“The Evinthei are into hero-worshipping, and a lot of it is bull, but the fact is that Jayton Ember actually was a genius. He was a weapons master with a powerful strategic mind and a gift for being in the right place at the right time. And he had that – that spark, you know? – that leadership charisma that made people want to listen to him.

“He was the leader of a group of about ten or fifteen men and women, his friends. They were called the Entourage. All were young nobles like him, trained to war but never given a chance: most of them had lost their families in the fighting. They could see what was happening to their city and Ember’s vision gave them the inspiration to act.

“He started out by leading them against the packs of Earthborn, building up their confidence and teaching them to act as a team. They put their kills on public display to show the people of Nones they were serious. The surviving soldiers saw Ember’s battle skills and began listening to him more and more, until they were keeping down the Earthborn and Ember was able to concentrate on the Archive. He organised technicians to repair it. Most of the knowledge bank was gone, but they restored electricity and running water, enough to get the aeroponics bays working again so people could eat. Ember used the technology and made several broadcasts to let the people of the city that something was being done. They really took him to heart and he was elected city leader by the end of that year.

“Ember’s star just kept rising after that. He never stopped fighting against the Earthborn, and beat them right back into the outskirts. They’re still afraid of his name to this day. He trained new troops, formed an organisational committee with members of the Entourage as his officers. He wrote books on warfare and reconstruction. Although he accepted the Archive could never be completely repaired in his lifetime he made sure work was always being done on it.

"He also addressed the ancient city defences. A lot of the information needed to keep them maintained was gone, but he worked on them endlessly and spent money developing new ones. Somehow he found time to have a family as well – he and his second-in-command, Adrigal Lawley, had three children together. That was how he lived his life.”

“Why,” said Dax, thoughtfully, “do I sense this story isn’t going to have a happy ending?”

“Very astute of you,” nodded Athellus. “Sadly, you’re right about that, much as I wish you weren't.

“Jayton Ember wasn’t arrogant, but he was ambitious. He was proud of his heritage, and he was proud of the city he had helped to rebuild. As time went on, he saw just how unique Nones was. With all the Gating energy in the atmosphere – which was reasonably controlled and regulated at that time – its elaborate defences and strategic position, Nones wasn’t only a mighty fortress in its own right, but the ideal starting point for an empire. From here, Ember realised he and his friends had the potential to bring the vision of his ancestors to other worlds. He had rebuilt the scientific corps – he had the technology to do it. So he decided to try. He began Gating battalions out, one at a time, to investigate if it could be done.”

Athellus leaned forwards. “Now, this is the important thing. Gating one or two people at once barely creates a ripple. But Gating invasion forces to and fro is another matter entirely. And he picked the wrong place to try it. Nones has a high level of Gating energy for a reason. There are…certain influences here, from time immemorial, influences that are old and deeply evil and love nothing more than to screw things up. And that’s exactly what happened.

“Jayton Ember’s pride and ambition – his focus on what he was doing became caught up in the mass Gating he was experimenting with. It was like a beacon that called out across the worlds, and it got the attention of something old – something incredibly powerful and destructive. And it liked the taste of his mind so much, it came running.”

He swilled water around in the cup, slowly. “There’s some footage in the Evinthei Archive of that day from the monitors – not much, it’s all they could recover. I was shown a copy of it, once, years ago. At first all you can see is rain, so heavy it fills the air … rain like static. Then you realise you’re on the tip of the peninsula, looking out over the ocean. It’s night, and the waves are rushing up at the camera.

“Then there are lights in the water, getting brighter and brighter, and something rises out of it. And it just keeps coming up and up and up – whatever it is, it’s metal, and the water is gushing down the sides, and those lights are burning like eyes, as if they’re looking right at you. I remember watching it and thinking…thinking how much it looked like a storm of metal coming out of the sea.”

Dax was sitting quite still. He was struggling with his own memory – of running through the mist along Blackfriars, hearing something pursuing him, something that sounded as if it had steel teeth to devour him with.

“What was it?” he asked.

“An ancient war machine, called a Zodiac Engine,” Athellus told him, grimly. “One of twelve. But this one was the strongest, the most unholy - the Scorpieth. In his ignorance, Jayton Ember had led it right to his home city.”

 

 

previous | archive | next