Disclaimer: We do not own the Power Rangers; they belong to their respective copyright owners. No profit is being made from this fan fiction, so please do not sue us. Anything not appearing in the show probably belongs to me.
Balletar: a planet that had suffered in recent times. While was a world on the extreme boundary of Master Vile's territory, it was also considered a part of Lord Zedd's empire and had been claimed by Prince Gasket as an annexe of his world. With multiple villains claiming the world, there was constant fighting between factions, and the poor natives were the ones who ultimately paid the price.
The Galactic Council had refused aid to the little planet, believing that it was a waste of effort. They expected the natives to either flee or be wiped out by the open warfare; they conveniently forgot that with the spaceports destroyed, the people had nowhere to go.
With three different governments in place, the planet was a very oppressive place. Slaves were forbidden to leave the cities where they served whichever faction had claimed them. The threat of seeing their loved ones destroyed was enough to ensure that the once proud population remained subdued, but of course given that they had to be loyal to three different dictators. Even the planet's former Rangers complied with the rules as it was the only way to keep their people safe.
As it was, even if the citizens won their freedom, construction efforts would take long time. The invaders' legacy was the greatly disrupted distribution of water over the planet's surface, which despite the best efforts of the planet's engineers, seemed irreversible. Some places that had once been shallow reefs were now eternally flooded and others that had once been bottomless lakes had become small streams. In some places there was dry land for the first time in centuries. It would have been a marvellous undertaking to map the new surface of Balletar, but such exploration was forbidden.
One such change had occurred on the remote side of Balletar in a place that had been deemed too treacherous for colonisation before the invasion. It was referred to as the Dead Land. It was the high levels of sodium and other heavy metals that made the area unpopular. Regardless, before the attack it had held one of the deepest lakes on the planet. Now for some strange reason it was barren wasteland.
Well, almost. In the centre of the miniature desert, in an area once deemed too dark to explore even with flashlights, there appeared to be a pool of water. It had been there for an eternity creating the chemicals that prevented Balletians from staying there too long. It's still surface reflected the light like a giant mirror giving it an undeserved feeling of calm. But it wasn't a body over water; it was a pool of accumulated darkness, purest evil prevented from dissipating by a barrier of light magic.
It marked a doorway to another dimension, a one-entity prison created generations before by a group who would have been the ancestors of the Morphin Masters, legends to the likes of Zordon of Eltare. It had taken their sacrifice to seal darkness within, but could not prevent some of the darkness from seeping through to poison the waters. A spell cast by Lord Zedd had prevented the site from being uncovered; Zedd's motive was to prevent the release of a potential rival.
At the boundary of the desert, a small personal transport craft had landed. Inside was a warrior known only as Blade. He rose from the pilot seat and turned towards the cargo chamber that filled the gap between the cockpit and the ship's engines. His passenger, a Tenga warrior, ruffled it's feathers nervously and tried to unclip the netting that acted as safety restraints so that passengers and pilots wouldn't be thrown from their seats in rough transit, it took several attempts until the sub-humanoid managed to get free.
Blade did not even bother to look back, he had no concern for how long it took the Tenga to release itself, that would only have mattered if it slowed him down in his mission. Blade looked over his reflection in the internal metal hull, he had planned this, lived for this moment for what seemed like eternity, manipulating events and people for centuries to get this far, and at this moment realised that he had overlooked one of the most subtle yet important factors; his appearance.
He sighed, condemned to the fact that he would probably be unrecognisable to his mistress after all this time. He reached for the top of his hood and pulled, feeling the weight and the closeness pull away, several times the small ringlets, sewn into his entire garb to add weight, caught skin and teased him with its cold strokes. He moved on to undo and remove the rest of his garb, as the clothing fell to the floor the clinking of the ringlets floated around the compartment.
Blade looked over himself, critically examining himself. ~This is not the body of a warrior,~ he thought, ~a soldier, maybe, but not a warrior and never a champion.~
His body was puckered with battle scars, and he reminded himself of how thin he was. Not that he wasn't muscular anymore, but the muscles here were tight, not the bulk he had always possessed before. He missed that size and strength, though he admired the speed and agility he had gained.
His head still surprised him, where his long flowing hair had hung when he last knelt in the presence of his mistress it was now bald and decorated with even more scars, he couldn't even remember what he was expecting in his face, hidden beneath his mask he hadn't bothered reminding himself for too long.
The only thing that fell into place for him, the only thing in his whole being that made him know who he was the silver that often flashed in his eyes. The glow reminded him that his mistress had gifted him with near immortality, though the Masters would always defile this blessing as 'the taint'. It was this taint that had managed to survive and had in turn assured his survival long after the Masters were gone to dust. This among many things affirmed his faith in the mistress.
With purpose, Blade approached a small crate and released the lid, inside laid his traditional armour, untouched for so many millennia and yet the feeling of recent glories and battles surrounded it. The armour was comprised of little more than plates that fitted over the important areas of the body, the chest plate was sheer but had ridges giving the impression of an external rib-cage and the back-plate had a spine running down, though it protruded like a sharp fin, the bucklers and shin guards featured protruding short, curved blades that bent back towards the body. Blade attached the last accessories, a series of individual scabbards, to his armour and then approached his sword rack, without hesitation he withdrew a short curved dagger and placed it to his left side, before removing a heavy broadsword, the last gift from his mistress, from the rack and placed it in the scabbard on his back.
He turned to the Tenga in the cockpit and gestured for it to follow. The anxious creature did as it was told, perhaps gifted with foreknowledge of its fate.
The pool of water seemed to bubble as they reached it, as if issuing a warning that it may hide a hot spring within, but Blade knew his purpose and would not be tricked by this display, carefully he placed a finger in the pool and was unsurprised when they got no deeper than the fingernails, he withdrew his finger and watched as the semi-solid substance covering the barrier oozed off the end, plopping obscenely when it dropped back.
Beyond he knew his mistress was kept, waiting for this whole time, for the barrier to move, something she wouldn't be able to do from the inside. Like all prison doors, it required someone on the outside to open it or in her case to protect against the summoning of an artificial minion, it required a verbal invitation for her to to step back into the real universe. As he looked in, he was almost certain he could feel his mistress staring at him, beckoning him to her.
The Tenga ruffled its feathers again, showing its nervousness. The action was beginning to wear on Blade's nerves, he had to keep reminding himself that the creature served a higher purpose and that it would soon stop ruffling, permanently.
"Mistress," Blade whispered, kneeling before the barrier, he was ready to sacrifice himself should that be required or even if she should desire him to do so "At last I have found you, at last I will release you."
Blade's eyes shifted to the Tenga as his hand gripped around the curved dagger, and in a swift movement his was on his feet and in a pirouette, the blade hooked out from his body. He finished his pirouette by descending gracefully to his knee once more, merely a blink before the Tenga was flat on the semi-solid surface of the pool, its blood running into the purity barrier, tainting it.
"My mistress," he said, without lifting his eyes from the ground. "Please, step through."
The effect was immediate. The Wall of Light expanded like a balloon, stretching outwards towards him. Blade remained in place, not afraid to sacrifice himself in return for his mistress' freedom. The darkness seeped through the light, forming a skin that touched him and then faded away. Blade raised his head, as the last blurring effects of the wall left his vision, before him were two figures laid on the floor, one was the Tenga, the other was huddled tightly in a tattered cloak.
Blade stepped forward and with a gentleness that should not have belonged to him lifted the cloaked figure up in his arms, from within he felt stirring and heard the faintest whisper, a female voice asking "Who...are...you?"
He gently carried her back to his ship, not trusting himself to speak.
She stirred in the passenger seat of the shuttle, but still seemed to weak to do more than shift in position behind the netting. Blade looked over to her barely able to conceal his concern; he had not expected her to be brimming with as much power as he remembered, but in no way expected her to be in this weak a condition. He was certain that over the hundreds of thousands of years contained in her prison she must have spent her power looking for a weakness, and now she was exhausted physically, mentally and magically.
She stirred once again and this time she shot into awareness. Her eyes opened, revealing themselves to be a deep fathomless black, and head shot back in surprise, knocking back the hood of her cloak and letting long locks of coal black hair flow out over her shoulders and running down to the lower part of her back. Her sleek hair had a white stripe running down the middle that flowed in the curve the rest of her locks had taken. Not for the first time this day Blade noticed how pale she looked, a sign of the awesome fatigue that had overcome her.
She tried to arch her back, stretching out like an animal that had been curled up for too long, and was rewarded with more freedom she felt for the first time in... she didn't know how long, even if it was restricted by the restraints of her chair, her eyes gazed out of the forward view port into the star field beyond. "Oh glorious night," she whispered, her hands extending towards space until they met the netting where she stuck her fingers through the holes.
She tried concentrating on the flows and ebbs of the magical current, attempting to find the correct strands of energy that would accomplish what she needed. A ball of light appeared before her, and slowly faded. She whispered: "It obeys me still, after all this time, I am truly free."
For a few minutes she remained motionless and silent, testing her senses of the magical currents she felt around her. She stretched the currents, gently manipulating them with her will. "You...you rescued me?" she whispered, this time her attention directed towards Blade.
Beside her, Blade merely nodded "Yes, m'lady"
"Why?" She whispered, "What is your name?"
Blade thought about this for a while, in the duration the journey had taken already he had thought of nothing but what had happened before, of his failures and of his honour. "I have not the right to claim a calling, m'lady" he sighed, feeling the lowest he had ever felt. He had used his title since her imprisonment, but now it seemed to him that stating such a calling would be an insult to her after this time.
She recognised the form, in the recesses of her mind she could recall matters of protocol that was drilled into the traditional loyalists. "Then what is your kin name?"
Blade spoke quietly, almost as if he did not want to speak at all "Rassila, of the clan Feldah"
Her eyes widened, "Rassila o' Feldah" she whispered, her tone picking up a harder edge "You have a name, Blade of the Chosen, why do you not claim this? Do you dishonour us?"
Blade spoke quickly, almost in a panic, "No m'lady, never!"
"Then, Blade, explain to me"
"I dishonoured myself in my failure to you, to stop the opposition. I failed to track you sooner, to free you" He paused and hung his head, the shame he was feeling was welling up fast "And have had to resort to mercenary work, even being forced to retreat in battle"
A smile waved over his mistress' lips. "My proud Blade, my loyal servant, tell me...how did you fail me against the treacherous enemy, did you not fight in the battle and become responsible for delivering many a killing blow on their warriors?"
"Yes, m'lady" his voice wavered, "but I died, and they got through to you"
"And yet, you are here, now"
"By your gift, m'lady, the Rune blade Redemptionist's Embrace that allowed me to possess the body of my killer after death, the opportunist who struck my back during battle," he sighed, "I thought it apt punishment, that I should be placed in this weaker form as a reminder of my weakness. But the effect did not take place soon enough, I had to gradually degrade his mental barriers and overpower his presence, by that time the opposition had managed to abduct and imprison you, I had failed you"
"And yet, you have come to me?"
"I live to serve m'lady, always" he paused, but the eyes of his mistress seemed to prompt he for more, choosing his words he continued "After you were taken, after I...recovered...from my death, I began to look for where they had imprisoned you, but they covered their tracks well. I was forced to become a mercenary, to perform tasks and to fight in others' battles to gain information and resources, by the time I even got enough to know that the planet you were held on was a frozen ice world, the planet had already started to become a world mostly submerged beneath water and I could once again find no trace."
"It was while I was forced into mercenary work, but only a matter of months ago, that I was on Onyx - the place is a hive of vile scum that have gathered like roaches to feed on each other - that I met with a creature from the world of Balletar. The creature claimed to work for some Lord Zedd and that he held dominion over an area of this planet that the rest of the planets' populace deemed cursed. There was something about the creature that I felt a kinship to even in this body and soon it became clear that he too had been touched by your gift. If this was the case, I concluded, then you must be imprisoned in that area."
"With this knowledge I strengthened my efforts, finding out from rumours about the magical barrier and means to disrupt it."
Her smile grew larger as she heard the story, her servant's devotion evident in his every word.
"Blade, my loyal servant. Even without my presence you never gave up until you found a way to free me." She turned back into her chair "You are more deserving of your title than any before you; you must seek no forgiveness for what you consider transgressions for you did so for my glory and the betterment of our people. You exceed more than was expected of my entire forces, name your prize and it shall be yours."
"I serve you mistress," he answered. "No prize is necessary."
She smiled, an expression that promised all manner of things, perhaps his heart's desire if he had a heart. Then she handed him his sword.
"Then you shall join me in this campaign," she stated. "And this time even the combined forces of the opposition will be unable to stop me."
"The powers and structure of opposition fell long ago," Blade told her, his eyes returning to their normal state. "That which remains is a pale imitation of the forces you fought."
"We fought," she corrected him. "You were there, my vengeful blade, cutting my enemies aside."
"I live to serve," he told her.
"Then you will live a long time," she promised.
"We are heading home now?" It was more of a statement than a question.
"Eventually, m'lady" Blade said, his voice soft "The area is heavily patrolled by a Planetary Defence force, one forged by the false governors that assumed control. We will rendezvous with some associates I met while on Onyx. They are common pirate, I am afraid ma'am, but they are led by a strong and noble captain who has assured me that he will provide us passage."
Momentarily, the shape of the lead ship of the Dianth, a ruthless space pirate clan, appeared before them. Immediately the communications board buzzed with activity, Blade glided his fingers over the board and opened a channel, a gruff voice resounded through "I assume I am speaking with the warrior, Rassila?"
"That isn't the Dread Pirate, Lord Anarky, is it?" Blade said into the communicator, hoping he managed to keep the sarcasm he always felt when addressing arrogant pirates out of his voice.
"No, with regrets our previous sovereign has recently been lost to us, while on a relationship counselling vacation with his wife. The leadership of our clan has been handed down to their daughter, who has agreed to honour her father's wishes to offer you passage home, in return for the fare agreed."
"Then tell your captain that we are grateful," Blade said "Permission to come aboard."
In response he watched a series of commands appear on his console, docking instructions.
The clink of heels on metal floor and the squelch of plastic-like material seemed to echo down the halls of the craft towards the galley, though Blade had long realised that this was merely his mind singling out the cause of his vexations over the past few days. He was not an impatient man, in fact he had spent the vast majority of his life waiting, and he thought himself tolerant, otherwise he would not have arranged transport with a group of pirates, a choice of lifestyle that either seems to attract or breed the arrogant, but since coming aboard the vessel with his mistress he had found their hostess rather an annoyance, and with regret he knew that his mistress was seething in her company.
Blade cast a furtive glance at his mistress, and noticed the resignation in her face as she placed her fork beside her plate and looked towards the main door. When the door creaked open, their hostess entered and lazed against the door jam, and in her annoying tones proclaimed "Good morning Blade, Queenie!"
She strode across the room, her high heels clinking against the floor, Blade swore to himself that her outfits were getting increasingly revealing and ridiculous as time wore on, leaving her now with clothing made of the squeakiest of plastic material in an alarming red that was cut low enough to reveal the majority of her bosom and low enough the when she sat and her skirt rose could reveal a few tattoos that very few else knew about. The heels that he had heard time after time belonged to the thigh high black boots that had finally evolved from the sandals she had been wearing when they first came onboard.
Blade noticed a new feature to the self-proclaimed "Princess of the Astral Tides", she had today taken to wearing a golden face plate, that though it would never be defensive, could hide a few of her features. She lowered herself into the chair next to Blade, though he was half-convinced she was aiming for his lap and flashed him a smile.
"When are we likely to arrive?" Lillith asked, her tone had a distinct edge to it.
"Now Queenie," the look of disgust on Lillith's face started to become evident, but the pirate didn't notice "we can't just rush into a defended sector like an interstellar taxi service, we need to take pre-cau-tions." She turned to Blade and, while running a hand over his thigh, said with a smile "I bet you know all about precautions, Blade."
~The freak,~ Blade mused, ~at least serves one purpose, wherever he goes the captain is sure to avoid.~
It was true, since the dome-headed alien known as Elgar had joined the crew in the past few days, the female captain had purposefully been everywhere other than where he had been. Although this served very little relief when in some ways he was more annoying than the captain. Right now, Elgar was busying himself trying to understand how the light in the lounge's fridge knew when to turn off.
Meanwhile, Blade and Lillith were going over copies of aerial and satellite scans of the planets in Pri'Athernia that the Dianth possessed, marking out known locations and refreshing themselves on changes that had been in place since Lillith's imprisonment. From down the hall, the squeaking and clicking resonated again, forcing Blade and Lillith to cover up their workings once again.
The captain rushed into the room like a whirlwind and with a flourish spread out the new bright red cape, which she had chosen to add to her wardrobe that day, and exclaimed in her excited, high-pitched voice "Blade, Queenie, how fabulous to see you!"
"Auntie D!" Elgar chuckled from behind her, turning from his adventure into the domain of spoiled milk and cold cuts.
"Ugh, Elgar!" the captain exclaimed, a hint of loathing in her voice, "Can't you be doing something useful, like cleaning out the torpedo tubes?"
"Aye, aye" Elgar said, punctuating it with a salute that almost knocked him out.
"How am I supposed to be taken seriously as Queen of all Space Pirates," the captain muttered, "with a nephew hanging around who has less intelligence than a fried sea slug"
Lillith snorted, barely even bothering to hide the derision she was feeling.
"Does that make me a Count or something?" Elgar quizzed, his eyes still boggling.
"No, Elgar, there is no way you 'Count' as anything," the captain remarked.
"You can not just refer to yourself as royalty and make it so," Lillith stated, her voice cool and even.
~A dangerous sign,~ Blade thought to himself.
"Can so!" screeched the captain.
"No, it is time-honoured title and in most civilisations carried through families. For that to happen either your ancestors would need to be royalty or you would need to marry royalty"
"Well," the captain said, thoughts obviously running through her mind, "I am betrothed... yes, that's it... I'm in an arranged marriage to..." the captain watched as Lillith leaned forward, intent to find out more. The captain's mind raced thinking about impressive royal figures, until it struck her. "..Maligore, yeees, Maligore the Flame of Destruction!"
Lillith looked blank and Blade realised this was purely because Maligore had not existed prior to her capture, but the captain took this as a challenge.
"Yes the powerful Maligore and I are to be wed. Why I was on my search for him before I had to fulfil this piffling little transport run in my father's honour. My darling Maligore, hidden away from me by those afraid of his powers and our union. Why I have spies on many planets to track his location so that I may free him and we may be as one."
As the captain strode defiantly out of the room Blade tried hard to shake the image of the legendary Maligore in all his blazing hot lava glory with the outlandishly dressed space pirate stroking his leg on their throne.
The craft rocked once again, sprawling the Piranhatrons across the bridge of the subcraft. Blade kept a watchful eye on his mistress, ready to steady her if needed, but his queen stood firm on her own and kept her own eyes on the activity on the bridge.
"This is no way to treat a Pirate Queen!" The captain screeched, not hearing the dignified snort from Lillith, "who do they think they are?"
The captain crossed to the centre of the floor, carrying a chorus of squeaks and clicks from her clothes as she did so. There she pulled down an ornate periscope, really just a personal viewer for sensor displays and visual relays. In the periscope she could make out a series of ships firing bluish-white energy rings. She recognised the design almost immediately; Quadra fighters.
"They are signalling us," the huge monstrosity known as Rygog stated, "it appears that they have claimed this area in the name of the Machine Empire."
"Answer their signal and tell them that Divatox, Pirate Queen of the Dianth is not afraid of the Machine Empire. And then Rygog, fire all torpedoes!" With that Divatox burst into maniacal high-pitched cackling.
"Four of Five launched," Rygog stated.
"Where's the fifth?" Divatox asked, spinning to face him.
"It appears it jammed into Elgar," Rygog answered and then, seeing he needed to clarify added: "it seems he was cleaning the tubes when we were attacked."
With that the Subcraft rocked as a torpedo exploded in its tube.
The planet Pri'Athernia combined the wonders of modern technology, the ancient skills of the heroes in popular folklore and a serious amount of magic. It was an artificial world, the restoration of it, a culmination of work by the other worlds in the sector. Even one of the three moons above the planet was artificial, but this fact was hidden to all but a few of the residents.
It had originally been intended as a haven, but following a battle with the entity known as the Darkest, only a few thousand beings remained on the planet. At one time they had been human, but adaptation to their new environments meant that some of them had evolved into creatures more suited for their chosen environment. But now the planet served as the central planet for a multi-planet civilization, living in a long-established harmony, each race on the planet dominated their own area, but all fiercely loyal to a single king.
"It is here," Lillith, the woman last known to this region as the Darkest, whispered. She had sensed the object she was seeking as soon as the subcraft that had carried her between Balletar and this world passed into the solar system. "They left it alone," she realised, "exactly where they placed it all those years ago." She laughed, realising what this meant. "The fools; they don't even realise what they protect!"
She stood on the entry ramp to the Subcraft, her loyal Blade beside her, and behind her stood a still smoking Elgar, Rygog and Divatox, the latter seemed inpatient to get the queen off of her ship. Blade turned towards Rygog and handed the lumbering creature a small card, printed upon which were the details to the locker on Onyx where payment was secured. Rygog accepted it with a nod. Divatox rushed forward placing a plasticy elbow-length gloved hand on Blade's upper arm and whispered, "If you ever want to take another trip, just let me know." She slipped him a wink before muttering to herself: "...but leave the baggage at home"
"Please, Divatox" the Darkest stated without turning, "do not let us keep you from your search for your betrothed. I sincerely hope to hear news soon of your marriage, perhaps even an invitation to the celebratory ball. I am sure I would not be the only one there who would want to be present to see that day happen."
Blade turned and moved alongside his mistress, she gave him a simple nod and they started the long walk to the capital together.
"Home at last," Lillith said, her role as the Darkest forgotten for a moment as she indulged the sudden burst of contentment that flowed through her body. To be here, on the world that had once been the centre of her empire helped to overcome the exhaustion she had been feeling since her release from that hole her captors had named a prison.
They were on their way to the capital of this world, which following her disappearance had been reconstructed in the Masters' idea of what a suitable world should be like. They had allowed the natives from three of the system's other planets. They had stripped away most of the vestiges of her kingdom, transforming those that could not be removed into more acceptable buildings. But as they drew nearer she came to realise that the capital city of this world had been moved in an attempt to distance themselves from the past.
Her castle, the very centre point of her kingdom from which she ruled above all others had been partially destroyed. The central building as ancient as it was when she had used it, was protected by generations of magic. The outer parts though, the thousand acres of manicured grounds and high stone walls with imposing towers were gone, stripped away to hide the significance of the castle.
In its place they had created a piece of modern art; a bright and shiny metallic building with sleek surfaces and reflective windows. It presented a modern and sterile front that gave an additional air of efficiency and clashed openly with the life style of those who lived there. The grounds were controlled by technology rather than magic and were linked through a state-of-the-art communication system with all provinces of the planet.
As she stepped onto the grounds of her old castle, a small waved of energy passed through her. She smiled at the reassuring touch of her own magic, still alive after so long. The grounds recognised her even if they had been levelled.
She reached out, touching the security spells with her mind, allowing them to bring forth memories that had yet to surface. This had once been the centre of her power. Back then she had been one of a number of evil overlords that dominated space. She remembered sitting on her throne, looking down on her many underlings as they scurried to please her. She recalled how upon that throne she had been the Dark Queen, handing down laws to be introduce throughout her empire; as self-appointed judge and jury she had ruthlessly tried and convicted those guilty of breaching her laws. As the great conquering monarch she had ordered attacks on worlds that would extend her empire in an ever outward spiral, an empire that had included not only the space now shared among several factions, but many more besides. And as the gracious leader, she had patiently resigned herself to congratulating her commanders as they brought news of victory, spoils of battle and other tribute with which to worship her. She had not been a god back then, but like the other overlords she had come pretty close in the eyes of those who pledged their loyalty, be that pledge obtained willingly or forcibly.
And now look what had happened to her once mighty empire. Gone! All traces conveniently hidden away from the populace. Her forces were no where to be seen; scattered by the loss of the Darkest or destroyed at the hands of the Masters. Those who had been connected to her at the moment of her imprisonment had simply ceased to be. Their bodies had remained frozen, but their minds and perhaps the very thing that had singled them out as living creatures had vanished. While she had endured, they had not; their bodies had broken down over time, first taking on a rubbery texture as her dark magic ravaged their bodies and then slowly falling to pieces over a few short years. Of those who had scattered, only Blade had been loyal enough to hunt her down. There may have been others who were still loyal but that would remain to be seen.
~I will need to build a new Army of Darkness.~
And her empire, the collection of worlds and solar systems she had carefully conquered in an outward expansion? Gone, the last few systems she had marked to become annexes of her power base didn't even show traces of her influence. Those galaxies that she had ruled with an iron fist had either been freed or were ruled over by some small time faction. Despite being an annoyance, the news pleased her since it meant the Masters had not only unseated her, they had taken out her opposition. The M-51 Galaxy of Master Vile, the Machine Empire's territory, the Dark Zones of Lord Zedd, countless other territories... all were faction of the empire she had spent her youth conquering and dominating.
~I will take back that which was mine and more, much more. I will complete my empire.~
And Terminus, the mighty craft she had commissioned long ago, what of that? The ship had been big, the size of a small polar moon and equipped with everything a would-be conqueror desires. In her time as Queen it had been the ultimate symbol of authority, an avenging engine of doom that cut down all those who dared to stand against her.
~What could they have done with it?~ She wondered.
Nobody could control Terminus without her say so. Attempting to move it would have been a fatal mistake. And to dismantle it, they would have needed a way in first, since very little could have penetrated the craft's armour back then. Now? That was another matter and she suspected that given the advancements in technology civilisation made as a whole, that by modern standards Terminus was almost obsolete. But she didn't believe the Masters had destroyed Terminus. Given their efforts in other matters and their overwhelming need for technology such as Terminus could provide, it was more likely they tried to mothball the massive space station. But where could they hide a craft the size of a small moon?
She frowned. ~They would not dare!~ It was an insult greater perhaps than turning her throne world into this mockery. She peered into the sky, sensing each of the world's moons in turning, seeking the one that hid a deadly secret. ~There, the fourth moon!~ She could feel it; Terminus was there in plain sight, but hidden from her by trickery.
"How dare they?" she snarled. "They dare to corrupt my Terminus like this, to make it one of this world's moons. Did they take me for a fool?"
"They underestimated you m'lady," Blade offered. "But then, we already knew that. This was not an insult to your intelligence, they never believed you were capable of freeing yourself to see what they had done."
"Yes," she said after hearing the truth in his words. "They were too foolish to be insulting. Your insight is most welcome, Blade."
"My craft is this way," Blade said. "Perhaps we should go and examine this moon of yours."
"Yessss," she hissed excitedly. "It awaits me... No, by now the authorities know of our arrival. If we leave we may lose the chance to enter the fortress. Terminus can wait a little longer, the crystal cannot wait. I must touch it again. Take me there Blade, I need to see it."
Blade was enjoying the thrill of battle he had denied himself while seeking to free his mistress. It had been a long time since he had allowed himself to kill without need, to destroy without mercy and to truly embrace the dark emotions such deeds forced to the surface. He moved rapidly around the battlefield, using his daggers to bring down the soldiers one at a time. And while he fought hand-to-hand, his sword was spinning through the air, striking at any suitable target.
The soldiers kept coming, the vastly different races evident as their attacks differed. Those capable of flight - the men born with hawk-like wings and those who resembled humanoid bees - soared in from the air, using their weapons to try to pick off the lone invader. The humans that were limited to ground combat used tanks to distance themselves from the combat. But however they fought, they were well trained and brave. It was a shame the Blade was a dedicated killer.
The battle went on for a long time as more and more troops threw themselves into Blade's path. It was becoming evident that he was bored; he no longer put the effort into each kill, sparing them only a glance as he waded through the throng, leaving a mass of corpses and a growing river of crimson liquid. Occasionally, she would join in, testing her powers by sending devastating balls of flame towards the approaching army. Her powers grew stronger as the time passed and eventually as they made their way through the planet's many forests, she was capable of burning away terrain and soldiers miles ahead of her.
Then they came upon the first of the planet's true defenders. Not the everyday soldiers that had sought to delay them every step of the way; these were the commanders, the leaders that the people looked up to. Every one of them was a hero, dedicated to their world and perhaps willing to die for it. They lacked the powers of the beings that had imprisoned her and by modern standards they were not much to look at when compared to Power Rangers.
She could not deny they were highly trained, masters of the fighting arts be that Martial Arts or plain brute force. Their weapons and armour was more robust and hinted at some refinement. They wore gauntlets that allowed them to generate highly resistant metal shields and their armour took advantage of unstable spaces between spatial planes, expanding and contracting according to need.
The first five they came across wore what she later learnt were called Power Suits. Bulky and no doubt heavy for the wearer, they incorporated multiple weapons that could be shifted around the external frame. She'd laughed as Blade's mentally controlled sword had cut through the blue one as he had taken to the air. His green comrade joined him moments later, two knives buried up to the hilt resting emerging from just under his armpits. He hadn't noticed either blade, the kick that had shattered his face had left him suitably distracted.
She had delighted in killing one warrior herself. A female soldier, the daughter of the green armoured male that Blade had killed so easily. She attacked, surprising the Darkest with her precise movements and keen sense of strategy. Her extendable snake headed staff deflected the Darkest's weaker fireballs and even attempt a few tentative strikes before her opponent took control.
The Darkest was not about to allow a mere human to best her. She endured the fighting for some time, testing her ability to block and ensuring there was no lasting muscle damage from her imprisonment. But when all was said and done, she was determined to triumph. She shoved her hand out, shattering the staff as it rapped her palm. Then they were fighting hand-to-hand, ignoring the world around them as their speed increased with each glancing blow. They were both near perfect in technique, the warrior woman from hours of demanding practice and the Darkest from a near eternity of training. In the end though the warrior could not maintain the pace.. Her moves slowed and her technique became sloppy.
"You fought well," the Darkest told her. If the warrior had known who had spoken those words, perhaps she would have felt some pride before the burning agony that marked her death. "But not well enough," the Darkest finished, removing her fingers from the girl's throat, where they had just crushed her windpipe.
And that was it; the battle was over and the three surviving defenders knew it. The planet had in a matter of hours been torn apart by an overwhelming force. Even now as they abandoned their pretence of living as simple folks and unleashed their most advanced technology, they were fighting a lost cause. Blade didn't stop, he enjoyed killing too much; it was his nature to destroy. His mistress though had grown tired of the seemingly unending troops that attacked her. She used her still weakened powers to turn the very planet against its people, turning those who opposed her to salt and leaving only their commanders behind.
She left the royal palace alone, the politics on this world were not her concern. There was only one thing here that matter to her. Instead, she turned towards a set of ruins a few kilometres from the palace in one of the more remote areas of the planet. She was not surprised to discover that the last of the planet's resistance had gathered there. She dispatched Blade to murder the Royal Family before they could leave and walked towards the ruins. There was a new sense of confidence in her step.
When she finally approached, the drawbridge was open, giving the old castle an ancient and harmless look. She knew better though. Inside this otherwise prehistoric place, was a collection of the most advanced technology ever created by the native population. Computers, weapon systems, even super armour; everything a defender could need to protect a world, instead dedicated to protecting a hunk of stone and the secret contained within.
"You cannot pass," a voice spoke. Although soft it held the authority of someone acquainted with magic and experienced enough to use it. "I will defend this castle until my death."
"That will not be far away," the Darkest promised. To demonstrate she sent a blast of dark energy from the end of her staff, which was easily deflected by the other fighter's hand.
"You will not gain entry, the castle will not allow it."
The Darkest smiled, realising what she was facing. The figure, made up to resemble some ancient deity, was nothing more than an extension of the castle, set in place to protect against those who would do it harm. It was not uncommon although by modern standards, the Darkest imagine it was frowned upon. As a child this figure would have been surrendered to whatever forces protected the castle, to be their agent and ensure the treasures within never came to harm. In return she was given the ability to draw on the power of the castle itself, her own personal Morphin Grid, which in times past she had no doubt shared with others.
The Darkest unleashed another waved of dark energy, which was once again knocked away. She tried a third time, this time allowing the dark powers to flow through her uncontrolled as she hoped to break down the whatever protection this entity held. But despite straining, her opponent was hardly affected by the blast and gradually seemed to gain strength against it.
"I understand," the Darkest smirked. "The castle gives you all the power you need and in my condition I cannot match power with you... yet."
She turned her staff so it pointed at the ground and fired a blast into the ground. The Earth shook as an explosion rocked the core. The Darkest looked up to see a wall of the castle collapsing as its very foundations were eaten away.
"I cannot destroy you, but I can destroy the castle. And as the castle goes, so does your power."
She spun the staff overhead, blasting the battlements and towers, weakening the structure. She continued to do so, striking the castle and the ground below, blasting the wild magic that acted as a moat. And when she was certain that she had done enough, she turned the staff towards the doorway to the castle.
"And now, I will have entry!" the Darkest cried.
She fired a final blast, pouring more energy than she could safely spare into a single spike. The defender of the castle tried to stop it, but was blasted back into the depths of the castle, allowing the Darkest to enter.
"Who are you?" the Guardian asked as the evil woman stalked towards her. That someone had broken the castle's protection was unheard of.
"I have had many names," the Darkest entered. "Some I cannot even remember, it has been so long I used them. Some call me the Darkest, others the Destroyer of Souls. I am the Mistress of the Dark Cosmos, First Chosen of the Fallen Acolytes and the Mother of Armageddon." She paused. "You may call me Lillith."
She was rewarded with a gasp, which told her that she had been correct. The Guardian was indeed there to protect the castle's hidden treasure.
"And what may I call you?" she asked coldly, levitating the woman with her mind.
"I am the Guardian of the Castle," she replied, her voice strained and ancient. But despite her struggles, the vast power of the castle had already vanished.
Lillith was no longer listening, her attention had shifted to other matters as she was trying to trace the dark magic she perceived somewhere at the castle's core. But despite a certainty that what she sought was there, the pure magic of the castle shielded it from her magical senses. There was only one way to deal with that.
"Now you're just the Guardian," she said coldly. She unleashed a blast of dark energy at the Guardian, knowing the castle would attempt to defend its protector. But already weakened and under attack from within, the pure magic placed within the walls after Lillith's imprisonment failed. The foundations of the castle, the sacred chamber in which the ancient masters had stored a fraction of their power, were torn apart as the raw evil that the Darkest could barely control; lack of practical magic meant her control had faded significantly. Luckily this task didn't require control, just power.
The Guardian screamed as the power she had felt since she had first arrived in the castle faded. She dropped to the ground, her leg breaking as she slid slightly on the cold stone. She lay there, powerless and injured without hope.
"There!" Lillith's words cut through the stillness of the castle.
Ignoring the fallen Guardian she marched through the ruined corridors towards the one unopened door. The wards had been removed and the room was at last opened to her. She sensed Blade fall in behind her, his mission completed. But she ignored him, her mind driven towards another goal. She didn't even stop at the door, just waded through the smashed stone and made her way to the pedestal.
There on a pedestal was the object she sought, an octagonal crystal that crackled with dark magic. This close it was hard to believe they had ever shielded it from her; the evil was unmistakable.
"It is yours m'lady," Blade said.
She nodded, but didn't take it. Instead she reached out, sensing the Masters' final trap. The crystal was tied to the planet and removing it would bring an end to this world. She sneered. To begin with she had been angry that they had taken her throne world, hidden it from her and imprisoned her light years away. This revelation though pushed her over the edge. They had gone too far when they had linked the fate of her planet to the crystal.
"Fools, they underestimated me... again." Her hand caressed the crystal and at once she felt the link, reshaping the bonds the Masters had placed to leave the planet intact. One day she would want her throne world back. But for now she had what she desired the most: "The crystal is mine again."
She looked into the depths of the crystal, trying to re-establish the bond she had had with the gem so long ago. Luck was against her though. Although she could sense the dark energies within the crystal, she was still too weak to command it without being consumed. On the other hand, so long as the crystal remained in the castle, the Guardian would have time to recover her strength and counter attack. The light magic within the castle, left behind by the Masters to protect the crystal was extremely potent. So far as she could tell there was very little she could do about the situation.
She reached out and touched the crystal with her fingertips, sensing the magic as it recognised her. She tugged at the few more strands, desperate to feel the power once more. The power came to her, drawn towards her blackened heart. It strengthened her, refreshed her ... empowered her, improved her ... overwhelmed her, made her lose control as she struggled to deal with the extreme magic flowing through her weakened body. She opened her mouth to warn Blade, but no noise emerged. More power than she needed and she couldn't even channel enough of it to scream.
"Mistress!" Blade warned, sensing the power about to break free. Waves of black energy radiated through the castle, destroying the power the Master's had left in place, returning its surroundings to the darkness. "Forgive me," he begged before driving his shoulder into her body, lifting her overloaded form away from the crystal and in the process, severed the link.
With a final flare the Crystal of Evil returned to its inert state, waiting for Lillith to command it once more.
Too much, too soon. As she came around hours later with a killer headache it was easy to see what had gone wrong. She was still in recovery from her ordeal, magically, physically and mentally. It therefore stood to reason that too much power - that of an ancient crystal containing the essence of evil for example - would overwhelm her. Had she been a lesser being she would have been vaporised by the dark magic. Instead she was exhausted; she would need to find a way to limit how much magic she drew from the crystal before attempting to use it again.
For now though there were other matters to deal with. She stalked her way through the passages, the crystal tucked safely away in a subspace pocket and her staff in hand. As she walked she kept an eye open for the fallen Guardian. There was still some unfinished business there. She finally found the winged defender, crawling back towards the entrance.
"Going somewhere?" The Guardian stopped and to her credit showed only resignation as she turned towards the Darkest. "I have not finished with you yet Guardian... come here!"
She gestured with her hand and the fallen Guardian flew into her waiting grasp. She squeezed, not too hard but enough to bring the injured woman to her senses.
"I know what you are," the Darkest told her. "You're a construct, nothing more. You're a being made from the power of the castle to protect that which I now possess. Do you even have a name or are were you deemed unworthy?"
The look of horror told her that the words were indeed true.
"Eve," the Guardian answered, prompting a smile on the Darkest's face.
The Darkest laughed coldly. "So, leaving my Crystal of Evil here was not the greatest insult they could find. I'm sure the Masters laughed when they gave you that name. But all is well, the joke is on them. You're nothing now; no life and no purpose. I'm going to change that for you; I'm going to give your life meaning again. I'm going to give you something to centre your existence around..." A burst of lightning left her staff, aimed for Eve's head. "Me!"
She marched from the castle, Blade a step behind and to her left, the now unconscious Guardian floating several paces behind, a distance that clearly differentiated between Lillith's loyal servant and her soon-to-be unwilling slave.
"I think now," Lillith said "it is time to visit my precious Terminus."
Eve lay, unconscious and psionically bound, in the cargo hold of Blade's transport craft, while Blade and Lillith sat comfortably at the helm. As the craft skimmed up over the land to gain the speed necessary to break orbit both looked out, noting the signs of a resistance movement slowly reforming. Neither spoke of their observations, but both knew they would be fighting another battle on this world. Blade had killed many, but had been choosy about those he killed or injured. He had aimed for the leaders and the most gifted fighters, sending a message to the weaker combatants not to intervene. Many had died, but many more remained.
The ship rose steadily and finally pushed forward, breaking for space, until before them hung the dirty grey moon which hid Terminus. Lillith's eyes focused on the rock, sensing the lies it told. ~How long have the people believed it to be real,~ she thought, ~what superstitions do the primitives hold about this rock? One day I will find out. If, that is, I decide to spare any of them.~
Whatever they had believed would in no way match the terror that the truth could hold, for Lillith concentrated her thoughts on the rock and felt herself as the centre part of the moon, pulling the moon into itself, contracting it with her will. The surface was already cracking, erupting in violent earthquakes. Feeling the rock surface crumbling away, Lillith reversed the power, and like a punctured balloon the moon exploded, pushing huge chunks of rocks out at an alarming speed.
As Blade dodged the surprising flow of the fallout and steadied the ship, beside him Lillith fell back violently in her seat, as if her whole existence had been caught in the wave of destruction. Several chunks of rock broke up over Pri'Athernia, to later break through the atmosphere as a crushing rain of fire to several of the main cities.
Before the small craft hung an older moon, one just as artificial as it's rocky outer casing had been, but this one was much colder. Its surface was a metallic weave of structure, sensors and weapons, some of which were still encased in rock that had not been shifted by Lillith's power. The moon was her mobile throne, the enforcer of her command, her armies main barracks and it was her most valuable asset next to the crystal; Terminus.
Lillith absently heard Blade calling out for her, a great deal of concern in his tone, she allowed herself a speculative smile. This was what it was all about, taking back her property and rebuilding an empire that had once endured thousands of years before its downfall. She would take it back, piece by piece until everything that was hers by right of conquest was where it belonged. Animal mineral or vegetable, it didn't matter; if it had been part of her original empire or had been created from something that had been the property of her original domain, it would be returned to the rightful place where she dictated that it belonged.
Terminus, Docking Bay The shuttle had docked easily, it's passage secured by tractoring fields that had been awaiting use since the Darkest had left. The docking bay was huge, both in width and height, the majority of the area was cloaked in darkness that bellied it's true dimensions, from floor to rafter the air was still and silent save for the footsteps of the warrior, Blade.
Blade looked around, his eyes adjusting to the gloom until he could make out the nearest data console, the sound of his footsteps on the metal floor carried a clinking noise through the air. The console was covered in grime and dust, so thick that Blade had to poke a finger through before he could shift it aside, finally reaching the glare of the screen beneath.
He tapped away at the symbols on the touch screen rapidly, the routines coming back to him as if he had been constantly doing them for the past millennia. Expectantly he looked up towards the low glow of the lighting systems, no change came; still the area was bathed in darkness.
He tried several more times using different commands and routes to try to raise the lights. All his attempts were unsuccessful. Finally he went into the command lines and found the reason. He sighed, vexed by what the system had revealed and moved back to the shuttle. Lillith sat on the shuttle's ramp, her head hung low but her eyes ever-watching as her personal guard walked back to her. The effects of the crystal and her recent display of power had left her feeling physically drained again, yet she felt an exhilaration at being able to touch power of such magnitude after all the time trapped.
"The lights have been hard-coded to this level, m'lady" Blade whispered as he looked around edgily. "And I believe we may not be alone here."
"We must move to my throne then" Lillith stated, pushing herself up off, "I must know what has become of my Terminus."
"M'lady, I can't be certain that it would be a safe course of action" Blade warned.
"I appreciate the concern, Blade" Lillith said, her eyes locked in a steely resolve, "but the choice is not your to make. I want to go home"
The long-tailed creature was mostly humanoid in appearance, though because it was covered in dark purple-black fur, it looked more like a cat. It perched on the cold metal rafter and watched the events play out below. The intruders in it's clans territory had left their shuttle and a helpless occupant to wander the darkness that was his home.
The creature looked down, blinking its sharp yellow eyes. A vicious smile crossed its lips and it hissed the word home several times before pouncing off its perch and darting between rafters into the gloom.
The corridor was as void of light as the docking bay, but Blade had switched on his pack lights and the beams illuminated enough of the way as to make him a little more comfortable with his surroundings. He had hoped to be able to travel directly to the throne room through the speed lifts, but all the lifts that offered access past the equator of the spheroid ship had been physically severed or burnt out by energy blasts, a scene of devastation that had unsettled him momentarily but that he did not trifle Lillith with.
His new plan was to work gradually through the corridors, using sector lifts where possible, to reach the engineering section that marked the centre of the sphere, a long trek through an area he already anticipated to be hostile. He had managed to reach what had, in his time here previously, come to be know as 'The Pen', a holding area for several alien species that Lillith had enslaved and controlled through her taint, all to be stored in a matter-antimatter stasis.
"Through here m'lady" Blade said, as he pressed his shoulder against the door and laid his hands flat on the surface, he groaned and began to push the hulking door open, panting he said "The inside is separately powered, miles high and the lifts will shorten our journey."
"Very well" Lillith stated, gracefully squeezing past.
"Noble B'dga," the cat-like stalker bowed deeply, he was surrounded by shadows but the features of older faces of his kind were visible to him, and now he addressed the Elder of the council.
"I watches the great hall of metal with my clan-family," he began, "but today, following the world shaker, I sees strangers in my territory. Strangers not of wing nor fur, nor of shadow. Strangers what is like the Exalted."
In the shadows he could see B'dga the Elder lean forward, interested.
"They talk of home and of the cities of our world, Ph'rone and N'gener'n," his eyes darted around the room, more faces had come forward, every patriarch of the clan-families had gathered, "They heads now to the territory of noble clan-family M'lea, the city of the...frozen death."
B'dga laboured a breath and spoke, his voice resounding though softer silk, "Is this true, M'lea?"
The rich voice of the patriarch of M'lea, the most blessed of the families, replied "Scouts have confirmed their passage, my children are watching them."
"Very well," B'dga stated "I will go with my clan-family to see the Exalted, while the clan-family M'lea, and those they give right of visit track and capture these strangers."
Despite 'The Pen' having it's own power supply the room was dimly lit, a result, Blade discovered, of the lights being shattered and smashed. The only light came from the glow of the stasis pods.
The room was filled with metal columns that stretched from the ground to the ceiling, so high that there true length was hidden from view. Attached to the surface of the pillars were oval pods, filled with green light.
Peering into the pods Blade could see that, for the most part, stasis had held as beneath the green glow he could make out the features of alien creatures, pale and motionless, though otherwise healthy. Others were not so lucky, even though they shared the same glow many had suffered stasis degradation over the years, in some cases decaying and melting their features like oxidized rubber or, to the more extreme, the bodies had exploded and the residue floated in stasis.
The lift opened to a sterile white room, bathed in such light that it cause B'dga to shrink back. He could just make out the features of a tall, winged humanoid, "I come to speak with the Exalted, he whose words are law!".
"The High One has no appointment, you bring no tithe," the 'angel' observed, "what makes you think the high one would see anyone so lowly as your kind on a whim?"
"Spare me your righteousness," B'dga hissed, "you lord over us, but we are the ones who keep you alive, who give life to our world, you merely live here."
"And that is the point," the 'angel' retorted, "my people do not have to slave, we are the blessed people"
"You will be the damned if we do not speak to the Exalted, damned by he who is the high one, for his prophesy comes and you keep me from him!"
B'dga barged forward, knocking the winged guard to his side and strode up to the doors of the Exalted's chamber. The angel was not about to be shown up by one of the lesser creatures. After all, he was closer to human than the 'cats'. He opened his mouth and let out a clearly inhuman screech, alerting his sisters to the danger.
They were more instinct driven than he was and flew in ready for combat, talons extended to rip the cat apart. But B'dga was ready for them, crouched with claws extended, it pounced at the first female, bringing her down in the same way its distant cousins would bring down a sparrow.
The other two swooped in, driving their talons into his shoulder and lifting him into the air. He was unceremoniously thrown into the closed doorway.
B'dga's tail twitched angrily and he let out a feral growl before charging into combat. The angel's returned their own battle cry and charged. Claws and talons were ready, the fight was joined.
"WHAT, IS THE MEANING OF THIS?"
The voice echoed in the chamber and all activity ceased as cat creature and bird people alike fell to their knees, showing the proper respect for the Exalted One. He was human, a fact that automatically made him one to be worshipped. For it was written in the prophecy the Exalted One guarded so diligently, the humans were the favoured ones, the birds were the guardians and the cats should labour.
"You may look upon me," he said regally.
He was tall and pale skinned, an effect of living in the total absence of natural light. He had grey hair and a suitably long beard. He wore the robes his office demanded and a man of his station deserved: white robes with a matching coronet. In his hand he held a long staff and had the Sacred Book of Prophecy under his left arm.
"Now, what is the meaning of this?"
"Forgive us oh wondrous one," the angel grovelled. "My sisters and I were trying to prevent this riffraff from disturbing your greatness."
"I see," the Exalted replied before turning to the cat creature that still didn't dare not to look at him. "And you, what is your excuse?"
"Excuse please, B'dga brings news for Exalted. His prophecy has arrived."
A look of amusement crossed the man's face as he misinterpreted the cat's comment. Of course, given that he was a fraud, he expected everyone else to be too. He had no understanding of the devotion both the angels and cats showed to the falsified religion.
"So you are the one of prophecy?" he asked, amused. He saw the angel stiffen, ready to kill for such blasphemy.
"No, not I," B'dga answered. "She comes, now. We see her and come to tell Exalted."
If it was possible, the Exalted grew paler at that revelation. His face wrinkled into a mixture of worry and anger. He composed himself quickly, unwilling to show any emotion the lesser races might misinterpret.
"One of the clan-children who watches the great hall of metal," he began, "today, sees strangers in his clan-family territory. Following the world shaker, these strangers come from..." he paused, as if troubled and then whispered conspiratorially, "the great beyondness. Strangers not of wing or fur, nor of shadow. Strangers what is like the Exalted. They is like in the Book of Prophecy."
"Th-this is highly irregular," the Exalted managed to say.
This was not supposed to happen under his administration, it had not happened under any of his predecessors' control. His ancestors had written the book generations ago, predicting the return of the Great One, but he was certain that the great text was a fabrication to ensure the lesser races continued to labour once Terminus had stilled.
Oh he knew what Terminus was, all the higher humans knew. It was a space vessel that had become stranded generations before and over time its systems had degraded. His ancestor, claiming to be the servant of the Great One had written the prophecy to appease the other races; their belief in prophecy was in the Exalted's opinion a means of control. His ancestor had written that the Great One would return with an escort to free them from their fate. He had used the prophecy at that time to ensure that the important tasks were undertaken, such as security details.
Over time the roles had developed, but the belief had remained. The humans now had very little to do since their responsibilities involved knowledge, skills and machinery that had eroded over the first few centuries. The Exalted, a title that once held real meaning was now just a title and mark of respect. The lesser races needed someone to command them, which he did frequently and in return they laboured for him. It was a good system, better than the one his ancestors had foreseen. He especially liked the status-quo.
And now after all this time, after eons of evolution, there was a disruption to the way things should be. He was furious that this had happened, that one messenger threatened the social structure his family had upheld for so long. And he was nervous, knowing that until recent times, the high humans had believed in the prophecy, had believed in the existence of the Great One.
"A mistake on your part no doubt. The shadows have a way of playing tricks especially when you have not rested properly."
"It is her I saw," B'dga insisted.
"Or it could well be someone who wishes to usurp our peoples." The Exalted answered. He saw the look of anger on the cat's face and suppressed rage on the angel's grey face. He needed to find a way to appease them until he could prove it was a fake. "But as it is written, we must great this person for if they are the ones they alone will pass the test. Your races have toiled for generations to earn her return. Perhaps at long last your worship had paid off."
"What we do now?" B'dga asked.
"Find them, bring them to me," he said, planning how to expose this as a deception even if it was in reality the truth. "We will test those that claim to be the prophecy and when - if," he quickly amended, "they are found to be false we will deal with them. No doubt the Book of Prophecy predicts that: 'many shall lay claim to the title before the Great One returns'. In the meantime, the guardians of this section shall return to their duties and you B'dga, should go aid your clan."
There was no such line that he knew of, but it was enough to make them sceptical and that slight change in attitude would make them easier to manipulate.
The angel like bird people bowed reverently and departed, dragging their fallen sister with them. B'dga waited until the Exalted had turned away before scurrying about his duties.
The chamber was a mess of spilled blood and broken bodies, catlike bodies. Their killer stood tiredly as another wave made their way towards him, his powerful blades colliding with their sharp claws. He drove the heavy counterweight of his sword into one of the creature's skulls before swinging it by the tail to drive its comrades back.
One managed to sneak up behind him and leapt upon his back, using its claws to scratch his upper arms. Two more took advantage as he tried to shrug the first cat off him. They latched onto his arms, pulling them wide and exposing his chest. He rolled, trying to throw them loose, but more of the cat people piled into him, taking away any leverage he once had.
So far they had not deliberately hurt him, but now he was at their mercy and animal instinct reared its ugly head. The claws raised, ready to deliver a fatal laceration to his chest, bringing food for the entire clan.
"Stop!" B'dga pleaded as he ran into the chamber. "The exalted wants them alive. They are prophecy!"
This had an immediate effect. They didn't release him, but all stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to the sleek black figure that was their brother. Their faces were angry, filled with hate and distrust at the interruption, but none dared to argue with the Exalted's orders.
"They are prophecy," he repeated, gesturing for his clan to release the sword wielding warrior.
"He kills our kind," one pointed out. "He kills my mate."
"He is companion of Great One," B'dga replied. "He kills those who threaten prophecy."
"No, he kill mate, he dies," the female exclaimed, her loss overcoming her loyalty. She extended her claws and drove them towards Blade's throat.
Lillith pointed and the offending cats found themselves on the receiving end of a fireball. Only blade seemed unharmed.
"Thank you, m'lady," Blade said as he stepped towards her and took up a protective position.
"I told you before that with loyalty such as yours, you should expect to live a long time," she answered, allowing a trace of humour to find its way into the solemn exchange. Before turning her attention to the now cowering felines. "Vermin," she accused, "infesting my Terminus. Why have you been allowed to remain here, where are my loyal followers? Where are the Seraf and R'skil, where are my Prefects?"
"We live here, it has always been so," B'dga answered, he was the only one who dared do so after her display of power. "Shades labour here for prophecy."
Her rage was forgotten for a moment as suspicion and curiosity took over. "Tell me of this prophecy," she instructed.
"The men of fur, wing and flesh would labour until the destined day, fur to keep the world breathing, wing to keep to keep the chosen safe and flesh to keep the spirit living. Through labour the Great One shall return to guide her people once again; her home will be ready for her when the Exalted kneels with his kind."
"Then why has this Exalted One not appeared to greet me?" she asked, her anger returning. She had expected loyal servants to celebrate her return not this backwards race of cats.
"He tell me to bring you to him," B'dga replied. "Then he judge if you are prophecy."
She didn't say anything, suspecting what had happened. So much time had passed that it was only logical that some evolution had taken place. But to forget their roots and reduce themselves to mere labourers, what had her Prefects been thinking to allow this to happen?
"I see," she said, allowing the coldness to enter her tone, eyes flashing in warning. "Take us to this Exalted One."
"At once," B'dga said excitedly, "Come, B'dga show way."
B'dga bowed and obeyed, leading the way as they undertook a long trek along miles of low corridors and then up several long ladders. Obviously the lifts and internal teleportation systems were offline. Lillith could have made the journey in seconds, but chose to endure the discomfort since the experience revealed just how badly her Prefects had performed in her absence.
Finally, after squeezing through a panel that had been forced open from the other side, they reached the nerve centre of Terminus. In all they had travelled six decks and walked the equivalent of four sections. With the lifts operating the journey would have taken three minutes including the security checks such levels required.
"We is here," B'dga said excitedly, "Exalted is waiting for prophecy."
As they had trekked through the corridors to reach their destination, Lillith had learnt a great deal from B'dga. Firstly he was extremely loyal to the prophecy even if he didn't really understand its meaning. He and his race had been labouring for generations to keep the crew of Terminus alive, and it was their devotion to this prophecy they spoke of that allowed them to keep going against all odds.
Secondly from his description Lillith knew who the Exalted was. When she had left Terminus before her incarceration, she had left one of her human servants in charge. Clearly he had abused his power, living a life of comfort while her once noble R'skils.
They followed B'dga through the door and into the circular chamber she recognised at once as her briefing room. In her days of glory she had mingled here with her heads of government to dictate policy and discuss strategy with her commanders. The room had been stripped of its opulent furnishings and was a dreary as the rest of the space station.
"You returned then," the angel said, looking at B'dga with a mixture of curiosity and hatred. "The Exalted One has ordered no further interruptions while he contemplates the disturbance you caused. Your prisoners will be dealt with by his wisdom."
"But she is prophecy," the feline interjected. "She is the Great One!"
"Who are you to say who is the Great One?" the angel returned angrily, his belief was such he could not bear the idea that the Great One had returned because he couldn't take the pain if it turned out to be fake. "Only the Book of Prophecy can tell us and only the Exalted One can read from that book."
From the sneer he gave the cat, it became clear he did not believe B'dga could read at all.
"She is Great One; she came from beyond; spoke of the holy cities and delivered death with a look."
"A trick any might accomplish given the right motivation," the Exalted said, stepping from his chambers, which Lillith had now identified as the secondary control room. It was so difficult to get orientated on this station because she had yet to find a suitable landmark. Now she knew where she was the floor plan of the space station filled her mind.
She turned to regard the robed figure who had dared to doubt her. He had drawn himself up in an attempt to look fearsome, it made him seem pathetic.
"You should know better B'dga than to make claims about the Great One. Did I not warn you that there would come many impostors before the true Great One returned. This is but a test of our ability to see through deception. Rejoice that you were fooled B'dga, for the testing is a sign that her return is not far away. A few generations and she may appear."
"But she is here, this is Great One."
"How dare you question the Exalted, cat?" the angel demanded. "He is the keeper, he alone knows if the prophecy has been fulfilled."
"I speak truth Exarchate," B'dga shot back, using the angel's race name to emphasize his genuine belief.
"Enough, if she is the Great One, she will pass the test of the prophecy. If not she and her companion will be exposed as impostors and shall suffer for their falsehoods."
"That won't be necessary," Lillith said. "I am the Great One the prophecy speaks of, Queen Lillith. This domain is mine by right and none have the right to question me."
"See how she fears the test," the Exalted offered. "She tries to talk her way out of the test with trickery. She is guilty, destroy her noble Exarchate, and bring more honour to your clan. The you may take vengeance for you kin against the R'skil."
"Test her," B'dga insisted. "Give her test of prophecy. Only Great One can bring life to that which is silent."
The Exarchate had not been listening though, he advanced on Lillith, his talons extended ready for action. He reached forward to destroy the impostor ignorant of all but his desire to kill.
Blade moved without instruction, ducking around his mistress to block the winged man's outstretched arms. He drove a knee to the winged man's stomach followed by a double axe-handle to the point of the back where the wings were attached before ducking the clawed hand that shot toward his face. As he came back up his knife was in his hand, slicing through the Exarchate's chest. He swiftly returned to his mistress' side as the Exarchate fell.
"I will take this test," Lillith announced without acknowledging the death and promptly walked through the door behind the Exalted who dared not interfere following the demonstration of Blade's skill.
Lillith led the way into the command section, casting an eye over the humans seated at the consoles, none showing any signs of knowing how to operate the control systems. She ignored the obvious sections; life support, navigation and weapon sections would not provide the proof she needed. Instead she made her was to a solo seat with no visible controls. This seat had once been where the commander of Terminus would sit and her throne would have been positioned behind him. From there she would give commands that he would action. It was also the only chair she had to sit in.
She positioned herself on the chair and finally dropped the mental barriers that had shielded her from Terminus. A silent thought and the chair warped, revealing a new console that she and the station commander could access, but only she could unlock. Her fingers traced a familiar sequence of keys, unlocking the control systems that had automatically shutdown in her absence.
"This is a mockery," the Exalted proclaimed to the assembled humans, but they were giving her their undivided attention.
"This is prophecy," B'dga hissed knowingly. "The Great One is giving life."
Lillith regarded the cat creature and promised that his loyalty would be rewarded with a place at her side. She would show him that he had been right to trust her words as he became the first of her new lieutenants.
"And now your proof," she said, looking at the Exalted with distaste. "I bring life to the lifeless." She pressed the last button.
A screeching siren filled the room, followed by other alarms throughout the station. Emergency lighting switched off as the central computer went through its start up routine.
"You see, she is not the Great One, she brings us darkness not life?" the Exalted cried in dismay.
"Patience," she told him. "Terminus will live, it takes time."
The sirens quietened, replaced by the low hum of generators as they warmed up. The walls and ceilings glowed as the illumination panels lit the chamber. More key presses and instruments unused since the engines had died were updated to display the state of inactivity throughout the station.
Terminus shook as the mighty propulsion system was primed and activated, burning out worn parts as it did so. The station's automated repair system set about fixing the damage as soon as it became evident. In this way Terminus was restored to life.
Energy exploded from the space station, destroying the rocks that had once disguised it and remained in close proximity as the engines, retro rockets and weapon systems let off an intense blast to clear any blockages. The station's disjointed rotation shifted as the engines compensated for centuries of movement to bring it back onto its original axis.
In the command chamber systems were rapidly coming to life, terrifying the inexperienced yet curious crewmen. They pressed the buttons, wondering as to the result and unaware of the chaos they caused.
"Stop!" Lillith ordered. "Nobody is to touch anything without my permission." She then keyed in an emergency code to restore atmosphere to a sector of the station that had just been laid open to the vacuum of space.
"It is as though you never left m'lady," Blade said.
"Almost Blade," she answered. "When the repairs are complete, Terminus will be as new."
A short constant beeping drew her attention. Someone had left a message for her. A frown crossed her face and she wondered who and why this would happen, but she pressed the receive button anyway and watched as a hologram appeared.
"Queen Lillith," the man said, bowing to where her throne should have been. He looked like the Exalted but far older and from the look on the priest's face, he knew this person as well. "I welcome you home m'lady and regret I could not do so in person. As you know many years have passed since the battle and I regret we have been unable to find you. Terminus is as you know disabled without your presence and our scout ships have failed to return. I leave this message to assure you of my loyalty and that of the Prefects.
I fear I will not last long m'lady, the timed shutdowns have already taken effect and Terminus has been disabled. Without the generators all other systems have failed and I have been forced to make arrangements to keep the crew alive.
I have despatched the R'skils to the lowers decks with orders to replicate as much fertile ground as possible. Until the station is restored, we will grow our own food. This will keep the R'skils busy and in a state of readiness.
The Seraf have been assigned as guards to protect from attack. I realise this is unlikely my Queen, but while they train they remain useful to your cause.
For the human population I have prepared this book of guidelines, telling my successor how to aid you in restoring Terminus when you return. I regret our estimates say that at least two generations will have passed. I hope you will not be disappointed to find some standards have dropped in that time.
Once again my Queen, it has been an honour to serve you and I wish I could be there when you return to see the Masters pay for their impudence, but alas it is not to be. I sincerely hope my successor with prove as worthy of you as I hope I have been.
Farewell Queen Lillith." The image disappeared.
"Now are there any who doubt my identity?" she asked.
The response was easy to interpret as human, angel and cat alike fell to their knees before her. The Exalted One hesitated as if he would make a final protest and then followed suit. She looked down upon them, noting that Blade had joined them in their show of mass obedience.
"Get up Blade, " she whispered with an amused tone. "You have no place there, you belong at my side, not my boots." In a louder voice she continued. "B'dga of the Shades, your loyalty is unquestioned. Now you may be loyal to the truth and not a book of lies. Join Blade at my side, you shall be my emissary to your people."
"Great One, I knew it would be you," the Exalted interrupted. His comments were met by stern silence.
"If I were you 'Exalted One', I would cease this charade and think of a reason I should not have you destroyed for treachery. Your ancestor was a good man, a loyal commander. You have dishonoured him with your actions. No, why should he pay for the failures of his descendants? You have dishonoured yourself. You are not worthy of the status your robes carry, so I remove your status. You are no longer my Viceroy."
"Please my Queen," he begged, "I can be loyal, let me be loyal to you. Everything I have done has been for the best. They started to say you would return, said that a lone man would break you free. I had to keep them in line, I meant only for the best to happen."
"Perhaps," she said dubiously. "I will allow you to hold your position for now, Viceroy. But know this, if I suspect treason from you, it will not be demotion; I will exterminate you myself. You will be my emissary to the humans."
"I will make you proud oh Great One," he said.
"See that you do," she said, no humour in her tone. Then she gave the Exarchates an appraising look. "Approach my noble guardians."
They obeyed, falling in behind a broad shouldered warrior with long dark hair and a powerful stare. He led the way forward and stopped within striking distance of Lillith. He struck his left fist to his breast before kneeling.
"I greet you oh Great One and submit to your judgement."
"What is your name?" she enquired.
"Keslar, my wondrous lady."
"Then stand Keslar," she said. "Your people have changed the least in my absence. You have remained loyal to Terminus until I returned and now you too shall stand at my side."
She keyed in a final sequence, one that would ultimately restore Terminus to its prior state. But that would take days and for now there were other tasks to be handed out.
"Terminus is prepared, all systems ready," the junior officer reported.
Lillith had miscalculated and instead of days it had taken weeks to prepare Terminus for its first flight. It would be much longer before the ship was ready to use as to lead an invasion. The systems she had assumed the automatic repairs could handle were beyond repair. The best they could manage was a short jump to avoid whatever craft might be sent to investigate the loss of contact with the planet.
She had started to educate her officers in ship's protocol and had bonded them to Terminus just as their ancestors had been linked. Doing so had improved their efficiency dramatically.
After many hours of thought she had decided to spare the Viceroy; her initial thought had been to have Blade 'remove' him from the ship. He had no real skills that he could bring to the table and was too used to being in charge to remain subservient for long. But he was the religious leader of the humans and despite her unquestioned power, his influence was enough to cause discord if she destroyed him.
So instead she had stripped him of his influence, promoting those who deserved it to positions of authority and limiting his interaction to strictly spiritual matters. At the same time she was slowly undermining the religion he had created and granted power to the lesser creatures. In short his support among the crew was dissipating.
Leaving him alive meant that loyalty was split, but she had made it clear that the days of the Viceroy as commander of Terminus, whether he called himself the Exalted One or not, were over. And if it came down to it she left no doubt that she would destroy all the human crewmen to assure her command was absolute.
"Very well," she said, pointing to the helmsman, "engage!"
Terminus shook and then took off at what would pass as full speed in its current condition. She was back. Terminus was back too. Before long the Universe would learn that for itself.