The darkness almost seemed to rush past him at incredible speed. He felt as if he were falling through a void. He was falling faster with each second, as if more than gravity was propelling him towards the darkness. Dim lights began to encircle the tunnel, moving past as speed as he fell. The lights gave shapes in the darkness, ledges along a tunnel wall. He tried to grab hold of them, stretching to reach. He could feel himself moving towards the edge, but despite this he was no closer to the walls, almost as if they were keeping their distance from him. He could not stop himself. The end of the tunnel came rushing towards him. Stars and swirls of stellar gasses filled his view beyond the tunnel edge, separated only by a sheet of glass at the end of the tunnel. He hit the glass as if it was not there, smashing through the pane as pieces of broken glass cut deep into his flesh. The boiling cold embrace of space tore its fingers through every inch of his body as his veins ruptured. His torn flesh hardened and his eyes swelled in their sockets as he was subjected to violent decompression. The air formed crystals in his lungs as it rushed through into the vacuum of space past his gargled screams.
Darius jumped in his bed, screaming and clutching for the air with his sweaty hands. As sudden as that, reality washed over him bringing him to focus on his surroundings. Realising he was in his room, he settled back down to the bed, his heart pounding hard in his chest accompanying his heavy breathing. It had been a dream, though nightmare seemed a little more of an appropriate description. The thin sheets under him were twisted and soaked with sweat. It was not long before he stopped trying to get comfortable. The room was back on Matar, on the second floor of the Shakor clan’s hall. It was early morning, and the sun had yet to rise over the nearby ocean edge that surrounded the Island in all directions. But the sky was already turning slightly blue, projecting a dim light through the partially closed blinds. The window was open yet the air was still, and warm. The humidity clamored to his skin saturating it and adding to his discomfort, as well as more troubled nights and lost sleep.
Darius got up and made his way to the bathroom, not bothering to turn the lights on. He staggered in the darkness, more from the swimming headache he was suffering from than from the gloomy conditions. He reached the adjoining bathroom and ran the tap for the cold water. He cupped his hands under the stream that poured from the tap and splashed the water over his face. Despite the fact that it was the cold tap he had run, the water was lukewarm. It always was.
He had been home now for nearly a month. Since his ordeal in Ammatar space, he had decided to return to his home island on Matar to recover. But not before he had explained what he had seen to the resistance cell, then told them he would not be working for them anymore. The reason for that was simple; the only person he ever trusted in that organization was Ramar, and he had betrayed him. The leader of the resistance had not believed him at first and even suspected that Darius was the one who had been working with the Ammatar. But when Ramar failed to report back to them, they too came to suspect the same. It was obvious that he was taking ‘accommodation’ in Ammatar space now, never to return. He was now dubbed a traitor and to be killed on sight by the resistance. Though Darius was not working for them anymore, he also had his own policy along those lines. While in captivity, he had declared a blood vendetta on Ramar, one that had yet to be fulfilled. The only pain Darius felt about this was that his family had quickly found out and were devastated by the news.
Damn him. Thought Darius as he stared hard into his own dark reflection. Damn you too…
His eyes were heavy, and dark around the edges. He had not slept well since he returned home, and he had not been back into space since. His injuries were mostly healed too, though his ribs were still a little tender. Tourvel’s attacks had not only hurt his ribs, he had broken two of them. His nose was also broken when the Ammatar SS guard kicked him in the face while he was tied up, and his muscles in his left shoulder had torn when he broke free of his bindings. While his cuts had healed somewhat, the internal injuries were still taking their toll. He would most likely not be in space for at least another month. Staring into his own eyes in the mirror, he realized that the prospect should have depressed him deeply. But it did not. In fact, he was contemplating to never return to space, to sell his ships, and live here on Matar. As he contemplated this, he turned the bathroom light on and ran a cold shower, stepping in to cool off. As he let the clean water strip the sweat from his body, he realized something else he had not done since he got back. He had not smiled. He had not felt the need to.
Nearly one week later. Darius was still at his old clan hall. He could stay there as long as he wanted. The clan was run by his uncle, Gol’dar Shakor, and had been so as long as Darius could remember. Gol’dar Shakor was 147 years old and had ruled the clan since the Amarr were driven out. Gol’dar answered the cry of rebellion and was personally responsible for killing the Amarr holder who claimed the Shakor’s home island as his domain on Matar, thus liberating the Shakor’s ancestral home. It was the son of this Holder who would eventually enslave his last Shakor, Darius’ father. History repeated itself once more as his own father killed the new Holder with his own two hands. Gol’dar was indeed revered in the clan, though he carried this in a humble manner.
It was a bright day outside the walls of the clan hall, yet he had not seen it. He had not been outside now for many days; he had not even opened the blinds to his room. The only telltale signs that it was daytime were the bright light around the edges of the blind that failed to illuminate the room more than a half a foot from the wall, and the numbers that his clock displayed. He had not shaved for nearly a week and was beginning to grow a serious beard. The door to his room opened; Darius simply slumped in his chair in the dark corner of his room to the side. He did not acknowledge the newcomer except to take a deep breath and roll his eyes slightly.
Here it comes again, he thought bitterly. More pity, more fussing, more concern.
Recently, Darius became aware that ever since he returned, he has been treated as an object of pity. He didn’t want pity, he wanted answers. The problem was, he didn’t even want to ask the questions.
“Kind of dark in here isn’t it?” spoke a familiar voice. Darius didn’t look up, he simply shrugged. “You haven’t been down for dinner in a couple of days now bro. We’re worried about you.” Darius angled his head slightly to the side to look upon the figure. It was his younger half-brother, Kordan. He was carefully picking his way into the room in the dark, eventually leaning over to pick up an empty bottle. Kordan examined it before placing it firmly on the desktop to his side, right next to several others. “I see…” he said slowly as he raised an eyebrow to his brother.
“Don’t give me that look.” Shot Darius. “It’s not like that.”
“I didn’t say a word, Darius.” Retorted Kordan with a coy, boyish grin on his face. “What can it not be like if I haven’t said anything?” Darius shook his head and frowned, then carefully lifted himself out of the seat. His head swam with the sudden momentum. Despite that, he quickly fought to gain balance and stared at Kordan.
“Stop goading me!” He growled deeply. “You know something…?” he stopped short when he saw Kordan smirk a little and hold up his hand.
“At least I got you out of that seat finally. I was beginning to think that chair had grown out of your back and taken root into the floor.” He laughed.
“You can be a real immature ass hole Kordan!” shot Darius as he jabbed a finger into Kordan’s chest. Kordan stopped smiling as a more serious look came over him as he stared into Darius’ weary eyes. Darius simply turned his back and slowly walked to the bed. “Now leave me alone, I’m tired.” Not bothering to pull the sheets up, Darius simply rolled onto the bed and lay on his side. Kordan looked on, frowning at his older brother. He was angry, but not at what he had just said to him. He was angry at what Darius was doing to himself. He could not just say nothing or dance around the issue anymore. His brother was destroying himself… for no reason.
“So what, you’re older than me by about 13 years. Big deal!” He shouted loudly. “I may act immature at times, but at least I am aware of it and can stop it when I have to! And at least I am not turning into a broken down drunk! So Ramar betrayed you, so he broke your life-long friendship. So what!? Get over it Darius. Drinking yourself into a pit isn’t going to change anything. And despite what you might think about yourself, your family still cares about what happens to you. I would hope to Matar that you care for us too. What would you do if it were me laying there?” Darius did not move. Kordan stood there for a few seconds before giving up on a reaction and left the room.
Gol’dar Shakor grimaced in the faint candlelight, the sole illumination in the room, as he sat cross-legged facing the open balcony door. The world outside was dark, though the sky was bright with stars and a full moon dominated the crest of the hill overlooking the bay. The view was indeed beautiful; his ancestors could not have picked a better spot for the clan hall many millennia ago. Though this clan hall was relatively new, despite being several hundred years old, it was not the first of such halls to grace the hillside overlooking the waters surrounding the island. And each hall, though gradually increasing in size each time they are rebuilt, would be graced with the same architecture as the last and built from traditional materials and tools. It was a feeling that gave Gol’dar such pride in his people, not just the Shakor, but the Minmatar all over the galaxy.
Tonight, however, he could take little comfort from this as young Kordan nervously relayed his latest debacle with his older brother to him. Gol’dar did not look towards Kordan, who was standing somewhere behind him, but Kordan could tell from the low growl that Gol’dar was not happy. For more reasons that Kordan could realize, or be made aware of at this moment in time.
“I will speak with him.” Spoke Gol’dar solemnly before raising his hand in thanks, not even looking around at him. Kordan took this as a signal that the conversation was over and he quietly exits the room.
The door behind Gol’dar shut with a gentle thud, and the room descended into dark silence. Gol’dar grunted in discomfort as he lifted himself off the floor and headed towards a small dark wood tray on the floor with two ceremonial candles on them and gently lifted it onto a short stool overlooking the open balcony door. Gol’dar then stretched his back as he stood up and walked to the light switch, turning the lights off. The room was entirely pitch black, save for the light of the moon in the clear sky reflecting off the water beyond. Despite this, Gol’dar smiled to himself as he was able to pick his way through the room with his old eyes, still able to see as clear as day. He settled down on the floor, his aged bones straining in protest as he attempted to cross his legs. He picked up a small object made of polished bone with a metal protrusion and depressed it over the first candle as he closed his eyes and hummed in a low gravely tone. The lighter like device sparked to life and a small flicker of flame emerged from the metal tubing on the end. The faint sound of the tallow crackling in the heat of the flame was all the indication Gol’dar needed to know the flame had engulfed the wick. Gol’dar moved the lighter to the second candle as he changed the tone of the hum lower as the second wick hissed to light.
Gol’dar allowed time each night to practice an ancient evocation ritual. Not unlike meditation, the practice centered on conjuring the images of the past into the conscious mind. As he began, his mind was a wash of feelings, thoughts and images. Disorderly and chaotic, the images washed over his mind like waves crashing on the rocks of the cliff below the tribal hall. Drawing on over a century of practice, he found the discipline to quieten these waves of images as if he were calming the very ocean. One by one, he cleared his mind of random thoughts until he reached the root of his consciousness. Now alone in the darkness, he channeled an intangible energy as if he were lighting a beacon in his mind. A beacon that stretched further than the reaches of this world, summoning something that was as timeless as history itself. The darkness slowly filled with a mist as a sense of presence engulfed him. More a single entity, though shaped by the experiences of the many, the feeling was like seeing history. Only the most experienced in the practice have the ability to summon this ability, even then very few can command it. For all his years, he himself had only been able to fully control the images he sees for 30 years. His thoughts came into play once more as he began to think about his parents.
He had never seen them in flesh, only a faded picture of them both taken from their registration files, documents kept by the Amarr masters of old. They had smuggled him off Matar as an infant, before he was subjected to the horrors of slavery and the oppression of the neuro-toxin used by the Amarr. Over 20 years later, his younger brother was born and they again managed to smuggle him out. The Amarr holder responsible for the keeping of the island chain found out about this and his security forces arrested them a few days later.
Gol’dar lingered on that moment in time, picturing the torture they must have gone through behind closed doors. His anger boiled inside him as he struggled to control his heartbeat and breathing. Rage boiled inside him as his thoughts drew closer to the end. Try as hard as he might, he could not picture their death. He never could. The records found indicate they were burned alive, locked in a small furnace-like room, stripped bare and shaved of all hair. Gol’dar clenched his fist and tensed every muscle in his body. The sudden blood rush caused him to experience spasms in his shoulders and back causing intense pain to course through his body like electricity. Despite this, the old man remained in position as firm as stone. He forced himself to calm, breathing. As he regained his composure, he forced himself to gently drift further ahead in time.
Word had reached the surface that entire fleets of ships, built in secret by the Minmatar, had breached the Amarr armada lines above in space and were heading towards the surface to liberate them. The guards had all but abandoned the compound as they marched to quell the uprising. As their ships landed on the island, Gol’dar, followed by hundreds of angry Minmatar warriors of the rebellion aided in the defeat of these soldiers. A rioting hoard of freed slaves destroyed anything that bore the symbol of Amarr or the crest of the house that claimed these islands as their own. Bodies of the slave masters and their foot soldiers were strung up in the courtyard, some still alive at the time. Gol’dar, as if he were being pulled by destiny, headed alone towards the Clan Hall on the hill. His ancestral home converted into a personal palace for a greedy Amarr slave holder. The holder was being escorted to an evacuation point by a pair of bodyguards. A small Amarr shuttle descended over the island to rescue their lord, only to be hit by missile fire from several light fighters before crashing into the sea. Gol’dar could recall the feeling, a glorious wave of triumph, wash over him once more as the free slaves of the Amarr, his brethren, let out a united and deafening cry of “FREEDOM!” echo through the valley below as he dragged the dead body of the holder out of his ancestral home, killed by his own bare hands.
Gol’dar’s concentration broke once more as he sensed something was not quite right. His eyes twitched and suddenly he threw his hands to his head in pain. He grimaced from the sharp sting that arced from the back of his eyes towards the base of his skull. As quickly as the pain had come, it faded again, leaving Gol’dar breathing heavy in relief. Gol’dar had lost the images, the mist, the ancient presence. He stared down at the candle light as both flames danced back and forth in the darkness. It seemed that he had less time than he thought.
Darius lay in a mild delirium, kept so by a sickening concoction of alcohol. The evidence of which was clear to Gol’dar has he entered the room to be greeted by the sight of bottles on the floor that almost formed a halo around the bed. Gol’dar felt a pain that burrowed deeper than that which he felt in his meditation as he witnessed the scene. This boy, now a man, had been more than his nephew. He had been as close to him as the son he never had. At the side of his brother’s deathbed, he had sworn to him he would protect Darius and care for him. Gol’dar carefully picked his way through the rubbish strewn on the floor towards the ever drawn shades. Like the only man alive that dare, he pulled the chord sharply opening them, flooding the room with a sudden bright light.
“Hey!” came a drowsy protest from the bed. “I’m trying to sleep.” Darius rolled over to escape the intensely bright light coming through the open window.
“Get up Darius!” demanded Gol’dar. There was no answer. With a low growl, Gol’dar stepped up to the bed and grabbed a handful of Darius’ dirty clothing and, with surprising strength, dragged Darius off the bed and onto the floor. Darius creased with pain as he landed with a hard thud on the wood floor. Towering above him, he forced himself to lock eyes with Gol’dar. Despite the alcohol, Gol’dar could clearly see there was fire there. Good. He wanted to clear his head.
Darius tried to scramble to his feet, clutching the fabric of the bed as he attempted to hoist himself off the floor.
“What would your father think of what you have become?” snarled Gol’dar. Darius froze for a second, having only made it to one knee.
“I don’t care” he responded quietly.
“That’s all you ever cared about Darius!” retorted Gol’dar. “All you ever wanted to be was like your father. And like it or not, you are more like him than you know.” Darius did not look up as he rested against the side of his bed. “The only difference is that he didn’t wallow in self-pity and alcohol when he came back from Amarr.”
“He… he killed the holder though. He got his revenge.”
“Revenge? Is that what you seek? Is that what you think it meant to him? Your father did not kill his keeper out of revenge. He did it because it was what needed doing.”
“I did the same thing for the same reason. I don’t deny that hate resides in me for what happened to my parents and for what the Amarr have done to us. But I don’t let it drive me. And I certainly don’t hate myself, and neither did your father.” Darius lowered his eyes as he continued to lift himself off the floor and sat on the bed.
Gol’dar looked on at his nephew as he held his head in his hands.
“Darius, I’m dying.” Darius looked up wide eyed. He opened his mouth, but could not even muster the words.
“It’s a rare neurological virus. It’s attacking my nervous system. The doctors can’t estimate the scale of the infection or how long I have to live.”
“I will be brief. For many years now I have had it in mind to hand the clan over to you.” Again, Darius fell silent, slowly diverting his eyes towards the floor. “Besides the doctors and the clan elders, no one else knows about this. Not even your brother.” Gol’dar waited for a moment before heading towards the door, leaving Darius sitting on the edge of his bed. He knew he had nothing more to say. The look on Darius’ face said it all, that he well understood and that all he had said was taking root. Now it was just a case of waiting. It may well be a wait that Gol’dar could not afford.
Darius stood in silent vigil over his Uncle’s form. The room was dark, it was late at night. The funeral was scheduled for the next morning. His uncle Gol’dar had passed away the day before after suffering a major seizure brought on by the virus that had gripped him. As per the clan tradition, the future clan leader fulfilled the duty of honor guard to his predecessor the night before the funeral. It was meant to be a night of perspective, of reflection and self-discovery. In this night, he and his Uncle were to become as one mind. And their collective spirits would determine the next reign of the clan, tempered by the embers of the old. This required an entire night of meditation. It had been many months since Darius had meditated on any matter, and now he was not even sure he could reach such a state. In most cases, the new clan leaders were more aged than he was.
The room’s still silence was gently rattled by the quiet sound of the door opening. A dim light emanated from the opening, barely bringing any ambiance to the hallowed chamber. Darius was joined by his brother who slipped into place beside him. Neither man looked at each other in acknowledgment. Kordan broke the silence as he whispered to his brother.
“I thought you could use some company.”
Darius opened his mouth to reply, but simply found himself letting out a shallow breath. Instead, he simply bowed his head. Deep down, he wanted to stand the vigil alone. But he did not want Kordan to leave either. He earned as much right to stand the vigil for the night, even more so than Darius. Finding the strength to speak, Darius whispered a simple thanks back to his brother.
“I am here for you brother. You more than anyone needs someone to watch over you than another person to watch over Uncle Gol’dar.” With a deep breath, Darius stepped towards the low altar at the base of Gol’dar’s resting place and knelt. Darius lit a solitary candle in the middle and lifted it off the base, dipping the flame into a stone pot filled with herbs. A cloud of white smoke quickly escaped from the pot, followed by a steadier stream as it began to evaporate and a delicate scent filled the room.
In the shadows behind him, Kordan simply stood over his brother and watched as he placed the candle back into its placeholder. Darius closed his eyes and, for the first time in months, began his mantra, slowly descending into a trance. One last communion with Gol’dar Shakor, before the future of the clan, and a new era itself rested on his shoulders.