting to be plucked by the deadly beasts, but to feed was not their purpose. They moved swiftly into the populace. Screams began to flood the corridors of the underground base as the aerogores spread out in every direction they could.


ALEC was at the north entrance to the conference room trying to finagle the manual door control to get it open. Two soldiers acting as his personal bodyguards were with him as the door unlocked and slid open under the manual release mechanism he had activated.

Suddenly, as he stepped into the doorway, a gaping maw snatched him up ferociously. Rows of hot knives pierced his body as he screamed and then the reptilian beast rent him in two, tossing the remains across the room. Alec's bodyguards immediately fired at the nightmare as it stepped into the room, barely visible in the low emergency lighting.

Tiet and Wynn had their blades drawn and ignited-Grod activated his plasma glove. The beast launched a burst of flame at one soldier as another of the monsters sailed over the first into the conference room, pinning the other man to the floor and tearing away his life in an instant. A spicor from Wynn's hand caught the first animal in the side of the head; disintegrating a large enough portion to drop it dead. Tiet deftly carved an arc of light into the second as it was busy dismantling the bodyguard pinned under its foot.

Multiple screeches coming from the room beyond the open doorway were cause enough for Tiet to back away from his kill. There were more of them; a lot more.

"Aerogores!" shouted Grod. "Just like the ones we faced out in the city."

"Or those same ones have tracked us down here," said Wynn.

Behind them, an ellipse of light carved through the other locked doors. The piece fell into the room and Kale and Emil entered.

"Not these things again!?" said Kale

More of the creatures were beginning to move into the room; sniffing at their dead ones and glaring at the burning corpse of the first bodyguard that had been attacked.

"Tiet, I don't think this is a fight we want to have right now," said Wynn.

"We've got to get everyone out of here!"

Tiet tapped on his communicator pin. "Mirah, evacuate the facility. You've got to get to the ship now and get out of the base."

"I can't leave. My patient, Ramah, is too weak."

"Don't worry, I'm sending the boys down to help." He turned to them. "Boys, get down to the Med-lab and help her get the girl to the ship. Tell everyone you come across to get to the ships and evacuate the base immediately."

Grod blasted one of the beasts standing in the doorway with his plasma glove. It writhed in agony and after a few seconds, moved no more.

"And be careful," said Wynn. "They may have entered the base through more than one entrance."

"Come on guys!" said Juli, terrified, from just beyond the portal they had cut to gain entrance.

They obeyed without any argument; stepping back through and heading away quickly into the darkness with the glow cast by their ignited blades as their only light.

Flame erupted from one of the aerogores as it peeked inside the room from behind the two dead in the doorway. The men could hear many more writhing and screeching in the darkness beyond.

"Maybe we can hold them here," suggested Tiet as Grod fired more bursts of plasma energy at the creatures trying to enter through the doorway.

Pounding from above drew their attention. They looked up only to find another aerogore smashing its way through the mesh grille that covered the ventilation conduit in the ceiling. It fell by its own weight into the room, just in front of them, and recovered quickly; springing into action against them. Tiet was the closest and bounded away from its lightning fast strike as Wynn hit it broadside with a spicor disc. It howled and fell over going wild from the pain of having a quarter of its abdomen obliterated by the resulting dispersion burst.

Heavy steps were heard again from above as more of the monsters filed through the conduit and headed into the room. Tiet leapt over the one still writhing on the ground and followed his companions out of the conference room using the portal cut by the boys. There was almost no emergency lighting visible at all in the corridor. They hoped they were alone for the moment. The lack of light gave the animals a definite advantage.

"I don't sense anything out here," said Wynn cautiously.

Behind them, multiple aerogores were pounding away at the locked doors. The cut portal was much too small for any of them to fit through, but they were denting the door noticeably and it was quickly giving way to the abuse.

"They'll be through that door in seconds," said Grod.

"Come on, we've got to warn everyone we can to get out of here before the place becomes overrun with those things," said Tiet as he ran off into the dark corridors ahead with the others taking up pursuit.


KALE, Juli and Emil moved quickly through the darkened corridors of the base. They entered one of the junction areas with a larger chamber and other corridors heading off in different directions from it. It contained a service hall that normally would have had people eating inside, but the place was abandoned at the moment.

Emil's foot bumped into something as they made their way through the area. He lowered his ignited blade and saw the upper portion of a woman's body lying on the ground at his feet. He stepped back in disgust; her lower body was nowhere to be found.

Juli screamed up ahead, next to Kale. It was another grisly discovery. As he joined them where more clusters of emergency lighting pods made the visibility better, Emil could see that there was a great many more people slain in the area.

"It smells terrible in here," said Juli.

"Yeah, unfortunately we've smelled it before," said Emil.

Then they all heard screeching echoing down the corridors. It was hard to tell which direction the noise was coming from, but it was getting louder.

They were standing next to a large fountain with a base and a tabletop style edge. The water was no longer flowing due to the lack of power. Kale led Juli over to it and said, "Get down here under the edge."

"What's happening, Kale?!" asked Juli fearfully as she crawled down beneath the marble top and scooted in next to the base.

Kale squeezed her hand and said, "Trust me. I won't let anything harm you."

The screeching seemed to come from all directions and then the aerogores were in the chamber with them. Kale and Emil brought their backs together. "Keep safe, my brother," said Emil.

"And you don't take any chances," said Kale.

They each leapt away as chemical fire came down on their position. Juli screamed from beneath the fountain pedestal. She couldn't see what had happened to the boys when the flame came down where they had been standing.

An aerogore came down near the fountain and spotted her under the pedestal. It screeched and rushed for the girl. Kale came across over the fountain's bowl of water and swiped his ignited blade across the top of the aerogore's head. He landed behind the beast as its legs folded under its body and it skidded dead across the floor under its previous momentum. A quick glance at Juli reassured them both that the other was still alive.

There was more screeching and Emil sailed through the air behind him dispatching another one of the reptilian predators in flight. Kale leapt away again as the boys took the fight to the creatures. The two warriors were deftly moving back and forth across the room trying to disorient the attackers and disorganize their pack-like patterns of killing.

Kale landed on the ledge of the fountain and an aerogore surprised him. The beast snapped at him as he sliced across its face. It reflexively knocked him away with a heavy paw as it felt the sting from Kale's weapon across its mandible. The blow sent him flying back into the water. The aerogore jumped up on the ledge with its upper body and let go of a chemical spray that ignited in the air on its way toward Kale. His thoughts brought the majority of the fountain's water volume up to shield him from the fiery blast, and then he sent the water into the aerogore, carrying the predator away in the flood across the floor. Emil came down on the beast as it washed up near him.

Another one of the aerogores shot down at Emil from the sky. He seized it in flight with his mind and sent it reeling away through the glass wall of the service hall. As the creature recovered, Emil pulled up the glass shards and pieces of steel supports with his mind and sent them as deadly projectiles at the aerogore.

Kale's kemstick flew into another of the beasts heading for Emil and pierced its breast. When it fell to the ground dead, the boys realized they were alone in the area again.

Kale recovered his weapon and walked back through the aerogore bodies to retrieve Juli from her hiding spot. When he knelt down to where she was, he found her shaking uncontrollably with her hands over her ears to drown out the screeching of the aerogores. She jumped when he touched her, but she practically leapt out from under the fountain ledge to reach him when she opened her eyes and realized it was over.

Juli wrapped her arms around Kale and kissed his face, happy to see him. Tears were running down her cheeks-she was scared to death.

"Are they all dead?" she asked through trembling lips.

"At least the ones in here," said Emil.

Kale asked Juli, "Are you alright?"

She nodded, but the experience was traumatizing her.

"We had better get moving toward the med-lab," said Emil. "We've still got to get Ramah and your mother out of here."

Another quick glance at the damage they had done and the trio headed away through the adjoining corridor leading to the medical facility.


THEY had managed to set off the alarm system along the way to the med-lab, sending out an evacuation order throughout the entire base. Hopefully everyone was on their way to get out by now. Juli and Mirah were in the front office getting supplies together that might be needed. Fortunately, Ramah was the only bedridden patient in the facility. The others had already left under their own motility. The Hangar was very near, with an access corridor right off of the med-lab into the main departure area in case of medical emergencies that might be arriving.

"Kale, Juli, help me get these supplies to the Equinox," said Mirah as she heaped equipment and boxes into their arms and sent them toward the access corridor.

"I should check on the girl, don't you think, Dr. Soone?" asked Emil, glancing back down the darkened corridor toward the patient suites.

"Yes, Emil, that's a good idea. She should still be sleeping with the sedatives I've given her. We'll get these things loaded on the ship and come back to help get her ready for transport."

"Yes, ma'am."

Mirah headed off after Kale and Juli with her own load of supplies and several totes of medical equipment slung over her shoulders, as Emil headed back toward the patient suites.


THE drugs Dr. Soone had given Ramah were beginning to wear off. The catatonic fog was lifting and she could remember why she was in this bed. Ramah had passed out after the escaped the fields of the Agonotti. She was hurting still, but she was glad to be free.

Ramah opened her eyes slightly, viewing the room in the very low lighting coming from the hallway beyond her room. It was odd, but not enough to stir her consciousness out of the drug induced funk her doctor had her in. She blinked slowly, not really opening her eyes beyond a slit's width.

A shadow passed by in the hallway between the curtains over her rooms viewing window and the low lighting beyond. She supposed it must be Dr. Soone checking up on her again. She liked the doctor. She was kind and comforting to her, especially after the ordeal she had just been through as a slave to living nightmares. Now, she was safe with the rebels and the Barudii king.

The door began to creak open a little and someone was coming in. The light cast upon the figure for a second and Ramah managed to blink through the fog her mind and vision were under. She screamed as the dim light animated a nightmare pushing through the doorway. The fowl beast reared its head at her cry and returned a horrible loud screeching that terrified the girl even more.

The beast began to charge into the room in a bloodlust as Ramah grabbed for the rails of her bed but did not possess the strength to remove herself from it. She heard another scream-the scream of a man, like a battle cry, as the viewing window to her room shattered inward. A dark human figure pounced upon the creature's left shoulder area with an energy weapon of some kind in his hand, driving it home into the beast. It thrashed its powerful head at the blow, slinging the man away into a supply cabinet across the room.

The beast continued its thrashing, trying to remove the weapon lodged in its shoulder area. It smashed into Ramah's bed with enough force to push it back, bouncing her out as the bed slammed against the wall behind her. She was now on the ground between its thrashing head and her battered patient bed.

The man recovered almost as quickly as he landed against the supply cabinet, reaching out toward her, but too far away to grab her. The beast spotted Ramah on the floor and started to strike with terrible rows of teeth, but the bed behind her, seemingly moving by the movement of great invisible hands, rotated over top of her in a move that scooped her under and pushed her toward the wall with the bed landing on its side against her. She was protected temporarily as the creature's strike slammed into the under framing of the bed.

An invisible force, apparently under her rescuer's control slammed into the creature, sending it hard against the racks of medical equipment that had been monitoring her beside the bed. His weapon dislodged of its own will and bounced back to the mysterious man as he launched his self again at the monster. Several quick blows with his energy sword silenced the beast once and for all.

"Who are you and what was that thing?!" she asked frantically as the man began to lift the tortured bed frame and mattress away from her.

"It's an aerogore; very deadly. We've got to get you out of here, now."

"Thank you for saving me," she said as he scooped her limp frame up off of the floor into his arms.

"I'm Emil. Don't worry. I won't let anything happen to you, Ramah."

Somehow, those were very comforting words. The dead beast on the floor helped to bolster that feeling that he meant every syllable of his statement. She could tell he was dark skinned even in the low lighting and handsome. He seemed quite strong for a young man and he was soon heading quickly but cautiously down the corridor with her in his arms.

"Where are we going?" asked Ramah.

"We've got to evacuate with the others," said Emil. "We've got a ship waiting."

She hung onto his neck, but she was still weak from the intoxicating effect of the medications. Their hold on her was beginning to take over again as she slipped in and out of consciousness while the young man carried her off into the darkness toward his ship and safety.


THE warrior trio, Barudii and Horva, watched ships in the main hangar leaving without them. They were able to see, but not able to get to those escaping the horrible infestation of the rebel's Sector City base. Ships were rising off of the tarmac as fast as their crews could ready them for take-off.

"How many do you think?" asked Tiet.

"At least two hundred smaller vessels," observed Grod, "Maybe thirty larger cruisers."

The warriors and their king had managed to make it safely to the observation lounge nearly ten stories up from the hangar bay's main level. They had seen many people along the way that had been killed by the aerogores-left lying in pools of their own blood: men, women and children. The beasts were obviously not hunting for food but for service. This was a planned attack by a master of the elements-a master of evil.

"Can you see the Equinox?" asked Tiet.

"There are too many to pick it out," said Grod, "It may be all the way down on the other end where the ships all seem to be heading. Perhaps they have found a way out without the transgates."

"Wynn? What are you doing over there?"

The elder man was studying a schematic up on the wall behind the control desk.

"I think you're right, Grod," he said without taking his eyes off of the chart. "If I'm reading this right, there is supposed to be an escape tunnel big enough for the larger ships to be able to get through. It looks like there is a barrier, maybe a gate. They will have to open it to get out."

"Where does it lead?" asked Tiet. "Do they come out in the plains where that army is?"

"No. It looks like they will come out in the city…near the airbase for Sector City."

"That should provide them some cover then; maybe enough to get away from the cruisers they have stationed out over the plains," said Grod.


Down in the hangar, aerogores were beginning to come into the massive underground chamber in great numbers.

"There must be hundreds of them," said Tiet helplessly.

They could make out people being attacked outside of their ships as they tried to ready for departure. Some of the smaller vessels were being attacked also as the aerogores hurled great blasts of chemical fire at the vehicles. Others had several of the beasts clinging to them and ripping away at the armor plating to get inside at the human occupants. They continued to unleash hundreds of bursts of flame at the ships. Some of the smaller personal craft were completely engulfed in flame and then suddenly one nearby the observation window exploded before them. The heavy shrapnel clanged into the blast proof transparisteel, but did not penetrate.

Tiet removed his blade, ignited it and hammered into the viewing window. It scarred the material, but did not penetrate.

"You'll be working a while to get through that stuff Tiet. It's made to withstand a large freighter explosion if need be," said Wynn.

The heavy doors they had come through began to ring with pounding coming from the other side. "They've found us!" shouted Grod as he prepared his plasma weapon for a final showdown.

"Wait men," said Wynn. "If I'm correct we can follow this back hallway through this control station and we'll find a corridor that is supposed to lead to a small fighter bay. It must be a reserve hangar just for personal fighter craft?"

He pulled the map down to take with them. The doors began to glow from heat being put to it from the creatures beyond.

"Let's get out of here," said Tiet as he and Grod jumped the counter to join Wynn. He led them through the control station area according to the schematic. Hopefully they wouldn't encounter more predators along the way.


EMIL helped Mirah to get Ramah situated in the single patient bed in the Equinox's med-bay. They strapped her in securely as the rumble of the engines increased in intensity-they were taking off.

"I'd better get up front and help Kale," said Emil.

"Do you have to go right now?" asked Ramah, half dazed from her medications.

"You'll be fine now," he said. "You've got a great doctor looking out for you."

He smiled and acknowledged Mirah and then turned to head up to the bridge.



"Thanks for saving my life."

"You're very welcome," he replied, smiling again.

Emil headed on through the main corridor quickly as pounding noises began to resonate through the hull. When he reached the bridge, Merab and Jael were with Kale as he brought the ship up off of the tarmac.

"Let's get those shields up!" he shouted. "We've got some of them on the hull!"

"I've got it!" said Merab.

Beyond the main bridge window, he could see hundreds of ships clamoring into the air trying to get away from the aerogores. They were raining fire down upon the smaller ships that were vulnerable to such an attack and others were almost completely covered by the beasts as they tried to rip through the hull armaments to get at the people inside. The larger ships, some that were much bigger than the Equinox, were shielded and impervious to the creature's attacks. Nevertheless, evacuation was still necessary.

Emil took a seat at the communication and science station next to Kale. "Let's see who's leading this parade."

He tapped into the rebel's coded frequency, still in the computer's memory from recent communications, and found one particular ship, the Maelstrom, apparently leading the others out.

"It looks like the lead ship has opened whatever gateway is up ahead in the huge escape tunnel down at southern end."

"They must have had power feeding it from another source," said Jael.

Some of the smaller ships were colliding in the low light conditions and aerogore fire and smoke from some of the wreckage on the tarmac wasn't helping the mess.

"We've got a long line to get out that way," said Merab. "The smaller ships are getting bogged down behind those bigger vessels."

"What about the transgate?" asked Emil.

A moment of epiphany swept the bridge as they all remembered the special capabilities of their ship.

"Do it," said Kale. "Just put us above ground inside the city; we don't want to leave the main group."

"Calculating," said Emil as he worked the controls frantically. "I've got it! I'm engaging transgate."

Everything around the ship flashed. In a moment the murky scene of torn transports, fire and smoke was replaced by the brightness of day above ground. The sudden transport into sunshine was a little painful to the eyes, but still a welcome sight.

They could see that many of the ships were already on the surface, but there seemed to be no direction as to the intended destination for the group. Aerogores still mingled among them-the foul creatures weren't giving up their prey so easily.

Suddenly, a massive burst of energy impacted with the side of a building near the place where the ships were emerging from the underground hangar. It shattered the old dilapidated structure to pieces.

"What is that?!" shouted Merab.

"My guess is that those Vorn cruisers are firing on us from the plains beyond the city," said Emil.

"I'm picking up something else," said Merab as he surveyed his scan readouts. "It looks like several hundred pods are heading this way from the same area beyond the city."

"I'm taking us in," said Kale. "Let's see if we can provide some cover fire until everyone can get above ground."


BY the time the warrior trio reached the door to the corridor indicated on Wynn's schematic, they were all winded. The aerogores were still somewhere behind them and continuing the chase.

"This is it," said Wynn as he tried to make out the details in the low light.

Tiet ignited his weapon and proceeded to cut a portal through the electrically controlled door. As soon as the piece fell through, they were hit with a horrible odor coming from the corridor beyond.

"Oh man! What is that smell?"

"I know that odor," said Grod. "It smells like an aerogore nesting site."

He proceeded through the cut portal ahead of them, peering cautiously into the dark corridor before moving completely through. Wynn and Tiet were puzzled, but they followed their friend on through with their own weapons at the ready.

Something was squishing under their feet. Tiet lowered his lit blade to cast the glow on the floor. Oh great, droppings.

"Don't slip," said Wynn as he came up behind him.

He might have thought it funny if they weren't potentially creeping toward their own deaths in the chamber up ahead. There was absolutely no light at all. They had seen the last of the emergency lighting back before entering this corridor. It seemed like no people had been in this remote corner of the base in years. He remained close enough to illuminate Grod's back with his blade and Wynn was on his heels, but walking sideways against the wall to be sure nothing came at them from the darkness behind.

The horrible stench was only getting stronger as they approached what was supposed to be an auxiliary hangar with a clear designated opening to the outside, at least according to the map.

"Are you sure about this Wynn?" asked Tiet in a low whisper.

"This is what the schematic says. I only hope there are still ships stored down here."

"And that they're in working condition."

Grod stopped ahead of them. "I think there are some controls here," he whispered.

He stepped off to the side as the corridor opened up into the other room. They couldn't see anything beyond the glow of Tiet's blade. It appeared to be a vast chamber and descended downward beyond the railing they were standing near. Grod raised the computer display mounted in the forearm of his uniform and clicked the power on to cast some light on the panel he was looking at. He tapped a few keys on the board and it began to illuminate its own controls.

"Power is coming on," said Tiet.

"They must have an alternate power source for this bay-good thinking on someone's part," said Wynn.

The self illuminating of the control panels began to run off of the panel before Grod and continued on many more along the walls of what appeared to be a control booth for the hangar. The overhead lights blinked on in the booth around them revealing an aerogore waking on the floor near Grod. It screeched and sprang toward the Horva general. He reflexively brought his glove up and swatted at the beast. Its powerful head knocked Grod into the air and over the railing as the lights continued to come on inside the chamber.

Tiet was quick to slash into the beast. He got a strike to the aerogore's face and barely recoiled ahead of its claws as it defended itself. He somersaulted over the reptile, driving his blade deep in between the beast's shoulder blades into the heart as he went; landing against one of the control panels on the other side. He found a place of attachment and clung to the face of the panel as the aerogore went into a wild spasm and died.

Wynn was already at the railing searching for Grod. Tiet grabbed his blade as he jumped over the carcass and landed next to his elder.

"Help me!" shouted Grod as he hung from a lower portion of the railing that spiraled along the chambers outer wall.

The Barudii raised him safely with their thoughts, bringing him back to stand beside them.

"Thank you."

The main lighting for the chamber was on now and they could see that it had been a great while since any humans had been to that portion of the base. There were droppings everywhere; especially along the bay floor below. There appeared to be twenty fighter craft in the bay, although the majority of the ships were ruined. Most appeared to have been used as aerogore play toys and were beaten and stripped apart; chewed on and defecated upon.

The men hurried along the ramp, cautiously investigating their surroundings for more predators. "It looks like the rest of them are all inside the base," said Wynn.

"This is definitely a nest," said Grod. "They love caves and places like this where they can rest undisturbed and then use the dark of night to hunt by."

"How do you know so much about these things?" asked Tiet as they came to the tarmac at the lowest level.

"My campaigns with the Vorn military-we fought on several different worlds. The Vorn home-world of Demigoth also has aerogores indigenous to it."

"That looks like the way out," said Wynn, pointing to an orifice in the chamber above them.

"Now we just have to see if there are three working fighters in this mess."


MERAB was blasting away at the aerogores, but they were difficult targets to hit. Buildings were being blown to pieces around them by the big Vorn cruiser in the plains beyond Sector City and over a hundred pods were on their way to intercept their convoy of ships.

"I've got the Maelstrom!" shouted Emil over the noise of explosions. "Captain Viche is online!"

"Captain Viche, this is Kale Soone, the son of the king. We have to get everyone away from that cruiser firing on us from the eastern outskirts of the city."

"I understand. We had better head west, away from them. There is a place we can regroup some distance from here; the valley of Sayir," said Viche. "The other rebel forces were rendezvousing there already before coming on to Sector City. I will let them know our situation and have them wait for us there."

"That sounds good. Please transmit the coordinates to the others while we try to provide some cover for you."

"I'll notify all of our ships," said Viche. "Lord willing, we'll see you there, young master. Maelstrom out."

"The coordinates are coming through now," said Emil.

"Good. Keep trying to raise my father. We've got to let him know where we are headed."

"Those pods are closing in fast," said Jael.

"Merab, send the scans of the pods into the auto-targeting system and set it to fire at will!"

"Kale, I've got your father online," said Emil.

"Great!" he said, relieved that his father was safe. "Send him the coordinates for the valley and tell him we'll be meeting the rest of our forces there."

One of the larger vessels exploded a few miles away over the rooftops. The Vorn cruiser had found a nice sized target and obliterated it. The rest of the ships were filing steadily out of the city to the west, leaving behind the aerogores that had driven them out of the base. But the pods were almost to the others still trying to get above ground.

"I'm taking us right at them," said Kale as he brought the Equinox to bear on their position.

He charged the ship toward the pod squadrons. The auto-tracking for the weapons systems came alive as the first pod was picked up by its sensors. Gun turrets all across the hull of the ship blazed into action, tracking and terminating the one man attack fighters.

The offensive attack was wreaking havoc on the orderly pod formations. They resembled swarming insects as they engaged the larger vessel plowing through their ranks.

"Hopefully, we can buy some time for the others to escape," said Kale.

A blast hit the Equinox sending a booming shudder through the ship.

"What happened?!" shouted Jael.

"We've been hit by one of the cruisers," replied Emil as he quickly sifted through the various alarms and information pouring onto his displays. "We're losing the engine control systems!"

Kale was battling the controls to keep the ship stable. "I'm losing the helm!"

"How did they get through the shields so quickly?"

"Shield Frequency Capture… it's a system that was developed for the cruisers back during the Baruk war," said Emil as he tried to bring the engine control backups online. He tried to reroute power to auxiliary systems but everything was failing under the power load. "It's no good, Kale-I can't get helm control back up yet. I should have taken you up on letting me drive the next time."

The ship was beginning to tumble out of control and lose altitude.

"Load the coordinates for Sayir and activate the transgate!" shouted Kale.

The Equinox's shields bounced them off of the side of a burnt out sky scraper as they continued out of control in their descent.

"Man, I'm getting tired of landing upside down," said Emil, frustrated.

"What's going on up there?!" shouted Mirah through the intercom.

"Hold on Mother-it's going to get rough!"

The ship began to tumble over again in its descent. The pods that had been engaged with the vessel were trying desperately to remove their selves from its path. The pavement was approaching fast. Emil hammered away at the computer controls from his upside down position strapped inside his flight chair.

"Talk to me, Emil!" shouted Kale desperately.

"It's tricky! We don't want to land on our backs somewhere else, you know?!"

Their flight chair harnesses strained against their bodies to hold them firmly in place. Kale hoped they were strapped in well enough in the med-lab.

"I've got it!" shouted Emil triumphantly.

The Equinox was enveloped in a pocket of bright light and vanished.


TIET sat in the dusty mold infested cockpit of a relic. The ship was Barudii made, a predecessor of the Viper class aerial fighter. He completed the login of the coordinates that had been transmitted by Emil from the Equinox. He powered up the engines and they gave only a slight choke before coming online fully. Boy, these were well made.

A few ships down, Grod had his fighter's engines warming up and Wynn was outside of his ship tinkering with a regulator. He made a final manual adjustment that set the engine cycle into a nice purr. He looked at Tiet with satisfaction.

A screeching noise could be heard from the hallway near the control booth-the aerogores were coming back to their nest.

"Get in!" Tiet shouted.

Wynn fumbled with the lock on his canopy, it was stuck. Aerogores began to march through the hallway into the chamber. When they saw the aircraft, powered up for flight, they became enraged. Wynn finally got the canopy to open up again as Tiet and Grod began to lift off of the pad.

The aerogores took to the air, sailing over the railing toward the hovering ships. Tiet instinctively went for the guns and set them blazing, rapid fire. Several of the beasts fell out of the sky, chewed to bits by the onslaught of the aerial fighter's guns. Tiet brought the nose of the ship to bear on the hallway's opening in the rock and launched a small rocket into it which shattered the stone to pieces. The entryway was mostly blocked to the others coming back to the nest.

Wynn was airborne and following Grod's fighter out of the underground hangar bay through the cave that had once served as a launch point. The guns of Grod's ship blazed to life, taking out oncoming predators that were returning from the outside. Grod cleared the way and all three aerial fighters shot into the open air above ground.

They were immediately faced with the awesome sight of a Vorn battle cruiser hovering above the grassy plains where their ships had emerged.

"Switch on your sensor cloak!" shouted Wynn through their cockpit speakers.


"Lower left on the panel-quickly. I don't think they've spotted us yet."

Tiet obeyed his mentor and tapped the switch that was labeled Sensor Cloak. The indicator lit up green in color.

"What does it do?" Grod asked.

"Just what it says. We're masked from their sensor scans, at least if they're working properly," said Wynn. "Now, we can head toward Sayir and they won't even realize we've been here."

Tiet studied the ship ahead of them. Lucin could be on that ship. Also on his display, was payload information. He was carrying fifty rockets minus the one he had used inside the hangar and one laser guided smart bomb.

"We're not leaving just yet," said Tiet into the cockpit microphone.

"What are you talking about, we have to rendezvous with the others at Sayir," said Wynn.

"And we will. I just want to give them a little present before we bug out," said Tiet. "Are your ships armed?"

"Mine is; I'm in," said Grod quickly, a lust for revenge in his voice.


He hesitated. "How do I always get outvoted?"

"Just your luck old friend," said Tiet as he brought his aerial fighter on a course for the Vorn cruiser.

The others fell in line at his wings and armed their weapons.

"If they don't know we're here then they probably don't have their shields up."

"We'll have to hit them with everything at once before they have an opportunity to put them up," said Grod.

The fighters were closing in on the target fast at subsonic speed. They looked like insects swarming a large animal, but their sting would be nastier.

"Let her have it!" shouted Tiet as he triggered every weapon to fire on the hulking cruiser ahead.

The triple volley was heaved away from the fighter group almost simultaneously. The ships shuddered heavily as all weapons released their payload at once. The rockets sailed ahead of them at a slightly faster speed, like a prey outrunning its predator. The group pulled up just in time to clear the hull.

Multiple impacts of the smaller missiles swept across the hull like a swiftly moving rain. The three smart bombs sailed elegantly after, crashing heavily against the armor of the hull. Each one erupted in a devastating display of fire and shrapnel, breeching the ship's exterior hull. The strafed side of the great vessel was a huge patch of fire burning on the hull surface with more damage throughout the lower layers.

Tiet whooped aloud at the impacts, but it was a very small victory. The Vorn cruisers could take much more before being crippled, but at least they had struck back. The trio brought their fighters back around; it was time to head for the rendezvous. From the belly of the vessel, smaller ships were birthed into the air and they quickly set their collective sights upon Tiet and his group.

"Here they come," said Wynn.

"Split up!" shouted Tiet.

The trio rolled away from one another as a group of pods shot through their formation with all guns blazing. The enemy divided up at a three to one ratio.

"We're a little outnumbered," said Wynn as he took evasive maneuvers.

"And your point?" asked Tiet.

"We've got to get to the rendezvous, for one."

"These pods are a bit more maneuverable than our fighters," said Grod as he barely evaded incoming pulse bursts.

"Head away from one another," commanded Wynn.


"An old war maneuver from before you were born," said Wynn.

The trio each put their aerial fighters on a flight path away from the other two and pushed the ships into full throttle. The pods were more maneuverable, but not quite as fast. Each of the old Barudii aerial fighters was trailing three enemy pod fighters as they continued on track away from the area around the Vorn cruiser.

"Now, what?" asked Tiet.

"When we reach a fifty-mile distance from each other, we'll turn back from our course and head for an intersect point."

Grod laughed into his headset. "I think I've heard this in one of your old war stories, Wynn. I never get tired of hearing them."

"And he never gets tired of telling them," added Tiet sarcastically.

"Alright men, on my mark. Three, two, one, and come back on a heading of.0729," commanded Wynn.

The old aerial fighters each pulled a hard turn and came back on their pursuers who had been lagging only slightly. The pod trios split away into their own hard turn maneuvers and came right back into formation as they pursued the Barudii fighters.

"We're coming in fast," said Tiet.

"Use the rockets you have left and lock onto each others pursuing pods," said Wynn. "As we close the distance, everyone turn down and right 30? after we fire rockets at the locked targets. They'll be so preoccupied trying to catch each of us-"

"-that they won't realize they're heading into rockets fired from a different fighter than the one they are pursuing," Tiet finished.


"Remind me to pay closer attention to his stories, Grod."

The Barudii fighters were closing the distance fast at supersonic speeds, each with a trio of pursuing pods in tow.

"Here we go," warned Grod as he kept an eye on his comrades approaching on his scanner.

"Lock targets and fire on my mark," instructed Wynn.

"I've got mine," said Tiet.

"Me too."

"And three, two, one, fire and turn!" shouted Wynn as he fired his own rockets.

Each fighter loosed its rockets and ducked away according to Wynn's instructions. They crossed the point they would have intersected with the pods in tow, not realizing that they had been locked in as targets of fighters other than the one each pod trio had been following. The rockets plowed head on with each of their intended targets as the Tiet, Wynn and Grod reformed their group.

"Now, let's get out of here and meet the others before we have any more company," said Wynn.

"It's odd that the cruiser is alone out here," said Grod.

"And that they only sent nine pods after us," Tiet added.

"I wonder what has become of the other ships that were said to have been with this one," said Grod.

"I'm sure we'll find out sooner than we want to," said Wynn. "Let's get moving while we can."

The aerial fighter trio adjusted their course and speed and headed away toward the Valley of Sayir.


JUST above a remote portion of the Valley of Sayir that began to slope upward toward the mountain bearing the same name, the Equinox burst into reality with a snap of white light. The ship was right side up according to Emil's lightning quick jump calculations, but it was still plummeting toward the ground in a crippled condition.

"Hey, we're not upside down!" shouted Kale.

"See what happens when I take the wheel?" replied Emil confidently.

The controls jerked hard in Kale's hands. "We're still falling!"

"Problem!" Emil focused on his instrument panels. "100ft…60ft…30ft."

Kale slapped the docking thruster's control. The ship lurched, struggling against gravity with all the resistance it had left-it wasn't enough. The Equinox slammed into the valley floor with a massive Boom!

The shields collapsed, sending random blades of energy ripping into the ground away from the impact. When the cloud of dust began to settle again, the ship was intact but was unlikely to ever get airborne again.

"Is everyone okay?" Kale asked.

"Present," said Emil.

"We're alright," said Merab and Jael.

Kale tapped the intercom, perhaps the only thing still functioning on the ship. "Mother, how are you, back there?"

It took a moment, but they replied. "I think we're all in one piece," said Mirah, "I take it, we crashed?"

"Yes, but we made it to the rendezvous point," joked Emil from the background.

Kale shot him a weary look. "We're down in the Valley of Sayir, Mother. It's probably a good idea if we abandon the ship, just in case we were to have an explosion."

"We can't move Ramah right now," said Mirah, "I need to monitor her for a while, especially after that crash."

Kale wasn't going to argue a losing battle. "We'll inspect the ship and try to make sure we're not in any danger by staying on board."

The intercom switched off on Mirah's end. She was adamantly against endangering a patient.

"I'm glad Ramah is doing fine, but explosions don't do much for one's health."

Kale moved from his flight chair and retrieved a tool kit. He tossed it at Emil. "We'd better get to inspecting this heap then."

It took an hour and a half to get main power restored and they found nothing endangering their stay inside the ship while they waited for the rebel forces to catch up to them. The engine's hyper-coil was supplying ample power, enough to even use the internal transgate if necessary. The group scavenged for food in the galley, and took turns sitting with Ramah in the Infirmary.

Juli and Kale were trying to get the scanners operational on the bridge so they might get a fix on the rebel army and find out how long it would be until their arrival, but no luck yet.

Merab, Jael and Mirah were in the galley finishing their meals, while Emil relieved the doctor and sat with Ramah. They were enjoying a very nice conversation and perhaps even a bit of flirting. All the crew had to do was to wait for the others and then decide on their next course of action.


LUCIN was standing on the bridge of one of his personal transports watching the main display. Information was continually updating and icons were shifting on the screen as the rebel forces converged on the Valley of Sayir. His Vorn battle cruisers were feeding his transport group the information from orbit-they were much too big and clumsy to be a part of the ground battle he planned to wage at Sayir. Lucin noticed that several groups of ships were coming from various directions-evidently they had a number of bases to operate from. His group of ships was flying a parallel course to that of the rebels fleeing from Sector City's underground base.

Lucin's armada of troop carriers was maintaining a distance just far enough to keep them out of sensor range, while his orbiting cruisers allowed him to keep an eye on his prey. He had the element of surprise on his side. His plan was simple, wait for all of the rebels to converge on the valley, and then bring his transports toward Sayir from the plateau to the north. They would approach at minimal speed and altitude and then swarm into the valley, making troop drops close to the enemy.

Lucin was counting on a minimal response to his human forces as they deployed for the ground battle. The rebels would be too preoccupied with the surprise he already had waiting for them at Sayir. By the time his human combatants joined the fray, the battle would be all but lost for the rebels and the Barudii helping them. Lucin would counter prophecy and reign supreme among humanity.


AFTER several hours of waiting inside the Equinox, Mirah heard a beeping alarm on the scanner. She was sitting alone on the bridge while the others gathered supplies to move to another ship when the rebel groups arrived in the valley. Mirah needed rest. She had not gotten any good sleep since before they had fled Kosiva and the exhaustion was catching up with her. Ramah was stable and doing fine, in fact, when Mirah had returned from her dinner to relieve Emil in the Infirmary, she had found the two young people so engrossed in one another's company that she had decided to just leave them alone. Someone had to remain on the bridge monitoring the scanner for activity, so with pillow in hand she had taken a post in one of the bridge flight chairs listening for any new developments.

Mirah tapped the intercom. "Kale, the scanner is picking up what looks like a group of ships heading toward the valley."

"I'm on my way," he replied.

Within moments, Kale and Juli appeared on the bridge. He surveyed the panel and confirmed Mirah's report. "It looks like four or five different groups. Ours is coming from Sector City to the east and the others are approaching from the south and west. Hopefully we'll have a good number of soldiers once all of the groups get together."

"From what you've been telling me," said Mirah, "it still might not be enough."

"This battle won't be won by numbers anyway," said Kale. "Either Elithias will give us the victory or we won't have it at all. I've been studying some of the scrolls that Aija left on board and information back at the base library. This valley is mentioned in one of the prophecies."

"What does it say?" asked Mirah.

"It said a son of man will be an instrument of The Eternal One in that day when the Mithrial sons shall gather to oppose him in the Valley of Sayir…and he shall bring the judgment of Elithias upon them with no weapon in his hand."

"What does it mean?" asked Juli.

"I can only assume it is referring to Father."

"How do you know?" asked Mirah.

"Aija did tell Father that he's supposed to lead these rebels as an army against Lucin and his forces and here we are gathering at Sayir just like the prophecy says. This has to be where and when the battle is going to take place," explained Kale.

"But our people are the only ones out here," said Juli optimistically.

"I'm just going by what the prophecy states will happen-maybe Lucin arrives later."

"How long until your father and the others arrive?" asked Mirah.

"According to the sensors, the different groups will be coming into the valley in about fifteen minutes. We transmitted the coordinates to Father and he said he would be heading this way with Grod and Wynn."

"I hope he will arrive with the others," said Mirah. "I miss him already."


ON the northern plateau above the Valley of Sayir, an army gathered, an army of dark mind and dark purpose. The human soldiers poured from their transport vehicles. Hundreds of the ships scattered across the land like a swarm of insects, unloading their young from their bellies. They moved as one, for one mind controlled them all.

Lucin stood out in the open air. The sun shone upon him, but it did not bring light into his darkness. He held a thin pad in his hand. On its flat display, Lucin watched the live feed coming from his orbiting battle cruisers. Their eyes brought him the location of all of the rebel transport groups as they made their way to the Valley of Sayir, according to the prophecy of the empty hand.

The ancient prophecy might have caused Lucin to fear, but he had abandoned the fear of Elithias long ago, before men walked the paradise of the old world. Now, his power from old was returning, even his fellow Mithri could feel it. The Agonotti were united with him again; his Mithrial brethren. His mind and power were well beyond the Barudii he had tried to capture. Lucin had supposed there was a necessity in having one of them so that he would have the mental stamina to control the great assimilated host he had secured on Castai-Rex. There was simply no need for it now. He was well able to control them all now.

Lucin looked away from his data pad toward the masses assembling behind him. He was mesmerized by the number of them, all at his beckoning-they would willingly die for him. How poetic, he thought, these beings created in His image, serving me; dying for me. This is justice of the grandest sort of irony. His eye turned to Mithrium. You should have allowed me my glory, when it would have cost you much less. Now, they will pay for what was rightfully mine.

A familiar wind crossed the area, bringing a dust that was living and yet, not. From the air, a being formed and began to walk toward Lucin. Vock gave a slight bow, conveying his allegiance and respect as he approached, his garments blowing in the breeze behind him.

"We are ready, my lord," said Vock.

Lucin beamed through the human eyes of his host body. "How many, Vock?"

"All of them, my lord."

A smile parted the human lips Lucin spoke through, revealing the teeth, like a predator that is ready to seize the prey for rending.

"How can He stop us now, my brother?" asked Lucin

"But…what of the prophecy?" asked Vock with a measure of concern in his tone.

Lucin dismissed his words saying, "What of it?" He turned to gaze upon his accomplishment; the army of humans that were readying themselves for conquest, his conquest. "Look, Vock. Look at what I have already been able to do, and where is He? He has not come to stop me-has not forbidden me my due from on high. Perhaps we have been fools all along, tricked into believing we were powerless against Him."

Does he really believe what he is saying? Vock felt more apprehension creeping into his thoughts.

"Do you intend to turn from following me now, Vock?" Lucin asked the question with his back still toward his Mithrial brother.

Vock was surprised by the question; it shocked him back to the now. "Of course not, my lord. I have always been loyal to you and will continue to be. I was merely-"

Lucin cut him off, saying, "Good, then go back to our brothers in the valley. When the transports are all on the ground, attack and spare no one."

Vock acknowledged the command with a nod of submission. He could not dismiss the prophecies with so much ease. In all of his time walking among men in his cursed form as an Agonotti, he had never seen a prophecy fail. Fighting his reservations, he did according to Lucin's will and proceeded back toward the valley where the Agonotti waited to strike. The wind took his form again, leaving Lucin standing on the plateau, still poring over his data sheet.


TIET was enjoying a little quiet time as he, Wynn and Grod made the flight to the Valley of Sayir. The old Barudii fighters were cruising steady and smooth at three times the speed of sound. Tiet thought for sure these old birds could press on even faster if need be. They were well built. The deep hum of the engines was almost soothing after all of the action he had seen in recent days. He might have relaxed enough for a little sleep, but they would soon arrive at Sayir.

The trio of fighters was flying on a heading slightly north of the valley. They would have to come through a stretch of mountains along the way and then across a plateau before coming down into the valley.

Grod's voice broke the silence, coming through the cockpit intercom saying, "Wynn, Tiet, I've been scanning ahead on our flight path and I'm picking up something unusual."

It was certainly like Grod to be working on something while the others were resting.

Tiet shook himself out of his sleepiness. "What is it?"

"I'm transferring the scan coordinates."

Tiet looked at the display as the information appeared. The scans showed indeterminate life readings across the plateau to the north of Sayir.

"It doesn't say whether or not it's human," said Tiet.

Wynn chimed in on the conversation and said, "It wouldn't at this distance. I've seen large animal herds that appeared similar on scans, but I doubt it in this case."

"I agree," said Grod. "The plateau would make a perfect launching ground for an attack on forces in the valley."

"Then we'll assume the worst and hope for the best," said Tiet. "Let's push our speed a little harder-I'm increasing to three point five of sound."

Wynn and Grod followed, "Copy, three point five of sound."

Tiet had to hold the controls a bit tighter as the fighter began to vibrate. It strained to reach the higher speed setting, but soon reached three point five of sound.

"The others should already be landing at Sayir by now," said Wynn. "Let's hope we're on time."


LUCIN sat in his private transport shuttle, locked away in his suite. The room comprised the normal area for a troop compartment that could hold over one hundred men. It was lavish; fit for a king. He knelt on the floor. His human body was completely free of any clothing. Now, was the time for real transformation-time for his inward self to come out. Lucin's body sweated profusely, but it wasn't the normal human mixture meant to cool the body. His pores were oozing a dark brownish black substance. Every area of his skin, from his neck down, was changing in color as the thick liquid crept across the surface of his body, like a shadow eating him alive. Every muscle appeared to be in tetanus. Lucin's eyes were squeezed tightly shut and his lips were pursed in a mask of pain.

The inward symbyte form covered him everywhere from his neck down. He began to look more and more like a Baruk warrior, possessing the same morphing exoskeleton. As the inward part finished encasing his form, Lucin's human eyelids opened up to reveal the same blackness completely covering the whole surface of each eye. The windows to the soul of a man, in Lucin, revealed only a void of hate and evil intent.

Lucin stood in his new exoskeleton armor and strapped on the Barudii blade located next to his uniform on the bed. It was time for war, and time to claim his glory.


KALE and Juli walked through patches of wild flowers growing everywhere on the valley floor. Merab and Jael were bringing up the rear of the group heading toward the area where a great many transport ships were already landing. Kale's best estimate was well over one hundred ships, each carrying a compliment of rebel fighters of varying number. So far he could not see his father anywhere among those disembarking. He was supposed to be coming with Wynn and Grod in old aerial fighters, but nothing so small was seen yet.

Kale looked for the Maelstrom among the bigger ships that were already down or landing. He needed to find Captain Viche. All of the rebel forces needed to get organized quickly before an attack could be launched against them. The prophecy was very clear-Lucin would be attacking in the valley at some point. He needed Viche to get the other group commanders together by the time his father arrived.

Juli was the first to spot the ship. "Isn't that it over there, the big one, where those people are disembarking?"

"Good eye."

They ran the one hundred yards to reach the Maelstrom. Several men were gathered around another very distinguished man. He appeared to be the leader among them. The man looked worn by battle. His hair was gray, but it gave him a wise appearance and only added to his strength.

"Captain Viche?" asked Kale.

"Yes young man," said Viche. He gave Kale a once-over look.

Kale suddenly felt like his age was factoring into this man's first impression of him.

"Are you, Kale Soone, the king's son?"

"Yes, sir. We need to-"

"Where is your father, boy?"

Juli gave Kale a sideways glance at the boy on the end of the question. Kale noticed it also and he didn't have time for this man's disrespectful attitude.

"Captain Viche, until my father arrives, I am in command here," his tone was polite but firm. "We need to meet with all of the commanders of these groups immediately. An attack is imminent on this valley and we've got to be ready or no one is going to survive this day. Do you understand?" Kale felt a little heavy-handed with the last question, but he just didn't have time for games. Every fiber of his being told him an attack would come very soon. Lucin's forces had been dogging their heels and it was unlikely he had just given up.

"Come with me," said Viche with a little more concern in his voice. "We'll round up the other commanders and try to get this thing organized."

The Captain led the way down the makeshift row between the landed ships pointing to various men as he walked along. They responded as though they understood his desire to meet with them, and they began to follow after them. Juli squeezed Kale's arm as they walked, a playful show at her approval of his bold handling of the older Captain Viche. He shot her a quick sarcastic grin. It was typical for the elder men to disqualify a young man such as himself on appearance only, but he was a king's son and officially a man of proper age according to the Barudii customs. He just wasn't going to stand for the disrespect under such dire circumstances.

Armed men and women were gathering in large groups outside of the vessels they had traveled in. More ships could be seen coming from the southwest. They already had a number of larger vessels on the ground and at least a few thousand armed rebels in sight with more pouring out of the bellies of the ships.

Kale was sizing up the various commanders as they made their way to join their group. They all looked seasoned by what they had faced in their fighting against the Agonotti. Some had visible scars on their necks and faces and one had a noticeable prosthetic hand. He fought the notion that was creeping into his mind-I'm not worthy to take charge of these men.

Here he was, only a child in their eyes. Most of the men were giving him stares comparable with the look Captain Viche had set upon him. They were obviously thinking, who are these kids with Viche?

When they had reached the last man, Viche was trying to gather to their group, he turned to gain their attention. Viche began to talk about the king being in transit to the valley and was saying something more about Kale being the king's son, but it was all fading-something else had caught Kale's attention.

Juli was getting used to showing Kale her affection for him more openly in recent days. She liked him for more than a friend and believed the feeling was mutual. They were young, but Kale was already considered a man by his clan. Juli had caught hold of his hand and it was growing sweaty and tense. The thought had occurred to her that he was either nervous for her to be touching him that way, or apprehensive about having to address all of these rebel commanders. His hand tensed more and she shot a sideways glance to his face. He was staring at the ground just beyond Captain Viche. Kale wasn't paying any attention to her or the meeting going on around him. His eyes were darting from the place behind Viche to various points on the valley floor around them. She saw sweat dripping down his temple in sixty degree weather and she became worried, what's wrong with him?

Kale eyed the shallow grass around the valley, something was making the hair stand up on the back of his neck but he couldn't see it-Danger!

Juli was holding his hand. She leaned in to Kale's ear whispering, "What's wrong?"

Kale wasn't sure if someone else had heard her question, but something changed. Patches of the ground shifted in color for a fraction of a second and Kale instinctively grabbed his blade from his back. Suddenly, he was pulling the weapon from the sheath on his back and the men, still engaged in the meeting, reacted as though threatened by the young man.

Kale wasn't even acknowledging the rebel commanders except to try and protect them. He charged toward Viche with his blade held high. The men reached for him as he pushed toward the bewildered Captain Viche. Kale was too fast for their attempt to restrain him, seconds were passing like hours. Viche went for his blaster pistol strapped on his side. He wouldn't have made it, Kale was already pushing between Viche and another man trying to get past them-a figure was forming from the dust of the ground behind the group.

The Agonotti warrior had only just congealed his form when Kale landed the first strike with his ignited Barudii blade. The warrior was covered by the same morphing exoskeleton Kale had seen on them inside the first underground rebel hangar. He had learned the weakness of their armor in that encounter and wasted no time exploiting it, striking a deep thrust into the joint between the deltoid plate and the left pectoralis plate. He drove the ignited blade up to three quarters of the way in. The Agonotti howled in pain as Kale sliced sideways to remove it through his chest, doing even more fatal damage.

Laser fire erupted all over the valley floor as seemingly thousands of Agonotti materialized among the rebel forces. The rebels present, were utilizing a heavier version of blaster rifle than those he had seen them using before. The rebels were retreating into groups, covering each other in all directions as the Agonotti tried to close in. It wasn't going to be as easy as might have been expected; the rebel blaster rifles were being fired in short bursts that was doing damage to the Agonotti.

Kale was fighting furiously, with Juli in tow. He was trying to find some safe place to take her, but the battle was raging in every direction he turned toward. The Agonotti were taking down the stray soldiers with ease utilizing their melee weapons, but it was the small groups of rebels putting up the most resistance.

Kale spotted Jael and Merab and headed for them, trying to protect Juli as best as he could. An Agonotti warrior materialized behind them and snatched Juli from his grasp, hurling her several feet through the air as he focused on bringing his large, spiked mace to bear on the young Barudii warrior. Kale dodged allowing the head of the mace to chunk into the ground next to him. He swiftly severed the mace's chain and in the same stroke, he hurled his blade between the breastplates of the Agonotti's armor. The Agonotti staggered and Kale hit the creature with a massive kinetic burst that sent it reeling away to the ground some feet away. He ran to help Juli up from the ground and called his weapon from the disintegrating body of the Agonotti. The blade leapt away to find Kale's hand as he continued his move to reach his Horva companions, Jael and Merab.


LUCIN watched with his troops from the edge of the plateau, where it began to descend steadily into the valley. Laser fire was erupting everywhere on the new battlefield. The Agonotti were disintegrating and materializing according to their special abilities and doing a great deal of damage both to the rebel soldiers and their transport vehicles, but it was not to the extent he had hoped to see. The rebels were actually holding their own in the fight and it surprised him.

"It looks as though my brethren cannot complete the job without my help," said Lucin under his breath.

All of his thousands were ready to descend into the fray at his command. Storm clouds were gathering over head. The wind began to whip up as the weather system gained very steady strength. How odd, Lucin thought, the sky was clear only moments ago. Perhaps, he thought, the weather is freakish here as it sometimes had been on the twin worlds of Castai. He turned to his troops who were kneeling in row upon row, with their weapons at the ready.

"We Attack!!" shouted Lucin as he stood up and drew the Barudii blade he had procured back on Castai-an elegant weapon in the right hands. He charged forward down the natural incline toward the battle raging below, his body still clad in the morphing black armor, an extension of his inner symbyte form. The masses of troops following after Lucin had not been assimilated long enough to be able to form the living armor in them, but it was definitely on his list of things to do once this battle was won and the planet secured. Lucin intended to reform this new human army into the likeness of his former Baruk clan army. They had been a terrible force to contend with. He would regain that power and more. The only world that remained unaffected by his forces was the home-world of the Vorn clan, Demigoth.

He had never set foot on the planet, neither with a human host. Demigoth was virgin territory. The Vorn military had been in covenant under the Baruk for control of the twin worlds of Castai, but they still maintained complete control of Demigoth, at least for now. Lucin and his troops raged toward the ongoing battle, ready to tip the balance of power and destroy the rebels and the Barudii once and for all.


TIET, Wynn and Grod had passed through the mountains only moments ago and were heading out over the plateau to the north of the Valley of Sayir. The signal the trio had been monitoring of a mass of indeterminate life readings suddenly changed when they cleared the mountains. The signal strength became very strong and Wynn was the first to report it to the others. "Do you see it? The scan says those signals are definitely human."

"It must be Lucin's ground army, but where are the big ships?" asked Tiet.

"The army is moving into the valley. Maybe Lucin realized the large cruisers would alert the rebels to his presence. Now, he seems to have surprise on his side."

"I'm reading something else," said Wynn. "There's a multiplicity of gunfire down in the valley already."

"I'm trying to reach the Equinox," said Tiet. It took a moment of silence before Emil's voice came through Tiet's cockpit speaker saying, "Yes, sir, this is Emil. The Agonotti are attacking!"

The Agonotti! "Emil, where's my wife and Kale?"

"Dr. K'ore is here on the ship with Ramah and Kale was out in the Valley meeting with the rebel commanders when the attack came. Merab and Jael are out there with him and Juli and I'm on my way now to help them."

"No! Emil, I want you to stay with my wife and Ramah. They'll need someone to protect them in case the Agonotti get to the Equinox."

"Yes, sir, I'll protect them with my life!" swore Emil.

"I have every confidence that you will. Your father and Wynn and I are inbound right now from the north. We are coming up on thousands of ground forces coming into the valley. We think it may be Lucin's forces, but we're going to try and slow them down."

"Understood," said Emil and he signed off.

Tiet spoke again to his friends flying in formation with him and said, "I spoke with Emil. The Agonotti are attacking in the valley already. They must be coordinating with Lucin and his human army."

"If they are what Aija has told us, then it makes sense," said Grod.

"We're coming up fast on Lucin's forces. Let's dump everything we've got left on them," said Tiet.

"I've got some missiles left," said Grod

"Just unload everything into their ranks," said Tiet. "We'll make multiple passes and see if we can thin out their ranks a little before they can intermingle with our people."

The three ships shuddered as the sheering forces of the increasing wind began to whip at their aerial fighters. They could see the ominous weather system hovering over the Valley of Sayir and it appeared to be growing quickly in intensity. Tiet led the other fighters in a descent towards Lucin's ground forces as thousands of symbyte assimilated humans ran hard for the raging battle ahead.

Tiet and the others triggered their weapons sending missiles and automatic laser fire into the sea of Lucin's army. Multiple explosions rocked the landscape sending bodies into the air, and more were cut down in mid-stride by the assault of pulse cannons from the three aerial fighters.

Lucin turned from his push toward the valley. "Destroy those fighters!!"

Many of Lucin's troops began to turn on the fighters with larger weapons they had slung across their backs. Sights sprang from the tops of the weapons and the soldiers began to track the fighters individually, painting them with infrared lasers to guide the rockets they were going to fire. They let loose the salvo and the rockets climbed skyward toward the three targets coming in for another pass.

Tiet and his group of aerial fighters lined up again on the advancing soldiers and began to fire their pulse lasers into the crowds. Alarm calls began to sound in their cockpits as they spotted clusters of vapor trails rising up away from the enemy forces. Tiet broke left trying to evade the rockets but there were just too many. His display was giving him a description of the weapons that were locked onto their ships. They were laser guided, normally not a problem, but there were at least one hundred of the weapons flying skyward toward them from different directions. Every direction that he turned the fighter found him facing multiple rockets. Tiet fired again, into the rockets, taking out some of them, but not enough.

He turned as a rocket struck his ship. He heard the shouts of Wynn and Grod coming through the speaker-they were being driven from the sky as well. As Tiet tried to regain control of his fighter, he heard Wynn's voice saying, "Eject men!"

It was the only thing to do. Tiet's aerial fighter began to spin out of control toward the valley floor. He slammed a fist on the flight chair's ejection switch. The canopy immediately slid back into the body of the small ship and a charge launched him and his flight module away from the doomed fighter. The flight module was a small wedge of the flight chair that contained an antigravity pod inside allowing the pilot to make a controlled descent to the ground.

Tiet descended toward the valley floor nearer to the battle already raging between the rebel forces and the Agonotti. He could not see his son among all of the turmoil on the battlefield. Then something caught his eye as he drifted closer, still thirty feet from touching down. He could see one of the fighters slamming into the midst of Lucin's soldiers as they descended into the valley. It wiped out quite a few, but they did not halt their advance. Then he noticed Grod already on the ground removing his flight module and heading into the fray. He could not see Wynn, but hoped that he had survived.

Someone jumped at him, it was an Agonotti. Tiet reacted quickly, bursting away from the flight module as the Agonotti sliced into it with a broadsword composed of his own molecules. He dropped the remaining distance to the valley floor and pulled his blade, igniting it as he touched down. The wind was blowing furiously through the valley and lightning was flashing all around. He wondered if a vortex might form and tear them all away from the ground, hurling them into oblivion.

The symbytes were beginning to press the rebel soldiers. Tiet could see one at the forefront of the fray; it had to be Lucin himself. He stood out from the others as the leader. Lucin was enveloped in a black as midnight skin of morphing exoskeleton. He was tearing furiously into the rebel ranks, pushing his advance further into the valley.

Tiet allowed the fury welling inside him to sweep him away, he was charging toward the mastermind of all of this death and destruction. He could not think of himself as merely a man taking up combat with a Mithri. He had to trust that Elithias was going to fight the battle for him. He would be an instrument in the hand of Elithias. The madness of this war had to end and he intended to end it now.


KALE was backed into an alcove of one of the larger rebel freighters. Its landing gear had been torn away and it lay on its side. Kale had Juli tucked away just inside of the vessel while he, Jael, Merab and other rebels taking cover there fought off the onslaught as best they could. Many rebels had died already and the symbyte troops had bolstered the power of the Agonotti. There were thousands against the dwindling ranks of the rebels. Kale had spotted three aerial fighters strafing the advancing human legions, but they had been blown out of the sky. He felt as though his father was still living and that the king was somewhere on the battlefield, but he couldn't see him.

Most of the rebel ships were crippled beyond the ability to fly. They were their only defense against the advancing enemy forces now emboldened by laser weapons that the human army was wielding along side of the Agonotti. The lightning producing storm clouds hovering ominously above the valley had turned the scene into a grisly horror show and for the first time since coming to the planet, Kale lost hope of winning the war.

Then he remembered the words Aija the prophet had left him with, "the arm of the flesh will fail, but when hope seems gone, pray."

Kale stopped firing his pulse rifle. He looked at the battle raging all around them in the valley. The rebels were nearly surrounded by the enemy forces and it would only be a matter of time before Lucin's army and the Agonotti moved in and completely annihilated them. Kale's father was nowhere to be seen. From where Kale was, at the freighter with Jael, Merab and Juli, he couldn't see any of their team members. He couldn't think of any better example of the arm of the flesh failing than this situation-they were all on the verge of being killed and hope certainly appeared to be gone. When that happened, Aija had said to pray and from all that Kale could perceive, there wasn't anything else left to do.

Kale dropped his pulse rifle on the ground and fell to his knees next to it. Jael and Merab were watching, bewildered by the young prince's actions.

"Kale, what are you doing?!" cried out Merab.

Kale didn't answer. He was concentrating on forgetting the slaughter around him in order to pray unto Elithias. He said, "Elithias in Mithrium. We are but men and we haven't the strength to defeat this enemy. We know that you can do all things and your Logostus promises that the battle will be yours today. These Mithrial sons are mere insects compared to your glorious power and I beg you to reveal yourself. I pray only that your will would be done and your name glorified above your enemies this day."

Kale remained on his knees in prayer as laser fire blazed all around him. The enemy continued their press, but something else was beginning to happen.


LUCIN continued his charge across the Valley of Sayir. The rebels were mostly contained around the area where they had landed their transport ships. Many of the vessels had sustained irreparable damage and some were on fire. The landing zone had become a loosely formed fortress from which the rebels were able to fire from cover. Lucin was sending his troops along with the Agonotti to surround the area so they could press towards it from every side. It would only be a matter of time before all of the rebels were killed. There were still groups of rebels intermingled among his forces on the open battlefield, but they had even less chance of survival.

The storm was all wind and lightning and Lucin was finding himself more drawn to the happenings in the sky. His senses were tingling with a feeling of familiarity that he could not quite place. Lucin scanned the other side of the valley as it began to ascend up the mountain. He saw the ship that the Barudii had used to escape to this planet from Kosiva. From his time spent within the Barudii prince, Kale Soone, he remembered that the ship had transgate technology on board. Lucin decided that it would be a valuable asset for his conquest of Demigoth once this campaign was complete.

The ship was far enough away to have been spared a part in the actual fighting. He noticed that it appeared to be crippled and the ship was presently listing to one side. It didn't look flight-worthy, but he could still have the transgate components stripped out of it. Just beyond the Barudii's crippled ship, in his line of sight, he noticed something else. It was a man standing some distance beyond the ship on a ridge that intersected the base of the mountain and trailed all the way across this face of Mt. Sayir.

The man did not look like a warrior. He was dressed in a tattered robe and his hair appeared gray. The man reminded Lucin of men of long ago; in particular of many prophets of Elithias he had killed over millennia. A staff was in the old man's hands and Lucin couldn't take his eyes off of him. Even from his great distance away, Lucin could see him raise the staff into the air and then bring the lower end to the ground again in a striking gesture. It was then that he saw the others.

Even with the eyes of his human host, Lucin could not have mistaken the beings that were appearing all across the ridge before the mountain. These beings were his former brothers, the Mithri-the mighty host of Elithias. Fear struck at Lucin's dark soul while he watched chariots of fire leaping forth from the mountain ridge as seemingly hundreds rode through the air descending toward the valley floor and the battle being fought there. The lightning began to fall, like fire from Mithrium, into Lucin's ground forces, especially the Agonotti. The lightning branched into death-filled fingers that destroyed the Agonotti forms with every touch.

This was it, thought Lucin. The Eternal One had tricked him into coming into this valley to destroy his army and cast him into the pit until the great Day of Judgment. Lucin panicked and ran for his life from the approaching horde of Mithri. Vock stepped into his path, holding him and asking, "My lord, where are you going?!"

"They're here, I must go!!"

"Who is here?!"

"Our brothers, from Mithrium! Don't you see?!" screamed Lucin with his finger pointing into the air toward Mt. Sayir.

But Vock did not. He said, "I see nothing!"

Lucin looked at Vock and then back to toward the mountain-the chariots were still coming.

"Stay if you like, but Elithias will not take me so easily!" shouted Lucin and he pulled away from Vock, running around the other side of the rebel landing zone in an arc that would ultimately bring him back toward the base of the mountain.

Vock followed the fleeing form of his master in bewilderment. Has he gone mad? Vock trained his sight back on the area that Lucin had been pointing to. His Agonotti were being impeded by the sudden ferocity of the weather. It was too coincidental. Lucin had to be right. Vock noticed an invisible wave that was sweeping into the valley from the western side, before the mountain. The human soldiers were collapsing and his Agonotti were bursting into their molecular forms and disappearing altogether, but he could not see any attackers. Vock turned to run as the invisible wave came closer affecting everything in its path. For a moment he thought, I can vaporize my form and escape, but a flash erupted in his path and for a fleeting fraction of a second Vock could see the terrible, bright form of one of his former Mithrial brothers in the way before him. The strike, invisible to all others, disintegrated his physical form completely and sent his dark soul to its imprisonment within the bottomless pit to await the final dreadful judgment of the last days.


TIET had almost reached the leader of the symbyte army. His blade had cut down many of Lucin's human slaves along the way and a few of the Agonotti as well. The Mithrial-man had taken a strange course though and he was now fleeing on foot away from his command position. Had the dark lord himself suddenly become a coward? Tiet might have entertained that thought for longer had he not seen where the Mithrial man's current trek was carrying him. The Equinox!!

Tiet's ship was lying askew across the valley floor nearly a half mile away from the main fighting and Lucin's black clad form was running right for it. Once there, he would find Mirah and the girl, Ramah, with Emil protecting them-Lucin would surely kill them all.

Tiet broke into a sprint, full of panic. He felt out of breath before he had taken five steps. The thought of losing his wife and the others gripped him in a strangling hold that both pushed him onward and sapped his last ounces of strength, all at once. Tiet evaded the rest of the fighting altogether, sensing a peace about his son that was uncommon-Kale was safe, but Mirah and those aboard the Equinox were not. He was pouring every last ounce of strength into his stride, but Lucin was so far ahead of him. Tiet's former injuries were sending out pain signals that he was trying to ignore, but his torso felt like it was on fire. He tapped his com-link located on the breast of his uniform trying to hail the ship. Static. Tiet kept pressing the com-link hoping to hear the beep that sounded when a connection was established. He had to warn them. He had to tell them that the Wicked one himself was coming.


EMIL was standing at the bridge window watching the battle raging in the valley a half mile away. He wanted desperately to be there fighting along side his father and Kale, his best friend. But the king's order was firm in his mind. He was charged with protecting Mirah and Ramah. There was no telling what would happen if he wasn't here to see to their safety.

The storm clouds hanging over the valley were obscuring the sunlight and making it difficult for him to make out what was going on. The laser trails from pulse weapon's fire was the most visible thing in the valley. A sense of foreboding suddenly invaded his consciousness, sending a chill over his body. The flashing of lightning revealed a dark figure approaching the ship-the sense of foreboding was forced out of Emil's mind by the threat of imminent danger. This was what he had been left at the ship for-he had sworn his life for the safety of the king's wife and for Ramah. He had a job to do.

Emil tapped the intercom button and said, "Doctor K'ore, someone is approaching the ship. I'm locking everything down as I head outside. Don't come out for any reason."

"I understand," said Mirah's voice over the speaker.

In the background Emil heard Ramah's voice saying, "Be careful, Emil!"

"Yes, Emil, please be careful," added Mirah.

"I'll do my best, ma'am," and he switched off the intercom.


LUCIN approached the heavily damaged vessel that housed the transgate technology he would use to escape the planet. He could see light coming through the cockpit windows twenty feet above him. The main hatch to the side of the cockpit was closed as well as the loading ramp entrance. Lucin removed a Barudii blade from the sheath on his back and ignited its molecular dispersion field, intending to cut through the hull if need be. Despite the storm noise and the sounds of battle in the valley behind him, he heard the whisper of something coming through the air at him.

Lucin dodged left of an incoming spicor disc and just managed to catch another already in flight with his ignited blade, nullifying the spicor's charge. He looked to the top of the bridge section of the ship and saw a dark-skinned youth leaping away from the hull surface toward him. The young man said nothing. He quickly linked two kemstick hilts, end to end, and ignited the weapons forming a staff.

"Step aside, boy. I don't have time to toy with you," threatened Lucin.

The young man remained silent, but he began to cautiously close the distance between them. Lucin struck at the boy furiously with his blade, using multiple strikes to try and penetrate his defense, but to no avail. The young man quickly mounted a counter-offensive with the dual blades of his kemstaff, incorporating complex strikes and spins, but he was unable to land the killer blow.

Lucin thought, I don't have time for this. He was waiting for just the right moment and then it came. There was a fraction of a second where the dual hilt became exposed and Lucin took quick advantage of it, striking the young man's weapon and nearly severing his left hand in the process. One of the hilts fell away in two pieces as Lucin simultaneously knocked the other out of his path of attack and brought a powerful kick to the boy's head. He reeled backwards, dropping the functioning kemstick, as he tried to keep from falling to the ground.

Once he had the advantage, Lucin was relentless with his follow-up. He swung his weapon toward the boy as he stumbled backwards, but the youth was more resourceful than expected. The boy ducked below Lucin's weapon and moved in towards the body of the Mithri-man, striking at his knee, face and hands with enough force to disarm him.

His weapon fell from his hand, but Lucin went for the youth, catching the boy by his uniform collar with one hand and smashing fore and backhands into the sides of his young, dark face. Noise from the valley caught Lucin's attention again. He could still see the chariots of the Almighty charging through his thousands of human soldiers and destroying the physical bodies of his Agonotti brethren that were intermingled among them. I've got to escape, now!

Lucin tossed the battered youth away into the dirt behind him, focusing once again on getting inside of the Barudii's ship and the transgate portal within it.


The Mithrial-man turned to find the Barudii king running at him with an ignited blade in his hands ready to strike. Lucin summoned even more of the power that had been returning to him and with a thought, he commanded the topsoil to erupt upward between himself and Tiet Soone. The wall of soil was suddenly penetrated by the spinning blade of the Barudii king. Lucin evaded the unexpected throw and the blade sank into the hull of the ship behind him. Tiet penetrated the veil of dirt, following just behind the thrown sword-he held a kemstick in each hand. Lucin was quick to counter Tiet's attack, grabbing both hands in his own-they stood face to face in a struggle of pure brute force. Tiet was pressing, teeth gritted, against the strength of the Mithrial-man, but Lucin was grinning wildly at his human opponent.

Lucin began to bait his opponent and said, "So, you know who I am?"

"I know you're going to burn in a lake of fire for all eternity," countered Tiet.

The truth of his words made Lucin boil with fury. Tiet could feel the darkness closing in around him and the press of Lucin's ominous energies crushing in upon his mental defenses. Tiet was losing ground by the millisecond.

Tiet whispered, "Lord Elithias, give me strength."

"You're going to meet Him today," threatened Lucin.

Tiet looked up and caught sight of Mirah's horrified expression as she gazed down at them through one of the bridge windows. And then, his strength was gone-Tiet had pushed against the Mithrial-man with every last ounce of energy he could muster and it was not enough.

Lucin sensed the change in his opponent and blasted the Barudii king with such a furious kinetic burst that it shattered the windows on the ship's bridge and propelled Tiet's body thirty feet away. He landed in a bloody heap and did not move.

Lucin looked back up toward the bridge and fixed his gaze upon Mirah. She could not scream; could not breathe. The dark Mithri from her nightmare was gazing beyond her physical body into her very soul and she was terrified. Mirah pulled away from Lucin's villainous smile and stumbled backward. She found the pulse rifle she had retrieved from the ship's small armory, laying on a control panel. Mirah's hands were shaking terribly as she fumbled with the safety release.

Lucin appeared in the space where the bridge windows had been. He brushed through the loose fragments of transparisteel and stepped down to the floor over the flight control panels. Mirah managed to release the safety and heard the brief whine of the gun's charging system. She raised the weapon and fired as he approached, but the black armor covering his body absorbed the shot and he was suddenly upon her, knocking the weapon out of her hand. Lucin snatched her up by the throat, lifting her small frame completely off of the floor. Mirah thrashed in his arms like a fish in a net. She felt the tracheal cartilage crushing under the man's vice-like grip. The loss of oxygen took her strength and her consciousness.

Lucin tossed the woman's body away like a rag doll and headed down the main corridor to find the transgate mechanism. He had to leave the planet before the chariots of Elithias found him.


KALE could not believe the scene playing out before his mortal eyes. At least a hundred chariots of bright light were forging their way through the enemy army of symbyte controlled humans and the Agonotti. The chariots were pulled by bright, fiery leore, driven by Mithri and fire trailed away from the hooves of the leore and the wheels of the chariots. Everywhere they rode through the enemy army, the human soldiers collapsed unconscious and the Agonotti's physical forms disintegrated in violent disruptions of matter and light.

The Mithri were dressed in flowing white robes with breastplates that shined like burnished brass. They were wielding broadswords that trailed flame from the blades as they struck at the Agonotti. The entire enemy army was falling like dominos before their attack.

When the chariots had swept completely through the army and the last of the symbyte controlled humans lay unconscious on the battlefield and the last Agonotti was vanquished, the chariots, their fiery leore and their Mithrial riders began to dissipate from Kale's view. The rebels, including Merab, Jael and Juli who was standing next to Kale, huddled against the back of his shoulder, were all bewildered by the apparent destruction of the enemy army under the invisible wave that had swept through the valley. They could see Grod and Wynn jogging toward them with the same expression on their faces-Kale, alone, had seen the truth.

When the vision had completely faded, Juli was startled by Aija the prophet suddenly standing next to them. Kale turned to see the prophet-he couldn't help but smile at his reappearance.

"Aija, did you see what happened?!" asked Kale excitedly.

"I did indeed."

"I remembered what you had said before leaving us; about praying when hope seemed lost."

"As I knew you would. You have become the fulfillment of the prophecy of the empty hand."

The truth of the scripture and how it had transpired, hit Kale with sudden realization. He had never expected that Elithias would use him to fulfill the prophecy.

Aija put his hand firmly on Kale's shoulder saying with a grim tone, "Young master, your father needs you."

The smile was snatched from Kale's face. "What do you mean? Where is my father?"

Aija leaned in closer to the young man's face. "The time of his journey has come. Don't delay," he said, and he swept his robed arm out toward their crippled ship near the base of the mountain.

A pale mask covered Kale's face as he understood the prophet's words. Kale bolted away toward the Equinox. He muttered a prayer over and over as he ran with all speed. "Please, Lord, don't let him die before I can see him… Please don't let him die before I can see him…"

Kale covered the distance with surprising speed-the others, following after him, had not been able to keep up with him. When he arrived on the scene, he first noticed the light coming from the shattered bridge window, and then he saw Emil lying on the ground. His friend was moaning and trying to move. Kale went to him, speaking to Emil saying, "Are you alright? Emil, can you hear me?"

He moaned again and appeared barely conscious. The sunlight was beginning to break through the dissipating storm clouds and Kale could see that Emil's face was a mass of edema. Blood trailed from his nose and mouth and both of his eyes were swollen shut. In Kale's mind he sensed his friend had sustained multiple facial fractures, but his airway was patent and with proper medical care he would most likely make a full recovery. Then he saw him, in the short grass nearly twenty feet away.

Kale stood watching the figure lying there in the grass; it was his father. He wanted to run to him and at the same time run away from the awful sight of seeing what had happened, but his legs were frozen in fear of what he was going to find. Grod was suddenly at his side and kneeling to examine his son, Emil. Wynn was approaching and the others weren't far behind.

Kale made himself move. He walked cautiously toward his father's body; praying in his mind that the man would suddenly move and get up unharmed, but it didn't happen. When Kale reached him, he knelt down beside of him. He was still breathing and Kale's mind raced with the possibility that Aija was wrong about his father leaving this world, but faith and growing experience kept telling him it wasn't true.

Kale rolled his father from his side to his back carefully. When he was at rest in that position, Tiet shuddered and his eyes opened and sought out his son's face.

His voice was strained as he asked, "Kale?"

"Yes, Father, I'm here."

Tiet's face was bruised heavily on one side and the eye was swollen shut. He was hemorrhaging from both of his ears, his nose and his mouth. His good eye found Kale's face as he continued to try and speak saying, "I think I lost this fight, eh, son?"

The boy in him was welling up-Kale may have passed the trials of manhood, but this anguish was more than he could contain. Tears began to flow down his cheeks.

"How did we fair against the others?"

"We won, Father," Kale choked upon the words. "The Lord Elithias gave us a great victory."

Tiet tried to smile. Then he turned his attention just beyond Kale saying, "Oh, how beautiful it is… Yes, Lord, I do want to go…"

Kale looked over his shoulder, following his father's gaze. He expected to find Wynn standing there, but there was no one. "What do you see, Father?"

"He's coming with your mother for me," said Tiet with a peaceful smile. "He's coming-"

And then, Tiet Soone was gone.

Kale laid his head down on his father's chest and put his arms around his battered body. This would be his last opportunity to hold the man in this life. The others maintained a respectful distance, but all were saddened by the passing of their king.

Then a voice was heard from inside the Equinox saying, "Mirah! Are you there?"

Kale got up and leapt to the shattered bridge window of the ship and went inside. Wynn followed the youth into the ship. They found Mirah on the floor of the bridge. Her eyes were open and lifeless. "That's what Father meant," said Kale. "He said the Lord was coming for him with my mother."

Wynn squeezed Kale's shoulder; a gesture meant to express his sorrow for himself and Kale at the death of his parents. They heard the voice again coming from back in the ship somewhere, it was Ramah. The two Barudii warriors proceeded cautiously, in case Lucin was still on board. Kale held a kemstick hilt in his hand, hoping he would find his parent's murderer still onboard. Mithri or no, Kale wanted vengeance.

They got as far down the corridor as the infirmary. When they opened the door, they found Ramah inside still confined to her bed. She was safe, but frightened. "Kale, what happened?" she asked. "Your mother went to the bridge to see what was happening and then I heard gunfire. She never came back. Is she alright?"

Kale didn't answer her question. "Ramah, did you see anyone else onboard?"

"I heard heavy footsteps in the corridor after the gunshot, but they went past without coming in here."

The two warriors looked at each other and Wynn voiced their insight. "The transgate?"

"Stay here, Ramah," said Wynn and the two headed back out of the room and down the corridor toward the transgate control room.

"Is Emil safe?" she called after them.

Kale and Wynn opened the transgate chamber door cautiously and moved in with their weapons ready for anything. A quick survey of the room from top to bottom assured them that it was empty, but the control board was active.

Upon inspection, they found that someone had just made a jump. "It looks like Lucin escaped through the gate. He has jumped to planet Demigoth," said Wynn.

The scriptures came alive in Kale's mind; it's coming to pass just like the Logostus says.

"Of course," said Kale in a whisper.

"What is it?"

"Demigoth is where Elithias is supposed to come the second time with his redeemed ones to establish his universal kingdom of peace, according to the prophecies," said Kale.

"What do you want to do?" asked Wynn.

Kale was surprised by the question. He wasn't used to being asked by his elders what course of action they should take, but he realized Wynn was now addressing him not as his pupil, but as his king.

"We can do little right now," said Kale. "Let's take care of our wounded and regroup. It will take everything we've got to go after Lucin."

His words show wisdom, thought Wynn. The two headed back out of the chamber to assess the damages to their people and take care of Emil and Ramah. Kale tried to fight his emotions, he was going to have to bury his parents and truly become a Barudii warrior.


AIJA stood with Kale next to the newly prepared gravesites for Tiet and his wife. The whole company of soldiers that had survived the battle was assembled for the funeral of the king. Those that had been led there by Lucin under the domination of his mind-bending parasitic symbyte seed had been freed by the same Mithrial cavalry that had destroyed the Agonotti. There were far fewer rebel soldiers among the congregation, but some had survived.

Kale stood silently as Aija spoke to those assembled. It was very odd to him; he felt nothing. Only being near to the beginning of his fourteenth year, he had expected to be more emotional about all that had happened and especially the reason for their being gathered here. His parents were gone, but at the same time, he knew that they really weren't. Had he only had hope of them living on in his memory alone, he would have been sobbing at this point. But he had the assurance from a prophet of Elithias that his parents were now safe in His arms-there was no reason to weep for them.

Kale was only half listening to what Aija was saying to the people. He was looking at the graves where his parent's mortal bodies had been placed. Kale was wondering what they must be feeling now, for the Logostus was plain that believers would receive a new body to dwell in. His father had been seriously wounded when he had come looking for his son on this planet the first time. Lucin had used Kale to nearly kill the king during his rescue attempt. Those injuries had continued to plague his father ever since. Now, he would be free from all of it and enjoying a body that could not be pained or suffer death-these thoughts were far more comforting than the words being spoken by the prophet.

One thought was heavy on Kale's mind. Without a king, this army would need new leadership. He was the natural choice, but would the people want him? And once they were settled on that matter, there would be the issue of Lucin himself. The Mithrial-man had escaped. A careful search of the Logostus showed it to be in the plan of Elithias after all. This army would have to face the Wicked one again.

When Aija was done speaking, he nodded to Kale. It was time for him to give the final farewell gesture. Kale stepped between the freshly covered graves of his father and mother and gathered a handful of dirt from the top of each one. When Kale stood again, he cast both handfuls to the wind and said, "The Eternal One took man from the ground and to the ground he must return, but the faithful shall dwell in the house of the Elithias forever."

A cascade of "Alum" swept quickly through the crowd and the service was concluded.

Kale looked at Aija and asked, "What do we do now?"

"The people God has assembled here must confront Lucin on Demigoth. You must be the one to lead them."

Kale had thought that was what he was going to say.


THE constant low pitch hum of the large Vorn Cruisers stretched across the entire plateau. It had been a full week since the burial of King Tiet Soone and his wife Mirah down in the valley of Sayir and thousands of people were gathered to be a part of the ceremony taking place today. The majority of those in attendance had been under the direct control of Lucin, only days before, but Elithias had freed them completely from his influence, cleansing their minds and bodies of the symbyte organism.

Only about half of the rebels that had assembled for battle in the valley remained alive. Captain Viche was among them and his ship, The Maelstrom, was in a line among other vessels including the few remaining rebel ships and the abundant number of troop transports Lucin had used to carry all of the mentally enslaved Castillians to the planet in. The wall of ships stood proud behind those congregated for the coronation of the new Barudii king.

Kale watched the crowd below from his seat inside the shuttle. He was nervous about what was about to take place in the ceremony. Not since King Isic, had one so young been anointed as the king of the Barudii. Few people were onboard the shuttle with him: Wynn, Grod, Juli, Ramah, Emil and Aija the prophet, who sat directly across from Kale's seat. The prophet carried a horn of special oil that was dangling from a cord on the belt of his robe.

"It's alright to be nervous," said Juli, sitting in the seat next to Kale.

"Of course it is," added Aija. "This is one of the greatest days in your life, young master."

Kale looked at them kindly, but did not speak. His mind was still on his parents. He had never expected to lose them in this war. The trials were meant to show one was ready for independence and responsibility, but Kale had never expected all of this to be thrust upon him so suddenly. And he missed his mother and father terribly.

"Your father and mother would be very proud of you," said Juli. "And I'm proud of you."

"You know what I'm going to say," said Aija.

"Yes…but maybe you should tell me anyway," said Kale.

"Your mother and father are safe with Elithias now. It's perfectly alright to miss them, but don't pity them. They're better off than any of us."

Kale and Juli looked at the prophet, taking in his words. They may have been cold and hard, but they were truth.

"Do you remember what your father said just before he died?" asked Aija. "He said, 'yes, Lord, I do want to go.' Tiet was ready to go and be with Elithias."

"I know what you're saying, Aija. I just don't know if I'm ready to handle this kind of responsibility."

"The will of The Eternal One must be accomplished and you are his chosen vessel," said Aija.

"And I want to be that, but-"

"No. There is no 'but'. You are his chosen and the Lord knows what he is doing. If he has chosen you then he will prepare you for the work."

"And exactly what is that work?" asked Juli.

Grod and Wynn leaned into the conversation from their seats across the aisle.

"We have to go to Demigoth, the Vorn home-world," said Kale.

"Exactly," continued Aija. "This army has been assembled according to the prophecies. You must lead them to Demigoth where Lucin has retreated."

"But he went through the transgate," said Wynn. "Do we all follow him through the gate?"

"No. You will need your ships for this battle," said Aija. "So, my young king, how do we proceed?"

Kale thought about it for a moment. "It will take approximately a month to get our cruisers all the way to Demigoth, but we need to know what's going on there before that time. We should send a covert team through the gate as soon as possible to ascertain the situation and precede the fleet. We'll need to know what we're walking into."

"Very good," said Aija. "Then that is how we shall proceed."

The shuttle touched down before the congregation of Castillian and rebel soldiers. Kale and the others disembarked and headed for an informal platform. Kale and Aija ascended the modest riser alone.

Aija stood before the people to address them and said, "The Lord Elithias has freed you from the control of Lucin and has caused you to be assembled here this day to witness the anointing of a new Barudii king. If you will turn from yourselves to serve Elithias, then let every person make his own choice to surrender their hearts by the pajet."

The prophet turned to Kale and removed the horn of oil from the leather cord at his waist. Aija removed the cork from the end and held the horn aloft. He poured the contents over the head of Kale, saying, "As the Lord's anointed over this people, I charge you in his name to go forward and serve Him with all of the strength he gives you."

"I accept the Lord's charge," said Kale confidently.

A growing wave of praise began to sweep through the thousands of people assembled on the plateau. The shouts of joy grew until it became a deafening thunder. The oil flowed over Kale's head and dripped down over his body and he felt a peace washing over him unlike anything he had known before-Father would be proud.


A week's time elapsed as certain scientists and technicians from among their army went about the task of transferring the transgate technology over to a cargo hold onboard Captain Viche's large warship, the Maelstrom. The Equinox was too badly damaged and its power source too unstable to maintain the equipment and they needed it. Kale and Wynn were the only Barudii warriors left and the task of reconnaissance would be theirs on planet Demigoth. Whatever Lucin was doing on that world, they needed to know about it before they engaged him again.

Demigoth was still a well populated world and the exclusive home of the Vorn clan. It was unknown what kind of a reception they would receive from the natives when they arrived, but Wynn was anticipating a hostile one. "After all," he said, "The Vorn military still have a presence there and they were not a part of the peace that was reached between the Vorn civilians on Castai and King Tiet.

Kale checked over his supplies and the weapons on his uniform one last time. Wynn was ready also and it was time to go.

"Grod, we'll wait two weeks before we signal you," said Kale.

"We'll be there," said Grod.

"I still say I should be going with you," said Emil. His face was looking much better after the surgery aboard one of the Vorn cruisers.

"And you would be if I didn't know what kind of injuries you were recovering from. Another week of osteoblast therapy and you'll be as good as new, but you need that week," said Kale.


Grod put his hand on his son's shoulder and said, "Besides, I need you here to help me do the transgate installation aboard one of the cruisers."

Juli came into the transgate control room of the Maelstrom carrying a small bag full of data discs containing scripture files. She handed them to Kale saying, "They're all here."

"Thank you, Juli," he said.

She hugged Kale's neck whispering in his ear, "I'll miss you. Please stay safe."

"I'll do my best," he replied.

Kale nodded to Aija and the prophet returned the gesture of confidence. Grod activated the gate utilizing the same coordinates that Lucin has left loaded in the system during his escape to Demigoth. The field snapped into place with a bright light that faded into a blurred view of the unknown location on planet Demigoth.

Kale and Wynn looked at each other and stepped through the dimensional portal onto a planet neither of them had ever been to before. But they were confident that no matter what challenges they were soon to face, the spirit of Elithias was with them.


IT was dark on this new world that Lucin had stepped into. He was surrounded by lush vegetation, but beyond the hill ahead of him a vast cityscape was lit up. It had taken him over a week to reach the edge of the jungle on foot. Now, the entire horizon for as far as he could see was illuminated by the mega city. Demigoth was the home-world of the Vorn clan and despite the losses they may have sustained from the sphere doomsday weapon, he could see they still appeared to be a thriving culture. This would be the perfect place to start over again. Lucin had escaped Elithias again, and he would rise again.

He sensed something and the brush could be heard rustling somewhere behind him in the dark. Lucin turned to the sound and it was increasing. Whatever was out there was watching him and he was able to perceive one overpowering thought in the minds of the creatures beyond the visible foliage-Prey!

One thing caused him alarm. He was there in full symbiotic armor with weaponry at his disposal and these creatures felt absolutely no fear whatsoever. Lucin was definitely outnumbered and more predators were joining the others out there in the night beyond his physical sight. His instinct was to run and he followed it.

Lucin was sprinting away at top speed. It may have been a reaction brought on by his human host body; nevertheless it seemed the most rationale course of action. Lucin didn't want to make his start here on Demigoth with his host body chewed to bits and digesting in the belly of some indigenous predator.

He was heading for the city. The terrain was uneven making it difficult to run effectively and the vegetation was course and whipping at him unmercifully as he tried to make his way through. Lucin could sense the predators behind him and they seemed to be gaining. It was difficult to determine the number, but he could hear their breathing and the ravenous growling they produced while on the hunt.

Lucin spotted some taller trees up ahead as he came out of the undergrowth into a clearing. He thought for a moment that he might climb one of the trees, but he would only be trapping himself. As Lucin ran near to one of the trees, a creature leapt out of it and pounced on him. It took only a second to realize that it was a Horva and one of the brute unintelligent late generation types of clone. Anger flooded Lucin as he grappled with the creature; the others were closing fast. He had to get off of the ground or they would be piled on him killing his host body.

Lucin quickly turned the fight in his favor and laid into the Horva with several well placed strikes that nearly incapacitated the creature. He snatched the feral clone up by its throat and held the naked man aloft. Tendrils from his symbyte skin latched onto the Horva as the others became visible at the edge of the underbrush surrounding the clearing. It was time to give these brutes a dose of fear and respect for the angel-man.

Lucin crushed the trachea of the feral Horva struggling uselessly in his grip. In moments the body went limp and he deliberately tossed the body out in front of the others. If they didn't understand his speech, they would certainly understand that the stronger rule the weaker.

His perception of the creatures appeared to be accurate-they kept their distance from him, but seemed in awe of the one that had so easily vanquished one of their own. It occurred to him then, that these Horva would be his new army. Once he assimilated them, he would easily be able to conquer their primitive minds and control them as he had hoped to do with the normal humans back on Castai. And if cloning technology was still readily available it wouldn't take him long before he would have a sizeable fighting force to command. He would begin the systematic takeover of Demigoth with one of its most valuable assets-clones.


AFTER a week of hiking through the jungle area surrounding the jump point left in the transgate memory by Lucin, Kale and Wynn entered into a shining megalopolis. This was the massive Vorn city of Gaj. The Barudii had waited until nightfall to enter the city. But a problem quickly became apparent as they walked the crowded streets.

"We stick out like a sore thumb," said Kale in a harsh whisper.

"We are wearing robes and hoods, young master," replied Wynn.

"Yes, but we're the only ones wearing them," said Kale-he was clearly agitated. "Everyone is looking at us."

Wynn glanced around from beneath the rim of his hood. Everyone they passed was clearly eyeballing them. "I see your point. Perhaps we should take a more covert approach."

The pair ducked into an alleyway. Kale tore away the cloak in the shadows. "I think our lack of melanin is a dead giveaway here."

"Calm down, Kale," said Wynn. "Let's take to higher ground and use the shadows."

Wynn removed his cloak and leapt the distance to a high ledge above them. Kale followed the elder Barudii, finding a perch next to Wynn on the ledge.

The city was monstrous in size; much bigger than any of those they had left back on Castai. None of the twelve Vorn-founded cities left during his father's reign was even remotely comparable. As far as the eye could see was a technological landscape, complete with massive electronic displays proclaiming various news, updates and entertainment options. There were huge buildings reaching for the sky in every direction where the two men looked. If the city had suffered during the attacks of the sphere weapon unleashed so many years ago by the Barudii of the twin Castai before their ultimate defeat, it was not apparent now.

"How are we supposed to find Lucin in all of this?"

"Patience, Kale," said Wynn, "Remember, Lucin was not in a dark skinned body when we last saw him on Draconis. He must have the same problem that we have being here."

"But he can switch bodies at will and only the Horva appear to be immune to him."

Wynn was trying to be the optimist, but he was beginning to wonder if they had been overzealous in their plans to follow Lucin to this planet in this manner. Clearly it would have been easier for Grod to make the trip and he could have blended well with the native populace.

"I wonder when the sunrise will come," said Kale. "When that happens we had better be hidden away somewhere."

"You're right. We probably wouldn't receive a warm welcome from anyone here whether influenced by Lucin or not. The peace your father achieved with the Vorn and Horva did not reach this planet to my knowledge."

Kale sat to one side of the building's corner on the high ledge while Wynn stood just beyond the corner on the other side. He was watching some of the news reports, at least the visuals that were being broadcast to the large monitors on the sides of many of the buildings, to see if he might catch something related to Lucin's arrival in the area. He surmised that the archenemy of Elithias and man would not go unannounced for very long and Lucin had been on the planet for nearly two weeks prior to his and Kale's arrival. That gave him plenty of time to do something.


A fierce looking dark skinned man with multiple braids running off of his head and down his back watched as two light skinned males positioned themselves on a high ledge across the airway lanes from the building he was hidden on. He watched the pair through a telescopic site from the shadows cast by the large video monitor adorning the face of a high rise apartment complex. The targets had been spotted earlier on the streets below and when they appeared nearby, he had expected a more difficult shot as the strangers walked among the civilian populace. To his surprise they had made his job easier by separating themselves from the crowds and now they were at a more level height with him, making his shot easier to obtain.

The dark skinned sniper adjusted the cross-hairs to fix on the older of the two men. The white haired man was on the ledge facing him while the younger sat in the shadow of the building just around the corner. The white haired man was quite visible in the light of the massive video monitor. With its light shining in his face, there was no way he could see the attack coming from the shadows just beneath the monitor.

The sniper spoke into a com-link attached to his lapel. "Master, may I take the shot."

Over the com-link came the reply, "You may take the shot. We are in position."

The sniper touched the trigger of his long rifle and an infrared beam, visible only through the telescopic lens, appeared on the chest of the white haired male standing on the ledge. He waited for the right moment as traffic from the airway lanes passed between him and his target. A nice break between vehicles provided the perfect opportunity and the sniper squeezed gently on the rifle trigger.


KALE looked over the city wondering how he and Wynn would be able to maneuver unnoticed among the dark skinned Vorn long enough to find Lucin without being attacked or apprehended by the military presence. The Vorn military might have been defeated during the beginning of the Baruk conflict back on Castai, but they were reported to still be quite active on Demigoth. And two Barudii would likely be seen as hostile invaders and subject to every bit of malice they could manage.

Kale looked back at Wynn still standing on the opposite ledge near the building's corner. He was still watching the monitor for clues to Lucin's whereabouts in the city.

"Have you seen anything on the monitor that might indicate he's here in the city?" asked Kale.

"Well I haven't-"

A single silent, burst of energy slammed into Wynn's chest as he spoke. Blood stained the wall behind the Barudii warrior as he stumbled back and caught the corner of the building with his left hand.

Kale couldn't believe it, "Wynn!"

The elder warrior slumped down along the wall and struggled to crane his neck around the corner to see Kale as he got to his feet to come to Wynn's aid.

"Kale," he said weakly as he bled profusely from the entry and exit wounds, "RUN!!"

More shots began to peck into the wall of the building around Wynn. His head dropped lifeless as the last bit of blood pressure failed him. Kale's friend and teacher was dead.

The shots continued, but were coming from different buildings around Kale. He took off running down the length of the ledge, igniting a kemstick along the way. Shots were coming from every direction. Kale leapt away from the ledge and allowed his self to drop back down into the alley way between the buildings.

Kale landed amid puddles of water in the alley, but he was not alone.

"How good of you to come to my party," said Lucin. There were at least a dozen people with him; all of them looked very much like the feral Horva from Castai, but they appeared more lucid. "I've found more followers since my arrival," said Lucin confidently.

Kale was still brandishing his ignited weapon before him, but the alley was a dead end behind him. The only way out appeared to be through Lucin and his minions.

"I didn't think you found the Horva body very hospitable," said Kale.

"Interesting thing, it seems the first generation clones possessed something these don't."

"Lucky for you."

"Wasn't it?" replied Lucin.

"Well, will it be one at a time or altogether?" said Kale to the whole group.

Lucin was clearly amused by the young man's confidence, considering his predicament. "Your father wouldn't share your optimism, I think," said Lucin.

Kale knew Lucin was baiting him, but his fury won out and he rushed ahead at him and his Horva followers. Several of the Horva rushed in between Kale and their master to protect him. Kale slew them quickly without a break in his stride and kept gunning for the Mithrial-man.

Lucin brought forth a surge of kinetic power that captured Kale and sent him flying back into a number of garbage collection containers at the rear of the alley, despite his mental efforts to counter the attack. Clearly, Lucin was gaining in strength and Kale realized he was facing off with a being of far greater power and immeasurable evil. He clamored out of the garbage containers and hurled his body through a nearby window and into the darkened building, hoping to escape and fight another day.

Once inside the building, Kale ran through the narrow corridor he found before him. More of Lucin's Horva leapt out from the shadows to attack him; they were everywhere. Kale engaged them with his blade and hand to hand.

Lucin has been waiting for us to come. This attack is too coordinated, thought Kale as he fought off the Horva and tried to keep moving.

"You can run, little king, but you cannot hide!" shouted Lucin from somewhere within the building. He was close. Kale found an opportunity to flee the Horva and took it.

Outside the building, people were milling about on the streets as normal. The glass of one large front window in the building burst outward as a young light skinned man jumped through, carrying a sword of light. Kale hit the ground running as glass shards scattered everywhere on the sidewalk and into the street. He saw motorized vehicles running on treads and others on wheels in the street before him and he considered commandeering one of them to try and make his getaway faster.

A lesser man might have thought he was running out of fear, but Kale's intention was to win the battle with Lucin and he was outmatched at the moment. He had to get away so that he could ultimately defeat him.

As he looked over a few of the passing vehicles, Kale's moment of indecision was enough to allow his pursuers to catch up to him. A Horva man came at him from behind. Kale deflected the man's melee weapon with one hand and with the other he used the attacker's momentum to send him on into the street. The dark skinned man collided with one of the wheeled vehicles, sending his battered form sailing across the pavement like discarded doll. Two more were coming at him through the window Kale had shattered-one carried a pulse weapon and the other held a short sword.

Kale hurled his blade at the man with the rifle as he tried to take aim and fire on the Barudii warrior. The other man slashed at Kale, but he evaded him easily; stepping in to quickly disarm the man of his sword and land several powerful blows to his stomach, throat and jaw. His attacker fell backward onto the pavement bleeding from his mouth. Kales blade was still planted in the man with the gun further away.

Pulse laser fire began to erupt from every direction upon Kale's position. Instinctively the young king shielded his self within a kinetic bubble. The hollow sounds of laser bolt impacts was deafening inside the bubble. Kale searched in every direction but the sight was the same-everywhere around him soldiers and civilians alike were closing in and firing automatic weapons. Kale looked like the victim at the center of a neon-insect attack as laser fire came upon him like rain within his mentally generated forcefield.

Lucin walked into the street and up to the kinetic bubble. All weapons went silent as he approached. Kale turned to find the Mithrial-man there behind him. Lucin exerted his own power upon Kale and the charged bubble around the king failed. The two men were suddenly toe to toe and a lightning fast exchange of fists took place with Lucin landing a blow to the side of the young man's face. Kale reeled back, staggering as though he had been belted with a piece of stone. Lucin quickly snatched the boy king up, his feet dangling in the air. He looked the youth straight in the face, "You cocky human. How dare you even attempt to engage me," said Lucin and he spit in Kale's face and then threw him into the side of the vehicle already stopped in road next to them. Kale's body shattered the glass windows of the vehicle's doors as the metal caved in. He fell to the ground face first before Lucin and lost consciousness.


GROD and Emil stared in disbelief at the huge monitor plastered to the side of the gargantuan building reaching to the clouds before them. The city of Gaj was a truly magnificent place to behold, with its busy streets and bustling pedestrians constantly on the go from sunrise to sunrise and on and on. Grod thought it a dizzying cycle-don't these people ever sleep, he wondered.

But the event being played in a continuous loop as news broadcasting before their eyes was staggering in a way that left them completely speechless. Pictures of a white haired, fair skinned man lying in a slump with lifeless eyes and a pained expression frozen upon his face chilled Grod to the bone. It was incomprehensible-Wynn Gareth, Barudii Master Warrior, was dead at the hands of the Vorn and Horva residing in this shining megalopolis.

The video images of Wynn continued to the point where his body was removed from the building ledge he had been killed upon. The disturbing images continued further though, revealing the fate of Kale. He could be seen in the middle of one Gaj's busy streets throwing a man into an oncoming vehicle and taking down two other combatants before forming a kinetic forcefield to protect his self from a massive barrage of laser fire. Then he appeared; Lucin himself. The two struggled before the cameras and Lucin got the better of the young king. After showing Kale being bound and hauled away from the street, the video cut to an announcement of the public execution of the Barudii king. The day was set for today, a few hours from now, in a large spectator sports arena.

"We've got to find out where that place is," said Grod.

Emil was stunned-he couldn't take his eyes off of his best friend being taken down by Lucin himself. He had faced the Mithrial-man himself and lost, but for Kale to lose was astounding. Lucin was growing in power to be sure and Emil wondered how they could ever defeat him.

"Emil?" said Grod while shaking his son out of his minor trance. "We've not got much time to find Kale."

Those words pulled him back to the task at hand. The men pulled up the satchels they had carried with them and proceeded down the street looking for the nearest public transport depot. The Barudii's weakness among the Vorn was not Grod or Emil's-they blended perfectly with the natives.


LUCIN walked out of the officiator's suite onto the terrace overlooking the Gaj city arena. The terrace was reserved only for dignitaries and his name had spread quickly as the defeater of the Barudii enemy. Many of the people living in Gaj city could remember the attacks by the Barudii sphere weapon. A large portion of the megalopolis had been destroyed during planet-wide attacks. The sports arena and the entire western city complex were dedicated to those who had lost their lives in the attacks. To have the latest Barudii king bound before them and awaiting a horrible public death was merely justice in their eyes.

It's the perfect scenario, thought Lucin. They hate the Barudii because of the sphere and none of them seem to understand who I am.

Of course, Lucin was not without his own followers. He had been quite busy assimilating as many Vorn and Horva as possible and then sending those out to assimilate others into his will. In the two weeks after his arrival in the city, Lucin had managed to incorporate nearly ten thousand Vorn and Horva into his group of symbytes. The Horva were best suited for the kind of task he had in mind; complete domination. These later generation clones were certainly not the prized specimens he might have craved. But the first generation clones, like Grod, possessed immunity capable of destroying his symbyte form within their bodies.

The crowd beyond the terrace was cheering wildly. Word was spreading quickly about the great charismatic warrior among their people, Lucin. He alone had been able to defeat and capture the Barudii king. In the middle of the arena was a fair skinned young man; the object of their bloodlust. The Barudii would die as a further memorial to the Vorn that had been killed years ago.


KALE tried to open his eyes, but they did not wish to obey him. He attempted to maneuver, but his bands held him fast to the stone column standing in the arena. Thousands upon thousands of dark skinned people were cheering as they watched him. Kale had a feeling the cheering had little to do with well wishing.

Several barred doors stood at the far end of the arena ahead of him. Kale watched as a dozen leonase paced back and forth just behind the bars. Kale tried to free his hands, but he lacked the strength to pull against the fibrous bands that held him. His face was hurting on one side, but the pain was dulled. They must have drugged me, he thought. Kale couldn't concentrate enough to utilize his kinesis. He was absolutely defenseless.


EMIL nodded to his father as Grod handed his son the fried meat snacks in a basket, called metin. His father was posing as a vendor and making his way through the crowd as he covertly planted the charges they had carried with them to Demigoth. Grod needed enough to make a good diversion so that Emil could get into the guarded arena and release the king.

Emil watched his best friend strapped to a post inside the arena. He wondered if this was the sort of entertainment the Vorn usually craved. Kale looked bad. Emil could see that his face appeared swollen on at least one side and the flesh tone was mottled with bruising. He didn't look like he even had the strength to hold up his head.

At the far end of the arena, a leonai was clawing against the bars which kept it from the bound prey being offered. Nearly a dozen of the beasts waited with excitement to tear Kale to pieces before the assembled crowd. The Leonase were stealthy predators in their natural environment and could be found in the grassland areas on several planets including Demigoth and Draconis. They sported short dark gray coats and wooly light gray manes on the males only. It looked like a mixture of sexes waiting to feast upon Emil's friend.

There were guards posted all around the entrances to the arena area itself; mostly Horva from what Emil could see. They definitely were not the feral type of brute Horva that his father had talked about being produced by the Vorn clone facilities on Castai. These appeared tame enough in their manner, but tough looking nonetheless. His father had been able to rally the Horva of the first generation on Castai to rebel against their Vorn masters-Emil wondered if these Horva were ready for such an uprising to gain their own freedom.

Lucin stepped to a microphone and addressed the thousands of spectators present for the Barudii king's execution and said, "People of the great city of Gaj-though I am new to your city and your world, you have welcomed me with open arms and thousands of your people have already embraced my plans for the future. I hope to help you rebuild the great empire your clan once enjoyed and the dominion you once held over the other habitable planets of this system."

Cheers spread across the stadium as the people reveled in the hope of spreading out and conquering as they had in the past before the Barudii sphere weapon came. He continued, saying, "As a show of my power and as a good faith offering to you as allies in this war, I have brought you the king of your mortal enemies, the Barudii. This clan was once believed to be wiped out, but this has not been the case. They survive still and have been gathering a great army with which to attack your planet. Even now, this man's army may be approaching Demigoth with orders to carry out a brutal invasion and kill your children."

Emil listened to the Mithrial-man's lies to the Vorn-the crowd was eating it up. They wanted to hate Kale and the Barudii-they wanted revenge and nothing else was going to satisfy them. Lucin played their emotions like a finely tuned instrument. They were playing with the Devil and didn't even realize it. This is going to make it very difficult to bring our army against Lucin, thought Emil, he's preparing them for an invasion that isn't meant to be against them at all. We'll never gain them as allies now. They'll automatically smell deception with anything we try to tell them.

Emil's com-link beeped. "Yes, Father?"

"Head down to the arena," said Grod though the link, "I'm setting off the charges in five seconds."


Emil got up from his seat and moved quickly down the aisle toward the arena floor. It was shielded by a transparent dome with access points guarded by Horva clones. No Problem. Emil was counting the seconds as he made his way to the ground level amid the cheering spectators and Lucin's tirade booming over them. He turned right on the ground level walking along the edge of the arena floor area just outside of the dome. Emil had his eye on two guards ahead of him at one of the access ports. He wasn't wearing any weapons. The charges his father had gotten into the arena were a special compound that was organic and able to be triggered by a specific frequency that he could produce with his com-link. The guards had checked over both of them on the way in and had not paid any attention to the recall devices they wore on their wrists.

Many spectators were passing back and forth before the guard at the access point as Emil approached. When he got within twenty feet of them, the first charge went off in the stands among the cheering spectators. A wave of panic quickly passed through the stadium. Emil rushed the guards as they turned toward the sound of the explosion. As the other charges fired, six in all, Emil took down both of the Horva guards with lightning fast hand to hand combinations. He grabbed one of the guard's pass keys and swiped the card through the reader at the door. The door unlocked.

Lucin was interrupted by several explosions occurring all over the stadium among the rows of spectator seating. It's a rescue attempt-Lucin slapped the release button to the cages of the leonase.

Emil ran through the security door onto the arena floor. Kale was twenty yards ahead of him and Emil broke into a full sprint. Out of the corner of his eye, Emil noticed the leonase had been released from their cages and they were heading straight for Kale. I knew I should have grabbed that guard's weapon!

The leonase had forty yards to close the distance between themselves and their prey. They panted happily as saliva moved into their hungry mouths-they had been deprived of food for two days to be sure they were ready for a feeding frenzy.

Emil was closing the distance fast, but the pack of predators was closing it faster. The first of the leonase got within twenty feet of Kale and leapt at him. Kale didn't even appear to acknowledge the beast and may have been unconscious. Emil's friend was moments away from being torn apart. He hit the leonai broadside with a kinetic blast, sending the beast reeling away across the hard dirt floor of the arena. Emil hoped he had hit it hard enough to break its ribs, but the others were still coming in fast. Emil reached Kale and mentally snapped the bonds that held him to the cylinder driven into the arena floor. He fell forward into Emil's arms-his wounds looked worse up close and he was stripped to the waist and covered in dried blood.

The leonase pack continued to charge in for the prey. Emil pressed the recall switch as they leapt for the young men. The leonase slammed into the column, but the boys had escaped them.


Grod and Emil sat outside of the med-bay waiting as the med-techs and a physician worked on Kale's wounds. The initial report was extensive facial fractures and two broken ribs. It appeared he would be fine with treatment. Emil was thumbing through the pages of Kale's copy of the Logostus. Aija the prophet had given it to Kale while they were on board the Equinox traveling across Draconis. It was only one of the copies that the prophet had left with the young prince, but this one was small and complete-it contained all sixty six books within the one volume. Kale had begun to carry it with him everywhere he went, after receiving it, so that he could make reference to the events they were going through with the Agonotti and Lucin. Then Aija walked into the med-lab foyer. He passed by the med-lab window and could see the king on an operating room table with people hovered over him working on his injuries.

"How is our young king, gentlemen?" asked Aija.

"He'll be fine according to the doctor," said Grod.

"What happened, Aija?" said Emil. "If you knew this was going to happen-"

"My boy, I didn't know," replied the prophet.

Emil did not understand. As Aija sat down before them he continued. "I only know what Elithias shows me. You must be prepared to face evil itself. Lucin is growing in power and anything you have faced before cannot compare to him. He has been alive since the very dawn of time itself; one of the first creations of The Eternal One and one of his greatest. He began as highly favored by Elithias, at least until iniquity was found in him. Lucin desired to be as Elithias with his fellow Mithri and all of creation bowing before him in worship. He was able to pull away a great many in his rebellion and Elithias judged them. For those following in his sin, Elithias cast them down to Draconis and made them to dwell among mortals in half physical forms requiring nourishment of those physical parts-they became the Agonotti. For Lucin himself, the Lord made his spirit to indwell a form as repugnant as his rebellion and as he had infected his brethren with his rebellion so to would he be bound to infect and indwell the physical body of a host in order to live. But he is still an extremely powerful spiritual being. Only The Eternal One can defeat Lucin."

"Then what are we supposed to do?" asked Grod.

"We are supposed to keep faith and serve the purposes of Elithias," replied the prophet. "I cannot give you anymore than that-it hasn't been given to me.

Emil stood and watched the people in the med-lab bandaging his best friend and his king. Then he thought of something he had not thought of before. "Perhaps it has been given to you, Aija-perhaps we have been given more than we realize," said Emil. He held up before the two men something very valuable the prophet had given Kale weeks ago. He held up a copy of the Logostus.