Thursday, 4 August 2016

5. The Conscience of the Blade

Adoni and Luka sat together in the main hangar, awaiting Enik's arrival.
The air of the Lunar Keep was cold and still as the dome’s wedge shaped viewing portal, high in the ceiling, turned slowly, offering a shifting quadrant view of the all of the constellations above them.

“Why must I leave so suddenly Luka?” Adoni asked his beloved Tutorbot.
This was the third time he had re-worded the question since they had left the central Keep by tube link an hour beforehand and Luka was struggling to answer it any more clearly than she already had.
“There are things you must now learn, which I cannot teach you - things which cannot be taught here Adoni.” Luka said in her calming metallic voice. “This is something to be excited about, not feared. You have travelled before, remember? When you visited your Mothers at Junction? I saw great joy in you that day.”
Adoni stared down as his restless feet tapped on the hangar floor.
“That joy was for the benefit of my Mothers Luka. I had never met them before and never have I done so since then.”
“Then what else troubles you Adoni?” Asked Luka. “You know I will always listen to you?”
Adoni stared in to the blackness of space above them, “Something is wrong with my Father. I can sense it, although he tries to hide it from me. Brindi doesn't smile anymore and Master Tarapel seems to do nothing but work on his damned Angels!” Adoni stood up and began to pace up and down the balcony. “They demand that I act like a man and yet I am treated like a child!”
Luka had to calm him down. She powered up to a standing position and pivoted sharply to block his path with her open hand.
“No more of this Adoni!” She said sternly. “This is not how you were raised! You are no weakling to wallow in counter productive self pity! You are relishing in it far too much recently! - Why?”
Adoni leaned on the railing and hung his head in his hands.
“I know you are right Luka,” he said, “but the fear inside me seems to grow with each passing week and it hurts me so much. I can find no escape from it, save the emptiness of sleep.”
“Fear not Adoni, for all things pass.” Luka spoke in a softer, more consoling tone.
“Yes – and?” Adoni barked angrily as he bristled once more. “Do you not see how that damned axiom of which you are so fond, cuts entirely both ways? All things pass? – Even the good things! My Father, my Mothers, my friends? - You? - ALL THINGS! - Until there is nothing!” His voice rose to a scream. “Why am I forsaken to this future?”
“ENOUGH!” boomed the commanding voice of Enik the Ancient as he walked on to the hangar deck. Adoni turned and recoiled back into his seat as tears flowed freely down his cheeks.
“Forgive me father.” he sobbed.
“This is becoming far too regular Adoni,  you are now a man grown and more importantly you are the heir to intelligent life itself on this planet! Your ancestry is ancient and of the highest order - Your blood is Royal. You have the makings of a God my son. Enough of this.”
Enik sat next to his son and cradled his head against his shoulder as he continued to sob.
“Listen to me my son.” Enik slowly stroked Adoni's hair with one smooth, pale hand, seeking to calm him.
“You MUST eradicate this fear from your heart and from your soul. The ultimate enemy of fear, is knowledge. You must learn and absorb as much about the universe as possible, then as you assimilate the information the fear will ebb away. I know you can achieve this, but to do so you must confront it head on, you must conquer it from within!”
“And that,” said Luka soothingly, “is why we are leaving for Ishtar Prime.”
Adoni swallowed and regained some of his composure.
“I am, that I am.” He spoke in the ancient tongue.
Enik stood up to address his son formally.
“This universe is not safe Adoni. But you my son, are strong. I once saw you rip a fully grown Lion in two with your bare hands when it threatened Luka down on the surface.”
More tears slipped down Adoni's pale face.
“I fear more from the depths of my own mind than I do from this universe in which we live Father.” He said almost in a whisper.
Enik spoke firmly. “I have lived long enough to see Suns born and later die, I have watched mountains erode to dust and empires of my own creation rise and fall. This universe is wondrous my son, truly astounding, with treasures to gratify intuitions and desires both subtle and gross. But know this - it does not tolerate weakness. Now gather your things, you leave tonight!”
Adoni stood to attention as his father turned on his heels and marched out of the hangar.
“It is only for one month.” Soothed Luka. “We will be back home again soon enough.”

From, The First Manual of the Crucible, by Enik the Artificer. (Later, Enik the Ancient)  - Abyssal Secundus.
Written 300,000 generations ago.

“My discovery of the production and benefits of Shem Bread, (Shem a'na) will alter our future for ever. The methodology of it's making will be explained fully later on - but in simple terms, one first needs a quantity of pure, noble metal. At this time, the greatest results have been yielded from Platinum and Gold, although any noble metal will yield the powder.
The sample ingot must be Ark struck in a Fire Stone furnace until a molten state is achieved. The burn must then be maintained in this molten state, superheated for 300 seconds, (5 minutes), after which the sample will appear to silently implode inside the furnace and disappear, leaving a quantity of weightless, odourless white powder scattered in it's place.
It seems that the metal atoms of the sample physically shift into another dimension at this point in the process, leaving only the atomic Gluons in the furnace – Shem Bread.
The powder will have a levitational quality which may be transposed to other objects upon contact. The substance is highly super conductive but inert in this uncharged form.
The pure noble powder should be harvested from the furnace at this point with great care using a vacuum tube. In small quantities the Shem bread can appear nebulous and may even wisp away, seemingly into nothing, this is due to it's weightlessness.
Great care should be taken when collecting the powder to prevent loss.
If, after the collection of the powder, the experiment is left to burn uninterrupted for a further 300 seconds, the original metal sample will return to this dimension in a flash of white light and after cooling, it may be re-used, - ad infinitum.
The long term super-conductive technological benefits of this process are far reaching and we have much work to do. The more immediate and better established benefits of the discovery are of course health related. When Shem Bread is taken in small doses absorbed under the tongue, the mind is immediately sharpened. Idle thought ceases and the entirety of the brain is awakened to tasking. Any physical bodily ailments are immediately cured as the strands of the host DNA are realigned. A “Factory reset” if you will. Life expectancy can be at least quadrupled in most individuals with regular weekly doses.
Life may be extended indefinitely with the use of large doses of Shem Bread in some higher species.
Something more exciting than this, is the new potential for our mental and spiritual evolution.
Only time will tell.

They had arrived.
Master Thorin Hassan, along with his six young students, alighted from their speeder in front of two enormous and imposing bronze doors flanked by mighty metal pillars which marked the entrance to the inner sanctum of the Tomb of the Ancients.
Master Hassan addressed them all under the scorching sun. “This, is the lesser temple precinct, and where we will spend the rest of the day.”
Jachin was mesmerised by the intricate patterns rendered on the huge doors which were embossed with a stylised and majestic image of the temple being constructed many years before.
Leon cleared his throat and raised his hand. “Master?” he asked “What of our belongings?”
Hassan placed one finger tip on the huge left hand door which swung open, gracefully revealing an elegant and beautifully decorated garden courtyard in the centre of which stood a burning obelisk.
“You should all bring your belongings with you.” The Master replied. “You need not unpack anything until you are assigned to your quarters this evening. Follow me.”
The six students each hauled their heavy kit bags over their shoulders and followed their Master single file into the courtyard and around to the far side of the Fire Stone.
At the opposite end of the courtyard stood two sizeable rectangular towers joined together by an imposing wall. The edifice had two further double doors set into it's centre and a pyramid roof coming to a point some two hundred meters above.
The doors facing them were completely blank and carved from gleaming white alabaster. No windows or other features could be seen anywhere on this interior pyramid structure. This was a place of secret knowledge.
Hassan made an about turn and gestured to his left at a long plasteel bench which faced a small pedestal. “Line up.” he said firmly. “There on the western wall, is the mausoleum of the ancients.” He pointed at a large square building, gilt with gold and with a shining black and white stone facade. “We shall meet here each day before sun down to meditate and give thanks to our ancestors.”
The six students looked in awe at the tomb and each of them bowed their heads reverently.
“Be seated” he said as he stood on the pedestal to face them all. The students dropped their kit bags and sat down quietly to face the Master.
“As you are aware, each graduate of this academy must study for three years before they are risen to initiate Masters. Welsen, Althea and Ibenjin, you have each completed your Acolyte degrees and as such, you will be expected to assist each of your companions here while they are fast tracked to the same level as yourselves. - Your assignments are simply to assist and protect each of your partners.” Hassan stepped down and took a seat on the front step of the pedestal which brought him down to the same eye level as his six students.
His voice softened as he eyed each of them and continued.
“It has, I am sure, come as a shock to each of you to find that you will all be leaving the Ishtar base without having achieved your intended educational goals. You must not be downheartened by this. Each of you will be assigned a long term Tutorbot to complete your training over the coming years when you are on planet Gia.” Some of the students seemed to relax a little as Hassan spoke.
“The highest priorities before you leave this base, are that you are to be trained in blade craft, taught the deeper ancient mysteries and most crucially of all, that you each are initiated to the consumption of Shem Bread. You will have four weeks before you leave. - Any questions?” Hassan stood once more.
All three first years threw their hands up at the same time.
“Yes, Leon, you first.” said Hassan with a nod.
“How can this be Master?” Asked Leon, who had clear signs of tears welling up in his eyes. “I was selected for my talents in Mathematics and Engineering. I am no fighter sir! How can any of us undertake three years of learning in a single month?” He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his robe as his Acolyte partner, Welsen, patted him on the back reassuringly.
Hassan squatted down in front of Leon with a kindly smile on his face. He placed his hands on Leon's cheeks and gently wiped away the remaining tears with his thumbs, before resting his hands on his shoulders.
“Listen to me my Son, all six of you have been chosen specifically for this mission after having been filtered down from over thirty thousand other potential candidates. The holy Mothers themselves gave the final approval for each of you to undertake this work.”
Leon closed his eyes and nodded as he choked back more tears. He was still shaking with apprehension.
Hassan grasped Leon by the back of his head, “Look at me my Son.” He demanded with a whisper.
Leon opened his bloodshot eyes and drew in a deep breath.
“None of you will be sitting an entire three years worth of learning in this short time. There will be time enough for smaller details when you are all rooted on Gia. Your fear is completely natural and you need have no shame in your tears. Do not think for a single second that each of your brothers and sisters here are not just as overwhelmed as you are Leon.”
All of the other students nodded in agreement.
“I can promise you this my son, I will never ask you to complete any task, until I know that you are fit to undertake it. Do you understand?”
Leon composed himself and replied, “I do Master.” Hassan patted him on the shoulder.
“Very good my son. We are all in this together. None of you will ever be alone. - Do not forget that.”
The Master sat back once more upon the pedestal step, facing the students.
“Now, Jachin, you have a question?” He asked.
“I do Master.” replied Jachin, bright eyed. “Can you tell us any more about the mission to Gia?”
Hassan smiled at Jachin. “You will all be fully briefed before the week is out but it is not for me to chair that briefing my Son.”
“Thank you sir.” Nodded Jachin.
Finally, Ki'entha, what is your question please?” The Master asked with a smile.
“Shem Bread?” She said simply. “At our age?”
“Most certainly Daughter!” Hassan replied. “It is not lost on me that you, my dear, have the Deep Sight ability. I belive you are the only one amongst us who has any memory of a family. Is that so?”
“Correct Master.” She spoke matter of factly. “My family were all killed at the end of the Dien’taren solar siege. A handfull of refugees, including my Mother and I, were evacuated by Feyloren Monks on a Chindah frieghter. We were granted asylum on Kaesis Minor but my Mother died of Shem Bread withdrawl three months later. I was two years old  - but I remember her well.”
“You are fortunate Ki’entha. Your Mothers Deep Sight saved you from a terrible fate and brought you here. Time is a delicacy which only some can truly appreciate. It must be utilised at the most sophisticated level in order for one to succeed and survive in this arena. With that in mind, do you not see how the early consumption of Shem Bread by you and your fellows here, can make your rapid assimilation of higher knowledge so much easier?”
“I have already considered this Master.” Replied Ki'entha, “Indeed, it seems to me to be a fair solution to achieve such an intricate level of training in so short a space of time under normal circumstances. But how can we undergo the great awakening at our age and with our absence of tolerance to the Shem, without losing our sanity or falling into shadow?”
Hassan nodded in agreement. “Under any normal conditions my dear, you would have a very good point. Premature ascension through Shem Bread consumption causes madness or death in the vast majority of uninitiated subjects. Make no mistake about it though, none of you six are normal – you are each - extraordinary. For thousands of generations, your DNA has been evolving independently from the rest of your Primostemic ancestry. - The Mothers know this. When each of the six of you first swallow the Shem Bread – you will awaken!”
“You need say no more. I understand Master.” Said Ki'entha respectfully.
“Any more questions?” Asked Hassan. The remaining Acolytes shook their heads. “No? - Good. Without further delay then, will you all follow me please.”

As they approached the entrance of the temple proper, the stone doors fell backwards to form a draw bridge over a  shallow natural spring, on the far side of which they could see an archway into an unlit tunnel. The moisture in the air was a welcome respite from the regular scorched breeze to which they had all become accustomed.
Master Hassan and his six students made their way over the bridge and into the tunnel. The walls and floor became immediately illuminated. It seemed that portions of the stone within the tunnel itself had begun to provide a luminescent glow as they had walked underneath the arch. The passageway had a soft downward incline which terminated at a single blank plasteel door, above which a pair of bolt cannon drones were set into the ceiling.
The triple barrelled bolt guns powered up and trained themselves upon the space immediately below - where the students were now standing. Hassan shook his left hand twice and a holo frame jumped out of his wrist strap providing an interface. He typed something with his right index finger before the bolt cannons powered down and the door made a deep clicking sound before sliding open.

Standing to attention behind the door was a temple guard in a standard, tight fitting, black mesh armour suit with two daggers in his belt. He looked at Hassan and smiled.
“Ah, Thorin! I heard that it would be you! Fifty one years later! Welcome back Brother.” He stepped forward and slapped Hassan on the shoulder.
“It's good to see you Lars. As you know, we have a lot of work to do with these students.” Said Hassan with a smile.
“May I introduce you to Leon, Jachin and Ki'entha – our new blades.” The younger students bowed deeply in unison.
“And here,” continued Hassan, “are the Acolytes, Welsen, Ibenjin and Althea. - They will be our Shadow Guard.”
The stocky, armoured man marched toward them and overlooked the students with a curious eye.
“And so we begin!” He barked with a sharp grimmace on his old gnarled face.
“My name, is Lars Raethal. I am the Grand Blade Master here at the Temple and we shall be getting to know each other very well over the coming days and weeks.”
Master Hassan marched past Raethal, further into the rear of the chamber, where he threw a floor standing lever. This caused the entire facing wall to lift upwards revealing a number of locker boxes on the left wall and a huge, flood lit exercise range opening out into the distance for some eighty meters beyond. A variety of different types of stationary Gobots were dotted around the range along with a myriad of training apparatus of every conceivable kind.
“Raise your hands if any of you have had any previous hand to hand, or blade experience.” Shouted  Raethal.
One solitary hand rose into the air as Ibenjin replied, “I have the Iron Palm training sir. I learned it from our Caretaker back home on Jentekka.”
“Better than nothing.” Replied the frowning Blade Master. “Jentekka eh? And who, I wonder, was this Caretaker of yours who saw fit to give you such training?”
Ibenjin stiffened to attention before replying, “Jengar Thonhessen sir, he was a retired....”  
Raethal cut over him to reply, - “A retired instructor from the Order of the Fist, veteran of the battle of Strekenhaunt - and a bloody nuisance too as I recal!”
Ibenjin grinned and replied, “As you say Sir.”
“Good. Very good.” Raethal barked as he turned to join Hassan near the training range boundary.
“Right, all of you, form up in order of height on that red line – NOW!” Shouted Hassan pointing at a long semi circular line on the ground to his left.
“None of you should set foot on those purple coloured floor panels over there without our say so.” Said Raethal as the students ran to form up as ordered. “If you do so, you will activate a plethora of hostile and horribly beweaponed equipment which this training range has had built into it. Is that clearly understood?”
“Yes Master!” The students shouted in unison.
“Excellent.” Said Raethal as he sealed the corridor securely behind him.
“Now that I have your undivided attention, I want each of you hold out your right hands at elbow level - palms facing down!”
Raethal pulled a locker box out of one of the storage racks opposite the students.
“Hold this please Thorin.” He said as he passed the box to Hassan.
As Hassan held the case flat at waist level, Raethal pulled off the sheet metal lid and threw it unceremoniously on to the floor behind him.

“Althea, is it?” Barked Raethal as he stood and faced the Acolyte eye to eye.
“I am sir” She replied in a cool tone.
To her left, Master Hassan reached into the box with his free hand and pulled out an elegant but formidable looking energy Poniard. The knife was one cubit in length from pommel to tip, twin edged with a dark plasteel grip, a shining pommel and hilt and a copper coloured switch at the thumb position, this was attached to a small ring for the index finger.
All eyes in the room darted to the dagger and then straight forward once more as Hassan passed the sheathed weapon to Raethal.
The Blade Master took the knife in his right hand with his index finger through the ring at it's hilt. He spun the blade 360 degrees around his finger and in a singular motion, flicked the point with a whipping motion down towards Althea's toes, causing the black leather and plasteel scabbard to free itself from the blade and fall at her feet.
He then grabbed Althea's right hand tightly with his left hand and in a swift, sure motion, he sliced her across the back of her wrist, causing a formidable trickle of blood to spill from the cut on to her right boot. She flinched but it was barely noticeable and she kept her eyes focused forward.
“Do you feel that? He shouted.
“Yes sir.” she replied calmly.
Raethal flipped the poniard in mid air, caught it by the blade and presented it to Althea with the pommel end facing her as he released her.
“Take it!” He barked.
Althea grabbed the knife with her shaking, bloody hand.
Raethal stood almost nose to nose with her and recited the temple litany slowly and with conviction;

This blade is the hand of God.
This, is the blade of our temple, the bond of our ancient brotherhood and the keeper of our breath.
This blade sends death on swift wings and yet it is also brings mercy.
This blade requires blood for sustenance and a calm, strong heart to wield it.
This blade will never again be drawn from it's scabbard without drawing blood - unless it is in this place of learning.
This blade only leaves the scabbard to save a soul, to teach a truth or to take a life.
Each time you fail, in this temple or in your future works, you will use this blade to draw your own blood in the manner that it was first drawn here today.
Let these cuts be a sting to your conscience, now and forever.
Let your scars be a reminder of things learned here at the Temple of the Knife, of steps ill taken along your way - and of the value of your own blood!

Raethal stood back as Althea bowed to him.
“Welcome Sister.” He said, as he leaned forward and kissed her gently on the forehead.

All of the remaining students were now visably gripped with apprehension at their impending initiations. Next in line was Leon. He looked into the box held by Hassan to see a remaining five Poniards. His legs began to shake uncontrollably beneath him as beads of sweat formed on his brow. His chest tightened as he tried to swallow in his dry throat.
Raethal pulled the next blade from its case and took a step closer to the quivering initiate.
“Leon, is it?”
Ki'entha glanced over at Hassan as she tried to conceal a nervous smile. The edges of Hassan's lips curled subtly as he looked knowingly away from her and back to the petrified Leon.
“Look at me boy!” Raged Raethal as he clipped Leon hard on the side of his head with the scabbard of the new blade.
“And don’t sulk! - I can’t abide sulkers! - Now, hold still boy!” He yelled as he grasped Leon’s clammy and resistant hand.
“This,”  Ki’entha thought to herself with a broad grin, - “Is going to be a very interesting few weeks.”

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