The Black Gate Opens
A sequel to Stellar Quest
Seren. The Sand Glatorian was named captain of the Stellar Quest Team.
Nagaan. An acerbic Sister of the Skrall who doubts if her teammates could navigate their way out of a sack without her.
Veverka. A Fire Agori, she is the vivacious engineer of the team.
Reise. He is an Aqua Magnian Agori who doctors his team but not their annals.
Klimaat. This arrogant Jungle Glatorian gave up his life to kill Millennium and free Slizer.
Cynnia. She refused the offer to join the team to continue her life as a Glatorian in the Northern Frost.
Millennium. For centuries he had been the cruel, despotic ruler of Slizer, until the Stellar Quest Team intervened.
Millennions. Throwbots genetically engineered from Millennium's own DNA.
Note. Dr. Reise: The haste in which this chronicle was written reflects, I think, poorly upon my literary skill. I must take pains to rectify it with more vivid description and exactitude of particulars re the events that took place on our return journey from Slizer.
Note. Dr. Reise: Upon further consideration, I have decided that to rewrite this segment of our story would only subtract from the emotion with which it was originally written, and as it is an accurate account of events, I will leave it in its unedited form.
The universe has just flipped upside-down. I should be home, in Aqua Magna, asleep in my own bed right now--but I am not! Instead I crouch in a dank, dark cave, on a planet of which I and those around me know nothing, while two beings I had never expected to see again are hunting us down!
I have not the time to write a detailed narrative of what has occurred. They search for us at this very moment--I do not hear them now, but how long will it be before they find us? And what will happen then? There is little chance that we will survive.
I will make my account as concise as possible. It was as we were flying homeward through space, aboard The Unreachable Star, when we were set upon suddenly by a Slizerian battleship. During the original journey to Slizer, as tasked us by the Great Beings, our ship had been deactivated by a strange beam from such a ship; now, another such beam was fired upon us. Nagaan skillfully dodged, but without our deceased Defense Master we were helpless. Our pilot tried to escape, but after several failed attempts the beam at last hit us.
The Unreachable Star, reduced to dead weight, was dragged by the gravitational pull of a nearby planetoid. Our shields, not dependant upon the ship's full power, prevented us from crashing and burning on the planet's surface. A small comfort; the ship was too damaged to consider taking flight again without repairs. And we had not the faintest idea where we were.
We managed to flee the ship and scout around. Not that there was anything to scout. There was nothing but choppy, barren rock of a perse tint for Kio, like a stormy sea turned suddenly to stone.
Before long, the battle ship landed near our own craft. With naught else that we could do, we spied on the ship, and ere long two beings, flanked by a small troop of soldiers, filed out.
Involuntary gasps came from all around. The soldiers were those thrice-accursed Millennions, but that was not what astonished us. A troop of soldiers fleeing Slizer would not have been a great surprise. It was the two beings at their head, two I had never expected to see again in my life, standing together, sinister grins spread across their faces, which shocked us all. There before us, side by side, stood the former emperor of Slizer and a Glatorian of Ice we all recognized immediately: Millennium and Cynnia.
"Come now, Spherus Magnians," Millennium called. "Show yourselves. We know you are there. Do not claim you have never heard of scanners before?"
Dazed, we marched silently out of our hiding places and stood before the two beings.
The pair of them laughed derisively at our expressions. "Greetings, old friends!" Cynnia said with a sinister smile. "How nice to see you all! I imagine you're rather surprised to see us."
"Did you honestly think it would be so easy to defeat a Great Being?" Millennium mocked. "You are fools. And so you will die like fools. A detour well worth my time. Millennions! Kill them!"
The little band around him surged forth; but we were no pushovers. We had had much training and some experience in battle, and it was quantity, not quality, which had always given Millennium's army worth. It was for that attribute alone that we fled, as a continuous stream of soldiers poured out the doors.
And that is why we are crouched, hidden, in this cave. It all seems so surreal, like a strange dream. Impossible that we are here, on this strange planet; impossible that Millennium is alive; impossible that Cynnia, innocent Cynnia, is working with him. It simply makes no sense.
But yet, somehow, it is all real. They are both here, on this planet, searching for us to kill us. We have escaped them once today; it is an exiguous possibility that we may escape them a second, and even less likely that we may defeat them in combat.
But I am ready to die. So I will now transmit this final chapter to my computer on the ship in the faint hope that someone, someday, will find the wreckage of the Unreachable Star and know everything we have gone through, and who it is that brought our mission to its untimely end.
From Captain Seren; Navigator Nagaan; Engineer Veverka; and I, Doctor Reise; and in memory of the deceased Master of Defense, Klimaat: to whomsoever reads this, please let our story be known, to all the people of Slizer and Spherus Magna. Let them know that the four remaining members of the Stelllar Quest team bid you all vale, and that we are deeply sorry. Tell them that the Stellar Quest--if even they remember it by the time you read this--has failed.
* * *
Note. Dr. Reise: I was again in some agitation during the writing process, leaving an awkward disjunction between this and the preceding log entry. However, it is still an adequate example of my prose set down with minute detail and precision, and accurate both factually and emotionally accurate, and so I will let it stand.
That we are alive--that we have survived--is a miracle. I cannot believe it. As inconceivable as seemed our impending death, the fact that it did not come is even more so. But it is not just that; the circumstances surrounding our continuance are likewise astounding. The unlikely arm that pulled us out of a pit of despair--the serendipitous arrival of an ubelievable distraction and unusual saviors--we can do naught but thank our lucky stars for the felicitous turns our position took.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I am yet so awestruck that my mind is in utter dishevelment. I must gather my thoughts and proceed in a punctilious, lucid mode.
So there we were, crouching in the cold, dark cave, aught to be heard but the dripping of water farther back. But then we heard the distant sounds of the search party, which grew steadily nearer.
"What do we do?" Veverka whispered suddenly. We all started; the abrupt break of silence, shaking us from our thoughts, was a surprise. And the dull, tired tone of her voice, hoarse from the hours of apprehensive desuetude, only reflected the thoughts and feelings of the rest of us. Perhaps most disheartening was the reduced energy, vivacity and blitheness with which her cadences were always saturated.
"We can't just wait for them to find us and kill us," the Fire Agori went on. "We'd be trapped like rats in here! We have to move on, find a better hiding place, or somewhere we can defend ourselves!"
Seren spoke, his voice as vapid as Veverka's--more so. "Why? What's the use?"
"What's the--?" Veverka repeated, mouth open. "Seren--we have a mission to fulfill!"
The captain leaned his head back on a rock, eyes closed. "Our mission was to reconnoiter Slizer, not to liberate it. By trying to excel beyond our appointed mission we failed it."
"But we did liberate Slizer," Veverka pointed out. I noticed now a despairing, yet tenaciously optimistic inflection to her words. "That must count for something."
"But Millennium is still at large. We may have knocked him down, but he will pick himself up. And when he does, he will reconquer Slizer and, eventually, Spherus Magna."
"Give it up, Veverka!" I interposed. "Seren's right. We have done nothing but delay the ineluctable; and by running or fighting, that's all we could do now. The Millennions are coming--the Millennions are coming! Millennium won't let us win this time. We couldn't kill him once--we thought we could, we thought we did, but we were wrong. Millennium's won."
A tongue of flame flickered in Veverka's eyes. "Reise, how can you say that?"
"Because it's the truth. We can't defeat a Great Being. We should have realized that sooner. We all saw Millennium fall before Klimaat's tomahawk. But what good did it do? He's back! One way or another, he's back. Klimaat gave up his life--and for what? Nothing!"
"Enough!" Nagaan screeched, eyes ablaze, leaping to her feet; she paused, listening to ensure her outburst had not been perceived by our pursuers, before going on in a fierce, sibilant whisper: "Listen to you! Squabbling and disputing over--what? Whether or not we have a duty to fulfill? It's clear that we do! What action to take? It could not be more apparent! Whether success is feasible? Of course it is! Your arguments are empty, your words meaningless--and yet you"--she rounded on me--"speak of Klimaat as if he were so, as if he were inane, and his efforts and sacrifice worthless! I tell you he had twice the character, twice the spirit, and denary the courage of any of you! He would not sit here and debate re what action to take or whether it is worth taking--he would act! He would rush out of this cave right now and meet the enemy headlong, alacritously risking his life for his cause! And do not forget that it was this intrepidity and esprit that defeated Millennium and delivered Slizer. Now, I don't know who it was he killed, or who it is we face now--was it the real Millennium, and this an impostor; or was it an identical steward, a clone perhaps, and this the real Millennium?--but Millennium was defeated once; he can be again! He may have numbers, but they cannot conquer for ever, we have proven that! At the cost of my life, at the cost of all our lives; for Slizer, for Spherus Magna, for the Great Beings, and especially for Klimaat--Millennium shall die again, and as many times more as necessary!"
We gaped in shock at the inferno in the Skrall Sister's eyes, appalled by the optimistic, resolute, hopeful words, by the faithful certitude and ferocity with which they were uttered, by the aberrant source of them; but most of all, by the fact that we all knew, reluctant though we were to admit it, that Nagaan was right.
There were several long moments of silence, filled with the shouts of our hunters and the steady dripping from behind us. I was the first to stand and speak.
"You're right, Nagaan," I conceded. "Despair is for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. We are not defeated yet. As long as we live there remains hope; and as long as there remains hope, anything is possible."
Seren followed suit. "I concur. To admit defeat is to lose; to have hope is to prevail. We shall persevere." He added, "I'm sorry for losing my head. I was a fool."
"So was I," I put in. "I must have faith."
"Enough talk!" Nagaan hissed. "It is time to act."
There were nods all around; we acted. Wordlessly we stepped out into the open, starlit air. Forward we marched as the enemy caught sight of us. They were widely fanned out, but as the cry went up one and all rushed toward us. Millennium and Cynnia were not difficult to locate among the short bodies of the soldiers. They strode calmly and steadily forward.
"If this is it," Seren began as we braced for the attack, "I--I just want to--well, thanks; all of you, for everything. Somehow, we've become a great team."
"And still more shall we be," Nagaan returned.
Veverka and I exchanged similar sentiments. Whatever happened, we would remain united, in victory or death.
"Cease!" boomed out the loud, deep voice of Millennium suddenly; his forces obediently halted, less than twenty Bio from the Stellar Quest Team. As if there was all the time in the world, the former monarch and Glatorian of Ice ambled to the head of the crowd.
"Ah, dear friends, how pleasant it is to meet you yet again!" he greeted. "How tragic that it will be our final meeting; and how ill-fated that we could not all be here together. I regret the missed opportunity to meet your valiant green friend, but it cannot be helped. I apologize for my inability to be present at what was to be our final confrontation--but I hope that my duplicate was amiable?"
"So it was a clone sitting upon your throne," Nagaan observed in an acerbic tone.
"Indeed! When prospects appear adverse, I find it wise to allow my steward to run the show, presenting me with an opportunity to take a break from the fatiguing responsibilities of absolutism."
"Coward!" Veverka challenged.
"Contrariwise, my dear, I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which one must flee," Millennium replied. "A just caution, as has been proved. But as I was saying before you interrupted so impiously, I took a vacation, in the form of a relaxing excursion to a peaceful, remote planet, inhabited by a charming, albeit primitive, people. A beautiful place, I must say. I am glad I had the chance to see Spherus Magna with my own eyes before I seized it. There is much potential there; my rule with benefit it greatly."
"Your rule will benefit nobody but yourself!" I cried. "These are all the same empty words you gave me before! Your intentions are egocentric, and you will do far more harm to Spherus Magna than good!"
"We shall see, blue one, we shall see....Now, please, cease these most irksome interruptions, and allow me to finish my tale. I am getting to the part that should interest you most. You see, while I was travelling around your lovely Spherus Magna, I happened upon an old friend. A mutual friend, I believe. I gather you and my Commander have met. But I digress. Cynnia, I'm sure you and your erstwhile acquaintances have a lot to talk about."
"Indeed," the Ice Glatorian agreed with a sneer. "So much has happened since our last occasion to meet."
"Cynnia," Seren greeted frostily. He regarded her with interest, confusion, shock; but no fear. "I see you've made a new friend."
"Oh, but he's not new at all!" Cynnia interposed. "He is a very old friend."
"How is it, then, that you did come to be acquainted with an overweening, avaricious tyrant such as Millennium here?"
"Branches and boulders can crash down 'pon my shoulders, but words will never harm me," Millennium observed axiomatically.
"I came to know His Majesty in much the same way as you. It was a long, long time ago; the Element Lords gathered together a team of seven, one from each village--for there were, at the time, yet seven villages--and, by order of the Great Beings, assigned them a mission: To explore, to boldly venture where none but the Great Beings themselves had before been. I, as I am sure you have guessed, was one of those villagers who accepted the task. It was a ship much more primitive than your Star we were given, but it did its job. Its name was The Venture."
Millennium stepped in. "Ah, but not all the Great Beings approved of The Venture and the enterprise it and its crew were to undertake. The project, in fact, after much debate, had been shut down completely. But behind the others' backs, a small group of Great Beings went on with it anyway, desperate to know what had become of bygone creations. Yes, Spherus Magnians...I was the leader of that group."
"Impossible!" Nagaan hissed. "Your claims are impertinent lies!"
"I care not whether you choose to believe me or not," the ex-despot said with a shrug. "But it is the truth. But as I was saying, I knew that I could not keep the mission a secret forever; but I had hoped The Venture could have been safely on its way before suspicion was aroused. Unfortunately, fate rarely bends itself to one's hopes. Our operation was discovered. But I was not going to allow my project to be terminated. I had worked too hard upon it--I had too many hopes resting upon it. My curiosity was too strong--my remorse was too strong."
For a moment, my heart softened. Perhaps, all along, Millennium's heart has been in the right place, I trowed. Perhaps his actions, though misguided--and, then again, who's to say they truly were?--had the right intention behind them.
This thought lasted only a moment. Though I sympathized with Millennium's words, I knew better than any of my teammates how insubstantial and insincere were his expostulations; it was all mere sonnigraphy. Underneath his smooth talk, Millennium was a cunning, deceptive, self-serving, pitiless introvert.
I gripped my Sea Saber tighter and said loudly, "I grow weary of your inane sentimental talk, Millennium. Hurry it up, would you?"
Millennium glanced at me through his cold, apathetic green eyes and went on, "After much debate the exploration project was approved, on the condition that I--by mutual desire--leave with The Venture. Most of my followers renounced any affiliation with me and remained on Spherus Magna with the other Great Beings. Only one accompanied me: Blaster, as he was known on Slizer. A pity that his loyalty ultimately led to his demise. It was, however, for the greater good."
Cynnia reclaimed the narrative, so seamlessly I thought it must have been rehearsed. "So The Venture began it's journey, and Slizer was the first stop on Millennium's agenda. But when we arrived--when he saw what had become of his creation--his heart was broken. You have heard what Slizer was like at that time? War: endless war, endless fighting, endless death. The same people Millennium and the other Great Beings had invented and then mercilessly abandoned were slaughtering one another--and Millennium knew that culpability lay with himself and the other Great Beings, for had they not discarded their experiment they could have saved it from this state of constant savagery.
"But Millennium did not lament, for he knew the fate of Slizer rested in his hands. So he resolved to take immediate action--but my teammates did not like it. They wanted no part in his designs. They wanted to explore, not to intrude upon the affairs of the aboriginals. They considered it unethical. No matter what Millennium, Blaster or I said, they refused to listen. And so--so--" Cynnia's voice faltered. Her sneer quivered for a heartflash.
"So they learned what happens when one crosses a Great Being," Millennium concluded. "We needed them not. In fact, it made things much easier. You see, it was necessary to dissemble ourselves--to make ourselves more similar in appearance and therefore more personable to the Slizerians. Blaster and I could do that easily enough, but we knew it would take more effort to find a solution for the Spherus Magnians. Though the solution was simple enough, it was more facilitating with six fewer Glatorian. The answer, if you had not already guessed, was to make a mechanical being which Cynnia could control from the ship; from even greater distances if necessary. We cleped this automaton Dynamo. And the rest is history."
"Up until Millennium's curiosity was aroused once more," Cynnia added, "and he sent Dynamo to survey what had become of Spherus Magna. And it was a perfect opportunity to test the ameliorations of my control system. Even from Slizer, with Dynamo on your homeworld, he operated impeccably."
Said Millennium: "And so I was able to see how my fellow Great Beings were getting along in my absence. The fools! They had practically abandoned Spherus just as Slizer, if somewhat more tactfully. But they turned a blind eye to the jealousies, spites, and avarices of their appointed leaders, the 'Element Lords.' Even when I had Dynamo and his forces attack Spherus Magna, the Great Beings showed little concern. Imbeciles! Did they not realize who was behind the attack? Had they forgotten about me? Even when I sent Cynnia back to Spherus herself, as a spy, they suspected nothing."
"Oh, they were suspicious," Cynnia corrected, eyes twinkling with scornful mirth, "at first, that is. But they believed me readily enough when I gave them my sob story about how 'I had realized Millennium's treachery,' that 'I had been held so long against my will,' and so 'when, finally, Millennium and the others were killed I was safe and eager to return home.' And so--as a compensation for my suffering, and a reward for my loyalty--they offered me a part in the Stellar Quest. But I kindly refused, saying I'd done my bit and just wanted to stay home: where I could control Dynamo on Slizer and keep an eye on Spherus simultaneously, and spread rumors about the Stellar Quest in an effort to boost the morale of the lazy Agori and Glatorian and goad them back to working on repairs. We couldn't have our planet in such disarray when our new ruler arrived and took control."
"Though it was, of course, likely enough that it would be in worse shape by the time I was ruler--but it was a pleasant thought. And that, of course, brings us back up to date. The Great Beings launched the Stellar Quest--a crude semblance of my Venture project; though your Star is an improvement over my earlier invention, it is as nothing to the scientific progress I have made on Slizer. All subsequent events were directly linked to you four and your defunct friend. But all along you ignorant fools had no idea that you were playing into my hands. How could you? Not even the Great Beings themselves realized it!" Millennium laughed. "There is a sparse number of drawbacks to your escapades on my planet--the loss of Blaster, my palace, and Dynamo--but it was worth it to removed that vexatious thorn in my foot that was that feeble rebellion group, the Aliruug. Now that they have come out into the open, I will simply return with a fresh legion and decimate them entirely. Such a crushing defeat after a false victory will eradicate any hope among whatever remnants of them remain when I am through. Then I will build a new palace, more majestic; a new Dynamo, stronger and even more advanced. And then, at last, Spherus will be mine--but first, Stellar Quest Team, you must die."
"Over our dead bodies, Millennium!" I vociferated, rather obtusely. Thinking better of it, I added, "You can't win! We beat you once, we'll beat you again!"
"Ah, but last time, you had help. The Aliruug, and your green friend--"
"Klimaat!" Nagaan apprised vehemently. "His name is Klimaat."
"Ah, yes, Klimaat." Millennium nodded, gazing downward, shaking his head almost regretfully. "What a waste. Intrepid, valiant, altruistic, if hidden beneath a mask of arrogance. Indeed, he would have made me a great asset, if only--"
"If only he would have conformed to your accursed designs and whims, as you hoped I would," I finished.
Millennium regarded my with interest. "My steward did offer you a Lieutenant position, did he not?" He nodded thoughtfully. "He was impressed by your loyalty, your wisdom, your inner strength. You are a remarkable being for one so small." He extended a hand toward me suddenly. "My clone was no fool--indeed, he was fully endowed with my cerebral prowess, among other traits, thought tacfully without my ambition. I find his impression of you to be indubitably veritable. You would still be invaluable to my empire, especially after the...misfortunate loss of Blaster. What say you--Lieutenant Reise?"
I snorted and riposted, "Drop dead, Millennium."
"I think I can hear Klimaat cheering," Veverka murmured with a grin. How she could joke at such a time, I was at a loss to comprehend.
Millennium merely cachinnated. "Lamentable, but it is of no consequence. I am afraid, then, that this is vale."
Tension had escalated to a zenith over the course of the arrogant, pompously epinician, prolix oration; the snap of Millennium's fingers was like the first thunderclap, after which finally the pressure restrained within the clouds was released in a torrent of fury. And, just as a spate of raindrops descend simultaneously, a spate of events simultaneously followed the Great Being's gesticulative order.
First, the four of us glanced synchronously over our shoulders; though there was nothing to be seen, I am certain I felt a hand upon my shoulder and perceived a flash of green out of the corner of my eye, and that the others witnessed the same phenomenon. There was no doubt in any of our minds that, at this crucial moment, Klimaat was with us.
Then the Millennions surged forward. Nagaan murmured, "I will see you soon, Klimaat," and together the four of us emitted loud battle cries and met the enemy head on--or head off, as it soon was in our foes' case.
At the same moment, Cynnia and Millennium drew their own weapons--a rapier that almost appeared to be made of ice, and a large, heavy glaive--and joined the fray. I was fighting for my life in a knot of soldiers, and nearby Nagaan was concentrating on telekinetically sweeping a Millennion's disc in a slowly expanding ring round herself to fend off the soldiers. It was Veverka who met Cynnia in an age-old clash of Fire and Ice.
Millennium thundered toward Seren, who, facing the other way as he beat back the Millennions before him, failed to notice. But I did not.
"Seren--Millennium--trade!" I called, throwing my Sea Saber. Seren looked over his shoulder in time to grasp the situation and my flung weapon, toss me his Thornax Blaster in return, and spin around not a moment too soon to meet Millennium's blade with mine.
As the swords met I caught a Millennion's disc in my hand and politely returned it to its proper owner, though I don't think he was pleased to have it back, nor were the Millennions beside him, I expect. Suddenly I was seized from behind by a triad of Millennions who gripped my arms and would have rammed a disc with literally explosive force upon my head if Nagaan had not . I nodded my thanks to her.
"You owe me one, Agori," the Sister of the Skrall sibilated with a jocular twinkle in her eye. Side by side, we dove back into the sea of enemies, illuminating the dim landscape with spheres of viridescent and cerebral energy.
Nearby, Cynnia and Veverka were locked in combat, blades flashing furiously. Half the size of her opponent, Veverka faught with a fervent vigor and valorous ferocity that surpassed that of her opponent. Cynnia narrowly evaded a wide, strong slash of Veverka's blade, retaliating with a swift riposte that the Fire Agori knocked aside with a reversed swing. The rapier swept suddenly downward, knocking Veverka's legs from under her. Cynnia's rapier descended vertically, sinking into the ground as Veverka rolled aside. A volant kick to the Glatorian's stomach sent her reeling, and in an instant Veverka was back on her feet, between Cynnia and the icicle rapier.
Cynnia leapt nimbly backward to avoid the rapidly slashing Pyroblade, and slipped behind a rock pillar to shield herself from another attack. Veverka pursued; Cynnia seized her chance. With Veverka behind her and the advantage of height, Cynnia could easily outrun her opponent well in time to retrieve her weapon and spin around to meet Veverka's. They exchanged stroke after stroke, slicing, lunging, parrying. Then Veverka activated her jetpack suddenly, propelling her over her opponent's head. She executed an adept somesault at the arc of the leap before descending once more to terra firma. Cynnia received a kick to the small of her back, but twisted just in time to block the slash of Veverka's sword.
While Cynnia and Veverka battled with fervent energy, Millennium and Seren crossed swords in a wise evincible of grave determination and calm enmity. They placidly waged a private war, each fighting for their side and yet singularly detached from it: the noble, fastidious, cosmically naive warrior versus the regal, menacing, puissant and self-absorbed titan banished from his own people. This was not a contest of two armies or two teams or a combination thereof, but of two causes as embodied in these duelists.
Millennium brought his blade down in a powerful swing, which Seren parried with difficulty. His weapon--my Sea Saber--was not the most apt weapon for the battle, minuscule and disproportionate in the Glatorian's hands, but it was adequate. Seren made a lunge with the dagger, which was deflected by a cross swing of the broadsword. Millennium reversed momentum in the blink of an eye, bringing his sword back in a deadly transversal slash the Sand Glatorian narrowly evaded.
Off balance, there was a delay before Seren's retaliation, a sudden swipe, which Millennium parried with a deft flick of his glaive. This left Seren's right side unprotected, but he executed a backflip, kicking Millennium's strike away in the process. In an instant he was on his feet and lunging with the dagger, a swift movement that was countered in the nick of time. Millennium raised his massive foot suddenly in a kick that sent Seren sprawling. The Great Being was upon him in a moment, and it was all Seren could do to defend himself from the onslaught of attacks. Finally he managed to deter Millennium with a kick to the knee and an uppercut that, though deflected, sent his opponent stumbling back a pace, allowing him enough time to recover verticality and parry the next swing.
I took exiguous notice of Veverka's or Seren's conflicts at the time, engrossed as I was in my own against Millennions that outnumbered me so exorbitantly. Nagaan and I fought courageously, adroitly; but it was a losing battle. Against such insuperable odds, we could not last. Even if Veverka and Seren conquered the leaders--if--the Millennions' superiority of amplitude would be our undoing. At that moment, as I ducked a disc, knocked aside its caster with a firm uppercut, and whirled around to shoot down two more, Millennium's words came back to me:
I can create as many as I want as rapidly as necessary, but individually each is as worthless as the next.
The strength of his army was in quantity, not quality. And they had that advantage in copious supply. They were, with good reason, entitled Millennions; though the pun is weakened by the existence of Flares and Sparks, the point stands. Their numbers eclipsed our skill.
But if, I thought suddenly, there is a way to use that strength of numbers against them?
As my mind raced, five Millennions rushed me at once. I shot one down before the others seized my arms, and sent another sprawling with a sharp kick. Only one Millennion grasped my right arm now, and with a quick pull I threw him into one of the Millennions on my left. My right arm free to use the Thornax Blaster, the last Millennion on my left arm didn't have much chance to consider how foolish his actions had been.
Ignoring the typical repulsion born of a distaste for violence, I battled on, ruminating over the matter. On the other side of the Millennion throng I spotted Nagaan, perched atop a rock, catching discs telekinetically and hurling them back at the soldiers, nimbly evading any coincident attacks. That was when that cerebrum of mine produced a plan.
Slowly but surely, I clove a path through the swarm of enemy to Nagaan's side. Pressing my back to her boulder and firing at the Millennions, who had retreated to fight from behind a short hummock that served adequately as a bulwark, I said to her, "That mind trick you played on those guards in the hangar bay of that Slizerian warship--when you turned us invisible. Could you do that again now?"
"I did not turn us 'invisible,'" Nagaan hissed with a note of scorn accompanying her characteristic hauteur; she seemed to deliberately check her tone as she went on, "I merely masked our presence from their simple mind. It would be more complicated in this situation--slightly more demanding--but could I do it? Naturally. Why? Are you suggesting we flee?"
"No, not at all. I only want you to turn me inv--erm, mask my presence--for a few moments. See, here's my notion...." In as succinct a manner as I was capable, I limned my plan, particularly elucidating the parts Nagaan would play.
"You have a mind of a more tactical and generally intelligent propensity than I would ever have thought it possible for an Agori to possess; or, for that matter, for a male to posess," Nagaan complimented--I think. "Now follow me so I may conceal your pesence from our obtuse foes."
We sprang behind the rock, Nagaan closed her eyes, and presently she opened them and said, "It is done." As she said this, she paused to clutch her head. Her sides heaved with each panting breath. The strain was getting to her. This was not a battle that we could afford to protract.
"Are you sure you're okay?" I checked.
"I will be as soon as you commence. I will be awaiting the signal. Now hie!"
Even as my feet began to carry me away, I watched with admiration as the Skrall leapt gracefully atop the rock. Nagaan, brave, ardent, devoted psychic warrior, resumed the battle alone. Then I turned my attention back to the task at hand.
I maneuvered apace to a position behind the Millennions, between them and a tall frill of stone. Ignoring the stitch in my side, the throbbing pain in my stubbed foot and the bruises on my hinges accrued via the resulting fall, my flashing heartlight, my heaving chest, and my genereal effeteness, I proceeded immediately to give the signal: a single, luminous shot into the air above me. As the soldiers rotated their heads to search out the source of the unexpected disturbance, I saw in their eyes that they could see me, and I knew that my invisibility had been revoked. I knew also that I was not ready for what I had to do next; but I had to do it regardless. And so I did.
Time slowed as the discs of the quicker Millennions flew toward me. I dodged, ducked and swerved, remaining in a centralized location before the stone frill to focus the bombardment. Then the fusillade began; my ears were filled with the sounds of disc reports, my eyes with the flat, round objects cleaving the air, the heat of their explosions against my back. Suddenly nothing else existed; my dulled mind drained of any thoughts but for one: run. Run, flee, escape--from what and for what reason I retrated, I neither knew nor cared at that moment. I just did. It was, perhaps, pusillanimous; but I assure you I would not have allowed my mind to be overrun by these thoughts--not even thoughts, really, merely instincts--had I not first recognized my task as complete.
As it was I fled to a safe distance before crumpling to the ground in an exhausted heap, my mind an empty whirl of nothingness. I have no personal recollection of the frill collapsing, crushing, as planned, a formidable number of Millennium's velites beneath its mass; of the Millennions scattering and running to escape; of the chain reaction of crumbling stone pillars that picked off an additional number of our enemies. It was Nagaan, not I, who witnessed this.
But all was not as well as we had hoped. Even as this force of Millennium's was conquered by the insuperable coalescence of my igenuity and Nagaan's powers, reinforcements were arriving. I am glad I was not conscious to watch as our momentary victory was prostrated, all our hopes obliterated, by the arrival of these auxiliary troops.
"They came," Nagaan since told me, "like a sandstorm upon the horizon. It draws slowly nearer and nearer, and one just watches. One knows there is nothing they can do to stop it. All one can do is wait for it to overtake them. It is not even terrifying. It is odious, and bizarre, but not terrifying. It fills one with an irrational courage. When one's fate is accepted, not even consciously, as ineluctable, there is no room for fear; merely a patient, apathetic wait, watching with wonder and interest as destiny approaches."
But destiny is not always what it appears to be. This was one such occasion.
As Nagaan stood atop her rock, watching as the swarm surged ever closer, the ground began to rumble. At first she thought it was merely the pounding of hundreds of feet moving at a rapid gait, growing steadily more pronounced as the distance decreased. But the force of the tremor grew to the point that she recognized it for the quake it was.
And then, with a stentorian moaning and groaning, the stone ripped open beneath the very feet of the foremost Millennions. Nagaan watched in astonishment as they tumbled headfirst into the abyss with loud vociferations and screams. Those that managed to halt before following their tovariches were pushed in by the soldiers behind who obliviously marched onward. Nearly half of the myrmidons were swallowed by the yawning chasm before the flow of the river of marching feet was successfully reversed. Then the rift closed, as suddenly as it had opened, leaving not a semblance of its presence but for the fleeing remnants of a fighting force that had, up until mere moments before, been parading toward victory.
"But the rumbling did not stop," says Nagaan. "It only grew stronger. I saw that, nearby, Seren, Veverka, Millennium and Cynnia had ceased their fighting, their bewildered faces turned toward the vanished chasm. But--no; bewildered is not a sufficient description. But if there is one, I do not know of it. By that point, I believe, we all thought we were dreaming. And subsequent occurrences only furthered those convictions. Even now I find it hard to accept that it was, in fact, no dream."
By this time I had been, quite literally, shaken from my catatonia. But at the time I was not certain of the fact. Either the light is playing tricks on me, I weened, I am dreaming, or I have simple gone insane. For there, supra my very eyes, was a face in the rock: Two long, slit-like eyes, and a mouth filled with jagged teeth of stone, smiling in an almost sinister manner.
As I rose to my feet, and the face rose with me, I decided that I was either dreaming or insane. Light could not have this effect.
"So, which is it?" I asked the face. "Are you a figment of my conscious or subconscious mind? Either way, one of them is deranged."
The face screeched and hissed in response. I took a step back. As I did so, I perceived an anthropoid body of serrated mineral beneath the hideous metoposcopy. One of its legs moved forward. I took another step rearward; it took another step forward. We repeated the motions like some strange dance until the beast gave an impatient growl.
"Well," I said, "if you insist. Good day--or maybe it's night--or--" the creature cut across me with another growl, and with a nod I turned and ran.
And I ran--and ran--and ran. At every turn I saw another beast made of stone, glaring at me through narrow white eyes, baring wicked fangs. Some had only four limbs, some had only four arms, some had only two legs, some had two heads--I did not look at any for longer than a heartflash before shifting direction. My legs still ached, the stitch had returned, I could hardly breath--but I kept running, on and on, swerving to avoid every demon that loomed before me, ducking through arches of stone and springing over small boulders. I had--transitorily, mind you--certes gone insane.
All of a sudden something rammed into my side--a giant hand, or a foot, or a boulder, or a warship, I knew not what, I merely wanted to escape it. I struggled to my feet to continue running, but something seized both my arms before I could flee. I struggled in vain; I was weak, and the hands around my forearms were firm. Then a voice spoke, gruff, deep, but not hostile:
"Calm down, alien, calm down. I'm not going to hurt you--not yet, at least. First I have to get you away from these Rock Demons. So unless you fancy getting yourself eaten by one, I suggest you sit down and stop your mindless running."
My arms were released and I crumpled to the ground, in obedience to the voice as well as my body. Through blurred eyes I regarded my assailant, savior and captor. He was, in appearance, rather like a Throwbot, roughly the same size and with the same deltoid head. He was mounted on a three-wheeled motorcycle no larger than his own body. He sat upright, arms in the air, a light ray gun in each hand. With these he fended off approaching slowly approaching Rock Demons. Though the light beams did the beasts little harm, after three or four shots each they desisted and lumbered off in search of easier prey.
Our attackers thus repelled, the cyclist turned back to me. Wordlessly he grabbed me by the shoulders, heaved my effortlessly onto the motorcycle before him, grasped me with his arms, cautioned "Hold on," and we were off at top speed.
As he maneuvered the vehicle proficiently across the rugged terrain, not far off, according to my teammates, the war had been ephemerally put aside as the battlers faced a more imperative matter, a horde of seemingly impervious monsters composed of stone. During the course of this unexpected conflict, the two sides--Millennium, Cynnia, and a small quantity of Millennions who had found their way back to their leader's side; and Seren, Veverka, and Nagaan--had been separated two opposite ends of the valley in which they battled.
"And then, without warning, they poured into the lowland," Seren tells me, "and light rays illumined the semidarkness. And Millennium, his army decimated, finding himself in the midst of a battle between strange beasts and unidentified beings in which he had no interest, he called for a strategic retreat. He may be an imperious, tyrannic psychopath bent on revenge and, moreover, dominating the universe, but he's no fool. Not even his pride blinds his judgement. But the last word had to be his."
And so it was. Even over the screeching of light beams, the groaning and growling of Rock Demons, the cries of the mounted strangers, his sonorous voice echoed across the landscape. Even I, riding across the terrain less than fourty Bio away, could hear it, deep, prepotent, abhorrent; yet nonchalant, calm, almost amused, certainly disappointed but not at all melancholic over this transient failure:
"It looks like this battle is drawn, Spherus Magnians. But the war is far from over. I shall have my revenge; on you, on Slizer, on the Great Beings. I will not stop until my desideration for vengeance is sated. We will meet again, friends...and when we do, you will share your green friend's demise. Until then!"
* * *
The crux of this tale has been sufficiently recounted, leaving little left to be noted.
The Rock Demons were easily discouraged, and faced with the irksome barrage delt by the mounted beings they abandoned their undertaking and retired to their slumber. Seren, Nagaan and Veverka were transported as I had been, though it took a total of six cyclists to schlepp the taller two over the landscape.
Along the way my escort joined up with my teammates', and thus collocated we were taken into a tunnel which burrowed deep beneath the planet's surface. Several hours' swift riding brought us to a subterranean city, almost as technologically advanced as Slizer. The caverns of the metropolis were illuminated with the same manner of technology used on Slizer and within the Star.
We were taken to a large hemispherical structure, where we found ourselves presented to the authorities, a tribunal of of ten beings that were, to my eyes, indiscernible from all the others we had seen. I was initially confused for, even inside the building, all of the beings rode tricycles. My puzzlement was replaced by surprise when, upon further optical inspection, I discerned that the beings were not mounted on motorcycles, but part of them. Where legs would have been these beings had, instead, wheels.
The council spokesman, in his prefatory greeting, identified himself as a member of the Robori species, specifically an Onyx, inhabitants of Roboria Onyx, Stone Planet of the Robori. Civilities thus perfunctorily addressed, he went on abruptly to ask who we were, where we had come from, what we were doing here, and, tacitly, how soon we could vacate their planet. When it was established that we were here by accident and wanted nothing more than to leave, the Robori council appeared satisfied. They were utterly incurious in any further details regarding Spherus Magna or Slizer or us; on the contrary, having no despot ruthlessly dominating them, no ongoing war, no mislaid or stolen mystical treasures, no modes of any form in which our aid could be employed, and no hostile intent, the Robori had absolutely no interest whatsoever in outsiders bar to expel them as politely and hastily as was practicable.
And this, indeed, is exactly what they did. Without delay the Robori community got cracking on the repairs for our fallen Star, under Veverka's guidance. The rest of us were more or less held captive in the dwelling of a prominent official of some variety, treated with cold disapprobation, suspicious disdain, but not ungraciousness. We were nothing more than an irksome burden, that was made clear by the tones and expressions behind their polite words; but we were fed and comfortably housed.
Within thirty-six hours our vessel's servicing was completed. The moment this was so, a fleet of Robori warriors, relieved that our departure was eminent yet impatient for us to be on our way, escorted Seren, Nagaan and I without cunctation from the city to meet Veverka at the crash site of the Unreachable Star. And there, when we arrived, she was: Beautiful as ever, elegant, warm, inviting; and the ship looked nice, too.
Though we waved from the platform outside the door, the Onyx only gazed ublinkingly until we disappeared into the ship. Then, I surmise, they retreated to a safe distance to watch up to the moment we had become no more than a star in the sky.
"To your stations, everyone," were Seren's first words upon entry into our ship. "We've lost enough time already. We have a chase to begin."
Within minutes we were all seated on our separate decks, communicators on open frequency, computer screens connected to the bow and stern cameras, engines prepared. Seren's voice announced:
"Nagaan, commence countdown, and set a course for the nearest planet. We have to track down Millennium and finish what we started. Now we must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. We won once--we can win again. There lies our hope, if hope it be. To walk into peril--peril unknown--is our path now."
I contributed: "The gate of the black void that conjugates and yet segregates all worlds now lay open to us . . . and it is through this gate and into this void we are bound. This is not the end of the Stellar Quest; on the contrary, it is the ignition."
"Three...two...one..." Nagaan counted.
Even the engines roared with us as we cried: "Ignition!"
The End . . . of the Beginning
Lord of the Rings Quotations
"They cannot conquer forever!" - The Two Towers, "Journey to the Cross-Roads"
"Despair is for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not." - The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
"I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which [one] must flee." - The Two Towers, "The Window on the West"
"Now we must take a hard road, a road unforeseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be. To walk into peril--" - The Fellowship of the Rings, "The Council of Elrond"
Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
Edited by Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith, Feb 25 2012 - 07:47 PM.