Turmalis opened his eyes, picturing the events that were about to unfold due to his coming actions and fought against images of the consequences bombarding his mind. The universe appeared to be running in slow motion as he turned to look at Jepok and then at Aldaris, both waiting for him to act. He slowly began to raise his arms.
The large metal doors covering the entrance to the chamber flung open and the guards realigned themselves as to let in a cloaked figure who strode into the conference room. Ornately clad in the signature robes of the Conclave, the newcomer surveyed the room's occupants, taking in the scene and calculating various responses for what was to come. He turned to Aldaris and glared at him.
Surprised by the appearance of the cloaked figure's sudden entrance, Aldaris stumbled to make a hurried gesture of respect. "High Chancellor Priax... I was unaware you were—"
Priax's eyes flickered with contempt as he interupted the Judicator. "The Conclave is disappointed in your handling of this situation, Aldaris. You have been censured and are ordered to return with me once things are set right here in Therazan. They have sent me to deal with it for you," he said with a hint of disgust. He looked directly at Turmalis. "The Conclave congratulates you, Judicator Turmalis. Both for your unswerving dedication to the Empire here at home and beyond the stars. Whatever Aldaris promised you for your assistance in his pitiful scheme to deal with the rebels is yours regardless."
Priax moved forward a step and made to detach his flowing cloak, nodding to Turinas who quickly moved toward him to assist. Beneath the shroud a suit of unfamiliar and decoratively etched crimson armor gleamed in the light coming in through the shattered neoplast windows. Folding the cloak neatly he placed it in Turinas' hands and walked forward again, shoving Aldaris back from his path.
Turmalis watched Aldaris eyes flash with anger then turned to watch the unfolding events he was powerless to stop.
"Jepok of Antioch. By order of the Conclave you are stripped of your rank and title. Do you yield to the supreme authority of the Conclave?" Priax questioned.
Jepok, watching the entire scenario with disgust stepped forward. "I no longer recognize the authority of your Conclave. I am sworn to free my people from your tyranny."
Priax's eyes glowed with amusement. "I thought as much, infidel." He reached for the weapon at his side and held up the staff in both hands horizontally. With the press of a button, curving blades popped out of each end, mirroring each other in direction. Priax's eyes flashed with psionic energy and the blades lit up, charged with deadly power. Priax swung the psimitar in the style of Khas'ulat, arcing the glowing blades in what was commonly known as the Dance of Pain. The khamazet ended with the tip of the staff striking the concrete floor, sending out a flurry of sparks. Priax waited there, eyeing his opponent and waiting for him to strike.
"Are we going to fight or prance around like fools?" Sinar said, igniting his blades.
Priax, still unchanged in his position looked at the Zealot as if seeing him for the first time. "Ah yes, I had forgotten about the mighty Sinar," he said, accentuating his sarcasm. "If you seek death as well, so be it. I promise that you will die honorably this day... and very quickly."
Sinar snarled, and Jepok moved his arm to intercept and hold back the younger warrior, but was not fast enough. Sinar darted toward Priax. Blades clashed against psimitar as Priax brought up the weapon in a block. Using the opposing blade he hooked Sinar's weapons and yanked them to his left, pulling the Zealot in that direction. He continued his half-spin, flipped his weapon to reverse the direction of the blades and moved back to his right. The blade plunged cleanly into Sinar's side and it took him a moment to realize he had been struck.
As his nerves began their chorus of screaming and a wave of bodily fluid began to seep from the wound he followed the movement of the blade, twisting his body as he went to remove the blade from his side. He dove to the ground and rolled, coming up in a standing position to face his opponent. He ducked in time to avoid having his head impaled by Priax's psimitar and lashed out on the offensive with a series of quick strikes designed to drive back his opponent. Priax blocked them with ease, hunched down and swung his weapon at Sinar's legs. The Zealot's enhanced legs drove him upward into a backflip avoiding the cut meant to cripple him. He landed on his feet, cracking the stone floor beneath him.
The two warriors stood facing each other in their respective ready positions, awaiting the other's next move.
"I would have expected better from the disciple of Jepok," Priax taunted. "But then again, he was never very skilled in the use of civilized weapons, was he?"
Sinar slapped the armor on his chest. "You want him, you go through me."
"Stop this at once!" Aldaris shouted. "I am the ranking Judicator here and—"
"Silence, Aldaris, lest you prove you are more of a fool than I already take you for," Priax said.
Turmalis snapped out of his numbness and moved in to stop Aldaris from casting a psionic storm on the Judicator. Gripping the other Judicator's hands he looked at him pleadingly. "Do not do this." Aldaris relaxed a moment and considered the consequences.
Priax was watching Aldaris and Turmalis when a large hand grabbed him from the back and flung him into the stone wall. He recovered quickly to see the behemoth Jepok moving toward him and readied his blade.
Sinar saw movement out of the corner of his eye and instantly recognized the ancient bladed weapon used by assassins. Turinas flung the glaive at Jepok and it struck the center of his back. Sinar moved in quickly and plowed his right leg into Turinas' chest, knocking him down. He stabbed his blades downward and twisted as he snarled violently.
Turning his head, he saw that Jepok had turned to see who had stabbed him, a fatal move if he did not move fast enough. Pushing his enhanced legs as quickly as he could, he dove through the air, struck the ground and rolled. Placing himself between Jepok and Priax he gave one last look at his mentor before the psimitar severed his body at the waist and both halves tumbled to the ground.
Jepok's eyes grew large with horror and quickly turned to anger. He launched a massive fist into Priax's chest, smacking the High Chancellor into the stone wall again. He moved in and picked up Priax in both hands and flung him into the conference table, splintering it into a thousand pieces.
Priax slowly sat up, struggling to get to his feet when Jepok grabbed him again and lifted him off the ground. Jepok stared menacingly at him for a moment and dropped him to the floor and turned to leave through the hole Sinar had blown open in the room earlier.
"So the mighty Jepok has beaten me," Priax said as he stood. "It is unfortunate you rely so much on physical strength."
Jepok turned, realizing the true meaning in Priax's words and saw the High Chancellor's hands crackling with psionic energy. Before he could move the energy leapt from Priax's fingertips and engulfed him with electric current. He felt his muscles tighten — almost to the point of snapping — and then go dead. The towering behemoth toppled over and fell to the floor, shaking the room with his weight.
Priax moved slowly toward his psimitar lying on the ground and picked it up, his body aching from a mass of bruises and cuts. He made his way toward Jepok and reignited the psimitar.
Knowing what would come next, Turmalis shouted and moved to intervene but Aldaris held him back. Priax's blade plunged into Jepok's chest and split him open. It was then that the glaive stabbed him in the back. He turned to see Sinar, what was left of him from the torso up, dragging himself toward the High Chancellor with his hands. Priax removed the blade from his back and tossed it to the ground. Sinar reached for his legs and Priax landed a solid kick to the side of the Zealot's head, knocking him unconscious.
He stumbled toward the two Judicators and one of the Zealot guards handed him his cloak. He turned to Turmalis. "It appears there is an opening for a Judicator in Antioch," he laughed.
Turmalis eyed him with hatred. "And one in Therazan," he said.
Priax nodded. "So there is," he replied. "Aldaris, gather your things. I have a feeling you will be a guest of the Conclave for a long time to come. I will be waiting in my shuttle." He turned and staggered out of the room, aided by several of the Zealots. Two stayed behind to keep watch on Aldaris.
Aldaris looked at Turmalis with regret in his eyes. "Turmalis, I apologize for involving you in this. I thought I had solved a great mystery and trapped my prey through cunning. I let my ego control me. I thought I had come so far, yet I feel now that it is not distance I have traveled... but depths I have sunk to."
Turmalis put a hand on the other Judicator's shoulder. "I am partly responsible for this. It was I who informed the Conclave of this meeting. If you had only confided in me the nature of your plan I might have been able to negotiate..."
"I told you that I had moved to a great position from which to serve the Conclave but there are pressures with such placement. For months those pressures have been building. I truly had no intention of harming Jepok or Sinar. My earlier outburst was from sheer frustration..." Aldaris confided.
"I had misjudged you, Aldaris. When we were younger I had always thought you were driven by ego and the need to control," Turmalis replied. "I realize now that you only meant to serve the Khala and protect your people as I do. Sometimes our feelings can get in the way and cause more harm than good. As Endara tells me often, 'Detachment breeds competence.' I wish you luck in your dealings with the Conclave."
"Thank you," Aldaris replied.
"Would someone please help me?" Sinar asked, crawling along the floor.
"I will send for the aid of a Khalai healer before I leave," Aldaris said, heading toward the doors with the Zealots escorting him.
Turmalis kneeled next to Sinar and held him steady as he waited for medical help to arrive.
"Jepok?" Sinar sputtered as a fever began to gnaw away at his mind.
Turmalis looked over at Jepok's body and tears filled his eyes. He thought long and hard about the choice he had made before Priax had arrived and although he had not followed through with it, he could not help but wonder how different things would have been. In hindsight, he thought about how he could have changed the outcome a hundred different ways and became angry with himself for his inability to act. He had felt so powerless. As Endara and Verana rushed into the room he asked himself what was more important: Duty or friendship? He knew he would have a long time to think it over.
The Antioch Chronicles™ © 1998, Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. All rights reserved. The Antioch Chronicles™ trademark and associated logos are the exclusive property of Eric Dieter & Ruben Moreno. Characters and distinctive likenesses thereof, character names, item names, place names, named events, artwork and all other related material not disclosed herein are protected under the laws of the United States of America and other countries. Any reproduction, retransmission, or unauthorized use herein is prohibited without express written permission.
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