Emerald Legion, Chapter fifteen

“Be it ever so green, there’s no place like home” – the Venegarian mind-witch rebellion




Garth had just completed another loop through the aerial rings that Imra had set up, having set a new personal best and veering through the rings without hitting any at breakneck speed.  Rokk had just entered the room and Garth did a complicated twist in the air to show off before landing in front of his friend, who was clapping at his performance.


“Thank you, thank you,” Garth said, bowing to an imaginary audience.


“Okay hotshot, Imra’s got a new training idea, since her little obstacle course isn’t even slowing you down.”


“Let’s hear it.”


“The cruiser has been hit and is going to explode.  The Queen is unconscious, and you have to carry her down two decks to the escape pod, avoiding debris the whole way.”  Rokk takes off his Champion’s Ring and sets it to the side.  “So.  I get to play Sarya, Queen of Venegar.  You get to save me.”


“Okay…” Garth said dubiously.  “Shouldn’t you be wearing your Ring?”


“Nope.  Imra said that *I* need to learn teamwork, and that it will be ‘good for me’ if I have to trust you.”  Rokk’s look was equally dubious.


“Right.”  Garth looked at his friend, trying to figure out where to get a solid grip.


“Come on, the ship’s going to explode, get with the saving already!”


“Fine.”  Garth snapped, grabbing Rokk around the waist and throwing him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.  Sprock!  Lose some weight, buddy…”


“You’re going to tell the Queen of Venegar she needs to lose weight?”  Rokk quipped.


“Oh hey, you said she was supposed to be unconscious.  It would be more realistic if I knocked you out…” Garth retorted.


“Just try iiAAAAA!!!” Rokk trailed off as Garth soared into the air with a burst of speed, only narrowly swerving and missing impacting the ceiling.


Aaaaa,” he continued to protest wordlessly as they looped through rings, barely clearing them on both sides.  “Watch Oooff!”  he protested as they bounced off a wall and continued through the course.


Garth completed the last obstacle and landed, lowering his friend to the ground.


“I think I’m going to throw up…”


“Hey, I got you off the exploding ship, right?”


“Yeah, except for the slamming us into a wall part.”


“I planned that.  I didn’t want to lose momentum, so I just sort of skipped off.”


“So you’re saying that you *deliberately* used me as a crash cushion, because you didn’t want to slow down?”


“Uh, yeah.”


“Well then,” Rokk said, putting his Champion’s Ring on his finger with a grin and holding out his hand for Garth’s ring.  “My turn.”






Garth was sitting sullenly on the mats, face pale and drawn, nursing a bump forming on his head.  Rokk stood against the nearby wall, massaging his arm.


“Look, I said I’m sorry, alright?”


“It’s okay,” Garth conceded, “Whose bright idea was it to put Imra in charge of coming up with insane training ideas?”


“The Queens.”


“Oh, yeah.”


“Changing the topic, I notice that you guys have a door now.”


“Yeah, Reyu’s story really freaked her out.”


“I don’t blame her.  I’d be pretty freaked out too if I found out that there was some sick sprock out there collecting Braalian brain-tissue…”  Noticing Garth’s look of concern, Rokk tried to lighten the mood, “But hey, as a bonus, I don’t have to hear you guys anymore.”


“Oh right, like you and Jath don’t make enough noise.  It sounds like she’s killing you in there!”  Garth looked up and mock-whispered, “And between you and me, you scream like a girl…”




Three months had passed since Sarya had come to Earth and gathered her Champions.  And now the time of Presentation had come.


“Champions.  I must attend a function on Venegar.  You will accompany me.”   She turned to Jath, “You may accompany us, or remain here at the Embassy, as you choose.  We will return in a week’s time, in any event.”


Jath nodded, “I will follow.”


“It is settled then.  We leave tomorrow.”




The Champions walked back to their quarters, considering what to prepare for the trip.


~I should read up on Venegar, I don’t want to embarrass the Queen.~


“Oh man, more etiquette?” Garth moaned.


A sinking feeling in his stomach, Rokk wondered aloud, “So Imra, that whole ‘the ship is about to explode’ training exercise, that wasn’t some weird Titanian precognitive dream or anything, was it?”


~I certainly hope not!~ Imra thought with amusement.




After a blessedly explosion-free trip, the Venegarian diplomatic cruiser (the first and only of it’s kind) touched down on a stony field outside of the capital city of Srenath.


As they stepped out into the bright sunlight, Rokk re-adjusted the black shawl covering Lydda, and they stood to the side as hundreds of people milled around, hoping to get a view of their Queen.  Sarya then proceeded down the ramp and a cheer went up.  An honor guard of dozens, wearing chainmail of golden metal under green tabards, but carrying very effective-looking gauss rifles, saluted with military precision, as courtiers in fantastic and intricate robes of state bowed and curtsied.


“I still half-expected the sun would be green or something.” Garth muttered under his breath, hand shielding his eyes from the earth-standard yellow sunlight.


The courtiers fluttered about in some sort of ritualized pattern, and then split apart to clear a path for the Queen’s Mentor Barak, the former King of Venegar, who served now as Regent in her absence.  Despite his age, he was a solid man, and moved with confidence, despite his intricately carved golden breastplate and fluttering green cloak.  His breastplate bore the symbol of the Emerald Eye of Ekron, but on his cloak was a golden container filled with blue water.


“My child, welcome home.  It is time to meet the new crop of adversaries that shall bedevil you, as you bedeviled me.”


Sarya hugged the former King, “It is good to see you again, Barak.  You have not lost your subtle way of speaking, I see.”


“Ha!” the man bellowed.  “I will be offending the courtiers long after I am planted in the dirt, Sarya, you know this.  Let us get this old man out of the hot sun.  You shall take my arm, and support my failing limbs.” He proclaimed loudly, and Sarya took his arm, and they strode back to the waiting hover-car.


The apparent leader of the honor guard stepped forward and saluted the Champions, “Hail Champions.  You will ride with us.”  Garth noticed that the honor guard were also older, nine men and three women, but all at least fifty years of age.


~Champions of the former King,~ Imra clarified, drawing his attention to the matching emerald rings they all bore.  ~Their Rings no longer function, save to allow them to communicate between each other, as the Eye, and all it’s power, has passed to Sarya.~


Garth was keenly aware of the passage to the city, as the veteran Champions eyed their young replacements suspiciously.




The streets were packed with spectators, and green ribbons and banners flew everywhere.  Garth couldn’t quite make up the writings or illustrations on many of them, as they were shades of green on green too subtle for his eyes to tell apart, but the crowd certainly seemed in the spirit of things.


Vehicles had been cleared from the streets, new looking ground vehicles, powered by biofuels, it seemed, as Venegar had not yet completed it’s conversion to energy-cell technology, or to the general use of the hover-transports used by the Queen and her retinue.


The buildings were an odd mix of new and old.  The city was clearly old, and the buildings were built in a medieval style, with none over three floors in height, with few exceptions, such as the royal palace even now coming into view.  And yet the people were dressed in fashions of modern fabrics, and the security men lining the streets, keeping them clear for the motorcade to pass, carried sonic weapons.


The enormous green crystal dome in the center of the royal palace soon took up his vision, and the vehicle stopped.  Peering out, Garth could see that the Queen’s vehicle had already stopped, and that she was standing on the steps, waving to the crowd.  A shimmer in the air seemed to distort his view, and Garth spotted the shield generators concealed in decorative statuary around the entrance to the palace.  Apparently, not everyone on Venegar was in love with the monarchy…


The day quickly grew exhausting.  Who knew that after six hours sitting bored in a cramped space-cruiser, one could long to be sitting down again?  An endless succession of people spoke on all sorts of topics that he quickly tuned out.  It wasn’t until the drums sounded that he looked up to see that new figures had arrived, and the Presentation had already begun.


The first group split apart at the entrance to the throne room, and a woman, approximately Sarya’s age, came forward, carrying a baby in a bassinet.  He could see that the bassinet had anti-grav generators, and while she was supporting it possessively, it was weightless in her hands.  Unlike the finely dressed courtiers in their many yards of silk, she wore loose-fitting pants of dark brown leather, and a loose shirt.  Her boots were sturdy, if well-made, and had no sign of decoration.  She had a necklace and bracers of dull iron, but they were thick and blocky, more like armor than jewelry.  The only decorated item on her person was an ornate pick slung over her back, the head made of gleaming silvery metal, and wickedly sharp at one end, and with a blunt hammer on the other.  The handle was composed of a dozen intertwined serpents of different precious metals, each with gems for eyes, a mixture of sapphires, emeralds and topaz.


Metra,” Sarya greeted with a slight nod.  “Welcome to you.”


“Highness, I present my ward,” she moved forward, uncovering the sleeping infant so that Sarya could see him, “I have named him San.”


“A strong name for a strong line.  He appears healthy.  Train him well, if you expect him to take the throne.” Sarya said brusquely and nodded her dismissal.


With that, Metra stepped backwards from the throne, until she was several paces from it, before turning and rejoining her retinue.


Sarya announced in a ringing tone, “The first challenger is San, of Gardan province.  He is recognized!” and Metra raised the bassinet to the quiet applause of the court.  The noise woke the infant, who began to fuss, and Metra quickly lowered the bassinet and her people closed ranks around her as she tended him.


Barak stood up from the seat beside the throne.  “The Queen has traveled far, and now we have business of the realm to attend to.  Leave us.” As the court bustled about, and the guards politely, but firmly, escorted the various guests out of the chamber, Sarya spoke up.  Metra.  You are welcome to remain, if you do not wish to immediately return to your lands.”


Metra stepped back into view and bowed, “I am honored, but I must return.  Be well, Sarya.”


Garth muttered to Imra.  “How many more?”


~Four more, one of which will be presented each day.~


Garth groaned.




Metra challenged the Queen?” Lydda asked.


“It’s complicated.  They *all* challenged Sarya, but before she was Queen.  The five heads of the provinces duel each other until one is proclaimed the victor.  She then challenges the King.  Sarya defeated each of these women, and then defeated Barak.” Rokk explained, looking over his pad to try and make sense of the complicated lineages of succession between the six clans.


“Five heads?  But there are six provinces…”


Barak was from Mair, the desert-folk, so his people didn’t get to mount a challenger.  No province is allowed to hold the throne twice in a row.  But Sarya is from Vaul, the great forest, which means that Mair will be able to mount a challenger when the new generation reaches twenty-five.”


“No other can challenge, just these children?”


“They are trained specifically to take the throne.  It’s what they’re *born* for, conceived on the night that a new ruler is appointed.  And even then, they aren’t considered suited to hold the throne until they have trained in statescraft for at least twenty-five years, *and* defeated all other applicable challengers in duels.  Only *then* can they challenge the current ruler for the throne.”


“And if harm befalls these children, can no one take the throne?  Must they wait a score of years to sire and train another?”


Rokk grinned, Lydda was worrying at this like a battle she must win, looking for weak points.  “They’ve been doing this for centuries, hon.  I’m sure they’ve got back-up plans.”


Still she kept on, “A man for King, and then all his challengers are women, and now Sarya’s challengers will all be men?”


“Yeah, they swap every generation, first a King, then a Queen, then a King again.  It seems kind of artificial, but hey, it’s a culture that chooses their ruler based on who wins a sword-fight, so I guess that’s a minor quirk…”


“At least it will be decades before we must concern ourselves with their intrigues,” Lydda gruffly acquiesced, rolling over on the narrow bed that Sarya’s people had provided them.




The next days’ presenter was a short bow-legged man, with skin dark and wrinkled, a short white beard, and long white hair pulled back from his balding head.  He wore riding clothes, again, plain and undecorated, and at his side carried a horn of ivory, banded in silver and studded with gemstones.


He approached, bassinet in hand and kneeled stiffly, saying only, “I present Gal.”


Sarya leaned forward and regarded the infant appraisingly, “He has clear eyes.  Show him the road to the truth, Kator.”


The old man muttered bitterly, “I will try to train him better than my last ward.”


Sarya’s voice was sharp as she leaned forward into Kator’s face, Kanli’s death was through no fault of training.  In duels, people die.  Her skills were not lacking, it was the steel of her armor that failed her, not you.  I trust you to teach Gal as well as you taught Kanli.”




The week progressed, and even Sarya was looking impatient for it to be over on the fifth day.


Stepping forth from her entourage, the new arrival was bare-footed and bare-armed, dressed in loose and open pants and vest of white cloth, with bold blue sashes fluttering behind her.  Across her back was slung an ornate spyglass of gold and crystal, covered with mother-of-pearl traceries and engravings.  The child before her was awake and babbling, but she paid it no mind as she carried the bassinet under her arm.


"Landa.”  Sarya said, smiling.


“Highness,” Landa said, with a hint of mockery to the title that caused some in the crowds to mutter, “I present Dar.  Someday he shall replace you.”


Sarya smiled and got up to hug the other woman.  “Perhaps he shall,” she admitted, looking down into the bassinet.  “Hmm.  A trifle pudgy.  You shall have to take better care of him.”


Rokk looked down at his pad surreptitiously, trying to find any information on this woman, other than that she was the head of the island-realm of Lapal.


~She’s the one challenger Sarya never beat.~ Imra informed him, noting his curiosity.


“What?” he whispered, “They how is Sarya Queen, I thought she had to beat all of them…”


~She had to beat all *challengers.*  Landa and Sarya met the day before their duel and ended up in an argument about trade-routes and market-challenges that went long into the night.  Landa showed up the next day without her sword, and declared that Sarya was the victor.  Landa had already beaten all of the others with the blade, but she said that Sarya would be a better Queen, and renounced her claim.~


Rokk looked at Landa with new respect, eyes narrowing as her saw her hand slide beneath the bassinet and felt the presence of metal.


Knife! he had time to warn the others with his Champion’s Ring.


“The monarchy ends now!” Landa shouted in a dull tone, pulling a gleaming dagger out and thrusting it towards the Queen, letting go of the bassinet indifferently.


Rokk closed his eyes and exerted with the force of his powers, managing to stop the woman’s blade just as it drew blood, but before it struck deep, while Lydda surged forward and effortlessly flung the woman back, wresting her knife from her.


Whoah, baby!” Garth exclaimed, snatching up the bassinet, spinning lazily through the air unattended.  Inside, young Dar was burbling away, apparently enjoying the ride.


Landa suddenly looked up, finding herself meters away from the Queen and held in the arms of woman much stronger than herself.


“The monarchy ends now!” a member of the honor-guard suddenly declared, aiming his gauss rifle at the Queen, who had just stood up in alarm.  Regent Barak smoothly stepped in front of her, but the man just stood there, eyes glazed.


~It’s a compulsion!  I can’t hold him!~ Imra announced, but relaxed as the other guardsmen quickly struck their fellow unconscious.


“The monarchy ends now,” a courtier in an ornate golden robe declared, surging forward, serving tray raised like a weapon.  Still balancing the bassinet in one hand, Garth turned and one-punched him in the face and he swayed slightly blinking before sinking to the ground unconscious.


Regent Barak’s eyes glazed for a moment, and Rokk got ready to use his armor to fling him aside.  “The…  Get out of my mind!” he shouted as he staggered slightly, fists clenching.


~Whoever is doing this, they aren’t in the room,~ Imra broadcast to her fellow Champions new and old, as well as the Queen.  She was surprised to note that Barak also clearly ‘heard’ her announcement.


“Everyone out!”  Barak shouted, and courtiers began to flee the room.


Pushing Barak to the side, Sarya stepped out, “Champions, remove your weapons.  Place them to the side.”


The honor-guard immediately set down their rifles, and Rokk noticed that they had also code-locked them so that they could not be quickly activated.  He heard a clang, and turned to see that Lydda had also drawn her blades and tossed them aside.


Garth thought he felt Imra’s mind-touch for a second, and suddenly found that Lydda was pinning him to the floor and Imra was holding the bassinet.  Rokk was now standing with Barak, in front of the Queen, who was looking increasingly annoyed at having people jump in front of her.


“Uh, what happened?”


~You said ‘the monarchy ends now’ and pointed at the Queen.  Rokk jumped to block the lightning bolt, only there was no lightning bolt, you just stood there, and then you looked confused, and then Jath jumped on you.~


“Okay, my bad.  You can get off me now, Jath…”


Imra seemed to be looking in all directions at once.  ~Rokk and Jath are the biggest threats right now.  Whatever this telepath is doing, apparently they couldn’t figure out how to make Garth use his powers.~


“Use your witchery to protect Rokk,” Lydda declared, sitting down in the middle of the floor and beginning to finger disks of metal from the loop around her belt.


~I think it’s over.  I just felt something lift.  Some sort of pressure I hadn’t noticed before.  Whoever this is has given up, for now.~


Landa was still sitting on the floor and Sarya pushed between Rokk and Barak to help her up.


“I am sorry, Highness.  I felt a voice in my mind, and then I found myself staring down a blade…” she looked up, suddenly concerned, “Dar!”


Imra walked forward with the bassinet.


~He’s fine.  He’s just had a bit of a swing around the room…~


Landa’s face darkened and her arm froze in mid-air.  Sarya took the bassinet from Imra and handed it to Landa.  “Yes, she is a mind-witch, but she is not the one to blame for this, Landa.”




“Have there been any previous incidents of this sort in my absence, Barak?” the Queen asked impatiently.


“Nothing of this sort, but we have found several otherwise reliable men asleep at their posts of late, and now I am suspicious that someone has been moving through the palace unseen.”  Barak growled and smacked the table, “I had thought it but lax discipline and ordered them rebuked.”


~Barak, you seemed to resist the compulsion?~ Imra asked questioningly.


“I wore the Emerald Eye of Ekron as King for fifty-two standard-years before Sarya bested me.  It strengthens the mind.  I do not think that any telepath could have seized her mind today.”


~No.  That’s true.  Whoever it was must have been getting desperate to attempt to compel you.~


“Does your witchery give you any insights to who did this thing?  Was it man, or woman?  Venegarian or alien visitor?” the Regent queried.


~I’m sorry, I didn’t get any direct contact at all.~


“But others did, could you find tracks in their minds?” Sarya persisted.


~I can try.~


“Summon Landa, and that guard...


Tolath,” Barak supplied.  “I will.”  His eyes closed briefly and then opened again and Imra could see the green ring on his finger pulse, “Tolath comes, and Landa is being summoned.”


Imra turned to Garth, ~Do you mind?~ and Garth shook his head, “Please, find this creep.  I’m not keen on being anybody’s puppet.”


She led Garth into a corner of the chamber, and sat the two of them down cross-legged.  After a few moments, she opened her eyes.  “Problem?” Garth said, “do I need to clear my mind or something?”


~No, I’m already done.  Garth didn’t gain any useful impressions.  Darkness, cloth moving, flicking flames.  That’s it.  I’m pretty sure there was more than one person in the room with the telepath.~ 


Tolath arrived, and dropped to one knee before the Queen, “Majesty…” he began, but Sarya placed her hand on his head and cut him off, “Silence Tolath.  This was not your doing, and I place no blame upon you.”   He looked relieved and she continued, "But I would ask that you allow my Champion to trace your thoughts, for sign of those who attacked your mind, and through you, me.”


Tolath looked up at Imra dubiously, but silently agreed.


Imra stood over the kneeling man and pulled a seat over to him.  ~This would be easier if you sat down.  Easier on your knees, I mean.~  He jumped at her mental contact, and looked up at the Regent, who gestured at the chair, “Get up already, you want the Queen to get a sore neck looking down at you!”


~Try and relax.~ Imra prodded, but recognized that the man wasn’t likely to do so.  She sighed and closed her eyes.  A few moments later she opened them again, to see that the man was sweating, eyes wide with uncertainty.  ~It is fine Tolath.  There is no compulsion left.~  She turned to the others, ~He saw even less than Garth.  I think he consciously blocked it out, actually.~


Regent Barak opened his mouth, “You…” but the Queens hand on his arm stopped him.  He turned to her with a look of surprise, not used to being interrupted.


Pointing at the Emerald Eye of Ekron on her brow, Sarya wagged her finger.  “My turn to boss people around.  We settled this already.”


Barak sat down heavily in a chair.  “I never wanted to be Queen, anyway.” He muttered dourly before pointing at the golden crown, “It looked better on me.”


Sarya shot the former King a glare, but he had turned away to fill a goblet of water, which he then sat back and sipped.  Seeing her look, he propped his feet up on the table and waved his fingers dismissively.  “Go ahead then, lead.”


Smacking his boots off of the table, she turned to Tolath.  “You may return to your duties, Champion.”


Landa arrived shortly thereafter, and the Queen repeated her request.


“Mind-witches are the root of the problem.  Not the cure, Sarya.” Landa protested.


“This is no longer a request, Landa.”


Landa scowled and stepped directly in front of Imra, arms crossed.


‘Well, this will be fun,’ Imra thought before closing her eyes.


Images flashed before her.  Many figures in pale garments, a shadowy room, walls of fitted stone, flickering torches in iron sconces on the walls.  Faces in shadow, hoods raised, she could not make out features.  Landa is walking up the steps into the palace, bassinet in her hand, tickling the young Dar with a bit of down.  A hand touches her arm, and a knife is passed into her hand.  As quickly as it happens, she forgets that it is been stowed beneath the bassinet.  The warm sun fades to the emerald-tinted shadows of the throne room and she smiles to see Sarya in all her glory.


Imra steps back, eyes opening to Landa’s hostile glare.


~Many figures in a room made of fitted stones, lit by torches in iron sconces.  She was given the knife on the steps, but the memory of it was removed until she was commanded to strike.  Whoever it was that gave her the knife had to be a telepath.  I’m not sure what the others represent, perhaps some sort of larger conspiracy?~


“The buildings of the capital city are made of enameled brick or wood,” Sarya mused.


“And what buildings are of quarried stone are the oldest and most important, and lit by phorescent vapor.” The Regent continued.


“They must have been close?” prompted Sarya to Imra.


~The telepath on the steps of the palace, certainly.  The others could be anywhere.  There is no reason that Landa, or Garth, should have any images of these others at all.~


Landa grabbed a pad off of the table and began flicking angrily through information, and finally thrust the pad in front of Imra.  “The iron torches.  Did they look like this?”


~Exactly like that,~ Imra confirmed.


“The catacombs beneath the palace.  The worms plot amidst the bones of our ancestors!”  Landa exclaimed, tossing the pad to the table in front of Sarya.


“There are hundreds of chambers down there.  I will have the guardsmen outfitted with scanning machines, and they will sweep the area.” Barak declared, but Sarya shook her head.


“Your Champions will be weapons in the hands of our enemies, unable to resist the compulsions.  They will turn their weapons upon each other, or us.  The group must move quickly, and have few people in it, people known to be resistant to their wiles,” Sarya added, pulling a saber down from the wall and handing it to Barak, before taking a second one for herself and favoring him with a grim smile.  “We fight again, old friend, but on the same side this time.”


“My Queen,” Landa began, “I fear that I would be a liability, although I greatly desire to raise a blade at your side.”


“I wish that as well, Landa, but you may be right.”   Taking Landa’s hand, Sarya encouraged her, “You are always wise in the ways of battle, when to pick up the blade, and when to pass it to another.”


“Champion Krinn, Champion Ardeen.  Your skills will be required.  We know they carry metal blades, and we know they have minds.  Lead us to our enemy,” the Queen commanded.




~They know we’re down here,~ Imra warned.  ~I can feel a mind in that direction, but it’s slippery...~ she pointed, and they continued through the darkened corridors, lit only by the light shining from the Emerald Eye and an arc of electricity that burned between Garth’s upraised fingers.


The path grew clear, as the corridor was clearly recently traveled, and the torches on the wall showed signs of recent use.  A large circular chamber opened up before them, and across the room, clearly awaiting their approach stood over a dozen figures, clad in robes of poor quality, hoods thrown back to reveal their pale faces.  Most were adults, of various ages, but in the front stood a boy of no more than eight, his face as blank as the others.


“Which is the telepath?” the Queen demanded, and turned as Imra gasped and dropped to her knees, arms up-thrust as it to ward off assault.  ~They all are!  Sweet mercy, they are gestalt!~  Garth dropped to her side, bringing up one arm, eyes flashing.


Passionless faces stared at the intruders, and Rokk felt something press against his back and Jath’s strong arm around his neck.  He could sense that Jath had pressed her blade against his back.  ~You will surrender.~ came an echoing voice, stripped of all emotion, like the mechanical recording of some soulless chorus, ~Attempt to use your powers, and you will die, Champions.~


Garth seemed frozen in place unable to move, his arm still crackling with electricity, but aimed uselessly at the floor, trembling with strain as he tried vainly to raise it towards the robed figures.  Jath’s arm was like steel around Rokk’s neck.  He could see several of the robed figures separate from the others and draw blades from the rack against the wall, advancing towards the Queen and Regent, both of whom had apparently fought off whatever compulsion was holding the others in thrall and raised their swords.


Rokk realized that this wasn’t a stalemate, they were already dead.  The Queen and her Regent couldn’t possibly fight off all of them, and even if they could, it would take a thought for the telepaths to order Jath to kill them all…


He closed his eyes and felt the dozen metal blades in the rack, each a separate death.  Praying for forgiveness, he hurled them violently into the grouped telepaths, shuddering as he heard them slam into flesh and cries of pain.


With a wet sound that traveled through him like a tremor, a thirteenth blade struck home as he felt Lydda’s arm move, and looked down to see the point of her blade protruding from his stomach, just below his ribs.  Dark iron-rich blood began to seep out, and magnetic forces held him upright as he lost all sensation in his lower body.


~Rokk!~ Imra cried out, ~What have you done!~


He looked up to see the telepaths in chaos.  At least six had fallen, blades of assorted sizes stuck deep in their guts, and the others were clutching their bellies as if they too had been hit.  Garth suddenly regained control of his body and looked up to see Rokk, hanging in mid-air with a sword sticking straight through him.  “Medics!  Doctors!  Healers!  Whatever the sprock you people have, get them here, *now*!” he shouted at the shocked Regent who closed his eyes and concentrated.


“My Champions come, I have ordered them to bring every healer we have, and send for more.”


Lydda looked down at the blade in her hand.  She had felt it slide home and now her hand seemed stuck to the handle.  The Queen moved quickly to Rokk’s side and went to support him.


Rokk’s voice was eerily calm.  “I’m fine.  Help the others.”  He said, and then began to wobble slightly as he lost consciousness and slumped into Sarya’s arms.


Lydda released her grip on the blade and flew back into the wall as if struck.  Looking at the sight in front of her, every Warrior’s nightmare, she sank to the floor and placed her hands over her face, wishing with all her heart that this was a lie, but knowing it to be the all-too-terrible truth.


The telepathic group mind had fallen into disarray with the sudden injury to so many of its component minds, and Imra shoved them apart as quickly as she could.  Some sought escape from the pain of their brethren, and she helped them, others sought to seize onto their group to help diminish their own pain, and those she had to block.  Already the group-mind was regaining focus,


~They are regaining strength!~ she cried out, and Sarya barked to the Regent, “Help her.”  Her mentor looked at her with a questioning look, shrugging, ‘how?’ and she continued on, “You have the will of a King.  Lend her your strength.”  Shaking his head, he stepped forward and placed his hand upon Imra’s shoulder, closing his eyes and trying desperately to recall the calming clarity of thought that came from the whispered teachings of his ancestors.


Jath!”  Sarya barked, to no immediate reply, Jath!”   Jath’s head only shook in denial, her face still buried in her palms.  Making sure that Garth had a grip on Rokk, Sarya lifted her hand from Rokk’s torso, where she had been attempting to stem the flow of blood and pulled the Kathooni warrior from the floor in a sudden motion.  Thrusting her blood-soaked hand into Jath’s face she pulled her to her mate.  “Place your hand here,” Sarya commanded, grabbing Jath’s hand and placing it over the wound.  “Hold him, as he held you.”


Sarya looked at Garth meaningfully.  “You must stop the bleeding.  There is no time.”   And then she turned and stepped over to Imra, to place her hand upon her Regent’s, and lend the mental strength of the Queen of Venegar to the silent battle transpiring.


Jath, you’re stronger than I am.  You’ve got to pull the sword out fast and clean.” Garth said softly.


“He will bleed the faster,” she protested, unwilling to even look down at the blade.


“I’ll take care of that.  Just do it!” he said.  ‘It’s a good thing you’re unconscious buddy,’ he thought as Jath steeled herself and tore the blade from Rokk’s body, hurling it behind her with such force that the blade snapped against the wall with a sound like a gunshot.  Garth gritted his teeth and stuck his fingers into the wound, delivering a sudden jolt of current, and again to the hole in his back, attempting to cauterize the bleeding.


Jath caught the edge of the current, but stood firm.  Rokk’s body had jerked with each shock, but hung limply now, and she looked up, “You have stopped his heart!”


Garth put his hand to Rokk’s neck, and was reassured to feel a slow pulse.  “No Jath.  I don’t think anything can stop that heart.”


Long minutes passed before Garth heard a thundering sound coming down the staircase behind them, and two of the aged former Champions stumbled into the room, an even older figure clad only in a nightrobe supported between them, having not touched a single stair in their precipitous descent.  Behind them, a dozen more figures could be seen, some armored, and others more commonly dressed, and often being dragged forcefully down the stairs by the rushing warriors.


Sarya looked up, her brow furrowed with concentration at the older man who had just been brought into the room.  “You will tend to my Champion,” she said, pointing at Rokk.  “Everybody else, tend to these others.”


The Royal Chirurgeon did not bother to acknowledge his Queen, already examining Rokk’s wound and shouting to the warriors behind him to hand him various items that they had hastily grabbed from his supplies.




“Three of the injured could not be saved, my Queen,” reported the Chirurgeon.


“Including?” she prompted quietly with a nod for discretion, nodding towards her sleeping Champion.


“That one as well, Highness.”


“And my Champion, what of his condition?”


“He will live, but the blade cleanly severed his spinal column.  We do not have the science to repair that sort of damage.  He will not walk again, not without alien medicine.”


Rokk opened his eyes to see Lydda asleep next to him, holding onto his hand in a bruising grip, even in her sleep.  He propped one of his legs while adjusting and the doctor rushed over, “This is impossible!  Your legs cannot move, your spine was severed!  I but sealed it together with laser-light!”


Sarya placed her hand upon her flustered Chirurgeon, “Clearly it *is* possible, for this Champion.”


“Where are the others?”  Rokk asked wearily.


“The remaining telepaths required sedation.  Champion Ardeen sits with them, and Champion Ranzz sits with her.”


“How many,” he asked, eyes narrowing.


“Three died,” she said matter-of-factly.


“What about that kid, in the front row?” Rokk asked, dreading the answer.


“The blades struck the stomach, which is why so many lived when they should have died.  The child was struck in the throat, and his death was swift.”   Sarya admitted, placing her hand upon Rokk’s shoulder when he tried to get up protesting, waking Jath in the process.  “You will lie still.”   The Queen ordered, looking to Jath.  “If he moves, he may bring injury to himself.  Do not let him move.”


The Queen quickly walked away, and Rokk found that he couldn’t budge with Jath’s hand firmly planted in the center of his chest, and when he looked to her, she looked away.  Jath, let me up.  I need to see.”


“No.  There is nothing to see.  Some have lived, some have died.  That part is over.”


Jath.”  Rokk began, before looking to see that they were alone for the moment, “Lydda…”


Her face turned towards him suddenly, “You would still call me by that name, even after…” her voice trailed off as she looked at the bandages below where her hand rest.


“I don’t blame you for that!” he protested.


“’Do not blame the blade.  Blame the arm that wields the blade.’”  Lydda said, quoting some Kathooni aphorism.


Reaching up, he rested his hand against her face, turning it to face his own, “’Do not blame the arm, blame the *mind* that directs the arm.’”  Seeing her look, “That wasn’t *your* mind.  It was their mind.  Minds.  Whatever.  They used you to hurt me.  I don’t blame you.”


Lydda rested her head on his chest and Rokk was chilled to hear her murmur, “I wish you had killed them all, not just three.”




~There are too many of them Highness.  We can’t keep them sedated forever, and we certainly can’t keep them sedated all the way to Titan.~


“This is the only way?  You cannot have your people come here to treat them?”


~Most of my people wouldn’t leave Titan for any reason.  No, they need to be taken to Titan and their minds reconstructed.  They aren’t even people right now, they’re just… parts in a machine.  The older ones, there should be a good chance that our psychologists can pick out their memories and remove them from the others, help them become individuals again.  The younger ones, who have spent their entire lives as part of the gestalt, they will have to have lives *created* for them.  Fake lives, with fake memories.  They don’t have any of their own.~


“The child that died?”


Imra looked downcast.  ~I hate that we won’t even have the chance to try, but I don’t think he would ever be able to become a person.  Even with fake memories, he would be too damaged to function independently.  I doubt he’d ever had a thought of his own.  He was a puppet, and outside of the gestalt, his strings cut, he’d just lie there.  He’d have to be fed and bathed and cared for like, like a pet.~


“You need rest.  You have been here for hours, child.”  The Queen said, brushing Imra’s hair out of her face as her head sagged.


~I can’t.  I have to stay here for them.  They are reaching out for each other, and if I don’t block them, they will reconnect.  They are so scared, so lonely.  If I wasn’t here to soothe them, I don’t know what they’d do.~


‘We need more telepaths,’ Sarya thought.




The Regent nodded.  “It will be as you command.”


His voice thundered to his assembled Champions.  “Every village, every town, every tribe has a wise-woman, an old man on the hill, a clever child who always knows the answers to the riddles.  Find them.  We must locate every one of these mind-witches.  They will hide from you, and attempt to deceive you, for they have never fared well among our people, but the Queen calls them to service now.  Go, start in the towns of your birth, where your friends and families will know the local lore.  Find them and bring them here.”




Over the next day, people flooded into the rooms, some old, some young, and Imra would look at them and nod, “Yes.  Please sit here and hold this man’s hand.” or shake her head, “No.  He is a charlatan, send him home.”


Finally, Imra was able to rest, enough of the rare Venegarian ‘mind-witches’ having been rounded up to give her a few hours of sleep.  When she woke, the Chirurgeon was waiting for her, along with Garth, and they led her to the doctor’s work-chambers, where she saw a small body under a sheet.  ~Is that?~


“Yeah.  We thought you needed to see this.”  Garth said, as the doctor folded back the sheet to reveal a small incision in front of the boy’s skull, that had been hidden by his hair.


~Sweet Memories!  They’ve been here, too?~


“We have examined the others.  The other two who perished did not have these marks, but of the eleven survivors, five have also been operated upon in this fashion.  I have peered into the boy’s skull with an imager,” the doctor said, draping the sheet back over the dead boys head.  “A small portion of his brain has been removed, and your fellow Champion tells me it is this region that governs your mind-speech.”


~Garth, these people, they’re afraid.  I sensed that.  They didn’t want to be alone, they were *terrified* of being alone.  I think that this is why.  Someone, or something, is preying on them, and they’ve banded together out of self-defense.  They just got lost in it, banded together so tightly that they couldn’t break apart again…~


“If you’re right, maybe we can find out if the ones that were targeted were publicly known to be ‘mind-witches.’  If the locals knew that someone was a telepath, whoever-it-is might have been able to find them.  It would explain why they were hiding in the catacombs, covering their faces, anyway…”  Garth theorized.


~Doctor, when was this surgery performed?~  Imra asked.


“At least a year ago.  His skull had grown since the incision.  I will check the others as well.” he said, grabbing a scanner and heading out.




The trip to Titan was crowded, as the Queen had ordered the other ‘mind-witches’ to also make the journey, assuring them that their homes and duties would be attended to in their absence.  Imra had convinced her that allowing them to remain untrained in the ways of telepathy was a major factor in the formation of the dangerous group-mind.  Sarya agreed that the ‘mind-witches’ needed to be taught to use the weapons that they had been born with, and most of her subjects agreed, ‘though few were happy to be leaving their home-world for an extended period.


No amount of discretion could contain the secret, and within hours of docking at Titan station, it seemed that the entire colony knew the full story, and Imra felt a tiny twinge of regret at the possible panicked reaction of her fellow telepaths scattered across the United Planets.  Still, she would rather they lose a few months of their lives safely on their home-world than suffer such an assault on some distant world.


Reyu met her as she arrived, and thanked her for not giving up on the search, and did not seem concerned that she had stumbled upon these new victims by accident.  As part of his own therapy, he had negotiated to be able to assist in the treatment of these new arrivals, and while the weary Champions returned to Earth, and the Embassy, he kept in touch with Imra daily, sharing new reports of the information pieced together from many minds.


~The common image is of a male figure, always in shadows, no matter where the light source is in the room.  His hand rests upon their chest, pinning them with relentless force, and it is a hand clad in cold metal.  They got no mental contact through the metal hand, except for one.  A young woman reported that his other hand, one that was not gloved in metal, but warm and of flesh, brushed against her, and she got a fleeting glimpse of a mind that was more like a machine than a man.~ Reyu sent.


~That’s all?~ Imra asked, disappointed.


~Unfortunately, yes.  Whoever is doing this is keeping his thoughts, and his appearance, to himself.  I do wonder, why isn’t he just killing the, *us,* after he is done?  Why leave potential witnesses?~


~A trail of dead telepaths would have been noticed long before now, especially if their heads had been cut open.  We know that he’s been operating for at least a year, gathering his samples, and picking on people who live in hiding, like the Venegarian mind-witches, means that no crime was even reported, until you...~, Imra thought bleakly.  Reyu said his good-byes and closed the connection, leaving Imra brooding alone in the dark.