With a gasp, he threw himself past the surface and breathed a breath of fresh air - The Journeyman introduction. Panic rushed throughout his body as he found himself dragged back under. Electric yellow tendrils forked out into his vision and flickered out of existence, only to be replaced by more. He struggled against the invisible force holding him down, fighting to find his way to the surface to suck in the sweet, precious air from above. It was over in moments. The tendrils vanished, the invisible force disappeared, and the panic evaporated.
It was disorientating, to have struggled so valiantly, only to be forced further down, and then to be let up again. For a moment, he let himself float on the…what was it? Water? Then why couldn’t he see it or feel it? More to the point, why couldn’t he see or feel anything?
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Weaving a thread round your heart and your soul
Deceiving your eyes and delaying your goal
Ships in the night when they pass out of sight
Deliver their cargo of earthly delights
– Gates of Tomorrow
On the twenty-fourth day of the eighteenth month of the four-hundred-and-sixtieth year since the Nicaragua pact was created on Earth, Queen Leahcar Hades of Calandia gave birth to a baby girl, Baneya. It was a day of great joy, and the streets were brought to life with the sounds of music and the movement of dancing. But it was a joy that would be short-lived. For on that same day, only a few hours later, the Queen Leahcar died. Some blamed the medical treatment; others said it was only a matter of time. But whatever their opinion, their World was thrown into turmoil, and the youngest monarch in galactic history took her place on the throne…
It is never an easy task to accept a position that you do not believe should be yours. Since the day of her birth, Queen Baneya Hades had been ruling over the small planet of Calandia, and had never in her life experienced a day without the pressures of leadership. She found it impossible to comprehend what was wrong with her life. She was young, powerful and beautiful. All she knew was that something was missing. There was never going to be a realisation, because throughout her life everything had been the same. How can you recognise what you’ve lost if you never had it? That was the question that bounced between the walls of her mind.
“Your majesty?” Drowning deep in her thoughts, she had completely forgotten that her friend was in the room. Bringing her conscious back into reality, she glanced at Katarani.
“Sorry, I was somewhere else. What were you saying?”
“I said ‘You seem like you’re somewhere else’, your majesty,” Katarani replied, allowing a small smirk to pass across her lips for a moment before slipping back into the moronic, expressionless persona that she wore almost every waking moment. It was a shame that she looked like this, for she was quite attractive when she smiled, thought Hades, but it was who she was, and nothing could change that. “It just seems weird that someone who is normally as focused as you are has seemed distant for more than a week. I may be paranoid, but I don’t think so. What’s on your mind, my Queen?”
“It’s nothing, Katarani. Don’t worry yourself.” For a moment, Hades almost considered telling her all that plagued her mind. Maybe someone who had the things Hades did not would know what she wanted, even if they were as lacking in intelligence as Katarani. But it would never do for a servant (for despite how close they seemed, that was Katarani’s foremost purpose) to know that the Queen was unhappy. There were many things that the Queen of Calandia would always have. A friendship borne of trust would never be one of them.
Despite the instructions she had been given, Katarani did worry herself as she departed her mistress’ quarters. It was unheard of for Baneya…no, for the Queen to be even remotely unhappy. She had everything she could possibly want; everything Katarani did want! But it was quite obvious that something was not right, and she set herself the task of finding out what it was. She knew what Baneya thought she was: a mere servant girl with the brains of a pea. But that was only the persona Baneya chose to display to the outside world. It would never do for the Queen of all Calandia to be less intelligent than her servant. In fact, it would probably result in Katarani being deported almost immediately. And so it was necessary for the young servant girl to watch, knowing everything but showing nothing.
Katarani had been in the Queen’s service since she had turned five, and her mother had presented her to Queen Leahcar as a 50th birthday present! For years, Katarani had thought nothing of that, but the older she got, the angrier she became that her mother would just casually give away her only daughter. She forced that thought to the back of her mind. It was no longer important. What was done was done. Katarani left the palace for the cool breezes of the night and the safety in the consciousness of her mind.
The Queen lay in the dark, loneliness of her bedroom, unceremoniously slouching in the lavishly decorated armchair. A single candle flickered, allowing the lights to dance around the room, highlighting one object and then moving swiftly on to the next. The remainder of the day had remained useless. There were no functions to attend, no politicians to talk to, nothing that would help her to pass the time. Only her thoughts. And they were no closer to their goal than they had been since she first realised that she was unhappy. It had been almost three weeks now, and despite her intelligence, she had absolutely no clue what was going on. It was unnerving. Having spent her whole life in complete control of almost everything on the entire planet, to lose control of herself was something new. And as she drifted off into her nightmares, for the first time in her life, the Queen felt a new emotion. Fear.
I stand alone in this desolate space
In death they are truly alive
Massacred innocence, evil took place
The angels were burning inside
It was not the way of the world, as a general rule, for visions of dreams to fall into the blackness of consciousness. And yet that was what he found as he awoke from his unconscious stupor. Everything was a blur, up until the drowning. He still remembered with vivid, terrifying detail what that was like. Drowning within the Earth was not something that happened everyday. Blinking repeatedly in a vain attempt to bring light into his world, he stood and shook himself off, only to find that there was no need. How had he clawed his way from beneath the ground without getting dirty? Something odd was going on.
Reaching in front of him to avoid hitting something, he crawled slowly into the darkness. There was no light at the end; as a matter of fact, there was no light anywhere. He knew that there had to be some way out, otherwise he would never have got in, but where it was he had no idea. Rational thinking…that was what he needed now. He stopped crawling, cocked his head and listened. At first he heard nothing, but gradually he started to hear the faint, dripping sounds of running water. Almost imperceptibly, he started to move forwards, slowly accelerating to a steady crawl. As he got nearer and nearer to the sound, he felt the floor slowly starting to slope upwards.
Blinking for a second, he saw the faintest light in front of him, and with a sudden rush of hope, climbed to his feet and ran towards it. He knew it was stupid. If he didn’t see something just ahead of him, he could kill himself. But after being in total blackness, be it conscious or unconscious, for so long made him desperate. So, throwing caution to the wind, he ran. And ran. The light got brighter. Still he ran. It occurred to him that he didn’t know what was at the light. He must’ve been running for a fair five minutes at a flat-out sprint, and the lighting had only marginally improved. A million questions flew throughout his mind. What if the light was a trick of his mind? A mirage? What place could possibly be this dark and this long?
He stopped running.
There were so many questions about this unknown place. He began walking leisurely toward the brightness in front of him. There was no sense wasting his energy. At some point, he would arrive at the light. That much was certain. It was the journey that really bothered him. By rights, nothing should take this long. The cavern (for that was what he assumed he was in) could not be this long. There was no place in the whole of Calandia that had a cavern this big. It had to end soon, and yet the light didn’t get any brighter. It stayed dim. He kept walking. And walking.
He stopped walking.
It was not by choice that he stopped. He would have kept going until the light surrounded him and he was out in the fresh air. But clearly that was not going to happen. The light had suddenly got a whole lot brighter, and he had walked straight into a wall. Whilst in some ways it was a relief to know that this was not a never-ending hole that he kept getting deeper into. But he had hoped that the light was not a mere glow-worm.
He sat, thinking, and as he sat, he stared into the tiny brightness. It didn’t look like a glow-worm. It looked like daylight. It looked like freedom. Tentatively, he reached out and touched it. As his hand moved closer, he felt the tiny chill of fresh air. He leapt to his feet, and tried pushing his hand through it. To his delight, the earth crumbled. With a sudden rush of hope, he forced his whole body into the wall, causing it to shatter into a million shards of dust.
The brightness of the light was blinding at first. Shielding his eyes, he brushed the dust from his clothes and rose to his feet. Finally feeling ready to look at the light once more, he slowly moved his hand from his face to be confronted by the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen.
Templar believers with blood on their hands
Joined in the chorus to kill on demand
Burned at the stake for their soul’s liberty
To stand with the Cathars, to die and be free
“Since the dawn of our great planet, one thing has always remained true and pure: the honour and freedom of our people. But today, I ask you to believe me when I tell you that our ‘freedom’ is nonexistent! For centuries, we’ve believed our peers when they told us that we were a free planet, but were we? What is freedom? To be governed and watched over by an immense fleet of battle craft, all under the command of a single dictator? I don’t think so. To be ‘legally encouraged’ to become yet another cog in the battle fleet’s giant wheel? I don’t think so.”
“We’ve been under the illusion that this is freedom for a long damn time. But now, I say its time that we lifted the curtain, drew back the veil and presented this ‘freedom’ to the masses in all its glory! I say we fight back and bring true freedom to our planet. We are the ones who have the real power. If we say jump, thirteen million soldiers will jump! What can she do to stand against such a force?”
“It is time for the common people to rise up and fight! DEATH TO THE ROYALS!” A thousand people returned his cry.
“DEATH TO THE ROYALS!”
Admiral Drï¿½ckap stood forward, raising his arms and joining the high command in their calls of mutiny. His speech had worked. The revolution had begun. Years from now, on the truly free Calandia, people would look back on this as the day the world changed, and it would be he, Admiral Armen Drï¿½ckap, who began it all.
Floating above the atmosphere aboard the battle craft, Cursed Angel, he declared the monarchy to be evil and the commanding officers of the ‘royal’ fleet had all joined him in his chorus. The surge of adrenaline and power was amazing. To suddenly find himself in command of thirteen million men! Never had a common-born Calandian held such power. Even the leaders of the early rebellions during the colonisation years had only had a few thousand men under their command.
For centuries, the monarchy had gathered more and more power for its own personal gain. How ironic, then, that it would eventually be the tool of their destruction.
Below, on Calandia, the last remaining royal sat quietly, considering the dreams that had so frequently haunted her sleep recently. She had no clue that within a matter of hours, her reign as Queen, probably her life as well, would be over.
Never-ending, forever searching
Chasing dreams, the dreams of my heart
Always seeking, always asking
Questions right from the start
– New Frontier
Silver moonlight glinted off a thousand frozen tears and the crying ripples danced towards him as he stood, alone. Icicles so beautiful they could make angels weep hung from the nooses of the cold glass sky. A shimmering, bottomless lake slowly waltzed in the moonlight under a roof of nothing. The joyful visions of light flickered throughout his vision in a medley of a million colours. Such beauty was so painful that he felt the stars cry as he fell to his knees to gaze through the misty ceiling at the bright moonlight. A hundred gentle hands reached out and carried him to the lake, gently placing him on the endless dark of its surface. He floated out into the centre and watched the night sky as endless streaks of fire and light flickered across it. As the relaxing calm washed over his body, he felt himself slip into a deep sleep.
With a gasp, he threw himself past the surface and breathed a breath of fresh air. Panic rushed throughout his body as he found himself dragged back under. Electric yellow tendrils forked out into his vision and flickered out of existence, only to be replaced by more. He struggled against the invisible force holding him down, fighting to find his way to the surface to suck in the sweet, precious air from above. It was over in moments. The tendrils vanished, the invisible force disappeared, and the panic evaporated.
With tentative fear, he opened his eyes, dreading the sight of darkness around him. Instead, he found himself still in the hypnotic cavern of dreams, gliding slowly over the surface of the Lake of Infinity. Shaking himself from his strange stupor, he rolled onto his front and swam to the edge of the lake. Dragging himself from the dark waters, he glanced around him at the jagged teeth of the ceiling’s mouth, threatening to devour him at any moment. The bloody sunset of colours that raced throughout the cavern stared angrily at him as he looked for a way to get out of this place. The harsh moon threw light down onto him, blinding him in his search. All he could see was the lake, and the trail of water leading from it to a solid wall.
Taking a chance, he dived back into the water and immediately felt the tendrils reaching out for him again. Struggling to stay free, he swam as fast as he could towards independence. Seeing the wall rising from the waters in front of him, he gathered his last breath of fresh air and dived into the deep, dark waters. Pushing his muscles harder than he thought possible, he continued his forward struggle, lungs screaming for breath and legs crying for rest. He felt the black of the wall above him, preventing any attempts to surface. He swam faster than any fish, and yet the wall was still there. With the last ounce of breath still in his body, he flung himself forth, into the wall, but found only open air. Gasping in the precious elixir, he flopped onto the bank and lay back, feet dangling still in the water, and slept.
And I know of the pain that you feel the same as me
And I dream of the rain as it falls upon the leaves
And the cracks in the ground like the cracks are in our lives
They are sealed and now far away
For a moment, the Queen of Calandia stood at her window, surveying the lands she had carved out for her people. This was a world without pain; a world without suffering. It had taken far longer than anyone had expected, but she was proud to see her Utopian dream finally come to pass. All that she saw in the World of Calandia was perfection. Pure, unadulterated happiness.
And then the skies rained fire.
The attack came from nowhere. One moment, the villagers around the palace were going about their nightly lives, most sleeping calmly in their beds, when the hot flames of fire fell from the sky, scorching the souls of the villagers with suffering and fright. Burst after burst of the burning hail was cast down from the heavens, obliterating everything in its path. Dashing from the new hell of their homes, they ran into the open air, gazing up at the terrible evil that was doing this to them. At first they saw nothing, but slowly, the crimson Cursed Angel and her fleet of sisters floated like death from the clouds, passing over the village. It seemed that they were done.
As the others continued their flight, a single, giant cruiser peeled off from the fleet and began circling down onto the terrified village. The temperature started to rise as the heat from its engines began to touch the people. This was no safe landing procedure. The villagers screamed in tortured pain as their bodies were burned from their bones and their very souls turned to ash.
From aboard the Cursed Angel, Admiral Drï¿½ckap surveyed the damage being done by His fleet. They danced through the dark sky, destroying town after town, city after city. Soon, all that would be left of Calandia would be those aboard the fleet, and they would be turned into a great warring nation. They would fly throughout the galaxy, taking every planet that opposed them, until he was the greatest of the great; His name would breed fear wherever it was said.
“Admiral, we are approaching the palace,” said one of his subordinates. Drï¿½ckap turned to face him, smiling viciously.
“And what are we going to do once we get to the palace?” He asked rhetorically. The subordinate allowed a hint of a smile to flicker across his lips. “That’s right. We’re going to take control of this entire planet! No more will we have to obey the Queen’s dictatorship. I…we…will rule!”
Fleeing from her quarters, the Queen dashed down the hallways of the palace to the underground shelter, slamming the door shut behind her. Breathing heavily, she found realisation in her madness. This was what was missing. She had known something was coming, and this was it. Death. Then why did she want it to come? Was it some basic human sickness that secretly, everyone wanted death? No, it couldn’t be. If everyone wanted death, there would be nothing left of the world by now.
Losing herself in her thoughts, the Queen huddled in the darkest corner of the shelter and waited for what would come next.
As if time had stopped still I was numb with fear
But still I wanted to go
And the blaze of the fire did no hurt upon me
As I walked onto the coals
And I felt I was in a trance
And my spirit was lifted from me
And if only someone had the chance
To witness what happened to me
And I danced and I pranced and I sang with them
All had death in their eyes
Lifeless figures, they were undead, all of them
They had ascended from hell
– Dance of Death
The Journeyman awoke from his slumbers on the bank of the river. Glancing at the everglades surrounding him, he slowly rose to his feet. A sense of urgency filled him, but he did not know what it was. His legs told him to walk east, and so he walked. It was still night; indeed, he could not have slept more than thirty minutes, as he strode through the woodlands. The pouring rain of fire shot past the stars, building the sense of urgency rippling through his veins. As he walked, he became aware of a million glittering eyes gazing at him through the blackness. Striding faster, he glanced to the side. In that tiny moment in which his eyes strayed from the path, the trees ran to block him and he found himself lost. Everywhere he looked, there were just more trees; walls of green and brown imprisoning him inside his woodland cell.
He felt himself grabbed from behind by a dozen icy hands. More hands joined them, lifting him from the floor. This time, there was no escape. Unlike the dark place, the lake and the cavern, there was no way out. Inside, there was sanctuary. Outside, in the forest, there was nothing; only the grip of death.
The Cursed Angel came to rest on the roof of the palace. Within seconds, it was swarming with the soldiers of Drï¿½ckap and the rebels. Moving as if with one mind, the warriors danced throughout the palace, securing everything and killing all those who stood in their path. In a matter of moments, every guard in the place was either dead or unconscious. Drï¿½ckap disembarked from his craft and strode into the palace. It was only a matter of time before he found the Queen, and then all of Calandia would be his.
From above the atmosphere, Calandia was just a huge sphere of fiery explosions. The attacking battlecraft, unused to bombing planetary targets, were dropping too close to the villages before unleashing their weaponry, catching themselves in the blast. Ship after ship was destroyed, fighting for a different illusion of freedom. Millions upon millions of men and women were being wiped out every minute. The holocaust was like nothing ever witnessed by man’s eyes, and all because of greed.
With every explosion, more dead hands gathered the Journeyman and raised him from the ashes of the forest. His eyes grew wide with fear as he felt himself lifted higher and higher. Risking a glance beneath him, he saw a thousand lifeless figures, arms raised in a dance of death. More joined them every moment, until the trees were writhing with freed spirits. The tortured, ghostly apparitions of the dead flowed around his tired body, lifting his soul from within. He felt himself stay behind as he was turned and lifted higher. He stared down at his body as it hung limply in the air, until the dead grabbed it and took it into the dance with them. His disembodied spirit hovered above the dancing masses, an unholy reel around the dying moon of the night. The haunting song of the deceased reached his ears and he felt himself join with them as they sang of their sorrow and heartache. As all the people in the world joined in, the land of the living soon gave way to the halls of the dead, and only the Journeyman was unable to enter. Dancing their way through the great doors, soul and spirit alike left their home and entered the unknown. The Journeyman’s spirit was dropped from the height, and reunited with his body in a world of death.
Cruelty has a human heart
Every man does play his part
Terror of the men we kill
The human heart is hungry still
The doors burst open and the Admiral strode through, oozing power as only the great Calandian commanders could. For the first time in history, a common man stood up to the great Queen.
“For a thousand-score years, we’ve been held prisoner by your evil reign. Well today, it ends. Today, a new power rises. Your world is ended. A new one has begun!” The Admiral raised his gun to her head.
“Do you not realise what you have done?” She replied. “Can none of you witness that which is so obviously around you? This World is as free as any can ever be. With anarchy comes death.”
“With democracy comes death!”
“There is no alternative to death. Everything we do leads us to that same inevitable conclusion. Nothing we do will prevent death.”
“Maybe, but we can live what is left of our lives freely!”
“You already were. Now your stupid ideals of freedom and liberty are destroying every single person on this planet! Haven’t you looked back at those you left behind? I have monitors down here. The only Calandian battle craft still in operating order is the Cursed Angel. Everyone else is gone. Nobody from anywhere else on the planet is responding to this distress call. Do you know why?” The Queen’s words subdued the Admiral. All he could manage was one, almost silent word.
“Because there is no-one else! The only people living on this entire planet are those still in this castle. Everyone has been wiped out! And why? Because of your stupid dreams of freedom and anarchy!” The Admiral was not used to being spoken to like this. His only response was anger.
“It was your ‘democracy’ that caused these problems in the first place! Because your family got here first, you think that gives you divine right to rule? No. It doesn’t work like that!”
“Then how does it work, Drï¿½ckap? Huh? How does it work?”
“With freedom of speech. Everyone is able to do and say what they want, when they want.”
“And then what if two people have a fight? Do we just stand by and let them kill each other?”
“No. There would be laws. We would…”
“We would what? It can’t be a free society if there are laws, and there would be nobody left if there were no laws. Freedom is an illusion. We are only as free as our morals allow us to be. And if we fight for a higher freedom, the ultimate price shall be paid! There are billions dead, and their lives are on your hands, Drï¿½ckap. Yours and yours alone.” Without a word of response, the Admiral lowered his gun and reached for his communicator.
So we can only get one chance, can we take it?
And we only got one life, can’t exchange it
Can we hold on to what we have, don’t replace it
The Age of Innocence is fading like an old dream
– Age of Innocence
The explosion was a grand cacophony of noise on a silent planet. The rainbow of burning shot throughout the former palace ground, obliterating everything. As the lights faded, the once-great structure was left in a heap of charred rubble. From the edge of the grounds, Katarani lifted her head from the bunker she had hidden inside. Instinctively, she knew the plight that had befallen her Queen and the rest of the planet. In fact, she was almost certain that she was the only living thing remaining on the planet.
A thousand thoughts tumbled through her mind: Was this what it was like to experience true loneliness? Or true freedom? Are we ever free until we are alone? So many questions, yet so few answers. Katarani lifted herself from the floor and began to walk towards the west. In times of need, people always travelled to the west, so it seemed appropriate that this last remaining person would walk forever westward in the vain hope of finding another to share her life.
Sparing a final glance back at the place where she had lived her whole life, happy among family and friends, she remembered everything. One man’s opinion had changed the world, and now everyone was gone. All that lay before her were the blazing fires that danced on the graves of a million men. Shallow remnants of a once proud society, brought to the ground as much by dreams of freedom as by greed and envy.
She did not look back.
To this day I guess I’ll never know
Just why they let me go
But I’ll never go dancing no more
‘Til I dance with the Dead
– Dance of Death
The Journeyman awoke from yet another slumber. Was everything but a dream, or was this really happening? Looking around him, icy blue lights flitted throughout the trees. A trick of his mind, or the last flickers of the fires of life? He wanted to believe everything was a trick. That he would wake up and recover his identity and remember his life; alas, it was not to be. The message of the dead was all that remained of his fragmented memory. There was nothing left of his home.
Everything was gone. But there was still hope to be found if he followed the sun towards the red sky of the east. He didn’t know what form this hope took, or if it was real, but there was nothing more to be done. His eyes darted back to the everglades of the dead, but his legs followed a different path. He had no control over anything, not even the movements of his own body. The dead willed him to survive, edging him on to the outskirts of their world, and then trusting him to find his own way. With a final look at the everglades, he strode valiantly forwards, not knowing what awaited him.
He walked on.
And the fragment remains of our memories
And the shadows remain with our hands
Deep grey came to mourn
All the colour of the dawn
Will this Journeyman’s day be his last?
Fleeing from nothing
Bleeding wounds of empty hearts
Striding toward a better future
From the outskirts of death to the borders of sanity
Silent whispers of freedom fought and lost
Dancing with death in the infant’s graves
And the journey is all that survives