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Dragonsfire

A novel

By

Iain Saunders
Dragonsfire

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Dragonsfire

Part One
Chapter One - Heaven and Earth

"The voices of the dead shall not be silent anymore. They


shall sound like the trumpets of Mount Gell and all shall hear when
the ship of the many worlds sails upon the seas of heaven.
The voice of Erran shall merge with the roaring of the
dragon which brought forth the stars and shall meet in the bowls of
the sky. The sword of Geddinan shall hang over them and heaven
and earth shall not know the end thereof."
Extracts from The Book of Kiminuci, Chapter 5, verses 6-
7 (Taken from the library hall of Hiera IV)

Streaming fire, the ship left orbit and exploded into jump-
space. For a micro-second the white hot combustion of her grav-
burners roared into the void, rippling the edges of time, dilating it,
extending it until the navicom could compensate. Her patchwork
engines gutted and died and she extended wings out into the grey-
white light of that volatile realm. Her wings caught the first current
easily, rocking the three member crew strapped into the bare
interior.
The acceleration began. At first it was the same as any
routine ship-bound acceleration. Twisting the wings of the ship,
catching current after current, seeking the faster streams. Then the
translight signal penetrated the void and a remote sensor switch
clicked softly deep in her belly. Data streams swarmed to her wings
and her skin peeled away and fell into the emptiness. Behind it the
shining membrane pulsed with purple, red and green light, leaving
trails of fire in the void. The ship moved on, accelerated past the
natural speed of the streams. Feeding the swirling void with
morsels of catalytic matter, urging it on to greater power, exciting it
from a gentle stream into a roaring torrent. The wings stretched

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against the building flood, rippling slowly. Inside the ship, the
raging tide pressed into the temples of the hapless crew. None of
them could change the course they were now set upon. There were
no controls for them to struggle with, no holo-fields offered them
time to prepare. Only contact nodes about their heads offered any
communication with the ship's brain, and that was giving nothing
away, it was simply feeding and recording.
After a short thirty seconds they had crossed the Red Eye
Nebula and were hurtling towards Praxis, the third arm of the
galaxy. They could never reach it. No one had. The gulf between
the two arms was too huge to cross in the streams and currents of
jump-space.
The eddies they left behind themselves warped the fabric of
normal space briefly, sending out ripples of destruction that would
reach nearby systems in centuries yet to come.
Fifty-five point one-six-six seconds into the journey the
wings began to tare. The catalytic matter was withdrawn
automatically, the wings falling dull once more. But the torrent did
not disperse. Creaking against the waves they were riding, only
their vapour trail now shone with the swirling purple aura that
surrounded active matter in jump-space. The rippling, exited
currents hurled themselves at the tender spines, hurtling through
the void at a velocity beyond the tolerance of any unprotected ship-
wing.
The first wing was ripped off completely shortly after
catalytic cut-off. It was cast out of jump-space, falling in a fiery
ball of annihilation sixty-three light years from Mutara, and the
tribal homelands. Spinning suddenly the rest of the ship bolted
from the aggravated currents into normal space twenty-two light
years later. The unchecked mutual annihilation of re-entry
consumed the remnants of the vessel and its occupants in a tiny
nova of fire shining against the background of the void and the
distant arm of Praxis.

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A milli-second behind it, the brief spark of a protected data-


beacon entering real-space was lost in the shadow of the greater
show, until the last embers faded and fell away on their journey
through eternity. After fifteen standard minutes the beacon folded
open slowly. It's thumbnail AI orientated itself against the
backdrop of stars and pointed a single trans-light dish back through
the Red-Eye nebula. The data-burst took less than one millionth of
a second. It repeated itself twelve times at hourly intervals and then
ceased.
The beacon closed itself down and drifted, the winds of the
Mutara sun pushing it gently, its function fulfilled.

***

Day 1 - 1150 Eastern Counties Standard (CKT +2)


Kallun was being recalled. He knew it from the incessant
buzzing at the back of his neck, his sub-dermal was transmitting
data streams to his palm screen. The buzz was familiar enough, it
happened every time there was an information download to his
implanted processors. What was truly annoying was that this one
was an AI signal that had come complete with the access codes to
his palm screen. It wasn't enough that the modified skin had been
glaring "Incoming Message" for the last twenty minutes, now it
was telling him that the message was "Priority One", which meant
that if he didn't answer soon he'd be subject to charges. He didn't
want to be hauled off to face Alpha Camp's Judicial Arc again, not
over something as stupid as not answering a priority one, but he
was delaying until the last moment.
In the last few months he had come to consider this time
away from Alpha Camp as sacred. It was his time of reckoning,
where he could abandon all hint and trace of the Silent War that
raged above him. Here he had the time to focus on life's barest
essentials, falling back on the ways of men lost in mythic aeons
before his birth. Archaic tasks filling his day, gathering his own

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food, subsisting off the land, what it could provide and offer. He
could focus on himself, and only himself, his needs, wants and
desires.
At first living at the cottage had truly felt like exile. Indeed
it was supposed to be a time of punishment. A time in which he
was to re-focus, contemplate his mistakes, bring himself back onto
the strait and narrow road, or lose himself altogether.
During the first weeks he had yearned for technological
companionship, a holo-field, a broad-band box, even one of Kabel's
puffed up general systems AIs would have been preferred over his
initial sense of isolation. But the Eastern Peaks Counties were
Shak-ar - Sacred Life, no flyers buzzed overhead without prior
authorisation, no comm lines hummed beneath his feet, and nobody
with a life or any real sense ever came here.
The cottage - really no more than a two roomed, heated hut
- was situated near the foot of a mountain whose peak reached into
the skies two-thousand metres above Kallun's head. Below him was
a lake of fresh water which lay in the valley between the two peaks
and was fed by mountain streams. The northern peak dwarfed its
smaller southern sibling, whose walls were just high enough to
hold the lake in at its low eastern edge and be capped by snow in
the deep winter at it's tip. A forest of thick conifers closed the lake
in on three of it's four sides, the fourth opening out onto the lower
valley beyond, into which the lake's waters poured in a single
stream, to eventually join the massive Naluri river and skirt the
choking edges of Kabel far to the west. Kallun often wondered how
much of it ever made it out through the refuse that clambered near
the canyons of the Subs, and beyond to the Graywall sea. It pleased
him to think that at least some of it made the journey whole and
untainted by the filth of that great city.
Early on during his sojourn in the mountains he had
discovered that he was not quite as alone as his superiors would
have wished. There were many curious visitors to his cottage. Not
quite as wild as their creators would have liked them to be, many of

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the woodland creatures showed genuine pleasure when they first


saw him. Memories of the comforts of captivity haunted them still,
all these years later. It made him wonder how much of these
animal's make up had been reconstructed in the laboratory as some
had said they had been. He would have to remember to look it up
when he got back to base. If he was given the chance.
There it was again. The sub dermal reminding him that it
was time. This time the pulse from the back of his neck bordered
on the painful and he flicked a tiny key out of his thigh pouch in
annoyance.
Sitting in the front porch of his mountain home, it was
somehow incongruous to be bringing to life the bio-compatable
technology he had come to hate so much, and still be surrounded
by a vista that had been here before the Originators had ever set
foot on Seerak.
He stabbed the tiny key into the slot at the base of his palm,
watching the treated skin of his hand carefully as he did so. The
holo-screen edges formed over the lines of his palm and Kieran
Dukall's face appeared in the display. It was a recorded message.
The dragon-spawn had not even waited for Kallun to answer.
Kieran Dukall had been higher in the ranks than Kallun
since they had fought together in the last years of the Hundred Year
War, and had remained so ever since. Every time that Kallun had
been recognised with an award or a promotion, the joy of it had
been dampened in the knowledge that Kieran had been there first.
His age was showing now, though. He would be seventy in a few
months and there were streaks of grey beginning to appear near his
temple. His barrel chest had filled out and sagged into his belly, but
the essential vigour of his youth was still clear in his eyes and face.
"You look older every day," Kallun muttered to the face on
the screen as it began talking at him. It was good to know that he at
least held that over his superior. At fifty-two years old he was still
twenty years from middle age and it showed. His muscles remained
firm, his reactions were quicker now than they had ever been and

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he had scored a huge 198 out of possible 200 on his last Base
physical, just prior to the incident at Hiera IV: the incident that had
brought about his exile.
The only display of age Kallun could ever be accused of
was in his eyes. The kind of ageing inherent in a life-time of
combat experience. His soul was as callused as his hands, and his
mind worn sharp by too many years of walking the long thin tight-
rope which divided life and death. He appreciated his life, but he
could count on two fingers how many people would really mourn
him if he ever stepped on the wrong side of that line. His family
had long since passed through the White Gate beyond to dwell with
Erran. If you believed in that sort of thing.
He remembered them from time to time, but his memories
were vague, worn away at the edges like stone carvings that had
been blasted by desert sand.
The essential content of Dukall's the message was simple.
His exile had been terminated as of this morning. A small Drak
Flyer would be sent in to pick him up at 1200 hours and return him
to base. He had until then to gather his things together and prepare
for the flight to Base.
Kallun laughed gently. What things? He had come here
with next to nothing and he would leave the same way.
Admittedly, he was had not been the best of wilderness
men, at the beginning of his stay he had cheated a little. It had been
necessary, but he still felt a twinge of regret that even he, the great
Commander Josephs of Covert Operations couldn't survive alone in
the mountains.
The land around him had been too rocky to produce any
kind of crop sufficient for him to live off. The soil was too acidic.
Out of a need to survive he had used a cycle enhancer to change the
soil to the right consistency, acidity and nutrient balance in areas
around the cottage and near the lake so that it could support the
kind of crops he wanted to grow. The enhancer had worked for two
weeks before his arrival, planting and growing the same crops he

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had lived off for the last twelve months. Using a combination of
micro-climatical synthesisers and genetic manipulation the
expensive machine had managed to make sure that it was harvest
time for at least one-third of the crop when he had arrived. These
days they were rotated at one week intervals. Enough so that there
was a harvest required every week, the crops each taking three
week to grow. It sometimes fractured the illusion of independence
to know that his whole environment was artificially enhanced,
controlled and monitored, but it was the nearest thing to
independent survival that could be found on Seerak.
When the Arc had made their final decision, the day of
sentencing had loomed like a granite wall over his life. After seven
days of deliberation it was agreed to invoke a tradition that had lain
dormant in the judicial accords for centuries - exile. In modern
society the idea was as archaic as the term. At first he had
wondered if they would leave him on some barren rock to go mad
with his own thoughts out in galactic void. But when his options
had come he had breathed a sigh of relief that let out months of
anxiety. He was out signing the contract on the cycle enhancer that
afternoon. That had been over a year ago.
He had been given the option to serve at one of the southern
polar stations, but he had dismissed that avenue without a second
thought. There were few things in life that Kallun Josephs hated
with a passion, but since the time he had been left for dead on an
ice-bound moon on the near side of the Tribal Frontier, cold had
taken the number one spot for things most despised.
It had been during one of his first team missions, before he
transferred into Covert Operations. His suit thermo-regulator had
failed - shot out in a fire fight that had caught the team by surprise.
Freezing to death slowly, the blood of three puncture wounds in his
upper torso filling up his suit legs and his mind straying into
hypothermic delusions, he had stumbled across four kilometres of
ice-flow to find his base camp had already packed up and left
without him. His unit commander too afraid of reprisal squads sent

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out from the fortress colony they had been cataloguing to stay and
wait for survivors.
Later Kallun had learnt that the man was also scared to
death of losing his field commission after failing in a basic
reconnaissance mission. He had packed up and left without
checking the life-signals from the suits of the men gunned down in
the ambush. The commander's second had called him to order when
Kallun's blip appeared on their aft sensor screen. When they
returned for him Kallun was virtually frozen in his own blood. The
cold had stopped the wounds from killing him and had in turn kept
the life entombed within him long enough for rescue once he had
found his base camp gone.
The men that had died on that mission were mourned as any
war hero is back home. Their families were told that they died
honourably, fighting for the cause of freedom and the enlightened
path. The truth was they died in a meaningless skirmish that should
never have taken place. The unit's officers had never worked in a
high gravity (nearly 1.7g), sub-zero atmospheric environment
combination. It was before the days of encounter simulation
chambers and the planning of the operation had been like sitting
some situation theory test at Alpha Camp.
They had scored D minus.
Opting for short barrelled, light weight, Sharr rifles, and
choosing the more familiar mid-artic / vacuum suits rather than full
sized polar survival units, they had gone for ease of travel rather
than combat ready equipment. The suits weren't really the problem,
most suits that could take a vacuum could take a polar environment
and still keep the occupant pleasantly warm. The big difference in
the rarely used polar survival suits was the emergency equipment it
carried and it's ability to keep you warm even after the suit had
been compromised. In those days thermal field generators were
clumsy and heavy and the enemy was way ahead in thermal
technology.

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The drop had occurred during the time when Emrihsad base
colonies had been employing image effectors over their
settlements. Unable to find a way to unscramble the false pictures
transmitted by the devices, the decision had been taken on Seerak
to send in units of fleet stormtroopers to get in behind the effectors
and catalogue the exact nature and threat posed by some of the
more strategically positioned colonies. The occupants of those
colonies had been prepared for just that eventuality and Colest had
lost a lot of men gathering that information.
This mission was no different. After the deep-ship had
dispatched ECM's to confuse the colony's satellite defence net, the
unit, twelve men in all had dropped unnoticed in a shielded squad
shuttle to the surface of the moon. They had landed just a few
kilometres from the colony's fortress and trekked through the image
wall to within sight of the settlement dome. The going had been
slow, every twenty metres they had to plant a general sensor field, a
small hand held device which covered the progress of the unit from
prying eyes and alerted the team of booby traps. Of course these
devices meant that all observations had to been done the old
fashion way, with light refracting lenses for visual observation and
a stylus board for recording details. Not much in the way of
circuitry worked inside those fields.
When they arrived and began cataloguing the movements of
the settlement it had soon become obvious that the colony was a
military one. The dome was a one way refractor, blank from the
outside, but transparent from the inside. Beyond the confines of
that dome were the colony's space ports, hangers and supply
dumps, all to big and too expensive to build a full size military
dome over: particularly when the image effectors were doing such
a good job of hiding the settlement from prying eyes anyway.
They had been ambushed shortly before dawn, three hours
after their arrival. Enemy squads had used altitude drones to carpet
bomb the area around the field disrupters. Armed with rifled
puncture lasers, the enemy had been effective over long distances

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with a narrow, suit penetrating beam, picking off targets visually as


they were flushed out from their positions by the incessant drone
bombing. Kallun's own gun hardly had the range to launch the 3
millimetre explosive rounds in his Sharr rifle across the distance
that the enemy was firing from, his standard issue blaster was
worse than useless in the near-absolute zero temperatures they were
fighting in. The persistent bombing and precision firing had caused
enough confusion to rout the unit and force a general retreat. Four
of the squad, besides himself, had been cut down in the ambush
before that order was sounded. By the time they got back to the
drop ship, sitting outside of the effective range of the drone
bombers, only Second Lieutenant Dukall had remained uninjured.
It had taken three weeks of hell to recover from that op.
Mostly because what had been delivered to his deep-ship's med-lab
was one step away from being a frozen corpse.
Since that day Kallun had turned down every sub-zero op.
that had come his way. He would never admit it to his follow
officers but he had carried a thumb-nail sized thermal generator
with him ever since they had developed them a decade or so later.
Standing and stretching he worked the lethargy of his short
rest in front of the cottage out of his muscles and turned inside the
two room dwelling. Letting the door slide shut behind him, he
rummaged in a make-shift closet for his chrono. With just the light
from a broad back window it took him a while to find the unit. It
had been one of the blessed joys of his life to have cast the wrist
tab into the closet at the start of his stay. He could have checked the
time at any point on his internal bio-circuitry, but the fact that he
could live without the external evidence of his life ticking by, had
been an immense liberation.
There. He found the grey rectangular strip and reattached it
to his wrist. 1155. Kallun laughed; Dukall had anticipated his
Spartan return in his scheduling.
Shrugging off the coarse two-piece cover-all he had been
wearing he slipped into a durable grey base suit. He pulled his

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Chakoy pistol from its holster and weighed it experimentally,


checking the power pack and emitter flow routinely. The dull black
of the standard issue blaster merged with the matt colourless dark
of his suit when he replaced it.
Outside the cottage a buck that had been grazing on the
edge of his fields bolted back into the trees. Kallun heard its hooves
thud into the muffled edges of the forest and went outside to watch
for the flyer.
Within a minute he could hear the low hum of its a-grav. It
showed how long he had been away that he even noticed the
sensation the engines caused in the air around him, the slight
change in electrostatic energy as the flyer's cells sought out the
energy of the elements around it.
The armoured brown and green triangle crested the ridge on
the south-east side of the valley, hugging the ground with about ten
metres to spare. Diving towards the lake it skimmed the surface
before turning and flipping over the trees at high speed, circling the
rocky ridges around his home, dancing over the flattened spurs and
high walls of the glacial valley.
Kallun laughed. The pilot was playing, making a show for
his one man audience in front of the cottage. There was only one
Alpha Camp pilot Kallun knew with that kind of flamboyance in
the air and he smiled warmly at the prospect of flying home with
the man.
After the flyer had done a full turn of the valley walls it
dropped back to the surface of the lake and rushed at the cottage,
fast and low. The resulting spray carried beneath the ship had
Kallun diving for cover back inside the cottage and left everything
around him dripping with water as the flyer landed on this week's
crop in front of the cottage with an ungraceful bump.
The hatch on the pilot's side of the ship slid open and a
broad, dark shape jumped from the flyer to the sodden ground
beneath him.

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"Did I get ya?" The voice boomed out into the silence of the
valley as Kallun emerged with a wry grin.
"You come at me like bay-bull and you think you got me?"
Kallun boomed back. The volume in his voice wasn't necessary to
cover the eight metres between them but it was a part of the
camaraderie between the covert operations commander and his
pilot.
"I thought you might have slowed up during your
convalescence, gramps."
Kallun laughed. Andreas was only fifteen years his junior,
but he loved to tease his friend about his age whenever the
opportunity arose. They had both served for more years than they
liked to admit, Andreas having joined at a very young age but the
broad-shouldered pilot had often told Kallun that he needed
someone to remind him of his place in the world, and that meant
calling him "Gramps".
Andreas was from Korrell, a provincial capital and
protectorate of the Colest Council and a mere sixty-five light years
away. His people were mostly black skinned and heavy limbed, and
perhaps the most highly cultured of the protectorate planets in
Colest. Unlike his people, however, Andreas had little care or
concern for culture and etiquette. He was as brash as he was big
and Kallun had liked him since they had met so many years ago.
"I could slow to half speed and I'd still be fast enough to
dodge you!" Kallun grinned broadly as the space between the two
closed.
"I'll take you anytime." Andreas hit his chest with both
hands and stuck out his chin.
A second later he was on his back with Kallun's arm across
his throat and wondering what happened. Kallun had crossed the
remaining space between them in a blur and flattened his friend in
one move.
"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" Andreas gargled as Kallun
released his grip a little.

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"Yes." Kallun stood and gave the younger man a hand up.
"I thought that as I'd been off base for a few months you might
need a little humbling."
"I'm humble enough thank-you." Andreas brushed mud off
his dark cover-all. "Aw! Spawn of dragon's whore! This is going to
be hell to get off the seats."
"You'll manage." Kallun laughed, already moving to the
damp vehicle.
"I just cleaned the flyer this morning!" Andreas said,
following him.
"How terrible for you."
Kallun reached the flyer, touched his fingers to the locking
pad and swung into the passenger seat.
"You know I at least expected some kind of 'Hello, how you
doin'' or 'Nice to see you, Andreas'." The dark pilot hoped into his
broad flight seat, straddling the waldo deck and flicking on his
harness field as he did so. Tracing Kallun's gaze he let his eyes
creep across the tamed wilderness that had been his friend's home.
"'You gonna miss this place?" Andreas's voice was quieter
now.
"I'll be back."
Andreas looked at Kallun in surprise. "Not planning on
pulling another one of your world saving - politician busting stunts
again are you?"
Kallun smiled. "Not immediately, no."
"Gonna work up to it slowly are we?"
"No." Kallun laughed softly. "I like it here." Andreas's look
forced Kallun to laugh again, a little more loudly than before. "All
right, I know: I'm mad."
"You said it, gramps."
Andreas smoothed his hands into the dry comfort of the
waldo's and let the flyer's holographic instrumentation wash
smooth over him. The doors shut automatically and for a second

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Kallun thought he would choke as the processed internal air of the


flyer swept over him.
Below him the cottage fell away into the mountains and
Andreas steered the flyer to altitude. With an internal shudder
Kallun breathed deeply of the processed air of the small vehicle, he
knew it was not the only thing he would have to force himself to
get used to it again.

***

Alpha camp sat on a significant peninsular of the largest of


Seerak's five continents. East of the vast sprawl of Kabel by some
five thousand kilometres, three thousand of which was filled by the
Tyren Ocean, the peninsular had once been a rugged mix of
mountains, meadows and moors, the lush green plant-life fed by an
intermittent rain that was the inevitable companion of the
peninsula's grey skies.
The spread of Alpha camp covered hundreds of square
kilometres of the natural environment but had preserved as much of
that environment as it could. Mostly for the sake of appearance
than any ecological concern.
The inhospitable peninsular had been tamed over two-
hundred years ago, at first for a small barracks, and now for the
military metropolis that lived, worked, trained, drilled and studied
there.
Within the camp there were five training centres, three
operation bunkers, twelve live combat zones and two million
personnel situated in five bases which ringed the underground hive
known as Central Command. These bases ranged in operational
specialities, from facility penetration to mountain survival, each
base manned and equipped to meet its own special demands.
Tunnelled out of the mountains that gave the peninsular it's
strength Central Command lay three kilometres beneath the surface
in an artificially maintained environment. The twelve levels of

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Central Command housed the government of Colest's military


might, the lowest of which, level twelve, contained Colest
command control, the situation room and senior tactical offices.
Planetary defence had remained separately in a secret location in
Inakya, the third continent, south of Kabel.
Access to Alpha camp was monitored by armed AI drones,
invisibly patrolling land, sea and sky. Any incoming traffic, such as
Andreas's flyer, would gain clearance using a tiny nose mounted
beacon, which transmitted constantly to let the drones know that
the incoming vehicle was a friend. Additional routine spot checks
were also made daily on both the drones and the traffic.
Following entry into monitored air-space, incoming
vehicles would be assigned to one of the numerous entry ports.
Each of these existed in concealed locations around the peninsular
mountains, twenty percent of them used for regular traffic, the rest
used for special operations and emergencies. It was said only the
Camp Chief knew where they all were. These entry ports would
open long enough to permit the ship to pass and then close behind
the vessel. Once underground, the vehicle would be guided through
the vast and interlocking tunnel network to one of three air and
space ports, one kilometre above central command where manned
security checks would be carried out.
The size of the facility had long since demanded such
stringent security measures. It's importance to the survival of
Colest and its people could never be underestimated. It was an
established fact of war that when two parties of similar
determination and equivalent technology engaged in prolonged
conflict, it was the side with the better trained, better skilled and
most committed troops that came off conqueror. Alpha Camp made
sure that the people of Seerak did not come out on the wrong side
of that equation.

***

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Day 1. 1555 Peninsular Summer Time (CKT +4)


Kallun sat in the plush office, looked at the comfortable
furniture and knew that here at least was one place Kieran Dukall
had gone that Kallun would not follow into. In the moment that the
sentence of exile was passed upon him, this particularly doorway
had closed. Alpha Camp could not and would not allow an officer
with his record to occupy the smooth, deep red seat facing him.
Dukall was in a meeting with his senior staff and his
personal assistant had led Kallun into the spacious office to make
himself comfortable. Kallun smiled at the name: personal assistant.
The implication was that of an intelligent, well manicured,
secretary with enough of a female figure to keep the thoughts of
incoming clientele drifting. In Kabel that would have been the case.
However, Dukall's assistant was over two metres tall and carried
his one-hundred and thirty pound mass around like it was sixty. His
intelligence rating was an impressive BI-76, three points below
Kallun's BI-79 but still twenty points above the planetary average.
His manner was always friendly but edged with just enough of a
blunt and frank nature to remind the incoming visitor that this was
not a civilian establishment. His name was Neil, his rank obscured
by Dukall's insistence on first names within the office environment.
Neil had been Dukall's own idea. Some years before,
pressure from the religious sector had given Chairman Fraque the
opportunity to impose the kind of post-war face-lift on the military
he had always wanted to do. Many parts of Alpha camp now
looked more like the halls and corridors of a Kabel business block,
with quietly subdued decor, carpets, and helpful signs on the walls.
Most of the Colest bases had followed suit, forced to use already
over stretched budgets on such an unnecessary public relations
exercise.
Instead of fighting the initiative when it came, Dukall had
shocked the Council by welcoming it with open arms. His
condition had been that he be allowed to oversee the operation
personally. The Council had agreed immediately. What they did

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not know and had not guessed was that the Chief of Operations had
used the opportunity to modify Alpha Camp and several other
bases to suit his own vision. Copying the vicious security devices
of Colest's most dangerous enemies, Dukall had built into the face
lift a whole new set of defence measures, escape routes, and
counter-offensive equipment. The very walls that had been
designed to soothe the gentle eyes of visiting dignitaries and the
public at large were bristling with monitor and control devices as
lethal as the armoured drones that met every ship on it's way in.
The door clicked open behind him and Kallun turned.
"Commander Dukall is running a few minutes late, sir."
said Neil, sticking half his body through the antique portal. "I'm
sorry to keep you waiting."
"Don't worry about it." Kallun murmured as the head and
torso disappeared into the reception area once more.
The fact that he had been allowed to wait here in the office
indicated a level of trust given to few people in the establishment.
The waiting area was outside, in the reception.
A couple of minutes later the door clicked again. This time
it was Dukall, sliding his stocky bulk through the doorway and
closing it behind him.
"Ah, good afternoon." Dukall's eyebrows raised and he
headed straight for Kallun with an outstretched hand.
Rising to meet him Kallun noticed the stack of papers under
one of arm. It contained a mission dossier, a recon. report and two
personnel files. Alarm bells started ringing in his head as he took
Dukall's hand and gripped it firmly.
"Good morning, sir." Kallun said with a nod.
Dukall moved around the broad desk to the chair opposite,
waving a hand briskly as if shoving something distasteful aside.
"We dispensed with the saluting and the 'sir's between us
some time ago, Kallun, lets keep it that way."
"Yes, sir." Kallun said with a smile.

19
Dragonsfire

Dukall looked up sharply and then realised that Kallun was


joking and smiled half- heartedly. He sat down, paused to close his
eyes just for a second and gathered his papers in front of him.
Kallun guessed he had probably been in meetings since before
dawn.
"Before we get down to business," Dukall looked at him
properly first the first time and Kallun could see some of the
tension draining from his face. "How are you?"
"I am fine. The time away has been good for me."
"I envy you. It would take me a good twelve months away
from civilisation to regain even half of my sanity."
"I can imagine. When was the last time you stood out in the
sunshine and just admired the view?"
Dukall raised an eyebrow.
"When was the last time an Kabellan did that?"
"You have point there." Kallun conceded, laughing gently.
Dukall looked down at his papers again. Kallun frowned.
Usually it was much easier to goad the Chief into a better mood.
"Is there something wrong?" he asked after a moments
hesitation.
Dukall laughed mirthlessly, a short bark of a laugh that
disturbed Kallun slightly. The Chief had not been so embittered
when he left.
"Is there ever not something wrong?" Dukall said. "But at
the moment there are more things wrong than there have been for
quite a while and it looks like things will stay that way for the
foreseeable future."
"Is the council playing toy soldiers with us again?" Kallun
asked, not wanting to let the subject go.
"I wish it was something so simple. No, the council is still
the council." He paused. "Well, almost."
"Almost?"
"Putting aside Irache, that is."

20
Dragonsfire

Kallun shook his head slightly, his eyes questing for more.
He knew the name, some high ranking priest that may or may not
have once been involved in the Gaeran heresy. But Church ops
weren't his speciality, they were mostly handled by the intelligence
department and not by hot zone operatives like himself.
Dukall continued. "Twelve months ago Irache was second
protectorate to the Patriarch of Gaera, our new spiritual leaders."
The last part was said with some considerable contempt. Dukall
remembered the Heresy at the end of the Hundred Year War as
well as Kallun. "Now he is the Patriarch himself, the old one
having mysteriously gone the way of all the earth shortly after you
left. Recently he has been using his seat on the Council to gain as
much support for the Heresy and himself as possible. Nobody
knows why. This last meeting was my third meeting in a week with
sub-camp Chiefs who have had their toes trodden on by Gaeran
movements inside their own camps."
"Inside the camps? Isn't that illegal?"
Dukall shrugged. "Technically. But the insurgence is subtle
and Chairman Fraque's religious freedom act allows the State
religion a degree of movement within all low-risk military
facilities. I thank Erran that Alpha Camp does not yet fall into that
category."
"But other's on Seerak do?" That had not been the case
before.
Dukall spread his hands and shrugged. "They do now.
Frankly I don't know what the old fellow is up too. Psi-ops can't get
a look in. But the Seiron Legions, his military jihad, is making
some strange moves across the galactic arm. Add to that his support
base in the government and I'm not sure what I'm looking at with
this fellow."
"Potential insurgent?" Kallun asked.
"Erran only knows. But Chairman Fraque backs him on
everything, including the scaling down of the Colest armed forces."

21
Dragonsfire

Dukall put his hands in the air. "Emrihsad agrees to talk to us and
they think the war is over."
Kallun leaned forward, his heart skipping a beat.
"Emrihsad agreed to talks?" He almost shouted it but
checked his voice just in time. "When?"
"They opened a line of communication just two months ago
through one of the border colonies. Now we have them coming
here to negotiate a relaxation of the trade restrictions we imposed
on one another at the end of the Hundred Year War."
Kallun sat back momentarily stunned. Colest and Emrihsad
had been at war with one each other one way or another for
centuries. There was little recorded evidence that the two cultures
had ever had any other contact than that of violent confrontation
since the first meeting of ships on the tribal frontier.
In those days the Colest was a loose union of worlds
working together to expand towards the galactic centre, unaware
that another culture had beaten them to the inner arm.
Emrihsad was a more established, better equipped and
significantly older culture than the youthful union of a few-hundred
worlds calling themselves Colest. Its traditions were embroiled in
antiquity and its close links to the savagery of the tribal
homeworlds had left them with a culture much more devoutly
spiritual than Colest. The two cultures hated each other
immediately.
In the war that followed Emrihsad should have wiped
Colest out completely. But it found itself unable to. Although
Emrihsad ships were better armed, their troops better equipped,
they lacked the ability to organise themselves into a single effective
fighting force. Their spiritualism had left them divided into sects
ruled by families of tremendous power and they found it hard to
put aside old differences and unite against a common enemy.
Colest had no problem with unity. They had fought like wolves for
their prey and had met the initial Emrihsad invasion with culpable
efficiency.

22
Dragonsfire

The First War, lasted only three years. It was a war of fire
and savagery, in which both sides threw everything they had at one
another. They had called a truce after the loss of almost all of the
colonies along the border. Years later the second war erupted, less
violent than the first but just as bloody. It was in this war that
Emrihsad's barbaric reputation had been established. Since that
time they had clashed and clashed. Colest peoples angered at being
cut off from the expanse of the galactic disc were trapped in the
spiral arm their worlds resided in and unable to circumnavigate
Emrihsad territories. Emrihsad sects raised jihads, enraged by the
thought of a blatantly possessionist society spreading across the
galaxy. The Hundred Year War had been the last open hostilities
between the two sides, it had ended just two decades before, and
had been immediately replaced by the so-called Silent War, named
for its utter lack of known battles but consistent and unremitting
casualties.
Kallun guessed that the growing resurgence of religious
activity amongst Colest worlds in previous years had caused some
of the Emrihsad people's hatred of their enemies to dissipate.
"When?" Kallun said, regaining his composure. "When are
the talks?"
"They start officially on the First day of the Erranion New
Year, but practically they begin the following day, on Dragon's
Fall."
"One month?"
"Hardly time enough." Dukall frowned. "Do you have any
idea the scale of military operation this will have to be! And Fraque
wants me to keep it discrete!"
Dukall spread the files out in front of him as if brushing it
aside.
"I thought Andreas would have caught you up on this.
That's half the reason I sent him. He can talk to you."
"Andreas caught me up on a lot of things, but politics was
not what he was talking about."

23
Dragonsfire

"His family again?"


"His family again." Kallun repeated with mock weariness.
Dukall laughed genuinely and Kallun was glad of the
change in atmosphere.
"How are his boys?"
"From what he told me they are well, and growing fast."
Kallun smiled, his friend's devotion to his family was something
Kallun had always admired and respected without ever quite
understanding it. He had learnt to think little about his own family
since leaving his home-world as little more than a boy, but when he
was with Andreas he missed the memory of them.
"Good." Dukall said warmly. "Now let me acquaint you
with one of our many problems."
Here it comes Kallun thought ruefully.
"Part of the initial agreement made on Deckran 3, our
contact colony, was that both parties would begin scaling down
military operations and armaments production. Both ourselves and
Emrihsad have done just that."
"What about the Institute?" Kallun asked almost
immediately. He had previous experience with Emrihsad's main
armaments production facility and knew the capability it had for
churning out weapons at a rate of several million a day.
"They closed it down as a gesture of good-will." Kallun's
shock must have registered on his face as Dukall ploughed on.
"Well, not entirely. They keep skeleton crews on every department
floor, to keep the machines well oiled, and the research level had
shown no reduction in activity."
Kallun nodded. That made more sense.
"In response we have closed down our Vakor and Gimni
facilities to a similar level of operation." Dukall opened the recon.
file and peered at it momentarily. Kallun could see now that it was
a file on the Institute's research level: a new one. "The result of all
this friendly activity is that we have been able to get a new contact
to take a closer look at the Institute's research level." Dukall pushed

24
Dragonsfire

a picture over across the polished top of the desk. "This is what he
found."
The imprint was a visual scan taken from reading the retina
of one eye via the optic nerve, it had been modulated for ease of
viewing but it still stretched slightly at the edges. Kallun looked
back up at Dukall.
"A ship?"
"Can you tell what kind?"
Kallun glanced back at the picture. "Destroyer class Kapal
ship, standard form. Except .." Now he looked closer at the picture.
"Except that the retraction bulb where the wings extend on this ship
is striped bare and the matt black skin of the vessel is unusual on a
Kapal made ship."
Dukall nodded satisfied.
"Now these."
Two more pictures came Kallun's way. He looked at them
more carefully this time.
"Same ship." The first picture looked like a close up on the
retraction bulb, it was close enough to see the membrane of the
jump wings. "It looks like they are modifying the membrane on the
wing. Hooking up some sort of feeder tubes to the spines?"
"An injection module." Dukall cut in.
Kallun searched the other picture for something unusual.
"An image of the hull."
"Look at the position of the grav. burners in the
background."
Kallun scanned the picture, the hull was the same matt
black that stretched the ship all the way to the grav. burners at the
rear of the vessel. It struck him suddenly.
"This is a starboard side shot. Where's the docking doors?
The cargo ports?"
"Our thoughts exactly." Dukall pushed the last picture over
the desk. "Now, take a look at command control."

25
Dragonsfire

"Command control?" Kallun said after a second of


examining the picture. The room in which the picture had been
taken was comfortably furnished with light from glow strips on the
ceiling highlighting three pods in the centre of the room and the
main control rim. Evenly spaced at five foot intervals forming a
neat triangle the pods' resemblance to a cross between huge
Arkasian wildebeest eggs and med-lab examination chairs was
vague but unmistakable. Their long backs and leg rests looked like
they were designed for human occupation. Looking huge and
luxurious the pods were inviting and foreboding all at once. At the
rear of each of the pods Kallun could just make out icons
emblazoned in iridescent colours. Around these the standard
tactical and operational information rim running the circumference
of the room was the only thing that indicated that this was the
Command and Control room of an Emrihsad vessel.
"The pods are a new form of flight control and response
technology." Dukall explained. "As far as we can make out they are
made from some form of hyper-sensatised stimulus material. The
flight crew is immersed in the pod which then taps into various
nerve endings through the epidermis creating an environmental
simulation."
"Don't the Korrellans use that kind of technology in their
military training simulations? How does it help flight control?" The
use of waldo controls, holo-imaging and AI anticipation had
speeded up reaction-times considerably over the last few years.
One man fighter conflicts in space proceeded at speeds that made
the mind boggle.
"That's not the point of them, the fact is that we know this
department has made extensive use of neural response nets, and has
been researching ways of creating hypersensitive two-way
transmitters for the non-psi."
"I thought we'd already established that only talents with at
least point two of a psi rating can handle neural response nets."

26
Dragonsfire

"We have. Apparently they haven't, and have found away to


circumnavigate those risks."
Having your brains cognitive abilities blasted into a
thousand pieces was one serious risk to circumnavigate.
"Modified neural nets have almost certainly been installed."
Dukall fished into his folder again. "We have the test results here.
As you can see, there has been considerable success in this method
of control and engineering."
Kallun scanned the sheet of figures in his hand. The results
were impressive. There was a several point increase in response
time without AI assistance. He scanned the second half of the
report.
"What's this second bit on engineering breakthroughs."
"We're not quite sure of that presently. From what we can
gather they are employing some sort of self-effecting repairs
system. We've always found them to be un-reliable but they seem
to be confident of theirs. There is more."
More? This alone would have been enough to have got a
few tails wagging in Covert Operations.
"The hull lining you saw earlier emits a peculiar broad-band
signal just outside of the standard spectrum. Again we are not quite
sure how they have achieved that but the result has been a
tremendous breakthrough in cloaking technology."
Cloaking technology. The bed-time bogey man of every
fleet vessel. Mostly a myth.
"Can it cloak?" Kallun asked calmly.
"Apparently. When the hull is charged the new signal puts
the ship in partial phase. Making it virtually undetectable. Any
vessel trying to track this ship would only pick up it's wake through
a nebula cloud or an atmospheric intrusion. It can just be seen
visually, but only then as a shadow against strong background
light"
"Phasing? Didn't I read a paper about that in base camp?"

27
Dragonsfire

Dukall nodded. "It's a theoretical possibility devolving from


jump-space technology. But nobody has been able to discover a
dimensional frame work that could handle it."
"Until now."
"Until now." Dukall nodded. "The ship does create some
temporal ripples as it travels and we are working on methods of
detecting that signal. But it is so close to the energy stream
emanating from the galactic core as to be presently
indistinguishable in normal space."
"What about in jump space?"
"We are not certain, but we think it is ineffective there,
hence the last modification to ship. The injection system to the
wings membrane." Another report came across the desk to Kallun's
hands. "We intercepted this transmission by sheer accident ten
months ago."
Looking at the sheet Kallun could see immediately that it
was the transcript of a trans-light burst from an Emrihsad beacon.
Every operative held an ongoing commission to seek out and
collect data from such bursts.
"The signal was on an extremely focused beam,
broadcasting from out near the tribal frontier back to the Institute's
receptors. The content details the test flight of a ship containing
three test subjects and sporting catalytic jump-wings."
"Sweet Erran. I thought those things were banned a century
ago." Previous experiments in catalytic acceleration in the currents
of jumps space had resulted in massive rifts in normal space and
severe damage to several planetary systems.
"They are. Security has been very tight around this catalyst
of theirs but we do know that it is the most stable of any tested so
far."
"It would have to be."
"This particular ship exploded sixty three light years out
from Mutara just over a minute into it's journey."
"From where?"

28
Dragonsfire

"From the Institute."


"A thousand light years in a minute?" Kallun's shock was
deepening with every revealed fact.
"The ship tore itself apart at those speeds and we think it
has only been installed as an emergency acceleration device due to
the danger inherent in its use."
"I don't understand." Kallun said after a moment.
"Which part."
"Why so much in one ship. The Institute would normally
test each of these devices individually, not build them all into one
proto-type."
Dukall nodded. "It is unusual. But they are working to a
dead-line. There are factions in Emrihsad that would happily wipe
us off this plane of existence like so much fluff. And we think it is
those factions that are financing this project. It's certainly not their
own government. From all we can tell this is a last ditch attempt by
those factions to keep Emrihsad in the War before peace talks
really do settle our differences. Their time scale is as limited as
ours and they are putting everything they can into this super-ship to
try and convince their Overseer that they can still win this conflict
by force of arms.
"They never give up. And they won't give up unless we give
them reasons not to continue this project."
"What kind of reasons?" asked Kallun.
"Like not having their proto-type anymore."
"Destroy it?" He was beginning to see the direction of the
assignment and didn't like it one bit.
"No. Too easy." Dukall pulled out the mission dossier. "In
the event that these talks fail we need to get to know the technology
involved here. Most particularly this hull cloak. The threat of that
one device alone un-countered is too much to consider. What we
need you to do is steal the ship."

***

29
Dragonsfire

Day 1. 1602 Peninsular Summer Time. (CKT +4)


Steal the ship? Kallun's mind was a whirr of practical
problems and technical difficulties.
Dukall slipped the mission dossier across the table. Kallun
flipped through the pages one by one. Sensitive information was
always passed like this where possible. There were too many ways
to trace and locate data stored other ways. This way the information
stayed in Alpha Camp and could be destroyed at whim.
Inside the smooth covered folder were layouts of sections of
the Institute, he already knew most of those. The name of his
contact in the Institute struck him - Yarrin. He had heard the name
before but he could not place where. Scanning the pre-operation
planning he began picking out his first points of concern.
"This mentions a second operative. I take it then that I am
not alone in this assignment?"
"No you are not. You will be working with one of more
skilled Talent operatives."
A psi-op. Just what I need. The reputation of that particular
group was not the best in Covert Operations. It was said that they
were unreliable, given to renege on missions at any given moment,
their talents making them unstable, sometimes facing multiple
personalities or breaking into realities beyond the norm. They were
unkempt geniuses who cared more for worlds of thought than the
real world in which they lived. Many things were said of psi-ops,
very few of them good.
Covert Operations tolerated them because of their ability to
get through situations that the un-talented couldn't, particularly
when dealing with religious factions. The mind wars they fought
could scare the hell out of your basic operative. Anyone who had
seen them in action remained naturally wary of them.
"Who?" Kallun asked fearing some of the more notorious
names.

30
Dragonsfire

"You don't know her." Dukall leaned over to a small section


of his flat control board which blended with the deep wood of the
desk. "Neil, tell Vash she can come in."
The door clicked open behind Kallun and he swung his
head around to see who his companion for this mission would be.
For a second he thought there had been some kind of mistake.
Leanna Vashti stood around twenty centimetres shorter than
Kallun. Her slim build hid the natural physical strength she
possessed, a strength sharpened by her athletic tendencies. Her hair
was dark and long, presently it was tied back in clip from which a
cascade of deep brown curls fell down past her shoulders. Deep
brown eyes flashed above full lips which were presently drawn
tight, highlighting the arc of her cheek bones. She had entered the
office dressed in a pair of shorts and a running vest. It looked as if
she had just come from the gymn.
Kallun didn't stare because of her looks. He did a double
take simply because if there was a true stereo-type for psi-ops then
Vash seemed about as far from it as Seerak was from the Galactic
Core. Vash, on the other hand hardly noticed him at all.
"This better be good, Kieran." She said darkly holding her
ground. "I wasn't supposed to be called back on duty for another
twenty-four hours."
"There's been a change of plan."
"What kind of change?"
"This kind." Dukall turned to Kallun. "If you would show
Miss Vashti the photo's."
Kallun stood and handed the reassembled recon. file to
Vash. She took it with barely a glance at him. For a second her
guard dropped and her eyes went wide.
"When did these get in?" she breathed.
"This morning."
"Why wasn't I told?"
It was Dukall's turn to frown. "Because you had your sub-
dermal deactivated and we couldn't find you."

31
Dragonsfire

Vash had the good sense to look slightly embarrassed for a


moment. Her cheeks coloured slightly. It was almost endearing.
Almost.
"I was teaching in Simm D-12."
"I do not concern myself with your leisure activities, but by
Erran you keep you sub-dermal on when your at it!"
"Yes, sir." Vash said quietly.
"The mission leaves this evening." Dukall said after a
moments silence.
"This evening!" Vash and Kallun both blurted at the same
time.
"You've had all the training you need, Vash. Kallun can
catch up on the way out." Kallun winced. That meant an
information dump into his core processor.
"Kallun." Dukall continued. "This is your mission
companion, Leanna Vashti, she will be responsible for psi-
operations during the course of your mission, most particularly the
use of the pods in Command Control."
"You are serious about us flying this thing, aren't you."
Kallun stated.
"Deadly." Dukall nodded. "The drop ship is being prepared
on pad 42, be there ready at 2100 hours. In the meantime I suggest
the two of you correlate your assigned roles and methodology." He
stood and looked directly at Kallun. "Erran be your guide."
Vash moved to pose a question but Dukall halted her with a
gesture. "Dismissed."

***
Day 1. 1615 Peninsular Summer Time (CKT +4)
Leaving the office and retreating down the adjacent corridor
towards the core-lift, Vash and Kallun walked side-by-side. Vash
seemed agitated and excited, talking quickly, her words coming out
like the rapport of an automatic pistol.

32
Dragonsfire

Kallun appraised her silently. The scowl she had entered


Dukall's office was gone now, her face animate in the midst of her
torrent of words. It was an improvement, despite the unceasing
dialogue. It was obvious that she Dukall and she didn't get on. It
was almost as if he was uncomfortable around her. But Dukall had
never been able to cope with psi-ops. It one weakness Kallun had
tried to point out to the older man a number of times. It looked like
he still wasn't listening. Kallun wondered how powerful Vash was.
"We'll be dropping in on a materials freighter as part of the
crew. You role will be in navigation. You are familiar with
navigation aren't you?"
Kallun nodded noticing a trace of an accent in her speech as
she launched into the mission schedule. She was from off-world.
"Good. When we reach the Institute we will disembark at
the goods-in port at Vekl Trnn 0500 hours their time. The low
security there should give us the cover we need to rendezvous with
our contact in the pleasure district at 0630."
"That would be Yarrin, right?"
"Right. He'll provide us with our next cover bio-signals, as
part of a skeleton engineering crew visiting the munitions depot.
From their we'll ..."
Kallun held up a hand to stop her flow of words.
"This is in the dossier isn't it?"
Vash nodded.
"Then it would be more productive to the mission further
when I've had the information dumped into my sub-dermal.."
"Of course."
Vash lapsed into silence for a few steps. Kallun wondered
why he had not met this woman before. From the look of her she
was not much older than thirty standard years. Young for a Talent
in psi-ops. A disturbing thought hit him.
"How many ops have you done?" He asked quickly and
knew the answer from the momentary flicker in her eyes.
"Twenty-seven simulation passes." She said quickly.

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Dragonsfire

"No real drops?"


She shook her head. Kallun's lips tightened into a frown.
"Did Dukall tell you why you had been picked for this
mission?"
Vash shook her head again.
"I presume it's because I'm the only one whose p-rating
matches the requirements for the mission."
Kallun raised his eye-brows.
"What kind of p-rating do you have?"
"My last spike on the graph registered p-32."
Impressive. No wonder they're sending you out on this
mission with no experience. A p-30 was rare enough, but a P-32?
Kallun guessed that if they were going to be dealing with modified
neural nets, it would make sense for him to have that kind of power
behind them.
"By the way" she said smiling as they reached the lift. "Did
the mission tell you what the Institute has named their ship?"
"No. What?" Kallun realised she was trying to make small
talk.
"Dragonsfire."

34
Dragonsfire

Chapter Two - Emrihsad

"For fear shall be in the heart of the hosts of heaven and


the servants of hell shall rage in the midst of the stars, making war
one with the other, till all shall be smitten by the serpents hand,
and there shall not be one found among them who has not felt his
venom in their blood." Extracts from The Book of Kiminuci,
Chapter 5, verse 8 (Taken from the library hall of Hiera IV)

Day 2 - 2335 Srnak Standard (CKT +1)


Srnak was the fourth body of a young six planet system. It's
sun, Urith, was somewhat smaller than Kallun's native Seral and
burned with a richer colour that bathed its planets in warm red
hughes. Ringed at its outermost edge by a huge circle of gaseous
cloud, the Urith system had originally been known only for its
astrological curiosity.
The cloud in question was beyond the orbit of the furthest
planet but was large enough that it could still be seen as a bright red
line across the sky by any ship orbiting Srnak, but never from the
surface of that planet. Not even Urith himself could be seen from
Srnak's surface.
The yellow and brown sphere had an atmosphere that was
ninety-seven percent carbon-dioxide and it's covering of acidic
cloud made it about as inhospitable a place to put a base upon as
any. However, that had not deterred those who built the first dome
there, for Srnak's rocks contained Uridakline, the peculiar metal
through which signal's could be launched on a trans-light wave
band, millions of times faster than conventional light-speed signals.
Emrihsad prospector's had built that first dome early in the
Age of Expansion. The base quickly became a full-scale mining
colony which prospered during much of that brief era. It did not
take long, however, before the principle veins of Uridakline dried
up and the colonists moved on to richer ground, leaving behind

35
Dragonsfire

them an immense network of tunnels which criss-crossed Srnak's


equator and covered an area the size of a small continent.
At the outbreak of hostilities with Colest, The Overseer of
the Many Worlds, Kal Forac-a-Tren-Pillrjs of Gadea, determined
that a large-scale arms-production facility should be established
deep in Emrihsad territory. Srnast's ready-made tunnel network and
atmospheric cover had been the perfect site.
Since that time the Institute had expanded to fill completely
the tunnels and chambers built by the colonists. Sub-terranean
water supplies and the careful construction of environmental
chambers made it self sustaining and by the dawn of the Hundred
Year War, the Institute was a thriving, established and heavily
defended weapons production colony.
Within the Institute, little remained of the original
Uridakline tunnels, wiped away by factory chambers and an
underground maze of production facilities. These days production
began just a few hundred feet below Srnast's hostile surface,
industrial workshops spreading throughout several hundred square
kilometres of hardened rock.
From the inside it looked and felt like any factory facility.
Corridors were either well lit and carpeted in the executive areas,
bright white with polished floors in research laboratories, or darker
with grey walls in the industrialised production facilities.
Supplied by the ample population of the colonial dome
above the central production areas, and the transient population of
two major space-ports East and West of the Institute, the facility
had thrived for over one and half centuries of production, repelling
several attacks by Colest ships and ground forces and having only
ever had to slow production three times in its history.
Defensively, the anti-corrosive one-way dome of the
Institute was protected by second generation Verl shields which
sported generators that could raise shields of up to six metres thick,
sufficient to repel most forms of sustained orbital bombardment
and effectively seal the dome from without. Access to the Institute

36
Dragonsfire

dome was only available through one of eight underground shafts


leading from the planets two principle space-ports, Vekl Trnn and
Vekl Vach. Even without it's shielding the dome was one solid
mass of duranium, fused into Srnak's rock to a depth of one
hundred metres.
In low orbit the planet was ringed by several thousand
armed satellites with an optimum fire-power sufficient to knock out
a quarter of Colest's fleet. In higher orbit were two armed Alert
Stations: squat rectangular blocks of armoured space station,
housing at least two squadron's of fighter craft, one of which,
through a pattern of rotating shifts, was consistently on patrol
around the planet and other areas of the Urith system. These arms,
access limitations and defensive sustainability meant that the
Institute was an operational monument to Emrihsad military
thinking. The only way in past all that defensive capability, was to
be an approved part of the Institute machine.
Hence Colest's need for Yarrin and his co-conspirators.
Yarrin was the name Vash and Kallun's Institute contact
had called himself. The two operatives had met the weasel faced
man as planned in the pleasure district of Vekl Trnn earlier that
day. The rendezvous had not been without risk but as Kallun stood
now with Vash and their new associate, some hours after their
initial meeting, he was aware of the fact that so far they had not
encountered anything that hadn't already been planned for either at
Alpha Camp or by the mysterious Yarrin. That was rare on a hot
zone drop. And Kallun's instincts were all telling him that this drop
could backfire on them at any given moment. However, if Vash
was sensing the same thing she was not showing it.
They stood now by a recessed security desk which guarded
one of the limited access shaft car chutes. They were roughly two
hundred metre below the surface, fifty kilometres north of the
dome. The shaft car doorway ahead of them was plastered with red
warning signs, indicating that it was a direct car to a restricted area.
Kallun had looked at these doors on a drop years before, but had

37
Dragonsfire

never gone beyond them. For him, they were about to enter
unknown territory.
Looking at the grey carpet, it seemed to Kallun that the
Institute had come a long way in the years since his last visit. The
halls and corridors now had an almost comfortable feel to them,
quite unlike the harsh militism Emrihsad was reputed to adore. In a
way, the Institute was beginning to resemble their own Alpha
Camp.
A fat, self-important Guardian seated before them was
refusing to let them into the shaft-car unless their names appeared
on his three month authorisation list. The list was on paper, and
Yarrin hadn't been able to tamper with it. The small grey man was
dealing with it smoothly. Leaning against the waist high reception
desk Yarrin had a look of casual friendliness on his pale features.
Yarrin's shaded skin was almost grey in colour, like his
eyes. He was deceptively shorter than Kallun, his long arms and
legs slightly disproportional to his small body. He was a low-
walker - a group of people whose low-gravity up-bringing often
disadvantaged them on standard gravity worlds. It didn't show to
most people, but Kallun could tell that Yarrin had worked tirelessly
to be equal in strength and power to his standerd-g brethren. It
seemed to be his only redeeming feature.
On the whole, however, Kallun didn't like him. He had a
natural distrust of traitors on any side of a war. This excuses for
treason were never very convincing, and usually belied basic
weaknesses which could get a man killed. Yarrin was of the time
whose work seemed calculated, planned and without conscience.
That indicated he was doing this for some kind of personal gain,
and Kallun knew that having such people on your side could be a
two-edged sword.
"Did not the prophet Draniah of the Benhi say 'When the
wise walk with the foolish, they are wise no more'?" Yarrin
laughed, showing his huge white teeth. "Come Skell, my friend, my
colleagues are no fools and I would not sully myself with them if

38
Dragonsfire

they were. Let me introduce you to the trusted research assistants,


Vrial and Kulla."
Kallun bowed at the waist and touched his forehead in
respect, as did Vash. The fat Guardian opposite them returned the
gesture, smoothing his creased uniform as he did so.
"As you can see," Yarrin continued. "Their transfer from
Dakhalla 3 to our section is only for today." Yarrin leaned forward
conspiratorially. "Shadiim himself left a note on my comm, this
morning to let you know, personally, that they were coming."
"Shadiim?" Skell whispered, glancing nervously at the
ceiling, as if the very mention of the name would bring upon him
some godly wrath. "He knows me?"
"He mentioned you by name."
Skell straightened and motioned them all into the shaft car.
"You may proceed, learned brothers, enlightened sister."
As soon as the grey door of the modified elevator closed
behind them Yarrin's manner reverted to his normal dark-eyed self,
his lips pulling into his natural scowl. As they seated themselves on
the cushioned rim of the rectangular vehicle he noticed Kallun's
eyes scanning the grey interior of the descending car.
"Do not concern yourself. The shaft monitors are all
recording yesterday's traffic."
Kallun raised an eyebrow. That was the third time that
Yarrin had casually mentioned some form of previously installed
electronic deception. It was clear the man was not working alone in
this operation. It disturbed him to know that others were involved.
The more people that knew about this operation, the more likely it
was that one of them would get caught and blow the mission.
Inwardly he knew that it was probably the only way they could
ever hope to pass the multitude of security measures installed this
deep in the Institute. The next doorway would open up onto the
Research level, then they would need every piece of deceptive skill
they could muster to get through security and access the ship.

39
Dragonsfire

"That wasn't so hard." Vash murmured in perfect Kallorian.


She had inwardly expected things to be more difficult than they
were.
Like Kallun, Vash was dressed in Institute whites. The
electronic patch on her arm indicated her status as a research
assistant from Dakhalla 3. She carried with her a black, slim-line
case, similar to those carried by most Institute employees. Usually
such cases contained work tools, info-chips and personal items.
However Vash's carried a palm-sized trans-light dish with a
focused beam connection to both hers and Kallun's sub-dermal
processors and retina sensors. The device was designed to transmit
all they saw in the instant either Vash or Kallun were killed. She
also carried a neural stunner in her right hip-pouch, shielded from
sensor detection by a microscopic lining of super-dense matter.
Kallun's case was a little more aggressive. Along with a few
standard tools his case concealed a Chakoy blaster-pistol and a
single pouch of thronide explosive: enough to destroy the ship if
anything went wrong.
"This Shadiim." Kallun said, satisfied that they could talk
freely. "I've heard that name before, but nothing about him. Who is
he?"
Yarrin nodded conspiratorially.
"Emrihsad tries to keep knowledge of Shadiim within these
walls. Simply because they do not want their enemies to steal him
away the way that we are stealing this ship."
"He is a real person then?" Vash asked, remembering the
almost religious fear on Skell's face.
"Yes, yes, very much real." Yarrin pulled on his chin. "He
arrived at the Institute just over a year ago. Very few people have
seen him, but it is said he brought with him the knowledge that
made Dragonsfire possible. It is almost certain that he took
command of the research level a short time later, but little more
than that is certain of him. His reputation since has grown in
proportions rivalling the prophets of old, mostly because no-one

40
Dragonsfire

but the highest authorities have seen him, and then only in
darkness."
Yarrin nodded like an age old sage imparting some ancient
wisdom.
"It is said that he was sent by Halla-Ka to bring destruction
upon our enemies. It is said that he walks with a shadow-runner
who never leaves his side except to kill the unbeliever and torture
the inefficient worker. It is said that it is death to see his face, that
even his shadow-runner assassin lives with his dark-suit on at all
times, his face hidden in blackness. Some say that he has seen the
Dragon and lived, and that he walks in the otherness day and night
to watch the work of his creation."
Yarrin spread his arms and suddenly laughed.
"It is also said that peeling gamba fruit when two-moons
converge will reveal the face of your future bride. Who knows what
we should believe."
"What do you think?" Kallun asked.
"I think he is wise but eccentric, and too much religion has
made this people superstitious."
Kallun nodded. That much had been in the mission dossier.
Shadiim was a mystery to both sides, and Kallun wished he had the
time to find out more.
The shaft box thudded to a halt. The three of them stood up,
opened the door and stepped into the white corridors of the Institute
Research Levels.

***

Day 3. 0010 - Srnak Standard (CKT +1)


Dukall had been right. The research levels were teeming
with activity.
Where there had been empty corridors and deserted rooms
in the levels above them, here there were active production
facilities, monitored experimentation and a wealth of people,

41
Dragonsfire

similarly dressed to Kallun and Vash. Only Yarrin stood out in his
brown and blue uniform which signified his status at a Guardian of
the Fifth Arm.
At this level their electronic patches really came into play.
The tags on their arms were scanned every few metres by sensors
in the walls, making sure they didn't take a wrong turn. There had
been one heart stopping moment earlier when they had been halted
by a force-field and questioned by a fist-sized drone. It turned out
that they had turned into an limited access personnel area that their
patches didn't give them clearance to enter. Kallun had just begun
reaching for his blaster pistol when the drone had scanned them,
issued an alternate route to their intended destination and zipped
away.
Yarrin had simply shrugged. "They change the routes often.
To keep us on our guard, and remind us that nothing should be
taken for granted within these walls."
It had taken them thirty minutes to walk through the various
project and production rooms to the great design bay in the heart of
the Research levels. On the way Yarrin had explained that normally
the levels would not be so busy at such a time of night, but the
great and mighty Shadiim had ordered that the ship be ready to fly
for a full systems test and combat simulation by 0135. Teams had
been working round the clock testing and checking, shoring up the
hull and optimising every one of the new systems within the proto-
type. The visitors would view the ship at its peak flight ready
status. Of course this his esteemed guests already knew and were
most welcome to investigate any part of the level's design stations,
most of whom were running simulations on their own specialised
area of the ship at the moment, if they would just give him the
word. This had been added for the benefit of the concealed
monitors watching them every step of the way. Kallun and Vash
had played their part and insisted that their 'guide' take them to
main bay so that they could view the ship first hand before it made
it's first flight.

42
Dragonsfire

After what seemed like an eternity of passing room after


room, they arrived at the eastern most seal of the main bay. This
one was a hatch just large enough for a man to pass through, which
led through a three metre security passage. At the end of that
passage another hatch led into the main bay. It was here that they
paused.
Yarrin glanced around him nervously, pulled a small
comm.-link from the pocket of his jacket and attached it to the
control panel of the doorway. A couple of seconds later there was
an audible beep and Yarrin smiled once more.
"It is safe to talk again." he said quickly. "We have accessed
the seal's processors through this unit." He indicated the comm-
link.
"You couldn't do this before?" Vash asked.
"No." Yarrin explained. "The seals that lead into the main
bay operate completely independently of the main network, to
avoid the very contamination we are now running throughout the
Institute. It was a device the Guardian's insisted on and it can only
be accessed manually. Now we must wait and hope."
"Hope for what?" Kallun's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Yarrin swallowed, looking nervous for the first time.
"That we can overcome the security on these sensors." He
indicated the closed hatchway. "Once inside that corridor we will
be sealed in and subjected to a barium sweep."
Kallun started, this was not in their briefing. A barium
sweep would cut right through the shielding on their concealed
tools and weapons. Yarrin held up a hand and continued.
"It was installed just after you left and took us all by
surprise. However, if we fail the sweep the passage between the
hatches will be ionised and all of us will be walking the road to the
bosom of Erran before we can blink an eye. The processors in here
run a triplicate back up system. Once we have deceived the main
processor we will have twenty seconds only before the back up
systems run a check on the main processor. We must be through

43
Dragonsfire

the hatch with the processors returned to normal operative


efficiency before then."
Vash's eyes unfocussed momentarily.
"There are three men beyond the far hatchway, and I'm
picking up traces of a powerful psi-field somewhere."
"Such an effect has been catalogued by our own psi-techs."
Yarrin nodded. "We believe it is from the neural nets in the ship
but we are not sure what causes it."
The ship. They were close.
The comm-link beeped a second time and the hatch opened
outward slowly. Moving swiftly Yarrin ushered everyone inside
and pulled the hatch shut behind them. Sliding past Kallun and
Vash in the narrow space he tapped a key code into the inner
hatchway and pushed.
Nothing happened. With nervous fingers he tried again.
"It's locked me out." Yarrin exclaimed, panic rising in his
voice. "There must some fail-safe in the system!"
Kallun checked his chrono strip nervously. The walls about
them were beginning to glow a deep vermilion. Any second now
they would be hit with that barium scan.
"Let me try." Vash pushed the furious tapping Yarrin aside
and touched the key-pad at the centre of the hatchway. A gentle
calm crossed her features and the keypad beeped quietly. The click
of a lock releasing fell like music upon Kallun's ears.
Yarrin charged out the enclosed space through the open
hatchway with the speed of a bullit-drone. Kallun and Vash were
not a moment behind him. Together they pushed the hatch closed
just as the first barium pulse lashed out into the passage interior.
There was no time to relax. In the small anti-chamber
beyond the hatchway two guards, one of whom was talking to a
white robed technician, watched them suspiciously. Their brown
and blue uniforms matched Yarrin's and their patches indicated that
they were both part of his military wing.

44
Dragonsfire

"Yarrin! What are you doing here at this time of night?"


The taller and fairer of the two guards asked the small man.
"Ghaklim Tal!" Yarrin was suddenly all smiles. "I could ask
the same of you. Wasn't Yanich supposed to take the mid-shift
tonight?"
Tal shrugged his broad shoulders and smiled. "He came
down with a mysterious illness during a visit to Vekl Trnn this
afternoon."
"Ah." Yarrin nodded knowingly "Of course. Strange, is it
not, that we all get so effected by illness in that place. And still we
go back for more!"
Tal rubbed his chin in mock gravity. "It is a recurring fault
amongst our ranks. I fear that dread place has wrapped some
terrible spell around our hearts."
"It is not our hearts I worry about!"
Yarrin and Tal laughed together.
Straightening his spine and glancing to where monitors
were obviously watching them, Tal attempted a more businesslike
demeanour. "So, Khemfar Yarrin, state your business and
credentials."
"My business?" Yarrin slid over to the taller man. "My
business is women with bodies like the mountains of Shallal and
lips the colour of Chianne's Aura."
Kallun smiled inwardly. Yarrin was playing a game he had
seen work on men of low rank a hundred times. Feeding their ego
and sense of camaraderie gently enough to knock them off guard.
As much as he disliked the man, Kallun had to admit: Yarrin was
good at his job.
The second guard had resumed his conversation with the
technician on the opposite side of the chamber. Uninterested in
people Tal was obviously dealing with himself.
Tal couldn't help but smile.
"There are no such women here, my friend." Tal said
playing once more. "They are full of brains without beauty, their

45
Dragonsfire

bodies like wet moorland on a winters day." Suddenly his eyes


were upon Vash. "Except, that maybe you have brought your own
spoils with you, yes? You must introduce me to this vision."
Before Yarrin could answer Vash had stuck out her hand
and smiled her most winning smile. "I am Vrial." she said warmly.
"It is a pleasure to see our security in such capable hands."
Her eyes locked with the guard's, causing his own to mist
over slightly. Now it was her turn to play with the man. From the
sudden perspiration on his fore-head and the moistening of his lips,
Kallun could tell that Vash was stimulating a strong, if not
overpowering, attraction in the man. Tal was experiencing the
phenomena known as 'love at first sight'. In reality Vash was
simply increasing an already existent lust to the point where the
man would hardly be able to concentrate on his job.
Poor fellow. Kallun thought. He will probably die believing
this woman was his destiny. Vash had only held the man's hand for
a second and he was smitten.
"Ah but my friend Tal,," Yarrin continued seizing the
opportunity. "We have much that we must do in so little time. And
if we do not do it quickly I am afraid Vrial and her friend will have
to leave the Institute without even stopping to enjoy the wonders of
our residential dome and recreational facilities."
Tal nodded quickly catching the implication and grabbed
his hand-held scanner. He ran it briefly across each of their patches,
recording their identities on his personal log.
"Then I think we shall skip the interrogation for today,
besides the ship is almost ready." Tal said, his voice slightly
distant, his eyes never leaving Vash. "Don't be running away with
the Dragonsfire whilst you're in there though."
He turned and keyed in a code that opened the door on the
far side of the chamber.
"I'll maybe see you later." Vash said, leaving the room
slowly.
The doors slid shut behind them.

46
Dragonsfire

"You enjoyed that didn't you?" Kallun whispered quietly in


Vash's ear.
"One of the perks of the job." She responded with a smile.
They were in a short corridor leading to a set of clear doors.
The small group made their way down its length and proceeded
through the doors into the main bay. There they stopped.
The main bay was a mighty underground cavern that
stretched out for five hundred metres in every direction. The roof
of the bay was domed like some ancient tabernacle, creating sound
illusions around the cavern. To their left, the southern most edge of
the cavern was dominated by two huge doors, large enough to
admit a small cruiser. Beyond them Kallun knew that a tunnel
carved out of the rock led through three sealed doors and an
effector shield into the planet's atmosphere. They were the launch
doors, green lights flashing at their corners and down the centre.
In the middle of the bay the Dragonsfire was enthroned on
three a-grav fields, floating like a queen at the centre of her hive.
All around the white coveralls of various technicians, project
workers and research assistants moved, checking and re-checking,
adjusting and fine tuning.
In Dukall's office back on Seerak, Kallun had been mildly
appreciative of the work which had gone into this vessel. But
seeing first hand the work in progress was always a more personal
experience. The ship was beautiful. Kallun could only wish
Andreas could see her. His old friend would be in heaven.
With her black hull sealed and flight-ready, only the web of
monitor cables attached to her underside and the circle of work
stations around her belied the work in progress. The modified bulbs
of her jump-wings had been effectively hidden, so that only an
internal inspection would reveal the extent of her upgrade. Ignoring
the swarm of personnel around her she could easily have been
mistaken for a small stylised Kapal cruiser. One of the kind used by
many of the privateers that ran trade between independent colonies
deeper in the spiral arm.

47
Dragonsfire

"That psi-field is stronger in here." Vash said after they had


all taken in the sight.
"And it will get stronger the closer you get to the ship.
"Yarrin replied. "Try to ignore it, it will do you no good to get
distracted."
Kallun reached into his case and pulled out a hand-held
personal processor; the kind carried by most institute personal and
used in the majority of the tasks they were pretending to perform.
Vash did like-wise and the three of them made their way towards
the ship.
As they got closer Kallun could see a ramp on the underside
of the ship, through which personnel were entering and leaving the
vessel. Passing groups of white clad people around the ship they
attracted little attention, merging with the general activity. Some of
the stations around the vessel were already in the process of
dismantling themselves, the personnel by them gathering their
tools and belongings together for departure. The atmosphere was
one of tired industry winding down before the final test. Kallun
sensed quickly that some of the groups were behind in their work.
The stress lines were evident on the faces of those working at such
posts.
Within moments they were past the circle of stations and
climbing the metre wide ramp into the belly of the Dragonsfire.
Once inside it was evident that the designers of the ship's
interior had never paid much attention to words such as 'comfort'
and 'convenience'. The passage ways were cramped, just wide
enough for two people to pass one another with backs against the
walls. In the lower deck passage Kallun noticed two things first.
The matt-black of the exterior carried on into the interior of the
ship, lit only slightly by glow-strips whose light was absorbed
instantly by the dark of the walls. Secondly that everywhere he
looked the interior was criss-crossed by red filaments that pulsed
and swirled with their own inner light.

48
Dragonsfire

"There is a swift at the end of this passage. We will need to


use it to get to command control." Yarrin was just ahead of him,
with Vash close behind. Anyone afraid of confined spaces would
not have lasted long in that passage.
Kallun grimaced. He knew of the existence of swifts -
Emrihsad's latest space-saving method of inner-ship transport - and
he knew that he would have to encounter one at some point, but he
had not been looking forward to it. The swift was a one-man,
torpedo shaped elevator that catapulted the occupant at high speed
to their destination. They were excellent for crews in battle as they
speeded up travel time around the ship for men engaged in repairs
and heading to battle stations. However they had little gravity
shielding and the occupant was often painfully subject to sudden g-
forces whilst in transit. To compensate for this the designers had
padded the interior with shock-absorbant material, but for Kallun
this only added to the coffin-like feel of the pods.
In order to access the swift they had to pass at least three
techs monitoring the red filaments in that length of passage. They
were attracting more attention here, the unavoidable necessity of
brushing past every other occupant made it impossible not to attract
some degree of interest from the ship's other occupants.
Opening immediately when Yarrin touched his fingers to
the sensor pad, the swift looked as black as the jaws of hell.
Without a moment's hesitation Yarrin stepped in and turned to face
Kallun. With a silent hiss the door closed and then, with a sudden
compression of air, Yarrin was gone. Kallun placed his fingers on
the plate, once again hoping that Yarrin's people had got far enough
into the ship's systems to have his prints on the list of authorised
personnel.
Another silent hiss and the door was open, a second swift
pod waiting for him to enter. Swallowing a sudden fear he stepped
in, turned and allowed the door to close.
"Command Control." he said, cursing the dryness in his
mouth.

49
Dragonsfire

"Authorised." The voice responded in Kallorian. No sooner


had the word reached his ears than he felt his weight trebled. The
force of movement was instantly followed by a sudden
weightlessness and the door slid open into the Command and
Control centre of the ship: Dragonsfire.

***

Day 3. 0103 - Srnak Standard (CKT +1)


The oval room was empty. Yarrin stood a metre or two
away from the swift that had deposited Kallun port side and aft of
the three pods that filled the sunken centre platform. To his right
was a small hatchway that led to a passage running the length of
the centre of the ship. Through that hatchway were the bunks and
quarters of the crew, enough to accommodate up to nine command
crew on an extended journey. Beyond those were a common room,
a canteen and a med-lab, all functionally small and lacking any
other non-essential features than fixed seating and tables. These
Kallun had seen in the briefing down-loaded to his sub-dermal.
Now he gazed out onto command control for the first time and took
it all in with an appreciative eye.
Approaching the pods he could see the yielding morphe-
flesh fronts now clearly for the first time. The black material was a
living mass, presently still, waiting for the sense of human
presence. The icons at the rear of the pods were engraved at the
apex of the egg-like design, each indicating the pod's station
designation: pilot, navigator and tactical. The solid backs of the
pods curved parallel to the walls of command control, the fronts
facing each other in an intimate triangle. Around the room,
interrupted only by two swift doors and the hatch at the rear, ran
the tactical and operational information rim. It's holo-projectors
lifeless, it's dark surface smooth and reflecting the light from the
glow strips. The floor below the rim ran in a grey circle, from
which seating could be called when needed.

50
Dragonsfire

"Where is everyone?" Vash asked, exiting the swift a few


seconds after Kallun.
"Work on command control was completed some weeks
ago. The only work left to do is in tuning up the systems around the
vessel." Yarrin explained, brushing his finger across the backs of
the pods. "Even that is finishing as we speak. We are quite alone
here."
"Good." said Kallun. "Then we can get to work."
"I'll need to bring the systems on line first." Yarrin said,
striding over to the rim on the far side of command control.
Touching a button under the rim he seated himself on the
comfortable chair that rose swiftly underneath him and flicked on a
holo-screen.
"What about the research teams?" Kallun came up beside
the smaller man. His hands were flying across the rim's surface
now, messages scrolling across the screen. "Won't they spot the
power surge?"
"Yes, they will, however I've just put in a request in under
your name for clearance to access command control's complete
systems for a brief flight simulation. That should give us every
power we need without raising too much suspicion, and once that is
on line we can disable the simulation mode from here."
Vash opened the hatch at the rear of command and control
and scanned the long black passage-way, that too was empty. She
shut the hatch and focused her powers on finding hidden surprises.
She didn't expect to find any and was not surprised when she didn't,
however the work wasn't easy with the strength of the psi-field
around them. It felt, almost as if the room hovered on the edge of
the otherness. The thought was foolishness, she knew that, but she
couldn't push the feeling out of her mind.
"Room's clear of psi-devices, other than this damn field."
She reported to no-one in particular. Kallun merely grunted, his
attention returning to what Yarrin was doing.

51
Dragonsfire

With a audible surge, the systems in command control came


to life.
The rim was aglow with data and reports. Kallun counted
twelve distinct stations around the rim, each one reporting on one
task or another being carried out around the ship.
"The work of our microscopic friends." Yarrin said with a
sweep of his hand. Kallun realised that he meant the rim and it's
reports.
"Nanites?" he asked.
"A most impressive collection of Nanites too." Yarrin
nodded. "They are the chief engineer and all his crew aboard this
ship, and they even have the courtesy to report everything they do
to their human friends in command control. An addition brought
over from another project." Yarrin smiled and for an instant looked
proud of the achievement. It was unusual behaviour for an agent
and Kallun's suspicions about this man were stirred anew. What
was it that made him so cautious around the short man, surely it
wasn't just that he was a traitor to his people?
"Most impressive." Kallun nodded. "Can we access these
pods now? Fly the ship?"
"We call the pods 'morphes'," Yarrin said. "We need to
make sure that the ship is flight-ready, as it should be by now and
disable the simulation mode. The easiest way to do this from within
morphe-space."
"Morphe-space?" Vash asked.
"It is the term used to describe the environment which the
body perceives whilst encased in morphe-flesh. It is a psi-event for
anyone to access. You, in particular, will find it an encompassing
experience." Yarrin stood in the centre of the platform, in front of
the morphe whose icon indicated that it was the command and
tactical station. "If anyone enters, tell them that you are observing
physical responses in real-space. They will know what that means
and not interfere."

52
Dragonsfire

Before Kallun or Vash could protest Yarrin had lain himself


back against the bulging surface of the black material. Almost
instantly he was swallowed by the pod, the black morphe-flesh
consuming his form like some monster of myth.
"Erran above," Vash looked at the morphe with evident
distaste. "Are we going to have do that to?"
"Evidently." Kallun turned to her with a half smile. "That is,
if we want to get out of here we do."
Vash knew what that meant. Once they had entered the
Institute's Research Level, the only way out had been on this ship.
And the only way to fly the Dragonsfire was to enter the realm
Yarrin had called 'morphe-space'.
Kallun's expression changed. He glanced at the pod and
then sought out the depth of Vash's eyes.
"Vash." he began. "What's your assessment of the operation
so far."
Vash struggled with the question, fearing that she was being
tested in some way.
"Easier than expected, considering the reputation for
security the Institute has."
"My thought's exactly." Kallun breathed. "For as long as I
can remember we have been trying to get men into the Institute's
research levels and have always failed. Those that have got near
enough to enter its hallways have been detected immediately and
returned to us with their memories wiped. And yet here we stand
having encountered no more resistance than electronic
identification monitors and foolish security guards."
"Well this time we have Yarrin." Vash shrugged.
"Yes, this time we have Yarrin." Kallun repeated. "But
what about him? A low-walker from who knows where. And a
traitor. Nobody, not even Dukall had heard of him until he
contacted our operatives in Vekl Trnn. Where did he come from?
And how did he manage to recruit enough people to put together
the kind of mass deception he has constantly hinted at these last

53
Dragonsfire

few hours? Who is working for him and why don't we know who
they are?"
"No deep-cover operative can be expected to give that much
information about themselves."
"I know that, but the Institute runs regular allegiance scans
and psyche tests on it's workers. Why hasn't he been weeded out
along with the rest of their potential saboteurs?"
"What are you saying, that this is a trap?" Vash said, her
heart quickening.
"I am saying that this has been the easiest insertion
operation I have ever run, and its into Emrihsad's highest security
facility. When things go this well you have to ask yourself how and
why. The only explanation we have is the word of one man that
there is a lot of electronic deception going on that is making our
passage into this ship so smooth."
"Are you suggesting we do something?"
"No, no I'm not. Except to watch our backs."
A small shift in the air alerted them to Yarrin's emergence
from the pod. As the living morphe-flesh retreated from his body
he smiled his toothy grin.
"The ship is ready." he said with a flourish
"How long do we have until the Endeavour arrives?"
Kallun asked, knowing Yarrin would have the information at hand
immediately.
"Twenty minutes, standard."
The Endeavour was the Emrihsad Attack Cruiser presently
assigned to the Institute. As the largest of the small fleet of military
vessels assigned to the facility it was the only military ship with the
speed and firepower to follow the Dragonsfire into jump space and
destroy it. It had been called out of orbit by a fake distress signal
about an hour previously. By now it should have figured out that it
had been lured away and be heading back to the Institute at full
speed.
"What about commercial vessels?" Vash asked.

54
Dragonsfire

"No privateer zealous enough to get involved will be


through here for another two days. They'll be no trouble from the
commercial sector." Yarrin indicated the pods. "Now I suggest we
get underway."
Placing his case on the floor beneath the rim Kallun locked
it in place and opened it. Touching his index finger to the
concealed scanner he waited for the hidden compartment to unlock.
He then removed his blaster and shoved it into his hip pocket.
Following that he removed the pouch of thronide and fixed it
firmly to the underside of the rim, placing the card-sized detonator
in his breast pocket. Across from him Vash had locked her case to
the deck as well and was waiting for him to enter morphe-space
with her. It had been agreed that all three of them would go
together into this new realm and familiarise themselves with the
technology briefly before flying the ship.
This was a key part of the operation. Little was known
about the workings of these strange new devices, and if the controls
of the ship were too alien for Kallun and Vash to operate, then the
whole mission could fall flat.
Together they each took their places in front of the morphes
and relaxed their bodies. Kallun's morphe with the pilot's icon on
the back was on the starboard side of the room. With the three of
them facing one another in a triangle, the alien looking pods behind
them, the image of an ancient religious ritual stirred in Kallun's
mind. He shoved it aside and gave the signal for his companion's to
enter the morphes. Vash gave him a quick smile before lying back
against the yielding material.
Kallun saw nothing else then, for he was instantly
consumed.
The thick black morphe-flesh encased his limbs like a warm
fluid dragging him into the pod. The sensation was similar to being
immersed in a cryogenics tank, suffocating at first and then
relaxing. Momentary blindness was replaced by a maelstrom of
colours and images. The morphe was probing his responses,

55
Dragonsfire

adapting its output to his particular sense pattern. Thousands of tiny


feet ran up and down his arms, legs and spine and, for a second,
Kallun almost panicked, trapped at the mercy of the morphe's
sensory capability. Then all was still and comfortable. His exterior
senses told him that he was floating in a grey - brown mist, warm
air gently swirling around him in an open space.
In the mist he picked out the familiar symbols of
iconagraphed flight control displays and relief swept over him. The
control systems were the same in morphe-space as in any holo-
graphic cockpit simulator, only a little more solid in the air around
him. They appeared like a dome around him and his position to
them made him believe he was slightly reclined. On holo-screens to
his left and right reports scrolled in mid air. Propulsion was to his
right, a scale model of the ship spinning slowly, active components
marked and highlighted in random series. To his left he also had a
concave view of the bay outside the ship, the shuffling back and
forth of white figures seen from a height of between ten and twelve
metres. The edges of his view were filled with various command
lines and inert system trackers, these were compilations of
translated data from the nanite collective that would be his eyes and
ears to the running of the ship. To the front was a navicom hook
and the all important sensor rim through which he would fly the
ship.
Turning his attention to the view of the bay he touched the
scan command line. He examined it for a moment. The detail was
exquisite, as if he had indeed been transported whole to another
realm.
A fire-fly flew into his field of vision. Kallun looked at it,
startled.
"Impressive, isn't it?" Vash's voice came from nowhere. A
playful edge to it that he had not heard before.
"Look's like a standard fighter cockpit to me. Where are
you?" Kallun looked around him. The fire-fly hovered near his
face.

56
Dragonsfire

"Here." The voice announced. Kallun recoiled


unconsciously as the fire-fly twisted, elongated and solidified in the
mist beyond his flight controls until Vash stood before him. She
was dressed in a dark combat suit, it's hood down and her long hair
free. Kallun wondered if that was a deliberate projection or a
reflection of how her mind saw itself at this moment.
"I didn't know that was possible." Kallun said referring to
her shape-changing.
"Neither did I." Vash 's eyes sparkled like a little girl with a
new dress on. "But this place is so much like the otherness it is
astounding." She cocked her head at a thought. "It's harder to shape
change in the otherness though."
The otherness was the name priests and psi-talents gave to
the mysterious realm of thought in which many of them operated. It
was a realm that was supposedly connected to the real world, but
where distances were crossed at great speed and the interaction of
beings was carried out at a level of intimacy only the mingling of
spirits could achieve. Supposedly there were many realms
connected to this one through the otherness, but very few other
than the most powerful psi's had ever travelled to them and
returned to tell the tale.
Kallun's experience of such phenomena were limited. But
he did know that the otherness was often a dangerous place, the
casualties of battles fought there dying in normal space just as
surely as if they had received a dagger through the heart.
"My guess is that the strength of the neural nets in these
pods is being used to simulate the otherness." Vash continued.
"That would give any mind the power to manipulate morphic
fields, both their own and those around them. That way we can
interact and control as fast as we can think."
"Like with this cock-pit, you mean?"
"Precisely." Vash laughed. "You've already imagined for
yourself a flight-seat and harness without any conscious effort on
your part."

57
Dragonsfire

Kallun looked around and realised that she was right. The
chair shimmered momentarily.
"Don't fight it though. If this place has as much
resemblance to the otherness as I think it has, you just have to let
your sub-conscious do some of the creating for you."
"I'll try to remember that." Kallun accepted her at her word.
This was the reason why Dukall wanted a psi-op in this position
and he wasn't about to question her wisdom.
"Don't worry about it." Vash said kindly and then laughed.
"I just can't believe how huge this place is! For a simulation that
is."
Kallun looked around him, all he could see was his displays
and the mist beyond it. It didn't look huge at all.
"Where's Yarrin?" Kallun asked suddenly.
"Over there." Vash indicated the mists to his left. "You
have to connect your pods to see him, the control is above you."
Kallun cursed. He should have seen that straight away. As
he reached up to the panel with his hand Vash interrupted him.
"Not like that." She walked through his displays, startling
Kallun. They had felt solid to his touch. When she stood directly in
front of him she pointed up at the comm. panel. "Will it to come to
your hand."
Kallun looked at her confused.
"Any inorganic apparition of the otherness can be
manipulated by will alone." Vash explained "That's the genius of
morphe-space as flight control technology. If you want to use any
of the non-essentials up there, just will them into your display area.
They'll come."
Slightly unsure of himself, Kallun focused on the comm.
panel and imagined it moving to his hand. Sure enough, it came as
he willed it. In truth he hadn't believed that this sort of control
would be either as simple or as easy. It was unlike Emrihsad to
hone technology to such a fine edge. He laughed, suddenly
forgetting for a moment that Vash was with him.

58
Dragonsfire

"There. You look better when you laugh." Vash said with a
smile. Her eyes turned dark and mischievous and she placed her
hand on his chest. It tingled with a life-fire all of its own. Her voice
was deep and inviting. "Do you know. The possibilities are
endless." The rush of sensation that poured from her hand through
his body made Kallun gasp and push her hand away.
Laughing, Vash walked out of his circle of information.
"Don't forget to connect your pod." She said before turning
into a fire-fly once more and darting out of his vision.
He touched the panel now by his finger tips and mentally
sent it packing back to it's place above his head.
Yarrin and Vash appeared to his left and right, each of them
seated in the mists of morphe-space, surrounded by their own
control domes. In the middle of their triangle the sphere of an
empty holo-field glowed slightly. Vash didn't even look like she
had moved.
"The most effective operational position is to place your
hands comfortably in front of you with your fingers spread." Yarrin
said, wasting no time with frivolity. He demonstrated the position
with his hands. "This way controls will come to your fingers easily.
At first you will have a tendency to move your hands out to the
controls, and this may cause some confusion. But as long as you
keep your thoughts focused on flying the ship she will respond to
your unspoken commands as fast as you can think them. The
displays around you are for your benefit. Not the ship's. Whilst in
morphe-space she knows your every conscious thought and sub-
conscious desire. Our filters remove extraneous information from
that maelstrom of commands, leaving only those directly related to
the ship and have learnt to identify speculation against command
thoughts. However, she operates at optimum efficiency when you
keep your mind clear and focused." Yarrin glanced at Vash
momentarily. "Anything else you do in here is a simple exercise of
will."

59
Dragonsfire

On the central holo-field Yarrin called up a tactical display


of the planet. Around it was the position of the satellite net and the
two alert stations. Beyond that in a single green filament was the
projected course of the Endeavour. Three time codes were
displayed at the bottom of this rotating display, one for each of
them.
"The Endeavour will arrive at 0143, local time." Yarrin
began. "We will need to be out of here by 0141 to insure that it is
unable to track us. That gives us eight minutes to our jump point.
The cut off time for the research teams is 0135. Most of them
should be out of the ship by now."
A small red icon appeared to flash in the corner of Yarrin's
weapon's control screen. It looked crudely fashioned, and out of
place in the rest of the displays. Kallun couldn't see what it said
from where he sat.
Yarrin's faced paled. He cursed loudly and rolled his eyes.
"Fool!" He stabbed at the icon and it disappeared.
"A problem?" Kallun asked.
"My 'good friend' Ghaklim Tal contacted general ops and
inquired after your name." Yarrin nodded in Vash's direction. "My
people there were concentrating on covering our trail so much that
they weren't able to intercept the transmission quick enough."
Kallun guessed that the icon was a transmission from
Yarrin's friends outside.
"What's he doing?" Vash asked.
"Trying to raise the alert." Yarrin said. "We've stopped him
so far but we can't hold him for much longer." Kallun found
himself relaxing suddenly now that a real challenge had prevented
itself.
"We have around five minutes before we have to leave."
Yarrin said. "I'll see if I can't talk him out of it." Kallun got the
feeling Yarrin wasn't going to be using words. "If I'm not back in
four minutes launch this programme .." he indicated a hovering red
ball of light near his station. "And get out of here."

60
Dragonsfire

"It would be better if I went." Kallun said quickly, his


instinct for trouble flaring. Yarrin was trying to leave them.
"No!" Yarrin's response was a little to sharp for Kallun's
liking. "I know how to do this without raising the alarm. You do
not." With that Yarrin placed his palm flat upon his stomach,
indicating his intent to leave and faded from view.
In the instant that he was gone Kallun turned Vash.
"Do you know how to get a visual on command control. I
want to make sure he goes where he says he going."
Icons appeared in the air around Vash's head. Kallun
noticed, with envy that she wasn't even using her fingers to control
things in here. In a moment they were surrounded by a projection
of command control. It was empty. The display above the port side
swift door indicated its recent use. Everything else was as they had
left it, including the thronide pouch.
"Do you think he's going to betray us? Now, after bringing
us this far?" Vash asked.
"It would be as good a time any. Especially with us encased
inside their precious new ship."
"Well he's doesn't look like he's about to betray us." Vash
indicated her screen. Sure enough, on Kallun's own floating viewer
he could see Yarrin's retreating figure heading back across the bay
the way they had come. He was surprised to notice that there were
no longer any research assistants near the ship. The only white
figures he could see as he panned his view around the ship's
exterior were out by the walls, loading their stations into storage
hall's aside from the main bay.
The Dragonsfire's internal scanners were telling him that
they were now the only two life-forms on board.
"Still," he said after a moment's thought. "Let's not get
caught out." He willed Yarrin's weapon's and tactical displays to
join his own cockpit dome.
"What are you doing?" Vash asked watching him.

61
Dragonsfire

"Arming our docking guns. Every dry-dock lander has them


in case of ground attack." Sure enough, his tactical display showed
three sets of guns waiting to drop out from the belly of the ship. He
armed them and willed their activate button to within easy reach of
his left hand.
He noticed Vash working on the navicom, making the
calculations for their ascent into jump-space. She was already
preparing the possibility of betrayal or mission compromise which
would certainly be followed by an emergency attempt at flight.
Whatever was happening in the entrance hall to the bay, it would
be a close call if Yarrin was not back within the next sixty seconds.
The currents of jump-space were unpredictable close to a planetary
body or star and it would take great skill to gain enough
momentum in that realm to escape the guns of the inbound cruiser.
Even with that kind of skill, they would still have at least two
minutes of burn in real-space before they could make even the
closest of jumps.
A change in the bay lighting was the first thing that alerted
Kallun to the danger. Red strips coursed into life and pulsed around
the walls of the bay. In the midst of the projection of command
control a corresponding halo encircled the crew in morphe space.
"Disengage bay connections!" Kallun barked.
"Disengaged."
The red halo disappeared. Kallun twisted his head to find a
control to seal the ship. Already he could see a squad of Guardian's
assembling at the entrance to the bay. A few of the remaining
research teams looked on in wonder from where they had been
packing up their stations. Kallun could only assume that Yarrin had
either sprung his trap or failed to neutralise the suspicious Tal in
time.
He found the control and sealed the ship as a second squad
emerged from a small hatchway near the bay doors. The two teams
began a twisting run towards the ship. With the ramps retracted, the
doors closed and the hull sealed, Kallun wondered what they were

62
Dragonsfire

hoping to achieve without armoured back-up. A moment later he


realised that they were heading towards the disengaged comm.
lines. They were trying to regain external control of the vessel.
He lowered the docking guns. Three cross hairs on his
exterior screens falling on various squad members. It seemed to be
enough. The port side squad moved back from the fallen comm
lines and regrouped fifteen metres from the ship. They looked like
they were waiting for orders. Glancing at the second squad Kallun
found them now under the ship, out of sight of their companions.
One of the squad levelled his rifle on the nearest of the guns and
fired two blasts. The gun screen went down.
Before the squad member had time to aim at the other gun
pods Kallun loosed two shots of his own. The first shot blasted the
comm-lines into a heap of withering molten plastic, the second
scored across the legs of the squad's marksman, knocking his gun
from out of his hands. And second man tried to fire on the docking
guns and was similarly treated.
The port side squad opened fire on the guns, dividing
Kallun's attention. Realising quickly that it was a covering action in
order to recover the injured men, Kallun simply defended his guns
and kept the rest of the Guardian squad from getting too close.
"They've just authorised an Alpha alert." Vash said. She
was using the ship's sensors to monitor the squad communications.
Kallun glanced at Yarrin's programme hovering like an
emerald star over near his station. If this was a trap, then that
programme could simply be the command-codes to shut down the
ship and trap them in the morphes. Alternately if it was what Yarrin
was planning to use to get them out of here then Kallun would have
no choice but to use it before they bay shut down completely and
cut off their escape route.
On his exterior view he could see the squads had completed
their retreat and were now holding positions behind the bags and
bases used by the research team. No-one was firing or approaching
and Kallun returned his thoughts to Yarrin's programme.

63
Dragonsfire

The revolving map of the planet floating in the centre of


their circle drew his attention. The planetary satellite net glowed
like a circle of fire-flies around the display. He knew an escaping
ship could never escape the net of fire they could produce. They
would probably never even reach the ionosphere before being
blown out of the sky. Unless ..
"Vash." Kallun realised she was already watching him.
"Can we use this cloak? Have you seen a command line for it at
your station?"
"Negative. I've already checked Yarrin's for that too." She
shrugged. "Wherever the controls for it are, they are not sitting here
waiting for us to press the right button and disappear."
Kallun dismissed the idea. They didn't have time to try and
trace command lines to a system that may well have it's own set of
secure codes anyway. His attention went back to the programme.
He had less than a minute to decide. Already the effectors had
activated the Institute's shield and emergency flight teams were in
the process of launching from each of the Alert Stations.
Willing it over to his position the commander focused on
the emerald star of Yarrin's programme. It was now or never.
"Launch programme." He said flatly. The icon disappeared.
For a moment nothing happened. Kallun looked at Vash
who returned his stare briefly. She was watching her reports.
"We just broadcast a fifty-two digit code. Nothing else."
Three successive concussions rocked the ship on it's axis.
On the central display the known position's of the effector
generators winked out. The Institute's shield was down.
In front of them the launch doors began to open.
Reacting quickly, Kallun flicked on the ship's own a-grav
suspension, disengaged the docking field and fired-up the grav-
burners. It was surprising how naturally solid the controls of the
vessel felt, despite the annoying way they kept meeting him half
way.

64
Dragonsfire

Kallun checked the planetary defences again. In a moment


he realised the extent of Yarrin's planning, and the disabling effect
this programme of his was having. Points of the satellite net were
winking out one by one, their power fading to nothing. The same
had happened to both Alert stations before they could launch their
fighters. Presently only about a hundred of the several thousand
satellite's remained. No single programme should have been able to
do that to the Institute's protected and secured defences. The scale
of such penetration was inconceivable. And yet here he was,
watching it with his own eyes.
For a moment he thought of Yarrin and wondered if the
little man was dead or captured. Had he so mis-judged him? Was
he really the Erran-sent saviour of their mission that Kallun
believed he could never be. There were no time for such thoughts
now, though.
"Launch tube is clear for take-off." Vash said, the
information appearing as a sub-screen by the central projection.
The emergency bulkheads hadn't closed to block them in. The air
around the ship stirred faintly, reacting to the turbulent storms that
battered the atmosphere shielding at the surface far above them.
Relaxing his hands and spreading his fingers Kallun
focused his thoughts on the Dragonsfire's controls.
A wash of blue flame consumed the walls of the main bay
and the black ship sped into the launch tube and upward to the
stars.

65
Dragonsfire

Chapter Three - Dragon

"Stirring in the depths shall the dark brother seek Shialla.


His might shall be her captivity, his power her pain and they shall
call him Dragon, The Dark Lord." - The Book of Esaiath the
Outcast Chapter 91 Verse 7 - Taken from the Library Halls of
Hiera IV.

Day 3. 0151 Srnak Standard. (CKT +1)


The force of the blast could be felt even in the protected
shelter of morphe-space.
"We've been hit. Starboard burner is faltering." Vash said,
her voice thick with the heat of battle.
Another sequence of red marks flared along Kallun's ship
model a metre to his right. That was the third direct hit on the
engines. At this rate the Endeavour would be out of jump-space
and have them chained in a tractor field before they were within
five hundred thousand kilometres of the nearest jump-point.
The ship had come through the much reduced satellite net
relatively un-bruised. However the patrol squadron of the Dkall
fighters had ambushed them twenty thousand kilometres out from
the planet. This was the patrol squadron that had been flying before
their home stations had been disabled. When the Dragonsfire had
exploded from it's launch tunnel North of the residential dome they
had assessed the possible escape routes of a fleeing vessel and laid
their trap.
Less than a minute ago they had come screaming in towards
the Dragonsfire at speed, and Kallun had been unable to avoid their
initial attack. Their inter-ship blasters were ineffective against the
destroyer sized proto-type. However they had attacked by running
at the vessel and launch cluster-bombs at the Dragonsfire's engines
at point blank range. Kallun had avoided some of the attacks with

66
Dragonsfire

precision flying, but not all. The grav-burners were suffering badly
and their escape had been significantly slowed.
"Another wave attack at two-ten. Three ships."
Kallun cursed. He had tried to fire the destroyers huge guns
in defence when the fighters first attacked, but they had been
locked out along with every other defensive measure bigger than
the docking guns. Yarrin might have found a way around them, but
all Kallun could do was fly the ship. The docking guns were as
useless against the Dkall's armour as the fighter's blasters were
against the Dragonsfire's hull.
"Dragon's breath! We need something to fight back with."
he cursed.
"You want I should lean out the air-lock and throw boxes at
them?" Vash asked with more than a hint of sarcasm. Kallun
ignored the remark. He plotted another evasion course. Trying to
activate it he suddenly found his access was denied.
"Hold off on that a second." Vash said distantly.
"We don't have a second." Kallun retorted, annoyed that she
had blocked his command, but more annoyed that he didn't know
how she did it.
"We might."
With a start, Kallun realised that Vash was fading from his
view. Her right arm had already completely disappeared.
"Vash! What are you doing!" he shouted.
"Trying something. Something I learned in the otherness.
I'm sure I've found a gateway that might be just what we are ..."
Her figure flared blindingly bright and then disappeared.
"Vash!"
Kallun tried to trace her with ships sensors, flinging up
images of from around the ship and as much as he could find of
morphe-space in a few seconds. But he could only confirm that she
had not left her morphe. His attention on the screen suddenly, he
noticed a new blue haze around the holographic model of the ship
to his right.

67
Dragonsfire

"What in Halla-Ka is that?" Kallun said, reverting to


Drioran, the language of Colest.
"It signifies that the ship is presently cloaked." The voice
went straight into his mind without bothering to detour via his ears.
Kallun swore and almost forgot to engage his evasive
manoeuvre in his surprise. The fighters broke off their attack,
almost as if they hadn't seen his turn. After a moment the
information the voice provided sunk in.
"Cloaked?"
"That is correct." The voice was female, soft, but firm.
The fighters were dispersing now, spreading out and
regrouping into the wide formation designed for search and
destroy. Kallun realised that the voice was right, the fighters had
lost him. Somehow Vash had activated the cloak.
Relaxing very slightly, Kallun looked beyond his control
dome at his surroundings. The image of command control Vash
had brought up earlier remained all around him. he was glad of
that, it made flying the ship feel more familiar. Every now and then
he would have to remind himself that everything around him was
simply a projection, the results of signals drawn from images in his
own brain. Perhaps the familiar controls were merely an extension
of what he expected such controls to be.
Without warning the image of Command Control faded,
and he was reclined in the brown and grey mists of morphe space.
He shuddered momentarily feeling exposed and alone. There was
nothing else visible to him now beyond the two empty stations and
his own instrumentation.
Speaking slowly and clearly he addressed the space around
him. "Ship's voice." he said calmly in Kallorian. "Identify
yourself."
His request was greeted by silence.
Frowning at being ignored now Kallun returned to his
control dome and corrected the ship's course to a less traceable
jump point. After a moment he focused on the space around him

68
Dragonsfire

again. "Ship's voice." This time he spoke in Drioran. "Identify


yourself."
The central projection dimmed and disappeared and the
figure of a tall woman dressed in the long blue robes appeared. The
robes were trimmed with white and gold and reminded Kallun of
the colours of Hiera, the outlawed priesthood that had once
governed the church of Colest. Her features were sharp but
elegantly defined, her skin had a slight luminescence to it and her
black hair was pulled back into a single tail held in rings as was the
fashion of Emrihsad priestesses. Her eyes were black, both the
pupil and iris merging in a darkness contrasted by the whiteness of
her skin.
"If you wish to use a name you may call me Reanne." Her
mouth moved, but the words simply appeared in his head as she
spoke. "I am your Chrial."
Kallun dug into his memory until he found the meaning of
the word.
Chrial's were a superstitious addition to Emrihsad vessels.
Spiritually the people of Emrihsad were still tied to the traditions of
the ancients, a people whose religion still spanned most of known
space and from which even the Colest Church and the Gaeran
Heresy could trace it's roots. It was a tradition amongst them when
creating a ship to design a Chrial - which, roughly translated from
the language of the ancients, meant 'Angel' or 'Celestial'. Usually
this was simply some picture and name that gave the crews identity
and to which they could avow their allegiance.
Obviously some bright-spark had built the Dragonsfire with
a Chrial personality. This one looked little different to the pictures
and holos of other ships, excepting, of course, one inescapable fact:
it talked.
"Very nice." Kallun said, turning back to his study of the
fighters that were now scanning the area for any sign of them. He
noted with not a little apprehension that the battle-cruiser
Endeavour was heading in his direction. He adjusted course again.

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The Chrial was watching him expectantly. It disconcerted


him.
"What would you have me do?" The projection asked.
Kallun looked up. It was disturbing how real it appeared.
But Kallun reminded himself that it was only a projection.
Somebody's foolish plaything. Proto-types rarely had all the bugs
removed for the first flight and designers with over active
imaginations could easily install such anomalies in the core
programming and then remove them when delivery time was due.
Obviously this one had not been removed. He wondered if it was
used as some sort of AI work base during the development of
morphe-space.
"Do?" He asked. "I didn't know Chrial's did anything."
Reanne nodded sagely.
"That is because most Chrial's are holos, pictures or badges.
I, on the other hand, am a little more than that."
Kallun almost laughed. The projection looked wounded.
"Did you request my identity for amusement or was there
some other reason." Reanne pressed, her dark eyes turning to steel.
"I wanted to know who was speaking in my head."
"And you have your answer." She glared at him. "Now was
there anything else or may I leave this discomforting realm?"
Reanne raised a pencil thin eyebrow and waited.
"Not yet." Kallun said decisively. With the fighters
presently unable to track the ship he could allow himself this small
diversion. And besides, he told himself, this thing might be able to
help find Vash.
"Tell me," He addressed the projection pleasantly. "Are you
connected with the ships brain or an independent AI projection?"
"Neither, in the sense you are referring to anyway. But if it
helps you to be more civil, think of me as an independent
connected to morphe-space - similar to yourself."
"To me?" Kallun laughed at the audacity of the thing.

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"Yes." Her eyes were boring into him again. "But, unlike
you, instead of sitting around and playing with you neural control
link, I have already managed to access the command networks."
Kallun was impressed, if only a little. He didn't generally
approve of projections and AI's impersonating humanity. Most of
the religious cast had outlawed it anyhow, but he decided to cut this
one some slack and see what if he couldn't use it to his advantage.
"Then tell me." He said, glancing over at Vash's empty
station. "Where is my companion?"
"The one you call Vash, has slipped through the gate that
guards this accursed cloak and fallen into realms beyond even my
power. For now. It is likely, however, that she will return when you
enter jump-space and there is a shifting in the realms. The gate is
not yet strong enough to hold onto her during that event." Reanne
looked around her at the various projections and displays scattered
across morphe-space. "Now may I go?"
"If you wish."
"Thank you so much." She said oozing sarcasm. She
shuddered and disappeared leaving Kallun to wonder at the kind of
mind would devise such a programme on a military vessel.

***

Day 3. [Time index unknown]


Above her the darkness cleared into a grey-black
immensity. It appeared to be a ceiling of some sort, its construction
designs dating into antiquities far beyond her experience. Shadows
danced here and there, disturbing the thick lines of stone arches and
pitted alcoves. The whole roof structure looked like diseased skin,
pitted and scarred with the infections of an eon of cancerous
growth.
The air felt thick, as though the wind had never touched this
place and the deadly lack of movement had allowed decades of
occupation to hang like the smogs of ancient industrial cities,

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invading every crack and crevice that opened itself to the


ministrations of such filth. The lingering stench it held pawed at
her skin and defiled her lungs with every breath she took. It was the
thickness of the smell that had awakened her.
Vash was surprised to find that she could move. Slowly she
raised herself up from the bench of stone on which she had rested.
The thickly woven sheet that covered the stone bench had not been
greatly disturbed and she surmised that she had not lain there very
long. She was dressed in a combat suit, similar to the one she had
worn in morphe-space. Instinctively she checked for signs of
damage or intrusion. There had been none.
Taking stock of the room she was in, Vash found it to be a
place of perhaps five metres in length and four metres wide. There
were no other pieces of furniture present other than the stone bench
which merged with the grey stone floor in the centre of the room.
The feeling of the place was one of a fortress room, for there were
no windows, and no other exits beyond the single, arched doorway
of strong, dark wood. The light in the room came from a fire in the
corner. She could not tell if that was a projection or not.
Pushing away from the bench she found herself shaken and
disorientated as though she had suffered some tremendous shock to
her system. Her nose felt like it was bleeding, but when she
checked with her fingers, they came away clean. She steadied
herself on the edge of the bench until she felt sufficiently sure that
most of her balance and at least some of her alertness had returned
to her.
She had been on the ship. She should still be on the ship.
How long had she been out? Where was this place? Was Kallun
here also? Had they been caught and held captive in some far
corner of the Many-Worlds?
Walking slowly Vash approached the door. There seemed
to be few other options at that particular moment. There was a
handle on it - cold, despite the warmth from the fire, like steel, but
coarse and as black as night. She turned it and pushed. There was

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no response. Shifting her weight she kept her grip on the handle
and pulled.
To her surprise the door moved. It was heavy and she
leaned into the pull to drag it back far enough to see what lay
beyond. She was apparently not confined to the room, or at least no
one had expected her to wake up at that particular moment.
Initially there was only blackness beyond the doorway,
however a brief, faint sound, like many voices murmuring from a
distance, drew her out of the room to where she could see light at
the end of a distant stone tunnel. She could see no other doorways
in that tunnel, other than her own, whilst the distant light cast
strange shadows which could have concealed anything from the
local rat populace to a small attack squad. The sound was coming
from that direction.
As silently as possible she stepped through the darkness,
carefully measuring each step before taking it. Half way towards
the light the murmuring increased in pitch and died suddenly. The
silence which followed was fearsome and pulled at Vash's sanity.
Fighting the urge to get out of the dark and into the light she
continued her walk and focused her will upon a short range scan for
human presence. She felt nothing.
Closing in on the source of the light she noticed how much
it moved. Like fire but not as soft, everything here had a crystal
edge to it. The tunnel opened out onto a hallway lit by flame globes
spread at regular intervals along the many arches which lined its
edge. There was still no sign of human life, but there were sounds
echoing off the high roof, another fusion of noises which made
little sense all together and made Vash afraid of what she might
encounter in this strange, stone, fortress.
Her steps now echoed with the noises from beyond the
hallway, making stealth impossible and furthering her growing
sense of unease.
Without warning a light flashed from an arch in front of
her. An image of a doorway lit up the wall opposite and Vash

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instinctively reached for her blaster. Surprisingly its comforting


presence appeared in her hand long before she reached her holster.
She had probably had it out before and not realised it. She made a
mental note to be more alert to every stimuli her body was sending
her in this alien place. Unless ...
A gnawing suspicion developed in her mind. When she was
in morphe-space her psi-talent had sensed its size and many-
layered structure. No-one seemed to notice it and she hadn't had
time to comment on it but some of the things she had sensed had
reminded her too much of the realm-gates used by mystics of the
priesthood in the otherness. She had no memory of emerging from
morphe-space and the object she had found hidden amongst the
tactical command pathways had looked so much like a gate-way
that she had even called it that to Kallun. If she had entered a gate
into another realm ...
Fighting down the panic, Vash forced herself to walk on.
Many minds had been lost in the realms beyond the gates. But she
remembered the travels of the Gaeran Priests, and their stories of
how their was always a gate back to the otherness, if only it could
be found. But this wasn't a realm of the otherness, despite it's
unreal clarity, it had to be a part of morphe-space. But the morphes
were electronic creations. They could never truly bring mortals
forcibly into the otherness. Could they?
Holding her gun rigidly at right angles from her body she
approached the door. The smell that had awoken her was stronger
here and burnt the inside of her nose as she breathed. There were
definitely sounds of occupation coming from this recently opened
door, but her lack of ability to sense anything on a psi level was
worrying her.
There was no indication of anyone about to exit the
doorway and she approached with the caution of years of combat
simulations. The view through the door was of a shadowed
walkway which was lit through a row of columns to her right

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where the greater room obviously was. There was no evidence of a


door, or even how this portal had opened before her.
Pressing her back to the stone work at the edge of the
portal, Vash peered over her shoulder into the room beyond the
columns.
The space there was not a room at all. It was more like one
of the ruined Great Halls she had seen as a youth during a brief
novitiate with the Priests on Seerak. She had not spent long
admiring them there, as she had been in the processes of planning
her escape and enrolment in the military at the time. She
remembered that she had found them impressive but devoid of life,
empty of anything but the pomp of Patriarchs long dead who had
sought to impress the galaxy by copying the mythical Halls of the
Ancients. This Hall, however, was no copy.
Her psi-senses were telling her that the Hall was empty
despite the voices, but her common sense and military training
forced her to get a better look before wandering in and exploring.
From her glance she could tell that there were many places an
enemy could hide here. Between the multitude of columns, arches
and flying buttresses in the architecture it was the perfect place to
ambush a lone intruder - if intruder she truly was.
With a kick of speed she moved to the next column and
peered in for a better view.
"You know its impolite for guests to skulk around in
shadows."
The voice came from nowhere, filled the entire Hall and
half scared Vash out of her wits. The other sounds in the hall had
ceased. A little panicked she focused hard on scanning for anything
that would indicate another presence nearby. There was still none.
It was like some-one had rubbed out the psi-signals that even the
most well-blocked mind could not help but emitting by merely
being alive.
"Come now. Step out where I can see you." The voice said.
It scared her that it felt so close.

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Not likely, she thought, imagining the kind of target she


would present if she did step out into that Hall. Especially to
someone who was blocking her mind.
"That's no way to talk to your host," the voice said "Please,
I give you my word that you will not be harmed. Step into the light,
where I can see you."
It did not surprise her that the source of the voice could read
her thoughts; especially if it was generating a mind block that
stopped its very presence from being sensed. Vash made another
mental note to be more careful with her surface thoughts.
Seeing no alternative she carefully stepped around the
column, her blaster before her, and looked clearly into the Great
Hall.
Seeing the whole Hall in an instant she noticed that her first
impressions were not entirely correct. In those short glances she
had received no impression of the true size of the structure. The
arches and columns stretched out for hundreds of feet either side of
her and small doors lead to a hundred unknown destinations,
marking the distant walls at regular intervals. Above her the
ceiling was sometimes lit, sometimes dark as shadows danced
around the room like demons of light and dark playing out an
endless battle for possession of the arches and alcoves, scoring the
roofing into many separate fields of play. Most of the larger arches
ran into columns which tied roof and floor together. Ahead was the
apparent source of the light she had been following. Two great
basins were sitting at the far end of the Hall, filled with countless,
swarming globes of light. At times it seemed like these globes were
trying to break out of the basins and smashed against some
invisible field which held them together and in place, trapped in an
artificial hive which was at once both beautiful and hideous in the
same breath.
All this Vash saw in a heart beat. But what filled her vision
and flooded her senses was the vision of the beast before her.

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Recoiling from the sight she dropped into a crouch and


tightened her grip on her blaster once again. The creature stood at
the end of the hall between the two great basins like a mythic god
guarding the treasures of an ancient tomb. Its form was a figure
from Vash's darkest dreams. The lithe body glistened in the crystal
light with a thousand shades of green, red and blue, the light
dividing into its spectrum components where it hit the thick hide.
Behind the light the colour of the creature was undoubtedly the
mottled emerald green of the most prized of serpents. Folded wings
glistened on its back, moving with its body like a second skin until
they were stirred by some far off wind and betrayed the massive
muscles and finely worked membrane which composed them. It's
back rippled with a sea of spines piercing the air down to the end of
its tail where the skin splayed once more into smaller replica's of
the wings on the creatures back. Its wedge-shaped head displayed
huge nostrils, flared and shimmering as it moved left and right,
looking at her. At the corners of its mouth the points of razor-edged
teeth were pressed against thick lips whilst its eyed burned into
Vash's resolve with an intensity which caused her to shiver with
inhuman exertion as the beast stared at her.
Its eyes were windows of fire causing her own to water as
they met. She was forced to look away as the beast began to
chuckle slowly.
"Am I so foul to behold that it brings tears to your eyes?"
The beast said eventually. Embarrassed, Vash wiped at her eyes.
"Come closer." the beast said when she had finished. Her
body almost moved of its own volition, the need to obey
penetrating nerve and sinew before she could execute a response. It
took an insurmountable concentration of will to stay where she was
and maintain the distance between them.
"Who are you?" She asked, staying crouched and keeping
the barrel of her blaster pointed at the centre of the forehead of the
beast. Memories of forgotten scriptures flowed through her mind.
Most of them were warnings.

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"I am not your enemy. Come closer."


Vash found herself half standing before she could force her
body back into its defensive crouch.
"Stop that." Vash said between clenched teeth. "I will not
be forced."
The creature seemed to shrug.
"As you wish," It replied. "But a conversation is hard to
conduct at this distance. Perhaps you fear my natural form. That is
understandable. The myths and legends of your people have turned
me and my kind into child-eating monsters and world ravaging
tyrants. Perhaps you would prefer it if I were a little more familiar
to you?"
Without waiting for a reply the creature shimmered for a
moment and disappeared. In its place stood a man, robed in the
blue and black garments of the Hieran Priesthood, it's edges
trimmed with arcane symbols etched black on white. He was
waiting with a look of eternal patience on his timeless features.
"Is this more pleasing to your eyes?" he asked. The voice
was still the same.
"Somewhat." Vash said.
"Then come closer. I will not harm you." When priest/beast
repeated his request a third time Vash could see no reason to
continue the stale mate. She stood slowly and approached the
figure with the caution of a warrior, ready to defend herself at any
given moment. When she was within three metres of her opponent
she stopped and tried to force as much command into her voice as
possible.
"Now, tell me who you are."
"I am Lord of this place. I am the one who made the gate
that brought you here and the one who will decide whether or not
you will be let out again."
"Am I a prisoner here?"
The creature's laugh caused a shiver to run through her like
an ice-knife.

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"No. Here you are as free as you wish to be."


"Then I am free to leave when I choose to leave?" Vash
asked.
"Why would you want to leave? You have only just arrived
and have seen so little."
"Why am I being held here?"
He smiled a patient smile as if the question was one of a
child who has much yet to understand.
"Questions without answers are questions that should not be
asked. There are many ..."
The room began to shimmer, slowly at first, as though Vash
was looking at it through the heat haze of an open fire. The priestly
figure in front of her began to dim and as he did so Vash could see
him looking about the room with an expression of annoyance.
"Perhaps we shall continue another time." he said at length.
"Things are not as they seem here." Vash said recalling
some ancient litany from who knows where.
"Take nothing for granted." Her opponent replied,
completing the stanza and forcing Vash to try and recall where it
was that she had originally heard those words.
That was when the pain hit.

***

Day 3. 0215 - Srnak Standard (CKT +1 )


Yarrin pressed his back against the hard surface of the
hatchway. He had managed to escape the main-bay without being
captured and had since shed his uniform in favour of a researcher's
white coverall. However, the guardian squads knew his face and
were combing the many levels of the Institute to find him.
He knew Kallun had launched the programme when he felt
the generators blow. Everyone in the Institute had felt it. As various
patrols passed by his many hiding places he had heard some of
their comm. traffic and gathered that the ship had made it into open

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space. He had done as much as he could have done to help them.


Now he was on his own.
The sound of a step behind him spun him around.
The warm touch of a blaster emitter pressed suddenly
against his fore-head. A hand moved his face just enough for the
light from beyond the hatch to reveal Yarrin's features. His captor's
face was in the shadows, his black clad body revealing only that he
was not one of the Guardian regulars.
"You are a hard man to find." The cold voice hissed.
"I make it my business to stay unfound." Yarrin said
calmly. "But who can hide from their own shadows?"
"No-one." The figure stepped closer to Yarrin and lowered
the blaster.
He was about the same height as Yarrin, but his body was
thicker, stronger. It was the suit he now wore that gave his kind
their name. It's close fitting material absorbed light as a source of
energy, making it as black as a moon-less midnight. With the tight
hood up around the head, the occupant could use light deflectors
around it's edges to divert escaping light from their face to the
energy receptors that existed throughout the suit, causing the face
to remain in perpetual shadow, no matter how bright the lighting.
The figure was a shadow-runner. Yarrin knew them well.
The shadow-runner holstered his blaster, and Yarrin could
feel his smile.
"You take a great risk in dealing with our enemies so
personally, High Shadiim." The shadow-runner said with
amusement.
"It was necessary." Yarrin's features had composed
themselves, taking upon them their natural veneer of quiet calm. "It
has taken nearly my entire year here to compromise the Institute's
security, for this operation. I feel a certain sense of pride."
"Lucky for you no-one peers into the life of High Shadiim
close enough to let others know that while he builds their ship, he
betrays their cause."

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"Enough!" Yarrin snapped. "That is why your services are


so valuable. And you have been most effective in the course of
your duties. But you can drop the 'High Shadiim'. We have no more
use of that name, now." The shadow-runner waited expectantly.
"We are to move on to Spawn and begin the second phase."
"It is as you wish Padech." The shadow-runner bowed
slightly. "Oran and her people are awaiting your presence at
docking pillion twelve in Vekl Vrich. I have a shaft car ready for
you now."

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Part Two
Chapter Four - Seven heads

"In that day shall the seven heads of the wind rise amidst
the tumult and smite upon the inhabitants of the stars. Their silence
shall howl like the wolves of Gaera, their quiet steps shall fall like
smoke from heaven and they shall tear asunder the bickering
words of Kings, Governments and rulers with the heat of their
breath." Extract from The Second Book of Midiana, Chapter 2,
verse 4 (Taken from the Caverns of Shal-Riaa)

Day 5. 2252 - Araken Local (CKT - 3)


Sleeping on the gentle absorbent material of the bunk,
Vash's features stirred occasionally. Every now and then a grimace
would flash across her face, and the tiniest of twitches stirred the
dirty blue blanket that was now twisted round her. Watching from
the bunk opposite, Kallun wondered how much rest she was really
getting in this sleep.
Unable to force his mind to relax sufficiently enough for
him to fall into that welcome abyss with her, he had been watching
now, on and off, for nearly an hour. It was an old habit. After a
mission he could never sleep, his mind rehearsing every detail of
the operation, its successes, it's failures and, as usual, he had lots of
questions he needed to find answers to.
After some deliberation he had begrudgingly admitted to
himself that, by Alpha-Camp standards, this operation had been a
spectacular success. But that was not enough. He wanted to
understand more, to know more, and it was frustrating that he
would never be given the chance.
He realised his year away had eroded some of his natural
acceptance of such details. There had been a time when he wouldn't
have even have thought to ask.

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The Dragonsfire was now safely docked in the high


security bay of the two-kilometre long mega-ship, Kabella.
Already that same ship would be sailing the currents of jump space
towards a rendezvous with a crew from one of several inner-
colonial bases, far from Emrihsad borders, and hundreds of light
years from most population centres. There it would be examined,
tested, torn apart and reassembled in an effort to discover the
secrets of morphe-space, cloaking technology and stable jump-
space acceleration.
Kallun smiled, remembering the thrill of tearing into jump
space right under the noses of the enemy vessels that had been
launched to find him. The Dragonsfire had made her navicom
calculations easily and quickly, catching a significant current
within a few seconds of entering jump space. It had been quite an
experience.
Previous to the jump Kallun had changed the projection
surrounding himself in morphe-space to a panorama of the view
outside of the ship. The effect was awe inspiring. His senses had
been convinced that he was actually sitting in space as he prepared
to make the jump. And then, afterwards, as the flames of matter
faded with the jump, he had twisted in the roaring currents of jump-
space, its grey-white torrents flashing past him at speeds that defied
the imagination. He had seen the wings of the ship stretch out
either side of him, their shining membrane catching the currents
like the sails of an ancient ship of the sea.
The Dragonsfire had four wings, one either side of him
sitting vertical to the plane of the ship, port and starboard, catching
the currents that propelled her forward. The other, small stabilisers
above and below his position, held her course true. The greater
wings did most of the work, twisting and turning to control
direction and speed. The resemblance to a black dragon stretching
out into the void struck Kallun briefly as she accelerated away from
the Institute and caught the first currents that steered the ship
towards Colest borders.

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It was then that Vash reappeared, proving the words of


Reanne, the Chrial, correct.
The fabric of morphe-space had rippled around him
momentarily, startling Kallun. Her form materialised at her station
awake and screaming, her face contorted in agonised frenzy.
Kallun had propelled himself towards her, moving easily in that
realm of thought but unsure how her was doing it. He had forced
her palm to her stomach and activated the automatic release. They
had exited the morphe's together, Vash, drenched in sweat and
streaming blood from her nose, ears, and eyes had fallen to the
floor of Command Control immediately.
Later, in the small med-lab, aft of command control, Vash
had been unable to explain what happened to her. The medi-scan
claimed that she was suffering from extreme neurological stress, or
'psi-strain' as it was commonly called. As for her memory of the
experience she had given him nothing that helped him understand
the cause of her disappearance. He had no clues as to where her
consciousness had been during that time.
By every standard laid down in the mission objectives they
had achieved all but one minor consideration within those files: that
of bringing the Institute contact, Yarrin, out safely. No doubt it
would not concern the higher echelons of command for more than a
moment, and no-one would break into a sweat over the issue, but it
concerned Kallun greatly.
He had replayed the day in the Institute over and again in
his mind, he had examined every memory, every record stored in
his sub-dermal that dealt with the Institute, both from this mission
and previous missions. And he had, as yet, found no way that
anyone without the highest security clearance could have executed
the kind of operation that Yarrin pulled them through.
Yarrin had made their electronic surveillance look like
common house alarms and personal computer systems. Despite
admiring the genius of the operation Kallun could not help but

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suspect it. No Guardian could have pulled off such a feat without
some high class help. But who?
He would almost have been relieved if he got back to Alpha
Camp and found a communiqué from Emrihsad High Command
boasting of finding and eliminating a Colest spy in the Institute.
Such boasts usually came with a picture and identification details.
He would know then for certain then if Yarrin was the man he
claimed to be. Emrihsad was quite fastidious about such details.
Vash stirred once more and Kallun's attention flickered
back to her sleeping form. She had fallen asleep not long after they
arrived in this no-name hole of a cubicle. The lodgings they shared
were the kind of one room, two-bed boxes buried deep in the
colonial port of Araken and used regularly by people who were
keeping their heads down and avoiding unnecessary attention.
The Institute would have notified High Command of the
theft by now and would have it's operatives along the border
colonies and in the major cities searching high and low for traces of
the Dragonsfire and the crew that had stolen it. Vash and Kallun's
faces would be circling the contact web. Some-one may have even
connected the features of the missing research assistant Kulla, with
Kallun's muscular frame. His features were probably still known by
a few members of Querl, Emrihsad's own version of the Covert
Operations Sector.
Yarrin claimed that he had erased the local record of
Kallun's previous visits but the information was certain to be
relayed to Querl Command by now and he didn't wonder that
someone would soon realise that Kulla was in fact Kallun Josephs.
For now then, they would hole up in the dirty grey box
room and keep their heads down until they received a signal
ordering them to move. The box was deep in the worker's
residential area of Araken where they wouldn't be noticed until one
of Alpha-camp's middle men could arrange false identities and
passage back to Seerak. In Kallun's experience that could take

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anywhere from two hours to two days depending on the quality of


the middle man.
The time would have passed a lot easier in sleep, and
Kallun almost envied Vash her troubled rest. As he couldn't sleep
he should probably have used the time to draw up his official report
but somehow he couldn't bring himself to do it. Kallun didn't like
writing reports with so many open ends. A mission that raised more
questions that it answered was no the most efficient of operations.
He let his eyes run along Vash's figure and then shook his
head. He didn't usually watch the women around him and it seemed
more than a little improper that he should invade her privacy with
his eyes when she slept. For some reason though, every time his
mind wandered on its own paths, his eyes returned to woman
before him.
She was lying on her side now, facing him. Her breathing a
little more even. Her hair was loose and fell to one side behind her
head. Her fine bone structure captured the light enticingly shifting
slowly, dancing to a distant rhythm. She was dressed modestly in a
short sleeved, one-piece that had been part of the kit they had
received when they handed over the Dragonsfire to the Kabella.
For a few moments Kallun allowed himself the luxury of
wishing she was just as mortal and normal as he and not one of the
untouchable psi-ops. She was beautiful, but Kallun had seen many
beautiful woman in his time and it disturbed him to find himself
developing an attraction to this one. He thought he was over than
sort of thing.
In a way, her passion and personality combined with her
fine figure and sculptured looks in such a way that made her stand
out from most of the women Kallun had known. He had only
entertained one serious relationship in his life and the pain that had
caused in the long run had made him determined not to repeat the
experience. It had been a long time since he had considered any
woman as anything other than another person to worked with, fight

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with, or be protected as any other citizen. But he had never allowed


attraction to get in his way and he certainly wasn't going start now.
Kallun was not the archetype of the ideal male, anyway. He
was serious and committed to his work, his humour was dry and
something he let out rarely, preferring to keep it inside himself
rather than spoil it by trying to make others understand his
thinking. Perhaps that was one of his failings, but it was the only
way he knew how to get along in his way off life. Besides, having
your mother and brother slain when you are thirteen doesn't exactly
endear you to humour. In the course of his life he had developed
few friends, but those he did have, were closer than anything he
had ever called family. He would likely do anything for his friends.
With a start he realised that his sub-dermal was active and
transmitting. Breaking off his self-analysis with a curse he ran a
finger along the bottom of his palm to bring the tiny holo-field to
life. It was a simple message. A place, a time, and, at the bottom
corner of the projection, the Alpha-camp seal spinning idly.
Throwing off the thin blanket he stepped into the closed
hygen-cubicle at the far end of the room from the sealed doorway.
He removed his shorts and vest swiftly and stabbed his finger at the
active button. The wash of fields lathered his skin and enlivened his
senses. For a few moments he simply stood and revelled in the feel
of the cleansing sweeps. Retrieving his clothing he dressed himself
fully before leaving the cubicle. The clothes he had been given
were that of a travelling privateer, the kind of self-employed scum
that were considered by most to be little better than pirates.
Stepping out of the hygen- cubicle he slipped on a jacket whose
pockets were filled with various tools and useless bits of electronic
gadgetry and belted on his blaster. He noticed that Vash was awake
and watching him. She smiled and indicated his blaster.
"You look like a character from a cheep action simm."
"Not exactly Kabel fashion, is it." He shook his head
"However most of the border colonies prefer citizens to be armed."

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He shrugged. "It deters potential pirate raids and border skirmishes.


If everybody's armed, you can't hide behind civilians."
Vash lay back and stared at the ceiling.
"You'll get used to it." Kallun added. People who had
grown up in the civilised parts of Colest always found the openly
armed cities and ports near the border a little disturbing. Vash was
looking at him again.
"I presumed your costume means that we've been
summoned?" she asked.
Kallun nodded "The Sabertooth. 0240. And whilst I'm sure
many of the populace would enjoy seeing you in public like that, I
suggest getting dressed." He deliberately looked at her close-fitting
one-piece protruding from the covers. She blushed momentarily.
Kallun's suspected that her background was from one of the
more religiously inclined settlements in or around Kabel. He had
sensed her discomfort when she had realised that they were to sleep
in the same room. It was strangely refreshing to find someone who
still applied a moral upbringing to adult life. Psi's from such a
background usually ended up in the Church. Vash's file did indicate
that she had spent some time in the Gaeran novitiate, but had left
early on for unspecified reasons. Kallun made a note to see if he
could find out those reasons. It wasn't unusual to distrust the
Church. Anyone who knew the details behind the Gaeran Heresy
thirty years before and the cover up that had followed would
distrust the Church and its present leaders. Kallun just thought it
would be an interesting story.
Vash shrugged off her discomfort immediately, standing
and stretching before gathering her own clothes.

***

Day 6 - 0239 Araken Local (CKT - 3)


The Sabertooth was a tavern situated in the Emporium
dome, one of the cheaper and more popular of Araken's hundreds

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of entertainment centres. It was a typically non-descript


establishment, its owner a skinny merchant whose skills in illegal
trade and counter-survailence were highly prized in the covert
operations sector. Kallun had initially suspected that this was to be
the place of rendezvous when they were put on a shuttle to Araken.
He checked his chrono.
The crowds in the tavern were just beginning to disperse
when Kallun and Vash arrived. Drunk patrons were staggering out
into the cool night, or catching hoppers and flyers back to their
homes. The landing park just outside of the tavern was buzzing
with hovering taxis and the steady departure of clientele. Within
the next half an hour the tavern would be as close to empty as it
ever got. Most of the people that were presently inside, finishing
drinks, conversations or endeavouring at romance would have gone
home. The Emporium dome would remain open the rest of the
night however. With so much space faring traffic coming through
the city ports many of the customers who came to such places had
body clocks running on totally different times to Araken local. The
bars, clubs, holo-simms, gyms and leisure parks were never totally
empty.
Vash and Kallun had made the three kilometre journey from
their residential cubicle using the pedestrian highways, catching the
odd speed track to shorten their journey. They were, however in no
hurry and arrived at the Emporium with half an hour to spare. It's
sparkling blue dome rose up a quarter of a kilometre above the
surface of Araken, the main structure having been built on top of a
flat office complex. Giant holo-fields floated like planets around
the dome, projecting flickering adverts into the night and lit up the
underside of a covering of grey cloud. On a clear day you could
watch the adverts from low orbit with nothing more than a hand-
held ocular.
Once inside the dome they had entered a simulated city-
scape from pre-colonial legend. The sprawl of streets and houses
twinkled gaily under an artificial sky. Free-standing buildings lined

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the streets of careful planned villages and housed the many


entertainment forms offered by the Emporium. Their ultimate aim
was to cater for every taste in entertainment and diversion, from the
family village on the north-western rim to 'Streets of Red', an age
restricted village on the opposite rim. Neon lights advertised
attractions and street vendors sold food and village memorabilia to
the passing public.
If you got rid of the techno-gadgets the street vendors sold
and toned down the imitation period costume worn by the
attendants it would not take to much imagination to feel as though
you had been transported back in time to an age of legend. Kallun
liked the place for that at least. However the illusion was betrayed
by the numerous taxi - flyers that shuttled consumers from the
dome's several gateways to the destinations of their choice. The
dome was constantly alive with the hum of vehicles as they buzzed
overhead.
The Sabertooth was a short walk from the entrance and just
a block off one of the dome's three main thoroughfares. It was a
building which stood out on its own, with a quaintly pointed roof,
sloping in sections over protruding windows on the upper floors
and curving around bays jutting out from square corners on the
lower floor. A brick facade masked the moulding that held it
together and the jumbled architecture gave it an ancient but sturdy
appearance. It's design matched perfectly the pre-colonial theme
the Emporium dome was so proud of.
As the two operatives approached, music played loud
enough to be heard over the melee of voices coming from inside,
but not so loud as to inhibit conversation. They passed through the
taxi pads easily and drew little attention as they entered the open
wooden doors. Kallun felt his sub-dermal complain as it registered
a small barium sweep. Somebody was keeping tabs on customers.
The air was thick with the smell of human bodies mixed
with warm food and alcohol. The thick air and heavy odour
suggested that it had been a busy night in the Sabertooth, and the

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throng around the bar area indicated that it would remain so for
some time to come despite the departing crowds. Kallun shouldered
his way to the bar and caught the attention of an adolescent boy
behind the counter. He was a skinny lad with a shock of ginger hair
who looked like he was ready to go home and was not relishing the
prospect of serving customers for much longer.
"Two Kabellan refugees, please." Kallun said calmly. It was
an old and not very secret code word, but it served its purpose. The
boys eyes widened suddenly and his mouth moved soundlessly.
With a sudden, swift movement he was gone, returning a moment
later followed by a man who was not much bigger than himself but
considerably older. The skinny man picked Kallun out from the
mass of bodies at the bar and smiled.
"Well look what the cat dragged in!" The man's voice was
deep and loud in contradiction to his wiry frame and skinny
features.
"It's been a while, Janus." Kallun smiled.
"Not long enough." Janus eyes narrowed. "I swore I'd gut
you personally after that stunt you pulled last time."
"The one with your section manager?" Kallun asked
innocently.
"The very same." Janus growled.
Kallun laughed genuinely. "It worked, didn't it?"
"Oh, yes, it worked all right. Once the poor fellow got out
of hospital that is."
Vash was looking a little confused behind Kallun.
"I'm sorry Vash," Kallun turned to allow Vash through.
"This is Janus, owner and proprietor of the Sabertooth and bane of
every protectorate trying to clamp down on the shipment of illegal
goods."
"My lady." Janus executed a short, dramatic bow. "I hope
you know what a vile specimen of humanity you travel with
tonight."
"I am quite aware, thank-you."

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"Good!" Janus lowered his voice and lean over the bar
conspiratorially. "But if you require some personal protection from
such scum, just let me know, hey?" He winked and straightened
suddenly. The boy who had been serving customers all the while
had approached and whispered something in the older man's ears.
"Yours?" Kallun asked nodded at the boy when he had gone
again.
"Yes. How did you guess?" Janus said running his hand
through his own ginger hair with more than a trace of irony.
"He's grown."
"He grows all the time. But now I make him buy his own
clothes he doesn't grow so quickly!" Janus laughed. "But to
business. My son tells me your contact just arrived. He's waiting
for you in booth seven."
"You have our thanks, Janus. Be well." Kallun nodded and
turned away.
"It's not your thanks that pay the bills!" Janus bellowed after
them. Kallun laughed despite himself Janus was well paid by the
Colest tax payer for his services but he still moaned about the bar
bills some of them ran up.
Booth seven was around the corner from the bar in a darker
part of the tavern. It had been specially fitting many years ago with
counter-surveillance equipment to shield the occupants from prying
eyes and ears. The padded bench stretched around a grey table and
was enclosed on three sides by high wooden partitions carved with
colonial art-work. It was not much different from all the other
booths scattered around the walls of the tavern and only a close and
prolonged examination would have revealed the network of field
generators, spy shields and signal repellents that surrounded the
booth. Approaching from the bar side it looked empty. Their
contact must have had his back to them as he was hidden from
sight by the partition wall as they approached. It was only when
they neared the table itself that Kallun recognised the familiar
features of his old friend.

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"Andreas?" Kallun said, suppressing his urge to shout his


surprise
"Hey gramps. Nice to see you." Andrea grinned. "Sit
down."
The two operatives seated themselves opposite the dark
pilot. And Kallun looked at his friend in momentary shock.
Andreas never left Alpha-camp unless it was extremely important.
He was never far from his family and had not been this close to the
border since the birth of his first child. Kallun saw the strain in his
eyes immediately and knew that something was wrong.
"Hello, lady-girl." Andreas smiled at Vash affectionately.
"Hello, Andreas." Vash smiled. "It's good to see a familiar
face again."
Kallun glanced from one to the other.
"You two know each other?" he asked.
Andreas smiled at his friend. "What? You think you got
first call on my friendship or something?"
"No, I just hadn't thought .. " Kallun stumbled. "The base is
huge. I just never considered that you two might have met."
Andreas smiled and nodded shortly.
"When the lady arrived at Alpha-camp shortly after you had
gone she had trouble with some of her less broad minded fellow
cadets."
"Let me guess. Rock apes." Kallun interjected, referring to
the combat squads whose legendary skill and endurance was honed
in the rocks of Bakliern, the camp's mountain sub-camp.
"'In one, gramps." said Andreas.
"Andreas and I met when he was kind enough to set the
record straight over a matter of my paternal heritage, before things
got out of hand." Vash shrugged.
"Yeh. She was about to fry the brains of three apes when I
stepped in and rescued the grunts from their own stupidity."
Andreas laughed, remembering the scene. Vash stood over three
men, each of them twice her size, with a trickle of blood running

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from her nose and the marines cowering in pain. "I was meaning to
tell you about it all when you got some R and R after the mission.
But .. " Andreas shrugged and smiled at them both. "You met lady-
girl here before I got chance."
Kallun was surprised to find himself a little jealous.
Discovering that Andreas had been protecting Vash from the usual
anti psi-op feeling around the base without Kallun's help somehow
disturbed him. For a moment, and for the first time since he had
returned from the mountains, he regretted his exile. Andreas and
Kallun had always acted as the general righters of wrongs and
defenders of the innocent when it came to camp social life, it was a
game they had played since before Andreas got married. He simply
hadn't thought that Andreas kept on playing even when he wasn't
there.
"Don't worry about it." Kallun said, dismissing the matter
with wave of his hand. "Now, what's gone so terribly wrong that
Dukall sends you flying out to this hovel?"
Andreas breathed deeply and frowned.
"I'm sorry my friends but it is bad news. I do not know how
to say this simply. But I'm afraid you are not going home yet."
Vash lent back on the bench, her expression unreadable.
"Why?" she asked.
"Things are going on back home that the boss can't control.
And you know how much he likes to control everything." Andreas
begun.
"What? Doesn't peace with the enemy fit his agenda?"
Kallun said with more irony than he had intended.
Andreas looked startled, like Kallun had just derailed his
train of thought.
"Nothing like, my friend, nothing like that at all. Peace is a
lot more controlled than war, even silent ones. His fear is that the
government presently arranging these peace talks will not be the
one meeting the Emrihsad delegation three weeks from now."
Kallun's eyes narrowed as he leant forward.

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"Go on."
Andreas shifted some of his weight onto his elbows and
cross his arms on the table in front of him.
"The Church has been building power in the government for
a number of years now. So long in fact that its not only the boss
who has harboured fears that they are still looking for ultimate
power in Colest."
"It's been many years since they made that threat. They've
been held in check since then." Kallun shrugged. Any fool could
see that the Gaeran Heresy had become one of the stronger players
on the political field recently, but they had kept within the rules
they had been bound to after the eradication of their Hieran rivals.
Kallun had been forced to side against them in the skirmish at
Hiera IV, but that didn't mean that the Church was becoming a
threat to Colest Security. Did it?
Andreas nodded, his accent was slipping as he spoke, an
indication of how he felt about the message he was delivering.
"Mostly they've stayed within the bound of their legal duty. The
legions, the military arm of the church, have done nothing without
our supervision, and the Priesthood has stuck to ecclesiastical
labour everywhere except for Seerak. Even there Irache holds a
simple observation seat on the Council." Andreas paused. "I say
'mostly', because, as your brush at Hiera IV proved, there have
been things going on in the background that have indicated
stirrings.
"After the conflict at Hiera IV, Dukall stepped up his
intelligence operation inside the church, began applying pressure
for results. What they came up with was frightening. Patriarch
Irache virtually dictates policy within the Heresy. He's surrounded
himself with a fawning council that will do anything he says as
long as they perceive a profit in it. and he's restructured his
administration so much so that nothing happens in Colest and even
in parts of Emrihsad, without him knowing about it."
"Quite the dictator." Vash said.

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"More than that," Andreas countered. "He's a dictator who's


got powers at his finger tips that every other political movement is
bound by law from using."
"Psi's by the score." Kallun shrugged. "But how does that
help him?"
Andreas looked at Vash. "Have you ever seen what a psi-op
can do to a person's mind?"
Kallun shook his head.
"Not heard of suggestion control? Thought surveillance?
Stem crushing? Brain wiping?"
Kallun nodded. "Of course. But the priesthood doesn't have
psi's with that kind of ability. They'd need intensive training by
specialists in such fields, and we keep track of them all."
Andreas shook his head. "Not all. Not by a long shot." He
continued. "At our last estimate Irache had at least thirty six such
instructors working within the Great Halls. That's not counting the
ones he has in amongst the legions."
Sitting back Kallun digested that information. "So what do
we think Irache intends?"
"We weren't sure until two days ago." Andreas ploughed
on. "As you know, Irache's seat on the Council has been an
observational seat for as long as the church has had a place in the
Council Chamber. However, some time in the last few months
Irache has convinced Chairman Fraque that he represents the
interests of a significant enough group to play an active role in
Council affairs. He takes his seat of power seven days from now."
"If the Gaeran Heresy has a seat of power by the time those
peace talks arrive then the terms of peace will almost certainly be
negotiated by the Church, with Patriarch Irache as it's chief
negotiator." said Vash, her mouth set into a thin line.
"Erran preserve us." Kallun hissed quietly.
"My thinking as well." Andreas nodded. "But the decision
was signed, sealed and legally binding before anybody could get

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near it. The only thing that can remove that seat of power now is
the evocation of clause fifteen."
Kallun shook his head taking a guess at the reasons behind
Andreas's visit and recalling the clause in question. According to
ancient law, when a body or protectorate was given a seat on the
council there were twenty-one clauses that they had to live up to in
order to keep that seat for the first seven months of their
occupancy. Of all those clauses only the evocation of the fifteenth
clause had power enough to bring about the immediate removal of
the new member of council. That clause was a charge of treason.
But without legal evidence it would never stick and Kallun doubted
they had much of that.
"No one could prove clause fifteen, there's no reason for it."
Kallun shook his head. "Does Dukall think Irache will misuse the
power?"
"Virtual certainty, gramps." Andreas spoke with a
confidence born of experience. He and Kallun both had butted
heads with church operatives in the past. "The actions of the last
few days both in and out of the public eye suggest that Irache'll
waste no time in securing his position. Dukall believes Irache
intends to be Chairman of the Council within twelve months.
Perhaps earlier. There are indications that he might even secure that
position with military assistance."
"From whom?"
"The Seiron Legions. Irache reformed and mobilised them
again six months ago, unofficially, of course."
"That bunch of brainless louts? We out number them a
hundred to one." Kallun could hardly contain his contempt. He had
clashed with the legions more than once in his time and despised
their method of war with a deep and burning passion. They were a
foul collection of religious zealots who believed that their lives
were one long holy war. The bloody trail left by the legions when
they assisted the Heresy in wresting the power of the Church from
the Priests of Hiera had left a bitter taste in the mouths of all those

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who witnessed it. It still turned Kallun's stomach to know that this
generation of youth were taught virtually nothing concerning the
deeds done by the legions during that most recent period in history.
"I don't think we are talking about a head-on confrontation
here." Vash said quietly.
Andreas nodded "The Boss's men confronted Irache
publicly on the issue just after you left. Yesterday the Patriarch
launched a ready made propaganda campaign justifying reforming
the legions. He claims that they have been re-instituted as an army
of righteousness to aid and assist the over-stretched forces of our
beloved government. To bring peace and order to the systems of
Colest and as a symbol of what can be achieved with the both
government and church working together. The usual crap. The
Council was just a little upset that he had gone contrary to Council
Resolution without seeking their approval for it, but attempts to
bring action against the Church have met with opposition.
"Odds are high that Irache and Fraque are working together
on this one. But what the Chairman hopes he's getting from
supporting the Heresy and its legions is anyone's guess."
"Any public reaction to the move?" asked Kallun.
"Surprisingly little. A few demonstrations by the usual
subber groups camping outside the Council Chambers." Andreas
bowed his head momentarily. "My friends, whilst we have been
fighting our silent war and preserving the freedom of our people,
those same people have been exercising that freedom and joining
the Church by the million. Even my people have been affected by
it. But compared to us Kabel is a hot bed of religious fervour.
Irache is right about one thing, he does have the voice of many
people behind him. It is a dangerous time to be an unbeliever."
"So no-one objected to the rebirth of the Legions." Kallun
swore suddenly. "It was to stop this kind of religious dictatorship
that we went to war with Emrihsad in the first place!"

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"It is the way of war. We fight for so many years only to


find ourselves turning into the enemy." Andreas shook his head
slowly. "But that does not stop us from fighting. Does it?"
Kallun brushed the question aside.
"Which brings us back to the here and now."
"Indeed, my friend." Andreas plunged on. "The
confrontation with Irache over the legions was the first that the
general public knew about the mobilisation. But the legions have
been building since last Dragon's Fall. They've had nearly a year to
make ready for whatever it is Irache has planned, and one clue to
that end is the shadow-runners. They now have ultimate power in
the legions."
"Gaera doesn't have shadow-runners." said Kallun.
"Officially they don't," Vash replied her eyes dark and
angry. "But you'll find that those dragon spawn assassins have been
around and in church employment for much longer than any
patriarch will admit. They try and hide from us in the otherness, or
pretend to guard the gates to the forbidden realms in serpent form
to protect their identifies, but you can smell the killer in them half a
light year away. Halla Ka, it's probably them who are training
regular priests in the art of psi warfare!"
Their was venom in Vash's voice and Kallun feared what
she knew and was not saying. He hadn't given much credence to
the shadow-runner's claims of God-given powers in the ways of the
otherness. He thought it was part of the fear machine they operated
in order to preserve their legend. He also thought that they were a
phenomena limited to the Emrihsad Church.
The structure of the Emrihsad state Church held immense
similarities to that of Colest. It was a common fault of the
unbeliever to become confused over the similar names and usage of
terms in the many churches throughout the galactic arm. However
the Emrihsad Teachers and their religion focused almost entirely on
the Mysteries, a collection of books reputed to have been brought
by the Originators themselves, in the which were contained

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instructions concerning the realms beyond that of the mundane


world.
Much religious similarity stemmed from the fact that many
of these churches had their roots in the soil of the all encompassing
religion of the Originators. This religion had gone in its many
forms throughout the galactic arm, through the age of expansion,
and had continued in its basic doctrinal similarities for most of that
time. This continuity was mostly attributed to the influence of the
prophets; men who claimed to be acting under the influence of
Erran, and spent their lives attempting to preserve 'truth'. Whether
an observer of their work believed or not, they had to admit that,
for the most part, these prophets had succeeded in their goals.
On Seerak, and throughout most of Colest, the Church had
once consisted of five priesthoods each under the direction of a
Patriarch, who, in turn, formed the Pentatauch, or "the living law".
The ultimate voice in the Pentatauch and throughout the Church
had been the Priests of Hiera, under whom the other four
priesthoods served. Over the aeons there had been many schisms
within the Church, some of which had survived and some of which
had not, but always the main body of the Church remained under
the leadership of the Patriarch of Hiera: his authority rested in his
claim to divine instruction from Erran Himself.
It was from the Sakrorin Priests (Emrihsad's equivalent to
the Seiron Priests of Colest and the arm of the Church charged with
the physical protection of its body) that the shadow-runners had
emerged. These men were former priests who had taken the
Covenant of Silence, a secret oath to which they devoted their
lives. Their identities were cast aside and they lived in the service
of Balance.
Balance, they taught, was what kept the mundane worlds in
their true course, the course that Erran had set them upon in the
beginning. If Balance were to swing too far towards either good or
evil then the course and destiny of mankind would be placed in
serious jeopardy. The methods which they employed to achieve

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Balance were brutal and bloody, and many of the prophets had long
since denounced their existence as spawned of the Dragon and his
Dark Minions.
The similarity between the Emrihsad and Colest churches
had not prevented war between their people. The practises of the
mysteries had been much abhorred by the more materialistic Colest
believers. But it was long suspected that the Patriarchs of Colest
and the High Priests and Teachers of Emrihsad had worked
together for their own ends many times over the centuries.
The greatest upheaval for the last few centuries in the
Colest Church was the Gaeran Heresy. It had come at a time when
there had been disputations among Priests of Hiera concerning
many points of doctrine, most particularly concerning the coming
of Geddinan, the prophesied great battle between Erran and the
Dragon. Whilst Hiera argued amongst its own, the Priests of Gaera,
those responsible for the temporal administration of the Church,
had been using their influence over material affairs to gain power
in the Church. Eventually they gained the support of the Valkon,
Seiron and Gimnian Priesthoods. After much inner contention the
Gaeran Heresy as it became known declared itself the new spiritual
leaders of the Church and outlawed the Priests of Hiera.
The Seiron Legions had been used repeatedly to surpress
attempts to restore Hieran authority within the Church. When news
of their bloody deeds and massacres reached the ears of the Colest
Council a resolution was passed ordering the Church to dis-mantle
the legions as a military force and solve their internal disputes via
other means.
"Why would the shadow-runners take control of the
legions? Aren't they supposed to be assassins? I shouldn't have
thought military command was amongst their list of skills." Kallun
said, mulling the idea of Colest shadow-runners through his head.
It was a terrifying thought.
Andreas spread his hands.

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"We don't have many answers on that front but our


operatives in the church are working on finding them." Andreas
pulled out a flat, pyramid projector from his thigh pouch and
placed it on the table. "Now here's where you come in." Touching a
small pad with his middle finger he brought the palm-sized device
to life.
The holo that sprang up above the pyramid was of the head
and shoulders of a long faced woman with steely blue eyes and a
crop of straight, short hair. She was slightly darker in complexion
than Kallun and her face radiated the kind of grim determination
that would have made people step around her carefully. Kallun
knew the face vaguely but couldn't quite put a name to it.
"This is Rae Sven." said Andreas. "She is the figure head in
an ongoing operation that provides the camp with most of the
intelligence gathered from within the halls of the Heresy and its
consorts. She's an operative of considerable experience and has
been working on building this network of intelligence gathering for
several years. Presently she poses under the name Marianne
Garalla, an executive of our Kabel based front company, Biodrone.
She co-ordinates and manages the Seven Heads of the Wind."
Kallun raised an eye-brow. "I thought that operation was
just a rumour."
"Until the boss handed me the briefing dossier, so did I. The
Seven Heads of the Wind is only really the operational code name
for what is effectively a small group of deep-cover operatives
within the Church. Mostly they are intelligence gatherers only,
there's not much hot zone experience between them. But there's
never been the need."
"D'rethen works on it." Vash nodded. The two men looked
at her and she shrugged. "There's not much psi-ops don't know
about each other."
Andreas touched the pad again. The face was of a man with
a sharp brow and angular features. A shock of black hair crowned

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his head and dark eyes glared out of the holo defying the world to
cross him.
"This is your friend D'rethen, a former hot zoner now in
intelligence." Andreas gestured towards the holo.
"I didn't say he was a friend." Vash said quickly.
"Well his operative record is exemplary, if a little brutal.
His field of operation is the Seiron legions. He poses as both
commander and shadow-runner within that organisation. It was
through him that we were alerted to the mobilisation of the legions.
Over the last two years we believe he has even gained the personal
trust of the patriarch himself. He's also a high-worlder, so don't get
on the wrong side of him."
Kallun masked his surprise. He hadn't heard of any high-
worlders in Alpha Camp. They were a race of people that lived on
high-g planets and, much to the relief of most neighbouring
systems, were notoriously agoraphobic. A few appeared in
civilisation from time to time and it was from them that knowledge
of the people grew. They looked no different to any other human
being, coming in all shapes and sizes, but what made them stand
out was their inhuman strength, they could jump metre's into the air
without so much as breaking into a sweat, their bones, muscle and
sinew were extremely compact and efficient.
"You said that you 'believe' he has gained the personal trust
of the patriarch?" Kallun queried. Andreas shrugged.
"Other than that one communiqué, there's been no contact
with him with several months now. Boss reckons he's too deep in to
come out much."
Andreas changed the picture again. The face of a second
woman appeared, considerably different from the first. This face
was younger with eyes that smiled, a pleasant contrast to her pale
complexion and sallow cheeks. She looked like any other youth of
Kabel, with her hair long down the middle and shaved at the sides.
On her right cheek Kallun could just make out the tattoo of a
single, ancient key: a long metal object with teeth at the end.

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"Sallah Ri-Tayal." said Andreas. "Sal for short. Back at


camp she called herself the 'Locksmith'; a name which stems from
her ability to slip by most security and electronic protection
systems. The key on her cheek appeared after some drunken set on
leave in Kabel. Her cover is as a librarian in the Gimnian Archives.
From there she can access large amounts of information and
transfer them to our record dump at Alpha Camp for analysis. She
is young, but she is good at what she does."
Andreas brought up another holo. The picture was of a
large, bull-necked man, his face half covered on the left side by
cybernetic shielding, one eye nothing more than a metal socket
with a shinning blue lens. Kallun could even see prosthetic
implants bulging at the joint between his shoulder and neck.
"This fine looking human being is Jacob Slavena, formerly
a stormtrooper pilot, now gathering info for the boss. The
cybernetic beauty-therapy you see before you is the result of being
blown all to pieces in a fighter skirmish on border patrol several
years back. He has had several opportunities to receive
rehumanising surgery but has refused them all." Andreas smiled.
"So now he haunts the nightmares of local children."
"You know each other?" Kallun asked his friend.
"Before he got all blown up, yes. He was almost as good as
me in the cockpit." Andreas grimaced slightly. "Now, I don't know.
After he returned to active service he was assigned to this operation
and we never got re-aquainted. Since then he has managed to work
his way into the Sakijri, the Patriarch's personal guard. From there
he monitors what goes on around Irache and who goes in and out of
the Patriarchs presence." Andreas slipped the projector back into
his pocket. "Those four are all the contacts you need at present."
"I thought there were seven?" Vash said.
Andreas shrugged. "There were. The history I don't know,
but these four are the survivors and respect to them for it."
Andreas took a deep breath. Kallun could tell he was
uncomfortable with this role of messenger in the field.

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"The assignment I am about to hand you is non-negotiable."


Andreas spoke firmly, unconsciously imitating Dukall's approach.
"At 0640 hours you will both board the transport freighter Copelna
as part of the cabin crew. It's one of Janus's special operations
vessels and should get you back to Giant's Point Space port on
Kabel's southern rim early tomorrow morning. From there you will
be met by an autopod which will take you to a secure location
within the biodrone complex. Rae Sven will meet you there and
brief you more fully on the details of this operation and your
assigned roles within it."
"What's our purpose?" Kallun asked.
"And what's Dukall's purpose in sending us straight out
from the Dragonsfire op?" Vash added.
"The boss's reasons for sending you two are simple."
Andreas looked tired. Kallun wondered if he had even rested
between landing and coming to meet them. "We've been caught on
the back foot over Irache's appointment to council. It was perfectly
timed to co-incide with the declassification of Alpha Camp as a
high-security installation." Kallun and Vash both swore in unison.
Andreas waited for them to stop before continuing.
"When I left we had Gaerans gleefully crawling all over the
place and every major operative who has been on Seerak in the last
few days has a tail. As you two were still out in the field and
available I was sent to intercept you and assign you to this
operation." Andreas shrugged. "The priesthood ain't yet interested
in small time taxi pilots like me. They'll get round to discovering
that I'm missing soon enough, but by then it'll be too late. The boss
is taking countermeasure and reckons he can retake the base, but
when, I don't know.
"As for your purpose in this; it's pretty straight forward.
You're going to infiltrate the Great Halls, find out what Irache is up
to and sabotage it by any means possible. "
Kallun sat back and absorbed the implications. "Sabotage."
he said finally. "How."

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Andreas shrugged. "The how is up to you my friend. This is


an off the cuff operation with little to no planning. I do not envy
you the 'how' of this one, but if you fail we may all be taking the
Secret Oath of Gaera this time next year. I don't want that. Either
for me or my kids."
He pulled a small, finger length plastic box out of his breast
pocket and placed it on the table in front of the two operatives.
Kallun opened the box carefully and removed two thin squares
with the Alpha-camp seal shining in the bottom right corner. He
gave one to Vash and took the other himself.
"The info-chips you hold in your hands contain access
codes to quarters in the Tabernacle of the Great Halls, north of
Kabel proper. There is also an information dump on the histories of
your cover characters, new bio-signals, plans of the Great Halls,
schematics on Church organisation in and around Kabel and
biographies of most of the major players within that organisation.
"This is an in and out operation. You have to avoid
exposing other members of the Seven Heads of the Wind and leave
as soon as the peace talks are over when a more lengthy plan can be
put into effect. Whatever happens, you must not allow Irache to
control the Council by the time the Emrihsad delegation arrives."
Andreas leant back.
"One last thing." Andreas said, with an expression of
sympathy. "I received a trans-light just before landing. We lost
contact with the Kabella about an hour ago. Transmissions prior to
loss of contact indicated that it had fallen under attack. By whom
we do not know, indication are that it was either Cirurian pirates or
Seiron attack cruisers or both together."
"Pirates and the Legions together?" Vash raised an eyebrow
sceptically.
"I know it sounds unlikely, but pirates alone have never
gone after something as big as a mega-ship." Andreas glanced from
one to another. "They were after looting the cargo bays. So who

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ever it was, its virtually certain that they now own the
Dragonsfire."

***

Day 6 - 0353 Araken Local (CKT - 3)


Andreas had left them a few minutes ago to catch a
transport back to Seerak and make his way home. Vash and Kallun
had both wished him well, noting the worried frown that creased
his brow as he left. He's wondering whether or not he will see us
again Kallun thought as the dark pilot left them. It was
understandable. Andreas had befriended them both separately and
there was a good possibility of failing in this hurriedly assigned and
ill-planned operation.
Curse Dukall! Kallun couldn't help but be angry. They had
just succeeded in one near impossible operation, only to be landed
with another before they had even touched base. It had been a
shock to hear that the legions had reformed and that Gaera now had
access to Alpha Camp. Let alone the disappointment they had both
felt when they had learnt that all their efforts with the
Dragonsfire had been for nothing. But what could pirates and the
Legions want with the Dragonsfire? Neither of them had the time
or the resources to unravel its secrets. It did cross Kallun's mind
that they could have been attacking the Kabella for some reason
other than the powerful proto-type it carried in its belly. Mega-
ships were self-contained floating colonies, and anything could
have brought on the attack. But the coincidence and timing of the
attack was too much to ignore. They could even have been working
for Querl, Emrihsad's version of Covert Operations, and attempting
to retrieve the ship for themselves. What ever the reason, however,
it was no longer his concern. What mattered now the mission at
hand.
Vash had skipped around to the other side of the table and
now sat facing him in the shielded booth.

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"You're right." she said looking him in the eye.


"About what?" he asked.
"The Dragonsfire is no longer our concern."
Kallun realised that he must have been thinking so loud that
she could hear him across the table. He cast an appraising eye on
her as she stared at his thoughts. She was young for Covert
Operations and far too inexperienced for this kind of operation. He
guessed that her role would be to give him cover at psi-level. When
dealing with the church you needed that kind of help. But he would
have to watch her closely, despite her obvious skills, her
inexperience in actual operations could get them both killed.
"So, do you think are up to it?" Kallun said, voicing his
concerns. Vash cocked her head to one side.
"No." she answered honestly. "I don't know the first thing
about sabotage or intelligence gathering. I trained solely for the
Dragonsfire operation because I was the best of what was left un-
assigned in psi-ops. After that I was supposed to return to camp for
further training before going into the field for real. This is over my
head. But what choice do we have?"
"None." Kallun admitted, appreciating her honesty. "Look,
Vash. Going into the Great Halls of Gaera will be like.." he
struggled for an appropriate metaphor. "Like walking into nest of
vipers wearing nothing more than a snake-skin jacket. It is more
than likely that you will not walk out." Kallun grimaced inwardly,
that wasn't the best analogy. he struggled on. "You're young, you
have a lot left to give and..." he shrugged, "Speaking from
experience, you will not last in this environment even with your
skills in the psi-ops and the otherness. If you want I'll cover for you
long enough for you to hide out here until this one blows over. If I
succeed I could say I over rode your willingness to go an put you
on ice when I went. If I fail, Irache will disband covert operations
in favour of his own groups and you will not have a job to go back
too anyway. It's up to you."

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Vash's expression didn't change but inside her stomach was


turning. He was brushing her aside! In the stark light of day it was
true that for her to go on this operation might be suicide. But Vash
knew that Kallun really had no idea what went on in realms beyond
the mundane worlds, his reaction to morphe-space had proved that.
And if he was going up against Irache, the Legions and the
shadow-runners in this insane operation he would need every help
he could get.
"I couldn't do that." She held up a hand to stop Kallun's
objects. "You know why Dukall has assigned us both. With the
Gaera delving deeper and deeper into the Mysteries and using
shadow-runner assassins, there is every possibility that you will be
discovered and eliminated before you even begin. You have no
protection against train psi-ops, if that is what the church is
developing. You need me. Without me you would be a sitting duck.
You wouldn't even get close to Irache. You may also have to
consider the possibility that what is going on will make no sense
except in its religious context, and that takes a special kind of
thinking to reason through."
Kallun had to admit to himself that she had a point.
"All right." He nodded slowly. "But if at all possible I want
you to stay close and let me take the lead."
Vash laughed.
"In any other situation that would sound like a proposition."
Kallun allowed himself a brief smile. Vash was looking at
him with a smile that had all the determination of a seasoned
warrior.
"We had better get going to the spaceport," he said, a part of
him giving way to the charms of the woman in front of him. Vash
nodded with approval and stood.
The two of them left the booth and made their way through
the tavern to the front door. Janus was nowhere in sight when they
passed the bar, so they didn't stop. Outside the flyer traffic was not
so busy and only a few lights buzzed overhead, criss-crossing the

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Emporium's air-lanes at a distance. It was a brief, but pleasant,


shock to the senses to smell the thinner, cooler air outside the
Sabertooth.
Taking a few steps along the wall towards the pedestrian
gate onto the street, Kallun realised that Vash was no longer with
him. He turned to look back at her. She had stopped just beyond the
tavern door and was looking over his left shoulder, through the
tavern wall with a puzzled expression. An uneasy feeling settled in
his stomach and he turned back to look at the end of the wall where
the brick facade recessed behind a protruding window.
He saw the flash of the long white-bladed knife a moment
before it should have connected with his chest. Instinctively he
leapt backwards and rolled on the ground. The leap was a desperate
one and he jarred his shoulder when he hit the hard floor. Rising
quicker than he had fallen he blocked the second thrust of the
black-clad attacker with his left hand and sent the fist of his right
into the shadowy face. The air around his fist congealed before it
met its target and his hand was sent flying back painfully. He
scuttled into the parking area, the attacker following.
In the light of the landing pads he saw his attacker properly
for the first time. He was several inches shorter than Kallun and
clad from head to foot in a shadow suit, close fitting and letting no
light escape its folds. Its shields were active and the assailant's face
was completely hidden, and protected by the light absorbant field.
Such suits were rare and this was the first time Kallun had seen one
outside of a combat simulation. What surprised Kallun in the
moment he had to assess his attacker, was that the only weapon the
assassin carried was the strange white knife in his hand. It glowed
in the lamp light with a life all of its own.
The attacker moved.
A kick connected with Kallun's midrift and sent him
sprawling on the ground once more. This time the attacker was
quicker. Falling on Kallun like a hawk on its prey, Kallun barely
had time to grab the knife and stop it from slashing his throat.

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For a second the two men struggled to gain control of the


weapon. Using both hands to hold off his assailant, Kallun was
unable to reach for his blaster and end the conflict. He brought his
knee up sharply and was satisfied to hear the silent attacker hiss as
Kallun use the leverage to roll the smaller man off.
The combatants rose together and this time Kallun reached
for his blaster. The dark attacker made as if to stop him and
suddenly grabbed at his head another gasp of pain escaping the
darkness around his face. Using the momentary distraction Kallun
blasted the attackers hand. With the suit shields active it was only
enough to scorch his hand and knock the strangely shaped knife to
the floor.
Kallun brought the blaster to bear on the man's neck. With
the light absorbency on, the suit shield would be at it's weakest
there.
"Enough!" He bellowed stopping his attacker's attempts to
retrieve the knife. A flyer buzzed overhead and the dark figure
glanced up at it. Two big security guards were coming out of the
tavern several metres behind him, aroused by the sound of blaster
fire.
"Turn off the light shield and identify yourself!" Kallun
demanded. He could feel Vash now at his shoulder.
"Answer the man!" she shouted. The attacker gasped
sharply and strange gurgle of pain escaped his lips.
"I am a messenger, from the Dragon's Fire." The voice was
distorted and grated through the suit shielding. Kallun started at the
name until he remember that the attacker was referring to the
mythical fire's that burnt in the Dragon's realm and scorched the
souls of evil. He was obviously some sort of zeolot. The shadowy
figure relaxed again freed from his mental anguish.
He glanced up towards a passing flyer once more as the
security guards circled him warily. A crowd was beginning to
gather, unsure whether this was entertainment provided by the
Emporium or not.

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"So it begins, Reqshial" the figure bowed slowly.


At the lowest point of his bow he rolled, retrieved his white
knife and launched himself with inhuman power to the underside of
a passing flyer. Kallun's instinctive shots bounced off his suit
shielding to burn holes in the street not far away. Panicked, the
driver of the flyer accelerated away.
"Follow him!" A deep voice echoed around the flyer pad
and Kallun realised that Janus had accompanied the security guards
into the street. Within seconds two armed flyers, marked with
orange and black strips were closing in on the fleeing vehicle the
shielded attacker had leapt to.
Kallun noticed Vash wiping a trickle of blood from her
nose. Her eyes looked bloodshot.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"He was strong." Vash said. "It took me a few moments to
get past his mental shield. This is the result." She indicated the
blood that was coming from her nose. "You were lucky."
"Lucky?" Kallun didn't feel so lucky. That was the closest
anyone had come to killing him hand to hand for a long time.
"Not many people survive an attack from a shadow-runner."
She smiled briefly. "I told you that you'd need me."
So that was one of the infamous shadow-runners. Kallun
was surprised. He had never thought of himself as a target for the
Church assassins. Sure enough there were enough reasons why
people within the Church would want him dead, but he simply
never thought that they would have gone to all that effort. Unless
they knew he was coming already. It was a long shot, after all, from
what Andreas had said only five people knew of this mission and
four them would never compromise it knowingly.
"He was of the tribes. Not Colest." Vash said.
"How do you know?"
"'Reqshial'," Vash said. "It's a word from Tribal scripture
meaning 'Chosen'. It was originally used during the anointing rite,

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the so called passage of fire." She shrugged. "I don't know what it
was supposed to mean here."
Kallun glanced over to where Janus was directing the
pursuit via a wrist comm.
"I should help." said Kallun.
"I wouldn't bother." Vash replied. "They won't catch him."
In the distance there was a sudden orange flare against the
dome, followed a second later by the distant roar of an explosion.
The noise was amplified and carried across the dome. Janus stared
at the dying fire-ball in the distance and then trotted over to where
Kallun and Vash were talking.
"He got away?" Kallun asked when the skinny man
approached.
Janus shook his head. "They think he went up with the flyer
he was attached to. But they'll doing a sweep of the area just in
case."
"To be on the safe side" Kallun said "I think that Vash and I
had better avail ourselves of that minor back door of yours."
Janus cringed dramatically.
"Not so loud." He put his finger to his lips. "With all this
law enforcement around here you never know who's listening."

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Chapter Five – Kabel

"Weep, o ye inhabitants of Seeras, cry unto the outer most


stars for mercy for they shall come to thee first and thou shalt not
know them till the sword of wrath doth hang over thee." - Extract
from The Seventh Book of Wars Chapter 32:2-4 ( Taken from
the Caverns of Shal-Riaa)

Day 7. 1833 - Central Kabel Time


The shadows of the city were sweet with the odour of
decay. All around the heaving masses swarmed amidst the
holographic propaganda wars of consumer culture gone mad. The
air seethed with the sweat of a hundred thousand rotting bodies.
The walls of each street and alleyway were thick with the
sprawling excrement of human society: useless bodies that came to
such places when the city had drained their every resource and spat
them into the crumbling halls and doorways of broken streets, the
rat infested piles of decomposing biologics, fed with the failing
cast-offs of society. The worn out fads of yester-year covered the
skins of ageing women, whilst the rotting hulks of creatures that
were once men sought out means to survive another day. Few
would choose to come to such a place unless they loved the scent
of human decay. Most came only from the higher levels to die.
These were the fabled Subs of Seerak.
D'rethen's hooded figure moved unnoticed in the crowds,
undisturbed by the stink of men and women who passed within
inches of his face. A cold smile hid in the shadows of his loose
robe and he reached out to the area around him. The place was as
he had expected it to be. Teeming with dying things. The perfect
place for a fugitive to hide.
He choose his alley carefully. Moving slowly with the
aimless masses before side stepping into the darkness.

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Once there his posture changed completely. The Subber


stoop disappeared, cast aside together with the festering robe and a
black-clad shadow leapt from the floor of the alley onto the
balcony above like a tree cat from lands far distant. D'rethen caught
the edge of the upper balcony railing with one hand and propelled
himself over with the other. Checking his flight briefly he launched
himself from the bracing to an overhanging girder. Landing firmly,
with both feet quickly taking his weight between the wall and the
angled girder, he leapt once more to edge of a bridge across an
intersecting street, dropping suddenly into the crowd below him. It
was a show without an audience, but he was enjoying himself
nonetheless.
One or two of the residents took a brief interest in the man
who moved like a fly-hopper through the latticework of supports
and beams holding up the levels above but quickly lost him as he
dropped again in the darkness and blended once more with the
shadows.
He was nearing the deepest part of the Subs, where the
crumbled remains of great shelters had given way to the stinking
fall out of gross human habitation. Energy conservation induced a
false night to coincide with the natural darkening of the obscured
sky, way above him. It cost too much to keep those lights on all the
time, even glow strips faded after a few hundred years of use. It
was at this time of night that he could do his best work. The people
around him were naturally wary. Curiosity was a deadly instinct
that had been wiped out in this valley many generations ago.
The subs had grown up over the bed of the Naluri river, a
body of water which ran from the Eastern Peak Counties to the
Greywall sea. It's course had cut through the rolling green hills of
Seerak for several millennia before the City spread its wide wings
and enveloped the land around it. To the north of the Halls of
Seerak and it's Council Chambers in Kabel's centre, there had been
a great canyon range, through whose diverse paths the Naluri river
ran. In the days prior to the war it had been a place for leisure and

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recreation. However the threat of attack from fighter squads and the
rain of proton charges that had fallen around the City in the early
years of the First War had driven the inhabitants to seek shelter in
the natural valleys the canyon afforded. Burying themselves
between the rocks they had at first built their industrial centres
there. Great factories churning out conventional weaponry for
ground assaults and human involved combat. These factories had
dominated the canyons well into the third century of war when
gargantuan orbital platforms superseded them in production quality
and quantity. Seizing the initiative, some bright spark in the Halls
had come up with idea of converting the great buildings into
temporary refugee housing for the flood of families that arrived on
Seerak every day, fleeing the war zones and lost colonies. The idea
had been implemented with considerable alacrity and millions of
human cast-offs had landed in those canyons. Efforts to make the
great buildings habitable resulted in the construction of thousands
of walkways, express ways and overhead passes leading from place
to place, from level to level and the nickname 'subs' had sprung up
to reflect the feelings of those more fortunate about the canyon
refugee camp.
The project was never reversed. From that time on the Subs
grew, like a cancer, throughout the canyon range. Refugees, with
little to offer and nowhere-else to go settled there. Communities
grew up out of the darkness and whole generations were born, lived
and died between those canyon walls. Microcultures formed class
structures. High level living, nearer to the clear air that blew across
the canyon top, became one of the many symbols of status a subber
could aspire to. From the Halls of Kabel's centre one could never
see the Subs, but always the dark haze of its existence hung in the
murky air north of the greater sprawl.
D'rethen rested now at about three-quarter depth. Some six
hundred metres below the canyon ridge and two hundred metres
above the old river bed, now long since dried, diverted and
replaced with the sludge of human defecation. He was not quite in

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the darkness where only the dead and dying walked, but he was
close to it, and the people that walked here survived like a rat
colony, pillaging from those above them, from one another, never
sure from one day to the next whether they would live to see the
next false dawn brought by the luminescence of lamps lining the
walls and stretching under and over the interpasses around them.
Soon enough he found the bridge he had been making his
way towards. The gully below was deep enough that most of its
bottom was obscured in darkness from the rails above. It would
seem to the casual on-looker as if this gully stretched down into
empty eternity. But any who paused long enough would smell its
lowest edges and sense that the only eternity present was the
boundless mortality of man. It was a smell that pierced the edges of
the soul and screamed at the mind to move on.
D'rethen filled his nostrils with the scent and knew that this
was the place of meeting. He had seen it, smelt it, experienced its
dark life in the otherness, just hours before. As he reached the edge
of one step he sprang once more and dropped into the silent
darkness. At the last moment he caught himself on an old iron
girder and swung into another crouch, silently listening. He could
sense the gully's other occupants watching him, their eyes well
adjusted to the darkness, deciding whether he was worth attacking
or avoiding. Just below him he could hear the scratching of Sub
rats, their pungent odour mixing with all the others around him in a
delicious cocktail of scents.
After a few moments he let his eyes change in the darkness,
augmenting his night-sight until the dim light of the bridges above
came down like flood lamps into the gully. He could now see the
figures crouched in the truncated ends of sewer-pipes and water
drains. Their tattered bodies cringing from the sheer power of his
life and energy. Here was a stranger unlike any other, and they
feared him.
The mud underfoot had hardly made a sound when he
dropped into it. He could see other figures moving around the field

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of his vision, crouched half-humans who could not bear to be


touched by the eyes of a top-sider. He moved with a confidence in
the dark that scattered thoughts of attack from even the most
adventurous of the sewer residents. Probing ahead of him each time
he moved to another pipe outage or broken gridding he searched
out his target slowly, methodically, sure that this time he had found
the old man.
Eventually his awareness touched another whose power
concealed a waning presence and faltering life force. It's owner was
dying slowly, D'rethen could sense the decay immediately, the
blunt mind and weak thoughts. Only the power behind it remained
strong, burning like a lantern in the gully to the shadow runner's
sharpened other-sight.
There was a flickering of awareness as the target seemed to
wake out of its subconscious state, sensing the danger near, but
unable to run. The shadow runner found him crouching in an
overhang of broken foundation, there wasn't much left of the man
that had once inhabited that broken body. Only the old man's eyes
showed any awareness of the shame of his condition.
"Adjri-ahman Hiera-Padech." I greet you, High Patriarch
of Hiera. D'rethen said with a bow. The target's eyes snapped wide.
He knew then that his death was upon him.
"I am no Patriarch." The target's word were more of a sub-
vocal hiss than true words, but the shadow runner understood them
all the same.
"And now you are no man." D'rethen sneered with
contempt, abandoning the language of the Originators and reverting
back to Drioran. "You should have died with the rest of the
Pentatauch. They died with honour. But this exile of yours is ten
times worst than their slow torment ever was. You didn't even
make it off Seerak."
"It took you this long to find me, though, didn't it!" He
cackled madly, his long matted beard shaking in the gloom. The
old man spat and dribbled as his mouth moved silently, the sores

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around his lips bleeding grey, amber and red beneath the dirt. "I
fought a good fight."
"And you lost."
"An abbey stands yet!" The Patriarch began to rock back
and forth, his head nodding comically. "We are not all gone. No not
all gone at all."
"It will be destroyed in the coming war." The shadow-
runner hissed, drawing a small katha from the folds of his robe.
The white knife shone in the darkness.
"You couldn't destroy it last time. The Seven Heads saved
us, the Kallshial stopped you! We won. We won. We won." The
old man accented each repeat of his words with a nod.
He was mad, D'rethen decided, and, still sneering, he struck
the old man across the head with the blunt end of his katha, careful
not to kill him as he did so. The folds of unconsciousness
enveloped the mind of his target and his power surged its
indignation within him. Pulling at the Patriarch's robes, the
shadow-runner tore apart the rotten cloth at the chest, exposing a
sea of sores and decay. The old Patriarch's chest was a musty
yellow and looked like it had been dead for days all ready.
Turning his katha in his hand, the figure closed his eyes and
reached into the blade, his mind becoming one with the Unknown
Steel, his conscious ebbing into the point of the white knife, a
single eye peering into the heart of a dying man. The blade faded
slightly from view.
Slowly the knife descended and the patriarch arched as the
pain pierced his unconscious state. The blade moved with his
anguish, anticipating his writhing, falling through his ribs and into
his heart with surgical skill. Still he did not die as the unreality of
the blade split his heart in two whilst the blood still flowed through
it. His muscles contracted and reacted to the poisoned surge.
The shadow runner could feel the pain giving the old man
awareness. An awareness that comes only in the thrall of near-

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death, an awareness which augments the power of the soul until


fills every cell with the thrill of it.
With a pain almost equal to the old man's, the shadow
runner wrenched his spirit out of the blade as he felt the moment of
unity, the pain and the katha colliding with the climatical crescendo
of the old man's power. There he withdrew a single step and
recovered his breath, leaving the old man in the rictus of his death-
moment, frozen a single second away from the infinities, the katha
protruding from his chest. A monument to his eternal night.
The shadow-figure reached once more into his robe and
pulled out two ancient needles, each one with its tiny handle carved
in a hundred different figures. A ruby set in the top of each hilt.
The needles were like knifes in themselves, small handles as long
as D'rethen's middle finger and thin blades of just a few
centimetres. Clasping one in each hand he pushed their points into
the fixed and now open eyes of the old man.
These blades were solid as they sunk in and the milky blue
eyes wept blood and seeped vitreous humor as they were sliced
asunder. When the needle pointed ends of those blades had found
the target's optic nerves D'rethen began to chant.
Crouching over the old man's body like a carrion bird over
its latest find, the words from the Book of Life and Death flowed
over the frozen form. Soon the carved ends of the needles began to
glow with a dull, shimmering light, an incandescent power filled
the rubies with ethereal blood and spread across the surface of the
old man's eyes, until they both mind and blade were consumed. It's
fingers spread across his head and wrapped themselves down
around his torso, a crimson cloak weaving down his body to
envelope the katha and the heart beneath it.
When the chanting ceased the cloak dispersed within
seconds, the old man's body was intact but only empty sockets
remained where his eyes had been. The leaden weight of the
already rotting head slapped back into the sludge when D'rethen
yanked out the needles one by one.

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Stepping back from the empty husk D'rethen threw back his
hood and took a blade in each hand. Chanting softly he raised his
own gaze to the levels above and, staring out at the darkness of the
Subs, he thrust the ends of each needle into his own eyes.
His body convulsed in pain for the briefest moment before
the power of the dead man stirred and swept through him in a tide
of pleasure.
Pulling the blades from his pupils, the decorated points left
no wound. Only a glow of green light behind his eyes gave any
indication of change in the killer's features as he switched on his
hood shield and pulled his katha from the target's chest.
He noticed the half-creatures that had begun to gather near
the scene and stepped back from the overhang dramatically.
"Come friends," He said, addressing the shadows, "I have
prepared for you a royal feast to stay your hunger for another day."
Pausing only to sheath his katha, D'rethen leapt to the
girders above him and began to ascend the Subs once more.

***

Day 7. 1835 - Central Kabel Time


The room was sealed so tight it made Kallun restless. Rae
had taken no chances when she had built this installation hundreds
of feet below the offices of Biodrone's super-structure. It was
buried deep in the bedrock below the city, several levels below
even the ancient shelters of the rich and prosperous at the
beginning of the first war. Kallun doubted if even a city killer
bomb would shake the foundations of this room.
There were only two portals through which any person
could access the grey square of the room. These were situated in
the centre of the north and south walls. Both had a hatch at either
end of a small entrance chamber. Those chambers were filled with
sensors that would analyse every detail of a person, right down to
their DNA, designed to overcome false sub-dermal signatures,

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retinal alterations and pseudo DNA to determine exactly who it was


that was entering the cell and screen out any unauthorised entry. It
was not technology that generally available on the market place.
'Cell' was a good word for the room. It was an
unimaginative box with just over nine square metres of floor space.
That space was occupied by a small oval council table surrounded
by seven none-too-comfortable seats. Each seat had a small work
panel laid into the table in front of it to allow the occupant to take
notes, as well as serving as an interface for the transfer of
information from any sub-dermal processor to the main system.
Everything in the cell was independent from anything in the
outside world. The air in the cell was manufactured by a small
catalytic cycle enhancer that sat, black and still, humming away in
a corner of the cell. Even the memory of the room's small AI was
wiped of all but its' own awareness as soon as the place emptied.
"Well this is interesting." Kallun said with more than a hint
of sarcasm. Not even the desk-top AI would respond to him
without prior authorisation. Vash and Kallun were on their own in
the room, waiting for Rae, the leader of the Seven Heads of the
Wind, and her colleges to arrive.
When Vash and Kallun had been smuggled into her offices
in the Biodrome administration building Rae had said hardly a
word to them. They had made contact with the iron willed leader of
the Seven Heads of the Wind late in the afternoon and had been
ushered down to the cell with not much more than civil
pleasantries.
Both Vash and Kallun were tired. They had left the
Sabertooth through Janus's secure passage on Araken without
returning to their quarters, to arrive, just over an hour latter, at a
shabby looking landing pad on the outskirts of the city-port. The
trip from Araken to Seerak had been uneventful, they had rested
and digested the data from the info-chips Andreas had given them
for some of the way and talked through the mission for the rest of
the way.

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The two of them had talked for several hours, going over
their assignments, sketching out plans and foreseeable obstacles,
hammering out ideas and ways to achieve their goals, working
from the information they had gathered from the info-chips. During
that time Kallun's respect for his new partner had grown
considerably. She was quick to adapt to his methods of planning
and action, and quicker to suggest whole avenues of action that he
hadn't considered. Her wit, skill and insight into a given situation
were remarkable. By the time they reached Kabel Station Seven
and transferred to a landing shuttle they had formed a reasonable
plan with achievable objectives that only needed the details the
Seven Heads team could provide before it was complete.
When they had descended from high orbit towards the blue-
green ball of Seerak - jewel in the Colest crown - Kallun had
happily admired the sheer scale of Kabel's sprawl across the great
western continent. The Eastern Peaks cut a swathe from north to
south across the continent and the great width of the Naluri river
was but a tiny twinkle of blue against the blanket of colours that
spilled out into space from the billions of buildings, houses and
homes that made up Colest's giant capital city. A personal flyer
took six hours to get from one side to the other, on foot, even with
the express-ways it would take months. The city had never set out
to be so large. In the beginning Kabel had simply been the Council
Chambers, Assembly Halls, several blocks of government
administration buildings, some commercial estates and homes for
the workers that provide for them. A few million people at them
most. Over the last few centuries the pull towards Kabel had forced
it to grow, consuming out-lying towns and cities as it went, until
now they were all but indistinguishable from one another. Kabel
proper was still known as the region housing the Government, the
greater mass of the sprawl holding on to their own city and town
names, but everyone living in amongst its rising blocks and
walkways knew that they were all a part of Kabel. The great and
indestructible Kabel.

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There were regions in the city that were as infamous as the


city itself. Attel, the Cirurian suburb where ancient games were
played in open air arena's. Bafriel, on the south -east coast by the
Gulf of Tirr and below the Eastern Peaks, the Entertainment Centre
of Colest, where simms were produced by the thousand and techs
went to make their fortune. Llenrigern, home of the tribal settlers,
nomads who had taken root in the northern flatlands, below the
Great Halls and now lived in the cannibalised wrecks of written-off
space-craft and practised a strange and ancient form of Erran
worship. The lists of such places, rich with condensed culture
living side by side, scrolled through Kallun's mind as they passed
over the city. Below him giant cycle enhancers floated over the
city, keeping the air fresh and the weather tolerable, holding at bay
the ecological destruction that could so easily fall upon Kabel
without them.
As the shuttle neared Giant's Head Space Port and the
swarm of airborne craft that danced through complex and ingenious
flight patterns; far to the west of the space port he had been able to
make out the huge blue pyramid of Council Chambers, which
contained both the Council Hall and the General Assembly Halls of
Seerak. North of that sight the canyons of the subs had been a black
scar across the northern most edges of the city, masking the
twinkling blue of the river beyond. But that had passed from view
some time before.
In the time that he had to watch through the small port-
holes Janus's shuttle used, Kallun had missed the five spires the
Great Halls north of the river on Mount Geraz. Vash had pointed it
out to him as it dropped over the horizon but by the time he had
looked it was gone. It had been a shame, for now that they were
here and in the first stages of the mission he could do nothing but
think about those Halls and the plans that were being hatched there.
A small chime alerted Vash and Kallun to the opening of
the outer doors, there was a brief pause before a second chime
sounded and the inner hatch swung open into the room. There were

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three people in the party, filing out of the chamber one by one. Rae,
who stood almost as tall as Kallun and was dressed in a
conservative, one-piece trouser suit, came through the hatch first.
She nodded curtly at Vash and Kallun who had stood to meet her
team.
"I apologise for the delay." Rae said, her voice cold. Kallun
doubted it was deliberate, but it was initially unnerving,
nonetheless.
Behind her, ducking through the entrance was Jacob.
Dressed plainly he was at least twenty centimetres taller than
Kallun with muscles bulging from every human limb. Most of his
upper torso had been destroyed in the burning wreckage of his
fighter. Just half of his face had survived in a reasonable state of
presentability, resembling that of an experienced street fighter. The
other half was a silver-white mask. The fact that he lived at all was
a tribute to the men that rebuilt him. And they had built him to be a
fighter. The prosthetics that had replaced his left arm and various
other parts of his body were faster and stronger than his own limbs
and occasionally protruded from parts of his clothing. He was a
figure from nightmare, and that fearsome sight was not made any
better when he smiled at Kallun and Vash.
"Aft'noon." He said simply and took a seat to the left of
Rae.
Sal was the smallest of the trio, her thin frame was lost in
baggy clothes and she looked like a delicate toy that could break at
any moment next to Jacob. Her face was little different, and it was
only the set of her eyes that made Kallun believe that much of her
apparent frailty was an act she put on so that she could merge into
the background of any given situation.
He was surprised and pleased when Sal smiled broadly and
extended her hand.
"Commander Josephs." Her voice was full of enthusiasm
and Kallun liked her immediately. "It's good to meet you sir."

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"You too, Sal." Sal greeted Vash in a similar manner and


then took a seat on Rae's right, leaving Vash and Kallun the
opposite side of the table. Sitting down, with three of the Seven
Heads of the Wind team looking at them, Kallun felt like he was in
an interrogation simm. Only the chair to Kallun's right and the one
at the northern head of the table were empty.
Kallun looked at the two empty places around the table
pointedly.
"Aren't we missing some people?" he asked.
"D'rethen is out on business. He was unable to divert." Rae
sat tall and strait and her seat, her short hair flat against her head
and her lips pursed slightly. She was tense, and the pressure of her
position showed in the diamond like intensity of her eyes. It was
clear she was not willing to talk about what happened to others that
had gone before them.
Kallun noticed Sal's youthful features watching him closely.
"A shame. I would have liked to have met him." Kallun
spoke truthfully.
"I understand," Rae said. "But to have him come would
have put his cover in jeopardy." She nodded grimly. "In this
operation that is a risk too great to take."
"And the other chair?" Kallun nodded to the empty place at
the head of the oval table.
"Will remain empty for the duration of your stay."
"I see." Kallun nodded. "Then shall we begin?"
Rae nodded her assent, her sharp brows narrowing as she
focused her thoughts.
"As we have all been briefed on one another I'm assuming
that we can dispense with the pleasantries and get down to the
business at hand?" Rae waited for anyone to object and then, when
no-one did, plunged on. "Before we get into this charade I want to
make clear to both of you that up until now this had been an
intelligence operation only. And if and when all of this blows over
my first priority is the safety of my team. We have been working

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together in an information gathering capacity for just over three


years now and, after innumerous staff purgings by the Heresy are
still here today." She paused. "We have lost men before, but to be
frank, this new mission worries me. Dukall's orders give you
command, and I do not know what it is you have planned for this
team or what we will be able to achieve in the short time that we
have, but I do know that I don't want you destroying years of work
in a few days of terrorist madness."
Kallun raised an eyebrow. It had been a while since anyone
had called him a terrorist. He could feel Vash stirring beside him
and knew that Rae had struck a nerve with her too.
"Then let me make clear to you, from the beginning."
Kallun began. "That our purpose here is the preservation of this
government and its people and we will do whatever it takes to
achieve that end." Rae moved as if to object but Kallun forestalled
her. "Commander Sven, I've read your file and know you are
probably the best intelligence operative presently in the field. But
you have never been a hot-zone operative. But you've just lost two
men. And added to the events of this last week that makes your
field of intelligence a hot-zone of the highest priority. A dangerous
place. And whether you like it or not, more lives will be put at risk
before this is over. But not from terrorism or foolhardy
scaremongering but from the dark forces that are mobilising against
our government. These same lives will continue to be at risk until
we can dispose of Irache plan's for Colest leadership. Yes, we have
formulated some basic routes for this operation to proceed in, but
these are not terrorist ventures. You'll be pleased to know that was
not in Dukall's instructions. We're not on a political campaign. We
intend to stop a religious dictator from becoming a potential
dictator and terror never solves a thing in such a scenario."
"That, at much, is a relief." Rae nodded. Kallun wondered
what she had heard about the methods of hot zone operatives like
himself.

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"Commander," Kallun used the term to remind Rae of their


equal rank. "I respect your need to maintain the integrity of your
team and will endeavour to do so within the limitations this mission
provides us with. But, Vash and I are skilled and experienced in
our field, and I hope that you will credit us with freedom we need
to produce the maximum results."
"'Bit of action is what this place has been missing anyhow."
Jacob spoke. His silver jaw-line twisting slightly out of synch with
the half of his face that still looked human.
"I'm willing to take that risk." Sal said quickly. Her voice
was small, in contrast to Jacob's edged drawl. Her brown hair
swishing from one side of her head to the other as she glanced back
and forth from Rae to Kallun. "And D'rethen's in so deep he takes
that risk everyday." she added quickly as Rae thought silently for a
moment.
Finally Rae nodded.
"Then we are agreed."
Kallun breathed again. He should have anticipated those
fears before arriving here and done something to waylay them. He
was glad Rae had the sense to bring such things out into the open
straight away. Rae's people had just volunteered for this mission
without having to have been ordered and Kallun knew that they
would work all the better because of it.
"We have been tracking Irache now for several months,"
Rae began. "And, so far, his moves have followed a pattern that has
enabled us to determine roughly how he intends to act over the next
few weeks.
"As you know the Seiron Legions are now active and on the
move in Colest space. Irache has claimed a legitimate seat on the
council that would legalise his claim to the chairmanship of Colest
if he so wished, and, since declassification, he now has access to
every military facility in Colest space via his priests. He is quite far
gone up the road to power. The stage is set for his coup, should he
wish it. Truth be told it would take the combined efforts of

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hundreds of operatives to stop everything that has been set in


motion."
Kallun caught the trace of bitterness that ended the last
sentence. "Did you warn Dukall of what was coming?" he asked.
"Of course we warned him!" Rae snapped. "But he seemed
more concerned about jeopardising our position than about
stopping the Patriarch in his plans."
Sal cut in again. "You see, the Chief didn't want to stage an
active operation until the last possible moment, in case he lost us
and thereby lost his link to the Church. But the de-classification of
Alpha-camp caught him by surprise..."
"And now it's too late and we're all in the fire of Halla-Ka
together." Jacob finished and gestured with his steal arm
dramatically. "So it's us against Erran and his mighty army of holy
warriors!" He laughed. "The dreaded Seven Heads of the Wind. I'm
sure the prophets would be proud."
Rae shot him a look.
"So you see why we do not have great faith in the success
of this mission and the danger we are placing the Seven Heads in.
We have been lucky to escape detection. One slip up could
compromise us all."
Kallun smiled. "Then we'll just have to not slip up." He
leaned forward intently. "May I suggest that the first thing we need
to assess, is allies and enemies?" Kallun asked.
Rae looked at him momentarily. Her thoughts were hidden
by a veil of stone before she made up her mind. "Go ahead." she
said simply.
"We already know that Fraque is on Irache's side as are at
least seven of the council." Kallun began listing names.
"Who's still opposing him, then?" Vash asked.
"Councillor's Durne, Hathuri and Varess in the Council
Chamber," Rae responded. "And between twenty to thirty members
of the General Assembly."
"He has the majority then." Kallun stated.

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"Yes. He does." Rae nodded. "However, we do not believe


that it is all voluntary support. There's a lot of dirty tricks going on
that we can do nothing about, and its those that are turning the tide
in Irache's favour. We do know that those three councillors that are
against him are rock solid against him for one reason or another
and all attempts to sway them in his favour have thus far failed. We
think his first move may be to counter or remove that opposition."
"How?"
"We don't know. It depends on his time scale. If he thinks
he can get away with it he may just invite them to the Halls and
they'll disappear nice and quietly. If he can't get them to do that
then things might be a little less subtle."
"Shadow-runners?"
"That would be the obvious conclusion." Rae nodded.
"Who else is on our side?" Kallun asked.
"The obvious ones." Sal ventured.
"List them."
"Well," she began. "There's us for a start, the five of us
around the table. Then there's Dukall, and D'rethen .."
"Maybe." Jacob cut it. Rae frowned at him.
"Explain." Kallun asked.
It was Rae who replied. "Our contact with D'rethen is
sporadic. We do know that he answers to Irache personally now,
and in such a position can be extremely useful. However we also
know, through Sal and Jacob, that the services he offers Irache are
consistent with those of the most zealous shadow-runners. Jacob
believes he has crossed the line, but we have no evidence to that
effect and he still contacts me when necessary. He has given us
vital information before now."
"What do you think, personally?"
Rae seemed taken aback by the question. "Personally.
D'rethen is a killer. More than that I cannot say."
Kallun frowned. If he got the chance he would make some
personal inquiries about this D'rethen.

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"Any one else?" Kallun turned back to Sal.


"That's about it. Other than our friends at Alpha Camp, but
they're all being watched so closely we can't get within ten miles of
them. Nobody even knows where Dukall has gone." she replied.
The list of allies was short. Very short.
"All right." Kallun thought for a moment. "If we think that
Irache's first move is going to be against the Council members
opposing him then maybe that is where we should start. Rae, can
you make contact with the three Councillors opposing Irache, see if
they are willing to back any action against him should he be arming
for a coup."
"Does we really think he is going to try for power before
the peace talks?" Sal asked.
"If he wants the big chair before Dragon's Fall, a coup is
about the only option." Jacob said.
Kallun nodded. "We plan for the worse and hope it doesn't
come to that."
"So what kind of support are we looking for in that event?"
Rae asked.
"At the moment. Any kind." Kallun shrugged, plans
beginning to circle in his head wildly. "Ships, troops, arms,
operatives. Every protectorate has their own little covert ops.
sector, thought they'll never admit it, and I know Varess has access
to the Cirurian fleet."
"Pirates?" Jacob laughed.
"They call themselves privateers. If you want real pirates
then Spawn is your base and lets hope to high heaven that they're
not involved." Kallun remembered Andreas's words on the capture
of the Kabella and the involvement of pirates on that trip. "We also
know Councillor Durne has business contacts that could put
pressure on the Church when the time is right." Kallun paused.
"We could really do with them meeting us down here."
"They'll never agree to that." Sal explained.

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"Try." Kallun said flatly. "They have access to the kind of


resources we'll need. Gaera is in every official corner of Colest, we
are simply going to have to draw on areas they haven't touched
yet." Kallun turned to Jacob now. "What about Irache himself. Is
there anyone on the Pentateuch that is willing to oppose him or
looking for power?"
Jacob seemed caught by surprise and took a moment to
collect his thoughts.
"The Pentatauch are mostly puppets put there by Irache
himself. He assembled it mainly so that it wouldn't oppose him.
No-one's got the power anyway, the temporal and military affairs
of the church are directly under his control."
"Then we'll have to leave that area." Kallun said.
"What is Irache's spread in the otherness?" Vash asked
suddenly. The others stared at her blankly whilst Rae shook her
head.
"The mysteries of the Church have never been a priority."
Rae replied. "Anything on that realm is dealt with by D'rethen, but
we rarely find it has much to do with the politics and government
of the Church."
"Really." Vash said smoothly. She realised that she would
have to tackle that area of the mission alone. It was something
mortal men rarely considered or even wanted to consider, but
experience had taught her that events in the otherness had very real
and often terrifying consequences in the realms of man. Especially
when the Church was involved. There were powers out there that
really wanted to get their claws into the hearts of the children of
men.
"I think, our priority has to be the protection of those
Councillor's." Kallun resumed his thinking. "It may be that Irache
will try a legitimate transfer of power first, forcing Fraque to step
down and offering himself as candidate for the Chair. He'll need
either a unanimous vote from the council or a general election

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before he can take power that way and he can't get a unanimous
decision with such firm opposition."
"And he doesn't have time for a general election." Sal
added.
"Let's go beyond that, assuming he has a back-up plan."
Kallun stretched his thoughts, verbalising as he went. "If we can
stop him from removing the opposition from council what are his
alternatives?"
"Illegal seizure by force of arms." There was no emotion in
Rae voice as she spoke.
"Which would be a very logical explanation for his
mobilisation of the legions."
"But he would incite civil war that way and that would be
no use to him whatsoever." Rae dismissed the idea.
"Why?" Kallun didn't think that Irache was the kind of
person that would back down in the face of war.
"Irache doesn't want war. War doesn't suite his plans and
has never been a part of his agenda. He wants power, and he is wise
enough to know that absolute power can only be exercised in times
of peace and with the willing assent of the people. If he goes to war
he will remain at war for as long as even a fragment of pro-council
supporters remain. He has already had that once with the legacy of
the Hieran jihad. He doesn't want that again."
Vash made as if to disagree but then backed down, keeping
her thoughts to herself for now.
"So you think that seizure by force of arms is not an
option?" Kallun asked.
"No. But I think if he has to resort to that position he will
have alternatives other than a direct assault on Kabel available."
Rae face was becoming more and more animated. "You see
Irache's genius is his ability to plan ahead. His foresight is so
legendary there are some that say he has discovered a gateway to
the future in the otherness. But whatever he has, he anticipates
brilliantly and with plans that take you from behind or from the

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side, but never from the front. If he is forced to move with military
action he will have instituted plans to forestall the need for open
conflict. The way Irache works, that kind of battle will be over
before a shot is fired."
"In that case we need to know what it is that his foresight
has planned for us. Sal." Kallun turned on the locksmith who
jumped at her name. "I want listings of every priest assigned to
military installations throughout this sector. I want to know what
Priesthood Order they belong to, where they came from, years of
service, loyalty rating, the works. And I want it by tomorrow
morning."
Sal looked stunned for a moment and then agreed. She
would probably have to stay up all night to get the information
Kallun required but the limits on time they shared demanded
nothing less.
"Anything else?" Kallun was asking himself more than
anyone else and was surprised when Jacob answered.
"You may want to visit Irache's Communion Chamber."
Jacob said frowning.
Rae turned on him.
"His what?" she asked. Evidently this was the first Rae had
heard of such a place.
"I didn't get chance to report it yet." Jacob shrugged. "Last
night I was assigned to Irache's personal Tricend. I jumped at the
chance to be one of the Holy Three and guard the Patriarch.
Anyway, following his worship to his quarters he took us down a
passage and stopped outside this Communion Chamber, at least
that was what Irache called it. The Patriarch wanted to talk with a
shadow-runner there, may have been D'rethen, I don't know. They
were talking too low to hear, but the two seemed to disagree on
something. At one point the shadow-runner pointed at the
Communion Chamber and raised his head slightly, enough that I
caught a couple of words. Well one word really. "Dragonsfire". I

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thought you might be interested, having just transferred from that


op."
Kallun sat back. That was the second time since returning
from the Institute that the Dragonsfire had come up in conversation
in connection to the Heresy.
"Was there any indication that they were referring to the
operation and not the myth?" Vash asked. Her voice was tight
again, as it had been every time anyone mentioned the Dragonsfire.
Jacob shook his head. It was an unnerving sight. "Anyone
referring to the myth uses the words Draci Spa from the ancient
tongue. Only heathens use the Drioran translation."
"I'll take a look tomorrow night," Kallun said. "If you can
get me inside."
Jacob nodded. "'Meet me in the dome of the lower
presidency. 0200."
Turning his mind back to the plans he and Vash had
formulated, Kallun ran through things that they hadn't yet covered.
The idea of a connection with the Dragonsfire operation was
intriguing but it was not a part of his briefing for this operation. At
least not yet.
"We have to face up to the idea that Irache may well
succeed in eliminating the council opposition and claim the
Council Chair before Dragon's Fall." He said after a moment. "In
that case our only hope is a strong case for invoking clause 15."
"The evidence is not sufficient, without ..."
" ... Seriously jeopardising your cover." Kallun finished for
Rae. "Which is why we will need a middle man. The clause needs
to be invoked by someone non-political, a citizen of enough
influence and power to force a tribunal and an inquiry quickly
enough to at least delay the talks."
Vash was looking at him suspiciously. He knew she was
hazarding a guess over who he was thinking about.
"Who?" Rae asked.

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"I think we have just the kind of person who might be


willing for the task." Kallun punched in a transmit code and
downloaded a holo from his sub-dermal. The face appeared in a
screen at the end of the table, it was just as Kallun and Vash had
seen him at the Sabertooth the day before. "Janus Dafydd, owner
and proprietor of the Sabertooth Inn, merchant of renown success
and someone who hates the Heresy with a healthy passion."
"Does he know about this yet?" Vash asked.
"I sent a communiqué back with his runners ordering him to
join us in seven days, two days after Irache claims a seat in the
council. We should know by then if we have the support of Irache's
opposition on the council and we can make the accusation on 17th
of this month."
"The first day of the final session." Vash added.
"Is he up to it?" Rae asked. She knew Janus's face from
previous intelligence operations but had never personally met him.
"He's up to it." Kallun replied. "Whether or not he'll thank
me for it is another question all together. But having him here then
will give us the personnel to attack Irache on a political front, if
necessary before he gets the chance to get his hooks into the peace
talks. If we can get a tribunal by Ascension then we'll be a full ten
days ahead of the talks and Irache will have no chance of claiming
the government before then."
"What about Fraque?" Rae asked. "Putting Irache on ice
pending investigation will not stop him from dictating those same
talks through Fraque's mouth. Assuming he's still around after the
alleged coup."
Kallun frowned. "I have a feeling that if we can break the
Irache - Fraque connection, our beloved chairman could be
persuaded to follow the Council agenda for the talks and not
Irache's. The key is to get Irache out of the picture for the duration.
That done we can regroup and make a full scale assault on the
Heresy's power within this government."

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"And how do you propose to break that connection?" asked


Rae.
Kallun shrugged. "I'm open to suggestions."
Sal, who had been sat listening intently started to speak.
"You 'd have to find out what their line of communication is first.
The Heresy mainly uses trans-light dumps to off-world missions,
but in and around Seerak and especially to the Kabel missions he
uses Comnet like everyone else. Other than personal contact in and
around the Chamber that would be their main route of
communication. Fraque's home is in Nialorin, west of the Great
Halls, right?"
Kallun nodded.
"Right," Sal continued. "Then all we have to do is scupper
the line between the two of them. That way if Irache wants to send
a message he will have to send it by hand or on the airwaves.
Airwaves are interceptable, and if he tries it by hand .. Well, you
know how tight security is around the Chairman."
"Not tight enough, but it's a good start." said Kallun. Sal
positively beamed. "However, I'd prefer to monitor that line before
we cut. Can you do that for us Sal?"
"Child's play."
"Good. But I doubt Irache relies solely on the Comnet.
We'll need to find out who he's using as a contact when he's to busy
to control Fraque himself, it will have to be someone close to the
chairman. Any information about that over the next few days
would be appreciated." Kallun looked around the room. Sal had
been assigned her tasks for the moment, Rae was heading off to
Nialorin to contact the Council sympathisers, he was going in to
take a look at this Communion Chamber with Jacob later and he
had a pretty good idea what Vash was planning to do during the
next several hours. Everything else would have to wait until their
next meeting, which in turn would depend on what they could
achieve in the next twenty four hours.

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"Now all we have to do is slip into our cover characters and


get this ball rolling" Kallun said, mentally scrolling those
characters through his mind and slotting them into the growing
mission agenda.
The characters were the work of Rae's team, carefully
crafted to be indistinguishable from real people in every ID test and
created from the data bases of every general population listing by
Alpha camp operatives.
Each of those characters had been forged to allow them
maximum access to the facilities in and around the Great Halls and
freedom of movement between Kabel and the Halls which housed
the Heresy's government. In reality the characters were mostly bio-
signals, emitted by transmitters that were a part of the sub-dermal
processor all operative's carried. These signals imitated the
matching patterns on the central data bases, they were designed to
deceive almost every form of identification detection beyond a
barium sweep. The rest of the character's make up were merely
costumes and stage-play.
For Kallun the first of those characters was a Vakorn Priest
named Virek Dorallus. Virek was married to a young colonist from
Gamalia named Radullaš (Vash's first and principle character - she
had determined to tear Dukall a new ear hole for that one). They
had both come on a pilgrimage to the Great Halls and would be
staying a week. They were fictional characters Sal had created
personally for this operation. It was a good cover as it provided
both himself and Vash with quarters in the Tabernacle of the Great
Halls and access to the Priesthood Sanctuary from which he could
find his way into most of the areas within the Great Halls. For
Kallun that one fiction should be enough.
However for Vash to enter the Great Halls she had to carry
a second character. In that guise her name was Kishuri, an
independent Gimnian Priestess whose movements around the halls
were unrestricted in the lower quorums.

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"Let's keep in close contact from now on." Kallun said,


closing the meeting. "I want everyone to contact Rae with your
progress daily. Including anything you think we could use against
the Heresy, no matter how small. But, do not precipitate any action
unless I give the word. Clear?"
There were general nods and grunts of acceptance from
around the room. Even Rae responded in the affirmative.
"Good. Then let's go to work."

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Chapter Six - The Otherness

"Who can regard the accountable day of the coming of


Erran? For the ministers of light and dark shall watch over the
great city and fence with swords of words amidst the multitude." -
The Wars of Askanas Chapter 3 Verse 2 (Taken from the caverns of
Shal Ria)

Day 8. 1712 Central Kabel Time.


Kabel was crowded even in the otherness. A psi with
sufficient talent to project themselves into the otherness occurred as
often as one in every two-million births these days. Most of these
Talents would have only enough power to observe the otherness for
within a few kilometres of their body after which their spirit bodies
would wax pale and their conscious diminish. Such talents had
little skills in interaction or the exercise of influence beyond their
own thought-space. But in the swirling realms of the otherness that
flowed through the bridges and towers of Kabel there were so
many psi's with those powers that the echoes of their passing
presence rung like a rushing wind through that realm.
For Vash it was no longer as unnerving as it used to be.
She had first come to Kabel at the age of ten, when her
skills as a Talent were becoming apparent. Her guide on that first
trip out into the Kabel streams had been Bethwin, a priestess of the
Gimni and the old family friend that had brought her to Seerak for
her novitiate with the Priesthood. They had flown together in
otherness often at home.
That first time in Kabel had been a bit difficult for the child
she once was. Her natural shyness and innocent trust in the
Bethwin's wisdom and experience had made Vash cling to the older
woman like a lamb to its suckling mother. Their trip into the
otherness above Kabel had been something of a lesson in the third
week of their stay, designed to prepare Vash for the final stages of

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her entrance examinations. The two of them had only flown as far
as Nialorin when Vash first heard the noise. With her vision of the
wealthy suburb north of the Naluri river augmented by her
othersight the noise had come as such a surprise that she had almost
been wrenched back into her body in the Tabernacle. Only
Bethwin's quick thinking had stopped her from endangering herself
so.
Every psi produced some noise when they moved in the
otherness. It was merely the eddies of disturbed thought-space
rippling out like waves on a still lake. Mostly it was a quiet
sensation, hardly a noise at all when the passing of another psi was
felt, but here in Kabel the work of thousands of psi's dipping in and
out of the otherness at will had stirred thought space into a raging
torrent of noise. As a child Vash had feared that the noise would
tear her other-self apart, so powerful was the sensation. But in time,
with the careful tutoring of Bethwin and then, after her acceptance
into the Gimnian novitiate and through her own experimentation,
she had learnt to let the noise pass her by, slipping between the
waves and taking a firm grasp on the more solid thought patterns
around her. The technique limited the distance of her other-sight,
but it kept her sane, as it must have preserved the thousands of
other psi's that wandered that realm. And yet still, all these years
later, the noise was still the first thing Vash felt in the otherness.
Following the meeting of the previous evening the Seven
Head's team had gone their separate ways, returning to their duties
following the meeting. Kallun and Vash had returned to Giants
Point and assumed their cover roles for the first stage of their
mission. Travelling as Virek and Radullaš Dorallus they had taken
a public shuttle to the Great Halls early in the morning and checked
in at the Tabernacle, the large, domed building east of the Great
Hall's themselves. Parts of the building provided visiting Priests
and dignitaries shelter and it was to there that they were directed.
Upon reaching their room they had chance to examine the luggage
that had been amply provided by Rae. Kallun had been dismayed to

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find the extent to which his clothing in those cases consisted of


various styles of priestly robes and very little in the way of every
day clothing. But his humour had been restored when he found that
the false bottoms of both those cases stored new combat-suits and a
variety of operational equipment.
The quarters they had been assigned were not overly
spacious. They sat west of the novitiate, in the visitors section of
the building that was separated by thick walls from rest of the
Tabernacle. There was room enough for one double bed - a
torturous device that was nothing more than a spring mattress on a
square wooden palette - a wardrobe, draws and a bathroom with
shower through a single door at the end of the room. Kallun had
seemed happy enough with the quarters, they were sufficient for
their needs, although they had to take food from the visitors
refectory on the ground floor of the Tabernacle which was an
inconvenience at best.
Unpacking a standard personal organiser, a slim-line
computer that hid an Alpha Camp S-70 sub-dermal interface,
Kallun had plugged it into his wrist and fallen into an information
evaluation trance shortly after they arrived. Whilst Kallun was thus
engaged in planning their next moves, Vash had availed herself of
the room's shower. It was not often that you came across the old
water spray showers. Sometimes Vash thought that the Church was
the only place you could still find them, and though they were
nowhere near as comfortable or refreshing as the massaging clean
of a hygen cubicle, they were an experience Vash had come to
relish as one of her few pleasures when she was a child.
They had lunched together at around midday and then
returned to quarters. There Kallun continued his catch up work on
the priesthood duties. He intended to be convincing in the part
before he set foot inside the great halls. After a short while Vash
had decided to use the time doing some research of her own. She
had composed her body, relaxed her will and let herself drift into
the otherness around the tabernacle as she had often done so long

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ago. The experience was much the same as it had been six years
before when she had last probed the otherness with her body
resting in the grounds of the Great Halls.
Thoughts of her novitiate had invaded her thinking several
times during the last day or two. Knowing that she was returning to
the training grounds of her youth had disturbed her deeply. The
child in Vash had never quite forgiven either Bethwin or her family
for leaving her alone in the Great Halls under the rigorous tutorlige
of the novitiate Deacons. She had been worked like she had never
worked before and whilst those around her had formed bonds of
friendship and kinship with other noviciates, her natural power and
excellence in class had branded her an outcast and she was neither
befriended by her classmates or cared for by her tutors. There had
been one tutor that had guided her through the first two years of the
novitiate. But that beloved mentor had been reassigned to the
missions just before her thirteenth birthday. Somehow, through
experiences that had taught her life as she had never seen it before,
she had carried on.
She was fifteen when she had come to the conclusion that
she no longer cared for the novitiate. It was not that she ever
stopped believing in the teachings of the prophets, or in the divine
care of Erran and his Holy Angels. What she stopped believing was
that the Church was run under that same divine direction. She had
finally learnt of the Heresy only a few months before, and the
discovery that a fifth order of the Priesthood - Hiera - had been all
but wiped out by the Heresy shook her faith like nothing had ever
done before. For weeks she had tried to find an explanation for the
deeds of Gaera, but the more she searched, the more she found, and
it was not evidence that favoured the present Patriarchal order.
From that time on she had determined to always refer to the body
of the Church as the Heresy, for to her the Church had been lost
with that Heresy never to return and its novitiate was meaning less.
Her dissatisfaction had become quickly evident to her tutors
as her results deteriorated. Her only joy in those dark days had been

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her time in the otherness, shadowing powerful psi's. Watching the


workings of Gaeran priests, envying their ability to slip through the
gateways to the realms beyond. It was there that she had discovered
her ability to shadow people in the real world whose minds were
not roaming in the otherness. By homing in on their thought
patterns like a bird to its nest she could observe their every move.
She had watched many people during that time, believing it no sin,
for she was never physically watching and abided by a set of strict
personal rules in those activities.
It was then that she had discovered the Mysteries. At first
she had been shocked that the Colest Church was actively studying
the ancient arts of the otherness. But then she had become curious.
The sacred texts that taught the Mysteries were kept hidden from
novices, but by shadowing older priests she managed to read many
passages from copies of the texts that had been stored deep in the
caverns of Shal-Riaa since recorded time began. She had nearly
been caught several times in that activity, for the priesthood was
well aware of the dangers wandering psi's could present. There
were patrols in the otherness and devices planted in the walls and
doors of certain chambers that could scatter thought control to the
wind and send the spirit racing back to the body like a beaten dog.
But in that time of learning she had discovered one pinion of hope
that forged her faith anew.
She had been reading over the shoulder of a vile but none to
careful Elder of Gaera. He was a favourite of hers to watch, a lover
of the ancient texts but too old and slow to use more than cursory
protection when reading those texts. On that particular day he had
been reading in the First Book of Midiana, the prophetess who had
taught the people of Galmfydd, a lost world somewhere in the
tribal homelands. The book was a huge volume, with thick and
yellowing pages bound with thread that was sown to a hardened
leather cover. There were many strange passages in the book, and
the words seemed at first to follow no particular thread of thought
and taught little of the powers in the otherness as Vash had hoped.

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But after a while she had realised that many of the passages open
before her referred to the "last days" and "the final dispensation of
the Captivity of the Dragon" which were both terms synonymous
with the coming of Geddinan, and the eternal reign of Erran in the
seas of Heaven (or the eternal reign of the Dragon, depending on
whose side you believed) - an event the Priesthood believed would
come soon and was often excited about. It was in that section that
she had come across the passage that had given her the hope she
had not dreamed to discover. It was in the fourth chapter, twelfth
and thirteenth verses:
"In Mirr there shall be heard the voice of weeping, the
crying of the mother for her beloved children. For they have all
gone astray, nation against nation and Priesthood against
Priesthood. In a time when peace should reign, my children, my
Priests and Elders have sought war one with another and have
reaped destruction to the uttermost part of Hiera.
Wherefore, shall salvation for my Priesthood be found in
the bowels of the earth, in the heart of the otherness, beyond the
gateway which leads to the Dragon. And out of the mouth of
soldiers will come the power of restoration, the Kallshial shall
come and the sweet bread that shall give my people Hiera life shall
be given by them, and restore them to that which they have lost."
She had read once, feeling a welling excitement in her
heart. A second time she read, her spirit glowing suddenly with the
force of those feelings and a burning deep inside. They were
essentially obscure verses, and yet they contained the answers she
had been seeking for so many months. To her there came a crystal
clarity that defied disbelief. For the Priesthood had warred against
itself in these last years and the destruction of Hiera was almost
complete. But the scripture said that there was hope, that through
powers in the otherness and the work of soldiers there could be a
restoration.
Her excitement had so enlivened her spirit that she lost
control of her shielding and was forced to flee when the partially

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talented elder sensed her presence. But she had returned to her
body with a determination that had borne her up since that day. She
had thanked Erran with all her heart that night and then made plans
for her escape. If salvation was to come through soldiers, then she
was going to join the military and be a part of it.
In the days since that time she had achieved her many of her
goals, passing through the years of training required to reach the
level of intelligence work she was presently at. It seemed ironic to
her that her second mission should bring her straight back to where
she started, in a room in the tabernacle surrounded by the Heresy in
all its glory. All it's corruption. And yet there was sense to it. It felt
right and Vash had learnt to rely on such feelings as on nothing
else.
She had flown out of her body towards Kabel purposefully
probing the twisting, noisy otherness that wove through it's endless
streets and towers. The city below her hummed with the
movements of other psi's, hugging closer to the ground, lacking the
range and power she possessed in that realm. Sometimes residential
blocks seemed kilometres blow her, other times risers stretched into
the sky close enough to touch. It had changed little in her time
away. Here and there the remnants of old gateways, now useless,
stirred around her. She would go and investigate from time to time
nonetheless. An old gateway was still a gateway despite its useless
nature.
Presently she hovered by one such gate high above the city,
about sixty kilometres north of Biodrome. It swirled gently in the
currents of the otherness, a blue white vortex, its centre dark,
flashing with occasional bursts of light. Vash had often wondered
what it was like to go through a gateway. Having never been taught
how, she had never tried, there were too many dangers, particularly
if it was an uncharted gate. You could end up in realms of thought
far beyond the otherness with no way of returning to your body.
There were also gateways known to lead nowhere, into which a
mind would slip only to be scattered out into the universe, killing

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the winsome wander as quickly as a blaster bolt through the head.


This one looked like it still had some activity left in it and she
wondered why no-one had left a marker to guard it. Markers were
mental images woven out of the fabric of the otherness, they were
hard to make, and took hours to form but the gateways were too
dangerous and too important not to be marked. An old gateway
such as this one could be anywhere up to three thousand years old
and it was unusual for it to have escaped notice in that time, even if
it was wandering gate.
Watching the swirling mass Vash was reminded of the
wrenching decent into the strange realm of the Dragon. Sometimes
her experience in that realm seemed like an episode out of a dream,
and yet Kallun was witness to the suffering that it had wrought
upon her. The strain of transference stretching her powers beyond
their natural tolerance. She had no doubt that she had been taken
somewhere in those minutes beyond morphe-space, but where?
And to whom? The image of that great beast, it's eyes boring into
her soul haunted her day and night.
Vash moved on. She had no time to mark the gate herself
and would return to it another day if she got the chance. Besides,
there were others here, she sensed a few thoughts sweep out
towards hers, attempting to make contact. She politely but firmly
brushed them aside, she was not out here to make friends. Her
purpose was to search not to be found, and casual contact with the
population of Kabel could cause all sorts of complications.
Around her there was no sign of the man she sought.
D'rethen's thought patterns had been distinctive when they had last
met. That meeting had been in the otherness too, precipitated when
she had been on exercises with other psi-ops. D'rethen had come to
see what was happening. The very fact that he had come so far
from his body was an indication of his power, but Vash had clearly
remembered the distinctive pattern of his thoughts around his spirit
form. There, in the otherness, his appearance had been dictated by
his own image of himself, his features smoother and sharper than in

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the holo Andreas had shown Kallun and herself. He had paid her
little attention then, more interested in his former friends from psi-
ops. It had been about six months before and Vash presumed that
he must have been just as embroiled in the Seven Heads of the
Wind then as he was now.
Searching Kabel's principle districts she could find little
sign of him or even of his passing. She had been sure she would
trace his other-self in or around Kabel. The likeliest place to find
him would have been in the Great Halls themselves, but there were
many dangers in riding the otherness around the Halls now. The
Heresy had stepped up activity in that region immensely. The
thought space around the Halls was crowded and there were
gateways gathering nearby for who knows what purpose. There
were also rumoured to be new creatures in the otherness, things no
man had encountered before, but Vash thought that may have been
the result of city-psi's with over active imaginations about Church
goings on. However, she was no longer a novice, her power shone
despite her attempts to hide it from fellow priests and activities in
the otherness there would have to be conducted with the utmost
care. If she was unable to find D'rethen in Kabel, she would have to
try the Halls, but Vash was putting that off until she had exhausted
the areas in and around Kabel.
Flying north once more Vash approached the canyons of the
Subs. There was a darkness about the subs even in the otherness.
The compact effect of so much sorrow disturbed even that realm
and Vash had often shied away from its sickly gloom. She hovered
at the edge of the canyon, where the tops of high level building
peered up at the evening twilight catching the last rays of the
setting sun on the tower tops. She was about to turn away when the
faintest stir, deep below her alerted her to the approach of another
talent.
Searching about her she dove for cover in the upper levels
of a nearby building, The floor was a residential block and the
occupants, a couple in their late seventies were playing simm-

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sports in booths in one corner of a large room. Matching her


thought emissions closely to theirs she hoped that the approaching
talent would not notice the ripples of her flight. To be sure she
reformed her spirit body to resemble the mould around her.
Hovering in the wall itself she extended her senses a few
centimetres to watch who it was that was passing.
There were two of them. She could sense the separate
thought patterns, distinct from one another, and yet sharing many
similarities. Recognition made her gasp. One of the them was
definitely D'rethen, but the other was a power she had never
encountered before, and the sense of it was strange, alien and
disturbing despite being fully cloaked. The aura about that power
was dark unlike any human aura. As the two figures flew up from
the depths of the otherness their spirit forms came into view.
D'rethen was the same as she had seen him before, his face
smooth, his features dark and sharp. Dressed in his shadow-suit
even here he cut a wiry figure, broad across the shoulders, but
short, with a somewhat misshapen face. Any approaching talent
would know that they faced one of the Church's dark assassins as
soon as they saw him. His choice of clothing here was as much a
uniform as the combat version Vash wore in the otherness herself.
The similarity was not lost her.
The second figure was quite different. His body was robed
and no thought patterns shone through that robe, his face was
hidden in a large hood that covered his head and stretched at the
sides as if that head was somehow flat and distended. For a second
she thought she glimpse something flicker out from the figure's
mouth. She recoiled instinctively recollecting the Dragon's forked
tongue and rumours about serpents in the otherness.
In that moment D'rethen stopped. Standing in the space
above the lip of the canyon he exchanged a few words with his
companion before the hooded figure moved on.
Vash watched him as he stood there, above the subs,
looking down into its depths. Unreadable thought patterns flashing

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along the length of his spirit body. To mortal minds the sight would
appear beautiful, the colours of a human being augmented for
display in the otherness. With the right training, Vash had once
heard, you could even read those colours and interpret the thoughts
that lay beyond them just by looking at them. It sounded a lot more
comfortable than projecting your own presence into someone else's
mind.
At length D'rethen turned and faced the building Vash was
hiding in.
"Has anybody ever told you that you radiate power like
bonfire at midnight?" D'rethen asked pointedly. For a moment
Vash was unsure how to respond, fearful that she had been seen so
easily. "Look, I can't talk to you whilst your hiding in that block, so
I'd appreciate it if you would come out here and talk."
Vash came out of the building, changing her shape to her
natural self as she did so. Gliding slowly towards him she stopped
just a couple of metres away from the waiting assassin.
"Better." D'rethen said, his dark eyes staring at her. "So?"
He spread his hands and waited for her to speak.
"So, what?" Vash asked, confused by such strange
beginnings.
"You came searching for me, I presume there was a
reason."
Vash noticed that when he spoke, his eyes stared, like lasers
cutting open your soul.
"Who was that?" Vash nodded in the direction the robed
figure had gone.
"A Guardian. He guards one of the lesser gates above the
Ur." Vash had heard of such phenomena, they were new to
otherness and she was unsure what they meant.
"Why would you meet with a Guardian?"
"We had business." D'rethen was aware of the arousal of
Vash's suspicions and explained. "I am personal aide to Irache," he
explained. "Sometimes I conduct business in the otherness when he

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cannot come personally or trust one of the lesser talents. It is


normal and not exactly treasonous." D'rethen looked her up and
down. "You've matured since our last meeting. Good. I doubted
you would have the skill necessary when I heard they were sending
you with Kallun Josephs." A shadow passed through D'rethen's
body when he spoke Kallun's name, but was gone as quickly as it
appeared.
"So I ask again. Why did you seek me out?"
"I came for information." Vash said quickly.
"What kind?"
Vash scanned around her. There were no other psi's near, it
seemed safe enough to talk, even so, she projected her words on a
closed band straight at D'rethen's mind. "Your contact with the rest
of the Seven Head's has been sporadic, at best. Some of them aren't
even sure that you are working for us any more. I came to find out
what you know that can be used against Irache and Heresy."
"My field of expertise is not politics." D'rethen said sharply.
"Neither is mine. But this is the Heresy we are fighting and
their realm is here. And to fight them out there we need to fight
them here to."
D'rethen laughed suddenly. "You want to wage war in the
otherness? Don't be a fool, child. Have you see the power we have
over the Great Halls recently?"
Vash ignored the jibe but noticed the possessive 'we'. "What
I want, is to kick Irache where it hurts. And I want you to help me."
"Really? And how am I going to that."
"By providing the information necessary to determine our
next course of action."
D'rethen nodded. "What do you want to know."
"For what reason does Irache want the government?"
"Money, power, wealth, fame." D'rethen shrugged. "What
other reason's do men like him have."
"That's not enough."
D'rethen's eyes narrowed. "Why do you say that."

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"Irache is a man who has known the Mysteries. I hear he


has even found and travelled beyond Dragon's gate." D'rethen
nodded, non-commitally. Vash continued. "He knows what true
power is and it has nothing to do with the command of worldly
governments. Now I do not know why a man with ultimate
authority in this realm and all the realms beyond it, wants to rule
Colest, but I can hazard some pretty good guesses."
"Hazard away."
Vash stared at D'rethen, his face was blank, his thoughts
barely moving. She struggled on.
"I think he has seen something in this realm that he wants,
and only the manipulation of temporal governments is going to get
it for him. I think he seeks to bring about some events that will
perhaps hurry the day of Geddinan during his life-time. Perhaps he
seeks Arvon's position as High Patriarch of Creation. The truth is I
do not know. But I think you do."
"The truth?" D'rethen spat the word out like rotten food.
"The truth is that you seem to think Irache confides in me a lot
more than he does in anyone. The truth is no one knows why he
wants power, except that he is Hegrel-Padech High Patriarch of
Colest, and when he commands, we do and take it for the greater
will of Erran and not for our own understanding. The truth is I
report everything I know to Commander Sven, and as much as that
parlech Jacob thinks I hold back most of what I find, the truth is I
find little of enough significance to risk reporting in."
"Why didn't you report the gathering of the gates above the
Halls?"
"To whom?" D'rethen laughed. "No-one but those with the
gift of the golden thread can even comprehend the gates. What was
I supposed to say? 'Mythical things are happening in the otherness,
Commander.' or 'Irache is making the gates mysteriously accessible
to himself.'? If the old man wants to spend his dotage wandering
the nether-realms then let him."

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"That's it?" Vash said, not believing that a man of his power
knew so little.
"That's it. Irache keeps everything political to himself and
makes no excuses for his exercises in the otherness. Why should
he?" D'rethen turned and looked at the sky. "Your name is Vash
isn't it?"
Vash nodded.
"Then, Vash, the Heresy dabbles in many strange arts that
ordinary people fear. But people like you and I rise above such
fears to embrace things that can only benefit the pathetic hordes
that team below us. I must go. If I need you I know where are, but
don't come looking for me again like that."
With that he gathered his will and accelerated away from
Vash into the evening sky faster than she could follow. His passing
left thick waves in the otherness that Vash rode easily. For a few
moments she stood there, hovering on the edge of the subs as the
last light of day faded to nothing.
Slowly she moved away. Letting her spirit ride the currents
of the otherness gently and easing the noise of Kabel from her
consciousness, she gathered her thoughts and ran through her
conversation carefully. As she thought, she realised slowly that
D'rethen's awkwardness had masterfully avoided answering any of
the questions she had come to ask. He had offered her nothing,
except vague excuses which, when they came from his mouth, had
sounded quite logical.
Thinking on D'rethen himself, his thought patterns as she
had seen them were still that of a killer and there was the stain of
recent death on his spirit. She shuddered to think what kind of
business he had been conducting in the subs for Irache. A shadow-
runner's business was never pleasant, particularly for the person on
the receiving end of that business. He was a dark soul, and Vash's
initial dislike of him, formed at their first meeting months before
had only been strengthened by their meeting this evening.

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To her surprise, Vash founded herself high above the city


by the old, unmarked gateway. She toyed again with the idea of
beginning to fabricate a marker but discarded it, for she had neither
the time nor the energy for such a task. Besides if, there were more
of these Guardians in the otherness, as D'rethen had hinted, it was
probably their task anyway.
I'm going to have to do this alone, she thought, deciding not
to trust D'rethen and use him only as and when it was completely
necessary.
"You are right not to trust him."
Vash spun around at the voice. She hadn't heard anyone
approach and was shaken to discover a woman in a long robe stood
just over a metre behind her. Vash had kept her back to the gate
whilst she had been thinking and hadn't thought that it would attract
other visitors. She had also been lax with her thought shield and the
woman could have read her like a book if she had so desired.
"D'rethen is everything that he seems, but nothing he would
like you to believe." The woman's voice was rich and melodic, her
features sharp but elegant and her eyes completely black. Vash
recognised the robes she wore and gasped.
"You take a great risk showing allegiance to Hiera in the
otherness above Kabel," Vash said, indicated the woman's robes.
"I only take risk in meeting you. Particularly since you have
been favoured of the Dragon."
"What do you know of that?" Vash said, suspicious and
afraid all at once.
"Enough, to know that you are not yet his servant and the
choice of your actions is still yours. So I am here to bring balance
to his actions."
"Balance?" Shadow-runners preached 'balance' as doctrine
and Vash was surprised to find this woman in Hieran robes
speaking of it.
"It is the law of the realms of men. The dragon has pushed
back the boundaries of his exile and so we must extend the borders

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of our domain too. If he keeps extending his borders, soon his


realm and ours will meet again, and that would be .. unfortunate."
The woman was watching Vash carefully, as she shook her
head. "I don't understand."
"You are right to be confused. We have made our ways
mysterious, so that few may understand them, and thereby use
them. It is that use, or, more appropriately, that misuse of our
mysteries that is causing this conflict in your realm, and that allows
the Dragon freedom to extend the realm of his exile. Therein also
lies the reasons for the Gaeran pursuit of worldly power. And I
assure you, if it is not stopped then many will suffer the fate of
those who have fallen into the Dragon's realm."
"You are saying that the key to this mission is in the
mysteries?" Vash asked, incredulous that this woman knew and
understood so much, and equally incredulous that she felt herself
accepting her word without question. "How am I supposed to find
them?"
"Most of them have already been found and are being put to
use by servants of the Dragon. Your goal must be to use them in
the ways that they are intended for, that balance might be achieved,
lest the war come too early, when neither of us is ready for it."
"How will I know how to use such things?"
"We will guide you, as we have guided you before and you
will know."
Vash felt a flicker of doubt, remembering how little she had
understood things during her visit in the realm of the Dragon.
Although she had not considered, until this moment that he may
have been the great Dragon spoken of by the prophets.
"Do not fear, so." The woman's smile was kind but firm.
"The Dragon chose you because your heart seeks that which we
seek. He needs such a one, and he needs to deceive them, for his
need to work deceit is as great as your need to eat, sleep, love and
be loved. Such is his chosen path."

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Vash glanced down, her emotions stirred by the words of


this mysterious woman who wore the robes of a lost Priesthood.
"But I.." she said.
But the woman was gone and only the gate remained,
shimmering with green light which faded back to its normal blue
and white after just a moment.
Vash didn't notice the colour changes in the gate, she was to
busy searching the otherness for a trace of the woman's passing.
There was none. And once more Vash found herself reflecting on a
conversation.
If the woman had spoken truth then the answers to the
Heresy's bid for power was to be found in the ways Irache was
using the ancient Mysteries. And Vash intended to find out just
what those were.

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Chapter Seven - The Great Halls

"They marvel and say that the day is not yet at hand. All is
well for the world is at peace. The Kallshial is not seen when he
walks amongst the children of the chosen, and they fear him not for
they know him not, neither the power that travels with him." -
Extract from the Book of Esiath the Outcast. Chapter 62, verse 63.
(From the Library Hall of Hiera IV).

Day 8. 2146 - Central Kabel Time


"This is ridiculous!" Kallun threw the book aside
distastefully, put his head back against the wall and stared at the
ceiling. He was sitting on the bed in comfortable trousers and a
simple sweater. Vash thought he looked like a student revising for
exams.
"What is?" she asked, looking up from her studies which
were spread out before her on a holo-plate.
"This." Kallun indicated the small discarded book. It was a
real book, with real paper and printed words, the Church often used
them for they were hard to altar once printed, and surprisingly hard
to get rid of. The book he was reading was "Heart of the
Enlightened" by Manal Al Quiy, a study in the priesthood's roles in
the otherness that was popular amongst lesser priests. Kallun,
however, was stuck in the introduction.
"What, from such a small and inoffensive article, could
disturb my dear lord?" Vash said tartily adopting the formal form
of address given by wives of the priesthood to their husbands. She
was still smarting from being turned into a colonial wife on her
bio-scan. Kallun ignored the jibe.
"I've read this introduction twice now and I still don't know
what in Halla-Ka it's talking about!" Kallun pointed at the
offending book. "How am I supposed to grasp these concepts when
there's no guide anywhere to what half of this stuff means! Look!"

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Kallun scooped up the little book and picked out lines at random.
"Things like this 'spirit matter' and 'intelligence influence' and
'temporal attachments' and a whole bunch of other terms that mean
absolutely nothing to me. This was not on the bio-chip database!"
"You never passed through the Noviciate." she shrugged,
and then mischievously added. "But perhaps this humble maid
servant could enlighten you?"
"Maid servant, yes. Humble, I don't think so."
"And how would you know?" Vash challenged.
"It doesn't need a psi to figure a stubborn soul when one
happens along."
"Now there's lasers calling light hot for you," she said.
"And don't confuse stubborn with proud."
"So you admit that you're stubborn?"
"What ever gave you that idea?"
"The fact that you never stop at any task until you get what
you want." Kallun smiled. "I didn't say that it was a bad thing."
Vash laughed inwardly. Her mother had accused her of
something similar as a child. She always did get what she wanted.
Most people never saw it until too late, but, after just over a week
of work together, Kallun had seen right into her. She smiled. And
conceded. "Maybe." When Kallun looked like he was waiting for
more she changed the subject and indicated the discarded book.
"Now, do you want to avail yourself of my abilities or not?"
"After barely a week together?" Kallun said, his face
absolutely straight. "And there was me taking you for a clean living
woman."
It took Vash a moment or two too realise that the
Commander was joking. In that time enough expressions crossed
her face that Kallun couldn't keep his own straight for long. A low
rolling belly laugh cut short her blushing embarrassment. Vash was
surprised at his laugh. She hadn't heard it properly before. It was
rich and broad, and came out in an undulating bass.

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She wanted to hear more, but instead she hit his arm
playfully and swore at him. Silently, though, she smiled. It was a
start.
Kallun realised she was waiting for him to stop chuckling
and controlled his breathing.
"All right," he said. "You may share your wisdom on these
most puzzling of terms." He indicated the discarded book and sat
back
Vash breathed in and tried to come up with a simple
explanation. She had read the book a few months back and ran the
introduction through her mind.
"I think what he is trying to say is, that if you are going to
understand anything of the otherness then you must understand the
forms we take in all the realms of our existence." She checked to
see if Kallun was listening. The laughter lines had gone and he was
frowning at her now, which she decided meant that he was.
"According to the Book of Kiminuci we have three shells of
existence which determine our state of reality. The first and most
basic of these shells is called Intelligence. The matter that makes up
Intelligence is the finest matter of all our existence, it is eternal and
unchangeable, it was before we were born and will be until the
uttermost reaches of time without end. Imagine it like a ball of
light, upon which our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams and our very
being is imprinted and shining.
"On top of that matter is laid the coarser and thicker form of
our spirits. This second shell is the creation of Erran and it gives us
much of what we are physically and genetically. This is matter
controlled by our intelligence, it is in harmony with the otherness
and, unlike intelligence matter, its form is fine enough to be
controlled by our thoughts, making it mutable, enabling us to
disguise who we are when necessary and take other shapes.
"Finally, through birth, our spirits take upon them our
mortal bodies, which we keep for a time and in which we prove our
worth to become one with the Chosen. This mortal body is in the

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adult image of our spirit bodies when Erran created them, but
unlike our spirit bodies it moulds to our thoughts slowly and over
periods of many decades. This is the thickest and most coarse of all
matter, for it is temporal, and the bonds it forms are constantly in
flux. This form can exist only in a temporal universe, the one
which all mankind see hear and feel whilst in this mortal frame at
the exclusion of the understanding of the other forms which exist
within us." Vash shrugged. "Had it not been for the prayer of Aniaš
we would all have remained so. However since his prayer Erran has
yearly blessed a few children with the golden thread. A cord that
frees the spirit to wander in the otherness whilst the body yet lives."
"A cord?" Kallun shook his head impatiently.
"It's a concept more than an actual device, there really is no
such thing accessibly formed in the otherness. And don't interrupt
me." She chided him and he waited for her to go on. "The gift of
the golden thread allows the human spirit to shuffle off the mortal
body and enter the otherness, the realm of thought that is so closely
attached to the mortal world that sometimes it is difficult to know
where one begins and other ends. Theologically speaking, of
course."
"Of course." Kallun was being sarcastic.
"Do you want to understand or not?" She said archly and he
sat up in the classic posture of the attentive student. "Good. Now
stay that way.
"In the otherness both spirit and intelligence may be 'seen'
and 'heard' - although that in itself is merely the method mortal
minds use to interpret the experience - but it is principally a realm
of spirit and intelligence, the intelligence showing in thought
patterns that ripple across the spirit body. That was one thing
morphe-space didn't imitate." She added the last sentence almost as
an after thought.
"But doesn't that make it like dying?" Kallun frowned. "I
was taught as a child that death was merely the spirit leaving the
body."

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"It is." Vash said. "And the only way to do so without the
Golden Thread, is to die. But in true death, the spirit immediately
seeks the White Gate which leads to Paradise or Prison according
to the worth of the soul. The time spent in the otherness in that
passing is so small as to be imperceptible."
Kallun ran his hand through his hair and stared at the bed.
"Do you understand now." Vash asked.
"Some." He smiled. "The rest I'll just have to bluff." He
wrestled with his thoughts for a moment before fixing Vash with
one of his piercing stares. "What is the Kalshial?"
Vash sat back. The question caught her by surprise.
"You'd be better to ask who is the Kalshial. He is a figure
that precedes Gedinnan, 'the warrior who is to come' the scriptures
call him, a soldier of sorts and the redemption of Hiera. Why do
you ask?"
He shook his head. "A dream. It doesn't matter. Are you
going out in the otherness again?" Kallun changed the subject.
Vash shook her head. "I'd like to come with you, when you
go and meet Sal. I think I should be there rather than trying to
follow you from the otherness. I couldn't last much longer than an
hour or two out there without losing some control anyway, I'm
beat. My powers are getting stretched and I still don't think they've
recovered fully from the Dragonsfire."
"Well lets hope that nobody comes prying on us with too
much determination."
"They shouldn't do. Once we get past the Sentinel's nobody
else really takes an interest and I doubt our friend D'rethen will be
out hunting tonight. He'd already used his talent pretty heavily
when I met him earlier."
Vash had told Kallun of her visit and subsequent visitation
in the otherness. He hadn't really been able to connect the two
events in the otherness with more than just the surface elements of
things happening in the 'real world' as he persisted in calling it. He
was, however intrigued by D'rethen's evasive nature and claim of

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ignorance over Irache's plans. Her description of the priestess by


the ancient gate had made him sit up. It was then that he had told
her about the Chrial Reanne. It could have merely been co-
incidence, but they had both been taught that all to often co-
incidences were either miracles Erran did not get credit for, or vile
deeds the Dragon hid himself behind. Only time would tell which
one this would be.
Kallun sat up and swung his legs off the bed.
"Do you think our priestly brothers and sisters are settling
in for the night?" he asked.
Vash checked her chrono. 2200 hours. "Most of them
should be in their quarters by now preparing for tomorrow's studies
and assemblies." She raised an eyebrow. "Would you like to slip
into something more comfortable for the evening?"
Kallun grinned broadly. "Certainly."
At the far end of the room from it's one door Kallun pealed
away the false bottom from his case and pulled out his combat suit
and a set of robes. Laying them on the bed he pulled his sweater
over his head and was about to remove the rest of his clothing
when he saw Vash looking at him.
"Would you prefer me to change in the bathroom?" he
asked.
"No, no." Vash said with more than a hint of sarcasm. She
stood up from the end of Kallun's bed and pulled out her own
combat suit. "I'll change in the bathroom."

***

Day 8. 2234 - Central Kabel Time


The five halls of the Priesthood had stood on the terraced
sides of Mount Gerraz for as far back as records remained clear.
They were believed to have been built by the original colonists as
early the second century of their colonisation of Seerak, and
showed evidence of the use of tools and building equipment now

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long since lost in the archives of history. Their presence shone on


the mountain side which had been sacred ground since the
beginning and was still free from the encroachment of Kabel's
suburban developments.
North of Kabel proper, Mount Gerraz stood a little over one
thousand metres tall. Formed between the Naluri fault line - which
was mostly covered by the great river to the south - and the Ipal
fault to the north, Gerraz was the tallest mountain along the
Northern Rim which ran into the Eastern Peak Counties.
The halls stood mid way up that mountain, overlooking the
Naluri river to the south, the black canyons of the Subs to the West,
and the towering scars of Kabel all the way along the southern
horizon. They were constantly battered by winds and it was
common for the weather to be just a few degrees colder, for the
wind to blow just that bit stronger around the Great Halls than in
any other district bordering the Naluri.. Legend said those winds
were the Dragon constantly trying to get into the halls.
Meteorologists said they existed because the Halls were built
directly in the path of the prevailing south-westerlies coming in off
the Greywall sea.
The terrace itself was a rough crescent moon cut on a
natural plateau mid way up the mountain. Three-quarters of a
kilometre wide at its thickest point the plateau tapered back into the
mountain east and west of that central plain. There, on the broadest
part of the plateau the five halls of the five priesthoods had been
raised to the heavens.
They stood in a perfect pentagon, each hall centred on a
point of that pentagon. Walls, two stories high closed the gaps
between those halls and sheltered Lhitch Tural Celest or The
Gathering of Spirits, a terraced arena which dug into the plateau to
the simple white dais at its base. Inside the encircling walls
corridors ran from building to building, connecting the halls one to
another.

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With their towers stretching like five glittering white spires


to the heavens, the halls had been built using the rare white rock of
the Northern escarpment. It's translucent qualities made the
buildings shine in the night when lit from the inside and from a
distance they seemed to glow with a spirit of their own. Nearly
exact copies of each other, save only for the positioning of the
doors and walls, each one had a circular base which rose twelve
stories from its foundation to the top of the cylinder -like structure.
From there another three more levels formed the base, the middle
and the top of the tower. The tower tapered in a concave sweep
towards its uppermost point which contained a single jewel, often
worth as much as the whole building beneath it.
Northern most of these halls was Halla Gaera. The hall
from which the Heresy governed its church. Following the
pentagon anti-clockwise from there was militaristic Halla Seira,
hall of the Seiron priests and home to the legions and their shadow
runner commanders. Next was the studious Halla Gimni, followed
by Halla Valcon, the administrators hall, and finally Halla Kellsha,
whose walls connected back to Halla Gaera. It was the last of these
halls, Halla Kellsha, which contained the famous White Gate,
symbolic of the gateway to life beyond death and the official
entrance to the Great Halls. Unlike the other Halls this one was not
named after an order of the Priesthood. Halla Kellsha meant The
Offering Hall. Which, the Heresy taught, was built that all might
honour Erran and remember Him when entering the Great Halls.
Although it was rarely spoken of, most scholars knew that this was
a lie.
To the east of the halls and nearest to Halla Kellsha was the
Tabernacle. It was a domed building six stories at its base with an
assembly arena, enclosed by its dome occupying the uppermost
part of the structure. There, on the east side, novices of the Gimni
and Valcon orders of the Priesthood were housed and received
instruction and training. West of the Great Halls, lay the Assembly
Dome, a structure identical in every way to the Tabernacle, except

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that novices of Gaera and Seira were taught there and the visitors
staying in rooms nearest to the Halls were those of a non-priestly
nature, often visiting dignitaries from council protectorates and
important business men with enough money and prestige to get so
near that most holy of places.
Broad paths of stone led from the Tabernacle and the
Assembly Dome to the Great Halls. It was on one of those blustery
paths that Kallun and Vash were walking.
The night was dark and clouds billowed overhead at speed.
The wind whipped their black robes about them, it's fingers' icy and
chill. The two of them had put black robes on over their combat
suits to avoid unnecessary attention during their journey from the
Tabernacle through the Halls and merged with night as they
walked. The robes were not conventional attire but were acceptable
amongst some factions of the priesthood. For the benefit of the
sensors recessed in the White Gate Kallun had his sub-dermal set to
emit the bio-signals of Virek Durallus. Vash was transmitting as
Kishuri, the Gimnian priestess and Kallun admitted that she held
her role better than he did his. If he was ever forced into religious
discussion he would be exposed in under a minute.
As they walked the broad grey path from the tabernacle the
five towers of the Great Halls loomed high above them, stretching
towards the clouds and threatening to tare them apart. Most of the
Halls were only partially lit now, a few librarians and clerics still
hard at work, whilst the rest of the priesthood prepared for bed. It
was one of those librarians they were going to see now. Kallun
hoped that she would be well alone by the time they reached her.
"Why are they called halls?" Kallun asked when they were
out of earshot of the Tabernacle and still a good ways from the
huge white towers. Vash looked at him as if she wasn't quite sure
what he meant. "The two areas big enough to be called great halls
are in the Tabernacle and Assembly Dome, so why call the Great
Halls, 'halls' at all?"

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"It is kind of a mis-translation." Vash said in the wind that


was rustling the thick grass and heather on the plateau either side of
the path. "The word 'Halla' is from the language of the Originators
and it means 'place in which Erran resides', or 'the home of the
divine', depending on whose translation you believe. When Drioran
became standard throughout Colest, calling the Hallaral 'Halls'
seemed the easiest thing to do." She shrugged. "There are halls
inside though. The audience chambers of the patriarchs in the
Lower Presidencies are halls in the strictest sense of the word,
fashioned after the Halls of the Gods as they were revealed to
Nehlai. However they are only a representation. And of course they
relate to the word Halla Ka, similarly, as Ka is a functionary word
which inverts the meaning of its predecessor, thus Halla Ka is the
place where Erran is not, or home of undivine."
"Isn't the Dragon supposed to have his own hall as well?"
Kallun asked.
"Yes." Vash said. Kallun sensed her appetite for
conversation suddenly disappear and changed the subject.
"You've been in Halla Gimni before, haven't you?"
"A few times. But only for instruction and always under
much supervision." She offered him a half smile. "It will feel
strange to walk around without a chaperone this time."
"Well, you have me."
She laughed. "A fine chaperone you'd make, you don't even
know your way around tabernacle yet!" Kallun frowned and she
regretted the remark instantly. She knew he was confident enough
in his own abilities to execute the operation successfully, but
having her around reminded him too much that there were too
many things he did not understand in this organisation. Again she
wished they had been supplied with more theological background
on their info-chips.
Above them Halla Kellsha stretched towards the sky. The
three upper levels in these towers were known as 'The Presidency',
and it was there that the Patriarch of each of the priesthoods

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resided, met with his quorums and performed the ceremonies


which only a patriarch could perform. The first level also contained
his audience chamber, and council rooms. Below these the twelve
levels which led back to the ground were called the 'Quorums' after
the order of priesthood ascension, and numbered according to their
distance from the Presidency, thus the twelfth quorum was situated
nearest to the ground and the first was nearest to the Presidency.
They arrived at the White Gate on the east side of Halla
Kellsha, the luminescent arch with its golden inlay spread like mist
on a spider's web across its surface. Passing through without being
challenged the sentinel logged them in without so much as an
upward glance. It wasn't exactly the display of the rigid security
Kallun would have expected of an organisation set to take over
Colest.
With the shimmering light of the White Gate behind them
they made their way through a set of smaller doors and into Halla
Kellsha's passages. They turned south. It was late and the passage
ways were not busy, the lighting dimmed just enough to remind the
brain that it should be thinking about going to sleep. Every now
and then a priest or cleric would pass them with a smile and a nod
and continue on their way. Kallun noted that the interior of the
Great Halls was maintained with the kind of rigid cleanliness that
would have put the most efficient of offices to shame. A contrast to
the lax security. The decor of the Halls was minimalist and most of
the rooms and corridors they passed through had ceilings that arced
above them with deep alcoves and domes.
"I suppose no one thought of the flat ceiling until the third
or fourth century." Kallun muttered to himself during a particularly
vaunted section of corridor in the tenth quorum of Halla Kellsha.
He was feeling uneasy, though there was no apparent danger.
"The arc is to remind us that our minds should be constantly
focused upwards towards the glory of Erran." Vash mimicked the
voice of one of her old tutors.

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"It's giving me a headache." He grumbled, rubbing his


throbbing temple.
"Ignore it." Vash said, wonder what made him so grumpy
all of a sudden.
Doubling back on themselves yet again Kallun realised that
they were now crossing the first wall between Halls.
"Logical route planning probably came later too." Kallun
muttered as he mentally adjusted his usually reliable sense of
direction. He was feeling closed in and sweat was pooling in his
suit faster than the material could cope with it. Vash merely gave
him a look.
"Are you all right?"
"Fine, yes, fine." Kallun forced a smile and indicated that
they should keep moving.
They were in Halla Valcon after just a few minutes. To
Kallun's eye everything was the same as it had been in Halla
Kellsha. The vaunted corridors, large doors and maze-like
planning. Vash tried to explain that there were subtle differences in
each of the Halls but Kallun was yet to see any. By the time they
arrived in Halla Gimni on the south west corner of the pentagon he
was glad to have something else to look at other than the strange
architecture of the lower quorums.
They didn't have far to go before they found the library. It
was situated in the most central parts of the eleventh and twelfth
quorums of Halla Gimni. They had to descend to reach the twelfth
quorum , the lowest level, passing by rows of small rooms as they
cut through the dormitories. Sal's room was around here
somewhere, and the thought made Kallun wish for the simple peace
of his own bed in the Tabernacle. He wanted to be out of this
cursed place as soon as possible. But Sal would not be in her room
tonight. It had been nearly twenty four hours since their meeting in
the Rae's cell and Kallun had been convinced earlier that she could
have come up with something in that time. He wasn't sure now that
it had been such a good idea. His room seemed so far away and he

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struggled to recall the number, surprised that part of his mind was
resisting his recollection.
Kallun shook his head and brushed his persistent
discomfiture aside. It was not time to get queasy, although he had
not felt this way on an operation since the earliest days of the last
war. He always felt the quickening of the blood, the heightened
awareness and the familiar sensation of anticipation and healthy
fear in his belly. But this, this was like a fog blurring his mind,
dulling instead of sharpening his perceptions. He would have to run
a field bio when he got back and check for problems.
The library, like the white gate was guarded by a sensor
ring and a single bored and sleepy sentinel. The sentinel was a
small man, rotund and unlikely to pose a physical threat to anyone
over ten years old. He seemed to be dozing when they arrived, but
opened one eye to give them a once over before waving them
through without even asking them to sign in.
A wide circular room, the library had a single, broad,
domed roof, in which words were inscribed in broad lettering
around the edge. It was in the tongue of the originators but in the
dim light Kallun did not attempt to translate it. Two quorums high,
the next level up looked down onto the main floor of the library
from a single balcony that ran its entire circumference. There the
booths were a little more luxurious and carpets a little thicker.
Designed for the elders and high priests whose studies were
conducted on that level of the library.
Moving on past rows and rows of interactive booths they
headed straight for the central dais, an area that was raised slightly
from the main floor and roofed to avoid being viewed from above.
As they walked Kallun could hear his footsteps echo loudly, the
sound strangely distorted by the dome above them. He resisted the
pressing urge to bolt from the place, but felt his breathing was
become laboured with the effort.
A second sentinel sat inside the entrance to the dais. A sign
was displayed by the gate informing library users and visitors that

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access to the dais was reserved for library personnel only. The
sentinel watched their approach warily. Taking in their black robes
and purposeful stride. There seemed to be no one else in the library
except themselves and the attention further increased Kallun's
discomfort.
"Gimnia adjri. Tem na lištená?" the sentinel said from
where he sat. His words felt incredibly loud in such a quiet place.
Greetings of Gimnia. Can I help you? Kallun translated
with his limited knowledge of the language of the originators. The
sentinel looked at them expectantly, awaiting an answer.
"Gimnia a Valcona adjri." Vash replied. Indicating which
priesthood orders they approached from. Kallun caught the small
eye movement that suggested the sentinel was confirming the
identities extracted by his sensor ring with his network link. "We
have been invited to view the research of Sallah Ri-Tayal. She is
within a booth, I believe?" Vash spoke in Drioran.
"She is. If you would hold on a moment." The sentinel
touched a pad on his display top. After a moment he nodded and
motioned them inside. "Three booths in she is in the second on the
right. Please do not attempt to access any of the terminals
personally as you will set off the alarms." He nodded pleasantly
and then moved inside the dais enclosure. It was much darker
inside than the library as a whole. Kallun fingered his blaster inside
his robe nervously.
Three booths in they turned right into a shorter row. From
the second booth on the right light spilled out onto the floor and
illuminated the partition walls of the terminal behind. The booths
weren't much to speak of. Simply three walls that enclosed the
occupant whilst they worked through the central library system.
The desk of each booth was covered by a broad holo-plate on
which the occupant could work if they were not personally hooked
into the AI web.
Sal was sat with her back to them, her hands making short,
efficient movements over the holo-plate, her eyes staring into the

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infinity beyond the illuminated wooden wall in front of her. She


was obviously hooked into the AI web, and her hair bobbed from
side to side with the slight movements of her head.
"I was wondering when you two would arrive." she said,
suddenly cutting the link between herself and the system. In the
darkness Kallun could almost see the artificial light fading behind
her eyes as she turned around.
"We thought we'd come early and catch up." Vash smiled.
She seemed to like Sal. Without reason Kallun resented it now, as
much as he resented being there.
Get a hold of yourself! He chided himself. He still couldn't
quite put his finger on what was happening. Maybe if he ignored it
then it would go away. That was it. Ignore it and it would go away.
He smiled at Sal.
"Nice to see you again. Have you found anything?"
Sal grinned like a child with a secret to tell.
"Oh, you'll love this. Watch." She swivelled on her chair
back to the holo-plate and brought up a general image field. Vash
and Kallun pulled up chairs of their own from nearby booths. "You
wanted me to get a look at all the priests on assignment to military
bases in operation. Copy?" Kallun nodded. Sal talked like a the
archetypal street kid as well as dressed like it. How they employed
such a person in the Great Halls he did not know. She seemed
somewhat incongruous with the austere atmosphere of the place.
"Well," Sal went on pulling up scrolling lists. "I went
straight for these. The general sections lists, which are supposed to
say where everybody, whose anybody in the Church, is presently
on assignment. What I noticed was not exactly what you were
looking for. When you check to see how many members of the
priesthood are assigned to military installations you find this:" Sal
indicated a basic line graph that zipped to the front of the field.
"The numbers drop off steadily over the last three years and then
fall dramatically over the last twelve months."

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Kallun glanced around nervously. His heart was beating too


fast. They were talking too openly. He didn't like it. Vash and Sal
were looking at him.
"Are you okay?" Vash asked again. Noticing the sweat on
his forehead.
"I'm fine." He turned to Sal. "Are we secure?"
Sal pointed to a slim grey rectangle attached to the top of
the right partition wall.
"Sound proof." she said simply and returned them to her
display. She indicated the downward slope on the graph. "It looks
pretty safe doesn't it."
"Well, if that's true we can kiss one theory good-bye." Vash
said with a shrug.
"Not so soon." Sal raised a hand and smiled. "That's the
graph of the official listings and nobody with any sense in this
business stops with the official listings. So I set Toba on the task of
searching for hidden sub-directories in those files."
"Whose Toba?" Kallun asked, worried that Sal had
involved others.
"He's one of my hounds." She shrugged, embarrassed. "One
of the key programmes I designed to help me get through all of this
stuff." Sal turned back to screen. "He came up with this, a second
list of names that were hidden in the files of the first list. These
were all priesthood trained men and woman who, according to
these records, ended up assigned to military installations. Re-
assessing our numbers we now have a graph looking like this:" The
end of the line graph now showed a considerably upward slope.
"There are about three extra priests to every file listed, but still not
enough to ensure a successful coup. So I ran a check on where all
these guys were supposed to be. And found that all of them are
assigned to minor colonial missions. Checking the supplies roster
for those missions I found requisitions for only half the number of
priests assigned to those colonies. Even having found the hidden

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files, that left me with a heap load of priesthood unaccounted for.


So I sent in Thatch Three."
"Another hound?" Vash asked with an amused smile.
"Yeah. Named after my nana's dog when I was small. She's
a bit of a wild card Thatch, but she gets results."
"And she got results?" Kallun urged, shifting in his seat.
"You betcha! Here." Sal pulled up another list and indicated
the total number of people on that list. It was not a small figure.
"This is the total of missing of priests when you go through the
supplies roster. Checked against the general sections list, it also
happens to be the total number of priests whose place of birth have
the initials C.O.S."
"Covert Operations Sector." Vash said. "Didn't we used to
do the same thing near the start of the war?"
"Yeah. That's how Thatch Three figured it out. And that
was when the fun started. I broke into the military net, something I
used to do back at the Camp. And crossed checked our own records
of incoming personnel against these covert assignments. I began to
get matches. Troops arriving on corresponding dates to those being
assigned out from the Church. I found a correlation between
ninety-two percent of these guys. It was like opening up a can of
worms. I began pulling up records of military assignments for these
names to see where they are now. It's best if I show you."
The image that appeared in the holo-field was the standard
tactical of Colest space that focused on bases, arms, powers and
allied units within the provincial and colonial sectors. On top of
that image Sal laid the numbers, positions and assignments of the
suspect personnel. Each base was riddled with them. Like a plague
of rats they were in every essential area, some as simple base
workers, others in key positions in the active units. The spread was
expertly done.
"Do you think that's enough for a coup de ta?" Sal asked.
"More than enough." Vash said.
"Then I guess that confirms that." Sal shrugged.

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Vash's shoulders were itching. She couldn't place it but


something was bothering her. She noticed a shadow at her feet,
strangely shaped. It took her just a moment to realise that no-one
else saw it. She snapped up her mental shield and stared at Kallun.
He snarled back.
"Are you two all right?" Sal said looking from one to the
other.
Kallun face was stone, his eyes hard and feral as they bore
down on Vash. Something was passing between the two operatives
that Sal couldn't quite understand, but it looked dangerous.
Suddenly Kallun threw back his robe and his hand flew to
his blaster. It was half way out of the holster when he arched as if
struck and cried out., his face distorted, his lips curled back in fear
and hate.
In an instant the look was gone and he collapsed in his
chair, breathing hard as if an immense weight had just left him. It
was then that Vash keeled over, her head landing in Sal's lap.

***

Day 8. 2318 - Central Kabel Time.


D'rethen crossed the distance between the great wooden
doors and the Mercy Seat of Halla Gaera with a confidence born of
his position. His spacious quarters were not too far from here these
days, and it had been just a few minutes walk to the chamber.
Being a part of the High Patriarch's staff had a few privileges.
The audience chamber Irache was so fond of covered about
a one quarter of the floor space on the first and largest level of the
presidency. It's walls were made of ancient grey stone and felt as if
they had been carved from inside a fortress. Windows ran the
curved length of the west wall, straight, thin and tall, they were
decorated with mosaics from scripture that cast multicoloured light
on the chamber floor in the daytime but were darkened into nothing
at night. The limited light was never enough to see by even at noon

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and the lines of the pillars, arcs and buttresses were riddled with
light-strips that had once been controlled by a panel behind the
mercy seat. Irache, however, preferred the old fashioned way of
lighting the hall and had ordered the torch brackets of the chamber
walls refurbished and filled with holographic copies of those crude
devices. As D'rethen crossed the chamber floor, his footsteps
echoing slightly in the arches of the ceiling, the false torches
burned low making the chamber dim and enhancing its ancient feel.
In front of him, sitting straight in the Mercy Seat, Irache
was robed in the royal blue of the High Patriarch. His wiry frame
and lined face was hardly visible in the light. It took D'rethen less
than a moment to realise that a second person stood by the Mercy
Seat, watching his arrival. It was woman, taller than D'rethen in a
one-piece utility suit, the kind worn by most space-faring
freeloaders. It had a single patch on the arm shaped in the death's
head pattern. The patch meant only one thing, she was a pirate, and
a pirate bold enough to wear her colours in the heart of the Colest.
Her hair was cut short and her eyes, hidden by the shadows
bored into him with dangerous intensity. He returned the stare with
equal contempt before arriving at the foot of the raised seat and
bowing deeply.
"To serve is to live, Draco-Padech." D'rethen rolled the
greeting around in his mouth. With his mind he verbalised his
displeasure at the new arrival. Who is the woman?
Irache leaned forward, his pallid features catching the dim
light.
Be careful Magi. This one is not be trifled with. Irache
spoke the words directly into D'rethen's soul and even the shadow-
runner shivered at the touch. Irache had been spending more and
more time in his communion chamber, travelling beyond the gates
and his soul touch was as cold as the space beyond.
Out loud the Patriarch said. "Welcome, my friend. Your
prompt response is ever a pleasure to my ageing heart."

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Close up, Irache could have been any ageing priest of the
five orders. He had no prominent features, except that he was
somewhat thin and gave the impression of perpetual malnutrition.
His eyes, that had once been a piercing black, were now coloured
with age, fading into the general lack of colour that was the hall
mark of Irache's age. D'rethen guessed that Irache was well over
the sesquicentennial mark. But experience had taught the shadow
runner not to be taken in by Irache's frail form. The man had a
powerful mind and an even more powerful talent. His skills in the
otherness were unmatched and his travels beyond the gates the
substance of legends. D'rethen always trod carefully in his
presence. He inclined his head.
"How may I be of service?" D'rethen said.
"I desire your report on the so-called Kalshial." Irache
curled his lips when he spoke. "Have we discovered who he is
yet?"
"I have researchers in all the libraries of the Great Halls and
more in the remaining Abbey strongholds compiling data on him."
"Not enough." Irache said as a matter fact.
"I have also sent three of my most skilled legionaries to
search the gates for more information. If they return alive I will
report their findings as soon as they come in." That seemed to
comfort Irache more.
Ever since his last trip through the gate, after the death of
Patriarch Bilovik at Irache's hands earlier that day, he had been
utterly preoccupied by the legendary Kalshial. "I will run the
library data through my own AI as we get it all in. I should have
the report ready by the morning."
"Good." Irache nodded gently. "My master, fears the
Kalshial. When I told him that Bilovik believed the Kalshial saved
them at Hiera IV he shuddered and bade me repeat the tale. He is,
shall we say, sore afraid."
D'rethen listened intently. It was not often Irache spoke of
his master. The old man kept the gate through which he travelled to

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converse with his mentor guarded by those accursed Serpent


Guards day and night. None could pass the Hajdrac. Not even
D'rethen. Any information on the subject was carefully stored in
D'rethen's mind, for there was little enough as it was. And if he
wished to find a way through himself one day he would need every
scrap of it he could acquire.
"Does he say why?" D'rethen asked.
"Does he ever say why?" Irache smiled mirthlessly. "But it
is rare that I see him fear anything other than the name of Erran.
Rare indeed."
D'rethen glanced at the woman again who was still staring
at him with undisguised contempt. He would soon learn that such a
look was her natural stare, but at that moment he was irritated by it
and longed to know what kind of a pirate would dare such
insolence in the presence of the High Patriarch. Irache saw his
glance at the woman.
"Ah, yes of course." Irache said. "I must introduce our
guest. D'rethen this is Oran of Spawn."
Oran, the pirate matriarch's daughter. D'rethen recognised
the woman's name and the part she played in Irache's plan.
"Oran was returning to us our property now that Yarrin has
finished with it."
"Yarrin is finished?" D'rethen asked Irache.
"He has finished with your ship." Oran's voice was a
penetrating alto. D'rethen was surprised that Irache didn't object to
her answering for him. "But phase two has many days work left in
it." Her accent was thick and belied her origins immediately even
without the patch.
"I hope not too many days. We need that fleet ready before
Dragon's fall."
Irache raised a hand. "You need not remind our friend Oran
of her people's commitment with regards to the fleet. Or of the
penalties that they would incur in failure." Oran's face darkened

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slightly, but she maintained her insolent stare. "Which brings us to


our purpose in calling you here."
D'rethen thought he had been summoned to offer more than
just a report.
"Yarrin will need a leader when the time comes for our fleet
to launch. Some-one to take command of the legions we have
assigned there during the coming conflict. My Lord has decided
that the man for this job is you. Therefore, you will return with
Oran to Spawn and take command of military operations. You will
work with Yarrin to assist in the swift conclusion of his work and
assimilate the Spawn volunteers into your ranks. You may return to
the Great Halls when we have gained our objectives."
"I am honoured to serve you." D'rethen said, his mind
racing. Such an assignment was not in his plans. He wanted, no,
needed to be here on the day Gaera took control of the government,
otherwise his chances for power would be severely diminished.
"But what of the Kalshial and of the people from Alpha Camp who
have been sent to stop us?"
Irache laughed, and each dry rasp sent ice down D'rethen's
spine.
"Do you think a few ill-prepared and untalented soldiers
could stop the Dragon in his might and majesty?" Irache spat out
the words. "Do not take me for a fool D'rethen. I know your
ambitions towards my power and position and I will give you this
warning now. You seek the fast track to power and you may even
have the skill to ride its surging tide to your goal. But this path is
riddled with traps and pitfalls and a man can just as easily slip on
his own pride as on the machinations of his enemy." Irache sat back
and smiled. "Your time for power will come. But not until I am
long dead, and you are a much wiser man." Changing the subject
with a wave of his hand Irache continued. "But tell me of your
friends from Alpha Camp. Was your reunion a happy one?"

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"It was what it was. But I believe we should consider the


newcomer, Vash. She is powerful and skilled and she bears the
mark of the Gods. We should watch her closely."
"I know this woman." Irache nodded. "I have seen her in
vision for she is one of the rarer and more prized pieces in the
celestial gaming halls. But be assured my master has already
touched her heart and found its vulnerabilities. We will use her
when the time comes. But for now you will leave the rest of them
to me. They will be dealt with."
"What of my cover with the Seven Heads of the Wind?"
"The Seven Heads have served their purpose long enough.
We will dispose of them tomorrow as we disposed of their
predecessors and your cover will no longer be necessary." Irache
looked over at Oran. "Meet D'rethen by the white gate at five a.m.
and be off the planet by ten."
Oran nodded. D'rethen was about to withdraw when he felt
the disturbance in the otherness. Irache's head snapped up and his
eyes went blank.
"Someone has killed in the otherness." Irache said his head
flicking from side to side. His eyes re-focussed, levelled on
D'rethen. He was angry and the veins in his pallid forehead stuck
out all purple and green.
"A change of plan." He hissed, the anger boiling over.
"Take your some of your shadow legion. Dispose this Kallun
Josephs tonight and bring Leanna Vashti to me. Alive and with her
mind intact."
D'rethen's smiled. He had seen how Irache dealt with rogue
talents that dared to cross him. He had even been involved once or
twice in the process. The thought warmed him as he left, the
audience chamber and he hoped Irache would deal with the woman
that night, whilst D'rethen was still in the halls and could share in
experience.

***

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Passing the Sakijri without a glance D'rethen headed off


down the passage towards Halla Seira.
Standing silently, his body perfectly still, Jacob flicked up
his thumb nail ever so carefully. Pressing his finger to the pressure
plate underneath three times he replaced the nail and waited,
thanking the Gods that D'rethen had not noticed it was he who
stood outside the Patriarch's audience chamber. That it was he who
had chosen the shadowed side of the great doors, and that it was
tonight he had sampled a mask of pseudo skin that made his face
less obvious.
The doors to the Audience chamber were not quite sound
proof. They never had been.

***

Day 8. 2320 - Central Kabel Time.


Lashing out at the black figure Vash closed the distance
between herself and Kallun's attacker like a hawk descending upon
its prey.
She should have sensed the watcher earlier. She should
have been more careful when they had entered the Great Halls. The
lax security at the White Gate should have warned her that such
things were not being achieved by physical means here. Kallun had
picked up a tag. His lack of power and military mind must have
been a beacon to the watchers, the priests who guarded the halls
from the otherness. And one of them had been observing the two
operatives from the moment they arrived, playing with Kallun's
unsuspected mind as it did so. Twisting his emotions, exaggerating
his fears until he could be used to destroy them.
She had seen it just in time. The watcher had decided to
eliminate them using Kallun and his skill with a blaster. It could
only have been done to an untrained mind and Kallun must have
seemed like a gift to this watcher. But Vash had stopped it from

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achieving its end. And now her first concern was stopping that
same watcher from getting what it had learnt back to its people.
Already Vash had blocked several attempts to raise the
alarm. Now it was dodging through the otherness, racing along the
maze of corridors, passageways and chambers that could be found
throughout the Great Halls. It was desperately trying to shake her,
but without success.
It amazed Vash at how much she was succeeding in her
endeavours. She had been trained for pursuit and capture in this
realm but had never actually had to use the skill. Now it came as a
jolt to her senses that she had been thrust into this pursuit without a
moment's preparation. She knew she would have to stop this
watcher or the whole mission could be thwarted before it had even
begun.
The watcher was fleeing madly now. Vash could almost
smell its fear as it realised there would be no escape this way
Suddenly they found themselves in the open space of the Valcon
library. The watcher tried to flee to the doomed roof but Vash sent
a bolt of raw power exploding out into the watcher's path and
forced it to turn. In such an open space there was nowhere to run.
The watcher turned. To Vash's surprise the face was that of
a woman, her eyes white with a combination of hate and fear.
"You dare to stop me!" The woman roared.
"Because I must." Vash said simply. Her heart quickened as
reality settled into her mind. The woman before her would kill
rather than be captured. The hate was all to apparent, her
intelligence swarmed with it. Vash had never been forced into face
to face combat before either. She had expected more training
before a real psi-op, more experience in mock combat at Alpha
Camp. More of something.
"Then, Draco-nach, die!" The sword, shield and armour
appeared so quickly that Vash barely had time raise her defences.
Her sword, half-formed was flung up in a desperate defence, and
the battle began in earnest.

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Vash hesitated a moment too long and a large cut scored


across her shoulder, just missing her neck. Power spilled out where
blood would have flowed in the mortal world, but the pain was just
as real. Another few centimetres and it would have been a killing
blow.
Shrieking triumph the watcher woman attacked again. This
time Vash was ready.
Combat in the otherness descended from the first days when
the golden thread had been used for dark purposes. It's form had
been established over the centuries, for in all the years of
exploration and battle between minds of such power, no other
mental image seemed to have had the power to administer death in
the otherness than that of a steal blade.
Vash's spirit form had taken upon itself the white armour
she always found herself wearing in the otherness, her sword the
traditional long sword of her forebears. Her opponent seemed to
register Vash's appearance only when her second attack failed. Her
own rich blue shield and cloak an emblem of the power of Gaera.
Armour was supposed to reflect the allegiance of the soul, and it
had always been a mystery to Vash why hers was never the green
of Gimni, or the black of psi-ops.
"This is a lie." the watcher hissed her eyes on Vash's
armour. "You are all dead. We killed you. You are all dead!"
Vash didn't have time to puzzle over her words as the
watcher attacked again and again.
Her sword was shorter than Vash's and she stabbed a lot,
trying to cut around Vash's golden edge shield. For a short while
Vash let her attack, judging her opponent, waiting for the opening,
the inevitable weakness, the fatal slip. She wasn't sure when that
would be, but trusted that her training would let her know.
The attacks were not as fierce now. The watcher was more
wary of Vash's ability. Waiting for Vash's power to weaken as it
leaked out through the cut on her shoulder. She drew back a little
and it was then that Vash attacked. Sweeping across the watcher's

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guard and turning her sword again before the woman had time to
try and cut through the blow and into Vash.
Using weight of her body Vash slammed her shield into
watcher woman's and rammed its edge into her opponents chin.
Stunned, the woman stumbled and Vash hit her across the face with
the hilt of her sword.
It was a risk. But the surprise of such brutal close quarter
technique from a long sword wielder was enough to throw the
woman off-guard. Sufficient that she did not think to use her short
sword advantage before Vash jumped back a step and raised her
sword arm again.
The hail of blows that followed crashed like a storm upon
the woman's faltering defence.
The watcher tried to regain the advantage by pressing
towards Vash's shield arm. She dropped her sword to attempt a
thrust under Vash's shield. The gap was only momentary. But it
was enough for Vash to bring her sword to bear on the woman's
neck.
The blade sliced into the joint between her shoulder and
neck, stopping mid-way into the watcher's chest.
There was no drama, no scream of pain, no convulsing
form. The woman eyes went distant and she dropped, dead before
she fell. The momentum of her thrust carried her spirit form to
Vash's feet but no further.
A sudden surge of power coursed up Vash's sword and
enveloped her as the woman's body fragmented in a rainbow storm
of light. The thrill of the kill wrapped around her heart like the
most exquisite drug and filled her mind with glorious power.
The sensation faded slowly, until with a shock Vash
realised that other spirits would come to investigate the rupture in
the otherness her kill had just created. Shielding her mind as best
she could she raced back to her body in the Gimnian library.

***

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Day 8. 2329 - Central Kabel Time.


With a start and rush of air Vash awoke.
"We have to get out of here. They will trace me back to this
location."
Kallun, who had been tending to yet another one of her
nose bleeds , held her by the shoulders.
"Who?"
"The other watchers." she said urgently, her eyes were
dimming as if she was straining to concentrate. "One of them was
playing surgeon with your emotions and I just killed her. In a
moment her colleagues will trace the rupture her death caused back
to me."
"What do we do?" Sal asked, fear in her eyes. She knew of
the watchers, knew what they could do.
"You change booths." Kallun thought quickly now, his
mind free of the fears installed by the watcher. "Leave this one
active and claim you never saw us, that we used your access codes,
you can work the records out later."
"And we leave," Vash pushed herself out of her chair and
headed for the end of the aisle of booths. "Now."
Vash was already near the sentinel by the time Kallun
nodded good-bye to Sal and caught up with her. The sentinel
nodded at them pleasantly as they passed him, blissfully unaware
of the drama that was unfolding around him.
Just outside the dais Kallun realised that Vash's eyes had
gone distant. She stopped walking and looked around her blindly.
"What are you doing?" Kallun asked.
"I need you to lead me." She said in a hoarse whisper.
"They are in the library now and I am shielding us."
Taking her hand Kallun led Vash out of the library slowly.
Her walking became shaky the longer she maintained the shield
and her steps faltered more than once. The sentinel that sat by the
main door was fortunately fast asleep and they passed into the

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network of passages beyond the library without pausing. Vash was


bleeding from both nostrils and Kallun could see a strain in her face
that came all too close to the way she had looked on the
Dragonsfire after they had entered jump-space.
"You're exhausted. I'm taking you back."
"No. They will be watching the White Gate." She focused
on him, leaning against the passage wall as she did so.
"I was wounded in the fight with the watcher." Vash
explained with a half smile. "I need the skills of one of our own. To
seal up the wound."
"You can't do it yourself?"
"Normally." She nodded. "But I just used my reserves
shielding us in the library. You have to get me to a healer before I
loose all the energy of my mind."
Kallun looked at her, horrified by the risk she was taking.
"Who? We don't know anyone in this place with that kind
of power."
"D'rethen." Vash said simply.
"And how am I supposed to find D'rethen?" Kallun asked.
He could see that Vash's concentration was faltering already.
"Go to Halla Gaera. He'll be there."
"Can we trust him?"
"No, but there is no-one else." Vash's eyes focused. "We
have no choice."
"What about the watchers?" Taking Vash to D'rethen was
the last thing Kallun wanted to do.
"Here." Vash reached up and touched the back of Kallun's
head. Her touch was warm. A sensation of perfect calm flowed
over Kallun's mind and he looked on Vash in wonder. "That will
keep them from getting at your mind. They can't get me whilst I'm
in my body. They'll see us, but they'll have to come to us
physically."
She collapsed then. Kallun saw it in time to catch her and
pull her back to her feet. Wrapping her arm over his shoulder he

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headed off in the direction he hoped Halla Gaera would be. He had
to wrap his left arm around Vash to touch the middle finger of his
right hand to his wrist. The combat display appeared in his field of
vision and he mentally laid a map of the Hall's over it. Using his
sub-dermal was a risk, it meant turning off his false identity field.
Any scanners would pick up his true bio immediately. But without
a guide in the twisting passages of the Great Halls he would be lost
within minutes, or worse. The display calculated the quickest route
to level one of the Presidency in Halla Gaera. He doubted that
those tracking him would expect him to head right for the heart of
the Heresy with an injured colleague and took the risk of using the
most direct route.
He would have to pass right through Halla Seira, the official
home of the leaders of the Seiron Legions. There would be more
than one shadow-runner residing in the dormitories that dominated
the rim of the first three quorums. Kallun simply hoped that they
were not out and about and plying their trade in the Great Hall's
themselves.
Reaching the first wall between Halla Gimni and Halla
Seira Kallun pulled a small sensor clip from a pouch on the chest of
his combat suit. The clip moulded to the back of his wrist
comfortably and patched into his sub-dermal. In his field of vision
a small grid of red and blue lines appeared. Dots of varying
brightness were laid onto that grid. Most of them remained static,
priests studying in their cells behind him. Thermal images
shimmered faintly up ahead and Kallun took stock of the potential
threat. It seemed minimal, for now.
The sensor patch had a limited range of about ten metres,
but it had saved his life in similar circumstances more times than
Kallun cared to remember. In the dim light of the passage it would
be hardly noticeably next to his black robe.
Vash was getting weaker with each step, her attempts to
support her own weight faltering more often. Kallun lingered for no
more than a second. Time enough for the sensor patch to calibrate

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to its surroundings. Entering the Seiron compound he noticed that


things here were less ornate, more basic and functional, in keeping
with militaristic theme of the order.
The passages stretched ahead of him. Empty now that it was
past 2330 hours. The priesthood was rarely up past this time, and
only staff workers, like Sal, would continue to maintain the
building through the night.
Three-quarters of the way through Halla Seira to the second
wall, Kallun was alerted to the approach of three persons. Diving
for the nearest shadows of a linking passage he waited until the
three figures swept past him. From his brief look at them two of the
figures were Sakijri, the personal guardians of the patriarchs chosen
from the elite of the Seiron legions. The other was a thin figure,
who seemed lost in his robes, but walked with a purposeful stride.
Kallun guessed he was watching a patriarch going about his
business, but which one of the five, he could not tell.
A minute or two later he was moving again. The passages
had darkened further, in keeping with deepening of night outside.
The lack of light suited Kallun, and he increased his speed, relying
on the instrumentation in his sensor patch to guide him through the
maze of corridors, rooms and passages towards the upper quorums
of Halla Gaera and finally to the Presidency itself. His only hope
was that D'rethen would sense them coming before anyone else did.
Sometime had passed since Vash had returned to her body
in the library and Kallun was sure that some sort of physical
resistance should have challenged them by now. If the watchers
were tracking them from the otherness, they should surely have
guided their own colleagues to the two fugitives. The silence was
unnerving.
Coming to an intersection with two possible passageways to
the wall leading to Halla Gaera he paused. It was then that he
noticed a blip at the edge of his sensor grid, aft of his position and
definitely in the passage way that he had just passed. It had stopped

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when he had stopped. He walked a few steps noting that the blip
moved with him. He was being followed.
Moving again he turned into an intersecting passage way,
running to it's end and then doubling back on himself as if he had
changed his mind. Watching the blip he saw it scurry back the way
it had come when it realised he had changed direction. At the next
turn he dived into a deep doorway, laying Vash in the hollow
created by the reassessed stone.
He flicked on a field disrupter at his belt. Immediately all
his artificial readout disappeared from sight, blinding both his own
sensors and that of the person following him. Presuming they were
using electronic sensors. The figure rounded the corner cautiously
peering into the darkness. It was robed, in much the same black
robes Kallun and Vash were wearing. The kind that could hide any
manner of equipment beneath it. Smaller than Kallun, but with firm
shoulders the head made a shape in the hood that indicated a lot of
hair wrapped up beneath it. The figure did not seem to be a
physical threat but Kallun took no chances.
Coiling his muscles like a spring he pounced on his pursuer.
Catching the figure in the midriff he was surprised at how thin it's
waist was. Crashing against the far wall of the passage he yanked
the strange follower to the floor and had a blaster at its head before
there was even a moan.
"Sweat Erran, you're fast." The figure's hood fell back as it
spoke. It was a woman, her silver-white hair gathered and tied up,
her face strong featured with a small nose and piercing green eyes.
Her skin was smooth but Kallun guessed she was older than
himself. Something about her voice, however was familiar. He
didn't move the blaster when she smiled at him.
"I knew I should have tried the subtle approach." she said
then did her best to shrug. "Actually that was as subtle as I could
manage."
"Who are you?" he said, sure now that he new her voice.

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"Aliara Abrami." she looked him straight in the eye. He was


surprised at how dignified she looked, even when pinned to the
floor with a blaster pointed at her head. "An ally to your cause,
Commander."
Kallun frowned. "How do I know that?"
"Because, you daft beggar, you and I have spoken before."
Her eyes softened a little. "I heard your friends kill and followed.
I've been covering your tracks ever since. My people owe you a
debt of gratitude that cannot be repaid, Kallun Josephs, but I am
here to at least try."
Placing her voice suddenly Kallun was struck by a
multitude of images that poured back from his memory. Events he
had analysed time and again to find where or even if he had gone
wrong.
He had been commanding the Talloch, when he had first
heard that voice. The bridge was burning, but the fires were just
about under control. Around him the dead were being taken from
their posts, the cost of battle just being counted. The ships he had
captured had self-destructed before they could be boarded leaving
everyone mystified as to who they were and what their mission
was. He hadn't meant to be in command, but the captain had been
assassinated by one of his own crew before they intercepted the
unidentified vessels.
"You were at Hiera IV." he said incredulous. "Yours was
the voice from the surface."
The transmission had come only moments after the battle,
broadcast on a broad band frequency.
"People of the Colest fleet we offer you our gratitude. But
we beg of you now, please do not attempt to land your ships near
our colony, for your own safety and for the goodness of Erran
please comply." That was all that had been said. The message had
been repeated three times before cutting off. Something in Kallun
had compelled him to honour that request. He had however placed

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a warning grid in orbit around the planet to alert the local fleet
station of any further raids.
That mission had almost destroyed his career when the
church later claimed that the attacking vessels had not been
attacking at all but had been loaded with missionaries and supplies
for the independent colony. No one in the military believed their
claim. Missionaries did not come at a planet with concussion
bombs and phasic blasters. Missionaries did not launch armoured
assault vehicles at the surface. Kallun had sworn it was the legions,
but no-one could ever confirm that, for the legions were officially
inactive at the time. Most of the details surrounding the incident
had been covered up and no other attempts had been made on the
colony at Hiera IV.
"What are you doing here?" Kallun asked. Finally moving
his blaster away from the woman's head and letting her stand up.
"Helping you..." Aliara straightened her robe and then
moved to where Vash lay. ". to help her." She laid her palm on
Vash's forehead and closed her eyes briefly. "She has about an hour
before she loses her power and her mind. Come, we must get her
back to my dorm."
Gathering Vash up in his arms, Kallun followed the
mysterious woman back the way they had come. They descended
to the twelfth quorum again until they found a small room packed
full of books. It smelt of old leather and dust and Kallun looked
around for any sign of a way through the room as Aliara locked the
door behind them.
Sensing his confusion Aliara explained.
"It's a study cell." she said moving across to the other side
of the room. "A very old study cell." Moving to the edge of one
bookcase, to the left of the desk that occupied the centre of the
room, Aliara pressed her hand against the side of the casing and
whispered words Kallun could not understand. The wall to the right
of the bookcase suddenly fell back to reveal steps descending down
into pitch black. Following Aliara carefully down the steps he

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heard the secret door grate shut behind him. His sensors went dead
immediately and he was glad when the older woman lit a light
globe in her hand and led them in a roughly easterly direction.
"I thought that these places were just a myth." Kallun said,
recalling stories of ancient passage ways created by the priesthood
throughout the Great Halls.
"All myth has its element of truth." Aliara replied.
"But how did you know they were here." he asked, trying to
understand who he was entrusting both his life and Vash's to.
"All secrets have their guardians." she replied with a smile
and flick of her eyebrows.
In later times when Kallun remembered Aliara, he would
remember that most of all she loved to answer direct questions with
cryptic clues. She was as skilled with words as he was with blasters
and spacecraft. But tonight, as they travelled the first of many
journeys together, it played on Kallun's sensibilities. He want an
assurance that Vash would be safe in this woman's arms, but most
of all he wanted to find out more about why she had risked her life
to help his. But he could not bring himself to ask more than a few
questions and he was glad when they emerged from the depths of
the Great Halls into a pleasantly spacious room a few minutes later.

***

Day 9. 0044 - Central Kabel Time.


Standing outside the study cell, D'rethen had waited for the
trio to re-appear for twenty minutes before venturing towards its
door. He could hear only silence from within and casting his
consciousness gently forward he found the room to be empty.
There were no other exits and he was disturbed to find that the far
left wall was naturally shielded. There were many such walls in the
Halls and they remained a constant annoyance to those of his kind
trying to track and follow people through the buildings.

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He had tracked the two operatives to this level when the


watchers had lost sight of the them completely. The woman had
been wounded but somehow they had remained shielded the whole
time they were travelling. Electronic surveillance was not a major
part of the security set up in the halls and it was only D'rethen's
personal kit that had found the bio-signal of one Virek Durallus,
a.k.a. Kallun Josephs, wandering through the Quorums of the Halla
Seira.
When the two fugitives had encountered the woman
D'rethen and two of his best legionnaires had been shielded from
Kallun's sensor patch not ten metres away. At first he thought
Kallun had run into a stray priestess, but when the woman took
Vash and Kallun on a different path, D'rethen could only presume
that such was not the case.
The woman was obviously talented. That explained the
shielding and why the watchers could not find the fleeing
operatives. But who was she? And how did she know that the
operatives would be coming into the Halls that night? D'rethen
tapped on the dark oak door thinking. He had heard the sound of
her voice from afar. He began placing it slowly, piecing together
signals of recognition in his mind.
Slowly he remembered. The Hiera IV operation. He had
killed the captain of the vessel and an unknown commander had
stepped in. There had been a voice after the failure of the mission a
voice so much like ..
D'rethen shook his head. He was reaching. He hadn't even
heard that voice clearly, he'd been too busy covering his tracks and
organising his escape. But the thought gnawed at the edge of his
consciousness as he made his way with his legionnaires back to
Halla Gaera.

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Chapter Eight – Communion

"The warrior lives by honour. Without it he is little more


than a trained beast of prey, a killer without faith, hope or the gifts
of god. Such a one must go swiftly down to Halla Ka." - The
Proverbs of Mengayal CXXXIV

Day 9. 0129 - Central Kabel Time.


"She is resting now. It would be best if she remained that
way for the rest of the night."
Aliara had been attending to Vash for the last hour or so.
Performing what she jokingly called 'spiritual surgery', but the
miracle she had worked on Vash had been no joke. As the minutes
past Kallun had watched the colour slowly return to Vash's tender
features, and he had finally been able to sit back and examine the
information Sal had given them without fretting over his
companion.
He was sitting in a comfortable arm chair near the end of
the bunk, Aliara just across from him. The room in which they sat
was large for a dorm, but characteristically simple in decor. It had a
single adjoining bathroom at one end, and three book cases along
the other. When they had first arrived they had emerged from the
wall adjacent to the bookcase, near the bunk. Looking long and
hard at that wall Kallun had been unable to make out the details of
the hidden doorway now that it was closed.
Sifting through his memories of the last few hours, he
sorted as much as he could remember of the data from Sal's report.
With his eyes half closed it was a few minutes before he discovered
that Aliara was no longer attending to Vash but watching him
instead.
"A penny for your thoughts?" she said.
"A what?"

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"A penny." she explained. "An old form of currency used in


independent colonies. A token of friendship, or something." Aliara
shrugged. Kallun was impressed at her elegance even in the large
black robe.
"I think you have already given me tokens enough." Kallun
indicated Vash, sleeping on the broad bunk. It looked comfortable
and warm. Unlike those he had been shown in other parts of the
halls. They were renown for their limited space, Spartan furniture
and bland interior. This one was not much better where furniture
was concerned, but it certainly had more space than most.
Sensing his thoughts Aliara looked around at the room.
"It was originally meant for returning missionaries. Staying
a month at the Great Hall's, they would ponder their assignments
before reporting to the Patriarch. It was unused when I arrived so I
cleaned it up and made it nice."
There were very few possessions in the room. The bookcase
was full but unused. The bunk had a small table beside it on which
were scattered a few pieces of simple jewellery, a small book that
had not come from the bookcase, and a hand-sized portable holo-
pad popularly used for note making by those who didn't want or
couldn't afford sub-dermal processors. Elsewhere in the room, there
was a larger holo-plate on a simple, flat top desk with an over head
light strip. Kallun also noticed paper and pens, recognising such
antiquated articles from his visits to the colonies.
"How did you come to be here?"
Aliara smiled and sat back slightly. "I boarded a ship to
Kabel Station Two and caught a shuttle to the Hall's, much the
same as you did."
"That was not my question." Kallun frowned.
Aliara laughed and raised a hand. "Forgive me. I must warn
you that turning connotation into denotation is an annoying game I
play. Although, it is occasionally useful." She gave him a
mischievous grin. "When I want it to be."

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"I'll try to remember that." He smiled. "And ask more direct


questions."
"Good." she smiled back
She must have been beautiful in her youth, Kallun thought.
Her sparkling green eyes were attractive and alive even now.
Although her age was still a mystery to him he had become
convinced from the way she referred to herself that she was
certainly older than himself.
"You know, there are many ways to repay a debt." Kallun
said. "Saving my skin in front of the judicial arc would have helped
some."
His defence had not exactly been inspiring when the
hearing over Hiera IV had been convened. The military had kept it
as low key as possible in order to protect both his identity and their
own reputation, but the fact that blame had been apportioned and
action taken against the 'offending officer' had been made public.
The outraged public at large needed placating. Kallun had seethed
over that term for weeks afterwards. 'Offending officer'. He had
saved hundreds of thousands of lives, risking his neck and his
cover to do so and for his thanks he was arraigned before the
judicial arc.
"That would not have helped." Aliara said simply, and
Kallun knew she was right. "And besides, if I had saved you then
what excuse would I have had now to come charging to the rescue,
steal Irache's prey right out from under his nose and generally save
the day?" She grinned. "I've been looking for some pay back for
years and now the time has come I'm revelling in it." Her eyes
positively sparkled. "I'm wicked old woman really you know. Erran
forgive me, but this is the most delightful assignment I've had in
years." She leaned back and made a bridge with the fingers of her
hands. "The exile did you good anyway."
Admitting her point and finding himself agreeing with her
wholly, Kallun looked at the solid wooden door behind Aliara.

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"How safe are we here?" he asked. "The watchers followed


me through the passages of three halls and found us in the library,
why not here?"
"It's shielded."
"How?" Kallun asked, not quite sure how you could be
shielded from prying spirits.
"Physically, that door opens onto a brick wall," she
explained. "We sealed it up when we left, along with several other
rooms in and around the Hallaral. They grant us safety in the very
place the Heresy least expects to find us. My father's idea. He was a
very clever man, my father, seemed to know everything before it
happened, but that's the job of prophet isn't it? To prophecy."
"You believe your father was a prophet?" Kallun asked. He
wasn't one prone to scepticism. Erran knew, he had seen enough
amongst the stars to realise that there were many things he could
not ever hope to understand. But the prophets were a thing of the
past. They had lived hundreds of years ago.
"Oh, you won't find his writings in ancient scrolls, and he
never stood on walls and shouted repentance to the assembled
throngs. At least not that I know of. But there were many that
called him prophet. Me included."
Kallun brushed the thought aside. "So what about sentinels
and shadow runners? Are we safe from them here?"
"As safe as we can be from such people. Yes." Aliara
gestured at the white stone walls. "This room, like the passages that
lead to it, are lined with a very special substance kept secret for
generations. Not even the Heresy knows were it comes from or
how to find it. It exists off the plane of the otherness and any place
touched by it becomes undetectable to spirits searching in that
realm."
"Like holographic camouflage?" Kallun asked.
Aliara smiled. "In a way. But whereas when you physically
stumble on a camouflaged object you find it, our substance simply

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creates a space that is ignored by the probing mind. It takes a very


skilled talent to realise anything is there at all. We are well hidden."
Relaxing slightly, Kallun let his eyes wander over to Vash
again.
"She's not going anywhere else tonight," Aliara said. "She
has already given you all you need to pass through the halls
without anymore help from the watchers."
Kallun felt the back of his skull where Vash had touched
him, it still tingled with gentle life and warmth.
"The process is called Mlekl A protection from mind
control. It is given to Seiron troops before they go into battle."
"How long does it last?"
"A day, a week, a month." Aliara waved her hand
dismissively. "It is ever different, depending on the strength of the
giver. Vash's gift is powerful so I would guess you will have it until
Dragon's fall, at least."
"Good." Kallun began thinking ahead. He still had his
meeting with Jacob in just over an hour. It was comforting to know
that the powers in this place could no longer rob him of his own
mind. He remembered Vash's warning about physical pursuit.
"They will still be searching for us out there, though. This
protection doesn't stop them from locating me, and I'll be soon
discovered after leaving your shielded passages, wont I?"
"Yes. But not immediately." Aliara leaned forward. "The
passages that lead to this room and its brothers are many. Their
many exits are not known to your pursuers and they will never be
able to foresee from where you will emerge. Thus they have to
search the entirety of the five halls before they will find you. And
believe you me, there are a lot of passages in these halls. It will
take them a long, long time to search them all. If Erran is with you,
you will have maybe an hour before they find you."
"And if Erran is busy elsewhere?"
"Then you're in trouble," she laughed.

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"Great." Kallun said wryly, pushing himself out of the chair


and standing. "Well I hope the celestial dodgezone game isn't on
tonight."
Aliara laughed lightly. "I hope not." Standing next to him,
she touched his arm lightly, her expression one of concern. "Be
careful where you go tonight. You cannot walk into the Dragon's
mouth without feeling the heat of his breath. Don't take any
unnecessary risks."
Kallun nodded. He left for the passages soon after.

***

Day 9. 0200 - Central Kabel Time.


In the darkness of the crystal dome Jacob's huge frame
blended with the curving natural shadows surprisingly well. Kallun
was almost on top of him when he spotted the black-clad figure,
seated in one of the room's plush chairs. With his blaster already
drawn, he very nearly shot the huge Sakijri and only the sight of
Jacob's cyborg hand stopped him from squeezing the trigger.
Kallun let out a long breath.
"I had thought you would be dressed as Sakijri." he said
appraising Jacob's combat suit and personal grooming. His polished
bionics had been hidden by some form hugging psuedo-skin. He
looked nearly human. Perhaps that was the way he used to be,
Kallun thought, appraising the make-up of strong bones and
smooth skin. Too smooth, he could tell it was a DIY attachment, no
professional would ever be that sloppy.
"Sakijri always move in twos," Jacob said, standing up.
"Unless they're part of the Tricend." The pseudo skin stayed
inanimate against his face as he talked. It was dead like the skin of
a man who has had a stoke. Kallun wondered if that was why Jacob
so rarely wore the cover. "It would be a terrible dishonour to the
order to wear the Robe of the Protector whilst walking alone.

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Besides," Jacob grinned. "I enjoy skulking around in the shadows


every once in a while."
The safety of the passages Aliara had guided Kallun
through were now fifteen minutes behind him. Kallun longed to get
moving. He was sure that the watchers would track him sooner or
later and the last thing he wanted was a fire fight to end his first
night in the halls. Probably my only night in the Halls, he thought
ruefully. They hadn't exactly kept themselves discrete so far. He
had never been good at that. It was one the reasons why Kallun had
never moved into intelligence. He had plenty enough skills in
penetration and military movement ops to keep him in full-time
employment anyway.
Leaving Aliara and making his way carefully from the
secret door of a study cell on the seventh quorum of Halla Gaera,
he had risen through the silent stairwells until he had come to the
lower presidency, the largest and lowest of the three levels hidden
in the sweeping spire that topped each Hall. Security was tighter
here. He had already stunned two sentinels at the top of the stair
well, and been forced to stop and disable several sensor rings. Not
even Virek Durallus was supposed to have access to the
presidency.
The dome, was located on the east side of the first level of
the presidency near the Sakijri dormitories. It was used for pilgrims
and guest awaiting their time in the audience chamber, but its
original use was unknown. It's name came from the resplendent arc
of it's crystal ceiling, carved so delicately that all the colours of the
spectrum were reflected back from a broad light strip that ringed
the circular room. Now though, the light strip was darkened, and
the crystal dome as black as the midnight sea.
"'Communion chamber's up a level, right by his worship's
bedroom." Jacob pointed back at the dome's singular doorway.
Kallun nodded and indicated for Jacob to lead on. The two
men moved out of the dome, Kallun closing the polished wooden
door behind him. On this level the passages were laid out like a

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spider's web, two circles connected by seven straight corridors


leading to a central point: the well. Each of the rooms fit like a
piece of pie, cut in three, and placed in the circle of the lower
presidency. The dome was in the middle ring of rooms, next to the
Sakijri dorms, on the outer ring, and the well on the inner. As a
visitor always had to approach the well from one of the seven
straight passages Jacob and Kallun had to pass the Sakijri dorms to
get to the well. Once in the passages they followed a clockwise
direction until reaching an intersecting passage. There they cut
right towards the centre of the lower presidency and the well. Its
stairway would lead them upward towards the higher presidency
and from there to the third and final level known as Erranna.
"'Higher presidency, where his worship snores, is cut in
three by passages leading to sloping crystal windows." Jacob
explained as they approached the well. "Communion chamber's a
door on the Southwest passage that oughta lead into his personal
study, 'cept it don't." Jacob explained, as they walked towards the
well. "That's roughly as much as I can tell ya."
Arriving at the well Kallun discovered it to be yet another
circular room with a spiral staircase in the centre wide enough for
three men to ascend shoulder to shoulder. He wondered what
happened to all the space between these circular rooms. It was
probably that particular design fetish that allowed Aliara's people to
create their secret warren of passages throughout the Great Halls.
Lining the floor of this room was a thick carpet of lush
green. Tapestries hung along the walls where six other doorways
opened out onto other passages leading elsewhere in the lower
presidency.
Jacob put his finger to his lips, indicating the need for
silence. Following his lead, Kallun, drew his blaster slowly. He
would only use it as a last resort, for Jacob's blaster was a special
forces type 12, designed to fire small charges in complete silence.
Kallun had no such item in his arsenal. He wished he had, although

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it was not the type of weapon that was much good against a
shielded combat suit.
The two of them stepped into the quiet room together,
moving slowly, eyes watching the walls. With surprising grace,
Jacob suddenly spun to the right and Kallun saw the tell-tale flicker
of light from the end of his blaster. A tiny pod just above the line of
the tapestries popped like ripe grain. Robotic gun pods? Kallun
tried to find others above the tapestries to see if he was right. Such
items were antiques. These days a floor field or laser gird served
the same purpose with ten times the efficiency. Nevertheless, he
kept his eyes peeled for signs of movement and made his own steps
as silent as possible. A gun pod's sight would be impaired by the
darkness, but the sound sensors would be cranked up to
compensate. Such devices, as Kallun had been often reminded at
base, fired shells that cut through a combat suit's shields like ice
through water. His shields were energy repellents and Kallun didn't
even want to think about the mess they would make of him if one
of those pods got off a lucky shot.
Another flash from Jacob's silent gun drew Kallun's eyes to
the left. A second pod burst. Step by step they crept across the
carpet of the well. Jacob took out six pods in all before they were
able to put a foot on the stairs. They was no rushing the process
even then, aware that the pods could still send shells ripping
through the stair well, the two men crept with the caution of
seasoned hunters.
Roughly three metres of protective stone enclosed the
spiralling stairs of the well from the ceiling of the lower presidency
to the floor of patriarch's personal chambers. The stairs moved up
beyond that but from this level they were walled in and sealed off
by a thick moulded doorway, secured by an active ID sensor ring.
Only the Patriarch could pass.
At this level the top of that part of stairs was sealed above
them with a black iris shield door. When two operatives stopped
below that shield, out of sight of the gun pods, Jacob opened the

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palm of his left hand for Kallun to see. His palm screen was active
and words scrolled across them.
"Tricend at the top of the stairs." The screen read. "Opening
shield. Using gas. Hold breath for 10. Shoot if they move."
Kallun quickly got down and breathed a few lung fills of
air. Jacob pulled out a canister disk, roughly the size of his hand,
set a height on its readout and activated its small a-grav unit.
Whilst that hovered where it was left he pulled a finger length
transmitter from another pocket and pointed its emitter at the base
of the shield door. The iris design opened at the centre just enough
to let the tiny canister disk flit through. In a moment Jacob was
down by Kallun's hunkered form pinching his nose and holding his
breath.
There was the faintest movement of air as gas was
cannoned out in every direction above them. Three distinct thuds
sounded in the room above and Jacob opened the shield door the
rest of the way.
The two men moved. At the foot of three polished wooden
doors, evenly spaced around a circular hall, the three Sakijri guards
known as the Tricend lay still. Their robes were spread about
them, their oversized blasters and ornamental shield generators
useless against Jacob's gas.
Retrieving the floating disk, Jacob checked it's display
which was now counting down the seconds until it was safe to
breath again. Kallun checked the pulses of the inert Sakijri one by
one. They were alive, but would remain probably remain
unconscious for several hours.
Jacob let his breath out and Kallun took that as a signal that
the gas had dispersed. Breathing in, he found the air to be filled
with a sickly-sweet odour that stuck to the tongue.
"Freshens the air nicely." Jacob grinned and pointed.
"'South west door, just in front of you. There's a small switch in the
top left corner. See it?" Kallun did. "Good. On my mark, flick that

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switch." Jacob reached up to a similar switch the door to his left,


and aimed his blaster at the third door. "Three. Two. One. Mark!"
As Kallun flicked the small grey switch, Jacob performed a
similar action, blasting what Kallun guessed was a third relay
switch on the third door. After a second of nervous tension Jacob
smiled again.
"That'll do it."
"What was that?" Kallun asked as Jacob approached him
and casually opened the door behind Kallun.
"Relay alarm." Jacob stepped through the door into a
carpeted hall, it's walls of polished white stone. Kallun followed.
"Once active, the relays have to be deactivated simultaneously
before any of the doors can be opened."
"Hence the need for the Tricend." Kallun nodded. "What
would have happened if blasting the third relay had failed?"
"The chamber would fill with lethal gas."
Kallun laughed nervously. "Well I'm glad you knew what
you're doing."
Jacob stopped and stared at him seriously.
"Not really," he said. "'Only ever been on Tricend duty
once, so I only got to flick the switch on and off at the right
moment."
"How did you know that blasting it would work?"
Jacob shrugged. "It's an old relay switch, so I figure fifty -
fifty chance either way." He smiled again suddenly and clapped
Kallun on the shoulder with his borg hand. "But I figure if you're
alive after forty years in the forces then you've got to be some kind
a lucky dragon's spawn. And whad'da'ya know! I was right!"
Releasing Kallun's shoulder Jacob continued down the
passageway leaving Kallun nursing a bruised shoulder. He had not
gone more than fifteen steps when he stopped and turned.
"Hey, commander. This is your landing pad." Jacob made a
flourishing wave at the door. He was enjoying himself and Kallun
new he was high on the rush that comes every time you gamble

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with death and come off conqueror. Experience told Kallun it was a
dangerous emotion to have in covert operations. Its place was on
the battle field and Jacob was being altogether too loud in the quiet
corridor, but Kallun couldn't help but small at the big man.
The doorway Jacob indicated was recessed into the smooth
wall on the left side of the passageway. Unlike the other doorways
in the presidency this one was not made of polished wood but of
moulded steal. It had no decoration on it's surface, which had been
painted black as midnight. Kallun looked around the door frame to
find some means of operation, a code key slot or palm panel. There
was nothing, it was completely sealed.
"Not much to look at from the outside." Jacob commented,
stepping back to let Kallun get a closer look at the surface. There
were several symbols painted in red along the middle of the door.
They looked like some form of writing, but Kallun could not be
sure without expert help.
"I could use Sal's skills about now." Kallun muttered
pulling out his sensor clip and attaching it to his wrist. He guessed
that the watchers wouldn't be scanning here and no-one would be
any the wiser when he turned it on.
"Sal's long gone." Jacob said shrugging.
Kallun lowered the clip and turned back to face him. "What
do you mean? She's supposed to be back in her quarters in Halla
Gimni, isn't she?"
Jacob shook his head. "I tried to raise you but your comm
was down. We put out a compromise alert about two hours ago. I
heard our code name mentioned several times whilst Irache and
D'rethen were meetin' together earlier. I didn't hear everything, the
doors are pretty damn thick on that post, but enough to figure either
D'rethen's betrayed us, or Irache's just discovered we're here, even
if he doesn't know who we are. I hit the alarm and dove into the
shadows at the first opportunity. Sal will be back with Rae by
now."
"I'm sorry."

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Jacob shrugged. "We've had alarm calls like it before.


Irache knows Dukall has ears in the Halls and has been looking for
us for years. But how bad this one is all depends on D'rethen."
"What do you think?"
"From what I heard of the conversation - D'rethen's sold us
out. Did so a long time ago. I doubt Rae'll believe that thought. At
least not until D'rethen's got his katha hilt deep in her throat."
Kallun turned back to the door. It was a surprise that would
have undoubted repercussions later but he had to deal with one
thing at a time. An appraisal of their situation was called for, but it
could wait twenty minutes until he found out what was on the other
side of this door and if it was anything they could use to bring
Irache down. So far his coup de ta had been sound proof.
Bringing up his retinal sensor display, holo-graphic images
merged with his normal vision. He quickly located the power
source of the door behind the right hand wall. Along that line of
power he discovered the purple rectangle of a gird sensor. He
guessed it would be tuned to particular bio-signatures, opening the
door only for certain people. It wasn't state of the art. Not much
technical equipment here was, but it probably did the job well
enough.
Taking a small field disrupter from it's pouch he placed the
device against the wall and directed a focused beam at the grid
sensor. His saw the power fluctuation and reacted quickly,
swinging the door inwards as its magnetic locks gave way.
Jacob and Kallun entered the room, closing the door behind
them with an audible click.
The room was shaped like an elongated triangle. The door
was situated at the narrowest point of the long triangle whilst the
walls stretched away towards the tower rim. At its widest point,
farthest from them, it was roughly three metres across. That space
at the bottom of the room was just large enough for the dark ovoid
presence of the pod.

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It sat there silent and alone at the far end of the room. The
light from the strip that ran the walls of the room robbed it of
shadow and gave it's black surface a green hue. It was bright in the
room, the light undimmed compared with the rest of the Great
Hall's night time illumination.
"A morphe pod." Kallun said, walking towards the familiar
structure with a foreboding sense of dejá vu. "What in Halla Ka is
Irache doing with a morphe pod?"
Jacob was just behind Kallun, his huge frame filling up the
small space between the narrow walls. Kallun had just enough
room to walk around the pod. From all appearances it was an exact
copy of the ones they had encountered on the Dragonsfire. It's
height was almost as tall as he was, broad across the middle, ovoid,
with the matt black morphe flesh exposed at it's front.
"You know what it is then?" Jacob asked, regarding the pod
with a suspicious eye.
"I know what it is. But I have no idea what Irache could
want with one. Or how he even got his hands on one," Kallun
replied. "This is a piece of advanced control and response
technology used to pilot the Emrihsad proto-type starship
Dragonsfire. 'Principal feature is the use of advanced neural nets to
induce VR consciousness with a P-30 telepathic simulation."
Jacob swore quietly. The thought of neural nets scrambling
his mind caused him to shiver slightly. Kallun noticed the reaction.
It was gratifying to find that some things at least scared the ogre of
a man in front of him. Facing the pod, Kallun reached out his hand,
palm open, to the exposed morphe flesh. It rippled in response,
surging gently towards his outstretched fingers.
"It's active." Kallun said. His sensor field was showing the
power coursing through both the morphe flesh and its pod casing.
The neural net glowed like a beacon in hues of red and orange, its
fibres reached out into every part of the morphe. He unclipped the
sensor patch and stowed it back in his suit. He didn't want to think

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about that net if he was going to have to do what the thought he


was going to have to do.
"Will we get another chance at this thing?" Kallun asked
Jacob.
"You're kidding? Once the Tricend wake up they'll tear
down the Great Halls trying to find the infidels who dared to
violate his worship's sanctuary." Jacob shook his head. "Find out
what you need to know now, or not at all."
Kallun sighed he thought that was going to be the answer.
Turning his back on the morphe he faced Jacob, his heals touching
the edge of the pod.
"Watch the door. Hit the green pad at the back of the pod if
anyone tries to enter and stay behind the pod. Whatever you do
don't get into a fight in here, there's precious enough space as it is."
"Gotcha. What are you planning?"
Kallun glanced at the pod behind him. "A short expedition
to halla ka." Relaxing as he fell backward, he was surprised to find
that the sensation of morphe-flesh flowing over his body was not at
all as strange as it had first felt.

***

Day 9. 0250 Central Kabel Time.


"The ancient passages?" Irache frowned. "Are you sure?"
The patriarch sat in a broad comfortable chair, its fabric
massaging his tired frame through thin robes. In front of him
D'rethen stood, painfully aware that Irache had neither invited or
wanted him to be seated. The old man enjoyed his discomfort.
"There have been indications of activity before." D'rethen
reminded the patriarch. "But our investigations led to nothing."
"Which would indicate that they do not exist." Irache was
irritated. His quarters had been designed to offer him relaxation and
time for meditation. The spacious rooms were filled with
comfortable furnishings in subdued colours, placed according the

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divination of talents most sensitive to energy fields and their


manipulation on the mortal plane. Books lined the walls, and the
only evidence of technological comfort was the holo-plate which
lay flat on a broad desk in the patriarch's personal study. Even his
personal defence centre in that same study was hidden behind
holographic imagers.
Presently the shadow runner and his patriarch were in
Irache's bedroom. It was the Patriarch's favourite place to meet
close associates, not because he enjoyed sleep or the comforts the
room offered. Irache very rarely slept. But because meeting people
in his bedroom seem to have the wonderful ability to unhorse their
thoughts. His chair was near a long window which swept inward to
the ceiling, as did all the exterior walls. The window faced south-
east, and during the daytime the line of the mountains could be
seen all the way to the Eastern Peaks, the edge of the window, just
cutting off the encroachment of Kabel's lights. It was dark outside
now, but the darkness helped Irache to think. Indeed his greatest
thoughts had often come whilst staring into the darkness beyond
that window.
"Did you divine the origin of the woman that led the
commander away from you?" Irache queried.
"I did not." Irache replied. "I thought them trapped and did
not feel the need to use othersight."
"You thought you could rely on your instruments to guide
you and failed to use your basic power!" Irache snapped.
D'rethen could have snarled that Irache's precious watchers
with all their basic power had been unable to track the fugitives.
That no-one but himself and his men had got even close. That if it
wasn't for his instruments he couldn't have followed them and
discovered the woman's use of the passages. But he didn't. He kept
his mouth shut.
"You have nothing to say for yourself?" Irache queried.
D'rethen remained silent. "Then let us move on to action over
recrimination."

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The patriarch sat thinking for a moment before he spoke


again.
"Have your men moved against the Seven Head's group
yet?"
"The locksmith woman left the halls before we could get to
her. The Sakijri, Jacob is still here, but we have been unable to find
him. I believe he may also be hiding out in the ancient passages."
Irache made a small sound. "'No matter. Put the mark of
jihad on their bio-signatures and let the faithful deal with them."
The mark of jihad. How casually he uses the words,
D'rethen thought. The mark was a piggy-back signal placed on a
net-entry. Any of the faithful who owned the correct decoder would
know as soon as they scanned a marked soul, that it the owner of
that signature was an enemy of Erran, an evil slave of the Dragon.
The average citizen would have nothing to do with them, the
zealous follower, or 'the faithful' as Irache called them, would slay
the owner of that mark and believe that they had acted for the
greater glory of Erran. The practise had been outlawed along with
the Seiron legions. But now the legions were active again it was
obvious Irache intended to use all the old ways. D'rethen guessed
there were still enough of the faithful out there with decoders to see
the mark when it passed them by.
"That will deal with the leader, Rae and the locksmith, but
what of those in the passages? The woman, Vash, the commander
and this newcomer? The seven heads are now six in number. If one
more person joins them then the opposing prophecies will align and
the Kalshial shall be at full strength." He shrugged. "And I cannot
kill what I cannot find."
Irache turned his other-eyes on D'rethen purposefully. The
serpent's gaze, burned at his soul and only the strongest of men
could stay standing under that gaze.
D'rethen held his ground.
"If there are such passages." Irache hissed. "And if our
friends are not just shielding themselves with clever illusions. And

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if you are not as incompetent as you seem to be tonight. Then you


will take your men. Acquire several barium projectors, and sweep
these halls from top to bottom."
"Forgive me, Draco padech. But barium sweeps have never
revealed these passages before. Why should they now."
"Because they are occupied! And if barium shows up
anything, it shows up the presence of human flesh, shield or no
shield!" Blotches writhed on Irache's face and the veins in his eyes
became swollen and red. D'rethen knew his master's patience had
reached its limits.
"Of course, my master. It shall be done even as you speak
it." D'rethen flicked open a wrist comm and relayed the order via
telemetry.
"I wish also for a decagon of your men." Irache said.
"Preferably those with a penchant for killing leaders and a soul for
silence."
"May I inquire for what purpose?" D'rethen asked.
"No. You may not."
"Then may I expect them to join me at Spawn base prior to
the day of Gedinnan?"
Irache turned those fierce eyes on D'rethen again. "Question
me one more time and I will pierce your heart with your own Katha
and bleed out the power you stole from our dead friend Bilovik."
D'rethen blanched at that. Irache rarely threatened. And he
had not meant for his master to know about his theft of the dead
patriarch's power. By law of the church those caught practising
such methods were put to death immediately. He thought he had
his the power sufficiently well. There were few who even knew
what to look for. If Irache were to steal his power now it would
take him years to build it up again.
Irache laughed. "Fear not, my dread friend, your secret is
safe. But it takes more than stolen power to journey into the realm
of the Dragon. Believe it or not I wish you luck in your attempt. It
grows tiresome to be the only living mortal to have entered and

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returned from that realm." The Patriarch sighed. "Go now. Have
your men report to Khav Drell at 0500. He will train them for this
assignment. And if you find this woman with access to such
mythical chambers bring her to me. I would view such a creature."
D'rethen bowed and withdrew from the bedchamber.
Tonight he had failed. He knew it. Irache knew it and would
use it against him as surely as he would snuff out his existence if he
thought that D'rethen had become a threat. D'rethen knew he would
have found Vash and Kallun if it had not been for the interference
of the woman and their subsequent disappearance. Since then he
had tracked and traced, searched and researched section after
section of the Great Halls. His only conclusion had been the ancient
passages. That Irache refused to believe they existed was not a
surprise. The old man had never traced them, never found them,
and never had evidence to support their existence. When a man
reached Irache's age and experience there were a few things he had
to put down to straight mythology. The ancient passages were one
of those things. D'rethen was not so sure. As one who spent much
of his life in the shadows he knew that there were spaces between
the walls of the Great Halls that could not be accounted for. On the
official schematics of the Halls such spaces did not mathematically
exist. Only a few between circular rooms stood out and they had
been shored up. But there were times when he was sure one wall
stopped a metre too short here, or began a metre too early their. He
could prove nothing without devoting time to the search, but time
was not something Irache was giving him. And without it his
effectiveness in searching for the operatives would be severely
diminished.
Entering the guest room he made his way to the door
several metres ahead of him and moved through into the northern
passage. Letting the door lock shut behind him he proceeded to the
end of that passage and a second door which led out onto the well.
Pressing the call button he waited for the Tricend to open it up
from the outside.

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After several seconds he tried the button again and waited.


When nothing happened a third time he pulled out a scanner-clip
and attached it to his wrist. The first thing he noticed in his
enhanced field of vision was that the trip switch was deactivated.
Drawing his katha he opened the door inward and took in the
carnage at the well.
The Sakijri were unconscious. One relay switch had a
blaster scar around it. Over to his left, a passage was open, it's door
not quite shut. Pausing for just a moment, D'rethen made his way to
that door.

***

Day 9. [Time index unknown].


The enveloping blackness was quickly replaced by the
familiar brown and grey mist of morphe space. Kallun wondered
now if the swirls and eddies in those mists were not similar to the
thought waves Vash had described to him earlier. This time,
though, there were no controls that looked even remotely familiar,
only the mists of morphe-space. He had expected that, the pod was
obviously independent of any ship control. But he had hoped to
find something that would indicate its usage and purpose. There
was nothing but an empty grey-brown wilderness.
Remembering Vash's instructions to him the first time he
entered morphe-space he concentrated his thoughts and imagined a
basic holo-terminal. The mists shifted slightly as the black plate
materialised in the space in front of him. Gratified he then
imagined a rim of controls attached to its front and thumbed the
power relay. Nothing happened. The display showed no sign of
life.
Focusing once more he imagined life in the controls. The
image in front of him responded accordingly, the holo-field
glowing blue and green to indicate that it was active. Attempting to
access data he discovered that once more there was no response.

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Dragonsfire

Idiot. They're just pictures from your brain, Kallun thought.


They're connected to nothing. It was like sketching with his mind.
No matter how many pictures he drew, the figures in that picture
would never come to life.
"Great." Kallun muttered. "What happens now?"
"Try using your brain, it always helps me in sticky
situations."
The voice came out of the mists so unexpectedly that it
made Kallun jump. He had a blaster in his hand before he even
realised it.
"O, put that thing away. It's as useless as your mind pictures
in this place." The mists parted, and a set of familiar blue robes
stepped into Kallun's field of vision. The face within those robes
was smiling sardonically. "Now I didn't expect to see you here so
soon."
"Reanne?" Kallun looked at the woman with her black eyes
shining. He thought that maybe this was some trick of the morphe
programme. "Don't tell me that you are Chrial of this lone pod
too."
Reanne smiled. "Not exactly no. But were the gates goes, so
do I."
"This is no gate." Kallun frowned. "It's an advanced ..."
"... piece of flight control and response technology. I
know." Reanne finished for him. "But use your head, Kal, what
would the church want with flight control? Did you see a ship
hereabouts when you entered this pod?"
Kallun watched the priestess carefully, no-one had called
him Kal since he was twelve years old. "That's what I'm trying to
find out."
Reanne shook her head despairingly. Her expression that of
a teacher whose pupils were letting her down. Indicating the mist,
she raised at finger at it and looked at Kallun accusingly. "Is this
really the best you can do?"
"What?"

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"This mist? Come on Kal, I'm sure your thoughts have more
colour than this." She approached him carefully, her eyes searching
his face. "Here, let me show you." Reaching out with her right hand
she stretched long fingers and pressed them against his temple. Her
touch was warm, even hot, but not unpleasant. The most unusual
effect was the soul shudder that one touch caused. Ignoring his
sudden intake of breath she closed her eyes briefly and Kallun felt
the same kind of warmth spread over his skull that he had felt when
Vash had touched the back of his neck.
"You've been mind shielded." Reanne said. "Good. You'll
need it. Ah, now there's a familiar environment." Pulling away her
hand she glanced at the mists again. In an instant they disappeared
to be replaced by blue sky and a familiar horizon of dual mountains
and snow capped peaks.
The mountain lake was as still as it ever was, and his hut
looked just as it had over a week ago when he had left it. This
week's crop was still crushed from the weight of Andreas's lander,
but looked like it might recover.
"Nice." Reanne said appreciatively.
They stood on the shore of the lake, near fishing rock, a
place Kallun had spent many hours at during his exile in the
Eastern Peaks. The ground under his feet was a combination of
rock and mud, dry from the clear skies and long days of early
summer. He could almost smell the mountain forest and sharp air.
Almost. And it was that one fact that reminded his senses that he
was still in morphe-space. Reanne, wandered over to fishing rock
and sat down. She arranged her robes about her and then looked at
Kallun expectantly.
"If you are here to find answers, I would suggest it would
be wise to start asking questions." Reanne raised a single eyebrow.
"Anytime you're ready."
"How do you know me? The Dragonsfire is light years
from here."

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Reanne frowned. "Irrelevant. For now. Ask me something


more pressing to your needs."
Kallun grit his teeth, he had enough of women avoiding his
questions once already today. "All right." he said. "Irache calls this
his 'communion chamber'. From the looks of it, the chamber is
recently built and when we entered, we found this morphe pod,
which goes to suggest that this is the means of his communion. But
with what is he communing, for what purpose and how in Halla Ka
did he get a hold of this technology?"
"Valid questions, all." Reanne nodded approvingly. "First
of all it is who he communes with that should concern you most.
Irache is old, his body is now borne through this life only by means
of spiritual power and that takes its toll on his talent. He cannot
pass through the gates as he once did, and now, at this crucial time
in his plans, he must have a means of immediate access to the
realms he wishes to pass. This is it."
"This is a gate, then?"
"Yes. The properties of Shadiim's neural enhancers make it
possible to boost the power of any talent far beyond its normal
capabilities. Originally Shadiim was simply making advances on
old neural technology to further the cause of his tribe in the eyes of
Emrihsad. But in doing so he discovered that such a powerful
neural net as the one he designed caused disturbances in realms of
space very near to this one."
"The otherness?"
"Yes, the otherness." Reanne said. "The possibility of man
breaking through into this realm with technology has been an issue
amongst my people ever since you first discovered and utilised
jump space. But nobody expected it to happen so soon. Shadiim's
discovery is decades ahead of his time, and as such was a catalyst
for the events in which you find yourself now."
"How?" Kallun seated himself on a grassy verge not far
from fishing rock, so that they could talk easily.

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"Because of its network design the morphe causes rifts in


the otherness, creating artificial gates that are far more stable and
far less dangerous than the raw power of the real thing. It also gives
the user an opportunity to manipulate those gateways in certain
ways. One in particular had the ability to take a ship out of phase
with the rest of the universe."
"And whilst it was out of phase, no standard sensor system
could detect it. A cloaking device."
Reanne nodded. "That was what brought Shadiim to offer
the technology to the Institute."
"But he was intercepted."
"Yes, he was intercepted." She placed her hand against the
grey rock, her fingers tracing the lines within it. "There have been
very few men as familiar or as adept in using the gates as Irache.
When the disruptions caused by Shadiim's experiments began
Irache tracked down the source and discovered Shadiim's research.
He offered Shadiim a deal. In return for use of the technology and
absolute loyalty to the Heresy on Shadiim's part, Irache would give
Shadiim the opportunity for the kind of power and wealth
Emrihsad could never offer. He was given his personal shadow-
runner and limited use of psi powers. A gift only the patriarch
himself could grant. Shadiim, of course was to simply add a few
refinements of Irache's own devising to the technology. The pod
you now float in was one of the first to be designed and produced
at the Institute and was delivered to Irache under the strictest
secrecy."
"So the morphes control the gates. Is that what Vash went
through when she activated the cloak?"
"Yes. The cloak is a gateway all of its own and it can only
be activated by the presence of a talent. Vash, however blundered
in. Instead of just letting the gate know she was there and would
like it active, she went right through it."
"To where?"

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"To the same place Irache goes every time he settles in this
morphe. I believe you just called it Halla Ka." Reanne looked out
across the lake to the lower lip of the mountains where the water
ran off towards the Naluri. "As to his purpose in all of this, that is
simple. He wishes to bring about Gedinnan."
"The great and last battle." Kallun mused. "So it is war he
wants."
"Oh, yes. Your friend Rae was wrong in that. Irache wants a
war. Without it the prophecy cannot come to pass and the dragon
has no hope of rising from his prison. But Irache wants a war he
knows he can win. That is why he has waited so long. Weakening
the political structure little by little until he could get what he
wanted. He learnt early on in the Heresy not to discount the
worldly power of mortal governments."
Slowly pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. Irache's
involvement in the construction of the Dragonsfire did not surprise
Kallun as much as it should have done. He wondered if Dukall had
suspected it when he sent them out to steal the ship. But he doubted
even the chief knew the extent to which this new technology was
being used.
Emrihsad, he was sure would be grateful, if just a little
disappointed, to find that their number-one ship components
designer was working for the Heresy and selling his work to
foreign power. And, from their own side, the fact that Irache had
been collaborating with Emrihsad personnel was a significant step
into gaining an conviction against him, should it all come back
down to Clause 15. Having an Emrihsad designed, built and stolen
morphe sitting in his personal chambers would act as pretty
convincing evidence to his complicity in a plan to overthrow the
council. The public were quite paranoid about such things. Of
course he could claim that he had been acting in the interests of the
state. That he had acted to preserve his beloved Colest. The
argument would rage, but, if they could bring their evidence to bare
in time it could at least delay his coup until after the peace talks.

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Either that or force his hand before he was ready. Of course Irache
could destroy the pod or hide it elsewhere as soon as officers of the
judicial arc tried to seize it. What they really needed was proof
beyond Irache's reach of a cover-up.
"We could have done with the Dragonsfire." Kallun said.
"Its secrets would have been a valuable asset in bringing Irache
down."
"So go and get it then." Reanne shrugged. Kallun laughed.
"That ship was stolen from us by raiders when the Kabella
was destroyed. You of all people should know that."
"True." Reanne conceded. "And shouldn't I, of all people,
know where that ship is sitting right now?"
"And where is that?" Kallun threw the question out, hardly
expecting a reasonable answer.
"Docking bay 337 gamma, Seerak station six." she gave
him an enigmatic smile, pleased that she had caught him in his own
snare.
"Station six?" Kallun asked, wondering if she was toying
with him again. "That's half an hour by shuttle, and hardly guarded
at all."
"A squadron of legionnaire fighters, combined with forces
from Spawn base took it from the Kabella. They had some sort of
remote device in the hull of the Dragonsfire, she literally blasted
her own way out. Both governments have now written the
Dragonsfire off as lost property, and she is available to anyone
who wants her. Personally, I would prefer it if that were you."
"If they had a remote device," Kallun said, a second behind
Reanne. "Why on earth didn't they use before we were sent in?"
"They wanted you to go in." Reanne took in Kallun's frown.
"If she had simply started up her engines and flitted away, the
Institute would have scoured the galactic arm looking for her. But,
as she was stolen by Colest operatives, and considering the present
movements towards peace, Emrihsad has had to come down hard
on the Institute and force them to write her off as a casualty of war.

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I expect they'll try and build another one, but without Shadiim they
will find it quite difficult."
"And our role in this was to make sure she could then be
stolen by pirates and written off a second time by our government.
Clever." Kallun nodded.
"So she effectively disappears from everyone's memory."
Kallun was silent for a few moments, looking out at the
sunlight dancing on the lake where the wind touched its surface.
"What designation is she hiding under?" he said eventually.
"She's lying in the hanger under the name Nadani. There is
not much in the way of offensive security but she is guarded by
church troops and spies. Nothing overt, Irache seems to think she's
safely in his pocket now."
"But why bring her here? If Irache wanted the Dragonsfire
for himself, why risk bringing her so close to Seerak?"
Reanne shrugged. "Maybe he needs her close in order for
his plans to succeed. Maybe she is a part of the coup you are so
desperately trying to prevent. As you yourself have pointed out, he
needs military power to succeed and such a ship right in the heart
of Colest could be just the kind of thing to do the job. I may be
wrong, of course."
Steadily Kallun held Reanne's gaze.
"You know why he needs the Dragonsfire don't you?"
With a shrug Reanne agreed. "Of course."
"Then why not come straight out and say it!" Kallun stood,
frustrated.
"Because, in games of life and destiny, all of us must play
by certain rules. This is not the time for you too know such things.
You must learn line upon line, concept by concept. This is enough
for now."
It was a reasonable enough answer and Kallun forced down
his anger, concentrating on the fact that the evidence of Irache's
complicity, and a formidable weapon to boot, was sitting a half
hour away under minimal guard in a rusting old tin can of station.

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"Perhaps, then, it would be wise to reclaim lost government


property, rightfully stolen from Emrihsad not seven days gone by."
Reanne smiled at his attempt at humour and replied. "Go
ahead. But on one condition."
"What is that?"
"Damage her engines, cut her power, steal her again if you
have to. But do not, under any circumstances attempt to destroy
her."
"Why?" he asked.
"She is needed to end what she has begun. She must open
her gates at the appointed time. It is fore ordained to be so."
"That makes things difficult."
"Your problem. Not mine." Reanne stood and brushed
down her robes. "You and I share a common course for different
reasons, Kal. My path takes me on a course to battle with a very old
foe. Yours exists to stop a dictatorship rising out of the ashes of a
diseased government. They are but one path with different names.
Walk with me and we will be victorious. Fail me and the realms of
men will suffer in ways you can not yet begin to imagine."
"You're not a Chrial are you." said Kallun. It was a
statement rather than a question.
"Inasmuch as you are not Virek Durallus." She smiled.
"You do well, Kal. If its worth anything. I trust you to continue to
do well." Reanne looked at the snow covered mountain tops sadly.
"Quiet beautiful.". As she spoke, they faded, until she stood once
more with Kallun in the grey-brown mists of morphe-space.
"By the way, Kal, you were fore ordained too you know."
said Reanne.
Kallun's eyes widened just slightly.
"Well, you do know where the surname 'Josephs' comes
from don't you?" Reanne asked.
"From the Benhi word 'Sheseth'" Kallun said taken aback
by the question.

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"Commonly yes. But 'Sheseth' is a mutant version of its


meaning from the language of the originators." There was mischief
in her smile, now.
"And what am I called in the language of the originators?"
Kallun humoured her.
"Why Kal," Reanne raised an eyebrow. "You are called,
'Shial'."
With that she was gone. The mist closed around her and
Kallun was left staring at empty space and remembering his dream.
He had slept briefly on the shuttle from Kabel to the Great
Halls and awoken with a start a few minutes later. In his dream he
had been walking a long a winding road at the head of a host of
people whose faces he could not see. The sky was blue but the
ground was as black as coal. Ahead of him the five spires of the
great halls towered. But these halls were black like the road and
foreboding. As Kallun drew near he began to be afraid. He could
sense the multitude behind him faltering in the shadow of those
spires and he suddenly saw why. In the midst of the spires hovered
a huge dragon, it's wings sweeping the air lazily, it's eyes on fire
with hate and power. It was watching them, daring them to come
into its realm and Kallun felt his feet falter beneath him. Behind
him the people whispered fearfully and some even cried. Vash had
appeared at his side then, her eyes on the shape of the dragon.
"Don't stop walking." she said, never taking her eyes off the
dragon. "Once you stop, they all stop."
"Why?" he asked, not sure why such a host would want to
follow him.
"Because you are Kalshial." she said, looking him in the
eye.
Waking suddenly he discovered that he had fallen asleep for
but a moment. But the dream still troubled him. He had looked the
word up on his personal link, but had only found that it was a name
used to refer to a prophesied messiah-like figure in Church
mythology whose roles were so diverse in scripture as to be

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incomprehensible. That had been the cause of his question to Vash


earlier that evening. He wanted to know more. The name made him
nervous, like he was not in control of his own destiny, and being in
control was something he valued greatly.
"I am not the Kalshial!" he shouted into the mist.
With a start he realised that a red icon had appeared in the
shape of a bull's head, flashing steadily in the space to his right.
The symbol of warning. Someone had entered the communion
chamber.

***

Day 9. 0308 - Central Kabel Time.


D'rethen stopped at the door of the communion chamber.
His sensor field told him that there were two people inside. The
largest just beyond the doorway. The second immersed in the
morphe-pod. He checked their bio-signals. The first was Jacob, he
should have guessed that by the size of the man and the efficiency
of his methods. The second character registered in his processor as
Virek Durallus. Kallun Josephs, he thought to himself. He hadn't
yet been informed of the names that had gone with the false bio-
signatures assigned the two incoming operatives, but few others
would journey with Jacob into the heart of the Heresy.
Pausing at the door, D'rethen examined his options
momentarily. He knew that if he turned and walked away Irache
would pinpoint him as a traitor to the Church, particularly after
tonight's farce. Irache had ordered him to remove the Seven Heads
permanently. That meant finally taking one side against the other,
and that was not something he relished. He had always played the
game on his terms, for his own benefit and for the advancement of
his purposes. Now the time of decision had come. From this
moment on he would be unable to play both sides of the field.

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So be it. If he was to choose sides now, he would choose


and put the entire weight of his skill and cunning behind that
choice.
The Church was ten times more powerful than psi-ops,
Alpha Camp and the Colest Council put together. And its power
was his for the taking. Perhaps not today, or tomorrow, but in days
to come it would be his body in the mercy seat, his voice at the
head of the council, and his spirit filled with the power of the ages.
It seemed closer now than it had ever been. So close he could smell
it in the winds of possibility.
The sensor reading had moved slightly. Jacob was pacing,
waiting for Kallun to emerge from Irache's pod. He could imagine
the patriarch's fury when he found out that his morphe had been
violated. Kallun's life would be worth less than dust. Even Vash's
insult to the watchers paled in comparison. D'rethen had always
thought them fools anyway. Over reliant on their othersight, and
spirit power, taking no time to learn the deeper Mysteries of their
profession. A shadow runner could do nothing but look on them as
pale impressions of the true warriors of the otherness. He was glad
they had been humbled by the psi-op woman and her mortal friend.
It would be nice to rub in the fact that she had never killed in
otherness until that day. But that was for the future. Now he would
honour the wishes of his master and remove a threat he had thought
lost from his reach.
With Kallun enmeshed in the morphe, he could kill Jacob
first and then simply wait for the commander to emerge from
morphe-space before striking him down. He had taken time to learn
how Jacob's body worked, aware that it would take a skilled blow
to kill him. It was difficult to cut a man's throat when half that
throat was riddled with metal and plastic. Kallun should be easier,
he had even been touched by talents which meant there would be
some profit in the kill.
Drawing his katha, the white blade held low and in front of
him, D'rethen set his shadow shielding, darkening his face, and

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prepared his muscles for sudden movement. He put his hand on the
door frame and whispered the litany Irache had set as password.
The door clicked.
He was through and into the room in an instant. At the same
moment the katha came up and across in a precise lunge designed
to catch the large Sakijri in the back of the neck, to the right of the
brain stem at his weakest point. The blade struck empty air. Pulling
the thrust back, before it could overbalance him, D'rethen felt
rather than saw the blaster emitter by his face. Jacob had
anticipated him.
"Clever." D'rethen hissed. "It's not often I am surprised."
"Oh, I'm bag full of surprises." Jacob smiled. He flicked off
a field of distortion around the left side of his body. "'Deflector
shield. 'Made it myself. When its on you just never can trust where
your sensors say I am. I never tried it before, but I guess it
worked."
D'rethen stared at the emitter just centimetres away from his
face shield. He should have remembered Jacob's penchant for
making such toys. He should also have used his othersight before
barging in like that. Now, at such a range, he had a blaster to his
head that would cut right through his face shield as soon as he
moved. D'rethen turned slowly.
"Not to fast now." Jacob growled, moving between D'rethen
and the pod. The two men faced each other. D'rethen with his back
to the door, Jacob filling the space in front of him, blocking the
shadow runner's view of the morphe flesh beyond. It was clear that
the Sakijri was protecting Kallun. Good, a weakness. He could deal
with Jacob so long as he was guarding the pod. But caution advised
him not to move until he was sure of what was happening behind
the big man.
"What brings you to our master's lair, Sakijri?" D'rethen
asked, stalling for time.
"'Plotting your master's downfall." Jacob shrugged. "The
usual."

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D'rethen laughed, a kind of sneering snarl. "Irache will not


fall because of a patak and his lackeys. Even you should know that
by now. Or hasn't it penetrated your shiny skull that he has already
massed an army twice the strength of Colest's own. He is master of
this galactic arm in all but name only. Nothing you do between
now and Dragon's Fall will stop that."
D'rethen was boasting in the physical sense. Irache's army
was actually very much smaller than Colest, but it was their
influence and positioning that would do the trick. And of course the
new fleet would add the right amount of emphasis, to ram home the
point.
"But you ain't gonna be here to see it." Jacob expression
was steady as a rock. It occurred to D'rethen that here was a man
who would snuff out his life as quickly as he would crush a fly. He
thought quickly, assessing when Jacob would be most likely to pull
the trigger on his blaster, if he would even wait for the commander.
"Don't kill him, Jacob." Kallun's voice came from behind
the giant Sakijri, granting D'rethen just the reprive he was hoping
for.
D'rethen breathed, at first relieved that the commander had
emerged, and then, as recognition flooded his mind, confused. He
knew that voice. The firm pressure on consonants and ever-so-
slightly elongated vowels that made up a Raviran accent were
familiar to him somehow and yet, to his knowledge, he had never
met Kallun Josephs.
"Commander." D'rethen said. "That is Commander Kallun
Josephs, isn't it?"
Jacob shifted slightly sideways to allow Kallun to view his
captive. Kallun noticed that D'rethen had not yet put away his
katha.
"And I am presuming that the man behind the mask is the
legendary D'rethen."
D'rethen nodded once. Struggling to place the voice.
"Turn off your shadow shielding." Kallun commanded.

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D'rethen reached up slowly and cut the power to his hood,


deliberately leaving the body shield active. The control was out of
sight of his captors, they would know no different.
Kallun looked D'rethen up and down, getting his first real
view of the mysterious shadow runner. D'rethen was doing the
same to the commander. The face was familiar, D'rethen decided,
he had seen it only briefly though, on a screen, perhaps, a ship,
maybe. But certainly in battle. In battle. Memories of a ship
rocking with blasts from its own guns, on fire and struggling
against incoming vessels, poured over D'rethen's mind.
"The Talloch." D'rethen whispered. "You commanded the
Talloch at Hiera IV."
Kallun's eyes narrowed. His position in that mission was a
matter of state security. His face could only have been placed by
surviving crew members, and they had been tracked and bound to
secrecy by the council. Why was it that Hiera IV kept coming back
to haunt him? This was the second time in one day. Aliara knew
him from that mission. That revelation had not surprised him, but
that D'rethen knew could mean only one of two things: either there
had been a leak during the proceedings of the judicial arc, or ..
"You were the assassin." Kallun spoke without emotion.
"When I knew it was the church that sent those ships we figured
that the captain had been killed by a shadow-runner. Was that how
you gained you masters favour? Or were there more killings
involved?"
"That mission did no-one any favours." D'rethen snarled. "I
had to do more than kill a captain to gain my master's favour."
"I'm so sorry we messed up your plans." Kallun couldn't
help the sarcasm.
"Tell that to my master. He talks of the failure at Hiera IV
often. The colony's continued existence galls him even today. You
vexed him sorely, commander. I'm sure I shall be rewarded for
discovering who his enemy was that day."

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"I am sure your would." Kallun grit his teeth. That was it
then. D'rethen had chosen sides months before, at he expense of his
colleagues, his command and his people. A traitor in every sense of
the word.
"Unfortunately," Kallun continued. "That will not be
possible." Kallun's steeled himself for what was to come. His duty
as commander was clear and under the weight his responsibility he
had little choice of action. At other times he might have found a
different solution, another option that would preserve life. But here,
in this place, the stakes were too high and the man before him too
dangerous to take a different path.
"D'rethen," Kallun wished he had bothered to find out the
psi-op's full title. "You are a traitor. Under martial law you have
sold out your people to a foreign power, and .."
"Foreign power?" D'rethen laughed maniacally realising
what Kallun was saying.
" .. and as such you must suffer the full weight of that law."
Kallun's eyes were cold now, his face grey. "In the lack of any
local facility you have the right to claim renunciation wherein you
will renounce your treachery forthwith and return to your base for
sentencing."
"And how do you intend to do that?" D'rethen sneered.
Kallun simply stared back at him. For the first time in many years,
the shadow runner felt his heart go cold with fear. He knew the
litany. Kallun was field commander in a military operation and as
such had the right of martial law over the men in his command.
D'rethen was one of those men, and if Kallun had the power of his
convictions. These words were a death sentence.
"Do you so claim?" Kallun asked.
"Don't be a fool, Kallun." D'rethen hissed, priming his
muscles.
"Permission to execute a traitor." Jacob said grinning. His
blaster pressed against D'rethen's head.

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"Do you so claim?" Kallun asked again, priming his own


blaster and aiming. He did not expect Jacob to do his dirty work for
him.
"You will die for this Josephs." D'rethen said, memorising
the details of Kallun's face. "This day I call you enemy of my soul.
Blood to my poison. Flesh to my.."
"Do you so claim?" It was the third and last time.
".. Flesh to my sword. Meat for my hunger."
"Jacob." Kallun said evenly, squeezing the trigger on his
blaster. "Permission granted."
On the final syllable he released the bolt at D'rethen's head.
It wasn't quick enough.
The movement came at such speed that Kallun barely had
time to register it. Suddenly D'rethen had cannoned into Jacob,
knocking him side-ways off the wall and putting the big man
between himself and Kallun. Jacob's blaster bolt scored a black
hole in the opposite wall, adding to the smoke coming from
Kallun's shot.
Launching himself at the door, the shadow runner opened it
and bounded through as Kallun loosed two bolts into his body
armour. They scattered harmlessly.
Catching the closing door before it clicked shut again,
Kallun fired bolt after bolt after D'rethen's retreating form. He
wasn't able to hit him more than once, the shadow runner moving
with inhuman skill, bounding from wall to wall, from ceiling to
floor like a creature from Halla Ka. Kallun wished he had brought
a projectile gun, one shot would have been enough. But they were
virtually impossible to hide and their rapport could be detected by
sensors kilometres away.
He saw D'rethen retreat through the well towards the
command centre in the Patriarch's chambers. They would have but
a few moments before D'rethen sealed the doors and the upper
presidency filled with gas. Kallun used the time to slip through the
doorway into the communion chamber and grab Jacob. The large

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Sakijri was standing strangely and Kallun realised he was nursing a


wound to the midrift.
"Got me right in the stomach." Jacob said with fear in his
eyes. "How'd he know that was where by main power cell was?"
"What does that mean?" Kallun asked.
"Means I've got about ten minutes before my cybernetic self
shuts down and says g'night." Jacob cursed.
"You have a means of back up though?"
"That's on back-up power."
"An external charger, then?"
"Yeah." Jacob nodded, visibly getting a hold of himself. "In
my quarters."
"Well lets get you there." Kallun moved to help him walk.
Blood poured out through Jacob's hands, far faster than it should
have done for a stomach wound. Kallun had seen people survive
such wounds for days. But Jacob's physiology had been utterly
rebuilt after his crash and Kallun could never have guessed what
extent of damage could be done by a katha in the stomach, it was
obvious that D'rethen had known.
The two men were half way down the passage, when Jacob
began to leak a thick white milk from his wound which refused to
mingle with his blood, but created streaks in the flow that stank like
vinegar.
"Sweat Erran." Kallun heard Jacob whisper when he saw
the liquid. They couldn't stop. Kallun knew the gas was only
moments away.
They made it down the stairs of the well to the chamber at
it's foot just as the passages of the upper presidency flooded.
Kallun had no idea what had taken D'rethen so long but he thanked
Erran for the delay.
Hoping that they had already taken out all the guns that
could have shot them on the way through earlier, Kallun continued
through the well without stopping. Jacob was slowing, There was a

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pallor in his normal skin unlike anything Kallun had seen on a


human being before.
They were at a junction in the outer rim of the lower
presidency when Jacob stopped.
"What's wrong?"
"I'm gonna have to cut power to left side just to keep my
higher brain functions going." Jacob explained sitting and propping
himself against the wall.
"You'll be crippled."
"I know." He began laying out various devices from this
artificial side on the floor.
"Look it's not far to your quarters. We can make it."
Jacob shook his head, and pointed at the junction between
the wall and the ceiling A small red light was flashing there.
"Do you see that light?" he said. "That light tells everyone
in the Hall's security, sentinels, watchers, Sakijri, the lot, that there
has been a serious breach of the patriarch's quarters. My bunk's
with the Sakijri and they're awake and buzzin' like bees by now. In
short. We go there, and we both die. Sakijri honour demands it. If I
stay here I can at least cover your path."
"You don't have to die here." Kallun said. He barely knew
the man, but he had seen enough of the fighter in him to respect
him. And there was also his promise to Rae, if Jacob died he would
shoulder that responsibility. It was a burden he would not gladly
bare.
"'All gotta die someplace." Jacob shrugged, and winced
when he did. He indicated the line up of field equipment spread
before him. He had built or modified most of them personally.
The sound of doors crashing open down the hall reached
them. Kallun cursed. He had run out of time. Fixing Jacob's eyes he
nodded his respect.
"Swiftly through the white gate, my friend." Kallun said.
"Not likely." Jacob grinned.

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Running now, Kallun charged down the stairs, reattatching


his sensor clip as he did so. The sentinels at the bottom were still
stunned, though their station displays were lit up like lights on a
Dragon's Fall night. Above him he could hear voices, and then the
sounds of blaster fire and projectile bursts. Soon they faded behind
him and he dropped through the Quorum's towards the cell in
which Aliara was waiting.
He managed to avoid most of the security squads that were
suddenly everywhere in the halls, however on the third quorum he
rounded a corner and ran straight into a squad of sentinels. There
were seven in the group, one of whom drew a blaster when he saw
the shadowy figure. Kallun had no option but to gun him down.
Sentinel's wore no body armour and the bolt when right through the
man, scattering parts of him on friends behind. Half his group ran,
the remaining three attempting to engage Kallun in a fire fight. It
didn't last very long. They were appalling shots. Kallun left the four
bodies as they lay, their blood soaking the smooth floor with a rich
dark sheen.
When he reached Aliara she saw it in his eyes immediately.
"What?" she asked, bundling him into the shielded
passageway and closing the concealed door. They were safe now.
"Senseless." he whispered, his grip tip on his blaster.
"Utterly. Totally. Senseless."
"You've blood on you." Aliara checked him for injury.
"Not mine." he said, shortly and as they walked he told her
about D'rethen and Jacob and the sentinel group he had killed.
"D'rethen has chosen his path." Aliara said eventually. "No
man could change that and you did what was right under the law.
Jacob knew the risks, enjoyed the risks by the sound of things.
Where he goes now is between Erran and himself. As for your dead
sentinels, yes, that was senseless killing. The sentinels have never
been warriors, though the Heresy uses them as such. If I were you I
would just thank Erran it was not a squad of Legionnaires you ran
into. Erran knows there are enough of them in the halls tonight."

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As they closed in on Aliara's hidden room Kallun decided


that it would be best to tell her the truth about D'rethen.
"Aliara." he said.
"Yes, dear?"
"D'rethen was the assassin that killed the commander of the
Talloch. He started the operation against you."
"Yes," she replied, her eyes going dark. "I know."
Clicking open the door to her room she passed inside.

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Part Three
Chapter Nine - Spawn

"And they that counsel in halla ka shall find fear, loathing,


hatred, envy, greed, lust and lasciviousness, they shall consort with
outlaws and die by the swords of their brethren. But they that
counsel under Erran shall be given wisdom, knowledge, peace,
hope, understanding and the gifts of God." - The Book of Kiminuci
Chapter 5 verses 1 & 2. (Taken from the Library of Hiera IV)

Day 12. 0127 Nivala Artifice. (CKT - 5)


"All right, Yarrin." D'rethen grumbled. "I presume you
didn't pull me out here in the middle of the night for sight seeing."
The shadow runner stood with the small tribesman
overlooking the main construction bay. Three long windows curved
in a great arc in front of them, ten metres long and three metre's
high, they afforded the two watchers a considerably view of the bay
and it's contents.
Before him and below him the man-made cavern was lit
along it's edges by thousands of metres of light strips, the effect of
which was darkened only slightly by the automatic shading the
screens imposed upon their view. The cavern was tunnel shaped,
deep and long, following the natural capsule formation of the
elongated asteroid from which it had been carved. At the far end of
that bay space doors were closed tight against the vacuum, the
interior filled with men, machines, docks, drones and, of course,
the ships.
"Why have I brought you here?" Yarrin seemed to be
asking himself the same question. D'rethen's anger began to
smoulder. The maker of the Dragonsfire was not the time of man to
get people up in the middle of the night over some wild whim. Not
that D'rethen had been sleeping, he found such activities to be a
waste of time and could often get by on an hour or two's rest a day.

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But it was obvious Yarrin had some covert purpose, D'rethen could
sense his cunning little mind working as he stared out at the bay
placidly. He just wished the he would get to the point.
He couldn't fault Yarrin too heavily. His genius had been
the catalyst that had started the avalanche of Irache's power and the
fruition of his plans. It had been the driving force that had brought
his master's dreams and schemes to life. There, below them, the
ships bore silent witness to the abilities of this 'Shadiim of the
Benhi'.
The ships. They were the reason why he was here. Irache
called them the Gedinnan fleet. What wonders they held within
their midnight hulls made even a seasoned warrior tingle with
anticipation. Six of them lined the walls of that cavern, jump wings
folded inside new built hulls, grav burners silent. D'rethen and his
legionnaires had been given a tour of the Serpentdawn, the ship
that had been nearest to completion when they arrived Even
D'rethen had been forced to admire the genius that had created
them. It was not all Yarrin's work, but to his credit no misplaced
pride had stopped Yarrin from incorporating all of the Emrihsad
additions into these illegal copies. All the modifications had been
including: the proto-matter jump wings, the self-effecting repair
systems and basic ship design a combination of engineering and
scientific achievement that no one man could dream up alone. But
these new ships had been built for the legions, not Emrihsad. Inside
their precious black hulls the grey of Sierra adorned the passages
and hatches from the troop hold to Command Control. Sacred
symbols taken from the text of the Mysteries stood above each
hatchway as wards and protection for those inside. The Sword of
Sierra was emblazoned in its traditional gold in the top right corner
of every display. D'rethen had thought that last touch betrayed the
flamboyant influence of the people who had built those ships under
Yarrin's direction. But he couldn't complain. It was not in his
nature to do so. He had enough suspicion and ambition to occupy
his thoughts and being suspicious of the people of Spawn was a full

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time occupation. After all, it was they who were the hands on
builders of these vessels, and it was their protection which kept this
little fleet out from under the eyes of the likes of Alpha Camp and
its lackeys.
They were, in D'rethen's opinion, a loathsome bunch. But
they had their uses.
Spawn was the last of several bases once controlled by
clans of pirates that had grown up in the early years of the First
War. The days of their emergence had been times ripe with
opportunity and profit for those not bound by the chains of moral
sentiment or power allegiance. Both Colest and Emrihsad had, on
occasion, called upon the skills of those early entrepreneurs,
running arms under the enemy's nose, transferring captives, or
making supply routes difficult for the opposing states. It could be
said that the power and origin of these piratical groups had been
brought to pass by the schemes and machinations of the very two
factions of that first war that had since sought to destroy them with
equal fervour.
Such was the birth of the clans. Groups of pirates allied by a
common heritage and secret oaths handed down from times before
the arrival of the originators. There were many clans in those first
days. Alliances were forged and broken creating empires of piracy
and free trade. Each of those empires falling under the rule of the
strongest families.
But as the war neared it's first ending, and profits fell, some
of the clans got greedy and began to prey upon worlds they had
been given no leave to attack. Once a tentative peace was
established between Colest and Emrihsad the issue for the
extermination of those clans was released. Agreed upon across
diplomatic tables and implemented by joint task forces from both
Emrihsad and Colest, it was the first of only a few combined
actions between those governments before disputes over new
territories brought hostilities to a head once more. But, in the years
between the first peace and the second war, the operation against

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the pirate clans was a well planned, well fought venture by battle
hardened troops from both sides. Areas they could not reach
through open assaults they reached by offering rewards for the
heads of the major clans and pardons for those that sold them out.
The kind of sums both Colest and Emrihsad offered made the wrath
of the diminishing families in power worthwhile for those
considering treachery. Even the Church had assisted, adding its
legions to the troops that hunted the outlaws.
Strange that we who hunted and destroyed one another now
work side by side like lost brothers recently found, D'rethen
thought, watching the pirate teams and their skilled slave teams
hovering near the ships in the weightless chamber, scanning and
tuning, finishing the work Yarrin had begun.
The destruction of the clans had not come overnight. Many
survived the first purges, hiding out in temporary shelters or
operating through nomadic bases. It was said that some even found
their way into the tribal homelands, although D'rethen was
uncertain how they could have survived long amidst the religious
barbarism the less developed tribes were renown for. But, one by
one, they had ceased to exist. Leaving small operators to
commandeer the remaining business opportunities: operations that
called themselves pirates but were little more than bandits and
ruffians. Of all those great clans from the early years of the first
war only Spawn remained.
Some chose to believe that Spawn remained because the
ancestors of the present matriarch had sold out the rest of the clans
in order to clear the way for their own enterprises. Having spent
two days on a ship with Oran and her Sya Squad, D'rethen could
believe that. Though the truth of the matter was that the other clans
had simply been hunted down efficiently and inexorably by the
combined forces of two governments and their religion. Their bases
were located and destroyed, their businesses scattered and crushed,
until only Spawn was left. And Spawn had survived only because
of its incredibly defensible position.

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Out here in the void there was not a habitable planet for
light years around. The rocks of the Nivalin asteroid belt provided
the perfect resource of raw materials and defensible outposts for
those first clans. The Dithrique clan had found it first and fortified
it. Mining the asteroids with slaves taken from early profits and
raids, hollowing out the thickest rocks, some of which were
hundreds of kilometres wide. From those caverns a free market had
emerged, rising with the prosperity of its owners, growing with the
influx of groups from allied families. With that trade centre had
arisen the pleasure markets, space stations, ports and dorms of
clans from around the galactic arm, all bound under the one law
Spawn boasted. No clan brother should kill another whilst sheltered
in the rocks of Nivala. All disputes and wars, grudges and
grievances were set aside before ships reached the docking rim.
The penalty for breaking those laws were sometimes worse that
death, and there was little room for mercy in Spawn justice. In
those first years Spawn had been considered the capital city of
outlaws. Its open market a hive of illegal riches.
When the first attacks came, others had fled to her safety
and holed up behind the natural walls of billions of tons of floating
rock, trapped between the twin suns of Nivala. Such was its nature
that all approaching ships had to drop out of jump space half a light
year away, in order to avoid becoming wreckage upon the rocks of
the Nivalin belt. It was not like approaching a solid body such as a
planet or star, here the currents of jump space were easy to lose,
distorted and confused by the proximity of the two stars and so
much free floating matter. They twined through the belt so
tentatively and with so many turns that no ship could ever hope to
navigate them without falling into real space and disaster. Thus
there was always plenty of warning when incoming ships
approached. The direct assaults that each government had tried on
Spawn had been far too costly for them to try again. Special forces
found it nearly impossible to navigate their way through the
vastness, without being tracked by the relay of sensors the pirates

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had laid. Spawn had suffered some losses. Mainly from the
commando attacks. But never enough to shut her down.
Since all the other clans had been destroyed the original
initiative to be rid of them had been hailed as a great success and
then forgotten as old squabbles became new once more. Neither
Colest or Emrihsad had put much effort into further attempts at
sabotage or subterfuge in order to destroy Spawns operations over
the last century. The pirates attacked without regard for
government allegiance. Their base was on the border rim of the
galactic arm, in such space as neither much cared for. And so
neither government took responsibility for tackling them and both
blamed the other for the growth the pirates of Spawn had seen in
these last days. It had been the perfect place to build an illegal fleet.
And now, as D'rethen stood looking down upon the industry
of these outlaws and brigands he knew a great mistake had been
made in leaving them be. It was a mistake someone would have to
rectify once the coming war was over. He might even do it himself.
But today they were useful. And today he would call them friends.
"You have familiarised yourself with the fleet?" Yarrin
asked eventually looking down on his creation.
"Of course." D'rethen said evenly. "You have acquitted
your part of the bargain most commendably."
"I am glad that you think so." Yarrin nodded, his tribal
accent much thicker in Drioran than Kallorian. "I would hate to
displease our good master." He shifted on his feet.
"It is never good to displease our master." D'rethen nodded
gently and waited for Yarrin to get to the point.
Yarrin spoke again after a moments pause. "You wonder
why I asked you here. Perhaps the answer is in a supposition.
Maybe I am wrong and a fool, but my heart tells me that you and I
may share a common interest. That perhaps you feel as I do about
our involvement with these .." he waved his hand indicating the
expanse of the cavern ".. people."

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"And how do you feel about our unlikely allies?" D'rethen


asked, not committing himself either way.
"Ever the interegationist." Yarrin nodded. "So be it." He
turned and faced D'rethen square on, the cavern to his right. "You
know, of course, that I am from the tribal homelands. I am neither
Colest or Emrihsad. My tribe is Benhi, friends to the Emrihsad
government, succoured by them but not subject to them, or so we
say. I was raised a part of the Sha'haral, the religious order of the
Genlariorl. You have heard of them, of course."
D'rethen nodded amicably. He had never heard of them.
The galactic arm was too wide a place to know all the tiny orders
amongst lesser races. But Yarrin was not to know that. He let the
small man continue.
"Many great prophets came from the Tribe of Benhi,. We
pride ourselves in devotion to great things, and serve the Master of
Souls with fervour much like your own. It is for this reason that I
accepted the service of Irache. He speaks of great things and I
would be a part of them. But I have also my honour, and the
honour of my people, and never once in all scripture have I ever
read of such great things being accomplished with aid of outlaws."
Yarrin spat into the plush carpet upon which they stood. His spittle
was a thick clear gel and it congealed and caught the dim light of
the bay.
"I am Shadiim: the maker of worlds. Having been blessed
by the Master of Souls with much learning I have discovered gates
to worlds beyond our own. I should rejoice and feast much at the
discovery of such wonders. But here I slink in the shadows and call
chakra my friends." He spat again, this time it land near the foot of
the conference table in the room and was lost in shadow.
"Did you know that there are brothers of the Benhi here at
Spawn?" Yarrin asked. "I did not. But I found them and discovered
that unlike their learned Shadiim, they wear steal collars and are
bound in chains. Whilst I walk here, eating and drinking as I
please, they work until they die, alone, lost from the bosom of my

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people. I wonder when I see them, where is the Master of Souls in


this?" Yarrin watched D'rethen for reaction. He found none. "I have
seen how you have avoided the outlaws and their ways these last
two days, ordering your men to stay aloof from the market halls
and pleasure arenas. My thinking is that you are as troubled by
them as I am. And my heart yearns to know what you plan for them
once we are done here."
D'rethen turned the eyes of his othersight upon Yarrin.
Letting them rest there until Yarrin turned away, uncomfortably,
without knowing why. D'rethen found, to his surprise, that thoughts
below the surface of Yarrin's mind were extremely difficult to read.
"Oran's and her people are the dregs of Halla Ka, not even
worthy of the dragon's keep," D'rethen said softly. "But, they have
built our fleet. And they hide it from the eyes of those who would
destroy us as no others could. And thus to your honour I would
recall the tale of the Raetals of Gan, a people blessed of Erran who
used ten thousands slaves from the prisons of Toth-han-ra to build
their mountain top temple. The slaves were murderers, idolatrous
and killers all, but still the Raetal god accepted the temple as an
acceptable offering."
"Of course, I had not thought of the slaves of Toth-han-ra,
that is a good analogy." Yarrin nodded to himself quietly.
D'rethen cast his othersight upon Yarrin once more. This
was not the whole of it. He could sense Yarrin's mind working,
planning, even if he could not sense what it was he was planning..
"Some say you are close to our master, yes?" Yarrin said
after another silence.
"Some have said so." he replied.
"Then perhaps you hold the key of knowledge to a mystery
that troubles me."
"That depends on the mystery." D'rethen's eyes narrowed in
suspicion. He was just catching Yarrin's thoughts at the edge of his
awareness now. The natural shield was dropping now as Yarrin
brought his ideas to the fore. Another minute or two and he would

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be able to pluck them from the small man's mind as gently and
quietly as a thief in the night.
"There are six ships here that are all but completed." Yarrin
said. "As I am aware there is to be one ship for each of the
legionnaire fleets you have dotted throughout the galactic arm, I
have come to thinking that, by tradition, you have seven fleets.
This is good for I know the works of my hands made seven ships,
for seven fleets. But here there are only six, That leaves my most
beloved unaccounted for. For, since its departure a few days ago.
Nobody seems to know where is the Dragonsfire."
D'rethen nodded. "That is reasonable," he said easily. "Let
me teach a principle in response."
Yarrin accepted this readily, as D'rethen knew he would.
"From our beginnings, it has always been that the seventh
fleet of the legions is the shadow fleet," D'rethen said. "In our
priesthood the ships of the seventh fleet must be the ships of the
mind warriors. As all fleets are more blessed when the warriors of
the mind are amongst them, the seventh fleet has always worked
within the six fleets of the warriors of fire and the sword." It was
also the highest honour to which a legionnaire could aspire to, with
means of recognition only the members of the seventh fleet knew,
and a bond of secrecy that was made upon the life of those who
took it. Only those proved in battle could be admitted and it galled
D'rethen that he had never been offered a position within its silent
ranks. The mind warriors were totally secret and lived without
regard of wealth, rank or power. Only prowess in battle. "This
seventh ship of yours is a ship of shadows. Hidden as the seventh
fleet is and kept from the vision of outsiders."
"However." Yarrin said. "There is a seventh ship. We last
saw her after her theft by the Colest operatives and then.." he raised
his hands. " .. nothing. Knowing our wise master and his business, I
do not believe that he would let it slip away, symbolically or
otherwise. He has his use for the Dragonsfire, and his use for it's

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theft and loss, but she is not here with us today and it makes me
wonder if she will ever be."
"Indeed." D'rethen waited for more. This man was
ambitious. It was showing more and more and he was interested to
know what Yarrin wanted with the Dragonsfire.
"My thoughts tell me that perhaps this ship of shadows is to
be used for purposes above and beyond those I was told of."
"Which reasons were you told?"
"That she was built to distract the attention of prying eyes,
to tap the reservoir of Emrihsad resources in conceptual design and
research, to lay the burden of the project upon Emrihsad pockets.
And many more reasons. But, we digress. For my thoughts are that
as the seventh fleet is not known by the outsider, perhaps this
seventh ship is not meant for common knowledge either. A silent
vessel for the use of the patriarch perhaps?"
"Perhaps."
"Then my thoughts also tell me that after the war of
Geddinan this ship will be at the command of the patriarch and
those who are chosen to use it in his service?"
""After Geddinan all shall be changed as the powers of
heaven and hell are shook to their foundation and a new order shall
arise"." D'rethen quoted, smiling at the momentary confusion
shown in Yarrin's face.
"Of course." Yarrin nodded. "True indeed. But my thoughts
say the new order will not appear in the blink of an eye as the
Levihths of Dahn believe. And in this time there will be use for this
shadow ship?"
""Those who resist the arm of the Lord should need feel his
waking wrath"." This time Yarrin smiled with him.
"And shall the servants of the Lord bear the sword of fire to
those who will not awake to the new dawning?" Yarrin asked.
"Perhaps. That depends on the servant and which sword of
fire they are thinking of?"

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"The seventh. Of course. For it is the most deadly." Yarrin


nodded and smiled, savouring the thought that he had laid the
foundation of his next plan.
D'rethen watched him smirking to himself. He was a vile
little man. D'rethen did not trust him despite Irache's obvious faith
in the man's talents. He saw Yarrin's vision hovering at the edge of
his thoughts. The idea cast like a vision across the sky as soon as he
the subject of the Dragonsfire's use after the fleet had flown the
nest.
D'rethen's recourse to obscure scripture had been deliberate.
The momentary confusion Yarrin had experienced had allowed the
shadow-runner to by pass his natural shield and pick out the details
of his plan. Yarrin wanted command of the Dragonsfire. Not only
to command under Irache but to use for the benefit of his people,
the Benhi. The slaves he had seen in Spawn were not the only
Benhi taken from their homes to be stripped of their freedom by
pirate clans. The practise had been going on since the first of the
clans had arisen. The tribes were easy prey, with limited
technology and few allies to help defend themselves, they were rich
territory for slaver raids. Yarrin's vision was one of vengeance. The
seventh sword was traditionally the most deadly and the
Dragonsfire was truly a weapon of destruction against which few
would be able to stand. If given command of the ship Yarrin would
almost certainly return to Spawn, and use its power to destroy the
pirate base and all those in it. D'rethen wondered if Irache
suspected Yarrin of such a fierce loyalty to his people, and such a
lust for vengeance on their behalf.
"And this would be the reward of your labours?" D'rethen
asked. "To destroy the people who made our blessed fleet?"
"Only as the Master of Souls wishes it." Yarrin inclined his
head in symbolic respect.
"Then it is to the Master of Souls that we must put our
plea."

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"We are understood." Yarrin gave D'rethen a half bow and


walked to the door on the far side of the conference room. When it
opened, Yarrin's shadow runner was out there waiting for him.
D'rethen's eyes narrowed, there was another mystery to which he
had no answer to. Who was this shadow runner who never revealed
his face, even to his brethren? This one fleeting glimpse was the
first D'rethen had seen of the mysterious assassin. Apparently he
had been gone on some mission for several days, but to do what,
D'rethen did not know. He would put the matter to Irache when he
got the chance. If he got the chance.
The door slid shut and Yarrin and his companion were lost
from view.
D'rethen's gaze returned to the cavern and its ships.
Casually he pulled out a finger length info-pad and touched it's
sensor to the inside of his wrist. The recording of the conversation
was copied from his subdermal instantly, along with his own
conclusions with regards to Yarrin's intentions. Saving the
information on the tiny square pad he pocketed it once more. If
ever Yarrin outlived his usefulness he was sure Oran and her
people would be very interested in the contents of that pad.
Below him the nearest vessel was test firing its grav-
burners. It's body locked to the cavern wall by docking claws that
stretched like an iron hand over its dark hull. That one was the
Dragonstar, sister to the Serpentdawn to his right. Beyond them,
dotted along the cavern wall was the Darkeye, the Talonwing, the
Firespawn, and the Burningsky. The names were Yarrin's choice,
reflective of the Benhi obsession with draconic symbolism. The
names were fitting though. These were the key. The bar to prize
open the gates of Gedinnan. D'rethen smiled at them. It is almost
time, my friends, almost time.
It had been three days since the night of Jacob's death and
the escape of Kallun Josephs. The memory dulled his good
humour. In those three days Irache had sent no word of progress on
Seerak. The old patriarch had blamed him that night for the failure

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of the gases to flood the passages of the higher presidency, when


they should have killed Jacob and Kallun together. The old fool
never even gave a thought to the fact that those gases had not been
used or tested in hundreds of years. It was a miracle they had even
released at all. Even if it was too late. He should have gone down to
the lower presidency himself and dealt with Kallun personally once
Jacob had died. Alone the old man would have stood no chance
against him. But D'rethen had felt it more important to go straight
to the command centre at the northern end of the higher presidency
and kill them with the gases that were a part of the presidency's
defence system. It would have been nice and clean, killing the
sleeping Sakijri as well as the intruders and containing the incident
to one area. But of course the gases hadn't worked, Kallun and
Jacob had descended to the lower presidency and he'd been forced
to issue and level one security alert. The Sakijri, of course, had died
a few minutes later, waking up coughing their own lungs out in
sprays of blood and gore until they died of massive coranary
seizures.
Jacob had fought for nearly fifteen minutes, on his own.
The attacking forces trying to subdue him had faced wave after
wave of floating grenades, gas canisters, energy arcs and rolling
shields. Some of them had even wondered if the whole business
was worth their effort. If they had been privy to Irache's wrath as
D'rethen was they would have spared no hesitation in their
wondering and killed the man a lot quicker. As it was, by the time
the gases cleared and D'rethen had got down to the lower
presidency some youthful sentinel had already claimed the honour
of having shot the big man. Examining the body the shadow-runner
was more of the opinion that Jacob had simply run out of weapons
and run out of power, his biological self following their cybernetic
implants into darkness a few minutes after the first had shut down.
He reward the arrogant youth with a katha in the heart.
With Kallun and Vash still out of sight he had swept the
halls with barium and turned up nothing. He guessed that whoever

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their guardian was, she had led them out of the halls by then and
found a way back to the city. Kallun's team had amassed a
significant stack of information and evidence against his master by
that time anyway. It seemed logical for them to leave as soon as
they had the chance. It was what D'rethen would have done
himself. The sentinel's and watchers hadn't found any trace of
Kallun and the remains of his team either. And, by the time
D'rethen was forced to leave for Spawn, all they had been able to
do was mark their known bio-signatures along with their colleagues
and hope the faithful would deal with them. Once Oran's ship was
ready to depart it had been Irache's problem again anyway, and
D'rethen was open enough with himself to admit that he was glad
of at least that one thing.
His legion had left on schedule. Boarding Oran's armed
skutter early that morning with his personal decagon, the rest of his
legionnaires followed in freight ships behind them. They had no
trouble from traffic control. Church marked ships could come and
go as they pleased. Irache had made sure of that many months
previously. Two days later he was at Spawn base, training his
troops in the use of the new ships and planning operations against
known targets. As Yarrin had noted, he had made sure that his
troops did not mix with the Spawn scum, he did not want to lose
any of them to a stray blaster or mis-placed knife fight, they were
not of the clan brotherhood and it was perfectly legal to kill them
under Spawn law. He doubted many of the pirate clan could out
fight his legionnaires but it paid to be careful in the last days before
a major battle. He needed every man. Another three days and they,
like the ships before him would have to be ready.
In the mean time he had some personal matters to attend to.
Matters he had been preparing for a very long time. He thumbed a
sequence on his comm. The voice that came back was a deep with a
diffused and misplaced accent.
"Sir?"

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"Paul, I have some matters to attend to over the next


twenty-four hours. Until then I want you to take over the mission
training."
"Yes, sir."
D'rethen flicked off the comm and left the conference room.

***

Day 12. 0205 - Nivala Artifice. (CKT - 5)


In his quarters near the asteroid surface, Yarrin was finally
able to talk with his long time companion.
"It is good to that you returned safely," Yarrin said, sitting.
The shadow runner merely stood silently watching him.
"When I heard that the Kalshial still lived, I thought he may
have bested you on Araken." Yarrin persisted. This time the
assassin responded. He shrugged.
"The Kalshial questions before he kills. It is the way of the
Chosen."
"So he is the Chosen?" Yarrin asked, recalling the tall
operative when they were together at the Institute. "Is that why you
went? To test him?"
"Him and the Shialla together. It was as it should be."
Yarrin sat down on a nearby chair, sinking into the
comfortable fabric.
"If Irache finds out that you have been conducting such
experiments for yourself, he will drag you down to Halla Ka
personally."
"He does not know."
"And you are so sure that I will not tell him?" Yarrin asked,
curious. His shadow runner had been gone a long time on that one
mission. Yarrin had no idea where he had been in the days since
then. To Kabel perhaps, or even across the Emrihsad border. He
would probably never know. But he had separated from Yarrin at
the Institute hinting cryptically that he had a meeting with destiny

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and the Chosen Kalshial. Yarrin was no fool. He knew who they
were calling Kalshial now, and when his shadow runner had not
returned immediately he had presumed that he was dead.
Sometimes Yarrin wondered whether the hidden man really
served Irache or some other force.

***

Day 12. 0759 - Central Kabel Time.


They were all there. Everyone Kallun felt he could trust.
This morning all but one seat of Rae's secure cell was filled, the air
conditioned cube alive with the sound voices talking, sharing
experiences and ideas. A stark contrast to the last time they were
here.
Today Kallun sat at the head of the oval table, in D'rethen's
old seat. To his left Vash was dressed in comfortable slacks, a T-
shirt and a dark blue pocket-ridden jacket. Kallun wondered if she
had been taking fashion lessons off Sal. The locksmith was along
the table next to Vash, her streak of hair shining red where it had
been blue the day before. When she turned to talk to Vash, Kallun
could see the scar on the left side of her face still bright and livid.
An angry red reminder that they were all marked by the Heresy, all
except Aliara of whom it seemed the Church had no knowledge to
date.
Sal's scar had come from the knife strike of a passer by. She
had been out on the street attempting to make contact with an
underground locksmith she was using to help her break back into
the Heresy archives from outside. Fortunately Vash had been with
her and able to disarm the unskilled assailant, pinning his arm and
quietly pulling him to one side. They had learnt from his personal
pad about the marks Irache had placed on all of their known bio-
signatures. Confiscating the pad they had used a laser burn to seal
up his net connection and sent him on his way. The only way he
would be able to use the system now would be by manual interface.

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From his reaction, Vash had guessed that was a serious blow. She
hadn't cared too much. Since then they had all fashioned new bio's
for themselves, building them from scratch with Rae's arsenal of
stored Alpha Camp equipment and using them as often as they left
secure areas.
They were hiding out now in a disused warehouse on the
southern outskirts of the city near the sea. The warehouse was
shielded and hidden in natural forest camouflage. One of Rae's own
set ups formed through the Biodrone's cover operations.
Rae was to Kallun's right at the table, studying information
on her holo-plate. Still frowning as she had done for the last three
days. She had taken D'rethen's treachery hard. Apparently the two
of them had worked together for a number of years. She believed
him to have been a friend, but Kallun doubted the shadow-runner
held any such sentiment in her direction. D'rethen was not the kind
of man who ever considered anyone friend. Consequently Rae had
been somewhat quieter in operational proceedings. Kallun had
thought she would rage like a storm over Jacob's death, but she had
surprised him.
In the small hours of the morning of Jacob's death, after
Aliara had woken Vash, she had led them all to a series of passages
that meandered darkly under the hall and inside the mountain for
kilometres. They had emerged near the foot of Mount Geraz, tired
and blinking in the light of a new day. After another hour's walk
Aliara brought them to a small flyer in an unmarked shed. On that
side of the Naluri, the cover of tree's and woodland growth hid the
moulded shelter in the middle of a small copse. The shed looked
old and out of place, abandoned in the middle of the forest with an
overhang of branches that made it difficult to spot from the air. The
flyer inside, however, was a well maintained model, small and fast.
Aliara said she had chosen it personally, partly because the blue of
the body work matched her eyes and partly because the power to
weight ratio scarred her half to death when she pulled back the
thruster rod. They had flown into Biodrone and entered via the

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same secure route Vash and Kallun had used when they had been
brought in from Janus's ships two days before.
Rae had been expecting them ever since Jacob had
transmitted his compromise alert. But when she saw that Kallun,
Vash and the strange priestess were alone, she had feared the worst.
Kallun could still see her now. Standing alone in the great space of
the Biodrone office with its thick carpet, wide desk and broad, one
way windows stretching from to ceiling.
"What happened?" she asked, coming round her desk across
the room from them.
As Kallun explained the events of the night she had turned
away from him to stare out of the window. There had been several
seconds silence and Kallun had been sure that when she turned it
would be to unleash her wrath. But instead when she finally faced
them he found her eyes moist as though she was holding back tears,
he did not know whether it was over D'rethen's betrayal, Jacob's
death or both, but for a few moments she looked human and frail.
"I knew," she said looking at Kallun's grim features. "I
knew that when you came to us from this Dragonsfire, death came
with you."
Kallun had not known what to say and a signal from Rae's
desk had broken the silence. Rae's secretary, a personal assistant
from the ranks of Alpha Camp's security detail, alerted them to the
presence of Church operatives in the building. The iron defences of
Rae's character had been drawn up again and they had fled to the
warehouse, fifty kilometre's north of the gulf of Tirr. Now Kallun
almost wished he could have faced her wrath rather than that
briefest moment of grief. He could have coped with her wrath a lot
better. He was used to making people angry.
Even now he was not sure the edge of that grief had worn
off completely. Rae hadn't often lost people under her command,
and her grief made him realise with dismay that he had become far
more used to it in the history of his own command than he would
dare to admit. Today she was staring at his proposal and plans

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ready for the meeting with grim resignation to the facts of its
content. It wasn't as if she had lost her aggressive instinct. Though,
Kallun was sure if she disagreed with the plan she would have it
out with him without a second thought.
Beyond her Aliara looked out of place in the
technologically facilitated room. Even without her priesthood robes
she looked every inch the high priestess. She was dressed in a long
coated suit with a broad hood and cloak similar to those worn by
Adillan mystics and copied by designers from around the provinces
for one purpose or another. She had survived the rigors of the last
few days well. They had risked life and limb to contact the right
personnel that could help them fulfil their mission. As the days
drew near to Irache's inauguration to Council, they had been in and
out of the Council Chambers more times than Kallun cared to
recall, talking to allies and avoiding enemies as best as they could.
Aliara and Vash had also spent hour after hour in the otherness on
sorties he couldn't begin to understand. And yet they had felt it
extremely important to the success of the mission and so he had let
them. Now the day of reckoning was upon them and it seemed
hardly more than a few hours ago that he had walked Vash across
that black road to the white gate of Halla Kellsha.
His eyes moved from Aliara to the sixth seat. Sat beside the
priestess and laughing at something the older woman had said, was
the newest addition to the Seven Heads. His dark skin a sharp
contrast to the whiteness of Aliara's hair and face.
Kallun had sought him out the day before, as soon as he had
been sure of what direction their next move would take them in. He
knew Andreas would never return to Alpha Camp after it had been
over-run by Heresy operatives. Dukall would almost certainly have
given him orders to that effect. It had only been a matter of
destination elimination for Kallun to work out which of Andreas's
favourite resorts he would have gone underground in. He found
him fifteen thousand kilometres and four hours ride from Kabel in
the village resort of Mat Ahara on the southern tip of the Brell

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subcontinent. Andreas had brought his boys and their mother out to
the village with him under false bio's. Kallun remembered the place
well from a holiday he had spent with Andreas's family some years
back. It was a good place to hide out.
When Kallun had explained his need Andreas had thought
about it for ten minutes and signed on. He had said a fond farewell
to his family by throwing a feast in Kallun's honour that evening
and flown back with the commander in the morning. Kallun could
still smell the roasting meats and spiced marinades even now. The
taste of home cooking was still thick and sweet in his mouth when
Aliara began the meeting.
"Well I think it's about time we got started." she said
suddenly with a smile.
"I think you're right, lets get down to business." Kallun
dropped his eyes to his control pad and thumbed up the holo field
at the end of the table ready to begin.
"Wait just a moment there my boy." Aliara said grinning at
Kallun. "For the Kalshial you have a surprising lack of common
spirituality." Kallun knew he would rue the day he told Aliara
about Reanne's explanation of his name meaning. She had haunted
him with it unceasingly for the last two days. "We should start with
a thought."
"A thought?" Kallun looked at her like she was mad, Vash
was smothering a smile.
"Yes, a thought. From the scriptures." Aliara looked at the
assembled soldiers and operatives. They were returning her smile
with various looks which ranged from the tolerant to the openly
amused. "Sweet Erran, your a godless lot and if no-one else is
going to bring you into the light then its gonna have to be me!
Right." She pulled out a tiny book from the folds of her cloak.
Kallun had no idea where she had picked it up from. "This is from
the Book of Askal the Wise, Prince of the Ameadamons and
prophet of Erran, from a letter written to King Efianus of Gallipor.
Otherwise known as Chapter two verse One." She bowed her head

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into the book, peering at the tiny letters. ""To war is greatness. To
live is wondrous. To serve is godliness. But to love is greater than
they all"." Aliara smiled at Kallun again. He noticed Vash was
looking at him strangely. "Now you can begin."
"Are you sure you don't want to say a blessing on the
meeting as well?" He asked with mock seriousness.
"Well, if you really want a blessing on the ..." she was
forestalled by a chorus of "no's" and "really, there's no need".
Aliara replaced her book in her robes and interlaced her fingers on
the table top. "Well then, you better get on with it."
Kallun was not quite sure how, but the slight tension he had
felt in them all before Aliara had spoken had slipped out of the
room during her little performance. It was a talent he appreciated
on a daily bases.
Gathering his thoughts Kallun began.
"I think it would be best to begin with a summery of our
progress to date. Let's start with Sal." Kallun nodded at the
locksmith who took over control of the main table top holo field.
Immediately there were the now familiar graphs and lists they had
first seen in the library of Halla Gimni.
Sal swallowed and began. "The information we first picked
up a few nights back has proven correct in almost all of our more
recent investigations. Subsequent forrays have revealed files on
several levels with similar information. We can pretty much put our
finger on the exact number and position Heresy operatives in each
of the military installations around Colest. As you can see the
figures listed are more than sufficient to disable most of our
primary bases during any conflict."
"Are we certain of conflict now?" Rae asked.
"We reckon by his positioning of troops and the massing of
his legions that's pretty much what Irache intends." Sal nodded, she
didn't need to add Reanne's conclusion on that front to the report,
the physical evidence was quite overwhelming now.
"Go on to the legions." Kallun encouraged.

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"Sure." Sal changed the display. "Most of the troops


positioned in the military and at civilian sites will be doing very
little fighting in the event of a coup, at them most we can expect a
few fire fights. The legions have to be the main thrust of the
offensive. As far as we can tell these have been divided into their
traditional six groups, just over seven thousand men per group.
Each of the legions has been equipped with ships and lander craft
bought from black-market free runners. We reckon that transaction
has cut pretty heavily into the Heresy's budget, but as yet were not
sure."
"How big are the fleets we lookin' at?" Andreas asked.
"Twenty ships per fleet," Sal replied. "Including cruisers,
destroyers and armoured transports, not including on board fighters
and landers. All together that's one hundred and twenty ships in
those six fleets."
"Forty-two thousand men and a hundred and twenty ships?"
Andreas remarked. "A drop in the ocean. No where near enough for
a big fight."
"But plenty if bases and ships across Colest have already
been disabled by the placed operatives." Kallun interjected. "The
majority of his force is in the spread of those operatives. We
estimate close to two million men and women in active church
service with a support network into the hundreds of millions. With
the number of operatives in the Colest fleet Irache needs only give
the word and our fleet capability will be cut by up to ninety
percent."
"So why the ships?" Andreas shrugged.
"Clearing action." Sal said. "After the fleet is disabled
Colest is effectively powerless as a union of provinces. However,
Irache knows as well as we do that there are provinces who have
amassed small forces of their own. If any of them decided to resist
then he will have those fleets ready to engage them or dissuade
them from such action."

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"The position of those fleets would corroborate that


hypothesis." Kallun nodded. He tapped at his control pad and
overlaid a map of Colest to cover Sal's charts. On the suspended
grid map known bases and fleets were outlined in blue, bright
green dots hovered at various points around the field. "Sal had her
contacts patch her into the general traffic network. Their sensors
have traced jump marks into all of the regions indicated by green
markers. If we trace a line of probability between these jump
points, we can see where at least three of these fleets have
amassed." Kallun overlaid the lines on the map. "The first is a
thirty minute jump away from Crolt, the Daheisan command
centre, the second is forty minutes from Ciruria and the third hiding
out in the dead systems of Korrella."
"My people have no fleet." Andreas frowned. "Why put a
legion there?"
"Your people are thinkers Andreas, they are perhaps the
most dangerous people of all to a new revolution," said Kallun.
"Our guess is that the other three fleets have so far avoided the
traffic sensors but are positioned in equally tactical positions,
probably flanking the colonies and near the Adillan provincial
command centres."
"The figures are wrong." Vash said suddenly.
"Which ones?" Kallun asked.
"Go back to the number of ships in each fleet," Vash got Sal
to bring up the ship lists again. "There, you said there were twenty
ships in each fleet. The legions will not go into battle with that
number, they have to have a figure divisible by seven otherwise
they don't create the Mantaki."
"What are you suggesting?" asked Kallun, unsure what the
Mantaki was.
"I'm suggesting that each of those fleets is mission one ship.
Probably it's command vessel." Vash shrugged.

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"They each have at least one Hafnar type battle cruiser."


Rae indicated the display. "That would be the logical place for a
command ship."
"Not necessarily." Aliara interjected. "The legions do not
work on principles of size but of spiritual power. A destroyer could
lead if it had the right personnel or equipment on board. It really
doesn't matter."
"Twenty ships, twenty one ships," Andreas raised his hands.
"Does it matter that much."
"To the legions it does. And it bodes the question as to why
those extra ships aren't yet with them." said Vash. "And, if they're
the command ships, where are they?"
"So we're missing, what? Six ships?" Sal asked. Vash
nodded. "I'll look for them. But I can't promise nothing."
"I agree with Andreas," Kallun nodded "I doubt one more
ship per fleet is something we need to worry greatly about. If Sal
can find them, fine, but I think we should continue." He nodded at
Sal.
Sal picked up control of the holo field again and Kallun's
tactical map disappeared to be replaced by another set of figures.
Sal's work had been Stirling during the last few days, she had
searched the depths of the information ocean that was the life blood
of much of Colest to come up with these golden nuggets of
evidence. It came as no surprise to Kallun that she also had
contacts outside the Alpha Camp system that she was using to help
her find the information. Such external contacts worried him a little
but the results were self evident. He just hoped the use of such
people would not lead Irache's operatives back to them.
"Having placed the fleets and assessed the strength of
Irache's forces," said Sal. "We next tried to determine the Heresy's
political foothold within Colest's power base. We already know
that Irache has Chairman Fraque in his pocket and our line tap has
monitored regular communiqué's between the Chairman's home in
Nivalin and Halla Gaera, recordings of which have gone into our

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box of evidence. Checking out his supporters on the council and in


the General Assembly we have, as yet been unable to determine
any means of financial or circumstantial reward being offered for
supporting Irache in the Council. Most of them seem to have
genuine religious reasons. But the hostility between Irache and his
firm opposition has been increasing daily. Statistically his foothold
in the council is as strong as his military power. As far as what's
actually going on around the council table, though, I'm not
qualified to say."
"Rae, would you care to enlighten us on that side of the
struggle?" Kallun said turning to the former team commander. She
nodded and began with the kind of steady authority in her voice
that brooked no doubt that she was clear on what she was talking
about. It was good to hear again.
"As Sal has noted hostilities have escalated around the
council table," Rae began. "Yesterday councillors Durne, Varess
and Hathuri all announced their intent to boycott today's
inauguration. This has stirred a great deal of unrest both in and out
of the council chambers. For those of you that haven't plugged into
the news stream recently, there has been some considerable racial
tension across Kabel and in many of the major cities of Colest.
Killings have already been reported in clashes between Cirurian
gangs and Gaeran extremists. Adillan merchants are packing up
and heading for home and the Daheis have locked themselves in
their homes for the duration."
"What about the councillor's themselves?" Aliara asked.
"At the moment they are refusing to meet with anyone,"
Rae replied. "Which has made our attempts at forging an alliance
difficult. I have managed to worm my way into councillor Varess's
office this afternoon just following this meeting and hopefully we
can get this alliance off the ground. As yet there have been no
moves against the councillors themselves, but we estimate it is not
far off." Rae turned to Kallun. "I would like to take Sal and Aliara
along with me when I meet with Councillor Varess."

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"Me?" Aliara looked a little taken a back. Rae level her with
her commanding stare.
"Yes, you." Rae frowned at her. Kallun noted Rae had
frowned at Aliara a lot, as if waiting for something that never came.
"Though no-one has said as much, everyone here knows you are a
priestess of Hiera, supposedly a people extinct within Colest, but
your presence sheds more than a little doubt on that." Kallun
watched Aliara's reaction carefully. Everyone suspected she was
Hieran in more than just planetary allegiance, but no-one had
approached her on the subject. She sighed and shrugged.
"Well it's pretty damn obvious I'm not from one the
weakling sects that have parked their backsides in our Great
Hall's." she said gruffly. "I'm just amazed it took you so long
before anyone got round to saying anything. 'Nothing to do with
the subtle clue in the name of my planet and people was it? I'm sure
your first thought on meeting me was "Oh, a priestess from Hiera
IV, she must be Gimni or Valcon or something." never once
suspecting that the priestess from Hiera IV might just be Hieran?"
Kallun laughed at her gruff response.
"Well, then," Rae said. "As you are an admitted outlaw of
the forbidden priesthood ..."
"Forbidden priesthood, oh yes, that's a great name, that is."
Aliara muttered.
Rae ignored her and continued. "..then you will have some
considerably sway with Cirurian's who have never forgiven the
Heresy for removing your people from power. Having you present
might be the key we need to convince Councillor Varess to ally
with our cause."
"We can't do much without provincial support, Aliara." said
Kallun. "If having you go with Rae will help move matters along
then I'm all for it."
"All right, I'll go." Aliara said. Kallun could hear the
resignation in her voice. The priestess wasn't a lover of operations

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in which she didn't feel somehow in command. Kallun gave a


mental shrug. She'll get over it, he thought.
"We leave as soon as we're done here." Rae finished and
Kallun turned back to Sal.
"Sal, is that everything from your side?"
"Not quite." she waited for the signal to go on before
drawing the groups attention to the holo-field once more. A new set
of figures were hovering above the table, they looked like a cipher
of some sort. "We picked up these figures in a cross-border
communication to the Temples on Gallipor, headquarters of the
Emrihsad Church last night. When we analysed them we found that
they were a coded info-dump, which, when decoded, matched the
figures we had gathered on the Heresy's movements down to the
last digit. They include military movement, armament strength,
numbers in the legions on Seerak and around Colest, the works.
Investigations have also revealed other data transfers to our own
Great Halls from those same temples, although we haven't quite
had time to decipher all of them yet. We think, though, that the two
state churches may be co-operating on some of the details of the
coup."
"'You suggesting that their church is making a swipe at
Emrihsad High Command?" Andreas asked. Beside him Aliara
looked a little disturbed, this was the first she had heard of this.
"Uncertain," Sal replied. "But at the very least Irache is
trying to drum up their support for his grab at power. He may be
just proving to them that he can do what he says he can."
"What does he stand to gain in that?" Aliara asked, she
didn't trust the Emrihsad Church, few did.
"Legitimacy," Kallun said. "If factions in Emrihsad
recognise his legitimacy as leader of Colest he will have his first
secure foothold in the seat of power, once he has claimed it. By
convincing their Church that what he is doing will benefit the good
people of Emrihsad, he has won half the battle. Although the
Emrihsad patriarch's have no position in their High Council, they

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do have considerably influence amongst the people on that council.


A fact that has been demonstrated time and again."
"He may also be planning an alliance of churches." Aliara
suggested. Heads turned in her direction awaiting an explanation.
"The Heresy has become more and more like the Emrihsad church
with every passing year," she ventured. "Although their doctrinal
foundation remains divided, the application of church policy is near
identical since the Heresy took power. Maybe Irache figures that
they should finally join forces."
"With Colest in the bag and a secure alliance with the
Emrihsad Church he could sweep the galactic arm." Andreas
whispered. "Erran in heaven, there would be no end to the man's
power."
"All the more reason to stop him now." Kallun spoke
firmly. "We all know Irache's skills in forward planning and this is
evidence of just one of his next moves. But we must first deal with
is his designs on our government and our people. We can start
stirring up opposition in Emrihsad if and when it becomes
necessary. Let's hope that we can stop him before then though." He
paused. "Which brings us to the Dragonsfire."
Kallun spoke as he reconfigured the holo-field to display a
schematic of Station Six. "I know some of you have second
thoughts about stealing the Dragonsfire again but we cannot ignore
the fact that this ship is somehow key to his plans. Having that ship
nearby when he makes his move is important to him. If we can
remove such a key player and turn it to our own advantage then we
should do so. Vash, are we still go for our dragon hunt?"
Vash nodded. "From all that we've discovered about Station
six we should have little trouble gaining access to the main
structure. She pointed at the holo-field and zoomed in on the
highlighted areas.
"Station Six," she explained. "Is one of twelve orbital space
ports that ring Seerak. It's shape is cylindrical and it still used
centrifugal force to generate it's gravity rather than the pay out for

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a-grav. Of the twelve stations this one is perhaps the oldest to retain
its designation. Three kilometres in length, it is also the smallest of
those stations with a maximum birth half that of it's nearest rival.
The corporation that bought the station off the government
purchased it at a bargain price some years back and run it at around
the same level of inefficiency the price tag dictated. At best its a
dirty steal trade point, with limited entertainment facilities and
frozen equipment, cracking up slowly from the absolute cold of
space. Its a way station and a storage port. A pale shadow of its
plush high tech competitors: and the kind of out of the way place
perfect if you want to hide something you don't want people to take
much notice of. During the war it was an armed installations run by
the military with trade sectors kept under strict control and
observation. Little of that atmosphere remains now.
"Bay 337 is located in this section of rim docking bays,"
Vash continued. "Ideal for holding a ship over long periods. Station
six uses the old claw and catch method of docking, so the
Dragonsfire is likely to be bound up inside it's docking claw just
within the outer hull of station, ready for quick release when its
needed."
The claw and catch method of docking had mostly been
abandoned. It was a means of docking ships on a moving station
that involved timing the velocity of the incoming vessel to match
the speed of rotation on the docking station and to meet the
extended docking claw as it curved around the outer hull and
literally caught the ship as it passed by. Wrapped around the
incoming vessel, the docking claw would then withdraw with it's
captured ship back into the hull, close the space doors beneath the
ship and remain locked onto the hull until such time as the ship was
to fly again. The risks were self evident. Crushed jump wings,
smashed comm. spines and damaged grav-burners were just a few
of the things that could happen with even the tiniest fault in timing
or equipment. And, of course, there was a mass limit on how big a
ship could be before it spun the station off course with the weight

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of it's swing. Something the newer stations never had to worry


about.
"Evidence of security around the bay itself appears to be
still minimal." Vash continued. "On the last report made to the
station manager there were just six persons with the ship, two of
whom remained outside the ship all the time and four of whom
emerged from the vessel only to relieve their colleague's watch.
They have not yet availed themselves of any of the station's
facilities, such as they are, and the reporting officer logged them as
'silent military types, best avoided.' However without a recon. we
can't be sure that what the bay monitors are reporting is really
what's happening." She shrugged. "If those guardian's are
legionnaires then there should be another four hanging around to
make up a full decagon."
She changed the holo-field again, this time a composite shot
of the inside of bay 337 appeared. The Dragonsfire sat in the centre
of the frame, four huge claws wrapped around its sleek black hull
like an iron first. Every surface in the bay itself had a dirty brown
sheen, indicating it's age and overuse. Below the ship the space
doors were closed tight against the vacuum. The hatches around the
bay were double sealed ready for when those doors opened. Kallun
knew it was a computer generated image, a guess on what they
would find when they got there, but it still made his heart beat
quicken.
"The ship remains locked at all times and with those two
watchers outside the ship continually, we are pretty certain that
we'll be facing a bio-alert connection to the ship on those guards."
"What's a bio-alert?" Aliara asked. It was easy to forget that
she had no training in this sort of thing.
"It's monitor placed on the lower neck of a guard that lets
the ship know if anything happens to him." Kallun said. "If we
were to simply shoot the two watchers then the troops inside would
lock up the outer hull and turn the docking guns on us as we tried

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to get inside." And we've seen how well that works, he added
mentally.
"What we'll have to do is disable them without harming
them. Probably put them to sleep without lowering their heart rate
or synaptic activity" Vash smiled. "That's my job."
Aliara raised an eyebrow. "They teach you this trick at
Camp or did you devise it yourself?"
"Myself." said Vash, proudly. "I developed it at Camp as an
alternative to the straight killing pulse."
"Have you used a derivative of the subtle probe or a straight
blocking action?" Aliara asked.
"Not quite either." Vash said leaning forward.
"Ladies." Kallun held up his hands. He would have to stop
this discussion before it began otherwise the two talents could be at
it for hours. "I'm sure Vash would love to share her ground-
breaking techniques some other time."
Vash and Aliara both looked a little abashed. Their shared
love of the subtleties of their talent gave them a common bond that
could keep them talking for hours at a time. No one could ever
understand their conversations and none of the rest of the Seven
Heads had tried. What time they didn't spend talking together or
following up on assignments they were off in the otherness
travelling to who knows where anyway.
Vash returned her eyes to the holo-field and brought
Kallun's mind back to meeting He loved the way she looked when
she embarrassed. Her skin would fill with bright colour and her
eyes would widen ever so slightly. The expression had brought a
smile to his lips more than once.
"After the watchers have been disabled," Vash continued.
"It will be a simple question of engaging the occupants of the ship
individually in close combat. Our aim is to keep that as quiet as
possible and head directly to command control. Using the control
rim there we should be able to find where the rest of the decagon is
hiding and take measures to eliminate or contain them."

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"As simple as that." Andreas said smiling. Both he and


Kallun both knew it was never 'as simple as that' even on missions
that had been given the luxury of a full recon before hand.
"Vash and I have flown the Dragonsfire." said Kallun.
"With the information picked up inside Irache's morphe-pod we
should be able to safely activate the cloak once we have cleared the
station. The ship is paid up to be on a constant flight ready rosta in
the Station's information bank and should be allowed out within
minutes of requesting clearance. The three of us will then take her
to the third moon of Mantian and land in the secure caverns of the
Basalt sea. What happens then will depend wholly on the result of
Rae's contact with Councillor Varess."
"I'll need your secure band code." Rae said.
Kallun tapped in the number and transferred it to Rae's
station. "Use a trans-light burst though in any emergency, I don't
want a twenty minute wait for standard signal's. You have a comm
box somewhere around here don't you?" Rae nodded. "Good. Take
it with you."
"For your information" Kallun continued. "Andreas will be
piloting the Dragonsfire this time round. He's the best pilot in
Alpha Camp by far and, before we leave, I'd like to say that I'm
glad to have him on board." There was a chorus of agreement and
Andreas offered the group at large a gracious nod of his head.
"Is there any other business that needs to be taken care of?"
Kallun asked.
"One question." Rae said. "What happens if we can't raise
the support of the provincial militia?"
Kallun frowned. "If that happens, we gather on the
Dragonsfire and start finding ways to organise a new resistance."
"No clause 15?" Rae asked.
"I think we've seen enough evidence to realise that any
attempt to invoke Clause 15 without sufficient military back up
will be swept away as if it never happened. We have to cut out
Irache's power base from under him first. Then we justify our

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actions to the people using Clause 15." Kallun glanced over the
group. The last three days had led up to this next phase of action. It
was time to move again and this time he hoped that they were a
little more prepared.
"Any other questions?" he asked. No one moved. "Then lets
split to our assignments and pray Erran goes with us."
"Been doin' that daily." Aliara said with another one of her
infectious smiles.

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Chapter Ten - Dragonsfire

"In the quiet dawn, the servant who does not serve shall
bow to the master of halla ka and be slain. For death is the reward
of all they that enter that realm and no man seeth the end thereof
until the day of Geddinan is done." - The Book of Esiath the
Outcast, Chapter 63 Verse 89

Day 12. [Time index unknown.]


Dimming the lights to a level where his bunk could just be
seen, D'rethen stretched himself on it's comfortable top and closed
his eyes. The hum of the old air circulation and purification from
the asteroid dimmed to a background buzz in his hearing, and the
quiet warmth of the room washed over him.
He knew that this time it would not be a matter of simply
reaching out with his mind and flying into the world next to this.
He was going much farther beyond that on this journey. Farther
than most talents, priests or patriarchs would ever dare. And yet he
knew it had been done before, and therefore it was possible. Even
the text of the Mysteries had said it was possible. For a price.
All his studies had taught him that to enter the realm of the
Dragon, you must be called, and you must prove yourself worthy of
that call. He did not know if he was supposed to wait for some
flashing light or vision, but if pure ambition were a motive and
persistence and means to gain invitation then he knew he could
gain that call. But to do that he would have to face the Road. And
even he was wise enough to fear the Road.
Perhaps that was one of the places many of the other
questors had gone wrong. For fear of the Road they had searched
for gates in the otherness that would take them straight to the great
fortress. It was as if they thought they were entering any other
lesser sphere. But the Dragon's gate would not be a simple vortex
through the fabric of otherspace. The Dragon was supposed to be

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imprisoned behind that gate and Erran was wiser than to leave a
prison door so open to unwelcome visitors. It was a guarded path
that led to the Dragon, and it was not the fiery swords of Erran that
guarded it either, but forces of that realm in all their horror. The
path that an uninvited spirit must tread to the fortress of His prison
keep was a path of darkness and deceit, laid with snares to catch the
unwary spirit, destroy its bodily form and drag it into the eternities.
One obscure passage in the Mysteries seemed to indicate that the
seeker would be forced to die thrice before he could gain the
Dragon's favour. He did not know what that meant but it was clear
across scripture that the servants of the Dragon loved nothing more
than to feed upon the life light of the living human soul, and not
even Erran could stop them in the bounds of that realm.
Words began flowing from his lips sounding dull in the
compact room. Ancient words that jarred the tongue and stretched
the muscles of the mouth. Slowly their rhythm caught and moved
with the undulations of his soul, caressing him, touching his being
gently at first and then with increasing pressure. The sense of the
room around him began to fade.
He had learnt the litany by heart, yet this was the first time
he had dared speak it and he soon realised that it was far more
difficult to keep that rhythm than he had anticipated. Persevering
against the limitations of his human tongue he felt the power flex
and then embrace him. Soon all that existed were the words,
moving back and forth across his tongue and around his mouth. He
could sense mortal reality falling away as the words took hold upon
him. They were creatures of air and water, sound and fire that burnt
his soul with their encompassing touch.
Suddenly, the darkness came.
It swept over his mind like a rush of black fog, cutting him
off from his thoughts, the visions of his imagination, plunging its
fingers into his thoughts and tearing his skull apart piece by piece.
His soul was rent completely away from his body at dizzying
speed. With it came pain and fear causing all to fall into darkness

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and disorientation. D'rethen had never felt fear like it. All
consuming it wound around his heart like a black cord and made it
hard to breath and harder to continue the litany that was yet to be
finished. And yet continue he did, focusing on the words with
every atom of his strength and being.
When the darkness had reached down into every part of his
soul it settled there, wrapping itself around him like a cloak of
serpents, scarcely to be disturbed lest they strike the wearer and
send him reeling to his destiny. The feeling was cold dread and felt
like the hand of death around him, but soon it no longer confined
his tongue, making the litany easier to finish. And finish he did.
As the last words rolled off his tongue D'rethen found
himself standing in silent darkness, clad in the black robes of a
shadow-runner. A sense of vastness surrounded him, as if he were
in the centre of a cavern the size of a world. But though his
imagination conjured a hundred ideas, he could not tell where he
was for the black depth was utterly without light. He knew he had
passed from his world into the realm he sought. The sense of utter
reality was unmistakable. But in which part had he arrived? And
without light how was he to know? It was as if he had been blinded
deliberately for whatever was about to come.
Suddenly hands grabbed his arms. Ice cold hands with
claws that cut through his clothing and pierced his flesh with
poisoned fire. Light spilled out from the wounds. Tiny shafts of
searing white light exposing the unspeakable spectres holding his
arms.
The black watchers. The guardians beyond the gate. He
could hear them, laughing and screaming at the limits of his
hearing, chattering unceasingly even their voices filled with the
menace of an aeon of hatred.
He turned to see them but was unable, their presence always
at the edge of his vision, hidden beyond the light, only their grip
remained constant and that was tighter than a host of steal vices,
crushing his arms slowly. More hands grabbed at his legs then and

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with a jerk that almost tore his arms from his sockets he was
stretched out, spread eagle and helpless.
He didn't see from which one the katha came. The white
blade of steal and blood seared through the darkness, falling
straight at his chest. Only its tip was used. And when it cut he felt
no pain, only the searing fire of the questing blade. It moved back
and forth inside his chest and white light began to pour from the
wounds it made. When it was done the shape of a seven pointed
star glowed from his chest and the katha hovered, waiting to strike
the fatal blow.
Then came the needles, their carved bone handles unseen
until the tiny blades had embedded themselves in his eyes. With
them came the next bout of pain. This one was powerful enough to
almost overwhelm him as he felt, rather than saw the green light of
his power flow between the katha and needles, the three blades that
would rob him of his soul if he did not act soon. But his arms and
legs were bound and his mind was teetering on the verge of
madness from the pain.
"No!" he screamed, hardly aware of the sound of his own
voice.
He had performed this ritual himself, he knew it, had
experienced it, had tasted the needles in his eyes and the holy fire
of pain. There had been a reason! If only he could remember why.
The kills flowed through his mind. His first, the novice from Halla
Valcon, raw power and no skill to use it with. His body had been
fat but his mind quick and powerful. D'rethen had taken that from
him. The second, a mystic of the Adillans, the third a magi of Gad,
the forth a Lord of the Manassi, the fifth a rogue runner captured
on Daheis, the sixth a High Priest of Ganaeral and the seventh the
Patriarch of Hiera hidden in the Subs. All powerful men, all of
whom had lost their soul power to D'rethen's needles and the thrust
of his Katha for this very reason.

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The green light had spread out across the entirety of his
body now. The black watchers were jittering in excitement and
anticipation as D'rethen remember the route to his power.
"No!" he screamed again. But this time it was not born of
fear, but of determination.
He forced the litany through his lips. A new light forced
back the old. Like the first it flowed from the seven points of the
star on his own breast. His strength returned with each word, the
noise from the watchers now fearful. Suddenly he found his legs
had been loosed. Then his arms were free and he dragged the
needle points from his eyes. The darkness was swept away and the
watchers fled.
When his vision cleared, as he knew it would, he found
himself lying with his back facing a grey-brown sky. Pulling the
katha clear of his chest he found it melted through his fingers as if
it were made of morning dew and disappeared. He stood.
Looking around him he discovered himself to be standing
on a track the width of a city flyer, it's surface mud and stones.
Behind him was an abyss, a cliff which fell away into an
unnaturally thick darkness, the kind he had just emerged from. At
the distance of his hearing he could just make out the chattering of
the watchers. He turned his back on the abyss and looked down the
muddy road again. Either side of the road there were pits filled with
that same gaseous darkness, scattered at intervals and giving the
impression that the land here was not exactly solid. The pits
swirled with a life of their own, subdued and yet boding. Anything
could have been hiding in those pits. The landscape was a bleak
grey green, flat but with sudden crevices and streams between the
pits, like a peat bog in early winter. Only the track ran straight and
true under the miserable sky.
Along it's length he could see the carcasses of dead warriors
strewn either side. Raven's pecked at their skulls, and buried their
beaks in open wounds. The key, Irache had once said, was never to
let a foot slip off that track, for this was the Road that led to the

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Dragon. D'rethen peered down it's length until it disappeared into a


range of hills several kilometres away. He began to walk.
As he approached the first corpse, some five or six metres
for the cliff edge, he gazed along it's length. This one was dressed
in the armour of Gaera, it's green cloak spread about it, torn now
and rotting. Looking at his own garb he adjusted the ceremonial
robes of the shadow runner, forming in his mind the breastplate,
backplate, greaves, gloves, sword and shield of combat. However,
unlike his armour back in Halla Sierra, these had the mark of the
seven souls on it's chest. A seven pointed star matching the one that
had been cut out of his chest with the katha and containing the
image of a beating heart at it's centre. The corpse had a similar
mark upon it's shield and he wondered if it was given to all who
had made the sacrifices that took them past the black watchers.
It still had it's sword in its hand though, which had
somehow retained it's brightness and edge. It was that edge that
warned D'rethen.
He had fought in the otherness many times and only his
experience saved him from the speed and ferocity of the blow. The
corpse wrenched itself from the ground, slashing backward at him
as it did so. He rolled low, slowed only marginally by his armour
and came upon with his own sword in hand. It was only his
intimate experience of death that stopped him from blanching at the
sight of that rotted face when it turned on him again. It's eye was
gone to the ravens and browned and purpling flesh was sagging and
missing from the bones of it's jaw and cheeks.
It attacked over arm, swing its sword in a high arc, cutting
the insipid sky in a deadly stroke. D'rethen swept the blow with a
riposte that sliced the corpse's sword arm. The arm dropped,
severed at the shoulder with hardly a touch from D'rethen's sword.
The corpse stumbled to the side. D'rethen lowered his centre of
balance and put his weight behind a kick that sent the corpse
reeling off the track. As soon as it was a metre from the road it fell
again to the floor, as lifeless at it had been before.

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Kicking severed the sword arm after the body, D'rethen


turned back along the track and walked onward towards the hills.
The attack had obviously been a warning of what was to come. He
had a long way to go yet. And there would be many such
encounters to face before he reached the hall of the Dragon's keep.

***

Day 12. 1336 Station Standard (CKT - 1)


The shuttle belonged to Biodrone and had been
requisitioned from their out of town stores. It was a relatively new
model, with a smooth exterior and comfortable seating for eight
people in its long body. It had atmosphere wings as white as snow,
a showy luxury in themselves and an interior cut straight from a
fashion catalogue.
"I like it." Kallun said, indicating the luxury around him.
They had dressed him in a smart, fashionable suit to match the look
of the shuttle. He looked every inch the executive. "A bit over
done. But on the whole not bad."
"Don't get used to it." Andreas said over his shoulder. He
was seated in the pilot's seat on the right side of Vash. She too was
dressed smartly in a figure hugging trouser suit that Kallun thought
suited her just fine. She wasn't so happy about it. Unlike Kallun
and Andreas's clothing it did not hide equipment very well and that
meant that most of her combat gear was stowed in the case that was
presently enmeshed in a pouch behind her seat.
"It's a pity we have to leave it on that dump they call a
space station, though." said Kallun walking up to the open door of
the cockpit and crouching with one hand on the edge of each seat in
the cockpit. Vash looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm sure some of Rae's people will get round to picking it
up sometime in the next millennia." Andreas laughed when Kallun
tried to retort. "Relax, Gramps. Maybe they'll give her to you next
year. As a retirement present."

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At least Vash had the decency to try and smother her


laughter, looking away with watering eyes.
"And what would I do with an executive shuttle?" Kallun
asked.
"Well I don't know," Andreas thought with a mischievous
grin. "You could visit the moons of Hjabel, they do some good
work with the aged and infirm."
"Or the health spa's of Tyrennan five." Vash added with
serious nod, still trying to maintain her composure.
"Good idea," Andreas smiled. "Youth restoration in less
than three days, if you can believe the adverts."
"I get the picture." Kallun said sullenly and walked back to
his executive seat, the giggles of Vash and Andreas following him
from the cockpit. "I'll just sit here and read my way into my
dotage!" He shouted up the aisle for good measure.
In a few minutes Station Six would be visible on the
forward screen. They had booked in at the station as a visiting
executive, his personal assistant and pilot. Their cover was built on
the premise that they were conducting research on possible haulage
sites. They had requested a discrete entry and strict anonymity so as
not to offend their present contractors. Rae had transferred enough
money along with the request for S6's control tower to turn their
heads on ID inspection and erase the records. As far as existing
records were concerned no-one but a small group of tower
personnel would ever know that they had docked. However the
corporation had not bent the rules sufficiently enough for them to
bypass a basic security check. Hence the need for the shuttle and
their present appearance.
"Station six coming up!" Andreas called back. Kallun
flicked on his monitor and watched the view of the station
approaching. It was the same old frozen bucket of rust and fatigue
they had seen on the net entry. A fine place for clandestine
operations such as hiding a missing Emrihsad vessel. In an orbit so

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high it could have been distant moon rather than a space station the
sky beyond it held nothing but the vastness of the stars.
Andreas approached the traffic lanes and gained his position
in the docking queue followed by his clearance to land. As a small
shuttle they didn't need to play the catch and claw games of the
larger ships and were presently on approach for hub of the station.
There, at the centre, they would rotate the ship to match the
station's spin and enter it's hollow core.
"'Be about five minutes for them to get a pad cleared and
ready." Andreas reported.
Kallun began checking his equipment for the final time. He
wore his combat suit tightly underneath his regular executive outfit.
It wasn't the most comfortable of fits, but it hid the bulk of the suit
under the fine material comprising the majority of his outward
apparel. Pulling up his shirt at the waist he checked the power flow
and shield strength. He had the suit's hood rolled tightly in his case
along with a flat handed blaster, laser scalpel, sensor clip and four
concussion grenades that he would attach to his suit once they were
clear of the security check. In his outer pockets he had an S-70
penetration unit disguised as a high quality personal pad. They had
all come from the same store the shuttle had appeared from. Rae
kept herself quite an arsenal. She told Kallun that it had been
Dukall's idea, that the Chief had felt it important for his teams to
have equipment stored in areas beyond Alpha Camp. Kallun had
counted on as much from the wiley old man.
They were approaching the gaping maw of the station hub.
Andreas had already matched rotation and the stars spun around the
ship like a cylinder of moving light. The only thing that looked
stationary now was the docking mouth. Laser pulses guided them
into the brightly lit area, where ships around them were settling
onto grav pads and descending into the lower regions of the station.
They flew slowly here, guided by the station's control team,
eventually settling on a small grav pad mid way up the station,
away from the general traffic.

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"Look, no hands." Andreas said releasing the controls


entirely to station operations.
Kallun felt the slight movement in their gravity field as the
pad's own field wrapped around the underside of the shuttle. Barely
a moment after they had settled the pad began it's descent, space
lock doors closing above them as the glided down, away from the
vacuum of the hub and into a prepared bay about three quarters of
the way down the gravity well. When they reached their level the
grav pad offered them up to a second field which pulled them from
the pad into a small docking bay, just about twice the size of their
shuttle. Once the shuttle had been eased down on its own landing
struts they were given up to the natural gravity generated by the
station's spin. The bay doors locked shut behind them and
breathable air rushed back into the bay.
When the lights turned green above the three hatches that
opened onto the bay, their door's slid aside and a team of five
security officers strode in carrying a small arsenal of scanning
equipment.
"Here's where we hope their finances don't stretch to the
expense of barium generators." Kallun said, watching the security
team set up by the shuttle hatch. Behind them a tall, thin man with
a shock of blond hair and a dark suit wandered in and stood by
behind the security team.
Andreas and Vash had come back from the cockpit
gathering their individual hand held cases as they went.
"What do you think?" Andreas said, indicating the man in
the suit. "The official welcoming committee?"
"Maybe." Kallun mused.
"I thought we requested absolutely no personnel present."
Vash said, frowning at the blond visitor in the display.
"Maybe they had other ideas." Andreas straightened and
headed for the hatch control opposite Kallun's seat.
"We'll see about that." said Kallun, standing up and
composing his expression.

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Andreas opened the hatch.


The door swung outwards under its own power and a short
ramp extended a metre to the floor of the docking bay. As Kallun
exited he adjusted his step to match the three-quarter gravity and
looked around the bay. It was a dull red brown, newly painted and
carrying the look of a place that has been recently scrubbed clean.
Kallun guessed it was probably the best they had to offer. The
suited man strolled over as soon as their feet touched the bay floor,
bouncing slightly as he walked. He headed straight for Kallun,
whilst Andreas answered questions from security. Vash brushed by
his shoulder and intercepted the suited man before he could reach
Kallun.
"Can I help you?" she said, stopping the man in his tracks,
her tone of voice indicating that helping was not what she was there
to do. The suited man glanced once at Kallun and turned his
attention to Vash.
"Certainly." he said with a smile, his voice high and
smooth. "I am here on behalf of the P-Tel corporation to extend to
you and your crew our warmest welcome. My name is Tellithan
Kumuneni, I will be your guide on your tour of our establishment."
He bowed ever so slightly.
Kallun looked away, pretending to be uninterested and
letting Vash deal with the man. Andreas was now showing security
the cases and telling them about the shuttle, it was obvious one of
the them was interested in the new models as Andreas was already
launching into a discourse about the mass effect in jump distortion
of hull shapes on small cruisers. Kallun smiled at himself, Andreas
was taking their mind off their work nicely.
"Mr Kumuneni." Vash said coolly. "Perhaps you did not
chance to read our docking request. The conditions of this visit
were quite clear, no welcome committee's, no executive dinners, no
guides. We are not here to see the most polished parts of your
station, we are here to see it as it functions without embellishment
from any .." she looked him up and down. " .. salesmen."

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"Of course," he said quickly. "My role is merely to see that


you find where ever it is you wish to go quickly and easily. I will
not interfere in anything."
"Your very presence here is an interference. Biodrone does
not take kindly to ..."
Kallun decided he wanted to get a move on and put out a
hand suddenly, stopping Vash and stepping in front of the thin
faced man. His expression was dark and he stared into the blond
man's eyes until the guide looked away.
"Mr Kumuneni," he growled. "When I pay for my wishes to
obeyed. I expect them to be obeyed without embellishment. We
will submit to your security check, because we abide by the law.
But you are not welcome. Please leave."
The blond haired guide blanched slightly and took a step
back.
"Of course we would never cause offence to our valued
customers, but our wish is only to .."
"Leave." Kallun repeated, his expression unchanging.
"Of course." The guide bowed and scuttled out of the bay
like a dog with it's tail between its legs.
"You!" Kallun turned on the nearest member of the security
detail, a wide eyed youth with more acne than experience. The
youth dropped his hand held scanner and whilst he recovered it
Kallun glanced over the rest of the team. They had obviously
finished their security check so that Andreas could regale them
with more stories from his piloting days. They all stopped when
Kallun turned on the youth. "We will be finding alternative
transport to our next destination." Kallun noted that none of them
appeared surprised. "Arrange for my shuttle to be taken back to
Biodrone Central Operations in Kabel."
"But I .." The youth stammered.
"Do it!" Kallun bellowed.
"Yes, sir!" Came the prompt reply, and suddenly the
scanning equipment was being packed up again. "We'll get

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someone onto it right away." The leader of the team said as they
left the bay by the hatch opposite the shuttle door, to which the
guide had already retreated.
Once they were gone Kallun, Vash and Andreas, headed
straight for the hatch by the nose of the shuttle, marked "Access to
Level Seven". As soon as the hatch was closed Andreas gave him a
side long look.
"Scary." He said with a grin.
"Very authoritative." Vash nodded with a smile.
"I think young Darraw nearly filled his neatly pressed pants
when you turned on him, though." Andreas smiled. Kallun raised
an eyebrow.
"You were with them two minutes and you already know
them names?"
"It's a skill I have." Andreas shrugged. "'Notice they didn't
do a secondary scan on us though."
Kallun smiled. Andreas could talk a starving lion out of
dinner if he had a mind to.
Heading through the second hatch door they found
themselves in a broad corridor, styled in the station's characteristic
red brown colour. On the left it stretched for a hundred metres
before opening onto a wide room, probably an arrival's lounge of
sorts. On the right it curved away from the hatch door.
"Which way now?" Andreas asked.
"To the changing rooms." Kallun replied, his S-70 in hand.
"This way." He indicated right away from the arrivals bay.
Within five minutes they were standing outside a row of
doorways, separated by two metre intervals.
"Ahh," said Andreas. "Public hygen cubicles. There's no
place like 'em." He grinned at his colleagues.
"'Last one out's a dung worm." Vash pressing her fingers to
the plate and stepping into the cubicle.
Entering his own cubicle Kallun removed his shirt and
jacket and placed the shirt in the incinerator. His jacket he turned

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inside out, to reveal a shabby old utility jacket with the P-Tel
insignia on it, which slid loosely over his combat suit. It showed
the V of his suit's chest, but imitation combat clothing came in and
of fashion with the season's and very few people knew the
difference between the fakes and the real thing anyhow. Removing
his hood from the case he attached it to the back of the suit and
pulled the jacket collar over it. Next he removed the sensor clip
from his case, attaching it to his wrist and pulling the arm of the
jacket over it. The blaster went into it's holster underneath his left
arm and the concussion grenades strapped to his waist. With the
disguised S-70 pad in his jacket pocket he added his case, which
now only contained the official looking bits and piece an executive
was expected to carry, to the incinerator pile and closed the hatch
for it to process the contents. After that he mused his hair in the
cubicle's mirror and examined his appearance.
His face had a few lines on it now. He smiled, there was
time when he would have had to add that artificially. However the
essential vigour of youth was still present. The clean shaven jaw
line was as strong as it had ever been, the heavy bones of a Raviran
evident in the structure of his features. His clothing made him
appear as if he could have come from anywhere. Not the kind of
person anyone would take much notice of in a run down freight
station on the outer edge of Seerak's traffic lanes.
Stepping out again, Vash and Andreas were already waiting
for him. Vash had changed her suit completely, she was back in her
slacks and a multi-pocketed jacket with the same P-Tel corporation
logo on it. The neck of her combat suit was also visible underneath
her jacket.
"That make's me the last one out, I suppose." Kallun said,
looking from one to the other.
"I'm not saying anything." Vash shook her head.
"Me neither." Andreas turned.
Vash pulled out a pencil sized stencil gun and approached
Kallun.

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"Ready to be stamped?" She asked indicating the tiny bar


code she now wore on her wrist.
"At the cutting edge of technology here." Andreas said
rolling his eyes and extending his wrist. Andreas had not had to
change very much in the cubicle. Merely getting rid of his own
flight case and adding the logo, his blaster and grenades to the suit
he had on underneath he flight fatigues.
"Oh, indeed." Vash responded, turning to Kallun and taking
his wrist in her hand. There was a brief flicker of laser and the bar
code appeared on his wrist.
"Nicely branded." Kallun said rubbing his wrist.
Vash smiled and replaced the stencil gun. She had a similar
arsenal to Kallun, her blaster concealed, and body seeking
projectiles strapped to her waist. Personally Kallun didn't care to
carry such lethal computer guided missiles, he had seen them go
wrong to many times during the war. But Vash had assured him
that these finger length models were far in advance of the early
devices.
"Well then, people." said Kallun. "Let's go find our ship."

***

Day 12. [Time index unknown]


It seemed like days since he had started out. There was no
sun in this land, nothing to tell the passing of the hours, only the
landscape to mark the different stages of his journey.
He was nearing exhaustion, his every muscle thick with
overuse, burning from the relentless punishment they had received.
D'rethen had never known anything like it out of the body. How
could he hurt so? This was his spirit doing the fighting, his spirit
taking the punishment of his many wounds. It didn't make sense.
There was pain in the otherness, and weariness, but here it felt as if
his spirit were indeed his real body, and it made the pain all the
more acute when ever he took another injury.

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Very little he did at that moment made much sense. He


couldn't think much beyond the next step, the next move. Only the
journey seemed real. And the journey consumed his mind, it was
the passion that kept his feet moving one foot in front of the other,
the fire that lifted his sword to yet another attack from the many
minions of this realm.
After the first attack from the undead warrior he had been
set upon twice more before he reached the hills, once by another of
these undead souls and the other time by a creature that had risen
from one of the black pits that dotted the landscape around him. He
could put no name to the beast, but it's serpent skin and poisoned
talons were spawned of Halla Ka. Literally. Since then he had
come to fear the approach of the black pits. He had fought
countless number of strange creatures that had emerged from those
pits and each time he come closer and closer to succumbing to their
talons and teeth. But he would not cease his journey, could not
cease. The fortress was at the end of this road, and the dangers of
leaving that road were apparent in the valleys and hills all around
him. The way back only led to the black abyss. There was only
forward. Several times he had wondered if he had made the journey
too soon. But he could not have afforded to wait. Not with
Gedinnan so soon. Not with being assigned away from the centre
of the coup. He had been forced to act, and this was the act he had
chosen.
After a time he had become accustomed to the sight of the
bodies near the road. Some half eaten, some being torn and eaten
even as he passed them. Whether they were the spirit remains of
those that had gone before him, the shells of intelligences that had
fled back to the chaos from which they had come, or a creation of
the landscape designed to weaken the resolve the traveller, he could
not tell. But for once he was glad that he had seen enough death in
his time not to let it bother him.
Presently the road was meandering through the floor of a
green 'V' shaped valley, a stream running to the side of the road.

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The stream bubbled along emitting an acrid odour that gave


D'rethen reason enough to believe that it did not run with water. He
was almost glad. He was terribly dehydrated and there had been
times in the journey when such liquid had tempted him, but he had
not trusted it, living with his thirst rather than risking the strange
waters beyond the track.
How long had he walked? He could not tell. But no-one had
roused his body in the realms of men yet, not that many of his
legion would have known how.
A distant sound drew his attention to the grey brown sky.
At first he couldn't tell where it had come from. Searching the
heaven's he held his shield ready and tightened his grip on his
sword. It had been a few hours since the last attack, he thought it
was about time for another. The land would not leave him alone.
When he saw the creatures his heart quickened inside of
him. There were three of them. Their wings stretched in great
leathery arcs about them, their feet and hands were talon tipped like
a dragon's, and long tails with fanned ends controlled their flight.
Their bodies had vague resemblance to humans, with dark green
colouring and the same serpent skin that seemed to be common to
this realm. Their heads were bare with small fiery eyes and mouths
bristling with rows of teeth, and in their hands they bore swords
that burnt with blue flame. They were the first creatures he had
encountered in this realm that carried a weapons as well as their
natural attack capability. D'rethen guessed that a blow from such a
blade would shatter his own sword and shield. Although he could
replace them quickly in such an event, his own weapons were
extensions of his consciousness and the effect of their breaking
would send his mind reeling.
They saw him just a moment after he saw them. Banking
into a dive their screams echoed off the valley walls. Coming at
him in a line of three straight down the Valley, he knew his only
hope was to dodge the first two and catch the third as they came by.

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Standing his ground would be death. Summoning his strength he


waited silently, standing as though he would meet them head on.
When the first of the creatures was less than a metre from
him he dropped, rolling with his shield over him, bringing his
sword up moment later into the belly of the third beast. Letting out
a horrific scream the beast fell to the path in front of D'rethen.
Before it could rise D'rethen sliced through the wings it had raised
in protection at it's neck.
Surprisingly the seemingly fragile wings stopped the blow
dead. and D'rethen was forced to jump back behind his shield as the
beast open it's wings and a gout of flame erupted from the its
mouth. Dodging the gout he used his shield to break through the
closing wings and jammed his sword through the beasts neck, it's
wing talons clawing his back and breast plate as he did so. The
beast's jaw exploded, in flame, scattering burning drops of blood
over D'rethen's armour, it's head falling back from it's neck.
He barely had time to pull his sword back before it's
companions were upon him again. The blood of the dead beast was
burning him badly were it had touched the skin. The second attack
was a straight fly by that D'rethen dodged once more. On the third
attempt the creatures decided to split their attack and dived at him
from separate ends of the valley, timing their flight to meet him on
the left and the right simultaneously.
As soon as he saw their attack he slung he shield across his
back and turned it on the beast diving to his right. When the two
swept at him he jumped. His skill took him above the plane of their
attack, but just barely, the controlled height giving him ample
opportunity to hack at the wings of the beast passing on the right of
the path. They anticipated quickly. Angling their tails and snapping
up from their dive as soon as was off the ground.
No sooner had his sword cut the wings of one beast than the
other had spun mid air and sliced it's fiery blade through his shield,
his back plate and into his back. It stopped just short of his
snapping his spine. But the pain that shot through his body nearly

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consumed him. He hardly registered hitting the ground, falling


badly. His eyes cleared in time to see that somehow he had
managed to cut the second beast to the ground with his own blade.
It had its back to him, attempting to rise in front of him whilst the
third landed behind him.
In the fog of his pain he still could sense a hopeless
situation when he saw one. Everything inside him told D'rethen that
he could not hope to survive the next attack. The wound in his back
would kill him in a couple of hours even if he did survive.
Gritting his teeth and narrowing his eyes he launched
himself at the stricken beast anyway. He was High Worlder. He
would not die alone. There was a satisfying scream as he buried his
sword in its back. He tried to turn, but found his back wound nearly
caused him to pass out. He only had time to hear the fiery sword of
the final beast bury swing at his exposed neck, and to brace himself
for death.

***

Day 12. 1522 - Station Standard (CKT - 1)


"Crew hatches. Bay 330 to 340." Andreas read, glancing
over his shoulder at Kallun. "This be the place." The sign pointed
down a narrow corridor, metallic like the inside of an unfinished
ship. The corridor stretched as far as the eye could see, curving
upward ever so slightly with the arc of the station's hull until it
disappeared. P-Tel corporation had not exactly splashed out the
decor of the place, preferring functionalism over style.
They had criss crossed their way across the station for
nearly two hours, avoiding spot personnel checks, keeping to busy
areas and using their forged bar codes as little as was feasible.
When they finally got into the bay network, they had been forced to
disable a shaft car AI that wouldn't accept their forged clearance.
Fortunately they hadn't set off any alarms and had disembarked
from the car just a few moments ago.

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Now that they were just a few hundred metres away,


Kallun's heart rate increased. This was the dangerous part. Many
legionnaires had commanders with talents that would almost
certainly be running scans of the passages and corridors around the
ship. Once they arrived on this level the mission began in earnest
and Kallun could sense the rise of professionalism in them all.
Kallun went first down the narrow passage, Vash just
behind him with Andreas bringing up the rear. They moved slowly,
careful not to run into unexpected traps. Kallun, kept his sensor clip
scanning ahead for human presence, watching the walls for
electronic threats.
Just as they passed the sealed hatch to bay 332 Vash
stopped and put a hand up. Everyone went dead still, Kallun
thinking of a black void as Vash had taught him. If they were being
psi-scanned it helped her shield him. After just a moment Vash
shouldered past Andreas suddenly, blaster in hand, jogging lightly
back down the way they had just come, motioning Andreas and
Kallun to stay where they were.
Drawing back against the wall of the passage way Kallun
watched for signs of danger in front of them. Whilst Andreas
watched behind them. They both had their blasters drawn. However
they both knew that even in this old station, using them before they
boarded the ship would bring down a whole heap load of trouble
with the locals.
"What's she doing?" Kallun whispered, knowing Andreas
would be able to see Vash.
"Lady girl's crouchin' with her blaster pointin' down the
hallway." Andreas whispered back. "'Take it back. Now she's
holstered her blaster and pulled out a knife with a white blade."
"A what?" Kallun wondered where she had got that from.
"'White bladed knife. Same kind Aliara carries."
"I've never seen Aliara carrying a knife."
"You've never looked close enough, Gramps."

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There was the briefest noise. A rustling of clothing, a


muffled grunt and silence. Andreas relaxed and touched Kallun's
arm. "Our lady's fishing trip has landed a shark." said Andreas.
Kallun turned around.
Walking back down the passage he discovered Vash
standing over the body of a tall man with blond hair. With a start he
realised that it was the same man who had appeared at the docking
bay earlier and proclaimed himself guide. Telithan Kumuneni.
"What was he doing here?" Kallun asked.
"Following us." Vash replied.
"Any ideas why?"
"Or how?" Andreas said. They had been very careful not to
be followed, but they should have been more suspicious of the man
that had taken it upon himself to meet them when they landed. "I'm
just trying to establish that now." Vash continued her search of the
body. As she did so Kallun took in the body and realised that there
was not wound to be found. He wondered if Vash had used another
one of those 'tricks' Aliara had been teaching her over the last
couple of days. He gave an involuntary shiver.
"Got it." Vash said, pulling a slim black rectangular box out
of the man's pocket. "A transmitter relay, if I'm not mistaken." she
declared, standing up and handing Andreas the device.
"It's active." Andreas said checking a row of switches a
display nodes at one end of the box. "And it's set up on a hook into
the communications tower."
"That could be standard procedure for station operations."
Kallun remarked.
"That's the external communications tower." Andreas
corrected.
Kallun swore. The only reason he could have been
broadcasting to the external tower was in order to relay a signal to
Seerak or one of the other stations. That meant he was working for
someone else. Of course that didn't have to mean he was working
for the Heresy. He could have been under private contract to

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another company keeping tabs on investors in P-Tel, or a free lance


information tyke, the kind that went after any bit of information
remotely suspicious and sold it to anyone who cared to pay for
such things. But they couldn't be too careful.
"Should I destroy it?" Andreas asked.
"No," Kallun replied. "Put it back in his pocket. Destroying
it is a sure way of letting whoever he is reporting to know that he's
been found."
"We'll need to secure him." Vash said. When Kallun gave
her a questioning look she explained. "He's not dead," she
explained. "Just in neural shock. He'll have a headache for about a
week when he wakes up, but he'll be fine."
"How long before it wears off?" Kallun asked.
"An hour," she replied. "Maybe two."
"Prop him against the wall and leave him be." Kallun said.
"There's no other ship's down here, I doubt he'll be discovered
before we're done."
Once they had propped Mr Kumuneni against the wall of
the passage way, they headed back towards bay 337. Kallun could
only hope that the blond guide was not working for the Heresy,
otherwise the Dragonsfire would be sealed tighter than a Kallorian
purse by the time they arrived.
Proceeding down the passage they arrived at the crew hatch
for Bay 337. Kallun could already see in his scanner vision the red
figures of the two legionnaires on duty. A male and a female. They
were sat facing each other roughly four metres from the hatch.
Kallun guessed they had weapon's near at hand, although from the
reports they had taken from the station's data base it appeared the
two duty guards, always took great pains to look as if they were
simply your average security detail, and not the trained warriors of
Sierra. From the display it appeared as if they were playing a form
of hand held daje, the kind where the players of the different teams
were represented by holograms formed in a mid air field. Although
Kallun's scanner only extended to showing him the control pads

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and the pyramidal field generator he guessed that they were deep
into the game.
He signalled to Vash that it was time for her to do her work.
She nodded quietly and closed her eyes, shutting out all external
distraction and focusing. Kallun didn't know what it was she was
attempting to do, but Aliara had seemed impressed when she tried
to explain it and that was enough to know that it was a complex
task she was attempting. Hopefully by the end of it the two
legionnaires would be out of action but still breathing and thinking
normally. Kallun watched his sensor vision for any sign of change
from the two guards. There was none and he was surprised when
Vash touched him on the arm. A sheen of sweat had formed on her
forehead but she nodded that she was done.
Now all they had to hope was that the legionnaires inside
the ship didn't get suspicious when the team walked by their guard.
Placing his S-70 unit against the hatch control, Kallun
waited for a few moments until the pad had deciphered the code
and unlocked the door. The hatch slid smoothly to one side and the
team stepped into the bay confidently, Kallun slipping the pad back
into his jacket as it did so. The trick would be to appear as if they
had as much right to be there as any other P-Tel employee.
As he stepped into the bay, Kallun found the
Dragonsfire suddenly spread before him again in all her compact
glory. The sleek black hull was wrapped in a four fingered iron fist
of massive flexible girders. There were blast marks around her
engines still from the blast of Emrihsad fighters that had attacked
them near the Institute, but they had receded considerably since
Kallun had last seen her in the hold of the Kabella. It was obvious
the self-effecting repairs system had been at work to restore the
grav-burners to their full strength. At the rear of the ship the
underside ramp was lowered onto the deck. A flooring that was
principally thick steal covering the space doors hidden beneath it.
Beyond the hatch Kallun was impressed to see that the two
legionnaires were still deep into their game of holo - daje. They

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seemed as bright and alert as ever and Kallun eyed them


suspiciously. Neither gave even the slightest hint that they had
noticed the three newcomers. It was as if they were invisible. For
some reason Kallun had almost expected them to become zombies
or something, but the subtleties of Vash's skill impressed him. He
gave her a smile of approval and she nodded back.
Holding out his pad in front of him, as if reading the data on
it, he began to walk towards the open ramp at the rear of the ship.
Andreas and Vash flanked him, both of them wearing bored
expressions, that contrasted nicely with his overt confidence. There
were the classic spot check team, two bored lackeys and an over
enthusiastic supervisor.
They were about three quarters of the way across the bay
when three figures emerged to meet them. Kallun smiled broadly at
them and quickened the pace in order to make sure that they met
the legionnaires as close to the ship ramp as possible. It would not
do to have the Dragonsfire sealed as soon as hostilities broke out.
"Good afternoon gentlemen, and my lady." Kallun said,
nodding to the one female member of the trio, a dour faced women
with grey eyes who stood at the front. The other two seemed to be
more the military type Kallun was used to dealing with. It was the
woman who led them though.
"What's the meaning of this?" she asked, her eyes dark and
her thoughts veiled. Kallun noticed with satisfaction that Andreas
and Vash were still looking as bored as ever, the legionnaires
seemed to relax slightly when they noted that their leader's greeting
had brought no response.
"Spot check," Kallun said with a smile. "I'm sure you know
it's standard procedure on any vessel in a flight ready condition. If
you just co-operate my colleagues and I will be out of here in under
a minute."
"We had a spot check this morning." The women said
darkly.

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"They are done at random. As you know." Kallun said


quickly. "Sometimes you get only one in a month, sometimes three
in a day." Kallun shrugged and spread his hands. "Orders of the
corporation." he said as if that explained everything.
"Fine." She nodded. "Do your usual and be gone." She
turned on her heal and ordered the two men with her to see to their
needs.
"Thank you very much." Kallun called after her. He would
need to be quick, she would no doubt be checking any minute now
why her guards hadn't reported the incoming guests, and as soon as
she tried to verify their clearance codes she would expose them.
"Right, lets start with loading bay's, shall we?" Kallun said,
walking over to the ramp, Andreas and Vash just behind them.
"I'm sorry sir," the shorter legionnaire spoke, his voice crisp
like a cadet out of the academy. "The deal is that you don't go
inside."
"Oh, I don't want to go inside your precious ship," Kallun
said with a wave. Vash had moved up behind him, out of sight of
the legionnaires. She closed her eyes in concentration. They were at
the foot of the ramp now. "If you'd just show us the procedure you
use for opening your cargo doors and then we'll be on our way."
"I'm sorry sir, if you'll just remain .. here ...and...." His
voice trailed off and a look of confusion crossed the faces of both
legionnaires. Suddenly the were no longer interested in the
operatives and wandered off to the front of the ship to talking about
the up coming Dragonsfall festival.
They had disabled four of the ten legionnaires without
letting off a shot.
"How many times can you do that?" Kallun asked as they
walked up the ramp.
"That's it for now." Vash said breathlessly. It was all they
needed though. As they reached the top of the ramp they drew their
blasters. Inside the Dragonsfire, the bay's sensors wouldn't register
blaster fire. At the top of the ramp it was the same tight passage

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they had first entered the ship through at the Institute. Lines of red
filament ran the length of the walls, everywhere the eye could see.
Once all of them were inside Andreas tapped at a control, first
retracting the ramp, and then closing the hull doors, both the inner
and the outer behind them.
Kallun reached inside his jacket and activated his suit
shielding. He about to pull up his hood when he sensed movement
ahead of him. The blaster shot cannoned into his chest, knocking
him sideways. From behind him Vash used the space he had
cleared to return fire. There was flash and the smell of burnt air as
something darted passed Kallun's face. A thud and grunt was all
they heard. The firing stopped.
Pulling up his hood and pumping lost power to his shield,
Kallun jogged to the body. The thing that had flashed passed his
face had been one of Vash's body seeking projectiles. She was
checking the rest as he looked down at the body. Nothing else
could make such an unholy mess of a man's mid section. The
legionnaire had been firing from in front of the aft swift shaft.
Positioned to watch the ramp without being seen. Now he was
lying with the a small hole in his chest where the guided bullet had
entered, and a very large one where is had ricocheted around his
insides and exited in an explosion of body parts that had left very
little of his back intact. The floor was already wet with his blood.
Kallun frowned at the mess, remembering why he hated projectile
weapons. Vash had come up behind him and was looking a little
white as she surveyed the bloodshed.
Ignoring the body Kallun raised his chrono and waited until
they all did the same.
"Sixty seconds on my mark. Three. Two. One. Mark!" Each
of them touched the countdown on their chrono's. Vash set off
down the passage on the right, following it's curve round to the
starboard swift. Kallun himself set off round down the left passage
to the port swift. Each of them would step into their swift when the

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countdown stopped, arriving at command control simultaneously


from three of the four swift doors that opened out onto that room.
With any luck the fight should be over in a matter of
minutes.

***

Day 12. [Time index unknown.]


Above him the darkness cleared into grey stone. It appeared
to be a ceiling of some sort, its designs dating into antiquities far
beyond his experience, like a picture from the time of the
Mysteries. Shadows danced here and there, disturbing the thick
lines of stone arches and pitted alcoves. The whole roof structure
looked like diseased skin, pitted and scarred with the infections of
an eon of cancerous growth.
Pleasant, he thought, sarcastically. Reminds me of home.
The air felt thick, as though the wind had never touched this
place and the deadly lack of movement had allowed decades of
occupation to hang like the smogs of ancient industrial cities,
invading every crack and crevice that opened itself to the
ministrations of such filth. The lingering stench it held pawed at his
skin and filled up his lungs with every breath he took. It was the
thickness of the smell that had awakened him.
That and the presence of someone else.
"You are awake? Good." The voice came from his right, it
was deep, coarse but powerful.
D'rethen tried to speak but his voice croaked. The sense of
his body which had been creeping up on him suddenly pounced,
bringing with it pain and memory. He clenched his teeth against the
pain, realising that he was very lucky to be alive.
"And now you remember." The voice said. "Better and
better."
And he did remember. The long road. Beasts with wings.
The undead warriors. The back shattering blow. With a start he

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wondered if his back was broken, there were very few spirit
surgeons that could repair such a wound. But the pain came from
his legs as well as from his upper body and giving him cause to
believe that such was not the case. Somehow many of his wounds
had been healed. The pain was merely fatigue taken to its extreme.
Turning his head D'rethen saw a figure in a long black robe,
it's eye's were red as burning coals, it's head blunt and disappearing
into it's neck. He recognised the look. It was one of the Hajdrac,
the serpent guards. Beings brought by Irache through the gates into
the otherness and employed now as his servants in that realm.
D'rethen had been met by one following his killing of the Hieran
Patriarch, just before he had encountered the psi-op woman, Vash.
They were a strange race, spirit beings who hid their true form in
the mask of a serpent. But this place was not the otherness.
The fire in the far corner burned brightly, lighting the grey
stone room but putting the Hajdrac in shadow beneath the hood of
its robe. There were no windows in the fortress room. D'rethen was
thankful of that, they were despicable creatures. But its presence
begged the question: where was he?
"You wish knowledge of your whereabouts?" The creature
asked, reading him. It made a strange hissing noise that sounded
like disdain. "You must think it through, wonder, learn and come to
conclude."
D'rethen closed his mind from the kind of passing
penetration the creature had exercised. He didn't want the Hajdrac
reading him so casually whilst he reflected on his position.
He was not in his body, again. He still had on the black
breast plate of Sierra. Neither was he in the otherness; the fire, the
stone walls, the sense of reality were all wrong. The only place he
had seen like it that could create its own environments was Irache's
morphe and his body was hundreds of light years away from that.
That left him one conclusion. He had not left the realm of the
Dragon. A flicker of hope stirred within him.

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"I thought those beasts had killed me." D'rethen said. He


propped himself up on one elbow gingerly, finding that he had
been lain out on a long slab of stone, roughly a metre in height and
width and longer than himself by a good fifty centimetres.
"And that is what they did," the Hajdrac said simply.
"So I am dead?" D'rethen looked around him, the pain had
diminished with his elevated position and he risked swinging his
legs off the stone bench. He was facing the Hajdrac now. "And yet
I see no white gate."
The creature hissed. "And see it you will not. Yet."
"Which means that I am alive."
"Perhaps." The creature nodded. "Perhaps."
Before D'rethen could think of a reply the creature moved
to the doorway, an arced piece of roughly cut and aged dark wood.
"If you are strong enough you must come with me."
"Where to?" D'rethen asked not moving. He was suddenly
aware that he had neither sword nor shield. Only the katha at his
side remained with him. He hoped he could pull up the mental
power to summon them if he should need them suddenly. But he
felt weak enough as it was without being forced back into battle.
"Where to?" the creature repeated his question, and
laughed; a rasping, choking affair that sent chills down D'rethen's
spine. "Do you so often follow roads without knowing where to
they lead?" It laughed again and opened the door with a twist of the
black handle, muttering "Where to?" over and again as it went.
Pushing himself off the bench D'rethen decided to follow it.
The passage beyond the doorway was unlit. The darkness
was as thick as the air he was breathing and made it hard to keep up
with the Hajdrac. There was a light at the end of the passage, and
the murmuring of many voices in distant but heated conversation. It
reminded D'rethen too much of the place of the dark watchers and
he hurried on. They passed through quickly, D'rethen following the
steps of the Hajdrac as it strode through the darkness. Mid way
down the passageway the sound changed, rising in pitch and then

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stopping altogether. The silence was fearful. D'rethen paused a


moment, not sure whether he preferred the voices or not.
"It is simple acoustics, please continue." The creature spoke
without turning its head, waiting only long enough for D'rethen to
catch up again.
The light at the end of the passage spilled out onto the wall
opposite a large doorway to his left. Upon reaching the doorway,
the Hajdrac stopped, turned and motioned him to enter. Fingering
his Katha he walked past the serpent guard and through the
doorway. At first all he saw was a long, vaulted hallway, a high
stone wall to his left, archways and alcoves above him curving over
into square stone pillars to his right. It was when he looked beyond
those open pillars that his breath caught in his throat.
Standing between two pillars he looked out onto the
magnificent hall, with it's dark ceiling and multiple pillars. The two
great soul basins filled with the light of sacrificed souls standing
perhaps twenty metres apart from one another, just as they had
been described in the Mysteries. And between them stood the beast.
His wedge shaped head towards him, His faceted eyes burning
bright with a hundred thousand colours and watching D'rethen
intently. Along His spined back the folded wings shuffled
occasionally. His forelegs were on the ground, keeping his head
just a few metres off the floor. But what struck D'rethen most about
this Beast was something the Mysteries could never convey. The
sense of absolute power about Him. The thick air carried it in
waves like the rippling of the ocean tide, or a forest stirring in the
night wind. It bound him in its energy, filled up his heart until it
could bear no more and gripped his mind like an iron glove. It was
Him, it could be no other.
D'rethen dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms across
his chest.
"My master." he whispered.
"Your master?" the Dragon said, it's voice by passing
D'rethen's ears and forming themselves whole in his mind. The was

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a growling rumble that could have passed for a chuckle. "Your


master." He said again, nodding that huge wedge shaped head.
"Come closer."
D'rethen was on his feet and walking towards the great jaws
before he had time to think. The Dragon's mouth opened slightly to
reveal the blackened tongue and row upon row of razor edged
teeth. It reminded him all to suddenly of the wing beasts he had
fought earlier. He stopped walking.
The Dragon shifted his head to one side. "Those who call
me master, usually obey my commands." He lowered His head.
"Now, come closer."
D'rethen shifted a step closer before he could stop himself.
The desire to walk towards those jaws was overpower. No, the
desire to walk into those jaws was overpowering, and that was what
scared him so. The beast was in his mind. Pulling his synapses, by
passing his most powerful blocks and shield and bend his mind to
do his will.
"Stop!" D'rethen cried. The mind hold was gone in a second
and the Dragon raised its head, closing its jaws.
"Ah," The Dragon nodded before it's tone changed.
"D'rethen of the High Worlds, Shadow of the Dragon Lord -
Padech Draco Irachana. You do not serve me at all. Yet. So do not
call me master until you know what it means to be the servant of
another. Up until this moment you have served no one but yourself.
Your offers of fielty have meant nothing to any that you have
sworn too before."
"I will swear to you." D'rethen said.
The Dragon shifted, lowering its head once more. "You
swore loyalty to the laws of your home world and you broke that
oath. You swore to Kieran Dukall and his government to serve
Colest, and you broke that oath. You swore to my new Church, that
which you call the Heresy, that you would serve its Patriarch as if
he were God. And the very fact you are here means that you break

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that oath with ambition. Will you swear the same oath to me and
have me believe it?"
The Dragon flattened its wings and took a several steps
forward, the movement fluid and quick and the thick air rushed
before him. Within moments D'rethen could feel the heat of the
Dragon's breath encompassing his body. His spirit recoiled from
that presence for it was like a mirror held up to his soul.
"See what you serve D'rethen of the High Worlds." The
Beast hissed, its head level with D'rethen's. "See yourself. See that
which your heart calls master and tremble in the knowing."
D'rethen could not stop himself from turning and looking
into those eyes.
His sight blurred with the speed of it. Visions of his youth,
the ambition apparent even in those early years, the disdain
harboured for his family's weakness, their lack of vision for the use
of their natural power, the foolish laws prohibiting those who went
off world ever to return. His departure and the discovery of his psi-
talent in a gang attack. The brains of the gang leader flowing out
through his nose as the others recoiled in horror. The exaltation of
killing, Alpha Camp and psi-ops. The works of death administered
in the field. The dark side of the government he had served. His
introduction to Irache. The power of the Dragon cult, the
movement which hid behind the veil of the Heresy. The killing of
the patriarch in the subs. The death of Jacob in the Communion
Chamber. He saw it all in a second.
But it was what it he felt that caused the scream to escape
him. The absolute reflection of his deeds. The complete reality of
his past tearing through the walls of time, perception and memory
to assault him in a berserk rush of human frailty, darkness and
death. The barriers of the mind swept aside to deal with reality in a
way no mortal man could ever hope to endure. He saw it. Felt it.
Experienced its flensing power in all its weight and glory.
The Dragon pulled back and left D'rethen whimpering on
the stone floor.

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"So now you see." He said simply, watching the shadow


runner try and pull himself together. "You are a fool, D'rethen. I
neither called you here, nor want you here and yet you intrude upon
my presence as though it were your given right. You offer me your
loyalty and expect me to take that offer as every other man before
you has? You think you can offer me a great and marvellous
bargain for your service and expect me to be grateful? I shall tell
you this once only. You have nothing to give me that I do not
already have."
D'rethen pulled himself up from the floor, fighting the
nausea that was rising in him.
"You do not have Leanna Vashti." He whispered. The
Dragon's jaw was a metre from him an instant.
"What?" The Beast hissed.
"You do not have the woman, Vash." D'rethen repeated.
Feeling his skin smouldering in the intensity of that breath, trying
to shut out the pain, but not succeeding. "Irache sent her to you
through the Dragonsfire morphe but she did not succumb to your
fire." D'rethen's resolve strengthened as he formulated his thoughts
quickly. He had not expected this reaction to his quest but even at
this distance even he could sense the Dragon's interest. "You want
her back, she is your key to destroying the Kalshial. But she has
been warned against the gateway in morphe-space and you do not
know how to get her back. You need someone from the realms of
men to bring her to you."
"And you have a suggestion." The Dragon stated. "I am
listening."
"You control the gate from this side. Every one of our new
ships has a copy of that gateway leading to this realm, but neither
you nor any of your servants can pass through those gates without
human assistance."
"That knowledge is as common as the fact that this hall is
my prison."
"And your desire for freedom." D'rethen continued.

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"Your point?" The Dragon's eyes were darkening and so


D'rethen rushed on.
"My point is that the Mysteries are clear. If you attempt
escape while the Kalshial lives then you will fail, and you are
bound from harming him or any of his progenitors directly. But
take the woman out and bind her to you and he will be impotent.
His destined bride will be gone. Their children unborn and their
legacy swept away." D'rethen was reaching here, guessing at the
vision of the mind before him and hoping he was guessing right. "I
can bring her to you. Give me thy power and I shall bring her to
you."
The Dragon's eyes were upon him again, noting his turning
to the formal tongue in his request, weighing up his boldness
against his ability. For the space of several minutes there was
silence. D'rethen kneeling now before this beast of legend. The
Dragon's head above him, looking down, at him and through him to
the myriad of futures that only Erran and the Dragon could know.
"Thus shall it be." The Dragon said. "Stand forth."
D'rethen stood and the Beast moved back several paces.
"D'rethen of the High Worlds. I sent my winged servants to
slay you on the road. One should have been enough, but of the
three that I sent you slew two before the third could raise his sword
against you. For this reason and this reason only did I spare you
and bring you to my communion chamber. For this reason and this
reason only do I spare you now. Thou shalt have that which thou
desirest, be it unto life or unto thine everlasting destruction."
The Dragon drew his breath. The same breath that had
brought forth the stars. The same breath that Erran had bound him
in this fortress for misusing. The same breath that was now drawn
against D'rethen. The power of the ages. There was roar like no
other before it poured out of the Dragon's mouth, consuming
D'rethen like a moth in the fire light. For a moment his figure stood
like a black shadow in the blinding fire, and then it was gone.

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***

Day 12. 1544 - Station Standard (CKT - 1)


Kallun looked around Command Control and felt the
familiar knot in his stomach. Why could he never get used to this?
He had seen enough death in his days to desensitise him a hundred
times over. And yet it never had. Every time he surveyed such a
scene it appalled him what man could do to man in such games of
territory and power.
Four of the decagon of legionaries had been in Command
Control. Three running simm tests from the control rim that ran the
circumference of the room, the fourth monitoring their progress.
Looking at the holo-fields now, they had obviously been on some
kind of mission preparation exercise when the team had appeared
from the swifts. They barely had time to put their hands on their
weapons before Kallun, Vash and Andreas had gunned them down.
Now they lay by their posts, their body's burnt and blackened at
various points, twisted in heaps where they fell.
"Starring at the dead again?" Andreas asked quietly, coming
up from behind him. "Never get used to it, do you?"
Kallun shook his head. "The moment I do I'm leaving this
business."
Andreas gave him a grim smile and clapped him on the
shoulder. "C'mon Gramps. Our little lady girl has found the team
leader."
Kallun turned away from the dead to where Vash was at a
rim station. Her holo-field was filled with a 3D cross-section of the
ship.
"You know, they had the internal sensors active." Vash said
when the two men joined her. "It's a miracle they didn't spot us as
soon as we walked into the ship."
"Nobody raised the alarm?" Kallun asked.
"Apparently not. Although I was sure our first opponent on
deck twelve had." Vash said.

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"Erran is obviously watching over us. Where's the team


leader?" Kallun asked.
"Locked between bulk hold doors on deck ten. She must
have gone there after dismissing us to see the last legionnaire. He's
here. Locked in an equipment store."
"Is that safe?" Andreas asked.
"I've been monitoring his bio read. From what I can see I
don't think he even knows the ship's been boarded."
"Let's keep it that way for now. Good work Vash." Kallun
gave her shoulder a light squeeze. She was a little green around the
edges, and Kallun had to remind himself that she had only been in
active service for just under two weeks, but she was shaping up just
fine.
"Andreas," Kallun said. "I want you to stay here and clear
up this mess. You know the routine. Vash, if you would come with
me I think we should secure our last man and pay the commander a
visit in her temporary prison."

***

Day 12. [Time index unknown.]


The Hajdrac stood before Him with head bowed.
"To serve is to live, my master." The serpent guard said, it's
voice lost in the vastness of the great hall.
The Dragon stirred ever so slightly, His eyes lost in
thought.
"For you, yes." The Dragon said. "But what about for him?
You know him, you know how he thinks as well as I."
"D'rethen is servant to his own best interests, master." The
Hajdrac nodded. "We knew that when we made him one of us. It
was as much a risk then as it is now."
"Hmm." The Dragon nodded, still thinking. "I have given
him a great power. If he misuses it ..." He let it hang there.

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"If he misuses it then it will destroy him." The robed figure


nodded vigorously.
"I want that girl." The dragon said.
"She shall be thine."
The Dragon nodded and stretched suddenly, unfolding his
wings, thrusting them between the largest pillars until they touched
the walls.
"I want my freedom too. I want that above all. I want to rule
in the realms of men you, that realm that was mine from the first. I
want it back. I want it all back!" The anger of the Dragon was
palpable. But the Hajdrac was quite used to it and stood where he
was until the great beast settled again.
Looking down at the serpent guard the Dragon breathed on
him gently, letting his servant bask in the heat of it.
"You serve me well, Irache. But this D'rethen concerns me,
most particularly because he seeks your power for his own."
"And one day he may have it." Irache nodded beneath his
robe, a strange exercise in his Hajdrac form. "But not until I am
ready to give it to him."

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Chapter Eleven - Prelude to War

"In the days of Hatharal, King of Gallipor, Kai, daughter of


the prophet came unto him and spoke in the name of Erran saying:
When the dark side of Gaera shall rise in the Eastern sky,
she shall be without form, unseen in the heart of a beast of the sky,
until she is taken. And when the cry of her deliverance from the
belly of the beast is heard she shall shed forth light instead of
darkness, and the Dragon, hearing her cry shall send forth the
servant who does not serve into her soul, to destroy Shial and his
army and to cut off his seed from the earth forever." The Book of
Askal, Chapter Nine Verses 1 & 2.

Day 12. 1632 - Station Standerd. (CKT - 1)


They called themselves Decdroni, it was simply another
word for commander but the legions had long since imbued it with
religious significance. The woman in front of Kallun was asleep
now, a somewhat different posture from the noble prisoner of war
poise she had struck every time she had been approached by one of
the three invading operatives in the last hour or so.
When Vash and Kallun had found her in her temporary
prison between emergency bulkhead doors, they had arrived just in
time to stop her from overriding the door locks and setting herself
free. She was plugged into the nanite collective, and had just
successfully navigated her way through the defensive minefield
around the life support data stream. Andreas surmised that she was
just about to overide the life support protocol's and pump out all the
air in the ship. She had not been a very happy customer since then,
having been yanked from her interface at gun point and marched
off to a more secure area.
Now they had her holed up in a modified cabin. There was
no designated brig area on the ship and so Andreas had removed
every piece of equipment in one basic metal cube and sealed up the

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computer ports as they debated what to do with her. It was not an


ideal prison but the Dragonsfire had never been designed for
prisoners.
The second survivor, a hapless engineer who seemed to
have been brought along to keep the ship ticking more than
anything else, now sat in the sealed cabin opposite his Decdroni.
He had only realised that the ship had been boarded when he found
the door behind him open and framing two Colest operatives with
drawn blasters. Without his tools and computer port he since sat in
his cabin and stared at the wall opposite.
On the other hand, the Decdroni, whose name they didn't
even know, had tried every which way she could to escape.
Eventually Kallun had been forced to shoot her up with
tranquillisers.
It was about that time that he had come up with the idea of
having Vash perform a psi probe.
Once they had dealt with the prisoners they had intended to
leave the station immediately, but when Andreas insisted on a pre-
flight check he managed to discover an anti-matter mine planted on
the docking ring that would have crippled the docking claw,
destroyed the ship and thrown the wreckage out into space as soon
as they tried to launch. That was why they were still there, stuck in
the bay with the ship all sealed up and praying Vash's mind spin on
the legionnaires outside would hold for a while longer.
The discovery of the mine was clear evidence that the
legionnaires had been prepared for an attempt on the ship. Kallun
had to know if there were other devices before he could risk a
launch. Thinking along those lines he had also become suspicious
of morphe-space. An experienced tech could put anything into such
an environment and they couldn't risk having their brains
scrambled in neural nets without first of all checking that they were
safe. Having run through the options Kallun just couldn't find any
other quick way of securing the ship. He needed a psi probe on the

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Decdroni. It was the only way thing he knew that would make
completely sure they could safely pilot the ship out of the station.
He had approached Vash with the idea when she came to
check on the tranquilliser given to the Decdroni. He hadn't
approached it too delicately and they were arguing about the idea
now.
"You have no idea what you are asking." Vash was wound
up tight and gesturing with her arms to emphasise her point. "You
can't just drill into someone's mind with a psi probe and expect to
dig out whatever you want, the human brain is far to complex for
that rubbish." Her face was flushed and offended. It was something
Kallun hadn't expected and didn't understand. She read other's
thoughts so often he had hoped she would just go ahead and do it
when asked.
"Don't give me that." Kallun countered. "You know it can
be done. I've read psi-op reports in which it has been done. I don't
see your objections."
"And reading reports makes you think every psi op can just
stick a probe into someone's brain and suck out whatever they
want?" She turned away from his eyes not wanting him to see the
fear in hers. She knew she was losing the argument, when Kallun
set his face in stone like that he rarely budged more than a
centimetre, and besides looking at him would make her all the more
angry. He was so stubborn!
"So what you are saying is that you can't do it?" he asked.
"No," she looked at he ceiling. "That's not what I'm saying."
"Then what's your point?"
She whirled on him then. Infuriated at his refusal to listen to
what she had been trying to tell him for the last twenty minutes.
"My point is that those reports don't mention the after
effects of that kind of an intrusive probe."
"Loss of cohesive thought for an unspecified period of time
and a diminishment in the brains abilities to access psi-stimuli."
Kallun spoke as if he was reading a medical report.

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Dragonsfire

"Is that what it's called?" She nodded. "How clinical. Well,
I've done it twice. And I shudder at the memory. 'Loss of cohesive
thought' doesn't even begin to describe it. Do you know what its
like to have someone else's identity in your head, to live someone
else's life in an hour? To experience their joys, feel their pains and
lose yourself in those experiences so much that you no longer know
who in halla ka those thoughts belong too?"
Kallun shook his head. "Obviously not."
"Well I do. And I don't want the debris from her mind.." she
stabbed an accusatory finger at the Decdroni. "..In my head."
"Are their any other dangers?" Kallun asked. Vash could
see from his face that she hadn't made him understand. How could
he? No one who hadn't been inside a psi-probe could fathom its
diabolic ramifications. The sense of displacement, the
disorientation for days after, the switching of personalities that
lasted sometimes for weeks. Not to mention her personal disgust at
the act. It was like mind rape, tearing the subjects thoughts from
their natural hiding places to inspect them, use them to get at
memories, experiences, dreams and plans that should belong to no-
one else. Everything she believed in cried out against such an act.
Vash shook her head. She could not win.
"There is the risk of permanent damage in the mind of the
subject, even brain death. No other risks to the prosecuting psi
other than those that you've mentioned. Most of the dangers
inherent in the procedure are to the subject. As for the time period
that the psi suffers the effects of the scan, it is unspecified because
it is different for every psi. I recover quickly, so I'll be out of it for
not much longer than an hour following the probe. My
recommended rest time before using my talent seriously is,
however, forty eight hours. Minimum."
Kallun paused a moment. Two days without the use of
Vash's skills would be difficult, but against losing the ship it was an
acceptable risk.
"Will you be able to access and operate the cloak?"

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"If morphe-space is untampered with, and if what this


Reanne told you about the method of operation is correct: Yes. But
nothing more. The neural net will strain my brain to breaking point
if I'm in there too long."
The Decdroni stirred ever so slightly and Kallun fingered
his blaster. It was strange, but in taking the ship he would have put
a blaster bolt through her without hesitation. But now that she was
lying helpless in his power, he had reservations. But he had faced
reservations before when all too often the mission demanded direct
action.
"How bad will it be?" he asked Vash, his voice softening
with concern. He did care for her and he wanted to tell her, but this
was a mission and it was no time for personel interests to get in the
way of the objective.
"Bad." Vash spoke softer now as well hoping for a last
minute reprieve. "In the hour following I'll need every once of
concentration I possess just to stay in touch with this reality."
He paused only a second, tempted to reach out, and say that
he was sorry for asking her to do this, that if there was any other
way he would gladly take it. But there were barriers inside of him
even he couldn't get by, so instead he said. "Do it. I'll watch over
you and make sure you stay with us."
He saw her frown, her shoulders slump slightly. Then they
lifting and her eyes were hard as she muttered. "Yes, sir."
Vash took the tranquilliser hypo from Kallun and pumped
another small dose into the Decdroni.
"Whatever else happens don't let me fall asleep." She said
softly. "If I lose consciousness my spirit will retreat to the
otherness and my mind will go with it."
Vash knelt down by the bunk that had been striped of
everything except it's integral mattress. Her back was to Kallun and
he knew that she was shutting him out for now.
Placing her hands on the Decdroni's head she let her spirit
reach out and touch the spirit of the woman beneath her fingers.

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She was dimly aware of the plain cabin, the hard metal under
knees, the dry recycled air, but her thoughts were bent wholly to
the task at hand.
The image of her body melted away and Vash's sight
perched on the edge of the otherness, seeing things in both the
mortal and spiritual worlds simultaneously. She was determined
not to destroy the woman's mind by barging in and tearing away at
her spirit self and so she extended her conscious towards the
Decdroni's essence slowly. A psi probe was not like projecting your
spirit into the otherness. And often, as with Kallun, it was much
confused with othersight and the ability to sense the thoughts that
played across a human mind. In such a probe the psi needed to
reach out with their very essence. It involved a shifting of
perspective, like drawing close to the face of a person, feeling their
breath on your face, learning their every feature a distance
centimetres apart, and then going in further, into the well of the
mind and the black maelstrom from which human thought was
formed. It was an intimacy that few dared imagine, the touching of
the raw essence of minds. And it was that contact that terrified
Vash more than any other part of her power.
The woman had a dark spirit, and it surprised Vash at how
stained and decayed her soul had become from neglect and misuse,
like a cancerous lung when seen out of the body. At her first touch
that spirit recoiled, but with some gentle persuasion the Decdroni's
subconscious finally accepted Vash's caress and relaxed. The
woman's spirit followed a few moments later, its borders blurring
in Vash's vision, its natural defences softening.
Once the barriers formed by the spirit shell had been gently
lowered Vash approached the mind of the subject, shifting her
conscious towards the woman's head and the brain within. She
hovered on the edge, looking down and forced back a shudder that
stemmed from the intimacy of the contact, the closeness she was
experiencing to such strange space. If the woman's spirit had
seemed blackened, it paled in comparison to the dark of her mind.

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It was hard not draw back, to flee the coming cold of that first
touch. As she stood on the thresh-hold, the thoughts of the
Decdroni like a seething pool below her, she steeled herself and
then, with a more solid resolve, dived in. This last move could not
be done gently, there was no other way in. She had to dive, to
pierce the membrane like a surgeons knife, or else she would never
get beneath the surface thoughts. Rushing at the heart of that dark
pool she thrust with all her might and broke the wall of the
woman's brain with a wrench that tore at the sanity of both Vash at
her subject.
Reeling from the contact she fell into the maelstrom and
began her hunt.

***

Day 12. 1602 Central Kabel Time.


The ceremony had been brief, stately and simple, just as
Irache had requested.
He had come to the great pyramid of the Council Chambers
straight from his communion chamber. His ceremonial robes had
been waiting for him in the plush dark interior of his personal flyer,
where he had washed and changed as his attendants gathered to
their vehicles. A few moments from the Great Halls the entourage
had flown within the city boundaries and been met by a security
council escort which had kept the general traffic at bay as they
made their journey to the Council Chambers.
In the large assembly hall with its panelled wooden walls,
carved and padded benches, thick carpets and discreet computer
terminals, Irache had walked to the three Sceptres of
Righteousness, Justice and Mercy and knelt. Remaining on his
knees in the lower centre of the hall he had heard his virtues
acclaimed, his deeds embellished upon and his worthiness for the
council outlined. It had been agony for his failing body kneeling
like that, but he had shown no sign of it to the gathering throng.

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The occupants of the Assembly Hall had filled up its benches in


their red and black robes, each holding the staff of their own
province, state or aligned system in their right hand.
Once his credits had been verified by three speakers Irache
was called upon to rise and face the Assembly. One by one each
Officer of the Hall raised their staff and brought its end back down
on the floor with an accomplished bang, signifying their acceptance
of his seat on the Council. There had been a brief and galling
pausing as the show of acceptance passed three empty places. The
seats of his opposition on the council. After this show of support
from the incomplete throng, he had led a line of attendants out of
the Assembly Hall to his new stateroom in the upper levels and the
ceremony was done.
Now that it was all past he had arranged for his flyer to
leave the state landing pads and meet him on one of this executive
pad. It was one of several specially designed landing areas that
were recessed in the very top of the pyramidal structure. The upper
tip of the Council Chambers was filled with such pads, each one
reserved for Senior Officers of the Hall and Council Members.
Previous to this day, as a visiting Councillor in the patriarch's
traditional seat of observation, he had never been given a pad of his
own. It was a small symbol that had accompanied his admittance to
Council this afternoon but it pleased him nonetheless.
With his Sakijri behind him he leant on a thick rail to one
side of the entrance to the pad. Before him was a wide window
overlooking Kabel, to his right a thick, sloping column whose field
generators protected the pad from the wind that buffeted the
pyramid's heights ceaselessly. For reasons that even he did not
understand Irache never tired of looking out over the vast expanse
of Kabel as it appeared in the realms of men. The pyramid
remained one of the highest structures in the city, nearly one and a
half kilometres at it's base and just as tall. By rule of law no other
buildings had been allowed to build to a height within one hundred
metres of it's tip, even where the old hills had once been.

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There, in front of him, was his domain,. The swirling mass


of humankind in all its temporal glory. Alive like a viral hive in
constant swarm. As far as the eye could see flyers dotted the sky
and the lights of traffic buoys, just as proliferate, guided the traffic
this way or that. The great masses living their billion lives,
exercising what little power they could get, building their tiny
empires of steal and stone. But here, at the top of that chain of
power, was an empire waiting to be born that would remain more
mighty than anything the galactic arm had seen since the
Originators first set foot on Colest soil.
Irache smiled and let his eyes wander without seeing.
Thinking for a while.
He had been surprised to find D'rethen in the realm of the
Dragon that morning. Surprised and inwardly pleased. The boy
learnt quickly, fought well and had impressed his master so much
that the Dragon had spared his life when the winged ones had been
sent to destroy him. That in itself was worthy of merit. After seeing
that performance Irache could content himself that if he were to
lose his new power to D'rethen someday, it would be to a worthy
successor. That was a comfort he had not enjoyed for sometime.
The knowledge that ones work will be carried on in like manner
after one moves on through the white gate is a happy thought. But
within that thought came the wondering, the nagging fear that
D'rethen would try for that power too soon. Be too impetuous, too
greedy for his own good.
What ever happened though, D'rethen would be watched by
the Dragon now. That was some kind of insurance against the
shadow runner acting too quickly. But Irache had not always
predicted his master perfectly, and with the Dark Lord, one never
quite new what would happen next.
Irache shook such thoughts from his mind. His master
wanted freedom. So be it. He would give him that freedom in blood
if necessary, for the rewards of Irache's labour on His behalf were
tremendous. Soon Erran's infulence in the realms of men would be

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no more, and the White God would be forced to go back to the


Light from whence the power of his followers came. The Dragon
would rule, and his rule would not be the weak government of his
predecessors. Law would be absolute, and justice administered both
temporally and spiritually. All would enter the white gate with their
hearts purified by fire, or they would not enter the gate at all.
Often Irache wondered how Erran had maintained any
influence amongst the children of men across the aeons. Where the
Dragon had made the law and enforced it, Erran persuaded and
invited, taught and cajoled. Where the Dragon acted immediately,
Erran let consequence do his dirty work. It was a wonder that Erran
had never fallen before. The Dragon brought immediate power
where Erran brought only promises. It was a fools errand to spend
ones life in the service of a master whose only actions are to teach,
exhort, expound and edify, letting the ignorant mass choose their
destiny for themselves. And in such freedom what was gained? The
loss of nearly all from the bosom of heaven. So few understood life
beyond the mortal realm it had made Irache weep as younger man.
But when the Dragon came they would remember, they would
understand. When the day of Geddinan came, as the scripture
foretold, all men would know the things of the spirit. All men
would know life beyond life.
"Draco-Padech" One of the Sakijri spoke from over his
shoulder. He had a southern Seerak drawl and Irache turned almost
expecting to see Jacob's gruesome face. He frowned when he
didn't. It still annoyed Irache that he hadn't been able to control the
events of that night. Irache had known of Jacob's allegiance to the
seven heads group since he had entered his service. He had thought
to control the hard headed warrior eventually, put him to good use,
but Jacob had a rare natural block to mind probes and suggestion
and had died before Irache could try anything more direct.
The Sakijri took Irache's frown as one of displeasure and
bowed.

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"My apologies for disturbing your thoughts dread Patriarch.


But your flyer is about to land."
Irache nodded and waved the large man back to his two
companions. Making his way to the embarkation circle, some
metres from the window, Irache watched his long black flyer bank
into the pyramid's open pad door without a moment's hesitation. It
settled onto the pad floor in a storm of displaced air. As soon as the
side door slid open and the ramp extended, Irache boarded the flyer
and seated himself in a broad black flight chair.
Touching a sensor on the right arm of the chair, the flyer
door slid back closed, the windows darkened and a holo-plate
extended from the right arm of the chair. A small keypad appeared
by his left hand and came to life.
He wasn't actually planning on going anywhere in his flyer.
He merely wished to avail himself of its secure communication
abilities until he could be sure of his new office suite in the council
chambers. He couldn't afford the time it took to hop back and forth
between the Great Hall's and the Council Chambers right now and
so he had equiped the vehicle with everything he would need at this
most crucial of times.
A message was waiting for him already on his encryption
link.
Tapping at the keys with his left hand Irache waited. A
signal appeared in the holo-field. at the end of the chair arm, Irache
recognised the code easily and tapped in the relevant response,
there was a brief pause and then a face appeared.
The face was of a man in his late thirties, dressed in a
styalised combat. He was one of a number of Irache's outside
contacts who operated in the city. This one was called Daven, and
he was a particular favourite of Irache's. He had Sierran training,
but had been removed from the priesthood after mortally wounding
an officer. Now he operated a firm of private law enforcement from
Kabel prime.
"Daven," Irache smiled. "How nice to see you."

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Daven didn't smile back. Daven almost never smiled. "We


have a problem."
"Really?" Irache rested his arms on the chair and formed a
steeple with his fingers just beneath his chin. "And what problem is
that?"
"Councillor Varess, was not in her chamber this afternoon."
"You tracked her down though, I'm sure."
"Yes, we tracked her down. Back to the chambers in the
admin maze. She was met there by Rae Sven of Biodrone."
"She has been prowling the Chambers for the last few days
now. We have been expecting them to meet." Irache said it as a
matter of fact. But in truth Rae was another of those factors about
the Seven Heads of the Wind he had never been able to control and
he did not like the idea of her consorting with his enemies.
"Yes, but we had not expected them to meet in the Council
Chambers. She should have been in private quarters when we did
the job."
"I think your men are up to it." Irache's voice was smooth,
never losing an inch. "We are surely paying them enough?"
"The Council Chambers are well guarded."
"So are the Councillors private chambers." Irache frowned,
suspicious now. "What do want, Daven."
"Double."
Irache laughed. "Done." He said it quickly enough to make
Daven think he could have asked for more. Money was not the
issue here, what Daven and his men were paid was pittance
compared to some of the other expenses of this operation. "Now, I
presume Councillors Durne and Hathuri have joined their little
resistance party?"
"They entered the building ten minutes ago."
"Obviously believing that they will be safer in the Council
Chambers than meeting at Varess's home." Irache smiled again.
"Send your men in as soon as they are ready. We'll crush this little
rebellion before it is born."

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Irache disconected the call with a quick flick of his hand.


Another caller was trying to get through. It had been put on
hold by his system. The signal that preceded this one was of a form
he had half expected to appear in his holo-field for a couple of
days. He stabbed at the key pad until the face of Tellithan
Kumenuni was looking back at him, a large bruise swelling across
his jaw.
"High Patriarch," Tellithan bowed slightly and Irache knew
the news was not good.
"They came after her, then?" Irache said.
"Yes, High Patriarch."
"And?" Irache encouraged.
"I was discovered. The woman has psi powers, I felt her
touch just before I was hit. There was nothing I could do."
"And my legionnaires?"
"The ship is locked up tight. I can't tell what's going on
inside. But outside there are four of them wandering around like
nothing happened."
"They are not attempting to re-enter the vessel?"
"No, I think they've been drugged."
Irache shook his head. "They will not be drugged. Have you
attempted to contact them?"
Tellithan shook his head again. "I tried. There's no response
on their personal comm's. From either the ship or the legionnaires
outside it."
Irache thought for a moment. Kallun's group, if it was
Kallun and his team behind the attack, would have to find and
disable the booby traps laid around the vessel before they could
launch. That would give him a couple of hours at least.
"Gather your men."
"My men?" Tellithan looked momentarily confused.
"The men you are about to offer large sums of currency to
attack that ship." Irache's voice edged up a notch and Tellithan
recoiled.

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"Of course." he said.


"Try and keep the ship intact, but if all else fails, blow the
mines on the docking claw."
Irache cut the signal and sat back.
He should have put the ship in a more secure environment.
But all such areas were controlled by the military, or by the
government or by over efficient corporations who asked too many
questions. Station Six had been the next best thing. Even then the
decagon on the Dragonsfire should have been plenty to cope with a
small force attack, they had supposedly been the pick of the
Decadon squads in D'rethen's legion.
Irache had noted Tellithan's earlier message regarding an
incoming executive party, but he had been too occupied with the
getting ready for the inaugeration to issue instructions. It was one
of the dangers of maintaining autonomous contol. Your attention
was too often divided.
He could only assume that the three visitors to the station
were Kallun, Vash and a newcomer to the Seven Heads team they
hadn't identified yet. That was another thing that disturbed Irache.
Kallun had been able to bring in more personnel. He had counted
on the isolation of the Seven Heads to eliminate the threat they
posed. Somewhere along the line that isolation from their superiors
had been circumnavigated.
Irache composed his thoughts once more. He was letting
things in too much, not thinking clearly. Perhaps it was the
nearness of Gedinnan, or perhaps it was the worries of an old man
who knew he did not have much time left. All too often, time was
his great enemy.
Alpha Camp was giving him some trouble. He had been
quietly moving the vast majority of his Seerak based force into the
compound over the last two weeks, shoving the former occupants
aside section by section. Surprisingly they had not resisted, but
Kieran Dukall had disappeared when the priesthood had been let in
and his offices remained inaccessible. There had also been several

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incidents in and around the peninsular bases where his men had
mysteriously gone astray. It was getting precarious to walk the
corridors of Alpha Camp alone, and his troops were beginning to
believe the ghost stories spread by the camp's remaining staff.
He was certain now that Dukall had anticipated the Alpha
Camp declassification and taken measures to instigate what was
called in military terminology a 'tidal response' - an effective action
that crept up on an aggressor like the tide of the ocean and was just
as unstoppable. In truth Irache wondered how long they would be
able to hold Alpha Camp without engaging in direct hostilities -
executing staff and so forth. The response to that could be fatal. He
knew his men were good, but they would be hard pressed to match
the fighting skills of those already on the peninsular if they chose
to rise. As long as the camp lackeys thought that they could reclaim
their own rule of law through the old government they would
continue low level resistance. Irache's men would have to live with
it.
Alpha Camp wasn't the only base that was growing more
and more difficult to keep control of. There had been open hostility
displayed on some of the colonial bases. Though the rest of the
population didn't know about it, he had already been forced to
engage in open conflict one of the outer rim bases. The church
control their communication relay the rebels were out numbered. It
was only a matter of time before they were defeated, but it was a
disturbing prologue to the way things could happen in other bases
if his operatives were discovered. It was upon them his strategy
relied. Without their efforts he had a force barely one eighth of the
size of Colest's military. He counted on roughly half of those
already within the military swearing loyalty to the Church, but even
with that half, should the remainder resist, the battle could become
bloody if he did not seize the initiative first.
Add that to the situation with the Seven Heads of the Wind,
Kallun's re-enforced team and the threat they would pose roaming
the galactic arm in one of his own ships (not to mention what his

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master would make of losing the Dragonsfire to the Kalshial), then


the situation was pointing increasingly towards early action. When
he thought carefully enough there really was no need to wait until
the week of Dragon's fall. He had only wanted to be sure of a
secure position on the Council, confirm Emrihsad Church support
and fortify himself against possible rebellion. After that all he
needed was the launch of the Geddinan fleet from Spawn and the
great day of the Dragon's power would see its first dawn.
Besides everything else, his master was getting more
restless with every passing moment. There was little doubt that Rae
and the three rebel councillors would fall to Daven's attack within
the hour. The outcome with the Dragonsfire was a little tricky.
Logically, if Kallun didn't give it up, Irache would be wise to blow
it up. He had the means to do so. It would be a loss, he had high
hopes for the effect the invisible vessel would have on any would
be rebels during the first days of the new administration, it had
been particularly designed to subdue Alpha Camp, flying through
their protective ring undetected and blowing their subterranean
command centre to Halla Ka, had been his planned first action,
following the emergence of his masters mortal reign. But unless
Tellithan produced a miracle - which was as likely as Erran
appearing on the pinnacle of the Council Chambers and
proclaiming himself Lord of all Colest - he would have to find
some other way of putting the fear of God into them. But there was
the issue of His master's emergence. The Dragonsfire was the key
to that eventuallity. It really didn't matter in whose hands the ship
was when that great day came, but it would not do if the Dragon
emerged in the mortal realm light years from Seerak and the Great
Halls.
If Kallun was at the helm he needed to keep the
Dragonsfire as close to Seerak as possible. If that meant acting a
little earlier than planned, then so be it. His men were ready.
Irache tapped on his keypad. The code was a long one this
time, and he carefully punched the numbers from memory. There

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was delay as an orbiting trans-light relay was brought on line and


turned to the correct co-ordinates. After a couple of seconds a
connection was made. After a further delay of a few seconds a
third, rather anxious face appeared above the holo-plate.
"Ah, Paul," Irache said to D'rethen's second in command. "I
am already aware that your commander has become incapacitated
for sometime so spare me the explanations of his absence." The
legionnaire seemed to relax a little. "Tell me, is my fleet ready?"
"All but some basic cosmetics, Draco Padech." The man's
voice was smooth, like his commander's, and like his commander's
it hid a mind seething with ambition.
"Forget the cosmetics." Irache waved it away. "Assemble
the crews. I want them launched and in jump space within the
hour."
"It will be as you wish it, my master." The legionnaire
paused. "And what of D'rethen?" The question was asked casually,
but Irache could sense that here was man who would kill his
commander without compunction, if so ordered.
"Let him be." Irache noted the quickly hidden
disappointments. "He has made his choice and serves us best where
he lies."
"As you wish, my master."
Cutting the signal again Irache got up out of the
comfortable chair and moved to the far left corner of the plush dark
interior where guest seats would sometimes go. Now, however, it
contained a storage box. The square shape looked like any other
basic flyer box, carpeted with the same material as the floor and
tucked away out of sight beneath the darkened windows.
Touching his fingers to a hidden sensor, Irache opened the
box and pulled out a fist sized device, roughly square, black with a
number pad just under a rectangular display. It was a trans-light
particle emitter, a timing device that connected to several million
other timing devices across the galactic arm. It was not the
Dragonsfire device, that lay hidden nearby for use another day, this

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one was merely a counter, but its effect on the systems of Colest
would be far more lethal than the destruction of one ship.
Depressing three buttons at once, Irache brought to life a single
digital display. He tapped in a pre-set code on its number pad and
watched the display first set the numbers one-eight-zero-zero-zero-
zero, and then begin counting down. He checked his own wrist
chrono strip, the same numbers were counting down, connected to
the box as were similar strips across known space.
It would take the Geddinan fleet sixteen hours to get into
position, the small lead ships from Spawn joining the waiting
Sierron fleets at strategic points throughout Colest. Two hours later
the countdown would cease, and Geddinan, the great and last
would begin.
Irache allowed himself a smile. Thus it ends, he thought.
And thus it begins.

***

Day 12. [Time index unknown.]


Memories merged. Her own, the woman's. Childhoods
blurred and refocussed, incidents and emotions cascading in a
neurologic waterfall. Vash swam through the stream, battling the
currents that threatened to wash her into oblivion.
She was out of the woman's mind. The probe was over. It
must have been over for a while. But the storm still raged.
The woman's name was Tahlior, she had to hold onto that,
put a name to each memory that was not her own. Stop them from
swamping her own mind.
In the distance she could see the outside world, a grey cabin
where Kallun sat watching her. But it was hard to hold onto. When
the memories weren't swamping her the call of the otherness was.
She had been tempted. Sorely tempted to break free from
her body and its mortal constraints. It would be so much easier to
bare the confusion in the cushioned comfort of the otherness. But

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then she had looked out into the otherness and saw him there.
Waiting. His body burning with unholy fire, scaled green and
inhuman, the dark lust of his eyes raking her spirit and she had
known fear. He was waiting for her. What ever he was. He was
waiting for her.

***

Day 12. 1735 Station Standard. (CKT - 1)


Vash was coming round, slowly. Kallun could sense the
change in her breathing. It had been nearly an hour since her mind
probe. She had knelt by the Decdroni for over fifteen minutes and
then collapsed in a heap. He had taken her to quarters and stopped
her from falling asleep by using a concoction of drugs from the
ship's limited med-lab. She had paced her quarters like the restless
dead ever since. Now, finally, she had sat down and was staring
from her bunk straight at Kallun. Her eyes saw nothing.
The quarters were one of the officers cabins aft of
Command Control down a passage that ran the length of the ship
from a few metres behind the morphes to the engineer's grav burner
access. Vash's cabin was on the starboard side of the passage, on
the left as you came aft from Command Control. It was a simple
cabin. A single bunk opposite the door, with a container for
personel affects underneath, a hygen cubicle at the foot of the bunk
and small desk with integrated holo-plate. Since Vash had stopped
pacing Kallun had the chair of the desk turned to face the bunk and
was sitting on it. The cabin was small enough that sat facing each
other like this their knees were just a few centre metres apart.
For a moment Vash seemed to see Kallun. She turned away
almost immediately. It was like watching a mad woman and it
pained Kallun more than he would have liked to have admitted. As
he had sat there Kallun had begun to appreciate why Vash had been
so reluctant to undergo this procedure. Her nose had bled on and
off consistently. The standard medikit sealant had simply refused to

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take hold and a number of blood soaked rags now littered the grey
floor of the cabin.
Promising himself he would never ask this of her again,
Kallun had kept in close touch with Andreas from Vash's cabin.
The pilot was conducting a detailed scan of the ship, in case Vash
couldn't get what they need. He had already found booby traps in
both the grav burners and the standard jump catalyst. He was
presently working on the jump wing bulbs from the inside, but the
going was slow, particularly as they couldn't risk going outside and
disturbing the wandering legionnaires.
Kallun wished they could just leave the station and get out
into open space. Every second that ticked by festooned in this tin
can of a docking bay was another second closer to discovery and
disaster.
Vash was looking at him again.
"Vash? Are you with us?" He spoke gently touching her
hand. She pulled it away, sudden fear crossing her features. Then it
seemed she was pushing back the fear and she put her head in her
hands and sat dead still for several seconds.
When she brought up her head she looked at him again. She
had tears rolling down her cheeks, but to Kallun's relief, she spoke.
"Don't ever.." she paused. He took hold of her hand again
and this time she did not pull away.
"I won't." he said. "I'll not put you through that again, I
promise."
She nodded gently. "Good."
He let her stay quiet for a second, satisfied to just hold her
hand whilst she struggled to gather her thoughts and clear the tears.
"Where's Andreas?" she said eventually.
"Looking for booby traps in the jump wings."
"Tell him not to bother." She nodded, bowing her head and
putting the fingers of her free hand around her eyes. "There's none
in there. Tell him to come up here and bring a data pad with him."
Kallun smiled and contacted Andreas.

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Within five minutes the three of them were crammed into


Vash's tiny cabin. Somehow Kallun still had hold on Vash's hand,
but if Andreas noticed, he chose not to show it. Kallun would have
released the grip but Vash was holding onto his hand tightly,
drawing strength from the contact. She began drawing up a list of
traps for Andreas which he jotted down on the data pad. Her
strength increased as she spoke. There were seven traps in all,
Andreas had already found three of them.
"How long before we can get underway." Kallun asked
when it appeared Vash had finished her lists.
"Now I know where everything is. Thirty minutes max."
"There's one more thing." Vash said. Kallun felt the
pressure on his hand increase. "I dug around a lot while I was in
there. Tahlior knew a lot more about this mission than her men did.
First off she knew that Irache had a man in the station grounds
watching for possible insurgents."
"Tellithan Kumenuni." Andreas nodded.
"That's what I would guess too." Vash continued. "So we
must assume Irache knows we're here. Second, Irache had told her
that when the count down reached zero they were only to cloak the
ship and hover above the five towers of the Great Halls. There they
were to leave her on auto and land using equipment provided.
Apparently the Dragonsfire was going into battle only after it had
fulfilled 'an holy purpose' as he put it."
"So what's that supposed to mean?" Kallun asked.
"I don't know and neither did Tahlior, but it seems to be the
main reason why he wants this ship close to Seerak." Vash shook
her head. "She wasn't supposed to know everything about it, and
she didn't ask too many questions."
"So they were waiting here for some kind of signal?"
Kallun asked. Vash nodded. "What about the bombs? I presume we
can dismantle all these booby traps?" Kallun asked.
"I'll show Andreas where they are." She said rising. Kallun
stood with her and for the briefest second he felt like child at

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school, holding hands with the next girl in class. A second later
their hands parted.
"Are you up to it?" Kallun asked, turning towards her with
concern. Vash's eyes were still red from the tears, but the small
room meant that they stood a few short centimetres from one
another. For an instant their eyes locked. Vash's lips flickered into a
gentle smile.
"I'll be fine."
Andreas was watching them like a proud parent. Sensing
his presence Kallun step away and resumed his posture. "What
about morphe-space?" he asked after a moment.
"They didn't use it." Vash said, searching his eyes again.
"Apparently there are ways to pilot the ship without it, but of
course you can't cloak and it's not ideal for battle. She was going to
train her men in its use today. She didn't consider it dangerous."
"Good." Kallun gave Vash an encouraging smile. "I want to
launch within the hour."

***

Day 12. 1203 Nivala Artifice (CKT - 6)


The rocks of Nivala hardly moved at all. One would think
they were silent when viewing them from the outside. But then
space carries no sound and all is silent to the human ear. Looking
down on a single elongated rock amongst the millions, the viewer
would see the narrow end of that rock split open by hidden space
doors, giant against the size of a man, infinitesimally small in the
great spread of the asteroid belt. The darkened interior of that rock
would cast no tell-tale lights. Only six distinct and unsheilded grav
burns would be seen, angling away from the belt, powering ships
into the void, Navigating their way out into the belt slowly before
tearing into jump space in six burst's of flame some minutes later.

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From this point on the observer could guess that those six
ships would spread their jump wings and sail the current of that
turbulent realm to wherever in the galactic arm they intended to go.
But of course the observer would not be overly concerned.
After all, they were only six small destroyer sized ships. Black and
military in their appearance, but still small. What harm could they
do?

***

Day 12. 1818 Station Standerd (CKT - 1)


"You two finished yet?" Kallun fingered his comm.
absently.
"On our way up. And ready to launch."
Kallun allowed himself a smile. It would be good to get out
of the station.
Andreas and Vash arrived having stowed tools back in the
maintenance closet on deck ten. Vash was looking less worn out
now.
"So what are we going to do about our guests?" Andreas
asked as they gathered by the morphes.
"I've been thinking about that," said Kallun. "As Vash
managed not to lobotomise our lovely Decdroni, I thought maybe
we could give them a sixty second shot and drop them out the rear
door. When they wake up a minute later they'll find the space door
warnings flashing at them and they can get themselves and their
vacant friends out of the bay before we launch."
Andreas smiled. "Like we had done to us on Golha?"
Kallun shrugged. "I seem to remember it was effective
enough." He turned to Vash. "Contact the tower and inform them
that we wish to leave. Andreas and I will deal with our guests."
As the two men left Command Control Vash set about
delivering a communiqué to the stations tower. Once the launch
requested reached the tower commander the Dragonsfire should be

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able to leave the bay within five minutes. After a few seconds she
was given confirmation of a launch window four minutes and thirty
seconds away. She nodded pleased that the station had shown at
least that much efficiency.
Suddenly she whirled around, her hand clutching her
blaster. She had felt something brush by her. Its touch as cold as
ice. Scanning Command Control she could see no-one only the
morphes as still as stone behind her. Vash shuddered inside. The
touch had been like something running cold fingers across her
neck. It left her skin burning. Perhaps it was an after effect of the
probe.
Turning back to the console she continued to prepare the
ship for launch, warming up the grav chamber, flexing the muscles
of the beast at her fingertips. It was something she had learnt inside
the mind of the Decdroni, Tahlior. This ability to wake the ship
from one station on the rim.
She felt the cold touch again. This time it was like a hand
grabbing her shoulder, its claws biting into the flesh. Vash let out
an involuntary cry and spun on her heals her blaster drawn.
Again there was no-one there. Only the silent room and the
dead morphes. Her nose was bleeding and she could feel the pain in
her shoulder where the claws had dug in. Pulling the neck of her
suit to one side she examined her shoulder. There were five cuts,
four across the collarbone and one on her back, patterned in the
shape of a taloned hand. Drops of blood glistened on her skin and
the flesh showed angry red burns were long fingers had touched it.
Her heart began to race. Such phenomena happened only in
scripture, didn't they? Memories of childhood lessons and stories
rushed up to remind her of demons from the otherworlds, servant
of the dragon that had the power to touch the flesh of the living
when their spirits were weak. She pushed the stories aside. The
probe had left her powers exhausted and shocked but her spirit was
anything but weak. If there was anything going on, there was

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nothing she could do about it but keep her thoughts guarded and
her mind focused.
She was extremely glad when Kallun and Andreas burst
from the aft swift by the passage doorway one after the other.
However one look at their faces told her that something was wrong.
"Make sure the ship is sealed!" Kallun barked as soon as he
emerged from the swift.
Vash's fingers flew over the console, making certain that
there was no way on or off the Dragonsfire.
Kallun had rushed over to a weapon's station behind her.
"Secure!" she responded. Andreas was by her shoulder
suddenly. She smelt ozone on his suit and his P-Tel overall had a
hole burnt in it down his back. He had taken a hit from a blaster.
She didn't have time to ask what had happened.
"How long until we launch?" Andreas asked.
"Three minutes." Vash said.
"That'll hold them." Kallun left the weapons station and
went to the three morphes facing each other in the centre of the
room.
"Hold who?" Vash asked.
"Ambush." Was all the commander would say before
returning his attention to the morphes. "Bring these on line."
"Sir, we can fly without them." Vash protested.
"Not in battle. Now bring them on line." He was sparing no
time with arguments. Vash accessed the secure code she had picked
from Tahlior's mind, experiencing the momentary disorientation
that accompanied such action. She tapped it into her console and
went through the operation of bringing each morphe to life
individually. Something she noticed during the procedure was the
amount of power the morphes used in simply turning on. If the ship
suffered power failure the command crew would suffocate inside
them as the morphe-flesh . Effectively being buried alive. She
pushed the thought aside.

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"On line." Vash reported. Behind her the morphe flesh of


each pod rippled in their casings.
Kallun reached inside his suit and unclipped the flat comm
box linked to Rae's own device on Seerak. He clapped it against a
sensor terminal linking them. It gave him a green light as it sought
out and found the comm lines in the ship's brain. "All right," he
said quickly. "Everybody in."
Vash felt a sudden stab of fear, but forced it down once
more. Their plan had been to head out without drawing attention,
no need of the morphes until later. But with the blaster fire in the
bay that plan had been shot to pieces. She could tell from Kallun's
expression that he would brook no arguments. They were about to
fly and he wanted them battle ready when they did.
Vash went up to the navigator's morphe and steeled herself
for the fall. Feeling the warmth of her body the morphe extended
towards her like a self inflating cushion. She let her self drop back
gently and stifled an involuntary cry when the black flesh grabbed
hold of her body suddenly and pulled her in.
There was imediate disorientation, but it was brief, and
within seconds she was floating in the grey brown mists of morphe-
space. Andreas and Kallun appeared nearby, Kallun to her right and
Andreas ahead of her, to the left. The familiarity of the controls and
displays hovering around her brought Vash's mind to the task at
hand.
Her navicom reads were scrolling a series of options in
front of her, the ship's brain anticipating the launch. She chose a
fast track exit straight for Mantian, the fifteenth planet on the outer
edge of the system. They would have to pass by Seerak's sun to get
to it, but she planned to use it's gravity well as a sling shot to push
them beyond the speed the grav-burners could naturally take them.
Making her calculations quickly, she punched them through to
Andreas who was presently trimming the ship's control and
response settings to suit his own personally style.

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Kallun was in the tactical hot seat, watching the fire fight
outside. From where she floated Vash could see his right tactical
screen showing an exterior visual of a motley group of mercenaries
and hired hands trying to blast the docking guns on the underside
of the ship. They didn't appear to have any guns big enough to do
damage to the ship anyway and some of them were already beating
a hasty retreat. The gunfire should have woken the legionnaires
although from her perspective Vash couldn't see any.
Her heart began to hammer suddenly. Warnings flashed
inside her head, beacons of pain and fire.
Though her powers were shot to pieces the edges of
perception sensed the danger. Out there, in the mists, was the
presence of something fearful. Something dark. She swung her
head around but could only see the grey brown of morphe-space.

***

Day 12. 1823 Station Standard (CKT - 1)


Outside the ship the bay alarms were signalling the final
countdown. The hastily formed band of attackers began to retreat to
the doors. Kallun shut off the docking guns and let them go.

***
Day 12. 1824 Station Standard (CKT - 1)
With a growing sense of horror Vash was remembering her
visions after the psi-probe. She instantly connected it to what
Kallun had told her concerning morphe-space. This place was a
field of the otherness. If the beast that had stared back at her from
the otherness in her waking nightmare was clever enough and real
enough to find the gate, it could come here. Her senses were alive
with something, her head throbbing with pain and her powers still
suffering the results of being abused in the mind probe. She was
weak and everything in her mind was crying out that something
was near. A hunter, and she was the prey.

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The bay was sealed now and they were moments away from
launch. Beneath the ship the metal floor covering retracted and air
was pumped out. The space doors unlocked and opened, the ship
now dangling above the void in the firm grasp of the docking claw.
Outside the bay the stars sped by as the station rotated and the sun
appeared briefly.
Vash looked around, her head darting from side to side.
"Vash what's wrong." Kallun asked. Seeing the fear in her
eyes for the first time.
"There's something in here." She said, her voice on the edge
of hysteria.
"Vash, stay with us. We need you to get that cloak on-line
as soon we clear the docking claw."
"I've no power." She said, her voice tense.
"You just need to touch it lightly," Kallun said calmly,
trying to soothe her with the sound of his own voice. "Like I told
you, earlier. Just a touch at the edges. Once that's done you can
leave morphe space and get some sleep, Andreas and I will take it
from there."
The ship was lowered out into the void by the docking
claw, passing both the primary and secondary hull as she went.
"Five seconds to release." Andreas intoned.
Vash, reaching out for the cloaking device with her senses
felt the beast again. Her head throbbed with effort of finding the
control gate. She just hoped that whatever was hunting out there
didn't find her until she had activated the cloak. Just a few seconds
and she would be free.
"Grav burner ignition." The clock counted down. "Two.
One. Release."
There was the briefest sensation as the ship's internal
gravity compensated for their sudden thrust and then they were out
into open space.
"Now, Vash," said Kallun.
"Full thrust." Andreas reported.

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Vash discovered the cloaking control again, just where she


had left it. She was just touching the edge lightly when she heard
Kallun's shout.
"Vash, look out!"
Then the beast hit her.

***

Day 12. 1833 Station Standard (CKT - 1)


From Kallun's perspective it seemed that morphe-space had
open its jaws and spewed forth a monster.
"Cloaked!" Andreas said turning to see the monster bare
down on Vash. It was a beast of nightmare and Kallun's first
impression was of a thick-skinned mass of teeth and tentacle
closing its multi-armed grip around Vash's body.
For a moment she was engulfed. Blaster fire ripped out
from behind Kallun and peppered the monster. Kallun turned,
divided through his control dome and grabbed Andreas's hand,
forcing him to holster the gun.
"Put it away." Kallun said. "The only thing effective here is
body and steal. And you need to be a psi five or more to summon
steal."
The beast screamed and retreated suddenly arms flailing the
air. Vash's body rolled away in the mists, uncurling again with
sword and shield in hand. But her weapons shimmered in the dull
air at the edge of Kallun's sight, as if she was struggling to maintain
their form. She was also bleeding light and power from cuts to
various parts of her body.
"Reanne!" Kallun called out into the otherness, his thoughts
grabbing hold on the only other being he knew with power in
morphe-space. "Ship! Identify source of morphe-space apparition."
He tried in every language he could think of whilst Vash fought the
thing's next attack. There was no response. Curse her for not being
here when I need her!

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Unskilled in the arts of otherness combat and with no psi


rating to speak of Kallun was unarmed and without morphing
capability. As he watched Vash pit her skills against the multi-
armed creature a rage filled him that burned in his muscles and
demanded action.
"Andreas, you have command." Kallun said, propelling
himself through the mists, like a gliding demon, he had no idea
how he was controlling this movement. Only that when he
commanded his body to move, it did. There was no time for
questions though, the struggle had taken Vash and the beast a
distance away from the ship controls, further into the mists. As he
approached the fighting pair Vash slashed through one of the
beast's arms and it retreated a moment. As soon as it was out of
sword range it changed form. Shimmering in the dull light of
morphe-space the beast was replaced by the image of an ancient
warrior, its face masked by a black helmet in the image of a
dragon's skull, it's body armoured in thick black plate. Ignoring
Kallun completely the warrior charged Vash. Kallun responded.
It was barely a metre from Vash's sword arm when Kallun
intercepted it, driving his shoulder into the warrior's midsection and
sending its gliding approach spinning out of control. It thundered
past Vash in a tangle of limbs and steal and she followed up
Kallun's charge with a stroke of her sword that bit into its armour.
The beast controlled its tumble before she could strike again and
crouched into a defensive posture. This time it turned the eyes of its
skull helmet toward Kallun.
"Stay out of this, mortal." It said. It's voice hurt his head,
by-passing his ears and tearing at his synapses. It was dry and
rasping. "By my oath I will slay thee soon. But not yet. I came not
to fight the Kalshial."
"Unlucky you. For fight me you shall." Kallun said circling,
trying to divert the beast's attention away from Vash. The beast
laughed.

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"I fear no mortal!" It cried. In a single move that was faster


than Kallun could see it's shield arm extended an impossible length
thrusting it's metal edge up under Kallun's chin. The blow exploded
in his mind and he fell backwards as if in a nightmare. Dimly aware
that there was nothing like a floor to land on Kallun forced his
mind to refocus and stop his tumble, but by the time he was facing
the beast again, it was already on top of Vash.
Kallun could see that she had no power for the fight and in
just a couple of strokes her sword was smashed. She brought her
shield to bare but the beast ripped it away with a mailed fist,
leaving her defenceless. For one horrible instant Kallun foresaw
Vash's death as the black sword of her opponent arced towards her
spirit form. But when the beast brought his sword down up her, the
blade disappeared into an insubstantial mist, passing through her as
if she did not exist. Vash shuddered and collapsed, but there was no
wound. The beast laughed again his sword reforming and coming
round to face Kallun.
"Do not tempt me mortal." The beast growled, as Kallun
made to move. "If you desire the life of the woman then you must
lay aside your mission and follow where Erran fears to walk." It
scooped Vash up with its shield arm. "Then we will do battle. 'Till
we meet, my Lord Shial."
Again it seemed as if the otherness opened up, but this time
it swallowed. A swirling mass of energy appearing below Vash and
the Beast engulfed them and disappeared a moment later. Kallun
rushed to where the vortex had just closed.
"Andreas, find a way to scan morphe space, I want to know
where they went." Andreas did not respond. "Andreas, did you hear
me?"
"I heard." Andreas said, he pointed at a screen in Kallun's
control dome. The screen Kallun had set up to receive data from
the Rea's comm box was alive and broadcasting. "But we got other
problems."
The message sat across the blank display in bold red letters.

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Alpha Alpha Distress Alert. 000 - 755 - 2000


Kallun cursed. It was a distress call from Rae's team. The
double alpha meant that Rae and her group were under fire. The
first six numbers were co-ordinates for an emergency rendezvous
and the last four numbers indicated the time of the meeting. Rae
needed a rescue squad a.s.a.p.
"Time?" he asked.
"Eighteen - thirty - eight." Andreas said. "We're one hour
behind CKT. We can make it."
"How?" Kallun asked. "Those co-ordinates are right inside
Kabel."
"'Right by the Council Chambers." Andreas nodded. "But
we have the ship."
"You want to turn the Dragonsfire into a rescue vessel?"
Kallun said in disbelief. "We can't just stroll into Kabel with a
warship and pick up whoever we want."
"It be a cloaked warship, Gramps." Andreas said his voice
rising a bit. "We wont be detected."
"We'll be seen as soon as we enter the atmosphere. Our ion
trail will be spread out like a beacon and planetary defence will
spread out guts just as wide."
"We'll do an atmosphere punch. Minimum ion spread."
Kallun looked at his friend a moment, his attention torn.
"You think you can still do that?"
Andreas looked insulted. "You think I'm losing my touch?"
"No." Kallun shook his head. "I'm sorry, its just that .. " he
paused, not sure how to express himself. "What in halla ka am I
supposed to do about Vash?"
"Morphe says she's alive and stable." Andreas had a bio
read on one of his many displays. "That means she be safe, for
now. However, Rae and our best chance at armed resistance are
under attack. Now I'd say that narrows down our options on action
a bit. Wouldn't you?"

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Kallun knew he was right. The appearance of the beast in


morphe-space had shaken him. Reanne had said that this realm was
another part of the otherness, a gate to the Dragon's realm, but it
had never occurred to him that the gate might work both ways.
From what he had researched on the otherness in the last couple of
days, that sort of thing wasn't meant to happen. Morphe-space was
supposed to be safe from intrusion. But of course he wasn't sure
Reanne herself wasn't that sort of an intruder. He wondered how
Aliara would interpret the appearance of the beast, but she was with
Rae, and probably under fire right at that very moment. With out
Vash there to guide him on matters of the otherness he needed
Aliara all the more. He looked down into the swirling mist where
the vortex had closed, feeling the rage wound tight inside of him.
I will find you.
"All right. Set course for Seerak's gravity well, maximum
burn." Kallun propelled himself back to his own station, where the
tactical displays had remained undisturbed in their dome formation.
He glided straight through them before repositioning himself in
their midst. He imagined himself sitting and let morphe space
respond by bringing the dome down to an acceptable level. He tried
to focus on the job at hand, running quick tactical simms through
his terminal and assessing the survival time of Rae's team in a
sustained combat situation. It was not good. They had a one in four
chance of making it out alive in the best of circumstances.
He was searching through the ship manifests when he found
that the small cargo bay now contained a small armed lander and
fighter pod. They were the kind of equipment supplied to infantry
during drops into enemy territory. They could take a lot of hits
before going down and the lander could carry up to twelve people
to and from a ship.
"Of course," Kallun muttered. "The decagon's evacuation
vehicles."
Andreas hadn't heard him and kept up his report. "Co-
ordinate's exact location are by a nest of small maintenance exits at

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the south-east tip of the pyramid base.Nearest place I can figure on


landing is Regents Park, on the north side of the building. It'll be
nearly two klicks from the rendezvous." He shrugged "We'll have
to hijack a flyer to get us down to south east side."
"No need." Kallun said and showed him the lander and bike
on his display. "Take your pick."
Andreas nodded and, as Seerak began to fill up their
external sensors, they launched into a discussion on the logistics of
a rescue mission. As they talked and a plan filled out, Kallun
copied Andreas's bio-read screen in his own display ring and kept
an eye on Vash's life signs, watching carefully for any indication of
distress beyond the nose-bleed she had incurred the moment she
entered morphe space.
His stomach was a knot of forced inaction. But Vash's
danger was uncertain. As as he reasoned it out in his head he
realised that the beast had told him to come for her. That meant she
should be alive. And if Vash was alive she could surely wait a few
hours.
But as the sphere of Seerak filled their external sensors he
could not help but think that perhaps there were some things worse
than dying for a psi.
I will find you.

***

[Time index unknown.]


Lying on the stone bench she looked silent and peaceful.
D'rethen let his eyes wander her body. Slim at the waist, powerful
across the shoulders without losing the feminine form. Her face
was peaceful, her full lips drawn a little from exhaustion and the
brown eyes hidden under closed eyelids. If D'rethen had ever
thought to take a wife back home this is the kind of woman he
would probably have chosen. But there was no possibility of that
now, and he had never considered it a particularly mortifying loss

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that the women of these people had bones and bodies too fragile for
his tender affections.
He had clothed himself in robes after the order of his
master's priesthood, a long black cowl trimmed with gold, green
and blue, the colours of eternity. She would wake shortly, and he
would take her before his master to await the coming of the
Kalshial.
If he came he would have to come at the expense of his
mission and duties in the realms of men, that would free Irache up
of the threat of the Kalshial during the coup, and according to
prophecy it was the Kalshial that would determine who won and
lost at Gedinnan. Of course prophecy was open to interpretation
and often only in hindsight does it become clear what the prophets
were talking about. But his Master seemed to believe that luring
this woman to him would foil the Kalshial's endeavours somehow,
perhaps deny him his destiny even, and that was enough for
D'rethen. He had fulfilled his part of the bargain and brought her
here. Now he just had to wait for her to wake. And wait for his
reward.
She would not be leaving as easily as the last time. The gate
was now stable enough to maintain the link even when the
Dragonsfire ship jumped. Irache had Yarrin smooth that little quirk
out of the system. Vash was stuck here for as long as the Dragon
saw fit to keep her, and when she awoke, Erran Himself would not
be able to save her from the will of the Dark Lord.

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Part Four
Chapter Twelve - Darkstar Rising

"And at the last, darkness shall prevail over all the hosts of
heaven and the light of the stars shall be hid. In wrath shall the
warrior who is to come be spewn forth from the field of kings to do
battle with armies of the Dragon.
Then they that do evil shall tremble and fall. And the
servant who does not serve will draw his sword in Halla Ka and
await the coming of Shial through the flame of the dragon's fire." -
Taken from the Book of Esaith the Outcast, Chapter 12 Verse 82

Day 12. 1958 Central Kabel Time


Despite the atmosphere punch, the first thing had Kallun
noted on his tactical display was the shock trail spread out behind
them. It was not the kind of thing strategic defence would fire upon
immediately, particularly when it was over the capital city, but they
would at least send an armed patrol to follow the shock wave and
track its source.
With her streamlined design and atmos-shield, the
Dragonsfire had no trouble cutting through the stratosphere and
into the troposphere in a vertical dive. She levelled out just three
kilometres above the illuminated surface of Kabel prime, a few
hundred metres above the highest non commercial flyers.
"I thought this cloak was supposed to take us out of normal
space?" Andreas said when Kallun pointed the shock trail out to
him.
"I would guess we're only phased enough to blank out
sensors, not to circumnavigate the laws of propulsion physics. If
we phased out that far we'd be useless when cloaked. A sitting
duck, albeit an invisible one." said Kallun watching the flyer lanes
below him. At this height the resemblance to bees around a hive
was striking.

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Within moments they were descending. The Dragonsfire


was small for a space faring warship, but in comparison to the tiny
flyers she was a monster. Andreas had his work cut out getting
them in quietly, his entire attention focused on timing his
propulsion bursts and leveling his fields to slip through as easily as
possible.
Kallun could only watch and warn, working like a
navigator, watching traffic beyond Andreas's immediate scope of
concern and reporting potential danger. Pretty soon Andreas
discovered a way to work the ship between lanes, pushing inert
obstructions out of the way with his propulsion field and making
for an altogether smoother flight towards the Council Chambers.
When Kallun felt confident enough that Andreas was handling
things without him he transferred his command lines and got the
ship to power up the lander and the fighter pod in the cargo bay.
They needed to be launch ready as soon as the Dragonsfire touched
down.
Earlier, when they had discussed the use of the two
vehicles, Andreas had decided to pilot the lander and pick up Rae's
team. That left Kallun with the smaller, faster battle pod. Their idea
was bring the armoured lander in low whilst the pod hit any
potential resistance from altitude. That way, whilst every one was
looking for the smaller craft the heavyweight lander could touch
down and pick up Rae's team. That was if the team was still any
where near their designated pick up point. He hoped they were.
However, if things had gone awry, the pyramid of the council
chambers was surrounded by landing pads and delivery bays at it's
base. There should be somewhere to set down.
Earlier, as Andreas accelerated the ship towards Seerak,
Kallun had taken time out to leave morphe-space and run down to
the cargo bay. He had paused only a moment by Vash's morphe
knowing her body was still in there and tempted to remove her. But
there was no time for the delicacy with which that operation would

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require. They had to prepare for the Kabel drop and at their rate of
acceleration they had very little time to do so.
Upon reaching the cargo bay he found it to be just big
enough to carrying a small squad of troops and their equipment.
Situated by the starboard hull of deck nine, it was three decks high
and about fifteen metres in length. The lander had been installed
recently and was wrapped in protective webbing just forward of the
main door. The door itself was a double locked hull seal, protected
on the outside by the same self sealing hull that had first surprised
Kallun back in Dukall's office and gave the ship her sleek black
skin. Aft of the door was a webbing rack for equipment in which
several weapon's boxes had been stored and by which the one man
pod was wrapped up.
About two and a half metres in length and a metre wide,
the pod was a forward seating bike in which the pilot lay flat on his
belly in the sealed interior and flew via basic environment
simulation. The simulation was the pilots window to the outside
world, and the nearest thing anybody had to morphe-space control.
The pod was armed with two forward facing heavy blasters,
suitable for disabling armoured vehicles at short distances and a
ring of Smarts - finger sized missiles a little larger than the ones
Vash carried, with concussive warheads that tracked small targets
over complex terrain.
The lander was much larger, It filled up most of the
available space in the bay and was about twice the size of your
regular family flyer. It carried a basic ship to ship shield suitable
against small arms fire and intermittent ship blasters. It's reinforced
hull was lined with ablative armour and energy diversion cells. Its
arsenal was a simple set of concussion blasters whose emitters sat
like dark crystals across the nose of the lander. Port and starboard,
computer controlled antipersonnel turrets swivelled on fluid heads
surrounded by the lander's thick body armour. It reminded Kallun
of his days as a trooper.

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Dragonsfire

Each of them had provincial markings that had been


partially scrubbed off and painted over in grey. Black market
product. Kallun hesitated to guess at the price the Heresy had paid
for them. Such vehicles were expensive to buy even on the open
market. They suited the task at hand as much as their original
designation.
The ship jolted.
"Oops." Andreas muttered.
"Oops?" Kallun questioned.
"His insurence'll pay for the damage." Andreas shrugged as
Kallun spotted a flyer making an emergency landing, it's nose
crumpled.
"Besides," Andreas added. "He was speeding."
With the Dragonsfire inside the planet's atmosphere Kallun
decided it was time to try and contact Rae again. He had already
broadcast on the pre-set channels several times as they made the
journey from station six, but to no avail. Now it was time to try the
broad band. He sent out a series of signal beeps, testing the area for
Rae's response signature. Still nothing. He could only assume they
were being jammed or that someone had lain down a field
disrupter. Either way they couldn't talk.
"Landing gear set. Creating a down draft." Andreas
reported.
Kallun discovered that they were now just metres above the
main field of Regent's Park. The trees that lined the grassy area
were swaying in the localised storm. The landing fields didn't make
that much noise naturally and Kallun guessed that Andreas was
creating the disturbance deliberately, scattering groups of civilians
who had gathered for an evening in the park following the
inauguration broadcast. He wondered how many couples having a
quite moment together under the city lights had just been abruptly
disturbed by the Dragonsfire's landing surge.
In morphe-space Kallun couldn't have physically felt the
ship touch ground, but something inside of him responded to the

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settling of the vessel as the landing struts dug into the earth.
Andreas had chosen his spot well. The soil of Regents Park was
only a few feet thick, laid over a solid rock base. The park had been
landscaped just a few years before when the last administration had
driven to re-introduce natural ecology to the city.
As a popular tourist attraction, the park drew in a lot of
visitors to the Council Chambers, and Kallun realised that the
effect of their landing fields had just caught centre stage in tonight's
entertainment. No one would be able to see the ship physically as it
settled in the soil, but people were already crowding the edges of
the park trying to glimpse what had caused the storm. It couldn't be
helped. The effect would have been the same where ever they
landed.
Andreas locked down the ship's systems.
"Let's move!" Kallun snapped.
As he placed his palm on his stomach, the environment of
morphe-space disappeared. There was that moment of crushing
claustrophobia before the morphe spewed him onto the deck.
Andreas followed a second behind leaping into the starboard swift.
"Deck nine." Kallun ordered as the door slid closed on his
own swift pod. He was there in moments. Andreas joined him
again from an adjacent passage just as Kallun reached the cargo
bay hatch. The lander and pod had been released from their
webbing and sat ready for launch, doors open, interior lights on.
The squat grey lander was facing the starboard cargo bay
door, filling up the centre of the small bay, the small attack pod
slotted snugly to one side, aft of the lander. Kallun sealed the hatch
behind them as Andreas leapt into the open door of the lander by its
slopping nose. There were no windows on such a ship, and like
Kallun, Andreas would be flying by sensor produced imagery. It
was better than going visual anyhow, the experience was
encompassing, accurate and provided far more information..
The lander doors sealed as Kallun slid himself through the
narrow gap its front. The missile shaped pod was already open, it's

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Dragonsfire

canopy up. There was a light helmet on the body of the seat that he
put on and tightened. It covered his scalp nicely, but did not
obstruct his ability to turn his head. He jumped in the pod and
flattened himself belly down on the long, curved seat.
As the canopy slid down and sealed the pod, Kallun
powered up the interior display. Immediately it seemed as if the
whole pod around the long seat and instrument block had become
transparent. He had a complete view of the world around him in the
bay. Across the lower edge of the nose a field of displays, sensors
and simple tactical readouts were spread, passing him information
about the outside world. He slid his hands and feet into the flight
gloves and switched into the lander's communications channel.
"Andreas, are we clear on this channel?"
Andreas's voice came back as though he were stood just
next to Kallun. "Light's are all green."
"Remote on cargo doors is go," said Kallun, his computer
linked to the ship's brain. He darkened the bay to pitch black as the
cargo doors slid back with surprising speed. They opened onto a
bright Kabel night.
"Launch when ready."
Andreas was out of the bay and across the park in moments,
Kallun right behind him.
On lookers saw two streaks of grav burn hurtle over their
heads towards the pyramids. One or two even thought to call the
security forces.
The cargo bay sealed itself behind them. Kallun hoped that
they wouldn't be gone long enough for someone to figure out how
to access the vessel from the outside. There was no automatic
defence net to be spread on the Dragonsfire. That safety measure
had been kicked out to make room for Yarrin's modifications.
The Council Chamber pyramid towered over them on the
right. Flyers swarmed around it, their running lights streaming
across the night sky and merging with the unnatural illumination
radiating from the pyramid and the ground ways below it.

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Dragonsfire

The two attack craft were flying dark and more than once
on the short trip to the other side of the pyramid base, Kallun had to
dodge flyers cutting through the lower level traffic lanes.
By the time they approached the south western tip of the
pyramid Kallun had sped on ahead of Andreas. He saw
immediately the signs of a disturbance up ahead. As he went for
altitude he saw that security force fighters had surrounded what
appeared to be a small fire fight. For some reason they were not
interfering. As Kallun settled the pod high over the scene he got a
better look and saw that the armoured security fighters had circled
the wreckage of a executive flyer. It's nose had been blasted into
one great lump of molten mess. Occasionally blaster fire peppered
the destroyed nose and was returned by the group sheltering in the
flyer wreckage. From his tactical reads he discovered what was
holding back the security forces.
A group of masked men had set up a particle blaster in a
ground level delivery bay at the base of the Council Chambers.
Using what looked like a pile of kitchen trolleys as cover they were
holding the security fighters at bay with the particle beam and
blasting the downed flyer with hand guns. It was a stand off.
The masked men couldn't turn their particle blaster on the
flyer and finish it and whoever was in it off as the molten nose had
created a natural shield. They would also open themselves up to the
fire of the security fighters (who would be wound up like a storm
front in Halla Ka over this fight so close to the Council Chambers).
The security fighters couldn't move against the masked group
without getting blown to bits by the particle blaster. And the group
in the flyer was in no condition to make a difference either way.
Kallun saw it all with the lightening assessment of a
soldier's eye.
"Andreas. Hold your ground." Kallun ordered through the
comm.

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Dragonsfire

"All stop." Andreas said. From his vantage point Kallun


could see Andreas hovering on the corner of the pyramid base. It
was matter of seconds before he was spotted.
"On my signal I want you to get in underneath the hovering
security fighters and land by that flyer with your rear doors open.
Prepare to take some flack from the security fighters and watch out
for particle fire from the delivery bay." Kallun was working out his
moves as he spoke.
"What's your signal gonna be, Gramps?"
"Lot's of bangs." Kallun said, setting targets for his
projectiles. He heard Andreas laugh quietly.
Kallun wasted no time. As soon as the targets were set he
launched the projectiles. A milli second later the delivery bay
erupted in a succession of concussive blasts. In the confusion the
security forces opened fire on the masked group. Against such
sustained fire the group in the doorway had little chance.
As the blast bolts rained down on the attackers, Andreas
and his lander slid underneath the hovering fighters and turned his
open troop door to the wreckage of the flyer. Meanwhile Kallun
was trying to divert the attention of the security fighters, placing
projectile explosions on the ground around them, buying the
occupants of the flyer a few seconds to get into the lander.
"Incoming passengers." Andreas's voice came through the
comm as Kallun's pod was spotted and targeted by the security
forces.
Lights and trace lasers locked in on both the pod and the
flyer. A voice on the common communication band told both
Kallun and Andreas in no uncertain terms that they were interfering
in a security operation. They were to power down their weapon's
and land their craft or they would be fired upon.
Kallun had no time for a security force investigation. He
checked his tactical read. The fighters were city flyers with basic
heavy blasters, Andreas's armour should be enough to hold their

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guns off, but they could bring his own pod down without too much
trouble.
"Everyone's in." Andreas said. A fighter had landed and
was disgorging several armed security officers. They were
approaching the lander.
Swivelling his antipersonnel guns Andreas laid down a
sweep of fire in front of the officers just as Kallun was forced away
from the scene. A line of blaster fire followed the pod, forcing
Kallun to bank, dive and dodge rapidly.
As Andreas lifted off he began taking hits all along his
shield. One or two of the blasts penetrated the shields, rocking
those inside as the lander's armour absorbed the impact in
explosive bursts.
The faster fighters pounded the lander as it sped northward
along the pyramid base.
In the his own pod Kallun had run out of projectiles but had
managed to dodge the slower sensors of the security fighters. He
was half way round the pyramid keeping tight against the sloping
wall, a few hundred metres above where Andreas's lander was
being pounded by the security flyers. He powered down his engines
and locked the pod against the wall. They wouldn't see him till he
moved.
Watching his tactical he spotted the energy net being spread
before Andreas did. Four heavy armour fighter reinforcements had
arrived and were spreading a net of ion particles across the path of
the lander. It would be enough to disable the craft if Kallun couldn't
stop it.
"Andreas, you have an ion net ahead, slow down." Kallun
broke his cover as a spoke. He would have to deal with this one up
close and personal.
"We're taking heavy fire!" Andreas called back. There were
bigger guns around him now. "If I slow we're not going to make it
back."

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Kallun cursed and fired his grav burners heading straight


for four fighters. With his blasters hot a target cross-hairs appeared
in his augmented field of view. It would be a point and shoot affair,
just like the good old days.
He was within a hundred metres of the upper fighters when
he opened fire, blasting away one undercarriage on his first pass
and forcing the flyer out of the ion net to conduct an emergency
landing. Its undercarriage was on fire as it touched down, the pilot
ejected. The net halved in size across the diagonal plane forming a
triangle. As Kallun turned the pod he saw that he wouldn't have
time for a second pass.
Re-positioning themselves the remaining three fighter now
spread the triangular net in Andreas's flight path. Suddenly the
lander twisted in mid air, and the flash of particle blasters lanced
the space between lander and fighters. The bottom right craft fell
burning to the deck and Andreas spun the lander through the space
where it had been.
Swearing loudly, Kallun spurred his pod on into the park.
No-one could have survived the wreck of that last flyer.
He signalled the Dragonsfire and saw the cargo bay open in
front of him just metres before the pod reached the ship. Inside the
bay he swung the tail end of the pod around and ripped off the
helmet as the canopy opened. Out of the pod he saw Andreas and
the lander still on the other side of the park. The city fighters were
still blasting away at the armoured hull.
Running to the forward hatch he opened the seal and
bounded into the nearest swift, heading for Command Control.
There he submerged himself in the pilot's morphe and began
preparing the ship for take off. Andreas had left most of the engines
on line and it did not take long. A comm display lit up and
Andreas's voice emerged in morphe space by his ear.
"We're home. Close her up and get us out of here."
They had roughly sixty seconds before one of the large
peace-keeping battle flyers arrived. Although the flyers were

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nowhere near as well armed as the Dragonsfire, they could cause


her take off a lot of problems and they had friends in orbit with
bigger guns that could trace their atmosphere trail if they chose too.
The Dragonsfire rumbled on her landing fields and
retracted her support gear from where it had sank into the park.
Igniting the grav burners Kallun decided against subtlety this time
round and launched a barrage of warning flares at the traffic lanes
above. To those outside the Dragonsfire it appeared as if a line of
fire had spewn forth from the park. Already the circling security
fighters were tracking that line of fire. A few blaster bolts were
absorbed harmlessly into the Dragonsfire's shield.
The traffic parted and Kallun launched the cloaked ship
skyward. It was slow as take offs went, but the flares were helping.
After forty five seconds that seemed to last an hour Kallun had
cleared the main traffic lanes. Battle flyers were tracing the path of
the flares and contacting their orbital stations just as Kallun opened
up the grav burners and streaked out into the night sky.

***

Day 12. 2008 Central Kabel Time


Kallun had just calculated an unusual course for the third
moon of Mantian when Andreas materialised in the tactical seat to
his right.
"Any pursuit?" Andreas asked.
"They don't know what their following." Kallun said. He
mentally flicked round a borrowed tactical display for Andreas to
see. Kabel was alive with security force flyers. Patrols criss-crossed
the ionosphere and all the commercial stations had been put on
alert for signs of a cloaked vessel attempting to dock.
The ship's brain had also registered reports on the local
media networks which were urging calm after "a terrorist event of
an unspecified nature". The remaining Council had denounced
urban violence on any scale, whilst denying rumours that

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Councillor's Varess, Durne and Hathuri had been caught and killed
in the attack.
Kallun had the ship's brain run through the navicom
calculations before letting them lock. He eased back in morphe-
space. The Dragonsfire would just about fly itself to Mantian now.
With his round-about route they had about an hour to kill till then.
Between now and then he had a lot to do.
"So how's the team?" Kallun said finally, turning in the
mists. Andreas face darkened.
"I think you'd better talk with Rae." he said. "She's with Sal
in med-lab."
Kallun frowned. "'You keep an eye on things here?"
Andreas nodded and Kallun left morphe space.
Walking from Command Control aft past the crew cabins to
the med lab, Kallun wondered what kind of a sight was going to
greet him. He reached the lab's open door and turned the corner.
In front of him Rae stood with her back to the door, her
business suit scorched and torn. He short hair was matted with
blood that was drying on the back of her neck. To her left a smaller
slim woman with a mass of tangled black hair was leaning over one
of med-lab's two beds. Her suit had been torn at the sleeves and she
was without shoes. She was attending to a large man with a thick
mop of blond hair, a beard and light suit. He had a stomach wound
that was leaking all over the lab. The next bed along was occupied
as well, but there was a stasis field around it and Kallun couldn't
see who was in it.
His stomach twisted. There should have been more people.
Lots more.
Rae sensed him behind her and turned. Her face was drawn,
her features ashen. There was blood down the side of her face, all
over the front of her torn suit and on her hands. Her under-arm
blaster holster was exposed, by the wreck of her clothing. When
she turned Kallun saw that the stasis field revealed the face in the
second bed. It was Sal. At least the face was Sal's. Stasis fields

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were used only in serious cases and Kallun dreaded to think what
had happened to the rest of her body.
"What happened?"
The woman who was leaning over the bed turned to face
him. Seeing her face he recognised her as Councillor Varess, a
woman of his own age who made a career of being the outspoken
defender of the colonies. By the size of him Kallun guessed that the
blonde man on the bed must have been Councillor Durne. The
man's eyes were open and he was starring at the ceiling. He was
breathing.
"An ambush." Rae's voice was croaked and quiet. "Lucky
for us it was hastily arraigned."
"You must be Kallun Josephs." Councillor Varess
approached him, letting a field unit bio-knit work on Durne's
stomach wound. She looked down at her blackened and blood
stained hands. "I would shake your hand, but as you can see that
would not be appropriate." She had grief in her eyes. Kallun knew
the look. It was the look of fresh troops after they lose a friend for
the first time, there is the moment of strength during the battle, and
then, when the fighting is over, the realisation and the loss. Varess
looked like she had just realised what had happened. She was
coping with it, but Kallun thought she would have been better to let
it out.
"I understand." Kallun said. The man on the bed was
looking at him with a pair of pain fogged eyes. "Councillor Durne."
Kallun nodded. The man returned the nod hesitantly but did not
speak. He returned his gaze to the ceiling.
Rae looked over at Varess. "Would you attend to Durne and
Sal while I talk with the commander?"
Varess nodded and turned back to her task. Kallun did not
envy her. The Dragonsfire was still basically an Emrihsad ship.
The medical equipment was limited and dated and whilst from his
limited assessment Durne's injuries could be patched, Sal's were

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beyond them here. Med-lab only had those two beds, a tiny office
and a store cupboard for resources.
He stepped back out into the passage and Rae followed
closing the door behind her.
"First of all," Kallun said. "Have you had your own wounds
tended."
Rae nodded. "The major ones. I just haven't cleaned up
yet."
Kallun nodded, relieved that at least one of the team was
not seriously injured. "So how did it happen?"
Rae leaned back against the bulkhead and stared at him a
moment.
"Varess had moved the venue of the meeting three times.
She felt that somebody was trying to track her down and didn't
want to take chance. When we finally got together, it was in one of
the clerk rooms of level three - the admin. maze, they call it. It
seemed pretty safe, and, with the inauguration going on thirty five
levels above us, it was quiet.
"Varess's had two aides besides the councillors with her and
one of them had planted some sensors nearby so we were ready
when they came. I think everybody had brought gun's expect
Aliara." she paused. Aliara was not with them. Not here on the
Dragonsfire. Kallun sensed what was coming even though he didn't
want to admit he knew.
"Councillor Hathuri was shot in the head in that first wave
of attacks. So was one of Varess's aids, the woman. We retreated
through a pre-planned route Varess had secured before coming.
After that it was a case of rear-guard action. They wore black
masks and shadow-suits, we didn't, so they were hard to kill.
Sometimes, Aliara would hit them with psi burst and we'd get
further away, other times we'd just blast and run." Rae shrugged. "I
lost track of how long we did that for, I also lost our comm gear
after sending you the signal. None of us are hot zone operatives, it
felt like basic training again, only ten times worse.

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"We lost Aliara shortly before we got to the flyer. She was
doing another one of her psi bursts. Disrupting their thoughts and
scattering their brain patterns. She'd done several and I think she
was weakening. Her nose was bleeding badly and she could just
barely keep up with our run. There was a hail of fire and we ran
again. When I turned to see where she was, we'd lost her and our
attackers were too close to stop."
"Did she duck into a room or take another passage?" Kallun
asked. They couldn't have lost Aliara so easily. She was the only
hope he had of finding Vash.
Rae shook her head. "We were in a solid passageway on the
lower levels, using trolleys, boxes, crates, whatever we could find
for cover. There was no where to run except with us or into them."
Kallun felt his heart sink and the heaviness in his stomach
intensify. He pushed his feelings down. "Go on."
"We were following a strange route, but it confused out
attackers enough that they couldn't cut us off, couldn't anticipate.
When we got to the flyer I thought we were safe. We had just lifted
off from one of the goods pads when the flyer got hit. I don't know
by what. Still don't."
"'Portable particle blaster." Kallun said. "It was what kept
the security forces at bay."
Rae nodded absently. "'Make's sense," she continued.
"When the flyer went down, Sal, and Durne were out cold. The
driver and Varess's second aid were dead in the front of the flyer. I
was nearest the back with Varess. We got the smallest part of the
impact. The front of the flyer saved us. It was one of those
armoured Council flyers. They pounded it with their gun, but the
rear, where we were was right behind the damaged area. I think
Erran was on our side as not one of their follow-up bolts penetrated
the wreckage of the nose. Maybe it fused up. I don't know. But
when they tried to send men to take us out personally, Varess and I
had taken a defensive posture and took them out. They barricaded

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in, we held on for dear life and it stayed that way until you
arrived."
"No air support?"
"If there was any it was held off when the security forces
arrived. In typical fashion they wouldn't get actively involved
enough to come and get us. I suppose our attackers pointed their
particle blaster at any vehicle that did. I think they were waiting for
reinforcements."
"But we arrived first."
Rae nodded.
"How's Sal?"
Rae shrugged. "Crushed her legs in the wreckage, mid-
section's a mess. I wondered if she'd live through the ride back but
she made it. I pumped her full of Ikorphine and put her in a full
stasis field. She'll need a full work-up if she's ever going to walk
again though." Rae's eyes were glistening suddenly and she cursed.
Kallun reached out to touch her should but she pushed his hand
away.
"No," she said. "I'll be fine." She wiped at her eyes
smearing blood and dirt across her cheeks. "I'll be fine."
"Did we get anything from the councillors before the
attack?" Kallun asked when it seemed like Rae had composed
herself once more.
"Yes," she breathed. "Before the attack, as we talked it
became clear that Varess had already mobilised the colonial militia
as of two days ago and was mostly committed to armed opposition
before we got there. They've been purging the military bases too,
suspecting some kind of insurgency the same way we did. For her
the purpose of our meeting was to use us to convince Councillor
Durne to commit his force - he was mobilised but holding back,
and to encourage Hathuri to mobilise his own. We talked for maybe
an hour, weighing the possibilities, presenting our evidence of
Irache's duplicity with the council, his intention to seize control.
Aliara really came into her own then." For a moment Rae smiled.

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"She was very persuasive. We had about convinced the two other
councillors to full armed resistance when one of Varess's aids
suddenly signalled for every one to get down and get armed. It all
went sour from there."
She took a few breaths before continuing. "Varess & Durne
will both need a trans-light link once Durne's condition stabilises.
Varess needs to inform the Adillan's of exactly who killed Hathuri
and why, and Durne to put his own people on a state of alert.
Neither of them knew about the fleets at their borders until this
evening."
"I'll get Andreas to hook into one of our black-sats for
them" The black sats were a ring of operational trans-light relays
used by the sections of the government for secure communication.
"In the mean time we have a few minutes before we reach Mantian.
And, before we get into starting one war to stop an even bigger
one, you need to rest." Kallun pointed at a doorway not three
metres forward of their position. "There's a cabin right there. Get
cleaned up and put on some ship coveralls. That's an order."
Rae looked at him for a moment but didn't argue.

***

Day 12. 2026 Central Kabel Time.


Kallun found the chrono lying on the holo-plate in the
Decdroni 's cabin a short time later. The device looked new, a small
blue strip with skin adhesive backing. It was a strange thing to be
left lying around, but then Kallun remembered how Andreas had
removed it from the Decdroni almost as soon as they locked her up,
He must have set apart from the rest of her limited personal
possessions, dropping it on the desk absently.
It had been scanned previously to make sure that it wasn't
booby trapped and Kallun couldn't resist flicking through the
functions randomly for a moment. It was not something he

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normally did, but something Vash had said earlier nagged at his
subconcious.
There were reports on local temperature, air pressure,
humidity etc. analysis of the atmosphere, black screens where one
could display heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure and
various other biological detail. After a few seconds of looking at
each function he came across the counter. It was a device separate
from most normal chronographic timers in that it would not stop,
reset or restart as most timers should. It just kept counting down,
ticking away oblivious to the number of sensors Kallun brushed his
fingers over. He stared at it for a couple of minutes before
following a hunch and scanning the chrono once more. He knew he
had seen this sort of thing before somewhere. This time as he
scanned he was specifically looking for evidence an outside link.
That was when he found the particle sensor and made the mental
connection.
The counter belonged to the Decdroni, the commander, it
was linked to somewhere on an exact signal and was counting
backwards. Kallun had seen it before. Emrihsad warriors used
particle beams linked on trans-light to co-ordinate timed strikes.
If this was the same thing, then they had less than twenty
two hours until D-Day. The new Gedinnan.

***

Day 12. 2033 - Central Kabel Time.


Irache had flown back to the Great Halls for the evening.
Sitting in his bedroom on the Southwest side of the upper
presidency he watched the confused news reports of the evenings
events. None of them had the same story. People had been killed.
There had been a battle in the Council Chambers, strange
phenomena in Regents Park. One eye witness described seeing the
effects of a ship landing, seeing battle craft fly into the night from
an invisible hold.

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Irache called Daven. It took several minutes to trace him.


"Daven." Irache said. "For a quiet kill your men caused
quite a stir."
Daven's eyes narrowed. Irache pressed on. "Now I can't get
any sense out of the media, so would you care to tell me exactly
what happened."
"Councillor Varess had anticipated." Daven said. "The
Biodrone woman had also brought in a P-32 psi. We had nothing to
counter her."
"A P-32?" Irache said, he thought he knew where every one
of those were, after all there were less than twenty alive in Colest
and Emrihsad put together. "And how do you know it was P-32 you
encountered."
"I know psi's. Only a P-32 can do brain bursts. Half my men
still can't think straight."
"My dear Daven. You seem a little peturbed. I trust you are
not going to tell me you failed?"
"Varess and Durne escaped. So did the Biodrone woman."
Daven said with absolute honesty. "An armoured lander arrived on
the scene with what may have been aerial pod support. It was a
Jakri Seven with no markings. We couldn't compete with that kind
of equipment."
Irache was silent a moment. He had bought such a vessel
for the Dragonsfire decagon. Slowly the picture formed in his
mind. If he was right then Kallun had brought in the Dragonsfire
and used Irache's own carefully prepared equipment against him.
Clever. And dangerous.
"Daven. With only one out of your four targets dead you
will receive only one-quarter payment. Is that fair?"
"More than fair." Daven nodded. His expression hardly
changing. He knew when to take what he could and cut his loses.
Irache cut contact. He had the device close at hand, he had
made sure of that since storing the Dragonsfire on Station Six. It
was a simple piece of equipment, palm sized, oval with a fitted

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Dragonsfire

cover. Picking it out of a nearby unit he flicked the cover up and


ran his thumb along the bottom of the device. A green light
appeared near his fingers. There was a single black button in the
middle. Irache's hand hovered over the button a few seconds. He
had so hoped for the Dragonsfire. It's morphe-gate was powerful.
Powerful enough for the Dragon to fulfil His terrible potential. It
was rich with charged matter from its proximity to the gates. It was
the perfect environment. But there were other options.
His thumb closed on the button again. One touch and the
Dragonsfire would disappear from the mortal world in a fireball of
catalytic matter. No-one would survive.
The skin of his thumb caressed the button's edges. The
Kalshial was on board that ship. Irache could be rid of him in a
moment. But at what price? In every future Irache had seen the
Kalshial had met and fought the Dragon and his champion. He had
seen only a few where they did not, and in those the future had
been naught but war and chaos.
He moved his thumb away from the button and turned off
the device.
Until the Kalshial fulfilled his destiny and was destroyed in
combat with the Dragon, the Dragonsfire would remain. But if he
were to chance victorious, then and only then would Irache destroy
the work of Yarrin's hands and all those who rode in its belly.

***

Day 12. 2133 - Ship Standard (CKT - )


By the time they landed they all knew now how long they
had left. A brief sensor sweep had confirmed the steady particle
beam bouncing off a ring of trans-light boosters around Seerak.
There could be no doubt it was a countdown.
Councillor's Durne and Varess were now linked into trans-
light boosters of their own. contacting every world affected by the

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first strike wave, informing them of their new information. Passing


on the data collected by the Seven Heads of the Wind.
They were using secure channels even Rae hadn't known
about. That kind of intelligence was supposed to be Rae's speciality
and when questioned about them Varess had merely smiled and
said that every councillor knew how well it paid to be prepared for
anything. Irache wasn't the only one who planned his moves far in
advance.
It had been an hour since Kallun had discovered the chrono.
Since then Councillor Durne's condition had stabilised enough for
him to contact Daheis, his homeworld. Sal remained locked in
stasis. Rae had stayed close to Varess. It seemed the two had forged
a friendship out of their flight from the Council Chambers. Andreas
had remained in morphe-space. He had flown the ship virtually
alone, although Kallun had joined him twice to try and track the
path by which Vash had been taken.
He scanned the neural net records for the time the creature
had appeared but had been unable to understand them. He had tried
following the data stream into the complex heart of morphe-space
technology, but had quickly become lost. Without Sal to guide him
in the data-stream or Aliara to use her psi-skills in morphe-space he
felt lost and impotent.
When they reached Mantian orbit he had guided Andreas
through the thin atmosphere of the third moon to a series of natural
caves on the dark side of the moon. Mantian three was a grey rock
with a day that lasted thousands of years, and very few natural
resources. It was the most unused planet of the Seerak system and
Kallun had availed himself of its dark side to hide things in a
number of times during his days with Alpha Camp.
They landed in the mouth of a wide cavern, whose
overhanging lip covered them from prying eyes should they need to
power down the cloak. As soon as the ship was down Kallun had
begun his work to remove Vash from morphe space, hoping that by
cutting the neural feed he could draw her back. With Andreas

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helping he first began a slow dissolve of the integrity of the neural


feed. Cutting power to the morphe's sensory illusion slowly. When
nothing detrimental to Vash's mind registered on her bio they
continued to power down the neural net until Vash's body emerged
from the morphe pod.
She was breathing, but her mind was gone. The bioscan
registered a kind of deep coma. Kallun had hoped that cutting the
link to the ship would bring her back, but it only served to confirm
his suspicions that the creature had not come from anywhere in the
ship. They would need access to the gates of the otherness to get
her back. But nobody on the ship had psi powers, and Kallun had
finally resigned himself to the fact that until they found a friendly
psi, there was nothing he could do more to help.
With the ship grounded it was time to sit down and think
through what to do next. He would have to clear his mind and
prioritise his actions before continuing. Whilst Rae was in
conference with the two politicians and Andreas was about the ship
trying to learn more about how she was put together, he decided to
retire to a cabin.
It was the Decdroni's cabin he chose, at the forward end of
the central passage, nearest Command Control. The largest of the
group it had the most sophisticated workspace which included a
holo-plate linked into the ship's brain. Cleared of the Decdroni's
possessions earlier when they had jettisoned the bodies of the four
dead legionnaires, it was also the cabin in which they had lain
Vash. No one had taken the time to clean up medlab, and Kallun
didn't want her in the such a clinical environment anyway. Medical
science could not help her.
Locking the door behind him, he sat down on the edge of
the bunk and watched the steady rhythm of Vash's breathing. He
cut the power to the body of his combat suit and let the removal of
its powerfields wash over him like a cleansing bath. He stretched
his muscles for a moment, feeling the encompassing physical relief
that follows a period of sustained action. For a few moments he felt

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the pressure ease. Rubbing his eyes and massaging his temples he
simply sat for a minute or two, his head in his hands, and let his
mind and body clear out the debris of the day.
Once his head felt a bit clearer he went over to the work
station, a desk with a fixed rotating chair and a holo-plate spread
across the top. Slowly he began drawing up a situation analysis, a
simple chart detailing events as they stood, actions being taken, and
actions yet to be taken.
The events as they stood did not look so good. Irache was in
power in the council, his opposition either dead or fleeing for their
lives. Alpha-camp was compromised and only three of the Seven
Heads of the Wind were in an operational capacity. Military
efficiency was most certainly compromised. The government
effectively belonged to Irache and six fleets of ships were standing
ready to engage the only systems that posed a realistic threat to the
new order.
On the other hand they had brought out two councillor's
safely, discovered the time of attack and began organising an
effective defence in some parts of Colest. If Varess got her way at
least two of Irache's six fleets would be met with pre-emptive
strikes. Others would not find their targets unprepared for them,
though the calls from Varess and Durne would probably be too late
for them to mobilise an effective resistance by tomorrow afternoon.
Provincial administrations were not supposed to have real military
power, and what they had they often hid. They would take time to
gather. Irache's attempt at power would not go as smooth as he
would have liked, that was some small victory, but it would still
work, in that area there was little they had been able to do in such a
short time. Nothing they could do now would stop him. He still had
all the cards in his hands.
The key would still have to be Seerak itself. If there was
some way they could organise an effective resistance on the
Homeplanet itself they would be in with a chance of seriously
upsetting the balance.

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In that light the next cause of action would have to be ..


"...to find Vash." Kallun finished the sentence aloud. This
rest of the mission melted away compared to that one thing.
He knew it sounded unreasonable, but his thoughts would
not let go of the image of the creature holding Vash's body in its
gloved hand and daring him to follow. He really had no idea what
he was dealing with. Vash's body lay behind him, the monitor's he
had lain by her bunk all read normal. There was no further strain
other than that which she already had from the mind probe. Even
her bloody nose had stopped running. But that couldn't last forever.
Some how, something would have to be done.
"But what?" Kallun murmured. "And how?"
As he went over just how the creature had appeared in
morphe-space, he racked his mind over ways to follow the beast
back through the vortex. He knew the key was in understanding the
workings of the otherness. After all, the two spaces, morphe-space
and the otherness, were supposed to be two sides of the same thing.
But he simply didn't know enough about either realm to understand
its workings or control its gateways.
"No one controls the gates."
The voice came so close to head that he jump back in alarm,
lifting his hands from the holo-plate as if it burnt. The holo-field
was active and a miniature figure stood in the midst of that field
looking at him with grave eyes.
"Reanne?" Kallun said.

***

Day 12. 2256 - Ship Standard (CKT - )


Andreas was going over communication possibilities. His
thick body curled up tight below the control rim, his back to the
morphes. He had taken a panel off from beneath the rim and was
trying not to break anything whilst taking a close look.

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He had traced the communications systems to this area of


ship hardware. It was all here, the trans-light conversion block,
relay transmitters, pulse tracking, navicom interface and the
emergency broad band. That last was the most useful. Emergency
broad band was a set of communication equipment that utilised
basic radio and early crystal-comm technology. It was meant as a
back up when everything else failed but Andreas had been taught
early in his stay at Alpha Camp that the broad band was a simple
but effective way of get a signal out where most of civilisation
didn't look. And all it took was a children's toy to hear it. Andreas
used his hand held pad to link to the engineers diagnostic port. That
way he could be sure he wasn't breaking any thing else.
The object of the exercise was to see if the Emrihsad
communication gear ran on the same lines as Colest's. He was quite
sure it did, but it helped to check. And it kept his mind off the fact
that most of the really interesting stuff about the Dragonsfire had
been well beyond his basic engineering skills when he had tried to
look at them. He was a pilot after all and no body had introduced
him to the workings of a stable nanite collective before.
When the data scrolled across his screen he almost ignored
it. But something about the code of numbers the broad band was
giving him triggered a response. He stopped the scrolling numbers.
He was looking at a series of recorded signals that could be
described at simple background noise, the pulse of Seral, Seerak's
star, the noise of multiple jump shifts around the system. The data
was raw, uninterpreted in its number form. It had been scrolling at
speed and Andreas was simply checking for pattern interruptions
that would indicate a flaw in the broad band. The reason this set of
numbers had caught his eye was that they appeared to follow a
precise pattern. They ran in a repetitive sequence.
It could have been anyone. But Andreas ran the sequence
through his pad's processor just in case. It found a match from its
own Alpha Camp files. The number sequence was known as the
"Homecoming call" and it had been used during the last war as a

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message to Alpha Camp Operatives within listening range that they


needed to report in. It had however added an extra forty five
numbers at the end. When he looked at them closely Andreas
recognised the fifteen numbers at the end. It was his own security
number. The first thirty would have made two more security codes
that he could only guess belonged to Kallun and Vash successively.
Andreas checked the rest of the communications systems
quickly to track the number sequence. After ten minutes he had
discovered the sequence being broadcast on twelve different
systems, in just about every known method of communication.
Sometimes it was hidden in other signal traffic - a system as busy
as Seerak creates a mountain of noise - other times it was the only
thing on. But after discovering the thirteenth signal match Andreas
was sure. The signal couldn't have been a fake, the security
numbers were only available to the operative themselves and the
Camp Chief. They were an emergency identification method and
Andreas doubted the Heresy would ever have got their hands on
them.
By midnight he was sure. Kieran Dukall was trying to get in
touch.

***

Day 12. 2355 Ship Standard (CKT - )


Remembering her lack of response in morphe-space when
he needed her, Kallun's first reaction to Reanne's appearance was:
"Why didn't you answer me when I called?"
Reanne frowned, her holographic projection standing barely
twenty centimetres tall. She spoke slowly. "I am not at your
personal slave."
"Then, damn it, why didn't you come of your own free
will!" Kallun thumped the desk with his hand. "Or do you prefer to
watch while others suffer?"

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She didn't react to his jibe. If anything her face only


appeared sadder in the projection. "I watch." she said with a depth
of sorrow that surprised Kallun. "And mostly I cannot do anything
but watch until called upon. And that happens all too rarely."
"I called you."
She shook her head. "No you didn't." Her voice was firm
now. "You shouted a name and hoped for a saviour. You have
much yet to learn, Kal, and there are many things you do not
understand."
"Evidently."
"Take a look around you." Reanne gestured with her arm.
"Look at this ship in which you ride. You see it as circuits and
steal. A vessel of life in the vacuum of space. Yet the spirit of the
Dragonsfire reaches into realms you have not dreamed of. Realms
that surpass mortal understanding and transcend the boundaries of
human thought. Those are the realms in which I work, and only
because of this ship and its devices can such creatures as you and I
meet as we do, without them you would not even survive my
presence with your soul intact. So do not lecture me on things you
know nothing about.." She paused. "Let me demonstrate something
to you that might help you understand. Please try not to be
alarmed."
The holo-field went dead. The image of Reanne going with
it. In the same instant that the holo-field lost its power Kallun felt a
stirring of energy by the wall to his right. Looking over he saw the
fabric of space in front of that wall warp, the air twisting around a
central axis, spiralling and distorting the light around it. A blue
nimbus wrapped around the axis, spreading in the emerging vortex.
The hair on Kallun's neck stood on end and his heart hammered
within him suddenly. His insides felt as if they were on fire and a
primal fear gripped him.
There was a blinding blue light, the vortex filled the room
and then disappeared. In its place Reanne stood tall and straight,
her long black hair glistening in the artificial light, her skin

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glowing with a radiant warmth. A halo of power surrounded her


and it seemed as if the room dimmed in comparison to her glow.
When her eyes met Kallun's he found himself lost. Beyond those
eyes a galaxy turned, its energy burning in the depth of her gaze.
Kallun looked away, feeling as though his life had been ripped
open and bared to her knowledge in that one instant.
Reanne breathed in and spread her arms.
"The lines are so thin in this ship it is intoxicating to one
such as I," she said. "With your cloak harnessing the energy of the
gates, realities are merging slowly, yours and mine and it must
drive the dragon wild with hunger in his prison."
She moved closer and raised Kallun from his seat by his
hand. Her touch was like a fire that spread across his body without
burning. It filled his whole soul. He found tears sprung unbidden to
his eyes as something inside of him leapt at the touch.
"How?" He managed to say, standing face to face but
feeling as though he should kneel.
"The Dragonsfire and her sisters were never designed to be
simple ships of war. When I told you that they harness the power of
the gates did you not even think to wonder what that did to the
realms beyond your own? This place is a conduit through which
beings of unimaginable power can travel to your world. The very
fact that I am hear should tell you this. When I came to you first it
hurt to enter morphe-space. The longer the cloak functions the
easier it becomes. When all seven of these vessels are cloaked it
will tare the dragon gate apart, creating an opening large enough
for him to escape his realm. And he will escape to this ship,
commanding the elements with his breath. From it's matter he will
forge for himself a body of immortal flesh and bone and rule in the
realms of men. That is his plan. And he has but one obstacle. You."
She touched Kallun's chest lightly. "You are my chosen champion.
The Kalshial. The warrior who is yet to come."
"Why me? I am no servant of religion."

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Reanne laughed. "No excuses Kal. Accept who you are. It is


your greatest weapon." She took him by the hand. "It is time."
"For what?"
"For rescuing Vash." Reanne raised and eyebrow. "That is
what you wanted to do isn't it?"
"I'm needed here." Kallun said, fearful of where this woman
might take him.
"Your friends can take care of the mortal realm. You are
needed elsewhere," she smiled. "My dear Kal, ever the stubborn
soldier. Come. Follow me."
She hooked her arm into Kallun's and turned to the wall.
Stretching out her hand she opened the vortex for them again and,
leading Kallun on, stepped through.

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Chapter Thirteen - Geddinan

"The voice of Erran shall merge with the roaring of the


dragon which brought forth the stars and shall meet in the bowls of
the sky. The sword of Geddinan shall hang over them and heaven
and earth shall not know the end thereof."
Extract from The Book of Kiminuci, Chapter 5, verses 6-7
(From the library halls of Hiera IV)

Day 13. [Time index unknown].


Vash awoke. For a few seconds she just stared at the
ceiling, its scared and pitted surface dancing in firelight. She
recognised the stone bench she was lying on. It's cushioned surface
did little to hide the solid stone underneath.
Then she remembered the creature.
With a sharp intake of breath she was on her feet and facing
the robed figure that had been waiting by her temporary resting
place. Standing ready to fight she put some space between herself
and the bench, blocking the route to the door. Ready to run if needs
be.
"You need not flee." The voice came from within the
shadows of the hood. She narrowed her eyes.
"Why am I here again?" Vash asked.
"I brought you." The figure answered. Vash noticed its
robes, the black of the dragon priests, robes that were used only in
plays and museums back on Seerak. Here they were for real.
"How?"
"Through the false gate," the figure said. "The same way
you came to us last time."
"Was it you who brought me here then?" Vash tried to peer
into the hood but could not glimpse the face it hid. She could sense
nothing of the figure. This realm wiped away any casual surface
reading.

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The figure laughed and pulled back his hood. "Not really,"
said D'rethen. "It was before my time." He laughed again at her
shock but his laugh was cut short defending himself against the
katha that was aimed at his throat.
"I should kill you here!" Vash hissed, lunging and pushing
him back against the fire-place. D'rethen laughed and raised his
arms. When the point of the blade rested against his throat he took
hold of her hand gently.
"That would be difficult." D'rethen smiled and pulled the
blade down his own throat, its edge caressing his grey skin. Then
he turned it, point forward towards his heart. Suddenly he
wrenched the blade in her grip and thrust it into his own chest.
He should have crumpled like a rag doll. But instead he
stood there smiling. "I am touched by the Dragon's fire. It makes
me somewhat immune to your enmity."
Vash pulled her blade out of him and stepped back. There
was no wound.
"The servant who does not serve is at your service."
D'rethen bowed in mockery and laughed the louder. "Come." He
said as he rose. "My master wishes a word."
"No." Vash said stepping back further.
"You really have no choice." D'rethen walked by her to the
heavy wooden door. He waited a moment when she did not move
to follow.
"Look," D'rethen said. "You can either come of your own
free will or you can come after I've beaten you senseless and
dragged you to our destination. But I am sure you would prefer to
attend him with your wits intact."
He opened the door and gestured for her to go through.
Seeing little alternative, Vash stepped into the dark corridor
beyond.

***

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Day 13. 0013 - Ship Standard (CKT - )


Andreas discovered Kallun's body shortly after deciphering
the signal from Seerak.
The commander was lying on his back, on the floor next to
Vash. His eyes were closed and his breathing was regular.
However, when Andreas tried to touch the body he received a mild
but discouraging shock from a faint blue nimbus that surrounded
them both. He left the cabin and called Varess and Rae.
Surprising both operatives in the room, Councillor Varess
revealed herself to be of religious persuasion when she arrived at
the scene. They would later discover that many of her reasons for
opposing Irache stemmed from his involvement in the Heresy. Her
security clearance had seen to it that she had found out just how
deeply the Patriarch had been involved in the Gaeran massacre of
its priesthood leaders. But until that moment it had not occurred to
either of them that such a stalwart woman would have metaphysical
leanings.
Upon entering, Varess pointed to the blue nimbus that
surrounded the two operatives.
"It is called it Rae-Erran," she explained. "It means "Hand
of Erran" in the language of the Originators."
The others did not know what bearing that held on the
safety of both Kallun and Vash. But the significance of the nimbus
was not lost on their wayward sensitivities.
"I remember my Sabbath Light Teacher once teaching
scripture that described the touch of Erran as the light of blue
eternity which no man could approach without invitation. The
shield of heaven by the hand of Erran." Varess smiled at her
companions. "I have often pondered the meaning of that scripture.
But today it is clear." She paused and turned to Andreas. "Seal the
room. Whatever happens between them now is in the hands of
Erran."
With her back to the doorway, Rae and Andreas flanked her
shoulders. Varess looked down at the two inert operatives. She was

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no psi, but she could feel the lingering presence in the room. Years
of prayer and study had taught her to know that sense of spirit
when she felt it. From deep within her a joyous excitement welled
up. She had never thought to witness it, but her senses left her with
little room to doubt.
As Rae and Andreas turned to leave, Varess knelt by
Kallun's body and placed her palm just above the forehead of the
immobile commander. Her hand hovered barely a centimetre above
the nimbus.
"Rae Erran drua nal," she said. The hand of Erran protect
you.
Varess stood, turned and left the cabin.

***

Day 13. [Time index unknown].


He was alone. He could sense it immediately. Opening his
eyes he looked down onto hard stone floor. It was flagged with a
richly coloured rock soaked in veins of blue and orange, colours
merging with the overall deep brown finish. The edges of the flag
immediately beneath him had been worn away into a rough groove
where black cement had been polished to the sheen of the captured
stone. He moved his head up and found himself in a spacious room.
Circular along two thirds of the length of the wall, he guessed it
was a rounded structure, probably religious. The walls were of the
same material as the floor, but the stones were in blocks rather than
flags and more often than not they were hidden by tapestries,
hanging at even distances from a ceiling supported by thick
wooden beams.
It was a room out of history.
The air was thick, but not unpleasant. It moved around the
room in a gentle breeze, dancing pirouettes about him where it
blew in through an open window to his right. There were three
windows along the circular wall, arched at the top with glass fitted

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in small panes and lined with lead. Each held together by hinged
frames. Two of them were open, causing the breeze.
Kallun pushed himself up from the floor, standing. He was
dressed in his combat suit, it's fitted black material comfortable
against his skin. The shields were inactive, useless, and there was a
weight on his shoulders and across his back that turned out to be a
blue cloak, trimmed with gold and white at the edge. It fastened on
a pair of golden clasps attached to the middle shoulder of his
combat suit. Across the chest of the suit there was a symbol. A
white bladed sword with a golden hilt set in a back ground of stars.
A strange combination.
There was a noticeable absence of a hood on the suit, and
feeling at his hip he could find no blaster, no sensor clip. In fact
nothing of anything that he would normally carry with him on a
mission. Instead there was only a mid length knife, sheathed and
moulded to the waist of his suit. He drew it. The knife had a white
blade, that was pearlescent in the light from the windows,
refracting many colours. It would have to do.
Replacing the blade, he went to the window first,
confirming his suspicion that he was high up. From the window he
saw the towers of a fortress reaching to the sky, level with his own.
They looked abandoned and decayed, a sharp contrast to the clean
and polished feel of his own tower. Below them a keep and a
courtyard were silent, abandoned. There were also barracks, a
stable and a gate house, all unused and rotten. The only movement
was the swaying of tall cages in the courtyard. It took Kallun only a
moment to realise that they were filled with bodies in various
stages of decay, some just piles of bones, others still warm and
bleeding watery death juices. He couldn't see faces, thankfully.
The landscape beyond was one of grey hills, pitted and
scarred with black splotches, the origins of which he could not
fathom. There was movement out there. A presence of creatures he
couldn't quite make out. Shapes in the distance, hugging the
shadows and making their way towards the fortress gate. They

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were some way off yet, but from this height it looked as if an army
of shadows were gathering to the fortress, drawn by forces beyond
Kallun's perception. He shuddered and looked away.
The sky above had been a grey-brown, the colour of
morphe-space. He wondered if there was some connection.
Returning his attention to the tower, there were two doors in
the room in which he stood. When Kallun tried the first one, he
discovered it led to a second chamber, almost identical in size to
his own, except that this one contained what appeared to be a
throne. Entering the room he discovered it to be circled by shields
of various designs, hung at intervals and filling the space within
with their presence. A cacophony of heraldry. Creatures long since
extinct adorned these shields in simple silhouettes, outlined in
white and gold. Each had words written along the top, some in
languages forgotten by time others in more recognisable script.
"'The Warrior Comes'," Kallun read. Translating the words
from a shield written in Kallorian, the major tongue of Emrihsad.
He guessed the others he could not read had similar inscriptions.
Below this circle of shields an array of armour lay, swords
of various lengths, sizes and materials hung upright below the
shields, above the armour piles. When Kallun tried to touch one of
these swords it would not move, as if it was moulded into the very
stone.
Approaching the throne, he discovered it be made of white
stone, veined in gold and cut almost without seems. It was also
inscribed in broad gold lettering across the back brace stone work.
Surprisingly the words were Raviran, the language his parents had
spoken to him when he was just a boy.
Shial, it read. The Warrior Comes.
He guessed that the room he had arrived in was an ante-
chamber to this one. A place of waiting for those wishing to
approach the throne. He had no idea who had or would use these
tower rooms, but the presence of long departed warriors, soldiers
like himself was tangible and, surprisingly, comforting.

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The throne room had no other exits other than the door to
the ante-chamber and he reluctantly turn back, passing the
tapestries to the second door he had spotted earlier. When he finally
managed to force the ancient hinges, the stout old doorway opened
onto a set of stairs that curved away below him in a sharp spiral.
The stairs were lit by small slit windows that let in light and
nothing else, offering no clue as to what lay outside. Kallun made
his way down slowly.
Placing his feet carefully, so as not to slip and fall, he
descended a distance of about forty metres. It was a long decent.
The stairs stretched out in their ever falling spiral below him, and
each step revealed the next hidden piece of darkness around that
descending curve. Occasionally there were other doors on stone
landings cutting off from the stair well, but when he tried them they
were all locked or wedged closed.
The further down he went, the thicker the air became, and it
seemed to him as if he heard sounds at the edges of his hearing.
Beasts cried from the hills beyond the fortress, strange inhuman
voices scratching the limits of hearing and thought, noises echoing
from distant chambers. Perhaps the army of shadows was closing
in. He couldn't tell and eventually shut them out. Concentrating on
his decent.
At length he reached the bottom of the stairs, where a small
landing was cut short by a thick wooden door. The only way to go
was through that door. It was bolted from his side. The bolts, thick
iron rods, lay flat across both sides of the door. They were stiff and
he had to strain to pull them back. As each one gave way with a
thud, the walls echoed the sound and a rich imitation returned from
spaces beyond. The wood of the door was warm to the touch, as if
heated from the other side, and it smelt of damp fire, the kind
Kallun had experienced in the colonial territories of his youth.
When at last he had removed all the bolts, he gathered his
strength and pulled on the latch. The door moved with aching
stiffness, as though it had not been used in an aeon.

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What hit him first about the passageway was the stench.
The air was heavy with a foreign odour that defiled his lungs. He
coughed involuntarily, looking down a stone corridor lit by torches
that burned a dim yellow. The obvious conclusion was that he had
reached the main keep below the tower and was now looking into a
passage either near or below ground level.
Here the stonework had a decayed quality to it. There was
none of the polished opulence he had seen in the tower. It was
pitted and scarred, eaten away by the soiled air over centuries of
neglect.
When he had passed into the passage beyond the door he
heard a creak and turned in time to see the portal slam shut behind
him. From the other side of the door he heard the thud of bolts
slamming back into place. There was no way back and at length he
walked onward, into the darkness.

***

Day 13. [Time index unknown.]


"It is agreeable to see you again." The Dragon inclined its
great head in Vash's direction. "I would that it were under less
forced circumstances but I am sure that we will have ample time to
get to know one another better once the unpleasant business of this
day is over."
"I will not be held here against my will." Vash said, facing
him across the hall. D'rethen laughed from his position left of her
shoulder.
The Dragon bared it's teeth at the corner. Vash thought it
was his version of a smile. "And neither will I," he said. "Neither
will I. In fact I believe you are here to witness the last moments of
my long residence in this accursed place. You may say my that
tenancy has expired and I am to move on to more commodious
accommodation."

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Vash tried hard to keep her features impassive, but, unlike


D'rethen who stood quite calmly by her, she was unable to look at
those eyes. The Dragon sighed.
"You really don't like this form of mine, do you," He stated.
"Very well." The air about the Dragon shimmered and shifted. In
place of the beast stood the timeless old man in his priestly robes.
They were blue on black, unlike D'rethen's. The first time Vash had
seen those robes she had mistook them for Hieran robes. Now she
knew the difference. These were a mixed mockery of symbolism,
the blue of heavenly power against a dark background. The black
on white trimmings further emphasised the conflict of interests.
She stared at him as he made his way towards her, achieving a
more conversational distance in just a few steps.
"I want no part of this." Vash said, indicating the great hall.
"I am not one of your minions."
The Dragon raised a human finger. "And that, dear Shiala,
is what makes you the jewel in my crown. Didn't a teacher of yours
once say that it is the role of the priesthood to serve every creature
under heaven? To enlighten the unlearned, to uplift the down
hearted, liberate the captive spirit and ascend paths of joy of the
natural man? Well, here am I, a captive spirit longing to be free.
Bound by shackles placed upon me by my enemy. And your
presence, your power even, can free me."
"I am no priest." Vash said. She had left the noviciate long
before the process of ordination.
"I did not say you were," the Dragon nodded. "There are
many of the priesthood who have power like your own and serve
me with their talent. I have priests enough. You serve me simply
with your presence and, of course, your premortal gift."
Vash was watching him strangely.
"You are confused," the Dragon said. "Let me enlighten
you. That is what a god should do isn't it? I don't know but I'm sure
I'll get better with practice." He smiled wanly. "It may be hard for
you to pierce the veil with mortal imagination, but try and think

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back to the life before this one. Think of the time when you met
with Erran before you came to your mortal proving ground. There
each soul received gifts and blessings to help them in life. For some
it was great talents, for others, a unique capacity for love, to one
was given indomitable will, to another the power to unlock the
riddles of the atom. But to a select group the power of the golden
thread was given. To these Erran gave power to comprehend
beyond the mortal realm that they might teach and serve. A kind of
preparatory priesthood, if you like, which should lead the seeker to
the service of humankind, and shine as a beacon for all the worlds
to see." He smiled. "So you see, you do have a priesthood of sorts,
and its light shine so brightly for those with eyes to see, that it will
draw my enemy to me, where our champions will do battle and
decide the fate of man. And, as it is on my terms, a little lizard tells
me that I shall win and conquer. Your beloved Kal will die, and
you .. well, we shall see."
The Dragon smiled. Then looked away as if reading
something from afar. Listening to things her own senses could not
pick up.
She noticed D'rethen was grinning at her. He leaned over
and whispered in her ear. "Wouldn't you just die to be me." He
chuckled. Vash shivered. There was a dark power in D'rethen she
had never sensed before. Something that had facilitated his
incursion into morphe-space and that drove his bravado now. She
didn't know what he meant by his statement but she didn't like the
sound of it. Every second she stayed in this place made her feel
defiled.
With a start she realised the Dragon priest was frowning.
"He is come." He spoke to D'rethen. The shadow runner's confident
grin dropped.
"So soon?" D'rethen said. "How? We are watching all the
communion chambers."
"He arrived in the tower."
D'rethen cocked his head. "So she is helping him."

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"Yes. She is helping him." The Dragon's face was


impassive but the atmosphere in the hall had changed noticeably.
Now it was serious. Whoever was arriving was powerful enough
put a dent in the Dragon's confidence. He obviously hadn't
expected this. "She is bold beyond her peers. I have underestimated
her."
"Shall I delay him?" D'rethen said, putting his hand on the
katha beneath his robe.
"No." The Dragon shook his head. "The conflict must be
conducted here." He looked at Vash again. "We are always so short
on time, my dear. But duty calls, there is work to