Book One: Demon Master
—March of the Resistance—
Light of day
Dark of night
Love and Honor
Truth and Light
Hope and Freedom
For Life we fight.
-written by the Leaders of the Resistance in the Earthen year 2982-
Year 2962: Zoran
He stood before the Emperor, confused and nervous. His red and black uniform, complete with a single slave stripe of silver around the shirt sleeves, was still wet from blood and sweat. His straight black hair was soaked against his scalp and forehead. Mother had told him how his hair was long enough for the warrior style of their people, but the Zoranians would, of course, never let him dabble in such a thing.
Beside him, with a thick, many-teethed whip in hand, stood his Zoranian master: Venz-xarl. His master was also in uniform, but his was more blue than red and covered in stripes of different colors indicating social rank, military rank, and other things. The Zoranian's scaly blue hands were clasped together behind his back, which was straight and tall before the Emperor.
Jake wasn't sure what to do in the silence, so he concentrated on keeping his hands by his side, trying to keep his feet still and his breathing calm. As much as he wanted to cause a scene, to show his defiance, his lack of a broken soul could very well deny him his right to the only weapon allowed to Humans.
He stared at the katana, the sword sitting sheathed across the Emperor's knees. It was black and silver: the colors of the slave belongings here on Zoran. Though colors of darkness, the slave sword was being held by the great Zoranian Emperor. It had to mean that Jake was getting his weapon tonight – it had to. But…it was four years early.
Like all Zoranian protocols, the ones dealing with slaves and weaponry had never been challenged, never been broken. All Human males were given a single sword at the age of ten. The katana, Jake knew, had come from the Human home planet; it had been found in homes, abandoned in display cases, meant to keep and wonder at, never use. Now it was a slave's only weapon – a sense of false security, maybe, but mostly used to prove that the Zoranians did not fear old Human weapons. Of course, swords had become obsolete against the guns, lasers, and plasma weapons of the Space Age. Some said it was given and used as a point of mockery, a statement that the Zoranian was far more technologically advanced – and thus, more civilized. Perhaps they had a point. After all, Dheru warriors, Jake's ancestors, had still been fighting with swords when the Zoranians invaded.
Paul explained this ceremony to me. First the Emperor, katana on his lap, asked questions of your master…
"Is the slave in question obedient, Captain Venz-xarl?" The deep, scratchy voice alerted Jake to his current position, standing in front of the Zoranian Emperor, council members surrounding the center walkway.
"Observe his obedience, Your Grace." Venz-xarl responded. Jake nearly jumped when the tip of his master's whip touched his shoulder. "Kneel, boy."
He gulped, hesitating. Normally, he would stand firm, force a beating, showing his defiance. But this was the all-important weapon ceremony. It was probably his one chance to have a weapon, a sword, and if…when…he escaped, he would need something to fight back with. So, shoving his defiance to the side, Jake fell to his knees, hands on the smooth marble floor.
I have to do this.
"Is the slave in question trustworthy, Captain Venz-xarl?"
Trustworthy? How am I supposed to prove that one?
Thankfully, Jake did not have to respond or act. Neither did his master, Venz-xarl. A single Zoranian stepped forward from the left line of council members. His uniform was a dark violet criss-crossing against shades of indigo, creating a sickening likeness to the color-changing scales of Ban-xark's particular ancestral tribe. Even without knowing the Zoranian by his skin, dark purple eyes, and uniform, any Human who paid attention would recognize the three golden bands wrapped by emerald beads. Ban-xark, Core Commander, had become the new Conqueror when Venz-xarl stepped down. More than likely, anything this Zoranian said now would have been planned or bribed between the two Conquerors.
"Your Grace, I stand to speak for the slave in question," Ban-xark stated only continuing once the Emperor nodded. "Although his choice of words can be brash at times – I suppose it is an inbred Human fault – he has never once told a lie as far as I am aware."
Jake could feel the sweat trickling down his face, burning his eyes. Though the tiles below his hands and knees were a welcome coolness, the position alone was beginning to sting.
Because of the uncomfortable pain, Jake's mind shifted into a daze before he could pull away from the automatic reaction he had built. He began to wonder about his mother, hoping she would be home tonight instead of his father. Though the family room was never full of happiness, at least his mother didn't ignore him, like his father, or shy away, like his brother…
"Now, Jake Reed, slave of Captain Venz-xarl, proclaim your oath to the Empire so that all may hear." The voice came from the Emperor, who now stood right in front of him. The sword tip on his shoulder had been responsible for breaking him away from his daydreams. "Proclaim your loyalty, first Human of Zoran."
That's right. I was the first Human to be born here. The first to feel no loyalty to another home, or to know another way of life. What else is there for me to believe in but their Truth?
Jake licked his lips. His hands trembled as he stretched the fingers out flat. His legs tingled with pain.
No. I mustn't let them change me; I mustn't let them win. Their Truth calls for obedience, honesty, and loyalty. I will give them none, but I will make them think I am tame. Mother said to show defiance, but first I need a weapon.
Keeping his head down, calming his breathing, and closing his eyes, Jake began to recite the ceremonial oath that Paul – his brother – had secretly taught him. "Glory be to the Emperor, the one true god above all other false gods. I pledge my obedience to those that stand before me, but above all to you, great Emperor. I promise to fulfill all duties with honesty on my lips and integrity in my works. Forever and always, I will remain faithful and loyal; I will be like a slave to the Empire, following your rule, for the Truth is all we have."
There was silence.
No applause. No cheers. No congratulations. The Emperor simply ordered Jake to rise, sheathed the katana, and dropped it at his feet. Of course, a Zoranian Emperor would never lower himself so far as to personally hand out a slave's reward.
So, I really do have it early. I wonder if they realize I was lying.
After picking up his new sword, Jake risked a glance over his shoulder. Venz-xarl would not look at him. "Go home, Jake. The night is yours. But tomorrow is mine."
With a quick forced bow of respect, Jake scampered away, trying not to let his run seem like a cowardly flee.
Venz-xarl knows I lied. I have to escape this. I have to be free. If only gods did exist; I would ask for help. But all I have is myself, so that is what I will believe in. I will believe in myself…and I will be free.
Year 2962: Jerchu
I was outside playing in the mud that day. I was having fun making shapes and letters, drawing out my imagination. My play-dress had mud stuck in the frills at the bottom – I could feel the cool stickiness against my legs – but for the most part, I stayed clean. I didn't really like getting dirty. Not to mention, I think Mommy asked me to keep my clothes clean.
I was having fun, drawing out an imagined battle between my brother and the mountain demons, though most other people couldn't see what my swirl patterns and lines really meant. I could. And it was my story. What else mattered?
I was just getting to the part where my brother was fighting the big bad boss demon in order to rescue me, when a hand landed on my head, accompanied by a familiar voice. "What's all this supposed to be, Reda?"
I jumped up, excited. Dain was back! My brother had come home! He had been gone for a long time, fighting demons, my parent said, to protect me. At least that's what they told me.
The first thing I noticed when I turned around to give him a hug was the shiny blue and silver uniform. He looked older than my memories, but his smile told me it was still my brother. "I missed you, Dain."
He laughed, picking me up into his arms and then looking behind me at what I had been drawing. "What's this supposed to be?"
I rolled my eyes. "I always have to explain," I jokingly complained, giggling loudly as I adjusted myself in his arms so I could see my own drawings. "That's you, that's a demon boss, and that's me," I said, pointing at each blob respectively.
Dain nodded. "So, what, am I rescuing you from a demon?"
I grinned. My brother always understood the best. That was why I liked to play with him more than Mommy or Daddy. "Yep!"
"Cool," Dain said. "So, where's Perfect?"
I blinked. "Who?"
He laughed. "Perfect. My sword, Reda. I can't very well fight a demon without my sword."
I puzzled over this new problem. I never had to draw his sword before. He used to always laugh and say good job. Maybe the sword was more important to him now that he was all grown up and leaving home; it even had a name!
"Oops. I forgot-ed it."
Dain laughed again. "No worries. Let's go inside. I'm sure Mom and Dad have missed me."
We walked back into town, getting greetings and a few "welcome home" words from the townspeople. My brother had once told me that the capital city had many more people and that they weren't as nice to soldiers. I didn't really understand how anything could be bigger than my home or how people could be different just because they lived somewhere else, but if my brother said so, then I guess it was true.
Before we could reach home, a loud hoarse shriek split the air and my body immediately froze up. I knew what it meant. It had happened before. It was normal for a town by the mountains.
A demon had reached my town. Again.
My brother swerved around, causing his uniform travel cape to flap in the wind and tangle in my legs. I tried to look over my shoulder to see the demon, but Dain put me down by a building and took off his cape, throwing it at me and tangling me up in the fabric even more. As I fought with my newfound problem, I heard a click followed by a sharp ring – the familiar sound of a sword being unsheathed.
"Stay, Reda. This is my job," my brother said. Then, quieter, a whisper I would not have heard if not listening. "Yes, Perfect, I have missed it here, too."
Footsteps raced away, kicking up dust. A nervous townsman came up to me to disentangle me from the cloak. Finally free, I bunched up the fabric, stood up, and raced after my brother. I think someone called my name, but my brother – the Emperor's soldier – was fighting a demon. I wanted to see!
When I reached the edge, I nearly tripped over my brother, who had been thrown to the ground. Suddenly, he jumped up, glittering sword in hand, and shouted a curse. I gaped. Mommy would be mad, but I wasn't a tattle-tale.
The demon shrieked, demanding my attention. Instead of staring at Dain and his bloody sword, I faced forward. An all-too familiar monster stood before me. It was bigger than the last one I'd seen, but this one didn't have the wings that I thought were pretty. Two horns protruded from its head and red eyes glared from a long narrow face. A thick tail rolled along the ground, coming dangerously close to us.
"Reda!" My brother's voice didn't pull me out of observation so much as his jerk on my body as he threw me backwards, out of the way.
A large clawed hand hit the ground where I had so recently been standing. I gulped but continued to gawk. Red eyes hit mine and suddenly I felt like I could understand him – the demon. A vision hit my mind. Colors. Shapes. White wings. Golden hallways. A sense of longing. White. Gold. Clouds.
And then, nothing. As the vision disappeared, a horrible high-pitched shrieking filled my ears yet again. Human hands wrapped around me, a warmth I hadn't noticed I needed. Tears fell from my eyes but I couldn't remember when I had started to cry. Pain enflamed in my chest, but it didn't feel so much like a hit as the same feeling I got when my brother had left town.
I shook my head, hearing a voice in my ear but not understanding. I looked up and saw the red eyes again. They were closer and...dim…as if dying.
Another picture hit my mind's imagination. More colors. Red. Black. Blue. Gold. All swirling together, behind a stronger image of me – I knew it was me, even though I had wings – and a sword.
You – understand. You – must help – us.
Then the eyes were dead, black as the demon's body. Someone came to me. I was sitting in the ground. A mom was behind me. My mom? But I wasn't moving. Why wasn't I moving? A sword fell at my feet. I stared at it, at the colors. White. And gold. I wanted to touch it, but something inside me feared it. Why?
"Reda, snap out of it. You've seen this before. Demons die. They have to die."
I shook my head. "That wasn't a demon. Not a real demon. Not what a demon is supposed to be." I whispered. "I wonder where the real demons went."
I heard Dain sigh. "Traes al anir. Anir et braelith. Traes al kerei. Traes al anir. Traes…"
"Stop it, Dain. Stop it now. She has nothing to do with any of that and I won't have you repeating nonsense."
Mommy…Hold me, Mommy. I'm scared.
Looking up, I saw my brother looking down. He was smiling. So, I smiled back. Then I saw the black blood on his face, and I shivered.
"I don't ever want to fight, Mommy," I said, falling back in my mother's arms. "Never, ever."
"And thank the stars for that."
Dain laughed. "The stars don't touch her. She's a different kind of special. Don't forget, Reda. Traes al kerei. I saw what happened. Mother saw it, too, no matter how much she wants to deny—"
"Dain, stop it! Now, be quiet!"
My brother shrugged. Then grinned and whispered. "Traes al anir."
I could almost hear the words, a voice in the back of my head, a deep scary voice, grating on the verge of a shrieking howl, or maybe a laugh. "The demon awakes, hmm? That I do, I suppose. That I am. The angels can pray all they want, but the demon awakes. So it was promised. So it shall be."
Year 2962: Earth Space
In the small ship cabin, a seemingly ordinary bo-staff slowly transformed into an Elvian blade of legend. The smooth obsidian edge gleamed as it formed within a draconic-scale outer covering complete with gold, silver, and bronze hilt designed to look like the neck and maw of a fierce dragon. Once, the dragons on Elvia had existed amongst their people. Once, the Elvians had been a free people, bothered by no one, allowed to excel their technologies alone in the darkness that surrounded them.
Once upon a time indeed.
"Very nice, Riku. Very nice in—" His father was interrupted by the buzzing of the communicator at his ear. Frowning – and giving Riku an apologizing glance – he touched a button near the base of his ear lobe and faced away, as if simply looking away from his son would keep the message private. "Sir, Takahashi here."
Not much caring for the interruption, Riku grumbled, sighed, and released his link with the bo-staff. One would think that being on a spaceship – a commanding battleship of all things – would be fun and exciting for the son of an Elvian Captain. Or at least, his friends back home had been jealous to hear that Riku was being taken along for the latest mission. Little did they know that play time was non-existent; that his father was always busy even though the ship and fleet simply hovered in space, waiting. Little did they know that war was not at all like the games, that being forced to play according to Zoranian rules was really annoying.
If only he hadn't been born a Natural Linguist: able to understand every language as if they were all simply dialects of one greater language. Speaking any language he wanted was a different matter. That part didn't come naturally. The connection between what he heard and what he said didn't always line up. That's why his training sessions still consisted of learning all the languages.
But they could still use him in the Elvian Space Fleet. No one else could understand a Xenese. Their race didn't have the vocal chords that the other races of Explored Space had – they understood that no one could speak back to them, but they seemed to have a strange understanding of at least the Zoranian and Elvian languages. So they could be spoken to, but someone had to translate whenever a Xenese needed to communicate. Someone who could understand a language without having to learn it. Someone who could hear what they said and translate it for those who couldn't. Someone like Riku.
So here he was. Even though he was a child, he had been brought to the war lines simply because of his Birth Gift. It didn't mean he had to like it.
"All right, Riku. Rakota wants us with him in the communication station. The Zoranians have just left a message ordering us to move at the Xenese call." His father seemed to have a hard time swallowing anything the Zoranians ordered. Riku had been born into their rule, but his father obviously had seen better days. One day, Riku would learn what it had been like before. "We need to meet with Admiral Nimura. Your time to shine comes, my son."
Nodding – and giving a smile because his father would expect it – Riku replaced the bo-staff in its handmade holster at his back. At first, he had kept it hidden, wanting to have a special secret between him and his father. But when his father seemed saddened by his want to hide the family's pride – the Takahashi ability to link with a weapon – Riku had started carrying it with him everywhere, becoming the show-off his father wanted.
As they walked through the ship corridors, Riku couldn't help but imagine the envious, hated glares of the recruits that shared the spaceship. Other officers had known Takahashi for a long time and any friends or enemies of his father were likewise to Riku – as to be expected. But the newer recruits, though they showed respect, had an obvious dislike of the "pampered child brat." It was one reason Riku stayed confined in his chambers when he wasn't with his father. Men going to war tended to have random bursts of emotion, or ways to let their fear and anxiety out. Riku didn't want to become a target, especially when they had been sitting still for so long.
A door opened with the natural —hsst— and the welcoming voice broke Riku out of his thoughts. "Nice to see you again, Little Taka. Been practicing on that weapon link of yours?"
Instinctively blushing at the very informal choice of name he was given by the Admiral, Riku had to work his tongue to stumble out his own respectful greeting. "Uh, it's an honor to work for you, Sir. Uhm, yeah, I have been practicing a lot." Even as the words came out and he gave the honored bow, he berated himself for his lack of tact. But, really, how much could they expect from an eight-year-old?
"I'm sure your father is proud."
Taking those words to mean the short conversation was over, Riku brought himself back to full height and took the chance to look around the room. They were currently standing on a balcony, a silver rail separating them from the drop down to twenty specialists working in the communications field. Though most were lounging about at the moment, a few key workers had themselves at computer screens waiting to intercept the incoming message, which would then be posted – if video quality of course – to the large blank screen at the front of the room.
"I had a vision earlier, Taka." Hearing the friendly, informal nickname of his father's, Riku found himself eavesdropping on a conversation that he probably was expected to respectfully ignore.
"Sir? Why tell me?"
Admiral Nimura paused, placing his hands on the silver rail. "It was your son, Taka."
He could feel the eyes move to him, so he did his best to look interested in the room below. I know Rakota Nimura has visions. That's his Gift. But why me? I'm just going to be a linguist!
His father's voice changed tones, hard, forced…hidden worry. "What of? What happened?"
"I saw him successful, great. Loved by some, hated by others, like any leader is…"
Trying to imagine it all, Riku's vision sparkled. A leader…Him? Really?
Rakota sighed. "But he falls in love with a demon."
"A demon?" His father recoiled as Riku shivered. He had heard stories about the human planet inhabited by demons. How could he fall in love with one? His father echoed his thoughts. "How? Why? Witchcraft? Trickery? I can't imagine—"
"My visions don't explain, Taka. They just show." A pause. "The good news is that it's only a possible future, but I felt I had to warn you."
Before any more could be said of Nimura's vision, one of the communicators on the floor shouted, "Xenese message incoming!"
Rakota simply nodded and the alien language suddenly filled the room. No video connection, just the audio. Riku had heard that the Xenese preferred not to be seen. Instead of thinking on such things, he focused his mind on hearing the message. He hated their language; it was always hard to hear. Hidden under the static, clicks, and whines, he slowly deciphered pictures and meanings. It wasn't until the noise stopped that he could understand.
"They're ready for us to move. They say Earth is ready for occupation."
Admiral Nimura gave a nod, a sad look in his eyes. "So it is, then. So it will be."