Whirlwind

Reginald’s head was spinning when he stepped off of his shuttle at Cerra Manor. A satchel thumped by his side, its contents scarcely weighing anything at all but they might as well have been a Providence-class freighter. Somehow, he managed past the security checkpoint and found a seat at the bar. His vision was hazy, as if he was fumbling through a fog. He ordered an Old Fashioned, impatiently awaiting the alcohol to dull the pain.

A cough from behind him resounded through his ears like cannon-fire. He turned to see Lord Kailethre drawing and drinking some ways away. His mind suddenly flooded with a hurricane of information–how Kaile was a Holder from an ocean world in Aridia, how his wife and daughter had passed away, how he had been assaulted and left rendered in a wheelchair, and how his wife’s sister had disappeared to Delve.

Delve. He swallowed back the thought, forcing the deluge back through the sharp agitation. He couldn’t think about it. Not here. His satchel bounced against his waist, the pain disappearing for a moment and offering him clarity. What was truly wrong with Delve? He argued back to himself with a resounding “no,” which resulted in fresh spasms throughout his brain.

Reginald returned to his drink and finished it, downing his perceived remedy with eager enthusiasm. The burning sensation of bourbon slid down his throat. He sighed gently, enjoying the brief reprieve it afforded. Within moments, however, the pain was back, throbbing with greater magnitude and intensity. He pressed his palm to his head, then requested a bottle of whiskey. Increasing volume should result in less pain, after all.

He nodded his thanks to the bartender, then turned back to survey the Terrace, catching sight of Lady Kenzi Lianne approaching. She wore a pale blue starsilk dress overlaid with lace, her hair curled into ringlets and pulled up loosely. She trailed sand with her footsteps, carrying her shoes in one hand. His CEO Predator Elite was in a romantic relationship with her, the Cerra heiress should Shalee pass away. And yet, his flash of relief was suddenly drowned out by a wave of disappointment–while she resembled her sister Shalee, Kenzi was not her. Nonetheless, calling upon his years of etiquette, he rose from his seat and offered her a shaky bow.

“Good evening, my lady,” He rises, almost stumbling over himself before he catches the fall.

A hulking figure soon appeared behind Kenzi, casting a long shadow across the Terrace. Reginald stood up, recognizing the face from a dinner party hosted by Bishop Amalath. He furrowed his brows as he tried to place a name to the face of the figure standing over eight feet tall in shining golden armor, a red cape fluttering in the soft Huola breeze. His mind raced through the shards of glass poking and prodding in its recesses until it settled upon a name: Thal Vadam, Templar.

Kenzi curtsied politely. It was to her credit that she remained composed despite his obviously embarrassing attempt. She smiled demurely, “Evening Lord Sakakibara.” She offered a similar greeting to Kailethre.

Reginald pulled himself out of his stumble, his mind now flushed with humiliation in addition to pain, “Apologies. I’ve not been feeling well upon my return to Deklein.”

“Lords,” Thal nodded respectfully.

Kailethre bowed curtly to Kenzi in the aristocratic manner before returning to his seat. Reginald briefly turned his gaze towards the older Holder, noticing that he was drawing–several sheets of paper were strewn before him fielding a range of expressions from open rage to cold, controlled contempt. He reminisced for a moment about sketching, remembering how much he had enjoyed it–memories of a smiling Katerina, of Shalee lounging beneath the Huola sky, and a caricature of Vlad Cetes played through his mind, before bleeding into the monstrosity he had constructed of ink, blood, and paper on his floor. A fresh jolt forced him to press his hand against his temple once more.

“Oh?” Kenzi queried as she moved over to analyze Kailethre’s work, “What is in Deklein?”

Reginald frowned, trawling his memory for answers, “A failed attempt to tackle a Goonswarm Aeon led by our renowned Predator Elite. The lucky ones extracted with him. the rest of us… were left behind.”

“Deklein isn’t that far out from Empire space,” Kailethre looked up for the first time since Reginald set foot on the Terrace, “But you look harrowed.”

“Must have been very traumatic for you, sir,” The Templar offered.

Reginald turned to Thal, nodding in agreement, “Waiting for the rescue operation was less than enjoyable, yes, but then,” He took a swig from his bottle–it had been far too long since the last shot of alcohol–then finished his response, “My sister showed up. She brought my crew and I to Period Basis.”

Lord Kailethre rose from his seat, looking at Reginald with a careful expression, “Are you quite all right?”

As he rose, Kenzi, who had been studying the drawings, complimented, “These are unique. Expressive.” Something caught her attention however, and she looked back towards Reginald, “Predator left you behind?”

Reginald answered Kailethre first, cracking an unbalanced smile, “I don’t know.”

In truth, what other answer could he have offered to the other Holder? Everything was spinning. The extraction from Deklein, the wormhole to Period Basis, his time in Delve–all were swirling together like paint thrown into a centrifuge.

He took another swig, then answered Kenzi as best he could, his words slurring together despite his best attempts, “Couldn’t be helped. Fleet was interdicted. Only option for ten of us was to try the gate and pray…”

Kailethre asked, “How did you make it back?”

Thal sighed and ordered a whiskey. Reginald surmised that Thal had seen men handle themselves better after seeing worse. He could not fathom what ground soldiers saw in combat beyond the romanticized accounts of Reclaimings from ages past.

“My sister, Naomi,” He shook his head, feeling another headache surge forward, “Ended up in… A constellation in Delve.”

The last sentence hung in the air, stagnating between the four of them. Kailethre’s expression fell, his face beginning to pale. Thal frowned in disapproval, mouthing, “Oh dear…”

“Which constellation?” Kailethre demanded.

Kenzi asked, “What is the importance of Delve?”

For a moment, her question broke the tension. Reginald returned to his bottle, sipping at its contents in an attempt to nullify the sensation of his head splitting in two. After several long gulps, the pain subsided–relief at last.

Kailethre answered Kenzi’s question, “Delive is the home region for the Blood Raider Covenant.” Thal Vadam echoed the answer.

“These damn headaches,” Reginald shook his head, finally responding to Kailethre’s query, “OK-FEM.”

Kailethre narrowed his eyes in disgust, “Did you see it? Did you see him?”

Reginald heard Kenzi nod to herself, “Oh. Right. Of course. I should have remembered that.” Her voice seemed to fade towards the end, muffling, becoming duller.

He took another sip of whiskey to sharpen his hearing, then, through a face contorted with pain and confused looked at Kailethre, “See what? See whom?”

Kailethre leaned over his table, hands down and to the front, his curiosity obvious to all present, “The Pagora. And Kalorr.”

“The what?” Thal turned to Kailethre, his armor becoming blurrier and less defined to Reginald’s eyes.

“I don’t remember seeing a Kalorr,” He shakily found a seat and pressed both hands to his head, the cool bottle resting against his cheek, “But… the Pagora. You mean the Pagera Manton?”

“Yes.”

“It all feels so hazy,” He forced himself to say through his numbing senses, fresh headaches charging into his forehead, “I can remember people talking about it. Whether or not I saw it, I can’t say. I just remember a complex.”

“I went to see it once. To see what darkness brings to the soul of man. He was there, waiting.”

Reginald continued on, his voice on auto-pilot as he wrestled with the kaleidoscope of sensations, “There were Bhaalgorns moored to it. People traveling to it. In CX8-6K.”

Thal’s muffled voice made it through the growing cacophony, “Well… This all sounds rather familiar.”

Kenzi’s voice was notably missing from the quartet. Reginald closed his eyes, trying to focus on something–anything that he could get a bearing on in the turmoil. Kailethre’s voice was dominant. He was recounting a tale or something akin to that regarding the captain of the Pagera Manton, how he had feasted upon his own crew, how, when the Blood Raiders found him, they chose to clone him. Reginald could barely follow Kailethre’s explanations.

Then his voice cut clearly through the miasma, “That place is dark. It’s wretched and the light of God does not shine there.”

Thal replied with a comment about the need for a purgation squad. Suddenly, a sharp pain plunged into the side of Reginald’s skull, as if someone was hammering a nail into place. He clenched his fists in response, immediately pressing one against the side of his head. The other managed to brush against the satchel on his lap, and for a moment, the pain suddenly disappeared, replacing with a sense of comfort. He took several deep breaths, then drew the contents out of the satchel–a copy of the Pax Amarria.

“I received this when I went inside–the place they call ‘Blood Reach.'” He held up the book, his mind as clear as a winter morning.

Kailethre’s face contorted. His voice was smooth but carried an edge of malice, “Burn it.”

Reginald almost dropped the book as his head was reconquered by searing pain. He bit his lip, then cried out for the one person he knew he could turn to for help, “Damn it. Is… is Shalee here?”

Shalee. Yes, he had to turn towards her. There was something wrong with him. Something sinister. He couldn’t bring it into his marriage with Katerina. He wouldn’t let it stain or infect that–not this close to the birth of their son. But Shalee had always been there when he needed help, when he needed to escape torment, to provide solace, to offer reprieve. He needed to see her.

Instead of obeying Kailethre’s order, he placed the book back into the bag. It seemed like the right decision, the searing pain slowly ebbing away.

Thal muttered, “Lord Reginald…”

“Lord Saka–Reginald. That book is heresy. If a member of the MIO or TC finds it, they’ll deactivate your clones and sentence you to death. Please, I beg you. Burn it.”

“Burn that… disgraceful perversion,” Thal nodded with obvious contempt.

He couldn’t burn it. Not yet. What was that? What was he thinking? Of course needed to. Another surge of headaches ignited through his mind. He fumbled for the bottle and started drinking more alcohol, “I really need to see her.” For good measure, he safely tucked the book into the satchel and fastened the buckle.

Kailethre rubbed his face and turned to Kenzi, “do you know where your sister is? I think…”

Kenzi winced, “She is in null tonight, and I don’t think she is coming home any time soon.” She glided her way over to Reginald–an image of purity and restraint, “Lord Sakakibara… may I give it to her for you?”

Kailethre almost hissed, “Don’t touch it.”

Thal twitched, “It must be destroyed.”

Reginald ignored them, nodding to Kenzi, though the satchel remained on the ground. Their conversation was slowly building into a whirlwind. He strained his ears to listen, though their voices were fusing, elongating, shrinking, adjusting in pitch, and disappearing into the distance.

Kailethre declared, “This is Lord Sakakibara’s burden to bear. We can’t force him to act, only advise.”

Thal glared at Kailethre, “Oh really?”

Kenzi, hesitating, looked back at Thal and Kailethre, “Are you certain?”

Thal mumbled, “Seems I can never do my job anymore.”

“If he does not make the conscious decision to destroy this, it will leave him impure. He must be the one to destroy it.”

“I can’t think straight,” Reginald said as his mind twirled in and out of the grim twilight between consciousness and the realm in between dreams–images of Huola flashing through his mind.

“Then at least, keep that book out of sight, reach, mind, anything,” Thal suggested.

Kailethre’s breathing had started becoming less refined, less controlled, “At the very least, we can’t leave him alone with it.”

Kenzi offered, her voice sounding as if it were underwater, “Lord Sakakibara… perhaps you would like to destroy it before my sister returns? You know, she wouldn’t be pleased if you bring the Inquisition to the Terrace.”

Kenzi’s statement suddenly bellowed into his mind like a blaring siren. To do the unthinkable–to disappoint Shalee. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He rose to his feet despite the agony, picked up the satchel, and asked through painful winces, “A light? Anyone?”

Kailethre turned to Thal, “Templar, anything… firey? We can use alcohol as fuel if needs be.”

“What do you mean, sir?” Thal asked.

“I believe Lord Sakakibara wishes to burn it.”

Thal drew a sword from his belt–for some reason not confiscated by the security staff, “There’s this…”

Kailethre nodded, then began to clear a space around the quartet–moving chairs and tables out of the way, “Cast the book down, Lord Reginald.”

Reginald’s eyes rested on Thal’s blade. Through the distance, he heard Kailethre’s command, but instead reached for his bottle to keep numbing the pain. Kenzi backed away towards the bar, her arms folded loosely in front of her. He wondered if she was scared. But then, who wouldn’t be? He was certainly scared.

Kailethre pointed at the ground angrily, “Cast it down!”

Reginald finally acknowledge’s Kailethre’s order and throws the satchel to the ground, though it’s far from centered in the clearing. The pain started to rage forward again, as if the further away he was from the book, the more painful the headaches became.

Kailethre frantically grabbed his bottle of alcohol and charged towards the book, pushing away wayward pieces of furniture in the process, before dousing the object in the drink. He turned to Thal, “Templar, give him your weapon and direct him to strike the book.”

Thal began to explain as he handed the weapon to Reginald, “The blade is an energy edge, hotter than most warship projectiles. It should burn this perversion.”

Kailethre stepped back a fair distance, Kenzi already further away and glancing about to check for bystanders. Reginald handled the foreign weapon strangely. A bastard sword. He had grown up fencing, being the son of a Holder, but he had never wielded a weapon like this. His interest managed to cut through the spasms, offering a moment of clarity.

“How does it work?” He asked, looking towards Thal.

“Twist the hilt, and the edge will burn with God’s wrath. Strike at the book, but do not let the blade near your flesh.”

Reginald nodded, activating the blade and lowering it gently towards the book. Pain once again surfaces–every inch towards the book an agonizing eternity. Finally, before even touching the object, the heat of the edge simply ignites the book. At that moment, a chorus of voices scream in unison. Reginald drops the blade next to the book and scoops it up, still burning. He rushed to the fountain, brushing past a stunned Kailethre and Thal. He hears Kenzi’s high-pitched scream, “Lord Sakakibara!” But he tries to drown out everything and everyone on the Terrace. He had to do one thing: Put out the flame of God.

He plunges into the water, pulling the book close as the flames extinguish, heat dissipating into the coolness of the fountain. He hears voices, angry, frantic ones above fountain of water, through the bubbles of oxygen. But all he can think to do is clutch the book close to his chest. The pain was all but gone. A strong hand grabbed the back of his neck then raised him out of the water.

“Restrain his arms! We need to get this thing away!”

He coughed and sputtered as he was yanked out of the water, Kenzi’s pleas of reason piercing the confusion, “Please Lord Sakakibara, please destroy that book! You’re frightening me!” He opened his eyes to see the image of Kenzi, her arms outstretched, ready to receive the object.

For a moment he considered it.

“Don’t touch it!” Kailethre screamed as Thal grabbed onto Reginald’s arms and effortlessly pulled them back.

Reginald watched with horror as the book fell to the ground–slightly charred but still largely intact. As soon as it hit the ground, he could feel the foreshock of a fresh set of spasms slowly reapproaching with agonizing inevitability. He screamed, “No, please, you don’t understand!”

Kailethre shed his coat, then scooped the book into. He glanced into Thal’s eyes, “Don’t let him free, whatever you do.” He then turned back to the clearing and dropped his coat in the center, before obtaining more alcohol and drenching both the coat and the book.

Another whirlwind of conversation.

“… Holy fire perhaps?”

“Perhaps burn it in the cathedral?”

“We don’t taint that place with this filth.”

Reginald could feel his head pounding harder and harder as he struggled and thrashed uselessly against Thal’s grip. They didn’t understand. He needed it. He continued to plead, his eyes melting into a wild, passionate stare.

Kailethre picked up the discarded blade. He lit the blade and pointed it towards the mess on the ground, standing sideways to avoid the heat. In moments, the blade once again lit the alcohol-drenched items without even making contact. The crackling fire surged slightly as it enveloped the coat, flames licking at the salty seaside air.

Suffering. Agony. Pain. Hatred. Frustration. Reginald watches the book burn in terror, his head aflame with its own throbbing sensations, as if nails, needles, and knives were plunging into it from all sides. Kailethre circled around the fire, tossing additional bottles of alcohol into the flame, the fire bursting towards the Huola sky. Thal remained perfectly still, watching the flame as if in reverence, despite the Reginald’s weakening struggle to get free and launch himself upon the book to stamp out the fire.

Out of the corner of Reginald’s eye, he saw the distinctive flicker of a hologram. His eyes widened for a moment as his mind made the connection, before the pain reached its ultimate crescendo and his body went limp.

A dreamless sleep.

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When the Beating of Your Heart

“Those who can, anchor up on Pred and overheat prop mods! The rest of you, get to gate, jump and get safe. We’ll get you out later!” 

Reginald lay back and closed his eyes. The clock was becoming depressing–a full sixteen hours left until the JMP-N rescue effort would commence. His ship, along with nine other vessels, had happened to be on the wrong side of a Goonswarm Federation capital escalation in the Goonswarm home region of Deklein–an escalation that had cut the JMP-N strategic cruiser fleet in half, stranding them on opposite sides of multiple bubbles. Some of the ships made it back to the wormhole that led to Enaluri, safety, and home. The rest? They had made a mad dash for a gate–a motley squadron of cruisers, strategic cruisers, HICs, and a Bhaalgorn-class battleship. The order from on high, before communication was cut, had been simple: Wait.

After establishing safe-spots in the system, like all of the other captains of the Trapped Squadron–as they had come to be known–he powered down all systems except life support. No lights, no beacons, no weapons, no capacitor signature–nothing could be left on that could give a roving combat probe something to lock onto. He had ordered the crew of his Legion-class strategic cruiser Shalee’s Revenge out of action stations and into emergency standby positions. This meant that they were all waiting in escape pods. And the waiting was killing them.

He had extracted himself from his pod some time before to patrol around the vessel as best he could in the rufescent emergency lighting. Since it was a strategic cruiser and therefore modular in design, its interior, while certainly Amarrian, nonetheless seemed somewhat alien–as if the familiar flowing lines and golden plates could be shed off at any second by the fullerene structure of the Legion itself, as if the gilded interior was masking a breathing organism deep within the bowels of the ship.

He shook his head, then pressed his hand hard against his temple in an attempt to stave off another powerful headache. Feeling along the walls in the dark, he somehow managed his way back to the bridge, where he found an empty seat. He needed to keep his mind off of the familiar passageways into darkness. He pulled a case out of his back pocket: his Righteous Cross medal. After polishing the medal several times, he pinned it to his uniform, its gleam shining even under the dim lighting. He slumped into the seat, completely aware of how dangerous it was to waste any mental faculties on that. And yet, he found himself holding his neocom moments later–a copy of a report furnished to him by Lady Aspenstar brightly displayed on the screen.

//Encode
//Begin Sub Routine
//Open File D//Project_SFRIM//over-watch
//File Running



//Open Sub-sector 67/8P
//Report Retrieved

Dear Lord Sakakibara

I was sent a notice that you seem to have placed a member of Societas into detention due to ‘illegal incursion into you’re holdings’ may I assure you I was unaware of any such plans, had I been Alexa would be in a very different cell. I understand why you saw fit to detain her however as a subject of SFRIM and still under employment by myself as chief of security of my own holdings I request she is transferred back to my custody to be tried under dereliction of duty and various other charges pertaining her actions.

May I suggest we meet in person in order to talk this out in greater detail ourselves.

Lord Lucas Raholan
Legatus

//Close Report
//Add note
-/ Lord Sakakibara previously registered in sub routine D//PROJECT_INSIGHT/recruitment_sleeperagent
//Close Note
//Encoding
//Begin transmission to SV-3 Location – Aband/A–/Kador

His eyes lingered on the notes at the bottom of the file. Lord Sakakibara previously registered in sub routine. Project Insight. Sleeper agent.

He leaned back again, his head still pounding from a combination of restlessness, mental exertion, and rumination. Massaging his temple with his forefinger and his thumb, he wandered down the familiar darkness of his memories of Huola. Charred flesh. Living corpses. A freighter cracked in two–perceived as a sacrifice to the Red God.

Suddenly, a neocom message broke him out of his reverie. The authentication codes were impossible. His eyes widened as the transmission from a Tengu-class strategic cruiser, broadcasting as Explorator, ran through the encryption sequences of the Sakakibara family. Finally, the message loaded.

“Rescue operation underway. Prep for extraction.” – Naomi

It was impossible. She was supposed to be dead. How did she even find him? Questions cluttered and uncluttered his mind as he rushed back to the pod–they would have to wait, he needed to get his ship and therefore his crew, to safety. He ran back into the pod, closing his eyes as his clone re-interfaced with the control mechanisms of the capsule. Subconsciously, he sent a message throughout the ship, “Action stations. Action stations. We’re extracting.”

***

The extraction from Deklein had gone off without a hitch. The Explorator had provided all of the requisite coordinates and had even prepared a safe point for Reginald and his crew in the insertion system. Although still over 80 jumps from Enaluri, the new region was clear of Goonswarm space. The only problem was that it was Period Basis. Blood Raider territory. For now though, the voices and the echoes remained at bay.

He was standing at the entrance to the docking bay, the Explorator having pulled alongside to provide additional supplies. He recognized some of the incoming crew as staff members from the family suspected of being Naomi’s supporters and classified as such by DENT, though they were primarily lower-level grunts.

And then he saw her.

Her face was gaunt, her skin pale, her hair short. And yet she walked with a sense of purpose he would not have expected from a former prisoner. She smiled slightly to him as she boarded his ship. His guards tensed, but as they were literally at her mercy, they did little more than to show that their weapons were readily available.

“Naomi,” Reginald smiled in that practiced way his mother had beaten into him as a child.

“Older brother,” She grinned back.

They stood there awkwardly, neither of them venturing to say anything beyond their initial greetings, let alone move to make an embrace. A number of emotions were pumping through him–confusion, anger, vengeance, gratitude. It was all so disorienting, to the point that he could do little more than stand.

Naomi broke the silence, “Your wife sent me. She was concerned about you.”

Reginald was caught off guard, “Oh. Well…”

“We’re currently negotiating with the local alliance to provide the necessary equipment for your ship to get out in one piece,” She turned back towards the entrance-way, “You would certainly want to take part in the negotiations?”

Still a little unbalanced, Reginald merely nodded, then gave instructions for his crew to power down all systems except life support until his return. He then followed Naomi into the Tengu-class strategic cruiser. He noticed immediately that it was designed entirely for exploration–scanning systems, the ubiquitous Sisters Scanner Probes, and even the high-end Sisters Expanded Probe Launcher. It was also outfitted purely for travel–a covert operations subsystem rendered the ship invisible as it pulled away from the Shalee’s Revenge, the Legion’s lights already dimming. Propulsion was taken care of through an interdiction nullification subsystem. He wondered to himself where Naomi had received the ISK to build such a vessel.

Naomi walked with Reginald to a lounge area, waving off her attendants except for a pair of Achuran bodyguards, who took a respectful distance from the siblings. She indicated tea for Reginald as she took a seat near a coffee table–Reginald took one opposite.

He raised a cup of tea to his lips, eventually forcing himself to say, “Thank you.”

“My pleasure,” Naomi smiled back, “Will you allow me to apprise you of the situation?”

He nodded, looking at her intently–trying to find a motive behind this act of kindness, this obvious manipulation.

“As I’ve said, we have been engaging in negotiations for your safe passage through this region with the local alliance–Drop the Hammer,” She indicated a wide viewport from which one of the local gates could be seen, “They’ve been very helpful in terms of providing market data. Unfortunately, the closest station with a publicly-available Interdiction Nullifier for your Legion is twenty-eight jumps away. At least, in Stain.”

Reginald shuddered at the thought of entering Sansha space. Naomi seemed to sense this, offering reassuringly, “We are going to check a market in another adjacent region. It is looking hopeful.”

He quirked a brow at her, though his nullsec geography was inadequate at best, “What region?”

She looked at him carefully, then provided a holo-projection of the constellation for him, “The system is CX8-6K in the OK-FEM constellation.” She tilted her head, “Are you familiar?”

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He looked at the projection–systems plotted out in dots seemingly so insignificant and yet separated by vast expanses of empty space. They were color coded–the bright lights of Empire space highsec contrasting against the red of null. Lowsec seemed non-existent in comparison. As he analyzed the constellation Naomi showed him, something stirred deep in his spine. Taking another sip of tea, he tried to shake the feeling off, but it clung to him, unwilling to let go. It was not an itch, but rather the sense of something grabbing onto him, latching onto him, coiling and uncoiling. He shifted in his seat, though it did little to abate the sensation.

“It’s a major hub in this area of space. The parts we need will surely be there,” She smiled sanguinely.

Fresh pains suddenly coursed through his cranium like bolts of lightning. He dropped his cup of tea. Despite his implants, he could feel his eyes unfocusing, voices re-congregating inside of his mind. He pressed both of his hands to his head, as if he was trying to hold it together, to keep it from splitting in two.

Naomi smiled, then rose. The two Achuran bodyguards hoisted Reginald onto his feet and despite his best efforts to resist, dragged him towards the viewport. One of them placed his hand firmly beneath Reginald’s chin, forcing him to gaze out into space.

As he struggled against the cacophony growing in his mind, Naomi’s voice cut through as clean and sure as a sharpened knife, “We’re here. Welcome to Blood Reach.”

***

At first, it was hardly visible through the dust particles produced by asteroids and other debris. But as the Tengu-class vessel fell into line on the approach lanes, structures slowly rose out of the obscurity of the haze.

ss+(2015-06-09+at+04.40.08)

His heart skipped a beat as the structures came into focus. He didn’t even notice the Bhaalgorn-class battleships moored to the complex. His eyes suddenly focused completely on the Blood Raider architecture.

“This place guards a holy site. The Pagera Manton,” Naomi’s voice once again cut through the chorus echoing through his mind.

He felt his body begin to relax into the grips of the Achuran bodyguards. His heart rate continued to flutter wildly, the voices slowly beginning to abate the closer the vessel approached. Finally, after the proper clearances were made, the Explorator docked with Blood Reach.

It was awe-inspiring.

ss+(2015-06-09+at+04.57.09)

It was as gorgeous as any similar structure he had seen in the Empire, the bloody patterns offering a grotesque yet stunningly beautiful alternative to orderly gold. Towering above the complex like a vigilant sentry stood Blood Reach’s Central Administration Structure. Somewhere in Reginald’s mind, he cataloged the intriguing observation that even the Blood Raiders saw value in bureaucracy, but that was a thought buried underneath the increasingly melodious symphony in his mind. The pain seemed to all but dissipate as the guards and Naomi led him into the structure–each step leading towards a crescendo of disorienting euphoria.

There were hundreds if not thousands of pilgrims surging to and fro throughout the building. Many wore masks, others their bare faces. It was all so intriguing, so surreal–most of the pilgrims would have fit in on the Amarr Emperor Family Academy trade floor or even at a ball at Knight’s Mercy. They seemed so ordinary, despite the darkness of their visit.

Hallways, elevators and tramways led to various sections of the Blood Reach complex. Something like a Central Terminal stood at the base floor, regular trains of automated maglevs leading to places such as “Bloodsport Stadiums,” “Slave Pens,” “Altars,” and “Cloning Facility.” He could see signs leading to other, more sinister locations, but couldn’t make out the wording. They probably went to places where one could consume the blood of their choice, and for some strange reason, he was not bothered by the thought.

Naomi and the guards led him to an elevator, flanked by two masked men. After exchanging a few hushed whispers, he was loaded onto the elevator. It was made almost entirely of glass, offering a complete and unobstructed view of many proceedings on the main floor. Slave auctions. The sale of blood wine. Sacrifices.

On a massive screen above one of the maglev lines, a camera drone feed zoomed out of one of the Bloodsport Stadiums. Fights to the death. Unlicensed Mind Clash grandmasters. The schedule was spelled out in full as it rotated around the stadium, crowds cheering as their favorites were announced.

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The elevator opened into a chamber already occupied by dozens of what he assumed were high-ranking Sani officials. Most were naked, bodies writhing in the shadowy confines amidst the smell of blood. It was all too much at once. He felt a fresh pair of hands and then a body press against him. He turned his attention to a dark-skinned girl wearing a white ceramic mask, a chalice of red liquid–presumably blood wine–in her hand. Naomi brushed her away, then began to lead Reginald through the intensity before them. He would have fallen to his knees had it not been for the Achuran bodyguards. His brain simply couldn’t keep up with the sensations, the sheer physical, spiritual and psychological inputs entirely overwhelming. Lines of Scripture played through his head–lines about sacrilege and blasphemy–while at the same time verses from childrens’ songs from “Dr. Adad’s Wild Time!” swirled through the sea of sin. He could almost feel something shattering, deep in-grained beliefs at risk of melting away.

Somehow they got him through the chamber and into a quieter room. An altar, covered in the fresh blood of a now-pale human sacrifice was bathed in pale artificial light, casting the rest of the sanctuary in shadow. A hooded figure approached them as the distinctive dripping of blood ran down grooves along the altar and into chalices prepared for the occasion.

“So,” The hooded figure said in a masculine voice, “This is the one who married Michael Tzestu’s sister. Our ‘Hero of Huola.'”

It felt as if an Iteron Mark V had crashed into his head, almost knocking him off of his feet. Reginald could barely keep his eyes open through the constant barrage of everything anathema to what he had grown up with. Sensing this, an Achuran guard simultaneously pulled back on his hair and forced him to his knees so that he was looking up at the figure.

“We have such plans for you, Lord Sakakibara,” The figure said as he wiped his hands of blood, licking remnants off of thin fingers. He knelt down to Reginald’s height and lightly drew a bloody smear across the Righteous Cross medal on his chest.

“Plans for you. Your wife. And your son.”

***

Naomi had somehow secured the parts necessary for Reginald’s escape from null. With a rendezvous scheduled and a location for a drop-off secured, they had made their way back through the whirlwind of blasphemy and heresy. Back on the Explorator, Reginald stood at the viewport, looking back at Blood Reach in the distance. He stood alone, unaided, his back straight in the manner his mother had beaten into him–a posture fit for a Holder.

“Well, Reginald?” Naomi joined him, asking in a familiarly sweet voice, “Will you return?”

The answer flickered briefly in his eyes.

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Breaking

The control room above Veri was bustling with activity as editors, writers and producers clambered to and fro. From the stage below and through all of the lighting, Veri could barely make out their mouths, let alone the subjects of their conversation. It was late–roughly 4:00 A.M. New Eden Standard Time–but crews had been called up and reporters dispatched following a series of rumors and then confirmed reports of a major firefight occurring at a holding facility for high-profile criminals within the Sakakibara Family Holding.

Large monitors off of the set showed raw footage from the station’s news drones. Gunships hovered over the facility, casting searchlights over the grounds as teams of riot police entered the facility to restore order. At least, they looked like riot police.

In reality, the holding facility technically didn’t exist, nor did the riot police or the police gunships. He took a sip of coffee as he continued to wait, mulling over what he knew and what viewers would never know. The facility–masked to look like a detention center–had been constructed specifically for three criminals: Naomi Sakakibara, Alexa de’Crux, and Alexa’s mother, Rebeka Nemzik. The riot police? DENT operatives and auxiliaries eager to take their revenge on the tyrant that had run rampant through the Holding. The gunships? Actually of Pandemic Legion origin, provided for so-called “security purposes” by Lady Katerina Sakakibara.

He sat behind his staged desk, chuckling to himself with a smug smile at what he knew. It paid to be a journalist–and an established one at that–rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty in interviews, cocktail parties, and social gatherings. None of that investigative journalism that fresh recruits into The Scope wanted so badly in order to make a name for themselves. News in the Empire was of an entirely different category. It wasn’t so much that the media was censored, rather, it was careful in what it selected to present to the masses. A delicate balance had to be achieved between informing the populace and ensuring the preservation of their way of life. Casting doubt on the legitimacy of the execution of a tyrant? Unthinkable.

But it was unthinkable because it was not a game open to the masses. It was a game reserved for the incredibly wealthy and those with the divine right to rule, an unspoken agreement among the ruling institutions. And in that sense, the news in the Sakakibara Holding was presented on the basis of an understanding: The understanding that nobles will handle nobles. Everything else would fall into place as long as the proper respect was held regarding the social structure. But shootings, lockdowns, and mobilizations needed to be explained. Of course, it took professionals to explain away explosions and warzone-esque expenditure of bullets and manpower. And that’s why they turned to people like Veri and his bosses–the controllers of the faucets of information.

An indicator light turned red, signalling the crews to make final preparations before the broadcast. Make-up artists applied the last bits of necessary dusting to Veri’s face so that he would be the immaculate image of trustworthy journalism to the people. As the set hushed, he thought to himself, at the end of the day, what harm did it really do to go along with the Sakakibara family’s charade? The people received their just desserts regarding a tyrant and Lord and Lady Sakakibara would go on and live their lives in peace and happiness–a state of affairs that everyone would benefit from.

“Three, two, one,” A crew foreman counted down then pointed to Veri, indicating he was on the air.

Summoning the persona he had created with nearly a century of anchoring for the Holding’s premier news outlet, he began, “We are with you at this late hour to report that Naomi Sakakibara has attempted to escape from lawful custody along with Alexa de’Crux and Doctor Rebeka Nemzik. Holding security forces are already on the scene…”

He knew that as he described the scene, that the audiences, tuning into the broadcast would see an aerial view of the complex. Riot police were still flooding into what appeared to be a loading dock for the facility, while military-grade gunships hovered overhead. Had the three prisoners just been murderers or fraudsters, the mobilization would have likely seemed to be overkill. But Naomi Sakakibara was clever. And Alexa de’Crux was a kameira. Doctor Rebeka Nemzik had been a creche matron for kameiras. DENT had planned and staged this execution in such a manner as to make it look like an escape–they would then claim that the use of deadly force was inevitable. All of that would be explained by a late-night address by Lord Reginald himself. Veri showed no emotion through his presentation, even though he understood entirely that Lord and Lady Sakakibara didn’t just want to kill the three–they wanted them obliterated.

“We now go live to the scene with field reporter Misaja Rura. Misaja?”

“Thank you, Veri,” The scene cut to a reporter separated from the loading dock by a line of traditionally-clothed constables, “It would appear that the gunfire has died off substantially. Only moments ago was the loading dock behind me flickering with rounds of gunfire. Witnesses have reported that it seemed as if the firefight had lasted only for a few brief moments, streams of gunfire broken only by the staccato punctuation of a single-shot followed by anoth–”

“Any updates on casualties?” Veri asked, pulling Misaja away from indicating the second, and most likely, third single shot.

“Right now, Veri, the casualty list is easily in the dozens, though no hard numbers have been reported by police representatives as of yet. In fact, police headquarters seems to be silen–.”

“Excellent. And the status of the escapees?”

Misaja nodded as she listened to Veri’s question through her earpiece, “Veri, details are still unclear regarding the escapees, but we will let you know as soon as we hear anything definitive.”

Of course, however, Misaja’s role was over. She was just there to show that the event really happened and to give some context for the viewers. The feed switched over to a conference room that Veri recognized as sitting squarely within the Sakakibara Estate manor. After several minutes–the bottom of the feed reading that Lord Reginald Sakakibara was about to make an address–Lord Reginald, dressed in full regalia, appeared at a podium. Lady Katerina, wearing an evening gown that complemented her eyes and hair stood with him, holding onto his arm.

“It is with a heavy heart that I offer the following announcement: Naomi Sakakibara is dead…”

OOC Update + Summary

Hello everyone,

I don’t often make these, but I wanted to let you know why writing has fallen off just a bit in recent months. After nearly two years of unemployment (minus odd jobs doing office work for real estate agents, etc.), I am now finally working! Unfortunately, due to the nature of the work and my position, my hours are irregular, which makes it a little difficult to plan out stories like I used to. For example, when I was unemployed, I would spend a lot of time walking, and in walking, I would map out the scenes and interactions I wanted to happen for particular stories–such as the Game Theory arc. At any rate, the hiccups caused by me finding my footing in the realm of employment, has certainly damaged my creative output in Naomi’s story arc. Simply, with the arc having finished in January, it’s taken far too long for me to finally tie it up.

There are other, far more interesting things happening in Regi’s (and now Katerina’s as well) Holding and nearby areas such as Cerra Manor, and I want to write about them.

If I manage to generate enough interest for Naomi’s arc, I will happily complete it in greater detail in some way or another, though the task is daunting in and of itself. Even now, with Alexa de Crux set to return to the Holding to keep Naomi safe from a phantom threat, we are only just barely half-way through the arc.

Therefore, I will provide some short, sweet summary to fill in the chronological ravine that jumping ahead in time will create. But I’m not going to completely drop you off a cliff and just give you bullet points. Stay tuned and find out just how exactly I’ll finish up Naomi’s arc.

Shout-outs once again to my wonderful former alliance mates–Shalee Lianne and Katerina Tzestu. Their support over the last several months has been absolutely invaluable in developing my characters and my voice.

Without further ado, let us return to the writing.

– Regi