The Book of Stephan – Chapter 1620
Tonight marks my hundred and thirty-fifth year in command of The Rose and my hundred and thirty-fifth year of holding the dubious honor of being my Lady’s Lord Spirit. Oh what strange, wonderful, and terrible changes we have wrought in that time. When I first sat to pen my Annals for the Society’s legacy, it was on a dirty old piece of parchment with a bit of charcoal, using a wood and leather buckler for a solid place to write…and now…now I dictate to a tiny datapad and out of my window….
The last few months have been eventful to say the least, and as I’ve been too preoccupied to note much except for company logistics I’ll attempt to sum up as best as I’m able.
After we trained in the new flying craft and weapons that were delivered from Tablenhelm, we went forward with the previously documented plan to end the Mengst resistance in the North permanently. While the rebels had managed to get hold of some earlier model assault rifles and even a few tanks, they certainly didn’t have the industrial capability to reproduce them, and they certainly didn’t have the ability to knock the bombers out of the sky thousands of meters above them. When I stop to think about it – which I admittedly try very hard not to – it’s really quite a sad end to four thousand years of dogged resistance to the Lady’s rule (I especially don’t like to think about the oath I swore to the Company when I was just a boy, and the Company still followed the teachings of Mengst and hadn’t yet come back to the Lady). In a matter of hours the pilots of the Company flew their bombers from the airstrips outside Riverton and utterly laid waste to Westergarde. When we were done I’m fairly positive that neither a single structure nor a single man was left standing in the only city in Khevoran to ever challenge Her rule. The part of me that contains the memories and aspirations of Tahl’Mearis cackled with glee on that day…the rest of me wept.
Strangely though, that was not the most notable of recent events.
What really made the history of Khevoran and my Company change dramatically was the landing of the man from the stars. He came down from the heavens in a silver vessel – obviously damaged – and attempted to land in hiding in the outskirts of Penshin. Soldiers from Marinetta’s company quickly seized him and secured the landing site. He was like us…mostly…with an odd tint to his skin and eyelids that didn’t seem to work quite like ours. He was wounded and was looking for help – we took him across The Ways to see Her instead. She consumed his mind and soul more completely than even I – part slave, part general, part lover, all hers – could imagine; and such wonderful things She learned.
Without further ado, the craft and everything it touched were loaded onto trucks and transferred to Tablenhelm and almost immediately minor benefits from the technology were delivered back through the gate – things like this datapad, lasers and blasters (and goddammit weeks and weeks of training the men not to blow their own heads off with the things), and other items of microtechnology that practically overnight changed the Southlands from a steam and petroleum-powered industrial society into a technological wonder hindered only by our ability to construct more and more of the stuff (and, as always, teach the people not to blow their heads off, eat the microchips, microwave their pets, and other such things that occur when you take a society of primitive screwheads like me and leap their technology forward centuries in one fell swoop – at least they weren’t trying to saddle their horses to the groundcars – that was more than I could bear).
But we all knew that wasn’t going to be enough.
Time moves differently in Tablenhelm, and when the Ringwielders convened for our yearly summit in Lachtanburg we all knew what was on the wind. The Lady had dedicated every resource there for nearly five generations reverse-engineering that ship and the knowledge contained within that lone soul while only months passed in Khevoran – and after the initial deluge of technologies, scientists, and engineers, the Waygate had been silent. Something big was coming.
And damn me but something big came.
I’m looking out the window again…still in awe.
I don’t get to feel awe very often. Her grace and power running through the Ring into me have kept this old warhorse alive far longer than I think the tattered remains of my soul can manage. More often than not I don’t feel anything at all anymore except the chill of Her in my bones. It’s strange how different people react to being so closely bound to Her. When I first received the ring, I reveled in the power and luxuriated in always having Her in my soul, but as the decades pass – and especially the years after I should by all accounts be dead of old age – I seem to have less soul and more Her, and the logical thinking man that I am rails against what can only be described as a complete consummation and eradication of self. Tahl’Mearis – the first – wore the Spirit Ring for millennia, Alexander Megnst (and damned if I could be punished harshly just for speaking the name) had the will to take the thing on and off as he chose, Gilmartin – the bearer before me – hung himself after only a few years. When Stonehand’s treachery was uncovered and a new wielder found for his ring, the poor man went mad the moment it was placed on his finger and destroyed half of Penshin before the rest of us could put him down. And then of course there’s Whisper – the creepy fuck – who’s worn the Ring of Air since the things were created and has been happily cutting a swath for Her for more years then I can wrap my mind around. Maybe he just started out as a twisted bastard and could deal with it.
I am not an evil man – at least I didn’t used to be – but I have done evil things. What a bloody excuse that is. The only thing that’s really kept me sane these last few decades is the brotherhood. I’ve watched over nearly five generations of the Society now and I’m happy to say, may of those actually lived to retirement – a fact I take a certain amount of pride in. But this new batch, born and raised in an industrial age and a society I have trouble understanding…I just haven’t been able to connect, to relate, and rest my soul – to care. That’s not a way a commander should be. I will order my men to what will surely be their deaths, but damn me I should love every one of them and hate myself for doing it. Maybe I’m finally becoming the kind of killer that Tahl’Mearis was and Whisper remains. Maybe this diatribe of mine is the last shreds of my soul screaming out for salvation and understanding before the long, eternal night.
I think She has grown impatient with me, with this pesky soul of mine. I can feel it when She touches me from across The Ways. I don’t expect she will allow me to be her Ringwielder for much longer. Soon, I’m sure, the Stranglers will come – and they will take my life, they will consume my soul in Her name (slim pickins’ boys!), and they will take the Ring – this eternal bond to Her. I’m sure Major Kaplan will receive it – he’s a good leader and deserves the Company. He doesn’t deserve this Ring though, poor bastard.
But I digress, and as matters demand my attention I should bring this little discourse to a close.
When She got into that alien’s head, Kishara realized that there’s a whole galaxy out there full of opportunity and has become consumed with the idea of spreading Her influence – and as always the Rose has been selected to be the instrument of Her Will. We are to be the expeditionary force of a great new crusade. She has reached out Her senses and has felt, far across the vast reaches of space, others like Her, others that can tap the energies of the universe and bend them to their will – and She wishes to know more of them and take their power for Her own.
So here I sit, staring out the window of my office to Khevoran, my world, far, far below. I am overseeing the construction of a massive weapon of war – Khevoran’s Pride – which will someday carry my Company across the stars to new battles and new campaigns in Her name. I doubt I will live to see its completion – from what I understand the scientists in Tablenhelm are still generations away from getting this faster-than-light travel working right – but the superstructure alone will take years of relative Khevoran time to complete anyway.
My Lady is nothing if not infinitely patient.
I wonder what this new crusade will be like.
I wonder what lays in wait around those distant stars.
I wonder if there are really many, many others like Kishara – and if so, I wonder how this universe has survived so long.
Kaplan is coming down the hall, I can feel his presence, and he is not alone. I feel the cold emptiness of Stranglers with him.
It would seem that this will be my last entry into these Annals, and my last night of life in service to The Lady of Tablenhelm.
There are men outside my door.
My brother is with them.
And they are here to take my life.
And I welcome it.
In Eternal Service to My Brothers-
Colonel Stephan Tor’ellian ap’Tet
The Black Rose Society