Armies Of Light And DarkPeter David
Legions Of Fire 2
Armies Of Light And Dark
EXCERPTED FROM THE CHRONICLES OF LONDO MOLLARI-DIPLOMAT, EMPEROR, MARTYR, AND SELF-DESCRIBED FOOL. PUBLISHED POSTHUMOUSLY EDITED BY EMPEROR COTTO. EARTH EDITION, TRANSLATION c 2280 Excerpt dated (approximate Earth date) December 14, 2267. My "masters' are pleased with me this day. In retrospect, it is rather difficult to believe. Today, I stood in opposition to the Drakh who calls himself Shiv'kala. He ordered me to kill Vir Cotto, my former aide and, according to the predictions of lady Morella, the future em- pero~of the Centauri Republic. Quite probably one of the few individuals in the galaxy whose continued existence gives me any fragment of joy whatsoever. Shiv'kala wanted Vir dead because Vir spoke his name, indicating that Vir has obtained knowledge he should not possess. Such a coward, Shiv'kala. Such a damnable coward. But then, that is the way of creatures that live in shadow, as anyone who has ever lifted a rock can attest, having watched the bugs beneath scurry away. As for Shiv'kala, he lives within the shadow of a shadow, and so is even more likely to fear the light. Not that he would admit it, of course. Those who are the most afraid are also the quickest to speak with the air of confidence. They believe that, as a result, observers will not detect their fear. Just once--just once--I would give anything to see the fear I know he carries within him appear on that monstrous, craggy, blue-grey face of his. I do not know where or how Vir learned the name. Nor do I have any idea what prompted him to sit here, in the great palace of Centauri Prime, and ask me about Shivkala. Obviously Vir has some sort of hidden allies, although I could not say whether they hug the shadows as assiduously as do my own associates . They sent him in, asked him to speak the name, and in doing so, used him. It was a rather reckless thing, and I can only hope that Vir will take the time to castigate them severely for placing him in such an untenable position. So when Shiv'kala ordered Vir's death, I stood up to him. Yes, I did. I waved a sword around and spouted threats. I I had no idea it I could carry off those threats, mind you, but I made them sound most sincere. And Shiv'kala- somewhat to my surprise, I admit-did not press the matter. Truthfully, I don't know what I would have done. Would I really have attacked Shiv'kala? Tried to butcher him, knowing that his death would only have unfortunate consequences for me, and potentially lethal repercussions for my beloved Centauri Prime? After all, the Drakh still have their fusion bombs in place, ready to wipe millions of my people out of existence with the simplest press of a button. The Drakh possess the ultimate trump card. But they will not be quick to use it, I think. It is my belief that Shiv'kala views me as some sort of experiment or project. He seems interested in seeing whether he can break me in some way. Break my spirit, break my soul-presuming I still have such a thing. If I do, it is very likely so blasted and blackened by now as to be unrecognizable. I am not entirely certain why that would be of such importance to him It could be that if I am completely broken, I can be of greater use to the Drakh. On the other hand, for all I know, he has a side bet with his fellow Draldr as to whether I can be broken. These Drakh enjoy playing their little games, and I am simply a pawn to be moved around from square to square. Not even a king. Just a pawn. Vir came to this place to help me, as did Timov. It is truly amazing how one's perceptions can turn around. When I was young, I thought so much of the position of emperor. I thought so little of Timov. When I first journeyed to Babylon 5,1 met Vir and thought very little of of him. Oh, and I thought verylittle of myself, which was why I was so quick to drown my sorrows in drink. It is amazing how much things change. Now I consider Vir to be the last, best hope that my beloved Centauri Prime has for a future. And I consider Timov, whom I held in such disdain, to be one of the noblest women it has ever been my honor to know. As for myself ... Well ... I still think very little of myself. It's interesting how many things change, while many other things remain exactly, depressingly, the same. The Drakh have some sort of new plan brewing. I can always tell when something is going on. Shiv'kala, the Drakh who is my primary keeper, has a way of comporting himself when there is some particular scheme afoot. I have no idea, however, what it might be. It is my understanding that many captors and their keepers develop a lovelhate relationship with one another. I suppose that Shiv'kala and I have that, to some degree. I love to hate him. It was Shiv'kala, after all, who insisted on putting that bastard, Durla, into place as my minister of internal security. Durla, in turn, has placed his own people in other key places, and I slowly becoming isolated from any potential allies. I am both the most and least powerful individual in all of Centauri Prime. The only person left in this entire palace who brings any joy to me is Senna, the young girl who is the daughter of the late Lord Refa. I took her under my wing, educated her, and made her my personal project. My sentiment was simplicity itself: I felt that if 1 could save this one girl, then perhaps I would have that much better a chance of saving all of Centauri Prime. Yet the girl is a liability, even though she does not know it. She is yet another pawn in this great game of power and revenge that Shiv~kala and the Drakh have continued to play. By keeping her close at hand, the Drakh continue to remind me of the control that they have over me. Apparently, having a small one-eyed creature called a keeper permanently affixed to my shoulder is insufficient to do the job. I think of what might have been. I think of all the possibilities that lay before me in my youth. I always promised myself that I would make no compromises, if power were ever given to me. Yet I have lived my life making nothing but compromises. No. . . it has actually been worse than that. At least when one compromises, one gets something in return for making a concession. I have been given nothing, nothing at all. My power is an illusion; my efforts to safeguard Centauri Prime a waste of time ... Bah. I am doing it again. So often, I I find it easy to slip into self-pity. Wallowing is my most comfortable state of being, be it either in an alcoholic stupor or a psychologically induced state of despair. Instead of being designated emperor, I should be called "head wallower" out of a sheer sense of accuracy. There is still much to do. There are still things that I can accomplish. Shiv- 'kala wanted to dispose of of Vir, and I threatened him in such a way that he actually backed down. It was the closest thing to a triumph that I have had in quite some time. It gave me a small measure of hope. That is most dangerous, of course. Once hope sets in, who knows what could happen next? Hope might lead to a belief that all will work out for the best. Perhaps it will. Perhaps it will at that. If only I knew what the Drakh were planning. If only I knew whetherVir might be able to stop it. Such a thing would seem beyond credibility. Vir has his better attributes, certainly. I could not have asked for a more loyal friend and follower. And the prediction by the Lady Morella, that Vir will follow me as emperor, gives me- oddly enough-a sense of comfort. Of all the individuals I know, he probably has the best chance of doing a good job. But if the Drakh have some sort of revenge-driven plan in the offing, it will require a true hero to prevent it. For all that I respect Vir, for all that he has grown up under my "tutelage," a hero most definitely he is not. And I, of course, cannot even warn anyone. If there were to be a strike against the Interstellar Alliance, it would be impossible for me to alert President Sheridan or any of his people. The only possible means of doing so would be to use Vir as a go-between, and Shiv'kala has seen to it that Vir has been exiled from Centauri Prime. I shall have to find a way around that. My keeper stirs--the alcoholic stupor into which I've placed him is starting to wear off. As always, I must secure this journal and make certain that the dangerous game I am playing is not detected. In a way, this historical record is a small bit of rebellion, which helps to keep my soul and spirit alive. But a small bit of rebellion is all that it is. Truth to tell, I am no more a hero than Vir. That is quite a shame, for
Centauri Prime could very much use one at this point in our history. Let us hope that a hero steps forward. And let us hope I do not have to act as the instrument of death when and if he does.
Chapter I Vir stood before the giant, crackling energy gate. The ^und around him was littered with bodies. On the other of the gate loomed something so dark, so evil, that he paralyzed with fear, and then he remembered a time- ys, even hours ago-when he had been convinced that he 'uld never, would never, be afraid of anything ever again. e would have laughed at his arrogance were he not too terified to laugh, and his thoughts spun back to that period a short time before... It seemed to Vir a lifetime ago that he had stood before the techno-mages and trembled. In fact, it had not even been the techno-mages themselves. Instead he had quivered as shadows in a darkened corridor had loomed around him in a most threatening manner. Vir had been going to speak with the techno-mages on Londo's behalf The mission had seemed fraught with peril at the time. Londo had required him to inform the techno- mages that he, Londo, wished to meet with them. That was it. That was all. Tell them that Londo wanted to set up a meeting. Beginning, middle, end of the assignment. But oooohh, how his knees had knocked, and ooo ohh, how the breath had caught within his chest, all because of an assignment that had involved nothing except acting as Londo Mollari's messenger boy. He reflected upon that incident, and found the man he was at that time to be rather amusing, even buffoonish. What a 5 charming, amusing individual he had been. He had acted out of concern for everyone's needs. That person was dead. His death had not been abrupt. Instead it had been nizingly slow process, as he died by degrees. The fina blow had been when he had slain the Emperor Cartagi No. No, on second thought, that wasn't it at all. 1 deathblow to the man that Vir Cotto had once been hart on the day when he had waggled his fingers cheerfw the severed head of Mr. Morden, as it adorned a pike out,, the imperial residence. Oh, certainly, he had once comment how much he looked forward to such an event, but he hadr. really meant it. The truth was that it hadn't been all that loi ago that seeing a bodiless head would have been enough make him physically ill. Yet there he had stood, reveling in the death of an enem) Granted, Morden had been the incarnation of evil, but ever so ... it had been a truly hideous punishment. And the Vir of old would never have taken such personal joy and satisfaction in witnessing its aftermath. But that was the Vir of old. Vir had been struck by fear over many things in his life. Those huge Shadow ships, or the techno-mages, or the sight of Londo sliding toward darkness while he, Vir, could do nothing to stave off the inevitable. However, the single most frightening thing he had ever had to contend with was pondering the future. If a few short years had turned him into the current incarnation of Vir Cotto, what in the name of the Great Maker would he be like years further down the line? Casting aside these thoughts, the Vir-of-the-moment, however , was determined not to dwell on such things. Instead he tossed restlessly in a small vessel belonging to the very beings from whom he had cowered in fear, only a few years before. On some level, he knew that he should be afraid of even entering a vessel belonging to techno-mages. However, in the past week alone, Vir had discovered that the new, deliriously iyful love of his life, Mariel, had actually been stringing him long. She had been playing him for a fool, using him simply .a position herself so that she would have greater access to as- .:)rted diplomats and ambassadors on Babylon 5. He could ,nly guess why, although he suspected that espionage very .kely had something to do with it. Then he had learned that !.ondo was involved with beings that were servants of the tong-gone Shadows, creatures called the Drakh. One of them was named Shiv'kala, and the mere mention of the name had been enough to get Vir thrown into a Centauri Prime dungeon . If Londo had not interceded and freed him, Vir would already be dead. He wondered just what it had cost Londo to purchase Vir's freedom. What had he promised to do in exchange? What further piece of Londo's soul presuming there was any of it left had been traded away so that Vir could continue on the twisted path of his own destiny? He couldn't remember the last time he had slept soundly. Once he had entered the techno-mage vessel, however, the female named Gwynn had led him to a seat and told him in no uncertain terms to go to sleep. "Sleep," he had said bitterly, the stink of the dungeon still heavy in his nostrils. "You can't be serious. Sleep, my dear woman, is absolutely the last thing that I'll be capable of. Thanks anyway." Whereupon Gwynn had touched two fingers to his temple, and suddenly the room was swimming. Vir's eyelids had been unable to sustain him, and in an instant, he had passed out. It was not, however, anything remotely resembling a peaceful dream state. Images of Mariel, Londo, Timov, Durla, all tumbled one over the other, fighting for dominance in his mind. There was Londo, white-haired and tired, many years hence, with a glass of some sort of liquor clutched in his hand. He appeared to be waiting for someone. And then someone was approaching him. It was Vir, and he had his hands out, and they were around Londo's throat, strangling him. Suddenly Vir's hands were transformed into Nam hands, and Vir was cast outside of the moment, watch- ing as G'Kar stood over Londo with murder in his eyes . . no. In his eye. Durla was there as well, and he was dancing ... yes. He was dancing with Mariel, while Chancellor Lione pluckec away an aimless tune that Vir could not identify. Curiously both Mariel and Durla were covered with blood. There was a full-length mirror standing nearby. Vir stared into it, and he saw himself clad in the imperial white. He turned back and there was Londo, with no G'Kar in sight. He looked as he had when Vir had first met him. He looked so young. Only nine, ten years had passed since that day, but Great Maker, what a decade it had been. Londo, who had seemed so burdened with his crushed expectations of what the Centauri Republic should be, nevertheless seemed relatively carefree compared to what he would eventually become . He raised a glass to Vir and tilted it back. Blood poured from the glass and splattered all over Londo's face. Then he placed the glass down and reached toward Vir with a blood-covered hand. Vir stepped back, back, then bumped against a wall. There was nowhere for him to go, nowhere for him to retreat. Mariel and Durla waltzed past, onto a balcony, and then went over the railing and vanished from sight. Vir opened his mouth to cry out, but his voice was not his own. Instead it was the cry of millions of souls issuing from his single throat. Outside the balcony off which Mariel and Durla had just plunged, he could see Centauri Prime ... and it was burning. Great tongues of flame were licking a sky thick with inky black smoke. Vir startled himself awake. He realized, in a distant way, that he should probably have cried out when he woke up. He did not, however. It was as if nothing could scare him anymore. "-foolishness," he heard a voice saying. It was the female , the one called Gwynn. "Foolishness, Kane. That's the only word for it. This isn't what we're supposed to be doing." "It is an adventure, Gwynn. If we were not interested in adventure , we would be better off using our abilities in some truly appropriate manner ... like standing on street corners and pulling rabbits from hats while people throw money." That was Kane's voice. Vir knew it all too well. Although Kane had saved his life, Vir had already come to hate him. For it was Kane who persisted in telling Vir the truth of things, and these truths inevitably served to make Vir's life all the more difficult. There was something to be said for the bliss of self-delusion. "Finian, tell him we should turn away from this course," Gwynn demanded. "I don't know that we should," replied Finian, the third of the techno-mage trio. "A situation needs to be investigated. We're on the scene. We should investigate." "You always agree with Kane! There's no point in talking to you." "If you know that for a certainty, why did you bother asking me in the first place?" Finian replied reasonably. "Because I'm as great a fool as you, that's why." "Then it's fortunate that you're with us. Who else would want to be seen in the company of such a fool?" Gwynn made an impatient noise and turned away from them. Her gaze went to Vir and she blinked in surprise. "Oh. You're awake. He's awake, gentlemen." "I thought you said he'd be asleep for at least another hour," Kane said as he moved to stand next to Gwynn. "So I thought." "Sleep," said Vir, "is overrated." He looked at the t
hree of them, struck by the similarities and yet also by the differences. They all had their hoods back, and Vir could see that they all wore their hair, or lack of same, in an identical manner. In all three instances, what little hair they had was trimmed so close that it might well have been done with a razor. Starting at a point just above their foreheads, the hairstyle angled back in two strips like a "V," with a third band starting at the same point and running straight back. Gwynn was the tallest of the three, and certainly carried herself with the most imperiousness. She seemed the type who not only did not suffer fools gladly, but also gladly made fools suffer. Vir found himself hoping that he didn't fall into her personal definition of a fool. Kane's jaw was pointed, as if perpetually outthrust in challenge, his skin dark and his eyes deep set and unreadable. Finian, by contrast, was the shortest of the three, with a round face and remarkably pale blue eyes that seemed sad . . . or amused . . . or perhaps amused by the sadness of it all. "So, Vir," Kane said briskly, rubbing his hands together as if he were anticipating the start of a truly engaging game of chess. "Are you ready to help save the galaxy?" Gwynn rolled her eyes and shook her head. Kane pretended not to notice. "You mentioned that before," said Vir, "without going into any detail. I don't suppose you'd, ah . . . care to tell me now, would you. Just how, specifically, we're going to be doing the rescuing of the galaxy." "We are heading to the Centauri dig on K0643," Kane told him. "And there-" "There what?" Gwynn interrupted him. "I think it best we get that settled here and now, Kane. When we discover the true nature of the dig-or, I should say, when we confirm our suspicions-what is it your intention that we do? You say `save the galaxy' in a way that could only be considered blithely overconfident. You are aware that you're exceeding the parameters of our assignment, are you not?" "As are you," Finian pointed out. "Be quiet, Finian. I'm simply here to make sure that he," and she stabbed a finger at Kane, "doesn't get into any trouble." "Oh, of course not." Gwynn looked up, startled. It was Vir who had spoken, and he was making no effort to stop the sarcasm dripping from his voice. "No, Kane never gets into t rouble. Just me. I'm at the forefront of every one of his efforts." He rose from his seat and, as he spoke, shook his head, as if he were having trouble believing what he had been through. "There was an assassination attempt on Sheridan, and Kane could have stopped it with no trouble. Instead he let me almost get killed before he stepped in. Then Kane wanted to convince me that there is a `great darkness' on Centauri Prime and set me up so that I got myself thrown in prison." "And yet, here you are," Kane pointed out. "No thanks to you." "Actually, I seem to recall-" "All right, all right, yes, on at least one occasion, it was thanks to you," Vir allowed. "And maybe there were more occasions that I didn't know about. The point is this: I don't mind throwing myself into danger at this point." "You don't?" Finian raised one nonexistent eyebrow. "I wouldn't have fancied you the heroic type, myself." "No, I'm just tired, and I'm fed up," said Vir. "Sometimes I think a hero is just a coward who's too tired to care anymore." "There's something to be said for that," admitted Gwynn. "As I was saying, if I'm going to throw myself into danger , this time you're going to be right beside me, Kane. You, too, you two. I know that Kane is only a cloister techno-mage. That he's been kind of... of stashed away all this time, off in your hiding place. That he hasn't really spent much time in the outside world, so he's not as proficient ... no offense. . ." "None taken," Kane said calmly. ". . . he's not as proficient," continued Vir. Kane cleared his throat loudly. "You didn't have to repeat it," he informed him. "Oh. Sorry. Anyway, he's not well ... well ... you know, it's what I said. That way ... in the whole techno-magic and -mage thing. But with you two along, we-" "Actually, I am only a cloister as well," said Gwynn. "You-?" He couldn't quite believe it. He turned and looked at Finian, who nodded sheepishly. "Guilty as charged." "Oh, perfect," said Vir. "We're going into a dangerous situation, and none of you is an upper-echelon techno-mage. " He rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Perfect. All right, then, remind me: Why are we going to K0643?" "Because the Drakh are interested in something that's there, which is probably Shadow-related. Oh, and because diggers have been dying, trying to get to it." "Oh, well, of course. Naturally. If there's someplace where evil is hovering and people are dying, that's certainly the first place I'd want to be." "Then you're in luck," said Kane. "I was kidding." "So was L" V r shook his head and-not for the first time in his life- the words "Why me?" echoed within it. As always, no answer was forthcoming, although he fancied that he could hear Fate laughing deliriously and rolling on the floor somewhere, amused by his predicament. Laughing. Yes, he could hear the fates laughing at him. He stood before the energy gate, his thoughts pulled momentarilyfrom the past to the present, and not only could he hear laughing, but also he could detect an eerie howling. It was the voices, the voices that were crying out their contempt for his ambitions, as if to say, "Pathetic little creature ... thinking that you-you of all people-could save the galaxy? What makes you more worthy of living than all those around you, who died in witnessing the power before you? " "Nothing. Nothing makes me more worthy," said Vir, and he knew it to be true. The howling increased, and Vir felt himself being lifted of j`' his feet, dragged toward his death. He was surprised to discover that his death was, in fact, something he wasn't looking forward to ...