|Volume 5: Among the Stars, like Giants||Part III: On the Edges of Perception|
THERE are no secrets under the sun.
There are no hiding places for the shadows.
There is no time for one last request.
Those who would betray the light will fall and die, destroyed by their own darkness. Shadows flee when even a single ray of light is cast upon them. One glimpse of the sun and they are gone.
Turned to dust.
And soon there is no memory that they ever existed.
Let those who oppose the light know this: by opposing us, you align yourselves with the shadow.
Let those who align themselves with the shadow know this:
There are no secrets under the sun.
We will find you.
In a hall of endless mirrors, a place of shadows and light, one voice ringing out from all corners, John Sheridan moved, searching eternally for a way out.
* * * * * * *
Blood and darkness and wine.
The feast was continuing in the shadow of his mind. Never-ending joy and merriment and wine and women and, yes, even song.
No pain. No grief. No loss.
But as he drank it, he saw for the first time that the wine was not wine, but blood, and the food was not the flesh of animals, but the flesh of his people, and the song was not of rapturous celebration but a dirge for the dead and the dying.
Go back, the voices said.
Go back, the song said.
Go back, the singers said.
"No," replied Emperor Londo Mollari II. "I am happy here."
* * * * * * *
If only his people were so happy....
The Tuchanq attacked with a savage, careless, heedless frenzy. They suicide-rammed the few defence grid satellites still working. They hurled their ships into buildings and lakes. The earth rose and fell.
They brought their song to the land.
They sang as they died.
And where were the others? Where were the defenders of Centauri Prime?
The First Image:
Morden closed his eyes in a gesture that might have been prayer or might simply have been a refusal to accept what was happening. There was no fear. Why would he be afraid?
He was safe in a fortified bunker half a mile under the ground.
He had been woken up in the middle of the night by an Inquisitor at his bedside. He had been afraid then, for a single moment. The Drazi Inquisitor's ice-cold eyes stared at him, as if looking directly into his soul. Morden knew he had done nothing for which he should be afraid, but the fear was there regardless. He said nothing.
The Drazi nodded. "Come."
They had taken him to this place, a secret place they had constructed in quiet, in silence. It was a place of torture, of screams, of agonies born in nightmares. It was also, for now, a place of sanctuary.
Morden wanted to do something, anything. The Inquisitors had their ships. Surely they were more than a match for any bandit raiders? A message had been sent to the Alliance, but surely there was something to do now?
"No," the Inquisitor had said, when he had dared broach the subject. "He is here. We must draw him out into the light."
"He?" Morden had a sickening feeling he knew who. Only one person could inspire that much hatred in an Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor's hand had suddenly been at his throat, squeezing tightly. Morden felt all the breath leave his body a second after all the warmth left his soul.
The Drazi spoke slowly, flawlessly, dwelling on every syllable.
"You will never speak that name again."
He had not.
And so all he had to do was wait.
The Second Image:
Durla at her side, Timov looked at the cold, uncomfortable chair in front of her. Durla had been assigned to watch her, although many people might have wondered whether it was for her safety or their own. Few of them, few of the players in the Great Game, would imagine she was equally capable of watching him back.
Besides, for now, they had.... an understanding of sorts.
Londo's bedchamber was well guarded, as many guards as they could spare, but Timov herself had to be here. This was no time to hide. Power had to be wielded and be seen to be wielded, and she could do more here. The Ministers and lords and nobility had fled, some to hide or defend their estates, others to take the fight to the enemy. Timov was alone.
"They will make for the palace, lady," Durla said. She looked at him. "If they plan to invade and occupy they will need to secure the palace. If they merely desire plunder they will get more of that here than anywhere else. If they desire destruction, what better place to destroy?"
"I know," Timov said.
"And you are still here because...?"
"Someone has to be."
She looked around. The guards were here. Her men, and Durla's. Anyone Durla had chosen to be here now was obviously very deep in their respective conspiracy. Either that or very skilled.
"Do you want to be ready for them when they arrive?" she asked, indicating the throne.
"No, lady," he replied. "Your husband still lives and has not yet abdicated. I am not yet Emperor."
"It must gall you, Durla. You seek more than anything else to restore us to an era of glory, and merely a handful of days after we set each other on that path, we are attacked and threatened."
It was one of the very rare occasions she had ever seen true emotion in Durla's face. His eyes sparkled. "My lady," he said simply. "The lower we are, the greater the journey to the top. The greater the challenge, the greater the victory."
Timov nodded, a chill passing through her. This was a man with no understanding of Centauri life, no knowledge of or care for those who would fall.
A problem for another day.
"Well, then," she said primly. "It falls to me."
She ascended the steps and took the throne. All either of them had to do now was wait.
The Third Image:
Moreil spread his arms wide, basking in the joy of righteous chaos.
"Masters, be pleased!" he cried.
"He is a threat," said the ever-present Narn voice at his side. "By G'Quan, listen to me, Moreil!"
He turned from the sight of the battle to look at Mi'Ra. For a moment he was mildly irritated, but then he quashed the emotion. Nothing could destroy this feeling of rapture. The spreading of chaos, the winnowing of the weak. This was what he lived for.
"He knows who I am. He must know of our.... understanding. Moreil! Listen to me, damn you! The Wykhheran fear him!"
"The Wykhheran know no fear in battle, but battle is all they understand. It is all they were created for." Moreil's eyes closed in near ecstasy. "The glories of battle."
"Listen, I don't care how good he is. The danger is in what he knows. Send a Faceless after him and it will be over in seconds. No one can withstand a Faceless."
Moreil smiled. "You may be proved wrong, but no. The Faceless were created to destroy the cowards, those who wield the reins of power in secret, behind the masks of illusion. Marrago is not one of those. He is a warrior. He will be dealt with as a warrior."
"You're being too complacent. Where's his ship? Why haven't they joined us yet?"
"Perhaps he is dead."
"If this fails, Moreil...."
"Then it will fail because we were too weak, and the failure will make us stronger. What else is this about, if not the strengthening and the purifying of the weak?"
"Vengeance," she hissed. "It is about vengeance, and if all you care about is battle, why aren't you down there taking part in it, instead of just watching up here?"
"Ah." Moreil smiled again. "I am Z'shailyl, and mine is the power to read the ebb and flow of war. I can sense great warriors and great deeds. Somewhere hidden from mortal eyes, hidden even from the eyes of the Faceless, but not from the eyes of the Z'shailyl....
"Hidden somewhere is...."
His eyes gleamed.
* * * * * * *
G'Kar spoke to me often, of a great many things. His love for his people, his dreams for the future, his friends and allies. One topic he rarely touched upon was his involvement in the early wars with the Centauri, of the occupation and rebellion where he first rose to prominence as a soldier, not a prophet.
Many years ago I asked him about those times, and his face grew dark. He would not talk about it then, nor for many years to come, but eventually he did, and I knew then just how much those years weighed upon his mind. Not merely for the friends and family he lost. Not even because they reminded him of Da'Kal.
No, it was because those years reminded him of what he had once been. He had killed Centauri without a thought, without a qualm. He had even gloried in it. The death of a Centauri was something to be celebrated. He regretted bitterly that he had felt that way, just as he regretted the creation of a world that had done that to him and to people like him.
But most of all he regretted the way those years had touched and tainted our entire people. Every Narn who had lived through those years had been marked by them and that taint had corrupted their souls all their lives. He once told me that he hoped that my generation, one of the first born since the liberation, would be able to approach the future unshackled by the old hatreds.
He was not optimistic about that possibility, and, sadly, neither am I. But he tried to bring it about until the day he died. Indeed, it was that never-ending dream that caused his death. He tried, always, and so shall I.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet .
He could hear the screams and smell the smoke in the air. Around him hundreds of his people huddled close together, united by fear. Above them, Centauri ships were tearing the city apart. Na'Killamars had been suspected - albeit justly - of harbouring a resistance cell, and the Centauri had tired of fighting the resistance on their own terms.
Da'Kal held herself close to him, and he could smell her fear. He knew as well as she did that this bunker would not hold forever. Once the softening-up of the surface was complete, the Centauri would send in their ground troops and they would find this place. Once they did....
Da'Kal kissed him, powerfully and forcefully. "Never leave me," she whispered with a fierce passion. "We will always be together."
G'Kar kissed her back. "Always," he replied, his eyes blazing. The Centauri would come, and he would be ready for them. He would fight them. No longer would he be their slave.
And nor would Da'Kal.
The bombing stopped, and a heavy, thick silence fell over the dark room. Then a Narn coughed and the silence was broken, but for that one moment it had seemed infinitely oppressive and commanding.
The Centauri had stopped. Had they given up and gone home?
Another blast ripped through the air and the wall of the bunker shuddered.
Or had they found what they were looking for?
G'Kar rose to his feet as the wall was forced inwards. Chinks of sunlight appeared. Silhouetted there was a tall figure, holding a plasma weapon in his hands.
A tall figure.... but she was not holding anything. And the light was a door opening, not the bunker wall being ripped apart.
And he was alone.
And he was older.
And he did not have a sword.
G'Kar blinked against the tide of memory and shielded his face from the light. The present returned to bury the past, but he had a feeling it was still the past, merely made-over and redecorated in new colours.
"G'Kar," said a voice, filled with passion and pathos and sorrow. "G'Kar."
"Da'Kal," he sighed. "Oh, Da'Kal, what have you done?"
* * * * * * *
Sinoval knew the histories, of course. The Well had made sure of that. The old secrets, the ancient memories. The ancient war. The evil the Vorlons had unleashed upon the galaxy in their moment of hubris. The evil that destroyed the Enaid Accord, that shattered Golgotha, that engulfed the galaxy in war.
The voices in the shadow of hyperspace.
The voices from another universe.
He stood in the gateway, staring at the flickering light that was a million stars slowly being devoured, one at a time, by an evil that had destroyed an entire universe.
Beneath him the city throbbed with dark life, a city and a tower coated in blood.
Sheridan was nowhere to be found. The mirror was shattered, the orb that Sinoval had used to steal the mirror of Sheridan's soul was gone. Without it he had no way to control this soulscape. Somehow he had lost control of the world he had created to purge the Vorlon influence from Sheridan's mind.
The evil was moving in the city below him. The evil seeking always for more worlds to destroy, for more stars to devour.
The ancient evil the Well of Souls was charged with defeating.
"You have done this," he said.
Beside him there came the soft, gentle tapping of metal hitting stone. "We had to match the power of the Well of Souls one way or another," said a clipped, precise, meticulously pronounced voice. "The collective consciousness of a million dead races would take more to defeat than we can spare at present."
Sinoval looked at him. The human, dressed in an ancient style, dead in his eyes, dead in his soul. A cold, harsh, calculating man, renowned for murder. Not the murder of millions or thousands or even hundreds. Before he had been made an Inquisitor he had killed five people, and only five. A small number even by the standards of human murderers - but he was special.
He had stared into infinity, into the centre of the universe. Somehow, during that last taking of life, he had seen something that had changed him forever.
He had seen into a new universe.
"Sebastian," he said. "Your name is Sebastian."
The human nodded, touching the brim of his hat. "We have not yet met in the flesh, and we are not doing so now, so you will have to forgo the formality of an introduction. When you are brought to our worlds to face judgment, then there will be time for politeness."
"You have a bizarre understanding of etiquette."
The man nodded. "I do what is required of me. Look upon this place, Sinoval. Look, and wonder how it is you will escape, for that will never happen. This is what awaits you."
Sinoval looked at him. "You are playing a game you do not understand."
"On the contrary, sir, we understand it very well. Good day, Primarch."
With that, the Inquisitor was gone.
Leaving Sinoval alone.
* * * * * * *
Susan stood before the massive doors, the single jewel shining down upon her. Its light was dull and faint. She had explored large areas of Cathedral during her time with Sinoval and she had found a great deal to surprise her, but she had not returned here since her arrival.
That did not mean she had been scared to.
The door was clearly meant to inspire awe and terror. Susan was neither awed nor terrified. She was mildly impressed, and in a very bad mood.
"We haven't got time for ritual," she snapped. "Open up now or I'll kick the door in."
The door opened, and she stepped inside.
In another situation she would have been astounded by the size and majesty of the room that greeted her. She might have asked how such a room, whose borders seemed to stretch into infinity, could fit inside a place even as massive as Cathedral. She might have wondered at the millions of twinkling stars that lined the walls.
She did not.
She stormed up to the altar, sparing only a passing glance for the flower that still rested there, looking as perfect and alive as the day it had been plucked.
"You know who I am," she snapped. "Talk to me, dammit!"
We know you, Emissary, came the voice. It was strange. She had expected something.... bigger. The voice sounded almost ill. But the Well could not be ill, surely. This was the Well of Souls. This was where Lorien had sent her. Lorien had told her all about the Well, all about Sinoval and his mission and what she had to do to help him.
"What the hell is going on? And answers today, please!"
Weak.... Our voice is.... trapped.... Imprisoned in a place we dare not.... go.
"Sinoval? Where is he?"
His.... soul.... taken elsewhere. The Vorlons have.... linked with him.... weakening us.... weakening him. Allied with.... others.
"Who? What others?"
"The Vorlons are evil."
The Vorlons are.... ambition.... pride.... arrogance. They are wrong, but they are not evil. This evil.... has consumed stars.... fed upon the life.... the souls.... of a universe.... Everywhere they walked.... begat a charnel house.... They worshipped death.... they fed off death.... they became death. The soul.... the cycle.... rebirth.... nothing to them.... Evil.
Susan shivered. "Boy, you guys don't go in for small enemies. How do we get Sinoval back?"
He must.... return.... himself.... We cannot go there.... Enaid.... Golgotha.... old wounds.... old memories.... Our voice must.... speak once more.... be free.... himself.
"Your timing sucks. We've got a full scale war going on outside and Sinoval's grand plan is falling down around our ears, or whatever you have instead of ears. We need to get Cathedral out there and doing something."
Our voice.... trapped.... weak.
"Fine, if you need a job doing, do it yourself. Have we got any power here?"
A little.... Go to.... the pinnacle.... We will give what we have.... Emissary.
"Yeah, whatever." Susan left, running. She had a feeling even flying might not be fast enough.
* * * * * * *
There were no words, no whispers, no sound. There was the still, hollow silence of regret and sorrow and terror.
Marrago was motionless, paralysed, a sick feeling at the base of his stomach. He had not felt this since his banishment from the only home he had ever known, since he had learned his daughter was dead.
He looked at Senna's prone body, and he could not move.
"Captain," came Dasouri's voice across the comm channel. "Captain, we are ready to go." He ignored it.
"Captain." The voice came again, with greater urgency than before.
Marrago finally found the energy to move. He took a slow step forward and bent down over Senna's body. His throat dry, his hearts pounding, he reached out to touch her, remembering all the while the impact of his fist on her jaw.
He touched her arm, where blood pooled, sticky and warm.
He touched her mouth and felt the slow, faltering gasp of breath.
"You're not dead," he whispered. "Lyndisty, you're not dead."
His thoughts began to race. He was a soldier. He knew all about injuries sustained on the battlefield. He had been trained in bandaging wounds, preventing blood loss. It was not too late. He had been too late before. She had been dead then, but she was alive now. There was a chance to save her.
He began ripping away the edges of her dress. The cloth would be capable of staunching the blood loss. She would need air blown into her lungs, and her hearts would need to be massaged. Old lessons more than four decades gone returned to him and his body began to move with the smooth motions of an automaton. He had been too late before, too slow and too old and too weak, but now he would be in time.
Old soldier's instincts kicked in. He heard the noise of the creature behind him swinging into the attack. He smelled its odour of death and hatred. His legs threw him out of the way. His arms reached for his kutari and his hands held the hilt tightly.
The Wykhheran appeared before him.
Lyndisty's blood continued to pool on to the floor.
Dasouri's voice continued to call for him over the comm channel.
Marrago felt twenty years younger. Thirty even.
"She will not die," he told the creature. "I will not let her die. Not again!"
The creature moved to attack.
* * * * * * *
"I have been thinking," he said softly, hoarsely, the remembered dust and smoke of twenty years ago clogging his lungs. "Thinking of the past."
"Really?" Da'Kal remarked, as she stepped inside and closed the door of the cell behind her. For a moment there was darkness, and then the light globe in her hand burst into life and the shadows flickered on the wall. In the half-light she looked ghostly, almost spiritual. He was not entirely sure she was even real. She had lived in his memories and dreams for so long, and yet he had never dared talk of her, talk to her, acknowledge her reality. She belonged to the old days.
"All I think of is the future."
G'Kar looked at her, feeling his mouth twist into a semblance of a smile. "You could never lie to me," he whispered.
"I am not. I think of the future all the time. But the future is shaped by the past. You told me that once, me and a thousand others."
"I was just one of many. A pilgrim, a traveller, come to hear the words of the prophet, the preacher of the future of our people." She shook her head. "I suppose that even after all that had passed between us, I wanted to be near to you."
"You always were," he said, although the words were so soft he could not be sure he had actually spoken them aloud.
She carried on without reacting, as if they had been nothing more than thoughts. "Your words touched me. It was as if you were speaking only to me. I remembered our long conversations at night, beneath the stars, and the voice was the same as the one I knew.
"I later found out that every other person there felt the same way.
"You have a remarkable gift, G'Kar. You always did. I went away and I thought about your words. I thought about what you had said, looking for something there, for some wisdom and insight."
She paused, shaking. When she looked up again, her eyes were filled with anger. They looked demonic by the light of the globe. "I found it. I saw your words of forgiveness and unity and understanding and I shook with rage. I had hoped before that your message was misrepresented, or that it was an imposter pretending to be you, or that the Centauri had brainwashed you, or any one of a number of things.
"I had never wanted to think that you were actually advocating an alliance with the Centauri."
"I told you of my feelings when we parted," he whispered. "When I returned your armlet."
"I remember. I had hoped they were.... fleeting. You were a warrior, G'Kar! A leader. You could be leading the Kha'Ri by now! You could be ruling half the galaxy! Our people would follow you into fire and darkness without a second thought. With just a few words you managed to derail the entire course of the war with the Centauri. Think about what you could have done.
"And you spend all that power on peace.
"Have you forgotten what they did to me? Have you forgotten what they did to your father, to my sister, to G'Quan knows how many friends and allies?"
"No," he whispered.
"Have you forgotten what they did to my father? Do you remember what was left of Ha'Fili when we found him? I swear I will never forget that.... mass of flesh, sightless and limbless, screaming over and over again for mercy. Do you remember?"
"I remember," G'Kar whispered, seeing again the knife in his hand that had plunged into Ha'Fili's heart.
"Do you remember your uncle, carrying back his only daughter's body?"
"Do you remember...?
"Do you remember...?
"Do you remember...?
"Have you forgotten...?
"Have you forgotten...?
"Do you remember...?"
It continued, an endless litany of friends dead and mutilated, of family tortured and butchered, of villages destroyed and burned, of memories lost and eradicated. His reply to each was the same.
"You hated them once. I remember that hatred. Do you remember what you told me the night we buried my sister? You said that you wished you could kill every one of them, and then bring them back to life so you could kill them again."
Gently she unhooked the top of her tunic, pulling it open. G'Kar could not look away from the sight of the deep scar running from her neck almost to her waist. A Centauri torturer had done that with a garden fork, forcing him to watch.
"Do you still hate them?" she asked. "The people who did this to me, who did all those things to you?"
"No," he replied. "I pity them."
She looked at him. "I never stopped hating them. I pity them as well, but I still hate them.
"Now I hate you, too. But I pity you as well.
"What do you say to that?"
"I pity you, Da'Kal.
"And I am sorry."
* * * * * * *
Sinoval looked out across the dying city, his eyes dark and angry. Elsewhere he knew that a battle was beginning, just one move in a long strategy, just one tactic towards an ultimate goal.
And he was here.
Not trapped, not now that he had time to think and reason. He could see the avenues and warrens of hyperspace opening up around him. He could find a way back. This exercise was not aimed at trapping him forever. It was a warning.
A warning of what the Vorlons would do to the galaxy if he did not surrender to them.
And somewhere down there was Sheridan, as lost and trapped in this soulscape as he was. His body still lay asleep on Babylon 5, vulnerable to whatever the Vorlons wanted to do to him. If his soul was to be saved, it would have to be now, before anything more could be done to his body.
He sighed. The greatest battle plan in history did not survive first contact with the enemy.
There. A spark of life running through a labyrinth of mirrors. The creatures of this place loved mirrors, knowing the portals that could be crafted through them.
Sinoval stepped forward and floated down into the city. He had to be quick. There was very little time to waste.
* * * * * * *
"My congratulations on your composure, my lady. You are remarkably brave."
Timov shifted slightly in her seat. This throne was incredibly uncomfortable. How exactly had Londo managed it for so long? "Once you have survived a lifetime with Londo," she told Durla, "you will find little to unnerve you. Certainly not an alien invasion."
"Regardless, I have seen trained soldiers less brave, my lady."
"And do you assume that it is only men who are capable of being brave, Durla?"
"Not any more."
Reports were sketchy, but what little they had been able to discover had not been welcome. The defence grid was down, the raiders inside the atmosphere. Soldiers had landed on the outskirts of the city. There was no Alliance help anywhere, and Mr. Morden and his Inquisitors had vanished completely. The Palace Guard was dangerously overstretched, and Timov had only Durla to protect her.
There was little to do but wait, little to hope for but a miracle.
Still, Timov kept her dignity. She always had throughout her long years married to Londo. She had promised him a hundred times that she would deliver his Republic to him safe and secure, and she would not let him wake up to find she had not kept her promise.
The door opened with a burst of force and energy, to admit a tall, naked alien with what looked to Timov like far too many joints. Two more followed her.
"Greetings," Timov said. The aliens walked like rulers. They were clearly arrogant and convinced of their own power, but madness gleamed in their eyes. "I am Timov, Lady Consort of Emperor Londo Mollari II. I take it you have come here to surrender?"
The alien inclined her head slightly. "This one is noMir Ru, Songless One. We have come here in revenge for wrongs committed and songs taken. We have come to destroy, not to surrender."
"Yes, yes. Most.... impressive," Timov said. "Tuchanq, yes. I recognise you now. Although what grudge you have against us, I do not know, but then.... I do not truly believe that matters, does it?"
"Songs taken from us, the Land raped and burned and rendered dead. The air turned to smog and dust. No songs sung, no melodies crafted."
"Ah," she said. "And this will undo all that?"
"This will bring revenge and pain to those who hurt us."
"We never hurt you, but that hardly matters to you, I suppose. And if you wanted to do to us whatever someone else did to you, you should have come here several years ago. Fire and shadow over Centauri Prime has become a bit passé, I'm afraid. Still," she rose to her feet, sparing not a glance for Durla. "If you wish to accept my official surrender, feel free. Come this way."
noMir Ru stepped forward imperiously, walking towards the throne. Her two assistants followed.
As soon as she set foot on one particular flagstone the floor disappeared beneath her. Durla fired instantly from the concealed gun in his bracelet and shot down one of the accompanying Tuchanq. The other raised her long energy weapon, only for the hidden Guardsman to shoot her down from behind the wall.
Timov walked forward to the pit where noMir Ru's body now lay, pierced and impaled by numerous spikes. An old legacy from the reigns of less stable Emperors, the pit trap had been blocked up many years ago. Timov had had it unblocked.
noMir Ru was crying piteously, trying to sing. Her voice was cracked and soft, barely audible. Her blood was thick and there was a great deal of it in the pit.
"How sad," Timov said, returning to the throne. "Still, as my father used to say, 'if you cannot play the Game properly, you should not play it at all.'"
* * * * * * *
Moreil was still and motionless. Something in his passion seemed to have subsided, to Mi'Ra's mind. The battle was almost won. The defence grid had been destroyed, the Centauri defenders driven back. The cities were being attacked. The Tuchanq had even landed in the capital.
Yet given his elation of earlier, now he seemed almost.... depressed.
"Where are you?" he asked. "Where are you, Death?"
"Maybe you are wrong," Mi'Ra suggested.
"I can feel his presence. The Masters touched him, blessed him, named him their voice and their spirit in this galaxy once they were gone. All of us knew this. He fought against us once, but now he is our hope, and he is here.
"I know it!"
Mi'Ra took a slow step back. "If Sino.... if he is here, then I for one am glad he has not yet appeared."
"No, there is.... something. He is here. Where?"
Moreil noticed it first. Jump points opening, many of them. Initially Mi'Ra could only stare in mute horror, expecting the nightmare sight of Cathedral itself appearing, but her fears were assuaged, slightly, by the image of Alliance ships.
"No," Moreil said. "That is not Death."
"I have to go," Mi'Ra said. "We have to call our forces up from the surface. I have to warn G'Lorn. There are too many of them."
"You will remain. Death is still here."
"I have to contact...."
"Those of your people you expected to aid you. I see none of yours here. That was not what was expected, no? Plot and plan all you wish, but I serve only the Dark Masters and the Blessed Chaos. You will remain, and watch, and wait for Death."
"You are insane."
"I serve the Dark Masters."
"Something's gone wrong." The Alliance ships were opening fire on the Brotherhood. "This isn't what we planned."
"This one shared no part in your plans. We will watch."
"Moreil, damn you!" She turned to leave, but the Wykhheran shimmered into view in front of her.
"You will remain."
Faceless, kill them.
There was no reply.
We can raise no arms against our own, the alien voice hissed in her mind. Not the creations of Thrakandar and not the Z'shailyl.
Trapped, Mi'Ra tuned back to Moreil. "Please!" she cried. "It's going wrong."
Moreil did not seem to hear her. He was still looking, searching for what he alone could see.
* * * * * * *
"They took a great deal from us."
Da'Kal looked at him. She had not said anything for a long time, looking at him with a pitying, haunting gaze. G'Kar could not permit himself to look at her, but he had to. The dim light accentuated the fire in her eyes. Her shadow seemed to be almost a thing of its own.
"Of course they did," she replied.
"They gave us a great deal as well."
She looked confused, and then she nodded. "Yes," she said simply. "They gave us pain and suffering and mourning."
"They gave us strength," he corrected her. "They showed us horror and pain, and they took away our weaknesses. We became stronger as a result. We were willing to give everything we had to destroy them. We lived for years in fear and it never broke us.
"They gave us strength."
"Yes," she nodded. "They did. And we will use it against them."
"They gave us their Game. Intrigue, subtlety, assassination. They gave us the Thenta Ma'Kur, the Kha'Ri, the politics. They gave us all that."
"I know that tone of voice," she drawled. "You are reaching a point somewhere, G'Kar. I am listening."
"You are going to destroy them using their own methods. You are using lies and deception and trickery. Do you think I am blind, Da'Kal?"
"For someone so perceptive, you might as well be blind in one eye sometimes. You see, but you do not see."
"You have encouraged the raiders to assault Centauri worlds. You have deepened their involvement with the Shadows. You have sent in 'peacekeeping' Alliance forces. The Centauri have lost their freedom, and not a single Narn has died in the process. Within a handful of years every Centauri planet will be commanded by a Narn 'peacekeeper', yes?"
She nodded. "It was you who convinced me of that plan. I heard your words to the Kha'Ri the last time you were here. Military power alone will not do it. Your words have reached too many people. Too many believe you. They accept peace and unity and togetherness.
"So how better than to use peace and togetherness to achieve our ultimate goals? Yes, we have an agent among those raiders, and yes, we have encouraged them to attack Centauri worlds. We have sent agents into Tuchanq space, to stir up feelings against the Centauri. They are a remarkably gullible people. You would be proud of us, G'Kar. There was a civil war going on. A rebel called noMir Ru was at war with the Government. We stepped in and brought things to a peaceful conclusion. All it took was a finger pointed at the Centauri."
G'Kar bowed his head, remembering a mission he had sent to the Tuchanq. noMir Ru had been one of the delegates his emissaries had met. There had been an incident and she had been knocked unconscious, driven mad by the breaking of her link with the Song. The Tuchanq Government had told him they had the situation under control. There had been a million other things to do, and he had forgotten about them.
"Also in the spirit of togetherness, we reached out to a few other alien races, ones lost and homeless. We offered them a purpose."
Something flickered behind Da'Kal, something in her shadow. G'Kar had earlier thought it had been moving of its own will and volition, but now.... there was something there, something humanoid, but ghostly, something formless and....
Understanding came in an instant. The force that had stunned him at the memorial. Rumours of Shadow monstrosities fighting with the Raiders. The mysterious deaths of those who had opposed Da'Kal's plans.
"Shadowspawn," he whispered.
"A Faceless," Da'Kal corrected him. "Their Masters are gone now. They are no threat to anyone. Not the Faceless or the Wykhheran or the Z'shailyl or any of them. All they need is a home and someone to protect them. We were happy to oblige. See, G'Kar, we have followed your lessons. Help the weak.
"They are no danger to us."
G'Kar's eyes were wide and horrified. "No! Oh, Da'Kal, what have you done?"
"What do you mean?"
"I thought.... hatred and fear, yes. A lack of forgiveness, a lust for revenge, but not this!
"Not the Shadowspawn."
"What is it, G'Kar? How dare you criticise the way I have...?"
"You don't understand. Oh, Da'Kal.... you have killed us all. Every last one of us.
"Both of us have."
* * * * * * *
It appeared, a still, black monument to ancient power and terror. Motionless against the night, it remained, casting a long black shadow across the battle.
Both sides pulled back, hesitant to cross the line that shadow created.
A voice began to speak, a voice heard in all languages, on all ships.
"This ends now."
Moreil looked at Cathedral with a mixture of longing and terror.
"Death," he whispered as he heard the voice. "You see," he said, to the trapped Mi'Ra. "It is Death come at last."
She looked at him. "You are mad," she said simply, and turned to flee.
The Wykhheran tore her apart with one blow.
"Death," Moreil said again, with more than a hint of satisfaction.
* * * * * * *
Everywhere he went, everywhere he ran, there were mirrors. Endless people running alongside him, away from him, towards him. All the same person, and yet a little different.
John Sheridan stopped and saw someone staring back at him, a man he did not know. A man who had been able to save his daughter from Orion, to see her grow up. A man who still loved Anna, who had never captured Delenn.
He turned, reeling, and stumbled into another man. A man who had never become a soldier, but a farmer. He had looked up one night to see the sky raining fire.
Staggering, he saw countless images of himself - in a white robe, an Earthforce uniform different from any he knew, a Minbari warrior's outfit, a uniform that seemed part-Earthforce part-Minbari with a strange badge on the shoulder. He saw himself sorrowful, hateful, a murderer, a peacemaker, a leader, a servant, a killer.
Finally he stumbled to a halt, collapsing to his knees. Above him the sky beat like a black heart and clouds of lightning split the darkness. There was a smell he had never noticed before - the smell of an abattoir.
A figure approached him and he looked up, half-afraid of what permutation of his life he would see now.
The mirrors shattered and a familiar figure stood in front of him.
"We do not have time for mirrors any longer," Sinoval said.
"You," Sheridan whispered, understanding dawning at last. "What is this? Some sort of trap. You.... oh, God. You did something to me on that space station. You.... took something, or gave me something. All those dreams.... those mirrors, the voice, the questions....
"All of that was you."
"So what is it then? Are you trying to drive me mad? Am I a drooling wreck wherever my body is now, staring at bright lights and pretty colours? Is this all just a plan for revenge?"
"Do you truly think so little of me, Sheridan? Do you truly think I would be that petty?"
Sheridan paused, and bowed his head. "No, I don't." He looked up. "But if it served your goals, you would drive me insane in a second, wouldn't you?"
Sinoval seemed to consider that. "It would take longer than a second, but yes, I would. Fortunately for you, that was not my goal. We do not have a great deal of time, Sheridan. I have had to advance things a lot more quickly than I would have liked, but such is war, hmm?
"Every question I asked you. You could not answer a single one of them, could you?"
"What do you...? I don't have to answer any questions, least of all from you!"
"Damn it, Sheridan! Listen to me! I cannot do this alone. I inspire fear, perhaps awe. You inspire respect. They will follow me out of fear, but they will follow you out of love, and which do you think is stronger? But they will only follow you if your mind is clear.
"Yes, I took something from you. A tiny part of your soul. No more than droplets of water from the surface of a lake, but enough to give me a link. Into your dreams, into your fantasies, into your mind. I created a soulscape to force you to confront what you have become. There were.... other plans, but they failed, and I was forced to rely on what I had. Unfortunately they have found this out, and set a trap.
"To be honest, I think this was just a warning, a hint to me of what they are capable of. They actually fear me, do you realise that? They must, to threaten.... this.
"But that is my problem. I can free us, Sheridan, take you back to your body, but there will not be another chance. I will not be able to do this again. They know what I am doing, and I cannot do this alone.
"Sheridan. Who are you?"
"I don't have to answer your...!"
"Sheridan! Look at yourself in the mirror! Look at Delenn. Think about what you have become. Where are your friends, Sheridan? Where are those you love? Your precious Alliance, what has it become? Are you really who you want to be?
"Are you who Delenn wants you to be?"
"I...." Sheridan bowed his head, shaking. "What.... what did they do to me?"
"Nothing you were not willing to do to yourself. That is the tragedy of it. They healed you, yes, body and soul, but they did it by breaking you and putting the pieces back together. Some.... pieces just became set too far back. Occasionally they would reach out and intervene directly, but for the most part that was not necessary. They made you susceptible to their plans, to their desires, but the truth is, they did not have to do very much, did they? You have always been a creature of order, Sheridan."
"What of it? Is that such a bad thing?"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not. My inclinations have always been towards chaos. A raised blade, a battlefield, the carrion scavengers circling in the sky. That is my world, but I will not force it upon others who do not accept it. The life I live is my choice, no one else's. Look at your life, Sheridan. Look at what you have become."
"The.... the things they did to me. Can you undo them?"
"No. Another could have, perhaps, but she is lost to me. You can undo it yourself. Just think about who you are and who you want to be. That is all. It is not about me. It is about you."
"I can do this all myself?"
"If you want to enough. If you think the road you are about to walk down is not the path you desire. Delenn made her choice once. I made mine. This is yours. You have made mistakes in the past, but now is your chance to undo them.
"Sheridan, who are you?"
He stood up. "Not who I want to be. Take me back."
"We will not meet again," Sinoval said, holding up his hand and tracing patterns in the air.
Sheridan looked at him, and in the split second before they both disappeared, he said one word.
* * * * * * *
"You will not die!" Marrago screamed into the uncaring air.
Beneath his feet he could feel the ship leaving hyperspace. Dasouri had taken them into the battle at last, not caring to wait any longer for orders.
"You will not die!"
The Shadow creature raged at him, striking and lashing out. One claw carved a blood-red line across his arm, but he hardly noticed. All was blood, one drop onto another. His blood, her blood, all was one.
"I will not let you die!"
He struck out with his kutari, not even conscious of its being in his hand. The forms, the attack, the defence, all were subconscious. Years of training had taken over, a soldier's training.
"I will not lose you!"
He was sobbing, hardly able even to see the creature through the flood of tears in his eyes. He could not feel the pain in his arm, or his back, or anywhere else he was wounded. The pain he felt was deeper and more potent and hurt him everywhere.
"Lyndisty! I won't let you die!"
The Wykhheran was puzzled, but then it knew it did not have to understand. His lord had bade him kill this one, this Sin-tahri who acted as a Master. And yet the Sin-tahri was acting strangely now. It was making loud noises, the same loud noises over and over again. There was water in its eyes. It seemed to be in grief, and the Wykhheran had never known a Master behave in grief.
The smaller Sin-tahri female on the floor was dying slowly. Was that why the one who acted like a Master grieved? What was she to this one? The Wykhheran did not know. Perhaps his lord would tell him later.
The fight was hard, but then the Wykhheran had expected it to be. Despite its size and age, the Sin-tahri would fight hard and well, a sharp tooth of metal in its hand, one wielded as if it were a claw. The claw struck quickly, but hard, and it caused pain.
Pain was nothing. The Wykhheran had been forged to feel no pain.
The Sin-tahri staggered back, standing over the fallen female. It would not take another step back, guarding her body. Was she special? She was smaller and weaker, but she could be a priest, some Sin-tahri equivalent to the Priests of Fallen Midnight?
But she did not look like a Master. The Wykhheran had seen her through his lord's eyes. She was weak and afraid. Her wounds had come from herself and that was surely a sign of weakness.
The Wykhheran did not understand these Sin-tahri. They were too strange.
It lashed out and the Sin-tahri fell back over the body of the female. Tasting blood in its mouth, the Wykhheran moved forward, and then the voice spoke.
This ends now.
The voice of the Chaos-Bringer, last legacy of the Masters. His voice. The one spoken of, whispered in moonlight and midnight and madness. Known among the Faceless, the Z'shailyl, the Wykhheran, even the Zarqheba.
Sinoval. The Chaos-Bringer. Enemy of the Light. Wielder of Darkness.
The Chaos-Bringer had spoken and the Wykhheran obeyed. The Masters had charged them all, speaking through the spark created at Thrakandar. They would serve the Chaos-Bringer. They would obey his words.
This ends now.
The Wykhheran stopped, ever eager to obey. Even when the Sin-tahri drove its tooth into it, the Wykhheran did nothing. It remained still and peaceful as the Sintahri hacked it apart, even to the point of ultimate death.
It died as it had lived. Ever obedient to the Masters.
Later, when the battle was over, Dasouri sent some of his crew to find their captain. They found him in his quarters, beside the dead body of a mighty and horrific beast. He was kneeling on top of Senna's body, furiously trying to beat life into her hearts, tying bandages around the wounds on her arms and legs and body that no longer flowed with blood, vainly crying out the name of a different woman altogether and heedless of the fact that she too was quite dead.
* * * * * * *
G'Kar spoke hollowly, the deaths of millions now weighing on his soul.
"I knew," he began. "I knew there was a plan here, some ploy for revenge against the Centauri. I knew you were involved. I knew that you would be watching me if I came, and that you would move. I hoped.... no, I knew you, Da'Kal. You would not have me killed from a distance. You would want to bring me to you, perhaps even recruit me.
"There is a transmitting device hidden in one of my teeth. It is one of the newest pieces of Alliance technology, undetectable and capable of bypassing any known scanning device. I ordered its creation from information I acquired from the Great Machine.
"Every word of our conversation has been heard by my Rangers here. Every word has been heard by my Rangers at Babylon 5.
"Every word will have been heard by the Vorlons.
"How could you, Da'Kal? How could you turn to the Shadows?"
"The Shadows are dead and gone!" she cried. "All that is left are those who followed them, and why should we not enlist their aid? Who is to tell us what we may or may not do with our freedom?"
"The Vorlons will," G'Kar said sadly.
"We have done nothing wrong. I have done nothing of which a Narn should be ashamed."
"The Vorlons think otherwise. Ah, Da'Kal, I have seen them these past years. Once they were friends and allies, benevolent protectors, but what they have become.... I have seen it with the Centauri and the Drazi. They will send in the Inquisitors and the Dark Stars, and they will make slaves of us all, those they do not kill.
"Do you see what your lust for revenge has brought, Da'Kal?"
"Let them come! We will fight their Inquisitors and their Dark Stars and whatever else they throw at us. We will never be slaves again!"
"Then we will be dead."
"Do you hear me, Vorlons? I am Da'Kal of Narn and I do not fear you! Send whatever force you like, and we will destroy it."
"You have doomed us all, Da'Kal."
She looked at him, the light globe held before her like a talisman.
"No, you have killed us all, G'Kar. You speak of peace and unity when what we need is war and revenge. We will never be safe while the Centauri live. We will destroy them, and if the Alliance try to enslave us we will destroy them as well.
"If you had been stronger, G'Kar, you would have seen this for yourself."
"If you had been wiser, you would have seen for yourself how wrong that is."
She cried out, a wordless scream of anger and frustration and betrayal. She hurled the light globe towards him and it shattered against the side of his face. Blood filled his vision and he slumped back, now staring only at darkness.
Only the sound of the door opening and closing told him that she had left.
* * * * * * *
The battle was still; a silent, frozen image. On one side, the raiders of the Brotherhood Without Banners and their Tuchanq allies. On the other, the Dark Stars of the United Alliance.
And in the middle, the Emissary of Death. Cathedral.
For a long time there was silence. Moreil, watching from the observation point of his ship, could not say a word, simply staring at the unmoving vessel. His Wykhheran could not speak or move, impulses they did not understand filling their minds. Mi'Ra's body cooled on the floor.
Then a sound reached all their ears, Alliance and raider and Tuchanq and Centauri alike. It reached the planet and it reached space.
It was music, a song.
To Moreil it was hideously ugly, and he winced, raising his hands to cover his ears, slumping to the ground in pain.
To the telepaths trapped within the Dark Stars it was a thousand different songs - nursery rhymes, concert arias, hymns - it was something different to each one of them. Each one heard a tiny part of their life and the first piece of their past touched them.
Lord-General Marrago did not hear it. Not so much as a single note.
The Tuchanq heard it, all those on the ships and all those on the world below, and they fell to the ground in joy. Some of them cried, some shouted out their gladness to the heavens, most joined in.
The Song of the Land was being sung again.
And then, once the song was finished, the voice spoke to them again, the voice of Death that came from Cathedral.
This ends now. If anything thinks I am joking, just try it.
And it did end.
But in a sense, it began as well.
* * * * * * *
There was light and darkness and a mirror shattering, and a voice and a million questions he could not answer. There was hatred and love and a great and terrible anger, and there were mirrors, hundreds of mirrors, all showing him different things.
All showing him what he had been, or could have been, or still might be.
His eyes opened and General John J. Sheridan sat up in his hospital bed.
* * * * * * *
There is disturbing news, Light Cardinal.
Reveal it.... Yes, this is now known.
We must send the Inquisitors. The world must be purified.
No. The darkness runs deep and long. Three races already have felt the touch of the Inquisitors and still more turn to the Darkness. A greater lesson is needed, one that will fill all their eyes with light and leave no shadows in their minds; no doubt or questioning, only fear and obedience.
We await your command, Light Cardinal.
Awake the Death of Worlds.