The following morning, after the alarm went off at seven, Alex, Benjamin, and all the other trainees began getting dressed and ready for the day’s events. Fifteen minutes later, Alex emerged looking very awake and fresh. Strolling into the lounge, he saw Rebecca sitting at the table with a cup of simorean coffee. She looked like she had not slept a wink last night. “Well, look what the cat dragged in. You don’t believe in sleeping or showering at night I take it?”
Smiling sardonically at Alex, she responded, “I got woken up just after midnight by some Sister from the medical division. I was told to get dressed and be downstairs in the courtyard in fifteen minutes for some hands-on emergency medical aid. When I got down there, a Brother handed me a bag full of bandages, stims, aidpacks, and other supplies and told me to follow him around. I wasn’t really given much time or chance to ask questions. From what I could gather, there was some sort of pitched battle near here last night. Judging from the number of dead and wounded Guardsmen I saw in the courtyard, it really didn’t go that well for our side. Either that or the other side was completely wiped out. But anyway, what it comes down to is I spent all night working my tail off, and now they still expect me to go to all my classes today.”
Grabbing a cup of milk and joining Rebecca at the table, Alex said, “That really sucks. You think you will be able to last the day?”
Shrugging her shoulders, she said, “Why do you think I am drinking simorean?”
Looking at her cup, Alex laughed, “Good point. Why don’t you ask Brother Martin about being allowed to sleep the day away and have us take notes for you?”
Weakly Rebecca responded between sips of coffee, “Who do you think told me I still have to go to class?”
Just as she was getting up to get another cup of coffee, Brother Martin walked in and tossing Rebecca an oxystim, saying, “Here you go. Take this and you will be just fine for the day.” Picking it up, Rebecca just stared at the grey package for a few minutes before ripping the packet open and, sticking the needle in her arm, depressing the plunger and relaxing as the chemicals poured into her blood system. A few minutes later, the tiredness was gone, and she looked as fresh as Alex felt.
As Brother Martin went into his office the two of them sat their silently eating their breakfast, each wrapped in their own thoughts. As the stimpak took effect Rebecca sat there thinking of the night she had just had. There had been hundreds of wounded soldiers, and many more who were already dead. What could have happened she had no idea. In the distant past the Kings Guard had been engaged in several wars; but, nowadays they mostly just acted as a police force and occasionally helped out against pirates. The ones last night looked like they had been in a pitched battle. She was curious about what had happened, but figured if it was truly important they would tell them.’
Alex thought back to his conversation with Brother Martin the other day. He was convinced that this battle was connected to the men in the cave that he and Sierra had seen the previous day. ‘What on Calos was it about these men that would cause a pitched battle he wondered.’ Something with this group was seriously messed up if it could cause the White Falcons to launch a full scale attack on them. He knew it wouldn’t be possible for a while but he figured he would try and get to the library on the next long weekend, and see what he could find out.
At this point his thoughts were interrupted by Sierra slapping him on the back of the head, “Calos to Alex. Are you there?”
“Ow, what was that for?”
“I told her to.” Looking around Alex saw everyone was seated at the table with Brother Martin standing at the head with a slightly amused expression on his face. “Now that everyone is here I will go over the schedule for the day. As he sat there listening to the schedule, Alex groaned inwardly. It appeared that they were in for a fun-filled day of lectures about the Ancient Texts and the Overlord’s commander. As the main clock tower chimed quarter past eight, the trainees all began heading out of their dorms towards various classes. Laughing and chatting with each other, they moved down the hallway and, crossing the courtyard, entered the primary school building. Moving up the stairs, they entered the same classroom that they had spent so much time in already over the last several months. As Alex took his seat, he could not help but think that it was going to be very weird not seeing this particular room four days a week once he became a novice. As the timepiece on the wall showed half past eight, Brother Jerome walked in as punctual as ever.
Looking over his class, Brother Jerome could not help but smile at them. Then in a voice that sounded like a drill instructor, he said, “Congratulations on receiving your cords last week. I hope you are all satisfied with your division assignments?” Glancing around at his students, he was able to guess what each of them thought about their assignments without them having to say a word. With that he picked the textbook up and gave that familiar lopsided grin which had been making student’s shiver in fear for the last forty years. He then told them to turn to chapter thirteen in their Textual Theology books.
Groaning loudly Sebastian raised his hand. After being acknowledged, he asked, “Do we really have to look at that chapter again?”
Nodding his head to signify that they had to, Brother Jerome responded, “For as long as you don’t get it, we will stick with it.” Despite their groaning and complaining, they turned to the dreaded section and waited for their instructor to begin.
At that moment the door to the classroom opened and in walked Father Saxus, “I apologize for interrupting your class, but I need all of Brother Martin’s trainees to head down to the courtyard now.” With that he turned around and walked out, gone as quickly as he had come. For a minute, they all just sat in their seats looking at each other, not really sure what had just happened.
Looking amusedly at his students, Brother Jerome suddenly spoke up, “Well, I suggest you all head down to the courtyard unless you want to study chapter thirteen some more…” With that threat hanging over their heads, they quickly switched off the data terminals at their desks and shoved their books back into the satchels and scrambled as quickly as possible for the doorway. As they headed back down the stairs towards the courtyard,
Sierra looked over at Alex, asking, “What’s going on?”
Alex shook his head in response, saying, “Sorry, I haven’t actually figured out how to harness this unknown telepathic power you think I have. Give me a couple more years and I might know how.”
Staring at him with a somewhat shocked look on her face, she muttered back, “I was only asking.”
Which caused him to look around at her, “Well, ask a stupid question…” That comment caused him to receive a sudden and unexpected slap on the back of his head.
Looking around with surprise, he saw Rebecca looking directly at him, “Be nice! She was only asking a question.”
Rubbing the back of his head, he commented, “You’re a grouch when you don’t get a lot of sleep.” He then very quickly ducked and moved away from her in order to avoid another slap, much to the amusement of his comrades.
As they entered the courtyard Alex looked around and what he saw made this summons even more confusing. Milling around the courtyard, in their respective cadres, were all the trainees currently at the training compound. Shortly after they got there, eight large rollers pulled into the courtyard. An unknown brother wearing the markings of the humanitarian services stepped out of the lead machine and began sending various groups towards the rollers. Five minutes later, Alex and the rest of his group found themselves in one of the rollers heading out of the compound and evidently towards the spaceport. They had not been allowed to ask any questions but had simply been told that they would receive their instructions once they arrived. Ten minutes later they pulled up outside the main terminal, and a Brother who looked like a mountain man and sounded like a bear opened the door and told them to line up on the sidewalk and wait for their training masters. While they stood there waiting for Brother Martin, Alex noticed that the mountain man was wearing the markings of the medical division. He wondered how on Calos this guy was a doctor.
After a few minutes, Brother Martin rounded them up. As they entered the organized chaos of the spaceport, the first thing that they all noticed was the number of Dieron soldiers being tended for everything from knife wounds to plasma burns. Judging from the number of soldiers lying on the ground, many of whom had already had the Dieron flag draped over their bodies; there had been quite a major battle that had not gone in the defenders’ favor. Suddenly he heard Sierra gasp in shock. “Those soldiers are wearing the insignia of the Family Guard.”
Looking back at her, Benjamin shrugged his shoulders. “So what does that mean?”
She looked at him with a look one might give a particularly dense individual who can’t understand what you’re talking about when telling them why two plus two equals four. “The Family Guard has one job which is to defend the royal family. That means that if they are this shot up and here, then either the king is dead, wounded, or in one of those guarded shuttles out on the flightline.”
Alex was about to ask her something when Brother Martin suddenly snapped “Quiet!” and with that, all conversation ceased. In the sudden silence, Alex was able to overhear some of the conversation from various refugees
“They just fell from the sky and overran our village in minutes.”
“It was the same in the capital city… the royal barracks… then the whole city.”
“What about the King?”
“Nobody knows… soldiers not talking.”
“And they are shooting anyone coming close.”
“Did you see the others?”
“Yes… What where they?”
“I don’t really know, but they looked like something from hell.”
At that point Brother Martin suddenly spoke up. “All right, trainees come with me and prepare for a long day.” They were sent among the refugees and soldiers to hand out food, drink, clothing, blankets, or to help the medical teams save as many as they could.
It was half past eight that night when Alex and the others trudged wearily up the steps to their living quarters. By mutual consent they all just went to bed without dinner. As Alex got ready for bed, he commented to Benjamin, “I don’t think I have ever handed out so many packaged meals, blankets, and bandages in one day before.”
Benjamin nodded his head, saying, “Yea, and it appears we will get to continue to do it for the foreseeable future.” As Alex crawled into bed, he groaned at the prospect. But tiredness overcame them both very quickly, and soon they were sleeping better than they had at any time during their training.
While the trainees worked themselves to the bone tending to both soldier and refugee alike, a fleet of blood-red warships cruised through deep space toward Portus, commanded by none other than Commander Tumak of the Redband. The atmosphere among the fleet was excited. They had been hand-picked by the Dark Lords themselves for this mission, and now they were heading to the home planet of the hated White Falcons to destroy them. Finally, after three and a half long weeks, the thirty-five warships of the first attack squadron arrived and took up position just outside the range of the early warning sensors. Sitting in his ready room deep in thought, Tumak scowled in annoyance as his comm unit crackled to life, and a voice squawked out. “Sir, we have a signal from the surface of Portus. They are using the comm code for the Redband and requesting to speak to you directly.” At that his scowl turned to a contented smile, and he replied, “Put it through to my ready room.” Spinning around to face his main terminal, the look of pleasure quickly faded from his face. Instead of the familiar face of Prelate Marix looking back at him, he saw the face of an unknown Mark Captain who looked like he had been crawling through dirt covered in barbed wired.
At this unexpected turn of events, his scowl came back and he snapped, “Where is the Prelate and who are you?” Returning the gaze of the main commander of the Redband without flinching in the least, the unknown officer responded, “I am Mark Captain Dumat, aide to Prelate Marix. He died just over three weeks ago when we were attacked by a detachment from the King’s Guard.” Looking somewhat unsettled by this news, Commander Tumak asked him in a voice filled with latent menace, “You were ordered to remain in hiding and not show yourselves until the signal was sent to commence the attack. What happened?” Frowning for a second as he thought, Dumat finally responded, “We’re not exactly sure. Somehow they found out about our presence here and attacked with a force of six to seven hundred men. Over the course of four to five hours, we were able to drive them back with minimal casualties on our side and very heavy casualties on their side. We believe around four to five hundred of their men were either killed or wounded in the battle. However, the Prelate was killed by a sword blow while leading a charge down the main corridor in the closing hour of the engagement.” Commander Tumak just sat in his seat for a few minutes digesting this news. If the reports of the enemy’s strength and what they had lost in this battle were accurate, then around half the defending force would be unable to fight in the upcoming invasion. This was very good news. Looking up at the Mark Captain he said, “Very well then, you have just been promoted to Prelate. Assemble your command and wait for the signal to attack. Your objectives will be to seize the spaceport and the city of Aragat. You are to leave the training compound and the House of the Patriarchs to me. Is that understood, Prelate?” Looking somewhat shocked but pleased at the same time, the newly-promoted officer saluted sharply and responded, “Understood, Commander. It shall be as you have ordered.”
With that the commlink was shut down, and Commander Tumak summoned his officers to the ready room to be briefed on the invasion plans. Ten minutes later with his whole command staff assembled, he began to give them their orders for the upcoming assault. “Prelates Donovan and Sanders, you are to seize the training compound; Prelate Kandson and I will lead the assault on the House of the Patriarchs; Prelates Smithson and Tanerick, you are to assist Prelate Dumat in seizing the city and the spaceport. I would strongly suggest that you allow the creatures and the dark races to go in before you. After all there is no need to expose yourselves to their rather voracious appetite for blood.” At that last warning, everyone nodded their head in understanding. The appetite of these beings was legendary, surpassing that of even the cruelest of the Master’s human servants. No one in the Redband wanted to go anywhere near them if it could be avoided. Looking around at his men, Commander Tumak finished his orders with this statement: “We have a chance here to wipe the hated monks out of existence, and, with them gone, no one will be able to stop our lord from reclaiming his rightful place over all of creation. See that it is not squandered, gentlemen.” Then, looking over at his aide, he said, “Kandson, send the signal to our young friend.”
Benjamin was fast asleep in his bed when the beeping started. It was muffled due to the fact it was coming from under his pillow. Pulling the ring out, he switched it off and stared at the green blinking light. He was beginning to rue the day he had ever met that man, or agreed to join the White Falcons. However, he knew he had no choice, so he slipped the ring on, then reached under his bed and grabbed the satchel that sat there. Slipping out of bed and dressing quietly to avoid waking Alex, he picked up the package he had been given slightly over a month earlier. As he left the sleeping quarters he bumped into his nightstand, and managing to grab his lamp before it hit the ground and just stood there waiting to see if anyone would wake up. Fortunately, everyone else was so worn out from all the work they had that it was probable nothing would wake them up. As he entered the common room he turned on the nightlight he had been given and made his way to the door, moving very slowly to avoid hitting any more furniture. Finally, he made it out of the dormitory and left the training compound the same way he had before.
Unlike last time, though, he did not head out towards the foothills but descended down into the city. Despite the bustle that enveloped it during the day, it was now as quiet as the grave. Refugee, soldier, and resident were all snug in their beds where Benjamin wished he was. Pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind, he slipped through the shadows of the city as quietly as he could toward the House of the Patriarchs and only had to hide twice. The first time was to avoid being spotted by a group of teenagers who were heading back home after a night’s revelry at one of the local taverns. The second time was three blocks away from the spaceport where he had to duck in the doorway of a local butcher shop in order to avoid being spotted by a mixed patrol of Dieron soldiers and Guardsmen. It was at this point that for the first time in his life he gave thanks for being raised in the family he was raised in. Wage slave families like his never got enough food, or money, to live off of and so had to make up the difference in other ways. Growing up one of Benjamin’s primary jobs had been to acquire the food his family needed; as a result over the years he had learned how to move silently, and remain unseen.
After an hour had passed, he found himself sitting in the shadows of a hotel directly across the street from the main gate of his destination wondering how he was going to get inside. The entire gateway was lit up by six powerful night lights and guarded by at least ten men.
These men were all outfitted in full body armor and carrying sabre rifles and two-edged infantry broadswords along with the traditional dagger of the elite and venerable Patriarchal Guard. Slipping around the back of the hotel along a side alley, he located the eastern wall of the compound. Sitting there in the shadow of a small laundromat he managed to figure out that a guard would patrol that section of the wall every six minutes. The moment the next guard vanished around the bend in the wall he sprinted across the road and fumbling in his pouch pulled out the grappling device. He was so nervous that the first time he fired it; it shot directly into the ground between his feet. Retracting the grappling blade he sat down at the base of the wall and made himself breathe slowly in order to calm his shaking hands and nerves.
After the next guard walked past where Ben was hiding he stepped out from the wall and checking to make sure he was holding it the right way fired it again. This time it sailed upward and lodged into the wall just inches below the top of the wall. Pressing another button he gripped the device tightly as it pulled him up the wall. As he got to the top he pulled himself over and sat on the rampart just collecting his breath. Leaving the hook where it was he went down the stairs near where he had come up and just sat in the shadows looking around the courtyard.
After a few minutes he spotted the small building he wanted to reach. Sticking to the shadows he arrived at the building in a few minutes and checking the handle was very grateful that it was unlocked. He had been very nervous about that as he did not know how to pick a lock. Most of his thieving had been from open air stalls, or been committed using a crowbar to break a window open. As he opened it, the area he was standing in was washed in the warm glow of the internal lights of the entryway. Upon entering the building, he quickly discovered why it was unlocked. He could hear conversation and the sound of meals being consumed coming from several rooms along the hallway. Ignoring the laughter and the smell of freshly baked meat rolls, he slipped down the stairwell to his right and found himself in a small room containing several banks of computers and monitors along with several work tables and filing cabinets. Unscrewing a small panel at the corner of one computer bank, he activated the small device he had bought with him, placed it inside, and then resealed the panel. In all the whole job had taken less than ten minutes, and he was very glad to have finished with it. Now he planned to go back to his room and get some sleep, having totally missed the small camera in the corner of the room observing his every action.
Standing up he exited the room feeling quite pleased with himself and ran into two technicians coming down the stairs. For a couple of minutes they just stood there staring at each other before one of the technicians started to yell, “Intruder!” At that Benjamin just ran, shoving past the two men he leapt up the stairs as fast as he could, heedless of the angry shouts behind him.
Bursting out into the courtyard without stopping, he made it half way across before six powerful search lights focused on him, and he found himself being dragged to the ground by three strong guards.
A few seconds later, he was hauled to his feet and found himself staring into the face of a grizzled veteran who did not look very happy. “Cuff him and take him to the guard room for questioning,” were the only words the guard captain said. Benjamin’s arms were roughly pulled behind him, and just as the warrior was pulling out the restraints, a powerful explosion rent the nighttime air. The explosion threw brick and mortar skyward, and everyone was thrown to the ground. Benjamin struck the ground, knocked unconscious, and the last thing he saw before the darkness took him was a stray piece of building slamming into the soldier laying next to him, completely crushing him.