I awoke an hour later, bewildered at the fact I was still alive. I no longer had anything to tell the time, or to detail the extent of my injuries. My damned holoband was destroyed when we were flung out of the wreckage, and the smoke blocked out the sunlight when the crusader fleet set our home world aflame.
Despite all of this, I knew it had been an hour, because Rayden One had fallen from its orbit, and had impaled itself into the city below. There was something about that moment. I never once gazed at that sight of that city in the sky falling to earth. My focus was diverted from the incredible spectacle of destruction by the man who brought that devastation upon us.
“Greatness is measured by the lengths we go to achieve our desires,” he said.
“Your desire to live showed me something significant—now you have captured my attention. That will to live of yours brought us to this intervention. This revelation must be quite a feeling, my friend.”
I stared blankly at the man, unable to see his face. The light reflecting off his golden shoulder arcs was blinding me. My world began to, slowly, come back to focus.
“I am not your friend, asshole,” I replied as I tried to move my limp body.
“But you are, Collin. When this war expands across this solar system, I will be the only person who can help you.”
“War is dead! It has been dead for centuries!”
“My history beckoned me to bring it back to life. War is the only way humanity will understand my resolve.”
“Why? Why us? What have we ever done to you?” My face became blood red as I trembled in not fear, but anger. He saw this and all he could do was smile, as he leaned towards me and extended his hand.
“To be great you have to be willing to be misunderstood. People fear what they do not understand, Collin, and when they find out what you are, they will fear you as they do me. You and I are of like kind. So take my hand, and I will show you what desire can accomplish.”
I was so confused at that moment as he had so eloquently put it. I tried to speak but he was right. I had nothing but questions. How did we survive the impact of that missile? Who was this arrogant prick speaking to me? And just what the hell was that light that blinded me before I blacked out?
“Collin! Collin, don’t listen to him! He is a master manipulator! Arcoh! Listen to me! You have won, you have destroyed everything! Please show mercy—”
“Mick!” A soldier then jammed the butt of his rifle into the back of Mickey’s head. He had been conscious the entire time just waiting for me to wake up and smell the ashes of our world. Mickey fell to the ground, and the man in the flashy suit signaled his subordinate to bring him over to us. Even as Rayden One collided with the ground off in the distance, the minute I heard that name, my attention was devoted to him.
“You . . . you are Arcoh the Eminent?” I stammered.
“Your friend, this Mick, is wrong. This was never about winning. This was about never finishing a conflict. This was, and will always be about creation. The Great Crusade is only the beginning of things to come.”
“Collin—” Mickey coughed up blood upon the fire-stained ground and caught eyes with me.
“Mick, what is going on?”
“You don’t remember?”
“The only thing I remember is winning the Olympic cup, Rayden One under attack, and that light, that blinding light.”
“They broke the peace, Collin. They are here for one reason: to kill every last one of us.” Mickey shot a look of disgust over to Arcoh as he once again spat upon the ground.
“But what should I expect from a man who slept for over a thousand years before he arrived here? Arcoh! You are a man living one thousand years in the past! This future you want, maybe it could have existed on Mother Earth, but not here, not in this system. Everyone in Eden will devour you!”
“How dare you speak to His Grace in such a manner!”
“Ivan, holster that sidearm and calm down. I would like to offer Mr. King the burden of choice.”
Ivan jabbed his foot into Mickey’s leg and he dropped to his knees. Mickey groaned in agony as Ivan drew his sidearm, pressing the cold barrel against the back of Mickey’s head.
“When I get my hands on you I will—”
“Enough! I offer you one chance to spare your friend’s life.” Arcoh had this kind of gesture he performed when he was feeling anxious. He would massage his ring finger of his left hand with the thumb and middle finger of his right hand, and he would grin maniacally as he did it. From that moment on, he created flames of hatred that would burn forever in my heart.
“We orbit around a primary world on this moon. The remainder of your people have fled to the hostile surface of the planet your race holds so dear, Rayden. I know that you know where they are licking their wounds.”
“You expect me to give up my own people? You really are as stupid as you look.” When I said this, Ivan responded by pulling the hammer back on his sidearm, and pushing Mickey’s face to the ground.
“Look at me, Collin! LOOK AT ME! He will kill him! Tell me where they are! Now choose! CHOOSE! Me or them! ME? OR THEM?” I looked over to Mickey, and I trembled in fear as Arcoh pounded his chest demanding an answer from me.
“Collin?” Mickey inquired.
“I can’t, Mickey. I just can’t.”
“I know, Collin, I know. It’s okay, it’s okay, my friend.”
“I CHOOSE THEM!”
Arcoh walked up to Mickey and waved Ivan aside. Mickey struggled to talk as Arcoh drew his diamond-tipped sword to my best friend’s throat.
“Never give up hope, it is all you have now, brother.”
Before I even had a chance to say goodbye the blade tore his skin, and his blood sprayed across my face. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t look, I felt so weak, so helpless, scared, and angry. Arcoh then walked up to me as he whipped his sword, freeing the diamond-edged blade of the blood belonging to my best friend.
“The freedom of choice comes with great consequence, Mr. King.”
“Just do it. I want all to end.”
But he just smiled, and even began to laugh, as he holstered his sword and bent down to me.
“Why have you done this? You have taken everything! I have nothing left to live for!”
“You know nothing of life, Collin! You have everything to live for. It is only when a man loses everything below him that he can find the courage to discover all that can lie above him.”
“You’re not going to kill me?”
Ivan then lifted me to my feet, and I stared directly into Arcoh’s eyes, as he spoke his twisted words of reason.
“Kill you? How could I kill you when there is so much left for you to witness?”
In my attempt to pounce at Arcoh I passed out from the pain. My sight faded from me when I noticed the life had already fled away from Mickey’s eyes. There was something else there, in the sky above us, where Rayden One was situated before it fell to earth.
It was a ship, a single massive ship that was raining down hell onto the surface below. Expelling rivers of artillery and fire, seemingly unending, it was setting our entire world aflame, not one square meter of Minerva would be left intact. To Arcoh and his kingdom all of it had to burn, until all that was left were ashes.