“My Empress was younger than any previous leader, save for The Uniter. I knew she was strong willed and her blood lines were pure, but nobody expected her to become what she did, the way she did it. Sometimes the smallest packages contain the greatest surprises.”
– Excerpt from the personal logs of Lord Kantor, Chief Strategist
The reserve armada’s leader, Rear Admiral Kaigun was anxious for a fight. His four warships trailed Lord Kantor’s armada and had not seen action in months. He felt out of touch with what Kantor was doing. He wanted to speak with Kantor in person, not his second in command.
“Tell him I demand an audience. My men are hungry for action.”
Commander Varco nodded curtly on the monitor. His face moved out of view and was replaced by a red V, the ancient symbol of the Votainion Empire.
Kaigun dismissed the empty screen and called up the intelligence reports on the binary star system they were approaching. Kantor’s ships had only skirted the edge of the system. A single moon appeared to be populated by the aliens. The scans provided by Lord Kantor himself revealed an unremarkable rock. Except for one thing: it offered them the chance to do some killing.
His soldiers had been cooped up in these metal boxes for too long. If he didn’t get them action, he was in danger of having them turn on him. You can’t expect warriors to be patient travelers. Hundreds of brutes living in close quarters for too long was a recipe for trouble.
The reserve armada always housed the troop carriers. Each warship carried hundreds of fully armed and equipped soldiers. Kantor had ordered the troop ships to be ready for action. That was when they had first encountered the aliens. Once the troops were taken out of stasis, it was like arming a time bomb. Either put them back in stasis or let them fight. Just don’t let them wait around and get bored.
* * *
Lord Kantor activated his viewer and braced himself for Admiral Kaigun. He hated being interrupted by impatient subordinates.
“What is it?”
“My Lord, we are at the binary star system. My men are restless. They need a fight.”
Kantor agreed. It was unrealistic to keep his invasion troops waiting. But he was not prepared to attack yet. Perhaps it would be useful to send a message to the alien leaders by destroying something else. The Engineers were beginning to make progress on translating some of the communication traffic they were intercepting. An attack would generate more traffic and give them a point of reference.
“Admiral Kaigun, destroy the aliens on the desert moon. Leave no survivors. Regroup at the following coordinates and await my invasion plans.”
Kaigun nodded curtly, his dark face brightening. “As you wish, My Lord.”
Kantor switched off the viewer and moved back to the charts. Commander Varco was staring at him with unwavering eyes. “What is it, Commander?”
“Sir, we know so little about these aliens. This attack could alert them to our presence before we are ready to invade.”
Kantor dismissed the fears of his second with a flick of his hand. “It’s just an outpost, Commander. It has no tactical value. Our troops need to kill something. It will sharpen our blades and we shall add to your precious information about our adversaries.”
Varco did not retort. Kantor saw him lower his steely eyes and return to the invasion planning. Kantor did the same. A part of him wanted to join Kaigun and his troops on that desert moon. But he knew an even bigger battle was coming and he would surely get his fill of killing then.
Another buzzer interrupted them. Kantor slapped the intercom. “What now?”
“Sir, message from the Empress.”
Kantor and Varco locked eyes again. “I’ll take it here.”
The viewer between them flickered on. Empress Nykostra’s face appeared larger than life. Crazed eyes, wide with fear. Blood splattered face and frayed, wet hair. She was calm, but clearly traumatized. She wore night clothes, hanging loose on her thin frame. Her heavy brow line was dripping with blood and sweat.
Both men moved their hands unconsciously to the hilts of their falchions.
“I have survived another attempt on my life. Voton is red with the blood of my Kastra.”
Kantor didn’t expect another attack so soon. The Empress lifted a severed head before the camera, holding it by the single tail of white hair. The neck was jagged, as if some effort was exerted in separating it from the body. Kantor recognized the face of the lead Soothsayer.
“I have slain the dark voice and consumed his blood. I see what he sees, I know what he knows. I am Kamsa-riecht!”
Kantor fell to his knee and lowered is head to the viewer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the shocked expression on Varco’s face causing him to pause for a split second before joining Kantor on his knee. Kantor’s breath quickened. Nobody had claimed Kamsa-riecht since ancient times. It had only happened once in all of Votainion history and the only one to claim it was the first Emperor, nearly two thousand years before. Kantor finally raised his head when he realized that they were watching a recorded message. He stayed on the floor out of respect for the Kamsa-riecht.
The Empress flung the severed head behind her and raised her blood-stained falchion to her mouth. She licked the blade, her eyes still aglow with blood lust. By consuming the life force of the Soothsayer, she absorbed his power both literally and metaphorically. She became both a prognosticator and a divine leader. The Kamsa-riecht was a god-emperor. A direct link to the heavens; part Votainion, part goddess.
“Stay the course, Kantor. Follow the Reesa-vern back to the origin. More ships are coming. You are very close to the source, the Kerra-jorro. ”
Kantor’s black eyes widened as he finally understood the purpose of his mission. He was following the River Of Stars, the Reesa-vern, back to the planet where the Votainion race had been born. Back to the origin of life itself. In so doing, he was coming closer to the divine source of all things Votainion.
Votainion mythology told of their race being cast out from the Mother World and brought to Voton by the creator. It was the destiny of all Votainions to seek out the mother world and return to it for salvation. The journey was said to follow a river of stars to the source. In ancient times the river was embodied by the Reesa-vern, the River Of Life. Every Votainion traveled up river to its source at the tops of the highest mountains on Voton. As their Empire expanded into space, the pilgrimage back to Voton was a religious right of passage. Expansion of the Empire was dictated by the Soothsayers and they were said to be following the River Of Stars. By extending the Empire along this path, they were seeking to return to the Mother World – Kerra-jorro.
The child empress, not yet a woman but now as deadly as any warrior, was commanding him to find Kerra-jorro. Kantor was honored. The recorded message switched off without warning. Kantor slowly took to his feet and collected his thoughts.
“It is a great day for the Empire.”
“A great day indeed,” Varco agreed.
Kantor ran a finger across the star charts, following the plane of the ecliptic. The river of stars as seen from Voton ended a few light years ahead of their current position. As did all the trade routes and communication links of the aliens.
“We shall focus our attention here, Varco. We shall strike at the heart of the alien empire.”
Varco objected immediately. “But sir, we don’t have the resources to take on their home worlds. You heard the Empress, she’s sending more ships.”
Kantor’s voice rose, and the veins on his forehead were visible.
“The Kamsa-riecht has spoken. My mission is to find Kerra-jorro. We shall proceed without delay.”
Varco lowered his eyes and nodded his consent. Kantor took out his falchion and held it out over the table. Varco did the same. They both recited a prayer to the god of war – Krako.
“May our enemies be destroyed and their land become our land.”
The taking of land and renaming it was a long and noble Votainion tradition. Kantor had personally taken more planets and moons than any other Votainion in history. Taking back Kerra-jorro would be his finest hour.
This is one of my favorite chapters. The child Empress beheads the Soothsayer and drinks his blood to absorb his insight. The Votainion word building is very much based on myth and blood letting. My inspiration came from the violent ways of many ancient Earth cultures and from Frank Herbert’s Dune.