With Great Power

It had been days since I had dropped off the Book of St. Arzad to Hiva Shesha. All she had said was:

After all of the trials and tribulations, we finally have the truth at our fingertips. Now it’s time to dig in and find out what the Wildfire Khumaak is all about.

I thought I was going to wear grooves into the floor I had been pacing my temporary quarters so much. I had opted to stay local, to be there when Hiva’s research was completed, but as I had learned, you couldn’t rush a historian; they all had the time in the world.

I was pulled from a sound sleep at 4AM on my NeoCom. Hiva was on the other end. She looked worn down, tired, but more than that, she looked older, deeply troubled. Without hesitation I asked her what was wrong:

I have devoted much of my life to history of all sorts, from its unflappable truths to its infallible lies to the nuanced information systems found throughout the chronicles, artifacts, disputed ruins, and subjective quagmires. Despite what people think, history is a shapeless void of nonsense, akin to space’s vacuum or the cold, thoughtless smattering of stars that we call home. There is no meaning besides what we make of it; we do not know truth outside of the lenses we place over this shapeless void, the teeming nothingness, the endless morass of information.

I was fully awake and sobered emotionally by her words. I could sense she was at a personal crossroads, and I would need to listen carefully if I was to be of any use as her chosen confidante.

This book troubles me. I do not know what to make of it, nor do I know how to proceed. If what this book says is true, and the chances are good that at least some of it is, then the Starkmanir did not begin their rebellion out of a thirst for independence, but rather out of loyalty to their Holder, a man known to them as St. Arzad. The Wildfire Khumaak, a symbol he stole from them, is not an enduring relic of independence, nor is it a glowing tribute to the spirit of the Matari people. Rather, it is an artifact devoted to the memory of the Starkmanir captivity, an heirloom of oppression, but also an endearing homage to a fallen captor.

Though a man of strong opinions, I held my tongue. Now was only the time to nod and continue listening.

In other words, the Wildfire Khumaak subverts the defiance of my people.

That is, of course, if this is true. All we have is the relic and this book. The story of St. Arzad is practically hidden or buried in the Amarr history: I can’t find a trace of it. For all we know, this is apocryphal heresy, a rash account of history, a fever dream of some demented Starkmanir, or an outright hoax.

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I’m torn on what to do, and thus I will put the choice in your hands. I don’t want the responsibility for what happens to this text. There are two places we can take it: Return it to the Defiants and reunite it with the Wildfire Khumaak, or donate it to a Gallente historian I know. The former option gives the book back its people, though I don’t know how they’ll approach the text (or even if they’ll release it to the general public, which to me seems a shame). The latter will keep the book safe and make it available for the greater good. Even though it’s a troubling account, it’s still history, and it stills needs to be known.

The choice is in your hands.

It was like she had parked a cruiser on my chest. I felt a tightness I had never experienced, and my hand instinctively grasped. Though physically fine, I felt as though I were having a heart attack, something unheard of for a capsuleer.

My posture broke, my shoulders sank, and my eyes worked furiously, looking this way and that as I analyzed the problem, trying to factor in the countless repercussions of either decision, and failing.

Hiva continued:

As I said, I leave the decision in your hands. This book is a remnant of the Minmatar people, and thus it probably belongs with my brethren. If you feel the same way, take the Book of St. Arzad back to Oggur Marendei, the Defiant member you spoke with earlier. They have the Wildfire Khumaak, and they should have this book as well.

Like I said, this book is unsettling for me, not as a historian, but as a proud member of the Minmatar Republic. The resistance our people endured for the past years is very important to me, and our ultimate defiance of the Amarr people is crucial to our cultural identity. This book does not show our defiance in a positive light, or at least muddies the motivations behind it.

This text belongs with our people. I cannot attest to how they will handle it, nor can I say for certain that they will bury it. But the right thing to do is to give it to them and not to let any outsiders take possession of it. This pains me as a historian, but it feels right as a Minmatar.

The truth is not easy, nor is it absolute. We base our understanding on our perspectives, the ideas we wish to accept, and the data we acknowledge as correct. Everything else is information clutter obscuring our understanding of the world around us.

My head swam, vertigo settling in. She made good points, and even though she believed it to be the right thing to do, did I? The decisions was mine alone to make.

I started to question what others might do in my position, friends and enemies alike, grasping for someone else to make this decision.

To make things even more of a dilemma, Hiva offered me a cargo of ten experimental RSS Enhance Probes, with 4x the flight time of the Sisters probes I often employed.

I needed more information.I asked Hiva about the Gallente historian.

Posmon Aubenard is a friend of mine, a Gallente historian working with the University of Caille. He’s a trusted academic, an astute scholar, and a respected member of the university’s staff. If you take this book to him, I know that he will preserve it and keep it safe, possibly even put the book in the proper historical light with a best-selling book of his own in a few years. That might not sit well with our Minmatar brethern, but at least we won’t lose the truth, or whatever part of the truth this book represents. The Defiants can keep the Wildfire Khumaak – although I’m sure Posmon would love to get his hands on it – but it’s just an empty symbol without the book.

Time stretched endlessly, though only a few seconds passed. I was silent, biting my lip, not sure which way to decide. I completely understood why Hiva passed this off onto me. It was a huge responsibility to bear. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be the one to make the decision, yet I was the one who had to make it, in retrospect.

When we are quiet, when we stop thinking, when we are completely raw and truthful with ourselves, I believed that we can hear a gentle voice of inner truth. Each of us possesses it. Each of us can choose right or wrong.

It’s our own life experiences that have tainted this voice, that have driven down in silence to the point where we can’t even recognize its sound anymore. It’s our own baggage that damages us. We are the only ones that can control how we react to things, how long we let things affect us. We control our tomorrows.

I made my choice.

I won’t forget this.

That was all Hiva said as I headed for the Onslaught.

AVESBAR VI – MOON 18

I had showered off since docking, and now was walking down the main access ramp to my ship. I held a satisfied smile on my face, knowing I made the right decisions. Under my warm, wrapped in leather, was the Book of St. Arzad.

I extended my right arm, warmly shaking hands with Dr. Posmon Aubenard of Caille University.

Thank you for giving me this book. I will sure it comes to no harm. This is not an easy history to swallow, and I’m not sure how factual its statements are. But it is better to tackle the truth than to bury it. Many Matari will be upset when this book is revealed to the public. I don’t know how or when that revelation will come about; all I know is that it must. Thank you for your help. Good luck.

I was shuffled off to an aide, and enjoyed a fine feast that evening at the University. As the night hours wound down, I was quartered in generous accommodations, and sent a comm to Hiva, wondering how she was holding up.

I think we did the right thing. Though I’m deeply troubled by this situation, as a historian, I must confront it. Thank you for all your efforts in this investigation, Roc. Though some of our people may be upset with you, the Matari people as a whole owe you their gratitude. Good luck in the future, my brave pilot.

She had said all that had needed saying I supposed, and again, I was content with that. It was the last time I would ever see Hiva Shesha, but I would not soon forget the time we had spent together, nor the way my path was altered from our shared experiences in this adventure.

Wildfire/Stillwater

In the short time I had known Hiva, I had come to realize she was very passionate about her vocation.

I’ve been a scholar and a historian for many years now, so I know how to handle ancient relics. I will confess, though, that I was about to cut right into the middle of the Blood Obsidian Orb to see what was inside. Yes, I was getting rather desperate for answers. Luckily, the tablet you uncovered was more than just mystical mumbo-jumbo and flowery metaphors. Rather, it was practically an instruction manual to open the orb. Spirits be praised!

I cringed a little. How could someone so blatantly immoral and sexual be so fervent about spirituality?

I found this datacore inside the orb. According to the tablet, there’s a church in this area called the Wildfire Life Chapel. Inside the chapel is something called the Book of St. Arzad. I think what was what you came across in those ruins: parts of this book.

I didn’t show my shock through the vidscreen. I should’ve known she had scanned my ship. And yet, she hadn’t said anything about me not handing over the pages from that book.

My, from the looks of it, this is heavy stuff. I haven’t had the chance to piece it all together yet, but I have a feeling that this book goes beyond a simple relic like the Wildfire Khumaak and into much bigger territory.

This book must be recovered. I’m almost certain that it’s in the chapel. Put the datacore in that chapel and see what comes of it. It’s our only hope. See what happens.

I wasn’t reassured, but my own excitement level at possibly unlocking the mystery of the Wildfire Khumaak pushed me forward.

datacoreI had the datacore quickly loaded into my ship. This datacore, found inside the Blood Obsidian Orb, was supposed to reveal the location of the lost Book of St. Arzad.

 

CHURCH OF ST. ARZAD

arzadchurch

I made haste to the church, anxious to get the datacore inserted into the chapel.

I sent out a pre-programmed Valkryie II to insert the datacore, maintaining a safe distance in case things went sour as they inevitably did.

A few ancient mechanisms fired, and container slid out from the side of the chapel. A cursory scan from the Onslaught revealed it contained an old book, and my heart quickened;  I had found the lost Book of St. Arzad!

A Tribal Issue Tempest warped in nearly on top of me, managing to insert itself between the Onslaught and the Chruch of St. Arzad. Before I could react, my Valkryie was destroyed, and Aura’s scan showed the book was gone from the chapel.

The nameless villain in all of this finally revealed himself.

Karkoti Rend: Even though the RSS took me off the project, I continued my search for this, the Book of St. Arzad. The RSS have been after this document for a long time now, as well as the Angel Cartel. Luckily, the Angels pay better. I wouldn’t follow me, if I were you. Not unless you want this priceless relic to be destroyed.

I hesitated too long before engaging a lock, and the battleship warped away at the same time as Karkoti’s Cartel allies warped in. Fifteen frigates swarmed towards me, two of them webbing me, reducing my thrust to 40 m/s. Three battleships burned for distance, hitting the Onslaught with salvo after salvo.

I commed Hiva as I engaged the frigates, popping them one after another, my artillery overheated, my patience at an end.

That RSS agent showed up? That’s no good. There’s no telling what he’ll do with the book. You have to catch him and get that book!

“Tell me something I don’t already know!” I snapped back, my ship rocking from another missile salvo.

“Can you give me hand here please? I’m a little pre-occupied!” I yelled over the comm. I realized doing so would more than likely destroy any chance I had of bedding her again, but at the moment, I didn’t care. Besides, there were far more women in the universe I had yet to experience.

The last frigate vanished from my overview as I focused on my attention on the remaining three battleships, my engines revving up to full strength.

We need that book, and that RSS agent has it. This is my worst fear realized: Karkoti Rend was trying to get his hands on the book. The RSS claims that he was working alone, but I don’t know how true that really is.

“Listen, honey, I could care less about the politics of it all right now. We’ll sort that out later. I’m neck deep in battleships and really need less yappy, more results, ok?” I barked at Hiva.

Either way, I’ve tracked down his location to a nearby Angel Cartel base. This compounds the urgency of this mission. I barely trust the RSS as it is, but the Angels are outright scum. Go get the book from there, but make sure it’s safe. The book is of the utmost priority!

That’s all I needed. Hiva had come through for me. I had Aura quickly input the data through the navigational system, disengaged the battleships, and warped off to retrieve the book.

As I left the Church of St. Arzad, Hiva commed me once more:

Karkoti Rend is an agent of the RSS, so he’s bound to have some firepower with him. Be careful.

I was almost touched by her concern. Almost.

If anyone needed sympathy, it would be Karkoti Rend when I was through with him.

Karkoti sent me a private comm while I was in transit, obviously having obtained my frequency and encryption from RSS records.

I had a feeling that you would try to track me down. Not a wise decision. Not only are you outnumbered here, but I have the book. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, would you?

He had already made my decision for me. Book be damned, this man was going to die by my hand.

I reverted to normal space to the sound of multiple ship alarms, my overview populating rapidly with enemy vessels locking me.

An energy neutralizer sentry gun was my primary target, followed by the full squad of frigates quickly approaching. I launched my four Valkryie II drones, one a fresh replacement for the loss at the church.

Behind the frigates were three battlecruisers and five battleships. And behind that safety net sat Karkoti Rend.

This was gonna be a helluva fight, I thought to myself, as my shields quickly dropped to half strength from the initial volleys.

I immediately called for backup.

Not a single Tribal Liberation Force pilot was close enough to render assistance, and were engaged in Dal with a massive fleet from the 24th Imperial Crusade. That was something to be dealt with for certain, so I looked elsewhere for aid.

I hit up two corporations I had done work with in the past, hoping to cash in a favour. Again, nobody within 15 jumps.

I was on my own in this. So be it.

I grimaced in my pod as the Onslaught took another massive hit, my shields nearly depleted. I quickly injected an 800 stock capacitor booster, and activated my Gist X-Large Shield Booster, letting it finish three cycles, nearly draining my newly topped off capacitor reserves.

The battle waged back and forth, the frigates quickly falling before the combined might of my artillery cannons and the Valkries, my shields barely holding at 10% strength.

One of my Valkryies exploded, and I noticed too late that Karkoti had his attention focused on them. I redoubled my efforts, a newfound respect for his tactics in mind. He had experience, that was obvious, and he knew that without my drones I wouldn’t be able to sustain enough DPS to take out his fleet.

I recalled the Valkryies.

Right then, I received a comm from one Talus Veran, a name I had never heard before, but was thankful to have remembered since.

Turns out he had gone to great lengths to get in touch with me, citing himself a supporter of my efforts in the war, and for the Republic.

Without trying to be rude, I assessed him of my situation, and implored him for help.

He was 12 jumps out. I felt my resolve weakening until he said he would be there as soon as he could.

I just needed to hold out a little longer.

Two 800 capacitor battery charges remaining. Three battleships and Karkoti Rend still to go.

I wouldn’t even want to know the odds on this.

I launched my drones anew, and watched as Karkoti quickly targetted them, destroying one quickly. That left two.

I was in trouble.

If I was going to go out in a blaze of glory, I was going to take Karkoti with me.

I made him my primary target, and overheated my cannons, directing my remaining drones at his Tribal Issue Tempest.

Again and again I hit him. Again and again he repped his shield nearly as fast as I could deplete it. I used another 800 on the capacitor. One left.

My ammo reserves were well stocked, but I was concerned that I simply wouldn’t be able to break his tank. In my mind, I could see him laughing on the other end, secure in his ship, knowing that his own reinforcements would undoubtedly arrive soon, while I probably had none coming.

Talus Veran commed me; six jumps out. Dammit.

My weapons were in serious jeopardy of being overheated, but still I pushed them, the Tempest’s shields down to 5%. I needed to get past his shields before he cycled his booster so I could ascertain how strong the rest of his ship was.

And then it happened. His shields fell.

My artillery quickly shredded through his armour, despite his best efforts to take evasive maneuvers.

All the while the battleships pounded against the Onslaught, and I used the last 800. It was now or never.

Two of my artillery cannons blew, overheated beyond stress capacity. I quickly cycled them down to regular performance. My afterburner winked out from secondary damage to the systems.

My shields rocked as my transverse velocity fell, and I engaged my booster until my cap was drained.

My two invulnerability fields went offline, as well as my Damage Control II.

The Onslaught was drained. I was thankful that projectile weapons didn’t take any capacitor.

Karkoti hit his shield booster, and I could feel the tide of battle turning against me. My shields dropped, and I couldn’t boost them. My armour began to tear away under the assault of the enemy battleships.

I maintained my focus on the Tempest, stripping away the little shields he had regained, and pushing hard into his armour.

Smoke and fire began to stream from the Tempest, and I knew I was close to victory, though I had not a clue how I would survive against the battleships.

One thing at a time, Roc. Focus.

Karkoti commed me, and surprised me when he didn’t taunt me, but rather imparted remorseful and what I believed to be heartfelt wisdom.

The truth is a weapon and must be wielded with care. That was my greatest mistake. I could handle its power. The Khumaak is just a thing, an empty item; this book holds the true power. Use it wisely, but understand what it is saying. It could change everything.

A single container ejected from the Tempest, before it exploded brilliantly, and I felt a great depth of satisfaction in my gut.

I turned the Onslaught to face the remaining three battleships, knowing my personal celebration would have to wait, but to my shock and trepidation, my weapons lock disengaged.

An immediate sense of panic flooded through me; I thought I was being jammed. But then I watched as the Angel Cartel ships warped away, their employer dead, their guarantee of pay gone.

Apparently, I wasn’t worth it. Smart choice on their part had my ship been fully functional. Still, it was a win, and I was thankful it was over.

I ordered my drones back to their bays, turning my attention back to the cargo container that had been on my overview. Unfortunately, the container was gone.

I felt a surge of panic, but Aura informed me that one of the drones had retrieved an item from the container. It was the Book of St. Arzad.

My mission had been a success. Right then, Talus Veran warped onto the scene. We both laughed as his impeccable timing.

My hands were shaking, it had been a fierce and drawn out battle. I just wanted to be gone from this place.

Talus offered to salvage and loot the scene for me, splitting the haul. Instead, I simply left it to him, as payment for his willingness and quick response.

We spoke briefly before each going our separate ways, and he assured me that he would come by Dal in the near future with an item I may find of great interest.

I thanked him, and headed back to Hiva Shesha.

It was finally over.

Heresiology

“You should know this isn’t how I deal with every Brutor I come across, not that there’s been many.” Hiva said melodiously as her fingers drew on my chest.

“Mmmhmmmm.” I grunted in return, only half awake. It had been a fantastic night with her, Brutor style. I would like to say it was elegant, refined, delicate, loving, but that just wasn’t the way of my people.

It was savage, fierce, sweaty, intense, aggressive, vocal, at times painful, draining, downright exhausting, swinging from vines jungle sex.

Her fingers glided over my chest hair, lightly touching the gouge marks she had left there; one of several places her nails had dug into me rewardingly.

“You’re the best I’ve ever had.” Hiva said dreamily, snuggling in closer to me. I wrapped my arm around her, wishing she would just shut up and let me sleep. I wasn’t in this for the emotional bonding or intimate sharing; I was in it because she was damn hot.

Breathtakingly gorgeous, from head to toe. Just thinking about her feminine muscularity, her body dripping with sweat as her back arched as she rode me hard, moaning and screaming my name, I found myself getting aroused anew, for the fifth time since last night.

I leaned my head over and kissed her beautiful bald head. Her hand ran down my stomach, ever lower, sending shivers up and down my body, until she stopped firmly on my good morning.

TWO HOURS LATER

When I awoke, Hiva was gone. There was a flashing datasheet on the bedside stand for me.

I’m still going to need some more time with the Blood Obsidian Orb, but I have managed to glean some information from it. My theory is that the orb acts as a protective case for something hidden inside of it. I’d hate to break open a priceless relic of the past, and I’m trying to avoid that situation as much as possible.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to focus before continuing. Even in her writing, I was already she’d just shut up.

Something was written on the orb as well, and I want you to go find what it is. There’s a tablet that goes along with the orb and supposedly tells more about its purpose. The Church of the Obsidian did not have this tablet, as far as I can tell, but I was able to decipher a code on the orb that told of the tablet’s location: the ruins of an old Ammatar church.

It was too early for this. I put down the note and headed for a quick steam shower. After a quick morning workout and some breakfast, I returned to the note, caf in hand.

The church is an ancient place, and a prime spot for archeology. Use that analyzer I gave you for the Church of the Obsidian. I expect there to be a lot of stuff to analyze in those ruins. Bring back whatever you can, but I’m especially looking for the Blood Obsidian Tablet. When you come back, I expect that I can crack this thing wide open… figuratively speaking, of course.

I genuinely smiled. “Crack this thing wide open” resonated within me. I had learned that was a skill Hiva definitely possessed in abundance. I was sure it was a double entendre.

My crew wasn’t entirely pleased to see me, as I had confined them to quarters for the night whilst I was out frolicking about. I didn’t know Tanoo very well, and didn’t want to take any chances. There would be time enough for rest when our task was done.

Once the Onslaught was prepped, we headed towards the coordinates Hiva had provided in the datasheet.

As expected, the Ammatar were waiting for me. I didn’t know if Hiva was working with them or not, and honestly it didn’t matter.

I was in the “post coital must kill something” frame of mind anyway.

Three Armageddons, an Apocalypse, and their support cruisers and frigates were quickly torn to bits by the Onslaught’s hunger for blood.

The single ship that stood out amongst the attacking fleet was the one still shooting at me, an Ammatar Navy Detective. I found it curious that their Navy would send a detective into this foray.

I left him alive for the time being, and began my analysis of the relics. Mark Yaqb had uploaded some training documentation to me after our last adventure together, and since then, I had done some studying and was now confident in my ability to use an analyzer.

The next few hours were one of wonderful, yet troubling, lessons in history, as I slowly found startling documentation about the Starkmanir, painting them in an entirely different light than what we had been taught.

bookTHE EDUCATION OF THE STARKMANIR

A tattered document, presumably of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 12 – The Education of the Starkmanir” read as follows:

“By the end of his tenth year as Holder on Starkman Prime, Arzad had finished the educational infrastructure for the Starkmanir with the establishment of the final slave college on his continent. The focus of these education centers, aimed at young members of the Starkmanir tribes, was in assimilating the slaves into the greater Amarr society. The focus was primarily in basic business matters, science and technology, and all aspects of the Amarr religion. Attendance at this school was not entirely elective, and slaves were given time to study, though they would often have to make up for lost time in the fields. Despite this, many Starkmanir entered into the slave colleges in order to better their station in life, especially with respect to the high, holy Amarr religion.

The Starkmanir also educated their beloved Holder in kind, as well as other members of the Hamri family. The tradeoff in education was often mutual between the tribal leaders and Arzad. When the slave colleges began teaching business matters, the Holder learned ancient Starkmanir woodworking; astronomy education led the to the Starkmanir martial arts; and the teaching of the Amarr religion initiated Arzad’s own edification of the Starkmanir’s tribal spiritualism.”

Hmmm, I wondered to myself. Nilf Abruskur had sent me to Arzad previously by mistake. I wonder if this was actually a slip up related to the mention of Arzad’s name here? Just how much did Nilf Abruskur know that he wasn’t telling?

The next document was more revealing:

bookST. ARZAD

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 1 – St. Arzad” read as follows:

“And so it was that Arzad Hamri, son of Ezzara Hamri, grandson of Yuzier Hamri, ascended to the title of Holder of the most holy grounds on Starkman Prime. Though only a young man, Arzad held the wisdom of the ages, granted to him by the celestial Maker, and carried with him the burden of creation.

His first act as Holder was to grant a day of celebration to all his slaves, calling the day holy by the Amarr religion. The slaves, members of the Starkmanir tribe, referred to that day as the ‘Hand of Solace’ or ‘Khu-arzad.’ Unlike his father before him, Arzad was instantly loved by his slaves, and his benevolence sowed the seeds of righteous love between Holder and slave.”

My stomach churned with pain wrought memories of my own enslaved past. I remember how easy we were to manipulate; how much enjoyment our Amarrian “masters” would take from breaking us, no matter what the method. Khu-arzad my ass. He was no saint, regardless of what these pages said.

bookTHE BENEVOLENT

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 6 – The Benevolent” read as follows:

“The fields and hills of Starkman Prime are harsh and demanding, especially for those working indentured servants tied directly to the land by the holy bonds of slavery. Arzad Hamri understood their plight and pitied them. As a boy, he would often work alongside the Starkmanir in the fields, immersing himself with the tribe to better understand their customs and traditions, much to the chagrin of his father and elders.

As a Holder, Arzad offered many forms of restitution and bereavement for the Starkmanir during their often long and difficult days. Regular rest periods were common during his rule, as well as days of parlay and rest, including high holy days and other Amarr religious festivals, deeming these occasions to be too holy. The Starkmanir loved him for these decisions, often working extra hours when necessary because they respected Arzad and wished for him to be pleased with their efforts.”

Just when a part of thought maybe this Arzad was understanding the outright wrongness of slavery, the document had to end with his slaves going “above and beyond”, just to please him.

I could feel my teeth grinding, but I continued reading the recovered documents.

bookHAND OF ARZAD

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 20 – Hand of Arzad” read as follows:

“The Hand of Arzad grew to become the most popular festival on Starkman Prime, so beloved was this day of rest granted by Arzad Hamri. On this day, Hamri presided as pastor of religious services, in which most of the Starkmanir attended. His sermons from these festivals were collected and distributed among the tribe, often used by the elders to educate the young people of the importance of benevolence and good grace to people of all stations.

The theme of Arzad’s sermons was almost always of the inherent dignity of the Starkmanir, their precious qualities, and the hope of salvation through servitude. This message did not fall on deaf ears, and many ambitious, young Starkmanir took his words as inspiration for independence and rebellion against the greater Amarr Empire, though Arzad was always able to quell the burgeoning pride and self-esteem of the slaves. ‘Salvation comes through servitude, the grace of your masters, the dignity of your being’, was Arzad’s common response, his refrain found throughout his sermons.”

I snickered. It almost seemed that Arzad, self-proclaimed ‘saviour’ of the Starkmanir, was having trouble keeping his ‘people’ in check. I anxiously read the next document.

book

THE FIRE IN OUR HEARTS

A tattered document, presumably a part of a larger manuscript. The text was written neatly, though much of it was faded. An excerpt from this piece, titled “Chapter 37 – The Fire in Our Hearts” read as follows:

“Lord Arkon Ardishapur, though a longtime friend of Arzad, oversaw the popular Holder’s execution for treason and blasphemy. Arzad had requisitioned an Amarr symbol of authority, a scepter, as a symbol for lowly slaves. Arzad granted the scepter to his slaves as a symbol for enlightenment and salvation. Ardishapur ordered that all copies of this scepter – dubbed Wildfire scepters for its blood obsidian orb, a rock native to Starkman Prime – be destroyed. The Starkmanir were angry at his execution. Arzad’s book of sermons inspired the troubled tribe.

Three months after his death, Arzad appeared to Drupar Maak while the slave was alone in the fields. The Starkmanir youth was afraid at first, though once he saw the shimmering eyes of his former Holder, he was at peace. Arzad handed a Wildfire scepter to Maak, telling him, ‘The fire in our hearts burns for salvation, redemption, and grace. May the Word of God grant you the courage to save yourself and your people.’ With those words, Arzad disappeared, but the scepter was still with Maak. Years later, he would wield a similar item and avenge the death of his beloved Holder on the day of Khu-arzad. After that day, the scepter would be forever known as Khumaak.”

I didn’t believe in God. And yet my skin had goose flesh. There was something about this account that rang true, despite every protest my brain could muster.

If this story of Maak was true, then the rest would logically have to be true as well. I wasn’t ready to accept that.

We searched the final relic, finding the prize Hiva sought, the Engraved Blood Obsidian Tablet:

orb ENGRAVED BLOOD OBSIDIAN TABLET

A small tablet, made entirely of blood obsidian, engraved with writing. The words on the tablet are not entirely clear, and the dialect is familiar, though unreadable.

My heart was beating furiously for no good reason; completely unexplainable. I could feel myself sweating within my pod.

I decided to withhold the documents I had discovered from Hiva until I could employ some of my own resources to have their authenticity validated. It was just too much for my mind to handle right then.

I contacted Hiva about the orb. She was pleasantly shocked to hear from me so soon.

hivaI can’t believe what you found among those ruins. This is a historian’s dream come true. Now that we’ve got the Blood Obsidian Orb and the Blood Obsidian Tablet, I think we can finally solve this mystery. We’re very close to uncovering the secrets of the Wildfire Khumaak.

By the way: Did you notice anything strange there?  I could have sworn I saw an RSS ship flying about those ruins. Weird.

I had Aura go over the scan logs. I was very focused on the relics analysis, as well as what I had found in those documents. It was quite possible Hiva had been right.

Aura returned a negative result to the query, and I relayed that to Hiva.

She asked if I wanted to get together for dinner later, but I declined. My mind was focused far too much on other things.

Church of the Obsidian

TANOO SYSTEM – 13 JUMPS FROM ALDRAT

I could tell immediately the difference between dealing with a civilian and someone in the military. The fact that Hiva Shesha was flying around in a shuttle was only the first of many giveaways I would discover in our time together.

I hailed her ship, and we opened a private comm, exchanging initial pleasantries for quite some time. I smirked with playful flirtation; I never could resist an attractive woman. She seemed content talking with me, and exuded a quaint shyness. That was something I wasn’t accustomed to, having been on the receiving end of affections from the likes of Mynxee, Shae, Venom, and many others, whom were always direct.

Hiva was gorgeous. Her bald, smooth head was a bold statement, hinting at toughness, a self-assuredness of purpose. It would’ve seemed very masculine were not for the fact that her makeup was expertly done. It wasn’t trashy, or too much; it merely enhanced her beautiful facial features as intended.

Her full lips curled up at the sides naturally, and her eyes shone with what could be perceived as innocence, but I read it for passion.

She wore a loose fitting, sleeveless leather vest with a very tight, bust enhancing shirt, not that it looked like she needed the assistance. Her shoulders and arms were very muscular, but not massive, just well defined.

My manhood embarrassed me with sudden and unexpected growth, and I was thankful this was a comms only introduction.

hivaDo you have any idea how tough this relic is to crack? You’d think something this simple would come with a manual. We’ve used the Khumaak for a long time as a symbol of our defiance. But the presence of one little rock adds a whole new level of meaning.

Oh yeah. Welcome, Roc Wieler! I take it that Nilf sent you over? You’ve earned a lot of trust with the Republic, and I hope we can continue that trend.

I was one of the Republic University scholars to take a look at the Wildfire Khumaak for the Brutors. I was also sent to look over the documents you recovered from the RSS. So, essentially, I’ve been with you from the beginning, lurking in the shadows.

I smiled slightly, watching as she blushed, breaking eye contact with me, revealing her own attraction towards me more than she had wanted to let slip. To her credit, she recovered her composure quickly, and redirected the conversation amiably.

That’s what we historians do: Skulk about in dusty corners looking for information. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

She continued onwards, happy to be controlling the direction of the conversation again. I was happy to let her think that.

The Ammatar “sister” that was the source of all the information was based in a nearby cathedral called the Church of the Obsidian. I’ve contacted the church, and she’s no longer there. In fact, I have no clue where she went. She did make reference to some artifact located in the church. They’ve denied me access to the church grounds – those bloody lapdogs – but I think you be able to persuade them.

She had a quick temper and a bit of a foul mouth; I liked that. I also was coming to like her style with how to handle obstacles.

Get inside the church and get something called the “Blood Obsidian Orb.” I don’t know what to do with it after that, but I think that’s our first step.

I had a difficult time taking orders from a civilian, and a woman at that. Still, I was interested in bedding her, and I learned the quickest way to a woman’s pants, outside of booze, was by playing nice.

I quickly accepted her task.

Take this analyzer with you, and use it on the church. It should help you unearth the Blood Obsidian Orb.

Suddenly, I went flacid. Literally.

I was getting sick and tired of this. First, I was delayed from achieving the objectives of an assigned task because I had never hacked a computer firewall. Now, I was being given the tool of an archeologist, and being asked to use it to recover this bloody orb.

Ok, granted, I did fail in keeping the archeologists alive previously, but I was sure Hiva could spare one of her assistants to come with me and perform the necessary operations.

I thought I had been brought on for my combat prowess as a capsuleer.

In a way, I supposed I could be flattered; maybe people thought I was more intellectual than I actually was. On the other hand, maybe all non-capsuleers just assumed we were expertly skilled in all things.

Of course, there was a third option that occurred to me. Maybe she was testing me on a personal level. Maybe she only allowed herself to be attracted to men that demonstrated more than just the typical Brutor quality of physical dominance.

This was her foreplay.

I had her mechanical team fit the analyzer to my ship, then headed out, excited to succeed. I was already fantasizing about what she would be like when we slept together. There was no doubt in my mind it would happen; it was simply a question of whether it was a one night stand type of deal, or did I keep this going for a few nights?

The Onslaught easily crossed the distance to the neighbouring system of Shasta. Upon using the jump gate and entering the system, I received a comm from Hiva. I answered a bit too quickly, betraying my own personal interest in her. I was being too eager, but it had been a while, and my veins were pumping with anticipation.

Oh yeah, I may have forgot to mention that there are some armed guards there. I’m a scholar, not a fighter. Which one are you?

I simply smiled and ended the transmission. I had read her correctly. This was definitely a sexual interest test. She put the question out there as a “one or the other”, but I knew she wouldn’t accept anything less than both. Part of me was disappointed that she was so easy to read, it diminished the thrill of the hunt. The other part of me redoubled in predatory glee, waiting to devour her with my building lusts.

I warped to the outer limites of the Church of the Obisidian, wanting to assess the situation from afar, in a non-threatening way, unless no other alternative presented itself.

We know what you are here for. You are not allowed on the church grounds. Leave now or face the consequences.

My mood soured. I had been soaring high, endorphins coarsing through my system, and these clowns had to go and ruin it.

I hated being told what not to do.

All my life, it had been one of the most difficult things for me to overcome; following orders. But as with anything I put my mind to, I could persevere and excel. As a slave, the consequences were quite severe for disobedience. As a military cadet, disciplinary action was almost as harsh.

I wasn’t a creature driven by reactive emotion, but rather a strong-willed man in full control of his every faculty. It had taken a great deal of personal effort to create this mold for myself, this man of duty and obedience, but it was something I valued highly, and the mold would not bend nor break in my lifetime.

I left the church grounds, as instructed. There wasn’t any point in me being there anyway; as I couldn’t use the analyzer on my ship.

I reviewed the telemetry data Aura had recorded while there, and quickly ascertained the most probable location of the orb.

I then did something I rarely ever did back then; I asked for help, specifically, for a military pilot with skill enough to use an analyzer.

mark“Mark Yaqb reporting for duty, Colonel. What do you need?” the young Brutor said with vigor.

He looked to be of the newer generation of pilots, angry, overconfident, aggressive in his demeanour. Eventually, those things were driven out of you after numerous clone chamber visits.

He had a strong chin, rugged jaw line, and high cheek bones. His neck strained with muscle, and you could see his impressive mass through his trapezius and shoulders.

He bore an elaborate tattoo across his forehead of a design I didn’t recognize, but that didn’t surprise me. Many of the younger Brutor didn’t respect the ancient traditions, marking themselves for style rather than honour.

Yet the single most striking feature of Mark Yaqb was none of these things; it was his eyes.

He was blind.

It wasn’t as uncommon a characteristic amongst Brutors as one might think, but there were simple procedures employed at birth to correct this genetic defect. Either he had never been cloned, or he specifically chose to remain blind.

“How close are you to Tanoo?” I asked, cutting short my own philosophical wanderings.

“7 jumps out. On my way, sir.” he replied.

“You equipped with an analyzer, pilot?” I asked.

“Sir, yessir.” Mark responded, his ship fitting momentarily appearing on my HUD.

He was flying an exploration fit Republic Fleet Firetail, Sisters Expanded Probe Launcher, Codebreaker, Analyzer. The boy definitely was skilled enough to assist me.

“I look forward to flying with you, son.” I said, and laid out the attack plan.

Ten minutes later, I warped fifty kilometers away from the Church of the Obisidian. The Ammatar Guardians of the Church immediately locked me, and the battle was begun, just as I had planned.

The Onslaught’s shields easily held, and I focused on my attention on the fast moving frigates, the only real threat to my ship in this battle.

I turned my ship away from the Church, pulling from the attacking vessels. They fell into pursuit, as anticipated.

Mark’s Firetail warped in at ten kilometers, and the nimble ship made short work of the Chapel, the structure that Aura had calculated contained the orb.

Thirteen seconds later, Mark warped away. I followed his lead shortly thereafter.

We met up at a nearby station, and I had my crew transfer the cargo from his ship.

I offered Mark some isk for his troubles, but he declined.

“It’s an honour to fly with you, sir.” he said, much to my surprise, given my recent military record.

Even blind, Mark picked up on my confused hesitancy.

“If I may speak freely, Colonel?” he asked.

“Of course.” I replied.

“You’re somewhat of a hero to my squad, Colonel, a role model. I know it might seem out of place to say, but you’re what we want to be.” Mark stammered.

“And what is exactly is that?” I asked sarcastically, my eyebrow raising, waiting for the hammer to drop.

“A man of integrity, a man of conviction. A man that will do whatever it takes for the cause of the just. You inspire us, Colonel, to be more than we are. I wanted to thank you for that.” Mark said, with the most precise and crisp salute I had ever seen.

I returned his salute out of rote, and was thankful for his blindness. I was completely and utterly stunned to hear such high words of praise from a pilot I had never met or heard of before that day.

I didn’t know what else to say, so stood there, like a dumb idiot, saying nothing.

Mark took his leave, and soon I did the same, returning to Hiva with the precious orb intact. I performed a query against Hiva’s database enroute, which she had given me access to earlier.

orbThe church of the Obsidian has kept this relic for nearly four hundred years, though its original meaning was never truly discovered. The orb is carved from blood obsidian, the same material found in the head of the Wildfire Khumaak. The orb’s surface is completely smooth, though it is lighter than it appears.

Hiva was beside herself with enthusiasm and genuine happiness.

You found it? Really? Well, I guess it’s kind of orb-like. I have no idea what its significance is, but I’m going to find out. Hang on real quick. I must look into this further.

I was so getting laid.

History in the Making

Our historians have pored over the information found on the drive cluster EDF-285. There’s a lot on there, but not all of it pertinent to the Wildfire Khumaak. I’ve been in contact with a Krusual historian who has spent some time researching the Khumaak. The historians cross-referenced each other’s work and stumbled upon a lead. I guess those nerds are good for something, eh?

I’m sending you to Hiva Shesha, the Krusual historian. She’s taken her poor interns with her to the San Matar constellation – right in the heart of Ammatar space. I don’t know what’s she discovered, but I’m sure it’s important. Best you get over there and talk with her. Let us know what you’ve uncovered, and keep your eyes peeled for our missing agent. I have a feeling that he went to seek out his Ammatar contact. There’s no telling what he’s up to, either.

Anyway, good luck.

And with that, my relationship with Nilf Abruskur was over. I had started out detesting the man, but had come to realize he was simply the wrong guy in an awkward situation, doing the best he could.

I would like to say I respected him, but that would be false. I tolerated him. I understood him.

I was happy to be done with him. Besides, I was looking forward to meeting Hiva Shesha; she had a hot name.

Playing all Their Cards – Epilogue

The day had arrived, and I was prepared for the meet. My service teams had gone over the Onslaught with a fine toothed comb, giving her the thumbs up. She was pristine once again, fully operational, and ready to be of continued service to the Minmatar Republic.

With newly restored vigor, she surged out of the docking bay, the rumble of her thrusters being felt throughout the ship. She was as eager as the rest of us, hungry for answers, craving action, and we all knew she was a capable predator.

I returned to Aldrat, ready to be briefed for my next mission, a hit and run on the Angel Cartel while Nilf and his negotiation team kept them busy elsewhere.

We’re counting on you, Colonel Wieler, not just for the information this time, but to help us keep our reputation and morale after being dealt such a blow by those Angel bastards. The RSS is hurting right now. I need you to fire my men up. Make us proud.

Nilf saluted me crisply, respect finally being shown to my rank and ability.

That was thirty minutes ago.

I laid in the course for Hardbako, and arrived to the adjacent system quickly, and made my way towards the Angel bunker without incident.

Five minutes ago, Nilf commed me, urgency in his voice:

They’re stalling the negotiations. Our scouts and scanners are picking up no sign of the reinforcements they were going to bring. I’m getting the feeling we’ve been screwed again. Get the data and get out.

Three minutes ago, as I made my way at top speed towards the Drive Cluster Archive at the Angel’s undefended base, their ambush was sprung.

Seventeen frigates and assault frigates closed the gap quickly after warping in. Six battlecruisers followed on their tails, their added firepower a welcome addition to the fast moving frigates. And in the distance, from sniping range, ten battleships lit up the darkness of space with dozens of deadly missile volleys.

Thirty seconds ago, my newly acquired hacking skills were put to the test under extremely hostile conditions. My shields were close to buckling, which was no small feat given my Pith X-Large Shield Booster, but I kept my cool, and focused on the task at hand, slowly making my virtual way through the security system’s many failsafes.

Ten seconds ago I was rewarded with the prize we all had been seeking, information about the Wildfire Khumaak.

dataThis is a cluster of drives, each of which contains several exabytes worth of encoded data. Somewhere in here is vital information on the Wildfire Khumaak.

As my armour groaned and buckled, entire plates forcibly ripped off of my ship, I knew it was time to leave. I had accomplished my mission; we had what we had come for.

There was no glory to be sought facing overwhelming odds; only death. And while many capsuleers would turn to engage the enemy even against such a superior force, jeopardizing their ships and their crews, I was not such a pilot.

My orders weren’t total annihilation; this was a retrieval op.

In short order, I handed over the drives, and spoke with Nilf once again.

Excellent work, Roc. The Republic Security Services are in your debt.

To hear those words come from his mouth was almost as sweet as the victory I felt over being closer to solving this mystery surrounding the Khuumak.

I felt I was close.

Playing all Their Cards

I was still seething at my own failure by the time I arrived back in Aldrat. It appeared Nilf Abruskur wsa still reeling from my failure as well.

We dropped the ball on this one, Roc Wieler, and those putrescent, motherless Angel freaks made sure to capitalize on it. Our only consolation is that it cost them, too. We’ve managed to root the Angel spy within our ranks – the one who tipped the Cartel about your visit to the historians. They’re in a world of trouble right now; you can trust me on that.

I bit my tongue for the moment. My own hostility at this game Nilf had been playing, keeping me in the dark, sending me on missions with limited information, putting myself and my crews in unnecessary danger, was second only to my remorse at the historians whose lives were lost during the last engagement.

From our initial interrogation of this captured Angel agent, we have learned that just before the Cartel blew up the outpost, they managed to find and make away with the data we needed on the Wildfire Khumaak. The historian that was supposed to have a text for you relating to it was tortured into handing over his research and was then killed.

Nilf paused, letting his words sink in, letting the blame sink in. Even though he had used the royal ‘we’ in his speech, it was clear who was going to shoulder the blame for this failure. The only reason he hadn’t hung me out to dry already was that he still needed me; and better me than having to put trust in some other random capsuleer, though if push came to shove, I am sure there were hundreds whom could do the job.

They’re offering us a deal. We give them back their agent, and they give us the information we want. They tried to make a bid for the Wildfire, but there wasn’t a chance in hell we were going to entertain that idea, especially once we discovered who their agent was. We negotiated it down to the agent, but we have no intention of making a fair deal with them, simply because when it comes to the Angels, there is no such thing. They have no desire for the safe return of this traitorous scum; in fact if they could kill him right now to shut him up, they wouldn’t hesitate.

I silently agreed with the Angels’ sentiment. This traitor, whomever he might be, had traded lives for money, put profit over morality, and it sickened me.

In addition to providing us intel that the historical texts on the Khumaak have been taken, our captured agent has also revealed something else; its location. His testimony and a good deal of other intelligence we’re receiving is pointing to one of the Angels’ main staging outposts in Metropolis.

Finally, something tangible. I felt we were close.

The defense forces posted at this place are impressive, Colonel, beyond even your capabilities. We’ve come up with a plan to lure some out and reduce their numbers to something you’ll be more easily able to manage. We forced subversion on our Angel prisoner, made him tell his superiors that we’re sending a huge ambush fleet to the meeting point. This should goad them into bringing along a bigger reserve of manpower, most of which will be drawn from that base.

While we’re having the meet, you sneak in, bypass the remaining resistance, and grab the texts that were taken. Underneath the central command center, we’re told there will be several data banks. The documents we’re looking for will be in one of these. You’ll need to deactivate the security firewalls, which means some hacking. You’re looking for a drive cluster called “EDF-285″. Grab it and get the hell out of there before the Angels figure out the game.

Lovely. This time Arsten Takalo wasn’t around to divert attention from this flaw I possessed; I had no hacking skills.

“When’s the meet? I’ll need time to prepare.” I asked.

“You have four days, Roc Wieler.” Nilf replied.

Four days was a long time for a capsuleer to engage in accelerated neural learning. In four days I could easily inject the skills I needed directly into my brain, and probably even get in some hands-on practice time.

I’d also been meaning to pick up a Loki T3 cruiser for quite some time now, so figured now was as good a time as any to kill two birds with one stone; I could pickup the required skillbooks I would need to learn Hacking, and do up a couple of fits for a Loki while I was at it.

Only problem was, I would have to go to Jita, the market hub of the New Eden, right in the heart of Caldari high sec.

Well, I’d been through worse.