Solemn Farewells

Reginald stared down at his neocom, half-expecting against all hope that there would actually be a reply. He should’ve known better. Aside from the fact he was essentially estranged from his ex-wife Katerina, there was also the little inconvenient fact that she was deployed in the far north, waging war against the Imperium. Even if she had loved him and missed him desperately, she would’ve been precluded from acquiescing to his request. All the same, she could have found time to respond.

He sighed heavily as he swiped his finger across the neocom screen, shutting off the device. He set the miniature communications array onto the seat next to him as he stared at the ceiling, trying to make sense of the mire of impossibilities, with which God had saw fit to inundate him. He clenched his fist for a moment, hoping to draw the dull emptiness inside of him away with the sensation of fingernails digging into skin; the sharp pain was only momentary, hardly enough for his thoughts to be broken–thoughts he wished he would stop concentrating upon.

It had been scarcely a week since he had received a message from his mother, Eliana. It had been curt, if cordial. Buried underneath the traditional circumlocutions that were painted across messages between Amarrian nobility, lay the simple sentence:

“Lady Rebecca’s parents have been found.”

Of course it had been impossible for Reginald to believe. His half-sister, Naomi, had seen to their demises personally. Yet, perhaps she had failed to have been as thorough as she had claimed. Rebecca’s parents had disappeared in Saikamon nearly a year prior, tasked with overseeing the complex of reaction towers that had been providing a steady stream of income for Reginald’s former corporation, Heart of Pyerite. But those towers had been far from secure–likely due to his half-sister eroding the secure infrastructure that had been placed not only by DENT operatives but also by the Sakakibara family.

That was how a number of upstart slaves had overpowered the security personnel even in Reginald’s presence.

But though the story around the towers had been shrouded in half-truths and redacted files, the bodies of Rebecca’s parents had never been recovered. Most had assumed it was because they had been jettisoned through an airlock into the vacuum of the lowsec system.

According to the report that Eliana had included with the message, however, the true story was far more harrowing. Orion and his wife, Avara had managed to elude Naomi’s strike teams before the power throughout their starbase was shut off completely. Although Naomi’s teams had managed to infiltrate and neutralize most of the starbase’s defenses, they were unable to disengage the starbase’s emergency beacon. A passing Sisters of Eve transport answered the distress signal, which Orion and Avara managed to board right under the noses of Naomi’s guards. Their journey had not been an easy one, especially since the transport had passed through the warzone instead of entering the safety of Imperial high security space. Their sojourn through the Bleak Lands, Devoid, Heimatar, and Metropolis was one filled with overcrowded passenger areas, poor living conditions, and a general inability to contact the family for fear of Naomi’s shadows closing in upon them. Instead, they took on the mantle of humanitarian aid workers, providing what relief they could to the civilian victims of the great battles and campaigns of YC116.

When the vessel docked in Saikamon at the end of its yearly circuit, they were greeted by members of Eliana’s personal bodyguard. There, they were informed that while Naomi’s organization had been extensive, it had been dismantled by a combination of efforts by Imperial authorities, DENT operatives, and the efforts of Lord Reginald Sakakibara. Overjoyed, they were welcomed back to Myyhera by Eliana herself.

That, however, had done little to comfort Reginald.

Their shuttle had been hovering around Myyhera IV, awaiting clearance to make an approach. His niece, Rebecca, was fast asleep. Space travel was always hard on children–their still-developing skeletons responded poorly to zero-gravity environments. Even with artificial gravity, Reginald was still overprotective of her. He still thought of her as his own daughter, his ward that he had taken in by Katerina’s request. Although the soon-to-be six year-old would never know it, she reminded him of everything that could have and should have been.

He gently brushed away several strands of hair that had fallen across her face. It had been Katerina who had offered the little girl permanent sanctuary. And they had been a family, hadn’t they? Katerina had joined Rebecca on her riding lessons, he had taught her fencing and art, the three of them had gone on excursions. They had shared laughter and a future of bright possibilities despite the tragedies that had bedecked them all.

And he had ruined it all. How fitting it was for God to take her away.

There was a beep, the captain’s voice resonated over the PA system, and the shuttle began its descent.

***

“That’s far enough, my lord,” The guard said as he raised a palm up to the height of Reginald’s chest.

Reginald stopped abruptly, then looked down at the ground. Drawn across the landing pad was a thick red line. It seemed fresh, as if it had been painted with him in mind. Though there were no signs to indicate anything, he knew what it symbolized. His side of the line was the interstellar zone governed by CONCORD and other intergovernmental entities that provided the laws and regulations to capsuleers and other spacefaring parties. The other side of the line was the Amarr Empire, specifically, his home Holding in Myyhera IV–the Holding that Katerina, during her brief regency, had decreed he was exiled from.

He held Rebecca’s hand tightly as he waited on his side of the line. There was little more he could do except stand as Rebecca’s guardian, while the little girl looked up at him and continually asked him questions as to what was going on. He clutched a teddy bear with her free arm to her chest–a gift bestowed upon her by Literia Khammael. She never left home without it. After all, it was her favorite good luck charm. Reginald smiled at his niece’s innocence, brushing his thumb against the back of her hand reassuringly.

Two lines of guards flanked a carpet, which terminated in a gaggle of nobles, Holding media professionals, and a much smaller number of wealthy commoners. Rebecca regarded them carefully, recognizing many, though she was still uncertain as to why she had been brought to the landing pad. That was when the crowd parted to reveal Orion and Avara, dressed in the colors of a branch family of the Sakakibara noble line. But they could have wore potato sacks–Rebecca let go of her teddy bear and bolted towards them the moment she recognized their faces.

Reginald scarcely had enough time to say good-bye when Rebecca let go of his hand without an afterthought, rushed across the carpet, and leaped into her parents’ waiting arms. Tears streamed down all of their faces–the heartfelt reunion set against a backdrop of politely applauding nobility and camera drones. He was speechless. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He had prepared a speech. He had thought of all of the words he had wanted to tell her, all of the wisdom he had wished to impart, and most of all, his words of love. But what good were words against a father’s embrace? A mother’s kiss?

Reginald felt his lip quiver at the sight of the reunited family. It was the opposite image of his own marriage in myriad ways. Their marriage had been strengthened by trial and tribulation; his had disintegrated. They were now a full family again; his was shattered. They were together; he was alone.

Wrapped in each others’ arms, the three family members began to walk back down the landing pad, turning their backs to the Holder still governed by CONCORD laws. The media and the nobility filed after them, no doubt to some sort of reception that would have put most commoner celebrations to shame. In the end, he was left to stand on the deserted landing pad with the guard who originally kept him from crossing the red line.

“That’s it?” Reginald felt himself ask stupidly. He looked down to the teddy bear that Rebecca had dropped, stooping down to retrieve it.

“It would seem that way, my lord.”

Reginald almost glared at the guard, but he tempered himself, knowing that he had brought the snide comment upon himself for speaking out loud. But anger did little to quell the rising tide of emptiness and loneliness with which he was so familiar. As he dusted off the teddy bear, forgotten by the little girl he had helped to raise for almost a year, his mind began to superimpose images upon the happy family at the end of the carpet. He imagined himself with Katerina and his son Oberyn, each successive step heavier and more exhausting than the last.

Once he was on the shuttle, he collapsed into his seat and reached for his neocom.

He was tired of the feeling. Of the loneliness. Of the emptiness. Of the pain.

He jotted out a short note to the person with whom he had ruined his marriage:

“My Dearest Lady Lianne, 

I wish to take up the offer of the clone in Egghelende. 

Your humble servant, 

Reginald” 

He let the neocom drop to the floor once the message was sent. The screen cracked once it hit the floor. It, like many other things in Regnald’s life, entered into his broken existence. But why did any of that matter now? All he could feel was the shiver of engulfing sadness as the shuttle roared out of the atmosphere and into space.

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Last Words I

My Darling Baby Boy,

By the time you read this letter, you will not remember any of which that I shall recount. You will not remember handling a plush Tormentor or Punisher that your cousin Rebecca gave you as gifts, you will not remember joining her, your mother, and myself for a seaside meal, and you will certainly not remember my attempts to feed you. But in you not remembering, we shall be alike.

These last few months have been difficult for me as I am sure they have been for your mother. Make no mistake. I betrayed her, abused her, and lied to her. I deserve our separation to the fullest extent she has demonstrated. And while, by the time you read this letter, will no doubt share in the anger she has towards me, know first of all that I love you with all of my heart.

It is for this reason that I shall be leaving you and your mother permanently. The man who hurt her, who betrayed her, will cease to exist. And in that same way, so too, will the father who failed you miserably. But though that man prepares himself for oblivion, I pray that you know that his final thoughts will be of you. He wishes beyond all hope to be a family once more, a loving father and a guide to you in the grim world into which you have been born. Even as an infant, you have not been spared the from the ballet of evil and villainy that can consume and corrupt man. Your father is ashamed for what he has done and hopes that one day you might come to forgive him.

In many ways, perhaps it is selfish of him to think of the pain that has characterized his last several months. It is unfair that he should fear your green eyes–your mother’s eyes–staring back at him with hatred, contempt, and loathing. And thus, your father, ever the coward, chooses to run to the abyss.

This message will be sent to your mother for safekeeping and a digital lock will keep it inaccessible until the time you turn sixteen. Included with the letter are a number of letters of introduction to members of the nobility–not the least of whom is your grandmother–who would support your claim to what is rightfully yours. You may find a man who bears your father’s name and likeness occupying the geographical location in Myyhera, but he will not be your father, and once you present him with the documentation, he will be ready to abdicate. Your claim to the family name is stronger than any other living person and I hope that your mother will allow you to seize what is your birthright. My only request is that you provide for your cousin, Rebecca.

I have also included the deeds and titles to bonds within the Holding that will one day become yours, so that if you should want for money, you needn’t worry.

My darling boy, I am sorry that this is all that I can give you. And while I know that my apology will never be enough to fill the chasm I created that divided me from your mother, please know I love you with all of my heart.

Be the man I could not be.

Your father,

Reginald.

 

In Hiding

They had fled to Kamela. Kamela, that fortress of the crusade. Kamela, that home on the border of high security space. Kamela, the last place where he could feel safe with the girl he loved like a daughter.

His time in Triumvirate had come to an abrupt end as agents who had orchestrated the Sani Sabik hijacking of a Fenrir-class freighter that had self-destructed over the Infrastructure Hub in Huola made their way into the alliance. No doubt with the backing of Sahriah Bloodstone. She had always had Sani-Sabik tendencies. But there was no time to dwell on the failed appeals to alliance authorities. Alliance higher-ups wanted more members–it didn’t matter if they were war criminals or not.

That was all in the past. As Reginald surveyed the villa he had managed to acquire at a near moment’s notice, all he could think of was the safety of his niece Rebecca. She had been the victim of too many plots, intrigues, and conspiracies–a bystander too innocent to know that she was indeed a bystander.

The villa itself had been so cheap because the previous owner wanted to leave the world immediately. In the wake of Blood Raider attacks and the constant war raging in the sky, the temperate planets of Kamela were seen as more and more dangerous. Only the daring remained and even their numbers were beginning to dwindle. In their haste, they had left behind many of their heavier and less valuable objects–a painting bolted to the wall, a bust of some distant family relation, perishable chocolates and sweets. At the very least, Rebecca found the latter soothing.

He took in a quick breath of lakeside air before closing the doors behind him. It was too dangerous to keep the doors open for longer than a few minutes a day, just enough to allow the rooms some time for respiration. The furnishings were spartan, though he was taking pains to create a cozier atmosphere for his niece. What she needed most of all was stability.

Huola. Kamela. Myyhera. SAH-AD. Kamela again.

He imagined that his niece was better traveled than ninety percent of the baseliner population. The only space she hadn’t seen was wormhole space and fortunately, not even Reginald was desperate enough to sojourn there for her safety. As he walked through the interior of the villa, admiring the construction that hearkened back to a classical era where rooms and parlors were connected by doorways rather than by hallways, he wondered how different his life would have been if Katerina was still a part of it.

He had fallen in love with her in a heartbeat and had married her almost as quickly. But even the tender memory was tempered by the look in her green eyes, of hatred, of loathing, of despair. He had never meant for anything to go that far but they had. And now here he was, unhappiness brought onto him by his own actions. Resolved to never seeing his son again, he tried to block that part of him out of his thoughts, teetering dangerously on the edge of the familiar spiral of solitary depression. He couldn’t afford to collapse now, for Rebecca’s sake at least.

His named heiress and ward was sitting on a piano bench, touching lightly at the ivory-clad keys of a baby grand. Its sleek black shape, despite its name, dwarfed the little girl, her legs dangling over the edge of the bench, unable to reach the pedals. He smiled to himself softly as she practiced at some sheet music, no doubt left behind by the previous occupants. He sat beside her and placed a gentle kiss on the top of her head.

She looked up at him silently, her eyes partially surprised. He smiled back at her with that smile of reassurance that was neither honest nor sincere. He just wanted her to feel safe.

She broke eye contact with him and returned to the piano, wordlessly reading the music with all of the grace that a five year-old holder-to-be could muster. He watched carefully, nodding at her rubato, mumbling “tempo” when she paused for too long or sped up uncontrollably.

Quiet, tender moments like these were few and far between.

Rebecca continued to play, silently huffing to herself at each one of her uncle’s corrections. She thought that she deserved something more than a lesson for even sitting at the piano, though she supposed that her uncle was saving chocolates and ice cream for afterwards. She tried not to think too hard about what had transpired over the course of the last several months–the whirlwind of confusion and being whisked from one corner of the universe to another.

When she finished the piece, she looked up to her uncle, who unexpectedly embraced her, whispering to her, “I’ll make sure to keep you safe. Always.”

She sighed to herself as she kissed him on the cheek.

She knew, like with all of his promises, that he was lying.

 

 

A Season of Festivals

Rebecca had become far more responsive with Amitel’s presence. Amitel was, of course, Literia Khammael’s half-Ni-Kunni half-Brutor daughter of ten years of age–a girl far wiser than her age would have showed. Perhaps it was that wisdom that caused Rebecca to smile and laugh again or perhaps, more simply, it was that Rebecca had someone nearer her age to distract her from the darkness that had befallen the Sakakibara family a matter of a few weeks prior to the festive season.

It was a gorgeous day on the temperate planet above which Triumvirate had established its capital station in the SAH-AD system. Like many of the major hub systems in null-sec, capsuleer activity drove the local economy. Work teams, technicians, engineers, scientists, and industrialists were all required to support the massive war machine headed by the alliance executor Garst Tyrell. With such a large baseliner population applying for entrance and employment in Triumvirate sovereignty, it was inevitable that a service industry would follow. Although many said services were of a seedier nature designed to appeal to the single, adventurous spirits who saw the fortune working for a capsuleer alliance would afford them, a great number also catered to the growing number of families that grew out of the stability in the Etherium Reach region.

Reginald smiled at his niece as they exited the shuttle that had conveyed them to the planet’s surface, to the system’s second most populous terrestrial settlement. They were bedecked in clothes designed for winter: she wore a brick red overcoat trimmed in white, large buttons that were either for decorative purposes or demonstrative of the ease of use tailored for a child, a pair of mittens to protect her hands from the winter chill, a billowing scarf around her neck, and a fuzzy hat that matched her overcoat and skirt; he wore a light gray coat, a pair of gray leather gloves, as well as a scarf of his own–the rest of his outfit, simply trousers and a corresponding tunic, was made up of neutral colors.

He knelt down and checked the buttons on her overcoat, making sure that they were fastened properly to protect her from the gusty air, “Are you warm enough?” He asked her, patting away wrinkles in her winter attire as if doing so would affect her insulation.

Rebecca gave a distracted nod in reply, “Yes, Uncle Reginald.”

He chuckled, wondering why he even bothered. He nodded, then took her hand, before turning towards the festive decorations of the open-air market of SAH-AD III. Decorations were abound from a multitude of cultures preparing to celebrate their winter holidays–and it was these colorful decorations that had captivated his niece the moment they had exited their shuttle.

As much as Reginald was the elder Holder and nearly twice his niece’s height, she seemed to be the driving force on their meandering stroll through the marketplace, pulling him from one display to another, never growing tired as she asked questions of the vendors, decorators, and sometimes even random passer-by about why that color had been chosen, or what that decoration was for, or how come people celebrated this time of the year so much. For their part, her victims in conversation were more than happy to answer her question, some of them even offering her samples of their decorations for the exorbitant prices they knew they could extract from someone wearing the Triumvirate insignia.

He was content to let her do most of the talking, only interjecting to thank a vendor for a particular offer before moving on. Amidst the bright lights and the simple, melodious songs playing throughout the market, he was distracted by a completely different sight–one that caused everything else to fall to the wayside.

There were three of them. A man, a woman, and a child. He might have been an engineer or a technician, though his hands were concealed beneath a pair of gloves, so it was difficult to ascertain. She smiled and laughed at his jokes and jests, her auburn hair sometimes kicking up with the wind–it was during those moments that she shook her head, trying to tuck the strands into a more manageable configuration. And between them walked a little boy, each of the adults holding one of his hands as he skipped and fell and wobbled, bundled up in a hodgepodge of colors. It didn’t seem to matter to him that he tripped and fell over everything, nor to them, who simply helped him back up. He, like Rebecca, had been mesmerized by the decorations.

The man led the other two over to a stand, letting go of the boy’s hand for a few moments to pay a vendor before providing warm, sweet delicacies wrapped in paper to the other two. It was the first time they stopped holding hands, though they walked to a bench in the middle of the square to enjoy their meal, the boy sandwiched between the other two as they huddled together for warmth against the cold.

They didn’t seem wealthy. Perhaps they were newcomers to the Reach, ready to seek their fortunes supporting the capsuleer empire of Triumvirate. But wealth seemed to be the furthest thing from their minds. They finished their snack, then walked towards the other end of the market, attracted by new sights, smells, and sounds.

Reginald felt something tug at his hand. He looked down, broken out of his reverie by his niece. It was clear from her expression that her most recent conversation had ended an unacceptably long time prior–most likely a minute or two–and she was demanding his attention.

“Yes, dear?” He forced a smile.

She glanced towards the trio–she had seen him gawking at them, he supposed–then looked back up at Reginald, “When will I get to see Auntie Katerina and Cousin Oberyn?”

He felt his smile twitch slightly at the sound of her name, of the woman he had betrayed and failed so miserably. And his son, the boy that had his mother’s eyes. He had held him only once, cradling him gently at the homestead where Lady Lianne’s daughter was kept safe. He remembered his eyes, his smile, before his mind sunk into the reality of what that expression would become: bitter, hateful, spiteful. That’s all that Reginald had to look forward to when his son became old enough to understand, once Katerina thought him old enough to know–old enough to know just what sort of a monster his father was and how he ruined a nascent noble family. And once she told him, Reginald knew he would never see his son smile at him ever again.

For Rebecca’s sake, he forced every ounce of self-control into his demeanor, “I’m certain that when they are ready, they will make sure you are the first to know they’ll be visiting.”

Rebecca nodded. She was clearly unsatisfied at his answer, but easily distracted herself with a fresh set of novelties and trinkets.

He looked back towards the trio, but they were gone. Just like his family, he mused to himself.

 

 

 

House Arrest – A Chain of Letters

Reginald’s mind was still swirling when he heard the sound of the latch being set on the outside of his quarters at Cerra Castle. It had all been an overwhelming ballet of confusion as he was confined to his apartments. He reopened his neocom to glance at the exchange of messages he had received–the warrant for an arrest placed on him by Lord Tigerfish Cerra.

Lord Sakakibara,

This evening I was informed about an incident that took place at Winer Castle last night; an account that was later verified by security footage taken from the security system in the Great hall.

In this video, you were seen not only kissing my wife (against your very word – that you wouldn’t try anything of the sort again), but soon after, that you stabbed her to death with a knife. How can I possibly allow such an insult to stand within our court? You of all people, Reginald; one of our own holders. You know that I allowed you to keep that title following all that happened between you and my wife. Yet how can I possibly allow you to maintain your rank when you’re responsible for not just breaching that boundary, but killing her in cold blood?

Until this matter is resolved, your status of Holder has been revoked. Further, upon your return to Winter Castle, you will be placed under arrest by Templar Vadam, who will confine you to your quarters until such time as I can complete a thorough investigation. I do this with Shalee’s backing. Should your actions be considered malicious, you’ll face criminal prosecution, and the wrath of everyone loyal to Lady Lianne.

I will keep an open mind until I’ve studied the security footage further. Until then, I’d suggest you return to the Castle, unarmed, and place yourself voluntarily into Templar Vadam’s custody.

Yours,
The Lord Tigerfish Cerra.

How could he have done such a thing? Murder Shalee? After everything she had ever done for him? It was insane! Ridiculous. He said as much in his response:

My Lord,

I assure you that I have been fraught with as much confusion regarding the event as you, especially considering that I did not set foot at Winter Castle at all last night–patrols in null sec kept me to my post. How else could I have shared a drink with Lady Lianne a few minutes after the event occurred? Regardless, confident in my innocence as I am, I will turn myself in willingly and without resistance. I further request that I maintain my title for the duration of this investigation, as I have committed no wrongdoing.
Faithfully,
Reginald Sakakibara

And that is exactly what he had done. The guards had set upon him immediately as he stepped through the security cordon, before being hauled off to his quarters like a common criminal.

Lord Sakakibara,

I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt in this case, despite our petty disagreements of recent times. I therefore will extend to you the courtesy of your previous request, and will allow you to maintain your title whilst I conduct this investigation.

Naturally you can understand the difficulty of my position. If I were dealing with mere heresay, I would have little hesitation in declaring your innocence, yet with security footage to the contrary, it makes me question who was truly responsible for killing my wife; If not you, then who?

Nothing would make me happier than to stand in your defense over these allegations, yet at present I have too many unanswered questions, reinforced by a video of you delivering the fatal blow.

I pray you’re truly innocent of these charges, Reginald.

Yours,
Lord Tigerfish Cerra.

And now, here he was, trapped in his own quarters, which, though luxurious, nonetheless felt like a cage. He slumped into a chair near a writing-desk and rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. It was all so tiresome. All the same, he was confident in his alibi. Surely that would exonerate him of all wrongdoing. His thoughts turned to Literia.

My Dearest Literia,

A matter of immense importance has come to my attention. I am being erroneously charged with the assault and murder of Lady Shalee Lianne and have been summoned to stand investigation by Lord Tigerfish. As I am confident in my innocence, I am certain that I will be able to continue my holiday with you and Amitel once the truth of the matter is brought to light. I have an alibi at the time of the alleged murder, serving in nullsec under a Triumvirate banner. Though you may disagree with my decision, I shall be turning myself into Lord Tiger’s custody.

Fear not for me, my love. I trust that God will deliver me from the evils and machinations of lesser men. Once my name is cleared and I am free once more, I shall be in your arms once again.

I love you desperately.

Forever yours,
Reginald

He had done his best to craft the tone in such a way as to be reassuring, though even he thought it was saturated with the sort of the poetic prose more akin to love letters from a bygone era rather than as a quick note assuring someone of his safety. Regardless, she had contacted him almost as soon as he had sent the message via neocom. She was beside herself with worry, begging him not to turn himself, to simply run to the safety of the Republic, where Imperial law wouldn’t have touched him.

But how could he? He was a Holder and an Imperial subject. Even if Imperial law could not reach him, God’s wrath was sure to find a way. A wrath he knew all too well. A wrath that had ended with his divorce and son’s bastardization. A sin on his conscience he would never be able to clean. Besides, to become a fugitive of the law was a crime in itself and he had simply not murdered Shalee Lianne.

He sighed heavily, turning his attention to the darkening light of the window. Snow was falling yet again in this winter retreat of the Cerra Family. He wondered if his interrogators would share his perspective.

And if he wasn’t the one who killed Shalee Lianne Cerra, then who was to blame?

The Fall of Cerra Cathedral

Literia, I should be back in a couple hours. – Regi 

Reginald looked up from his neocom once he had finished typing and glanced around the place he had called home for so long: Cerra Manor. He adjusted his collar for the dozenth time–making the sudden transition from the alpine climate of Cerra Castle to the tropical, coastside residence of Lady Shalee Lianne had proven to be fairly uncomfortable, though fortunately he had managed to find lighter clothing in the largely-abandoned manor house. The house had not been all that was abandoned. The once-lively atmosphere of the Terrace had turned to one of unsettling silence, with laughter and the clinking of glasses replaced by the march of boots and the occasional scream of fighters patrolling the skies above the estate.

He could picture how it had been almost a year ago, though the comparative peacefulness and tranquility reverberated only through broken memories: Dancing with Shalee, sipping tea with Katerina, conversing with inquisitors from the Ministry of Internal Order, entertaining Red, fencing with Rebecca, sketching scenes and portraits of Terrace denizens while enjoying the warm ocean breeze. So much had happened since then–they might as well have been memories from another lifetime.

Lady Lianne had ordered an evacuation of her ancestral home following a series of attacks on her Holding and the wider Bleak Lands region as a whole. First, by Minmatar rebels who were responsible for slaughtering the Searie family. Second, by the so-called “Red Templars” that had brought with them a grudge against Templar Thal Vadam. And now, most recently, the Blood Raider incursion, let loose by Omir Sarikusa himself.

He chose not to dwell on the details, instead turning his attention to the final detachment of soldiers that made up his household guard–the remnants of those that had chosen to follow him into exile rather than live under the yoke of Ahrosseas Clarelam. They were arrayed in battlefield formation, the stoic few that had agreed to stay behind to give Cerra Manor the appearance of normalcy to prevent the Blood Raiders from searching for Lady Lianne’s relocated court. Bolstered by additional defenses from the preceding two attacks, they had turned the manor into a fortress, capable of deflecting a significant Blooder incursion to buy time for Imperial Crusade or Imperial Navy intervention.

All the same, that could only happen if the manor was actually manned. He sighed heavily to himself, then consulted his neocom. It had been two hours since news reached him that Templar Thal Vadam had been shot by a sniper that had managed to bypass Classiarii security forces. With such a major breach at Cerra Castle, Lady Lianne was rightfully distressed. To alleviate those concerns, Reginald had agreed to redeploy the garrison from Cerra Manor to the castle, and in doing so, would leave the manor grounds in the care of security drones.

“We’re ready to depart, my lord,” The captain of the detachment–a young officer named Jatad Ashra–saluted, then indicated the armored personnel vehicles that were idling near the road that would lead back to Lady Lianne’s alpine retreat.

Reginald nodded, then made his way to the vehicles, meandering through the men and women who were finishing loading the personnel carriers with the remaining military equipment. A quartermaster ran a tally of supplies as a last-minute check while a pair of security drones hovered above to provide overwatch, a lieutenant nodding to his questions.

Reginald looked around the convoy, then turned back to the captain, “And Bishop Lawson? The clergy?”

The captain frowned, then tried to respond as professionally as possible, “His Grace, Bishop Lawson, declined Her Ladyship’s invitation to join the other refugees in the Castle district.”

Reginald rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated sigh, “Did they give any reasons?”

The captain shook his head, “None, my lord, except that they wish to continue ministering to refugees from other Holdings. The area around the Cathedral has been converted to a humanitarian aid camp.”

“Of course,” He nods, “Wait here, I’ll be back shortly.”

“My lord?” The captain saluted, then glanced back to the convoy.

Reginald responded without looking over his shoulder, “I’m going to try to reason with them.” Again.

***

There were no more official guards at Cerra Cathedral, all of them having been recalled to the convoys exiting the manor grounds. Still, the makeshift refugee tents in front of the Cathedral were guarded by a number of mechanized security drones. They trained their weapons on him as he made his way down the path. There weren’t many of them, and they certainly weren’t as advanced as the drones associated with the military, really only providing a veneer of safety for the inhabitants of the camp.

He flashed his credentials to the drones, which took several attempts scanning his identification and processing it before they allowed him into the camp proper. The tents were arrayed in a haphazard fashion, though a main corridor had been cordoned off that led to the tall double doors that led into the Cathedral. Numerous luminaria were placed around the walls–the soft glow of their candles illuminating the thin paper bags–each one carrying a prayer for the deceased and abducted in the most recent attacks.

He didn’t have the heart to stand on ceremony to these people: Mothers and fathers who had lost a son or a daughter in the defense of Huola, children who cried for their mothers, family torn asunder in a few short hours before the Navy could stage a response. He soon realized that his mindset was superfluous. None of the broken souls were looking towards him in their quiet prayers and stifled tears.

The glow of the candlelit paper bags provided just enough light for him to reach the entrance of the Cathedral. A midnight Mass was taking place with Bishop Lawson presiding. He wore the full vestments of the church, assisted by priests at the altar while other clergy provided blessings to the small congregation gathered in the few front pews. Soft, ancient hymns wafted through the sacred air, hymns everyone knew by heart, hymns that offered solace even in the darkest of times. He found himself humming along to one, the familiar melody resonating in memories from his childhood.

He found a place to stand by one of the ornate columns depicting the history of the faith, saints and angels engraved upon it, the images following a spiral to the top, where statues of well-known saints stood watch over the pews and stone floor below. Even here, the soft orange glow of candlelight illuminated the ceremony, the bowed heads, the robed clergy.

A final prayer was said by Bishop Lawson before the room quieted.

“Go forth, the Mass has ended.”

The congregation responded, then began to file out back towards the camp. Reginald waited patiently, then reverently approached the altar. It wasn’t customary, but Bishop Lawson himself was handling the task of securing the relics and valuables of the cathedral for safe-keeping, allowing the acolytes to return to their families. The altar was covered in some of the most prized relics of the Cerra Family, including a jewel-encrusted chalice, the four cardinal directions being made of the signet rings of four generations of Cerra nobility. It was said that the bones of a saint that had first brought the faith to the Holding before it was a Holding were housed in the base. As Bishop Lawson polished the chalice, lower-ranked clergy excused themselves and led smaller prayer sessions, while others trained in medical care filed out to tend to the refugees. Lady Lianne would have been proud.

“Your Grace,” Reginald bowed upon reaching the altar.

The cathedral was rife with memories for the Lord Adjutant of Lady Lianne. He had been married at the very altar Bishop Lawson now presided over. He still remembered the night, bittersweet though it was. His bride-to-be, Katerina Tzestu, had been an image of ivory. His then-executor, Lady Shalee Lianne, had also been magnificently arrayed. It had been a quiet ceremony, small, not unlike the one that had just taken place.

“Lord Reginald,” Bishop Lawson looked up from the altar, making a reverent sign as he tucked a relic into a safe case, “Confession is not for another hour.”

Reginald frowned. He couldn’t escape the jabs at his station or his history with Shalee, not even in a house of worship it seemed. He shook his head as he responded, “That’s not why I’ve come, Your Grace.”

“It’s true then?” Bishop Lawson removed his mitre and handed it to an acolyte, “Your men are leaving Cerra Manor?”

“On orders of Her Ladyship,” Reginald nodded, “As you are aware, Cerra Castle was attacked. It is imperative we protect Lady Lianne’s new residence.”

“Of course,” The bishop nodded, his piercing eyes regarding Reginald with not a little contempt, “My answer to you is the same I had for her. We are not leaving. Not when the faithful seek guidance in this dark hour.”

Reginald could feel the seething blame in between the bishop’s words. You are a capsuleer. You are the ones who can protect this planet. Where were you when the Blood Raiders attacked? 

“Your Grace,” Reginald replied, “With all due respect, you made that decision when a sizable military force was present. As it stands, there will be little protection here.”

“Are the drones being deactivated?”

“Well, no, Your Grace.”

“Are the radar systems and early-warning detectors being removed?”

“No, Your Grace.”

“Are the lines of communication being cut?”

“Again, Your Grace, no.”

“Then I see no reason why we should–“

But the Bishop’s sentence was drowned out by a siren. A siren that had been drilled and drilled in the days following the Blood Raider incursion that had struck Kamela, Huola, and Anka. He could see the clergy in the procession freeze and stumble, their heads turning towards one another and the ceiling, as if they could see through solid stone simply because it was an emergency.

He turned to Bishop Lawson, his eyes wide with urgency, “We need to leave.”

Bishop Lawson shook his head, his knuckles turning white as he gripped the chalice, “We simply need to have faith in the Almighty to deliver us.”

Reginald was beginning to lose patience, “The Almighty never intended for us to be sitting around while–“

It was Reginald’s turn to be drowned out, this time by an explosion that rocked the ground. The siren had stopped. Deciding that explosions spoke volumes, he attempted to hail Captain Ashra over his comms link.

“Captain, what is going on out there?”

The sound of frantic screaming and erratic gunfire was the response, a multitude of voices all vying for some sort of effect in the background.

“Hold them here!”

“This is Echo Four requesting immediate air support on this location–“

“Medic!”

He almost threw the comms-link to the ground in frustration as he made his way towards the entrance of the Cathedral. That’s when more screams erupted from the camp.

“Shut the doors!” One of the younger priests yelled, running to the iron doors and beginning to shut them with the help of other clergy.

Reginald was too far to stop them cut off their primary means of escape, or the portal that led to sanctuary for those outside. The staccato gunfire from the security drones echoed through the stone walls and off of the stained glass amidst screams, yells, and pleas for mercy. Fists banged at the doors–the scratches of clawing, wailing. And then silence.

The only sounds within the Cathedral were the tense breathing and muttered prayers of the assembled clergy, who had all begun to congregate towards the altar away from the door. Reginald took the opposite route, twisting and turning his body so as to not collide with them. None questioned his resolve. He was the Holder, after all.

The door burst open seconds later with an explosion that almost unhinged the massive iron constructions. Men and women began pouring through, armed with knives, guns, and who knew what else. Blood Raiders.

“Lord Adjutant Reginald Sakakibara, I presume?” A masked figure stepped forward, wreathed in red and black. A liquid dripped from his garments onto the sacred floors of the Cathedral–a christening in blood.

Reginald swallowed, looking at the figure, “Correct.”

“Good.”

***

Bishop Lawson was last. And Reginald had been made to watch.

The rope was taught, strung from his ankles as he had been for the duration of the executions. They had brought in a large metal tub, scraping it through the center aisle without a hint of ceremony, and had set to work almost immediately. That’s when their chants began, the candles rearranged around the altar as they began their ritual. The acolytes had been first. Then the priests. The nuns–or what was left of them. And now Bishop Lawson.

He had been hanging upside-down above the altar for what seemed like days, though he knew that less than an hour had passed. The bodies of the dead clergy had been put on a macabre display, many of them populating the front pews once they had been drained of blood, carefully propped up to watch the spectacle of bloodletting. Others had been dragged down into the catacombs, to be debased in ways Reginald couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Bishop Lawson was forced onto his knees, before the Blooder that had spoken to Reginald grabbed a tuft of his hair and yanked it over the iron tub. It had overflowed early on, allowing slick crimson pools to coagulate around the altar and pews.

“And unto You, Almighty God, we commit this soul. God is great.”

With that, he drew a slash across the Bishop’s neck before sticking a finger into the incision. He stuck the warm blood into his mouth, then smiled, “Are you sure I cannot tempt you, my lord? It’s warm, though not as sweet as the Mother Superior’s.”

Reginald would have thrown up at the question had he not done so several times beforehand. They had cut his wrists at the beginning of the ritual, but had been sure to keep him conscious. Masters of blood flow as they were.

“Now, my lord,” The figure sloshed through the blood before the altar while his companions took turns drinking blood from the metal tub using the sacred chalice of the Cerra Family, “This just leaves you.”

He had screamed his lungs hoarse with protests. He had begged them to let the clergy go, to trade his life for theirs. But they knew he was a capsuleer as soon as they stripped him naked to humiliate him. And that had been the death of the others. Capsuleers wake up, after all, and, as Reginald learned, his blood was of special significance to the Blood Raider Covenant. Reginald simply looked down towards the altar, his blood splattering into crimson stars on the smooth surface.

“Oh, and I was supposed to give you a message for your little poem on the Intergalactic Summit the other night.”

He leaned in close to Reginald’s head as the Holder slowly died. His breath reeked of blood and gore, “Bloody Omir ran away…

Danse Macabre I

Blood had long-stained the walls of the bedroom that had become the unhallowed tomb for Tara’s parents and siblings. Her mother and father lay upon a canopied bed–they would have been immaculate in their finery had it not been for the fact that their heads had been severed, the sheets now drenched in various shades of crimson. They had been left to rot by the Minmatar rebels, the putrid stench of rotting flesh engulfing anyone and everything in the chamber.

She curled against her binds–chains that had been affixed to the bedposts–as she choked on the air again. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, only that the acrid reek of her dead family and the darkness of the room had become her world. She turned her head weakly to her sister, who had been chained similarly. Her sister’s eyes were milky, the expression empty, much like that of a doll’s. She wore a blue dress bedecked with lace, though a bib of blood had darkened the priceless clothing. They had moved to behead her as well, though they had made jokes about it as they sliced through her neck–that Tara should have at least one family member to converse with. And so they left her sister’s head attached, slightly off-center, allowing blood to encrust around the incision, serving as mortar to keep it in place. Flies had long since found roost in her neck, tiny wriggling maggots feasting on her flesh.

Sometimes, Tara would try to say something to her. But there was never a response from her companion, only the macabre dance of maggots seeking nourishment.

That’s when she heard the sound of fresh voices, though they were muffled from traveling through floorboards and doors. They weren’t the accusatory tones of the Minmatar, which were rich in hatred and contempt, nor were they the faint whispers of shadows at the edges of the room–echoes of her siblings and parents. Rather, they were the sound of two newcomers–one had a full voice, the accent of one that could speak the Amarrian court language. She picked up on it instantly, a male voice, the shrewd and conniving mind hidden behind the polite inflections of the role of a guest. The other was a woman’s voice and though Tara couldn’t quite grasp the reason–she could feel the thin string of a connection to her. Perhaps it was her guarded tone or how it was obvious she was only suffering the noble out of necessity–Tara could always tell when someone sweetened their voice, a necessary skill her parents had told her, otherwise flatterers and sycophants could ruin a Holding. But these new voices gave her an emotion she had not felt since her parents had been brutally executed in front of her: Hope.

A new flicker of courage surged through her as she opened her mouth again, her voice hoarse and barely louder than a whisper, “Help!”

Tara could scarcely recognize her own voice, hope beginning to fade away as quickly as it had reinvigorated her broken mind. She slumped back against the bed, kicking away the metal plate the former slaves had thrown to her several days before. She had consumed what little they had given her with gusto despite the strange taste of the meat.

The door handle then creaked open and a Civire woman appeared through the opening, quickly shutting the door quietly behind her. Tara watched with immense trepidation as the woman gagged on the smell, their watered eyes meeting briefly. The woman raised a finger to her lips after she became acclimated to the stench, indicating for Tara to remain quiet. She shouldn’t have bothered–Tara could barely squeak, let alone scream, her throat dry from lack of water.

“Reginald, are you alone?” The woman asked. Tara recognized it as a communications link, her breathing becoming more rapid as the possibility of escape seemed within her reach.

A voice–the noble’s voice–responded, “Yes, for now. Gotfrik is speaking with several staff members. They might be sent to look for you. Have you found anything?”

Gotfrik. Tara stiffened at the name of the man who had betrayed her family, had left her to rot in a room amidst the unburied dead. He had once been their butler, her brothers and sisters trusting them with secrets and sweets, but in the end, he had been the one who let the rebels into the manor–the one who plunged the knife into her father’s heart.

The woman’s voice wavered slightly, “Reginald, they’ve slaughtered the Amarrian nobles. There is one girl left up here, chained and barely alive. We need to leave.”

The voices in the distant corners of the room suddenly coalesced in Tara’s mind, whispering out a single word in unison.

Run.

The Shattered Pieces

Naomi sat huddled in the corner of her cell. Time–that eternal equalizer of man–had abandoned her. Her cloned body maintained the outward appearance of a half-Achuran, half-Khanid woman, essentially immortal. Her hands were clasped tight to her face, shielding her eyes from the sights, monstrosities, and familiar torments that slithered in and out of her cell. She parted her fingers slightly, cracking them open to catch a glimpse of the scene.

She was still there. Katerina Tzestu Sakakibara. The red-haired Khanid hadn’t moved from her position in the middle of the room, her eyes wild with pulsating hatred, her hair wreathing as if of flame. The Khanid wore an outfit of black, the logo of a legionnaire emblazoned above her right breast. She had a menacing smile plastered on her lips as she brandished a Sani Sabik blade. Naomi dared not to move an inch lest she provoke her again.

Naomi buried her face into her hands once more, whimpering a quiet, “Alexa.”

But Alexa never came. It had been weeks, months, maybe even years since she had last seen the kameira, that woman she had wronged, used, abused, and outright betrayed in her quest for power in the Sakakibara Holding in Myyhera. But now, what had all of that conniving brought her? Emptiness. Pain. Suffering. An eternity trapped in a cell with a torturess.

Her mind turned back to the table Katerina Tzestu Sakakibara had strapped her. The room had been damp, cold, the table itself made of metal and with a cut-out just large enough for Naomi to put her face. She could still feel the plastic feeding tube that the Khanid had shoved down her throat to keep her alive as she sliced away with the knife upon skin made bare. But the knife had only been the prelude to a far worse torture–a device Katerina had obtained from a former boyfriend: a Caldari adept at committing unspeakable acts.

Naomi tried to shut down the memories as they flooded into the forefront of her consciousness. First, Katerina set the device so that she could not fall asleep. Three days of sleep deprivation or three years, it had not mattered as exhaustion consumed her body, mind, and soul. The second trial was the suspension of homeostasis–her core temperature following the controls Katerina had set to the room itself. Hypothermia or an incredible fever–it had all been on the Khanid’s whim. Third was the pain. Excruciating.

Naomi had begged for death.

Naomi could feel hot tears escape onto the palms of her hands, tears that she had only shed before as an act to disarm Alexa. She felt empty without the Brutor woman by her side. For everything that she had done, for everything that she had plotted, for treating Alexa the way that she had, the kameira had forgiven her. She’d give anything to be back in Alexa’s arms once more, cradled gently as she cried her frustrations, her anguish into the safety of that loving embrace.

She parted her fingers once more to find that Katerina had disappeared. She knew that she was there–that she was always there–and that she would return. She rose to her feet unsteadily, glancing at the walls as they began to swirl into familiar hues of white, gray, and light blue. The overhead lights began to flicker against the fluttering of wings as dozens of butterflies descended from the ceiling. One particular specimen hovered lightly until it touched down onto her shoulder, its emerald wings sparkling against the white light of the cell.

Naomi smiled to it, “Where have you been, little one?”

The butterfly didn’t respond, then took flight once again, rejoining the growing flock of butterflies. She sat upon her bed, careful not to disturb the dozen or so caterpillars that called her sheets their home. She often sat for hours watching them–the dazzling display of greens, reds, oranges, browns, and yellows as if it were an autumn afternoon. After carefully moving her sheets off of her bed, she curled upon the mattress, exhaustion rearing itself within her tense muscles. She closed her eyes, drifting to sleep amidst the beating of fluttering wings.

When she awoke, her bed was teetering back and forth, the floor having transformed into a rolling sea of swirling colors. The walls and ceilings rocked in concert, immediately disorienting her. She looked over the side of her bed, clinging for dear life. She knew that she could drown in the rubber-like floor, gasping, choking, clawing to get out of it. Only her bed offered her any solid stability and even that was suspect as the floor pitched and fell.

“I don’t want to drown. I don’t want to drown. I don’t want to drown,” She repeated out loud as she clung to her mattress, swaying back and forth with the rolling floor.

Suddenly her bed bucked and she rolled off of the mattress, cast into the merciless ground below. She fell for hours, preparing herself for the collision, for the terror of sinking into the floor. She said a prayer she didn’t believe. Her final moments turned once again to Alexa de’Crux.

She hit the floor.

Although the floor still swirled with its hues and colors, she did not sink. She had been fortunate, she thought to herself, as she curled into a ball on the ground. The ground must have solidified before she reached it, during the hours it took to fall from her bed, which was two feet off of the ground. That was all it was. Luck.

She wiped beads of sweat from her forehead. She shook her head from side to side, trying to stave off the feeling of vertigo. She clambered onto all fours, then slowly rose to her feet. She took a deep breath, then turned to the center of the room.

Her light blue eyes locked with those of emerald green. Naomi rushed back to the corner and cowered.

Katerina Tzestu Sakakibara.

“Alexa…” She whimpered quietly.