The Dark Empire, Page 228-234 by Wolfenshire ()
The Dark Empire, Page 228-234
Mace stretched his legs out, pleased he could almost match the Gunslingers pace. He glanced sideways at the man. “Marcus, I’m not a boy anymore, I’m twenty-three.”
Gunslinger Black grunted. “I’m over three-hundred. I’ll stop calling you boy when you hit your triple digits.”
Mace looked out at the spindly bushes lining the path. Robert, Marae, and Bobby were trailing behind them, while Zil lead the procession. The grey bushes matched with the grey sky and the grey path and the grey trees. It felt like walking through a black and white movie.
Gunslinger Black cocked his head slightly. “I can hear you playing around with my revolvers, Robert, put them back before you shoot yourself.”
Robert flinched guiltily. He had already tried to pull the hammer back and hadn’t been able, the gun was too big. “Raen says the Ravens and the Gunslingers are enemies,” said Robert.
“I suppose that’s true,” replied the Gunslinger.
“I guess that makes the Gunslingers my friends,” replied Robert.
Gunslinger Black turned his head slightly and caught a glimpse of Robert behind him, the boy still hadn’t put the revolver back in the holster. “The enemy of your enemy, is that it? I wouldn’t be telling any other Darai that, it’s acceptable for one Darai to bicker with another, but the Darai take a dim view of siding with an outside species against another Darai; they call that treason.”
“Hmm…good point. Are all Gunslingers so big?” asked Robert.
“Have you ever met a Cettise?” asked Black.
Robert shrugged. “I saw a couple during the war, and Bobby killed their Emperor.”
The Gunslinger spun around and moved so fast Robert’s mind didn’t even have time to register he had moved. A hand settled on Robert’s shoulder and a voice whispered in Robert’s ear. “Now you’ve met one up close.” Robert jumped and dropped the revolver. The Gunslinger snatched it out of the air before it could hit the ground. The Gunslinger slipped the deadly revolver back into the holster Robert was wearing.
“You…you’re…a…Cettise?” stuttered Robert.
The Gunslinger felt the tip of a sword press into his back and straightened up. “Ah, the loyal brother. Marae, you among everyone have remained as true to your nature as the gentle moonlight watching diligently over those that sleep beneath its watchful gaze.”
“I got no war with you, Sir, but maybe you back away from my brother now,” said Marae holding the sword steady on the Gunslinger.
Mace turned around. “Marae, put it away, Marcus isn’t your enemy”
“I don’t know that,” said Marae.
Mace wagged a finger at Robert. “You should have put the revolver away when Marcus told you to, you got your hand slapped, that’s all, take a gentle rebuke when it’s deserved.”
Marae lowered his Hawk short sword. “Are you a Cettise also?”
Mace looked at the Gunslinger. “No, but I could tell you about the Cettise, if Marcus allows.”
Gunslinger Black waved a hand absently. “Go ahead, it will pass the time.”
The group moved out again, with Robert being a little sulky.
Mace took a deep breath and began his story. “House Kesune forged the Kesune modern civilization. When they reached the space age, the Kesune Emperor started using House Cettise to conquer worlds. Darai is fairly close in galactic terms to Kesune. They surveyed your world when you were still hunkered down in your caves during ‘The time the sky fell’ age of Darai. With all the meteors slamming every day into your planet, they decided your planet wasn’t worth the effort of colonization. Your species was forgotten about and in the following eons you caught up with and passed the Kesune in technological advancements. House Kesune became corrupt and House Cettise revolted and deposed the Kesune Emperor. House Cettise ruled for thousands of years, until they also became corrupt and House Kesune threw down the Cettise Emperor and again ruled the planet.”
“Wait, so the Jon Blacks are Cettise? I thought the Jon Blacks are from Carina?” interrupted Bobby.
“Marcus is the only Jon Black Cettise. There was even a Darai Jon Black once, but there wasn’t much written down about him, not even a photo, and he disappeared when his time as the Jon was over,” explained Mace. “So anyway, House Kesune again ruled and for thousands of years expanded their Empire, but they didn’t see the snake in the grass. House Calium began whispering poison into the Kesune Emperor’s ear against House Cettise. House Cettise saw it coming and fled on the eve before the Kesune Emperor declared House Cettise traitors and ordered all the Cettise to be executed. The Kesune Emperors ruled for another ten thousand years, but the now disbanded House Cettise was clever. They returned in one’s and two’s and integrated into House Kesune, hiding in plain sight. One of the Kesune Emperor’s unknowingly married a Cettise Princess, and in time House Kesune became thick with Cettise descendants. It didn’t take long for the Princess’ son to become the next Kesune Emperor, and thus the Cettise again sat the throne, though no one knew it was really a Cettise on the throne.”
“That was really smart,” said Bobby.
“It didn’t last long, but now almost everyone had Cettise blood,” said Mace. “House Calium finally tipped their hand and revolted, killing the Kesune-Cettise Emperor, but they didn’t get the throne as they thought they would. A minor House, House Fox, swooped in at the last moment and defeated House Calium, and with the Kesune Emperor dead, House Fox took the throne and thus began the golden age of the Planet Kesune. The Fox Emperors sat the throne for over a hundred-thousand years, and their world prospered, with an army of Cettise at their side. House Calium licked their wounds and waited.”
“They don’t teach any of this in Darai schools,” said Robert, deciding to stop sulking and joining in. “But isn’t House Fox still on the throne?”
“I’m telling the story from Marcus’ time, not yours” said Mace. “So, House Fox mated only with the Cettise, wanting to increase the Cettise genetic strengths with their own, and eventually became the physically and mentally most superior species in the universe. But, treachery brought them down. House Calium reared its ugly head and poisoned the Fox Emperor, but the Carinian Guard, descendants of an ancient and forgotten line of warriors that served the Fox Emperor as his Imperial Guard." Mace spread his arms and grinned. "They are called the Carinian Guard now, but thousands of years ago, they were called the Gunslingers. So, the Carinian Guard repelled House Calium. The Fox Emperor’s son was put on the throne, but he only ruled for two days. Now, you’re going to love this part. The Boy Emperor was only six years old, but even at six he was the most brilliant mind ever born, and he had a secret protector.”
“Who?” asked Marae, getting into the story.
“Hold on,” said Mace. “This is the part where Marcus comes into the story. Carina the Ocean God had seen a glimpse of the future and knew the Boy Emperor would have to flee into exile, so twenty years earlier he took a Cettise baby from the arms of its mother. She was promised gold. Carina raised that baby up to be a Jon Black, and for the purpose of being the Boy Emperor’s protector until he could take back the throne.”
“Oh my gosh, that was you, Gunslinger,” said Robert. “Your mother sold you to the Ocean God.”
“She did, and she got her payment,” said the Gunslinger sadly. “She rests inside a treasure chest full of her gold at the bottom of the ocean.”
“Oh…I’m sorry,” said Robert.
The Gunslinger sighed. “I’ve never decided if I hate Carina for his treachery to my mother, or if I’m grateful to have been taken from a woman that would sell her baby for gold. I’ve had many sleepless nights trying to decide.”
“So you were the Boy Emperor’s secret protector,” said Robert.
“No, but Mace is telling the story. Go ahead, Mace. I’m going to fall over laughing when I see the expression on Robert’s face.”
Mace grinned. “When Carina glimpsed the future, it was hazy, he’s not a Time Walker, he only knew there would be a secret protector, so he thought if he provided it, the Boy Emperor would grow up loyal to him. Are you ready for this?” asked Mace.
“Yes,” shouted Robert, Marae, and Bobby together. “Who’s the secret protector?”
“Well, a year before the Fox Emperor was killed, the greatest of the Raven Kings learned of the Fox Emperor’s son and his incredible intelligence. The Raven King thought to assassinate the boy and prevent the boy from growing up to conquer Darai. The Raven King went to personally kill the boy in his sleep. The Raven King snuck into the Palace and stood over the sleeping boy. A moment of compassion came over the Raven King and he couldn’t plunge the blade into the boy’s body. The Raven King stepped away from boy, warring with this strange feeling of compassion. He looked down at the floor and saw an army of toy soldiers arranged on the floor. He stared at those toy soldiers for a long time before he realized the soldiers were arranged in a mathematical formula.”
“What mathematical formula?” asked Robert.
“It was the equation for a World Bridge; it was the gate technology that had disappeared with the extinction of the Creators. The boy, at only six years old, had discovered the equation for creating jump gates. The Raven King knew he couldn’t let that equation be lost, and so a year later when the boy’s father was killed, the Raven King’s intelligence network sent him word that the Calium were going to use nuclear weapons on the Palace. The Raven King spirited the Boy Emperor and the twenty-five lesser Princes of House Fox off the planet. He took the Princes first to Marcus on Carina, but a week later, Marcus was assassinated by a rival faction of Ravens, so the Raven King took the Princes to the Planet Cyness. The Boy Emperor was unhappy though, so the Raven King left the twenty-five lesser Princes with Marcus, and took the Boy Emperor to Darai.”
“Wait, you said Marcus was assassinated?” said Bobby.
Mace waved a hand. “Jon Blacks never really die, they always come back, they’re just not allowed to be the Jon of Carina after they’ve died once.”
“Jon means prince, right?” asked Bobby.
“Kind of, the word actually comes from the Atan language and means Clan Chieftain. There were once thousands of Atan Jons, that’s where the Jon Blacks originated. My grandfather was the Jon of Clan Black. He conquered all of Atan and united them under Clan Black of the Northern Seas. Now stop interrupting.”
“Sorry,” said Bobby.
“So, Marcus turned the twenty-five Princes into what would become known as ‘The Order of the Gunslingers,’ but the Raven King raised the Boy Emperor in the Raven Temple. The Boy Emperor eventually did take his throne back, and many years later ended the Cettise wars against the Darai forever.”
Robert, Marae, and Bobby stood with their mouths open.
Gunslinger Black roared with laughter. “I knew their expressions would be priceless.”
“Holy Sun God, the Ravens save Darai, the freaking Ravens?” shouted Robert.
Mace shook his head. “No, not the Ravens. They were cold and sometimes cruel to the Boy Emperor, but the Boy Emperor loved his adopted father, the Raven King, with all his heart. On the Raven King’s death bed the Boy Emperor, now seventeen, swore to protect Darai and end the horrible wars the Cettise have inflicted upon your people, and he was true to his promise.”
“The Raven King showed compassion, and for it won Darai’s freedom,” said Robert. “That was a great story?”
Zil was getting too far ahead and stopped to wait for the group to catch up.
“We’re coming, calm down, we’re not trying to escape,” said Mace.
“I didn’t think you were,” said Zil. “You couldn’t anyway.”
“Really, pretty sure of yourself,” said Mace. “You startled me at first, but it’s one Time Walker against two Jon Blacks, I think we could get away if we wanted.”
The Gunslinger held his hands up. “Woah there, Mace, don’t go down that path. You only ever see one Time Walker, but there are always two more hiding just on the other side of the curtain of time and space.” Gunslinger Black looked at Zil. “Which one are you, Time Walker?”
“Past,” said Zil.
Mace turned to the Gunslinger. “What’s he mean, ‘past’?”
“All Time Walkers are three people, Past Self, Present Self, and Future Self; it’s what makes them nearly undefeatable, along with the advantage of their species being born in that place you saw through the Portal of Creation."
Robert spun on Zil. “I knew it, we’ve been talking about it for weeks. You always seems to be everywhere at the same time. Moeth is the one that started figuring it out. You’re always talking to chairs and walls and stuff, but you’re not, are you? You’ve been talking to your other selves we can’t see.”
Zil grinned and mimicked a mystic voice. “See all, know all.”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Bobby. “I see him yelling at the train all the time, is he yelling at his other selves then also?”
Zil shook his head and laughed. “No, that’s present Zil, he’s mad at the train, but not me and future Zil, we’re friends with the train.”
“Okay, I give, why is present Zil mad at the train?” asked Robert.
“The train ran over a ball he was playing with and wouldn’t give it back,” said Zil.
“But…you’re…and they’re…and…he is…,” stuttered Bobby.
“Don’t think about,” said Black. “You’ll just give yourself a headache.”
“Okay, so now what?” asked Robert.
Zil shrugged. “Depends if the Gunslinger tells you. If he does, we won’t need to go see it.”
Gunslinger Black narrowed his eyes. “I figured that’s what this was about. A bit gruesome, don’t you think, just to get me to confess?”
Zil shrugged. “I don’t force anyone to do anything, but they need to see the whole truth to make the proper decisions or the time correction won’t work.”
“Marcus, what’s he talking about?” asked Mace.
Black sighed. “He wants me to tell you what really happened the day the original Bobby died.”
Bobby held a hand up. “Umm…excuse me, from my perspective I am the original Bobby, how about we call him ‘the other Bobby’.”
“Fair enough,” replied Gunslinger Black with a nod.
“Just tell us already,” said Robert. “I want to get this over with so either me or Bobby can go home.”
The Gunslinger sighed. “I seriously doubt the wisdom of this, but very well. We were traveling on this path, it leads to the doorway of the Plains of the Dead, and from there to the Gates of the Land of the Ancestors. The door was sealed when we got there, it was an ambush. The Jon Blacks fighting against us attacked and a battle ensued. We got the door open and Mace led us through the door, the other Bobby came through the door last; he almost made it, but a tentacle lashed out and grabbed him and pulled him back through the door.”
Robert gestured with his hands for the Gunslinger to hurry the story up. “We’ve all heard this part of the story, the monster dragged Bobby to it and tried to eat him.”
“Bobby wasn’t the beast’s target, it was looking for Mace, Bobby was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” continued Gunslinger Black, frowning at the interruption. “It happened so fast I only had enough time to get four rounds off at the beast, and then it was too late. Bobby was dragged into the beast’s maw and its fangs sank into Bobby’s flesh, and at that point there was nothing that could have been done to save Bobby. The venom in that beast’s fangs has no cure. We don’t know what the beast is, or where it came from. There’s some speculation it may be a creature left over from a previous universe.”
Robert shook his head in agitation. “Still nothing new, we all know the story.”
The Gunslinger lowered his voice to almost a whisper. “The beast would have spit Bobby out at that point if not for everyone pounding on it, not that it mattered. The venom from that creature would have caused Bobby to linger for weeks in terrible agony.”
Robert frowned. “Oh, I see. You shot Bobby, and the others didn’t know. For the love of the Sun God, we’re Hawk warriors and understand the need to give mercy on the battlefield sometimes. I hope that if I’m ever in the same situation you would give me such kind and quick mercy.”
The Gunslinger showed a moment of confusion. “I feel a terrible guilt for what I had to do.”
Robert pressed his lips together in a frown of disgust. “You don’t understand anything about the Darai, we’re not human and we don’t think like you.”
Gunslinger Black lowered his head slightly. “No, I suppose I don’t and never will. You Darai have no respect for the sanctity of life.”
Robert’s eyes blazed with anger. “That’s not true. Darai are linked together in the River of Consciousness. We are not individuals alone in the dark like you. We are one, we feel the grief of every death of every Darai, but we are a whole, bonded together against the dark. When a part of that whole dies, we also celebrate the contribution that part made.”
“I will never understand that,” said Black. “I’ve seen the Darai commit terrible atrocities against each other.”
“Of course we do,” said Robert. “It’s called natural selection, we can only allow the strongest of our parts to survive. We cut the weakness out of us and grow stronger.”
“Your thinking is too alien for me to grasp.”
Robert threw his arms up. “I give up, you refuse to see. We accept every species as they are, but you can’t accept us as we are, and that’s why there is a war between us and the Jon Blacks. Zil, are you going to reset time here so Bobby can live again?”
Zil shook his head. “I can’t, where one of those creatures appears, the time-line at that place hardens and can’t be altered.”
Robert stared at Zil for a moment. “Okay, I get it. You needed us to see how Bobby died and understand that he can’t ever come back.” Robert shifted his gaze to the Gunslinger. “Thank you for protecting Bobby from a horrible death, but you could have just told us that before we walked ten miles on this stupid path.” Robert walked out onto the path and looked both ways. “Where to now? This has been a complete waste of time. Not even the Time Walkers understand the Darai.” Robert chose a direction and started walking.
Marae looked at Zil, then Mace, then the Gunslinger. Marae shrugged. “He has a temper and you made him mad treating us like children. Maybe not do that again.” Marae and Bobby hurried past to catch up with Robert.
Mace turned to Gunslinger Black and grinned. “See why I like the Darai so much, they’re awesome.”
The Gunslinger frowned. “Uh huh, awesome, like having a pebble in your boot is awesome.”