Sunday, 14 September 2014

Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire


Phoenix: Beyond the Stellar Empire is a turn-based, open-ended space opera. It combines strategy and tactics with resource management in a persistent universe that has been continuously running for over 20 years.

Everything from trading, diplomacy, missions and naval/military combat is possible.

The game also has full-time human moderators to deal with unique situations. This game is not for the casual gamer – months to get to grips with, years to master.

It does not offer cheap thrills, it does not offer pretty graphics and it does not offer instant gratification. It offers the chance to create a legacy, the ability to do things in the game others have not and never will, the chance to fundamentally alter the game universe in a persistent and ever evolving storyline. It offers a game for life.

Starship positions are free to run, and you can sign up today.

Everything you need is on the Sign Up Page.

Revelations

The Wormhole into the Eden system pulsed, a rainbow of colours exploding into the ether as the gargantuan battleship traversed into normal space. Old grey paint covered the majority of its surfaces, as well as the old banner of the Confederacy. Damage from combat could be seen over it's hull, scars from past conflicts. Battle commendations going back year after year etched into the hull, a graphic reminder of the violent past of the Confederacy. Powerful engines flared and pushed the warship towards the navigational beacons through the defensive lines of Brotherhood ships and platforms, screens of fighters and the caressing tendrils of sensors. In the dying glow of the wormhole a mural across the front of the ship however proclaimed boldly the existance of the Caliphate. Slowly, the lines opened and allowed the Emissary through.

Inquisitor D'Morenta and her closest aides sat in conference. Planetary survey maps covered the table, stacks of statistics on mineral yields, lists of lifeforms, political and sociological ethnotyping of populations. A heavy tome of prayer was open on a lectern and an initiate was reading to the room, a background echo of the piety of the cathedral complex they sat. She rubbed a gloved hand over her face and dropped a survey log onto the table.

"This is getting us no where. These records are four, five years old. Some of them older."
"It's all we have." Sister Marchessa picked up a piece of burnt parchment with a sketch of a Hive Queen. "A lot of our records were lost during the....."
"Please, we don't talk about those times." A grizzled warrior in a monks robes worked his rosary slowly, muttering occasionally under his breath. "Inquisitor, we just need to get more ships and groups out surveying the planets."
"All of which costs money."
"We have the initiates, and we have the locations. We just need your blessing, with results we will be able bring more wealth into the coffers and fund more exploration."
"Fine, you have my blessing. Next order of business. The Caliphate. Gregor, put down the rosary and tell me what your spies have told you."
"It's not good...."

The Caliphate battleship landed and disgorged five men. A tall figure, wearing heavy silken robes followed by four veteran soldiers, all wearing the personal clan sigil of Darius walked towards the security entrance to the colony. A flourishing of a sheaf of papers and security passes allowed them through every single door and entrance. Word passed through the colony to the cathedral, an Emissary had arrived.

Carmilla brushed a speck of dust from her habit and nodded at the report. It was as if there was a madness encircling the Caliphate. The Confederate Offficers who she had helped escape had said the same thing. Something was different, something not right. It was lucky, she thought, that Pyros was in charge. His decisions were at least more reasonable. She looked up as she heard a commotion outside the door and turned around, one hand slipping under the table. Two of the guards in the room were listening to their comms while others readied their weapons. She raised her hand to stop Gregor and waited. The door opened, and was closed by the caliphate marines.

With almost feigned indifference she watched the man walk in. Cool, calm, dangerous. Like a shark, pure predator. Slowly she moved her hand back up onto the table and nodded to the man. Here was a man to be afraid of, a man that held the power of life and death over anyone and everyone in the Caliphate. Titus. The Assassin Emissary.

"Salaam, Inquisitor D'Morenta. I bring greetings from the Caliphe and the Lord Inquisitor."
He pulled the sheaf of papers out and and selected one, handing it to her. It was addressed, in heavy gothic script, to her.
"You are ordered hence forth to make your presence before the Caliphe in three days. The location is in the...."
Gregor pulled himself to his feet and slammed a fist onto the table.
"The Caliphe does not order here! This is a sanctuary, a holy place. Only the Lord Inquisitor can order an Inquisitor..."
"Gregor...."
"No, this man is filth. I know him. Assassin. Beast!"
"You honour me too much. But I am not here for you. Inquisitor D'Morenta, you have three days. The penalty for disobedience will be severe."
"Oh Titus, you do have a flamboyance about you. Three days? It's not enough time. I need five."
"And yet you have only three. There is no flexibility, no leeway, no begging. Your ruler and your Lord Inquisitor demand your presence. I am baffled why we are even having this conversation. Are not monks and nuns just supposed to... obey?"
"We do. We obey just fine," Carmilla stood up and smoothed down her habit, "But we obey the True One. Not the Caliphe. However, he is one of Gods children, so we will be humble and come and visit. You may go Titus, you have fulfilled your requirements."
Carmilla bowed to the Assassin Emissary and watched him depart. Gregor sneers and spat after him.
"Yes Gregor, I see you were right about them. We must be cautious."
"Pah, he is lucky I didn't put a bullet in him!"
"We are lucky you didn't. They would wipe out our sect without even blinking. They have the power, we have the faith."
"Doesn't that make us stronger?"
"Oh yes.... but faith doesn't stop photon guns from raining down death on out colonies."

Three Days Later

Inquisitor D'Morenta stormed down the Emperors corridor in the Caliphate capital, her entourage struggling to keep up. From behind her the sounds of arguing from the council chamber. The Assassin Emissary caught up with her and grabbed her shoulder.
"Inquisitor, that was not dignified!"
"Bullshit Titus! That's not how things should be done, that was a damn witch hunt!"
"The FET knew what they were doing....."
She looked up at him and pointed a finger at him.
"Titus the Confederacy is larger than just one person!"
"Carmilla," he sighed softly, "Do you believe that, or is it your father speaking?"
Her hand lashed out, slapping his face with a loud crack that even turned the heads of the guards along the corridor. She shrugged and nodded and looked up at him.
"Oh Titus, I'm sorry. I guess you are right. The Caliphate rules now, I guess I should stop living in my fathers shadow."
"I think that this is just a bit larger than that. The Lord Inquisitor needs you and you... just stormed out in a fit of girlish pique?"

Carmilla walked back into the council chamber and found the Lord Inquisitor, Pyros sitting there in quiet contemplation. The other delegates and leaders were still rowing.
"You are too impetuous."
"Yes my Lord."
"You will obey the Caliphe, he is the leader of our Alliance."
"Yes my Lord."
"And you will support the Caliphate by pledging your holy system to them."
He raised a hand to her.
"And the words you should be speaking now are 'Yes my Lord'."
"Yes.... my Lord. I will follow your lead, myself and my whole sect."
"Good. Now before I send you to your quarters and repeat the Prayer of Obedience fifty times, you will sit and watch and listen. And maybe you will learn something."
"What am I watching?"
"Now that is a good question. You can answer it after they stop shouting."

Escaping the Chains

The heavy grating set in the wall moved slightly. Again it moved, as if someone behind it was pushing against it. A faint sob from behind it as the person levered it open partially, the corner allowing fingers through, a redoubling of effort, a frantic hammering. The grating moved again as the person thrust their body at it and eventually made a hole large enough to squeeze through. A woman pulled herself out and tried to push the grate shut. She was bedraggled, dirty and dressed in a tattered ship suit. Looking up and down the corridor she was in like a wild animal she ran and opened a large door covered with warning signs. Great gusts of wind slammed the door back and she jumped through and pulled it shut.

Looking around she found herself on one of the walkways that ran under the great starbase of Mirabile, one of the decaying outlying Brotherhood stations in the Yank system. Wind howled and sent the waves from the sea lashing the thorlium columns that kept the station up. Holding onto the chains that acted as a barrier around the walkway she breathed deeply and let the spray cover her. For far too long she had been without proper air, or even water that had not been through the aging filtration systems. For a moment, she looked over the edge, into the steel darkness of the sea and thought about simply leaping into it. A swift watery death was better than being caught again.

As she stood there a sound moved her and she looked up. The great bulk of a freighter was lifting up from one of the landing pads and heading out. From the direction, to one of the starbases along the coast. Leaning out she looked up, and saw something. The great elevator of the hiport leading up into space, and from there it would be easy to jump a freighter. Easier than the landing pads here, they would be full of guards. It could be done... It... must be done. She started running down the walkway towards the main columns as fast as she could.

The maintenance bay at the base of the column was shut, but the window was glass and shattered easily. Inside she found tools and began working on the wrist cuffs and tracer belt. A small plasma cutter seared her skin, but the cuffs fell to the deck. Luckily the bays medical section had the necessary pain killers. Sitting back, rubbing her burned skin, tears streaming down her face she kicked the tracer belt through slats in the floor which fell into the ocean. With luck they would think she had drowned. But luck was never on her side. Dragging herself up and through the door she saw the markings on the wall and pressed the relevant button, a selection of rungs shot out slowly and led upwards. With screaming muscles and pain lancing down her arms she started to climb.

As she reached the top rung and looked over she heard the sound of the weapons being cocked. Standing just on the edge of the upper walkway was a woman, surrounded by several guards. She sobbed, recognizing the insignia of the Inquisition on the woman. Letting go of the rungs she felt herself falling back, only to feel herself grabbed by the woman who held her, then pulled up by the guards. They slammed her to the floor and fastened restraints around her then pulled her up, grabbing her hair and pulling her head to face the Inquisitor.
"I was interested to find that workshop. One of the hidden little places of the previous governor."
The Inquisitor sat down on the edge of the walkway, the ocean far below her boots.
"Did you know he leapt from here? Or some place like this. Did a swallow dive into the ocean. Body never recovered. Mind you, not that we looked."
"Let me go.... please.... "
The Inquisitor gestured to the spot beside her and the woman was forced down into a sitting position, her legs over the edge.
"I hate this place, this decaying monstrosity. I wish I could destroy it, but it's all part of the greater good."
"Let me go...." she pleaded. "I was taught the rite of the True One. I wasn't escaping from that, I was escaping the chains! "
"Yes, the old governor loved his slaves. I guess you didn't know that the new Lord Inquisitor decided to issue an edict against slavery in the Brotherhood. They were all given their freedom."
The escaping slave looked up at the Inquisitor.
"You mean.. I am free?"
"Technically yes. That's why we are here. You... do want your freedom yes?"
Her eyes gleamed at hope of freedom.
"Yes my Lord!"
"Then as the new Governor of this starbase and with the power of the Inquisition, I give you your freedom."
She gestured to the guards behind her, the slave bent forward so they could get to her restraints. Instead she felt the guard behind her kick her. She fell screaming into the waves below, the Inquisitor watched impassively.
"Well this is a cause for celebration. Mirabile, is now free of slaves. Praise be to the True One. Come on, lets hit the nearest bar. You boys deserve a drink."
Carmilla D'morenta stood up and dusted herself off, looking down at the body floating in the sea.
Yes she mused, no more slaves, only the purity of the devoted. Blessed be!

End of an Era

Inquisitor Carmilla D'morenta and her entourage stood and watched the birth of the Caliphate. All around the men of Darius were proclaiming the new order. The men of the Frontier Exploration and Trade bowed their heads, as did the Central Intelligence Agency. The Brotherhood watched impassively until they too, bowed their heads. The Confederacy was now no more, a memory. She watched as the great Confederate flag was cut down and replaced by the new one. To her left an old man clutched her shoulder and cursed.
"I can't believe it. I worked side by side with the Confeds and later fought them. They were proud men, it's a shame to see them go."
"Yes Father," Carmilla sighed, "But we must move with the times."
"And I suppose you'll tell me the old guard will just be happy with the change over?"
"The Confederacy that you knew was not the same one that died here today."
"And what happened to the steadfasts?"
"They either changed allegiance to the new order, or they...."
"Carmilla... do one thing for me. I want that flag."
She smiled at the man standing on her right, a tall impressive figure even clothed in heavy robes.
"Oh I think I can do that."

Two men oversaw the movement of the old Confederate banner. They were unaware they were being watched, and by the time the Inquisitor was behind them it was too late. Two heavy saps struck their heads and they tumbled, unconscious to the floor. Sleep gas capsules were thrown and the employees collapsed.
"Was that necessary? To strike them?"
The taller of the entourage turned to her and threw back his hood. His grey uniform could be seen underneath.
"Yes it was. I swore an oath never to turn my hand against the Confederacy, but this is something different. We're going, leaving all this behind, but we may be back one day."
"So the Confederacy will rise again?"
"Yes ma'am. It may."
She nodded sagely and thought for a moment then pulled out an envelope and handed to him.
"Read it when you get to the starport. Do what it says, no questions."
He frowned but took the envelope.
"As you say."
"And take my father to his hotel. I think this has all been too much for him."

She stood on one of the large embankments looking out over the starport, leaning on the railing. Her guardian coughed slightly and she could hear the sound of her pistol being cocked.
"Weapon away, we are amongst friends."
"Aaaah Sister, I have been looking for you."
"My Lord Inquisitor Pyro, I am at your service."
The leader of the Brotherhood, flanked by his heavily armed guards walked towards her and leant against the railings. Behind them his guards began assembling a surface to air missile.
"I have been hearing disconcerting rumours about you. Aiding revolutionaries?"
"Yes my Lord."
"You will have to be punished for such."
"Yes my Lord."
"The Caliphate rules now. And we are part of it. If you do not understand that, and do not accept that there is no place for you here."
"Yes... my Lord."
He sighed and handed her the controls and they watched the ship take off.
"Destroy it."
She flicked the lock and pressed the switch, the missile behind roaring into the sky and slamming into the ship which exploded, falling back upon itself in a black plume of smoke.
"I am glad we had this conversation, Sister."
"The True One wills it, My Lord."

From the side of the hanger bay the Confederate Officers watched the ship burn, one by one they dissapered into the the hidden escape passage until only two were left.
"That is quite some daughter you have there."
"She scares the hell out of me sometimes. Long live the Confederacy."
"We will rise again!"
And with a salute he was gone leaving the old man to watch the ship burn.

-------------
OOC: I have always been fond of the Confederacy, and it is a shame to see them gone. But, games change, and this is a game. Long live the Caliphate :)

Crash and Burn - Survivors

Fire. Fire is the gift that the True One gives us. Fire purifies. Fire holds back the night and the nightmares. Fire....

Brother Matthew stood firm, his flame thrower spraying gouts of liquid flame at the pack of desert wolves that was facing him and his dying neophyte. Dozens were dead and dying, the stench of their fur filling the air, the smoke from their burning carcasses filling his eyes with tears of irritation. And still they came.
"My Lord is my guardian, with his blessing I shall stand firm...."
More gouts of flame and the squeals, the dying. Less now, but they were closer. A distant beeping brought a tinge of fear until it was quashed under prayer. Nothing lasts forever. With a pressurized hiss the fuel tank ejected. The last tank was held up by his Neophyte, whimpering in pain. Seconds lost. Insert, lock, pressurize. A shape lunged at him, razor sharp talons ripping into his chest, the butt of the thrower slammed into it's neck followed by his boot, the crunch of bone then again spraying at the attacking pack. They were relentless, but he was a survivor.
"We make our stand here, and by the True One we will die here fighting!"
Behind him, he heard Tobias let out a last sigh and his body slumped. With grim determination he fought on.


Far out in space a ship appeared in a purple haze, gas dispersing slowly as it finished it's jump. The gas, flotsam from a gas giant they jumped from to escape hid them for a moment, then the great engines of the battlecruiser powered up and left it behind. Moving with a speed and grace that defied it's physical shape, a clenched fist of black steel festooned with weapon and sensor ports the Pride of Folkvar headed towards the sun.

On the ships bridge Folkvar looked over the internal scans, checking damage and casualty lists. The last running battle had been fierce, as expected with Dewiek hunters, but he was better. Rubbing his tired eyes with a paw he stretched. Folkvar, once the greatest in the land, was now free. In a sense. No longer High Lord of the Dewiek, Folkvar the Wolf Baron was now also know as the Fallen. He got up and walked the bridge, wondering how merciful it was that Filtiarn, Lord of the Wolves, held back the final killing blow. Change had always come slowly to the Dewiek, and this was no exception. How long had it been planned, talked about, discussed? Were the marauders that attacked his ship Filtiarns? Pah, but he was still one of the twelve until his hide had been displayed, and that would take some doing.
"Comms, inform the sector command we are here. See if there is any news that we need to download, and find out where my sons pack is."
The communications officer barked a confirmation and after a few moments stepped aside.
"Sector Command, this is the Wolf Baron Folkvar. By standing orders we are informing you of our presence in your territory."
On the screen a greying wolf looked up and spat off screen.
"Folkvar, why do you have to dirty my sector? We have no need of you here."
"Hold your tongue, this is a courtesy call, nothing more. I seek the Silver Claw pack, they are in this cluster I understand."
"Aaah, you seek your ragged cur of a son. When you have gone my sector will be better for it. Changes to the old ways are wrong. They should have killed you, your time is past."
Folkvar looked aside, tapped his comm officer and pointed to the download, he nodded and began to download data from the command.
"I will attempt to forget your insults to me....."
"That is why you are cast out, mongrel. Folkvar the Fallen? I call you Folkver the Dead. You have 48 hours to leave my sector or I will unlease my fleet against you. And before you whine like a female in heat, I will send that to the High Command. Be well."
Folkvar looked at the screen. For someone to talk to him like that showed how far he had fallen in some eyes. But then there would always be those who were of the old school, the old ways. Remnants. Regardless, he was still one of the Twelve and he had power, albeit diminished. Throwing back his head he howled with laughter.
"Those old fools. I pity them, maybe once I pick up my cub we will head over there and tear out his throat."
Falling back into his command chair he looked out of the window, aware of a silence from the comms officer.
"Well, do you have his location?"
"Yes, and I've sent over the co-ordinates... but...."
"But what?"
"According to this the Silver Claw pack has been in no less than seven engagements and lost four ships but accounting for at least nine destroyed. Last reported action, just a few hours ago was with a Confed transport and it's escorts. Then all contact was lost."
"Divert all power to the jump engines, get us to that location. Quickly!"

Folkvar left the bridge and walked into his quarters, slamming the door behind him. A cold shiver ran down his spine and he shook his fur wildly. Over on one wall were seven pictures, all of them his cubs. Three had died, as befitting a Dewiek, in combat against superior odds. The rest were competant, successful and influential, but of all of them, the youngest was his favorite.
"Aaaah, young cub, I know you will be fine."
A form on the bed stirred and yawned.
"My love, why do you call him that, he is old enough to hunt."
He leapt onto the bed and swept his mate into his arms.
"White Strides will always be a cub to me. I am far to fond of him."
His mate held him tight and bit his neck softly, shivering when she heard his low gutteral growl.
"And I... am far too fond of you."


Brother Matthew brought the pointed stone down, smashing into the desert wolves skull. Finally, it was over. Staggering back he tripped over a burnt body and fell onto two more dead wolves. Pain lashed his body, dozens of slashes, bites and cuts covered his body. Blood flowed freely from his wounds. Under the glaring sun he struggled to his feet and looked around. His weapon was broken beyond repair, used as a club when it had finally run out of fuel. With gentle touches he wiped it's plaque and wept. This weapon had been a constant companion for many years and it's loss was a devestating blow. Tearing his robe he made some makeshift bandages and covered the worst of his wounds then set to work. Despite the heat and the stench he dug a grave for his neophyte and buried him, covering it with heavy stones. A prayer was read over the body and finally, when his obligations had finished, he staggered over into the shade and sat down.
"You were brave, young Tobias. Know that you will find solace in heaven."
From the depths of his pocket he pulled out a small box and activated his emergency homing beacon. It was set to a Confederate frequency and with luck help would arrive. Slowly, he drifted into unconsciousness.


The roar of rage was heard all through the ship. Over the last hour they had managed to find and locate the remains of the Silver Claw pack. The survivors from the flagship were taken aboard and the ranking officer told Folkvar the news.
"Your son is dead, my Lord. He was killed by forces onboard the freighter. From what scattered reports we could get before the freighter went down over the planet, a Monk killed him."
"A Monk? This was a confederate ship I was told, not a Brotherhood one."
"Why not suppose there was one travelling on board. Until we go to the planet and retreive the escape pods and jettisoned compartments we won't know."
He turned on the officer gripping him his neck in one swift movement. He growled and squeezed.
"We won't know? But you said he is dead. Might he not have taken an escape pod?"
The officer tried to back away, snapping and whining.
"My lord, all pack leaders are tagged and monitored. He flatlined!"
Folkvar threw the officer against a bulkhead and stormed back to the bridge.
"Take us to the planet, now! I was all sensor scans running. I want every signal from that planet, every morsel. You will chase down ever lead on any signal that indicates that Confederate forces are alive down there. Do you understand?"
The crew growled their confirmation.
"Get the shuttles read, I want an armed force with each one. We investigate each signal which mentions Confed or Brotherhood."
"Sire.... you may want to hear this...."

Thump thump.....
I can hear my heart beating. With every beat I know I am alive. If I am alive there is hope. If there is hope there is faith. With faith I cannot die.
Thump thump.....
If I cannot die, then I will live. And if I live I can say the proper prayers for my neophyte. He fought well, but I could have teached him more.
Thump thump.....
It is getting cold. Even though the sun is directly above me, and the ground is too hot to touch, I am still cold.
Thump thump.....
......
Thump thump.....
Am I ready to die? Are those angels coming towards me?
Thump.....

Brother Matthew awoke in a glaring white room and raised his hand to cover his eyes. The pain was gone, now only a distant memory. He could hear nothing, save again his heart beating, and a low whistling sound.
"Am I dead?"
A wheezing laugh caused him to turn his head. A very tall wolf was leaning against a wall, his dark fur immaculate, his harness pristine with it's medals and accolades. This, he saw, was a highly place Dewiek. Though, he mused, not a million miles away from the ones that had fought him on the planet.
"Where am I? Or is that a delicate question?"
"The question isn't. But the answer may be."
"Oh....."
The wolf chuckled, but seemed intent on staring at the monk.
"Perhaps you know who I am?"
"No. To me you are Dewiek, though from the look a skilled and dangerous one."
The wolf chuckled again.
"I am the Wolf Baron, Folkvar the Fallen."
Matthew frowned and tried to sit up, the strength leaving him.
"I thought.... you were... top dog so to speak. Thank you, if it was you who found me."
Folkvar walked over to the monk and patted him on the cheek.
"Oh don't thank me yet. You may live to regret living. But get well, yes, hu-man. I have much to talk to you about."
He padded out of the room and closed the door, a red light indicating it was sealed.

Folkvar's mate met him outside the medical bay and embraced him.
"You don't need to do this."
"He will get better, then I will fight him to the death."
"It's a pointless fight!"
Folkvar punched the metal wall, denting it in fury and howled at her.
"He killed my son!"
His mate snarled and grabbed him slamming him bodily into the bulkhead.
"You may be the Pack Leader, you may be my mate and the father of my cubs, but if you ever, EVER think that I am not grieving for my lost cub I will make sure you never have cubs again! I want to rip out his throat and bathe in his blood but we are at peace now with the Confederacy! And I will not risk loosing you!"
"No... I will fight him. But I will give him every chance to make amends, in the traditional way."
"He will not know our ways."
"Then he will die."
Folkvar stormed off leaving his mate, his howls echoing around the ship.

From his bed Brother Matthew heard the shouting, the sounds of fighting and the howling. Then it all went quiet and the door to the infirmary opened, letting in female Dewiek. She was smaller than Folkvar, but mottled and wore a long flowing dress.
"I never realised how passionate you people are."
"Thank you."
"For what?"
"For calling us people. Not animals. So many of your kind do that."
She checked his bandages and applied a salve from a sealed bottle. With her keen eye she checked his wounds and added a nannite compound to heal him quicker.
"What did I do to make him so angry?"
"You killed his.... our son. Assuming you are the monk that is being talked about, who caused so much damage to out pack."
"If I killed him it was only in self defence. There were some of your kind killing the innocent. I could not allow that."
"Did they die quickly?"
He looked over at her and took her in. As a Dewiek he believed she would be beautiful to them, but she had hidden muscle and was a fighter, that much she could not hide. To lie now, would be found out in time. No, the truth is always the truth, so shall it be.
"No, some of them didn't die quickly."
"My mate is going to fight you. In the ships arena. To the death."
"That is not a problem."
"What, you think you can win?" She asked with incredulity.
"Oh no, I will probably die. But that is not a problem. I have faced death too many times, I have prayed for my soul too many times. Maybe it is my fate to die here, amusement for the mob."
"I will never understand you hu-mans. But I think I like you."

It was several days later that Brother Matthew was led away from the medical bay and into the Arena. Deep in the heart of the ship the Arena was a place for settling disputes between crew, fighting prisoners and occasionally, just relaxing. But today it was obvious that this was something special. Clad only in his torn robes he was lead into the centre of the arena. Around him the crew howled and stamped, eager for the uncoming festivities. From a side annex Folkvar and his mate approached and stood in the middle of the arena. Folkvar wore nothing and his mate addressed the crowd.
"We fight today. One on one, in the traditional form. Our leader, Folkvar the Fallen against Matthew of the Brotherhood. Our leader fights to avenge the death of our cub, White Strides. If there is any who stand against us, and side with Matthew, do so now. This will be....," she looked at the human, "A fight to the death."
The crowd cheered and hammered on the benches infront of them. His mate departed and Folkvar walked up to Brother Matthew.
"You are fit and well and deemed able to fight by our doctors. You will fight me, we will fight to the death, for the memory of my cub. You can choose what weapons we use, not that it will give you any advantage."
"I do not need any weapons."
A hush settled over the arena.
"You will die, little man."
"Death comes to us all. Shall we begin?"
Brother Matthew backed away a few feet and moved into a defensive pose.

Folkvar leapt, howling as he attacked, his claws slashing towards the monk, missing by a whisker. The monk attacking him while he was open, doing nothing more than irritating him and he backhanded the monk, sending his flying. Matthew picked himself up, wiping the blood from his mouth and moving around slowly. Another leap and three red cuts were slashed across his back, but still he kept standing up. Folkvar walked over and punched the monk, sending him to the ground and punching him again and again. Matthew managed to block a few and even hit back with some lucky strikes. A punch to Folkvars head had his stepping back long enough to get back to his feet. They danced around each other a few more times until Folkvar slashed him again, and again and again. Despite bleeding profusely he continued to get back on his feet. Folkvar rolled and slashed low, tearing a hamstring and seing Matthew tumbling.
"You are weak. You will die out here unsung unpraised not even your skull will adorn my wall. And still you dare to fight me?"
Folkvar watched as Matthew, despite all the odds, stood up.
"I fight because my faith is strong even if my body is weak. Do your worst, you are an honorable predator and one i respect."
Matthew closed his eyes and started to pray. He felt Folkvar standing above him, smelt him, could feel the heat on his body.
The Fallen lowered his fist which would have delivered a killing blow. He reached down and lifted the monks head and waited til he opened his eyes and looked into them. What he saw shocked him. There was no look of fear, no look of hatred. There was the look of the zealot, the wild eyed look he always had himself when fighting against overwhelming odds. There was no way that the monk before him could ever win, and they both knew it. He lowered his arm... and stepped back.
"No. You are not prey. No prey I ever faced had such conviction."
A scream came from the audience.
"You must kill him!"
"No.. He has the strength of his god within him and even at the end he did not flinch. That... I cannot kill."
"You must, it is our way!"
"Hah! You say that to me? Folkvar the Fallen? Things change! And this fight is over. Tend to his wounds. If you want a fight... we go to Sector Command. I have not forgotten, nor forgiven the insults done to me. Who is with me?"
The crowd cheered and dispersed, heading to their stations. Folkvar turned and looked, his mate was standing with Brother Matthew, already rubbing salve into his wounds. He walked over and looked down at the monk.
"You, Brother Matthew, are an enigma to me. You kill my cub, but I can't kill you. Why is that?"
"Maybe because you recognise something of the animal in me. Or maybe, it is the will of the True One. Either way, neither of us dies today."
"Have you ever seen the Dewiek fight?"
"Other than when you are pounding me into the floor? No."
Folkvar laughed.
"Then you shall. I can't say I'll ever like you Monk, or your kind. But I respect you. And for me, that is enough. So come with us. I offer you a look at the Dewiek that few ever get to see."
"I accept, as long as I can have somewhere to sleep that isn't covered in wolf hair."
"Ha, you are funny little man. Tell me.... tell me about your True One. I would know what you are like."
"So you can one day attack us?"
"If we do, I think maybe... it would be a mistake. But what do I know, I am no longer in command.. I am just a Baron."
"Just nothing, you are still Folkvar, and that is something that people will remember long after I am gone."
"Then talk to me of your ways and your god."
"Okay... in the beginning there was the word....."
Folkvar's mate watched as the two sat on the blodied grounds of the arena and smiled. It was a start, she mused, but she'd still like to rip out his throat. She wouldn't, she smiled to herself, as she recognised in Matthew what she recognised in her mate, they were both survivors.

Crash and Burn - Innocent Lives

Brother Matthew awoke to the sound of sirens and the violent jarring of the ship. His neophyte was cowering in a corner, snivelling and recieved a just slap around the head. Pulling his cassock on and fastening his heavy belt he opened his copy of the teachings of the True One and picked a line at random. Only with fire is the devil purged, though fire can work both ways, for it is mischievous. He mused for a moment and pulled his bag from the overhead locker.
"Come along Tobias, we should ask the Captain why we have been disturbed."
"Master, it must be pirates! Who else would attack a confederate transport?"
Who indeed, he mused, perhaps it was wrong to take such a ship on the eve of the devil's work. The DEN were planning a hunt, a parody of honour, barbarism pure and simple. Animals, nothing more. And yet these animals might make a hunt of the True Ones servants, and that was not permitted.
"We shall see, come Tobias, and bring your bags. There is Gods work to do this day."

The Captain was calm, though he could see that all was lost. His two escorts were already burning, their hulls spinning, and one of the agressors was also dead. But there were two more. His maneauvers were good, but they were faster, his shields were good, but their weapons were faster than his recharge rate. And out here on the Rim there was no room for errors, and help might not come. So regardless of his orders, he swung his ship towards the planet and tried to run for it. The thought of jettisoning his cargo never crossed his mind. A cargo of pioneers, colonists for one of the outposts. There was no way he would let them be sport for the Dewiek.

Suddenly the ship started to shudder and whine, the engines slowing. He ordered more speed, but none came. Tractor beams? Damn them, they meant to board! He keyed the intercom.
"All hands, this is the Captain. Prepare for boarding, issue weapons to all who can carry them!"
He noticed the ships had stopped shooting him now. The large ship was maneauvering for boarding while the smaller one skittered around. With frantic hands he moved all available power to the engines, but it wasn't working. The ship was stopping and there was little he could do.

The two ships slammed into each other then rebounded slightly. An armoured docking tube from the Dewiek ship slammed into the transport, cutting torches burning into it's hull. Inside the hull portion slammed onto the floor and the civilians inside watched in horror, as the giant wolves walked into the ship, festooned with weapons. With a howl they cut down, their blood spattering the walls. On the bridge the Captain began lowering bulkheads and directing troops.

The civilians ran, along with some troops and ended up in the aft cargo hold. The soldiers held the advancing Dewiek off, bit by bit, but their numbers were thinning. Crying children, weeping mothers, and the stoic men of the Confederacy, proud to the point of death, armed with what weapons they could waited to pay for their lives with Dewiek blood. Outside the door the firing stopped and an intense banging started, a hammering and a howling. Weapons were trained on the corridor, a killing zone that lead to the door and then there was silence. All watched as the doors lock opened and slowly swung in. There were sighs and praises as they looked on the form of Brother Matthew, wreathed in smoke. Behind him his neophyte was making sure the bodies were dead and then they both stepped in and closed the door.
"Brothers and sisters. Fear not for they shall be here soon, and one way or another we shall see who is stronger this day. For I will stand and fight with you, as the True One stands with you. These animals are heathens, and do not know the way of the True One, but we shall give them a gift of the True One this day." With that he pulled a weapon from his bag and checked it. And indeed, etched along the side were the words 'Gift of the True One'.

The door to the aft cargo hold opened again and a wolf stood at the door while his companions looked at the dead around them.
"You cower in the darkness, hiding in the bowels of the ship, hoping we will not notice you. But we can smell your fear, smell the prey. Come out and face our judgement, or we shall come in and slaughter you all."
Brother Matthew stood his ground and gazed at the creature before him.
"Who are you to stand in my way? You, are you worthy? Or are you more cattle like these confederates?"
The great wolf walked a few steps into the corridor and stood astride it, slamming another cartridge into it's weapon.
"Oh I am worthy, O Devil. The question is, are you?"
"I am White Strides of the Dewiek and I come here to hunt our Prey. You, are not prey. But out here, what does that matter, I shall have your skull for my trophy wall."
The other Dewiek behind him turned and backed him up.
"And the Lord shall say unto his shepard, be warned of the wolf, for they shall prey on your flock. And thus the Lord gave his shepard the greatest gift."
White Strides howled with laughter.
"Holy man, you preach to those who do not believe. But you are true, we... WE are the wolves, and we shall prey on your flock."
"Then I have no other choice but to give you the greatest gift that my Lord gave me."
"And what is that, prey?"
There was a click and a hiss as a pilot light was turned on. Brother Matthew brought his gift up and let the Wolf see it for a moment and understand before he pulled the trigger.
"In the name of the True One, I call thee Devil!"
Gouts of liquid fire covered the Wolf and those behind him. Their screams were terrifying and echoed through the ship. Other Dewiek turned and headed towards them. Brother Matthew simply walked over the burning bodies, his Inquisitorial Robes immune to fire, behind him his neophyte singing hymns of the Inquisition.

Inside the Dewiek ship the pack leader checked his weapons and those of the crew with him. Something was going wrong, that fool White Strides had failed to take down a simple transport of colonists. He raised his head and sniffed then turned to the docking tube. At the end a man stood, holding a great flame thrower.
"If you had fought with honour, wolf, I would call you out and fight you one on one. But you slaughter without regard, innocent lives have been taken and that cannot be allowed. By the power of the Inquisition and the True One, I call thee Devil and send you back to the hell from which you were spawned!"
"Wait! You dare use a flame thrower in space? Are you insane?"
Brother Matthew pulled back the hood of his cassock. The eyes of the zealot glared back, daring him to say more.
"Thou shall not suffer a Devil to live. If it cost the lives of a hundred of my brothers I would still follow my heart."
The pack leader through himself aside as the torrent of flame poured into his ship and slammed his paw on the airlock quick close. On the other side he saw his men burning and felt the implosion as the docking tube cracked. Alarms sounded as the glass on the airlock cracked. He had enough time to howl one last time before he was sucked out when the glass gave way.

The Captain of the Transport felt his engines return and slammed them onto full throttle. Alarms were ringing all around the ship, people were screaming on his bridge but he kept heading to the planet. Computer screens were flashing, structural integrity was failing. When he was close enough to the planet he sealed the various holds and one by one ejected them on a safe trajectory, then instructed his crew to get to the life boats. He cursed the Dewiek and settled back into the seat as his ship started skimming the atmosphere. At least, he thought, the crew were safe.

Brother Matthew pulled himself out of the jettisoned hold and looked around. Desert stretched as far as the eye could see. Looking up he saw the remains of the transport as it finally disintigrated, the debris raining down like stars. With a sigh, and with his neophyte salvaging as much water as he could carry, they both started walking.
"Master, where are we going?"
"The True One will guide us, and that is all I need to know."

Ben al Ya'mir and the Search for the Codex Apocrypha

The wind howled across the desolate plains and towards the pinnacle of rock that dominated the area. A circle of black rock a mile high, carved and smoothed by hand, its countless steps worn away by the passing of devout disciples. For at the top of the black column is the Temple of the Worms. A fortress monastery that has stood for decades, a bastion of the Brotherhood from a bygone age. Now the fortress is in ruins, its noble structure which had stood unmolested for centuries was crumbling, decaying and waiting for the right time to offer up its secrets. Few had found the monastery, even fewer had left.

And thus it was that a lone ship discovered the planet and found the towering pinnacle with its ageless ruin. The vessel was the renowned "Realms of the Faithless", the Templar of the zealot Ben al Ya'mir. On the plain before the monastery lay the ships of three and ten crews who had happened upon the planet by accident, or by fate. As he walked among the ships he could see that while many had been there for many years, some were more recent. It was at the base of the carved stairs leading to the monastery that he grasped the cross around his neck as he beheld what had become of those who had come before him. A pile of skulls, some complete and grinning back, others broken into fragments.

At the top of the stairs Ben al Ya'mir beheld the fortress monastery and fell to his knees. The vast walls, battlements and towers stood proud, the gate far too vast for one man to open. He touched the baroque carvings on the door and felt the cold stone. The entire fortress, it seemed, was made of the same stone, carved out of the living rock, including the gate. There was no way in. It was exactly as he had beheld in the vision that had sent him to this moon.

He looked up and saw the brown and grey disk of the planet that filled the sky and began his prayer as the sun lowered over the horizon. All through the night he intoned incantations and prayers, seemingly in a trance. In the darkness outside the fires warming light strange creatures lurched, shadows crawled and animals howled. A strange glow enveloped him as he slipped deep into the Trance of Faith, as he had been taught by the Masters when just an Acolyte. When morning came and he awoke the fire had burnt through and the great gate of the fortress had opened for the first time in a thousand years. He had passed the test for which the key had been the Trance of Faith. The spirits of the monastery had sensed that the Brotherhood had returned and opened the gate once more.

He passed through the main gate and walked through a corridor towards a large open area. Over the millennia nothing had grown, leaving the ground as bare as the day the monastery was abandoned. Massive doors made completely of gold, silver and precious stones led to sights unseen and treasures untold, but Ben al Ya'mir looked around until he found a door he had seen in his vision and walked towards it. As he approached the doors he could see that around several were skeletons, some twisted, come crushed, others burnt. The penalty for choosing the wrong door had its price, those who lusted after the wealth that was offered behind the doors paid the price for their lack of faith. The door he stopped at was plain and made of wood, despite the years it had not aged, decayed or warped. The door opened when he turned the handle and led to an antechamber and another door. Above the door was a simple legend. The Temple of the Worm. The doorway to all he had dreamed of. The Temple where the tools of his serviture to the One True God would be found.