Prelude to Destruction
21: Council of Cowards
Council Chambers of Terisiare were amazingly silent, considering that over fifty
men and women sat in them. The very
oddity that not a one of them spoke was compounded by the fact that the marble
walls and floors didn’t betray the slightest shuffling of feet, the tiniest
adjustment of a chair.
the center of the room stood two explanations for the lack of noise.
Cynewulf and Meryl had been summoned before the Councilors of Riven to
tell the story of how they’d come to the planet. They stood nervously before the silent council, fifty sets of
eyes staring at them from all over the room.
chambers were lavishly designed – obviously built in a period predating the
Shi Kari menace – with ornate marble sculptures decorating pillars and
banisters at every turn. The room
itself was a basic cylinder, with the floor where Cyne and Meryl now stood
serving as a base. The low-house
Speakers of the Council sat in chairs on this level, separated from the council
floor only by a thin partition. Higher
up, in what was basically a completely encircling balcony, the higher Adept
house members looked down on the speakers from their comfortable seats.
These Adepts were the true leaders of Riven – they were the only ones
who could bring forth a proposal, and their votes in such matters counted doubly
over the Speakers. To balance this,
there were only eighteen Adepts; though their votes could overwhelm a unanimous
Speaker vote, it would require that at least seventeen of the eighteen agree.
was the leader of these Adepts, the Mediator – as he was called – who first
broke the almost anxious silence.
Council welcomes you to Riven, travelers. But
these are troubling times… I pray you understand that we must question you.”
nodded, though there was no need. It
did not matter to the Mediator whether or not they understood the need; the
questioning would begin regardless. He
glanced over at Meryl, noting her nervousness.
Neither of them could be sure how the Hunters would react to their story,
or if they’d even deign to believe it.
for the record, state your names… and planets of origin.” The last was
tacked on almost as an afterthought. The
Mediator was obviously not used to having to ask such questions.
name is Meryl Sara.” Meryl spoke up first.
“Originally of the planet Karonne.”
I am Cynewulf… also of Karonne.”
Mediator raised an eyebrow, and looked for a moment as if he’d ask Cynewulf to
state his full name, but finally shook his head.
“Very well. Give us the
approximate location of Karonne, so that we may look it up in our computer
memory banks held the easiest answer to this, so Meryl let him answer.
“The planet Karonne is located in the mostly uninhabited Karis System,
in the fifth sector of outer Dominion space.”
was silence for a moment as the Adepts – the only Councilors whose desks
actually held computer systems – looked up the information.
The uneasy mumbling that followed did nothing to make Meryl or Cyne feel
are aware the location you have given is very near to the unclaimed Lavoid
Sectors, are you not?” the Mediator said, a bit more suspicious of the pair
now than he had been a moment ago.
I am.” Cynewulf said. “But
Meryl and I are members of the Seekers, an anti-Lavoid group similar to your
own. Our ancestors are from
completely destroyed the almost eerie silence that had engulfed the room before,
but the assorted uncontrolled mutterings were hardly any more assuring.
After but a few moments, the Mediator called for order, and,
surprisingly, he regained it quickly.
explain yourself. Immediately.”
The Mediator’s voice had taken on an almost pained tone.
Though this is not common knowledge to most of the universe, I am sure
you’re aware of the fact that Lavoids were created on Earth.
When they took over the planet as their own, they did kill the vast
majority of the humans. However, a
few thousand did managed to survive, and founded a resistance movement on the
planet. Those are the ancestors of
the current Seekers.”
or how, rather, did your ‘Seekers’ come to leave Earth?”
sighed. “There is very bitter
irony this. Forty years ago, the
Seekers left the planet Earth chasing after the lavoid fleet known as the Shi
Kari, who had mobilized for the first time since they’d been… changed.
However, they outran us, and we eventually came to found a new base for
resistance on the planet Karonne.”
Mediator shook his head, causing the black skullcap he wore – a symbol of his
position – to seem to consider falling off.
“And just how can we be assured of your truthfulness?”
took a step forward, her boots clacking harshly on the marble floor. “Merely weigh the evidence, Councilor. I’m sure you’ve already sent people out to look at my
ship… what’s left of it. The
things on it, though eclectic, will ultimately be traceable back to Karonne.”
Mediator sat down heavily in his chair, and looked up at the ceiling. “Let us suppose, then, that you are indeed who you claim to
be. Why did you come to this
planet… how did you even find it to begin with?”
is a long story, sir.” Cynewulf sighed, and looked around.
“I don’t suppose I might request chairs for myself and the lady?
We’re a bit tired as it is… and this could take a while.”
Mediator nodded his approval, and waved off one of the servants to fetch some
for their guests. Less than a
minute later, when the two were comfortably seated, the Adept stood back up and
crossed his arms.
let’s hear this story of yours.”
you’re basically saying these Farilii are either incredibly stupid, or
incredibly powerful.” Terra
leaned back against one rocky wall of the cell she shared with Darrell, shaking
her head. Her arms were crossed,
and the fingers of her clawed gauntlets clacked harshly against one another as
she tapped them against her arm.
was standing opposite her, trying for all he was worth to pry open the strange
grate-door of their prison with one of the Ilinumbar.
The strange knife’s magic seemed almost entirely ineffective against
the portal, though, and Darrell was breathing hard already.
Otherwise, they’d have taken away our equipment.” He cursed in pain
as the knife slipped from the grate and hit him, hilt first, in the wrist.
He shook his arm furiously and turned to face Terra.
“I mean, they even let me keep the spellbook.”
shook her head. “It’s damned
funny, you know? I was screwed up
pretty bad when I fell, but that lavoid thing, Mishra Bishop… he used some
sort of healing spell on me. And I
can’t figure out a single reason why.”
cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”
blanched slightly at that, and let her eyes drop sharply to the ground. “None that I’d care to dwell on, anyway.”
taken.” Darrell sighed, and looked over the grate once more.
“Let’s look at our options, then.
We can sit here and wait for whatever fate-worse-than-death is inevitably
going to come, or you can watch me kill myself trying to open this door.”
Narrowing his eyebrows, the young man cast a tiny point of flame at the door
from one fingertip. It disappeared
instantly as it hit, without even a puff of smoke marking its passing.
“I don’t know what this thing’s made out of, but it completely
nullifies all magic.”
as if on cue, the grate flung itself open, drawing into the wall as if it had
never been there. Darrell, rather
than moving forward, cautiously backed up a few steps, both daggers drawn and in
hand. Terra moved forward from her
vantage point at the wall, fists clenched nervously, to see what was coming in.
Bishop and Talon Creed both stood before them, their amethyst colored eyes
glistening darkly against the shadowy cell.
The former of the two stood almost nervously next to the door, his pale
arms crossed in an expression meant to be intimidating.
It most certainly had that effect on the two Zionites. Talon, meanwhile, had crossed directly in front of them,
casting a disdainful glance at the Ilinumbar.
suggest you put your weapons down, humanhuntershanning.
They will do you little good.” The Doppelganger said, his deep voice
seeming to crackle with power.
scoffed, and held his weapons tighter. “Thanks
for the advice, lavoid beast, but I’d just as soon hold onto them.”
cocked his head at the man. “Indeed?
What if I told you it was not a suggestion?”
I’d have to suggest you shut the hell up.” Darrell returned grimly. This response, though infuriating to Talon, seemed almost to
amuse Mishra, who chuckled darkly in the background.
well, Darrellshanning. Hold onto
your useless weapon. Who knows that
but it might prove amusing.” The thing cast a sidelong glance at Terra as he
continued speaking. “We have been
sent here to speak with the two of you.”
good.” Terra said caustically, tapping one foot on the stone ground as she
spoke. “I was just mentioning to
Darrell that we’d like to have a chat with someone.
Good of you to keep us company.”
dark eyes fell on Terra as she said that, and the woman immediately fell silent,
trying desperately to avoid the thing’s purple eyes.
have you come to Riven, humanhunters? There
must have been purpose, deep purpose. Did
the humans here find a way to get messages to you?
You could not have had foreknowledge of this place.”
Talon’s eyes were intense as he spoke, his fists clenched tightly.
was amazed. They honestly had no
idea of what to make of their human prisoners, couldn’t fathom, for all their
dark intelligence, what could have possessed someone to come here.
And they could not find out, it was certain. Darrell said nothing in response, only smirked at the pair.
was enraged. He raised one hand to
strike at the irritating human before him, but a dagger pointed at his throat
met him halfway, halting the action instantly.
He’d been caught off-guard, had never expected the human to have the
gall to attack.
me, Talon Creed - given that I gather that’s you’re name – why do you
suppose you’re here? And why
shouldn’t I send you back to the Hell that spawned you?”
was in motion instantly, readying a spell of some sort to cast Darrell away from
Shanning, but the young man just smiled at him.
“I’d ‘suggest’ you stay still, Bishop.
From what I’ve read, clean decapitation – such as I’m in a good
position to grant – will kill your kind instantly.
And I doubt your masters would be happy if that happened, would they?”
doppelganger cursed, but immediately halted his movement.
He glanced intensely over at Terra again, with those eyes that seemed to
pierce her soul. The young woman
began sweating profusely, trying to concentrate her attention somewhere else.
how about I ask a few questions, eh?” Darrell said, moving his other dagger in
position to pierce Talon’s neck if he so much as twitched a muscle, much less
tried to gather energy for a spell. “Why
did the Shi Kari come here? How
could they have even known about this place?
From everything I gather, your Fleet was on Earth until just forty years
would have spat, had he not thought it would cost him his life.
“I will tell you nothing, human. There
is no reason, no need. You think
yourself in a superior position, but you are mistaken.
There is no escape from this place… the Hive Mind knows exactly what
you are doing, and shall as long as you are here, among us.”
smirked, moved his daggers a little bit closer to Talon’s neck.
Their edge ran up against his pale skin with alarming ease.
“Then why aren’t they doing anything about it, scum?” he shook his
head, glancing over at Mishra. The
Doppelganger hadn’t moved a muscle – though he seemed to be staring rather
intensely at Terra. Darrell
wasn’t sure he liked that. “And,
while we’re at it, tell your friend to close his eyes, if you want to keep
your head on your – ugh!” Darrell crumpled in place, fell to the ground like
a sack of potatoes. His daggers clattered to the ground next to him.
rubbed his neck, then bent down to grab the deadly weapons from the ground.
He cast a glance at Mishra, nodded approvingly, then looked at Terra
Lyles, who stood before them as if in a trance.
eyes shone purple, the traces of lavoid energy within her evident in her
clenched fists – fists wet with blood gained from striking that accursed
Shanning in the back of the head.
had enough of these two. It is
fortunate that you had the foresight to give the girl some of your power
earlier. It makes things…
smoother.” He rubbed his neck again, and turned back to the door.
“Let us take them to the Lower Chambers, for the conversion.
We will glean any necessary information from their minds then and there.
The energy necessary for a mind probing will be less than that required
to get them to talk.”
that, they proceeded from the room, Chaos energy shining in their dark eyes and
coursing through their cursed bodies.
much more verbal form of chaos had descended upon the council chambers of Riven,
with the telling of Cynewulf’s story. There
were cries ringing out of the obvious insanity of the Seeker, and of fear –
fear that their landing would draw the Shi Kari to destroy Terisiare – and
almost of madness. It was a kind of
bliss for the Hunters, who had dwelt so long on the edge of hysterical madness,
to let go for just a moment, to let the panic and the fear settle in over their
the Mediator, thankfully and hatefully, would not let them fall into the pit of
madness. His dark gavel rang out
against his desk, like an alarm waking one from a deep nightmare. He turned here and there, looking furiously at any who
continued to talk. Soon, all was
silence, and he looked down on Cynewulf again.
“Let me get this… straight.” He said, slowly and deliberately.
“You and your friends have been wandering the universe in search of a
Class B lavoid, for the express sake of killing it?”
nodded for Cynewulf, who seemed almost confused at the reaction of the
Councilors. “That is correct,
Mediator sighed and shook his head. “And
what in the universe made you think that you could find aid here, on Riven?”
we said, sir,” Terra continued, “we came here originally with Darrell
Shanning, who is originally from this planet.
He had the impression that you had the technology to track the Lavoids by
their energy signature.”
old councilor nodded and looked down at his desk.
“We do indeed, though it has not been used since this lavoid plague
came upon us. Shanning, you say. The Council is familiar with the family… his father had
nearly gotten the Hunter organization exposed to the Dominion government once.
Got imprisoned by the local government… we had to send a squad of
soldiers in after him.” He shook his head.
“And then, since it was too dangerous for us to continue to operate
there, the lavoid destroyed the planet. Insane
what people will do, thinking they’re protecting themselves.”
is the other reason we came here, sir.” Cynewulf spoke at last, his brow still
furrowed, and his mind still obviously occupied with other things. “We were under the impression that your organization was in
the business of destroying Lavoids.”
Mediator looked down on the cyborg, shook his head.
“Once, we were, lad. Once,
our idealistic hopes were grand enough to encompass the whole of the
universe.” He closed his eyes, let darkness embrace his view.
It was comforting. “It was
a useless struggle. There is a
darkness to the lavoid race we could never have fathomed.
For every lavoid we killed, a dozen would spring up to take their places.
And that is not the whole of it. Upon
occasion, we even ran across identical genetic strains of the beasts – as you
know, this should be impossible.
was through a vast amount of research, about a year before the Shi Kari
descended upon this planet, that we found out we were fighting, for the most
part, the same handful of Lavoids.”
Cynewulf’s one human eye went wide, while the other flashed in confusion from
the sensory overload the information had had upon him.
“What on…. Karonne are you talking about?!”
old Hunter sighed. “You are,
I’d imagine, familiar with the concept of the lavoid queens, correct?”
nodded. “Indeed… they
proliferate on the Earth; the curses my parents taught me against some of their
names are still in my heart and in my mind.”
discovered that these Queens, being capable of warping the time-space continuum,
could simply manipulate it after a lavoid death, and bring the things back to
life. Thus, while we might succeed
in saving a planet, their numbers never decreased – in fact, they rose
exponentially. The only
organization that was ever truly capable of destroying them was the LEA.”
shook her head, her eyes wide. “The
Lavoid Exterminatorum Adeptus? You
must be joking. They are a rumor, a
We have, in our travels, discovered evidence that they once existed.”
The old man lowered his head silently, his eyes still shut tightly.
“An organization made almost entirely of beings permeated with lavoid
energy… beings that hated their ‘parents.’
But note,” some of the other council members had put their heads in
their hands, almost ashamed of their weakness, lost completely in despair,
“that I say they once existed.
No longer. Even the
legendary Planeswalkers fell before the lavoids eventually.” He sighed.
“We decided, just before the Shi Kari landed, that we would make one
final, hopeless run. Our hope still blinded us.
We wanted to attack Earth itself, attack the damnable lavoid queens that
had made our entire existence, the
existence of an organization that had been around for centuries, meaningless.”
the Shi Kari interrupted that. How?
Why?” Meryl asked, her eyes wide.
still do not know exactly how they found out, but we believe they came to stop
us from making our hopeless, desperate attack.
It was as though they’d expected an attack on Earth, as if they knew
that we would attempt one. Perhaps they discovered that we knew of what their queens had
been doing. We shall never know.”
Mediator opened his eyes, seemed deeply disappointed to see that the Council
chambers still surrounded him. He
looked as though he wished nothing more than to find himself in his bed
chambers, waking from some unpleasant nightmare.
“We do not care to fight the lavoids anymore, Seekers.
We simply want to survive, simply to live our days away from their
scourge for what is left of our days.”
blinked. “You would simply…
shut your eyes to what they represent? But
what of your children? Their
children? There will come a day
when the entire Multiverse will be purged by these things!”
Mediator shook his head. “Your
idealism is notable, but foolish. We
once held these ideas, boy. No
more.” He beat his fist on his desk in time with the two words, then repeated
them softly to himself, as if to make certain he meant them.
“We cannot worry about the perhaps-fate of our descendants. We do no good trying to change tomorrow… not when we’ve
determined it to be fate.”
The burly cyborg Seeker yelled, casting his glance furiously about the room.
“There’s no such thing as ‘fate’!!
But by denying the truth before your eyes, by skulking in the shadows
around these Shi Kari, you create your own prophecy!!
And your actions bring it about!!” he brought his robotic fist down on
the chair he’d been sitting on with such intensity that the wood cracked.
“I have seen your people!! You
have the power to fight these Shi Kari, perhaps even drive them away!!
But do you launch an assault against them?
No!!! You simply hide in the shadows, send brave and powerful
warriors like Mathiu Racnarth and Kayla Narube out on ‘reconnaissance’, send
them out to tell you how best to hide yourselves from the beasts!!
are like little children here, and I will not have any more of it!!” Cynewulf
shook with rage. “Perhaps you
have given up your lives, perhaps the Council is afraid of tomorrow, but there
is a new generation living here,” he looked around the room, and noted that no
one under forty was involved with the Council, “one that is NOT afraid of what
tomorrow brings. You have grown
old, and blind to your dreams, but your children would love nothing more than to
carry them on for you! Why do you
not let them?!?”
Mediator rose, held his shoulders up straight, held his head up high. “Do not presume to judge us, newcomer. You could not possibly understand. We once felt that way… one of the young ones led a strike
against the Black Tower. Do you
know what happened then, boy?! This
young one did not die, his followers did not die… they suffered a fate
infinitely worse!! They were made
part of this disgusting, blasphemous race, and we very nearly lost what tiny bit
of our lives we had left!!”
blinked. “Blasphemous? Sir, I can sympathize with you… I understand the darkness
of the lavoid race, I understand your fear.
But if you cloud your hatred in religious claptrap, then it is no wonder
to me that you cannot fight back!”
Council was livid at this accusation. “What
could you possibly know, Seeker!?! Your
ancestors come from a planet that turned its back on the One, that turned its
back on the truth of the gods!! It
is no wonder that you have no respect for fate, and no knowledge of good and
evil!! Do you think that we have
not tried to fight back?!?!” The Mediator cursed, and let his fists erupt with
flame generated from ether. He
wanted nothing more than to blast these two fools before them into ruin, but he
could not. “You could not
possibly understood what these past twenty years have been like!!”
crossed his arms, shook his head. “Very
well, sir. I will grant that I have
not been here. But I have lived in
the shadow of the lavoids all my life… and I know what suffering is. And I have learned, through that life, that ideals such as
this “One” of yours lead to death, lead to complacency…” lead to this
place, he thought, but he did not speak that aloud.
“Forgive me. But I cannot
huddle frightened on this planet forever. I
am going to the Black Tower.”
brought out even more chaos in the room. “You
cannot!! I shall not allow it!!!”
the Mediator screamed, a wild look in his eyes.
“You will be taken by those… those things, and lead them right back
here, back to the council… it will be Argive all over again!!!”
shook her head. “You can’t just
hold us here. If there’s even the
slightest chance that we can destroy that device that powers the energy star, we
must take it. Can you not see the
chance it would give your people? If
you will fight no longer, then at the least this would give you a chance to
Mediator shook his head. “It is
not even necessary to call such action to a vote.
We shall not stand for it. There
is too much risk. Do you think we
are less capable of such thought than the two of you?
We have pondered such action… there is no chance of success. And failure will end everything we have built up here.”
cursed, shook his head furiously. “All
you have built is a rat’s nest in the bottom of a toilet.
And the disease it brings is killing all of you.
As Meryl said, you cannot hold us here.”
may find you are mistaken on that count, Earth-child.
Cast what epithets upon us you will, but our power is certainly capable
of keeping you from endangering us.” As the Mediator spoke, he cast one hand
out in front of him, let it glow as he absorbed the ether energies that flowed
through the room.
wanted desperately to cast a defensive spell – any
defensive spell. But there was no
chance, and his mind was cluttered with rage and confusion.
Before he had a chance to react in any way, a silvery light lanced down
from the upper balcony, encircled him and Meryl both like a serpent, then drew
tight around their arms, around their legs.
They could not move; the hold of the light was stronger than steel.
Mediator called several Hunter guards into the room to take them to a holding
cell, then closed his eyes again, his brow furrowing in pain as he fought
whatever inner demons tormented him.
Cynewulf was carried – albeit with some difficulty – out of the room, he
almost felt like the blue hands of the lavoids had taken each and every one of
these people by the throats. And he
knew in that instant, that deep down, every one of these men was already dead. They clinged to a life they didn’t want, and cast
everything that disagreed with them into the pit of their own dread.
there was Chaos.
insane, Samah. Your fear has driven
you mad.’ – Orla, Serpent Mage,
Book four of the Death Gate Cycle.
To Chapter 22
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