The Watch Eternal II

Reginald raised his handkerchief to his mouth as he surveyed the opening that Captain Respedes’ unit had blasted into the canyon-side. The presence of Blood Raider markings had caused some worry in the expedition, considering what had occurred on Huola the year prior. This year, however, it appeared that the rabid dog Omir Sarikusa was busy attacking research facilities. The horrors he inflicted upon the researchers and their families, while atrocities in their own right, provided a sense of guilty relief for those who had watched their cathedrals become sites of bloody massacre.

The chamber that the team had excavated was surprisingly pristine in an area of Lady Lianne’s holding where dust and sand got into everything. More surprising was the fact that there was a gentle breeze flowing through the chamber, keeping it cool. Captain Respedes had already dispatched a team of engineers to search for the power source. In the meantime, the men and women of the expedition were awed by the markings on the wall–murals and depictions of Sani Sabik sacrifice and rituals that appeared to date back to Huola’s original reclaiming.

“We’ll need to scrub it all clean, of course,” Reginald reminded them curtly even as they deployed drones to begin recording the artwork.

He almost caught a flicker of disappointment from one of the archaeologists and made a mental note to have the local inquisitorial authorities check in on the student.

The chamber was circular in shape, the ceiling rising as a dome into the solid rock of the canyon wall. A single shaft of unnatural red light glowed upon a stone altar that was located on an elevated dais at the center of the chamber. Artifacts ranging from chalices, knives, and daggers were laid carefully on the altar along with gold-leafed volumes of Scriptures that were certainly heretical. Reginald mused that if he had been a member of the Jin-Mei constitutional hierarchy instead of an Amarrian noble, these items may very well have been placed into an exhibit owned by the University of Caille. As it stood, however, these would likely be obliterated as well. It did not do to have such heretical devices in an area that could be linked to Lady Lianne Cerra’s ancestors.

He slipped on a pair of latex gloves and picked up one of the texts, skimming through it with mild interest. Unlike the other books, this one was more of a genealogy of cult leaders–an extensive list of names–many if not all of which were likely written in blood, Reginald surmised. It was, perhaps, a Sani Sabik equivalent of the Book of Records. The Cerra family figured prominently throughout the pages, all the way until Shalee Lianne Cerra herself. Some names continued past that, of those, a number he recognized from among the lesser nobles of Cerra Holding. He slid the book carefully into a satchel. Their time to be judged by God would come quickly, swiftly, and if at all possible, silently.

“Are there any signs of recent use?” He turned to Captain Respedes, who was speaking to the forensic team.

Drones and mini-rovers were busy canvassing the chamber, their scans producing a 3-D hologram that the forensic team was busy analyzing. Reginald raised an eyebrow as the mapping seemed to continue into a corridor, with no evidence that the drones were stopping or even slowing down.

“None that we have been able to locate, my lord,” She saluted smartly.

“Where does that lead?” Reginald asked, more of thinking out loud than a question.

“Uncertain, my lord. I’ve dispatched a pair of LAVs to follow the trail above-ground. Once we have additional supplies, I am prepared to lead a team through the corridor.”

Reginald nodded, “If the drones find anything of substance, do that. In the meantime, I am declaring this area of vital Imperial interest. Please have any personnel without sufficient clearance to vacate.”

“It will be done, my lord,” Captain Respedes saluted.

It was interesting how the Imperial hierarchy operated, Reginald thought to himself. At the very top was Empress Catiz I, followed by the royal heirs, they themselves followed by holders of every rank from full regions and constellations down to the tiniest plot of land. Yet, to their subjects, each holder spoke with the full authority of the Empire. And that was how, in a matter of minutes, he had turned what had been a civilian archaeological site into a cordoned military compound in the interests of Imperial security. That was how all of the footage drawn by the archaeological teams as well–as the drones that had recorded them–was confiscated.

It was unlikely that this little discovery would ever reach past the holding or the planet, let alone the system or the full region of the Bleak Lands. And that suited Reginald just fine. As he exited the chamber, his hand resting protectively on the satchel upon which many lesser nobles would be found guilty, he knew that there was no reason to draw any additional attention to the site. In three days time, it would be destroyed along with countless tombs of past kings.A pity for the anthropologists, but it would keep the Cerra name publicly intact. In that way, Lady Shalee Lianne could not have had a more loyal adjutant.