For such a gathering, the locale was actually quite prosaic. It was a simple meeting room that could have been in any hotel or conference center in the world. The tables were simple meeting tables that could be found in any office supply store around the country, and the chairs were the pseudo-comfortable rolling designs that were quite common. The raw power gathered in this place however was anything but common. It was staggering. Emory looked around and sighed. She had no idea what was going on, or how she got here, but she’d had on one or two occasions in her life to be in the presence of the divine. This gathering however made those occasions feel small in comparison.
The mere mortals gathered here were some of the most powerful mages in the world. She recognized Caster, Powerstone, and even Gate from World War II, and Merlin the Time Lord. There were several others that she’d only heard rumors of. Vizier was said to be the power behind the throne in the United Arab Emirates. He was a tall dark skinned man dressed in what was typical Arabic robes. There was a strong sense of personal power about him.
She saw a short Japanese man with jet black hair and dressed in a business suit. She suspected he was the wizard Kasai, who’d been working behind the scenes in Tokyo to help keep the nocturnal population there in line. He exuded confidence from his very pores. Others she did not recognize.
All of these men and women however paled before the raw power of those gathered at the head of the table. The Council of Whispers who were a group of immortals, Forsaken vampires, and direct divine servants, all sat the head table running perpendicular to the one at which she sat. At the center of the table was a young man with coal black hair and piercing blue eyes that reflected a deep sadness that cut all the way to her soul. He was wearing a simple black turtle-neck sweater.
The other forms were all cloaked, with their faces hidden under a hood. Some she knew by feel, or from personal interaction. Most however were simply powerful beings who were capable of manipulating the very fabric of reality to do the bidding of the divinities they served. Standing to the side was a short white haired girl wearing a simple white and blue dress.
The man in the center seemed to will everyone's attention to him. He smiled sadly and said, “A confluence of events in this reality are focusing into a situation that requires the return of a ruling force. While the Directive existed, the mage gift was limited to a few but powerful practitioners who were capable of standing against their might and policing themselves. With its recent destruction the gift will once again propagate. Other forces are also coming to bear,” he said as he looked over to one of the hooded forms who solemnly nodded to him. “Not the least of which is the growing power of the sorcerer Shadu. It is time that the mages once again had a sovereign to rule them. You all have been chosen as possible candidates for the role as the new Sovereign Mage.”
“What if we do not wish the role?” a short Asian man asked.
“Then you may depart. However, you will still be bound by their authority,” the man in black said.
“Understood,” the man said and then disappeared in a wink of crimson light.
“Are there any others who wish to be withdrawn from consideration?” one of the hooded figures asked from the end of the table. It was obviously a male with a rich baritone voice. From under the hood, Emory caught just a flash brown eyes.
“I would like to know why we are including a Time Lord as one of our candidates,” a voice that was devoid of all gender asked. Emory could sense a deep distrust and worry in the voice.
“Because he is a mage of the first order,” the man in the center said.
“But he already knows the outcome of this event,” the sexless voice pointed out.
The girl standing at the side of the room shook her head and said with a deep reverential bow, “No Honored One. At the request of the Chair, I have blocked his memories of the future. Although he, like the others, will have access to any non-magical resources he possesses, his memories are not among those. The deal he struck with his father, Shaitan, will not come to play in this little drama you have set up.” She smiled and looked at the form with the baritone voice.
“You are rather impertinent,” The baritone voice said.
“I am only doing what the Chair asked. Nobody said that I had to play nice.”
“I like you,” Baritone replied.
“I am honored,” she said with a smile.
The man at the head of the table turned back to the group and said, “You have been chosen to be candidates for the honor of becoming the Sovereign Mage. Whomever takes the mantle will have dominion over all mages on Earth and the civilizations it will eventually build in the stars. That person will be the final arbiter of disputes, and will be responsible for keeping all mages and sorcerers from disrupting the balance of power. In effect, that person will become the direct servant, not of any God, but of the Universe itself. There is a great deal of power, but with it comes much more responsibility.”
“I am concerned that there are those among our candidates who have direct ties to at least one Divinity,” a definitely male voice on the opposite side of the table from the baritone voice said. Emory could feel his eyes boring into her soul. For just a brief moment she saw his visage, and it was totally insane. “Can they be neutral in religious conflicts?”
“Why are you concerned about that, Brother mine,” the Baritone voice said. “Our Father denies his followers access to magic anyway.”
“Prayer is a form of magic, Brother mine,” the first voice said. “The Northmore woman is engaged to one of Freyja’s servants. I do not trust her to be neutral.”
“Not everyone feels the need to spread their faith,” the sexless voice said. “As long as she has taken no oaths to the Keeper of Cats, I have not objections to her participation.”
“Nor do I,” the man in black replied with a harsh tone to his voice that said he would brook no argument. “She stays. I think she will at least make an interesting candidate to watch.”
“Very well. I withdraw the complaint,” the original questioning voice said sitting back in his chair. Emory got the feeling that some kind of drama the details of which she was unaware was just played out in front of her. She was also worried that his objections had not been quelled.
“As one of the candidates, might I ask what power and what responsibility?” Vizier asked, his voice rumbling like a bass drum.
The man at the head of the table said, “The winning candidate will be responsible for resolving disputes between mages, for seeing to the defense of the mage gift from those that would see it destroyed again.”
“And of what kind of power are we talking?” Vizier asked again.
“The power to arbitrate disputes and the power to back it up. The power to not only block but to remove the mage gift from an offending mage. The power to tap into the life force of the planet itself to enforce your will,” the sexless voice said.
“What do we do, fight each other?” Gate asked.
Emory raised an eyebrow, and said, “Then I would withdraw.”
“Why? Are you afraid of getting hurt, little girl?” he asked.
Emory shook her head and said, “No. But I fight for my own reasons, not to win some prize. I haven’t had it up to now, so not having it in the future would be no great loss.” She looked around and added, “Most of the people in this room, I would trust with that kind of power.”
“What if it were me?” he asked continuing to bait her.
She shrugged, “Somehow I get the feeling that won’t be an issue,” she said with a smile before turning back to gathering. “How do we proceed?”
The man in black at the table smiled and said, “You already have. This is as much a test of character as it is a test of power.” All of the forms nodded. “However for the purposes of this choice we will look at your decision making skills. The following encounters are very real. They are not staged. They are real life events going on in real time around the world. However, they are not always what they seem.”
Suddenly the room faded. She was dressed in her “working” uniform and even had her cloak. She smiled and brushed her fingertips across the material, barely feeling the feathers embedded in it. At her will those feathers would extrude themselves and allow her to fly. It was something she would have to give up once she and Trey married, for the cloak was a Valkyrie’s cloak and would not work for a married woman.
Looking around she found herself in what looked like an old castle with which the owner was struggling with the upkeep. She could see where doors had been recently replaced, and mortar that was in need of repair. In the distance she heard the sounds of fighting.
Hurrying up the curved staircase from which the sound was emanating, she felt a cold blast of air come through what looked like an actual archer’s alcove. She realized that wherever she was, it was much colder than even the London climate to which she was accustomed.
Skidding to a stop, at the top of the stairs where she found a locked door, she considered her options. The door looked newly replaced and heavily locked. She was loathe to damage someone else’s property. Instead, she decided to cheat a bit and use her telekinesis. Turning the locking mechanism with her mind, she swung the door open and entered the long hall.
Suddenly two men were hurled backwards through a door down the hall. Both were carrying stakes and crosses. One looked like he was bleeding heavily from a wound to his arm. As they rolled to their feet, the other looked up at her and shouted, “Inny panna młoda!”
Her Polish was a bit rusty as she hadn’t been in the country since before the fall of communism, but she recognized what they were saying. “Sorry boys, but like Minmei, I’m not a bride yet,” she told them in Polish as she closed with their location.
The men looked at each other and then back into the room from which they’d been hurled. “He’s getting away!” one screamed, pulled an old Tokarev from his belt and started firing.
Emory rushed down and looked into the room where he saw a dark haired man transform into a bat. “Oh great,” she muttered to herself. She was dealing with at least a Damned vampire if not a Forsaken.
She reached out with her mind and slammed the bat into the ground telekinetically. She had a good idea what his next trick was going to be. Looking around the room and seeing what she needed, she raced across to where a young woman was lying, two small bloodless wounds on her throat and crimson on her lips. Grabbing the empty wine bottle, she pulled the stopper and turned on the vampire.
Watching him transform his small flapping form into one of mist, she smiled and ran the bottle over to where he was becoming a cloud of gas. With a quick wave of her hand, she cast a teleport spell on the air in the bottle. As nature abhors a vacuum, the mist was sucked inside it. She quickly stoppered the bottle and turned back toward the two men.
Both were standing there, slack-jawed staring at her. The one with the automatic pistol suddenly seemed to realize that he was holding a weapon. He screamed in Polish, “Witch!” and began firing at her.
With a wave of her hand, she raised her own protective spell and watched two bullets ricochet around the room. She held out her hand and willed the gun to it. It was suddenly yanked from the guy’s hand and made a slow arc across the room to land in her palm. “Now does someone want to tell me what this is all about?”
The man with who had the gun ran. His partner followed him. She looked over to where the girl was stirring on the bed. Looking down at the bottle and then back to the girl she cast her mind toward the newly created undead. Scanning her confused mind, she began to realize what had happened.
She pocketed the Tokarev, then she unstoppered the bottle and let the mist escape. The vampire took form. He looked at Emory and then back to the girl. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Someone just trying to figure out what is going on. Go teach her what she needs to know,” she said.
Before the vampire could reply, she felt herself whisked away again. She began to wonder if she was going to be able to resolve any issue to her own satisfaction before being sent somewhere else. The vampire had been turning his dying fiance. She wanted to know why the hunters were after him, and how did they end up in a castle in Poland. Talk about a cliche.
She felt the ground suddenly shift under her feet and she wondered who was controlling the teleport spell. Whoever it was, was doing a damn poor job of it. Teleportation wasn’t one of her strong points but at least she usually managed to land without nearly breaking an ankle.
She was immediately hit by a blast of cold wind. Looking up at the night sky she recognized the skyline of the city. Great, right in the middle of a turf war between several mages in Chicago. This was going to be fun. Looking around she realized that she was in the middle of Grant Park and it looked to be about midnight.
She wracked her brain to try and remember what she’d seen coming out of the DNA’s files on the mess in this city. The war between Doctor Leger of New Orleans and the local vampires here in Chicago had left the city without very much leadership. The mages of the city were determined to take the place of the fallen vampires but were rapidly decimating each other in their war for control. She suspected that by the time it was over, that the mages would be so decimated that they would not be able seize control of the Windy City.
She felt the surge of magical energy several seconds before she heard the screaming. Someone had expended a great deal of energy to open a gate to another reality. She could smell the brimstone on the cold wind. She shook her head and asked herself, “Why does it always have to be demons? Do these people not have any imagination at all?”
She willed the cloak at her shoulders to unfurl and billow outwards and began to rise into the cold night air. In the distance, toward the harbor she could see the blue flame of the sulfur burning. There were times when she actually felt a bit sorry for the demons summoned. As Trey was apt to say, they really didn't have a dog in the fight, but they were forced to become part of it.
As she cleared the skeletal tops of the now winter-bare oaks, she could make out the glowing lines of the two huge summoning circles. She could see two forms, each standing the middle of their individual circle. One circle was occupied by middle aged man wearing a dark cloak. Several of the symbols on the hood of the cloak suggested that he came from a Hermetic tradition. The woman was tall, and ebony skinned. She wore a slinky green dress and held a long athame in one hand.
Outside of them, between the two circles was a small army of small horned demons squaring off with what looked like another small army of iron pike armed redcaps. It didn’t matter who won or lost here, the city was going to be overrun with problems by the end of the week if someone didn’t send this whole mess back to where it came from. What kind of idiot would turn loose an army of redcaps or imps? She had to do something fast.
Looking down she realized that she had to either convince the two combatants to send their diminutive armies back, or she’d be forced do something very unpleasant to one or both of them. Focusing her will, she drew the rune she needed in the air and screamed, “Send them back!” Her voice echoed across the park and and off the concrete canyons of the city, and out into the harbor. She suspected they heard her all the way to Canada.
For just a moment, the battlefield bellow her became still and quiet. Then with the creaking sounds of leather, every head turned to look at her floating above them. “Who are you and why should we?” the woman on the side of the field with the redcaps shouted.
“My name is Avalon, and I’m trying to stop what’s left of the winning army from hurting the innocents of the city.”
“Why should we care?” the man on the side of the demons shouted. “The city will recover! Mind your own business.”
“Send them back!” she demanded again, this time her voice was low and menacing.
“No!” both combatants said hurling eldritch bolts in her direction.
She easily deflected them realizing that the two combatants had expended most of their energy in summoning their armies. That was very foolish of them. Especially in their rather vulnerable positions. Again, she began to draw a rune. This time it encompassed the whole army of imps as well as their summoner’s circle.
An eldrich bolt managed to clip her in the hip. She felt her whole leg go numb from its force. She didn’t waver, instead she rose higher into the air to make for a smaller target. “What are you doing?!” the man with the imps screamed at her.
“I’m binding your army!” she told him.
“They’ll be destroyed! She’ll win!” he protested. Throwing his cloak aside, he began to draw on more and more energy from around him, pulling it from the sleeping earth itself. He was a mage of the first order and was not going to let his army go down without a fight.
“You seem to have more empathy for the demons you’ve summoned that the people in the city,” she told him as she began to weave her spell. Hell was not a dimension with which she was accustomed to opening a portal. She preferred not to deal with its denizens, but figured that if she got the job for which she suddenly found herself applying then she should probably get used to it.
She closed the rune as the man pulled a huge well of energy up through the ground. She could feel the trees dying in the park around them. As he the mage pulled the energy to him and began to focus it into his spell, she struck with her own eldrich bolt. As it went wide and missed him completely he smiled wickedly. “You’ll have to do better than that!” he exclaimed.
She smiled sadly and said, “Oh I did.” Turning to the imps she told them, “You may have him as long as you return to your own realm!”
“What?!” the man suddenly screamed as the imps began to flow over the cut in the protective circle that her bolt had made. She had bound the imps to her own circle, but had opened his. The only way to send them back forcibly was to send him with them. It was not in her nature to be judge, jury, and executioner- especially when it meant damning someone's soul, but she could do it when she had to.
Suddenly the imps grabbed him and they all disappeared in a flash of white light and brimstone. She heard him scream once as he was dragged to Hell with the demons he’d summoned.
“Thanks for the assist,” the woman in the other circle said. “But fair warning, my circle is made of sturdier stuff. Your eldrich bolts won’t be of any use in cutting it. While inside this circle, I am entirely immune to magic.” She pointed to where the summoning circle she’d used was much smaller but made entirely of thick interlocking brass rings. She was right. An eldrich bolt would not generate enough force to blast it open. And it looked like there were some serious charms for deflecting both magic and psionics.
Emory shook her head and sighed. Looking at the redcaps who were getting ready to scamper off into the city, she called out in Alfar, “Halt.”
To the woman’s surprise, the small elflings stopped in their tracks and looked at her. One held his ugly misshapen head high and demanded. “By what authority do you command us to halt?”
“By that of shared blood,” she said. “By that of the cloak I wear. Do you wish to engender the wrath of the daughter of a valkyrie?”
“What are you saying?” the woman demanded.
Emory looked at her and said, “You are stupid enough to summon redcaps and not speak their language?”
“Who are you calling stupid?” the woman demanded.
“You,” Emory said quietly as she considered the circle. She might be able to batter the circle down eventually. That would take all night and in the meantime the redcaps would become restless. It was a tightly woven spell. This woman was smart. She knew she would be facing a magical battle tonight and had woven her defenses tightly. She could even sense several traps set against telepathic interventions.
The redcaps sat and watched the interplay between them. For now they were content to watch and see who would command them. They were compelled by the woman’s summoning spell, but her own right of blood and the cloak she wore was not to be lightly ignored. With a shrug she reached into her pocket and pulled out the Tokarev she’d taken earlier.
She’d been trained by both MI-6 and Ministry 13. She was a crack shot. Taking aim, she fired the Russian-made automatic. Two shots later and the brass rings were cut in two. She looked at the redcaps and said, “She is yours. Slake your thirst and return to Underhill.”
The redcaps did not wait. They swarmed over the broken brass and began to tear at the woman, each dipping the small red cap they wore in her blood before disappearing in wink of winter’s light.
Again before she could react, she was yanked from the scene. This time she found herself back in the room with the Council of whispers. The others had returned as well, several of them were nursing wounds. Vizier looked like he’d been mauled and burned all at the same time. Caster looked like death warmed over. She appeared to not have an erg of energy left in her small form. Kasai was holding a broken arm. Even Powerstone looked a bit green about the gills, and he smelled like brimstone. His duster was scorched.
“What happened to you, Sam?” Caster asked him.
“Ever played poker with a demon?” he asked.
She shook her head and said, “No.”
“They cheat,” he said in that soft Texan drawl of his. “That one won’t anymore though.”
“Why were you playing poker with a demon?” she asked.
“Because I can’t play the fiddle,” he replied with a chuckle. “And you old friend?” he turned Kasai and asked.
“I have never cared much for Voodoun,” he said. “Now I really dislike it. Zombies are immune to many magics.”
“Where’s Gate?” Emory asked looking around for the other mage.
“He’s been disqualified, as has Merlin,” the Chairman said. “They do not seem to understand that the goal of the sovereign mage is to protect humanity as much as it is to protect mages.”
“I see,” Vizier said.
“What happened to you Akil?” Powerstone asked Vizier.
“The Pride is what happened,” he turned to the Chairman and said. “That was not a fair test.”
“What happened?” Sam asked.
“The spiritwalker of the Pride, I believe the term is, has issues,” Vizier said.
“You all have issues, Akil,” the Chairman said. “Each and every one of you have your own demons.” He turned to the form with the baritone voice and said, “No offense intended.”
“None taken my friend,” the baritone voice replied.
“What allowances we make for those demons or issues as the case may be is part of the test.”
“Be that as it may, I move that we also disqualify Ms. Northmore,” the insane figure said.
“On what grounds, Brother mine?” the baritone asked.
“She did not deal with that second mage with magic,” Mr. Insane replied.
“Was it required?” Emory asked the form.
“We did say that the candidates were allowed to use whatever gifts they may have in addition to their magic,” the sexless voice countered. “I would vote nay.”
The Chairman turned to the insane voice and said, “I agree. We specifically said that they could use whatever gifts they had access to.”
“Except for Merlin’s memories,” the girl in the white and blue dress said.
“Except those,” the Baritone Voice interjected amused.
“What gift did she use?” Mr. Insane asked. “She used a gun. Anybody could have done that.”
“Could anyone have twice hit a half inch target with a Cold War surplus Russian automatic from a hundred yards, slicing it in half?” the Chairman asked.
“Nice shootin’ Emory,” Powerstone said.
“You seem to be far less worse for wear than the rest of us,” Kasai said. “What did you have to deal with?”
“A couple of vampire hunters and a vampire,” she replied, “and two warring mages. One had summoned a small army of imps and the other had summoned a bunch of redcaps.”
“What did you do?” Caster asked.
“It would have taken all night to batter down the magical and psionic shields she’d put around her summoning circle. However, she didn’t shield it against physical attacks. I had a gun so I used it,” Emory said.
“On her?” Sam asked in surprise.
“No. The redcaps had to be quelled. I used it on the brass ring she was using as her circle. I gave her to them,” Emory replied.
“That was extreme, Kasai said.
“I gave both of them an opportunity to withdraw their forces and send them back. I was not going to let an army of imps or redcaps go rampaging through downtown Chicago,” she told him. “Since they wouldn’t willingly send them back, they had to go back with them.”
“And why did you not kill the vampire?” Mr. Insane asked. “He was after all an evil creature of the night.”
She raised an eyebrow. “The victim was the vampire’s fiance. She was dying. He was simply preserving the woman he loved. The hunters were in the wrong. I’m not going to kill a nocturnal who is not breaking the rules.”
The council members turned to face the Chairman. An undercurrent of conversation seemed to be carried on. It was a buzzing that seemed to be just out of Emory’s ability to hear. She began to feel something vibrate through her body, and her soul.
As it built, the world around her began to fade away into a gray mist. Finally, when there was only the gray, the Chairman took form in front of her. “Come with me,” he said. I have much to teach you before you take up your duties.”
Tien Vanel Colony Atlantean Colony World
For over two hundred and fifty years House Atlyn had served the Empire. Adam and his family had gone from being soldiers, to being the Atlantean equivalent of Earls, then Barons, Counts, and finally Dukes - or in Katherine's case, a Duchess. They had fought wars, built first towns, then cities, and finally universities. House Atlyn's holdings now included the entire island of Thule, a great deal of Northern Yurop, a large swath of the Apple Chain Mountains on Eria, two islands in the Western Atlan Ocean, one in the Western Ocean and several cities on the Southern continent. Of course the latter were behind blast barriers to protect them from the frigid weather.
Adam and his family had hammered Kiera Atlan's children into a military, industrial, economic, and educational force that was ranked among the most powerful in the Empire. For most of that, he and the others credited Katherine and Dannon, for his smallest husband and his wife saw the field of politics as a battlefield and both were lord generals when it came to engaging on it. And they had their own forces that they maneuvered upon that field with surgical precision, both against the other houses of the empire and as well as those of Hesperia.
For even though the world of the Atlantean Empire was far more technologically advanced than the one they had left in the far future, Earth still was not a united planet. Even though the Empire had colonies on the moon, on Mars, and on Saturn's moons, as well as several around other stars, it still had a Terran rival: the Hesperian Hegemony.
Based out of what Adam knew as Ancient Greece, the Hesperian Hegemony was a powerful matriarchal government that had its own areas of control. It was the undisputed mistress of Gondowa, Khaetae, and the Ceana. It too had both solar and stellar colonies, and that was what created much of the problems for the Empire. That was why they were here on Tien Vanel, to remind the colony that splitting off from the Empire was a bad idea.
He smiled at the thought, though. He remembered his American History quite well, and he recognized that the Tien Vanel was in exactly the same situation as the American Colonies were right after the French and Indian Wars. The Empire had recently forced the Hesperians off of one of their near-by colonies - a quite well developed one at that. For years the Empire had been able to keep Tien Vanel in line by threatening to pull out its naval forces from the system and let the Hesperians have them. Now with that threat gone, the locals had become quite restless. And Adam and the rest of the Gifted were part of the problem. It was his job to solve it.
He also suspected that there were other forces at work back home as well - not the least of which was a young weak empress who had taken a instant dislike to Kiera-Atlan's children. He knew that a great deal of that had come from being influenced by the Imperial Chamberlain who was very distrustful of both the Gifted and the Mideanites. If he were in the future civilization in which Adam had grown up, he'd have been considered a human-first anti-transhuman bigot. Here and now he was just an ass.
But Adam had enough faith in the Mideanite bodyguards that all members of the imperial royal family were assigned that such feelings would be quite tempered and kept under control. Only an idiot went around insulting the very people upon whose loyalty and actions your life depended. He also knew that when they returned that Dannon and Katherine could undo a lot of damage that was being done. It would take a lot of effort but it could be done.
The problem here on Tien Vanel was that the same sentiment was starting to run rampant. In what Adam considered to be a very bad move, the Empress had rotated the regular legion garrison out and had replaced it with one made up of Gifted. That move was surely going to be seen as the throne flexing its muscles unnecessarily. The fact that the world was founded as a penal colony by the city of Merria, one of the more rabid anti-gifted cities in the empire, didn't help.
As the shuttle cycled its air compressors to match the outside atmosphere, he looked back at his family. Most of them were viewing this as a sort of a working vacation. Only Sloan seemed to share his own worries about the situation. Imperial Intelligence had reported certain sentiments that made both of them wary about bringing Katherine, Dannon, and Willy on this trip. Sure they could take care of themselves. Sure they'd all seen far more battle in the last two hundred and fifty years than any living being had a right to, but he still worried. Some part of him deep inside told him that he always would.
As the shuttle's door slid to the side the digital filter field kicked in to cut the glare of Tien Vanel's twin suns. At the sight of the twin orbs glowing in the day sky, Dannon grinned broadly. He knew the smaller man would be literally bouncing off the walls within hours of absorbing that much spectral radiation. He smiled at the other said, "Those of us who don't eat light might want to wear eye protection."
As they stepped out of the shuttle, Adam could see a row of protesters with big holographic signs. He smiled at them. It had been quite a while since he'd been called a genetic freak and a pervert. The latter told him that there was some influence from the Kellanaire Temples from Gondowa. There were even several signs that made disparaging remarks about their skin color. After all, the heavy UV spectral range of the world's two suns made darker skin a survival mechanism.
Adam had no illusions about how they stood out among the Atlanteans. Three hundred thousand years had resulted in quite a bit of genetic drift. Most of the Atlantean Gifted had deep bronze skin. Most Imperial Atlanteans and all the Mideanites were fair skinned like himself and the rest of his family. That tended to make most people underestimate them. After all, they LOOKED like Imperial Atlanteans, but they had the powers of the Gifted.
Although the physical features of the Vanelians were much like that of the Imperial Atlanteans- with straight soft hair, and light eyes, the skin tones tended to run very dark, almost to a Gondowan ebony. That made Adam and his family stand out even more than even the garrison of Gifted legionnaires that the empress had sent.
They were met at the bottom of the shuttle's gangway by the local imperial governor and her husband. She was a tall woman with a very dark complexion and straight red hair. She was a tall heavy boned and well muscled woman that had the appearance of someone who worked out quite a bit. Her husband was a short thin man with tight curly blond hair. His skin was a deep mocha color and his eyes were almost totally black.
"Welcome to Tien Vanel, Lords and Lady Atlyn. We hope your stay here will be enjoyable," the woman said. "I am Governor Kaelienne. This is my husband Non."
Adam nodded and took the woman's wrist in the standard imperial greeting. "Thank you, Governor. This is my wife, the Lady Katherine, and my husbands, Sloan, Dannon, and William."
He noticed the slight tightening around Non's eyes which suggested he disapproved of the arrangement. He suspected that had something to do with the small understated ten pointed star pin on the man's lapel. He was a follower of Kellanaire. Which was perfectly fine with Adam as long he kept his religion to himself. "Tien Vanel welcomes you," the Governor said.
"Welcome to our humble planet," Non said with a smile that did not reach his eyes.
"Please, join us for some refreshments?" Kaelienne said gesturing toward where a pavilion had been set up. As they were technically emissaries from the empress they were entitled to and expected to bypass the main spaceport and fly directly to the planetary governmental seat. It was a tradition with which Adam was uncomfortable. He did not like the pomp and affectations of the government. He'd have rather flown in on his private shuttle, docked at the star port and taken a private car for this meeting.
"Thank you," he told Kaelienne. "It is most appreciated." Adam didn't like the affectations, but he knew when to use them.
"I noticed that you are not wearing eye protection Lord Dannon," Non said. "Are you not afraid you will harm your retinas?"
Dannon just shook his head and said, "No. I am quite enjoying your suns." He smiled broadly at the other man. It wasn't often that Dannon met another adult male who was smaller than he was. Whereas Adam and the others had finally grown out of that awkward early teen appearance they had when they first arrived, they all still looked like they hadn't quite left puberty. Dannon on the other hand still looked like he'd barely started it. Ironically, he was actually the second oldest in the family.
The brief walk over to the pavilion revealed a rather large table set up with refreshments including what looked like several local juices. Under the intense light and through the filters of his glasses he couldn't quite tell the exact colors of the drinks. He was offered something that vaguely resembled orange juice and took it from the servant with a gracious smile.
"I'm curious, Lady Katherine," Kaelienne asked. "Exactly what is your mission on Tien Vanel?"
Katherine smiled at the woman and took the drink she was sipping from her lips and said, "We're here to review the legions the Empress asked us to send to help with the defense of your world."
"Asked to send?" Non asked handing William a drink as well.
"Trust me sir, we'd much rather have them home at Thule with their families," Katherine said.
"Many Vanellians feel that they are here to remind the people of imperial might," Non said, his accusation barely hidden under the veneer of social graces.
"I don't think the people of Tien Vanel need to be reminded of imperial might," Dannon said. "After all, they only have to look to its nearest neighbor to see what the empire can do when it chooses. For centuries the Hesperian military base at Toraq was a constant threat to your world. Now it's in imperial hands. The Hesperians that wish to leave for other Hesperian worlds are free to do so, and the world is no longer a threat to Vanellian trade and prosperity."
"Then why send a legion of Kiera Atlan's gifted?" Non asked. "Surely the Empress understands how many of the Kellanaire members of our population feel about the Gifted."
"Because it was time for their rotation to this garrison," Adam told the smaller man. "They are after all, loyal Atlantean citizens." Adam thought it best to remind the man that most of the troops who were assigned here had already earned their citizenship via their military service.
"Could her imperial highness not have skipped this garrison and rotated another legion?" Non asked.
"Why should she?" Sloan asked. "Has something happened to make the Gifted unsuitable for service on Tien Vanel?"
"It's just that we have so many refugees from Toraq that we are trying to absorb, and they don't deal well with the Gifted, especially with your...," he looked to Sloan, Dannon, William, and Katherine before looking back to Adam to continue. "...Your unusual family structures."
"Add into that the recent conflicts with Hesperian forces and you can understand their reticence to deal with Atlantean Gifted," Kaelienne said.
"We are Atlanteans, they are refugees. It's their job to assimilate into our culture, not for us to assimilate to ours," Katherine said firmly.
"Yes, but we have be willing to accept outside cultures as equal to ours," Non replied.
"Really?" Dannon asked the man. "Are you willing to become a second class citizen with only the rights and privileges that your wife may or may not be willing to grant you? Are you willing to have a slave chip implanted in your brain to ensure your fidelity to your wife? Are you willing to restrict your travel to times when you are accompanied by your wife, your mother, or your sisters? If the Kellanaire want to be accepted as subjects or citizens of the empire then they must learn to accept the other peoples and creeds of it as well. If not, they can always return to the arms of the Hesperian Hegemony."
"That's rather harsh, Lord Dannon," Non said. "I've always been taught that the empire was a big enough place to accept all kinds of people."
"It is, sir," Dannon said evenly. "But to be accepted, a person must also be willing to accept. The empire thrives because it does not allow one people or one group of people to dictate how the others should live. Nobody is stopping the Kellanaire from living their lives they way they want to. The law only says they may not impose their will by force on another."
"But sending the Gifted Legions here will be seen as an affront to them, and their culture," Non protested.
"Who would you rather offend sir," William asked in his soft voice. "Would you rather offend the refugees of an oppressive regime that still harbor some of the prejudices that we in the empire find to be backwards, or would you rather offend the Atlantean Empress, the local garrison commander, and House Atlyn?"
"That's putting it bluntly," Lady Kaelienne said.
"Sometimes plain talk is what is needed, Lady," William said. William didn't often engage in political discussions, but when he did, what he said was usually profound and cut to the heart of the matter. Only a fool did not heed his advice.
"Perhaps this is a discussion for another time," Katherine suggested. "Although one of my husbands is enjoying your twin suns, I myself am starting to develop a headache from the glare- in spite of the polarized lenses of my shades."
Adam recognized a social obfuscation when he saw it. Katherine was wanting more information before she allowed either Dannon or William to pick a fight with the local governor. He agreed. It wouldn't do to return to Earth owing her imperial highness a new governor. She might take it as a personal affront. "I believe our wife is correct," he said. "Perhaps we can continue this conversation at a later date. The starflight over was somewhat tiring."
He watched as each and everyone one of his spouses turned their head to look at him. He knew that they thought it wasn't like him to play the dandy, but Katherine was right. They needed more information and standing in the bright suns debating the issue wasn't going to get them that information. He wanted to talk to the garrison commander, and he was sure that Katherine wanted to speak to the leader of the local Mideanite population.
It didn't take them long to get settled into their apartments in the Governor's Palace. Katherine had been very surprised at Adam's reaction on the pavilion. Sometimes even she forgot just how resourceful he could be. In some ways that was one of his major strengths. He was so open and honest, that people didn't expect him to have a devious bone in his body. But of course he had to be able to think in political terms. After all, he'd managed to command the Gifted Legions for over hundred and fifty years. One didn't pull off that kind of feat without being able to work rather well in the political arena.
As soon as they'd gotten settled, she did exactly what Adam had thought she would do. She went looking for the local Mideanite enclave. The children of Lilith didn’t often leave Earth, they claimed that they felt lost in the universe without being in connection with it. She could understand that. They'd been hunted almost to extinction by the servants of Yahweh, and only the interference of Vinciene the Grey had saved them and their mother from death at their pursuer’s hands. That perceived rejection by their creator had left deep wounds on the whole Mideanite psyche.
But some of them did leave Earth; either in the service of the throne, or for their own personal reasons. On a colony world with over three hundred million souls, there were less than a hundred Mideanites on Tien Vanel, and almost all of them resided in the capital city. It was a rather affluent neighborhood in which they lived. Mideanites, with natural psionic abilities usually rose to the upper echelons of society quite easily no matter the world on which they resided. Tien Vanel was no exception.
She had sent word over the mindsong that she wanted to meet with Nareth. He'd been quite amicable to the idea. Katherine had become something of a legend among the Mideanites herself. Not many Gifted psis were capable of tapping into the mindsong, much less residing in it as well as she did. That had impressed the Children of Lilith and they'd come close to adopting her as one of their own. Their only hesitation was that they felt her lack of the requisite digits on her fingers and toes made her handicapped, and they did not wish to think of her as such.
She was met at the door by a young Mideanite child, before she could ever knock. He looked up at her from under his blond hair with big blue eyes and said telepathically, *Father said I could greet you and bring you to his study.
She smiled down at the boy and sent back, *Why thank you. My name is Katherine
He giggled into her mind and said, *I'm Kenzie. It's nice to meet you. Can I get you some refreshment?
* Katherine knew that the boy's offer was a part of the Mideanite culture. Since Vinciene the Grey had shielded Lilith and her twin sons Kalleth and Marhawk and their wives from the angels sent to slay them, it had been a point of the Mideanite culture to offer hospitality to any stranger that came to their door. Tradition says that it would be poor repayment for such a debt to not extend hospitality to others in need.
"Thank you, no," she said. "I've not traveled far."
The boy nodded solemnly and showed her to a study door. *Father is in here
,* he said.
"Thank you Kenzie," she said aloud and then knocked at the door.
It opened of its own accord and she entered to find a lone man sitting quietly looking out the window into the street. He turned to see her and stood. Nareth did not look well. Katherine didn't need her powers to see that he was very sick, perhaps even dying. His thin blond hair hung limply against his skull. His eyes were sunken and his skin was sallow. There was aura of death about him that Katherine did not like. *Thank you for your patience with Kenzie. He so wanted to meet you, My Lady
.* She could feel his mind reach out to hers and touch it briefly in greeting.
*It was my pleasure,* she told him. Then lowering an eyebrow in concern, she sent to him. *But you do not look well
He shook his head and said, *No, it was a rather excellent poison they use
"Who used?" she asked dropping into verbal speech at the idea that someone might poison a Mideanite. Their constitutional powers were quiet remarkable.
He smiled wanly and continued to speak to her with his mind, *I believe it was the Governor who ordered it done. She was not happy with some of the reports I was sending back to Earth about the rising Kellanaire problem.
Gaining control of her emotions, Katherine asked, *What poison did they use?
*My healer tells me it was an irradiated dose of tanazine. Quiet effective and quite specific for our unique physiology,
* he said quietly.
Katherine's heart sank. Tanazine was a very painful death for any psionic. It destroyed the myelin sheaths on the nerves specific to the psirebral nodes of the brain. In psi-blind humans, this had little to no effect. However to psionics in general and Mideanites in particular it was a painful death. Painful physically and painful psychically as well because in the final stages it caused the victim to lash out at any other psis in the vicinity. *Kenzie
?* she asked.
*I have nobody to care for him. My wife died in the last Hesperian raid on this world two years ago. My family is all gone
,* he said. *He will have a very substantial trust, but nobody to care for him.
Without even considering what she was offering she said aloud, "We will take him."
"I cannot ask that," Nareth was able to cough out.
*You are not asking anything, Nareth. I am offering and my husbands would agree. We will give him a home and an education. Do not worry for your son. He will be well cared
for,* she said. Then grimly she added, *And I will make those who've done this pay.
* She only knew of Nareth through the mindsong and by reputation but what she knew told her that he was a good man who served his people and the empire well. If the separatist movement wanted to play this kind of game, then she and Dannon were far better at it than they were.
*What can you tell me of this separatists movement?
* she asked.
*They are unaware of it, but they are financially backed by several houses in the Empire who are working indirectly for the Hegemony,
* Nareth told her. *Let me explain
Suddenly a packet of information began to unfold down the conversational link the two shared. As she sifted through it, her blood began to boil. Several houses whose stars were on the rise inside the Empire were pushing for a more open dialogue with the Hesperians. They claimed that the atrocities committed by the Hegemony were a political fiction created by the Empire to justify the continued conflict. They wanted a fundamental change in the rights and responsibilities of the Grand Charter. They wanted universal suffrage granting voting rights to citizens and subjects alike. In their minds, even those who did not earn it should be allowed to have a say in how the empire was run.
Of course what this would do was create a permanent political voting bloc for them in the Rathamaer, and probably break the power of the the throne and the Imperial Senate, giving almost unlimited political power to the House of Citizens. It could very well spell the demise of the empire. What most of them didn't seem to realize was that most of their funding was coming from the Hesperian Hegemony. This was warfare on a political and economic level.
Katherine remembered what things were like in her own time. She remembered her lessons from MI-6. When the former Soviet Union had collapsed, all the anti-West Marxists shifted gears and folded themselves into the green movement. She saw beginnings of something similar happening here. The Hesperian Hegemony was on the ropes, and was reaching out to re-image itself and its ideas into the Empire.
After digesting the information, she asked her host, *How long
He smiled wanly at her and said, *Maybe a mont
*You and Kenzie will be going to the garris
on,* she told him. *There is nothing they can do, My Lady,
* he told her.
*They can at least make you comfortable
,* she looked around and then added, *and they can make sure that Kenzie is safe
*Whatever you think is best, My Lady
,* he told her.
She smiled and said, *I'm glad you aren't going to argue with me over this.
He shrugged before saying, *Why should I? If it will ensure my son isn't left on a hostile world, then I'll do it. My work here is finished
*No imperial world should be hostile to an imperial citizen. The situation here has to be changed.*
*Good luck with that,
* he sent to her. *The Kellanaire have a strong influence here.
* *What's their population percentage?
* she asked.
*About four percent,
* he told her. *But you know as well as I do, that when they reach that level, they start making demands for cultural concessions far out of proportion to their population percentage. They are already making noises about male clothing on the planet being ‘unKellanaire’.
Katherine nodded at that comment. It would seem that the past really is prologue. Smiling she said, *Call Kenzie. You two gather what you will need for a stay. I will send someone to pack your things to send to Earth
Nareth nodded and said aloud, "Yes My Lady."
William shuddered at the thought of what he knew was coming. The news that Katherine brought back last week from her meeting with the Mideanite leader had put Dannon in his sabercat stalking mode. The small blond man had taken a personal offense to the idea that someone had gone out of their way to make they boy Kenzie an orphan. Dannon didn't see it as simply a dirty trick to be played in the arena of politics, he saw it as someone orphaning a child- something with which he had painful experience.
While William, Sloan, and Adam seemingly blithely went about their tours of the garrisons, and the official ceremonies of the changing of the command and the guard, Katherine and Dannon went to work behind the scenes. It had been just over a week and the planetary government was already showing the signs of being in turmoil. Somebody was digging up all the dirty little secrets of every politician on the planet and was slowly leaking them to the news networks.
While Dannon was doing that, Katherine was up to her elbows in Kellanaire politics. As a woman, she was far more capable of moving in their circles than any of William's husbands were. The effects she was having were truly awesome to behold. There had already been several deaths among the Kellanaire priestesses. It would seem that women are far more likely to go after each other with poison than with knives or projected energy weapons.
William had become so absorbed in watching the twin natural disasters that were his husband and wife, that he almost missed something very important. He knew he should have been more careful. The governor had already proven herself to be untrustworthy and willing to poison someone. He just thought that the woman would have more sense than to try and poison someone with as much immunity as Adam - as any of them. Of course they also didn't generally advertise exactly what gifts each of them possessed. About fifty years ago, William discovered that the vast majority of the people in the empire who knew anything about them, thought they were their own great great grandchildren.
It was Ironday, the second day of the Atlantean week when Adam had complained that his morning juice tasted off. Katherine and Dannon had both already left for the day, and it was just Adam, Sloan, and himself sitting at the breakfast table. When Adam asked the servant for some more, the man's eyes had grown large and he'd left the room immediately. "That was funny," Sloan had said.
"What?" Adam asked as he drank deeply from his glass of water.
William had only been paying scant attention to what had happened as he was, as per his habit, busy going over several files on his personal holographic assistant while at the table. He'd long ago fallen into the habit of only listening to the general conversation at the breakfast table as he planned out his day. The others teased him about it, but to be honest, he found that he if he only had one thing to concentrate on at a time, he quickly became bored. A bored William was sometimes a dangerous William.
It wasn't until Sloan commented, "Since when does jana juice turn your mouth blue?"
"Jana juice doesn't turn anybody's mouth blue," he said without looking up from his files.
"Well, something has turned Adam's mouth blue," Sloan said. "And it's spreading to his cheeks."
William looked up to at his husband to see the bigger man's face turning a bright shade of cobalt blue. "What the?" he said reaching for the scanner he kept in his pocket. "How do you feel, Adam?"
"Fine, the blond replied. What are you talking about?"
"No tingling, hot flashes, or anything like that?" William asked.
"Well my cheeks feel like I'm blushing," he said.
"You are," William said as he got up from his chair, crossed to the other side of the table and began run a scanner from his belt over Adam.
The readings he was getting were to turn a phrase; fascinating. He then ran the scanner over the leftover juice in both his and Sloan's glass. Finally looking up, he asked the other blond. "How do you feel?"
"I'm fine," Sloan said. "I guess I'm a little flushed."
"You should be," William replied. "We've all been poisoned."
"Is it serious?" Adam asked suddenly looking at him and Sloan worriedly.
William smiled at the concern in the big man's voice. He could have his leg chewed off by sabercat and be more worried about William or one of the others having a splinter. It was the way he was. It was one of the things about which both he and Katherine had fallen in love with about Adam. Shaking his head he replied, "No. It's not serious. If any of us had been anyone else, it would be. But someone didn't do their homework."
"What is it?" Sloan asked.
"It's a fast acting compound designed to be both topical and ingested. Whatever didn't get absorbed by the mouth, and lips was going to get into our systems from the jana juice," he replied.
"Why is Adam turning blue?" Sloan asked.
"Because his body is fighting off the poison," William told him. "The blue blood cells in his rather unique blood chemistry is going straight to the site of absorption and is neutralizing it. It's the same reason both of us have a flushed feeling."
"Poisoned?" Adam asked. "Is it the same kind that was used on Nareth?" William knew that it had taken a lot of persuading to keep Adam from tearing the governor's palace apart when he'd found out about the Mideanite scholar being poisoned.
William shook his head and said, "No. Neither of you two have much of a psirebreal node to poison, and mine is geared in the wrong direction for that poison to cause me much trouble either. I doubt that anyone on this planet other than a few officers in the legion, and a handful of Mideanites even know that Dannon and Katherine are psionic. This was meant to be a deadly and generally fast-acting poison."
"Wouldn't that cause a diplomatic incident?" Adam asked.
"Maybe, but probably nothing that couldn't be smoothed over after Tien Vanel was safetly out of the empire."
"So what do we do now?" Sloan asked.
"Now, I'm getting involved in this little fight," William said coldly. "I don't like being poisoned and I damn sure don't like having the people I care about poisoned."
And that was exactly what he did. There wasn't a computer database on the planet that was safe from him. Within a matter of days he'd managed to wrangle as much damaging information on the Kellanaire and their ties to the younger houses and those ties to the Hesperian intelligence services as he could. It was enough. He turned around and dumped the whole thing in the laps of Imperial Intelligence and the local and stellar news media services and sat back and watched.
It was the day before they were ready to leave when they got the news that Nareth had died. Katherine and Dannon were doing what they could to comfort the young Kenzie and prepare him for the trip to Earth. They arranged for the body to be placed in stasis for transport to Earth so he could have a proper Mideanite burial. William was up to his armpits in details of exactly how to proceed when they got back home when Dannon entered their quarters.
"William, I love you dearly, but sometimes you scare the hell out of me," the smaller man commented as he held a printout from one of the local news services.
"What did I do this time?" William asked not really paying attention.
Katherine and I worked our tails off to bring down Nareth's killer. We set political traps, turned allies against each other and started turf wars among the Kellanaire in order to bring down half the Hesperian operatives on the planet, and you go and make a few key strokes on the computer nets and bring down the other half."
"Did I interfere with any of your or Katherine's plans?" he asked knowing that he hadn't.
The smaller man shook his blond head and said, "No, not one."
"Then what are you complaining about?" he asked.
"Just that you make it look so easy," Dannon replied crawling into his lap.
"Why thank you. That's the nicest thing you've said to me in a long time," William replied.