The towering mountains glowed red.
The white, the blue-green, the beige, the black, the brown were melting into an orange ochre that melded with the brilliant setting of the planet’s star such that it was not possible to see where celestial beauty ended and terrestrial agony and death began.
The atmosphere crackled and snapped as the air began to change in its composition.
The thousands of generals and their aides assembled would soon be incapable of breathing.
The lava slowly flowed towards them in swift rivers that swept away tree, stone, and earth. The assembled body of the Imperial elite masked their minds. They calmed their minds. The primal, natural fear that threatened to erupt from each and every one of them would have been-if made known-disastrous.
Fear-in the presence of a Dreck-was suicide.
The young Valerian-Dreck prince struggled with his rage and spiraled towards the heavens to be away from them. He sent the congealing bolts of matter and light that coalesced around him and through him into the mountains miles away from the throng before him.
For a moment he had lost control.
How could they have failed? How could they have made his presence necessary?
He did not want them hurt. He did not want to kill them.
Yes, they had failed the Emperor.
But he did not want them dead: he had been to The Academy with the grandfathers of some of these men; he had seen their grandmothers as young maidens wooed; he had seen their fathers grow tall and strong and fit for The Service of his Emperor.
He had seen his friends, and then, their sons, grow old and die.
He would not destroy the men before him.
They had, however, through their incompetence and gross dereliction of duty put him in a situation:
He-and he alone -would have to face the Emperor and explain their continued existence.
He, and he alone-and infinitely worse-would have to face the Witch-Lord himself. His sire.
The Valerian-Dreck prince calmed his mind. He became present to the reality at hand: he stopped the movement of the molecules that were rapidly approaching the cadre of elites. The lava began to slow, then froze. A cool, bracing breeze began to cool the valley: he wanted the minds of these men to be sharp, without distraction.
He hovered above them, before them.
Gazing upon the stock-still generals he blanketed them with his attention. To a man there was a focused intention to conceal fear, weakness. Good. Their gallant-yet-feeble attempt to conceal their terror made it possible to spare them. The easily discernible-overwhelming, stark, raving- terror of the junior officers surrounding them contrasted powerfully.
The prince would spare them all.
He calmly, regally reflected into their minds such that there would be no confusion:
“96 STAN. I shall return. This rebellion will have been quelled, or not. If quelled, good. If not, I shall destroy this world, with you on it.”
The assembly of generals and their junior officers watched as the Witchling spiraled away. They all knew how fortunate they were.
Many had beloved wives, darling children, hopes, dreams that they desperately wanted to keep and to have and to hold forever.
They wanted to live.
They all thanked God that the Witchling had come, and not the Witch.
A door of the vast, sleek craft orbiting the planet opened as the Valerian–Dreck approached. He gently alighted within the well-appointed craft and greeted his people. He thanked them for their solicitude.
He dined in solitude. He regarded the world below him and hoped.
Seven billion men, women, and children.
Eleven thousand Imperial generals. Fourteen million Imperial men-under-arms. How could they have failed? How could they have put him in this position? How could they not know?
Had they not seen? Had they not heard?
Now, he would have to face the Emperor. And The Witch-Lord himself.
Perhaps he ought to have made all of this easier…it could be so much easier…
No. He couldn’t do that:
The Witch-Lord would have come to this world and taken the atmosphere. He would have deliberately ended the existence of every sentient and non-sentient being on the planet. He would have cleaved it in twain and altered its orbit.
He would have then sent it straight into the bright, beautiful star from whence it had come.
For the sake of Mercy he now had to prepare himself to see The Emperor, and The Witch-Lord.” Why do they live?” “Why have you disgraced Us?”…. “ Why do you bring shame upon your House?”
And the withering stare of his Lord. Being in the presence of his Lord, his father, who despised him.
All of this and more.
Regardless of the outcome here, The Witch-Prince would now endure the horrible, awesome attention of his Sire: for reasons unknown, the Dreck could not mask themselves from each other.
He would stare into a depthless, infinite, mirrored void in which lurked and lived his only and greatest fear: that he would see his reflection, that he, The Witchling would one day become The Witch.
That this meeting would transpire was a foregone conclusion. This, plus the task at hand would require strength and focus. He would need rest: unlike the Dreck who could never rest nor sleep, he could rest, in a fashion.
He stepped over to the large window facing upward and outward to regard the ocean of stars surrounding him. By slow degrees he cleared his mind and released himself of the bonds of space and time to visit a wonderful, magical world where he would replenish his spirit, restore his soul.
Once there, he breathed easy, deeply.
He walked across lush, verdant fields, his feet bare on the rich, fragrant soil. He ran his fingers through gently undulating amber waves of grain. He uplifted his face to behold a sky rich and deep in its blue, and to be touched, caressed by a warm and soft wind warmed and animated by a beautiful, beloved, long-ago vanished star.
The star called The Sun.
Almost all of The Children of the Diaspora had this deeply imprinted ability, this race-memory, this innate talent to assuage their profound sense of the loss of their ancestral home and each other: they had developed a way to commune with each other and to be together though they had been scattered across the stars and throughout the known worlds.
During these times of quiet, joyful communion, the Valerian-Dreck prince could only feel a profound sense of sadness for the only two creatures in the known worlds whom he otherwise dreaded, the only two creatures in the known worlds who could conceivably destroy him, do him harm: the Emperor and The Witch-Lord.
Neither of them had ever been to this place.
Deep, deep in The Ancient Time far, far and long gone, The Original, The Ancestors had seen their wonderful star, The Sun, verge upon red. It was soon to envelope the solar system and all the Life in it.
The Original, in Their great wisdom, had discerned this coming catastrophe soon enough to adequately prepare for it: they pin-pointed other stars, other worlds which could sustain not only human life-but all life as they knew it.
They constructed millions upon millions of vast crafts capable of transporting themselves, the beasts of the air, land, and sea. They made provision to carry away with them vast quantities of the air, water, and the earth itself; all flora, all fauna, basically, everything would be taken with them, next to nothing would be left behind.
After several Earth centuries, they were ready, and they calmly fled.
They went in their hundreds of millions to hundreds of worlds of different sizes and compositions-but all capable of sustaining life comfortably-within their galactic reach.
The Titanic undertaking was colossally successful: billions were properly and happily relocated and restored to the business of “normal” life.
However, given the very scope of the enterprise, it was only natural for mistakes to have been made.
One case in particular was tragic.
The case of the world named Dreck.
A terrible mistake about that world’s suitability for life had been made.
The atmosphere was toxic and super-heated, and the surface itself was scorching. The instruments on the crafts carrying several million human beings critically malfunctioned upon entry into the atmosphere.
There were a scant hundreds of thousands of survivors.
Of those doomed people, only those who could double and treble the nascent psionic powers possessed by The Original would survive: only those who could transform the very chemicals of the atmosphere into breathable oxygen with the power of their minds would survive; only those who could control their physical position relative to the surface with their minds (to stay off of it), who learned, in other words, to fly, would survive.
Only those who could stay awake long enough, for forever, to focus their constant attention to these tasks would survive.
There were very, very few who could do all of these things.
There were very, very few survivors.
Those who did survive were doomed to a nightmarish existence of never-ending sleeplessness and hyper-vigilance that eventually warped their minds and fundamentally changed their relationship with reality and their own humanity.
They and their doomed progeny became living and breathing embodiments, reflections of the merciless and cruel and insane world to which they had been tragically sent; and they would be ever-after known by all others by the name of that world:
Word had been sent to the Valerian-Dreck Prince: the rebellion had been put down in less than 80 STAN hours.
Less than a billion people had been destroyed. A great deal of critical infrastructure had been either spared, or only lightly damaged. This meant that the resource-rich world would still be of great value to the Emperor and the Empire.
This was excellent news.
While mop-up operations would probably continue for some few short days, the Prince would now be able to focus on administrative matters that would not entail his personally killing billions of people: there would, of course, be reports to be reviewed; rewards of titles and lands to be awarded to senior officers; there would be wives from amongst the vanquished population (only the most beautiful and accomplished) to be gifted to the junior officers and their most outstanding men.
The disposition of prisoners and other such minutiae he would leave to the generals.
The golden Beauty embraced him.
She was beautiful, as She had always been.
She held his hand as they walked through the forested gardens of the crystal-domed valley, the gardens of Her family.
She loved him, though she knew his mind and the horror contained within him better than he did. He had come from her. There was Love and Kindness inside of her child. Of course.
The plot conceived by The Emperor and The Witch-Lord to create an almost all-powerful, long-living servant to Evil would soon be instrumental in the undoing of that very Evil.
She would help her child, the world.
She saw across The Arc of Time and knew that Good would prevail.
He could not bewitch Her, his mother, his Angel.
And she only loved him. This was her nature.
“Do not fly about. This may frighten her. You have a lovely voice. Use it…”
“Perhaps you should have “said” that, Mother.”
It was natural for her to think into the mind of her child. She blushed, and then laughed. “Do not be clever.”
She continued out loud, “Do not cast a spell upon her. You need not do this. Your lives will be so much better if she knows you, if you trust her.”
She stopped and regarded him. “Please. In this, do as I say.”
He held Her hand and basked in Her love. “I love you.”
He cleared his mind and released himself of the bonds of gravity.
He let his feet no longer touch the ground.
Acorns and leaves and small stones orbited around him in ellipses as he rotated in the beauty of a beautiful world.
The daughter of a Baron stared into the sky and regarded him.
His mother had explained to her that though he was different, he could love, that she could love him.
He was faraway, but she had heard tell of his comeliness-that he was obviously the son of a Valerian.
The young woman was known as The Beautiful One to her own people, the Valeria; themselves known throughout the known worlds as beautiful, kind, caring, The Far-Seeing.
The blood that ran through her veins was the same blood that ran through the veins of the kind woman that she trusted, that had shown to her a bright and beautiful future.
The enormous attention that suddenly swept across her and focused upon her was shocking.
The objects floating around him clattered, fell to the ground.
“I am here.”
He swept down to her.
“Do not cast a spell upon me.” She was fearless. And it was immediate.
“I never shall. I promise.”
“I will love you, give you children.”
The kindness that flowed from her, that she directed into his mind, was overwhelmingly beautiful, bright, shining. A balm.
She kindly, gladly regarded him and smiled. She took his hand, “Forget your pain. You, they, we, my Darling, are good.”
Their magnificent children brought Joy and Goodness to the worlds.
Pain and suffering ended: The Empire went away.
All of The Children of The Sun knew Happiness.
And they were happy.
All were ever after good to each other; they were no longer cruel to each other.
All of the Kindred, all of the Children, were again together.
All had returned to each other.
Even The Dreck.