URSULINE TALES 03: THIS MEANS WAR;
Act 1 of 2
The City Of Eden, Pangaea.
14 days after The Strike
“At some point in our history we cracked,
Became disconnected from one another,
Started seeing things only in terms of
Good and Bad,
Black and White,
And I often wonder: when will we see in color?”
By mid-day there was a bard wandering throughout the combat encampment strumming his guitar and singing a soft-hearted tune even as his fellow countrymen trained for battle all around him. Alexzander could hear his melodic words wafting through his tent entrance and paused momentarily in his technical rendering, quietly reminded of a childhood pledge he had sworn to his best friend: “I vow I will never build machina that destroy, Chaltier… I promise I will only build machina that give life.” He looked down at the half-sketched blueprints beneath his hands, blueprints for a war machine of his own design. Nothing was the same after the demon sorceress from the stars threatened to annihilate the Gaian ways of life.
Suddenly as if he had been summoned, Chaltier subsequently entered the King’s tent, who proved to be none other than the masked crusader who had welcomed Eden’s first King to the masses. His skin was fair and his deep blue eyes made the sky jealous, but his sincerest devotion to his dark-skinned and dark-eyed ally was evident to all who knew him ever since childhood. Although he was quite conscious of some important news to urgently deliver to his King, Chaltier couldn’t help but take a peek at the unfinished blueprints and barely suppress a chuckle as he himself remembered Alexzander’s childhood oath. Knowing full well that his friend was reminded of this oath, the King sighed and rubbed his forehead while sheepishly remarking, “The times… they are a-changin’.”
However, Chaltier only widened his grin and nodded his head in agreement, placing a devoted hand upon his best friend’s shoulder. “It is true, my friend… for the loser now will be later to win.”
Alexzander smiled, feeling forever grateful for Chaltier’s continued unconditional support. But he was mindful of his deputy’s tangible sense of urgency, and so he prompted his second-in-command to speak. “What news have you for me, compadré?”
“Sir, there has arrived a tribe of warrior-monks riding atop of lions. They have come to us in peace from the southern wilderness.”
Alexzander slapped his thigh merrily before his friend even finished his sentence. “The Hellions! I knew they would come to us, those angels of the desert. Allow me to see them immediately.”
Chaltier left the tent & returned momentarily with the esteemed Hellion commander and his page. In stepped a husky, venerable warrior-monk of great stature and grace, whose long dreadlocks nearly swept the ground as he walked, followed closely by a slender yet militant young woman with her hands clasped firmly behind her back. Both of them froze with astonishment upon seeing the extremely dark shade of the King’s skin color, finding themselves incredulously unable to speak or cease their staring. Alexzander noticed the awkwardness of their composure yet silently and steadily met their gaze. Chaltier politely nudged the page with his elbow whilst clearing his throat, and she in turn nudged her superior whilst clearing her throat in an effort to break the spell of his unwittingly rude attention.
“Hellions of the South, may I present to you the Earth’s first King of Eden, his Majesty Alexzander Infinitus, The First of his line.”
The Hellion leader and his page appeared surprised but did not hesitate to bow deeply with respect. “And I am Ignatius Helikon, Chief of the Hellion clan. This is Solongo, she is my right-hand. We meant no disrespect, your Majesty…” he said while gesticulating apologetically. “It’s just that we were beginning to believe the legendary shadow-man was only that, a mere legend.”
Alexzander only laughed heartily and arose from his desk, clasping fists in friendship with the Hellion leader. “Do not worry Ignatius, I am quite used to such reactions. You and your entire tribe are unconditionally welcome here. Eden is in desperate need of your help.”
“We all witnessed the meteor strike and immediately came to offer our aid to its survivors... although I admit we have come to a dramatically different Eden than the one from which we were shunned all those years ago.”
Eden’s King grimaced faintly and his eyebrows slightly furrowed. He had not forgotten that the Hellions had been expelled from Eden when he was but a boy, and Ignatius had been the one to lead them to freedom in the southern wilderness. “Yes... indeed, The Strike has changed everything. Nothing is the same as it was before… but the situation at hand is much more dangerous than you know.”
“Do you believe the meteor to be contaminated?”
“Close. The meteor was a demonic vessel, bringing within it a massive invading apparatus equipped with technology no human has ever dreamed of. We have lost countless numbers of our people, but as many as 40,000 of us remain. However… I’m afraid all of humanity lies in grave peril, not only here in Eden but all throughout The Earth.”
Ignatius flushed red and his eyes widened as he was again roused with shock, quickly exchanging worried glances with his page. “Who is it that shepherds such heinous machina?” he asked, trembling visibly.
“...A sorceress not of this world pilots the wretched machine. She means to conquer our ways of life and rule with darkness instead of light. Her Master and source of power is the dark God known as The Black Beast. This she told me, and this did my page also hear her say.”
Ignatius then enquired as to the whereabouts of the evil sorceress and her doom-machine; and how did the people of Eden gain reprieve from her deadly attack? Alexzander sighed heavily and appeared as sombre as ever, secretly gripping the edge of his desk until he could feel the alleviating sensation of his knuckles becoming taut, so desperate was he to push the vivid remembrance of his nemesis and his irrational love for her from his mind. “She vanished into the sea along with the monster after realizing during our confrontation that my skin is the same in hue as her overlord’s sacred color. For fourteen days now we have been blessed with borrowed time, yet every moment goes by spent in preparation for the eventual return of the sorceress and her vile contrivance.”
The Hellion chief, having been empowered by age rather than enfeebled by it, suddenly became so overwhelmed with trauma that he grew pale and staggered backwards into a chair with his head shaking in his hands. His composure became so disheartening that Solongo appeared visibly upset whereas before she had been as self-possessed as a statue. There was no comfort she could provide to her master in this situation, and there was no comfort to be had at all.
“Great Gaia!” Ignatius exclaimed. “A demonic invasion... I have for awhile feared a day like this would come. That vile contrivance which you describe most certainly carries within it the seeds of evil!” He looked deeply into Alexzander’s eyes with a sad, unwavering gaze and revealed, “I once had a dream about this very thing, but it meant so little to me until just now.”
Alexzander and Chaltier suddenly looked at one another, exchanging knowing glances with worried eyes. Alexzander drew his breath to speak, but before he could utter even one word, a loud commotion was heard just outside the tent.
“You must allow me inside immediately! Don’t you know who I am? I’m Eden’s wealthiest patron, and I insist to see the King! The sanctity of our great city depends upon it!”
“It is Brutus Rhine, my lord. Should I turn him away?”
“No, Chaltier. Grant him access and allow him to speak in earnest.”
Without any further ado, a large heavyset nobleman burst in through the tent entrance, anxious and red-faced, who froze in the middle of the room upon seeing the two Hellions in the company of his King. “My lord!” he gasped, and taking Alexzander aside he whispered angrily beneath his breath, “Have you gone mad? These Hellions are savages, they must be expelled immediately for the good of us all!”
“We are NOT savages!” Solongo suddenly exclaimed, and, having realized her misconduct by her master’s sudden harsh eyes, she excused herself from the tent completely with tears in her eyes. But Alexzander was determined to reassure his concerned citizen, taking no notice of his apparent prejudice against the rustic Hellenistic people. He placed his hands upon the rich man’s shoulders and looked upon him with smiling eyes. “Brutus, Ignatius is here to help us. We will need as much assistance as we can muster if we are to have any hope of destroying the demonic machine.”
Having regained his full strength, the Hellion leader quickly stood and spoke in agreement. “What the King says is true. The sorceress’s machine must be destroyed, along with everything inside of it. This task will not be an easy one, but I am prepared to do everything I can in order to ensure the safety of Earth’s inhabitants. I henceforth pledge my allegiance to you, King Alexzander The First.” And with these words he held his sword above his head while giving a deep bow, as a gesture of genuine fealty.
Brutus grumbled incoherently beneath his breath while clenching his fists, but the King smiled and nodded affirmatively towards Ignatius. “You see? The Hellions indeed shall stay with us: henceforth the ban against them is lifted. We will fight our enemy together as one.”
“Hmph!” Brutus seethed, rolling his eyes and crossing his arms. “Lions will barely scratch the surface of that horrid mechanism! They shall be squashed and burnt just as easily as the rest of us!”
“Lions are not expected to be responsible for the monster’s destruction. It is this that will be responsible!” Alexzander fervently snatched the blueprints from his desk and showed them to his company. “Here, my brothers, allow me a few moments divulgence, and you will understand my stratagem. I have designed a war machine myself- one capable of delivering a fatal assault upon the alien machina.”
Everyone carefully studied the war machine diagrams, and all had questions about it.
“What is it to be made of?” asked Ignatius.
“How will it move?” asked Chaltier.
“When will it be finished?” asked Brutus.
The King smiled and escorted the men to the industry sector’s forge in the Silver Mountains, where he explained to them that the machine would be created as quickly as possible from their overabundant supply of silver, and that it would be maneuvered by human aid- a mobile suit of armor powered by crystals mined from the forests of the very same mountains.
“But silver?” asked Ignatius, incredulously.
“And crystals?” asked Chaltier, curiously.
“Bah, humbug!” said Brutus, scornfully.
However the King merely continued to smile and explain to them the beneficial properties of the strange glowing crystals by revealing one attached to a silver frame on a leather cord from beneath his tunic. “Do not be deceived, these gemstones are a blessing from Gaia! Unlike silver, we have only mined them for the past few decades, and until now they have only been used for healing rituals in the Temple. But I have found they may be used in other ways: they alone can provide my war machine with the power it needs to defeat its nemesis. These crystals can give silver immense strength, making it harder than even manganese, allowing us to build the strongest armaments known to humankind.”
Ignatius examined several silver swords newly made that were indeed strengthened beyond their normal ability, thanks to the small glowing spheres slotted within them. From a pile of arrows he plucked a single dart whose shaft had been slotted with a tiny crystal orb, and he carried it with him under his arm.
Then Alexzander stretched his arm towards a large reservoir of pungent viscous fluid. “Behold our cistern of napalm! Fireballs will rain upon the mechanical monster until it lies dead on the ocean floor, once my machina becomes complete. Originally we have only ever used this substance to keep fire, heat and light available throughout the villages. Now we are mass-producing it as a wartime material.”
Brutus now seemed quite pleased, remarking to Chaltier that “Now the wicked sorceress shall be burnt to screaming cinders, and rightfully so!”
Quietly taking the crystal-slotted arrow from beneath his arm, Ignatius then submerged the tip of the arrowhead into the napalm, and he continued to carry it with him as the men traveled on together towards the sacred Tree of Life and Death. This was the living twin of the now-lifeless Tree of Knowledge destroyed during The Strike, beside which a company of 300 soldiers were currently together practicing melee combat within an arena encircled by a ring of metal mannequins. Ignatius watched them carefully with a discerning gaze, observing their movements and decisions with a thoughtful eye. Then without saying a word he retrieved the arrow from the silver forge and, after throwing an apple up into the sky, threw the arrow bare-handed with such a skill that the apple exploded into a thousand fiery pieces, every single one of them striking a mannequin in the heart without harming even a hair on a human being’s head.
For a few moments the entire assembly stood speechless, amazed at this feat of prowess performed by a man they had all thought was banished from Eden long ago. Suddenly all of them, even Brutus beseeched the King to allow the Hellion leader to teach them what he knew of “warcraft”, yet Alexzander turned to Ignatius and prompted him to make the decision himself. There came a bow of great respect, and many humble words regarding his own abilities, yet finally Ignatius agreed to train Eden’s militia as best he could to fight their celestial enemy. Then there was a loud rejoicing in the crowd, and as morale was greatly strengthened by virtue of this lucky appointment, all of Eden celebrated that night with a grand feast held in honor of the return of the Hellions.
For the first time since The Strike, there was genuine happiness and merriment to be found within the human city. The old strife between Eden and Hellion was temporarily forgotten, their differences reconciled in favor of cooperation in the spirit of newfound bravery. But Ignatius was far away and lost in thought, standing beside the ocean where the alien machina was said to have disappeared. All beneath the stars was bathed in silvery moonlight, and so the royal shadow-man with skin as black as pitch did not catch him unawares as Alexzander approached entreating the Hellion leader to speak his mind.
“Your Majesty, our countrymen have plenty of spirit yet much to learn. To train them I need both time and decent weather. I am sure you have seen the mighty storm brewing over the Tethys Ocean way over there; are you not afraid that it will soon overtake the land as well?” Ignatius frowned, pointing towards the horizon at a large violent swelling of dark clouds off in the distance. But the King merely shook his head and proceeded to put his mind at ease.
“I had almost forgotten to speak of this with you: the storm has been there for days. Do not be afraid of the sea-hurricane, it is another one of Gaia’s many blessings upon us, and our priests support it wholeheartedly in their rituals. This storm keeps our enemy the sorceress at bay. The peculiarity of my flesh-color was enough to grant humanity temporary pardon from extinction, yet I am certain that it will not reprieve us from further attack, but in fact may strengthen their demonic resolve. The sorceress is out there, somewhere… waiting for the storm to cease so that she can return to carry out the slaughter she began.”
The two human men gazed upon the remote ocean storm with wonder, and they wondered just how much time they really had left before the hostile arrival of the sorceress from the stars.
Indeed, the sacred sea-storm raged on and on, caught in the middle of it being an unhappy Marsian sorceress with little to do but wait for the squall to come to an end.
Immediately following her meditative communion with The Beast, Ursula had commanded her fortress to be surfaced and driven straight for the human city. The ascension of the mechanical monster to the ocean’s surface was no easy venture, compared to its descent into the depths of the Earth, which hadn’t taken nearly so long as it’s coming to the surface. As soon as the vessel broke upon the ocean’s other side, they were greeted with the most dreadful weather imaginable, the likes of which they could not explain as the tempest completely thwarted any progress to be made.
“Oh, well that’s just fucking fantastic, isn’t it?!” Ursula shouted in response to news of the delay, contemptuously throwing her teacup across the room and subsequently upsetting a jar of salt sitting upon her meal-table, which fell to the ground with a crash beside her feet. She looked down at the granules spilled upon the floor, and she counted them, one by one, within her mind at the speed of lightning. ‘9,587 grains of salt’, thought she, and she thought of them as 9,587 failures. Her own failures.
Ursula’s officials were frustrated by the immense power and severity of the storm, as well. They had been at Earth sixteen days by their calculations, adrift at sea for nine of them. One of them, the esteemed Marsian sorceress Xezbeth Orca, made it clear to everyone that the storm, being more than just the planet’s natural phenomena, would last indefinitely.
“Madam, we can see neither land or sky. Tornadoes of water surround us, the water churns like mad around us, and the winds have turned against us. We cannot move in any direction; nothing but the squall can be seen all around. It is quite impossible for us to achieve our bearings under such conditions. Surely this can be no ordinary storm.”
“And have we no power to stop it? Surely our sorcery can control the skies and seas better than any human witchery.”
“Alas, upon this wretched Earth, none of our sorcery controls the weather so well as it did upon our home planet Mars. We must learn how to control these new weather patterns, and that will take some time. This storm… it certainly must be the will of the planetary Goddess.”
To which Ursula merely retorted, “Then this planet shall become Her grave.”
Ursula’s foul mood worsened every day that the storm did not cease, and her army hardly fared better. For three days throughout the vast hallways of the compound there could be heard the shouting between the Empress and her army’s previous leader, a famous and mighty warrioress known as Malebranche. The eldest daughter of an ancient dragon clan, she was as imposing, robust, and ruthless in her appearance as she was in her belligerence. She stood taller than most other soldiers in the army, the entirety of which already stood taller than the Empress herself. Unlike most ‘normal’ Marsians, Ursula had no horns, no tail, no fur, no hooves, and no phallus - she was an exact human female in appearance, standing far shorter than Malebranche and yet no less menacing in her own power and composure. They argued for hours at a time until the final threat came which solved the issue for good.
“...If I were still in charge of this army, we never would have ended up on the bottom of the ocean! You have failed us!” Malebranche roared at the Empress.
“Watch yourself, wretch!” Ursula hissed at her. “Or it’ll be off with your head, placed upon a pike to flank my throne!”
And since the Empress really could do this, even to her army’s best warrioress, Malebranche became silent yet remained angry within her heart. She left the chamber without saying another word. The many warrioresses began to whisper amongst themselves.
It was customary, while in waiting during wartime, for the Marsians to pass their waking hours practicing martial arts as a method to keep themselves sharp, yet the Empress practiced both night and day. Ursula had never slept a day in her life, yet she had never been so restless as this before. She paced to and fro all the time, never ceasing some small form of incessant movement for little more than an hour. As the time ticked by and the days became weeks, she developed a variety of peculiar nervous habits.
The Empress had always possessed an impeccable and austere sense of style, as she deeply believed that any great leader must present themselves always in a state of excellence. Every day at sunset Caina was tasked with the lacing of Ursula’s stays, just as she had done daily for her upon their home planet, and this bit of time alone with her was deeply precious to her during the many long days at sea. Yet Ursula began to demand that her stays be laced even tighter than usual, claiming them to be too loose. “But Madame, I am lacing your stays exactly the same as I have always done,” Caina protested, only to be met with her mistress’ dismissive reply, “Nevermind that, only lace my stays more tightly, I feel they are too loose, and that will never do.”
Ever since the day her mistress commanded her fortress to surface from the depths of the sea, she had begun to wear dark gloves at all times, as if she suddenly wished to conceal her hands from all potential harm. Fond as she was of beautiful glass ornaments and bottles of fine perfume, within her chamber she gathered them all up and set them within a large armoire of pure quartz, where they could be seen but not broken. “There are 14,364 pieces in this collection, which is quite enough - I’ll not allow this perfect storm to fragment them into shards.”
All of this perplexed her second-in-command, yet Caina dared not make query about these sudden eccentricities. She could feel the immense and invisible power brewing around Ursula, and it often made her blood run cold.
One afternoon within the fortress dojo Ursula sat upon her dais nestled as if in a comfortably pensive position, but her foot tapped incessantly upon the ground in a fit of loud impatience as she watched her warrioresses fail one by one to best one of her most arduous training devices. The apparatus itself was simple enough in form as well as function, being a floating orb capable of quickly dodging weapons as well as delivering electrical shocks via laser cannon. The machine posed a timed sequence riddle to the challenger which had to be solved organically in order to be solved at all, as it never presented the riddle in exactly the same way twice. In a fit of frustration with whatever devils probed her heart, the Empress had maximized the machine’s difficulty setting until not even the best of her army could defeat it, and she scolded her soldiers dreadfully for what she considered their apparent lack of will. The fury within her smoldered and burned every time the remote shocked its attacker. Finally, when a young Marsian warrioress fell to defeat yet again, Ursula suddenly let out an exclamation which made the entire assembly’s nerves jump at once: “Oh, for fuck’s sake!!” she shouted. All eyes hastily fell upon her as she subsequently leapt from her seat, approaching the fallen soldier. “That is the 267th time you have failed this machine’s riddle, more than anyone else in this chamber. What is your name?”
“Your Majesty, I am Perfectae.” She dared not stand until the Empress dismissed her from the field, but humbly brought herself to one knee.
“Perfectae?” Ursula sneered, but with a tone of respect. “How very befitting. Perfectae, I will show you perfection.”
“Perfection?” a voice sneered in the crowd. It was Malebranche. “We have all attempted this machine many times more than you; even your second-in-command cannot best it. None of us can best it… I daresay you cannot solve the machine’s riddle either... with all due respect, Madame.”
Ursula sniffed contemptuously, throwing daggers with her eyes. “Watch me,” she retorted, subsequently ripping her skirts strategically. Malebranche merely shook her head incredulously, scoffed and said nothing.
The Empress dismissed Perfectae after taking her weapon and approached the remote, formally accepting its challenge and being the first to strike. As time wore on the riddle became tougher and she endured increasingly stronger electrical shocks, just as every challenger before her had endured. But the Empress seemed to transmute the pain, rather than recoil from it, and so she not only gained momentum as the battle continued but she executed the riddle perfectly as a result. She only struck it more and more savagely until she finally split the mechanical orb in half, sending the two smoking hemispheres spinning wildly upon the ground, much to the shock of her entire army. She had destroyed her own machine in meeting the challenge that no one else could solve.
Malebranche approached the victor with a sneer. “It figures… you could only solve the riddle because you built the damn thing.” She spit on the ground and walked away. Ursula glanced at her disdainfully yet said nothing, retiring to her quarters immediately. No one knew of her pain, or of how much energy solving the riddle had drained from her.
A week later, as she laced Ursula’s stays, Caina finally summoned forward a question for her Empress that had been on her mind for some time:
“M’dear, do you remember long ago, there at our home on Mars, the beautiful fields of rose trees that you so loved? You were teaching me how to paint the roses red with magick…”
“...Because you had planted white roses instead.” Ursula smiled and became nostalgic. She turned her face towards Caina but did not stir her body. “It was such an irritating task at first, I thought I wanted to kill you... but then painting them became such a happy pastime for us, day after day, week after week.” After another moment’s contemplation her smile softened and she turned her body around, making Caina cease her lacing. The Empress took her hands into her own gloved palms, and looked at her with longing eyes. “I am glad we managed to bring a few of our beloved rose trees with us for our new abode… but I miss our home on Mars, terribly much.”
“So do I, Mistress… Ursula, in all these years of serving you, I have never seen you so happy as you were then. And I have never seen you so troubled as you are now. Won’t you tell me, dearly beloved, what it is that lays upon your mind which fuels your inner fury so viciously?”
Ursula looked off to one side and began to pull away from her, yet Caina refused to let go of her hands. “These gloves, these little masks cannot hide from me the misery which you wear upon your composure so elegantly. You have always spoken freely with me before, yet now you have become silent towards me. Something has changed you, and it has taken you from me. It moves you incessantly, makes you restless and torn, eating your soul until every soldier which hails your name to the ends of the world cannot help but feel the torture of your unmerited vexation against them. Can you not see that your silent rage affects us all so deeply? I pray, in this our most glorious hour please allow the old Ursula to come back and reign supreme with us forever and always. Tell me the secret of your suffering so that I may alleviate your pain.”
There were no words accurate enough to describe Ursula’s strife upon realizing this wretched impasse: how could she speak with Caina freely, when her every thought lay under surveillance by The Black Beast? She could not tell her of her baseless love for the black man leading the human resistance, nor could she bring herself to speak of her body’s recent transformation. Now her blood was red exactly like a human’s, and she did not want her beloved to regard her in the same harsh light with which she judged herself. There was nothing to say, yet Ursula drew her breath as if to speak.
Both of them sensed the knock at the door seconds before its sound rang through their ears. It was a hasty knock, produced by Perfectae, who bowed low to the ground as soon as she was bidden to enter. “Empress, Duchess, I beg of you to reveal your windows, the storm is ceasing as I speak!”
Ursula immediately threw back the curtains, and to her astonishment light gleamed into the chamber. The storm indeed was withdrawing into the sky, and besides that, lush terrain could be seen far off into the distance. “Six weeks…” she muttered. She turned to Caina with a knowing grin, her eyes bright and devilish. “I promise you, things will be different when we reach land. You’ll see… our new Empire will be glorious, and the humans will serve us forever!”
Caina felt uneasy with her unanswered inquiry, yet all three of them were quite hopeful as they hastened to the control room where Xezbeth was beaming with triumph. “No magick can beat Marsian magick”, she gloated. Ursula at once ordered her fortress to be driven towards land, to the human city known as Eden. Nothing stood in the way of her warpath now, and that was the way she liked it.
Next Sunday don't miss
URSULINE TALES 03: THIS MEANS WAR, Act 2 of 2