Collision: The Battle for Darracia - Book 2 (The Darracia Saga) (4 page)

BOOK: Collision: The Battle for Darracia - Book 2 (The Darracia Saga)
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

A grumble of assent that went through the crowd. “Yes, High Priestess, knower of all things
,” he added with a sneer, “use your magic to make the suns shine again and the fruit plentiful.”

It was true; since the day she had made Aqin stop it’s eruption, Ozre, the Element that enabled her, had disappeared. Tulani and her people had stormed the castle, helping the Darracians loyal to the king crush the rebels. The king had died that day, leaving Syos with the future of a new king with bright promise. But the improvements came slowly, if at all. The
Quyroo grew impatient. Tulani attempted to rally them, teach them how to appeal to King V’sair for new laws. There were some strides in the right direction, but with each policy came unprecedented problems that overwhelmed the ill-prepared government. The Moon Council deadlocked, and not even the hopeful ideals of the young king could break the stubborn ways of both species. Fewer and fewer Quyroo showed up to Tulani’s meetings. Soon, nobody came, and Tulani felt their hostility at her uselessness. Ozre never answered her pleas, leaving her to face the Quyroo afterward alone and powerless. The rain started to fall then.

At first it was a gentle mist, which grew as each day passed. Torrential downpours followed, loosening rocks, uprooting trees, creating muddy quagmires that slowed growth as well as trade. Food was becoming scarce, and if not for the supplies sent by Syos, many Quyroos would have starved. The issues were overwhelming for the immature government. Many of the newly appointed commissioners were
uneducated in running these programs. There was corruption, for sure; the Quyroo were disappointed, for the promised change was not coming fast enough. The bottom dwellers who abandoned their homes on the volcano in the interest of peace slowly returned, making new, illegal settlements. This angered the Darracians. The king dismissed his entire Moon Council, dismayed by the violent shouting, the inability to get anything accomplished. Both V’sair and Tulani were locked in a struggle beyond their capabilities to fix.

The rain tapered off, and this silenced the crowd. They were unsure of her.

Tulani scanned the horizon, her eyes searching for a ball of familiar light, when she saw a great comet streak across the black sky. “Ozre…” she whispered, until she realized it was not the Element, but simply a racing comet.

Masses of Quyroo fell to their knees, their eyes wide in their startled red faces.

“It’s a sign.”

“It’s the end of days,” another moaned.

Babies cried; there were shouts of dire warnings.

“Make it do something, Priestess!” Seren called out. “Prove you have the power.”

Tulani slapped his head with the stick, silencing him, but not the malice she saw in his lean face.

She watched the comet rocket toward Fon Reni, wondering if V’sair saw the comet as well and felt the same sense of doom. A light rain began to fall again, hushing the crowd, and soon the ruts of the planet’s surface ran with a red rain the color of blood.

Chapter 4

Staf Nuen sat comfortably in the plush chair smoking the pipe his host had offered him. Smoke swirled around his head, stinging his yellowed eyes, a side effect from indulging in graphen. He liked it better than krayum, the heady liquor he drank at home. It left him relaxed, did not affect his reflexes, and he could smoke himself sick, and no one would ever know. He glanced out at the reflective walls of the fortress. He was the guest of King Lothen of Planta, Reminda’s younger brother.

Lothen came into the room, a squire divesting him of his armor. He threw himself into a chair opposite Staf, bare chested. A servant draped a robe over his blue, well-muscled shoulders. He adjusted the golden rings he wore on his upper arms. He had at least four on each of his biceps, curling snakes that signified great victories. There was a fortune of randam crystals embedded in the metal.

Lothen shook his head like a wild stallius, freeing his
shoulder-length ivory hair from a rawhide. Just like every other male here, he had shaved the sides of his head, leaving only the hair covering the top of his crown to cascade down the center of his back. For battle, they tied it in topknots on the top of their head. Orange tattoos covered his face in a swirling pattern. Staf knew each design was different, almost like a fingerprint. All Planta had it done as they entered puberty. It was a mark of beauty, but Staf found it oddly distracting. Large silver hoops danced in his ears, and while the older man knew Lothen was considered handsome, he thought his feral grin off-putting. He had an oily laugh, his glittering lapis eyes darting constantly around the room. Two females prepared dishes in the background. Staf lazily rose, hand clasping the king, who bade him to reseat himself. Staf eyed the king’s long, pointed fingernails with distaste.

“I see you have taken advantage of my hospitality.” Lothen nodded as a servant brought him a large, clear goblet. A silver fish swam in circles inside the
glass. A similar goblet was brought to Staf. “You are not repulsed by our Plantan habits?” the king asked silkily.

“I have seem Reminda drink this way for many years.”

They clinked their glasses, gulping rapidly, swallowing the fish whole. It squirmed down Staf’s windpipe, so he belched loudly, helping to squeeze it into his stomach. Lothen laughed loudly.

“The trick is to get it down smoothly, my lord.”

“Reminda may have taught me many things, Sire, but not that quaint custom.”

“I barely remember my sister.” Lothen frowned. “She was stolen by your brother when I was a child. We were peaceful people back then.”

Staf grunted, “I don’t remember you being peaceful. Your people started raiding ships. That’s why my father sent us here, to negotiate.”

“History is written one way and remembered another. Darracians don’t negotiate; they take what they want, using their precious Fireblade as justification.” Lothen laughed heartily. “Oh, don’t get all high and mighty, my lord Nuen. How will you use your special sword now; how will you explain its extraordinary power?” Lothen stood up. “You don’t need a Fireblade to feel superior. The right warrior can use any tool to achieve what he needs. Darracians don’t hold a monopoly on anything but arrogance!” Lothen shot back. “Yes,” Lothen went on, his forked tongue slipping out in his rage, “we were peaceful until your brother came to steal what didn’t belong to him. We are docile no longer.” He slammed his glass down on the side table.

“A tragedy.” Staf covered the rim of his cup when a servant came to pour some more liquid. Lothen held his goblet up for a refill. Staf was in no position to debate with the leader. If Lothen chose to remember history his way, Staf mentally shrugged, who was he to argue with him? If he wanted to use the excuse of
Darracian interference, and fail to remember that Planta served as the aggressor, he wasn’t going to argue.

“You don’t like it?” Lothen sneered, leaning forward, his eyes watchful.

“Much as I appreciate Your Majesty’s delicious libation, I must decline. I want to be able to function tonight.”

“Ha,” the young king roared. “You like Naje?”

“She is entertaining.”

“She is wild.”

Staf dipped his head. The female had kept him busy his whole time on Planta. She was a slave, similar in build to his native Quyroos, her almond-colored skin smooth as silk. A wealth of black hair flowed around her slender form. She was a prize, captured on one of the many raids from the neighboring planet Venturian. Lothen had given him the woman soon after he had arrived. He had come alone, bankrupt,
deserted by his forces, the wound in his side half-healed. It pained him still, and only the deep massage from Naje eased it’s torment. He felt a sense of peace around her that he had never known before.

She was a quiet person and watchful, understanding when to talk. When his dreams chased sleep, she was able to calm him as no other. Her supple arms embraced him; her hushed voice lulled him back into blissful sleep. She was not as young as he first thought, and he knew she had suffered before her capture as well as after. She ran his household on the tiny island on Planta with cool efficiency, and he knew wherever he went, Naje was going with him. She made a home for him when he felt homeless.

After the battle for Darracia, he had escaped on his ship, only to face a mutiny when he ordered them to regroup and attack. Set adrift in a small craft, he looked for a place to land. They had expected him to die from blood loss, those sniveling cowards. His men had crawled back, asking forgiveness from his
nephew, who embraced them by giving away much of his territory. Staf had lost everything—his home, his wife, his children. His oldest and youngest children had been killed. His remaining three daughters lived on Darracia still; however, he hadn’t had communication with them since he escaped. For all he knew, they were dead as well. It was all gone, everything except his ambition. He considered throwing himself on V’sair’s mercy, but knew as long as Zayden lived, he was a marked man.

The king’s bastard had followed him, from planet to planet, with a determination of a hunting jast. Time after time, Staf outwitted him, always a step ahead of the young warrior.

Staf had settled for a season on that icy cesspit called Venturian. He had accomplices there, allies who for a price supported him, and he stayed waiting, biding time until he could figure out where he could go. He created a new business, selling stolen items to passing criminals who stopped there. Lothen heard about him and reached out to him, offering a safe
haven. Staf refused based on the long-term history of their two planets. He had made himself a base of sorts, but Zayden followed him there. The hirelings he had employed to protect him attacked his brother’s bastard, leaving him for dead. Well, Staf thought ruefully, you get what you pay for—the job was ill done. Zayden lived. His bastard of a nephew disappeared into the stews of Venturian, and no amount of bribery could find him. Zayden was on Venturian, waiting for the opportunity to attack. There was not enough money on Venturian to protect from Zayden’s hatred. Staf’s time there was done. He had to move on and find a new host. Staf left Venturian under the protection of Lothen, King of Planta and Reminda’s younger brother.

Planta was a water planet with one small island, where the crowded population lived in a jumble of homes, built in layers on top of each other. While some found the pastel colors appealing, to Staf it was a dirty place, made seedy by the lack of uniformity. It was a hodgepodge of edifices, a dilapidated, faded
city. The castle was more of a fortress, built hanging over a buttress above the filthy seawater. It smelled there; the air was polluted and foul. The linens were damp with mildew, and everything had a patina of bronze, slimy mold. Much as he hated it here, he had nowhere else to go. Bina, the small moon orbiting Planta, was completely uninhabitable, mined for graphen by slaves from all over the galaxy. That left Ablas, in the far end of the solar system, which was colder than hell and about as hospitable.

He picked up the long pipe that was attached to the hanging bottle from the ceiling. A manservant dropped a blossom into the bulb, lit it with a long taper, and Staf inhaled deeply, letting the smoke envelope his airways. It was getting to the point where he needed to have the pipe in his hands all day long.

“Graphen can take over your life.” Lothen sucked deeply on his own pipe, closing his eyes as the vapors filled his lungs. He released it, and Staf watched through slit lids as the smoke escaped from
the gills that ran alongside the kings ribs. He had never seen Reminda’s gills. They had been hidden under her clothing. He wondered briefly if V’sair had them as well, then shrugged, giving himself up to the enticing visions that followed a deep inhale.

They sat in silence, the King of the Planta and the political rebel Staf Nuen. They were an unlikely couple, enemies their entire lives, their two governments never having found a common ground. Once, many years ago, Planta had been a peaceful planet, a land filled with fisherman and abundance. Changing circumstances had caused Reminda’s father to reconsider his strategies, developing a reputation for cunning and deceit. It all started with subtle climate changes. They didn’t feel it at first, but slowly resources grew tight. His home’s natural commodities waning, the land and oceans became overextended. The old king started attacking convoys that traveled nearby to make up the shortages. The people became lazy, stopped creating products.

Soon, the Planta had forgotten how to produce for themselves. It was cheaper and easier to steal. Overpopulation and pollution continued to strip Planta of its bounty. The lush gardens, famous throughout the galaxy, withered and died. The sea became a filthy swamp, the arable land reduced to one small part of an island in a sea of poison. The planet could not support the growing populations of Plantans; it’s resources stretched to their limits. It became known as a lawless sector of space, and many were afraid to travel there. The Plantan raiders showed little mercy and attacked without discrimination.

Talks and treaties were rebuked, and when the Darracians had approached them fifty years ago, sending a young prince to initiate peace talks, Drakko was taken prisoner. Wounded in a fray, he was nursed by the king’s daughter, Reminda, who had fallen in love with him. Drakko made a daring escape and took Reminda with him. No amount of peace talks could repair the damage. Reminda’s
father went on a rampage, making this end of the solar system a very dangerous place. It became too risky to travel in the area. Trade routes dried up, and the neighboring cold planet of Venturian sunk into poverty. The Plantans didn’t care. They raided Venturian, enslaving its inhabitants, transforming the thriving society into a dismal, barren wasteland; the most important export, the slaves they plundered from the population.

Venturian was a freezing rock of a planet that had a highly successful trade from its vast and varied wildlife. Trappers first settled there, drawn by the great beasts that supplied delicious meat, as well as warm furs. Rudimentary settlements grew into sizable towns. It was an uncivilized place, on the western edge of the solar system, a wild frontier, barely governed. It was a freewheeling territory, the last civilized outpost before deep space thrust a traveler into nothingness. The Planta raids destroyed all that. Stores and businesses closed. Law enforcement was crushed by the raiders. Vast fish
farms failed, and the lively planet became a devastated way station filled with criminals who traded on violence and fear. The sprawling villages had turned into garbage heaps, filled with cheap bars and a frightened populace. Soon it was depleted to an empty shell, leaving only the rejects or infirm to live off the discarded leavings of the raiders.

BOOK: Collision: The Battle for Darracia - Book 2 (The Darracia Saga)
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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