There were many reasons why the Time Kings sent their warrior hordes back through the endless corridors of Time. The ancient spaceships had been destroyed by the wrath of a people smarting under the aftermath of the Galactic War. But though the lanes of space were deserted to them, the Time Kings possessed a weapon more deadly than any other - the Amphichron. Sweeping through the grey ages, the warriors destroyed and pillaged the peaceful eras of the past.
Release date: June 30, 2015
Print pages: 106
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Time and Space
At the far end of the vast mirrored hall among the dark, flickering shadows, Zreka the Elder paced the floor with ill-concealed impatience. The Time King paused to glare at the tall swordsmen of the Palace Guard standing stiffly to attention on each side of the circular doorway.
His dark eyes glittered with unspent anger; his long, strong fingers opened and closed spasmodically.
Suddenly the tall, steel doors swung open and Zreka turned. The yellow light from the flickering torches set in the stone walls revealed the features of the three figures that entered. Two of them were Officers of the Guard, dressed in the flowing silver capes of the Imperium.
The third was in rags. Now he moved painfully; and the iron manacles around his bruised ankles grated along the smooth stone floor. A smile of sardonic amusement passed across the cold, arrogant features of the Time King and a feral brilliance grew like a flame in his deep-set eyes.
His voice was thin and unemotional as he said: “Let him stand on his own feet, Cleon. Since when have the Officers of the Imperium played nursemaid to these creatures from the Past?”
Obediently, the two men released their hold on the sagging figure and stepped backward. They looked on impassively as the man swayed blindly for an instant, teetering precariously between consciousness and oblivion. He tried to keep on his feet—strove piteously to remain upright—but could not. Slowly, almost reluctantly, he sank to the cold floor as merciful unconsciousness claimed him.
Zreka stepped forward. Bending swiftly, he caught the man’s hair and pulled his head upwards so that the light from the torches fell full upon the drawn, grey face. The eyes were closed and only his laboured breathing showed that he was still alive.
“He’s been in the cell for two days, your Highness,” explained the taller of the two Officers. “It appears my Lord Rahni has no further use for him. He’s stubborn. Even the lash wouldn’t make him talk.”
The Time King looked up. “Very well, Kron. It makes little difference now. My Lord of Calgain must have his amusement too, I suppose.” He let the man’s head fall with a dull thud to the flagstones.
Rising slowly to his feet, he added: “He’s unconscious now. Bring him round quickly; he’s no use to me in this condition. Hurry!”
He strode across the room to where the Varqyl quivered with its silent challenge. Behind him, in the doorway, the two swordsmen stood immobile as Cleon struck the huddled figure roughly across the face—once—then again. Eventually, the pain-filled eyes flickered open and a low bubbling moan of pure animal fear sprang from his lips.
“Bring him over here,” ordered Zreka. “It’s more than time the Varqyl’s hunger was appeased. We’ve kept it waiting too long.” His long, slim fingers closed over the controls, lovingly, as the two men, their faces almost as ashen as their captive’s, dragged him along the floor.
The Time King’s voice was harsh and sadistic as he halted them when they were still several feet away. “Hold him there for a moment. I want him to see what we have in store for him. What a pity he won’t say anything.”
With a grating, ominous sound, the ponderous metal shields slid open to reveal the hungry, gaping maw of the Varqyl. Blazing white clouds, whirled, thickened and tossed like storm mists; and from them lightning flashes spurted and licked greedily around the blurred edges of the machine.
Then Zreka the Elder laughed. A thin, reedy sound that seemed to begin in the far distant past—and echoed into shuddering silence in the unguessable future.
“See how he trembles now,” he cried. “Look closely Cleon, and you too Kron. See how the fear-light glows in his eyes.” It was true. The man’s face, despairing and filled with a horror beyond life, was staring in mute terror at the writhing chaos that spilled from the opening. Desperately he tried to turn his head away; and the fear that gripped his mind, prompted an awful scream.
He struggled feebly as the two Officers, at a signal from Zreka, thrust him forward. For an instant, his pale silhouette showed wanly against the intolerable glare. A slowly blackening figure, first of flesh; then bone—and finally nothing. He was gone—and the voice of the Varqyl dropped once again to its former purring, pulsing note.
The great, strong jaws snapped shut and a second later, Zreka turned on his heel and strode out of the antechamber, his booted heels tapping on the polished flagstones, purple and gold cape clinging tightly around his tall, thin figure.
Through the massive, arching doorway lay the Chamber of the Imperium. The Time King walked swiftly between its huge walls strewn with the shields and battle weapons of the by-gone age. Long shadows danced and spun in the dim tapestried corners, lighting for brief moments the woven glories of the lost grandeur of Imperial Earth.
The calm eyes of the ancient heroes watched him as he traversed the great length of the room.
These were the Emperors. Men who had ruled the far corners of the Galactic Empire and watched their kingdom stretching in ordered glory from system to system across the eternal night of Space; until it had reached the lonely suns of the Edge. They had watched and guided their precious heritage until the terrible strain of such an out-flung and all-embracing civilisation had caused it to crumble in upon itself.
Waves of revolt and annihilation had swept in from the outer reaches of the Galaxy, manned and backed by destruction and forces of such frightfulness that the shining tiers of the Empire had collapsed into dust under their onslaught. Thus had come the Galactic War.
But Zreka had no eyes for the earlier Kings; his world and ambitions were not those they had known. It was in the next chamber that the Time King paused in his rapid walk.
A vast, vaulted stone hall, cold and filled with the smoky red glare of the torches. Dark passages that reeked of ancient feuds and violence, hung with the skins of slain animals, led off at regular intervals. The smooth flagstones, worn by the feet of generations of heroes, were discoloured here and there by stains that time had not yet effaced.
Here were gathered the other Time Kings with their attendant warriors, bejewelled aides and retainers. Rahni, Lord of Calgain was there, standing head and shoulders above the others, his loud, deep voice filling the room with echoing laughter. And Thiera, the chief scientist of the Imperium; with Kaa, the Mad One, standing farther back against the dark wall.
Here was the power that had once belonged to the Galactic Emperors, kept from the mass of the people by the clinging shrouds of ignorance and superstition.
But Rahni was speaking again; his pale grey eyes sweeping over the assembled men, embracing all in an icy stare. Even Zreka shivered slightly as the cold gaze locked for an instant with his. There was something inhuman about the Lord of Calgain, an indefinable lack that could be sensed but not seen. Almost as though his body were but a shell to house his cruel, calculating brain.
“Lord of the Imperium!” he cried; and the resonant timbre of his words rolled over the gathering like a tidal wave, gaining power even as he continued: “It is now more than a hundred days since you were called upon to lead your warriors against the savages of the Past! To do battle for the honour of the Great Throne. Now, at last, the time has come again. Tonight, you make ready for a longer journey than ever before—back through the Dawn Age to strike at the ancient, feudal cultures of the twentieth century.”
There was a sudden murmuring movement in the crowd. One of the older men stepped forward. He stood looking at Rahni for a few moments before speaking. His deeply-lined face was half in shadow beneath the tall winged helmet that framed his head and one brown, gnarled hand rested on the ornate hilt of his massive sword.
“You speak in riddles, my Lord of Calgain,” he began. “We know well enough by now that travel through the Amphichron is limited. How do you propose we go back so far?”
Rahni’s cold eyes narrowed as he turned on the old warrior.
“I was coming to that,” he retorted ominously, and the man seemed to wilt under the chill gaze. Without a word, he stepped back into the circle of other swordsmen, a trace of terror showing on his aged face.
“The ancient secrets have not been lost,” continued Rahni contemptuously. “The Amphichron has been altered and the scope of its usefulness increased beyond all comprehension.”
His eyes were like tiny slivers of molten silver now, glinting dully in the light of the well torches as he turned slightly and motioned to Thiera.
The latter raised his hand to gain the attention of the crowd. His small body seemed lost among the towering Myrmidons of the Palace Guard. He was clean-shaven, shorn of head and dressed in the sweeping yellow and blue robes of the Temple. Old was Thiera, old beyond all reckoning, but the jet black eyes within the red-rimmed orbs burned with a malignant fire.
“It is true what Rahni says, the Amphichron has been altered. There is now power, and to spare, to transport you along the corridors of Time to the First Atomic Age.” His voice shook a little as he addressed the old warrior who had spoken earlier. “And this time Voltech, deliver the prisoners first to me. My experiments cannot be carried out on the mutilated remains left over after my Lord of Calgain has finished with them.”
At these words, Rahni’s great hand closed on the hilt of his sword and it half slipped out of its scabbard—but he caught himself in an instant. Too well he knew the deadly powers that Thiera held in the palm of his hand. Silently he slid the weapon back into its sheath and the chief scientist continued as if nothing had happened.
“One word of warning. We know very little about this early period of time. The few records we have are incredibly old and the characters in which they are written are those of the legendary First Empire. No one has yet succeeded in translating them, though I suspect that Kaa understands more of them than Zreka, Rahni or myself; but he refuses to speak.”
He raised his voice a little. “But since when have the men of the Imperium shirked the dangers of battle?”
The crowd of warriors murmured approval. Naked swords sprang from their scabbards, shards of light leaping from the faceted blades in the liquid torchlight, setting the jewelled hilts on fire. Mailed fists were raised high in the air and the entire room rang to a fierce cheer. Here was adventure and loot to satisfy the many savage hearts. Swiftly, they broke into little groups that left the chamber by the dark passages along the walls. This was a mission worthy of the fighting men of the Imperium; the sack of the barbaric Atomic Age itself.
The sound of their raised voices dwindled slowly into silence among the outer corridors of the Palace.
Through the long afternoon and into the early evening, the courtyards rang to the feet of marching men. The warrior hordes were gathering and the misty dusk echoed with their drinking songs and battle cries. There were men from the marshes which lay far to the north, short, sturdy men with cruel faces and eyes that were almost intolerably bright and direct in their blue stare, like birds of prey. They were in the majority.
Huddled here and there in little groups were the bowmen of the. . .
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