Sunday, 10 December 2017

Preface: The Pilgrimage

The ship blinked into existence, streaking across the velvet-black of space. Its engines howled as it sped on toward its final destination. It was finally visible. After the long voyage, the goal was in sight.
The ship was nothing more than a speck against the titanic globe. Far out as they were, Decimus dwarfed most other known planets. Its untamed surface was divided. North and south were covered in vast sheets of ice, while the bulk of the planet was a broad band of harsh red and yellow. The celestial body was such a sight that it took even experienced travellers another look to see the strength of the Triumvirate. A mighty ring hung, built far above the planet’s surface, slowly orbiting Decimus. It would be likened to the natural phenomena only in the simplest of comparisons, for the most tertiary glance told all.
This marvel of design was more than a space station. It was more than the seat of real power in the galaxy. It was a symbol, of the wealth and the might of the vast Triumvirate.
‘We’re making final approach now.’
Kai-Ye Tu took a step forward, his hand resting on the back of the pilot’s seat. He let his eyes move across the form of the ring as it grew closer every moment. A sea of windows and docking bays covered the construction.
‘I’ve never seen anything like it…’
Kai-Ye glanced behind him, his eyes falling on his young companion. Like himself, Kai-Ye’s companion dressed in a long, black, hooded robe. His features were veiled in shadow, but Kai-Ye could see the wonderment on his young friend’s face.
‘It has more surface area than some planets,’ the pilot commented.
Kai-Ye inclined his head. ‘I forget that this is your first pilgrimage, Kariv.’
Kariv Wook smiled easily. ‘My… training has taken longer than others,’ he admitted.
Kai-ye nodded, looking his compatriot over once more. They were nearly the same height, and like himself, Kariv had the short black hair and dark eyes of the Hangul people. He shared a similar appearance to Kai-ye, too; beyond their similar attire. Perhaps there was some shared relation that the Order had not informed him of. It was possible, but rarely were relatives partnered together.
As far as Kai-ye knew, Kariv’s commission to him was on account of his advanced study.
‘When did you enter the Order?’ Kai-ye asked.
‘I was seven,’ Kariv announced, his eyes still locked on the looming disk surrounding Decimus.
Kai-ye suppressed a smile. ‘Thirteen years of training.’ He nodded. ‘You must be a powerful Mystic to have trained so long.’
Kariv turned at last. His eyes met Kai-ye’s. There was a subdued pride in them, but he checked it. He smiled politely and bowed his head. ‘I… hope to be of service to you,’ he said.
His lazy gaze drifting to the approaching Ring, Kai-ye nodded. ‘We will see,’ he said.
The ship made it’s final approach, weaving into landing bay 1183. There were five other craft within the entry portal. Mostly larger transports, with lines of travellers filing out of them.
As they landed, half a dozen steel-grey robots trundled forward on spindly legs toward their craft, pulling hosing and other repair tools in their wake.
The landing bay was a massive room with a towering vaulted ceiling. Everything was white, save the floor which was an iron-grey like the robots, scuffed and marked from years of use and abuse.
Kai-ye led the way down the small exit ramp of the ship, Kariv following just behind him. Across the vast landing bay, a small group stood waiting. He counted maybe a dozen people. Most wore robes of deep blue. Two, however, were dressed in the high collard white robes of State office. The older of the two, a white-haired man, smiled as they approached, bringing a hand to clasp the large gold medallion of office that hung from his neck.
The younger man just scowled, looking dejected.
‘Welcome, Master Tu,’ the older man laughed. ‘Welcome back to Decimus.’ He looked past Kai-ye’s shoulder, to the hooded form of Kariv. ‘And you have another Mystic with you?’
Kai-ye came to a stop just before the man, bowing slightly. He nodded and stretched a hand toward Kariv as he stopped at his side.
‘This is Kariv Wook,’ Kai-ye announced. ‘He has been assigned to the position of Sub-Master. He is my companion on this pilgrimage.’
Kariv bowed to the old man.
‘Welcome to you both.’ He steadied his gaze on Kariv. ‘I am Gaius Eiavus, defender of the Empire, and master of this station, this Triumvirate, and Decimus.’
‘Sub-Master Kariv Wook, and Master Kai-ye Tu of the Mystic Order. We come to Decimus, following the traditions of our Order, to see out that which must soon come to advent.’
Gaius smiled as he turned, leading them towards the left, and the exit of the landing bay. ‘You refer to the words of the Mystics? The foretold coming of a great hero.’
Kai-ye grunted in his throat and nodded. ‘It is assured to us. The life that ebbs and flows from Decimus gathers, and creates avatars. It always has, and always will, as long as the universe stands.’
‘Yes, I’m aware of your beliefs,’ Gaius smiled, waving his hand dismissively. ‘I have seen many of your people come and go from Decimus, always overjoyed to arrive, and crushed to leave.’ They reached the edge of the landing bay, and Gaius led them through a large door, that slid closed as they passed through it, into a hallway.
Windows lined the wall on their right. Many only looked into the landing bay, but as they moved further along the wide corridor, Kai-ye gazed out at a panoramic view of the sparkling blanket of space.
‘It is… rather interesting that you’ve arrived now, master Tu. Our robotic scouts have been scouring the surface of Decimus, near the Upper Reaches.’
‘No one has explored the ice fields of the Upper Reaches in over a thousand years,’ Kariv offered.
‘Yes, it’s a well-known fact that monstrous forms are living in the ice fields,’ Gaius nodded. ‘Call it Providence, if you want, but our last four expeditions have all returned, and on examination, they have divulged the most interesting findings…’
‘Such as?’ Kai-ye asked.
Gaius slowed to a stop, turning his gaze on Kai-ye. ‘Life…’ he said, a smile slowly touching the corners of his mouth. ‘Human life, in the Upper Reaches.’
‘Is this possible?’ Kariv asked.
Kai-ye turned to his companion. He considered how to answer. ‘If it is true, it’s…’ he hesitated, ‘significant.’
‘Yes!’ Gaius smiled. ‘I should say it is. None of the Mystics in the past thirty years have thought to search the Upper Reaches, have they?’
‘It has been… Forbidden,’ Kai-ye said.
‘Because of the last creature that was brought out of the ice waists. Because of Arak.’
Again, Kai-ye cleared his throat.
Gaius smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder. ‘I’m not here to discuss dark histories, Kai-ye. I welcome the Mystics to Decimus, as I have done for five decades. The past is past, and the future is bright. Come, let us retire to my conference chambers. We will take a look at your desired itinerary.’

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