FINALIST Submission by By Seungoh Chung
Whispers of the Dawn - I -
Twilight of the gods: Part 1 [ Part 2 of 2 ]
Galactic Cycle 19095
"Governments fall. Civilizations wither away. But the Church shall stand… the Church shall survive."
That was the deepest conviction of Cardinal Esther Palas, a leader of the Neo-Catholic Church. Over the countless centuries, and millennia, the Church had waxed and waned in power, persecuted and often dwindled to extinction. But, somehow, the Church adapted, changed, grew, and evolved, in ways unimagined before, while keeping its core traditions intact. If there ever were a true statement about the world, for Palas, it was this - that the Church shall survive.
It survived the first Orion War, the long terrible days of the so-called 'Pax Humanica,' - sometimes even thrived in it - the Second War, and it was enduring the Antaran Dark-Age. And it seemed it would outlast it. Through the ages, its holy cities of Rome, Jerusalem, Cairo and even Pyong-Yang have been razed to the ground. The very face of the Church has changed a hundred times, but its heartbeats continued to echo throughout the ages. Like everything worthwhile any sentient being has ever brought up in their long, endless history of brutalities and atrocities.
She sincerely believed this. And she waited, hopefully, for the Dawn. Yesterday, the girl had arrived. The child, the Church Fate-seers have declared to be the Chosen so many years ago. She had thought her lost to the Antarans, but miraculously, by providence, she had returned. She had returned. Now, it was up to her to set the events in motion that could bring about the long awaited day of promise.
It was ironic that it was the most demonic of species, the Antarans that made this possible.
A lean, dark-haired man in plain coat and black overalls, walked across in the blasted landscape, watching the darkening sky as a small aircraft gently descended onto a small patch of smoothly paved runway carved out amidst the ruins. With his hair lashing in the gusts of dust and sand blowing around the craft as it came to a stop, the man chose one of the rocks, jutting out from the blacked ground, sat and waited. Finally, the gray, metallic doors of the craft hissed open, revealing three thin limbed, large-headed humanoid creatures sitting affixed in oval-shaped hover-chairs.
The man grinned and stood up as the first of the Psilon slowly descended the walkway toward him. "Greetings and welcome, High Magistrate Crimang."
The Psilon Magistrate's face was lined with age, but it spoke in a strong, clear voice, translated through the communicator, "Sir Stephen Lee. I hope you are well."
"Certainly, your honor. If you could follow me, please. His Grace is waiting." The man named Lee, turned and walked away with measured steps toward a small opening leading downward into the earth.
The Psilons followed him, down the tunnel, and into a long passageway of hewed rock, lit with pale, white lights hanging from thin steel frames above. "You must be tired, your honor. Even traveling on an Antaran freighter, it must have taken you weeks to get here."
"I am fine," Crimang said. "And I hope the Antaran monitors did not give you serious trouble, Sir Lee, to gain me the travel-permission to Sol III?" The magistrate said.
Lee shook his head. "The security has gone down drastically over the last two standard cycles, your honor. I gave them just enough show of fear and groveling, so they may not suspect who I am… and they suspected nothing."
The Psilon nodded. All of the Orion races have been genetically modified for compliance to their Antaran overlords during the Dark Age, to see in their overlords the worst of their fears. It was designed to put any Orion races into a state of panic and cowed obedience whenever encountering even the image of them, but there were few secret organizations that have successfully training elite agents conditioned against the past Antaran tampering. Guardians of the Faith, of the Neo-Catholic Church of humans were one of them.
"I look forward to meeting my old friend," the Magistrate said casually.
Lee smiled. "His Grace shares his affection too, your honor."
The meeting between the High Magistrate and Cardinal Palas three cycles ago was a very fateful one. Antarans had been losing on their grips in the Orion sectors for a mysterious reason, in a way that even they could not hide it any longer. They began to allow small interstellar travels toward near-by worlds, though completely restricting any discussions on science or technology; they did allow some 'cultural' exchanges, one of it being religion.
Cardinal Palas and High-Magistrate Crimang talked for hours when they first met, and quickly had become friends. Crimang called Palas, "The Blind Seer," which was not to say that the cardinal was blind, but that she was not versed in hard-sciences yet somehow apprehended 'deep' or 'profound' truths.
The passageway opened up to a large hallway, with a large, antique oak table in the middle. The hallway's rocky walls were gleaming with threads of shining crystalline rocks. They seem to hum a soft tune as Crimang entered the chamber, as if welcoming him. The Magistrate turned to his guide with surprise.
"I did not know that crystalloids were present in Terra?"
Lee nodded quietly. "That is known to very few – not even our own Terran 'self-governing body' has knowledge of this… but there are two small hives of insectoids as well, serving as the representatives of their worlds to the Church, not to mention an Evon ambassador, and a pack of Sakkra in this enclave alone. The Church has successfully made secret contact with most Orion races during the latter cycles of this Dark Age."
Crimang nodded. "The hands of the Church reaches far and wide," he whispered. "Then again, you humans have always been adept in bringing people together - and your Church the most adept of them all. I am glad my Magistratum has gained such… influential ally."
"And I am glad that the Church has gained such wise allies as well," a clear, feminine voice echoed through the hall, as Cardinal Palas stepped into the hall dressed in the full attire of her office: a long crimson coat over the white, patterned robes. She gestured for Crimang to come near the table.
Lee walked in even, measured steps across the hall to stand behind the woman, expressionless and still as a statue. Discipline was the hallmark of a Guardian.
"I am glad to see you, my friend," the Cardinal said.
"And I you," Magistrate replied. "But, may I know what required my presence in your world?"
"I wanted to fill you in with information we have given to other representatives… though I suspect some races, especially the Darloks must have been aware for some time now." She paused to lean close, her steely blue eyes shining under the long curls graying blonde hair. "The Antaran Hegemony has grown weaker than we thought; it is on the verge of collapse," the Cardinal said.
"What?" Crimang cried. "You are certain?"
"I am," she replied coolly. "It has been verified by the Darloks and by the best of my people," she nodded to Lee briefly, then continued.
"And how…" Crimang said with difficulty. "did this happen?"
The Cardinal leaned back on her chair and sighed. "Well, you know as well as I, that lately, the Antarans have increasingly become interested in what we would call… 'religious' aspects of the various Orion cultures." She began. "In the case of Terra, our ideas about the 'Ultimate Reality' or the 'spiritual' mode of beings, angels, demons, gods… God…. Every past religious centers were ransacked, relics and holy works plundered or destroyed. We supposed it was part of their long-term policy of dissecting our cultural heritage for clues… to their enemies, the Ancient Orions."
"We too have suffered a similar tragedy," Crimang said softly. "Though, because of our focus on hard-sciences, our religions often were simple, and perhaps, our loss… here… was not as great. But many cultural treasures were lost."
The Cardinal turned to Lee. "Sir Lee, could you please escort the Lady here? Please be careful, she is still very fragile from her ordeals."
Crimang looked at her with questioning eyes as Lee bowed neatly and walked out of the hall. The Cardinal spoke again, "But, now we believe that it may have been something else entirely. It may be that the Antarans have somehow tried to initiate their own… final religious rite… perhaps, even to transcend the physical existence into… another state, a spiritual one, perhaps, with the powers of their own technology – I guess, in our terms… engineering their own… "Second Coming," so to speak."
"Is that even possible?"
Cardinal shook her head. "We do not know. Our information is sketchy at best; and most we hear are rumors. We are still working on it. But, we cannot talk about it here… perhaps you will join me and our other associates, in a more secure chamber late today?"
The Psilon assented, and the Cardinal continued. "There is one person who may have directly witnessed what happened to the Antarans, but tragically she remembers very little."
"I see…. If I may ask, who is the lady?"
Cardinal smiled. "We thought her lost, when the Antarans took all the religiously significant personnel from our world they could find. But, miraculously, she returned. She will be here soon… ah!" she said, as she spotted Lee leading a young girl, in her late teens, dressed in long, simple white dress. She was petite in stature, but had intense, piercing dark eyes, and long red-brown hair tied into a neat braid behind her head.
"High Magistrate," The cardinal said, rising from her seat. "May I present to you Lady Lucia Pandragon, the Keeper of the Grail, High Prelate of the Neo-Catholic Church, and the Heir to the throne of Orion."
End of chapter 1
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