Into the Fire: Rise of the Red Star By WaffleGoddess Chapter Five: Hope and Despair

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Time rolled on. And time was indifferent.

The ancientness of time assured that it had seen one revolution after another throughout the great, great age of the world, and this revolution that was about to occur was to be no more significant to the beat of the ages than any other. Time was nonchalant. To the people, however, their lives fleeting, this was to be very significant. A legacy hundreds of generations old was about to crumble into dust and there was absolutely nothing that any of them could do about it.

Time, the behemoth of cruelty, rolled on.

The Master was dressed in the finest dinner suit that could be found anywhere from Dalaam to Onett. There were more people around him than could be counted on both hands, and all of them were prodding and fixing the monarch's attire while he wore it. Seeming almost oblivious of their presence, the king stared at his reflection in the mirror and practiced his speech.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "I want to thank you all for being here tonight. As you know, this is a celebration of two thousand years. It has been two thousand years since when Dalaam was risen to the skies, two thousand years since the crown was passed to Dalaam, and two thousand years of kings and queens who have watched over this kingdom ever since, with benevolence and—Pai, what's your impression of the word 'benevolence'…do you think it's too... I don't know...vainglorious?"

One of the servants mumbled a response while trying to perfect the Master’s collar. "I think that the word 'vainglorious' is too vainglorious, sire."

"Then I think I'll use 'altruism'," the Master replied, "With altruism and pride. But let us not see tonight as a celebration of one family, rather as a celebration of the entirety of Dalaam. For before Dalaam was even made, if it were not for our ancestors, Dalaam…"

Poo walked in the halls of the palace, peering in every room. He had not seen Kai all day…and today was the day that his brother would be ruler.

Odd…who would be absent on an important day like this?

Poo walked into the Master’s room at this point, cutting off his speech. "Master—"

"Hello, Poo," he said, struggling with his suit as several other servants tried to work on it, "If you're not in your formal clothes yet, you had best hurry. The guests arrive in three hours!"

"Yes, I know, I'm sorry, I'll get to it right away," he replied.

"Good."

"M…Master?"

"Mm?" His servants took over.

"Have you heard from Kai?"

"Not in a while," the Master replied, "Kai did assure me that he would be here, and one thing about your brother is that he hates being late for anything. He's probably around somewhere, or will be soon. You know how much he likes that machine of his…"

"Okay."

"Hm…Poo, which word do you prefer, 'benevolence' or 'altruism'?"

You’re on your own for that!” Poo chuckled.



"Well at least let me know if you prefer the golden sash or the silver…"

"The gold sash is more regal, Master."

"Ah, my thoughts as well."

Poo turned to leave, but the Master called him back.

"Poo?"

He turned. His father was looking at him with a warm smile on his aged features. "This may be your brother’s night, but keep in mind it is yours as well. I’m proud of you."

Poo smiled and nodded, and then turned to walk towards her dressing room. He suddenly noticed Kun barreling down the hallway, and he almost knocked him down, but Poo quickly dodged and Kun went on in a hurry as fast as he was before. Strange…he had just bolted from the treasury…

He ran down the hall, and passed by the guarded entrance to the treasury. Inside, several servants were cleaning the glass cases and polishing the floors. He walked by several cases…Dalaam’s precious gems…ancient artifacts…the crafts of the Kings…carvings…jewels…

Suddenly, to his right, he noticed something odd, and did a double-take.

It took a moment before the dread fell like a sack of bricks. He neared the case for a closer look.

"Ah, Sir Poo,” a servant said, quickly blocking the case. "Sir Poo? Sir Poo, sorry but you shouldn't be in here, the floors-"

"Where is it?" he all but screamed, "The Sword of Kings! Where is it?"

"I- I don't know," the servant stammered, "Please, the floors-"

Poo fled the treasury before he could finish, delayed shock welling up inside of his gut. He ran back to his father’s dressing room.

"Master!"

The Master spun around, causing several of the servants dressing him to grunt in frustration.

"What's wrong?"

"The Sword of Kings is gone!" he exclaimed, "It’s gone!"

The Master looked amused despite his son's clear state of distress. "It was moved this morning. Kun took them."

"He can't do that!" Poo almost screamed.

The Master simply laughed. "He can if I tell him he can. I am still the ruler of this nation, I believe. Am I the ruler, Pai?"

"Yes sire, you are the ruler," Pai replied, "If you were anything less I'd tell you to dress yourself."

Poo had already left. He rushed outside, where Kun had run. Looking around, he bolted past many people, who grunted and yelled as he bowled them over. He asked several people about the whereabouts of Kun, but only one person knew. Poo neared by the underground entrance to Kai’s private plane. He looked down at it, and glared at the dark entrance. That was where his brother was…and that was where Kun was as well.

-----------------------

The launch base sprawled out in front of Poo like something almost familiar, even benign. But he was smart enough to know better. Dozens, even hundreds, of robots worked tirelessly, loading barrels and crates of unknown content onto transport vehicles which buzzed back and forth. To all appearances it seemed like an ordinary airport, with an airplane parked on the tarmac.

From here, technology like this seemed even larger than he had known before. The airplane was actually a battle plane named the Flying Battleship, and it was a huge vessel, and nothing short of a remarkable feat of engineering could have made it airborne. He had heard ‘Battleship’ was supposed to be a craft of the people below Dalaam, a mighty machine with hundreds of weapons attached to it. The Flying Battleship was just that, and it had once been the scourge of the sky, the pride and joy of the first air force. Ironically, the Battery was a highly advanced piece of technology, and it was declared illegal after Dalaam came to the sky, and after a large blitz occurred against technological advancement. Now, technology was back in use, according to Kai, and like a phoenix from the ashes, so too was the Flying Battleship.

There were several smaller robots, orb-like robots with long whip-like arms, along with several silver robots that spun easily. These were the working robots, and they would not see them, but Poo was not completely sure. They appeared to not be equipped with the intelligence to discern an intruder from another robot (or Kai, or a mouse, or even a bar of soap). It wasn't their purpose. But that wasn't to say that they hadn't been given special upgrades here.

Nevertheless, he decided to take a chance, and jumped aboard a loading ramp that led directly into the cargo bay of the battleship. He didn't face any trouble from the robots; in fact, the machines were exceedingly polite in offering them the right of way whenever they crossed each other, mistaking them for other workers. Poo hid in the cargo bay for about an hour before he was confident that there were no robots coming to flush him out, and he began to make his way to the top deck.

-----------------------

Prince Kai, soon to be king, had no idea that fate, the great unknown, whose cloak was descending quickly upon Dalaam, was about to turn its merciless gaze in his direction. Just as time cared not for mortal affairs, so too was fate unbiased and without prejudice in its actions. Kai was about to discover that fact was not without its consequences.

But for now he stood and looked below him with his face in a faint scowl on his face that he wasn't even aware he was making.

The robots marched below him, beastly contraptions of every size and shape. They looked like monsters, shambling and stomping about the place almost as though they had no purpose at all. But these things were the epitome of purpose, and he knew that.

The prince closed his eyes and dreamed, a blissful, dreamy smile on his face. He envisioned Dalaam as he had known it as a child. The fairytale world of his youth flooded through his mind, a vision so perfect that he was able to call upon it whenever he wanted. Sunshine fell upon the cobblestone paths like a golden veil, horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped back and forth carrying neatly dressed gentlemen and elegant ladies to their destinations. The grass was as green as the emeralds below Dalaam, and the waters just as blue as the skies that surrounded him. The palace, firm and proud, watched over the lands as protector and guide, and a younger Master sat admiring it all. He saw all of this through the Master's eyes, and wondered if he looked like his father would have once upon a time. A small tear welled up in Kai's eye as he imagined. Soon the kingdom would look like it did all those years ago. No filth on the streets, no protests and riots, none of the decay and dilapidation that his father had allowed with the decay of his own mind and of the strength of the monarchy.

For a minute Kai even allowed himself to dream of a reconciliation between himself and his family. His brother was the apple of his father's eye, and if it weren't for ancienttraditions, Kai was afraid that his father would let Poo be king.And heabsolutely dreaded the consequences of allowing him to rule, but under his control he fancied that he would eventually come to realize that he had beenwrong all along, and support his brother. Maybe, he dared imagine, maybe even his father would in time see past Kai's betrayal, see how beautiful the kingdom was, and forgive his son.

When Kai opened his eyes, though, the beauty of the old Dalaam vanished from his mind. What he saw now was a dark, smoky, grease-covered underground, abandoned mine of steel and grime. One of his hands had been resting on a rail, and he brought it to his face to see that it was covered in soot, as were his clothes.

Was this the direction he was headed?

The tear dried up in his eye and the expression of bliss faded from his face. This was the ugliest, most repulsive place he could imagine, the exact antithesis of his eventual goal. Dark technologies had choked the life out of this patch of the world. And yet, these were the technologies he was going to use to bring the beauty back to Dalaam? Was that even possible?

Something like horror clouded his face for a moment as he saw a glimpse of Dalaam choked with smog like this place, all metal and sludge, robots clunking down everychamber making clanging noises with their feet, their wheels, their gears. Kai, his mind screamed, ‘In the name of the all-holy Dalaam, what are you doing?

He blanked the thought out and shook his head hard, as though the dissenting images could be dislodged from his mind. Things would never go that far. He knew what he was doing. There would be no room for cold feet, it was too late for that. Most of all, he must retain his strength.

He was about to go to war with the city he loved, but only to cure it of its diseases. Just a tiny prick, a doctor might say, and then everything would be okay. For those who had nothing to fear from his wrath, the transition would be gentle. Tomorrow, Dalaam would enter a new age, a new age of grand prosperity that had once been the past.

Tonight, though, he had a party to attend.

-----------------------

When Poo finally left the cargo bay, his sense of adventure throbbed at full force. At first, he was taken by an all-devouring sense of fright that dulled it and made him wonder whether he should just return to the cargo bay among the barrels and crates and sit until the Flying Battleship landed. He thought exploration wasn’t the best idea, however, and that he should return below deck.

The corridor he had been following, however, had taken him to the entrance to a strange chamber that he caught himself exploring before he could stop himself. A shiver of discomfort rippled down his back, thinking that somewhere in that room, Kai would appear out of nowhere.

Quickly though, he began to explore, and found no Kai inside. It was a great chamber enclosed in glass that provided a virtually unobstructed view of the surrounding area, it was probably the lowest point on the entire battleship, and Poo was struck with the realization that they were flying over the open ocean.

The room, circular and covered by a wide dome almost like a cathedral, was dominated by a very large glass cylinder with an open door on one side of it and little else marring its smooth surface. The cylinder stretched from the floor all the way to the domed ceiling above, and there was a lot of machinery attached to this ceiling, with what looked like the lens of a flashlight (only much, much bigger) at the top of the cylinder shining down into it.

Poo stood fascinated by this for a few minutes, before noticing a small antechamber off to the side, a room filled with giant computers and switchboards, some kind of master control area. Hundreds of wires and cables streamed from this area to the contraption on the ceiling of the glass tube (a machine which Poo was sure was much larger than what he could see here, like the tip of an iceberg poking up out of the water). Poo looked it all over like a deer in a car's headlights, so interested that he almost didn't hear the sound of a deep, throaty cough coming from somewhere behind him.

He did hear it, though, and just in time he combined speed with reflexes to dart into one of the few shadowy niches that the glass chamber had. Poo squeezed himself into a shadowy corner and pulled the door softly closed just as Kun walked into the room.

Kun. A figure towards whom he now directed a healthy dose of loathing. He had been lucky enough not to be seen. Kun went directly to the consoles in the antechamber, fiddling with switches, clacking away on a keyboard, glancing at monitors and muttering to himself.

Poo didn't know how long he was hiding, but it was anywhere between ten to fifteen minutes before Kai stormed in. What Poo saw next sent blade-sharp chills and waves of nausea through his body, and burrowed itself into his memory, burned onto his mind like the ghost images that appear if you stare at a bright light for too long. This was the point at which hope turned to despair.

Kai had preset his expression to irate before he entered the research chamber where Kun was playing with his machines. The prince carried the trusty scowl that he traditionally used to keep his loyalists in line, and although Kun had never seemed intimidated by him (a fact that angered him immensely) he found it impacted on his ego much less if he pretended it wasn't so.

"Kun!" he exclaimed, "Where are we going? Why are we traveling south?"

"Stonehenge is south," Kun muttered without turning around, "I found that it would be easier to reach it if I launch our vessel from here."

The prince appeared momentarily baffled. "Are you losing your mind? We don't have time for this! This trip will take hours, and I have to be taken to Dalaam immediately, I'm already late for the royal banquet and I have no desire to be any later! I thought we would just drop off the sword and your machine to Giygas, and we’d be done! Do you understand me? Turn this thing around and take it to Dalaam immediately!"

Kun sighed, still working the dials and switches on the control panel in front of him.

Kai turned and at this point seemed to notice the machine in the center of the room for the first time. His scowl faded and he looked it over with an expression that Poo was unable to completely discern - was it awe or fear?

"Is this the machine?" he asked.

"Yes," Kun replied, "This unit is for controlled singular conversions. When we present this, and the Sword of Kings to Giygas, we will immediately be on his side."

"Does it work?"

Kun turned around for the first time. "In theory there's no reason it shouldn't."

The prince stepped inside the glass case and admired it from the inside. He stood on a white platform of iron grating, and underneath it were little piles of what appeared to be metal shavings, shredded as fine as sand. He looked up at the lens above him, like a broken, dead searchlight pointing uselessly downward.

"Of course," Kun continued, "There's no way to know for sure until it's tested. Your brother, Poo, was going to have the honor of being the first human test subject, but I decided there are others with much more potential.” He turned back to his console, flicking switches and programming commands.

"You haven't tested it?" Kai asked, "That's a problem, Kun. This operation must begin tomorrow or we will miss a window of opportunity that we will never see again! I do not want to approach Giygas with our offer centered upon a weapon that does not work. I want you to make sure that this...this…thing...is fully tested before tomorrow."

"As you wish, Master Kai, as you wish," Kun replied.

Kai was about to exit the glass cylinder when the door slid shut and clicked with a dull mechanical whir.

He looked shocked for a moment, then sighed through his teeth impatiently. "Your sense of humor is easily transparent,” he snorted. “I am not a fan of practical jokes, so don’t try me now."

There was no response. Kun was checking the instruments on his various control panels, and typing commands into a computer.

"Kun?" the prince tried, "I'm not sure why I continually tolerate your disrespect, but I do.

Nevertheless, I assure you that you do not want to make me angry. Release me from this contraption immediately, a fellow... a fellow could suffocate in here if they’re in here for too long…"

"I'm about to activate the confinement beam," Kun explained, "The light itself is harmless, it both fuels and restrains the Gi-machines, just the same as water is to fish."

Inside the cylinder, mechanized components began to power up audibly. To the prince, Poo imagined, it must have been a terrifying sound. This was reflected in his expression, which began to cool and harden, less like anger and more like fear.

"Kun," he blubbered, "Kun, Sir Kun, this isn't funny, do you understand, I'm becoming very, very upset and you do not want to aggravate me right now, not before I become crowned-"

The chamber was suddenly flooded with an eerie gold light. Kai's self control snapped like a twig.

"Kun!" he shrieked. He rushed to the glass and began clawing at it like an animal, "Kun! Kun! Turn it off turn it off please I can't breathe in here I can't breathe! Please! Please for the love—for the love of—please, turn it off!"

"At this point, once everything is completely powered up," Kun continued calmly, as though addressing an audience, "I release the Gi-swarm from the dormant storage tank into the conversion chamber." A pause, then as an afterthought, he added "This will hurt a lot, Master Kai."

"No!" Kai, now completely out of his mind with terror, screamed. He hammered on the glass with one hand and clawed at it with the other. His knuckles were bleeding, and blood, perspiration and saliva was dabbed all over the glass, but he didn’t notice. "No! No! NO! Please, please, please, oh god please, you can't do this, you can't, you can't, YOU JUST CAN’T!" His cries for help ceased to be recognizable as words when the machinery started making a new set of clunking, whirring sounds. Now he was just screaming, beastly shrieks like the cries of a tortured animal.

Poo realized that they were the cries of someone whose entire world was coming crashing down upon him, whose illusions are completely lifted and who can see their entire life's work being ripped from him in a single act of savage betrayal. He wondered what Kai was thinking about - were all his plans and ideologies stripped away to the barest animal instinct of life preservation, or was he cursing his feeble-mindedness and begging for some kind of redemption? Either way, Poo, he himself in a state of shock, could not believe that Kun was actually going to kill the prince inside this glass prison. Kun needed Kai like a dog needed to be fed. Kun would not bite the hand of his master. He assumed that Kun, any moment now, was going to release Kai and laugh at his sick joke, and perhaps even Kai would start laughing and they would walk away clapping each other on the shoulders and meet Giygas as planned.

But then the prince's screams changed their tone, and Poo realized that they had changed from cries of fear to cries of pain. This was when his own mind started to register terror, and what he saw next almost made him sick.


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