Doomsayer

 

Synopsis

Brokk was the chosen one. His golden skin proved it. The dead had accepted his sacrifice. He should have had a great victory. But he lost.

Brokk, commander of the now defeated 9th Jark Space Fleet, desires more than just his exile to end. Betrayed by his own people, Brokk sets his heart on revenge and makes it his aim to rule the entire Jark Empire. With his Armada refit, the religion of his fathers destroyed, and a powerful new priestess by his side, Brokk launches an attack against the place he once called home.

Despite Brokk’s plans, his enemy has his own intentions for the galaxy and his own desire for revenge. The war against Brokk has left Cale’s home in shambles, his father missing, and the love of his life in grave danger. As conflict descends on the Jark Empire, a fog of war masks the plans of the remaining species in the galaxy and a battle for positioning begins.

 

 


 

BEFORE THE JUMP

 

 

Sun-scorched clouds streaked a crimson sky. Night was falling, and with it, a blanket of sulfur-infused dew coated and chilled the inhabitants of the valley.

Jark, the planet of a thousand volcanoes, had finally started to cool for the wintertime. With the season of ash behind them and the monsoons ahead, Jaki’el enjoyed the crispness of the air now more than ever before. Still, he felt under-dressed for the sudden cold that pushed past his priestly red robes and through his summer fur.

“Bring her up,” said Jaki’el. “We haven’t any time to spare.” He was tall and slender. Patches of gray intertwined with thick black hair that covered most of his body and showed his age. Unlike many of the younger male Jarks, Jaki’el preferred to remain on all fours. He thought it felt more natural and was more honorable to the Jark way. The newer generation had forgotten this. He had not. Perhaps, he told himself, they would remember one day soon.

Jaki’el’s back curved forward as he looked behind him. “Hurry now, bring her up,” he hissed once more.

Elongated shadows stretched across the volcanic landscape like harbingers for an omen not yet revealed. There were those who searched for a sign. Jaki’el did not. His fate was certain and his future sealed.

Shadows shrunk as two Jark males huffed quickly up the darkened cliff, their figures a mere mirage against the crimson landscape beyond. Their journey neared an end. They were close now, he could feel it, but their sacrifice had fought them every step of the way.

“Move it,” grunted one of his helpers, shoving a wooden walking stick into the back of their sacrifice.

She yelped in pain and snapped her teeth at the stick but continued to move upwards. Was it fear that caused her to react in such a way or was she willingly rejecting her people? Jaki’el wondered.

“Don’t bruise our sacrifice,” Jaki’el bellowed at his helpers. “My child,” he said, eyeing the girl and rising off his hands to stand above her on two feet, “there is nothing to fear. Why do you fight us so?”

The young female stopped. Her handlers didn’t drive her forward. Instead, they waited impatiently to hear a response as if it would provide vindication for their extra work along the journey. Her eyes were a fiery orange and her fangs a bright white. Her hips curved outward and supported muscular legs. She would have been a terrific specimen for breeding had she not been so beautiful, Jaki’el thought. But the best is for the Gods.

“Do not act like you don’t know why I resist you,” she jeered.

She flexed her voice to mask her fear, but Jaki’el sensed it. “My dear, your parents have given you to the gods. It is not you or even me who can intercede now. Do you forget all that you’ve learned? Do you forget the danger in avoiding this glorious fate?”

She dropped her eyes to the ground. No. She hadn’t forgotten. It was merely fear of the unknown, he surmised.

“Only because you gave them no choice,” she finally grumbled.

He smiled at her, showing yellow fangs through parsed lips. “My dear,” he whispered, “none of us have a choice in this but you will make all of us better for what you go to do.”

She glanced up just long enough to search his face before returning to the ground. “What will it be like?” she asked.

“You won’t feel a thing,” Jaki’el assured her, placing a hand on her shoulder and allowing it to linger longer than was necessary. He took a certain pleasure from it but that too would be for the gods. “We must move,” he quickly asserted. “Only a few more steps is all. Hurry.”

The band of four continued their march along the rocky ridge, stopping only to catch their breath before scurrying along the narrow trail. A red moon rose high above them before Jaki’el finally spotted the offering field. A silver lake shone red in the distance. The blood moon danced brilliantly off the liquid mercury within. Fog rolled down from the higher hills as if all of nature had gathered together for this glorious sacrifice. Tonight was the night.

The girl stopped when she saw it. Her knees trembled. “Don’t let her fall,” Jaki’el hissed at his companions. “We must let nothing harm her here. She has to be without blemish.”

“I can’t,” she muttered. Her arms shook as the larger Jarks grabbed her. Her face turned from red to ashen gray. Her lips trembled but she would not cry. No, the Jarks were too tough for that. Jaki’el felt pride surge within him.

“You must continue,” he hissed. “They’ve seen us now. The lake has sensed our warmth. You must.”

The rest of the walk was silent except for the dragging of his sacrifice’s toes against the ground below. She had gone limp, and he did not blame her. Many sacrifices failed before this final step. None were saved.

At the bank, he paused once more. Silver mercury swirled and bubbled in the lake just beyond his feet. The ground was soft and moist. The girl shuddered behind him. She knew her time was coming to an end. Jaki’el shifted his weight back onto his hind legs and felt his belt with his hands. The knife was still there. Its blade jagged and cold.

On two legs he turned, pulling the knife from his belt and holding it high in his hand. “Bring her down to the shore,” he ordered.

She squirmed but dared not cry out. No. Here even the soon to be dead dared not awaken all the creatures that lay in the lake. Her sacrifice had to be good, even she knew that.

Her handlers grunted and tugged her to the shore. Six figures now emerged from the shadowy cliffs beyond. They, like Jaki’el, wore robes, but unlike his white ones that signified his sect, these men wore robes of gold. They were priests of the highest order.

They hummed as they emerged. It was a familiar tune. The beat of invisible drums matched their footsteps and pushed the ceremony onward.

Few knew the words of the song they sang, but its effect permeated the ignorant just the same. His sacrifice stopped her struggling, she was calm. Her knees were now submerged in the silvery slime, and like a mirror, the mercury reflected her face onto the moon above. The timing was perfect. The night was ordained.

Fingers rose to the surface of the lake. Slime-covered fingers soon became hands and pulled on the girl as she submitted herself to them. The priests chanted louder. Bubbles formed out of the deep. Her handlers escaped to higher ground. The surface boiled. Jaki’el stepped towards her, blade high above his head.

She closed her eyes and let out the faintest whimper before he drove the blade deep into her neck.

Jaki’el turned before her body hit the silver pool. He didn’t need to see what would happen next. Suddenly, the priests were silent. Their shadows danced between the rocks from whence they came. He was alone.

They had accepted his sacrifice. The future of the Jark Empire was secure.

 

***

 

“I didn’t think you were going to show up.”

Gemini smiled and took a seat next to his favorite councilwoman. She was tall and slender for a Mateen, and her light gray skin complimented her muscular physique. Long black hair fell against her shoulders and down her back. Dark eyes that drifted from his face to his torso and back to the speaker of the convention were thoughtful and precise. He had loved her once. Maybe he still did. But those were thoughts for another time, another world perhaps.

“You could say I’m curious,” he smirked, sinking into the deep cream-colored chair, built for comfort, long meetings, and even some dozing. “Besides, I thought I should say goodbye before I head to Rodam.”

He was taller than her by two feet. His gray and black robe with gold shoulder boards across the front was reserved for space fleet commanders. It was an impressive title and would have caused anyone other than Noura to shrink down in inferiority. Not Noura though, she had known him too long and could respect Gemini only as much as a brother, perhaps even a little brother.

Noura returned her eyes to his and locked his stare with her own. Her eyes flickered gold as she tried to read his thoughts. He wouldn’t let her in though, not this time. His thoughts were a mystery even to him, no need to confuse the matter.

“You continue to frustrate me, Gemini,” she said at last. “But I’m glad you came to say goodbye. I know how important your yearly trips to Rodam are. I know what they mean to your fleet.”

They are important, he thought to her but was again overcome with a flurry of emotions. The desire to stay, to leave the fleet behind. To avoid another three years hunting smugglers and preventing real enemies from breaching their defenses. If there are any real enemies left. He smiled at her again and turned his attention to the old man at the front. He had dark gray skin wrinkled from age and weathered by the sun. Thick glasses complimenting an even thicker brow concealed a big brain. Bigger than his anyway. Their chief scientist asked to address the Galactic Order on implications of the merge. That’s what they called it anyway. Two galaxies on a crash course. What would happen was anyone’s guess, and there were plenty of guesses.

He was large in stature, but he was dwarfed by the size of the stage. Light wood cibron floors native to Hestos complimented bright white walls. Lights as powerful as ship engines illuminated the stage and beamed into the old scientist’s eyes. The real focus, however, was in front of him. Blue and green, the colors of a hologram swirled in front, forming the shapes of two spiral galaxies that hovered in mid-air above the stage. One was clearly theirs and had planets, star systems, and homeworlds highlighted within the image. The other galaxy was dark. A mystery to everyone who examined it. Gemini was relieved as the hologram showed the collision of the two galaxies over and over again. Mateen was safely nestled in its star system on the far end. At least this current model showed it was safe. Who knew how things would change when the merge got closer.

“It’s hard to tell,” the man was saying. “No one has ever been able to travel outside our galaxy because of the sheer power of the forces at play. Magnetism, gravity, dark energy, dark matter, radiation. This list goes on. There is, after all, a reason that galaxies stick together.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said a fat Hestonian man wearing a flowing white cape over a black suit. “We know all that. What I’m asking is, what will happen during the merge? Do those qualities disappear, making it possible to explore the new galaxy?”

The doctor was perplexed. Gemini shot Noura a look. She returned it and leaned in. “The order is concerned about a cataclysmic event, and all this councilman can do is think about exploiting the next galaxy over. He should keep his mouth shut,” she hissed.

“He’s asking the same question I have,” Gemini responded with a patient rebuke. “But while he wants to exploit the galaxy, my fear is that something on the other side is waiting to exploit us.”

Noura placed her hand on his leg and patted it. “There is the one I’ve come to adore,” she said smiling. “Always concerned about the future before the present has had a chance to run its course.”

He grunted but chose not to respond. People who hadn’t experienced war rarely possessed the paranoia that Gemini and others like him felt. He couldn’t fault her for it, only constantly remind her that threats existed beyond the ones they could see with their eyes.

“We cannot say,” the scientist continued. “It is impossible to see beyond our galaxy with any clarity. We don’t know yet whether the gravity fields will merge and open a transitway or whether the two black holes at the center will simply tear everything apart.”

The scientist pushed a button on a remote and suddenly the galaxies disappeared, showing a small research craft flying through a wormhole in the holographic space. “This,” he said pointing at the vessel, “was a robotic exploration craft we sent a few weeks ago. Some of us suspected we could make some alterations to our wormhole engines to allow it to cross the void and gain some real, tangible observations of the galaxy.”

Gemini watched expectantly as the video played. As soon as the craft entered intergalactic space the wormhole collapsed, and the ship imploded. The hologram returned to the image of the two galaxies, each spinning clockwise as they raced towards each other at incomprehensible speeds. “I show this video to highlight the difficulty we’ve had in exploring this event.”

The Hestonian crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. Gemini sensed he was frustrated but couldn’t understand why. Couldn’t he see that the Galactic Order was doing its best to research the event? A second Hestonian, the man’s partner, answered Gemini’s question.

“Then why are we even here?” the Hestonian protested. He was slender with blond hair and wore the traditional white robe many governing members from Hestos wore when they conducted official business. “This meeting was supposed to provide answers. Has the Galactic Order determined anything about this event at all?”

If the scientist could blush, he would have. Instead, he cleared his throat and leaned his heavy gray hands on the podium. There was a thick silence in the room, broken only by a smothered cough from a member of the audience. A lesser species would have pushed the question off to the ruling council seated in the first row. After all, these were the leaders who composed the council and made decisions. The Mateen scientist was merely an expert witness, a messenger paid to conduct research and explain where he was in the scientific process. To be angry with the scientist was foolishness, but this was not a lesser species. He was a Mateen. Before he opened his mouth, Gemini swelled with pride for the member of his own species.

“I can tell you this,” he said, at last, pointing to the rotating hologram on the stage in front of him. “Every world must be prepared for the worst. This event will be upon us in ten galactic years. There is the possibility that the merge will cause such a gravitational distortion that the two galaxies will eject entire star systems from orbit and send them into the cold void of space alone. If that occurs, I implore the Galactic Order to be ready to receive billions of refugees and to evacuate the affected systems. This will cost money. As members of the order, my plea is that all systems contribute.

“It is also possible that nothing will happen, that our galaxies will simply merge, and a bridge will be opened. I suspect,” he said, clearing his throat, “we will get a combination of both. The nearest planets and stars will collide, and the gravitational disturbance will eject the weaker systems, but we are lucky that our current galactic rotation saves all of the inhabited planets during that collision. The closest species, the Jarks, are still hundreds of light years from the merge event. Following the merge, a bridge will be opened, and we should rely on the order to help control the competing systems that are vying for positions to explore the new galaxy.”

He paused to survey the crowd, then pulled his glasses down from his face and set them on the podium. “I would caution all of you to consider one last thing. We don’t know who or what is on the other side, eager to pour into our galaxy as well.”

The Mateen scientist left the stage to a silent crowd and was replaced by the President of the Galactic Council, head of the Galactic Order. He was a tall, handsome Hestonian. He wore a golden crown to signify his position, and with him, he carried the book of the laws the council swore by. He was a patient man and remained silent to allow the scientist to leave the stage before opening the floor for questions.

Gemini looked at Noura and smiled. “I am relying on you to make sure our fleets are well funded. As he said, nobody knows what will happen or who is on the other side. They might be even more advanced than we are.”

She sighed. He suspected she wanted to say more than she did, but that too was for a different time, an earlier, less complicated time. A time when he wasn’t a fleet commander, and she wasn’t busy as a councilwoman to the order. “I will always advocate for the fleet,” she responded. “Worry about nothing while you are away. The collective has always supported your cause.”

Gemini rose to his feet and pulled Noura to hers, giving her a hug. “I’ll see you in a few years,” he said, backing away from her.

“What?” she responded with a wink. “You don’t plan to stay for the discussion? Your Hestonian friends will surely have more to say on the subject.

Gemini chuckled as he backpedaled towards the exit. “What do we pay you for if I have to stay?”

Noura laughed. “That was a cheap shot,” she complained. “You know you really just pay me to wine and dine out here with diplomats.”

Gemini smiled warmly. “There is one more thing,” he whispered. “There is talk that I will be ordered to quell the rebels. I hope our people pursue every diplomatic effort before risking my fleet.”

Noura nodded. I will pursue peace if only for you, she thought to him.

Gemini turned from her. Sunlight nearly blinded him as he pushed through the doors of the Galactic Order’s headquarters on Hestos. The massive planet had become the seat of galactic law and order and the host to a handful of species that shared their desires for governance within the galaxy. Despite the wealth of Hestos, Gemini was eager to return to his own system and his own people. He assumed Noura felt the same way.

Blinking through the light, Gemini’s eyes finally adjusted and were able to look to the north of the city. Cresting the sky was the biggest ship in their fleet. Gemini’s gray battleship, a two-thousand-meter-long behemoth ready to do battle on behalf of the Mateen people.

“Bring the crew in from port call,” Gemini ordered his fleet’s executive officer over the radio. “It’s time for us to head to Rodam.”

 

 


CHAPTER ONE

 

 

A battleship and destroyer were closing fast. Pure white light from the Tassian sun bombarded his vision. “Get out!” Brokk screamed into his own mind. It was too late. Everyone knew it. Lago’s battleship was too damaged to escape and while Lago accepted his fate, Brokk, sharing his mind, refused it. For Brokk, fate was for the weak. Destiny was for those that lacked the courage to control their lives.

An explosion tore through his hull and knocked him off balance. Intense pressure crushed inward against his chest as oxygen rushed from his ship and into the void. Emergency systems that should have come on were absent and the same pressure that seized him at first now squeezed him on all sides. His ears popped, and his lungs screamed. A second explosion threw him to the floor. Desperate for air, Lago gasped and replenished his lungs with … nothing. The pain was too great. He had to let go, but Brokk wouldn’t let him.

“Get out of my mind!” Lago screamed. His last breath. Lungs collapsed in the vacuum. His body was weightless. All went black.

Brokk woke with a gasp. His lungs ached, and his chest hurt. He had been dreaming again, reliving the moment that Lago died. The moment that changed everything. Brokk wiped the sweat from his cold damp forehead. The room was dark, but, as he began to move, the light in his cabin brightened. He looked out of his window. Blackness. The cold space beyond his pane called to him. Lago was out there somewhere. A frozen body floating through his enemy’s star system.

He would never get back to sleep. Not with a dream like that. Not after experiencing Lago’s death as he had the day it occurred. The day he tested out the experimental Jark communication system that fused his mind with the minds of his fleet commanders.

Mistakes. That’s all it was. His side made more of them than the Mateens. Part of Brokk refused to believe this. His training had been superior. His crew was ready.

Intervention. That was the real problem. Brokk had achieved his mission in record time, sweeping away the defenses of Tassi and dismantling their government … until the Mateen intervened.

Betrayal. That was the root of it. Betrayed by his people. Out-numbered by an enemy that should never have been allowed to enter the fight. Hatred and sorrow surged within him, a toxic mix of ingredients that threatened to tear him apart from the inside out. No, he wouldn’t get back to sleep now.

Swinging his legs over the side of his bed, Brokk felt the cold black floor until his feet touched his boots. The light in his room was growing brighter now, gradually increasing in intensity until his eyes had fully adjusted to a waking light. It was still early; his day shift wouldn’t be awake for another few hours. A good chance to grab some food in peace, Brokk thought to himself, pulling his red and black one-piece jumpsuit over his shoulders and heading towards the door.

The hallways were dark. Quiet. Asleep. Lights flickered on and then shut off as he strode down them, passing ancient battle scenes that were hung years ago to motivate his men in battle. “Remember your past,” he would tell them. “Remember the honor of our ancestors.” Antique weapons decorated other walls. A jagged ax with a handle made from volcanic rock glistened as the light above it beamed down on a still-sharpened blade.

As he reached the dining hall, he could feel his sorceress pulling at the back of his mind, leading his steps forward as if invisible hands were pulling on his own, bringing him ever closer for some unknown purpose. Two silver doors opened as he approached them, and he saw her leaning in a chair against the far wall. Tamara. She didn’t flinch when the doors opened but he knew she sensed him. She had called him here, he knew that now.

She still wore the same gold, hooded trench coat he had gifted her on Charoth. Tamara looked like one of his priests, except she had eyes and a tongue. A hand, curled up against her jaw, displayed gilded claws and shined emeralds and rubies. They sparkled brightly against the light coming from the ceiling above. They were beautiful, but they were also deadly he reminded himself.

Tamara was meditating. Staring out of the window into the dead of space. Beautiful brown hair tumbled down her shoulders and rested against the middle of her back.

Without turning, her gentle voice shattered the silence. “I was hoping you would join me this morning, Brokk.”

He grunted. “I couldn’t sleep,” he responded suspiciously. “Did you have something to do with that?” Her voice may have been gentle, but Brokk remained wary of her. She could do incredible things, and her power seemed to grow immeasurably with each passing day. He had to be careful.

“You know I wouldn’t make you relive Lago’s death,” she said flatly, gentleness fading and being replaced by strength and confidence. Brokk snorted and sat in the chair across from her. On the table in the middle, a cup of taka’e root tea waited for him. Steam still rose from the brown mug’s opening.

“And yet you have prepared a place for me,” he growled. She toyed with him far too often. Perhaps he would have to remind her that there was a limit to his patience and his hospitality.

“Call it a hunch,” she reassured him, hostility retreating from her voice. Her eyes flared with a green flame before returning to a docile mossy hue. Far too often. “Have we not conquered together?” she asked rhetorically. “Do I not deserve greater trust than you offer now?”

During the day she trained with him and his marines. When the official training ended, she remained, practicing hand-to-hand combat and learning how to use weapons. She studied their tactics to learn where she could best be employed during a battle. She exploited her skills against dummy foes and was quickly growing to an overly intimidating force within his crew. It worried Brokk. He never considered her a threat during the day, but at night, they would sometimes sit and talk, and Brokk found himself wondering. Paranoia, his mind would insist. He wasn’t sure.

“The closer we get to Jark, the more intense my dreams become,” he admitted quietly. “I relive them constantly as if I were there. I feel the cold. The breathless, airless cold that tugs on Lago’s body in his final moments. They are my final moments.” Brokk paused, wondering how much he should reveal, but Tamara’s eyes were still docile. Still sympathetic. So, he continued. “I believe I feel this way because I am to blame. I was the one who insisted on our doomed campaign. Now, I live with my guilt as if it were yesterday.”

“If it is your fault,” she asked, “why is it we drift towards Jark?”

He considered playing the game they had played the last three months where she would convince him to blame others over himself. He considered conceding once more, agreeing she was right, that it was really the Jark Empire or the Mateen that had killed Lago. Not Brokk. But he wouldn’t. Not tonight. “We drift towards Jark because I believe I will feel better after I kill the man who betrayed us. But after I kill the emperor, I know this will haunt me still.”

“And yet you still aim to kill him?” she asked simply.

Brokk nodded and turned his eyes towards the empty space beyond. A light flickered above him.

“Don’t you see,” she quickly responded as if he had fallen into her trap once more. “He is the one who didn’t send reinforcements. He is the one who left your fleet to fight a hopeless battle against multiple enemies. You know this to be true.”

“You’re right,” he responded honestly. “But Lago didn’t die because we were betrayed by our empire. Lago died because I foolishly sent him to defend our doomed campaign. I could have evacuated the planet. I could have pushed our defenses beyond the Tassian asteroid belt. Better yet, I could have shed my pride before leaving Jark. Perhaps I would have seen the campaign for what it was. Instead, I ordered him to fight to the death. I was blind. I bear that guilt. Not the emperor.”

Tamara returned her gaze to the window and tapped her clawed fingers against the armrest of her chair. Brokk too stared into the abyss. Finally, she looked back at him and smiled. “If you want it to be your fault, it can be your fault, but I will never believe it.”

Brokk grunted but didn’t have anything else to say. She noticed his silence and dropped her smile for something else. “Something you just said, Brokk. Why did you suggest you could have seen the campaign for what it was?”

Brokk hesitated. Her eyes were no longer docile. The soft hazel green had been replaced with a lantern. It was not yet a full blaze, but he had caught her attention. Piqued her interest. “I believe the emperor sent me to Tassi to get rid of me. I believe my popularity with the people had him concerned.”

Tamara’s face remained flat. Her eyes were narrow. The fire in them brewed beneath the docile green that shined on the surface. She mulled over his statement, compared it with what she thought she knew about the golden-skinned man and the prophecy. Tamara lifted her jeweled fingers to her head and pushed the hair back from her ears. Brokk realized she wanted to say more. Something strange and unfamiliar. She’s been plotting.

“Why is it that you are awake?” he asked. “What have you been thinking? Why did you pull me here?” Accusation boiled off his words. Paranoia steamed from his lips.

Her eyes went from a simmer to a blaze and then faded to nothing in an instant. Tamara cupped her hands in her lap and for a moment, Brokk suspected they were actually trembling. “Something has been brewing inside me,” she said at last.

“What do you mean?” he asked, perplexed at the sudden change in her tone.

She paused, and a sly smile curved at the edges of her mouth. “What if you are the chosen one?”

Brokk hesitated to answer. His mind swirled. He had not only buried the prospect of becoming a king, but he had also buried the prophecy. It was as dead to him as the priests who proclaimed it over his body when he was just a child and executed in his fury after losing the battle of Tassi.

The golden child. The man with the golden skin. It was this belief that had led him to such a foolish mission to conquer Tassi. It was this belief that blinded him to the real purpose of his conquest: their emperor’s desire to see Brokk destroyed.

“Why do you mutter such nonsense?” he grumbled at last.

Tamara didn’t blink. Her eyes remained fixated on his. An eerie green fire brewed beneath the surface and reflected off her golden claws. “Why is it that we drift toward Jark?” she asked a second time, her innocence faded, replaced with a toxic idea he had yet to hear.

Brokk knew better and became aggravated. Behind her fierce green eyes burned a fire that implored him to answer it once more. He didn’t want to take the bait but something inside him forced him to speak. “We’ve been through this,” he growled. “I’m going to kill the emperor.”

She smiled. “So, you’ll rush in like a fool then? What happens next? You wait for the army to execute you in the square?” She paused to stare him in the eyes and challenge his gaze. “You and Red are the same. That’s why I like you both so much,” she chuckled, “but the truth is, if you rush to Jark, you are a fool.”

“Then what should I do?” Brokk blurted, his face hot with blood. Since the battle of Tassi he had barely kept his head afloat, instead merely doing what he thought best. There had been no suggestions and no advice. Brokk strove alone, constantly judged by his crew for any decision he made. Constantly concerned about a rebellion or a coup that would allow them to turn him over as a prisoner to the Jark Empire in exchange for their freedom.

“You should kill him,” she said calmly. “But you need to do it smartly. I’m not suggesting the prophecy is true or false, Brokk. I’m merely suggesting that it is true in the eyes of the people.”

“What do you mean?” He pushed his anger down into his chest yet ready to call it up once more if he so desired.

“You still have the grootslang eggs?” she asked.

“I do.”

“Send me then. Send me to be your messenger, to be your prophet. I will proclaim the demise of Jark due to its wickedness. I will proclaim a message of repentance and a new era for its people. Once we gather a following, we will summon the grootslang from the ground to bring terror to the capital and overthrow the government. That will be the sign before your coming and convince the remaining skeptics of my legitimacy.”

Brokk was silent. Could it work? Could she convince the people to follow him? To forsake the Emperor of Jark? Could he become the legitimate ruler of Jark and end the banishment of his crew?

“They would defeat the grootslang,” Brokk challenged.

“It is merely a sign,” Tamara retorted with a flare of fire in her eye sockets that sent a chill down Brokk’s spine. “The people believed you were the fulfillment of prophecy too. Do you not remember? Your crew believed you were the fulfillment of prophecy. Is that not why they followed you? Make it come true, Brokk. We need to change the prophecy. You can still be the chosen one,” she said with a gleaming smile. “Maybe you were merely chosen to rule Jark before you exact your revenge on Tassi.”

Brokk turned his gaze from his sorceress to the window. There was only blackness beyond. His head spun and twirled with strategy and motive. Punches and counter-punches surrounded him as he fought an invisible battle in his mind. She was right. She was smarter than him, and suddenly, he wondered not only about the chance of victory on Jark but also the loyalty of his sorceress.

It could work. His crew would revel at the chance to once again believe he was chosen by the gods. They would rejoice in the opportunity to return to their home, not as outcasts or prisoners but as the elite guard of their new emperor. She was right.

As if she had sensed his thoughts, Tamara rose and pulled her hood back over her head. “I’ll leave you alone,” she whispered, dragging a golden claw across his shoulder as she departed.

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