The second story written on this wiki (also the first multi-user story) centres around the latest conflict between the Romans, Darians, and the Xanji against the New Greek Empire, India, and Nunavut. It also, introduces the Peacekeepers as well as emperors Tanzim of Rhoss and Augustus XV of Rome as some of the main characters of the Romanum universes. It is also the first story in the Rise of Romanum story arc.
With the Greco-Indian-Inuit alliance becoming more and more powerful, they have threatened to destroy the Nexus if their Roman-Annexed territories are not returned. The Great Roman Empire has intrusted the Xanji government with the creation of a new weapon. However, a Roman scientist believes that the weapon in question, if used in the wrong hands, could prove even more dangerous than anticipated. Faced with the possible destruction of his people, he must learn the meaning of teamwork when he is joined with an inexperienced Greek spy, a beautiful Persian girl with a good aim, a down-on-his-luck Xanji inventor and a mysterious girl from a dead empire. Together they must discover what this new weapon is and, for the sake of all of humanity, destroy it.
'What do you mean 'e isn't 'ere yet!?' screamed a fierce male voice from within the Great Hall of the Temple ei Irium. 'the meetin' was supposed to start twen'y minutes ago!'
In the middle of the massive hall, obviously made to accommodate many thousands of monks, priests, beggers, thieves and all manner of low-lives seeking to repent for their sins, stood two men. A large, rather robust man was standing over a considerably smaller and thinner man holding a clipboard.
'W-w-w-well, S-s-sir...' -started the small man with an extremely high and shaky voice.
'Have you forgotten who I am, Ire. Savunis?' yelled the tall man 'I am Devu kwan Nenvutu, the prefect's pers'nal assistant an' if 'e doesn't like the way a job's done, he replaces you!'
It was common for the Xanji accent and pronunciation to drift from cultured and courteous to colloquial and vulgar about every five or so words. Devu, who was indeed the prefect's personal assistant, tended not to notice because he had practically spent half his life deafening himself by yelling at people, telling them to do things the king asked him to do.
'Yes Sir! I mean NO Sir! I mean...' Savunis struggled to find his feet.
You often did when you were confronted by Derv, well known for having them chopped off for something as simple as putting cheese in his ham sandwich by accident.
'Is there a problem, gentlemen?' said a soft, cold voice from the shadows.
The two looked around in panic. Behind them, from out of nowhere, had appeared the tall, thin-yet-imposing figure of the prefect. Unlike most Xanjmen of the lowlands, whose skins were usually quite dark, Tanzim of Rhoss, high chairman of the Xanjin Technologist Imperium had skin so white that you could almost see his veins. This little detail often brought about speculation that he was, in fact, some kind of demon. Among many exagerations, not helped by the fact that he would refuse to confirm anything. His eyes fell on Savunis, then quickly darted left and locked with Devu's. They clicked and whired starting to glow crimson red.
'Need I repeat myself?' he inquired after several seconds of silence.
Devu felt as though his very soul was being read like a book. Tanzim was a very curious man. He was imposing yet at the same time his presence was almost calming. His sleak, black, greasy hair was neetly kept, he always looked as though he were going to a funeral with his long dark overcoat and gloves and his hands were always held behind his back. He was always polite and always respected the turn of word. Most people outside the empire might consider him a tyrant. Altough this was a very strange kind of tyrrany: it was like a democracy, but when someone got into office, the only time they left was in a metal coffin. Tanzim had seen of several potential assassinations in his time, and would often pay citizens a great deal of money for their support in his reign.
'N-n-no, S-s-sir, I was merely...' started Devu. He stopped when Tanzim raised his hand and broke his gaze, much to Devu's relief and Savunis' interest. He wondered how a man that always seemed to be so polite could cause a man like Devu to freeze with fear.
'Ordering people about again, Devu?' he inquired with a slightly less polite tone. 'You really ought to take a more... hands-on approach to the tasks I give you.'
'Y-y-yes S-s-sir,' he said, ready to break down in tears.
Tanzim turned back to Savunis, his eyes changing color once more to a shade of light blue. Savunis seemed strangely comfortable around the emperor. He would always thank him, and give him a small raise for a job well done.
'Now,' said the prefect. 'What is the situation Ire, Savunis?'
'Well, Sir, the Roman Emperor was due to arrive twenty minutes ago.' he said.
'The Emperor's here!' cried one of the sentries guarding the gates to the Temple. The army band standing at attention in two groups situated at either side of the Temple's front doors sprang to life, beginning to play the Imperial Fanfare. The Roman motorcade came through the opened gates, with hover-cars of all designs. The motorcade slowed down, turning its side towards the doors and setting itself down. The driver of the car in the middle exited and opened a door at the back. A dark-suited man wearing a red tie emerged from the vehicle who saluted the two groups of musicians before walking to the front doors of the Temple ei Irium.
'Augusto, mio antico amico!' shouted Tanzim, arms wide open. 'Io vado a ricevervi, rinnovato di recente, il tempio di Irium,' It amazed Savunis that he had such a great grasp of the Latino Nova language.
'Grazie per la calorosa accoglienza, Tanzim,' greeted Augustus politely. The two proceeded to shake hands.'Se, tuttavia, si vuole, e cominceremo alla parola!' Augustus announced.
Glancing sideways, Tanzim noticed the bewildered look on Devu's face and added, 'E non avevo hai chiesto che, come interprete dei problemi, tranne che un'opera separatamente,' in a slightly lower tone.
The Roman emperor lifted a small device out of his pocket. He pressed a small button on the right side and clipped it to the pocket.
'If you insist, Tanzim,' he was now speaking in Xanju. Savunis immediately recognized the device as a universal translator.
When the two had entered the building aling with the emperor's protection detail, Devu turned to Savunis with his usual "so-good-at-what-I-do-I-don't-need-to-do-it" look. He leaned towards the other and whispered into his ear:
'Recap the last few moments will you.' he said, still arrogant as ever. 'I'm not so good at Latin.'
'Well, I believe Emperor Tanzim greeted Emperor Augustus as an old friend; The Roman Emperor returned the greeting and announced that they would begin talks.' explained Savunis. 'Tanzim also asked Augustus to activate his universal translator or something.'
'Or some'fin!?' said Devu. 'I thought you were an expert!'
'On ancient Latin, Sir,' said Savunis calmly. 'I'm not so good with Latina Nova.'
Devu walked away in great stides and with surprising speed for a man of his size, while Savunis tried to keep up. They entered a long briefing room where the two emperors where sitting alongside a very well dressed Persian businessman and who they assumed was his daughter; a tall, thin, very pale man with a vale covering his eyes sitting next to emperor Tanzim; two large robotic sentinels and finally Anathema of the Winds, lord Tanzim's Greek-born protégé.
The crowed all nodded in agreement. If you were a Greek, Indian, or Inuit politician, stuck in a room with these people, none of them would hesitate to punch you (except maybe Tanzim, Anathema or Savunis) if they felt like it. Nobody liked the Greeks: they were thought of as arrogant, snooty, and never washed their hands after using the lavatories. Anathema, despite being born in that country herself, believed the Greeks had over-stayed their welcome: they looted supply vehicles, stole technology, executed Romans, Xanji and Darian Persians for crimes they did not even commit and would not hesitate to shoot women with political views. Tanzim knew otherwise, that these were just demonisms cast upon the Greeks and that most of the rumors surrounding them were untrue; The Xanjin emperor continued:
'As you may well know, the current Athenian Senator of this...' he hesitated. '... so called "democracy", Alexander Temelko, has apparently singed a military referendum to attack the central Aurine caves, the primary contact point for the Nexus.'
Everyone exchanged looks of outrage. The Persian ambassador stood up and exclaimed: 'That is Sacred Ground for all our peoples, including theirs! They would not dare set foot on it!'
'I'm afraid, Ire. Nickuru, you are mistaken' said Tanzim solemnly. 'they plan to not only invade, but destroy the Nexus in about a month.'
The Nexus. In ancient times it was a fortress, a simple construct serving as a defence outpost. Legend has it that the leaders of the Four Great Empires -a union of the Xanj, Old Persian, Roman, and Egyptian empires (with many of the Romans being of Greek descent) made a bold last-stand against a seemingly endless horde of barbarian scum. Through their superior military tactics, Devine intervention or just dumb luck, the four emperors managed to not only hold of the horde but wipe them and their villages out. The empires entered into a pact that saw off invasions from Vandals, Visigoths and many other tribes. When the Hydronians fell and the New Greek empire took over Alexandria, it's mystic heritage faded into myth. To this day the alliance has been remembered and the Nexus has become sacred ground to every empire, every religion. If the Greeks were to destroy it... any chance of peace in the world would disappear and it would end in total war.
'Then we have no choice' said Augustus, standing up. 'The Greco-Indian-Inuit Alliance must be stopped at all cost! Destroyed if necessary!'
The crowd roared in agreement. Devu, who was now sat next to Tanzim cried: 'Here, Here! Down with all of those filthy, stinking sons of ...!'. He stopped when Tanzim nudged him and nodded in the direction of Anathema, despite the fact that she didn't seem to care. He then stood up and cleared his throat.
'Then it is decided, action must be taken.' he began walking around the table. 'But I remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that the Greeks are not evil, they are merely in the hands of leaders that don't even seem to understand the concept of democracy, where every citizen, except women as I am told, has the right to vote. They can do nothing without the approval of the Polies and, in some-cases, the Great Senate. A senate in the hands of men who seek absolute control of their people...'
The representatives were listening keenly. Even though he made this same speech every year at the Ceroma Pacifishis voice was as hypnotic as ever, and everyone present knew he had a very strong point.
'As the Nexus is sacred ground,' he continued. 'I find it hard to believe that a majority of citizens, even those fanatical zealots, would vote to destroy such an ancient and culturally important structure. This leads me to believe that the ether the Grand Senate, or the Polis of Old Sparta, are conspiring to destroy it. Why? I can not say. But if they succeed, they will deal a critical blow to those who rely on their faith in order to maintain their society. The SDTM, for example, have always believed the Nexus to be the final destination of those who fell in battle; the old Romans believed that Mars came down to Earth and gave them devine weaponry to fight the barbarians, et cetera.'
He finished his speech as quickly as it had begun. It seemed only a few seconds long, but all present had absorbed the information and were now conferring with each-other.
'Nether the less,' he said quickly. 'they are still a threat and all threats must be dealt with quickly and efficiently. That is why my finest scientists and engineers to create... something new. The weapon to end all weapons. The greatest, the most poweful...! he stopped, laughed and corrected himself. 'well you get the picture.'
'What is this weapon, Tanzim? inquired the Persian Ambassador.
'Oh, I assure you, it will be a very... interesting experiment.' he said with an unusually sinister tone.
A Strange VisitorEdit
'By Jupiter...!' he cried when he looked at the schematic layed out on his desk.
Scientist Antony Orselius was one of the few people left in the Roman Empire that still practised the ancient polytheistic religion. He spent most of his days looking at plans. Most of them were plans and discussions of ways of improving the Economic and Social aspects of the Roman Empire. But this morning was different. A tall man in a black overcoat had approached him in his laboratory, and given him a piece of parchment with information on a weapon with some very... distressing characteristics. "Project Death-X", which could, as far as he could tell, spread progressively and potentially wipe out an area the size of the city of Rome in under an hour. Orselius could not believe what he was reading. He could not bring himself to believe that, for one moment, emperor Augustus would commission such a horrific project. He rolled up the parchment and made his way to the Imperial Palace. In the front gardens, he saw the two Princes, Antony and Julius, playing with a ball, under the watchful eye of a Praetorian Guard. They stopped and ran towards Orselius. He was a regular visitor to the Palace, being one of Rome's top scientists.
'Morning, Mr Orselius!' they greeted Orselius, grinning youthfully.
'Good morning, Your Highnesses. May I speak to your father today?'
'Sure!' Antony replied jovially, his brown eyes sparkling. 'Dad's in his office on the first floor.'
'Thank you, Your Highness,' Orselius said as he walked away from the boys.
'You're welcome!' the prince called back.
'Your Excellency,' said Orselius, bowing to Augustus, who was sitting on his end of his desk in the window end of his expansive office. The emperor beckoned him to seat himself. After sitting down, the scientist continued, 'I have some... concerns, regarding the project plans that was delivered to me this morning.' He looked at the great man seated in his chair. His eyes were locked upon those of one of the most powerful men on the entire planet: the Emperor of Rome. Orselius found himself pondering about Augustus' appearance. His features looked so picturesque and refined that it was as if he had been carved out of marble exactly like his statue, which stood in the middle of Constantinople, his birthplace.
The emperor looked puzzled. He pondered for a moment and then said: 'I was not aware of any delivery made to your lab this morning, professor.'
'Well, I believe that to be the least important semantic at the moment, sir.' said Orselius, turning the events of this morning over in his mind. 'The specifications for this... device, lead me to believe...' he hesitated. 'that is to say, in my professional opinion, constructing this weapon would be, at best, inadvisable.'
The emperor did not flinch and merely stared at the scientist in front of him. He replied a moment later: 'You know the Greeks and their allies haven't been very friendly with our diplomats lately, don't you? They have even gone so far as to behead them!'
'I realise that, Your Excellency,' explained the learned scientist. 'However, this weapon, if used in the wrong hands, could result in the destruction of every single superpower in the world!'
'What is that supposed to mean?' asked Augustus. 'Surely it is not THAT dangerous.'
He attempted to explain to the intelligent, yet inhumanly stubborn emperor the exact workings of the device. After hearing the scientists argument, he merely sat back on his chair and took a closer look at the parchment. On it, in the bottom left corner, was a small what one might call "signature" that looked like interlaced snakes with the occasional little circle or apostrophe. He recognized the lettering as a rather old incarnation of Xanju script. Translating directly, it said: to my old friend, the solution to our Greek problem.
Orselius had hoped that he had convinced Augustus to stop the project, but instead, Augustus replied 'Well, we'll just have to make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands won't we?'
'We shouldn't even be considering building it, sir! exclaimed Orelius.
'We won't be, professor.' replied the emperor in a dismal tone. 'We don't have the luxury of meta-materials, in-depth biological research or an Open Border policy with Greeks.'
'Then who will be building it, sir?' said Orelius, even more unnerved.
'The Xanjin Resources, who else?' replied the emperor.
Orelius' heart sunk. The Xanjin, while non-hostile by nature, were devastatingly intelligent. If you asked them to, they would probably be able to devise several different ways of winning a prize draw without actually cheating. They were smart, but they lacked moral balance. Except, apparently, their leader. He was rumoured to have saved a young Greek girl from slavery merely out of the goodness of his heart and single handedly ended a massive racism driven conflict purely by words. With someone like that in charge, would the Xanj really build this thing?
'Sir, I recommend you suspend all plans for work on the...!' he began frantically.
Augustus raised his hand and said: 'I trust Prefect Tanzim implicitly, professor. You are dismissed. If you are found to have shared your findings with anyone outside this room, you will be hunted down with extreme prejudice. Do I make myself clear, Orelius?' he added coldly. His behaviour seemed very erratic. Usually he was a very easy going and peaceful man.
The scientist bowed and then proceeded to slink out of the room in dismay. A few days later he learned that the project had been green-lighted, and was already under way and Orselius had no way of stopping it. He thought to himself: Well, if he won't listen... then I have no choice, I'm going to stop this thing myself!
Antony Orselius, a confident man, was one who was reputed in the Roman circles of science. He had received the Numisma Honoris (Medal of Honour) from the Emperor because of his contribution to the improvement of modern Roman society. His forced silence and his subsequent expulsion from the Imperial Science Academy was a crippling blow not only to his name, but to his pride and faith in himself as well.
The Temple ei Irium was THE most sacred place in the Xanj Imperium, next to the Nexus. And because of this it attracted the attention of many cultures and many different kinds of people. Monks, priests, tourists and your standard run-of-the-mil thief. Because of this, it needed high security and would always be guarded by the very polite, but not so bright Xanj Sentinel Orkhaj'Xon. He would always ask for a passport and if met with a weapon instead, he would politely pick them up by the neck, making sure not to crush too many bones and throw them out of the building.
Today, he was met with a person who looked to be from around the area of N'Mae or Ko'Jhami. Even thinking of the latter, and by extent the Greek LIROPs, made him cringe. He asked the traveller's name. The reply had a surprisingly foreign tone: 'Anni... Anniahok ai... Name!.'
The sentinel responded: 'Would that not be N'Mae, sir?' and was quickly greeted with an over-enthusiastic "Yes!". He handed the traveller a key card and a small piece of metal that allowed access through the main gate's force barrier. In doing so noticed that his hands were quite small and bony for someone from a place that has yielded seventeen "World's Strongest Man" champions.
The man entered the temple only to be pulled out again. The sentinel's eyes had turned red. He said in a voice that would even make a Ko'Jhamian muscleman incontinent: 'YOU. ARE. NOT. ON. THE. LIST.'
'I-i-i'm not?' he managed to get this out with surprising ease considering he was being throttled by a large mechanical hand.'Th-Th-There must be s-s-some mistake.'
'No mistake.' replied the automaton coldly. 'Ether give me a real name or be on your way.'
'Alright, alright!' he screamed. 'I'm a greek...tourist(?)'
'Really? We don't get many of your kind around here' said Xon in a sarcastic tone. 'Political tension, mistrust an' all that stuff. Now, if you really wanna get into this temple, your gonna have to give me a...HEY! Come back here!'
The man had struggled out of the automaton's grip and quickly dashed over to his nearby vehicle and sped away at high speed. 'That' he thought to himself 'was too close!'
Later on in the evening, when there were fewer tourists, he returned to the temple just as the sun was setting. Racking his brains to try and find a way in, he threw a stone into a window near Xon's position. It bounced right off the window without leaving so much as a scratch, but the sentinel left his post to investigate regardless. He walked over to the window, giving Anniahok the chance to run inside while his back was turned. Luckily, the robot had forgotten to confiscate his entry card in the earlier fiasco. He slipped in and ducked behind a statue of emperor Xavazrin. He notice the small, thin figure of Savunis walking by with a info-panel in hand looking around to see where the strange noise had come from.
'Is there someone there?' he said, gazing at the nearby statue of Persian emperor Xei'Keian. 'If so, show yourself.'
'Jus' me, boss.' said Orkhaj. 'some urchin threw a rock at that there window and I...'
What happened next was, by far, one of the biggest flops of a spy's carrier according to the book: 1001 Ways to Fail at Spying. Anniahok had forgotten just how allergic he was to dust (Always make sure to take allergy pills before going into: a) an animal sanctuary, b) a feather duster factory or c) a place with lots of very old dusty statues ). He raised his head from behind the statue to see if he was heard (#675 in the book). The Sentinel did not appear to have heard him at all, but Savunis converged quickly on the spy's position.
'Ah, Ire... Anniahok, was it?' he said looking at the sentinel who in turn nodded. 'Ire Xavrin has been expecting you.'
The spy looked up, bewildered into Savunis' round-but-rather-pointy face. And then everything went blank.
'Ah, Ire "Anniahok", said a cold voice from across a large table. 'we've been expecting you.'
Anniahok was unsure of what had happened in the last few minutes. Out of sheer luck, he had infiltrated the temple ei Irium. He remembered sneezing behind a statue, attracting the attention of a Xanji magistrate and a Sentinel. He remembered the short, thin man's last words to him and after that he went blank. He figured maybe the sentinel had given him a clunk on the head and knocked him out. He was sat at a table, a very large decorative one, in the middle of a room with no lighting except for a small lantern hanging… no, hovering, a few feet above the centre of the table. Sat around the table were four other individuals.
'Y' know, one thing about Greek intelligence officers' said the same, spine tingling voice from across the room. 'they really oughta research the Xanj naming system a little better. Anniahok. Sounds like something getting strangled when you shout it.'
'Where am I?' he responded automatically. This question tended to pop quite often in this kind situation. 'Who are you?'
'All in good time, Ire Hyperios.' said another voice.
From out of the shadows stepped a large round object that, upon further inspection, was Devu. He was wearing a suit a few sizes to small, and was accompanied by the young magistrate from the temple. He was reading an info-panel. Devu found himself a chair, very near Hyperios' and sat down. It was a miracle the thing didn't break under it's occupant's weight. Savunis sat in the chair opposite him, still not taking his eyes of the info-panel.
'How…? began Hyperios franticly.
"...did we know your real name? Your wallet had a GREEK ID card in it, Ire Hyperios" said Devu. 'You dropped it during your botched attempt at infiltrating the temple. I believe that's #21 on the Top 100 Ways to be Bad at Spying, am I correct Ire Savunis?'
'#20, sir' said Savunis now typing something onto the info-panel. 'And "How did you know my name!?" is #12 in the Top 25 Most Cliche Questions in Espionage.'
'Aren't you guys supposed to use telepathy or something?' asked Hyperios wearily, convinced he still had some kind of concussion.
'Of course not!' snapped Devu. 'that stuff give us headaches!'
'I believe that's #23 on the list.'
'Thank you, Ire Savunis.' said the man at the opposite end of the table. 'but I think we should begin. Ire Hyperios, would you be so kind as to give us a report on what is currently transpiring in New Greece. I believe you were instructed to do so by your superior, Ire Sotracus?'
Hyperios couldn't say anything to contradict this. He had indeed been told by Head of Special Intelligence, Sotracus to give information on New Greece to a Xanji contact. He conceded and began:
'We-ell, as you know, Greece declared independance from the Roman empire a while ago.' he said. 'And... it didn't go so well: Rome denied their request, causing them to rebel, and attack nearby Roman territory.'
He really couldn't afford to be dishonest here. They would pick up on any attempt at deception in an instant and the consequences didn't bare thinking about.
'However,' he continued. 'Due to the amount of people living in Greek territory to this day who still hate Greece as a result of that, the new legis..., er, legista...'
'Legislation?' Devu inquired helpfully.
'Yeah!' said the spy triumphantly. 'the New Greek legislation has taken new... "measures" to ensure the laws are obeyed. Which has proven very successful. So succesful in fact, as to have them used in the war.'
'You are referring to your Sentinel knock-offs, "LIROPs" as they call them, no? said Devu, his words full of poison.
'LIROP mechs, yes' he conceded grudgingly. 'New Greece is decimating the Roman-controlled territories up north, and will soon have conquered up to the border of the Scandinavian Union!'
'That certainly presents a problem.' said what Hyperios had come to know simply as "the Voice". 'They were once a peaceful nation and now... There must be an ulterior motive to their aggressive actions. They have even threatened to destroy the most sacred monument on the planet!'
'We-ell, that's not entirely true.' said Hyperios, now massaging the back of his head. 'They say they'll destroy it, but they won't really do it, I... I mean, that would be the tipping point! Every empire would come down on them like a hammer!'
'Indeed it would.' said Devu, producing an ice pack and handing it to Hyperios. 'So this is just an attempt at gettin' the attention of the other empires, a message saying: Give us back our land now, or we'll blow the thing up! Would that be accurate?'
Hyperios simply nodded. He had not expected them to grasp this so quickly.
'Then we must act quickly, for even if the Greeks don't take the Nexus, the Romans appear intent on using the weapon regardless. Many millions of innocents shall die.' said the Voice. He sounded more concerned now then he did when he mentioned the plot to take the Nexus. 'That is why you, Hyperios, will be joining the Peacekeepers.'
The First Great ManEdit
'Lord Tanzim' said Anathema as she approched the emperor's throne. 'I have discovered some rather disconcerting news from our contact at the Roman...'
'Not now, Anathema.' said Tanzim in his usual jovial tone. 'Do continue, Xavrin.'
Anathema looked slightly to the left and saw a tall, hunched over figure in the shadows. It was the same man who had been sitting next to Tanzim in the meeting that had taken place only a week ago. She distinctly remembered him cursing the Greeks and pausing mid-sentence when Tanzim brought her presence to his attention.
'Yes, well.' said Xavrin in a voice slightly higher and shakier than the one he had used in the meeting. 'The plans were delivered to young Ire. Orselius, as you requested. He in turn has delivered it to his majesty Augustus and the emperor has given the go-ahead for the project's construction.'
The emperor did not look pleased, in fact he looked rather disappointed. He covered his eyes and mumbled under his breath in words that nether Xavrin or Anathema could understand. He then assumed his regular position on the throne and signalled his protégé to speak.
'As I was saying, sir,' she said reading of an info-panel. 'Our contact in Rome has recently learned of the aforementioned professor Orselius' dismissal from the Institute of Advanced Technologies and suspension from all activities pertaining to...'
She attempted to decipher the rest of the message mentally. Though she was well trained in many languages, including Latino Nova, she found it difficult to translate proper nouns directly to Xanju.
'Project: Machine... Death... Supreme...(?)' she said looking rather puzzled.
'I personally prefer Project Wraith.' said Xavrin. This got him a stern look from the emperor. He immediately re-assumed his silence.
Anathema gave up and read the message in it's original text:'Machina morte suprema' she said, looking for an answer from ether of the two stood before her. The latter two exchanged looks of bewilderment. Tanzim turned this over in his mind and came out with:
'Machine of Final Death, my dear' he said glumly. 'Translating directly from Latin, Final meaning DEFINITE. I believe it to be, given the function of the weapon, an accurate though rather-grammatically-flawed name.'
After this, Tanzim signaled both of them to leave, saying he needed time to think. Anathema translated this to "I need to figure out how my old friend could agree to such a nefarious plan of action!" in her mind. While she was walking down a small corridor, she saw Xavrin standing in an archway holding a small info-panel. She had met Xavrin several years earlier but she had never heard him speak as much as he had these past week. She knew he was old, very old. Some said he had lived for centuries, implying him to be some kind of vampire or lycanthrope. Anathema doubted this but was still very interested in him. He always kept his eyes covered with a vale and wore clothing similar to the emperor. Anyone who looked at him for more than ten seconds tended to get a feeling that their minutes were numbered.
'So what was all of that about?' she said, leaning on a column opposite him.
'Hmm? I thought you knew Tanzim very well?' he replied, not looking up from the info-panel.
'I...' began Anathema. She stopped because she knew he was right, she should know the answer. 'I do.'
'But...?' said Xavrin, almost daring to look up.
'I've never seen him so... entranced by one subject.' she rummaged through her mind in order to find the answer, but to no avail. 'Why is this so important?'
'One word' said Xavrin, now looking directly at her. 'Nevuchavazin.'
Anathema recognised the name immediately , and then the answer came flooding back into her mind. She thanked him for his time, as was customary, and strode back to the great hall where Tanzim was still staring at the info-panel Xavrin had given him. Anathema remembered the day he told her of how force was not always the answer to a problem. She remembered him telling her of how Nevuchavazin the Great, first king of the Xanji Empire, built the imperium not on the blade of a knife, but on the nib of pen: Nevu always believed that knowledge was, in-fact, the ultimate power. One of his many famous quotes was "You can't win a fight if you do not know how to punch". She was always told, even by Greek teachers, that Nevuchavazin was one of the most wonderful people known to the world. He brought knowledge and peace to the empires of Earth and left a legacy of charity and scientific understanding. Truly, he was "The First Great Man" of the world.
Because of this, Anathema knew that Tanzim would do ANYTHING in his power to avoid war. She knew that when he heard the news of Augustus' complacency with the project, he was filled to the brim with guilt and anger that such a "civilized" man would be willing to commit an act of genocide. She thought to herself: 'Could he have planned for this? Did he intentionally give Orselius the plans first? Could he have done this in order to prevent the use of his own weapon?' So many questions, yet so little answers presented themselves.
She believed, no, she knew one thing: Tanzim would NOT let himself become the "First Tyrant" of the Xanji.
'So why did he agree?' she inquired, approaching the throne.
'Your guess...' started Tanzim, his eyes still fixed on the info-panel. He would often respond or start a conversation by using parts of well know phrases.
'I mean, according to texts and biographies, you two have a lot in common.' she said, knowing that he understood what she meant.
'Indeed.' he said. 'Augustus would rather sit down with a Terror Bird and try to settle their differences by "chatting", than try to shoot it.'
Terror Birds. Another example of Xanji ingenuity: a species that had been extinct for well over ten thousand years, brought back to life with a single strand of DNA. There were several of them in the Temple ei Irium hunting grounds (their speed made them very good mounts for hunting vermin), and many more in the lowlands (where there presence as pest control was greatly needed). In Tanzim's opinion, his people were too smart for their own good. He always said: We're not conquerors, people just use our accidental discoveries to build weapons, very powerful weapons, for their own use. This was all too true, the Persians being a prime example of how knowledge used in the wrong hands could be devastating.
'Perhaps he has been forced to agree?' said Anathema, knowing the response would be:
'I do not think so, Augustus is not easily intimidated or disturbed by anyone; I assume this is because he has witnessed a more...frightening event in his life.'
This was true: during the Second Russo-Roman War between Rome and the Soviet Union, when Augustus was still a boy, his younger sister had died because a Soviet attack on Augustus' home town Vienna, sending him spiralling down into depression. Though he had now fully recovered, Tanzim had reportedly felt a great emptiness in Augustus on several occasions.
'Brainwashed?' said the young protégé. This was greeted with a "not likely" look from her master. Another thing the Xanji were famous for. she thought to herself.
'A more likely solution may be that he doesn't understand how much damage this weapon does.' said Tanzim, looking up from the panel for the first time since the conversation had started. 'I maid it quite clear on the plans!'
They decided to call it quits and left for their weekly dinner together. Anathema had always enjoyed them. She remembered the first time she came to the palace, the day she was freed from an illegal slave market in New Greece by a man who looked very similar to Xavrin, but younger. She remembered a massive meal, on a table covered in silk. She could not hold herself back and literally dived into the meal, unaware that the young Tanzim was sitting at the opposite end of the table. She was a slave once, but now she was one of the most important people in the world (anyone who was close to Tanzim was considered important). She never could figure out how he really felt about her, but she felt as though he had subtle admiration of her. One of the many topics they frequently discussed was her parents. He once asked her:
'How long has it been since you spoke to them?'
She replied: 'A few months now.'
'A few MONTHS!? Well then send them a postcard!' he cried.
And then they would make jokes and laugh until they retired to their chambers.
The air in the room was surprisingly warm and inviting. Orselius was standing in the doorway serenely while Xavrin and Devu conversed, watching his movements without even looking at him. Xavrin then signalled Savunis to open a door at the far end of the room. Although it was dark, Orselius knew there was already two other people sitting at the table in silence.
'Ire. Orselius, we are ready to begin.' said Devu still not looking directly at him.
He took a seat. With the light provided by the opening of the end door, he could now make out a very nervous looking man dressed in what appeared to be a dark blue espionage movie outfit, and a young woman whom he did not recognise as her face was half-covered by long, black hair. He could at least tell she was not a Xanji.
'Very well, Antony, we shall begin with introductions.' said Xavrin. 'The gentleman sitting next to you is our newest representative of Greece and this young lady is the Persian representative.'
'Pleasure to meet you, sir.' said the Greek man, trying not to sound nervous, unsuccessfully. 'Hyperios, New Greek Espionage Agency 4th Segment.'
'Charmed' said the cold, yet soft voice of the Persian girl. She sighed and gestured to herself. 'I'm Rezxa.'
Antony regarded her with admiration. She had a knife in her hand that glinted in the otherwise dim light of the room, that allowed Orselius to see her deep purple eyes. She looked cold, rigid and foreboding, but was also very pretty, like a Cutunnian Song Bird. He looked to his right and found Hyperios. The blank expression of blatent fear on his face had not faded, but he seemed more comfortable knowing that he wasn't alone with the Xanji officials.
'Antony Orselius,' said the Roman scientist. 'former head of the Imperial Research centre of Rome.'
'Very well then.' said Xavrin sitting down at the far end of the table. 'may I also introduce our representative, Dijannu ai Ko'Jhami, original inventor of the march IV Sentinels and the Imperium's best weapons expert.'
From out of the shadows (obviously a very popular place for Xanji officials), stepped a short thin figure. He looked a mess: tangle and knotted hair and beard, clothes not fit for a street-dweller, and the essence of something that had expired recently was quite perceptible. He sat down next to Devu and began twiddling his thumbs aimlessly simply saying: 'Good Evening.'
'Dijan' said Xavrin. 'you really should get out more, you don't look like you've slept in weeks!'
'I haven't.' he sighed. 'Been goin' over the plans for the project an' it's really startin' to get on my nerves, see?'
'Are you actually going to tell us what this weapon is?' said Rezxa frustrated.
'All in good time.' said the scientist.
'First, your to meet our newest agent.' said Xavrin. He was reading from an info panel Savunis had handed him. 'Rather mysterious and not very sociable, good qualities for a Xanj agent.'
'Where do we find her?' inquired Hyperios
'You'll have to travel to the city Kannin.' said Devu.
'But that's part of the Sassanid Persian Empire's territory!' protested Rezxa, though Hyperios liked the idea of being in a city not entirely populated by his worst enemies.
It didn't take an international relations expert to tell that the SDTM did not like the Sassanids. Officially, they are trading partners but that's neither here nor there considering the Sassanids are also New Greece's biggest oil supplier. However, there was never a rule that said they had to like being trading partners. When it comes to the Xanji, It's best to stay in their good books and do what you're told. The consequences would be very unpleasant.
'Indeed it is.' said Savunis, speaking in what one could say was just above a whisper. 'Annexed in 1329 by Greek Emperor Tymon Alexios, but later-'
'Ire. Savunis.' interjected Devu. 'would you be so kind as to leave this for a game of Terriva Persuis?'
'Yes Sir.' said Savunis correcting himself.
'Continuing...' began Xavrin.
'I'm not staying here another moment till you tell me why the Sarumah I should just walk into that smug, uptight filth hole...' snarled Rezxa.
'Because she is currently on an aid mission.' said Xavrin calmly. 'The city has been afflicted with a major food and medical supply shortage due to recent terrorist attack.'
Rezxa sat back in her chair. She was obviously not expecting either the gravity of the situation or Xavrin's simplistic and unemotional response. Hyperios also looked rather concerned. The only one who probably felt no sympathy for the citizens of that city was Dajin, who had simply made a sarcastic grunt.
'Well,' said Rezxa, still looking embarrassed and taken aback. 'I... er... I'm sorry. Sh-sh-shall we continue?'
'Exactly what I suggest,' said Devu. 'She will be somewhere in the centre of the city. She's a master of disguise and talented at “disappearing”.'
'Disappearing?' said Hyperios. 'Like cloaking tech?'
'No Ire. Hyperios.' said Savunis. 'That would be too...'
At that moment Devu cleared his throat loudly. What with the Terror Birds and brainwashing, it would be quite surprising if they didn't have a cloaking device of some sort.
'Moving on.' continued Xavrin. 'Her “disappearing” alludes to the fact that she is an excellent stealth fighter, Ire. Hyperios.'
'So how do we get there?' said Orselius, knowing that he knew what he was going to say. They probably even knew that he knew that they knew what he was going to say.
'A jet has been prep'd and is ready for take-off tomorrow.' said Savunis. 'It will take about an hour to get from here to the air-base nearest to the city.'
'Then it's settled.' said Devu. 'First, you lot will need some sleep. Chambers have been prepared and are awaiting you. Xon will... Xon? XON!?'
The Sentinel lumbered in like a slowly progressing earth slide. He looked at Hyperios with what was assumably a smirk. He probably enjoyed the look of unconstricted dread on the Greek spy's face. He turned to Devu and said: 'You yelled, boss?'
'Yes, Xon.' replied Devu, grudgingly. 'Please escort our guests to their chambers.'
'Yessir, right this way, gentlemen and... er... Madam!' replied the Sentinel, Savunis having reached over and whispered into the mech's “ear”. Poor old Xon, while quite literate, did tend to have trouble with vocabulary.
And with that they left, all except for Rezxa and Orselius. They were still sitting in their chairs as the Xanj walked out. Rezxa was leaning over the table with her head hung and her arms crossed. While Orselius was not a psychiatrist, he could feel that she was still upset about her previous outburst.
'What was all that about then?' he asked, picking up a stylus on the table.
'Why should you care?' she retorted.
'Because,' he said, now twirling the little plastic stick in his thingers. 'we're apparently teammates, and you know what they say about them.'
Her head shot upwards so that her steely purple eyes met his light green ones. She was silent for a moment and then said: 'Enlighten me.'
'They are meant to help each other.' said Orselius noting the apparent hostility in her gaze. 'And I want to help you. You see my reasoning, no?'
'You...' said Rezxa, more furious than she had been earlier. '...you're right.'
'I am?' said the Roman, still twirling the stylus. 'Okay then, shall we begin?
'Begin where?' said the Persian assassin. 'You don't know the first thing about me!'
'Enlighten me.' he said, a smile curling on his face.
She eyed him for a moment and then pulled a few strands of her hair to reveal the obscured half of her face. She was even more beautiful than he had previously thought. She was now looking down at the surface of the table, her face full of contorted emotion. She was obviously struggling with something, something very important. She looked to her left. Orselius followed her gaze and found a map of the world. Highlighted was the SDTM's territory and next to it, the SPE's territory.
'The Sassanids and Traditionalists have never really gotten along.' she said turning back to the scientist. 'My grandparents died in an attack on Kenjerka before I was even born, and then my mother and father were taken away on suspected terrorism charges in '97.'
'Terrorism charges?' said Orselius, not confused, merely playing along.
'If you're a Darian, in a Sassanid city and there's been a crime, who do you think get's the blame?' she said, every word seething with hatred. 'My parents were only in that blasted city to remember my grandparents, they just happened to be closest to the blast!'
Orselius remained silent. While racism was largely abolished, it still existed in sickeningly high levels, just in a smaller area. Not even the combined despisal the Roman alliance presented to New Greece could amount to the tension between Sassanids and Darians.
'Look,' he said. 'That was years ago, things change.'
'Not before they were executed!' she said. Then she collapsed into tears, prompting Orselius to walk around to her chair and kneel down beside it.
'As terrible as that is,' said the scientist, not breaking his calm tone. 'you can't keep it all bottled up inside.'
'You don't have any idea...!' cried Rezxa.
'No I don't!' said Orselius. 'But we have to options: 1) you let me help you, or 2) you keep it to yourself and let it build up till it destroys you!'
She stopped. Her gaze met his once more. She stood up as he did and then walked to the door. She looked at him one last time and said: 'I've got some thinking to do.' And with that she left, leaving Orselius alone with his thoughts. One strayed into his mind: Now, now, Rezxa. Why would you lie about such a thing?
The small slum seemed like any other shanty town with its corrigated metal rooves and winding, constricted, alleyways, the only difference was that this slum was perfectly square, forced and strangled into conforming with Kannin's strict grid system. A hooded figure stood under a piece of blue tarpaulin, her hair and clothes already soaked through by the monsoon, surveying the scene.
The figure didn't even need to look to know she was being watched. It turned to find a man in military khaki standing behind it. He had a gun slung over his shoulder. He waved his arm at it, probably impling he ment no hostility. He had to shout to he heard over the rain hammering down on the tin rooves.
'NCS! You can't be here!'
'And why would that be?' came a soft feminine voice.
"This area's been cleared for construction!"
The hood was removed, revealing the face of a young woman. She did not look like anything the man had seen before: bright blue eyes complemented dark skin and long, slightly wet black hair ran down her back and slightly covered her face. She reached under her cloak and produced a thin sheet of paper. She handed it to him with a gloved hand.
'I have been sent here by the XTI for humanitarian reasons. Where can I find the afflicted groups?'
The man read the sheet carefully. The Social Relations Sequence had indeed allowed her access for humanitarian reasons on behalf of the Xanjin Technologist Imperium.
'Come with me!' he said to her, handing back the sheet.
The man walked past her and gestured for her to follow. Before she followed him, something caught her eye; a drawer, which had quickly filled up with water due to the monsoon, had a plush rabbit toy floating around in it. She picked up the toy and began following the man.
Leaving the slum, the woman was immediately in another world. Tall apartments and skyscrapers, all conforming to just a few building designs gave the city a regular, organised look; the street itself was wide with a canal running down the middle and a monorail running along the top; just a few people hurried around in the treacherous weather. The man shouted something to her. She heard the honk of a horn and a primitive, land-based vehicle wizzed past her, having swerved out of her way without the driver even realising it. She found that curious. Cars were banned in Kannin except for government use and she had seen a lot of cars recently.
Scampering up a stairway to the platform of the overhead monorail, both of them, or at least the man, wincing under the torrent of the monsoon, the woman seemingly unaffected by it. She asked:
'Did you say something?'
'I said the NRS say they're planning to build big transparent roofs over the roads one day! It'll be much nicer in the monsoon!'
Typical Sassanid Persian attitude; 'the government will make everything better.'
They entered a monorail carriage, and it was finally warm, dry and quiet. Naturally the carriage was nearly full, as people tried to avoid the rain, but at least the city's transport network seemed to be coping okay.
'The people in the slum have been moved to temporary accomodation by the National Constabulary Sequence... the NCS, that is.'
'Yes, I was pre-informed,' she replied. 'Could they not have simply stayed where they were?'
The man's facial expression was one of incredulity. 'Of course not! It's antisocial.'
Xetra's look told him that he had just made a mistake in saying that. It was cold and rigid but her eyes never seemed to stop shining.
The carriage stopped and they ran back out into the monsoon rain. The monsoon was strange; the rain was warm but it hammered down so hard it felt like a shower of nails; both of them were drenched again in seconds.
'In here!' he shouted, gesturing toward a cuboid, warehouse-like building with windows running along the top.
They entered the building; attendants had to push the doors closed against the draught from outside. The man stood there, dripping wet, while Xetra surveyed the scene. Everyone from the slum had were lying on bunk beds, which were organised in rows along the room. The whole area was lit by giant lamps suspended high under the ceiling.
'Molly!' shouted a small child, dressed in what looked like pyjamas.
Xetra looked at the plush bunny in her hands, as if she was seeing it for the first time or had forgotten it was there. The eager, brown-haired girl snatched the small toy from Xetra's hands and squeezed it against her chest, making water drip from the bottoms of its legs.
'Thank you!' said the child cheerfully, if slightly shy.
'You are welcome...' replied Xetra absent-mindedly. Her voice had taken on that cold, calculating tone that it always did when she had urgent business to attend to.
'Commander!' said a man to the her escort. He had huried in from the next room where Xetra could see the rough outline of a surveylance system. In a rescue centre? 'Sir, we have detected an unident-'
'That would be the rest of my... team.' intergected Xetra. The man quickly retreated back to the room. 'It is marked under XTI special forces transport and is carrying aid.'
'Confrimed, Sir' said the man returning from the console room. 'XTI with registered aid cargo only. There are also five other people on board, all... Xanjin.'
'Thank you for your time, Commander,' she said turning to her escort with the same cold rigid feel in her voice. 'but your presence will no longer be required.'
On the jet, Orselius was admiring the vast array of structures below him. From the air Kannin was a very regular city, the wide streets made the grid system clearly visible. It was almost remarkable how big the city blocks were, though; the biggest in the world, he had heard someone remark. Big enough, in fact, for each block to have a central courtyard - outdoor atria, they called them - surrounded by those boxy, metallic, modular apartment blocks. The apartments weren't exactly high-rise, but this fact just made the immense, wide skyscrapers dotted here and there seem all the more massive. Cities in the sky, they called them! Home to thousands of people, with offices, schools and hospitals!
Though he didn't think much of their drab, metallic, boxy designs, Orselius couldn't help but admire the Sassanid-Persian efficiency. They had even attempted to tame nature itself, with much of the River Indus, around which the city was built, lined with stone quays.
Then something caught his eye. Something out of place. Disorder. Some of the blocks were empty, with construction taking place, while others had brimming slums. Orselius was familiar with the Sassanid Persian Empire because he had lived for several years there (they paid for his higher education for moving there). He remembered the offers they had made for him to stay; his own laboratory, big research grants, a chance to become a professor at any Persian academic institution he chose. Alas, unlike many others, his ambition was matched only by his sense of duty to Rome.
As for the slums, the whole crisis in Kannin, he knew it meant there was something drastically wrong. These Persians had public healthcare, public education, public housing, public media, public transport; inefficiencies were checked and triple checked, their supply lines were backed up a thousand times over. Their anti-terrorism and counter-espionage measures were almost ruthlessly infallible. The place should run like a pocket watch, and yet, this. There was much more to this than a series if terrorist attacks. This was something going wrong deep within the Persian administration.
The plane touched down in the aerodrome. How many New Greeks were there in the Persian National Control? Six? The one thing the other empires admired about the Sassanids was their ability to stay neutral, and accept other nationalities, no matter their intentions or history.
To his left was Hyperios, unusualy cheerful. He was speaking to a female Greek intern (go figure) and returned a few moments later with a very triumphant look on his face and a small piece of paper with numbers written on it. Not the best spy, but obviously quite a charmer when he's not about to brake down crying under the gaze of Xanjin officials.
To his right, Orselius saw Rezxa. She was once again hiding behind a vale of hair and was keeping her distance. Despite the events of last night, she didn't exactly seem to be loathing the place as much as was suggested. In fact, she acted as though this was her first time in a SPE city. With every passing moment Orselius found himself discovering something new about his teammate.
Behind them were Savunis, Dijan and Devu all walking in an ominous straight line. The suspicions of telepathy amongst Xanjin were vivid and slightly surreal, but in the past three days, Orselius had come to understand it better. They just knew a lot, that's all there was to it. They calculate, observe and anticipate the responses of the people in their company and probably just lampshade telepathic abilities for fun. All three were wearing chard-black overcoats and sunglasses, even though there wasn't particularly much sun. Despite their forbidding appearance, they seemed rather jovial. Except of course for Dajin, who was obviously not content being here.
On the horizon, a transport vehicle was totting along as though struggling with massive weight concealed in the chrome structure. When it arrived, to the surprise of every one present, a large bulky mass slinked out to reveal the mechanical form of a Sentinel. It was not a large brown samurai warrior-style machine like Xon, who had tagged along, but more streamlined and slightly taller than Orselius himself with silvery plating. The Sentinel behind them moved forward with slightly increased speed till he was "face"-to-"face" with his foreign counterpart. He raised a fist, as did the other and banged them against each others shoulder producing a high pitched clang. Then they placed the fists against the palm of their hands and bowed. Devu appeared behind Orselius and whispered something along the lines of 'Standard Sentinel greeting.' into his ear and strided towards the mechanical marvels. He said something to the mechs, causing the silver to stand aside, and allow him to board the vehicle. It gestured the others to follow and then turned back to Xon. They were not comunicating with words, but rather static-like sounds, which Savunis had explained was Sentinel Bianary Encoding Language. Hyperios was obviously more uncorfortable with two mechs rather than just one and said to Dajin:
'Er... is this one of your guys?'
'No.' replied the Xanjin scientist. 'This Sentinel works for the PNC, as per an agreement with the SPE to allow Xanj Sentinels, those that remain after the Greco-Xanj war anyway, to become citizens in this territory. They can purchase real estate and seek employment as they wish.'
'He doesn't exactly look like a standard XS.' said Orselius.
'He' isn't,' said Dajin. 'SHE's one of my new March Vs.'
Hyperios and Orselius looked back at the mech. On closer inspection, they noticed a refined, more curvatious figure that was consisten with a female Homo Sapien. Xon made a small 5-beat electric buzz, causing his companion to make a movement that resembled laughter. Was he... flirting?
She then turned to Devu and said something in what sounded like Xanju, with a femenine tone. Turning slightly she saw the slightly perplexed look on his face, placed a hand onto the small, circular, red crystal on her waist-line and said:
'Five minutes to arrival at the refuge centre.'
Universal Translator... why not? thought Orselius. He looked out the window to see the outline of a large building in the middle of a monsoon. At least in Cutunni, weather was more pleasent. He looked over and saw the sandstorm of emotions that was Rezxa. She was looking out the window at all the people struggling in the winds and pelting rain. She looked out of the corner of her eye, prompting Orselius to brake his stare. Though he believed she had calmed considerably, he did not intend to provoke her again.
'Excuse me, ma'am,' said a man walking up to Xetra. 'your "team" has arrived at the transport station and will get here in about half an hour.'
'Curious.' replied Xetra. 'It took me only ten minutes to arrive from the hub station.'
'The monsoon is getting worse, ma'am.' said the officer. 'It appeared out of nowhere the day after the supply-line bombings and hasn't eased up in the past three weeks!'
'Thank you, officer.' said Xetra, examining the situation in her mind. 'You may leave.'
He did so, not of his own free will, but more like he knew he should do what she said for reasons he could not explain, even to himself.
Xetra was well aware of the monsoon problem. She knew it started the day after the terrorist bombings but the two events seemed to have no connection what so ever. Except they did, they had one common denominator: That was the day Emperor Tanzim announced the construction of the Weapon. Nor was this an isolated incident: The New Greek polis of north Ptolematic Egypt in Hydronia reported massive flooding... In the height of summer; temperatures in Europe were rising steeply; Roman America and Nunavut were experiencing massive seismic events on a daily basis and Oceania's temperatures had plummeted from the standard 30+ degrees Celsius to less than 10 in the course of nine days. Xetra was a sceptic at heart and saw only the facts. Unfortunately, all of these facts pointed directly towards Cutunni, directly towards the Weapon.
The military was nice enough to set up a command centre for her in the shelter. She walked in to find the "little girl who had lost her rabbit" sitting on a box in the corner, playing with the peculiar toy. As there was curently no information regarding her parents, Xetra took it upon herself to look after the child until such time as there was. As mysterious and mildly unnerving her presence was, Xetra was a caring person. One of the many reasons she volunteered for this aid mission, most of them centring around recent events, was because she merely wanted to help, a common part of the Xanjin "religion" was to help those that were in need. She sat on the floor in a state of meditation, which the little girl tried to emulate.
The team arrived outside, socking wet and not at all happy about it. They were greeted by several young women holding sets of new, dry clothes; towels and specially prepared soup. Xetra remained in her chamber listening and anticipating. Devu walked in and sat down beside her and started meditating.
'Status?' said Devu to no one in particular.
'The rescue efforts are underway.' said Xetra. 'However, it seems that the terrorist attacks have had more of an effect than we previously anticipated.'
'Such as?' inquired Devu.
'Panic.' replied Xetra. 'Latent, but still perceptible.'
'Cause?' said Devu.
A little voice from behind them squeaked: 'Maybe they don't like the mon... mosu... monsoon?'. They knew it was the girl, they just didn't bother to turn around.
'You may be right.' said Devu. 'What do people say about the monsoon.'
'My mama and daddy think that something the people in the country next door are doing is making the Weather Man angry.' said the little girl in a small, slightly frightened voice.
'Do not worry.' said Xetra. 'I am sure our prefect has not upset the Weather Man. Besides, if that were true, why not cause a monsoon in our country?'
The little girl giggled. She obviously did not know herself and couldn't think of any other response. While Devu much preferred to keep things to himself, his companion's ability to take charge in certain situations could prove useful. He was not sure on how many occasions they'd have to calm a little girl's nerves about a scary "Weather Man", but he considered the other applications of an agent who could keep her cool in situations that other officials were not familiar with. They ended their meditation and walked to the door.
'Are you ready to meet your team?' said Devu politely. 'Word of advise: try not to make the spy wet himself.'
'I will keep that in mind.' replied Xetra, un-amused. 'As for the others?'
'The Roman seems to know what he's doing, the Persian's got a bit of an attitude problem and you know what Dijan can be like.' said Devu with cracking a smile. 'Ire. Savunis will be joining you as well as Xon.'
'The Sentinel Guardian of the Temple ei Irium and your erand boy, I know.' said Xetra.
'Of course you do...' said Devu.
They walked out into the middle of the room where Orselius was standing at the end of a table next to Rezxa. Hyperios was opposite them, eyeing the Sentinels to his side suspiciously. Dijan and Savunis were in a state of standing-meditation at the other end of the table until the arrival of their comrades was sensed. Devu walked over to them, procuring an info-panel from Savunis and muttering under his breath in xanju that the translator didn't seem to recognise. Xetra observed all of them, looking for anything in their expressions she could use as an advantage.
'Ire. Orselius,' said Devu to the Roman. 'Xetra here will be the newest addition to the Peacekeepers.'
'Another Xanjin?' came the knife-sharp voice of Rezxa.
'Y-yes.' said Devu uneasily. It was hard to read a Xanjin, but Devu obviously wasn't adept at lying. 'She's been with us for about a month now. She will also be in charge of training sessions.'
'Training? We don't need any...!' started Hyperios. He stopped when he felt the penetrating gaze of the agents in his midst.
'Yes, training.' said Devu. 'If you are to launch an assualt against the weapon, you'll need her expertise.'
Xetra sensed that they were all looking at her. She would much prefer to be unseen and unheard. She cursed the day Tanzim had informed her of this little arangement and that she would be the one to train them. Of course, she knew this wouldn't exactly be a field trip: the forces that guarded the Weapon would not practise restraint because their opponents lacked experience. They were machines, soulless machines that would kill them if they had the chance.
'I agree.' said Orselius. 'Xavrin said there would be an army guarding it, so we'll need to refine our skills.'
'Worse than an army.' said Dijan. 'Warlochs.'
'We are so doomed.' moaned Hyperios. 'What are Warlochs?'
'The Prefect's Elite.' said Dijan. 'Equiped with the most advanced technology the imperium has to offer, and are supposedly capable of manipulating their environment telekinetically. Of course this is scientifically implausible.'
'Implausible only implies it might not happen.' said Rezxa, attracting a few stares.
'Indeed.' said Xetra, after a long period of silent contemplation. Her voice brought her to the attention of the others.' Simply becuase no explanations of their abilities exist as of yet...'
'How do you fight a warloch?' said Orselius.
Xetra turned to face him and knew that he knew the answer she was going to give. She even knew that he knew she knew. Becuase she knew that the others didn't know the answer, she said aloud: 'I do not know. But I believe if we work together, we may find a way.'
'Here, here,' said Devu. 'For now we shall focus on your training. If you are to be the next PeaceKeepers, the legacy of the Five Warrior Kings of Old, this training is of insurmountable importance.'
'We shall begin tomorrow.' concluded Xetra. 'You have all had quite a long today, so I advise you retire to your pre-prepared chambers.'
'OI! Maggots!' came the incomparably loud voice of Xon. 'Rise n' shine.'
One by one, the agents flooded into the decorative hall from their respective sleeping quarters that were barely large enough to hold one person. Orselius looked the least stressed of them all while Devu was obviously in a volatile mood. Opposite Orselius was Rezxa, wearing a dressing gown. She was standing with her back against a wall practically falling asleep on her feet. Hyperios, still dressed in his navy blue espionage outfit, was in a rather unusual situation: He appeared to have fallen back to sleep on the floor and was sat upright using Xon's leg as a support.
'Ire. Hyperios?' said the Sentinel politely. 'Would y'please... GET. OFF. M'LEG!'
Hyperios scrambled away from the machine still not fully awake. When he realised he had an audience, he nervously got to his feet and said: 'Er... well... everybody have a good sleep?'
'Please.' said Rezxa distastefully. 'With your snoring, Xon probably couldn't have peaceful powerdown even if he switched off his audio receptors!'
This statement attracted a snicker here and there before everything fell silent. The silence was caused when they became aware of Xetra, already dressed and contemplating the scene. When the commotion had ended, she spoke aloud: 'If that is all, ladies and gentlemen, we are to begin training in ten minutes. Get dressed, cleaned up and report to the recreational area behind the warehouse.'
'You heard her.' said Orselius. 'The bathrooms are down that way. You all brought spare clothes and gear, right?'
This was met with a general nodding from everyone except Hyperios and Devu, who just looked at each other in a daze. They turned back to see the smirk on Antony's face. Luckily for them, Savunis had thought ahead and produced two bags of clothes, athletic gear and hygienic supplies. When you work for Devu, it's best to be prepared for HIS sake.
'Sometimes I'm tempted to contemplate thinking about giving you a raise, Ire. Savunis.' said Devu jovially. Savunis just covered his eyes with his hand and grunted.
As strict as the laws against littering and pollution in the SPE were, they were not always adheared to by the military. In the bunkers that were stationed near the rear end of the warehouse, the remains of several dozen different types of food, ranging from raviolli to spoilt coconut oil were clearly discernible. On the bright side, they didn't have to live in them. The sports deck at the back of the complex was considerably cleaner and larger with exercise machines doted around it.
'A good morning to you all.' said Xetra who was already sitting at a cardio workout machine. She was wearing a hooded black tracksuit that left her arms barely visible. They were considerably lighter than they were last night. 'The PNC has provided us with a generous assortment of machinery and activities for our training sessions. I expect you all to use them with respect. We shall begin with the Gravity Poles.'
The team turned to their left to see a large array of poles, attached horizontally to columns. The name of these devices derived from the fact that the user had to fight gravity itself to accomplish anything, pulling themselves up and then trying to stand on the bar with their hands, a feat know as Parijing. The strongest and lightest athletes would have no problem while heavier ones would struggle to even keep a hold on the bar. The team each took a bar, positioning themselves directly under it. Orselius pulled himself up quickly but had considerable more trouble Parijing. It took Rezxa and Savunis no time at all to do ether movement. Devu finally managed to pull himself up but would not even attempt Parijing.
Hyperios once again found himslef in an akward situation. While he weighed no more than Orselius, he could simply not manage to pull himself up. He tried and tried again to no avail until he finally managed to get a decent hold on the horizontal bar and hoisted himself up. Then it happened. The bar inexplicably came loose as did all the others, causing the entire team to jump off instinctively. They all landed on their feet except for the spy, who had landed face-first in a muddy puddle under the bar. There was general sniggering and a few laughs from spectating officers. Orselius glanced to his right to see Rezxa, smiling at the spectacle. She was to late to change her expression by the time she became aware of Antony and locked gazes with him.
'If we ever have to rely on him in a fight...' she began, still grinning.
'Tell me about it.' said the Roman scientist.
Xon trudged through the wreck of the Gravity Poles and pulled a muddy, soaking wet Hyperios from the ground. And then dropped him on his backside. 'That was PNC property you just abused.' said the machine. 'Drop n' give me twenty!' Hyperios, out of sheer dread, followed the sentinel's instruction and quickly sped through the 20 push ups. Xon seemed unimpressed and said: 'To easy, eh? Make it a thousand!'
Hyperios began again and had reached about six before falling back into the muddy puddle. Xon had put his fist just above where the spy's head would come up, causing him to bounce off it and slam face-first once again, into the ground. The robotic grunt loomed over him and said: 'No. One thousand sit-ups!'. The spy groaned and rubbed his head and began with much more difficulty than with the push-ups. When Xon became aware of the other's enjoyment of the situation, he said: 'He ain't doin' this by 'imself people! All of you, one 'undred sit-ups, on the double!'. The scene was filled with grunts and groans galore while Xetra was quietly taking notes.
'This shall obviously take longer than I had previously anticipated.' she said to the Machine who had left the group to join her. 'You're tellin' me.' replied the mech.
'Altough I must commened you on your... "grunt" skills.' she said, not looking up from the info panel she had in her hand. Was there some kind of rule about that in the Xanj handbook?
'T'ank y'ma'am.' said the Sentinel. He looked back at the scene. Xon didn't get many chances to make people suffer for his amusement. This was one of those rare occasions and if he had a face he would probably be grinning.
After about an hour Hyperios had got about three fourths of the way through his sit-ups before Xon called them all over. Xetra was standing next to mud field with an info panel in hand. She inspected her students: Orselius appeared to have kept in good form; Rezxa also looked barely fatigued; Savunis and Dijan had finished their 100 in no time with minimal effort; Devu was panting and heaving and was supporting himself on his secretary's sholder; Hyperios wasn't much better and was now muddier than ever.
'Alright people, sprintin'!' said the maniacal grunt of junk, pointing down a long muddy track that was still being showered with rain. '5 kilometres that direction!'
After another three days of what Xon liked to call "Pain Week", the team were so exhausted they could barely maintain a standing position. It didn't help to know that after this mission, they would be doing the same on a regular basis. They welcomed the news that it had ended for now but were wary of what else Xetra and the "semi-maniacal war machine" had planned.
'Well, y'all are maggots that's for sure!' said Xon.
'I don't need to remind you we don't have metal carapaces, Xon.' hissed Dijan.
While Dijan and his fellow Xanj remained in the warehouse, Orselius and his team headed of with Xetra into the town centre.
Kannin Central Administrative District was a monument to the National Control that constructed it. It was less of a district and more of a building (conforming with the latest trend in Persian architecture - that of the arcology - ultimately constructing a whole city that comprises of a single building). This building was a square comprising of four blocks, surrounded by a plaza of twelve more blocks (Xetra noted the various defensive advantages of the structures in this plaza).
The CAD itself was modular, angular and metallic, just like the huge skyscrapers that were dotted across the Kannin skyline, but twice as large, reaching a height of 1676 metres. Xetra also suspected that the CAD reached at least as far under the ground; this was confirmed when they entered through one of the four large entrances into the central atrium; the bowels of the building towered up above them, while they saw a mirror image of the structure drop down below them, beneath a glass floor.
Interior balconies, the central atrium itself, in fact, bustled with the various dark-suited civil servants that were the cogs of the great, complex machine that was Kannin Area Board and, indeed, National Control as a whole. There must have been thousands of people working in here, but, despite the crowding, the people seemed to flow around Xetra as if she was surrounded by an invisible aura; a rock of defiance in the rapids of bureaucracy.
All of the team were still marveling over the sheer briliance of the place while Xetra led them into a side alley. As the reached what looked like the end of the dark alleway, Xetra dissapeared into the darkness. After a small panic outburst from Hyperios, Orselius and Rezxa started to look in the shadows, waiting for her to jump out, as they were sure she would.
‘Ok, what’s wrong with it now?’ said Xavrin walking up to Tanzim.
They were both in a large rock cavern, lit by a bright light that seemed to be emanating from the centre of the chamber but it’s source could not be seen. On the walls there appeared to be hieroglyphs written in languages ranging from Greek, Hydronian, and Xanjunee to several others that were either dead or undecipherable.
‘It’s energy output is seriously escalating.’ said Tanzim gazing at what was presumably where the source of the light should have been but was not. ‘It isn’t very happy either,’
‘Happy?’ said Xavrin sarcastically. ‘It seems ticked off!’
The light of the room seemed highly erratic, fluctuating and changig, and it seemed almost alive.
‘What’s up with it? said Xavrin, looking into the space where the light should be coming from.
‘It’s predicting again.’ said Tanzim walking over to a column covered in Xanjunee heiroglyphs. ‘Something about the Peacekeepers.’
‘Ah, what? Is it saying we messed up?’ said the advisor unemotionally, but obviously trying to be funny.
‘Apparently it’s saying that we’re on the right track. Bang goes your theory.’ said Tanzim smirking. ’Ah, here’s something about Orselius.’
Translating the heiroglyphs was surprisingly simple considering they were unique to Cutunni and only used by high academics. Of course, you had to contend with the fact that the letters were being formed by themselves, growing out of the wall like tumorous growths but with elegance as though they were being written by hand. Tanzim read them out:
He who was once a teacher, destined to rise a soldier. He who shall bring piece.... no, wait, peace, in times of great sorrow. He who shall restore that which shall be broken. He who is to be a hero of the land, only to fall by his lover’s hand.
‘I’m not too sure about that last part’ said Tanzim. ‘but that’s what it seemed to say.’
‘He’s goin’ to get knocked off by ‘is girlfriend?’ said Xavrin looking puzzled.
‘It says fall, not die.’ said the Prefect seeming a little frustrated. ‘This thing isn't exactly specific with it’s predictions, Xavrin. It could mean anything from defeated to just retiring! Ah, here’s where Hyperios comes in.’
He who arose from nothing, shall be the tool of victory (tool's the closest I can get to the real meaning). He who will suffer in the dark times ahead, shall be one of the lights that shine brightest. He who lacks experience, shall show his strength as courage.
‘Woah, woah, woah, the GREEK is IMPORTANT?’ said Xavrin. ‘He can barely get into an un-guarded temple without getting caught!’
This attracted a don’t-question-it’s-wisdom look from Tanzim mixed with an I-know-right? look. He turned back to the column and read out another paragraph about Anathema.
After reading through several more paragraphs, Tanzim turned to the centre of the room. Xavrin raised a hand to cover his eyes as the light became more intense. Wind echoed around the chambre and Tanzim's voiced ringed in Xavrin's ears. While the prefect's words were unintelligible to normal ears but the earpiece that he kept under his hood managed to decipher it:
'Xavrin, return to the Capitus and monitor the team's situation. I have some business to attend to.'
After that he could here a second voice. It was cold and soft with an almost serpentine motif and was accompanied by unusual sounds in the background. They were wonderful sounds that would shame the greatest musicians: smooth, slightly mechanical sounds worthy of the great Nihtay singing wales. When the symphony of voices and the wind had died away, the bright light slowly followed. Xavrin was alone, Tanzim was nowhere to be seen, and the columns that were once emblazoned with shining hieroglyphs where now black and bare. The light from the centre of the room calmed as the sand that had been kicked up by the wind settled.
Outside Xavrin stopped to see the rising of the sun. He then approached the small aircraft that he and the prefect had arrived in and began his journey back to the Capitus. The cockpit was larger than the exterior would suggest, looking as thought it would hold at least five pasangers instead of two. Xavrin started firing up the engines, checking various other consoles around him and sent off a request for a landing dock to be reserved for his arrival. Upon receiving confirmation, he took flight almost immediately.
At approximately half way through his journey, he heard a strange rattling behind an unoccupied seat. He peered over, narrowing his eyes on a small, slow moving, scaly... thing. Xavrin though to himself: 'Well now, what're you?' Just then, the object let out a high pitched growl, revealing itself to be what one might mistake as a primate, albeit a reptilian one. It eyed Xavrin for a moment and then set itself to pounce.
'Oh no...' said the hooded pilot as the ugly little monster jumped at him.
Savunis and Dijan approached a table in the middle of the command centre's back room. It was only about a metre long and looked as though it had seen it's fare share of chicken decapitations. In the middle there was a small, round, black device, covered in cyan-blue energy veins with four half-spheres, about the size of a fist, mounted on boxes. They were situated in a square alignment that encased the round device. Dijan waved his hand over the top of the device, and the enrgy veins brightened. He nodded to Savunis and the two of them placed their hands on a sphere each. The room around them shifted and changed instantly. Now standing in a circular room with no apparent point of entry (or exit for that matter). The spheres had changed colour from a rusty shade of obsidian to a vibrant orange.
After about thirty seconds, they became aware of another person occupying the room. It was Xavrin, looming over the device with his own hand placed on a sphere that, unlike the others, glowed blue. Looking up from the table he turned to Dijan. The latter, noted his slightly ripped and torn at robe, but ignored it and began to speak:
'Techere, the investigation into the monsoon has not revealed much.' His voice was loud and clear, but the sound wasn't emanating from his mouth nor were his lips even moving. Rather the sound seemed to come from the room around them. 'Did you and ta'khateer find anything of use on your excursion?'
'No,' came Xavrin's voice. 'Only s'more predictions.'
Savunis felt around the empty space where the old, wooden table should have been. He raised his hand a moment later, but there was no item to be found. A second later, an info panel materialized out of thin air in his hand. He lifted it up, removed his spectacles and said: 'We still need to make some major mods to this thing. How can I pick up stuff when I can't see it in here?'
'So true.' said Xavrin. 'I remember the first time it was used...'
'Ah, yes.' said Savunis. 'The first time we activated it, it was so buggy it didn't even render...' he was cut off when Dijan raised a hand and said sternly: 'That is not relevant to this discussion, Ire. Savunis, so I sujest we don't bring it up again. Ever.'
'Yes, Sir.' said the young minister.
'What about our... pet project?' inquired Xavrin.
'Xetra has taken them for a basic training session. If we want them to be able to find and deactivate the weapon, they'll need to know our tactics.' said Dijan.
Xavrin produced a small round orb from his pocket and tossed it into the air. He let go of it, but it remained stationary about two meters or so above the floor, and after a few seconds, the room began to glow brighter. Where once there was an empty void there was now briliant streams of blue, white and yellow light, all converging together to draw what appeared to be the outlign, later the wireframe and finally the surface of a human form. When it was finished, the light returned to "normal" and in the middle of the room was now a projection of Emperor Augustus. He appeared to be walking but was neither aware of his situation nor did he seem to move from the spot where he had formed.
'Remind me how this works again?' said Xavrin to his studious companion.
'This is a neurographic representation of his majesty, Sir. It copies his movements, speech and so on exactly with a margin of...' the explination trailed off. '... It is also unaffected by friction and gravity so it doesn't actually make any progressive movements. So it's basically a hologram, just more advanced. And...'
'Savunis...' interjected Dijan. 'Let's just watch and listen, shall we?'
'Your Excellency,' said one of the guards outside Augustus' study.
Augustus, who was pacing his desk tapping at a holopad, threw it at the desk, and, without turning his head, frustratedly said, 'What?'
'One of the project leaders is here to see you. He says he's brought a report on the it's progress.' said the guard nervously.
'Show him in.' came the angry reply from the Emperor.
The guard, showing a slight sign of trembling, quickly led the engineer through the door before quietly shutting the door.
'So, how much progress have the Xanj made on our little project, Caudus?' Augustus said in a rather aggressive tone, focusing on the engineer's somewhat disconcerted face.
'I regret to inform you, your most gracious Majesty, that at this rate, according to my calculations, they will be unable to finish the weapon at the projected date,' replied Caudus, trying and failing to sound calm.
Augustus finally turned his head. He rubbed his nasal bridge, and locked gazes with his visitor. He sat down at his desk and picked up the info panel on it, not braking eye contact with the petrified engineer.
'How long is the delay?' he asked through gritted teeth.
'At best, two months, sir.'
Augustus slammed his fist on the table, his temper having broken it's limits, at which point he roared: 'This won't do... oh, THIS. WON'T. DO!'
He stood up and started cursing like a sailor before sitting back down, trying to collect himself to little avail. He turned back to his pale-faced engineer and said, 'These are drastic times, Caudus. We cannot afford these delays. The Greeks are about to attack a major supply line near the Nexus, and if they do, they will more than likely find out what Tanzim has been doing there. And heed me, it would only worsen our situation.'
'Even you are unaware of the prefect's actions there, Your Excellency.' said Caudus, slightly better composed. 'And from what I know, anything that man does that you don't know about is more dangerous than anything we could imagine, but those scientists, they are only human, they cannot work any faster than they have been. I'm sorry, Your Excellency, but it is out of my hands.'
'Then, I shall takes things into my own hands,' said the emperor, walking out in front of his desk. 'have all exports of raw materials and man power diverted to Cutunni. Send in as many engineers, scientists and whatever else you need to help get this project finished.'
'Your wish is my command, Your Imperial Excellency,' said Caudus, having calmed down, before leaving the room.
After the engineer left the room, Augustus suddenly pressed his hand against his forehead and let a long grunt before stumbling back into his seat.
'By the Stars!' he chuckled drunkenly. He then got up, composed himself and proceeded to the nearest bookshelf. He picked a large, black, untitled book. Contemplating the massive manuscript he whispered to himself: 'Let's see, Tanzim, if we can find what we're looking for in here.'
'You're foolish enough to think he'd write something like that down?' came a voice from nowhere in particular.
Looking out of the corner of his eye, Augustus turned and said: 'I really wish you'd use the door.'
'Save it, Your Excellency...' said the voice in a violent whisper. From out of the emperor's blind spot strolled a tall, hooded man. 'We know you're up to something...'
'How many times have you tried this, Phane, or is it Akhan? Menross, Zhad In?' said Augustus defiantly. 'You can go back to whoever it is you work for and tell him that my lips are sealed.'
'We'll see about that...' said the intruder. Then, in the blink of an eye... he pounced!
The emperor raised a hand to protect himself, but no blow came. He lowered his defence, and found himself alone in the room. The intruder was nowhere to be seen. The only trace of something unusual having been there was the faint smell of rotting fish.
'We really need a better security system around here...,' said the emperor, sitting down once again.
'Wow...,' said Dijan. 'No one's won against a warloch with words before...'
'Yeah,' said Xavrin.
'It seems we'll need a new angle, then.'
All the Xanjin officers present startled and directed their attention to the last of the four communication devices, Lord Tanzim having spontaneously appeared out of thin air (or whatever it was the room was made out of). The two elder officers glared at the prefect.
'Don' DO THAT!' they shouted in perfect harmony.
A grin began creeping across Tanzim's face as his unnatural eyes took on a bright shade of green. Trickster's glare... thought Savunis. Tanzim placed his hand into the image, the cyan sphere that formed around his hand engulfing the previous image and revealing a new one, showing Orselius sitting with his back to some barrels. 'Now, gentlemen, our young defenders have little more than a month to get ready for this mission. Let us hope Xetra will pull through.'
One Month Later
'Is it just me, or is anyone else getting tired of this?' said Hyperios, backed against a wall, brandishing a high-tech-looking gun.
Narrowly dodging several high-speed projectiles, Orselius ducked behind a pair of barrels nearby.
'Desperate times, Hyperios.' he said in a joking tone. He lifted his head up from behind the barrels before immediately ducking again to avoid a a burst of projectiles. 'But, yes... things are getting a little... intense. Move out!'
Rezxa darted from cover to cover shooting in the general direction of two heavily armoured, albeit rustic-looking Sentinels, boith eyes glowing white as opposed to the mark IV's traditional red. They fired projectiles from their hands that had been converted into pistol-like appendages. From their firing patterns' they seemed to lack any specific long-range combat discipline, often missing their target by feet at a time. These may have been re-purposed after being salvaged from Greco-Xanjin battles, in which many were destroyed by Greek LIROPs. Whatever they were, all Rezxa and the others knew for certain is that the mechanical marvels had ambushed them while they were walking with Xetra to get a "well-deserved drink". Thinking back, she was in an uncharacteristically good mood when she said it.
'I mean, we've been doing this for a month.' said Hyperios, actually managing to hit the stouter of the two mecha in the eye, phasing it temporarily. 'Surely she knows we can take anything she throws at-'
He yelped as a morningstar lodged itself in the wall approximately two centimetres from his face. 'Ok, maybe not everything...'
Rezxa smirked and flipped out of her cover, shooting one of the Sentinels' right hip joint out. Orselius backed her up disabling the other's left shoulder. Hyperios shot at the former's left knee, toppling it over. Orselius then sliced its arm off with a long katana, darting back to cover as the other machine became aware of his presence, turning to engage. Rezxa bisected it from behind with a similar katana, albeit a serrated one; it tore right through the mechanism's body vertically. The two halves of the automaton fell to the ground as Rezxa sheathed her sword and Hyperios permanently disabled its associate by stomping its eye in, and shooting its processor out.
The three congratulated each other as Savunis rounded a corner. In only a month he had put on more weight and bulked up, his anomalous, fiery red hair and goatee filled out and he had grown at least several inches.
'Well done everyone,' he smiled, taking off his glasses.
'What is out next objective?' asked Orselius, sheathing his blade and holstering his gun under his dark longcoat.
'Seriously, Antony?' Hyperios asked, admonished. 'Don'tcha think that maybe we should take a break?'
'S'much as I hate to agree with the Hippy here, I think we could do with a break.' said Rezxa with in a recently acquired jovial tone. Orselius agreed and Hyperios gave a sigh of relief. Savunis eyed each of them, taking note of how different they looked from only a month ago.
Rezxa had come out of her shell and started wearing her weighted clothing, she had tied her hair back in a ponytail (still keeping an eye covered with her fringe) and was overall much less reclusive. She and he had started dating only a few weeks ago, as one of Devu's hair-brained schemes. The fact that it actually worked came to be seen as a bit of a challenge to them, so they continued.
Orselius had barely changed, although his naive disposition had lessened considerably. Though he had nowhere near the experience of the likes of Xavrin or even Prefect Tanzim himself, these training sessions, Xetra's stories about the various conflicts of the world, both near and far, great and small and little incidents in which he had to involve the use of his training such as a brawl he got into with a gang of local thugs had improved his skills considerably. By this time he could take on eleven armed men without breaking a sweat, but he was still not proud of it.
Hyperios was still himself, but nowhere near as meek and cowardly as he seemed before. His skills had improved the most out of all of them, to the point where he could actually steal an extra veggieroll without anyone noticing, except Devu.
"Quit yer whinin', worms."
Hyperios had suffered from it more frequently than anyone else, but he still couldn't wrap his head around just how in the name of the Five Great Kings a massive mechanical leviathan the likes of Xon managed to sneak up behind him. He spun around met an eye of crystal, red as the setting sun trained on him. More competent and stronger willed though he was, he still didn't find any humour or enjoyment in the Sentinel's tendency to swiftly annihilate his personal space and give him a clout on the back of the head.
"What's'more, we've got ourselves'a small issue."
It has always been said that there were things in the world that man was not meant to understand or even attempt to. Marvels, wonders, miracles, anomalies and horrors, anything that resided beyond the comparatively limited imagination of man. Be it a race of pre-historic flightless birds that could shatter bones with a single bite of their unnaturally large and sharp beak; fully-sapient, artificially intelligent automatons whose inner workings confound and allude any and all engineers and technologists outside of those who created them or even devices capable of bridging gaps between space and the minds of men.
Science? Doubtful. Only a handful of happenings in this world can be explained via rationalization, observation and experimentation. To reiterate, the limits of science are the same as those of the human imagination, which itself is dwarfed by the immense uncertainty and anomalous nature of the universe. The walking machines that hold within them a spark of humanity could be built with, and were built with anything, from steam pipes and cogs to marvellously complex components, needing only be assembled in much the same way as the human body was, and an equally wondrous mechanism that's origin lay even further outside the realm of what could be explained by science. The great hunting birds of old were the product of modified eggs, implanted with the genetic material and life blood of those extinct beasts. Wherever the material came from, let alone the method used to implant it was another, as of yet, unsolved mystery. Let us not forget the machines that made long-distance lag-free communication a reality, not in the form of audio and/or video broadcasts, but existing purely in a realm weaved together by two or more minds. Developers would have you believe it worked via stimulating underdeveloped parts of the human brain that are capable of forming a so-called "Psionic Interface" between eachother, a claim that is complicated by the fact that no such parts of the brain exist.
Magic? Improbable, but far from impossible in a world where such anomalies exist. Magic, wizardry, witchcraft, voodoo, mysticism and all other practices such as these that deal with the harnessing, manipulation and understanding of the Unknown served well to explain that which science could not. Case in point, the automated humanoids, that were capable of thinking and feeling as much as any human, that wandered the Earth with no specific purpose other than to live were obviously more than mere technology. The ancient avian monsters, that have since been brought down from fearsome birds of prey to mounts and vermin hunters whose existence could not be fully quantified by text books and data, may well have been what those of superstitious mindset might call the work of "necromancers" or other, even more arcane and obscure disciplines. And it was common to refer to the mind-bridging devices as having a strong resemblance to crystal balls, both physically and conceptually, to say nothing of the otherwordly environment they created.
The actions of an almighty power? Stranger things tend happen in this world, once again, with very few rational explanations. While often written off as the least complex a reasonable cause, it is nonetheless an intriguing prospect. Mechanical men built by the metaphorical (or maybe not so) hands of a being, or beings that outshone the close-minded mortal men and women that reside on a plane magnitudes beneath these higher beings. Mayhaps these embodiments of all that which is not known by the mortals they look down upon even were a part of the automatons, a conciousness inside a vessel, a puppet for them to control and use to interact with the world. The ancient beasts may well be the mortal forms or pets of the One(s?) Above. T'is even said in some circles that the machines that for the past decade have revolutionized communication may be not the work of men, but artefacts of mystic origin.
So many theories, so few answers. So many voices calling for them, so few willing to give them. Regardless of what the so-called "professionals" told the populace to keep them sated, not to mention the added security measures put in place to avoid potential leakages that might cause panic (or maybe for other, selfish reasons. Or perhaps very good ones), there were those who upheld the belief that the answers were out there, and they were known by a chosen few.
Among the greatest mysteries known to the world lay tucked away in a small cave system, buried under the sand and earth upon a tiny peninsula sandwiched between two immense landmasses, their sole connection to eachother. On one side, the mighty homeland of the Hydronian Empire, the other, that of the ancient and wise Xanjin Imperium. It makes one wonder sometimes, why such an important artefact (if one could even call it that) would not have come to reside in a more modest location, rather than a dank, dark and cramped space in the middle of otherwise insignificant piece of land hotly contested by the Greek and Xanjin governments.
Antony could only wonder, as he sat in a moderately comfortable seat, stuck to the wall of a high-speed jet that was currently and hastily making its way to that exact location. Admittedly, a luxury jet was not the ideal transport for a mission in Antony's mind, until he remembered that he was living in a world where numerous empires and governments fought not only in the open, but in secrecy. With that in mind, there was a good chance the aesthetically pleasing appearance obscured any number of secrets, such as compartments brimming with vital intelligence, otherworldly weaponry or things even the gods themselves would be unwilling to become entangled with. That thought somehow didn't scare him as much as it would have a month or so ago.
He decided not to dwell on such thoughts anymore, and instead turned his attention to the other passengers. Rezxa was sat opposite him wearing a form-fitting, black suit with odd grey panel here and there affixed toait, and a pear of of blue-lensed goggles around her neck. She was talking with Savunis, who's face was obscured by a black-tinted visor that matched the rest of his light, black leather attire. The conversation, from what he'd heard, was about some of the finer mission details, but that took a back seat to a greater curiousity floating about his mind. He had seen it, run it over in his head a hundred times, but he still couldn't believe the timid little man who constantly had his nose affixed to a screen, analysing data, events, etc., had somehow managed to work up the courage to ask Rezxa, of all people, out on a date. He just waltzed up and nonchalantly asked if she'd like to go somewhere for a drink. It probably helped that he had grown out that quaint little goatee and was packing solid muscle under his robes. But still, there was no way in the world of mortals or that of the gods it could have possibly been that easy. Antony was in no way jealous, rather he was happy for both of them, but the mere fact that this... thing was a reality was putting him through a minor logical breakdown.
He turned his head away and looked for another member of his team, lest he suffer an aneurysm trying to rationalise something that was not meant to be rationalised. He found Hyperios and immediately regretted it as his logic, and his faith in the laws of probability taunted him. As anomalous as the "Savunis and Rezxa being an item" thing was, Hyperios' transformation perplexed him even more.
Another quick turn of his head, and he found Dijan, meditating in a way that greatly resembled slack-jawed snoozing. He was wearing the same low-key longcoat and whathaveyou as Savunis, albeit with a dark purple trim (a strange aesthetic choice, but who was he to judge?), and a purple symbol spray-painted over a large portion of his black-tinted visor that would've surely obscured enough of his vision to the point where it would be considered impractical.
"An eclectic assortment we have here, isn't it?"
Antony didn't really pay much mind to his surroundings, but he was fairly sure Xetra was not sitting beside him just a few seconds ago. He decided that, much like several other things previously observed, this was something he should not question. She was wearing a similar getup to her Xanjin compatriots, but her deep navy blue armour (with bright-ish crimson pads) was more form-fitting and feminine under the black longcoat. Her face was covered with a visor, but it was illuminated so her face could be seen.
"Indeed. D'you think they're ready?"
"Hmm." A ghost of a smile crossed her face. "I have done all I can to prepare them. I do, however, feel I could've done more."
"That doesn't answer my question."
"Long has it been since I trained a squad as intensely as Tanzim asked of this one. I have always tried to push my... "students" if you will, beyond their limits." She looked upwards wistfully. "It reminds me of something he told me once. He said 'Limits exist to be broken, but not all at once'. I took that to heart. They are your team, and you have proven yourself a capable leader. I trust you, which, as I'm sure my associates have told you, is something I reserve and hold onto, much in the same way a good mother clings to her newborn child, as much as it does to her."
"Ladies an' gentlemen!" came that gloriously cacophonous voice that was Devu's. "We're five minutes out, I need everyone ready to move."
"Er, mind telling us why we're headed to the Nexus when you said the weapon is under the Temple ei Irium, which just so happens to be a few hundred kilometres back the way we came?" murmured Hyperios, loud enough to be heard, but still not drawing attention to himself.
"Good question. Think of it this way: the Temple is guarded in the day by Xon, but by night? Heavy munitions and a dozen extra sentinels built to kill. Add that t'the amount of tricks and quirks the security systems has that not even the highest ranking officials know about, let alone turn off. Skilled as you are, you wouldn' stand a chance, especially when they know you're comin'."
There was a small silence before Antony spoke up.
"The guard have been notified of an impending attack."
"Ok, I'm going to need a moment to process this... You're telling me someone leaked our plans to them?"
Orselius, Hyperios and Rezxa stared blankly for a few moments before Savunis explained.
"Allow me to clarify: The Guard at the Temple have been informed of an impending attack, not our impending attack."
Antony still couldn't help but be a bit sceptical and a tad frusrated about this. "Ok... then who's impending attack have they been notified about?"
Psi's a procrastinator.
The War MachineEdit
Just The BeginningEdit
- ↑ The term Ire. is the short, masculine form of the word Iremex, comparable to the word "mister" in the English language.
- ↑ A hayder is, in short, a secretary of a secretary
- ↑ A gathering of empires from all over the world, including New Greece, to commemorate the end of slavery and beginning of the Second Romanum Golden Age that came with it.
- ↑ The word "Capitus", while sounding as though it has a Latin root is, in fact, Xanju for "The Place of Leaders"
- ↑ Greek Robots which had destroyed many Xanj Sentinels in the Battle of Ko'Jhami
- ↑ The List is the common name given to the Xanjin citizen registry. It is kept on record in the XTI's Primus intelligence centre, located a little over five kilometres from the centre of Akrinj
- ↑ The Cutunnian songbird was said to have been brought to the Xanj-lands by the goddess Sarana, as a reward to it's people for developing beyond their primitive tribal beliefs and embracing the power of knowledge. The bird itself is relatively small, but intimidating at first sight with it's blackish plumage and gloing yellow eyes. However, in-flight it illuminates with light blue patterns that bring about a feeling of pure serenity.
- ↑ The Sassanid Persian has strict laws against land-based vehicles for their high carbon content
- ↑ Meditation for a Xanj was a method of organizing one's thoughts. They believed in "background noise" caused by the chaotic thoughts of the world around them and that meditation was the best way of counteracting it. This, of course, just fuelled more speculation about "telepathy", but practitioners say that they sense thoughts but cannot read them.
- ↑ Chief adviser to the Xanjin Grand Prefect.
- ↑ A common word used to describe someone in power, in this case Lord Prefect Tanzim.
- This was the first Tandem story written on the wiki, and later became multi user.
- The story is written on google docs and then transfered here. If you wish to assist or give opinions and comments, the document can be found here.
- It has various inspirations. See if you can spot the references!
The Xanj Project