Herbicide

 

UNSS Asclepius orbiting 7262 Apep Prime

Cargo Bay:
Dr Gretchen Leitkin gazed upon the makeshift quarantine zone. The last week saw her placed in charge of a team to combat a mysterious illness on the Asclepius. They had so far been unsuccessful. From behind her, someone cleared their throat. “Cytonites have exhausted all possible tests. There’s nothing there.”
Dr Alexi Junn, her second-in-command, addressed her.

Gretchen expected that result. She had a hunch though.
She said “We’re looking in the wrong place. Switch the nites to spectral imaging and scan again. I suspect we’ll find what we’re looking for in the Aether field.”
Junns voice rasped. “Recalibrating the nites for that type of scan will take at least a day of programming. There’s over twenty-four thousand infected. A fifth of that won’t make it through the night!”
Gretchen’s throat tightened. “I’m well aware of the stats! Run the scan!”
She turned back to the cargo bay.

 

Medical Centre:
Nadine Evoy, Medical Investigator and member of Gretchens team overlooked a Holoscreen. Streams of data scrolled past as she tried to glean anything that the team may have missed. The synthanium wall across from her peeled open. Its integrated hydronite system had detected the approach of an authorised NanID. Junn passed through the threshold, his face red and his fists clenched.

Seeing that look before she asked “What did Gretch say?”
Junn took a deep breath “She thinks it’s an Aether born bacterium. We’re to do a spectral image to confirm her hypothesis.”
Junns shoulders sagged and he slumped against a console station. He looked defeated.
Evoy considered the order. “Actually… That might explain these readings I’m getting from the Ioatan measurements.”
Junn straightened up to swipe the Holoscreen to his station.
“What!? Let me see!”
She sat next to him and pointed at the index levels “There! See it? It’s a loss of forty five Es Eyes.”

 

Interrogation Room 1:
Xenolinguistics specialist Danny Caracalla reviewed the case file from behind a biometric field. Selected by Gretchen to speak to the alien, he eyed the life-form. The beings known as ‘Chumu’ appeared to be sentient fungi. An advanced race with biotechnology native to the planet designated 7262 Apep Prime. Danny watched the plant prowl its containment cell. Its eight spidery stalks and long purple tendrils probing the goal. The communication between Terran and Chumu had been rudimentary at best. Yet, a basic understanding existed.

As a language specialist, Danny spent the last forty-eight hours interrogating it. The results had been less than promising. An incoming call alert showed up on his Holotab screen. Evoys icon displayed. He answered. “Hey, what’s up?”
Evoys unkempt hair and large shadows under the eyes spoke of a week without rest. Her mouth widened in a yawn as she said “Gretch wants to try spectral imagery. Won’t know anything until seventeen fifty hundred hours tomorrow. She thinks it’s Aether born, which is why it didn’t show on any of our scans.”

 

3D Additive Manufacturing Room 4:
Fresh from Med school, Dr Jennabel Keino also held a position on Gretchens team. Using AM3D equipment she completed a physical study of patient excretion samples. An outdated test, the increasing seriousness pushed them to unconventional methods. She had taken two hundred throat swabs, nose swabs, and urine samples. All to find the presence of bacteria or immune cells. With the aid of their most sophisticated analytic format, ELISA5, nothing turned up.

Jennabel coded the data into an operations console. Beside her, her Holotab lit up. Gretchens icon displayed. “Good evening, Dr Leitkin. What can I do you for? Ah…d…do f…for you?”
Appearing not to notice Jennabels stumble, Gretchen said “Finish coding those samples. Then head to the command centre. Dr Junn is calibrating nites for a spectral image. Observe and assist with the process.”
Jennabel’s eyes widened. “Thank you, Dr Leitkin. I’ll get right onto it.”

 

Medical Centre:
Evoy started awake as lights and Holoscreens lit up. Looking about, she saw Gretchen entering. She rubbed her eyes. “Wha…what time is it?”
Waving at one of the Holoscreens Gretchen said “It’s Lunch. Have you been here all night? Get cleaned up, you look like hell”
Evoy choked back a ragged laugh at such an absurd thought. “You’re not looking so good either.”
Gretchen replied. “Thanks. I’ll make sure to clean up for the inquest.”

An awkward pause filled the space between them. Broken by a cough from Evoy. “I’ve been going over the Chumu seed files we retrieved with the prisoner.”
Pulling up a screen, Evoy pointed at some stats to Gretchen. “Prelim chem analysis show they contain the mitochondrial coding for Ex Ay Seventy Five.”
Gretchen seemed to mutter some unintelligible words to herself. Then said “Excellent. Can we use this to start on a vaccine?”
Evoys brow furrowed “I don’t know. The data’s not completed rendering. Then there’s the question of how to administer it.”

 

Asclepius PRT Shuttle Pod:
Danny massaged his temples and wiped his nose; early symptoms of the mysterious illness. Maybe that’s why the Chumu prisoner had communicated with him. He wondered through his headache. It seemed to be a scientist of sorts, from what he understood. The alien developed a biological weapon to target the Terrans. A last ditch effort to right the wrongs of the war.

Five years ago the Terrans had Astral jumped into planetary orbit. Their ships meta-neuron probes had detected life signs in the system. Contact with the indigenous life had been peaceful, with information and resources shared. Both races enjoyed the prosperous relationship. This did not last long.

Terran factories soon dotted much of the planets surface. Built to take advantage of 7262 Apep Primes high compositions of silicate. Pollution began to disrupt the delicate ecosystem. Mega-groves of the Chumu withered and died overnight. Panic and fear caused unrest. Violent clashes with UNEMA personnel providing help, escalated into all out war.

 

Medical Centre:
A private incoming call alert appeared on Gretchens Holoscreen. She recognised Dannys icon. Connecting, her NanID activated the remote language program so no one would overhear. “Danny? What’s going on?”
The image displayed on her screen answered her question.
Danny Caracallas face looked drawn and faded. “I’m sorry Doctor Leitkin.”
Danny said, before breaking into a hacking cough.“The rash appeared last night and it’s spread everywhere. I’m heading to the Q-Zone now. All my data scripts and recordings are in your dakdrive”

Gretchen wanted to argue, but there seemed little she could do for him now. The call ended, and she tracked his Shuttle Pod to the quarantine zone. Through the NanVid she watched UNS navy crew meet him. Dressed in hazmat suits they lead Danny to an old fashioned cot made from the AM3D. “Dammit!”
Gretchen slammed her fist into the transparent synthspex console. Pain shot up her arm and she swore again. Evoy looked up from her work. “Gretch? What’s happened?”
Tears dripped down Gretchens cheek “It’s Danny.”
Evoy swore under her breath.

 

AR room:
Jennabel could hear Junn grumble about over the Comms. For the last six hours, he had been inspecting nite software for code errors.
Her disembodied voice directed him. “The back-propagation neural network file should be right in front of you Dr Junn.”
She heard him grumble some more, when his tracker program Red Cloud stopped in front of an AR file. Junn said “Ok, got it. Expanding to find that collapsed synapse. You keep working on locating the source of that Default.”

At the AR operator console, Jennabel switched back to her array of Holoscreens. Each one displayed the nites MMU component. Along with comparisons of the virtual and physical memory address. Finding the error would be like looking for a needle in a haystack, in the middle of space. Jennabel squinted her eyes. She wondered if the lights had always been so bright. Her attention strayed to the countdown set for operating the spectral imager. About five more hours of this and dealing with Dr Junn. Rubbing her forehead, she continued trawling through hundreds of millions of potential broken segments.

 

Medical Centre:
It wasn’t bacteria. Gretchen kept going over the data from the Spectral Imager. It didn’t make any sense. In many ways X-A75 displayed the symptoms of an obligate intracellular parasitic bacterium. Much like Old-Terra Typhus. Imaging instead showed it to be some sort of Æther fungus. The final analysis of the Chumu seed files confirmed it. Plus, revealing some surprising information. The seed files contained the entire blueprint for a new life form created from scratch.

The rest of Gretchens team sat at the conference table. No one had spoken or moved for near an hour since getting the news. Gretchen glanced at the vacant spots around the table. Danny, and now Jennabel counted among the infected. Gretchen herself already began experiencing many of the symptoms. The Q-Zone failed. Junn sat at the far end. Alone, even to the end. Evoy hadn’t given up yet. She stared at a Holoscreen. Thousands of yotabytes of data sped by. Searching for anything at all that might save the. Gretchen decided to speak. “I think we need to begin initiating the Kali protocol.”

Gretchen saw Evoys body tremble, her eyes narrow, and her fists raise. “How dare you give up! The great Dr Leitkin can’t figure something out finally, so she throws in the towel?! Dammit! I believed in you…we all did. It can’t end like this. We can’t let forty thousand people die and it means nothing?!”
Junn looked up from behind his hands. Wiping tears away, he said. “That’s not what she’s saying Evoy. We have to think about the other colony ship coming; the Troilus. We have to stop this thing from spreading.”
Gretchen nodded her support to Junn. “We have to clear the planet.”

*

Evoy stormed from the medical centre and headed towards a PRT Shuttle. Once inside, she waved her hand over the screen to take her to the bridge. Maybe she could talk some sense into the Admiral. The Shuttle hummed to life and rocketed across the Astral ship. Then the power cut out.

*

In the medical centre Gretchen and Junn scrambled to their feet in alarm. “Everything’s off line!”
Junn said in the dark. Panic rose in his voice. “The astral drive has shut down!”

*

After an hour without power, the backup generators finally reached the medical centre. Emergency lights flickered on. The soft glow of crucial operator consoles beckoned to the remaining Terrans. Gretchen brought up data on the astral drive. Initial reports showed the drives definitely off line, but undamaged. A Biohazard alert appeared on screen. It indicated a large Iotan mass filling up the drive room.

 

Asclepius PRT Shuttle Pod:
Low lights switched on in the Pod. Processing the last request it restarted the journey to the bridge. An internal error occurred and the Pod stopped. Log history noted Medical Investigator Nadine Evoy should be on board. Her NanID indicated no life signs. Iotan measurements showed a Terran sized form present. Particulates appeared to be like Nadine Evoy within an acceptable range. The Pod evaluated the data. Information processed at near light-speed and a conclusion made. Due to the loss of power it determined a simple file code error had occurred. The Shuttle Pod powered up again and continued on its way.

 

Interrogation Room 1:
The captive alien life form sought out a psychic link with its Æther creation. They touched the minds of many Terrans in the search. It could feel their fear and confusion. After twelve hours, it made a connection. The Chumu could sense the fungus had taken control of the ships systems. Perfect mimicry of Terran Iotans allowed it to access and disable the astral drive. Now amassed in the drive chamber, the creator directed them.

 

060121161130
UNSS Troilus orbiting 7262 Apep Prime

Bridge:
“Yu, En, Es Asclepius, this is Yu, En, Es Troilus. Please respond. Over.”
Static filled the receiver. Coms Officer, Maya Ngata turned to Admiral Valeria Caspersen. “Still no response Admiral. Sensors show normal levels of Iotans but there’s some damage to the astral drive.”
Caspersen stood at the bridge looking out at an AR Holoscreen of the UNSS Asclepius.
She responded “Send a team to board and investigate.”
“Aye mam.”
Ngata swiped at her screen and initiated a call to special operations. “Operation Trident is green. I repeat, operation Trident is green. Over.”

 

Drop Shuttle Bay 3:
Commander Anya Xun puffed her chest out taking a deep breath. “Gear up! Trident op is a go! Let’s move it!”
Around her, three hundred troops and support staff scrambled like ants protecting their nest. When her platoon finished loading up, Xun strode to the centre of the Shuttle. Looking at her soldiers, she did a quick head count. Then, she activated the shuttles disengage program through her NanID. Once strapped in herself, she swung her XM50 rifle onto her lap and set the system to ‘lethal’.

 

Asclepius Cargo Hold:
Seventy five special operations teams disembarked the Boarding Shuttle. Spreading out they began securing the cargo bay. There didn’t seem to be any sign of trouble, or life. Lt.-Cmdr Tandra Bakari pointed at her Holotab. “Iotan analysis show a mass of movement heading this way mam.”

Xun held her arm up extending and twirling her finger in the air. Her platoon moved on cue to get into position. Speaking into an on-board communicator, she said “This is Commander Xun of the Yu En Es Navy. We have boarded due to non-compliance of communications. A violation under section Seven Oh Six of the Yu En Es Communications Code. Do you understand? Over.”
The receiver crackled to life. “Commander Xun, this is Doctor Gretchen Leitkin. We’re about to access the cargo bay please stand by. Welcome aboard the Yu, En, Es Asclepius. Over.”

The synthanium wall peeled open. It revealed a small armed force. Xun counted about fifty UNS naval personnel accompanying five civilians.
A woman in her late forties stepped forward. “Good afternoon. I’m Dr Leitkin and acting captain of this vessel. We’ve had a big week commander. Please follow me to the bridge so we can begin debriefing.”

 

Asclepius Bridge:
Xun made herself at home in the Admirals console. Her eyes remaining shut longer with each blink as she listened to Gretchen drone.
“…as you can see, once we discovered the bacteria wasn’t carbon based, we could better look for it. This allowed us to develop an appropriate vaccine. Unfortunately, we lost over five thousand crew as a result of the initial infection.”

Dr Leitkin stood beside a large Holoscreen. Xun couldn’t make heads or tails of the data. She asked “What about the prisoner? What happened to it.”
Xenolinguistics specialist Danny Caracalla stepped forward. “It died during interrogations. It’s now dissected. Doctors Junn and Keino intend to learn more about how it carried the Biohazard on board.”

A strange series of events, thought Xun. The Asclepius’s Admiral, Moira Shibato, allegedly tried ramming the ship into the planets surface. The bacterial infection having caused delusions. She instead overloaded the astral drives. This resulted in a gravitational wave reaction. System after system disrupted and knocked offline. Including external sensors and long range communications array. Everything seemed just a little too neat for Xun. She nodded at Gretchen. “I’ll have my people look at repairing the communications array immediately. As of now I’ll be taking command. All Asclepius personnel will answer to me until a new Admiral is appointed.”

*

The Æther born, astral-forms of Gretchen, Evoy, and Danny cleared the bridge. Heading back to the medical centre Evoy commented “The Terran commander is not convinced.”
In response, Gretchen sent out a mental command. She dispatched a small team to keep an eye on Commander Xun, to Evoy she said “Begin evaluations. See whose Iotans are low enough for the process. I will send Jennabel to evaluate Xun.”
Evoy bowed. “At your command.”
Danny and Gretchen remained to deal with the rest of the plan.

Soon her mothers revenge on the Terrans would be complete. If only she could have seen this, Gretchen thought. Regrettably, her creator would not. Due, in part, to the effects of the gravitational wave. The powerful reaction caused the Æther fungus inside the Chumu to astral-form its cells. This Gretchen became the product of that dimensional feedback. Clearing her mind of such thoughts, she looked at the Holoscreen readouts with Danny. Soon the communications array would be back online. By then Commander Xun and her platoon would be completely evaluated. And ‘Mother willing’, astral-formed.

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A Destiny Born: page 6

Shay Bladebound felt sweat run down the nape of her neck. Lying on the hot sand, she watched the goblin attack. Her Aunt, Gen, crouched beside her. A long bow at the ready. Their camouflaged outfits hid them from view, and provided protection from Sooms gaze

Her Aunt whispered “That’s them alright. I recognize that one with the gold headpiece.”
Shay thought back to two days earlier. It had been early morning when these goblins raided their homestead. She had fallen asleep on watch, and failed to raise the alarm. By the time she and her aunt could mount a defense, they were too late. The little green-skins had stolen all their water reserves.

Since then, her Aunt tracked them across the desert. Catching up to them as they mounted an ambush on two strangers.
Whispering back, Shay said “Shouldn’t we help them? We’ve got the advantage.”
Her aunt sighed “We follow the plan Shay.”

When the goblins were out of sight, her aunt stood and shook the sand from her outfit. Shay followed suit, and also drew her bow. The two women held their weapons at the ready and stalked out over the dunes. It did not take long to track the goblins to their encampment.

A Destiny Born: page 5

*****
Mothira stalked from the prison tent. Her commander followed shortly afterwards. “My Lady, we should tread with caution. The insurgents have many powerful sympathizers.”
Mothira growled “That is not my concern. The prince will talk, or die.”

At this an officer approached, “Lady Mothira, hunters have scouted the glade. They discovered two other tracks.”
Stopping midstride, Mothira turned to the commander “He has passed the map on to others. Send a circle of Thunderguards to find them.”
*****

Rusilka and Merren emerged from the small woods. Ahead of them lay the dune seas of the Taao desert. Merren, the Elven Skald spoke “Why did we agree to do this again? The last thing we need is to be getting involved in a war.”
The dwarf replied “You are a skald, I thought you would revel in the prospect of a grand battle?”

Merren grumbled, and sat down on a rock “It’s not my fight. This is of no concern to my people.”
Their companion replied “The Arch Duchess will not stop with the Eight Kingdoms! She will come for your people as she will come for mine!”
The Alchemist continued, while shaking a bag of gold “Remember, there is still a debt owed. And….reward for our services.”

Unconvinced, Merren said “Gold is no good to us if we are dead, faeborn.”
They heard Rusilka sigh, and watched them turn towards the dune seas. The dwarf mumbled something to herself. She then took out a potion. She unstoppered it, and drank the liquid inside.

A moment later she said to Merren “This way. There’s an old traders outpost. We should be able to find somebody there that knows this Qhen Maafa. I’m going, are you in or out?”
She did not wait for Merren to reply, and started walking.

Sitting on the rock, the elf contemplated their situation. They had witnessed many wars over the decades. Though even so young by Elven standards, they had become weary of the carnage humans dealt with. Yet, what Rusilka said was true, at least in regards to the debt. Getting to their feet, they went after their companion.

Most of the day they travelled across the hot desert. Overhead, the sun god Soom tracked them from the sky. Her touch burned the earth they walked on and exhausted them with every step. Merren spotted the glint of steel first. Just up along the crest of the next sand dune. The outpost finally. They hurried towards it.

Swift and savage came the ambush. From the left and right, sand seemed to erupt. Seven pony-sized ants rose up out of the dune. Three of them mounted by scrawny goblins. Merren figured them to be an advanced scout party, for a larger force.

Merren reached for her warblade, and began to sing. Sporting short bows, the goblins raised their weapons. ‘Twang’ sounded the bows. In half a dozen heartbeats, three of five shafts found their marks. The shots grazed their skin. Doing just enough damage to distract and hamper.

Then, the four riderless ants charged. Two of the outriders dropped their bows, and drew short curved blades. Kicking their unusual steeds, they too joined the melee. In a matter of moments the goblins had overwhelmed them. They bound their prizes, and began dragging Merren and her friend away.

A Destiny Born: page 4

****

The circle of six Thundergaurds entered a clearing. In the centre stood a single man. They watched him raise his hands, as he said “I am Prince Yotaya, I surrender.”
One of the soldiers whispered to the others “Keep your eyes and ears open for an ambush.”
Stepping forward with swords drawn, they proceeded to surround the prince. Closing the gap, one soldier raised their blade and struck the Prince with the pommel.
****

When Yotaya awoke, he found himself inside a cage housed in a large tent. Ropes bound his arms. He lay with several others of his retinue. A few moaned in pain from terrible injuries. Most were silent, looking at him. He knew what they must be thinking; ‘If he had been caught, then Lady Mothira had the map.’

There seemed little else in the structure. At the entrance stood two Thunderguards. Their faces hidden by the legions distinctive great helms. The sudden entrance of more Thunderguards interrupted any further musings. Lady Mothira herself accompanied the soldiers. Along with a lightly armored woman bearing a commanders rank.

The commander appeared to nod their head at the guards. An unspoken order given and received. Without hesitation the soldiers drew near his cage. Seconds later, they dragged Yotaya out and forced him to his knees. He looked up at the terrible woman of legend, and said “How dare you treat me like this. The Eight Kingdoms Assembly will hear of this…”

Mothira cut him off “Do not test me Prince Yotaya. I know your grandmeister received a map when in Tooqa.”
Yotaya feigned ingnorance “Map? Yaae and I, had consulate business for my moth…”
Once more, the Qhiitemaster interrupted “Spare me your lies. I’ve had my fill for the day.”

Mothira commanded “Take him to the prison wagon. Prepare the legion to move immediately.”
The commander looked over the captives. She said “What of these survivors my Lady?”
Without hesitating, Mothria replied “There were no survivors.”
Yotaya shivered, and his stomached turned.

A Destiny Born: page 3

Mothiras arm strained as she held the woman off the ground. The insurgent gargled out “I…I don’t know what you’re…talking about. We are… In service of the Que…en of Pelgam.”
‘Useless’ she thought, and squeezed her fist tighter around the neck. Mothria felt nothing as she watched the woman scream and gurgle. Their limbs thrashed, until a loud snap signalled her end.

***
Prince Yotaya crashed into the forest atop his steed. Dozens of low branches snapped off his body as he rode away from the enemy. Sounds of battle followed him for a minute or so. This soon faded, the deeper he went into the heavy woods. After what felt like ten minutes, Yotoya broke into a clearing.

His ride started at the sudden presence of two campers. Rearing up, the horse reeled to the side, throwing him to the ground. Landing with a bone shattering thump, Yotaya watched his steed sprint off without him. Seconds later, his body registered the pain shooting through his body. “Aaaaaah.”

Looking up, he saw the two figures approach him. An Elf and a female Dwarf. With their arms outstretched in signs of peace, he realized they were talking to him. The Elf spoke “Shh, it is ok friend. We mean no harm.”
They knelt down and tended to his wounds.

The dwarf offered a potion to him. Yotaya drank it without pause. He felt the fog of pain lift, as his wounds healed from the magic drink. Speaking for the first time, the dwarf spoke in humour “Well met traveller. Apologies for startling your horse.”

Yotaya nodded back a salutation. His thoughts still muddled from the fall, he listened as she continued to talk. “I am Rusilka Brynnhild, Forgemistress.”
Pointing at her companion while she spoke “And this is the famed skald Merren Laergraw. Third of their name.”

Merren interrupted at their presentation. “What brings you to dash through these woods today?”
Not certain of himself, Yotaya answered “I head to the Taao desert. I am to meet with an old friend of my mothers. It would seem the Arch Duchess thought otherwise. Her legion pursued me at great length.”

The Elfs face paled at the mention of the Arch Duchess, “She seeks you out? Why?”
Looking over his shoulder at the way he came, Yotaya had a idea. He replied, “I think I managed to give them the slip for now. It won’t be long until they pick my scent up again.”
Addressing the two, he said “I am in need of some help.”

Yotaya pulled from his pack a small purse “In here is two hundred bits of platinum.”
He then retrieved a rolled document “Take it, with this parchment and a message. Do this and you will see this coin doubled for your efforts.”
Merren raised an eyebrow “What would the parchment and message be? And for whom?”

Standing, Yotaya said “The parchment is a map to a god-weapon. It can kill the Arch Duchesses pet Dracolich. The message, is from I, Prince Yotaya Yamma of Pelgan to Qhen Maafa. Former General of the Eight Kingdom’s armies.”
Rusilka laughed “Ah, well fortunate tidings then, my good prince. We planned on heading that way this hour when you crashed into our camp.”

Merren seemed about to interject at this. Yet Rusilka rushed on, “We are happy to be of service in your time of need, your highness. My friend and I once served in the court of your adopted mother, Queen Yamma.”
The dwarf revealed the royal Pelgan seal, on a pendant around her neck. Yotaya knew that only the most trusted retainers of the court received them.

From beyond the glade, noise of soldiers broke through the small but dense forest. Yotaya flipped his sword to hold the blade. He reached its handle out to Merren. They grabbed hold, and took it from him. Rusilka hefted the parchment and coin already in her hands.

Yotaya said “Take my sword to Qhen Maafa as proof of your word. Tell her what I’ve told you, and that Queen Yamma needs her once more. She will know what to do. Now, you must ride before the Thundergaurds arrive.”
Turning his back on them, he headed towards the search party. Merren called out “Wait! what are you doing?”
Yotaya replied “Giving them what they want…Me.”

A Destiny Born: page 2

Yaae, Grandmeister of the Blade surveyed the smoking battlefield. Her force broken by Mothiras lancers. In providing cover for her liege lord, the small battalion opened themselves to a charge. She looked on as Lady Mothiras Thunderguards stepped amongst her wounded comrades. Without discernible pity or mercy, the legionnaires cut the throats of the injured.

She had found herself amongst the survivors, six counting her. Unharmed from the skirmish, she and the other five stood disarmed and bound. Two foot soldiers approached and took hold of her. Half marching, half dragging they led her to their leader. A great red tent had already been put up; a temporary command shelter. Passing the guards out front, the soldiers escorted her inside.

The dress of the legions Thundergaurds, and the Arch Duchess’s right hand were striking. Mothiras elite soldiers wore blood red tabards over heavy armour. In stark contrast, the Lady of the Qhiite order, wore white, dragon bone full-plate. Both armours emblazoned with a blackened version of the Eight Kingdom symbol. An eight point star. Great helms covered the faces of all present. To Yaae it reflected their mistresses oppressive regime.

Lady Mothira cut an imposing figure. She stood over seven feet tall, and with her armour almost as broad. Yaae jumped in shock as Mothira reached out, grabbing the Grandmeister by the neck. She felt her body lift clear off the ground. The legions commanders powerful grip strangling her. She gasped and struggled against Mothira. A gravelled voice echoed out of the helm “Where is the map?”

A Destiny Born: page 1

Climbing up from its slumber, Soom, the red sun, begins its ascent from the underworld. While the moon Xom, joins the stars fleeing its might. Upon the plain of Gooia, the world shakes. A small mounted force of two hundred soldiers and retainers thunder toward the desert of Taao. In pursuit, emerges Lady Mothira and her legion from a heavy dust cloud. Prince Yotaya urges his steed onwards. Ahead he spies a small outlying forest. Over his shoulder he cries “To me.”

A volley of arrows rain down upon the Prince and his entourage. Above the sound of pounding hooves, he hears the screams of fallen soldiers. It would not take long for their number to decrease, he thought. With no escape for any of them, Yotaya had one last hand to play; by the gods it had better work. Turning to his Grandmeister of the Blade, Yaae, he saluted. Seeing the Princes signal, the Grandmeister shouted “Scatter!”

With military precision the riders scattered in all directions. Dozens of smoke bombs cast to the ground as they did so. Dark smoke covered the field, obscuring the riders. Moments later, Yotaya could hear the contact of steel against steel. The rumble of musket shot, and the screams of wounded soldiers signalled contact. He knew that they would die protecting him. Yotaya prayed to the gods to remember their sacrifice, as he aimed for the tree line.