Location: Ruins of the city of Dawn in the western sector of the True Evolutionist Empire. Eastern Continent of the planet Hellifyno.
This was a place of blighted destruction. They met at the center of a crater of black obsidian, the ground beneath them polished dark by the heat of the Weapon they had deployed to end the resistance of this city.
The crater stretched outwards for miles in every direction, perfect inky glass unbroken by any standing structure. In the far distance, there were silhouettes of ruins, crumbling heaps, broken remnants.
Once the great city of Dawn, the ruins were now a hollow husk, home of the Soulless, land of the Fae, a place of particular danger which had been subdued by his people. Corgan had not been there for that war, but the sunken shadow of its destruction haunted this meeting place.
There were about a hundred of them here; all Crowleys, sharing the blood, essence, or DNA, at least in some way, of the descendants of the first Patriarch of the family.
Most were clones or direct relations to the ousted Emperor Brutus, fearing the feel of power slipping from their hands as they fell out of favor. However, members of the other descendant lines gathered here as well. There were many who were troubled by the direction the Empire had taken.
But there were far fewer here now than there would have been six months ago. They had learned to meet in desolate and deserted places out of hard taught necessity. The gaps in the congregation were a constant reminder that vigilance was vital.
“It’s all about bloodlines. The Crowleys have always been about the lineage, and now that Brutus is out, his descendants are out too!” Ferocious, ruthless, and tactless, Torbath Crowley spoke his mind. Often to his own detriment.
Corgan couldn’t fault the man’s logic, though he was surprised this one had managed to avoid the culling for so long. Then he shivered, realizing how close Torbath’s statement was to the one he had recently made to the Voice himself. His life was forfeit now. He was sure of it. It was just a matter of when, and how.
He was only shaken from his dark reverie when Torbath continued his rant. “We’re all aware that Zain plans to oust the rest of the family one by one and remake himself into a new Patriarch. It’s the only way he could possibly hope to maintain control with the thin discordancy he can actually claim.”
At least there were no walls to watch them here, no pinprick sensors, and no turrets ready to fire. Honest words could get you killed in any of the major Imperial cities, no matter how many precautions were taken.
How had he survived? What would he do now.
A man stepped forward, lean, frail, ancient. Garen Crowley. He was one of the few here not taken or descended from Brutus’s line. His was a complex genetic relationship with the current Emperor himself.
That made him suspect.
“Do any of you remember the old days?” The elderly man was gaunt, so thin that for a moment it seemed that one of the wild winds that whipped through this place would send him flying into the air but, no… A closer look and anyone could see that he stood like a bar of solid iron, letting the winds crash around him without so much as wavering. Aged, withered, but still dangerous. Still a predator.
Or maybe it was just skeletal enhancements, implanted to give his failing body greater strength; those were not uncommon in the Empire these days.
But when you looked past the years and stared through the man’s glowing green eyes into his soul, you could see that his was a strength born of will, not technological advances, molded by the ages into something, more.
Garen glanced across the assembled crowd his voice ringing out again. “I was there, when the Lady Bright first came to us.” A hush of whispered prayers and graces slipped from the lips of the gathered assembly. “We were a great family that achieved marvelous victories, and suffered grave defeats.”
The ancient man settled the weight of his gaze upon Torbath. The much larger, younger man held for a moment, then shrank beneath the power of that look.
“Most of those defeats we brought upon ourselves,” Garen continued.
He cast about with knowing eyes, still so sharp, almost as if accusing the gathered group for not having travelled the 500 year trek that had been the road of their “family.” Garen had seen only half that, and still his age and knowledge dwarfed the largely youthful congregation.
“Bright brought us equality, strength, and purpose! Though Brutus rose to lead us, those who were not of his line were not simply discarded. Instead, we were united as a family! United against the true and common foe we all still share.”
The grizzled ancient got a far off look, one that was haunted, distant.
“The gods and their petty vengeances, the afterlives and their broken dreams. How many times has this world stood at the precipice of apocalypse, just in the last decade? If we had continued down that path… everything would have been lost.” Garen’s eyes sharpened, and he stared down each and every member of the gathered faction, his dark gaze finally settling on Corgan.
“I still believe in the old ways.” He pulled back his sleeve, a slender glowing green arm rising into a defiant fist in the air. “This, this will end that destruction, a destruction that has almost brought down the entire universe, twice! But it will only work if we remain united, strong, as a family. All of us.”
The green glow emitting from Garen was ferocious, like flames blazing from his silhouette while his eyes stared daggers into Corgan’s own.
Several people in the crowd were nodding at his words, all of those not directly related to Brutus, and even a few who were. Though there was silence, Corgan could feel the flow of the conversation. These were all loyal members of the Empire and the Blood, and this assembly brought them to the brink of treason.
Fuck, he was almost tempted to disband them himself. The Crowleys had given him everything. How could he ever betray the Emperor…?
But then he remembered why he was truly here. Such theatrics couldn’t sway him, not after what he’d just experienced. Not after feeling the cloying touch of the Weave as it wrapped around him, choked through him, changed him. No, there was something fundamentally wrong here.
“The Weave has been corrupted.” Corgan’s voice was quiet, but it cut through the congregation. Everyone was standing; there was nowhere to sit, and anything carried by the conspirators would have been suspect. But he stood taller now, rising to the aged man’s challenging words, a fire lighting in his eyes.
He had to seize control of this conversation now. His voice rose again, stronger this time. “The politics may be about blood, but the issue is far deeper, the illness more innate.” He pulled back his sleeve, lifting his own glowing green arm defiantly into the air as he strode towards Garen.
“Some would call you a spy in our midst, come to sow dissention,” Corgan spoke fiercely, his eyes locking onto Garen’s with open challenge. “You aren’t of the line of Brutus. You aren’t even of the line of the direct descendants of the Patriarch. You are a cousin of a cousin of the First.” Much younger, taller, and stronger, Corgan moved closer to the elder man at the center of the proceedings with a predatory stride.
Still, the withered figure stood defiant, the green glow of his wrinkled flesh blazing with a zealous fervor as a retort snarled from his lips. “I am a direct descendant of the current Emperor, boy, and I am a member of the True Order. Tell me, where were you when the Lady Bright brought the creed and the means to our people?”
Corgan’s raised arm now reached out, and at first it looked as if he would strike the weaker, lower blooded Zainist; a man who seemed to be calling for reconciliation with their enemies. The rage-thought may even have passed briefly through his mind. The crowd collectively held their breath in anticipation of it.
Instead, he laid a firm hold on the on Garen’s shoulder, ignoring the man’s question and continuing on. “But you are right. We are a family. We are strongest when we hold together. I am not turning against the Emperor because of his lineage or my own. But there is something very wrong happening. Each and every one of you knows it, or you wouldn’t be here.”
His words were loud and spoken to the entire community, but his gaze was locked with Garen’s. Ice met fire, and they had an understanding. Corgan turned away, back to the crowd, knowing that if he survived, one day Garen would try to kill him. But he also knew that that day wouldn’t come until the Empire had been restored.
It was a shaky alliance, but one he desperately needed.
“The Weave is corrupted,” he continued, now glancing around at the assembly, his voice and stature practiced and trained at length to arrest the attention of an audience. “I have seen it, felt it myself. The Emperor is using it to compel his subjects, to change them, to alter the very nature of their souls. Our souls.”
Now Corgan’s voice grew quiet, distant, though his training didn’t allow the tone to fall below that which could be heard by the assembled company. “I’ve noticed it for a while now, but the last time I was there… it was tangible. I could feel the Emperor reaching inside of me, remaking me into something more malleable, subservient to his will…”
He stopped for a moment, looking up at his friends, his family, those who had the foresight to see the troubles ahead. Many of them were nodding their heads in agreement with him now.
He kept on while he had their attention, riding the momentum. “I can see that many of you have felt this as well. And it is only the most recent abomination. First the ‘enhancements,’ and now these Brains. Taking your mind out of your physical body and pumping it full of chemicals so you can command a squadron of tanks, or control a legion of drones? Is this the equality Bright promised us?”
“What about our enemies then, huh? A young fire-eater stepped forward, Lyra Crowley, her flaming red hair matching the passion in her
voice. Women were often looked down on in the family, but this one had a mouth that commanded attention and a demeanor that said if she were ignored she wouldn’t be averse to taking a strap to the offender’s backside for the slight.
“I understand why we’re all here,” she remarked in a clear, unwavering voice. “The Emperor is being a dick, and those of us willing to stand up to him are being sent to the front lines to die. If we’re lucky. But we can’t toss out the gems with the junk. Our enemies are powerful. Those magicals,” she almost spat the word, “aren’t afraid to use their gifts. So why should we be afraid to use the technology given to us by the Blessed Lady Bright?
By the time she was done speaking, murmurs were already rushing through the crowd. Small arguments started to flare between individuals and factions within the larger group, shouts even rising here and there as anger tempers heated.
“The Magicals are the real enemy, they should be exterminated!” came an angry cry.
“No, that’s what the Emperor wants, to feed the masses to the slaughter and repopulate the world with his own descendants,” another responded.
Another shout, “That’s insane! It’s the supernatural monsters who we should be focused on, not the Emperor.”
“It’s about loyalty to the family,” a deep bass rumbled.
An older man dissented, “No we have to remain loyal to the creed!”
“Strength above all else,” growled a young man.
“No, equality.” This from a woman.
“Power is the path to equality,” someone else jeered.
Corgan’s own voice joined the rushed tempest of shouts that the fiery woman’s words had ignited. The Crowley’s were a temperamental bunch, and uniting them toward a single purpose had often ended in squabbling, betrayal, and back stabbing. Still, he shouted, trying to re-impose order on the assembly. They had to see reason!
It was not shouts or cries or strength of arm that quieted the congregation. Rather, it was the quiet voice of a small child which pierced their broiling rage like an arrow through flesh.
“I can help you fix the Weave.”
There was a moment of silence. The words had been spoken by a frail, pale boy with a mop of mangled hair tussled atop a tiny delicate crown. His eyes were large, deep, and sunken, and though they were the eyes of a mortal human youth, they stared with the depth of ancient ages. How had anyone snuck up on them? There was no cover for miles, and sentries had been posted.
The boy stepped into the assembled crowd, his form dwarfed by the larger men and women who had gathered here, but he showed no fear. He hardly showed emotion at all.
Corgan squinted. Could it be? No… that boy was supposed to be dead. All reports said that he had stayed here in the city until the end, he and his followers, defying the power of the Weapon with some strange religious nonsense.
As the mop haired child neared the center of the crater, Corgan stepped back. Not out of fear, no, it was just a reflex. But at this distance, with the light of day still strong, he couldn’t mistake that face.
“Lord PuCk,” he breathed in astonishment.
The small child smiled, a sad and lonely smile, and shook his head, the tangled curls around his face dancing with the motion.
“Lord no more. Just simple Puck now. Perhaps even just puck. You can’t be a lord without a people, and mine are all gone.”
The child who stood before them had once been a great Lord of the Fae, a legend of magical power whose name was whispered in myth and lore across the universe.
He was also one of the Empire’s greatest enemies. Well, had been. This frail mortal child looked like he hadn’t eaten in a week. It was true. He wasn’t a Fae Lord any longer.
“What happened to you?” It was a whisper from the crowd, but it mirrored Corgan’s own question.
The boy raised a dirt blackened hand. “What happened to me is not important. What is important, is what you are going to do next.” The implications of Puck’s words were accusations. The child stared directly into Corgan’s eyes as if able to read his soul, though that was impossible now. “I believe that I can help your cause, and give you what you seek.”
A stunned silence had washed over the gathered crowd, but at the audacity of those words, Corgan felt the sway of shock break. This poor little mad pauper. He would have to be cared for.
“Puck, have you cobbled together an army of beggars from this rabble? If they’re all like you… they won’t be of any use. And even if some have retained their power after the Weapon, all of them combined weren’t enough last time. But we can get you all food and–“
“There is no army, Corgan Crowley,” Puck interrupted. “I just have… a friend. She was once an enemy, but now we need one another, so that makes her my friend. Funny how that works, isn’t it?” The boy canted his head to the side.
Corgan didn’t like where this was going. “You’re in no position to be making threats.”
Despite his brave words, he was already reaching into his pocket to thumb the signal for his personal drones to swoop in and take the boy. They had better things to be doing at this meeting, and who knew what mischief this prankster was playing at. He was wasting time.
“You mistake me, Mr. Crowley.” The former Fae’s eyes were blue, hinted with violet. Or was that a very deep green? It was hard to tell, but they held age, the weight of many lives, yet also, sincerity. Something held Corgan back from activating his defenses, finger poised over the trigger.
The entire gathered congregation was quiet, the group leaning in to catch every word exchanged between the two, as if watching a play they forgot they could participate in.
“I offer you the opportunity,” continued Puck, “to fix what has broken. To take back what was once yours. My friend can make this happen. Her resources are even more vast then that of your Empire. But I need you to do something for me.”
There was a sadness to the boy. He masked it with serenity, but it was written clear on his face. Perhaps he hadn’t yet gotten used to hiding emotions without the aid of magical glamours. Corgan held his thumb against the com unit, ready to activate his drones, but not yet pressing down. He would listen.
“What do you want?”
The child’s voice was a sibilant melody of trilling tones, and he strode about the older man in a predatory arc, his hue-shifting eyes remaining fixed upon Corgan. “I want you to go back into the Weave, one last time.
Corgan’s face grew dark, his features sharp and stern as he stared down at the insane figure. Never again. “What makes you think I’ll do that?
Puck just stared back, a wan smile drifting across his lips. “Because you have no other choice. Your soul ends in every other timeline.” The once great lord of Fae and magic, now a starving, mortal boy, strode to within a step of Corgan, and his voice was a sharp hiss, compelling in its raw emotion.
“Necessity will be your guide.”