The King is dead! Long live the King!
The electric towncrier-programs of the Eye-NC were kinecast live to every Incorporated Franchise and Suburban Fortress within direct reach of Octopi Incorporated trans-orbit satellites, while Tee-Vee affiliates and printed mediums notified all other feudal sovereignties and political-entity states.
The news went down the line until the most primitive of Earth’s surviving societies, ignorant to the machinations of the Von Strauven Imperium, were brought up to speed of the most current event on the Incorporated Earth.
The Emperor Akagi Hirohito was dead.
He had passed away during the night; his body worn out from the 88 years he had lived, in the end exhausted by the atomic radiation from the Limited Nuclear Exchange. A rumor said that he had died reading a book from Tinsel Fortress Time America, called Love Story, supposedly the same book Brigda the Conscious had been reading when she died.
The next day was filled with worry about who would succeed Hirohito to the Seraphim Throne of the Imperium.
The Emperor had left no heir.
But there was a more pressing situation for the Yamato State of Nippon.
What would they do to lift the blockade on their Home Islands by a mysterious technocentrist organization, risen from the South Pacific and the cold waters of Baal’s Antarctica, which had cut them off from the rest of the planet?
The Imperial General Headquarters accepted the inevitable; the Yamato State would soon become politically impotent without their emperor in the Imperium. The rogue technocentrists off the coasts of Nippon were running wild through the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and neither the IGHQ nor Octopi Incorporated appeared ready to stop them.
The IGHQ set in motion the contingency plan; the Yamato State would claim the Von Strauven Rule of Exile, and settle any available worlds in the Solar System.
A fleet of spaceships was hurried into production to leave the Earth.
To the north of Kansas, on the banks of an older body of water called the Five Lakes of the Emperors, but still known as ‘Lake Michigan,’ the Notable Families of the Von Strauven Imperium called an emergency meeting in the Windy City of the Emperors. The neo-skyscrapers built after the Von Strauven Takeover were constructed in the fashion of American Revivalism, and bore a romanticized resemblance to the relics of Classic American architecture that still survived on the continent.
Today the neo-skyscrapers had visitors; fleets of Notable airships were arriving, and one by one they began to anchor to the mooring towers built on top of the neo-skyscrapers. They brought with them the member-delegates of the Notable Families of the Von Strauven Imperium, who descended from the airships and disembarked on the passenger-platforms. The Families made their way down the hundred-storied neo-skyscrapers, to the surface of the Windy City for one of the most important meetings in the history of the Imperium.
On the perimeter of the atomic bomb crater that had destroyed the earlier city during the Threat of the Tyrant, there was the Federalist-style Congress of the Families. It was also abandoned and empty, except for the squatters who had set up lodging in its imperial halls and atriums. Notable-mercenaries had arrived before the member-delegates and chased the squatters off, while another army of workers repaired the Congress for the arrival of the Families.
There had not been a meeting of the Von Strauven Imperium in two years, when the Emperor Hirohito had sent a Yamato State delegation to explain the reasons behind the creation of the Sea of Kansas and the second moon Ceres.
Now they would meet to discuss the need to choose a new titular-sovereign for the Earth and the Family Electors came with their ideas who would head up the Von Strauven Imperium---with the final vote of approval by Octopi Incorporated.
But the technocentrist organization had submitted only one guideline so far.
The Empress Kir-sten’ya would have to be removed first.
The message from Octopi Incorporated sent shock waves through the Electors in the Congress of the Families. Without any clear sanctioned goal set forth by the 8Fold Lords who oversaw the technological-industrial sectors running the planet, the election of new emperorship became stalled at the very start.
One candidate was brought forward immediately, Lord Justinian Thorogood, military dictator of the Lone Star Empire. He had succeeded in squashing rebellion in the Godstate of Texas and ending its social chaos since the death of the last William Robert King. The Electors from the Old Southron Confederacy seconded his nomination, though rather begrudgingly due to historic distrust of the Lone Star Empire.
Thorogood’s nomination was greeted with a round of disapproval, namely by the Electors from the Reformed United States of America, led by the mighty Estate of Andramedaus, rulers of the High Estates General, the political body of soviet-Ohio ‘USA.’ The Reformed USA had fought on the side of the Von Strauven Emperors against the Lone Star Empire at the Battle of Elvis Downs, and they historically opposed any decision that would place a Texian lord in the emperorship of the Imperium.
Deadlock gripped the Congress of the Families and in the impasse of leadership to succeed the Seraphim Throne of the Von Strauven Imperium, an unlikely meeting of powerful personalities coalesced in the shadows of the Windy City of the Emperors.
It began with the President of the Congress, occupied by the same man since the end of the War of the Assassins. He was the Viscount Robert Paul Luke, once a ducal-sire from soviet-Ohio ‘USA,’ and the feared Cobra Warlord, but now the chief operating-magistrate of the Imperium. The Notable Families turned to him now, though he was cynical and reclusive, believing that the days of the human race were numbered, and the Earth was powerless to the ultimate schemes of the Outer Planets.
But even he had become susceptible to inspiration from the Empress Kir-sten’ya.
He vehemently opposed any Texian lord succeeding to the Seraphim Throne, especially a baseless character like the warlord Justinian Thorogood; there was information that linked Lord Thorogood to the same rogue technocentrists besieging the Yamato State of Nippon.
After what the Viscount had learned in the atomic wastelands of Eurasia during the War of the Assassins, he would rather comply with Octopi Incorporated then with any kind of ‘Neo-Futurists’ that took their orders from another planet in the Solar System.
Therefore, he began secret meetings with like-minded individuals, which brought three different personalities into his orbit.
The first was the Duchess of TexArkana, a late middle aged woman of countrified origins, who had confirmed the link between Lord Thorogood and the rogue technocentrist ‘Neo-Futurists.’ She also bore a secret dislike for the Godstate of Texas, her home of Arkansas had suffered greatly since the ‘annschlus’ by the Lone Star Empire in 2882. She had seen firsthand the Hegelian Ultra-created ‘American Revival’ and she knew its gross distortions of history would bear great harm to the planet if a Texian became Emperor, especially if it was Lord Thorogood.
The Viscount R.P. Luke and the Duchess of TexArkana became united in distrust at the direction the Congress of the Families was going in, and they began to form their own solution to the impasse of succession for the emperorship. They decided a ‘regency’ around the Empress Kir-sten’ya, where the Viscount would continue his role as chief magistrate, would work best for the stability of the Imperium. The status quo would be preserved for the Notable Families and the Von Strauven Imperium.
But first the issue of Octopi Incorporated had to be settled; the technocentrist were planning to launch a military campaign against the Sea of Kansas and remove the Empress Kir-sten’ya from the Palace. Everything hinged on her remaining in place as titular-sovereign, which needed armed forces to counter-weight the 8Fold military response.
This necessity brought the Viscount R.P. Luke and the Duchess of TexArkana into league with another individual.
His name was Aricson Epsilon Erindani, a famed priest-general of the Pagani Engineers, presently fighting the Crusader-state of Edessa in an attempt to evacuate the pagani people to the Sea of Kansas. He was a veteran of the raids against the Crusader-states and the Battle of Santa’s Village, fought in the laser-krieg rains and radioactive-mud stink of Dead Moines. Though his ancestral pagan nations had been wiped off the face of the map with the stroke of a Von Strauven pen, he still appealed to the Electors of the Families for assistance against the bellicose Crusader-states.
A.E. Erindani also believed that the Empress Kir-sten’ya was the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy of Brigda the Conscious, called the ‘Serpent Queen’…and ‘her titan destiny in the flattest of lands, where a sea should not be.’
He believed that salvation was at hand in Kansas.
When approached by the Viscount and the Duchess for the loyalty of the Pagani Engineers stationed on the northern shores of Kansas, A.E. Erindani’s response was unwavering; the Pagani Engineers would defend the Empress Kir-sten’ya. He had the utmost confidence in his fellow monastic-soldiers; veterans of the wars against the Crusader-states, and former-prisoners of their hated death-camps.
Defeating the 8Fold Scarabs would be no problem.
But he first had to send word to the garrisons of Pagani Engineers, a near impossibility because Octopi Incorporated had bombarded the area around the Sea of Kansas with a radio-barrier net, and surrounded the Exoduster Desert with an army of Corporate Regulators.
To breach the incorporated blockade the creators of a nascent ‘Regency of Kir-sten’ya’ needed the best ride imaginable.
They chose a Neo-Cola Classicist.
The name of the fourth supporter of a Regency of Kir-sten’ya was Assassia Santa Oxianas, the silver-maned Mother of the Guard-in-Exile. Her fame had begun as the lone bright spot for the Neo-Cola Classicists during the disastrous War of the Assassins, when they were almost wiped out El Pepsi lo Magnifico!
Assassia was passing through the Windy City of the Emperors, at the head of the Horde, the main pack of assorted warbird and muscle-charioteer gangs from the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. She was on the return trip from the Strait; the autowreck parks of booty in the mercury-tainted waters of Lake Erie. Once Assassia picked up word of the political developments in the Congress of the Families, she became alarmed that the Empress might be deposed by Octopi Incorporated.
The Neo-Cola Classicist Guard-in-Exile saw Kir-sten’ya as their last chance for a return to greatness.
Assassia reacquainted herself with A.E. Erindani, knowing him from the Crusader-Pagani Wars in the Fellowship Lands. She told the pagan priest-general that some of the best and brightest rock-n-roll warriors were now near the Sea of Kansas, and could be of help in the battle to protect the Empress.
She drew from her own ranks the fastest and most able, a young woman named Nia Vanilla, a slender, knifelike-looking warrior who rode ‘Scout’ for the Horde, used to running for speed with no escort and no pit-time. Assassia found Nia among the traveling encampments of the Horde idling in fields of decaying plastic and dead grass, beneath the abandoned American Revival-style neo-skyscrapers.
The Mother of the Guard-in-Exile addressed the Scout of the Horde.
“Prepare today for the most important ride of your life! Go to the Sea of Kansas and find the Captains of the Guard who are there. My daughter Excellsia is in their numbers. Tell them they are to unite with the Pagani Engineers…”
“They are to fight to the last to protect the Empress Kir-sten’ya!”
In no time at all, Nia had her warbird gassed up with a compound of ethanium and said goodbye to the gangs and tribes of the traveling Neo-Cola Classicist Horde. She sped off leaving behind the disorganized Congress of the Families, the American Revival skyscrapers of the Windy City disappearing in her rearview mirror. She took with her the lone hope of defending the Empress from Octopi Incorporated.
But fate was on the same page and way ahead of everyone.
The barricades of revolution were going up all over the Sea of Kansas.
Corporate Regulators had been initially overwhelmed by the most rebellious and bellicose of the pilgrims, forced to abandon most of their positions and retreat to highpoints, now awaiting orders to counterattack and use overwhelming firepower against the numerically superior rebels.
In the meantime, the thousands and thousands of pilgrims were turning the beachheads into hastily armed camps. News of the death of the Emperor Hirohito only seemed to confirm the inevitable; they would soon be allowed to meet the Empress. The burning horizon of campfires flickered nervously, as crashing surf and bellicose pilgrims were the ambient sounds of a new age being born. High above the sea that separated the despairing masses from the isle of hope, cathartic individuals meditated silently on their predestined talents and roles. They stood together but alone inside themselves, each one feeling the limits of their abilities and the taxing powers of mortality.
The day began on a beach of shining glass fused by the violent heat of a fission-laser blast. This was the beach the human race would remember when it looked back at the last day of the old world and the first day of the new world. It was also where new lives were being born, like it had crawled from primordial waters and come ashore with its own mission; it too had been expelled and had to reinvent itself or die.
This beach was the last place of its kind; everyone assembled on its obliterated sands knew that. They didn’t know why they felt this, but nevertheless carried on with their own awesome mission to fight for what they believed in.
The place was Jayhawker Beach.
It stretched long into the Sea of Kansas and shined with plated opaque glass, born from the sands of shattered crust and reassembled into a crystallized shore that broke underfoot. In all directions that did not face the sea, spiky hills went into the dark distance, pocketed full of caves. The light of two moons did little to show what was in them, but burning torches and floodlights worked their powers and illuminated the secrets inside.
Shapes darted from the beach to the caves and the sounds of machines and human voices predominated the greater vicinity. Banners of distinction flew in the offshore winds, caught in the lights of activity and larger energies of excitement. Chaotic movement gave way to cohesion and organized meetings touched off introductions between unlikely collaborations.
The warcamp of the fight to save Empress Kir-sten’ya was getting underway.
Inside the beachside caves the Neo-Cola Classicist tribes and clans and gangs were assembled, close to the number of a hundred strong. Auto-squires and nomad pit-crews had carried the tools of auto warfare to the shores of Kansas and now were ready to put together a cavalry force not seen since the Battle of Elvis Downs. Whirling machines for screw threads attached weapons and armor to warbirds and muscle-chariots, while hoarded supplies of precious ethanium-fuel and petrol reserves were pumped into cyclotrons and gastanks.
The activity was going on in a hurried fashion and the pilots of the Neo-Cola Classicist vehicles were assembled into an anxious pre-flight cluster. They were decked out in battle uniforms with racing armor and flight-helmets, all unified by crimson-n-silver colors. Their faces were fierce and eager, ready for instructions and battle.
Outside the caves of hidden warbirds and muscle-chariots, pack-bonds of Pagani Engineers were unpacking weapons underneath tents set up on the crystalline beaches. Engineeri interlaced scarves and headwraps blew in the winds and pack-bond insignal-flags flew high over the divisional camps. Battle vests and helmets were being passed along from logistical-officer to soldier-monk and prayermats were being rolled up after final salutations to the cosmos.
Conferment was beginning between Pagani Engineer pack-bonds; priest-generals were meeting with regional trimegituses about tactics. The larger strategy was slowly coming to fruition and it would only be a little longer until all of them knew the plan of battle. Until then weapons were rechecked and introductions remade by the veterans of the Battle of Santa’s Village.
Between the camp of first alliance of the Neo-Cola Classicists and the Pagani Engineers since the War of the Assassins, two pagan warriors had been thrust into the forefront of the planning of the prodigious moment to come.
The two were Hessia de la Transoxnia and Janus Southcross, and between them was the representative action of the next day, set to commence in the morning; the Battle of the Sea of Kansas. They were brave and nervous, but not alone; they were joined by a mass of valuable compatriots.
The Neo-Cola Classicist Cavalry was led today by an old, grizzled rock-n-roll warrior, named Ox the Elder, dressed in a blood-red suit of spiked armor and long gray hair that spilled out from underneath a primered warrior’s helmet. He had the respect of the gathered veteran pilots who had grown up on the highways of antiquity and made the jaunts to the Strait, while further surviving the Notable Family Games and Challenge and Championships arranged by the Von Strauven Imperium.
Nia Vanilla, the knifelike-looking Scout of the Horde and carrier of Assassia Santa Oxianas’ message stood nearby. She was joined by a two eminent warriors; Cali ‘Collision’ Dolomite; brass-knuckled, coon eyed girl from the Old Dominion and Ox the Younger; fiery red haired and thick-necked, the spitting image of his father, Ox the Elder.
Together, this triumvirate of Neo-Cola Classicists shouted out a call to arms.
Nia Vanilla said:
“The Golden Bridle has reined us in to fight!”
Cali ‘Collision’ Dolomite said:
“The Golden Sword enforces all to our side!”
Ox the Younger said:
“But why do we stand and wait?”
His father, Ox the Elder, lifted a calming hand to the young warriors.
“Give the pagani a chance to explain…”
Bolstered by the sounds of warming up warbirds and muscle-chariots, more and more pilots dressed in shining battle-racing gear swarmed and jostled for position.
They too shouted calls for war.
“Heavy metal thunder! Hell-bent for leather!”
Hessia de la Transoxnia was pushed to the front of the crowds of anxious pilots, joined by her wing-girl Chassia St. Clare della Cruz, and the other two remaining members of the Bleeding Rode of Tejas; Excellsia Santa Oxianas and Ascensia Quetzl-cola. The Bleeding Rose of Tejas intimately knew all of the battle-racing pilots and had come with their own fighting contribution; an ally who would help in the larger strategy to defeat the military forces of Octopi Incorporated.
Her name was Genevieve Mont’dew, red-haired with green eyes, who came from the royal stock of the Neo-Cola Classicists, except for one important difference. She was a member of the sworn enemies of all Neo-Cola Classicists since the War of the Assassins; the rock-n-roll warriors led by the rogue prince: El Pepsi lo Magnifico!
She would lend her spear and shield today to the cause for the Empress Kir-sten’ya, because of two reasons: El Pepsi would delight in raiding the military supply lines of Octopi Incorporated and Genevieve had family relations to Hessia; they were kissing cousins.
Genevieve proclaimed the tactic that would unwittingly ally their archrival El Pepsi! against Octopi Incorporated.
“My Great Uncle will like nothing more than to spread chaos among the 8Fold Fucks!”
Hessia bowed in salute to her royal cousine.
“I only hope after the battle we do not find ourselves battling once again.”
Genevieve returned a bow to Hessia.
“Leave that to me, brave descendent of Daytonia!”
She darted off immediately, cheered by the pilots, auto-squires and tech-mechs of the Neo-Cola Classicists. Soon she would meet with the cycle-banditos of her ‘Great Uncle’ El Pepsi! in the Exoduster Desert and begin raiding the supply lines of Octopi Incorporated’s military forces. That was the first step in the plan that had been drawn up by the priest-generals of the Pagani Engineers; the next steps were being discussed now.
The veterans of the Battle of Santa’s Village were dominated by their own triumvirate of personalities; pagan soldiers who had survived the Crusader-state deathcamps and lived to fight for the liberation of their homelands. In the forefront was the priest-general Barnard Aldebaran, his head shaved to the scalp revealing mass scars from battle. He was joined by two other pagan compatriots; Lucian Altair, transvestite chaplain-trimegitus of the Engineeri, and Captain Fomalhaut, commander of the AirRaiders and priest-pilot of the spacelander, Montana.
They locked arms together and saluted the entire company of Pagani Engineers.
Barnard Aldebaran said:
“Never forgive, never forget!”
Lucian Altair said:
“It must be remembered, it must be said!”
Captain Fomalhaut said:
“But as the face of war is where we are…”
The pack-bonds of Pagani Engineers raised short-swords to the sky and exploded in a salute of unity.
“Our Barba will show the many faces of god!”
The throngs of pagan soldiers were packed tight with their new allies; the rock-n-roll warriors, the Neo-Cola Classicists. They pressed together into a jumbled mass and listened to the voice of the chief architect of the battle, which would begin in a few hours before sunrise.
Janus Southcross; the Barba of the pagani people of the Americas was the mouthpiece of the moment. As she had been trusted with the peace of her people, she had now been granted to see the way to war. There could be no separation between the two conditions humanity continuously found itself in; both were born from one another.
The night of burning torches, bright floodlights and blowing banners became silent. Weapons were put aside and whirling machines were turned off. For one second it became possible to believe that peace had won the day in the obliterated land of Kansas; then suddenly it was eclipsed by the call to battle.
The movements of war exploited the last shadows of night, as the dual lunar sky set below the cratered mountain ranges and action began.
The rumblings of Neo-Cola Classicist warbirds and muscle-chariots lifted off from the beach-caves of Jayhawker Beach. Their numbers were divided in half, with one specific group divided again. They each had squadron designations and flight-battle plans; the two smaller squadrons were affixed into five-clusters: three fast warbirds and two heavy muscle-chariots.
Excellsia Santa Oxianas led one squadron.
Cali ‘Collision’ Dolomite led the other.
They both came under the supreme command of Ox the Elder, and were supported by pagan ground-troops; two corps of Pagani Engineers commanded by priest-general Barnard Aldebaran. The pagan soldiers were transported by the larger muscle-chariots, and rode on their hoods and tops.
Under the last cover of darkness the first two squadrons separated and raced towards the north and southeast, where the encamped Corporate Regulators were holed up in high-points above the beaches, ready to begin their plans to pacify the Sea of Kansas.
They never had a chance.
The Corporate Regulators were expecting the arrival of the airship-corvettes that patrolled the Sea of Kansas, with the support of dirigible-gunboats newly lifted off from the 8Fold Scarab base near the Palace of Kir-sten’ya.
These lumbering beasts of the skies were the first to fall.
On the peaks of the crater wall of mountains that surrounded the Sea of Kansas an elite unit of Pagani Engineers were waiting. They were the AirRaiders, aerial commandos who flew aboard the spacelanders that raided low-Earth orbit and supported the pagan army ground attacks against the Crusader-states.
Their commander was Captain Fomalhaut, replete with flight goggles and red-n-black pressure suit. As he had led the AirRaider missions in the Montana, he now led the attack on the unsuspecting force of Incorporated airship-corvettes and dirigible-gunboats.
The AirRaiders flew from the peaks of the cratered mountains in total darkness before the first lights of dawn lit the sky. They used one-seat aeronef gliders with one-stage chemical propulsion armed to the teeth with nail-bombs. They brought a rain of fire onto the Incorporated flotilla and before the 8Fold Lords knew they were under attack, more than half of the airships and dirigibles were destroyed.
What portions of Incorporated airpower survived were scattered by the unseen attackers from the sky, until they could regroup and renew their belated mission to support the encamped Corporate Regulators, now alerted by the unforeseen attack on their covering airpower. Alarm gave way to danger as they found themselves under attack and rushed to battle positions supported by an army of ironclad-floats. They were hit immediately by the enrushing strike forces of Neo-Cola Classicists and Pagani Engineers.
The first rays of dawn began to break over Kansas. The gentle slopes became filled with phase-musket fire and laser-krieg. Mortar-clusters and radio-artillery lit the sky.
Battle had begun.
The squadron of Neo-Cola Classicist cavalry was led by the first wave warbirds. The following muscle-chariots had already deployed their passengers of pagan soldiers and supporting auto-squire infantry.
The Incorporated ironclad-floats spearheading the attack were their first targets.
The five-cluster attack groups of Neo-Cola Classicist cavalry made piecemeal of the ironclad-floats. The warbirds fired armor-piercing rounds from their front-mounted pulse cannons, which killed many of the Incorporated float-crews. What first-wave ironclad-floats survived were destroyed outright by the torpedo runs made by the larger muscle-chariots.
With the first wave of the Incorporated ironclad-floats killed by the first attack-run of the Neo-Cola Classicist cavalry it was up to the Pagani Engineers to take care of the rest.
Priest-general Barnard Aldebaran led his foot soldiers up the gentle slopes towards the Incorporated-held highpoints. The problem of little-or-no-groundcover had been solved by the destroyed ironclad-floats and the advancing Pagani Engineers took cover behind the burning wreckage. Float-kill units took tactical positions as the second-wave of ironclad-floats approached.
At close distance pagani plasma rifles were effective and cut through the ironclad-floats armor plating. The Incorporated second-wave began to stall and the Pagani Engineers and Classicist auto-squire infantry took advantage. They leapt out from behind the flaming wrecks and repulsed the ironclad-floats with cluster-mortars.
The foot soldier Corporate Regulators were now vulnerable without the support of their heavy firepower. Barnard Aldebaran gave the signal and the Pagani Engineers went on another infantry offensive. They fought close-order style with phase pistols firing and short-swords shining, while Classicist auto-squires fought beside them, and threw grenades and attacked with maser-pikes.
The slopes were filled with a killing melee and the Corporate Regulators began to fall back. The last of the ironclad-floats regrouped and attempted to make a stand, joined by the belated arrival of the surviving Incorporated airship-corvettes and dirigible-gunboats. The Incorporated firepower now surpassed the ground weaponry of the advancing Pagani Engineers, and the airships proceeded to launch mooring-anchors into the ground so they could fire their big guns.
Barnard Aldebaran realized what was going on; he could not allow the airships and dirigibles to bring their heavy weapons to bear. The Pagani Engineers had to attack while the Corporate Regulators were still vulnerable, and the only way to do that was to neutralize the last Incorporated airships. He made a call to the Neo-Cola Classicist cavalry swinging back to make another attack-run.
“Rock-n-rollers! When can you attack those airships?”
Ox the Elder responded through trans-band static.
“The warbirds need to slow down so the heavy chariots can release their torpedoes. You’re going to have to hang on, Engineer.”
Barnard Aldebaran scoffed loudly.
“So much for Neo-Cola Classicist speed!”
He rose from his position to address his pagan soldiers. Laser-krieg and phase-slugs burned by his scarred face. But he did not flinch, he did not look away; war was his element.
“Engineers! We got these technocentrist devils where we want them. Attack the ironclad-floats. Close order combat. That’ll nullify the airships. They won’t fire if we’re too close to their ironclad-floats….”
“Are we Engineers or not?!”
The fighting Pagani Engineers renewed the offensive and leaped and scrambled up the gentle slopes. They fired phase-pistols and plasma rifles against the Incorporated foot soldiers and massed against the closing ranks of spearheading ironclad-floats. The wreckage of the battle became a covering screen for them to penetrate the lines and form ordered waves of attack.
“Long live the Empress!!!”
They screamed banshee yells into the dawn and in the faces of their foes. It was the ancient battlecry of their Baal Lieutenant ancestors, ‘the Downpour.’ The Classicist auto-squires joined the attack with their maser-pikes swinging and firing. The allied army of pagans quickly overwhelmed the Incorporated foot soldiers, and closed the distance to the enrushing ironclad-floats.
Radio-artillery filled the air but the shots missed their marks and the cavalcade of pagan infantry took the advantage behind a covering screen of cluster-mortars. They swarmed over the ironclad-floats from all directions and attached sticky-bombs and field-disrupters on the their steel hulls. One by one ironclad-floats began to explode or overturn on their sides and tops. The stunned airships and gunboats were filled with indecision; they could not fire at the Pagani Engineers, now too close to their own forces.
The rapidly approaching Neo-Cola Classicist cavalry charge was completing their second attack run. Ox the Elder watched with great interest as the Pagani Engineers bravely dashed from one ironclad-float to the next and disabled them. Filled with admiration he ordered the warbirds from their attack-groups to accelerate ahead and join the fight to support the pagan soldiers.
Excellsia Santa Oxianas led the warbirds ahead with pulse cannons firing. They soon reached the infantry battle and parked in the thick of the fight. Flight-pilots leapt out of their drivers seats dressed in battle-armor ready for hand-to-hand combat.
Excellsia threw up the visor of her flight-helmet and shouted out words of encouragement.
“Remember your ancestors at Elvis Downs! Cut the 8Fold Fucks down!”
The Neo-Cola Classicist battle-pilots raced into the fray with broadswords flashing.
Defended by dress-armor and weld-shields, they slashed through the remaining Corporate Regulators. The Incorporated foot-soldiers, overwhelmed now by the combined Pagani Engineers and enlarged force of Neo-Cola Classicist warriors, began to flee back up the slopes littered with burning ironclad-floats, towards their highpoint encampments. The airship-corvettes and dirigible-gunboats desperately prepared to fire their big guns at the prevailing wave of pagan infantry.
It was then that Ox the Elder gave the order for the muscle-chariots to release their torpedoes. The steam-powered heavy projectiles lumbered off waist-high until they reached their critical juncture and raced skywards towards the lumbering airships and dirigibles in the air. The last vestige of Incorporated airpower was soon destroyed in great blasts of flaming hydrogen.
Pagani Engineers and Neo-Cola Classicists stormed the highpoint encampments and fought against the last desperate Corporate Regulators. As the final fighting Incorporated foot soldiers began to be outright defeated and began to surrender, an important message came over the trans-band to the signal-officers of the pagan infantry.
“Collision has taken the second highpoint! Collision has taken the second highpoint! The high-ground is ours---long live the Empress!!!”
A cheer went through the triumphant Pagani Engineers and Neo-Cola Classicists. Plasma rifles were shot into the air and golden broadswords were hoisted skyward. Pagani standards and Classicist banners flew over the highpoint and useless paper money bearing the picture of the Empress Kir-sten’ya were tossed onto the carnage-filled field of battle.
As the pale light of dawn crept over the crater wall of mountains the first part of the Battle of the Sea of Kansas was over.
From the isle of the Palace of Kir-sten’ya, the 8Fold Scarabs watched the defeat of the Corporate Regulators and the destruction of Incorporated airpower with great worry. They prepared for a counter-attack to reclaim the coastlines of the Sea of Kansas and sent word to the Incorporated Airfleet beyond the Exoduster Desert for reinforcements of air-dreadnoughts and attack-zeppelins.
No sooner did the new detachment of Incorporated airpower launch from their blimp-carriers then they found themselves under attack from a new foe; the Horde of the Neo-Cola Classicists, led by Assassia Santa Oxianas. A few well-executed sorties of torpedoes destroyed the majority of the air-dreadnoughts and attack-zeppelins. The Corporate Regulators in position around the Exoduster Desert fanned out to fight the Horde, but were bogged down by roving bands of motorcycle-riding bandits.
El Pepsi lo Magnifico! had joined the fray in his self-interest of spreading chaos.
The remainder of the day was filled with beleaguered Corporate Regulators retreating into the Exoduster Desert, while surviving air-dreadnoughts limping back to the blimp-carriers of the Incorporated Airfleet. That left the rivalry to continue between the Neo-Cola Classicists and El Pepsi lo Magnifico!, and the highways of antiquity of Middle America were filled with auto-warfare on a scale not seen since the height of the War of the Assassins.
Desperation now spread through Octopi Incorporated: the 8Fold Scarabs in the Palace of Kir-sten’ya were completely isolated without hope of land reinforcements. The technosophe-strategists decided on an all-or-nothing assault on John Brown’s Ferry, where there was a large corps of pagan soldiers, and quite possibly Pagani Engineers. The 8Fold Scarabs still had a few advantages, namely speed and weaponry. The opportunity to crush the rebellion on the beaches of the Sea of Kansas would not present itself so easily again.
As the shadows of dawn were the darkest the supercommandos of Octopi Incorporated launched their counter-attack thinking to themselves that they could not fail.
High above the isle that the Palace of Kir-sten’ya sat on, Louisa May Lee watched the departure of the 8Fold Scarabs from one of the awkward palace towers. She did something she had done once as a young girl, growing up in the religious hamlets of the Kingdom of Deseret.
It was something she had not done in along time.
She burned some incense.
Louisa May Lee, the spirited teenage minstrel of the Empress Kir-sten’ya was not alone in her thoughts turned to the heavens, once thought of as empty and only full of divine negligence. Janus Southcross had finished addressing the cosmos, her prayermat now furled up and her magical tokens put safely away. She waited with the second army of Pagani Engineers at John Brown’s Ferry, entrenched for battle with the expected 8Fold Scarabs.
While she was filled with dread and worry, she was also filled with hope. The lowercased age she had grown up in was about ready to be filled up with a new epoch. Where once the chorus of humanity had cried to empty heavens and lashed out at divine negligence, there had been the omen of the dual lunar skies with the principal object of inspiration, Ceres the Season Bringer.
Janus stood in the Pagani Engineer command post with two fellow planners of the strategy to save the ruling legitimacy of the Empress. Maps of the Sea of Kansas were unfurled on tables underneath a camouflage-netted tent where pagan soldiers had previously bent over them to study the plan of battle. But all attention was now focused on the beachhead in front of them, soon to be filled with the sights and sounds of war.
Janus was flanked on one side by Lucian Altair, the transvestite chaplain-trimegitus, and Geminia Ursa Minor, the former priest-general from the Battle of Santa’s Village, each making reports that the Pagani Engineers entrenched on the beach were ready for battle.
“All Engineer platoons, both frontline and reserves, are ready. The pilgrims are formed into a rifle wall ready to begin firing. AirRaiders have dug in with flak-cannons---they too are ready.”
Janus nodded, her eyes still fixed on the short beach of John Brown’s Ferry with it’s landing-docks sabotaged and deep water port mined. Her eyes were then fixed on the Northwestern Aqueduct, which casted a long shadow on the short beachhead. Her brown indigenous eyes then went to the dark peaks of the nearby cratered mountains, where the sun would rise shortly and from out of it would come the killing stroke.
Janus spoke to her companions-in-strategy.
“May the gods be with all us all…”
The each looked across the dark waters where a wall of mist was being kicked up and sounds broke out over the sea until visible clues joined them. When the wall of diffusion neared the beachhead, it was filled with recognizable objects.
Steel and plastic were dull in the early morning light as it poked out of the spray of water. Men with armor and weapons stood rigid to the sides of propelled craft as they skimmed over the sea. Tactical formations were tight from drills and practice as they invaded more of the horizon line.
This was more than a confrontation; this was an invasion.
But it was something else that the technocentrist supercommandos did not realize.
This was for the life and death of the world’s future.
Janus gave the orders.
“Blow the docks! Release the mines!”
Lucian spoke into her signal-phone and instantly, the sea docks of wood exploded with balls of fire and flying timber. Smoke obscured the beach and the waters of the sea rapidly lapped with the first tides of war. The noises of Incorporated invasion became louder until larger ones superceded them; more explosions ripping through the air with towering pillars of fire.
Janus gave the second orders.
“Blow the charges in the aqueduct!”
Lucian spoke into her signal-phone again and suddenly a great stream of fire and black smoke blew out of the mouth of the Northwestern Aqueduct, with ballistics of steel flying out of the explosion towards the beachhead.
The first-line of 8Fold Scarabs onboard transport-skiffs, dressed in battle-hornet armor and armed with phase-muskets, came out of the dissipating smoke, prepared to land on the beach, but the shrapnel fired out of the aqueduct cut them to pieces---and the first cries of death were heard on the beachhead.
Janus asked for more.
“Rifle lines fire!”
The beach was filled with discharging plasma-rifles; their great beams of superheated energy cutting across the field of sight and into the crowds of surviving 8Fold Scarabs. The pagan weaponry barrage found their marks and scored hits on countless enemy soldiers unable to gain a foothold on the beach, and repeatedly repulsed back into the surf of the sea.
But more Incorporated transport-skiffs arrived, filled with second wave supercommandos, as offshore sea-cannons fired balloon-artillery capsules into the sky to provide support for the next round of invaders.
“AirRaiders fire flak-cannons!”
Multiple positions around the command post boomed with fire, hurling explosive projectiles into the air, which made successive pops and opened up with streaming discharges of fiery shrapnel, littering the sky with smoke and fire as the balloon-artillery of Incorporated military were destroyed in droves.
But some of the air support of the 8Fold Scarabs escaped the fire of the flak-canons, and were able to get off their automated-cannon shots. The pagan soldier positions on the beachhead began to take heavy fire, as dirt and smoke exploded into the air after each explosion.
The ground around the Pagani Engineer command-tent rattled with the detonations from enemy air-artillery. Lucian and Geminia hunkered down as the tent began to shake, while Janus struggled to look out at the beachhead, as the second wave of technocentrist supercommandos disembarked off the transport-skiffs and stormed out of the sea. They fired their phase-muskets, with supporting rounds of laser-krieg covering their assault; their technocentrist weaponry had the edge, and the second wave 8Fold Scarabs slowly advanced up the beach.
Janus turned to Lucian and Geminia; the command post was rocked by more destruction from balloon-artillery and sprayed by rapid firing rounds of laser-krieg.
“Prepare to join the fray! Command the frontline Engineers to charge! The fighting word is ‘Take the initiative!’”
Janus was relieving the Pagani Engineers from a central command; there was nothing more she could do until the time was right.
It would only be a little longer.
Lucian spoke once more into her signal-phone and grabbed the communication-amplifier; Geminia holstered his vision-occulator and picked up a heavy torch-gun; Janus withdrew her phase-pistol and swortsword from her belt, abandoning the dilapidated command post for face-to-face battle.
The three commanding pagan soldiers charged into a scene of explosions, smoke and weapons fire, joined by other Pagani Engineer frontline troops popping out of hidden bunkers; the surge of one insurmountable infantry force, lead on by torch-gun discharges and automatic-phase fire.
While the AirRaider flak-cannons continued to attack the remaining Incorporated balloon-artillery, the rifle lines in the rear, made up of armed pilgrims, fired their plasma rifles at will against the advancing 8Fold Scarabs.
Then all at one the charging pagan soldiers let out a great banshee battlecry, ‘the Downpour,’ and pressed ahead under the withering attack, until their momentum collided with the line of technocentrist supercommandos and exploded with violence.
Janus rose above the thick of battle and cried loud into the melee.
“Never forgive! Never forget!”
Pagani Engineers threw aside larger weapons and drew the preferred instruments of close order combat. Phase pistols and short-swords met war-hornet armor and drew first blood. 8Fold Scarabs became mortal men who could be wounded and killed. Hand-to-hand battle quickly ensued and the Pagani Engineers dominated the surging crowds of combatants, halting the second wave of 8Fold Scarabs---but only momentarily.
A third wave of supercommandos arrived upon the sea filled with flotsam and jetsam of obliterated comrades. They disembarked quickly off of transport-skiffs and raced up the beach to counter the dominating tide of pagan soldiers. More balloon-artillery was fired up into the air and began self-inflating procedures to take up aerial positions, firing below with further destruction.
Janus had been expecting more reinforcements; her plan hinged upon their arrival. She called out to the Pagani Engineers around her, still engaged in their life-or-death struggle against the 8Fold Scarabs.
“Trimegituses! Give the signal for retreat!”
All at once the signal to pullback went through the fighting lines of pagan soldiers; combat halted and formed an organized withdrawal from the beachhead. They sprinted towards the foothills where the rifle lines of armed pilgrims were returning fire. The third wave of technocentrist supercommandos gave chase to the pagan soldier retreat, met by fighting rear-guard actions and the last remaining flak-cannons that could harass enemy progress.
Janus stopped dead in her tracks, joined by Lucian and Geminia.
“Tell Jonny to take Galaxious and Beetle to point. Get those soldiers to the bunkers! Reserve Engineer platoons should be ready to receive us! And tell Captain Fomalhaut to abandon the flak-cannons---the AirRaiders have done their job!”
The retreat continued unabated as the Pagani Engineers raced towards the first set of foothills where the bunkers were. The rifle lines of armed pilgrims gave away the first row of earthworks and constructs appearing in the distance. The streaming rays of superheated-energy from plasma-rifles and sporadic auto-phase fire showered out of them.
The Pagani Engineers ran across the flat causeway of hard-packed gravel that separated the beach from the abrupt incline of the foothills. It stretched both ways into the distance and curled around the irregular coastline of the inland-sea. The jagged peaks of the cratered mountains dominated the sky above it, casting long shadows in the last few minutes before the swollen red sun would rise above them.
Janus stopped for a second and grabbed a pulse-flare from her belt. She pulled the igniter-top off and hurled it at the ground, which immediately began to strobe rapidly with green and yellow colors, brightly visible to everyone around. She looked to the distant crater wall of taller mountains in the distance and saw a similar single point of strobing light on one of it’s peaks.
Her message had been received.
Janus rejoined her Pagani Engineers as they ascended the rocky incline of foothills and joined the rifle line of armed pilgrims. The hillsides were full of hastily constructed earthworks and bunkers built to withstand a heavy assault. All at once the pagan soldiers took up firing positions and returned a hail of weapons fire.
The 8Fold Scarabs continued their pursuit, until they were eventually halted on the flat causeway by the Pagani Engineer defensive entrenchments. The last of the supercommando reinforcements arrived from the sea, and brought with them the bigger weapons of mobile rail-guns and laser-krieg tripods. They began to blast away at the Pagani Engineer bunkers, the final concentrated assault of destroying the rebellion on the Sea of Kansas.
The pulse-flare Janus had set continued to strobe its signal.
Hessia de la Transoxnia had watched the entire battle unfold at John Brown’s Ferry from the top of the crater wall of mountains. She had seen the Pagani Engineers blow the sea docks and counter the first two waves of invading 8Fold Scarabs, until overwhelmed by the third and last wave of supercommando reinforcements. And she watched with great worry as the pagan soldiers retreated to the bunkers in the foothills near the beachhead, while their foes moved into a static position on the flat causeway, and concentrated heavy firepower on the pagan defense.
The last stage of the battle was set and Hessia would lead it.
She was with the other half of the Neo-Cola Classicist cavalry, warbirds and muscle-chariots fueled up and armed with weaponry. They had waited on one of the peaks of the crater wall, hidden by an electron grid-net from the prying eyes of Octopi Incorporated. When Janus had activated the pulse-flare they had begun their attack run with the rising sun at their backs.
Hessia looked out the plated-window of her Trans-Am Firebird at the other attack-groups in her squadron. Each warbird had on its wing another warbird to cover the following muscle-chariots, followed by one more warbird as rear-protection. They would not break their attack-runs until they had dropped their full arsenal of momentum-bombs and torpedoes; what foes were left would be crushed underwheel and driven into the sea.
The squadron now began to descend down the steep incline of foothills, their wheel-chains grabbing desperately for traction and their underbody-armor grounding occasionally with rocks and dips. Each warbird and muscle-chariot gleamed in the glare of the rising red sun and blinded the eye with their swift beauty and roaring strength. They held their formations as they made the last drop in elevation down the mountain towards the service road that would bring them to the rocky foothills and the gravel causeway below.
When they hit the service road with loud bumps and scrapes, Hessia had the urge to call out to her wing-girl Chassia St. Clare della Cruz on the trans-band. But radio silence could not be compromised at this point in their attack-run. She contented herself to think about all that had carried her to this juncture in her life, the battle to save the Empress Kir-sten’ya.
It mattered little that she had always thought as a little girl that fame was in her future; that was the legacy of her upbringing by two parents who had once been popular entertainers. Like the ancient steamers that had trudged the waters of her native Mississippi, she had always delighted in showboating and performing in general. But new ways of fate had carried her off in directions she had never dreamed of, bringing her back to the traditions of her ancestors.
Hessia’s newfound legacy, descended from heroes of the Commonrealm of Nations and the Battle of Elvis Downs, confirmed an innate brilliance, but it had been glimpsed briefly; first as a child in the City of the Sun, Cahokia, then a feared driver for the Southron State of Alabama, and finally, a popular outlaw of the Bleeding Rose of Tejas.
But now as she found herself leading the attack-run to finish off the last of the technocentrist occupation of the Sea of Kansas, she found her heart and her mind in the oddest place; strangely disconnected from the present event about to commence.
She thought about the person in her heart who she had never forgotten, who had touched her like no one ever had and made her feel for one brief moment like dropping all pretense of invincibility. That person had come into her life on the same night when the second moon Ceres had come into the heavens of the Earth, and had not vacated the sky since then.
Nor had the memory of that person left her heart.
For two long years she had relived the night of lovemaking on the Terraces of Trans-Mississippi. Even when the incendiary bombs of the Lone Star Empire had razed her home-city to the ground, the moments of passion had been untouched and unaltered by the effects of time and manmade events. She might have run from the side of her lover and had her mind ridden with uncontrollable thoughts of vulnerability, but she had come all the way to the Sea of Kansas only to find herself---back in love.
Hessia thought long and hard about the lover from her past she had been unable to escape from. She fretted because she almost could not remember the face of the rogue Knight of Moroni, his large black features almost lost to her mind’s eye. She had never seen him since their night of lovemaking and she wondered if she ever would again.
She murmured a song outloud, which she had not heard in a long time.
“I’d pay the price again.
Watch Rome burn twice-
I’d pay the price, again.
A familiar voice then chirped over the trans-band receiver in Hessia’s flight-helmet.
“Time enough for love later, darling.”
Hessia awoke from her daydreaming; she recognized the voice as her wing-gal Chassia, and barked back over the trans-band.
“Chas! Observe the radio silence! Or we’ll find both of our heads on poles, back in Alabama!”
Chassia St. Clare della Cruz, giggled loudly over the trans-band, which further aggravated Hessia. As she was about to reprimand Chassia again, another familiar voice broke over the trans-band.
“Heavens know where your mind has been captain, we’ve left the foothills and are on the causeway. Radio silence is long overdue.”
The speaker’s voice belonged to Ox the Younger, the commander of the muscle-chariots carrying their precious cargoes of torpedoes.
Hessia felt like the last bit of clouds of distraction had left her mind, showing the present location of her squadron, on the causeway heading directly for the massed technocentrist supercommandos at John Brown’s Ferry. She was admonished to discover that she had really been in deep thought and oblivious to her surroundings. Her Neo-Cola Classicist training was like second nature to her; she had unconsciously ejected her warbird’s wheel-chains and underbelly armor before landing on the causeway.
Now she had to put her mind back in the present and stay in the moment.
“Well, I’m glad I didn’t get my panties all wet!” Hessia laughed.
“Who say’s they’re not?” Chassia teased.
“Cut the chatter you two,” Ox snapped.
Hessia laughed and took control, rediscovering her reluctant role as ‘cavalry captain.’
“Okay, I think our head check is complete---now let’s check our weapons; attack squadron go through your electrical systems. Your ethanium charges should be cycled into the centrifuge, and running your weapons at full power-up. After that’s done, look at your petrol tanks---that’s what well be running on from now on end, until the attack run is over.”
The trans-band was silent as the pilots of the squadron began checking their onboard instruments. No news was good news and each pilot swerved a little to show that all systems were ‘Go.’ The unbroken attack run could now commence and nothing could stop it but human nerves or fiery death.
Hessia made another announcement over the trans-band.
“Vanilla, what can you see is going on at the Ferry?”
Nia Vanilla, the warbird pilot who was riding point for the squadron, reported in.
“All garrisons of the Scarabs are accounted for; they’ve made a landing at the Ferry and are engaged with the holed up Engineers…Hot damn, they’re really taking a beating!”
Hessia began to fret; she knew that the Pagani Engineers could not withstand the superior weaponry of the 8Fold Scarabs indefinitely. It would only be a matter of time before the supercommandos broke through and began to exact heavy losses on the trapped pagan soldiers. But that was the crux of the plan; getting the occupying 8Fold Scarabs to move all their garrisons from the Palace of Kir-sten’ya to the shore of the Sea of Kansas. That way they would be concerned with the destruction of the only visible rebellious threat, making them wide open to an unsuspecting counter-attack.
Hessia’s Cavalry had the responsibility to annihilate them.
“Boys and girls…” Hessia made her last address to the members of the squadron, “…Nothing fancy, no need for heroics---if you’re here now---you’re all ready the best of the best. So just hold your ranks and drive in steady. We’re only going to get one chance…”
“I’ll see you all in the Palace.”
“I’ll see you all in the Palace.”
The Neo-Cola Classicist warbird and muscle-chariot pilots let out yelps and whoops. They turned on their throttles to increase speed as burning petrol exhaust and gravel dust flared up behind them. The causeway began to bend around the sea one more time before it straightened out and the angry red sun cleared the serrated mountaintops behind them.
Hessia said one more thing outloud, but it was meant for no one in her squadron.
“This is for you, Catal….”
Meanwhile in a safer place high above the expectant final clash of combatants, Anacreon Oregenamen milled about the transported camps of unarmed pilgrims, made up of the elderly and children. They had come to this safe place out of fear of the bedlam that now raged across the mountains and beaches of the Sea of Kansas. For hours they had heard the steady booms of weapons, first from the north and southeast, then from the beachhead itself.
Anacreon had watched the contours of burning smoke drift from concentrated points where battle confrontations had been expected. The light of morning had brought with it the rise of the overhead artificial-borealis, but the trails of dark smoke had given the early moments a sense of great shame. A mood of foreboding gripped the hidden away camps of elderly and children as they saw the heavens filled with the wounds of war.
In the last darkest moments of the morning, Anacreon had walked the campgrounds with Shiloh MacKenzie. The ex-David had worried loudly about the safety of the Deserite freedslave/minstrel Louisa May Lee, and the delivery of his message for the Empress Kir-sten’ya.
“I hope cousine Kirsten is safe now---and Octopi Incorporated hasn’t arrested her…” Shiloh had openly fretted to Anacreon.
Now Shiloh was missing, gone from the side of Anacreon and somewhere where he could not be found. This had left Anacreon to ponder the Texian’s fate and whereabouts for a brief hour, until undertaken with his own thoughts, and what his own future held in the land of the ancestors. He began to wonder again if he had made the right decision; did his future really belong in the Palace of Kir-sten’ya, with it’s pagan sovereign of the same name, the mysterious woman of his dreams?
He would be asked to defend her, and maybe it would not be the same way as today’s fighters were showing their defense for her ruling legitimacy, but those days of standing up for her would come. It would be no time to let his own insecurities cost him a moment of confidence that what he was defending was right.
It had to be all the way or no way---there was no room for doubt.
But there was more to love than premature fatalism; a mere attraction between two people did not necessarily mean charging into the abyss with recklessness, and it did not mean risking ones pride in the name of romance.
Love had to be earned.
Anacreon’s mind rested a little easier, but he still was left to consider larger issues: his orphaned birth and enigmatic name. On the seas of the Pacific he had seen the answers to those questions bizarrely tied up into a larger conspiracy of superhuman-mutants beyond the Earth. He still had reasons to fear there might be questions he did not want answered, but he felt an interrelated solution arise in his head.
It told him the company of friends he had recently made on the shores of Kansas might help deal with the dark days of self-discovery to come.
Anacreon traveled through the camps of elderly and children, themselves like a miniature version of his travel through the Americas. He saw the hopes and dreams of an impoverished people, descended from greatness and now lowercased like the Earth and made to inhabit the backwaters. Their only surviving wealth was the culture that had finally made this land of wealth and opportunity into a home.
Anacreon almost shouted aloud, but instead said quietly.
“I want to be part of that. I want to share in my new home’s fate. I can run from the legacy of my ancestors no more.”
Anacreon soon came into contact with a kindred character from the beginning of his journey---with screaming monkeys throwing their own feces. They belonged to the man once known as Abraham Crux, until the moment of contact with a crashed astronaut from the spaceship Agamemnon, and the story of transformation into Abrax-zeez, the religious-cult leader of the Wolf-Who-Eats-the-Body-of-God.
The Monkey Messiah.
The old man with the wiry shape, wolfish-blue eyes, and matted gray hair screeched with laughter as he saw Anacreon; the stranger who had one been ‘the Last Sailor.’
“Well, stranger? Have you seen now what I was talking about? Has life been less cruel since you accepted fate and the imminent death at the end of every action we take?”
Anacreon laughed; happy to see the Monkey Messiah, even with his transported court of religious acolytes and screaming monkeys.
“No monkey man---life had been much crueler---and please tell your monkey’s to stop throwing their shit in my general direction. I want to look presentable when I meet the Empress.”
The Monkey Messiah screeched again.
“Then you have indeed seen how ‘the Wolf’ eats the ‘Body of God!’”
Anacreon closed the gap of monkey feces and adoring religious fanatics, to take the hand of Abrax-zeez in his own.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
The Monkey Messiah withdrew a bottle of unknown liquor from his burlap jacket and held it high in front of Anacreon.
“Come with me, lover and we’ll watch the end of the battle. We’ll toast the end of Octopi Incorporated, who rule our planet from high Earth orbit and watch our Empress with 8Fold eyes!”
Anacreon smiled and continued to clasp Abrax-zeez’s hand. His blue-gray eyes of Clare descent looked hard at the old man he had met in the Taigan mountain-city of Communitaria.
“I don’t know what we can see from here of the last part of the battle---but what the hell---I could use a drink and Kansas is pretty dry. Just leave the monkey’s behind, would you?”
The Monkey Messiah and Anacreon left behind the transported motley court and walked uphill, to a high plateau absent of pilgrims, except for a strange large bush that looked foreign and out of place. They stood next to the foliage and began to take deep swigs from the well of the liquor bottle. Silence gripped them as they watched the contrails of burning smoke arise in the sky, which every minute was lightened more with the alternating colored bands of dawn.
Suddenly a voice called from out of the bushes behind them.
“Who dares disturb my slumber?”
The Monkey Messiah was unfazed by the mysterious voice and grabbed the bottle of liquor from Anacreon’s hesitant hand. Anacreon turned quickly around and addressed the bushes.
“And which god are you?”
A trio of basso laughs erupted from the mysterious bush, which then parted with leaves shaking and twigs breaking. Out walked a large black man, dressed in purple and gold robes, a dagger-rifle and a large obsidian sword called a ‘machuahuitl.’ He threw down his black hood, revealing a kind face with a beautiful smile.
The Monkey Messiah turned from the newcomer and spoke to Anacreon.
“Anacreon Oregenamen, meet Catal Huyuk Jericiahs, from the Knighthood of Moroni.”
Catal Huyuk looked back at the Monkey Messiah and crossed his arms with playful consternation.
“And what pleasure do I owe your company, Abrax-zeez?”
The Monkey Messiah feigned a look of innocence.
“I’ve come to get plastered as the age of technocentrism draws to a close.”
Catal Huyuk showed his teeth and a seriousness not present before was bared. Anacreon now knew why the elders of Deseret feared their rogue brethren so much.
“You will not have to wait long. Scipio---Africanus---we have some turkeys to shoot.”
All at once the canopy of bushes dropped down section by section, until a machine of military hardware and two other men were revealed. Anacreon was not wholly familiar with the military weapon, which looked crude and bulky with no real apparent function. The two other men though were easier to make out, undoubtedly from the same knightly order as Catal Huyuk, dressed in purple and gold robes and hanging ‘machuahuitls.’ They were each busy with duties on the clumsy military hardware; analog instruments and crystal screens had their undivided attention.
The attendants to the unknown weapon each addressed their fellow-brethren, Catal Huyuk. Scipio, the smaller of the two, spoke first, then followed by Africanus.
“The birds have left high-earth orbit. One fighter group. All Antiochs. Heading straight this way,” Scipio said, and traded off with Africanus’ report.
“Getting some fuzz, but it’s all going to be automatic at showtime. They won’t be expecting our radar, so I can turn the field up all the way,” Africanus finished.
Catal Huyuk nodded and looked to the sky. The glare of the red sun shimmered harshly off the mountaintops and reacted to the morning of excited atoms in the artificial-borealis. He crossed his arms again as he watched the sky, filled with the smoke columns from the battle’s destruction, until he addressed his brethren again.
“Get those missiles warmed up then. We’ve only got one barrage to knock those Antiochs out when they come.”
Anacreon looked at the Monkey Messiah and then turned back to Catal Huyuk Jericiahs.
“Is the battle in jeopardy?”
Catal took his eyes from the harsh morning sky and answered his question.
“The Pagani Engineers and Neo-Cola Classicists are fighting against a foe who fears this might be the last battle that Octopi Incorporated may ever fight. They’ve called in an airstrike, just in case the 8Fold Scarabs are defeated---which all of us can fully expect.”
Anacreon was not sold.
“I know one of the Engineers down there, she’s Janus from the family of Southcross. She must know about this…”
Catal Huyuk shot a knowing glance at the Monkey Messiah, returned his attention to Anacreon and responded.
“I don’t think she counted on the desperation of Octopi Incorporated to retain power. They’ll do anything---even use atomic weapons. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to save your friend Southcross.”
The Monkey Messiah added his own and spoke.
“She only wants to make her father proud…”
Anacreon looked over the piece of military hardware that was behind Catal Huyuk, manned by his brethren Scipio and Africanus. Catal Huyuk noticed his attention and held out his hands.
“I like to think I’m an opportunist---I just hope it works.”
The Monkey Messiah jumped up and screeched.
“Me too! Or this bottle of liquor I saved is for naught!”
Anacreon thought about the expectant 8Fold Antiochs and their deadly load of nuclear bombs. He shuddered to think of the Sea of Kansas being filled with the same horrible images that he had seen destroy the ships of the 500 Strong. It would be an ironic prelude to the arrival of Octopi Incorporated’s offspring and successors: the Futuriens, the agents for even more terrible plots from beyond this world.
He grabbed the bottle of liquor from the Monkey Messiah and downed a large burning swallow. His role of a hero was diminished; on this day he would have to sit back and helplessly watch the last moments of the battle unfold. Strangely he almost felt relieved that he had no responsibility and no control over fate.
Anacreon addressed Catal Huyuk.
“Well, then I’ll drink for the two of us…” and he proceeded to get drunk.
First there was Science,
and it was ONE,
From it sprung an understanding of Nature.
And when Nature was opened up, it revealed something else,
the ultimate creation of Nature:
Science created Technology to harness knowledge,
Technology became TWO, the gateway of control.
It used an empirical language to show the mysteries:
Geology became THREE, the mechanics of the Earth,
and Ecology became FOUR, the workings of life upon the Earth.
Technology thus spawned Industry, to feed this knowledge-
Industry became FIVE, using Nature to feed Man.
But Science also showed something else:
‘Man is a psyche of flesh and mind…’
Thus, Technology aped the spirited rituals of society, which had always existed-
Technology decided to mock them,
And replace them…
Religion was recognized as SIX, the government of the soul,
Politics was recognized as SEVEN, the chorus of chaos and disorder,
Economics was recognized as EIGHT, crowning humanity with earthly delights.
When Technology recognized this, it ruled with Eight Numbers.
1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 are those numbers,
Eight Properties to rule Man,
8Fold powers to subjugate Nature,
Octopi Incorporated became the center,
Technocentrism became Life.
Technocentrist power lied in this mastery, and when it was brought to bear on a foe, the result was catastrophic. They preferred to let sheer destruction finish their foes, not by any genius for innovative creation, but the mastering of armed force. History had taught them to appreciate the scale of carnage, not seen since before the golden age. The origins of Octopi Incorporated were appropriate; they went back a thousand years to ancient experiments, and the lessons gleamed from the battles of atomization and universalism were part of their philosophical-worldview.
The destruction of all life was the same as mastery over it.
The Pagani Engineers were enduring that theory now, holed up in the earthwork-bunkers in the foothills near John Brown’s Ferry. The 8Fold Scarabs were bombarding the pagan soldiers with a wide array of weapons, from laser-krieg to mobile rail-guns. They were softening them up before making a frontal assault on their defenses.
The Pagani Engineer plan for the battle had ultimately worked; the military forces of Octopi Incorporated were laid out and assembled on the causeway, their attention solely focused on the target in front of them. They had no idea that reinforcements were racing their way, to wipe them out in one big pitched battle. The Pagani Engineers merely had to stay put and engage the 8Fold Scarabs for as long as it took.
But as minutes went by the blistering siege was beginning to take it’s toll.
The rifle line of armed pilgrims was no longer able to return fire; many of them had been wounded by the withering blitzes of laser-krieg. The Pagani Engineers hastily tried to fill the gaps and prevent the 8Fold Scarabs from advancing closer to the bunkers. They sprayed the field with sticky flames from torch-cannons, while cluster-mortars rained down in heavy volleys and shatter-grenades were tossed below.
These counter-measures only hold the invading supercommando lines briefly, and the pinned-down pagan soldiers felt the desperation of their situation. They had to contain the 8Fold Scarabs on the causeway and not allow them to move up into the foothills. Not just because the Pagani Engineers were outnumbered and their ammunition was being depleted, but because the whole success of the battle rested on the enemy staying on the causeway, where they would be decisively destroyed by the expected Neo-Cola Classicist cavalry charge.
The Pagani Engineers undertook actions to make sure the 8Fold Scarabs would not leave. Members from various pack-bonds began to volunteer for outflanking movements, led by Galaxious Sartonious and Lilly ‘Beetle’ Betelgeuse. They would leave the bunkers under heavy fire with pagan reserves, engage the supercommando positions and pin them down.
Other orders went out to Pagani Engineer pack-bonds in the field; the army that had taken the Corporate Regulator highpoints led by priest-general Barnard Aldebaran. They took positions above John Brown’s Ferry and began to pummel the 8Fold Scarabs with cluster-mortars and radio-bombs. The more drastic operations counted on vanguards of swift moving Neo-Cola Classicist warbirds, to return fire from areas closer to the causeway, hopefully making the supercommandos spread their lines to fight off the threats to their flanks.
More serious discussions continued to be held deep within the bunkers, rattled with ear-bleeding booms from top-ground explosions. Bobbling lights dangled from cracked beams of timber and eirie shadows careened off battle-toughened human faces. Messages from pack-bonds in the field went to signal-trimegituses and then to their priest-generals.
Janus Southcross was again in the planning room, after leading the frontline Pagani Engineers, with priest-general Geminia Ursa Minor, aided by her own trimegitus Jonny Serpens, joined by the transvestite Lucian Altair, and the commander of the AirRaiders, Captain Fomalhaut.
Desperate attacks were being planned against the 8Fold Scarabs and over the topside noise of war that shook the bunker room, they each began to shout out ideas.
Captain Fomalhaut, who had led the sneak-attacks against the Incorporated airship-corvettes and dirigible-gunboats, gnashed his teeth to renew the initiative against the attacking supercommandos. His buzz-cut red hair was speckled with dirt from the earthen bunker, his red-n-black pressure suit torn and burned in numerous places.
“Permission to lead the AirRaiders out of this tomb and attack the Incorporated rail-guns---they’ll breach the sides of out earthworks any minute! In will rush units of Scarabs and hollow this bunker out!”
Janus and Geminia were vehement in their disapproval.
“Denied, Captain!…” Geminia yelled over the blasts of rattling bombs, “…the Scarabs are waiting for us to try frontal breakouts. The rail-guns are more about intimidation. Let them breach our sides. Dare them to come inside. We’ll cut them down, face to face!”
“We must give Galaxious and Beetle time…” Janus added over the din of battle, “…if they can’t knock out those rail-guns then maybe Excellsia and Collision’s warbirds can. We need you and your AirRaiders when we make our big charge out of here…but only when Hessia arrives…”
Lucian leaned over and yelled in response.
“There’s been no word on Hessia’s progress; not from Aldebaran or from Ox the Elder. Can we wait any longer?”
“We have to; our reserves are for the cleanup. Hessia will be here, I promise!”
Just then Jonny Serpens threw the signal-phone from his ear and pumped a tattooed hand into the air. Everyone in the shaking bunker could feel a shift in mood; they believed that the-Many-Faces-of-God looked favorably over them.
And good news was on the way.
“You couldn’t be more in synch with the cosmos, sweet Barba! Message from Galaxious: ‘Hessia’s cavalry spotted. Kill them all, and let the gods sort them out!’”
Janus smiled; her brown indigenous eyes alit with renewed fervor.
“Jonny send a signal to every pack-bond: ‘Prepare for the final battle.’”
Geminia smiled at Janus, the soldier who had became ‘the Riflegirl’ now ‘the Barba’ of the pagani people; he had always been proud of his friend---but now she was loved like a sister. He took his worshipful eyes off Janus, and issued new orders to Captain Fomalhaut and Lucian Altair.
“Captain, you’ll get your chance to avenge the friends you had to bury on Luna. I want your AirRaiders to lead the sprint to capture any enemy equipment left behind, and turn it on them as they flee…Lucian, send a signal to Barnard’s army: ‘Begin the descent to the Ferry.’”
Captain Fomalhaut gave Geminia the old Baalist salute, and ran off into the shaking darkness of the collapsing bunker, while at he same time, Lucian nodded at Geminia’s command, and sent off a signal to Barnard Aldebaran and his corps of Pagani Engineers.
Janus turned to her two other compatriots, Geminia and Jonny, who she had met as a young pagan soldier during the fighting in Dead Moines. Since the pagan nations’ victory over the Crusader-state of Tripoli, the path they had all traveled together as soldier-monks had been long and arduous. Never had she ever thought it would come to one moment---this moment---which could decide the cause for freedom, which they held so dear.
She turned to address them.
“Did any of you ever think we would have a chance like today?”
Jonny nodded at Geminia, who answered for them both.
“Ever since we met you.”
The three Pagani Engineers made haste to leave the shaking room of the bunker, leaving Lucian in the gloom and doom with her communications amplifier.
“Wait for me…” Lucian said and jumped up to join them “…my blade would love to deal with the 8Fold Fucks---so indifferent to our people’s suffering!”
They ascended up a ladder through the earthworks, until they popped out a hole into another underground room, far larger and full of waiting Pagani Engineers. The wounded frontline shook troops were here, joined by the reservist company of pagan soldiers, hands at the ready with plasma-rifles and torch-guns. Their deadliest weapons were holstered at their sides and always ready, the sidearms of the ambidextrous Engineeri: the swortsword and phase-pistol.
They turned their weary eyes to their high priestess, Janus, and were filled with a new inspiration. Janus recognized their attention to her, and as she scanned the earthwork room, down rows of waiting Pagani Engineers, she thought of something to say. It came easy to her, easier then she would have thought it would be at a time like this.
She said to them what she most wanted to hear.
“The time for speeches is finished. The soldiers who enforce the laws that have persecuted our people are about to be smashed down by our new allies, the Neo-Cola Classicists. Are you ready to join them and send a message to the Crusader-states…”
Janus bucked the strap on her battle-helmet and grinned ferociously.
“Your protectors can protect you no more---we’re coming for you next!”
The grim room of pagan soldiers grinned with satisfaction, oblivious to the cacophony of blasting weapons from the Incorporated siege shaking the earthen-walls around them.
They cheered all at once.
“We welcome the chance!”
On cue the explosions from rail-guns and blitzing laser-krieg stopped and new distant sounds of battle joined the din from outside.
The Neo-Cola Classicists had arrived.
Janus forgot all about what she was doing and moved with such speed that she almost left everyone behind her. Yet the pagan soldiers kept pace and followed her up another ladder to the topside and the waiting outside world. Janus was the first out of the hole, where the air was thick with smoke and dust from battle. She was blinded by the rays of the new-day sun, crimson and swollen with rage, until she could orient herself and see what was going on.
Hessia’s Cavalry was attacking the 8Fold Scarabs; wave after wave of Neo-Cola Classicists flying headlong out of the glare of the sun, ruthlessly firing their weapons; shining specters of might and metal, thundering engines and swift arrows, shot out from the dawn and into the heart of the enemy.
The lumbering torpedoes from muscle-chariots were the first to hit their mark, completing their waist-level flights into the heavier units of technocentrist supercommandos grouped around rail-guns. A series of explosions went off all across the causeway, with metal debris and obliterated human remains all that remained. Warbird pulse-cannons supported the torpedo-runs, blistering laser-krieg tripods with a storm of armor-piercing rounds, which ignited smaller explosions of stored ammunition.
The muscle-chariots proceeded to slam headfirst into the confused of ranks of 8Fold Scarabs, forcing them to abandon their weapons and flee, until they were cut down from behind by catapulted momentum-grenades. The muscle-chariots then banked off and headed back down the direction they had come, while warbirds passed them, with pulse-cannons blazing and more rolling payloads of momentum grenades spreading destruction.
The 8Fold Scarabs stuck to their military training, attempting to make an organized stand against the onslaught, with weapons trained on the rock-n-roll attackers. But they were unsuccessful in returning fire; their enemies were too fast and quick, and when they were able to find a target banking off after an attack-run, they were assaulted by another wave of returning Neo-Cola Classicists, with fresh torpedoes and new rounds of pulse-cannon fire.
The supercommandos had been turned into isolated groups, wide open on the causeway, soon attacked by new enemies. The Pagani Engineer army led by Barnard Aldebaran fired radio-bombs from the highpoints they had taken earlier. Closer still were the special-breakout, outflanking units led Galaxious Sartonious and Lilly ‘Beetle’ Betelgeuse.
The vise was closing on the occupying army of the Palace of Kir-sten’ya.
One by one the defenseless groups of 8Fold Scarabs were being wiped out from every direction, until it became impossible to stay on the causeway.
They were faced with total annihilation.
The 8Fold Scarabs began a general retreat to the beachhead, where their transport-skiffs awaited to take them away. They left behind a littered staging area of abandoned heavy equipment of weapons and ammunition. As soon as they began to flee they were greeted immediately with new rounds of weapons fire from plasma rifles and automatic-phase guns, shot from the bunkers in the foothills.
Janus waited with the waiting army of Pagani Engineers, as the Neo-Cola Classicist warbirds and muscle-chariots banked around to attack the 8Fold Scarabs again. The first wave led by Hessia had completely turned around, pulse cannons firing dead ahead into the fray of retreating supercommandos. She was flanked on the side by Chassia and trailed by a convoy of muscle-chariots led by Ox the Younger. In the opposite direction was another swarm of warbirds and muscle-chariots led by Nia, heading straight towards Hessia’s attack-group.
Janus watched the precision maneuvers of the two attack groups speeding towards each other, separated by an endless stream of pulse-cannons firing armor-piercing ballistics. They approached the critical juncture, and banked away from each other, crushing their remaining foes beneath the power of gleaming armor and spiked wheels. The victorious warbirds and muscle-chariots left the field of supercommandoes in total disarray; they raced by each other, back down the causeway, their engines trailing off with thunder and great clouds of dust and smoke.
Janus turned behind her and addressed the army of pagan soldiers all around her. Her command went down the line until it became one insurmountable force.
“Long live the Empress Kir-sten’ya!!!”
From out of the bunkers and down the rocky foothills rushed the battle-hardened veterans of the long war to save the pagani people from extinction. Most of them could remember childhoods spent behind the laser-wire stockade of the deathcamps, raised in the forced-work environment beneath the bright glare of persecution. Now long years of war finally would pay off; today they would strike down the lords who had put their enemies in power.
The Pagani Engineers moved swiftly across the causeway, first dealing with the trapped supercommandos still mustering resistance, then following the larger group retreating to the beachhead. The 8Fold Scarabs in all their history of pacifying the Earth with overwhelming firepower had never faced fighters with so much desire to win decisively. In each case the verdict was the same as it had been before sunrise; the pagan soldiers came away with victory on the battlefield.
The last military forces of Octopi Incorporated were defeated one by one until all together, from the mass assault in the middle, outflanking forces that corralled them in, and their own weapons being turned on them. They found themselves facing total annihilation and the outcome was inevitable.
The survivors threw down their weapons and surrendered.
Surprisingly, they looked relieved.
The dual moons of Luna and Ceres rose over the Sea of Kansas and the artificial borealis joined the smoky clouds of battle. The bloated red sun began to illuminate all the lands still full of darkness and bring them into it’s sphere of influence. The unease that had begun in the morning was being chased away.
Janus walked across the beach pockmarked from battle, the staging area and final place of the battle to assert the ruling legitimacy of the Empress. The Pagani Engineer army crowded the battlefield, tending their wounded and carrying their equally important fallen comrades. They had also begun to herd the surviving 8Fold Scarabs into a holding area and make plans to secure the perimeter of the great artificial inland.
It was a sober sight; there was no celebration for today’s activities, only mourning, now joined by the rock-n-roll warriors of Hessia’s Cavalry. Warbirds and muscle-chariots lumbered back to the beach, their engines overdriven and buckling under great strain. They had come away from the fighting with few casualties, but they were not immune to the grieving for fallen pagan allies.
Hessia stepped out of her lead Trans-Am Firebird; joined by other pilots in battle-racing flightgear. They surveyed the littered beachfront and ruined waters where Incorporated transport-skiffs were useless wrecks and fallen balloon-artillery limped in the morning wind. Craters from bomb blasts were filled with the morass of heaped bodies and twisted metal.
No one said anything for along time, but instead let the sun’s rays warm them, as they milled about not quite knowing what to make of the end of the battle. They gravitated towards old comrades and new ones, until a meeting began to form. It grew around the epicenter of a mighty alliance in its infancy, made from the descendents of the golden age.
Janus, the Barba of the pagani people, was flanked by Geminia and Jonny, and trailed by the other members of her pack-bond, Galaxious and Beetle. They approached Hessia and her wing-girl Chassia, joined by the younger Ox and Nia. They looked for words to say to each other, but none came. Instead, they greeted one another with looks of fatigue and relief.
But that didn’t last long.
Lucian ran into their huddle with a look of caution.
“I just talked to Barnard---his trimegitus has picked up distinct signals coming this way.”
Janus stiffened with apprehension and asked:
“What kind of ‘distinct signals’?”
Lucian gave the dreaded answer.
Hessia realized the severity of moment.
Lucian nodded and the huddle of the great alliance started to worry.
“We’re sitting in the open…” Geminia said and surveyed the morning sky, “…we must head back for the bunkers.”
Lucian shook her head.
“Barnard says it’s worse---he’s getting a radiation signature.”
“They’re carrying atomic payloads.”
“The bunkers won’t save us.”
“We have to try something…” Hessia challenged, “…Ox can we outfit our remaining torpedoes to throw up flak?”
Ox looked grim.
“Possibly, but those won’t take out rocket-fighters.”
“I see what you’re getting at, Transoxnia…” Nia added, “…when they make their bombing runs.”
“We can throw up debris to blind them!”
“They’ll be on auto by then, and their targets in their site. Flak will do little good.”
“Unless…” Galaxious countered, “…they have other things to worry about before they make their approach.”
“Good thinking, partner…” Beetle joined, “…Barnard and his Engineers are about flight level up there in those mountains.”
Janus turned to Hessia, never had there been such a serious look in her brown indigenous eyes.
“Whatever muscle-chariots can make it, have them ready with torpedoes set to explode at…” and Janus gave Hessia exact numbers.
Hessia nodded, never had there been a more courageous look in her smiling Prussian eyes.
“Well to do---Chas, you know the drill.”
Chassia snapped to attention.
“First an auto-squire, always an auto-squire!”
Ox slapped a hand on the back of his captain, Hessia.
“It’s my show from then on, Hess; those torpedoes will hit their marks.”
The Neo-Cola Classicists ran from the huddle and back to their cars with serious work to do. Janus held the attention of her remaining compatriots and drew them in tighter.
“Okay… I want to use those Incorporated transport-skiffs to get our Engineers out of here.”
“Granted, whichever ones are operational, but where will they take our Engineers?”
“The Palace of Kir-sten’ya. It’s time to occupy it now, before Octopi can land more reinforcements. I want you to lead to lead them there, Geminia. It’s vital; today’s operations can’t be wasted. We’ve won a battle---but not the war.”
Geminia looked grim.
“Those Antiochs won’t let us do that, Janus.”
“I’ve thought of that. Get all the battle-hornet armor you can from the Scarabs and dress up our Engineers. We’ll try to trick Octopi…and Jonny?”
Jonny snapped to attention and Janus spoke.
“Jonny, can you rig up some kind of Eye-NC bandwidth to low-cast an Octopi distress signal?”
“You got it, sweet Barba. I can even throw in some dummy Tee-Vee Personalities. It might convince Octopi further.”
“Okay---Geminia and Jonny, you got work to. Get those transports up and running and take our pagani out of here…Galaxious and Beetle, I want you to go with them.”
“What about you, Janus. Don’t think we’re leaving you here! You’re the high-priestess of our people, your importance goes far beyond battle!”
“Someone has to supervise the torpedo runs and work with Barnard.”
Galaxious put a calming hand on the shoulder of Beetle.
“Our little ‘Riflegirl’ likes to walk the edge, between the worlds, Lilly.”
Janus gave her pack-bond brethren a deep look of love, which they returned with much apprehension before turning away to their duties, where much work awaited them.
Janus gave her pack-bond brethren a deep look of love, which they returned with much apprehension before turning away to their duties, where much work awaited them.
Janus was now left alone with Lucian.
“Lucian, get Barnard on the signal-line and tell him what we’re doing down here. Ask him to put up whatever auto-weapons he can. We want to give those Antiochs something else to think about. After that, he has to get his army to safe cover---Octopi is planning to use low-yield nukes on this beach.”
Lucian looked somber and channeled up her communications-amplifier. In seconds she was talking to Barnard and giving him instructions. Janus was alone again, and watched the hurried Neo-Cola Classicist’s arming their muscle-chariots to fire torpedoes. The Pagani Engineers were stripping the wounded and dead 8Fold Scarabs of their uniforms. In minutes they would be on board the last transport-skiffs and on their way to occupy the Palace of Kir-sten’ya.
Janus let the full splendor of the sun warm her face and she rubbed a hand over tired muscles in her neck. She had not slept in days and fatigue was slowly taking it’s toll. Under duress she would have guessed that she would feel a little more nervous then she did now. Afterall, they were facing annihilation from atomic weapons in little more than a minute.
But something else told her they would be all right and today’s success would be wasted; the feeling baffled her and she wondered if she was not just delirious…
…but tuning in to something else.
Ever since Janus had been a scrawny, brown-haired child growing up on the banks of Lake Agassiz with her pagani people, she had been connected with other forces that sometimes made her feel detached from the world of the living.
She was feeling that way now, strange and ethereal and her vision became slow and dreamy. Things moved half their speed and she almost wanted to ask what all the fuss was about. Everything would be all right; the plan was unaltered, they could begin to celebrate.
Even if it was too late to do anything.
Janus watched the clouds part above her and out of the glittering artificial-borealis roared black machines. They were winged like scythes with backwards angles and racing flame. The flying objects began to approach the beachfront in curved formations twisting and turning, finding their bearings and heading towards their killing mark.
They were the 8Fold Antiochs, eight in number, with death on their wings.
Janus watched in slow motion as her comrades on the beach spotted the rocket-fighters and became petrified in terror. She turned to look at Hessia, and the Neo-Cola Classicist turned to look at Janus. In slow motion Hessia mouthed words that made Janus laugh when she understood them.
“Why are you smiling, you crazy pagani?” Hessia had asked.
Janus pointed at the sky, slow motion in her vision.
“Look!” she said and felt funny for doing so.
She could not explain why.
A volley of mysterious missiles had taken off from a distant mountain range and raced towards the eight-formation of Antiochs, coming at the rocket-fighters with great speed, and making up the distance until they were right on top of them.
The missiles hit their targets at different times and then exploded.
One. Two. Three and Four.
The remaining missiles kept following the fast rocket-fighters, which desperately banked off to escape them, tracking and trailing like hungry predators until they found their targets and exploded again.
The sixth and seventh Antiochs were destroyed, and one was left; it circled and raced away vainly. The last moments of the rocket-fighters life became a show for everyone on the beach and they silently watched the last act of the day. The final missile caught up with the fleeing target and slammed into it with a mighty explosion.
It became fast and real-time in Janus’ vision, the last hurrah of the day.
Celebration could begin.
Pagani Engineers and Neo-Cola Classicists leaped into each other’s arms. Relief had come belatedly, but it was sweet and savored. Comrades felt the beginnings of true friendship forged on the blasted shore of an artificial inland-sea. They would remember the faces and names of those who lived and died for a young American Empress named ‘Kirsten.’
Janus felt the strange wave of euphoria drift away and was almost sad to have it go. But she had new joy to replace it and be shared with friends. One of them now approached her, and it was Hessia, who strode with triumph and enthusiasm. Janus looked at her and shook her head in smiling disbelief. Hessia laughed with relief and let out a victorious yelp, which won out over the cheering of compatriots all around.
“What was that?” Hessia asked, but knew that even the wisdom of her pagan friend could not answer that.
“That…” Janus let out a sigh of relief and utter amazement, “…that, was the end of the Battle of the Sea of Kansas, my friend.”
Hessia ran both hands through her long bronzen hair and let out a great wind of tired satisfaction.
“My patience is gone. Do you have a smoke Shiloh MacKenzie?”
Jefferson Davis, the Sheriff of the Commandments, stood high above the Sea of Kansas and the scene of the victorious battle, fought in the name of the empress ‘Kirsten.’ He had taken his wide brimmed black cowboy hat off, and his slicked back hair was shiny black, his white teeth standing out against so much darkness; contained in his matching Neo-Antebellum black suit; darker still it was in his heart. A posse of Carthage Grays surrounded him, off a bit from his general location, having given him room to talk to his guest, but their weapons were still at attention, ready to deal death at any given moment.
Shiloh MacKenzie had his back to the aggressors who had found him again; there was no getting away from his own past, and sadly the fate he had resigned himself to.
But he asked himself; hadn’t it been me that found Jefferson?
So to continue the game that he was playing so well, which was the only advantage he had, Shiloh addressed the Sheriff of the Commandments who had once smashed an iron rod against his shins, splintering them into painful appendages that only the elixir of drugs could soothe.
Drugs, Shiloh thought, that I have yet to kick.
And as if on cue, Shiloh reached into his Marat tweed jacket and pulled out a vial. It contained the liquid form of a powerful absinthe, but not for very long; he eagerly began to chug it down.
Heroin, Shiloh dreamily thought, as the drugs began to kick in, and nirvana returned; it should be spelled ‘heroine’ in honor of Hessia and Janus, champions of the new day, the new world, the new era.
Oh yes…Shiloh remembered…What did Jefferson ask?
“I only smoke the Devils Weed, Sheriff…” he remembered, and then added, “…I’m the blackmark of the heart…on the human race.
Jefferson returned to Shiloh’s consciousness, his own private global consciousness, disrupted by the specter that was behind him, the ill vibe that returned him back from the high peaks of Heaven, into the awaiting all-consuming fires of Hell.
Jefferson scoffed, looking over his shoulder at his deputized Grays, who joined their employer in ridicule.
“Californian boy…” Jefferson condemned, “…as for this miserable place, I no longer feel any more of your ‘stupid romanticism.’ This place is dead to me. It’s hard to believe this was ever home. I’m going back to the Lonestar Empire. That is my home now. And Lord Thorogood is my rightful sovereign, not a wretched heretical witch! But mark my words: I will return, and when I do, it will be as your conqueror!”
Shiloh did not turn around, he just let the drug work it’s magic on him, until he remembered Anacreon’s story of the nights before, and said to the retreating Jefferson and Co.
“Fuckin’---we’ll see who jumps in the fire---and come out fuckin’ alive.”
Jefferson laughed last.
“My legions faithful unto death, I’ll summon to my court. And as you perish each of you---shall scream as you are sought!…”
“Either way, Shiloh MacKenzie…you’ll serve us in the end!”
Shiloh listened to the retreating sounds of Jefferson and his goons, laughing and cajoling with each other the whole time, until they were gone from sight and sound---but not from thoughts; Shiloh’s mellow was harshed, his high was ruined, a bad trip was on the way!
Jefferson had left Shiloh alone, but he was still in the company of his thoughts, which he could not escape: the penance of contemplating the curse of too much knowledge, yet the futileness of being able to do too little.
Shiloh had been absent from the battle by his own volition; there had never been a doubt in his mind who the victors would be. And while he fully respected the powers that had fought against Octopi Incorporated today, he knew that the technocentrist power-behind-the-throne was old and weak, and would easily be swept away.
There were other evils to replace it; today’s reprieve would be short, new days would be filled with newer monsters, for their ascension had been predestined, as had been the fate of the 8Fold Lords time to rule the Earth no more.
Shiloh had spent the battle alone, dwelling on the manner of things to come.
The story that Anacreon had told of the Futuriens, the technocentrist successors, was not completely new to him. His life spent in the intrigue of the Waterloo-court of the Godstate of Texas, seat of the Lone Star Empire, had gave him secret insights about tales of evil gone awry in the wastelands of the Earth, which had spread off world to other planets in the Solar System.
It was the dark legacy of all that the golden age had supposedly vanquished, but had only repressed for a millennial reprieve; the human genius to fully explore a mastery over nature.
While the Battle of the Sea of Kansas had raged Shiloh had counted those players who like him watched the battle with anxious eyes. Players he knew that had no real stake in the short-term outcome, but had long-term designs on staking their claim to power. In Texas long ago, before his defection from the Lone Star Empire, Shiloh had met such an individual who would do anything to rule the world.
His name was Justinian Thorogood, the warlord and dictator of the Godstate of Texas, who had seized power with a wanderlust for blood. And as the story had been told to Shiloh by the Duchess of TexArkana, who had helped him on his journey to the Sea of Kansas, Lord Thorogood had made a deal with the Futuriens; he would give them the Earth if they vacated the throne for him.
The only person in the way was the Empress Kir-sten’ya.
Shiloh knew there was not much time: the Notable Families had been alerted to the defeat of Octopi Incorporated military forces in the Sea of Kansas. They would not have consented to the legitimacy of Kir-sten’ya if not for the further news of the 8Fold Lords impotence, mainly coming from the threat of new technocentrist-successors, who had earlier rendered the Yamato State of Nippon insignificant.
Shiloh knew all this because of the secret Eye-NC bandwidth-amplifier he had carried with him; it was the most important thing he had took with him from the Godstate of Texas, and no one knew of it’s existence. It was vital that they were ignorant of it; the fact would give away that he knew much more then he admitted to knowing, and the ultimate dangers that lurked ahead for the all-important alliance growing around the Empress.
He looked at today’s Battle of the Sea of Kansas as the ‘first battle’ and knew that the next battle to come---and it would come---would be far, far worse.
Shiloh hoped to create a potent Imperial administration around the Empress that could counter the moves of her enemies. But more importantly, it was important for the Kir-sten’ya to surround herself with the art of spectacle and ritual. She needed to connect with the people of her lowercased-world in a way that inspired their souls and lifted their hearts. If need be, let her dress up in the trappings of nostalgia for the golden age and Brigda the Conscious, and if it served well to offer it, let her heal the wounded world like a great mother to humanity.
This would be her only weapon to rally the masses and save the Earth.
Shiloh was well served knowing that he had one advantage with the Empress, and that was his family relation to her. His family knew her by the name ‘Kirsten Satan Navarre’ and he knew enough to conclude that this was how she would choose to be addressed. She was still a serpent-initiate witch and the last of her kind; every decision she made would be from this savantist-background of experience, transformation and awareness.
Shiloh’s thoughts winded down like the last salvos of the Battle of the Sea of Kansas, and as soon as the guns of victory were silent, he ventured down to join the masses of pilgrims, who were celebrating their own victory: they could now sail across the artificial inland-sea, and enter the Palace of Kir-sten’ya.
Shiloh watched the joyous pilgrims use whatever material they could get their hands on, and within hours they turned the shorelines into boatyards. And it was then that irony complimented Shiloh, when he found a familiar face supervising the makeshift boatyards.
It was Anacreon, standing on the beach of John Brown’s Ferry, and when Shiloh approached him, he said:
“I see that the 500 Strong has risen again!”
The Last Sailor laughed with the ex-David.
“Hardly…these pilgrims look like they’re going to make a fleet that will dwarf my old number!”
Now Shiloh laughed, and swung an arm around Anacreon.
“And you’ll no sooner than later be their ‘new Agape Admiral!’”
Shiloh walked with Anacreon and marveled at the pilgrim’s labors, hundreds of makeshift crafts ready to cross the artificial sea. But there were other matters to attend to, and they decided it was time to join up with the young alliance of Pagani Engineers and Neo-Cola Classicists. With grim faces they soon did, a scene of wrecked weaponry of war and piled up corpses.
Shiloh and Anacreon were quickly sobered up.
From the sight of things, it appeared that the Pagani Engineers were prepared to board the captured Incorporated transport-skiffs, and travel as the vanguard to the Palace of Kir-sten’ya. But in the meantime the mighty alliance of the pagan soldiers and rock-n-roll warriors were crowded around Eye-NC Kine-sets, watching a session of the Congress of the Families, in the Windy City of the Emperors.
“What a hell of a time to be glued to the boob-tube!” Anacreon commented.
But Shiloh was quiet, he casted a suspicious eye on the assorted Kine-sets, and tried not to give away what he knew would come next.
The Eye-NC Kinecast showed all, all electronic eyes were focused on the address of the old, serpentine Viscount R.P. Luke, busy informing the assembled Notable Families of the situation that faced the Von Strauven Imperium and Incorporated Earth: a technocentrist-group of ‘Neo-Futurists’ was eclipsing Octopi Incorporated.
The Viscount assessed that it was in the Families best interests of their ruling feudal-sovereignty if they presented the ‘Neo-Futurists’ with their own choice for the emperorship, a regency with him as the prime minister, built around the existing sovereign.
There was no surprise when he said it would be the Empress Kir-sten’ya.
The only dissent to this regency was voiced by the Lone Star Empire, and with their assembled allies, they defiantly walked out of the Congress.
The vote was called and counted, and in minutes the Regency of Kir-sten’ya had been created to rule the Von Strauven Imperium, which sent the Kinecast-set watching audience of pagan soldiers and rock-n-roll warriors into joyous eruptions of new celebration.
Shiloh and Anacreon walked through the fighters of the pagan alliance---the unofficial army of the Regency of Kir-sten’ya---until they found their newest friends:
Janus and Hessia.
“Where the hell have you two boys been?!” Hessia reprimanded with very little seriousness; she was glad to see the both of them, “…and are you on drugs Mr. Rococo-N-Roll? If you are---give me some!”
Shiloh blushed and made up a mumbling excuse about not feeling well, while Janus and Anacreon shook hands, and then finally hugged.
“Soldier,” Anacreon said.
“Sailor,” Janus said, and then began to sniff Anacreon’s breath, “…have you been drinking? If so, this monk needs an excuse to be drunk.”
Anacreon looked away from her and at the bodies of the dead, covered with kabbalist blankets, blowing stiffly in the wind.
“I guess you all need to get a little screwed up,” he motioned and noticed.
Janus bowed, thinking that to be drunk or drugged could never compare to the extra-sensory sensation she had felt right before the end of the battle.
“There will be a memorial here…” Janus motioned to the beachhead filled with the dead and wounded, “…people of the free Earth will come here, to the spot where the Empress Kir-sten’ya was defended by her subjects.”
Shiloh gave another of his suspicious gazes; this one was for Janus, and he was almost afraid to think that someday these beaches would be tilled again, by plowshares beaten back into swords.
Hessia grabbed Janus by the arm and motioned to her own compatriot Neo-Cola Classicists, following the tradition of carrying the bodies of fallen warriors on the hoods of warbirds and muscle-chariots.
“My sisters and brothers are taking our dead back to Cibola, to be enshrined in the halls of the heroes! But I have the honor of staying here, to meet with the Empress.”
Shiloh muttered under his breath; he was not feeling particularly optimistic.
The reunited Four Saints exchanged more hugs and kisses with departing compatriots, for they had no time to waste; they soon boarded a transport-skiff with other victorious compatriots who had chosen to stay.
The watery journey to the Palace of Kir-sten’ya began.
And it was surreal.
No one on board believed that they were actually doing it. Each one of them had imagined the day many times, and what it would be like to travel across the dark waters to the isle of hardest rock that the Palace sat on. But reality was much stranger, and what no one had imagined.
It was uneventful.
So they waited in silence, basking in the day that had finally arrived.
The transport-skiffs of Pagani Engineers and Neo-Cola Classicists glided over the choppy dark waves of the Sea of Kansas. Luna and Ceres loomed overhead and added their own invisible influences on the water they reflected in. The artificial-borealis became denser with glittering fluorocarbons, marking the center of the great inland-sea.
Then all at once, the outside array of the Palace’s tallest towers slowly rose out of the horizon, joined by the semi-circle of awkward central spires, which radiated behind them like a crown, the trademark image of the Palace. The immense engineering effort that had created the Palace dwarfed the sight with a scale that was awestriking at a distance, but mind numbing when approached closer.
“What an ultra-baroque monstrosity…” Shiloh shook his head and fretted, “…what work I will have to do. But oh well, a misty castle waits for us, and we now have our queen.”
The transport-skiffs landed on vulcanized rock, where jagged boulders thrust out of the foam and spray, and formed the land that the hastily prefabricated city of castles sat upon. The awestruck visitors disembarked and walked onto a flat courtyard that stretched along the water-break, framed by Neo-Commonrealm railings and pillars that held canopies of billowing fabric.
The isle was completely empty, a place waiting to be filled up.
They pressed on to the looming Palace in front of them; the tallest outer-towers held low-altitude clouds in their points and long shadows from the descending afternoon sun were growing amongst the smaller plazas; intersected by rows of foliage and flowers, columns and pillars, and decks and patios.
When they walked from out of the last plaza hedgerows, they were dwarfed by a cityscape made from three-millennium of castle building. Every style was here, thrown together in a neo-quasi-pan conglomerate of parapet and terrace. Castles were built upon castles, each one ready to be filled up with miniature worlds, interconnected and inseparable from one another.
Dominating the skyline were the awkward central spires that radiated in a semi-circle arrangement, like a crown of thorns that stabbed the colored heavens. Below them, in the center of the castle of castles was a large gate, where above it was a long balcony with a thousand windows that mirrored the light of the day. It was only approachable by a long stairwell that rose in front of them.
With great anxiousness the first visitors to the Palace began to ascend.
Suddenly, rockets rained out from behind the awkward spires and exploded in the sky with pin-wheeling colors. The Pagani Engineers and Neo-Cola Classicists, halfway up the masonry stairwell, hunkered down for protection and withdrew their weapons, fearful of more battle. Just then a voice rung out from above and a figure appeared, leaning from the balcony above the closed palace gate.
“I’m sorry!!!” a young girls voice screamed, “I’m just trying to set the mood!!! Congratulations on your victory!!! The Empress will be out shortly to greet her protectors!!!”
The armed visitors slowly relaxed, put away their weapons and continued to ascend up the stairs. Shiloh was the first to speak after the long moments of silence since landing.
“I think that was Louisa May Lee. I’m glad she’s safe. She’s quite a character isn’t she?”
Janus was the next one to talk; her expression was sullen.
“I’ll show her…scaring us like that!” she growled, still upset that the missiles that had destroyed the 8Fold Antiochs had been fired by Knights of Moroni, a new wildcard in the affairs of the Regency.
Hessia, next to Janus, then spoke.
“Come on, she’s cute as a button, don’t you think, Anacreon?” she beamed, seemingly as light as a feather, no doubt basking in the glory from her victorious ride in the battle, and the presence of the Knights of Moroni, who had in their number her lover, Catal Huyuk Jericiahs.
Anacreon, next to Shiloh, agreed.
“She’s a devil…” and he glanced over at Janus, “…and an angel.”
Though Anacreon did not say anything about it, the Palace of Kir-sten’ya seemed very familiar to him, like he was walking through a dream.
Shiloh then responded, with his own bit of prescience.
“Something tells me there’s a little of both those things, here in this Palace.”
“A serpent-initiate witch does live here.”
“I feel right at home.”
“I wonder what our Empress feels more like today---‘Devil’ or ‘Angel.’”
“The Earth will soon find out…”
They continued to walk up the stairwell, their arrival preempted by more shooting fireworks, exploding high into the afternoon sky. Luna and Ceres, both waxing and waning simultaneously, were suspended between the awkward central spires. The shadows of afternoon were growing larger; the first day of the Regency of Kir-sten’ya was halfway over.
The visitors fanned out when they arrived at the top of the stairs and took up positions to greet the Empress. Janus and her Pagani Engineers flanked one side; Hessia and her Neo-Cola Classicists flanked the other. Shiloh stood in the middle, with Anacreon hanging back a bit. They were all varying pictures of nervousness, some more noticeable then others, each thinking about why they were here and what they would tell the Empress.
The tall palace gate began to open, with both sides slowly creaking open. Darkness held dominion on the other side of them; the first glimpse inside the Palace was of shadows. A shape bounded out of the darkness, a small human one that ran out with great fervor and energy, until it showed itself in the light of day.
It was Louisa May Lee and she had a song to play. She loudly strummed her 12-string classical guitar and shouted out the joyous chorus.
“Fat bottom girls you make the rockin’ world go round!”
Out of the darkness of the Palace walked the silent apparition of a deliberate young woman, with wide hips and a gentle manner. There was a practiced regality in her steps, but her Atlantean shoulders held up a more comfortable, natural grace. She was dressed in a long plastic yellow dress that reflected in the light, with a tall collar that held up a face refined with high-cheekbones, doe-like brown eyes and a shock of silver-gray hair. On her arms was an old man, who was clearly escorting her, but more or less was being held up by her strength.
She stopped to view her audience of protectors, heroes from the Battle of the Sea of Kansas, and whispered some soft words to her elderly companion, before turning to Louisa May and asking her to stop making ‘so much noise.’
Kirsten Satan Navarre addressed those who had saved her rule as the Empress Kir-sten’ya. All at once she was peculiar and interesting, with a voice that was fluttery, yet had a thoughtfulness for words.
“Yesterday, a lone Texian warplane flew over my Palace and wrote words in the sky. They said ‘Surrender Kir-sten’ya.’ I showed the pilot of the plane my ass. It is nice to look at all of you and see a similar spirit…”
“My enemies call my regency the ‘Heretical Interregnum’---well, I say to them, it is indeed. For I believe that heretics are given to us so that we might not remain in infancy. They question, there is discussion, and definitions are arrived at to make an organized faith…”
“I will not fail the faith you have shown for me.”
Kirsten walked to greet the only face she truly recognized; the face of a friend and family member. It was Shiloh and she embraced him for a long moment, where everyone clearly saw her doe-like eyes well up with tears. Shiloh said something to her in the diplomatic language they both understood from childhood, Acadian-French. They then separated, with the Empress keeping a lingering hand on her royal cousine.
Kirsten turned to face the first group of heroes, the Neo-Cola Classicists with Hessia in the foreground. The mass crowd of rock-n-roll warriors curtsied, basking in the glory that they were part of their return to prestige in the Imperium. There was no doubt that the Empress would ask them to be her royal guard, like their ancestors had done long ago for the Von Strauven Emperors. A grand revival was at hand for all of them, they had fulfilled the dreams of their warriors everywhere.
Shiloh watched the exchange between Hessia, the leader of the cavalry that had struck the victorious blow in the battle---not minding the mysterious missiles that had destroyed the 8Fold Antiochs. He knew that Hessia was well endowed with all the talents to be the Captain of the Guard for the Empress, notably heart and courage. But there was more at stake than appeasing Hessia’s desires, the tricky business of Neo-Cola Classicist hierarchy had to be maintained. It could not be compromised because of one moment, or it might be lost forever, and with it the support of the proud tribes and clans who ruled the highways of antiquity.
Shiloh was afraid that someday Hessia would be a victim of her own headstrong behavior and leave the Empress in her greatest hour of need, only to appease her wild emotions and a need for retaliation.
Kirsten walked way from the joyous crowds of Neo-Cola Classicists, towards the waiting companies of Pagani Engineers, with Janus in the forefront. They bowed towards the Empress, mindful of the power she had over the feudal imperium. They fully expected her to be an ally and accomplice to ending the persecution of their pagani people.
Shiloh watched the exchange between the Empress and Janus, the planner of the Battle of the Sea of Kansas. He knew that Janus had all the experience to become a high-ranking minister for the Empress, possibly the Sergeant-at-Arms. If that was accomplished it would fulfill one of the greatest wishes of the Pagani Engineers; they would have the ear of the ruling-sovereign of the Von Strauven Imperium and the potential to end the persecution of their pagani people by the Crusader-states. Shiloh was behind any future decree by the Empress that might begin the end of sanctioned extermination of a whole culture. But if she was to side with any military actions of the Pagani Engineers, it would open a Pandora’s Box, especially in light of their growing bellicose behavior.
Shiloh was afraid that someday Janus would convince the Empress to a battle that she could not win, and a war that would set the world on fire.
The Empress walked away from the venerate companies of Pagani Engineers and back to where Shiloh was standing. He thought again of all the things he would have to accomplish and mainly the first issue, dealing with the thousands of pilgrims now on their way here. Soon the Palace would be thronged with them, waiting to begin the promised ‘eternal human renaissance.’ His life in the Waterloo-court had inadvertently prepared him for this moment; to serve a rebel empress hated by his native home of Texas. It was not by accident that fate had dropped into his lap, he knew what it would take to save his cousin and Empress and the hardest part was still ahead.
Shiloh was afraid that he might not live to see that victorious day.
The Empress looked at Shiloh with happy doe-like eyes, and he looked all around him at her audience of new protectors. Who of them would share in the final moment of victory, if it ever came and when it did, which seemed so far in the future? He could not tell, no one could; the future dangers that awaited all of them were almost abstract. They were clear and present, yet no one knew how---or when---they would strike.
Shiloh noticed Kirsten Satan Navarre look behind him, at the mysterious stranger who he had not introduced. She acted like she had seen his face before, but could not tell from where. Shiloh turned around to see whom she was staring at, and when he did he became happy and sad, all at the same time.
Kirsten was looking at Anacreon, and when Shiloh saw the share a long look with one another, he realized the full gravity of the future to come, knowing that of all the duties everyone here would be asked to perform for the Empress, Anacreon would have the toughest.
Love can be the hardest task of all.
LAND OF THE ANCESTORS