Chrysalis - Book Two - Chapter 10
Niko pulled the cloak tighter around her as she walked towards the Old Palace, and the Tower. The Tower was a short distance away from the reamins of the Old Palace, as if it had once been attached, but the wind attaching the two had fallen away long ago. The dark stone colossus loomed above her menacingly, its battle-blackened exterior a sharp contrast to the polished white libraries and quarters of the New Collegum. The night sky above her was cloudy, obscuring the view of the moons. Niko squared her shoulders. Even if she didn't remember why she'd come, she remembered why she had to confront her doubts. The spells in the book may have been born of Death-Magic, but the entire keep responded to it, and it was her only way in. Speaking a short spell to disable the lock, Niko opened the door, and began to decend the stairs, back down to the Forbidden Chamber. It was completely dark, save the small lantern Niko had brought with her. The steep steps were a good place for one to fall and break their neck. She took the desent slowly and cautiously. An ominous dread and fear started to well up, and tried to overwhelm her. *An alarm,* she thought. *To prevent people from even *wanting* to come this far.* Digging further into herself to go on, she fought the fear and dread, continuing down the seemilgly endless flight of stairs. Then, she realized. *The stairs ARE endless. I've passed this mark on the wall twice!* Niko looked to her side, seeing only a dark descent. *Here goes nothing,* she thought, and jumped. She seemed to fall forever, finally hitting the stone floor with the grace of a cat. Niko smiled as she picked herself off the floor. At least her instincts were working. A faint glow came from the far distance. Walking down another hallway, Niko came to a place where a door glowed with a magical lock. She swallowed, and recited another spell she had found. "By order of Sorceress and Scholar," she concluded it, "I demand you open." The door remained closed. Niko was just about to turn away, when the door started to glow dimly, and open silently. Exhaling with relief, Niko walked inside. The room was as tall as the High Chamber of the Temple, supported by columns of black marble, and a high, domed ceiling. Stumbling a bit as her eyes adjusted to the dark, Niko found two small oil lamps. Using an old-fashioned tinder box, Niko lit the two lamps, and gasped at what their dim light revealed. Ritual artifacts, rich tapestries, artwork with magical charge, bookshelves with leather-bound tomes and silk scrolls. And, in between the lamps, Niko saw a stand with a large, heavy book, and a short, gold-edged sword. Everything in this room felt evil. Niko picked up the blade, and felt its weight. It was light, but sturdy - a weapon designed for a woman's hand. She pulled open the book. It was a chronology in some ancient language she couldn't really understand. She could puzzle out a few words, though, and started to try and read the rest. It told the story of some sort of battle, and of Jesset. Niko read, but found herself frustrated by what she still failed to translate. Keeping at it, she was able to translate a few sections.
**The most powerful of Jesset's spells was the ability to pull Life-energy and imprison it in a Death-magic artifact. Jesset found the crystals to be a more effective form of harnessing life-energy than that of the blood-sacrifice...* Life energy? Crystal?
**At all costs, this must be stopped from happening again. The Artifacts must be entombed or destroyed, and protected above ALL OTHER laws of our planet. If another with the same powers were to emerge...dangerous...*
*Dangerous* recalled Niko. Yes, D'Len thought she was dangerous. It was clear now. Niko's hand curled around the blade. Midway through the heavy book, she heard the sound of a door being shut. Niko turned around to face Mistress D'Len. "D'Len," Niko said, coming closer. "What is this place?" "You aren't supposed to be here, Niko," D'Len said. Niko kept her hand on the sword. "You didn't want me to know about this chamber. You also wanted to keep me from restoring my Gifts." "You weren't supposed to ever use magic again," D'Len said, stunned. "Your shields...to use your Gift would only damage you now. Later on, after you've healed..." "After I'm unable to summon them again, you mean," she said. "D'Len, I know why you want me under control, and I know why you've kept me from Ariel." She pulled out the sacrificial blade, let the old sorceress get a good look at it, and then held it to D'Len's throat. "I know this world's dirty little secret. This blade belonged to the Jesset the Exile. She's the one who attacked me - the one who imprisons souls in crystal," Niko said. D'Len didn't move, despite the knife just barely touching her carotid artery. "Yes, Jesset Dal'Kest is the one you call the Queen of the Crowns. Her full title is, by the way, Queen Jesset, Student of Kest, holder of the Crowns of Xanadau. You've done well, Niko Dal'Ariel, but all you've done is endanger yourself further." "How so?" She wasn't about to move, either. It wasn't like she would murder D'Len, but she wanted answers, and wasn't going to back down unless she recieved some. "How much have you read of Jesset Dal'Kest's writings?" Niko quietly recited the three basic thesises of Jesset's writing. "The weak are destined to be ruled by the strong, and the strong are destined to rule the weak. The powerless are incapable of shaping their own destiny, and must have their fate shaped by the powerful," Niko took a deep breath. "And the superior gain their power from the life-force and labor of the inferior." There was a long pause before D'Len's expression changed. She turned and sat on a pile of cushions. Niko sat across from the ancient mage, hand still curled around the antique weapon. "Tell me, D'Len," Niko ordered. "What happened?" D'Len closed her eyes. Magic didn't work in this chamber, so there was only the dim light of the two small oil lamps Niko had lit, and those were hard on her old eyes. D'Len explained, "Jesset was once the most gifted sorceress on Xanadau. She was also a brilliant scholar. Indeed, she was the very finest this world could produce. Her people were the species who once ruled this planet. As they were wealthy and prosperous, they had achieved technological prowress as well, and started to find and foster children of other species and other worlds to raise in their manner." "So Jesset was a Teacher." "Indeed, she held the powers of a Master. Of course, there were those among her people with more wisdom, and they were able to reign in Jesset. For you see, part of the reason she was such a great scholar and mage was due to her greed. She was obsessed with power and knowledge, and passed on the obsession to her students. In many ways, she was admirable." Niko was stunned. She had never expected her attacker to be referred to with this much reverence. "Jesset's obsession grew so slowly that no one noticed until it was too late. She started researching into ancient traditions - Dark Magic traditions. She secretly started to write her masterpiece - the Book we have sealed up here." "And the knife was used for blood-magic?" "Blood magic, and Death magic," D'Len admitted shamefully. "She had gathered around her a small circle of Dark Mages, and started to gain too much power. She also started to augment her magic with technology, enhancing her own Gifts through machines, controlling energy through weapons. She was powerful and charasmatic as a soldier as well. I was once her student, D'Len Dal'Jesset." Niko couldn't suppress the gasp that escaped her throat. "Jesset had gathered her forces, and started to wage war against her enemies. Her intent was conquest. Once she had Xanadau, she could easily take the entire Galaxy. Many...many good sorcerers, and virtually all of her people, died out in the conflict. I was young, and still able to be saved. As a form of self-punishment, I stay here in the Old Palace, and guard my former mentor's works so that no one else can put them to use. When I die, Lannon will take my place." "But Jesset was defeated?" "Only by luck, and a few overconfident mistakes on her part. The victors punished her by exile. She and her followers were put on a single ship. Her books, ritual artifacts, and wealth were confiscated. But it was too late. Her civilization was gone, and only a few Scholars and Mages remained." "And formed the Circle of Thought," Niko realized. "I had never known. Every student is taught that this world was colonized by the Circle. It's a lie." "No," D'Len answered. "It is the truth, at least from a certain point of view, as are many of our Truths." Niko's brow furrowed, and her eyes narrowed, but she was prepared to wait D'Len out. "This world was devestated, sick, and dying. The Circle used their magic to restore it." D'Len opened her eyes, and added seriously, "And to hide it. We knew that if Jesset, or another like her, found this place, all that we had worked for would be destroyed." "A reason not to allow outsiders in," Niko muttered. "And the reason that you wanted to render me harmless." "You are powerful, Niko. Even as a small child, I knew that you had a great Talent, both as a Mage, and as a Scholar. I feared the worst for you. You could easily become another Jesset. Ariel also knew this, which was one reason why she hasn't taken on other pupils." "My implant," she realized. "Technology enhancing my Mage-Gift. I never understood..." "Not just the implant, Adept Niko, but your willingness to go off to fight battles. I saw in you what we saw in Jesset. If you turned to Evil, this entire world would be in danger." Niko never took her eyes from D'Len. "You know that I can't stay here. There has to be a way for me to handle my Gifts, and not lose my mind." "There is," said D'Len, "But it is very powerful, and very risky." Niko stood, and stared down at D'Len. "Then tell me about it." "In the Vault of Change, located above us, there is a secret Chamber. In there, lies a powerful shard from a metor that crashed into Xanadau ten thousand generations ago. We call it Chrysalis." "Chrysalis?" "To accept the light of Chrysalis," warned D'Len, "Is to accept the possibility of total change. It can heal you - or it can destroy you. Any way the ritual of Chrysalis is performed, you will not emerge the same." "How will I be different?" Niko asked. "No one can say," said D'Len. "But you will change in ways you never dreamed of or expected. You may even lose the very memories you seek to regain. You could very likely lose your life." "If the ritual is successful?" "Then your Gifts will fully awaken, and your mind will be healed." Niko looked down at the blade still in her fingers. "If it is the only possibility to re-integrate myself, Mistress, then I'll take the risk." Her lips curled into a wry smile. "I seem to recall an old saying - 'no guts, no glory."
Walsh looked down at them. Most of the pilots, technicians, engineers, and crew were hardly older than children. Fresh young faces. Would they live a full life? How many of them would die quickly, in battle? How many more would wither in a Psychocrystal? "I have only a few words," he said. "As I hate speeeches." A few titters of laughter down on the flight deck. "As you know, I was one of the first people to ever be commissioned as a Galaxy Ranger. I have spend a lifetime serving my planet, and later, the League of Planets. Today, our beloved League, and for the humans I see here, our species, is threatened by an alien evil." He continued, his eyes fixing on the variety of blue and white Ranger uniforms in the crowd. "You have all taken an oath to protect and serve this League, and tomorrow you will. Many of you will not return, but you will be remembered. The battle we face will determine the fate of billions of people. Kiwi and Andorian, as well as human. When you take to your posts, remember this. You're fighting for your parents, your friends, your lovers, your spouces - even your children, born and yet-to-be-born." Walsh could hear the almost-inaudible whine of Nagata's repulsorlift unit next to him. It was very comfortable to have his old friend nearby at a time like this. "There was an old saying on Earth that I heard as a cadet. It was the motto of the Texas Rangers, who you could call the ancestors of our Galaxy Rangers - 'A small man can whip a big man if the small man is in the right and keeps a'comming.' We're fighting for the innocent, and maybe if we keep a'comming, we won't prove those old Rangers wrong." A thunderous applause went up from the crowd as Walsh stepped down from the podium. He silently went off down the corridor.
Commander Joseph Walsh toured the flight decks of the *Babylon,* as was the tradition - the captain touring the ship one final time before a hopeless battle, taking in every detail because he'd never see it again. It was going to be a slaughter tomorrow when they arrived, and he'd already resigned himself to it. Even worse, Walsh couldn't shake the chilling feeling he got listening to Zachary's final, eerie message. *Might have been better if he died,* Walsh thought *It would be better for them if all four died.* he thought. Walsh looked through the porthole, out to the streaking stars. He wondered what they were going to find when they reached the Queen's Graveyard. There would be an armada waiting for them, but it was either strike now, or lose everything. By the time the Queen got any kind of footing, they would be too decimated to fight back. The only hope now was this suicide run. Kill them before they killed you. Walsh winced. The last time he heard those words spoken was back at Wolf Den. It was the particularly brutal mentality of many of his Supertroopers. Ryker Killbane in particular had embraced it wholeheartedly. A few others, including Shane Gooseman, had come to question it. How ironic that the Supertroopers were to be feared and hunted because they brazenly stated and embraced the very philosophy that stood the last, best hope of saving the League. *I know this will be a defeat, but will it be a slaughter?* he thought sadly. BETA had rallied as many forces as they could, but the Queen had the defensive advantage. That cryptic message he'd recieved from Captain Foxx was definitely fueling his visions of BETA crumbling, and humans being marched into the Psychocrypt by the millions. He could still see the chilling look on Zachary's face every time he closed his eyes, and the voice was burned into his memory. *Goose and Doc are Slaverlords...Niko has been killed...I saw her die. The Queen is keeping me alive for reasons I do not know. She is planning to invade. She has eighteen battlecruisers at least...Do not attempt to rescue me...and tell my children that I love them.* Zachary had sent the message under the code "Black Arrow" - Abandon all hope for rescue and consider the mission a complete failure. Just how much time was left for humanity, Walsh wondered. The *Babylon* alone had thousand men and women from every planet in the League joining him on this. There were ten battleships, a few dozen light cruisers, and assorted smaller vessels - over eighteen thousand troops. He would know their fates all too soon... It took him a few moments, but he realized that he was letting his fears get ahead of him. *Stop this,* he told himself. *You don't know what's going to happen. For all you know, the message from Captain Foxx *could* have been faked.* He took a deep breath. And heard the small whine of a repulsor unit come up behind him. "Joseph?" asked a synthesyzed voice. He didn't turn around, knowing who it was. "Owen," Walsh asked his old friend. "Have we come so far, only to lose everything now?" "That, I cannot say," Nagata replied. Walsh somewhat missed the faint German accent Nagata had before the "incedent" at Wolf Den that left the old scientist's body beyond repair. It would have been somewhat more comfortable to be talking to a human right now. Still, beggars couldn't be choosers, especially not now. Walsh shook his head and wondered aloud. "What the hell are we walking into?" "You are doing the only thing you can," Nagata said. "I do not think that you are being foolish. Based on the information we have, a pre-emptive strike that does heavy damage to Crown Forces would buy the League some time." "Some time," Walsh said. "Could mean two decades or two days." "Two days for humanity are better than none." "We have no intellegence of the area, of her defenses, or her strength. The advantage the League has on the Queen is in the speed of our hyperdrives. We can outrun her, but for how long? Plus the fact that the Queen knows whatever our Rangers know by now." Walsh sighed. "It would have been easier if they were dead, Owen." "Yes," Nagata agreed. "It would have, but life's not easy, Joesph. It never was, nor will it ever be." "There are some days, Owen, where I almost agree with that xenophobic, idiot senator. He always said that we'd get into a mess like this someday. He'll go the Psychocrypt with a smug grin on his face, I'll bet." "Joseph," warned Nagata. "We can only hope for the best. The best case scenerio here is we can devestate her forces." Walsh suddenly smiled recalling a conversation in his office, "Waldo once said something very true about Wheiner, and I have to agree with him." "And what was that?" asked Nagata, the synthesyzer conveying a bit of the old German's humor. "It was about MindNet. When I explained that the device could possibly control intellegent life, Waldo said something about it being fortunate that Senator Wheiner would be safe." The colors inside Nagata's brain globe flashed a rainbow of colors for a moment. It was his way of laughing.Walsh chuckled, his mood lightened for the moment. Walsh sobered, his face bacame serious again, but not as grim looking as it had been before. Maybe it won't be a total loss," Walsh commented wryly. "I'm almost tempted to give Wheiner to the Queen just to get rid of him." "I would pity the Queen," Nagata said dryly. "But, no doubt he would be even more of an annoyance as a Slaverlord. We must hope that it does not occur." Walsh shook his head. "You're right, Owen. We have to keep hoping. Even if this battle doesn't go well." "It is hope, perhaps more so than gunships and hyperdrives, which has kept humans alive so long in this universe." Walsh turned around. "Thank you, old friend. I forget that sometimes." "You are not facing this alone, Joseph." Walsh said nothing, but nodded. No, he had over a thousand men and women facing this horror with him, and that was just on the *Babylon.* And somewhere, out in the unknown, were four Rangers - two hopefully dead, two as good as dead. Walsh could only pray for everyone under his command. And as soon as Nagata whizzed away, leaving him alone, pray he did.
- Chrysalis - Book One: Trial By Fire
- Chrysalis - Book Two