Ember Sword
Published in

Ember Sword

I Believe in Myself

By Samuel Horton, Narrative Designer

3214

The young man scaled the final step leading to the uppermost deck and stopped to catch his breath. Growing up on a mountain gave him an affinity to climbing, though these endless staircases on cruisers tested even him. After ten hours of abusing his feet by walking on linoleum tiling with the soles of his shoes missing, the hallway’s soft red carpet was a welcoming sight. Enjoying the sensation of these new steps, he moved forward, glancing hopefully into the compartments. They appeared cozy enough — sans the territorial glances returned by their upper-class occupants. The young man’s hope for finding a reprieve from economy-class voyaging nearly ran its course, until he found one unoccupied compartment at the end of the hallway.

No sooner had the young man entered through the automated sliding door that he came to a halt. Never in his nineteen years had he — a long-haired vagrant in ratty clothes — felt so out-of-place as he did in this compartment. It came loaded with a full bar featuring liquors fermented on every inhabited world across the Solar System. The seats were cream-colored and comprised of a rich leather that accentuated their curves and firmness. Most striking, however, was the navy blue carpet featuring the golden seal of Pangaea. The young man walked to a seat directly next to the window and lowered himself down. He leaned his neck against the cushion and savored the soft and chilling sensation. He looked out the window, which provided an excellent vantage of cruisers and ferries, while smaller craft maneuvered in between.

“Mr. Governor! You keep looking better and better!” A booming, jovial voice sounded.

Startled, the young man jumped to his feet, to see a middle-aged man, bearded and with long frizzy blond hair, grinning at him from the doorway, with a sub sandwich in hand. He was accompanied by a younger, taller companion with jet-black hair who intensely eyeballed the vagrant traveler. A guard wearing all black forced himself into the room.

“Apologies, Mr. Governor. Alright, kid, fun’s over; back to economy class with you,” the guard ordered, ushering with his thumb.

“Easy, Wizer!” The Governor said, motioning with his fingers. “We’ll otherwise never know what we would have missed.”

Wizer licked his lips in frustration and turned halfway, reluctant to break eye contact with the young man. He stomped past by his superiors and rounded the corner. The Governor looked back and smiled at the young man while making his way into the room, with his companion following close behind. The two men seated themselves around the young man, with the Governor across from him and the other to his immediate left. With a reassuring nod from the Governor, the young man took his seat.

“Our fashionable friend out there is not so much in the business of earning constituents. You, on the other hand, are our intruder of honor. This is Dr. Alastair Burkhalter, Director of the Nicholson Astronomical Foundation,” the Governor said, motioning toward his companion. “I’m Colonial Governor Beau Abel of Ganymede. Sandwich?”

“I’m set, thank you,” the young man, replied. “Arch Claudius.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed a name like that, hailing from Mars and all,” Abel said, nodding at a metal band lining Claudius’ collar. “I’d recognize a Tropospheric Compensator anywhere — having seen millions strapped to high-altitude passers, growing up in New Dalles, at the base of Olympus Mons… ‘Arch Claudius’ — where are all the Ks and Ys smashed together with our patchwork naming conventions? Though, who are we to talk, eh, Dr. Burkhalter?”

“All Martian, yet esoteric at best,” Burkhalter mused, holding out his canteen. Abel smiled and reached his sandwich out. They tapped their food and drink in cheers, followed by the two of them eating and drinking, respectively. Burkhalter looked at Claudius and gulped.

“Just prior to dinner, I reacquainted Beau here with a theory tumbling us down a rabbit hole opposite from the anodyne riddle of why there are disparities between Mars and Io,” Burkhalter proclaimed, as he took another swig from his canteen.

“Alastair,” Abel spoke, holding his wrist up to hide the mouthful of food. “Doesn’t it look like the lad’s suffered enough, without you murdering him with boredom before we even reach the damned moon?”

“People are concerned about being offended, when we don’t even have a beginning pinpointed deserving such nostalgic zealotry!” Burkhalter exclaimed, glaring between Abel and Claudius. “We are so perturbed by the differences between the humans from Io and the ones from Mars — once vastly different cultures, hundreds of years apart in most every regard, as if one was sired and the other was prodigal. Yet — behold — one species on two worlds, with no beginning. Yet, I believe the nature of our genesis is akin to today’s destination.”

“You believe we’re from Thanabus?” Claudius asked.

“I said ‘akin’, didn’t I? No; I believe we’re not from Mars, Io — or even any dot we can see in the night sky, for that matter. Like Thanabus, we’re from another place, lost to either space or time,” Burkhalter said, staring out the window.

“That’s not what my father believes,” Claudius declared, monitoring Burkhalter’s visible disappointment. “He believes that because the Solar System is composed of the same 118 elements, humans arising on different worlds was inevitable — that we were maybe a little different at first, but years of breeding brought us to a middle-ground.”

“Your father sounds exceptional…” Burkhalter trailed off, catching a subtle headshake from Abel. Burkhalter leaned forward and rubbed his nose and eyebrows with one hand, eager to brush away whatever I.Q.-diminishing contagions Claudius may have been carrying. He looked back at Claudius with a plastic smile. “What else?”

“He also doubts the truth behind our trajectory. It does challenge credulity, doesn’t it? We direct thirty generations of effort into supposedly terraforming Ganymede, yet a measly fifteen of shooting particulates into Thanabus turns it into a jungle? You have to think!” Claudius exclaimed, pointing at his head.

“Arch?”

Claudius looked at Abel, who had a finger subtly pointing toward the window. Claudius followed it and his jaw dropped. At the forefront was Ganymede, partially covered in an atmosphere of gray clouds. Outstanding flashes permeated across the moon, as lightning discharged from the energy dispersed. Moving ominously through the skies — violently ejecting particulates and raking clouds with great hooklike appendages — were Skyders. From that face of Ganymede alone, Claudius could count no less than six of these great machines resembling arachnids.

“That dark patch, just south of the equator? That’s Nicholson Regio,” Burkhalter sullenly pointed out. “It’s where we were will operate from. Make no mistake — Thanabus is fascinating, yet Ganymede remains the end game and we will relocate the colony there, once the process is completed.”

Claudius turned toward Burkhalter, only to see his robes whip around the corner as he exited into the hallway. Claudius looked sheepishly at Abel, who smiled back at him.

“A strong will may distinguish you, though it runs the risk of ruffling feathers,” Abel sighed. “Hearing your father’s beliefs is stimulating and uncomfortable. Yet, it would be remiss of me to not hear your own thoughts. You do, after all, have a functional brain, I’ve been led to believe.”

“Unlike my father, who dwells on what might not be seen, I believe in only what I see,” Claudius said. “What I believe in now is Ganymede.”

“You believe in the concrete,” Abel said with a nod. “It enables you to trust the things you know. Yet… you know so little, therefore you trust so little. Unlike your father, who is a conspiracy theorist — sufferable man, I’m sure — you’re a skeptic. When you see a mountain, you can’t fully believe it has another side.”

Claudius shared an intense stare with Abel. He had always hated being analyzed while growing up. More so, he held those who deciphered his ethos in the highest contempt, for they made him feel vulnerable. However, from this budding respect blossoming between Abel and himself, Claudius foresaw it becoming a mutual understanding — perhaps even the beginning of a friendship. He wanted to be able to read people too, so he could know how to be unreadable himself. He wanted to learn what it meant to be led, so he too could see others in that very position.

Abel looked out the window and asked, “What else do you believe in, Arch?”

Claudius followed Abel’s gaze once more. A moon, noticeably smaller than Ganymede, emerged from its tidally-locked twin. Most of this world was covered in lush green, from copious amounts of flora, with serene blue seas and ample cloud coverage. A significant patch of terrain near its southern pole appeared yellow — a hot desert. Dots of lights were already scattered throughout the forest in the northern hemisphere. Never in his life had Claudius seen a world so majestic and untapped as Thanabus.

“I believe in myself,” Claudius answered.

3216

“Accompanying today’s ribbon-cutting, I am pleased to announce that Governor Abel has authorized the immediate utilization of Apsis Observatory, for continuing our ‘search for extraterrestrial intelligence’ efforts. Our first point of interest is KIC 846285 — or, as we like to call it, the ‘WTF star’!” Burkhalter chuckled, with a few others joining him. “I will be taking questions now.”

Claudius pinched his fingers together, causing the perspective of Burkhalter’s press conference on the holographic table to zoom out. It was a humble spectacle, the squat Apsis Observatory standing behind Burkhalter, with twenty or so journalists gathered. Even with the scene being caked in a pixelated blue hue, the observatory had an overt copper luster — an archaic design, with its opulence outweighing its humility.

“Dr. Burkhalter, why was eastern Ediseau designated for this project?” A red-haired journalist asked.

“You mean ‘Solarwood’?”

“Sure. Wouldn’t something closer to Anchorage have been more convenient? Or, perhaps a dry climate closer to the equator — say northern Duskeron?”

“Thank you, Shel. Anchorage is the capital; everything’s caked in light and Pangaea has yet to withdraw the Skyder — nobody’s seeing past that beast! Though deserts are typically ideal for observatories, Duskeron’s become somewhat of a de facto trade route — we didn’t want to get bogged down by potential disruption from freighters or synthetic assistants. But, zoning’s minimal and light pollution’s non-existent here. As such, it’s where the Nicholson Astronomical Foundation makes its stand,” Burkhalter proclaimed, as he simultaneously pointed at a blond-haired young man.

“About KIC 846285, don’t you feel like that well’s run dry? It’s a unique anomaly that could be anything, but it was first observed… uh… 953 years ago — with no response to date. Isn’t it time we look elsewhere?” The journalist asked.

“Magnus, if it ran dry, then why does it continue onward after a thousand years?” Burkhalter retorted.

Click. With the press of a button, the projection dissolved. Claudius picked up his glass of scotch and took a sip as he paced around the circular table, passing Abel who idly swished around the contents of his own glass. Claudius had come to model his appearance after his employer, from the fine maroon dress coat to the frivolous, purely ornamental gold amenities worn around his person.

“You wear tension well, kid. But, sometimes you’re all knots,” Abel said. His chuckle echoed in his glass as he took a swig of scotch.

“Surprised?” Claudius bitterly retorted, as he made his way toward the Governor’s bookshelf.

“Nobody surprises me anymore. When you reach fifty-five and your life is politicking, those seemingly novel ticks and eccentricities you look for in your subordinates become as mundane as the sound of the sky,” Abel said. “I do note — and have taken into account — your perspective on Alastair’s initiative.”

“Then my words are falling trees in an empty forest,” Claudius spoke coldly. “It’s not a part of the unknown; it’s the epitome of it. When Io made contact with Mars over a thousand years ago, the red planet was puritanical — a stone age nightmare of superstitions, eons behind. Who do you think we’ll be when it’s our turn?”

“Would you mind talking to my face and not to my tax law manuals?” Abel sardonically insisted, prompting Claudius to sluggishly turn back toward him. “Let’s pretend like I’m the Colonial Governor. I would patriotically understand that the reason the government works is because it follows a stable system of inclusivity and globalism. Despite tens of millions of miles between us, our worlds have no boundaries — no dissent and no limit to what can be achieved. This tradition brought the first worlds together and it’s what we are doing now, with Apsis Observatory.”

“That’s what history books say, indeed, Governor — the widest interpretation. But, look closer, to that space in between the letters and you begin see something else entirely. You see the family life, which…” Claudius trailed off.

A disheveled home, little more than a shack. A man in his briefs, making a crack in the screen.

“It, uh… Humans are natural warriors, no matter how frilly we make ourselves. Under a one-world government, with not even the inkling of a threat to entice our true calling, our spears start pointing inward.”

One fist to the eye socket. One bottle to the scalp.

“The cracks form at the smallest, most delicate level: the f-family.”

Warm blood, making the carpet sticky.

“Cracks are appearing before my very eyes,” Abel worriedly spoke as he eyeballed his protégé from head to toe. “This pathos lies before me and behind you… So, how would you save us?”

Claudius walked up to the table and pressed the button. The hologram of Burkhalter’s press conference covered the surface once more. Claudius held out a hand and pinched his fingers causing the image to zoom out further and further. He repeated this process until the entire moon hung over the table, with specks representing ships moving around it. Claudius leaned onto the table and nodded.

“This moon is a blessed one, unlike any other and with the ingredients of its own lifeblood embedded in the very crust. It became in fifteen years what Ganymede could not in almost a thousand. We have a healthy society here, with just enough technology and connection with the rest of humankind — plus, we have a Skyder, which can produce all the ore under the Sun,” Claudius nodded as he looked at Abel. “We have everything we need.”

Abel lifted his scotch glass to his lips and slipped an ice cube into his mouth. Chewing furiously, he sat the glass down and walked around the table, until he was directly next to Claudius. He continued chewing and silently challenging Claudius, until the younger man’s discomfort peaked and caused him to look away like an insolent pup. Abel swallowed and let out an exasperated exhale.

“Thanabus isn’t your birthright, Archie. This world didn’t just happen; it was only thanks to Pangaean research and the efforts of men like Alastair — whom you have regularly disrespected — that we are here. It is because of the efforts of myself that you have a job, a home and colleagues who treat you like family, in the stead of whatever warped disaffected military brat upbringing you simultaneously dangle in my face, while dodging around!” Abel shouted. He slammed his hand onto the control console, causing the hologram to dissipate with an unappealing whir.

“I swear on your life, poison these grounds with your unhinged rhetoric again and I’ll have you scraping brown ice off outhouses on Pluto!”

3220

“It’s now crossed Saturn’s orbital path and is headed straight for us!” Burkhalter wailed over the transmission.

Abel slammed his spotted, calloused fist down on the edge of the table, causing the various holograms to waver. “You’re our eyes, not our mouth. Forward me the damned feeds!”

Burkhalter’s pixelated image nodded, followed by a dozen camera feeds from Thanabus’ high orbit populating the space above the holographic table. Abel craned his head as he stepped back. While the orbital images above focused in on a bright white point, another two dozen muted portraits of talking heads angrily shouted over one another. Abel took another step back, bumping into Claudius. He turned around and stared at him.

“Arch, I… could use my heart medication. Oh, and could you… you, know?” Abel nervously asked.

Claudius stiffly made his way past the holographic table and slapped the console, causing the room to be filled with loud shouts including the phrases “unprofessional”, “impeachment” and “WTF star”. As Abel feebly attempted to address his political lion’s pit, Claudius squeezed past two of dozens of fellow staffers packed into the room like sardines. He reached Abel’s ornate desk and opened the top right top drawer, revealing a stash of brandy and cigars — along with heart medication.

“It’s almost to Jupiter now? First of all, what the bloody hell is it and why didn’t I hear about it until fifteen minutes ago?”

“Pluto Command here. Prime Minister, we initially detected the interstellar object eighteen minutes ago. We believe we captured its image, though… it’s unclear. It resembles neither an artificial object nor a meteor. Its size… it… it was estimated to be a quarter the size of Thanabus.”

“Admiral, the fleet?!” The Prime Minister demanded.

“Deployed, Mr. Prime Minister. Unfortunately, interception is… two hours away,” a gruff voice spoke out.

“I, uh… don’t think it will be interstellar for long,” Burkhalter’s familiar voice squeaked. “It’s slowing down and has entered Galilean orbit.”

With Abel’s pills in hand, Claudius turned back toward the table. Abel and the staff converged on it, as one orbital perspective aimed at Jupiter’s horizon was maximized. Claudius walked toward the group and pushed his way to Abel. He held his hand out in front of his face, but Abel opted to stare dumbly at the image. Claudius turned his attention back toward the hologram.

A massive onyx-colored planetoid emerged from beyond Jupiter’s horizon. The entire surface was covered in an organized formation of yellow lights — an enveloping metropolitan civilization. Lacking discernable engines, the planetoid moved in a fluid, sentient manner — uninterrupted by Jupiter’s gravity well. It headed toward the holographic table’s perspective, gradually engulfing the entire viewport. The holographic table made a ghastly error noise, prompting a nearby aide to smack the power button. The electricity to the entire Governor’s Mansion went out.

As the staff murmured in fear and confusion, Claudius noticed the vanishing of the golden late afternoon light through the terrace window. He walked to the window and stared out, to see all the lights of Anchorage out — and the planetoid eclipsing the Sun. It was a haunting and awe-inspiring sight, seeing Jupiter and the mere ring of the blacked-out Sun, while the silhouette of Skyder hung over the unpowered capital.

Claudius grabbed the handle of the door leading outside and turned it. He led a procession of staff, who silently filled up the terrace. Abel slid in between staffers who paid no special attention to him. He made his way to Claudius near the front. Reaching the edge of the terrace, Abel grabbed the handrail and looked up at his young protégé, who remained transfixed on this monumental event.

“Look skyward.” A deep, melodious voice filled the atmosphere, sending tremors everywhere. People on the terrace and down below screamed, as they flinched and brought their hands up toward their heads. The voice was a godlike shout that permeated all, yet still had the unsettling sensation from an autonomous sensory meridian response — like an insect buzzing around the ear canal.

“I am Starzhen, a protector of existence, ascended through the course of eternity. For millennia, I have sought to sequester a rising threat — an unmitigated madness whose thirst for power is matched only by its disregard for the fabric of the universe. A scent lost an age ago, I found it again when I heard your negligent transmissions. Alas, you are answered. I come here as the harbinger of the danger you face, wielding the might of the Ember Sword — a weapon channeling the energies of the deepest pits in space-time itself. Here, I shall remain, until the threat is unmade.”

The voice went silent and the rumbling stopped. People across the Solar System stood up and stared in horror. People everywhere staggered and clutched at their bodies, suddenly uncomfortable in their skins and burdened by existential crises. Claudius noticed Abel from the corner of his eye putting his old hands over his eyes and beginning to weep in guilt-ridden moans. This senior citizen had opened the door and called for sheep, blindly ignorant to the wolves he had invited for dinner. Never in his life — not even while under the belt and boot of his father — had he hated a man so dearly.

3225

The perfume from the freshly baked bread protruding from the paper bag, mixed with the moist forest air of Ediseau, was delightful for Claudius. The grade leading to the Governor’s Mansion was not steep enough to make the mile-long journey from his apartment strenuous, yet it did make his newer added stop to the artisan bakery all the more rewarding. Mundane details like arriving at work half an hour early, flirting with the attractive young baker and enjoying her fresh breads distracted Claudius enough that he could overlook the impotency he felt in the face of humanity’s jaded relations with existence itself.

The few other people up at the early hour murmured and pointed at the starry morning sky. Claudius followed suit, to see Starzhen crossing in front of Ganymede — something was different this time. The array of lights across Starzhen’s planetoid-body lit up in designated formations, as if he were signaling a challenge. Never had Starzhen communicated in such a manner; he had largely been silent as he ominously wandered world-to-world.

Starzhen halted and his lights went dark. People dressed in bathrobes and pajamas opened their doors and windows, to see the phenomenon. They wandered into the street around Claudius, to get a better view. The lights on one end of Starzhen’s planetoid began glowing blue, intensifying and spreading. The colossal image of a featureless humanoid made of pure light rose from this section of the planetoid, wielding a sword. An array of glyphs appeared around Starzhen, orbiting the planetoid.

“Is that what Starzhen looks like?”

“I thought he was the whole planet, with all the creatures on it.”

“Is that the Ember Sword?”

The figure pointed the sword above its head and the planetoid accelerated forward. Starzhen picked up speed as he moved past Ganymede’s horizon and came into the same field of vision as the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. The figure swung its sword around and pointed it at the Great Red Spot. A horrific beam of yellow energy blasted from the sword and penetrated the clouds of Jupiter. A gargantuan shockwave spread across the planet, wiping the Great Red Spot away. Hundreds of thousands of other beams shot from the lights across Starzhen’s surface — all converging on the same location, burning the planet’s atmosphere.

“Starzhen’s attacking!”

“He’s going to kill us all!”

The crowd went berserk and broke off, with people screaming and fleeing in every direction. Claudius gazed around, with a scarce few remaining grounded. Starzhen shuttered, as his beams impaling the planet appeared to produce blowback, in the form of nebulous bursts traveling back toward him. A wayward burst of energy grazed his planetoid, sending a mountain-sized chunk into space.

“Five years! We had five years to prepare! Where the hell are our defenses?” A man in a hardhat bellowed.

“Above us!” A woman holding a toddler pointed at the sky. A disappointed Claudius recognized her as being Tomasyn, the baker behind his favorite morning breads.

A conglomerate of warships — frigates, cutters, carriers — crossed above Thanabus’ upper atmosphere, en route toward Jupiter. This was no mere convoy; this was the sum total of the Pangaean Space Force, strategically positioned between the Galilean Moons, specifically for this special kind of day. Many of the panicking people noticed the fleet and came to a halt. Screams became supportive cheers, as the ships closed in on Starzhen.

“Those cutters are the new Mountain Buster freighters, made for busting planet-sized terrorists’ balls! Those are monsters, I tell you — monsters, baby!” A bespectacled young man shouted excitedly, as he took his place next to Tomasyn, wrapping his arm around her shoulder.

Fighters poured out of the carriers like a swarm of locusts and descended upon Starzhen, firing energy bolts en masse, lighting up his planetoid’s surface. The warships unleashed their own barrage, a cacophony of beams and hydrogen-tipped missiles. The impacts were horrific; Starzhen jerked around in agony, as mushroom clouds formed everywhere and cracks formed across his world’s surface, exposing magma. The crowd cheered, as the images of the figure and glyphs flickered.

“Stop!” Starzhen’s horrible, invasive voice bellowed everywhere. “You do not understand anything!”

“Yeah, we’re just too stupid, us plebeian sheep! Pangaea lives! Send him back to hell, boys!” The man in the hardhat shouted.

The barrage continued and soon the lights across Starzhen’s surface flickered out of existence. The cracks in the planetoid fractured wider and wider, causing magma to erupt from the mantle, into the cold of space. The beams leaving Starzhen faltered, though the kickback from Jupiter’s impact point grew more intense. Something phenomenal caught Claudius’ eye — six white lights flew in a line from beyond the Hills of Creation and zeroed in on Starzhen.

“Did anyone else see that?” Claudius asked — neither nobody heard him nor cared.

All the beams leaving and entering Starzhen’s body ceased. His planetoid shuttered and splintered, with great swaths being ejected in every direction. The fleet continued its bombardment, showing no quarter.

“Take it!” Starzhen screamed.

Starzhen’s planetoid exploded in a horrible nebulous blast. The people of Anchorage let out their most triumphant cheers yet. Fragments of the slain Starzhen burned white indents into the clouds of Jupiter as they penetrated the planet’s upper layers. Chunks impacted the surrounding moons, causing shockwaves — Ganymede’s partial atmosphere appeared to be blown away, with the many Skyders exploding. Mountain-sized debris slammed into the fleet, turning the glorious ships into metallic vapor. Now, they came barreling for Thanabus. Nobody was cheering.

“Oh, no! It’s going to hit us!” A single voice shouted.

Everyone was running and screaming. Claudius sprinted as hard as he could down the hill, away from the Governor’s Mansion. He heard horrific noises from above, as rocks met the upper atmosphere. Thousands of meteorites began raining down, decimating swaths of city and forest alike. Craters opened everywhere, eviscerating all in their paths. Claudius looked up, as an unimaginably large fragment slowly crossed the sky and headed southward, toward the untouched jungle of Sevrend.

A screeching sound bellowed from behind Claudius. He turned, to see holes punched into the Skyder in short succession. The once-dormant device started shooting gravity-distorting beams and mad particulates everywhere. With its stabilizers malfunctioning, it swung to and fro, turning the cityscape beneath it to dust. The pressure changes were unbearable; Claudius clawed at his head, fearing it may explode. He stared at the Skyder, as it lost what little remained of its faculties and plummeted upside-down, toward the remnants of the city below. The impact sent a great shockwave that reached upward, beyond the atmosphere.

Dizzy and resigned to his fate, Claudius’ eyes rolled into his head, as he fell backwards, into a great hot pit. He slid downward, with the last of what he saw being a curious little white light crossing his vision, before it was lost in the expanding impact cloud.

Inhaling ash and dust, Claudius gagged hysterically and came to. He opened his eyes to see his artisan bread toasted beyond edibility. There was a third degree burn across his face and breathing was like putting his mouth to a car’s tailpipe. Ediseau, which had always been a wet, mild ecosystem was now utterly bone-chilling. Coming to his senses, Claudius could hear pained bellows reminiscent of animals being eaten alive — but no, these were human, anguished and beyond cognizance.

Hacking and wheezing, Claudius brought his handkerchief to his face as he struggled to rise to his feet. Rickety at every joint, he staggered up the incline, as he used his handkerchief to wipe away the blood and particles caking his face. It was a struggle to identify the world, as a mixture of snow, ash and dust had supplanted almost every identifiable landmark. The once-pristine sky was now a hideous mixture of gray and brown, illuminated by violent bursts of lightning in the upper atmosphere. The few Edisean trees were charred beyond burnability — skeletons of the once-wondrous Edisean forest. Anchorage’s skyline was non-existent; the colonial city was replaced by the crashed Skyder — its terraforming core bombastically spitting out particulates, though it was breathing its last breath. Then, there was the Governor’s Mansion…

Upon seeing the caved-in remains of the residence, Claudius broke into the best hobbled sprint he could muster. He refused to process the visuals of his countrymen wandering the streets with arms missing, the charcoal-like skeletons lying on the sidewalks — the utter apocalypse the survivors were doomed to exist in. If Abel had survived, there was still a chance the colony could persevere and be rescued by Pangaea, before anarchy would set in.

The automated front door Claudius had entered through thousands of times was obstructed by a great pile of rocks. He took the scenic route by haphazardly crawling over the edge of the giant gash that vivisected the great structure. Inside, he found himself in an utter quagmire of rubble, with smashed masonry and boards splintered around Abel’s prized art collection. Claudius squinted as he wiggled his way through the maze, doing his best to be undeterred by the sewage water spilling down from what remained of the second floor.

“Governor, it’s Arch! If you’re here, please say something. Beau!” Claudius shouted. He spotted Abel lying in between several great rocks, smiling warmly at him. “Thank your architect, who I told you was ripping you off on this joint!”

Claudius scrambled his way toward Abel. Claudius took a hold of Abel’s hand, smiling at his mentor. He nodded at the Governor as he grabbed his other hand, maintaining eye contact all the while. He began pulling — Abel’s body moved very easily.

“We’re getting out of here, Beau. We’re getting out of — OH MY GOD!” Claudius screamed, as gore spilled out of from the bottom of Abel’s body — now directly beneath the ribcage. Claudius released his deceased boss’ upper half and fell backward, into a shallow puddle of graywater. He kicked as he scooted himself away and to the wall. He stared wide-eyed at Abel’s remains, tears filling his eyes.

“B-Beau…” Claudius gasped. “I wasn’t right about everything. We won’t last without you, because… I’m not ready to be you. Please don’t leave me alone.”

Kack.

An electric sound emanated from the darkness. Claudius frowned as he tried to make out the source.

Kack! Kack! Kack!

Between these mysterious bursts of energetic noise, Claudius heard a board drop. Narrowing his eyes, he spotted shadowy movement among the refuse.

“Is someone there?”

Hunched over and dressed in no more than emergency blankets from their homes, people converged on the Governor’s Mansion. Not once during the past eleven years on Thanabus had the colonists needed winter clothing in Ediseau, for the humidity made unusual weather a non sequitur. Apart from the terrible noises trademarked by destroyed lungs, nobody could form words and were left mute. The best they could do was to look to the familiar, the authority — the government — in the face of having all that they knew stripped away.

The automatic door jammed behind the rubble creaked, startling the crowd. The thick metal bent and contorted, with bolts tearing in half and falling out. The door crumpled as it was pulled inward, off its track and tossed aside. Emerging from the darkness was Claudius — a rugged, composed man in his prime. Claudius swiftly made his way up the pile of rock, shoving the great stones aside with ease. He stopped and stared down at his compatriots.

The crowd was pitiful; people were either in the throes of anguish or traumatized beyond cognition. Many of the survivors grasped at injuries that ranged from broken limbs to shrapnel protruding from their tattered clothes. Claudius spotted Tomasyn — she was in perfect health, yet she may as well have been dead with how vacant her face was.

“Never before, in the history of this universe, have ears been so thoroughly wrought with trauma! But, lend me yours now!” Claudius shouted, his voice full of resolve. “Survivors of Thanabus, I am Arch Claudius, Aide to Governor Beau Abel, who is no longer of this world — or any other. He is dead… dead, because, like the rest of Pangaea, he looked up at the stars… so much that he forgot to keep his eyes on the ground, where his feet were. So, he fell, bringing Thanabus down with him!”

“Let’s test our Governor’s advice. Look up. What do you see?” Claudius asked, as he held his hands behind his back and began walking down the pile of rubble. The crowd looked upward. “Do you see ships? Friends? Life? Is there even a sky? Where are your stars?”

Claudius stopped in the middle of crowd and turned, taking extra care to linger with eye contact. The gathering continued to grow, with the tips of rifles emerging, as stragglers from the Pangaean Armed Forces arrived. Claudius smiled warmly at a soldier standing near the forefront and patted him on the shoulder.

“What happened this morning may only be described as a… ‘Catastrophe’,” Claudius said, eliciting agreeing murmurs from the crowd. “We saw it all, the way our fleet crumbled. We have suffered tremendously… but we are still here! Until we know the truth, we must fend for ourselves. But, what we do know is… we can do anything, for we survived the mighty Starzhen!”

The crowd cheered.

“We are alive and we are free from his tyranny! Never again will we suffer a stranger telling us what we cannot do! We will rebuild our society, with an interim government, adapted to repel the thoughtlessness that led us astray!”

The crowd’s intermittent cheers became an ongoing affair, as their spirits lifted.

“Follow me and we will take refuge in our Skyder, as it brings warmth to Ediseau once more — not as our tool, but as our home! Our people will rise once more, not damned to rub shoulders with criminals ever again! As for our dear little ‘free-thinkers’ to the east, surely with stars circling their heads,” Claudius said with an eyeroll, prompting jeers, “I say, let’s give them a hand! Even Burkhalter’s observatory is ours… for all of Thanabus is ours!”

The shouts of support were now deafening.

“Believe in yourself! Believe in me!”

The people began shooting their rifles into the air.

“Believe in the Republic!”

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Ember Sword is a social sandbox MMORPG taking place in a player-driven universe where the adventure finds you. Built by a team of imaginative artists, engineers, and game designers, Ember Sword offers a unique community led and frictionless PvP and PVE player experience.

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