Crossroads of Evil Part 3

Crossroads of Evil — King of Fighters Part 3

Miley Stewart observed the reaction to Laocorn and was confused. “Daddy, why are they booing him? Did he do something wrong?”

Robbie Ray had heard the stories of Laocorn Gaudemas, as much as the general public was allowed to know at any rate. He knew the man had some questionable dealings, and that his sister died as a result. And because of her death he became devoted to making the world a better place for all. “Yeah darlin,” he drawled. “He did do something wrong. But he’s trying to make up for it.”

“What did he do?” Jackson asked.

“Something that cost him his sister’s life.”

Jackson looked at Miley and wondered what would have happened if he lost his sister. Sure they fought at times, but he couldn’t imagine a world where Miley wasn’t there. Despite everything Jackson would have his sister’s back, just as he knew Miley would have his.

Miley looked down at the ring and found she admired Laocorn Gaudeamas. This was a person who had fallen from a great height and yet had found the strength to pick himself up and make the world a better place in memory of his sister. Someone who did good for the world, and persevered. The sort of person Miley hoped to become.

====

From her spot within the first class balcony section Kali looked down at Bruce and Cassandra walking to the ring. Their music was playing in the background and even though she did not know where it had come from and who sang it, she felt it was very appropriate for what was to come.

~Let the bodies hit the floor indeed.~ she thought and then laughed as she thought of the scene that would unfold soon.

====

At ringside Karone and Leo watched as Bruce and Cassandra made their way to the ring. They stopped short as they looked at the doorway waiting for their third man to arrive.

Then a gong was heard and a drum beat. The lights went out and two words were heard.

”Deadman walking.”

JR was stunned. He knew that music as he had heard it plenty of times before. It was the music played whenever the Undertaker made his way to the ring. But the Undertaker was not there, Mark Calloway had not entered the tournament. But the energy, the reaction of the crowd. It was almost the same.

Then the arena erupted in a plethora of sound and light as the music filled the arena. “Keep rollin, rollin, rollin, rollin. Rollin, rollin, rollin, rollin. Rollin, rollin, rollin, rollin. Rollin, rollin, rollin, rollin.”

====

In the Shadow Vortex, Shadow smiled as Kincaid rose out on his motorcycle to Limp Bizcuit’s tune.

“If you are going to use someone’s entrance music in another dimension, then go with the Undertaker’s” he said quietly, nodding in approvial.

====

In his Shadowbox Minion sensed the power of Jeff Kincaid. He sensed that this was a Ranger, but there was something different about him. His aura was wild, vengeful and reminded Minion of an untamed beast that bound in place only by the sheer power of Jeff Kincaid’s will. He could sense a connection to the Morphin Grid, but instead of sensing a totem animal, he felt some sort of supernatural force. And for the first time since his emergence, Minion felt reluctant to encounter this Ranger in person. It wasn’t fear — for Minion had faced an angry demon and been made fully aware of his own mortality. This was a deep rooted feeling that there was more to lose by encountering Jeff Kincaid then he could hope to gain.

~He’s a threat,~ Minion admitted after some soul searching. And in that moment he realised that his reluctance stemmed not from any fear of losing, but the lack of absolute certainty that he would triumph. He sat back and watched events unfold. Now was the time to see how much of a threat he was.

====

Team Destiny looked at Kincaid as he stood on the ramp gunning his engine. He rolled his bike down the ramp way towards the ring. He circled the ring with Team Destiny inside, like a man marking his territory. They were thrown by the dark entrance and were rocked by the explosive music that followed. Not to mention the ride to the ring.

”He’s trying to intimidate us lord.” Panni said. “He shall not succeed.”

”On that we agree Panni,” Laocorn said. “But he shall not be an easy person to beat. He is a man caught in a cycle of pain that drives him onwards.”

After Kincaid’s ride around he noticed two figures sitting at ringside. Two he was not expecting, nor expecting together. He stared at the two for a good minute and then roared his motorcycle engine looking to give the crowd a show before he turned away from Leo and Karone. It was time for business. His team had a fight to win.

====

The two Kincaid was staring at however, Karone and Leo, immediately felt nervous as if looking into a deep dark pit of darkness and fire.

“Is it just me… or is he staring at us?” Leo asked nervously. He glanced at Karone and noticed that she seemed to have shrank back and was huddling right beside him.

~By the Power and by Darkness… what is he? What is it that he is putting out! I’ve never felt anything like that!~ Karone gasped as she then admitted to herself. ~He scares me. HE scares ME? How is that possible just from a look?~

====

On the screen in the back room Alison, Cassie and Kat gathered to watch Kincaid fight.

“Kat, what do you know about this guy?” Alison asked.

”I saw him fight during the ID War.” Kat said. “He’s very hard edged; if he sees his opponent as doing something wrong he will…”

“…will what?” Cassie asked.

”Not hold back. When Harper killed Jessica and Katie, Kincaid threw him into a pit of fire below. Granted the monster brought it on himself, but Kincaid played for keeps.” Kat explained.

”Will he cut loose on Gaudeamas?” Cassie asked. Kat had no answer for that.

Kat, Alison and Cassie stared at the screen mesmerized by what was to come. It would not be for the weak of heart.

====

“Hey, you guys okay?” Cassidy asked. The Morhpin and Zeo Rangers had turned pale when Kincaid had emerged. “What’s wrong?”

Rocky shook his head. “Nothing, really. It’s just… we never expected Jeff Kincaid to be here. Never thought we’d see him again.”

“So you know him then,” Cassidy surmised.

“Yeah,” Adam said. “We’ve met him before.” It was difficult to decide whether Adam was pleased to see him or not. There were a range of emotions running across his face and it was clear that even though he wasn’t angry to see Kincaid, he wasn’t jumping for joy.

“He was there, the day Jessica was killed,” Tanya added.

Images flashed through Cassidy’s mind, recalling the information she had received from Jessica in a dream. She had always known that Jessica had been killed to teach somebody a lesson, but until now she had never been able to witness the whole memory. But this time there was more detail, secrets unlocked by a name. And as she saw Jessica’s death play out one more time she recognised the man that needed to be taught to know his place s Jeff Kincaid.

“It was Kincaid wasn’t it?” Cassidy said. “He was the one Jessie’s killer tried to humble.” The other Zeo and Morphin Rangers nodded solemnly. They didn’t blame Kincaid for her death. They couldn’t. To do so would mean they would need to hold themselves responsible for every death that occurred during a monster attack. Not that some, namely Tommy and Rocky were not already experts at blaming themselves. Cassidy however couldn’t help but stare at the young man on his motorbike. He was a mystery, an enigma. Had the Rangers even scratched the surface of the mysteries he held? She doubted it. And that made her determined to find out who he really was.

====

If Cassidy Bridges was curious, Minion was intrigued by Jeff Kincaid. He sensed that he was a Ranger of some kind. But not like any Ranger he knew. Certainly not Morphin, or Zeo, or any of the new Power signatures he was picking up in the arena. Some of them not realized yet. No, that wasn’t true. It wasn’t that Kincaid’s aura didn’t matched the established powers. It did. He was clearly drawing from the Morphin Grid. It was the nature of that power that seemed wrong.

Minion had a keen mind and was able to piece together information from only the smallest clues. But Kincaid’s power defied everything he knew about the Morphin Grid. The closest thing he could recall was the Evil Green Ranger. But even then the aura had not been so dark, so wild, so… dangerous. It a way it reminded him of how his aura had been when he had morphed using the Blue Power Coin. But though the power had felt equally wrong, it had not been as wild.

~Could Kincaid be using an evil power source?~ he wondered.

No, that didn’t didn’t make sense. Even if the device was evil, the power it was drawing from would be the same and Kincaid would still not possess that aura. It was almost as if he was deliberately drawing the power from the darkness. But as he watched, Minion could not believe that was the case. Such an act would drive the user to the brink of insanity, not to mention turning them dark. But he could tell that Kincaid was a Power Ranger, not just pretending to be a Power Ranger and that whatever he had done had driven him neither insane nor evil. He was just dark. Impossibly so. From what he knew of the searches Morphin Masters used to recruit Rangers, Jeff Kincaid would never have been considered under any circumstances. The Power should have rejected him, and yet it was clear that he was in control. It was almost amusing to picture some of the more zealous Morphin Masters and their reactions, but it was also a little frightening to realise he had no idea how to deal with such a foe. How could Kincaid be allied with the forces of good? How could the forces of good be allied with someone like Kincaid?

But as Minion thought about it he realized that there would be some that would want the forces of good to have someone like Kincaid in their ranks. Someone to do the ‘dirty work’ the ‘good guys’ could not do for one reason or another. Someone to spread spread confusion through the ranks of the dark armies.

~Someone that cannot be defined easily, leading to fear and speculation. And that fear would be passed down as stories told to children.~ Minion thought amusingly. ~Behave or the Night Man will come for you.~

And at that moment, Minion knew that was what Kincaid was. He was the basis of the monster one told their kids bedtime stories about. He had the look and the feel about him. But there was more. Deep inside Minion wondered if perhaps Jeff Kincaid didn’t just look and feel like the boogie man. Perhaps he was the boogie man.

~Yes, he is a threat, a REAL threat.~ he thought, realising that he although he knew next to nothing about him, Jeff Kincaid had somehow managed to scare him. ~I doubt he noticed me, so the effect is not deliberate. It’s something he can’t control… or can control but chooses not to.~

How could he deal with an enemy that he knew next to nothing about yet seemed to fear? He could explain the fear away as an effect of Kincaid’s aura, a bonus that helped to spread the fear that he somehow knew Jeff and his kind wielded so effectively. Power would not do it, nor arcane magic, nor even high science. It would take a very carefully laid out plan to defeat him. Fortunately planning was something that Minion was good at.

~Perhaps coming here was worth it,~ Minion thought, ~just in case there is a Jeff Kincaid I have not met yet. Finding a chink in the armour I can exploit would allow me to prepare.~ With a supreme effort he managed to drag his thoughts and eyes away from Kincaid, searching through the stands to the spot where Kincaid had been looking. There his attention was drawn to a blonde girl he found familiar and a boy that sat by her side. The girl’s face looked familiar and since it seemed Kincaid knew her he assumed she had some involvement with the Power Rangers.

“She is a special one,” a voice whispered. “One of Dark Specter’s chosen, a Princess of Evil.

Minion did not know who Dark Specter was but that didn’t bother him for too long as the voice continued, filling him in on the facts. Stories of a powerful villain that had compiled a list of girls from which to select his special heir. Girls with great potential. Girls of power. Of those candidates one had been chosen, and Minion knew that the girl in the seats was Dark Specter’s first choice to be his heir. But he also knew there were others who Dark Specter had chosen, or were rumoured to be chosen. He shook his head. It was all very well to know such things, but raised the question about how he knew? He had never heard of Dark Specter. As far as he knew there was no such being. And he was certain that if such a being existed then Mistress Repugna would have been seeking his services.

“And yet you can’t deny what you are hearing,” he thought… No, he hadn’t thought that. It was the voice, somehow interacting with his consciousness. “And there is so much more. Rumours of other chosen to act as replacements if needed. Girls that attained their evil standing through other means.”

He saw them. Somehow he could picture them in his mind. One through technology. One through magic. One through nurturing, and one through nature. Minion silently was amused at the idea that Dark Specter would find a Princess naturally born evil. Oh there were villains born all the time, but to be truly evil, truly powerful and to have the beauty that Dark Specter seemed to desire? It was possible, for the possibilities were endless, but highly improbable. As he studied her, Minion decided that in the end Dark Specter had decided to reject nature in favour of something else.

~Wait, there were five princesses,” Minion realised. ~The one that was chosen and the four that were to act as replacements. So if she is not evil by nature, nurture, magic or technology… what is she?”

“Can you not see? Are you that blind to the things around you?”

The voice was starting to annoy him. But as he thought about its words he realised there was another option: evil by choice.

~Of course!~ It made sense in a strange way — any of the other four could have been in her place, if they were offered a choice in the matter. But then why was she here, and not with her master? The answer came to him very quickly: ~She’s here to learn, just as I am.~ Yes, now he thought about it he realised that aside from those that had come to see the tournament just for the fighting, there were many that had turned up to learn the capabilities of those they would either fight or perhaps aid in combat.

Minion turned away from the Princess and decided to study her companion. Was he a servant, an ally of the Princess. Was he even Dark Specter himself disguised as a human in order to watch the tournament. No, he was just a human. A human with potential for certain, if the undeveloped link to the Power was an indication, but still human.

It made Minion think of the old time travel dilemma of the traveller thrown back in time and came across an infant that would grow up to kill millions. Would that traveller save those millions if that infant was killed before it became a threat? For a moment he wondered if he wasn’t being offered the same dilemma of whether to destroy those he sensed could become a threat in the future. Only this time it wasn’t a soon to be monster that Minion thought of killing, it was a potential Ranger. The longer he thought about it the more convinced he became that sooner or later the boy would wield unbelievable power, capable of cutting down some of evil’s greatest assets.

~But the trouble with such actions is that the act of aggression might be the trigger that turned them into the thing you wish to avoid,~ he realised. Besides there was also the question of why he was in the presence of an evil princess. Did he know what she was? Did she know what he had the potential to become? How could she not. His link was weak, but just his aura should have clued her in. ~Is he trying to corrupt him?~

The was a long pause as his thoughts seemed to blank. And then somehow he knew it was not her intentions he should be questioning. It was the boy who was corrupting the princess.

~How can this be?~ Minion wondered. ~How can he be turning her from evil and not even realise it? He’s not even a Ranger, yet he’s affecting her.

And then he happened to catch a glance at the princess’ aura. She too bore a connection to the Power. She also possessed the ability to become a Ranger, perhaps the same sort of Ranger as the boy she was with.

~Teammates?~ he wondered. As he looked closer he could sense what made her special and gave her the ability to truly choose. She had two auras! One was twisted and dark, and fading. The other seemed to be growing stronger, nurtured by the proximity to the boy.

More questions than answers. Minion was starting to hate the questions coming to his mind. He wondered if this reality wasn’t better off being done away with and to just be finished with it. For that matter maybe all realities should be done away with to spare himself the questions that overwhelmed him. And for a moment he found himself agreeing. But then the feeling was gone, leaving him to worry over the state of his mental health. He was aware enough to realise that events had damaged him. His mind was not as stable as it should have been. Could the thoughts of wiping out everything around him represent a deep seated desire to end his own existence? He wasn’t sure. But if whether it was some expression of self-loathing or not, he couldn’t help but consider it.

====

Mr Popplewick studied Karone with some degree of interest. It had been a long time since he had last seen her and he had to admit he was curious about the way she turned out. He looked up as he sensed Mr Chambers scrutinising him. It was an uncomfortable feeling since it seemed there was very little Mr Chambers could not discern with his gaze.

“There’s a story there,” Mr Chambers told him before pointing over to Karone and Leo, “With those two.”

“What kind of story?”

Mr. Chambers didn’t answer right away as he seemed to consider his answer. It was clear he knew exactly what he meant but perhaps was considering how much to disclose. “Let’s just say the girl who was chosen first is realizing her destiny… finally, and leave it at that for the time being.”

~So the girl was the first choice, just as I hoped. And now she is the Princess,.~ he thought. Then he frowned. ~What aren’t you telling me?~

If Mr Chambers sensed his companion’s unease however he showed no signs of helping. His mind was focussed on other matter as he carefully allowed thousands of alternatives to play out in his mind. Events were following the path he had foreseen, but things could change so quickly. There were enemies present and the arena was abuzz with emotion. All it would take was a chance meeting or a wrong word and events could spiral out of control. Shaping the destinies of so many without revealing his intentions was growing more and more difficult. He mentally prepared himself that before the tournament was over he might be forced to reveal a few of his less important secrets.

====

After revving the motorcycle’s engine a few more times, Kincaid parked the bike on its kickstand and made his way to the ring. He had experience of entertaining a crowd and knew how to work the emotions in the air. He raised hi right arm in a biker salute and was pleased that the crowd reacted favourably. The more they riled the crowd up before the match, the better. And it helped send the message he wanted. He had shaken them with his initial appearance and proven that he could play nice. Now it was a matter of demonstrating why they should prefer the playful Kincaid to the scary fighter that lurked before the facade.

“Who were you staring at?” Cassandra asked.

“Leo Corbett and Karone,” Kincaid answered. “It looks like they’re here together.”

Bruce seemed taken aback by that. “Isn’t he supposed to be on Terra Venture? And isn’t she supposed to be the Princess of Evil? Or the Pink Galaxy Ranger?”

Kincaid shook his head. “Different reality, different point in time, and different people. That’s the problem with crossing over: you can never be sure the people you know are still the people you know.

“We are a little early in the timeline,” Cassandra agreed. “Terra Venture probably hasn’t been made public knowledge yet and Karone… I don’t know. I’m getting mixed feelings from her. I think things will run a little differently here.” She paused. “They already are actually.”

“Mixed. Like she’s somewhere between good and evil?” Kincaid asked.

Cassandra nodded.

Kincaid thought a moment about the Karone of his own world. She had been chosen to be Astronema unwillingly, but had been saved. She had later become Pink Galaxy when Kendrix Morgan was killed by Psycho Pink. However his Karone had never shaken the effects of the darkness despite her best efforts. Fighting the darkness of her past had proved to be a constant struggle and Kincaid brought her into the Night Rangers, hoping that darkness would be put to good use. Karone had accepted and had been a welcome addition to the Night Rangers ever since. But the Karone he had just seen was different. This one didn’t appear to be a good person struggling not to be evil or an evil person struggling to subdue the good hidden deep within. This Karone was unaffected by spells or powers or any outside influence. No this conflict was one of ideas and the deciding factor would be choice.

“Let’s think about this later. We’ve got a fight to win.” Kincaid said as he turned to face Team Destiny. In truth there was very little he could do and probably even less that he should do. Involving himself could be the catalyst that pushed her one way or the other, disrupting her choice. He knew that if Dana Mitchell had been with him she would have tried to influence the outcome. ~That said one of the Dana Mitchell’s we met would have just executed her to prevent the possibility of her becoming Astronema.~ But that was not his way. He was a guest in this reality and realised that he really didn’t have the right to make decisions for those that lived there.

Laocorn Gaudeamas, Panni Citrine and Lyla Topaz stood ready for battle. Lyla stepped forward indicating that she would fight first. Bruce stepped forward, indicating that he was ready to start for their team. And so with Lyla and Bruce assuming their positions, the battle started.

Bruce and Lyla moved around the ring, staring each other down. Both waited for the other to make the first move. Lyla felt her anticipation building while Bruce remained cool. He was a seasoned veteran when it came to fighting and knew that as they watched the clock tick, the tension would grow.

“FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!” the fans yelled, adding pressure on the two.

Lyla could feel her blood rise with the chant. Bruce was feeling the same thing although he was able to hide it better. Finally the adrenaline overcame her and Lyla threw the first punch, which Bruce dodged and responded with three punches to the solar plexus. He followed up with a wheel kick, knocking Lyla down on the ground.

Lyla looked up at Bruce and smirked. He looked calm, but she could see that he was just as eager to fight as she was.

”That’s how it’s gonna be huh?” Lyla asked. She smirked. “Cool by me.”

Then she attacked again with a series of Kung-Fu moves that Bruce dodged efficiently. Lyla felt her strength wearing out as she continued to throw punch after punch at her opponent. It didn’t take a genius to tell her that she was wasting her energy with all the moves that missed their target, or that by allowing her frustration to drive her onward she was wasting even more energy. It was also abundantly clear that Bruce knew that she would tire from the ferocious nature of her attack.

And then it was as if somebody had flicked a switch and Bruce changed from defence to attack. He launched a side kick followed by a series of rapid punches that moved so fast Lyla wasn’t sure she saw any of them. They were so fast that Lyla made the mistake of thinking the punches were some sort of ki attack. In reality they were just fast punches, but Lyla didn’t know that, which caused her to cut loose slightly with a small ki move of her own.

”FIRE KNUCKLE!” Lyla cried unleashing a minor energy attack on Bruce. Bruce was able to dodge the incoming ball of fire and come back into the game with an upper cut knocking her back.

~Okay, she’s got funky kind of power, let’s change the rules a little.~

Bruce ran forward, ducking under a clothesline Lyla sought to throw. He turned around and ducked as he rolled forward before leaping into the air and crashing his entire body hard across Lyla’s chest in a perfect example of a Lou Thesz Press, all made more appealing by the gymnastic somersault he had thrown in for good measure. The impact was devastating as Bruce’s Rolling Thunder seemingly paid off.

The audience had started to get into the fight somewhat, and the chants for Bruce were causing Lyla’s adrenaline to rise. So lost in the rush of emotion and her body’s responses that when Bruce decided to do a finishing rush, Lyla cut loose with three successive flame bursts that would have pulverized a normal man.

”HELLFIRE!” Lyla shouted as three bolts shot forward.

The shots connected and a normal person would have gone down. But even the weakest entrant in the tournament could not be described a a normal person and Bruce was far from the weakest. So despite the fact he was hurt, it was not too surprising to see that he was still standing… barely.

Sensing the opportunity, Lyla decided to finish him off.

”FIRE BLAST!” She bellowed, firing a bolt to finish Bruce off. The burst of flame hit Bruce knocking him back out of the tournament ring and onto the ground below. He landed hard. So hard he did not get back up when the time expired.

It was a hard fought battle but Bruce was eliminated, although to his credit he did not go down easy and it was clear the victory had taken a lot out of Lyla as well, as her bar indicated that she did not have much left either. If the last attack had not taken him down, there was no guarantee she would have won.

And despite the win, her moment of triumph seemed hollow when Laocorn told her something he observed from Bruce… Her opponent had no ki ability. He was a good fighter, but he didn’t use any energy attacks. It was possible, ~No it was very likely~ Lyla thought, that her opponent had no ki ability whatsoever.

~And I had to resort to a ki attack to beat him~ she thought. ~Hardly a victory.~

But a win was a win and the fight had to continue. So Lyla just stood and waited for her next opponent. Seemingly the girl in green.

Cassandra was about to step into the the ring, but Kincaid grabbed her shoulder and shook his head no. Cassandra looked confused as to why Kincaid was holding her back until he said “I don’t want to tip our hand completely.”

Cassandra nodded as Kincaid’s words made sense. So she stepped back and allowed Kincaid to enter instead.

Bruce looked on from the corner as Kincaid and Lyla stared each other down. Both refused to be intimidated. It appeared that Kincaid was showing a little caution despite having the endurance advantage. Finally Lyla decided to break the stare down and held up her hand, challenging Kincaid to a test of strength. Kincaid looked at the outstretched hand and accepted the challenge. From his face it appeared he was slightly impressed.

After locking their hands together they started to mount some pressure. Considering that she had already battle Bruce and was smaller than him, Kincaid was surprised that she managed to hold her own so well. And then it seemed she gained the advantage as she started to push heat through her hands, using the extras pressure to bolster her strength. Kincaid’s eyes narrowed as he caught on to her plan. The heat would help to wear him down, making his body work harder. But two could play at that game and with a small smirk he tapped into his own primal force and brought the fire within him to the surface. The heat started to build and build, and soon Lyla felt herself being driven back.

~Oh man talk about power!~ Lyla thought as she tried to focus her heat energy into driving Kincaid down but Kincaid only seemed to get hotter. As the heat intensified Lyla was driven down to one knee as Kincaid continued to mount the pressure. Realizing that she could hold no more Lyla broke the grip and then twisted around to kick Kincaid in the head to give herself some room.

The kick connected but all it succeeded in doing was disorienting Kincaid for a few seconds. Fortunately Lyla only needed a few seconds to deliver a devastating side kick to Kincaid’s jaw knocking him back down. She stood waiting for his next move, wondering what trick Kincaid was going to pull next. Although so far she had been the one to dip into her bag of tricks and he had just reacted.

Kincaid however decided to go on the offence by wrapping his legs around Lyla’s chest, throwing her off balance and down to the floor hard. Kincaid was on top in a position ready to hit her with but he soon got back up and offered his hand to Lyla.

”What is this?” Heyman asked.

JR commented “Well it looks like we know one thing about Jeff Kincaid. He’s a gentleman if nothing else.”

Lyla took the offered hand and she was back on her feet. Both then took the fighting stances ready to fight again. Lyla waited for Kincaid to make the first move, he didn’t. So she decided she would. She launched a side kick towards Kincaid, which he dodged. He ducked down and delivered a wheel kick to the back of Lyla’s foot. Lyla hit the ground on her shoulders using her arms to cushion the fall. Kincaid nodded at Lyla’s skill. She seemed to know how to fall gracefully. Looking up he also noticed how it took some life out of her bar. If the indicators were accurate then she was practically running on empty.

Lyla then decided to try linking a series of punches with a few frontal and side kicks thrown in for good measure. Kincaid allowed several to connect, but blocked the last punch. He changed his posture to a more aggressive stance and launched a volley of his own. He landed a series of lefts and rights, knocking Lyla back, and followed up with an axe kick to the side of her head. Lyla fell, but got back up quickly.

~All right, let’s do the heavy artillery.~“FIRE BLAST!!!” Lyla shouted as a burst of flame shot out from her hand.

Kincaid however balled his own hand into a fist and let loose a fireball of his own, which upon impact decimated Lyla’s flame. The shockwave sending her back to the outside of the ring… hard.

When Lyla got back up she was staggering. She crawled back into the ring and met with a flaming clothesline the moment she stood. The move struck Lyla dead in the face. The fire was hot to the touch.

”As Joey Styles would say OH MY GOD!” Paul Heyman cried of Kincaid’s move. “He didn’t even call that out!”

Kincaid then decided to end the match picking Lyla up for a tiger bomb. Picking up her body she brought it down hard to the ground landing on the back of her shoulders. The wind sufficiently taken out of her sails. Lyla didn’t get back up. The referee counted and Lyla was done.

When Panni saw Lyla hit the ground, she didn’t even need to look at the damage bar in order to tell that she was out of it. She glanced at Laocorn who nodded his agreement and stepped in to face Kincaid. As she did so she took a moment to try to read Kincaid’s face. Cold and impassive, it told her nothing. She could tell he was strong although she had already guessed that from his first fight, but there was also a strength she had never known before. She doubted she could take him in a fist fight so she cut loose with her own attack.

“TSUNAMI DRAGON!”

As Panni called forth her power, she sent a monstrous water construct down on Kincaid with devastating force. She knew that this was a desperation move, but she had little choice is she wanted to take down Kincaid. However if she had expected it to work, she was in for a disappointment as Kincaid seemed to take the full force of the blow. Steam erupted from the area Kincaid was standing in.

“Oh man. It’s really getting hot.” Bruce said wiping the sweat that was forming on his head.

“And it’s only going to get hotter.” Cassandra added as Kincaid increased the heat further.

All too soon the water dragon had dissipated, leaving only Kincaid glowing slightly from the residual heat of his aura. And then aura seemed to erupt again, taking on the appearance of unnatural flame. Panni felt herself swallowing down a lump in her throat as Kincaid took several steps towards her. The icy stare in his eyes gave Panni cold shivers.

She had to try the Tsunami Dragon again. She waved her hands into the air as she prepared to call forth her monstrous construct. She only got as far as “TSUNAMI…” when Kincaid charged her with a running clothesline. The heat upon impact was scathing as Panni felt a burn on her upper chest. Quick to recover, Panni tried to regain the advantage in the fight but a kick to the stomach and a neck breaker took the wind out of Panni’s sails. She was staggering as Kincaid made ready to deliver a finishing blow.

He balled up his fist he and allowed the heat to form a red flame around it. He brought his fist up in a fast motion and clocked Panni with tremendous force, which sent her flying out of the ring and down onto the ringside floor near to Laocorn and Lyla. Panni had been eliminated from competition.

“Panni!” Laocorn exclaimed as he rushed to his love’s side.

Lyla also moved to her teammate’s side to see how she was. Both were oblivious to the referee checking on Panni and then the indicators before declaring her eliminated from the match. It appeared that Kincaid’s blow had been so unusual that the sensors were unable to calculate the damage it had caused.

“Panni! PANNI!” Laocorn shouted as if trying to will her to live. Kincaid stood by the ring watching as Lyla and Laocorn tended to their teammate.

Panni then opened her eyes and looked up at her love. “I am all right my lord. This was just par for the course in a King of Fighters tournament. Now go into battle Laocorn, our honour is at stake.”

Laocorn nodded and looked up at the ring. As he stepped in, Kincaid was dead in his sights, and Laocorn was allowing this battle to be very personal indeed. If Kincaid noticed he didn’t show it, if he was afraid he covered it well, for as Laocorn climbed in, the other man just waited patiently. The crowd was growing anxious, the clock was ticking away, someone had to win it.

Laocorn wondered what should try. There were several techniques that he had mastered over the years, which could be used, but he figured that nothing would be as satisfying as going full tilt against him. So he attacked with a series of rights and lefts, causing Kincaid to fight back. They held nothing back, each willing to beat the other into submission.

It seemed like it would be easier said than done as Kincaid seemed to withstand a lot of punishment, but Laocorn thought he saw a weakness in Kincaid’s defence as his solar plexus was left exposed. Laocorn called for one of his ki attacks, using his anger to feed the attack and grateful that it was an attack the relied on power, not control.

“HEAVEN’S FIST!” Laocorn bellowed.

The energy shot out, forcing Kincaid to draw back a punch. As he threw the punch with all his might, it connected with the energy, which seemed to dissipate in the wake of Kincaid’s fiery power. Laocorn looked wide eyed as he saw this.

”Impossible.”

Kincaid didn’t respond. He just stood and waited for the next strike. A glance at the clock told him they had a minute and a half left to finish things. That caused him to change his plans by delivering a fast side kick that came out of nowhere. Laocorn blocked the kick and countered with a leg sweep. When Kincaid got back up, Laocorn went on the attack with a series of rights and lefts, which Kincaid blocked. He responded up with some more rights, lefts and finally an uppercut that Laocorn barely dodged. The seconds ticked away. Laocorn and Kincaid were giving their all. Both turned to look at the screen. Their damage bars were neck and neck, they had used every trick they could think of to get as far as they had and there were only twenty seconds left on the clock.

”Time to end this,” Laocorn said. Energy built up in Laocorn and Kincaid knew this wasn’t a good thing. ”RAGE OF THE INFERNO!” Kincaid motioned to Bruce what was to come next. Bruce knew what Knicaid had in mind as he cupped his hands together forming a foot launch. Kincaid stepped onto the waiting hands and used it to jump high into the air, avoiding Laocorn’s attack.

The crowd fell silent as Kincaid seemed to fly over the blast. Even Laocorn was surprised until Kincaid manoeuvred his body so his legs were facing Laocorn. It was at the moment he realised what Kincaid had in mind that he also realised it was too late, as the full brunt of Kincaid’s drop kick connected.

And then the bell rang and the crowd seemed to come alive once more. Kincaid and Laocorn turned to look at the damage boards, knowing that the sensors would calculate the winner based on the damage they had recorded. It was a little like fencing in that regard, contact set off a sensor that recorded a hit that determined a winner. Kincaid was slightly ahead of Laocorn by a nudge, but it was enough for his team to win the match. “Here are your winners: Team Nightfighter!”

Bruce and Cassandra entered the ring and their hands were raised in victory alongside Kincaid. The song ‘Rollin’ hit the arena as the crowd looked on in awe and suspense. Some of them even applauding. Kincaid looked over at Laocorn, Panni and Lyla, and then walked over to them with his hand extended. Laocorn wondered what Kincaid meant by this gesture, then he remembered how he was a gentleman with Lyla.

“I’m sorry about your girlfriend.” Kincaid said. “It was in the heat of competition. No pun intended.” He then extended his hand out offering a symbol of trust and good sportsmanship.

Laocorn looked at Kincaid sceptically then after a moment took out his own hand as the two combatants shook hands as if they were complementing each other on a good match. Kincaid then raised Laocorn’s hand in victory as Cassandra raised Panni’s and Bruce raised Lyla’s. The audience roared in approval at the show of sportsmanship and respect of Gaudeamas and Team Destiny, who were considered KOF fixtures. Even the Rangers in the stands applauded at the show as the music played on.

There were a few however that didn’t applaud. Some on other fight teams that hoped they wouldn’t have to face Team Nightfighte and a few in the Shadowboxes themselves.

End of Part

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Crossroads of Evil

Crossroads of Evil — King of Fighters Part 1

Set during the Minion of Darkness storyline – Minion receives a strange invitation and sets foot on a journey that may change his destiny. The official Conquest of Evil/COE: Reckoning crossover!

Crossroads of Evil — King of the Fighters Part 2

The KOF Tournament as started and the forces of light and darkness are about to learn some valuable lessons.

Crossroads of Evil — King of Fighters Part 3

The KOF Tournament as started and the forces of light and darkness are about to learn some valuable lessons.

Crossroads of Evil — King of Fighters Part 4

The KOF Tournament as started and the forces of light and darkness are about to learn some valuable lessons.

Crossroads of Evil — King of Fighters Part 5

The KOF Tournament as started and the forces of light and darkness are about to learn some valuable lessons.

Crossroads of Evil — King of Fighters Part 6

The KOF Tournament as started and the forces of light and darkness are about to learn some valuable lessons.

Crossroads of Evil — King of Fighters Part 7

The KOF Tournament as started and the forces of light and darkness are about to learn some valuable lessons.

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Children of Chaos – Revival

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers, they belong to whoever currently owns the copyright. No profit is being made from this fan work. Ma’erok, the Warrior, Sorceress and Seer are based on Hellfire’s creations, used without permission. Mera and Karayan take their names from characters created by Cynthia Harrell and Ulteema takes his name from Ultima from Matt’s Samurai Rangers.

Children of Chaos – Revival

How do you build a prison to hold a god and if you could build such a thing where would you hide it? That was the question that Xanatox pondered as he observed the arrival of his master’s forces. It was clear to him now after many hours of contemplation that while Ma’erok’s body had been left on Terminus, his mind and soul had been imprisoned elsewhere. He had no idea how they had managed to strip the Chaos Bringer’s consciousness from his body; having been in the Dark One’s presence he could not imagine a scenario where they had successfully extracted his soul.

~Did they fear him so much that they would go to any length?~ he wondered.

He knew the answer already. Of course they would have done anything to put an end to the threat he posed. And since Xanatox could not imagine any way for them to destroy Ma’erok, the only explanation was that they had managed to find a way to make him less-than-whole. But how do you imprison a being who could bend the laws of nature and probability?

Beyond the boundaries of the Pragmia Void, change was on the horizon and that was a good thing. Xanatox relished change as long as it was uncontrolled. Uncontrolled change led to chaos, chaos led to destruction and destruction led to oblivion, the point from which everything could start anew. And since that was the goal of his god, Xanatox welcomed it. While the new Grand Monarch planned his domination of the United Alliance of Evil and worked to transform its membership into a force that would establish a new order throughout the universe, Xanatox worked to find ways to bring about collapse of all structure. He was an agent of the force that had led to the destruction of previous versions of the universe and just as some villains claimed to be servants of greater demons dedicated to their cause of plunging the Universe into an age of darkness, so he was completely devoted to Ma’erok and his goal of plunging all existence into eternal darkness.

He didn’t care about Good and Evil; to his mind they were tools to be used by the forces of Order and Chaos. And in the time he had been away it appeared that Order had firmly established itself as the driving force behind the conflict. If the so-called light emerged victorious they would have their rules, protections, voting and formal bodies. If evil triumphed then the universe would be dominated by dictators. Either way order would be established. And those few factions that were considered unlawful by those around them, they would be taught to obey the rules whether they wanted to or not. For Order was an oppressive force and Chaos was freedom.

There were of course many types of freedom. There was freedom from disease and persecution, freedom to speak and act without fear of persecution, and there was freedom to be. Xanatox saw himself as a messenger of freedom: freedom from the burdens of existence, freedom to simply fade away into the void.

When he had been released, he had sent out a message for comrades to return to Dark Star, knowing that only together would they be able to locate Ma’erok. It had taken time, but they had returned. The Sorceress, the Warrior and the Seer. There were others but only those three had been capable of answering his call. They had never wavered in their loyalty to their cause, even though that devotion had cost them.

They had chosen a lifeless planet for the meeting. The link that had been established between them allowed him to leave the void for a short time. He had a few hours at most before the temporary body created by the link started to breakdown. Once that started he had a limited time to return to the Pragmia Void, after which he had to wait before leaving again. So he was not in the mood for pleasantries.

“Chaos lives!,” he proclaimed, assuming the role of High Priest of Chaos. In the absence of Ma’erok, he served as his master’s voice, ensuring that his will continued to be carried out, his rules followed and his punishments handed down.

“Look to where the end became the beginning and nothing changed,” the Seer told him without prompting.

He knew what she meant. There had been an event shortly after or maybe even before his release that had led to the surge of interest in Pragmia. Cause and effect had broken down and time had twisted back on itself so that events had happened out of order.

“There is much to do,” he told the sisters when the others had left. “I must know what happened to those that once opposed us: the Meledon and those wretched Maltusians with their cursed paladins. I must know more than our guests have shared. Prepare the ritual,” he instructed, knowing that the sisters would interpret his command correctly. “We will find the answers and then the three of you will free our master.”

Whatever the reasons he was certain that Ma’erok would return and that when he did so, the Universe would be reformed according to his master’s vision. He was also aware that when that time came he would not be at his side.

End of Part **THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

The Children of Chaos – Harbringer of War

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers. They belong to whoever owns the copyright. I also do not own Ma’erok. His name is taken from a character created by Hell Fire in his series written back in the late 1990’s.
Author’s note: This storyline might seem to be going a little slow, but there is a good reason. I have seen many stories where an ancient evil has been released and picks up from where it left off. My intention with Xanatox and by extension Ma’erok is to have him unable to simply resume his mission due to unexpected obstacles. The practical reason is that this is a set up for a story that happens much later in Conquest of Evil. I’m just putting the pieces in place.

The Children of Chaos – Harbringer of War

~Return to us, Karayan,~ Xanatox thought as he stared through the Pragmia Void. ~Retake your place at our master’s feet or learn the price of treachery.~

She had always considered herself as the most important of Ma’erok’s disciples. Though Xanatox was highly revered as the Father of Destruction and acknowledged as Ma’erok’s most devoted servant, she refused to answer to his commands. The Warrior, the Sorceress and the Seer stood as Ma’erok’s advisers yet she had never heeded their words. And although Mera and Kierrok were his named vassals and given the right to speak in his name on all things, their words were ignored. Karayan considered them beneath her and had remained steadfast in her promise that she would only kneel to Ma’erok himself.

She was his War Bringer and High Herald, charged with carrying his message of destruction through the heavens in preparation for his forces. And despite her lack of respect for Ma’erok’s other favourites, they were unable to act against here because she had always been exceptionally good at her job. Unlike the siblings and indeed the sorceress that stood at Ma’erok’s side, Karayan lacked a high level of magical ability. Instead her power came from in two parts: the Crystal of Aeth and a mighty battle station known as the Star Killer.

The Star Killer lived up to its name, a weapon capable of turning stars into supernovas and planets into black holes. Like the Dark Star, the legends said that Ma’erok had crafted the Star Killer himself, charging it with his power. However while the Dark Star had been grown from the seeds of chaos and was as close to a living being as such a monstrosity could become, the Star Killer was just a very large machine. The Star Killer could not absorb the cosmic energy unleashed by the destruction of worlds, but it could transmit that power to the Dark Star.

Some described the huge ship as a planet eater, devouring whole worlds and draining them dry. To others Star Killer was just an ingenious way to carry the largest cannon ever designed. Either way its power was legendary and led to Karayan’s betrayal.

In the beginning she had shown the deceit and merciless devotion to his cause that her god prized in his most loyal servants. Governments were toppled by her twisted schemes, causing despair and suffering. And when her manipulations had raised the pain and anguish of a world to its peak, her Star Killer would appear; even those that proved resistant to the political manipulation she excelled at were blown away by the atom smashing firepower of the Star Killer.

Karayan had served loyally until the first world surrendered. Ma’erok’s most loyal followers would have ignored the surrender, but she did not and she had been thrust into the role of conqueror. It was a role she adjusted to and accepted, but in doing so she turned her back on her master’s will and lost his protection. That was something she would later regret.

====

Balletar: a planet within a distant galaxy beyond the reach of Earth’s observer. The planet had suffered in recent times. While was a world on the extreme boundary of three different warlords, all of whom proclaimed themselves descendents of Emperor Trannis. With multiple villains claiming the world, there was constant fighting between factions, and the poor natives were the ones who ultimately paid the price.

With three different governments in place, the planet was a very oppressive place. Slaves were forbidden to leave the cities where they served whichever faction had claimed them. The threat of seeing their loved ones destroyed was enough to ensure that the once proud population remained subdued, but of course given that they had to be loyal to three different dictators.

As it was, even if the citizens won their freedom, reconstruction efforts would take a long time. The invaders’ legacy was the greatly disrupted distribution of water over the planet’s surface, which despite the best efforts of the planet’s engineers, seemed irreversible. Some places that had once been shallow reefs were now eternally flooded and others that had once been bottomless lakes had become small streams. In some places there was dry land for the first time in centuries. It would have been a marvellous undertaking to map the new surface of Balletar, but such exploration was forbidden.

One such change had occurred on the remote side of Balletar in a place that had been deemed too treacherous for colonisation before the invasion. It was referred to as the Dead Land. It was the high levels of sodium and other heavy metals that made the area unpopular. Regardless, before the attack it had held one of the deepest lakes on the planet. Now for some strange reason it was barren wasteland.

Well, almost. In the centre of the miniature desert, in an area once deemed too dark to explore even with flashlights, there appeared to be a pool of water. It had been there for an eternity creating the chemicals that prevented Balletians from staying there too long. It’s still surface reflected the light like a giant mirror giving it an undeserved feeling of calm. But it wasn’t a body over water; it was a pool of accumulated darkness, purest evil prevented from dissipating by a barrier of light magic.

It marked a doorway to another dimension, a one-entity prison created generations before by a group who would have been the ancestors of the Morphin Masters, legends to the likes of Zordon of Eltare. It had taken their sacrifice to seal darkness within, but could not prevent some of the darkness from seeping through to poison the waters. A spell had prevented the site from being uncovered.

At the boundary of the desert, a small personal transport craft had landed. Inside was a warrior known only as Blade. He rose from the pilot seat and turned towards the cargo chamber that filled the gap between the cockpit and the ship’s engines. His passenger, a Tenga warrior, ruffled it’s feathers nervously and tried to unclip the netting that acted as safety restraints so that passengers and pilots wouldn’t be thrown from their seats in rough transit, it took several attempts until the sub-humanoid managed to get free.

Blade did not even bother to look back, he had no concern for how long it took the Tenga to release itself, that would only have mattered if it slowed him down in his mission. Blade looked over his reflection in the internal metal hull, he had planned this, lived for this moment for what seemed like eternity, manipulating events and people for centuries to get this far, and at this moment realised that he had overlooked one of the most subtle yet important factors; his appearance.

He sighed, condemned to the fact that he would probably be unrecognisable to his mistress after all this time. He reached for the top of his hood and pulled, feeling the weight and the closeness pull away, several times the small ringlets, sewn into his entire garb to add weight, caught skin and teased him with its cold strokes. He moved on to undo and remove the rest of his garb, as the clothing fell to the floor the clinking of the ringlets floated around the compartment.

Blade looked over himself, critically examining himself. ~This is not the body of a warrior,~ he thought, ~a soldier, maybe, but not a warrior and never a champion.~

His body was puckered with battle scars, and he reminded himself of how thin he was. Not that he wasn’t muscular anymore, but the muscles here were tight, not the bulk he had always possessed before. He missed that size and strength, though he admired the speed and agility he had gained.

His head still surprised him, where his long flowing hair had hung when he last knelt in the presence of his mistress it was now bald and decorated with even more scars, he couldn’t even remember what he was expecting in his face, hidden beneath his mask he hadn’t bothered reminding himself for too long.

The only thing that fell into place for him, the only thing in his whole being that made him know who he was the silver that often flashed in his eyes. The glow reminded him that his mistress had presented him to her lord and that He had gifted him with near immortality, though others would always defile this blessing as ‘the taint’. It was this taint that had managed to survive and had in turn assured his survival long after the enemy forces were gone to dust. This among many things affirmed his faith in the mistress. For while she served a greater being to him she was the greatest.

With purpose, Blade approached a small crate and released the lid, inside laid his traditional armour, untouched for so many millennia and yet the feeling of recent glories and battles surrounded it. The armour was comprised of little more than plates that fitted over the important areas of the body, the chest plate was sheer but had ridges giving the impression of an external rib-cage and the back-plate had a spine running down, though it protruded like a sharp fin, the bucklers and shin guards featured protruding short, curved blades that bent back towards the body. Blade attached the last accessories, a series of individual scabbards, to his armour and then approached his sword rack, without hesitation he withdrew a short curved dagger and placed it to his left side, before removing a heavy broadsword, the last gift from his mistress, from the rack and placed it in the scabbard on his back.

He turned to the Tenga in the cockpit and gestured for it to follow. The anxious creature did as it was told, perhaps gifted with foreknowledge of its fate.

The pool of water seemed to bubble as they reached it, as if issuing a warning that it may hide a hot spring within, but Blade knew his purpose and would not be tricked by this display, carefully he placed a finger in the pool and was unsurprised when they got no deeper than the fingernails, he withdrew his finger and watched as the semi-solid substance covering the barrier oozed off the end, plopping obscenely when it dropped back.

Beyond he knew his mistress was kept, waiting for this whole time, for the barrier to move, something she wouldn’t be able to do from the inside. Like all prison doors, it required someone on the outside to open it or in her case to protect against the summoning of an artificial minion, it required a verbal invitation for her to to step back into the real universe. As he looked in, he was almost certain he could feel his mistress staring at him, beckoning him to her.

The Tenga ruffled its feathers again, showing its nervousness. The action was beginning to wear on Blade’s nerves, he had to keep reminding himself that the creature served a higher purpose and that it would soon stop ruffling, permanently.

“Mistress,” Blade whispered, kneeling before the barrier, he was ready to sacrifice himself should that be required or even if she should desire him to do so “At last I have found you, at last I will release you.”

Blade’s eyes shifted to the Tenga as his hand gripped around the curved dagger, and in a swift movement his was on his feet and in a pirouette, the blade hooked out from his body. He finished his pirouette by descending gracefully to his knee once more, merely a blink before the Tenga was flat on the semi-solid surface of the pool, its blood running into the purity barrier, tainting it.

“My mistress,” he said, without lifting his eyes from the ground. “Please, step through.”

The effect was immediate. The Wall of Light expanded like a balloon, stretching outwards towards him. Blade remained in place, not afraid to sacrifice himself in return for his mistress’ freedom. The darkness seeped through the light, forming a skin that touched him and then faded away. Blade raised his head, as the last blurring effects of the wall left his vision, before him were two figures laid on the floor, one was the Tenga, the other was huddled tightly in a tattered cloak.

Blade stepped forward and with a gentleness that should not have belonged to him lifted the cloaked figure up in his arms, from within he felt stirring and heard the faintest whisper, a female voice asking “Who…are…you?”

He gently carried her back to his ship, not trusting himself to speak.

====

She stirred in the passenger seat of the shuttle, but still seemed to weak to do more than shift in position behind the netting. Blade looked over to her barely able to conceal his concern; he had realised long ago that while she was a natural leader, a skilled soldier, a master of strategy and possessed of an indomitable will, the power she seemed to radiate when addressing her forces was an illusion. If he didn’t know her at her best and witnessed her in her current condition, her realised that he would never have followed her. But he did remember and he was loyal to her and to the cause that she had revealed to him so long ago.

She stirred once again and this time she shot into awareness, unknowingly summoning the chaotic energies her master had infused her with so long ago. Her body was altered by the raw magic, shifting so that she resembled the woman she had once been. Her eyes opened, revealing themselves to be a deep fathomless black, and her head shot back in surprise, knocking back the hood of her cloak and letting long locks of coal black hair flow out over her shoulders and running down to the lower part of her back. Her sleek hair had a white stripe running down the middle that flowed in the curve the rest of her locks had taken. Not for the first time this day Blade noticed how pale she looked, a sign of the awesome fatigue that had overcome her.

She tried to arch her back, stretching out like an animal that had been curled up for too long, and was rewarded with more freedom she felt for the first time in… she didn’t know how long, even if it was restricted by the restraints of her chair, her eyes gazed out of the forward view port into the star field beyond. “Oh glorious night,” she whispered, her hands extending towards space until they met the netting where she stuck her fingers through the holes.

She tried concentrating on the flows and ebbs of the magical link that existed between her and His gifts, attempting to find the correct strands of energy that would accomplish what she needed. A ball of light appeared before her, and slowly faded. She whispered: “It obeys me still, after all this time, I am truly free.”

For a few minutes she remained motionless and silent, testing what her magical connections relayed to her. She stretched the currents, gently manipulating them with her will and frowned as she realised they were functioning correctly. “You…you rescued me?” she whispered, this time her attention directed towards Blade.

Beside her, Blade merely nodded “Yes, m’lady”

“Why?” She whispered, “What is your name?”

Blade thought about this for a while, in the duration the journey had taken already he had thought of nothing but what had happened before, of his failures and of his honour. “I have not the right to claim a calling, m’lady” he sighed, feeling the lowest he had ever felt. He had used his title since her imprisonment, but now it seemed to him that stating such a calling would be an insult to her after this time.

She recognised the form, in the recesses of her mind she could recall matters of protocol that was drilled into the traditional loyalists. “Then what is your kin name?”

Blade spoke quietly, almost as if he did not want to speak at all “Rassila, of the clan Feldah”

Her eyes widened, “Rassila o’ Feldah” she whispered, her tone picking up a harder edge “You have a name, Blade of the Chosen, why do you not claim this? Do you dishonour us?”

Blade spoke quickly, almost in a panic, “No m’lady, never!”

“Then, Blade, explain to me”

“I dishonoured myself in my failure to you, to stop the opposition. I failed to track you sooner, to free you” He paused and hung his head, the shame he was feeling was welling up fast “And have had to resort to mercenary work, even being forced to retreat in battle. I have brought misfortune to those that sought to aid me in finding you. Try as I might, nothing went as it was supposed to. It was as if…”

“As if luck had abandoned you and the laws that applied to everybody else changed whenever you were around?” She asked as a smile waved over her lips. “Had it been that easy to find me I would not have learnt my lesson. my proud Blade, my loyal servant, tell me…how did you fail me against the treacherous enemy, did you not fight in the battle and become responsible for delivering many a killing blow on their warriors? How could you claim failure when it was His power that led you on your quest?”

“His power m’lady?” his voice wavered.

“Yes, His power. Who else could place so many obstacles in your way. You were playing his game, following the path he laid out for you to lead you back to me, but only after he had granted me the time to realise my failing.”

“But he is gone m’lady, you said so.”

“And I was wrong Blade. I was arrogant and forgot that I am just another piece in His game.” She smiled. “But He lives, I felt him shortly before you arrived. For a long time he broke the connection between us, forcing me to suffer. And then he restored the connection and sent you to find me, knowing that when you dis so I would understand the error of my ways.”

“But I died, and they got through to you.”

“And yet, you are here, now,” she said. “How else would you survive if not by His manipulations?”

“By your gift, m’lady, the Rune blade Redemptionist’s Embrace that allowed me to possess the body of my killer after death, the opportunist who struck my back during battle,” he sighed, “I thought it apt punishment, that I should be placed in this weaker form as a reminder of my weakness. But the effect did not take place soon enough, I had to gradually degrade his mental barriers and overpower his presence, by that time the opposition had managed to abduct and imprison you, I had failed you”

She laughed. “And that proves it Blade, for that blade was given to me to be handed to my most trusted bodyguard. He knew that you would receive it and what would happen should you be slain while possessing it. Your quest was guaranteed to succeed, but only after I had learnt my lesson.”

“What lesson?” he asked, unable to help his curiosity.

“That I am His agent, acting on His behalf. That the gifts I was granted were for the purpose He devised not to bolster my own empire nor feed my ego, but to serve his purpose. Star Killer was built to destroy, to crush the order of creation. I used it to bring order. I will not make that mistake again. And you, my faithful Blade, shall be by my side.”

“I live to serve m’lady, always.” he paused, but the eyes of his mistress seemed to prompt he for more, choosing his words he continued “After you were taken, after I…recovered…from my death, I began to look for where they had imprisoned you, but they covered their tracks well. I was forced to become a mercenary, to perform tasks and to fight in others’ battles to gain information and resources, by the time I even got enough to know that the planet you were held on was a frozen ice world, the planet had already started to become a world mostly submerged beneath water and I could once again find no trace.”

“It was while I was forced into mercenary work, but only a matter of months ago, that I was on Onyx – the place is a hive of vile scum that have gathered like roaches to feed on each other – that I met with a creature from the world of Balletar. The creature claimed to work for some dark lord and that he held dominion over an area of this planet that the rest of the planets’ populace deemed cursed. There was something about the creature that I felt a kinship to even in this body and soon it became clear that he too had been touched by your gift. If this was the case, I concluded, then you must be imprisoned in that area. With this knowledge I strengthened my efforts, finding out from rumours about the magical barrier and means to disrupt it.”

Her smile grew larger as she heard the story, her servant’s devotion evident in his every word.

“If only I had been as loyal as you Blade, my precious servant. Even without my presence you never gave up until you found a way to free me, never protesting as He used you in his schemes.” She turned back into her chair “You are more deserving of your title than any before you; you must seek no forgiveness for what you consider transgressions for you did so for my glory and the betterment of our people. You exceed more than was expected of my entire forces, name your prize and it shall be yours.”

“I serve you mistress,” he answered. “No prize is necessary.”

She smiled, an expression that promised all manner of things, perhaps his heart’s desire if he had a heart. Then she handed him his sword.

“Then you shall join me in this campaign,” she stated. “And this time even the combined forces of the opposition will be unable to stop me.”

“The powers and structure of the opposition fell long ago,” Blade told her, his eyes returning to their normal state. “Those that remain have forgotten our ways and see the universe as good and evil. They overlook the power we represent and the great truth. The universe is a pale imitation of what it once was.”

“We fought,” she corrected him. “You were there, my vengeful blade, cutting my enemies aside.”

“I live to serve,” he told her.

“Then you will live a long time,” she promised. “At least until the time when all are gone.”

====

Pri’Athernia
Later

The planet Pri’Athernia combined the wonders of modern technology, the ancient skills of the heroes in popular folklore and a serious amount of magic. It was an artificial world, the restoration of it, a culmination of work by the other worlds in the sector. Even one of the three moons above the planet was artificial, but this fact was hidden to all but a few of the residents.

It had originally been intended as a haven, but then a creature named Karayan, the High Commander of the forces belonging to the Darkest had arrived. Following a battle only a few thousand beings remained on the planet. At one time they had been human, but adaptation to their new environment and the taint of His touch meant that some of them had evolved into creatures more suited for their chosen environment. But now the planet served as the central planet for a multi-planet civilization, living in a long-established harmony, each race on the planet dominated their own area, but all fiercely loyal to a single king.

“It is here,” Karayan whispered. She had sensed the object she was seeking as soon as the craft that had carried her between Balletar and this world passed into the solar system. “They left it alone,” she realised, “exactly where they placed it all those years ago.” She laughed, realising what this meant. “The fools; they don’t even realise what they protect!”

Blade turned and moved alongside his mistress, she gave him a simple nod and they started the long walk to the capital together.

====

“Home at last,” Karayan said, her role as the Darkest’s favoured commander forgotten for a moment as she indulged the sudden burst of contentment that flowed through her body. To be here, on the world that had once been the centre of the empire she had fashioned for herself helped to overcome the exhaustion she had been feeling since her release from that hole her captors had named a prison. Then she had believed it was her place to rule, but now she realised that it was actually her task to lead the conquered people’s of Pri’Athernia to their end.

They were on their way to the capital of this world, which following her disappearance had been reconstructed in the Masters’ idea of what a suitable world should be like. They had allowed the natives from three of the system’s other planets. They had stripped away most of the vestiges of her kingdom, transforming those that could not be removed into more acceptable buildings. But as they drew nearer she came to realise that the capital city of this world had been moved in an attempt to distance themselves from the past.

Her castle, the very centre point of her kingdom from which she ruled above all others had been partially destroyed. The central building as ancient as it was when she had used it, was protected by generations of magic. The outer parts though, the thousand acres of manicured grounds and high stone walls with imposing towers were gone, stripped away to hide the significance of the castle.

In its place they had created a piece of modern art; a bright and shiny metallic building with sleek surfaces and reflective windows. It presented a modern and sterile front that gave an additional air of efficiency and clashed openly with the life style of those who lived there. The grounds were controlled by technology rather than magic and were linked through a state-of-the-art communication system with all provinces of the planet.

As she stepped onto the grounds of her old castle, a small waved of energy passed through her. She smiled at the reassuring touch of His magic, still active after so long. The grounds recognised her even if they had been levelled. She reached out, touching the security spells with her mind, allowing them to bring forth memories that had yet to surface. She recalled how upon that throne she had felt like a queen, handing down laws to be introduced throughout her empire; as self-appointed judge and jury she had ruthlessly tried and convicted those guilty of breaching her laws. It had been a delusion, a sign that her dedication was lacking.

As the great conquering monarch she had ordered attacks on worlds that would extend her empire in an ever outward spiral, an empire that had included not only the space now shared among several factions, but many more besides. And as the gracious leader, she had patiently resigned herself to congratulating her commanders as they brought news of victory, spoils of battle and other tribute with which to worship her. She had not been a god back then, but like the other overlords she had come pretty close in the eyes of those who pledged their loyalty, be that pledge obtained willingly or forcibly.

And now look what had happened to her mighty empire. Gone! All traces conveniently hidden away from the populace. Her forces were no where to be seen; scattered or destroyed at the hands of the Masters. Those who had been connected to Him at the moment of His imprisonment had simply ceased to be. She herself had been weakened by His loss. Their bodies had remained frozen, but their minds and perhaps the very thing that had singled them out as living creatures had vanished. While she had endured, they had not; their bodies had broken down over time, first taking on a rubbery texture as her dark magic ravaged their bodies and then slowly falling to pieces over a few short years. Of those who had scattered, only Blade had been loyal enough to hunt her down. There may have been others who were still loyal but that would remain to be seen.

~I will need to build a new Army of Darkness and then seek Him out. If I survived, He did too.~ There was a pause. ~Perhaps he is already free.~

And her empire, the collection of worlds and solar systems she had carefully conquered in an outward expansion? Gone, the last few systems she had marked to become annexes of her power base didn’t even show traces of her influence. She would reclaim them and then she would sacrifice them to His glory as a sign of her renewed devotion.

And Star Killer, the mighty craft she had commanded long ago, what of that? The ship had been big, the size of a small polar moon and equipped with everything a would-be conqueror desired. In her time as it’s commander, it had been the ultimate symbol of authority, an avenging engine of doom that cut down all those who dared to stand against her.

~What could they have done with it?~ She wondered.

Nobody could control Star Killer without her say so, except perhaps her master and he had no reason to settle for a space station; she refused to acknowledge that as the Father of Destruction, Xanatox also had the means to do so. Attempting to move it would have been a fatal mistake. And to dismantle it, they would have needed a way through its interior defences first. Very little could have penetrated the vessel’s armour back then and the vessel was designed to function as a fortress with its bridge protected by a secondary wall. Now? That was another matter and she suspected that given the advancements in technology civilisation made as a whole, that by modern standards Star Killer was almost obsolete. But she didn’t believe the opposition had destroyed Star Killer. It was possible that they had tried to cripple it and put its weapons beyond use, but it was more likely they tried to mothball the massive space station. The question remained: where could they hide a craft the size of a small moon?

She frowned. ~They would not dare!~ It was an insult greater perhaps than turning her throne world into this mockery. She peered into the sky, sensing each of the world’s moons in turning, seeking the one that hid a deadly secret. ~There, the fourth moon!~ She could feel it; Star Killer was there in plain sight, but hidden from her by trickery.

“How dare they?” she snarled. “They dare to corrupt my Star Killer like this, to make it one of this world’s moons. Did they take me for a fool?”

“They underestimated you m’lady,” Blade offered. “But then, we already knew that. This was not an insult to your intelligence, they never believed you were capable of freeing yourself to see what they had done.”

“Yes,” she said after hearing the truth in his words. “They were too foolish to be insulting. Your insight is most welcome, Blade.”

“My craft is this way,” Blade said. “Perhaps we should go and examine this moon of yours.”

“Yessss,” she hissed excitedly. “It awaits me… Take me there Blade, I need to see it.”

====

Long Ago

Karayan was trapped, but they didn’t know how long the spells would hold. Their only hope was to destroy the Star Killer before she returned. A strike force was dispatched to land upon the mighty vessel and either take control or find a way to destroy it. They could do neither; Star Killer’s armour was so thick that they could hardly dent it and all attempts to breach the inner hull failed. With little choice left they settled for causing as much damage as possible to the few sections that were exposed.

They achieved very little in the end. They managed to damage the launch mechanisms for some of Star Killer’s weapons and destroyed three of the landing bays. While they could not strike at the computer core, the engines or the bridge, the managed to disrupt the power to some of the ship’s systems. They had even opened fire with their ship’s cannons inside the launch bay, but had only managed to cause a limited amount of structural damage.

As time passed and they realised Karayan was not about to return, they chose to hide the existence of the mighty vessel. A few spells created the illusion that the space station was just a moon. It was a deception that had kept many from seeking its power, but had never been intended to fool Karayan herself.

====

Star Killer, Docking Bay

The shuttle had docked easily, it’s passage secured by tractoring fields that had been awaiting use since Karayan had left. The docking bay was huge, both in width and height, the majority of the area was cloaked in darkness that bellied it’s true dimensions, from floor to rafter the air was still and silent save for the footsteps of the warrior, Blade. It had been shielded during the attempt to sabotage the vessel and so remained completely intact.

Blade looked around, his eyes adjusting to the gloom until he could make out the nearest data console, the sound of his footsteps on the metal floor carried a clinking noise through the air. The console was covered in grime and dust, so thick that Blade had to poke a finger through before he could shift it aside, finally reaching the glare of the screen beneath.

He tapped away at the symbols on the touch screen rapidly, the routines coming back to him as if he had been constantly doing them for the past millennia. Expectantly he looked up towards the low glow of the lighting systems, no change came; still the area was bathed in darkness.

He tried several more times using different commands and routes to try to raise the lights. All his attempts were unsuccessful. Finally he went into the command lines and found the reason. He sighed, vexed by what the system had revealed and moved back to the shuttle. Karayan sat on the shuttle’s ramp, her head hung low but her eyes ever-watching as her personal guard walked back to her. The effects of the crystal and her recent display of power had left her feeling physically drained again, yet she felt an exhilaration at being able to touch power of such magnitude after all the time trapped.

“The lights have been hard-coded to this level, m’lady” Blade whispered as he looked around edgily. “And I believe we may not be alone here.”

“We must move to my throne then” Karayan stated, pushing herself up off, “I must know what has become of my Star Killer.”

“M’lady, I can’t be certain that it would be a safe course of action” Blade warned.

“I appreciate the concern, Blade” Karayan said, her eyes locked in a steely resolve, “but the choice is not your to make. I want to go home”

====

The long-tailed creature was mostly humanoid in appearance, though because it was covered in dark purple-black fur, it looked more like a cat. It perched on the cold metal rafter and watched the events play out below. The intruders in its clans’ territory had left their shuttle and a helpless occupant to wander the darkness that was his home.

The creature looked down, blinking its sharp yellow eyes. A vicious smile crossed its lips and it hissed the word home several times before pouncing off its perch and darting between rafters into the gloom.

====

The corridor was as void of light as the docking bay, but Blade had switched on his pack lights and the beams illuminated enough of the way as to make him a little more comfortable with his surroundings. He had hoped to be able to travel directly to the throne room through the speed lifts, but all the lifts that offered access past the equator of the spheroid ship had been physically severed or burnt out by energy blasts, a scene of devastation that had unsettled him but that he chose not to bother Karayan with.

His new plan was to work gradually through the corridors, using sector lifts where possible, to reach the engineering section that marked the centre of the sphere, a long trek through an area he already anticipated to be hostile. He had managed to reach what had, in his time here previously, come to be know as ‘The Pen’, a holding area for several alien species that Karayan had enslaved and controlled, all to be stored in a matter-antimatter stasis.

“Through here m’lady” Blade said, as he pressed his shoulder against the door and laid his hands flat on the surface, he groaned and began to push the hulking door open, panting he said: “the inside is separately powered, miles high and the lifts will shorten our journey.”

“Very well” Karayan stated, gracefully squeezing past.

====

“Noble B’dga,” the cat-like stalker bowed deeply, he was surrounded by shadows but the features of older faces of his kind were visible to him, and now he addressed the Elder of the council.

“I watches the great hall of metal with my clan-family,” he began, “but today, following the world shaker, I sees strangers in my territory. Strangers not of wing nor fur, nor of shadow. Strangers what is like the Exalted.”

In the shadows he could see B’dga the Elder lean forward, interested.

“They talk of home and of the cities of our world, Ph’rone and N’gener’n,” his eyes darted around the room, more faces had come forward, every patriarch of the clan-families had gathered, “They heads now to the territory of noble clan-family M’lea, the city of the frozen death.”

B’dga laboured a breath and spoke, his voice resounding though soft, “Is this true, M’lea?”

The rich voice of the patriarch of M’lea, the most blessed of the families, replied “Scouts have confirmed their passage, my children are watching them.”

“Very well,” B’dga stated “I will go with my clan-family to see the Exalted, while the clan-family M’lea, and those they give right of visit track and capture these strangers.”

====

Despite ‘The Pen’ having it’s own power supply the room was dimly lit, a result, Blade discovered, of the lights being shattered and smashed. The only light came from the glow of the stasis pods.

The room was filled with metal columns that stretched from the ground to the ceiling, so high that there true length was hidden from view. Attached to the surface of the pillars were oval pods, filled with green light.

Peering into the pods Blade could see that, for some, stasis had held as beneath the green glow he could make out the features of alien creatures, pale and motionless, though otherwise healthy. Most were not so lucky, even though they shared the same glow many had suffered stasis degradation over the years, in some cases decaying and melting their features like oxidized rubber or, to the more extreme, the bodies had exploded and the residue floated in stasis.

====

The lift opened to a sterile white room, bathed in such light that it cause B’dga to shrink back. He could just make out the features of a tall, winged humanoid, “I come to speak with the Exalted, he whose words are law!”.

“The High One has no appointment, you bring no tithe,” the ‘angel’ observed, “what makes you think the high one would see anyone so lowly as your kind on a whim?”

“Spare me your righteousness,” B’dga hissed, “you lord over us, but we are the ones who keep you alive, who give life to our world, you merely live here.”

“And that is the point,” the ‘angel’ retorted, “my people do not have to slave, we are the blessed people”

“You will be the damned if we do not speak to the Exalted, damned by he who is the high one, for his prophesy comes and you keep me from him!”

B’dga barged forward, knocking the winged guard to his side and strode up to the doors of the Exalted’s chamber. The angel was not about to be shown up by one of the lesser creatures. After all, he was closer to human than the ‘cats’. He opened his mouth and let out a clearly inhuman screech, alerting his sisters to the danger.

They were more instinct driven than he was and flew in ready for combat, talons extended to rip the cat apart. But B’dga was ready for them, crouched with claws extended, it pounced at the first female, bringing her down in the same way its distant cousins would bring down a sparrow.

The other two swooped in, driving their talons into his shoulder and lifting him into the air. He was unceremoniously thrown into the closed doorway.

B’dga’s tail twitched angrily and he let out a feral growl before charging into combat. The angel’s returned their own battle cry and charged. Claws and talons were ready, the fight was joined.

“WHAT, IS THE MEANING OF THIS?”

The voice echoed in the chamber and all activity ceased as cat creature and bird people alike fell to their knees, showing the proper respect for the Exalted One. He was human, a fact that automatically made him one to be worshipped. For it was written in the prophecy the Exalted One guarded so diligently, the humans were the favoured ones, the birds were the guardians and the cats should labour.

“You may look upon me,” he said regally.

He was tall and pale skinned, an effect of living in the total absence of natural light. He had grey hair and a suitably long beard. He wore the robes his office demanded and a man of his station deserved: white robes with a matching coronet. In his hand he held a long staff and had the Sacred Book of Prophecy under his left arm.

“Now, what is the meaning of this?”

“Forgive us oh wondrous one,” the angel grovelled. “My sisters and I were trying to prevent this riffraff from disturbing your greatness.”

“I see,” the Exalted replied before turning to the cat creature that still didn’t dare not to look at him. “And you, what is your excuse?”

“Excuse please, B’dga brings news for Exalted. His prophecy has arrived.”

A look of amusement crossed the man’s face as he misinterpreted the cat’s comment. Of course, given that he was a fraud, he expected everyone else to be too. He had no understanding of the devotion both the angels and cats showed to the falsified religion.

“So you are the one of prophecy?” he asked, amused. He saw the angel stiffen, ready to kill for such blasphemy.

“No, not I,” B’dga answered. “She comes, now. We see her and come to tell Exalted.”

If it was possible, the Exalted grew paler at that revelation. His face wrinkled into a mixture of worry and anger. He composed himself quickly, unwilling to show any emotion the lesser races might misinterpret.

“Explain.”

“One of the clan-children who watches the great hall of metal,” he began, “today, sees strangers in his clan-family territory. Following the world shaker, these strangers come from…” he paused, as if troubled and then whispered conspiratorially, “the great beyondness. Strangers not of wing or fur, nor of shadow. Strangers what is like the Exalted. They is like in the Book of Prophecy.”

“Th-this is highly irregular,” the Exalted managed to say.

This was not supposed to happen under his administration, it had not happened under any of his predecessors’ control. His ancestors had written the book generations ago, predicting the return of the Great One, but he was certain that the great text was a fabrication to ensure the lesser races continued to labour once Star Killer had stilled.

Oh he knew what Star Killer was, all the higher humans knew. It was a space vessel that had become stranded generations before and over time its systems had degraded. His ancestor, claiming to be the servant of the Great One had written the prophecy to appease the other races; their belief in prophecy was in the Exalted’s opinion a means of control. His ancestor had written that the Great One would return with an escort to free them from their fate. He had used the prophecy at that time to ensure that the important tasks were undertaken, such as security details.

Over time the roles had developed, but the belief had remained. The humans now had very little to do since their responsibilities involved knowledge, skills and machinery that had eroded over the first few centuries. The Exalted, a title that once held real meaning was now just a title and mark of respect. The lesser races needed someone to command them, which he did frequently and in return they laboured for him. It was a good system, better than the one his ancestors had foreseen. He especially liked the status-quo.

And now after all this time, after eons of evolution, there was a disruption to the way things should be. He was furious that this had happened, that one messenger threatened the social structure his family had upheld for so long. And he was nervous, knowing that until recent times, the high humans had believed in the prophecy, had believed in the existence of the Great One.

“A mistake on your part no doubt. The shadows have a way of playing tricks especially when you have not rested properly.”

“It is her I saw,” B’dga insisted.

“Or it could well be someone who wishes to usurp our peoples.” The Exalted answered. He saw the look of anger on the cat’s face and suppressed rage on the angel’s grey face. He needed to find a way to appease them until he could prove it was a fake. “But as it is written, we must great this person for if they are the ones they alone will pass the test. Your races have toiled for generations to earn her return. Perhaps at long last your worship had paid off.”

“What we do now?” B’dga asked.

“Find them, bring them to me,” he said, planning how to expose this as a deception even if it was in reality the truth. “We will test those that claim to be the prophecy and when – if,” he quickly amended, “they are found to be false we will deal with them. No doubt the Book of Prophecy predicts that: ‘many shall lay claim to the title before the Great One returns’. In the meantime, the guardians of this section shall return to their duties and you B’dga, should go aid your clan.”

There was no such line that he knew of, but it was enough to make them sceptical and that slight change in attitude would make them easier to manipulate.

The angel like bird people bowed reverently and departed, dragging their fallen sister with them. B’dga waited until the Exalted had turned away before scurrying about his duties.

====

The chamber was a mess of spilled blood and broken bodies, catlike bodies. Their killer stood tiredly as another wave made their way towards him, his powerful blades colliding with their sharp claws. He drove the heavy counterweight of his sword into one of the creature’s skulls before swinging it by the tail to drive its comrades back.

One managed to sneak up behind him and leapt upon his back, using its claws to scratch his upper arms. Two more took advantage as he tried to shrug the first cat off him. They latched onto his arms, pulling them wide and exposing his chest. He rolled, trying to throw them loose, but more of the cat people piled into him, taking away any leverage he once had.

So far they had not deliberately hurt him, but now he was at their mercy and animal instinct reared its ugly head. The claws raised, ready to deliver a fatal laceration to his chest, bringing food for the entire clan.

“Stop!” B’dga pleaded as he ran into the chamber. “The exalted wants them alive. They are prophecy!”

This had an immediate effect. They didn’t release him, but all stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to the sleek black figure that was their brother. Their faces were angry, filled with hate and distrust at the interruption, but none dared to argue with the Exalted’s orders.

“They are prophecy,” he repeated, gesturing for his clan to release the sword wielding warrior.

“He kills our kind,” one pointed out. “He kills my mate.”

“He is companion of Great One,” B’dga replied. “He kills those who threaten prophecy.”

“No, he kill mate, he dies,” the female exclaimed, her loss overcoming her loyalty. She extended her claws and drove them towards Blade’s throat.

VROOOOOOSH!

Karayan pointed her staff and the offending cats found themselves on the receiving end of a fireball. On board Star Killer, its powers were significantly increased. Only blade seemed unharmed.

“Thank you, m’lady,” Blade said as he stepped towards her and took up a protective position.

“I told you before that with loyalty such as yours, you should expect to live a long time,” she answered, allowing a trace of humour to find its way into the solemn exchange. Before turning her attention to the now cowering felines. “Vermin,” she accused, “infesting my Star Killer. Why have you been allowed to remain here, where are my loyal followers? Where are the Seraf and R’skil, where are my Prefects?”

“We live here, it has always been so,” B’dga answered, he was the only one who dared do so after her display of power. “Shades labour here for prophecy.”

Her rage was forgotten for a moment as suspicion and curiosity took over. “Tell me of this prophecy,” she instructed.

“The men of fur, wing and flesh would labour until the destined day, fur to keep the world breathing, wing to keep to keep the chosen safe and flesh to keep the spirit living. Through labour the Great One shall return to guide her people once again; her home will be ready for her when the Exalted kneels with his kind.”

“Then why has this Exalted One not appeared to greet me?” she asked, her anger returning. She had expected loyal servants to celebrate her return not this backwards race of cats.

“He tell me to bring you to him,” B’dga replied. “Then he judge if you are prophecy.”

She didn’t say anything, suspecting what had happened. So much time had passed that it was only logical that some evolution had taken place. But to forget their roots and reduce themselves to mere labourers, what had her Prefects been thinking to allow this to happen?

“I see,” she said, allowing the coldness to enter her tone, eyes flashing in warning. “Take us to this Exalted One.”

“At once,” B’dga said excitedly, “Come, B’dga show way.”

B’dga bowed and obeyed, leading the way as they undertook a long trek along miles of low corridors and then up several long ladders. Obviously the lifts and internal teleportation systems were offline. Karayan could have made the journey in seconds, but chose to endure the discomfort since the experience revealed just how badly her Prefects had performed in her absence.

Finally, after squeezing through a panel that had been forced open from the other side, they reached the nerve centre of Star Killer. In all they had travelled six decks and walked the equivalent of four sections. With the lifts operating the journey would have taken three minutes including the security checks such levels required.

“We is here,” B’dga said excitedly, “Exalted is waiting for prophecy.”

As they had trekked through the corridors to reach their destination, Karayan had learnt a great deal from B’dga. Firstly he was extremely loyal to the prophecy even if he didn’t really understand its meaning. He and his race had been labouring for generations to keep the crew of Star Killer alive, and it was their devotion to this prophecy they spoke of that allowed them to keep going against all odds.

Secondly from his description Karayan knew who the Exalted was. When she had left Star Killer before her incarceration, she had left one of her human servants in charge. Clearly he had abused his power, living a life of comfort while her once noble R’skils worked.

They followed B’dga through the  door and into the circular chamber she recognised at once as her briefing room. In her days of glory she had mingled here with her heads of government to dictate policy and discuss strategy with her commanders. The room had been stripped of its opulent furnishings and was a dreary as the rest of the space station.

“You returned then,” the angel said, looking at B’dga with a mixture of curiosity and hatred. “The Exalted One has ordered no further interruptions while he contemplates the disturbance you caused. Your prisoners will be dealt with by his wisdom.”

“But she is prophecy,” the feline interjected. “She is the Great One!”

“Who are you to say who is the Great One?” the angel returned angrily, his belief was such he could not bear the idea that the Great One had returned because he couldn’t take the pain if it turned out to be fake. “Only the Book of Prophecy can tell us and only the Exalted One can read from that book.”

From the sneer he gave the cat, it became clear he did not believe B’dga could read at all.

“She is Great One; she came from beyond; spoke of the holy cities and delivered death with a look.”

“A trick any might accomplish given the right motivation,” the Exalted said, stepping from his chambers, which Karayan had now identified as the secondary control room. It was so difficult to get orientated on this station because she had yet to find a suitable landmark. Now she knew where she was the floor plan of the space station filled her mind.

She turned to regard the robed figure who had dared to doubt her. He had drawn himself up in an attempt to look fearsome, it made him seem pathetic.

“You should know better B’dga than to make claims about the Great One. Did I not warn you that there would come many impostors before the true Great One returned. This is but a test of our ability to see through deception. Rejoice that you were fooled B’dga, for the testing is a sign that her return is not far away. A few generations and she may appear.”

“But she is here, this is Great One.”

“How dare you question the Exalted, cat?” the angel demanded. “He is the keeper, he alone knows if the prophecy has been fulfilled.”

“I speak truth Exarchate,” B’dga shot back, using the angel’s race name to emphasize his genuine belief.

“Enough, if she is the Great One, she will pass the test of the prophecy. If not she and her companion will be exposed as impostors and shall suffer for their falsehoods.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Karayan said. “I am the Great One the prophecy speaks of, I am Karayan. This domain is mine by right and none have the right to question me.”

“See how she fears the test,” the Exalted offered. “She tries to talk her way out of the test with trickery. She is guilty, destroy her noble Exarchate, and bring more honour to your clan. Then you may take vengeance for you kin against the R’skil.”

“Test her,” B’dga insisted. “Give her test of prophecy. Only Great One can bring life to that which is silent.”

The Exarchate had not been listening though, he advanced on Karayan, his talons extended ready for action. He reached forward to destroy the impostor ignorant of all but his desire to kill.

Blade moved without instruction, ducking around his mistress to block the winged man’s outstretched arms. He drove a knee to the winged man’s stomach followed by a double axe-handle to the point of the back where the wings were attached before ducking the clawed hand that shot toward his face. As he came back up his knife was in his hand, slicing through the Exarchate’s chest. He swiftly returned to his mistress’ side as the Exarchate fell.

“I will take this test,” Karayan announced without acknowledging the death and promptly walked through the door behind the Exalted who dared not interfere following the demonstration of Blade’s skill.

Karayan led the way into the command section, casting an eye over the humans seated at the consoles, none showing any signs of knowing how to operate the control systems. She ignored the obvious sections; life support, navigation and weapon sections would not provide the proof she needed. Instead she made her was to a solo seat with no visible controls. This seat had once been where the commander of Star Killer would sit and her throne would have been positioned behind him. From there she would give commands that he would action. It was also the only chair she had to sit in.

She positioned herself on the chair and finally dropped the mental barriers that had shielded her from Star Killer. A silent thought and the chair warped, revealing a new console that she and the station commander could access, but only she could unlock. Her fingers traced a familiar sequence of keys, unlocking the control systems that had automatically shutdown in her absence.

“This is a mockery,” the Exalted proclaimed to the assembled humans, but they were giving her their undivided attention.

“This is prophecy,” B’dga hissed knowingly. “The Great One is giving life.”

Karayan regarded the cat creature and promised that his loyalty would be rewarded with a place at her side. She would show him that he had been right to trust her words as he became the first of her new lieutenants.

“And now your proof,” she said, looking at the Exalted with distaste. “I bring life to the lifeless.” She pressed the last button.

A screeching siren filled the room, followed by other alarms throughout the station. Emergency lighting switched off as the central computer went through its start up routine.

“You see, she is not the Great One, she brings us darkness not life?” the Exalted cried in dismay.

“Patience,” she told him. “Star Killer will live. It takes time.”

The sirens quietened, replaced by the low hum of generators as they warmed up. The walls and ceilings glowed as the illumination panels lit the chamber. More key presses and instruments unused since the engines had died were updated to display the state of inactivity throughout the station.

Star Killer shook as the mighty propulsion system was primed and activated, burning out worn parts as it did so. The station’s automated repair system set about fixing the damage as soon as it became evident. Coupled with the damage that had been inflicted by outside forces, the progress was slow, but gradually Star Killer was restored to life.

Explosions rocked the vessel as the damaged weapon systems tried to clear the rocks that had once acted as part of its disguise. The station’s disjointed rotation shifted as the functioning engines compensated for centuries of movement to bring it back onto its original axis and adjust for those systems that had failed.

In the command chamber systems were rapidly coming to life, terrifying the inexperienced yet curious crewmen. They pressed the buttons, wondering as to the result and unaware of the chaos they caused.

“Stop!” Karayan ordered. “Nobody is to touch anything without my permission.” She then keyed in an emergency code to restore atmosphere to a sector of the station that had just been laid open to the vacuum of space.

“It is as though you never left m’lady,” Blade said.

“Almost Blade,” she answered. She could sense just how much damage had been inflicted upon her beloved ship. Star Killer was no where near the standard she had left it in. “Rest assured, Star Killer will be as new.”

A short constant beeping drew her attention. Someone had left a message for her. A frown crossed her face and she wondered who and why this would happen, but she pressed the receive button anyway and watched as a hologram appeared.

“War Master,” the man said, bowing to where her throne should have been. He looked like the Exalted but far older and from the look on the priest’s face, he knew this person as well. “I welcome you home m’lady and regret I could not do so in person. As you know many years have passed since the battle and I regret we have been unable to find you. Star Killer is as you know disabled without your presence and our scout ships have failed to return. I leave this message to assure you of my loyalty and that of the Prefects.

“I fear I will not last long m’lady, the timed shutdowns have already taken effect and Star Killer has been disabled. Outside forces have tried to breach our defences but those that did so met the full might of our forces. Unfortunately without you here our repairs have been limited to essential systems. Without the generators all other systems have failed and I have been forced to make arrangements to keep the crew alive.

“I have despatched the R’skils to the lowers decks with orders to replicate as much fertile ground as possible. Until the station is restored, we will grow our own food. This will keep the R’skils busy and in a state of readiness.

“The Seraf have been assigned as guards to protect from further attacks. I realise this is unlikely – it was sheer luck that allowed them to gain access before, but while they train they remain useful to your cause.

“For the human population I have prepared this book of guidelines, telling my successor how to aid you in restoring Star Killer when you return. I regret our estimates say that at least two generations will have passed. I hope you will not be disappointed to find some standards have dropped in that time.

“Once again, it has been an honour to serve you and I wish I could be there when you return to see the Masters pay for their impudence, but alas it is not to be. I sincerely hope my successor with prove as worthy of you as I hope I have been.

“Farewell War Master Karayan.” The image disappeared.

“Now are there any who doubt my identity?” she asked.

The response was easy to interpret as human, angel and cat alike fell to their knees before her. The Exalted One hesitated as if he would make a final protest and then followed suit. She looked down upon them, noting that Blade had joined them in their show of mass obedience.

“Get up Blade, ” she whispered with an amused tone. “You have no place there, you belong at my side, not my boots.” In a louder voice she continued. “B’dga of the Shades, your loyalty is unquestioned. Now you may be loyal to the truth and not a book of lies. Join Blade at my side, you shall be my emissary to your people.”

“Great One, I knew it would be you,” the Exalted interrupted. His comments were met by stern silence.

“If I were you ‘Exalted One’, I would cease this charade and think of a reason I should not have you destroyed for treachery. Your ancestor was a good man, a loyal commander. You have dishonoured him with your actions. No, why should he pay for the failures of his descendants? You have dishonoured yourself. You are not worthy of the status your robes carry, so I remove your status. You are no longer my Viceroy.”

“Please,” he begged, “I can be loyal, let me be loyal to you. Everything I have done has been for the best. They started to say you would return, said that a lone man would break you free. I had to keep them in line, I meant only for the best to happen.”

“Perhaps,” she said dubiously. “I will allow you to hold your position for now, Viceroy. But know this, if I suspect treason from you, it will not be demotion; I will exterminate you myself. You will be my emissary to the humans.”

“I will make you proud oh Great One,” he said.

“See that you do,” she said, no humour in her tone. Then she gave the Exarchates an appraising look. “Approach my noble guardians.”

They obeyed, falling in behind a broad shouldered warrior with long dark hair and a powerful stare. He led the way forward and stopped within striking distance of Karayan. He struck his left fist to his breast before kneeling.

“I greet you oh Great One and submit to your judgement.”

“What is your name?” she enquired.

“Keslar, my wondrous lady.”

“Then stand Keslar,” she said. “Your people have changed the least in my absence. You have remained loyal to Star Killer until I returned and now you too shall stand at my side.”

She keyed in a final sequence, one that would ultimately restore Star Killer to its prior state. But that would take days and for now there were other tasks to be handed out.

====

“Star Killer is prepared, all systems ready,” the junior officer reported.

Karayan had miscalculated how extensive the damage to Star Killer had been. The start up sequence had triggered explosions that had caused damage to vital systems. It had taken the repair systems a long time to work around the shattered infrastructure. Even now very little could be described as fully functional. The engines that had not been damaged, had not corroded to the point where they exploded the moment they were activated and had not been destroyed by an infestation of some sort, were mostly reliable. The navigation system had finally updated to a point where Karayan could set course for the Pragmia System, although the computer refused to acknowledge there was anything there.

She had started to educate her officers in ship’s protocol and had bonded them to Star Killer just as their ancestors had been linked. Doing so had improved their efficiency dramatically.

After many hours of thought she had decided to spare the Viceroy; her initial thought had been to have Blade ‘remove’ him from the ship. He had no real skills that he could bring to the table and was too used to being in charge to remain subservient for long. But he was the religious leader of the humans and despite her unquestioned power, his influence was enough to cause discord if she destroyed him.

So instead she had stripped him of his influence, promoting those who deserved it to positions of authority and limiting his interaction to strictly spiritual matters. At the same time she was slowly undermining the religion he had created and granted power to the lesser creatures. In short his support among the crew was dissipating. Leaving him alive meant that loyalty was split, but she had made it clear that the days of the Viceroy as commander of Star Killer, whether he called himself the Exalted One or not, were over. And if it came down to it she left no doubt that she would destroy all the human crewmen to make certain her command was absolute.

“Very well,” she said, pointing to the helmsman, “engage!”

Star Killer shook and then took off at what would pass as full speed in its current condition. She was back. Star Killer was back too. And when she rejoined her master, the Universe would learn that for itself.

====

The Pragmia Void

With an incredible effort the creatures of chaos dragged the Dark Star through the void. Or at least they tried to do so. Being in an endless void it was hard to tell if their attempts to move the massive structure had had any effect and in the time since the second star had collapsed, much of the matter that had existed within the void had been obliterated. With no single point of reference it was entirely possibly they were moving in circles. While some of the winged creatures pulled on chains forged from the building’s own structure, others pushed and tugged in an attempt to make it spin like a top. The hope was that once it was moving again the structure would start to draw the energy it needed to continue doing so. So far the idea had not worked.

It had been a long time since Xanatox had sent his message, but time meant very little in the void. He wasn’t entirely sure the message had even reached the intended recipients when he sent it; it was entirely possible the message had arrived before it had been sent. However he had sensed the first of his comrades responding to the call and through them had created a way to communicate with others.

The link between the Dark Star and the Star Killer was a link between those trapped inside the Pragmia Void and those beyond its reach. In time he hoped there would be a way to move between the two vessels, though he suspected that it would only allow him to escape his prison for a short time. Perhaps though that would be long enough for him to ensure that his lord’s followers were all working towards their master’s restoration.

After all Xanatox was the Father of Destruction. He had had a personal hand in creating all of his master’s followers. He had not lied when he had told Lhee that he was not the first that he had corrupted. Siring unwilling but completely loyal disciples was one of his many skills.

His connection to his powers improved the moment the link between the Dark Star and the Star Killer had been established. And the first thing he had done when contact had been made was to ensure that the link could not be broken. However despite the restored link to the Morphin Grid, he was still unnaturally weak. His master was still disabled and they were still prisoners, practically powerless without Ma’erok to aid them. But given time the walls would fall and their master would emerge. Chaos would always overcome order in the end and when it did, Xanatox would be there at his master’s side.

Three blurs of light announced the arrival of his guests. They like him were faithful servants of Ma’erok, the only ones whose loyalty he didn’t question.

“Welcome home, my daughters.”

End of Part

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**