Authors: Van Allen Plexico
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure
Van Allen Plexico
This edition Copyright 2011
by Van Allen Plexico
White Rocket Books
Published in arrangement with
Airship 27 Productions
In memory of Katherine G. Plexico
and Roger Zelazny
This novel was originally published in paperback format by Airship 27/Cornerstone Publishers.
Cover art by Ingrid Hardy
Also by Van Allen Plexico
The Sentinels Saga:
The Grand Design Trilogy
1: When Strikes the Warlord
2: A Distant Star
3: Apocalypse Rising
4: Alternate Visions
The Rivals Trilogy
5: The Shiva Advent
Gideon Cain: Demon Hunter *
Assembled! 2 *
Super Comics Trivia *
Season of Our Dreams: The 2010 Auburn Tigers (with John Ringer)
rained the night, cloaked all in fire and brimstone. Surely the dark forces of Hell were conspiring to bring me down. Me—doubtlessly the darkest of them all!
A faceless figure in black pursuing me, I raced through twisted vistas and realms shot from strange, demented nightmares.
Please do not think less of me for fleeing. Were I a warrior god, I would have squared off against this creature and battled him to the bloody end. Being something else entirely, I did the only thing I could: I fled.
And the Dark Man pursued. Relentlessly, tirelessly, he pursued.
Lungs burning and legs aching, I sprinted the final miles toward the gates of the Golden City.
My adversary struck at me with gouts of flame and fingers of lightning, searing my flesh and dazzling my eyes. I retaliated as best I could, sometimes opening pits of molten lava in his path, other times raining down burning meteors upon his head. Our running battle must have razed portions of a dozen worlds and more, and still the pursuit went on.
Not wishing to abandon all hope entirely, I gave it everything I had. But even the gods tire after a while. I was nearing my physical and metaphysical limits, and I knew it.
And then I topped a rise and saw the City.
My city. The Golden City. Its domes and spires sparkled in the sun of a perfect, cloudless sky. Upon seeing it my heart leapt, as it hadn’t in all the thousand years of my exile.
So close! Almost home!
Ragged claws raked through my tattered cloak and across my back as I surged toward the gates. Dark energies besieged me every step of the way.
My heart about to burst, I poured the last of my strength into this mad dash.
Furious, my adversary lashed out at me with all his might. Tendrils of fire ensnared me and surged over my chest and arms, then flowed toward my legs, seeking to bring me down.
My sweat flowed in rivulets along my face and neck as I swept the flames aside and ran for the gates. Disoriented himself for a moment, the Dark Man fell a few steps behind me. I didn’t bother to look back; I lunged for those cold, gold surfaces and laid my hands, and my fondest wishes, upon them. The fire again swirled around me, singeing my hair, but I gritted my teeth and heaved against them with all my strength and all my force of will.
The great gilded doors resisted, and I was not surprised: many of the gods had wanted me barred from the City, and they had laid their own wishes in that regard upon the gates.
An eternity that in reality could not have lasted more than two seconds passed. The gates felt the force of my personality, and knew me, and had no recourse but to yield. I slipped through the narrow opening, the Dark Man mere inches behind me now. His black robes flared around him as he lunged after me, talons slashing.
I delivered the strongest punch I could muster to that featureless face, staggering him. As he stumbled back, I raised my stinging hand and made one last satisfying and defiant gesture before shoving the gates closed and slumping against them, gasping.
The gates would not know him. They would not open for him. I was safe.
Safe in the heart of my true enemy’s stronghold, I realized with a groan.
One issue at a time, Lucian.
Allowing myself a few breaths and some measure of self-congratulation for having gotten this far, I stood and gazed at the vista laid out before me. In its spectacle and its grandeur, it represented everything I had missed for the thousand years of my exile. No matter who controlled it at the moment, it was and always would be my city. The city of my dreams.
My eyes drank in the glorious sights that never failed to stir me, no matter how cynical and jaded I grew: a city wrought all in gold and silver and jewels beyond counting. A realm that reflected in its appearance the esteem its inhabitants held for it.
Know simply that the City is the center of the gods’ existence and the focus of our hearts’ desires. At its center flows the Fountain that pushes the not-quite-metaphorical current through the circuits of our bodies and our lives. Once, it had been my home. It remained my dream and my utter ambition. I believed with complete conviction that, upon reclaiming it, I would not willingly surrender it again.
That was when it hit me. No, not the massive, golden-armored fist. That came a few seconds later. What hit me first was the shocking realization that the inhabitants were nowhere to be seen. I was alone in the main thoroughfare of the City. Alone, in an immortal city usually teeming with gods and goddesses, their retainers and favorites, and a multitude of assorted other hangers-on.
Amend that thought. Not totally alone, as the voice that boomed and echoed throughout the city revealed.
“What supreme arrogance!”
Inside, I felt my stomach sink, along with my slender hopes of being warmly welcomed back into the fold.
“You dare to come here? To show your face at the site of your unforgivable, unimaginable crimes?”
“Surely it was not as bad as all that,” I called back. “And don’t you suppose I’ve more than served my time?”
Golden lights flared about me then. I knew them all too well. Collectively known as the Hosts of Baranak, they were half-sentient, ephemeral servants and heralds of our own great god of battle. Ghostlike, they flitted about me, their sparkling majesty filling my vision momentarily. When they withdrew, I blinked and beheld a sight I’d hoped to avoid: the golden god himself, grand and awful and full of wrath, standing before me in all his polished glory and muscular power. Intense blue eyes glared at me from above a blunted nose and thick blond beard. Golden armor covered him from neck to toe. A huge, golden-hilted sword hung at his side, and I remembered that it was strong and swift and terrible.
“Baranak,” I said, brushing my long, dark hair back out of my eyes and greeting him with the closest thing to a smile I could manage.
“Lucian.” His voice was deep and rumbling, his face cold and expressionless. “I cannot imagine your plan, or what you hoped to gain by all of this. But you should have remained in hiding.” His fists knotted. “For now you must be punished. And with the Fountain flowing once more, you can be punished.”
This was surely the most I’d ever heard him utter at one time, and I frowned, trying to make sense of his words.
“My plan? But the insurrection was so long ago—”
“So many of us dead!” he bellowed. His fist swung out in a golden flash, sending me sprawling
. “So many!”
Ages had passed since I’d last met that fist, and I would have been quite pleased never to encounter its like again. As I pulled myself up, shaking my head to clear it, he advanced, his face still somewhat calm but his eyes burning brighter with controlled fury. The massive fists lashed out again.
I tried to ask him just what the hell he was talking about, in between blows, but to no avail. The brutality of the beating I absorbed was matched only by its thoroughness. As we are unable to create portals within the confines of the city, I could not make my own exit and flee. There was absolutely nothing I could do but take the beating.
What you have to understand is that Baranak is supposed to be able to kick my ass. That doesn’t mean I won’t do my best to resist, it simply means I will fail. I am not, after all, the god of battle. Unfortunately, he is.
As oblivion descended, his words echoed through my mind once more. The other gods—dead? Was that what he had meant? How could that be?
Any further consideration had to be deferred, as I was busy lapsing into unconsciousness.
# # #
In sleep’s cold embrace I dreamed, and in dreams I saw again the events that had started me on my journey back to the City.
On a day like so many before it, running back endlessly across the centuries, I awoke with the Mysentian dawn and climbed out of bed, gazing out of the broad palace windows overlooking my capital city, gingerly stretching my aged body, my withered muscles, my brittle bones.
Instantly I sensed it. Something felt different that morning, both within my flesh and in the very air surrounding me. Before I could pause to consider it, though, the serving girls entered, carrying trays of fruits and bread.
The resounding crash of their trays hitting the marble floor caused me to look up in surprise, only to witness the girls fleeing my bedchamber, shouts of alarm on their lips.
Startled, looking about for signs of intruders, I pulled my robe tighter about myself and rushed after them. Tyren, the captain of my guards, met me at the door. Having served me for many years, he had earned my implicit trust, and I waited for him to explain this strange turn of events.
It was not to be. Gawking, eyes wide, he stumbled back a few steps, then called for his men. They rushed up behind him, resplendent in their white uniforms, weapons at the ready, even as I attempted to ask what was happening.
“Who are you?” Tyren demanded. “Where is my lord Markos?”
Frowning, utterly bewildered, I searched the faces of the guards, these men and women who had been in my employ for much of their lives. None of them exhibited the slightest signs of recognition. Shocked and rapidly growing fearful as well, I whirled about, casting my gaze across the furnishings of the room, seeking a mirror. I desired above all else at that moment to see what my guards were seeing. It was not to be, of course. I had banned all mirrors from my presence years earlier, when my aging had grown so pronounced that I could no longer bear to look upon myself.
At last I brought my hands up to my face, and then I began to understand. My shock, profound after so many decades of helpless wasting away, must have been obvious. My skin felt smooth, my hair thick and strong. Looking at my hands, I saw they belonged to a young man, not to the ancient figure I had become.
Staggering back, I slipped and fell to the cold floor, and fears immediately rushed through me. Had I broken a bone? No! I had hardly felt the impact. I was whole again. I was young!
Springing to my feet, I faced my guards and laughed maniacally, practically bouncing in the air. Confused, they hesitated in moving to apprehend what they surely took to be an intruder in the palace. One of them recognized something about my features then, minus the wrinkles and spots, and gasped in awe. Others quickly followed suit, and then the captain, Tyren, knelt on one knee, his mouth working soundlessly for a second.
“My lord Markos,” he whispered finally, using the name I had adopted on this world. Awe filled his voice. “How can this be?”
I could feel it then. In truth, I had felt it from the moment I had awakened, but its long absence had dulled my sensitivity to it. A low, soft buzzing, growing steadily stronger. Not a sound; a sensation, a feeling, as of a current, long absent, now flowing once more through the firmament, through the fabric of the universe itself.
A sense of awesome, nearly limitless power, once again at my disposal.
The Power! After long decades, it had returned. During the night it had swept over me, carrying away the effects of age and restoring my appearance and condition to that of a man of thirty. It had made me a god once more!
Scarcely acknowledging my guards and the advisors who had rushed up as word of an intruder had spread through the palace, I turned the entirety of my attention instead to a goal I had believed forever denied me.
What would become of Mysentia, this world upon which I had dwelt in exile for ten centuries, and over which I had reigned for much of that time? What of the war I had been fomenting subtly against the mighty Terran Alliance? To what fate was I abandoning the Mysentians, and the other inhabitants of the Outer Worlds?
At that moment, I did not know and scarcely cared at all. For me, a destiny far greater awaited. The Golden City, so long denied me, beckoned.