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And soon its target became apparent. It was aimed directly at the enormous ship that orbited Palma. As slow as the shuttle was moving, it was still cruising at too high a speed to dock safely upon the nearing fortress. Was the intent of this small transport to ram the floating beast, destroying itself in the process? In a word, no.
Without warning, a set of mechanical doors, each some fifty feet wide, began to disengage themselves from each other on the surface of the mighty ship. A deep red light shone into the blackness of space from within, as the shuttle quickly flew inside, swallowed up as if by some gigantic whale. Immediately, the massive doors closed behind it, and the light was gone.
An hour later, the doors reopened, and the shuttle shot out of the hold as fast as it had entered. But it did not trace its course back out of Palma-space. Instead, it turned, blasting down towards the surface below. It was out of sight in seconds, lost in the billowy clouds that covered the planet.
The ark above was as silent as ever.
"M,lord," Lusar said as he bowed before Lassic, "the priests are here."
"Very good, Lusar. Leave us be," the king instructed. With another bow, Lusar walked down the great hall to the enormous doors at the far end. As he opened them, a group of four men passed him. They were dressed in ebon robes, laced with bright yellow stripes. Their heads were covered with hoods, hands folded together as they walked the long distance to Lassic's throne. Lusar, casting a final glance at the strange visitors, closed the doors behind himself.
The quartet came to a stop a few feet before the great steps in front of the king. Lassic stood, grabbing his staff, and walked down to meet them. Silently, he fell to one knee, eyes to the ground. The four priests removed their hoods; they were all Palman in appearance, belying their origin. Three of the four were old, obviously, as their hair was streaked with gray. The fourth was quite younger than his companions. The largest of the four men spoke.
"Arise, King Lassic. We would have a report of your progress." His voice was cold and empty; there was no emotion in his words. Lassic again stood and responded, his tone a subservient one.
"Things continue to progress, your lordships. Even now, the governor of Motavia begins to squirm beneath my heel. He has..." An upheld hand from the leader of the four silenced him.
"Speak to us not of that which does not concern us. We care only of the fate of Palma and its people. You would do best to concentrate your efforts there, lest we lose our patience with you, monarch." Lassic lowered his head in atonement.
"A thousand apologies. Already, my people have begun to distrust each other. The food and meseta shortages have caused them great hardship, magnified even more by our lord's beasts roaming the lands. Ere long, the rabble will turn on each other, neighbor slaughtering neighbor, just to survive. All is as you have wished!"
The second of the four, the youngest, interjected. "You have promised us this insurrection for some time now, Lassic." His contempt for the king was obvious. "Our lord has given you power beyond mortal imagining, he has filled your world with murderous creatures, and yet still you have not destroyed the people. We begin to question your effectiveness in our plan. Perhaps you are not fit to rule this mudball at all." Another priest stepped forward and continued.
"We have commissioned you many, many months ago, Lassic. But we see no blood flowing in the streets, after all this time. The people of Palma must be exterminated. If you cannot handle this simple task, we shall find someone who can. You will have no place in our new order." The leader again spoke.
"Perhaps you have been... distracted, dear Lassic. Perhaps you have not been devoting all your energies to the job we have given you..." Lassic trembled visibly.
"No, no, my lordships. I have not been distracted. All is well, it has merely taken longer than I anticipated. There are many things to consider carefully. But it shall be done, this I swear!"
Replacing his hood to cover his face, the leader replied. "See that it is." Turning, the four mysterious beings left Lassic, exiting from the hall as silently as they had entered. The king dropped to his knees, leaning on his staff, still shaking.
Aboard the shuttle, the priests removed their robes as their ship rocketed out of the atmosphere, finally retracing its route back out of Palma space. The four men sat, two at the instrument panel, two behind these. The younger man who had shown so much contempt was speaking.
"That fool!. He takes his sweet time, mocking us! He is not to be trusted I tell you."
"No, Marlowe. He is deathly afraid of us and what we represent. He may be incompetent, but he lives to serve us and our lord." The leader's voice was filled with confidence and poise, contrasting the youth's temper. "Once he has prepared Palma for us, and our lord engages in the Great Merge, we can easily dispose of him. He is a convenience, not a danger. Besides, our god himself has chosen to utilize him. Would you question such a decision?" Rising, the man answered.
"I would have great cause to question it! We have been promised rule over this entire system! But what have we now? Nothing! We're treated as glorified lap-dogs; how long has it been since we have arrived here? What have we gained? Nothing! Nothing!" The third member replied.
"You would hold your tongue, Marlowe! We serve the Great Cause..."
"Foolishness! Our god has had us searching that damn ice cube for years, and we have not found his precious magical rock. And even if it did exist, how could we find it? Between the unending blizzards, those Dezorian gene-trash, and the blasted monsters, our efforts move at a snail's pace... How many more years must we wait for this supposed Great Merge?"
"You. Will. Be. SILENT!" Each word was punctuated by the leader smashing his fist into his hand. "As soon as our lord's brother arrives, he will finally regain all of his dark power! And he will give this system to us, to do with as we please. Such is the Pact that we entered into so long ago; such is as it will be! I will hear no more of your insolent babble!" The youth sat, defeated. But his fire raged on.
You trust our lord too much, Gerod, he thought, he has you all fooled! There will come a day when you learn that humans, not gods, are masters of this universe.
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