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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Veil of Shadow - 7. Weight Of The Past

Departing Yangon was a thoroughly different experience than arriving. With Thessaloniki's insistence that Ayize not take Konstantin on the rescue attempt to Australia, the Russian was changing course once again. There was very little explanation as they made their way to the officer's hotel in the nearby neighbourhood. Before leaving the warehouse, Thessaloniki and Ayize had traded secure contact details; both promised to be in contact when there was further information to be communicated. Regardless of how far apart they were on the spectrum of Earth's law and order, events had forced them into cooperation.

Konstantin could not help but wonder how long this uncertain tolerance would last.

The following day, 'Nikko', as he was insistent he be called, gathered his meagre vacation belongings. The officer dressed in uniform, and they took a taxi to Yangon's airport, where tickets were purchased for Europe. Normally, ID was required for a commercial airflight, though Nikko used some sort of privilege, paying for Konstantin's fare and securing private seats. Once they were aboard and settled for the journey, the officer quietly informed him that military personnel and anyone in direct martial custody were exempt from certain requirements. He also let on that it was, in a way, very beneficial that the world believed Konstantin killed at Yakutsk because that meant that he was no longer in any danger of being sought out and silenced. Though Konstantin certainly could not argue with the logic of anonymous safety, he found himself mentally posing yet more questions, now mostly about the role of the federal military in all of the goings-on that he had witnessed.

After a meal and a couple hours of light sleep, with precious little small-talk in between, they were coming in to land. Air travel was fast, and the journey was done much sooner than Konstantin had anticipated.

Greece.

They took an airport shuttle east, bypassing Thessaloniki's urban centre entirely. Cutting across the top of the Chalkidiki, they came to a view of the placid mixed turquoise-blue waters of the Strymonian Aegean. Nikko explained that his family name was taken directly from the city they had just left. It had become a point of familial pride to identify with Thessaloniki. His ancestry could be traced to coastal Macedonian Greece many hundreds of years ago, during the Ottoman rule of the Balkans. Even in the particular regional economic hardships of the 21st and 22nd centuries, the family had not left the area, and was never tempted to move to other more stable parts of Europe.

After about an hour, Konstantin stepped out of the vehicle to see a Mediterranean villa. A patchwork of fields surrounded it, other houses scattered a modest distance away. There were hints of the sea and town they had seen on the approach, the casual suburbia continuing from Stavros to the north and east. South and west were the mountainous hills of central Macedonia, blanketed by a constant dark green. With sandy white walls and orange roof-tiles, the house was a picture of quiet pastoral homeliness.

Inside, he was introduced to Nikko's younger sisters, Kyra and Thalia, and his mother Charissa. The two girls were in their early twenties, and tall for women, with long tousled wavy brown-black hair, hazel eyes, a soft tan and the classic hourglass figure. Charissa was much shorter, her children seemingly inheriting their height from the father. She was in her mid fifties, with just a touch of wrinkles around the eyes and a faint dash of silver in the hair.

The introductions were brief and Nikko did not explain who Konstantin was, though the women did not ask, and then he was shown to a guest room. Charissa told him in heavily accented but quite legible English, that if he needed anything, he had but to tell them. He thanked her for the hospitality, and assured her that he would do so.

The rest of the afternoon was spent settling in. Nikko said he had some errands to run in Stavros, and his mother and sisters stayed occupied with their own interests down the other end of the house. Charissa was widowed, living off her husband's inheritance, and it seemed she spent much of her time gardening, cooking and running the household. Not only that, but from the glimpses he had caught of the interactions with her daughters, she loved to meddle in their lives. The girls were both home on a short break from university, and every opportunity possible to ask about schoolwork, potential boyfriends and prospective career opportunities was seized upon.

As Konstantin got some air, trying to adjust mentally to this latest in a series of sudden changes in circumstance and what it could mean, he wandered about the property. Taking his time to walk through the garden, he paused at the edge of the windbreak to lean on the boundary fence and take it all in. It crept on him from nowhere, but this place brought a strong feeling of nostalgia. Even with the hints of suburbia nearby and the warmer climate, this house and the feeling of family bonds conjured memories of Palatus, and Lucere.

If he closed his eyes, he could believe he was there, at his old family home.

Good memories.

Turning, Konstantin walked back through the garden, though just before he reached the patio, he noticed it. A cluster of tall flowering plants were growing by the steps, rosettes of green leaves climbing the single stems. They were each topped with more than half a dozen flowers, curling white petals and yellow-tipped carpels.

Lilies.

He picked a flower, gazing at the snowy white, with the faint sunny tinge near its base. Easing down onto the patio's bench, Konstantin sat back, the lily resting on the clear skin of the palm of his hand.

Pure and clean.

"Doushenka," he whispered, his vision blurring, "How I wish you could see this place. God knows you deserved that. You deserved so much more." Blinking, he brushed the petals with a thumb. "What would you make of Earth? I could really use your advice. I miss you so."

There was a sound and Konstantin looked up. The door from the lounge opened and Nikko stepped through, cautiously. The young man was now dressed in civilian clothes and carrying a paper bag, plus two narrow tumblers only a little larger than shot glasses. Without speaking, he sat down on the empty half of the bench, placing the two glasses between them. Pulling a bottle from the bag, Konstantin was surprised to see Cyrillic type-face on the label.

"My mother doesn't mind if we imbibe a little before dinner, but she'd not be happy if I went dry-hammer with ouzo." He took off the cap, poured a dash into each glass, then nudged one towards Konstantin. "Vodka though? Well, I thought maybe it would make you feel at home."

Vodka? This was a first, on Earth. He raised the glass, and sniffed it. No ethanol, just the scent of grain. Then a splash of it onto the tongue, to judge the feel. Smooth, almost velvet, a warm tingle as it went down. There was barely any hint of the alcohol, and that was a reflection of quality; this brand was superb. It was a refined expensive liquor, nothing like what Arkady had showed him how to brew. He looked to the other man, who had been watching his reaction, lifted his glass again and toasted.

"Nazdrovya."

They drank, then thumped the tumblers lightly onto the bench. Nikko poured them both a second, then immediately sat back, glass in hand. Yet, he did not drink.

Not straight away.

"I'm not sure what to make of you, Mr. Andropov. Your return to Earth was historic." The voice was thoughtful, quiet. "Three people from a place everyone thought was dead. Yet, you were on the ground here for less than two days before our political factions were going out of their way to escalate their war of words and violence, just to control you. Not really the reception I would have predicted."

Konstantin knocked back the second shot, humming in appreciation at the vodka's truly beautiful texture. He placed his glass next to the bottle between them and relaxed as he reclined properly against the bench's backrest.

"Nikko," he said, "I do n-"

"Make it Lucas," the younger interrupted. "The nickname feels strange around family."

"Lucas, then. I don't fully understand the politics of it all." Konstantin shrugged. "I am a man of convictions; in both philosophy and action, but ... I don't know why any of your factions are what they are. I don't know why these Brotherhood 'realists' act and talk like a bunch of revolutionary militants. I don't know why none of you seem to think the 'loyalist' government is capable of doing anything right. Most of all, I don't know why a military man would so easily accept the word of a so-labelled 'terrorist' like Ayize over that of the 'corporatist' order, and then bring me to his family home instead of reporting the situation to a commanding officer. You clearly want me to tell you about the 'why' regarding the importance of my two sons and all that I know of it, but ... I have not heard much explanation myself. Not from anyone else, and not from you. So how about ... you go first?"

The younger man stared at him for a number of seconds, surprised, not expecting such a measured response. Then abruptly Lucas broke into laughter. "You are shrewd. You want more clarity? More context? Can't think you've had much straight talk since you arrived." He downed his second, clacking the glass next to Konstantin's on the bench. "Mthembu must have said a few things, but I guess you need more. You want to know what motivates someone like me?"

"Yes."

"Then you need to know a couple of things about my profession." Lucas was speaking openly, passionately even, and Konstantin could sense the stiff closed-off soldier's discipline had loosened. Liberated by a little Dutch courage, the Russian wondered if maybe the alcohol had been as much for the younger man's benefit as his own. "There is one very important fact about the united federal military: it is the single best-trained most goddamn-powerful armed force in the history of humanity ... and ... it is completely politically neutral. All personnel in all branches of the armed service stay well out of any kind of politics. It's the prime rule and it is taken extremely seriously by everyone involved. The idea is drilled into each enlistee's head from the moment they are accepted. No loyalty to factions nor groups nor individuals. Only: service of mankind, protection of the state. Period."

Konstantin nodded. "A fighting force that is dedicated only to martial discipline. This makes sense."

"Yes." He went on, his hands moving and gesturing in a flowing animation as he talked. "Out of everything the Concordat idealised, this is the only part that is still intact. An incorrupt guardian force existing for the sake of the state's integrity. Pure, without the burden of politics. We uphold the government, and we never," Lucas paused to emphasise this word, repeating it, "never interfere in internal affairs."

"So, how does this explain what you did in Yangon?"

"Well, we are entering uncharted territory with your arrival. I'll need to show you something to explain what I mean." Lucas reached into his pocket and pulled out a small disc-shaped device. It switched on, and a holo-screen projected above it. Flicking through a number of menus, a picture flashed up on the screen. It was a still image, showing a cloud of glowing heated debris in space.

"This image is a famous visual, one that was released to the public in 2104. It was taken just moments before the mess you see there was superheated so thoroughly that there were only atoms left. They didn't want to risk even a fragment of that ship somehow entering the Earth's atmosphere and introducing a contaminant. It's the wreckage of the one-and-only attempt those rat bastards made trying to come here."

The alien ship? "Ayize mentioned something about destroying a ship in orbit."

"We did," Lucas agreed, "but it's not that simple. This image came from the end of a very short video clip, which was not released to the public. It remains a state secret and has never been officially declassified. Under the circumstances though, I think I can show it to you. Here it is."

The frame of the video was larger than the image, showing the edge of one of Earth's orbital gates. For a few seconds, nothing moved, then there was a momentary distortion in the video capture, the stars visually skewing before they settled back into place. It was very subtle, the sort of thing that wouldn't be seen unless it was looked at directly when it occurred. A couple of seconds later, several blazing streaks of brightness leaped into the view from multiple angles outside of the frame, to where the distortion had been. In a blink, there was a swelling cloud of visible wreckage, the same as in the photograph.

"Wait," questioned Konstantin. "What just happened there? Was it ... invisible, before it blew up?"

"That's right." Lucas nodded. "The blur you see near the start is the ship jumping in, cloaked, right next to the Prasada gate. The orbital defences locked on and destroyed it before it could move. Now, here's the nasty part of this: the only reason the defences were able to target said ship was because it was revealed by an observational satellite. That satellite was part of a then-incomplete network of advanced military-grade tech being constructed as a space perimeter. Back then, the network was not fully deployed by the contractor, and only parts of it were orbiting and online. Not only that, but the satellites that did function had been operational for just two weeks. After this incident, the contractor, AMSCOR, informed the government that the proprietary technology used in their satellites was not explicitly intended as an anti-stealth tool. They said it had been a lucky coincidence that the incoming ship was caught at all. They calculated the initial chance of a successful detection by this untested technology was 42%."

There was a pause right then as the significance of that statement sank in. Konstantin stared at him. "Are you telling me that-"

"-that if the ship had come to Earth more than two weeks earlier," Lucas interrupted, "or if we had failed that coin-toss detection probability when it jumped in, then the enemy could have sailed right through our defences unseen to the planet's surface? Yeah, that's exactly what I'm saying. Earth would have become just like the rest of the colonies, and none of us would be here today."

Konstantin could scarcely believe it.

Two weeks.

42%.

Had it really been that close?

"That isn't the worst though." Lucas picked up the glasses and poured them both a third measure, handing Konstantin his. "The worst part is that the history books say the federal government in 2104 traded certain political rights in exchange for corporate finance to stabilise the socio-economic shock caused by the colonies being torn apart. That's a well-practiced lie. The economy would have adapted, the government could have managed. The real truth is that it was extortion. AMSCOR was the only thing guaranteeing Earth's defence through their technical knowledge of that single incident involving the alien ship. They knew it, the military knew it, and the government knew it. So, AMSCOR guarded that knowledge, and used it as leverage."

"What?" Konstantin whispered it.

"The government was in a position of having to choose: give up a stake in the democratic process to AMSCOR's demands or risk the future of our species when AMSCOR pulled their essential backing and refused to further adapt the homeworld's defence. After extracting the legislation they wanted so their 'rights' were untouchable in federal law, AMSCOR drew together six other companies. Together they became the seven founders of Manufacturing, Finance and Mercantile. Today, everyone knows them as MFM. They control the vast majority of corporate holdings on Earth, and have their own security force, CorpSec, and their own research branch, the RDA. They are corporatism."

The Russian stared at him. These people had gambled on humanity's future for ... money? Political power?! The reasons for dissent against the corporatist ideology were becoming more and more obvious.

"So that is why?"

"It's why my profession forbids me from interfering in civilian affairs, but given the option, I would shoot every fucking last one of them," Lucas growled. "They wanted to risk the entire world in order to increase their influence. If Mthembu can do anything to mess up their plans for your sons, then I want him free and pursuing that. Besides, you were right. Despite what's been repeated by the media everywhere, there's not any hard proof it was the Brotherhood that nuked Yakutsk."

Konstantin drained his glass and sat back yet again. His mind was awhirl with this information, and the alcohol had not dulled his intellect. If anything, he felt more concentrated, more insightful. After all, vodka was the Russian water. "So with this history of meddling, why did the MFM not try to extend their influence and corrupt the incorruptible military too?"

"That would be their holy grail. They have tried, but there are too many things in the way. The highest tier of the command structure is left vacant. Command succession needs to be proposed by the premier, approved by the senate, and then the candidates presented to the senate's defence committee for election. The executive has always been dominated by SDCP loyalists, while the federal senate is splintered, with no clear majority. This process hasn't happened for sixty years." Angrily, Lucas swallowed his own glass too. "Sixty fucking years! The corporatists don't have the numbers to win it, so they obstruct Society's attempts to do the same. It's stayed motionless indefinitely because both sides want to deny it to the other. Obstruct, delay or outright bury! No progress, no change."

"Command succession?" Konstantin asked the question with some curiosity. "So they have prevented the government from giving the military, what? A ... supreme commander?"

"That's exactly it. The top positions have stayed unappointed. Sure, everything keeps on running, but it's all on minimal guidance. Rudderless, no authority. Man's finest fighting force is rendered powerless by a rotten bureaucracy, while year by year MFM gets bigger and fatter. I haven't turned you in to my superiors because I don't know what they would do with you. If they gave you back to the government, the corporatists would find out within the space of a day and you'd quickly end up dead. I want to hear your story myself before we do anything more ... 'official.'"

Oh.

Finally, it was coming together. Konstantin began to see the bigger picture.

The military was kept sidelined; still doggedly neutral but denied real leadership by the two larger ideologies wrestling for control of the state.

The legislature and executive were the battlegrounds in a long-running contest of wills for political ascendancy. This struggle sounded as though it was very gradually being lost by the loyalists.

Then, lastly, a behind-the-scenes proxy guerilla war between the realist paramilitary, CorpSec and whatever government agencies were trying to maintain control. It was a real fight, one that seemed to disregard common law when it could be ignored with impunity. It was the fight that Konstantin had become the victim of; an extension of the politics that began this entire shambles. A secret fight that tried to kill him, that did kill thousands of Russians; a dirty silent war of kidnappings, theft, oppression, assassination, and destruction. A conflict in which innocent people were murdered if it achieved the ends desired, where the common man was an expendable pawn in this grand game of chess.

Lebaredian's claims that 'unrest is balanced by social stability' and 'democracy is functional' seemed to be less like an embellishment and more an outright lie.

The truth?

Earth was a fucking mess.

Konstantin was sick of being the victim. He looked down at the flower still clutched in his right hand. The namesake of his sister, a perfect kind of beauty amid the turmoil of war. He really did need her advice, the calm rational way she could look at any problem and understand the most logical, sensible approach.

Though, beyond that, he simply wished she was alive, that she had beaten the curse descended on the human race.

What would Lily do?

The earlier analogy sprang back into his mind. She would treat all this like it was ... chess.

Konstantin could almost hear her voice, talking like she did after one of her many victories over his brother in the strategic tussle. No matter what Vasili did, he could never quite manage to figure out her style of play. 'Vasili adapts. He plays aggressive and opportunistic, but he's fixated on the prize. He sees only my first layer of counteraction, and thinks he knows the plan. He looks where I want him to look until his king is pinned and checkmate is too close to avert.'

So, how did that apply here?

The MFM was fixated on aqumi and acquiring hegemony over the Earth. Their attention was focused on the 'counteraction'; the realists, Ayize in particular, and their other political opponents. Konstantin, however, was literally dead to them, and now he was becoming part of the invisible second layer of counteraction. He was in a position where he could out-maneuver, with Lucas Thessaloniki's help. This was because unlike anyone else on Earth, he had knowledge; a unique type of knowledge the corporatists tried to kill him for.

It all came back to Lucere.

Yet, there was something about their arrival on Earth that was nagging him. Something Lucas could confirm.

"Your turn, Konstantin. S'enough of me ranting about how wrecked our system is." The younger man's face was touched by the healthy warmth of the alcohol, his whole face seeming to smile with his mouth; the noble Greek nose, square jaw and close-cropped dark ringlet curls all exuded cheer. "What about your sons? What's the deal with all of that?"

"I will tell," he promised, "but I just want to know one more thing."

Lucas shrugged. "Sure?"

"When we arrived, we were given medical examinations by military doctors to make sure we were clean. You know, to be certain there was no virus. What I want to know is: would any of the data collected during the medical be shared to outside the military?"

"Medical data?" He shook his head. "No. They would have told the government you were clean, but the orbital command isn't required to pass on specifics. None of the service branches are. It's part of the neutrality law. That sort of info would be as secure as anything. Why?"

That meant from the moment he had arrived at Earth with Shay and Mira to when the boys were kidnapped, there was no scientific evidence available to indicate the presence of aqumi. If the military had found anything out of the ordinary, they would not have let the boys continue to Earth's surface. Not only that, but they kept their findings to themselves. Therefore, the corporatist kidnappers could not have known anything unless they had another source. What was it? There were no opportunities to find out anything between orbit and Yakutsk. The only piece of publicly available information about any of the three were their names, and Konstantin and Mira didn't even have any records to go on, being from Lucere and not Earth.

Though, Shay did.

A boy who had been present on Lucere for the entirety of its transformation from a utopian model of humanity to the chaotic nucleus of the Sharpe pandemic. The same boy who returned from those ruins, a product of that transformation but with a hidden past on the world of his birth.

Did the corporatists know his history? Were they are a party to the secrets of Lucere?

"Because," the Russian said, very slowly, "you want MFM to unravel and the public to see what is being done to the world you swore to protect."

"Sure, but how will this help?" Lucas snorted, laughing. "What are you going to do against everything? How can one man alter 200 years of fucked-up history?"

A single determined 14 year old boy had already done more to oppose this catastrophe than anyone on Earth knew. Shay was a miracle that defied the chaos, that inspired him to hope.

It inspired him to try.

"My young friend, I cannot say how I will accomplish this yet," Konstantin rumbled, clapping Lucas on the shoulder. His eyes gleamed and he felt invigorated, having some real sense of direction for the first time in days. "What I can tell you is that I now know where to start. With your help, we can shine a light on their actions."

It was time to strike back.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Yugan did not leave Kerelom for some time. The mountain's clarity was needed, and now with Shay so close to the completion of his journey, Yugan persisted, immersed in meditation. He could not afford to miss what was to come, so he stayed, watching the future possibilities twist and morph, experiencing Shay's perception of the world. At the same time he was joined to the mind of the kitten, a little bundle of animal urges as it sat in the dim enclosure of Shay's backpack.

Linked, inextricably.

Then in Aspira's plaza, as he foresaw, the boy lay unconscious after his confrontation with the arbiter, the red of his blood daubed upon skin and clothes. The evil thing was gone, dissolved unto the wind, but the wounds it inflicted remained. Yugan connected fully to the little creature, investing in a physical possession. The kitten climbed free from the backpack on his impulse, clambering up the boy's stomach and chest. Shay's face through these eyes was huge, but pale and still from the draining injury. Yugan unsheathed the animal's claws and began to strike him on the face.

Wake! Death is a slumber! Wake!

When Shay stirred and began to sit up, Yugan could see the twisting probability surrounding him change and strengthen, the direct result of his own actions. His spirits lifted.

The gambit had worked.

"Hey," the boy had managed, his voice rasping as he shifted the creature to his lap, "you're a stubborn little guy, aren't you?"

The instinct was to reply verbally as if they were having a conversation, but the body he controlled was not able to talk. All that came out was a high-pitched vocalisation, a sort of mee-uu sounding animal call. Both relieved and amused, he released his hold on the creature and it returned to its natural behaviour, undisturbed by his act of occupancy.

The journey continued down into the underside of the plaza and the control node. Viewed through the lens of Shay's understanding, the node itself was a glorious ball of light subverted from the normal eye. It amazed and fascinated Yugan that such a thing was not a product of nature, and instead an artifical creation. Technology was definitely not a foreign concept, but such an advanced type was magical in its appearance and operation.

That wasn't the most amazing thing, however.

The automated intelligence of the node recognised Shay and spawned a mechanism that allowed access. Yugan could sense the technological magic adjusting itself to Shay's mind, so the boy could read the array of glowing symbols written in the air. Shay did not know this language, an alien one from his own, so it was giving him help.

However, Yugan could read it.

Even before the node finished adjusting, without needing the additional mental translation, he could read the words. It was an old style and unusual, with a very formal precise structure and archaic olden meaning, but there was no denying what he saw. It wasn't the same as modern use and a little difficult to understand, but he could still read it nonetheless.

The script was ancient Mishith writing.

He followed the remainder of Shay's journey, from the absorption of the node to Shay's godlike power in the plaza, and onwards to the end, the escape to space. It was a series of wonderful and terrible things. Discovering the disease had rendered desolate all the colony worlds of Shay's kind was horrifying. The desperate retreat to the spaceport and subsequent escape into the heavens was a flight of fear, and the reactivation of the portal back to the human homeworld a fantasy made real. Though the encounter with the black champion was as perilous in actuality as what he had foreseen, Yugan's prescience had survived well enough in his warnings to Shay that disaster was averted.

It took most of the day to experience the apex of his alien ward's adventure, since he could not bear to release his watch until Shay was safe at the world called Earth. When he finally pulled himself from his meditation, collapsing the distant connection, he was drawn back to the waking world on Dagen's Grace and it was bordering on night. The sky was changing colours with the turn of the cycle, and realising he had little time to return to Otsin before dark, he departed the cool rock perch on Kerelom's slopes to make haste for home.

The chitok and razor-leaves were more aggressive than normal, as dusk was a time to push the limits of scavenging's luck into a vicious triumph. Still, Yugan's eyes were wide, and his movements quick and measured as he ran. The most daring chitok were slapped with a tap from his spear-hand, tumbling away with a dejected yelping moan for their troubles. He would swap the weapon between hands with ease, the typical Mishith ambidexterity making the chitok's creative angle of approach an irrelevancy.

More cunning, the razor-leaves would scurry onto branches at neck and torso height, or they would hide at lower level, extending their leafy-camouflage limbs with lightning speed. They imitated the twisting vines that grew everywhere in the wilds, but the insects' extremities could lengthen and harden into an incredibly sharp thin slicing tool. A tripwire, or a garotte, they were more dangerous than the chitok and he had to keep his guard. He would look for the faint trembling of the 'leaves', the creature's telltale metabolic pulse belying that it wasn't really a plant.

When he caught them in his path, he would simply skip over or duck under the ambush point, or maybe bring the spear's butt down onto the creature's shell. Their defence was not so much their exoskeleton, but more their ability to disguise, and so a swift jab was enough to smash the shell and finish them.

Regardless, it was unsafe to travel in the later hours, and when Yugan broke out of the forest, entering the bounds of Otsin, he was lucky to have suffered only a single cut upon his leg. A particularly stealthy razor-leaf had managed a glancing hit before the dagenithi had danced onward. Not bothering to return to the home of his family, he made straight for Mikom's instead. She was sitting on the porch steps in contemplation, her eyes closed. Before he got close, her ears peaked and she opened her eyes, both sets of lids sliding clear in harmony.

"Ah, you are back." The matriarch stood, having waited for his return, though Yugan had not informed her he was journeying to Kerelom today. Her attention swept him from head to foot, and she motioned him inside before he could respond, the sky above darkening fully now as evening set in. "The cutter gave you a mark? Sit, boy-ithi." She gestured to a wetwood seat by the central table, with her inferior left as the right hands picked a cloth and powder from the side shelves.

"A small mark. I did not mean for so long in solitude as to tempt the dark." He tried not to sound apologetic, but it came out that way anyhow.

Kneeling before him, she lifted his leg and inspected it. "Small it may be, young one." Mikom probed the slitted mark with a claw. Satisfied, she wiped away the smear of coagulated essence, and sprinkled a little powder over the cut. "Do not forget what such small marks may do to a dagenithi alone and bloodied in the night." She lowered his limb and stood again, returning the items to their place.

"You were waiting for me?"

"Yes." The soft hiss of her response was in that same aged style, old and sure, as she rifled through a shelf's contents. "Much time is spent in the roaming sleep through your distant world. Always seeking answers with your waking cycle."

"I have found some answers already, matriarch."

"As have I," Mikom turned, a bundle of leather scrolls clutched in her hands and sat upon the seat next to his, "for you are not the first of the Dagenith to know of the power of the mountain."

Kerelom?

"Matriarch?" Yugan queried.

All her eyes were upon his face, her head turned directly to his, and her gaze was striking him with clear intent. Her voice was low and very serious, her ears deadly calm, a tick back from vertical. "Listen. You were gone the full day. Yugan, you see new things with your gift; a strange powerful vision in these simple days, a reminder of when our history was greater and ... not so simple. Now, speak."

The words were not angry, nor loud, but they were authority and Mikom's potency showed in them. She was not to be denied. So he spoke of what he had seen.

"I told you once before of the ruin upon this world. Now I know what caused it. The source is a thing made of darkness and hatred, a breed that moves in shadow and brings an incurable sickness where it touches." He took a breath. "This creature is the foe of the living spirit to whom I am bound and all his kin, as their worlds were laid waste by it over many cycles. It is our foe, matriarch, for I also saw the writing of our kin. Once, we walked that world too, and I witnessed there scribed upon the air itself the letters of the ancient Mishith."

"Then it must be true." She cut off his thoughts, but continued the supposition herself. "It is not their foe nor ours, but the one that opposes all. The one that seeks death without end."

"Matriarch?" This time it was just a whisper.

"Yugan," she said it softly, but plain as anything. "The Enemy has returned."

The Enemy?

Mikom continued. "The adversary that dwelled beyond the Veil of Shadow, that made war upon the Empire and every living thing."

"How do you know this is true?"

"Did you see upon this world a strange light, as brilliant as the stars but hidden from the unlearned eye? This light would burn the Enemy; it would unshroud him and severely pain his earthly form."

"Yes." Astonished, he stared back at her. There were no Mishith words for many of the things Yugan had learned from Lucere, or at least none that he knew, but this light Mikom referenced was the very reason Shay Andersen was alive. It was the same thing the human boy had come to know as aqumi.

How could she know of it?

"Then hear this: the Tale of Sundering was not the only thing passed down from Dagen's time." Mikom unrolled the scrolls, holding them down with two hands while she used the third to indicate the lines of script covering the leather. "Dagen gave to us some wisdom, an old knowledge for each most learned elder to pass along so it may live. Just so, until the time this wisdom is needed. I think," she grinned, the rows of her teeth showing in a sly smile, "we are now at this time."

Yugan peered at the script. It seemed a discourse, though there was no author's name scratched on the leather. Just the text of the commentary itself, in the dull maroon inking of Otsin's local henna-imitation.

The Threefold Gift of Dagen's Grace

The grace of our Grace is a boon twice given. It is in the beauty of the simple clean life that we love so dear, and in our separation from the blight of history. Both are true because we are Sundered. It is a gift that we are the blood of Dagen's blood; a broken half of a long broken dominion. This gift allows safety and through it is granted the survival of the Mishith way.

Yet there is a third aspect to Dagen's promise. Ere his passage to the stars, he spoke to the Sundered elders of a sacrosanct thing, and his words ran thus: 'When the Enemy returns, look to the mountains. On each summit sits a beacon that keeps the sky alight. The highest peaks are the brightest and clearest, and there lies a great hope against the dark. They burn with a secret fire that eludes the naked eye. It is a weapon, and a shield, and a pathway to vision. For this flame is unification and connection and the future.'

'With it, I have seen what is, what is not, and what may be. I have looked down through this Age until the end of Silence. There are many paths to take, but a day will come when another walks where I have walked. Another will become the farseer, and he will bathe in the heat and look across the yawning gulf in my stead. His sight will be as mine; his eye of my true blood, his feet on the foundation of my stone at the roof of the world. It will be a hundred lives hence or a thousand passing or more uncounted, but he will come. Keep open the mountain paths and keep writ this knowledge of the hidden light, for his blinding will be the death of all.'

Thus say we that our eyes are set forever upon these places, so that the Dagenith will keep the promise that Dagen made. There are five he named as principal, for they are torches against the Enemy's malice from the sky. The smaller are Chiketom, Balurul and Da-Meset; the Daughter, the Son and the Unchosen. The greater are Erelin and Usun-Gar; the Father and Mother. Our vigilance does not stray, though time wearies all desires.

These are the gifts of Dagen's Grace.

"This was given from the matriarch of Otsin before me, and the patriarch before her, and down through the many cycles of the Great Circle that passed since the time of the firstborn." She talked in a gentle smooth growl, and her authority was still present though the demanding tinge had faded. Her free superior right hand rested gently on his left arms, as if to comfort. "It was never understood well, for Dagen's knowledge surpasses all we know. Yet, now? What say you now, Yugan of Otsin?"

"The light. It is within Shay, the living spirit." The human boy's name was foreign and strange for Yugan to speak the first time aloud. "It was upon his ruined world. It is upon our world. It must be within ... me."

"Dagen was a farseer. He knew the future, or maybe where the future could lead. He saw the coming of a male dagenithi with the secret fire inside him, one that possessed his same vision of fate. He saw a boy of his own blood, separated by a thousand generations of the Sundered. He saw you."

It couldn't be possible.

Could it?

His sight will be as mine, his eye of my true blood ...

"Matriarch, it cannot be." It was a mantle he could not conceive was his. He did not wish to acknowledge this burden.

How could it be real?

It was not simply an affirmation of the Dagenith, the 'blood of his blood' that all Mishith upon this world revered in their universal kinship. It was a direct literal reference, an unfettered claim on Yugan's line of descent.

Dagen's line was his.

"Do you think it happenstance that you are exactly what he foretold? Do you think it evil luck that you come to this knowledge as the Enemy begins to rise once more? Is it merely chance that it kills unopposed on a world long lost to us?"

"No, matriarch. It is ... undeniable." His shoulders stiffened and his ears twitched. Yugan stared at her, finding in one heartbeat, one breath, an inner acceptance and a ferocity he did not know he had. "What is also undeniable is my bond. It cannot be allowed to fail. We must help Shay. His kind have lost all but their hearth-world. They have power that we do not; to cross between stars, the skill to raise great monuments and perform wonders, but they cannot fight the Enemy. Not yet, for they do not understand it."

"Then," Mikom told him, "you must speak with the one called 'Shay' directly. Kerelom may not be enough for this. Dagen foretold the heights. You need to reach the roof of the world."

Yugan's claws trailed over the part of the script containing the names of the five mountains. He did not recognise any of them, though the surface of Dagen's Grace was vast and contained many natural features. The area to be considered was far from small. "Do you know what is best?"

"The Father, the Daughter and the Son are very far from Otsin, and it would take more than a season through wild lands and over sea to reach any of them. Such travel would be too long. No, you must look to other ways." Her finger followed his on the leather. "The Unchosen is closer, past Gerik and thirtyfold more that direction. The Mother is less the distance, bearing half snow-charm, half sunwise. Only ... the way from Otsin is heavy with danger. It is nothing but deep wilds for so long. This is your choice to seek, for you are building the path to destiny."

It did not matter how dangerous. Yugan understood now what was required. He had to make for the closest, the quickest way. The Mother was the only option.

Usun-Gar.

"It is the Mother. The danger does not matter, matriarch, even if I risk the forest alone."

"Oh no, boy-ithi," she said to him, her hand coming up to scratch reassuringly along his shoulder. "Do not fear a friendless journey. You will not be alone."

-o-0-O-0-o-

For the first time since Yakutsk, the surface I awoke on was soft. Not a sterile flat floor, not a hard rock shelf, but comfortable. Before I mustered the strength to open my eyes, my body felt so relieved, relaxed. Though still sore; my lungs felt the rawness from inhaling the terrible silicate dust of the atmosphere. At least now, I was breathing easier. It seemed like clean filtered air, free from the abrasive particles.

Clean air?

I opened my eyes and was greeted by the sight of a friendly-looking black man, his broadly smiling face criss-crossed with scars. He was framed against the background of an air transport or maybe a space shuttle; we were in a small passenger compartment. He had a glass full of sparkling clear water in his hand, and it was held out in an offer.

My throat was too dry to speak, though I wanted to try, but the man preempted me, extending his hand further with an encouraging look. His smile widened. "Drink. Your body needs all the hydration it can get."

I wasn't going to argue. The water was very cold and combined with my thirst, it felt unbelievably good to drink. Each mouthful was ambrosia and I quickly finished the whole glass.

The man continued talking, his English touched with a pleasantly unintrusive South African flavour. "My name is Ayize. Don't be afraid. You're safe now." He took the glass from me, my brain beginning to function properly now that I wasn't so completely desiccated. "We came here with your brother."

With that restoration of thought came a situational awareness, and then all I could think of was ... him.

Mira? Where is Mira?!

Panic shot through me and I sat bolt upright, swinging my legs off the side of the couch onto the floor. "Where is he?" Voice husky, agitated, and suddenly I was bordering on hysterical, ready to scream if he didn't show up straight away. I wanted him. Needed him. "Where is Mira?"

"Relax. He's right here."

Then, a weight on the couch to my left, a hand on my knee and I was turning, drawn to him; face to face with my miracle. Just the same as I had always known him, the impeccable mask of his public neutrality was in place; and just the same as I always did, I could see straight through it. A grateful intensity, a happy adoration, was shining from within. It was tender and protective and so utterly devoted. The world fell away, banished to the purgatory of hindsight, and it was once more the two of us alone.

My arms slid around his shoulders, his hands grasping my neck. Trembling with desire, with thankfulness that I was given another chance to do this, our lips joined harmoniously together. My heart was pounding like our very first kiss, the wet silken gloss of his tongue playing with mine; his palms gently cradling my chin and fingertips stroking beneath my ears.

My other half, my rock, my miracle.

We were just beginning to draw apart when his eyes caught mine and then without hesitation, his right hand slid behind my neck and pulled me forward into a second kiss. This time, it was a passionate and sensual, and I yielded as he pressed forward into me. His weight was more dominant but not oppressive, and his right hand worked up, tangled in my hair, rubbing my neck. His left moved, gliding down from my chin and under the collar onto my shoulder, a trail of sensitive tingling from his fingers that excited me beyond words.

Pulling apart, I reluctantly forced some space before we went too far. Mira was flushed with a sexual wanting, hot and lustful as he sat back, allowing the distance only because it was my wish. Craving me. Though his expression was outwardly no different, his eyes smouldered and melted me, the message in them as plain as day. It was playful and amorous, but at the same time so full of his longing, his emotion: 'you are so perfect in every way. I want to make love to you right now.'

Shivering even from the extraordinary heat of passion, I was still studying his face in a daze of happiness when I heard Ayize speak.

"Well, that's a friendly greeting."

I ripped my eyes away from Mira, remembering with a huge burst of embarrassment how alone we weren't.

"I don't think I've met two brothers who are quite so, uh, fond of each other." His eyes were wide as he looked at us, a slight smirk creeping into the smile's edges. "You must have a very close-knit family."

My skin was already warming up as I realised how uncontrollable my actions were in our reunion. "I, uh, I'm s-sorry," I stuttered, then I paused to take a deep breath, my throat and lungs still feeling the desert's torment. "I thought I was going to die. I'm just glad." I swallowed, then looked to Mira again. The sexual heat of his gaze had cooled, simmering to a contented adoration as he watched my face, his right hand still caressing my hair. Don't stop touching me. "Just glad I get another chance."

"I am glad you get another chance too." Ayize nodded. "Mostly because it is better you are together and free, but also because I don't want to piss off your iqhawe," he inclined his head towards Mira, "since your father warned me it was a bad idea. Seen plenty of evidence for that, too."

My father? Does he mean Konstantin?

"Konstantin is okay?" I shook my head, trying to focus. "I'm sorry, I, uh, don't mean to be rude. It's just that ... you might have told me your name but I don't know who you really are, or why you're here with Mira, or even where here is."

"Can't say we know much about you either." Another voice came from the doorway into the rest of the vessel. A tall well-built Middle Eastern man had appeared in the gap, leaning casually against the frame. "We risked our lives to come get you though."

"Excuse my comrade Rashid. He doesn't know his manners." Ayize's interjection was swift, and he did not directly caution Rashid, but it was clear in the tone who was boss. "We are part of a group that is known on Earth as 'realism.' We oppose the people that kidnapped you and your, uh, 'brother.'" He gave a snort of amusement and I felt my face redden at the inference. Going to need a new description for Mira that doesn't evoke that reaction. "Now, I know you can do some super-hero type awesome shit, since I've already seen Mira in action, but I don't know how, or why. I am hoping you will tell me. Either way, it'll be really bad if the wrong people learn about you, and guess what? I'm sure you already know this, but your kidnappers are definitely the wrong people. So, we were tracking where they took you two. Mira was on Earth so we helped him get free, and he helped us back. Then after a bit of globetrotting and lawbreaking," he twirled his hand lazily in the air, "y'know, the normal sort of thing post-prison heist, and before you can say 'insane samurai', we're on Berchande giving you a ride. It was always going to be risky and I am amazed we weren't killed, but your .. heh ... 'brother' is well versed in miracles. That, and he seems to really love sky-diving."

Sky-diving? Uh, right. Well, miracles are definitely his area of expertise.

"Konstantin though, he's okay, right?"

"He is fine," Ayize confirmed. "He was a little shaken since we barely got him out in time, but unhurt."

Got him out in time? Out of ... what?

The African's expression shifted along with his voice, instantly realising what he had said, his voice quieting. "Oh, of course, you wouldn't know. Your kidnappers blew up a 120 kiloton nuclear device in Yakutsk a few hours after you left. The urban area was completely devastated."

What?!

"Destroyed?" It came out in a whisper.

"Destroyed. I don't know if anyone taught you about nukes on Lucere, but it's a bomb with the power to flatten a city." Ayize nodded solemnly. "Many people, blameless people, are dead because they happened to be in the path of a much greater force."

I was well aware of what nuclear weapons could do, but I could not understand why it happened to a city full of innocent people. Who nukes hundreds of thousands of human beings just because they're blocking the agenda? What sort of person does this? Is it killing out of fear? Hatred? Pure anger?

Anger.

Sitting there, safe, with a clear mind and my reasonable conscience fully aware and intact, I was suddenly reminded of what I had done when anger had taken over.

When my wrath had let loose.

Anger. I have done that. I have killed in anger.

Mortified, a wave of guilt and remorse swept through me. The images of those people suspended in the air flitted through my head, the bonds of aqumi growing tighter and tighter around them, until ... the end. Confusion filled me, and shame, and I dropped my head, covering my face with a hand so I did not have to look anyone in the eye.

It was Mira. They were hurting Mira. They were hurting him and it was wrong, but ... I murdered them.

"Shay?" Ayize's voice came softly and I heard him crouch forward, in front of me, Mira sliding along to press against me at the same time, his arm going around my shoulders. "Are you okay?"

"When I escaped," I breathed shakily, hoarsely murmuring, eyes still locked in regretful disgrace on my knees, "I killed a dozen people because I was angry; because I hated them."

I heard Ayize give a soft exhale, a sort of ohh of understanding. "What did you do to them?"

"I crushed them." I had paid barely a glance to the mulched corpses as I left the base where I was imprisoned, but now the memory returned in full gruesome detail. It was a watercolour of horror, an imagined painting as I relived those moments. "You don't understand how easy it was. I picked them up and squashed them like insects. Like they weren't even people."

"Shay, look at me. Please." I raised my head, eyes glassy, and did as he asked. "That's better." His goofy smile was gone, and underneath I saw a seriousness and an aching tiredness. In that instant I was reminded of Sergeant Morgan, with his war weariness, having seen too much of the wrong thing. "Now, you only just met me, so maybe you won't take this to heart, but it might help. I've been fighting in Earth's battle of ideals for about 30 years. Killed a lot of people. Some of 'em were guilty. Some weren't. Some were ... eh." He gave a shrug. "Grey areas. Can't say for sure. Thing is, whether or not I judge those people by their actions, they're dead. Right or wrong, all of them have gone to meet the maker, and they aren't coming back."

"So, you just, what ... forget about it?"

"No." He shook his head. "You keep 'em in here," he pointed to his temple, "and here," then to his chest. His heart. "Not the ghosts that torment your mind about why, because that shit will poison you and make you crazy. Can't change the past. Just ... keep the memories, and give them a place inside to repay some of the honour, if they deserve it. The ones that don't?" Ayize grinned. "Fuck 'em. Roast the bad guys on an open flame."

Despite myself, I cracked a smile.

"You aren't a lost cause, or a psycho. You're gonna be okay. Want to know how I can tell?"

I shrugged wordlessly, still feeling too subdued by guilt to say much.

"Because killing bothers you. It's a weight you have to deal with." Ayize looked me dead in the eye, unblinking, thoroughly intent on seeing this part of his homily strike home. This is the really important bit. "Anyone that's lost their conscience isn't bothered. Maybe they'll strike a brother down in the heat of anger, maybe they do it in cold blood. Whatever it is, once they turn their back and walk away, they're carefree. Weightless."

Weightless?

Lily had told me a story of how she had to bash a marauder's skull with a brick, to save Konstantin's brother. Vasili, the man she loved. The one she compared me to, once. She had never said it outright, but I could tell that even though it was justified, the experience stayed with her years later.

Not weightless at all. I must not forget what it means. Even if I gain the power to stop a heart at the click of my fingers, I must not ever think of that decision as inconsequential.

"Now, I have to ask you," he paused for a good few seconds, trying to frame the question, then Rashid said it for him.

"Are there any more car-sized xenomorphs out there that might kill or infect us?"

"That's the one." Ayize flicked his brow, agreeing with the man behind him. "Running into one of them would really put a crimp in my afternoon."

Their levity was working. The question was fitting but a weird non sequitur to the previously heavy conversation, and I snickered without even thinking.

"No, there were only three following me and they're all disposed of now. I don't know where they came from, but I didn't sense anything else?"

"Sense?" Ayize looked at me curiously. "What do you mean?"

"Well, uh," I began, then stopped. What should I say? I guess ... I should give him the honest treatment, like I didn't do with Konstantin in the beginning. He's been pretty respectful so far, but unlike Konstantin that's because he has known what Mira can do right from the start. He did organise this rescue though. So, truth? "Well, it's like this. I can ... um, 'feel' I guess is the word, things that are nearby. So can Mira. It's not like being psychic or anything. More like a kind of ESP, I guess."

"So that's why Mira was so keen to launch himself out of the shuttle when we were still hundreds of metres up," Ayize mused. "ESP? It's a bit like a sixth sense, then?"

"Yeah. A bit like that. I know you probably don't know anything about them, but the Sharpe aliens are really obvious to me this way. Well, they can be. They can be really good at hiding too."

"We know they exist," Rashid said, "but no-one has actually seen one."

"Except you two, I bet." Ayize gazed at us thoughtfully. "Huh. Interesting. Well, Shay, all things being acceptable on the surface, I'd like to go take a look at the CorpSec base, see which branch was pushing those RDA fuckers. There may be some useful data I can find out from Berchande about your kidnappers before we try to figure a safe jump back to Earth." Then he added quickly: "But only if you're okay, physically and mentally. Don't have to come inside with Rashid and I if you don't want."

"It's okay. I'll handle it." I managed a smile, though I still felt very shaky, and not really at peace with the fate of the people who were experimenting on me. "I saw plenty of bad shit on Lucere before I met you. Thank you, though."

"Well, with that cleared up, let's get moving." Ayize stood, slapping Rashid on the arm, his voice muting as he exited into the next compartment. "Come on, brother. We've got corporatist secrets to raid."

Rashid gave a deadpan slightly exasperated eyeroll, and followed after his boss.

Finally alone, I turned to Mira. His eyes had a shine of curiosity to them, a sort of inquisitive eagerness. Of course you're curious. Now that you're back with me, everything is okay. You want to explore. You want to play. He was sending me a query, a look of suggestion; 'we're going on another adventure, aren't we? I like adventures.'

"I know you do," I whispered. "You're a Jedi. They're all about adventure. At least now you've got a sword."

He tilted his head flippantly, as if to brush off the suggestion that any of it was an effort. The way he did it was charming and so unaffected, and not wanting to let such a beautiful moment pass, I quickly leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. Lingering for a second or two, he pressed forward, prolonging it, wanting more, but I broke away when I felt his tongue try to join in on the fun. The tumbling butterflies in my stomach and breathlessness were an amazing feeling on their own. They were enough enjoyment for now, knowing full well that what Mira could do with his tongue would destroy my will to resist and end with us wrapped uncontrollably around each other on the couch.

"As much as I want to lie here until we reach that base and just, uh, m-make out," I murmured, my voice still refusing to not nervously stutter at the worst times, "we're going to behave. I promise I'll make it up to you later though." I stood, taking his hand as I did, so we could follow the others.

He didn't move though. He was just sitting there, looking up at me.

Then he smiled.

Happy I am touching you. Thankful I am with you. Amazed at what you are.

His eyes glistened, his smile shining with an unrivalled gratitude that he was right where he was, right now. He spoke as he held my hand, his voice soft, but bursting through me with complete lucidity.

"Shay, I love you."

-o-0-O-0-o-

The CorpSec shuttle glided in over the entrance to MFM's Berchande facility. Finding a clear spot on the top of the mesa to land was very easy. The rock shelf was not large, but it had plenty of room to seat the craft with more to spare. Exploration of the facility would be quick and without problem. Nothing to fear.

Nothing that was expected.

The three hunter-killers were gone, defeated in their task. They had not returned to their master. Destroyed before the hunt could be finished and the kill committed.

Then, the scent was renewed. The defiler was here, and a betrayer was with it. The first one, the abomination. Corruption of order, decay of purpose.

Falsity.

Then, two more. Humans. The slave race, ready for cleansing.

Or ... prey.

The arbiter drew into itself, minimising its footstep upon the ethereal surrounds. Fading from sight, it shrank into the smallest echo, the barest scrap of a whisper on the wind.

The servants had failed.

It was time to hunt.

em>Alternate Cut Ending for the second last scene: "Shay, I'm pregnant." (*PLOT TWIST*)
Well, this one was hellish to produce, though: Konstantin -- and Yugan! Veil of Shadow has reached a part of the plot where it is extraordinarily slow to write. I hope you are all enjoying it, though reviews for the last couple chapters have been scant, so I am flying blind on reader satisfaction. I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment, ask questions, review, like, or anything that might take your fancy!
If you are curious for extra info on the minor characters and aqumi, check out this post! ^_^
Copyright © 2017 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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Thoroughly fascinating story with soooo much detail. Love it. Echo the "superb story" from kajean. Keep up the amazing work. And keep up the parallels to our own oligarchy that seems to be taking over politics.

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Heeey, I am so happy about this chapter! It included a lot of things that I have been waiting for since the start of this story. Though it IS slow, I like that, and it does look like things are really picking up now (at all fronts, really).

 

It's like 4am (so I'm super tired) and I have not only been super busy with university during the past days, but my partner for a presentation on Tuesday is going to kill me if I don't deliver some serious results by tomorrow...

 

So I am not even going to try to give a more elaborate comment on the content - instead Ima go crash for tonight. I hope that I will have the time I need to write something longer and more thought through when the next chapter is being released!

We should chat some time again! I miss talking to you! ;3

 

Have a good night and keep it up, it's outstanding work!

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On 05/03/2014 05:06 AM, kajean said:
Another amazing chapter in this superb story. Thank you.
Thank you! I'm so glad you are enjoying it. :)
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On 05/03/2014 11:54 AM, GWood said:
Thoroughly fascinating story with soooo much detail. Love it. Echo the "superb story" from kajean. Keep up the amazing work. And keep up the parallels to our own oligarchy that seems to be taking over politics.
Thank you! I appreciate your comments :)

 

The parallels to the corrupt inefficiency of our own contemporary democracies isn't an incidental theme. It isn't meant as a direct analogue, but there are definite shades of that. If anything I'd hope it serves as a commentary on the dangers of extremism in any form, and the problems inherent with maintaining a stable democracy in the face of human nature.

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I've been waiting for this chapter, and am not disappointed in the least. I don't

know how you manage all the subplots and still make it all work so well. I suppose

that's called talent. I don't think I'll ever have all my questions answered, but

many of them were with this chapter. The index you posted on your forum helped

a lot, thanks.

 

So the Aqumi was set up by Yugan's ancestors. That's enlightening, and puts him

in better perspective. Now he's got a mountain to climb, and not just because it's

there. It is part of his mission. He controlled kitty back on Lucere! That was a shock.

Earth is a mess, -a very lucky mess considering the close call that was avoided.

It galls me to think that humanity was almost destroyed and the corporates used

that as a chance to gain power. Shameless! They're not even done yet either. They

are hardly better than the arbiters.

 

So much to absorb here, and I love it. Thanks!

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On 05/03/2014 11:55 AM, Sammy Blue said:
Heeey, I am so happy about this chapter! It included a lot of things that I have been waiting for since the start of this story. Though it IS slow, I like that, and it does look like things are really picking up now (at all fronts, really).

 

It's like 4am (so I'm super tired) and I have not only been super busy with university during the past days, but my partner for a presentation on Tuesday is going to kill me if I don't deliver some serious results by tomorrow...

 

So I am not even going to try to give a more elaborate comment on the content - instead Ima go crash for tonight. I hope that I will have the time I need to write something longer and more thought through when the next chapter is being released!

We should chat some time again! I miss talking to you! ;3

 

Have a good night and keep it up, it's outstanding work!

While there isn't much action here compared with the last 2-3 chapters, the plot has undoubtedly moved along in terms of reader understanding. There are plenty of reasons given for all kinds of things; simultaneously the network of past events and how they connect has been expanded, and hints of foreshadowing to the future given.

 

Thank you. You know how to find me.

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On 05/03/2014 05:53 PM, Stephen said:
I've been waiting for this chapter, and am not disappointed in the least. I don't

know how you manage all the subplots and still make it all work so well. I suppose

that's called talent. I don't think I'll ever have all my questions answered, but

many of them were with this chapter. The index you posted on your forum helped

a lot, thanks.

 

So the Aqumi was set up by Yugan's ancestors. That's enlightening, and puts him

in better perspective. Now he's got a mountain to climb, and not just because it's

there. It is part of his mission. He controlled kitty back on Lucere! That was a shock.

Earth is a mess, -a very lucky mess considering the close call that was avoided.

It galls me to think that humanity was almost destroyed and the corporates used

that as a chance to gain power. Shameless! They're not even done yet either. They

are hardly better than the arbiters.

 

So much to absorb here, and I love it. Thanks!

I can assure you that by the story's eventual end (and no, I am not going to say how far off that is) you will have all your questions answered to satisfaction. I am trying to be balanced with how the reveal happens, though I know how agonising and slow it must appear to readers and I am sorry for that. Though, I am glad you find the forum information useful.

 

It does certainly seem that the Mishith had a role in events that took place on Lucere a long time ago. Now it is a matter of reconciling this knowledge with what the reader knows of Mishith history that has been learned through Mikom's wisdom; specifically the Tale of Sundering.

 

Though the kitten was established as being a connective element at the end of Chapter 4, I didn't directly describe the act of possession, so you got to see that here. As well as from Shay's perspective in Chapter 5 -- which is further forward chronologically than Yugan's current story arc, so do bear that in mind. Those events, as far as Yugan is concerned, have not happened yet.

 

Yes, Earth is very much a mess! Konstantin, Lucas and their compatriots don't have an easy task in tackling the MFM to change anything, but they do have a few aces up their sleeves. It's just all a matter of strategic maneuvering.

 

Thanks for reading! There's plenty more to come.

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You are an amazing writer who is so conscious when he writes, it is an absolute rarity and joy to read these marvellous stories.if it wouldn't give my Polish professors a heart attack, I would absolutely love to write my dissertation about the wondrous complex world that you have spun. I'll wait patiently for your magic :-)

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On 05/15/2014 01:46 AM, bundu_st said:
You are an amazing writer who is so conscious when he writes, it is an absolute rarity and joy to read these marvellous stories.if it wouldn't give my Polish professors a heart attack, I would absolutely love to write my dissertation about the wondrous complex world that you have spun. I'll wait patiently for your magic :-)
Thank you so much! Your kind words made my day :) Whilst probably not material that any professor would find suitable, I am very curious as to what field you study that could use my humble scribblings for such material. English literature or similar?

 

The next chapter is now under production. I am going to make a concerted effort to not have it take as long as 7 did.

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Sorry, I read chap. 7 as soon as you posted it, but wasn't able to review at that time.

We now have 4 different stories on 4 different worlds, all connected and very enjoyable. As soon as you focus on one character, I start missing the others. When will Nyx and Elia reappear? ;)

The historian in me is delighted with all the extra information and the background elements which you gave in chapter 7. I particularly like the fact that they don't seem super-imposed on the story line ; they don't come as an after-thought. I think we might have chatted about it already, but did you have all this in mind when you started writing Hidden Sunlight? How much do you create as you go along?

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On 05/19/2014 02:11 AM, Bleu said:
Sorry, I read chap. 7 as soon as you posted it, but wasn't able to review at that time.

We now have 4 different stories on 4 different worlds, all connected and very enjoyable. As soon as you focus on one character, I start missing the others. When will Nyx and Elia reappear? ;)

The historian in me is delighted with all the extra information and the background elements which you gave in chapter 7. I particularly like the fact that they don't seem super-imposed on the story line ; they don't come as an after-thought. I think we might have chatted about it already, but did you have all this in mind when you started writing Hidden Sunlight? How much do you create as you go along?

It's okay. Review at your leisure, the text isn't going anywhere ^_^

 

Nyx and Elia will get some more attention soon. Chapters 5 and 6 were, by necessity, focused on the main pair. They will return again in 8, as the narrative begins to spread again to visit everything.

 

While 7 didn't have much in the way of action, the plot did move forward in a number of more abstract ways. Information! Everyone got a bit of a push in various directions; Konstantin, Yugan and even Shay and Ayize, though they are still regrouping. None of the learned knowledge is meant to overshadow or seem incidental; this is the universe in which these characters found themselves and it was this way long before they discovered any truth about it.

 

We did talk about it a little! With regard to the depth of my intended plotlines, it wasn't quite so detailed as it is now back when I was writing Hidden Sunlight. The larger story and my intentions for Veil of Shadow were beginning to crystalise much more during the latter phases of the first book, but the more intricate happenings remained indistinct until I got into the preplanning and writing.

 

I almost think of it like some large structure approached from a distance. A mountain perhaps? :D Each step towards it gives a better idea idea of the scale, and the closer you get the individuals faces, gullies, ridges and formations, become more pronounced. These are the story arcs, chapters, scenes, even paragraphs. The closer I get, the further up I climb - the better I see it and can paint it!

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"Not much action"? Did not even notice that. You somehow manage to mesh everything so well that just anything you write ends up being interesting. And as you pursue one storyline, I do not even miss the others, just because the current one is so intriguing that I can't come to think of anything else.

You did also produce a decent make-up for the terrible things that Shay has done. At least he realized it was wrong and seems to have some kind of respect for the danger that his anger holds. I hereby withdraw my previous comment, there is still hope for Shay. :)

Keep up your perfect work, you can't even imagine how much you give me by creating this (despite all the horror that happens) wonderful world that I can dive into thanks to YOU! :heart::hug:

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On 11/20/2014 06:03 AM, Scary said:
"Not much action"? Did not even notice that. You somehow manage to mesh everything so well that just anything you write ends up being interesting. And as you pursue one storyline, I do not even miss the others, just because the current one is so intriguing that I can't come to think of anything else.

You did also produce a decent make-up for the terrible things that Shay has done. At least he realized it was wrong and seems to have some kind of respect for the danger that his anger holds. I hereby withdraw my previous comment, there is still hope for Shay. :)

Keep up your perfect work, you can't even imagine how much you give me by creating this (despite all the horror that happens) wonderful world that I can dive into thanks to YOU! :heart::hug:

Aww, thank you! That's how I want it to be; equal parts interesting as the component parts of the story. So I am glad that is coming across.

 

I am always one to caution patience when it comes to the potential consequences of character growth. Part of the journey is the characters making choices, sometimes under heavy pressure and sometimes the 'wrong' one, and then later dealing with the repercussions of said choice. This is where Shay is at now, and he is a sensitive and analytic individual, so rationalising this is not easy.

 

I'm really happy - seriously - that you take such enjoyment. I hope to continue to evoke that as the book moves on. :hug:

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On 04/15/2015 01:32 PM, Celethiel said:
*smiles* I love you shay... <---I like that :)
well, he does! :)
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Wow I love how you put the story together it is a very enjoyable journey very fulfilling like eat a fine meal.

Once again I must thank you for share this Story:hug: 

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Hey, what a great chapter again - and a relaxing one. I really enjoyed the slow pace and then how Mira and Shay got back together.

I liked the atmosphere as Konstantin (almost) returned "home" to Luca's villa in Greece. "It crept on him from nowhere, but this place brought a strong feeling of nostalgia."
The conversation between Lucas and Constantine may be the crucial turning point in the plot, as Constantine begins to understand his own new role in the context of defending Earth. "My young friend, I cannot say how I will accomplish this yet," ... "What I can tell you is that I now know where to start. With your help, we can shine a light on their actions."

Yugan's return to Mikom reveals his true distinction not only for the Dagenith but for the other planet colonies as well. His bonding to Shay is amazing. Who is the aqumi donor?

I am relieved to find that Shay is burdened by what he has done: "They were hurting Mira. They were hurting him and it was wrong, but ... I murdered them." But he is comforted by Ayize.

I t wouldn't be Stellar if this chapter wouldn't finish with a cliffhanger: 

Then, two more. Humans. The slave race, ready for cleansing.
Or ... prey.

The arbiter drew into itself, minimising its footstep upon the ethereal surrounds. Fading from sight, it shrank into the smallest echo, the barest scrap of a whisper on the wind.
The servants had failed.
It was time to hunt.

This answers my former question whether the arbiter could hunt, too.

Now, one final request: Would there be a reference list for all the names having come up in the sequels?
Also, I could find help in a reference for TLAs and other abbreviations f.i. MFM, RDA, SDCP and the more.

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11 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

Hey, what a great chapter again - and a relaxing one. I really enjoyed the slow pace and then how Mira and Shay got back together.

I took a lot of pleasure in their reunion, and how oblivious and instinctual their attraction to one another is. Ayize certainly wasn't expecting that.

11 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

I liked the atmosphere as Konstantin (almost) returned "home" to Luca's villa in Greece. "It crept on him from nowhere, but this place brought a strong feeling of nostalgia."
The conversation between Lucas and Constantine may be the crucial turning point in the plot, as Constantine begins to understand his own new role in the context of defending Earth. "My young friend, I cannot say how I will accomplish this yet," ... "What I can tell you is that I now know where to start. With your help, we can shine a light on their actions."

He has certainly realised that he is in a unique position to pull strings and change what is going on.

11 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

I am relieved to find that Shay is burdened by what he has done: "They were hurting Mira. They were hurting him and it was wrong, but ... I murdered them." But he is comforted by Ayize.

He feels guilt because of what he did, even though it was justified in his mind as an act of future prevention and vengeance. It's an example of how even an intelligent mature boy might need the guidance of an adult from time to time; Ayize has seen a lot of this kind of thing.

11 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

This answers my former question whether the arbiter could hunt, too.

I will reiterate: they most definitely can hunt. They may not be creatures of bestial speed and raw power like the hounds, but they are absolutely able to do the dirty work.

11 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

Now, one final request: Would there be a reference list for all the names having come up in the sequels?
Also, I could find help in a reference for TLAs and other abbreviations f.i. MFM, RDA, SDCP and the more.

There is no reference list, as the novel is now several years old and during its writing I did not receive any requests for one, so it was my belief that such a thing was never needed.

The cast of minor characters isn't actually too big. Outside of Shay, Mira, Konstantin, and Yugan, you will only need to really pay attention to: Ayize, Rashid, Lindani, Kenji, Lucas, Elia and Nyx. There will be a couple more peripheral actors who have not yet been introduced, but that's largely it.

As for acronyms, they were generally meant to be realised through context by the reader, but I can break that down a little for you here:

MFM is the mega-corporation that dominates a large chunk of human politics and economics; Manufacturing, Finance & Mercantile.
RDA is the research branch of MFM, responsible for their scientific advances: Research, Development & Acquisition
SDCP is the full acronym for Society, the main loyalist bloc that opposes the corporatists in politics and has been in control of most government bodies, i.e. the legislative and executive branches, for a long time: Society for Democratic Cultural Preservation.
CS or CorpSec is a contracted portmanteau of Corporate Security and acts as both police and military under MFM's control. They are nominally subordinate to federal control, but in practice they are often acting with impunity.

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