Carthea's Last Battle

Carthea's Last Battle

image Younger sister of the legendary leader, Isejor Xhefr, Carthea Xhefr Jzeran Geminius spent surprisingly little time in her brother's shadow. Born in 3Z7`4L1`1J`9 BZH earlier in the Genesis Era, Carthea grew up on a peninsula of the White River of Kappa Crucis, in a woodland village called Nyrax.

So close in age to her brother, she and Xhef were the best of friends and spent much of their time together. Although they attended different institutions for their primary studies, they shared many of the same interests, traveled together and both came to love the excitement of combat and the potential that a life with the Watchmen had to offer.

After completing her primary schooling, Carthea followed her brother to the renowned Raxxus learning center on Acadia Minor, to enter the most prestigious and intensive program for the development of the Guardians, universal protectors guided by the Council of Elders. Raxxus was a specialized institute that focused strictly on the violent and dangerous lines of work and was famous for producing most of the top Xilon warriors and leaders across time.

A naturally gifted fighter, Carthea quickly impressed her teachers and peers, moving through the ranks at lightning speed until she surpassed even her brother in physical combat. What caused her to stand out most from the crowd was her unflinching harshness in battle. As a rule, Xilon kept the universe in check as peacefully as possible, resorting to violence only when necessary and never looking upon it as a victory. Carthea, on the other hand, reveled in the chaos and destruction of war, as if something deep inside of her was left over from the darker early days. She was kind to her fellow Xilon, protective of weaker species and interested above all in the greater good, but when it came time to fight, she was fierce and dangerous enough to frighten even her brother.

Unlike Xhef, Carthea had little interest in being a leader. She was more of a rogue who worked better alone or in small groups than at the head of an army. In fact, she greatly preferred it that way, making a name for herself as a special operative, used as both protector and assassin on the most dangerous missions.

image In the year 3Z7`9L8`8C04 BZH, near the end of her lifespan, Carthea was among a handful of soldiers sent forward in time to the planet Zreda Minor, to keep the Cepheid species in check. Located in the war-torn Lost Galaxy in the Alpha Chain, Zreda Minor was one of the most violent planets in the multiverse.

Unfortunately, it was also home to a number of individuals who would one day be of great importance. The Guardians were charged with the task of protecting them, ensuring that they served their purpose when the time came.

Towards the end of her years on Zreda Minor, Carthea was assigned to the protection of a young man named Kryl. The rules of the Watchmen forbid Xilon to reveal themselves to the locals for what they really were, and the "special" Cepheids were to be watched over in secret without excessive influence from their protectors. So Carthea kept her wings retracted and wore the local clothing and a kevelesk at all times. She worked herself into Kryl's life as his closest friend and they remained inseparable for many years. Their earlier encounters are chronicled in The Kyramine Siege.

One night, on his way home during a storm, Kryl found himself surrounded by an unfamiliar gang. When he realized that they wanted nothing material and intended to kill him, he broke through their circle and took off, attempting to lose them amongst the city's winding streets. But before long, he was backed up against a wall with no way out. As the thugs closed in, there was a sudden flash of light and they began to drop one by one. Amidst the burning rain and flurry of laser fire, Kryl could not make out who or what was taking them down. The pack fought for their lives and the young man ran for his, leaping up a series of rusty metal walkways to the top of a tall building.

When he reached the roof, Kryl realized that the shouting and gunfire had ceased. There seemed to be dead silence coming from the street below. Peering over the edge, he saw through the rain a pile of mutilated bodies, broken and bleeding where they had stood only moments before. A sound from behind caused him to spin around with a start and a feeling of relief washed over him as Carthea stepped out of the shadows. Before he could ask what was going on, a spark flew past his face and both friends turned to see the last of the assassins staggering towards them with a pulse pistol. Another shot went off and Carthea yelled for Kryl to run. He sprinted towards the edge of the roof as the sounds of a scuffle broke out behind him. There were three more shots, the soldier screamed, and then silence.

image Pausing near the ledge, Kryl turned and saw Carthea, covered in tar black blood. She pulled the soldier's body to the edge and threw it over the side of the building. Kryl opened his mouth in question but a streak of lightning exploded in the sky overhead, followed by a deafening clap of thunder. Startled, he jumped slightly and tripped over the ledge, falling towards the alley far below.

As he braced himself for the fatal impact, there was a blinding flash of light, a sudden flurry of wings, and he felt arms wrap tightly around his chest, slowing him to a stop. The next thing he knew, he was gliding smoothly towards the ground and felt his feet touch down gently as he reached the pavement. Looking around, he saw Carthea glowing brightly, a massive set of thick, white wings dripping in the rain above them. He stared, stunned, as she picked up a necklace from the pavement and tugged it back over her head. The blinding light immediately dissolved, fading back into her skin. For a moment, Kryl lost his voice. Then it all came pouring out. At first, he refused to believe what he'd seen. The Xilon were myths, legends, fairy tales...not real and certainly not living in a hellhole on Zreda Minor. But Carthea patiently explained what she was doing there, answered his desperate barrage of questions, and then suggested that they get out of the burning rain and go home.

image After talking things over, Carthea decided that they needed to get off world and find out exactly what made Kryl special enough to warrant permanent protection. Telling him to take a deep breath, she grabbed her friend and yanked him into an interstellar warp, straight through the Mobius Spiral, landing in a colorful field on Terra Firma. It was the first time in half a millenium that she had been home, and the first time that Kryl had ever seen daylight. Leaving him to marvel at the lush landscape, Carthea went to speak with the Council and told them what had happened, asking to know what the young man's intended purpose was so that she could best handle the situation. The Watchers, however, knew only that the Cepheid would shake the foundations of his civilization, and that he must be present at the Field of Gandaranoc at the turn of his century. Nothing could prevent it or the entire species would be ruined.

Resisting the urge to tell the intellectuals how useless she found them, Carthea returned to her friend. But after nearly an hour of arguing, it became clear that Kryl had no idea what it was that he was supposed to know or do. The two eventually returned to Zreda Minor, to the famous battlefield at Gandaranoc. What they saw there startled even Carthea. The skies were dark and churning with clouds so black with poison that waves of sludge appeared to be lapping at the ground below. Thunder and lightning were ceaseless yet there was no rain, and it looked like thousands of bombs had gone off across the landscape. Even in her long, violent life, Carthea had never seen such a massive, depressing battle zone, and that was saying a lot. She was duly impressed.

image As they stared down at the carnage, a blast erupted behind them and a piece of the hill that they were standing on was vaporized. Quickly regaining her footing, Carthea kicked her charge into a run and told him to find shelter wherever he could. He took off without arguing, knowing that she could handle herself, and handle things she did. As he ran, he could hear her destroying the contingent behind him. He doubted that anyone would be left alive, and he loved her for it.

Kryl sprinted headlong through the battle zone, not heading in any particular direction, ducking, dodging, leaping over bodies and debris, somehow avoiding obliteration. But the moment that he stopped to catch his breath, a rocket launcher went off and the explosion catapulted him through the air. He landed nearly twenty feet away and before he could catch hold, the momentum took him straight over the edge of a cliff.

He tumbled painfully into a deep canyon, where he landed on his side hard enough to crack the rocky ground. With the wind knocked out of him and his arm screaming, he staggered to his feet and looked around. At least he had found shelter; there was no one in sight, the place seemed completely abandoned and unknown to the madmen fighting above. It looked like an ancient sanctuary or meeting hall, with intricate carvings lining the stone walls, covered in writing from a language that he had never seen.

Five minutes later, Carthea joined him. She saw him from the top of the cliff and gracefully jumped down to explore the ruins with him. They discovered a door that looked like the entrance to an ancient bunker, but it was electronically controlled and the power was off. Try as they might, they couldn't find a way inside.

Kryl finally seemed to snap. "What the hell am I doing here? I'm not special! I'm not a soldier or a hero, I'm a scavenger! I don't know what your people think they have on me, but they're wrong. I can't help anyone. I can't even help myself!" Frustrated, he slammed a hand into the door, sending flecks of blood flying across the cold metal surface. Instantly, the entire canyon lit up, lights and controls powering on all around them.

image "It seems to like your blood," Carthea observed. Before Kryl could overthink that comment, their attention was directed towards a series of symbols that had appeared near the door. Past experiences suddenly surfaced within the Xilon's mind and she quickly spun around and yanked off her friend's vest. He looked over his shoulder, bemused. "I've been waiting years for this to happen but do you really think it's the right time?" Carthea ignored him and traced a finger lightly over his spine, which was lined with unusual markings. Kryl had always believed them to be particularly ugly birthmarks or scars from his childhood and thought little of it. Until then, Carthea had had no reason to question the assumption, but something had finally clicked. She now recognized the pattern as a numeral sequence from an ancient dialect of the Cepheid language: Syrilien.

The Syrilen had once been a subspecies of the Cepheids, devoted to science and progression. They had supposedly mastered their predisposition to violence and sought to change the world. Exactly how they had accomplished it was unknown; they had inhabited the Alpha Chain for centuries and had been working towards an ultimate solution for their destructive race but were eventually wiped out by the ongoing wars. Their invaluable studies had been conducted under the Kyramine regime, whose leaders had agreed to protect them in exchange for priority access to their findings. Whether it was genocide by an opposing military or simply bad luck was a mystery, but there had been no Syrilen in the region for centuries. Kryl, however, had to have had at least one Syrilien ancestor for his DNA to trigger the system. The symbols assumed to be birthmarks had likely been encoded into his genetic structure, passed down from one generation to the next to ensure that their work would not be forever lost. Carthea guessed that the numbers represented an entry code to what could very well be their primary research facility.

image Fascinated by the idea, Kryl pulled out his knife and lightly cut across his palm, using the burning blood to enter the numeral sequence that Carthea dictated. As he punched in the final symbol, the doors slid open with a metallic groan. The duo entered the bunker and discovered an underground lair full of winding corridors and rooms overflowing with technology more advanced than Kryl had ever seen. Right in the center of the facility was an enormous computer that he was able to activate with a single touch of his hand, bringing up a database with a wealth of information that nearly overloaded his brain. And it wasn't just biological data; there were studies and reports on weaponry, population control, globalized government structures, terraforming experiments and ways of recreating and preserving their natural resources. He could see why it had to be protected, why the Syrilen had died and left their work hidden rather than rushing to expose it. In the right hands, what was stored in this computer and throughout the entire vault could change Cepheid existence for the best. But in the wrong hands, it could result in their extinction, and their galaxy was such a disaster, he had no idea who they could possibly trust with such knowledge.

So engrossed were the two in what they had found that it took them a moment to notice that they were surrounded by Kyramine soldiers. A troop of reinforcements had been making its way around the canyon when the lights powered on and they had detoured to investigate. Exploration of the base had yielded proof that the Kyramine regime, although brutal, had firmly supported the Syrilen philosophies and had been willing to stand by them in an effort to unite and better their way of life. It was always possible that the same held true even hundreds of years later, but Kryl and Carthea knew that no chances could be taken given what was at stake.

image During their search though the lab, Kryl had come across some interesting data regarding the rerouting of kreichan within the Cepheid body, as well as a small storage device that claimed to be the final stage of a most important experiment. He had been gripping the device tightly in the palm of his hand, unseen, when they had found themselves face to face with the Kyramine military. With no choice but to risk it, Kryl threw the crystal hard into the ground amidst the circle of soldiers.

The effect was instantaneous. There was a noise like thunder, but far louder, then a strong wind, almost a tornado, expanded from the tiny orb. There was a massive explosion of light and from the core of it, a cloud of red debris began to spread across the room. Every particle of air that it touched seemed to breathe new life and as the mist touched the soldiers, they fell one by one to the ground, heaving in pain. A thick yellow substance began to seep from their pores as if being squeezed straight from their bodies, dissolving into the floor.

Carthea grabbed Kryl's arm and yanked him forward, running through the labyrinth to the front door of the vault. The battle had continued to rage around them and as they emerged, an explosion went off near the top of the canyon. A moment later, an entire tank came hurtling violently over the edge. It collided with the open door of the bunker and bounced off in a dangerous flurry of metal that flew straight towards Kryl. With no time to think, Carthea threw herself forward and shoved Kryl so hard that he somersaulted through the air, landing some fifteen feet away. The full force of the tank fell onto her and bounced off, and as it did, one of the spiked pieces of metal slammed straight into her chest, piercing the zaelek.


image Hours later, Carthea said her last goodbyes to Kryl. Injury to the third heart was not often fatal, but she needed the attention of Xilon medics. She had managed to contact other operatives in the region and they had converged on the scene to help get her home.

During that time, the Kyramine contingent who had been inside the bunker slowly began to wander out. For the moment, the contents of the orb were working as promised, restricting the flow of kreichan, dulling their inherent levels of aggression to allow for calmer, more rational thought. If the information recovered from the vault was to be believed, the effects were temporary and would last for no more than a week before the medicinal substance worked its way out of the body, but it was a start. The lost facility would provide them with everything they needed to know about the advancements made by the Syrilen, how to continue their work and how to use it on a global scale for the good of their kind. Although the road ahead seemed impossibly long and dangerous, Kryl was certain that his generation would succeed where their ancestors had not.

With her friend under the protection of the Kyramine guards, Carthea allowed her comrades to transport her home to Acadia Minor. The Cepheid race and their worlds would eventually be saved, but the legendary soldier's days of interstellar travel were over. There would be no more jumping through time unless another Xilon could pull her through. A mechanical implant to replace the damaged heart functioned well enough to allow for local spacial jumps, but the action-packed days of epic battles had come to an end.

Still, Carthea had lived a full, wild life and was happy enough to retire. She never let the injury stop her completely, though. The famous veteran established herself as one of the best instructors of next generation Guardians, training the young soldiers with every trick that she knew to prepare them for the life that she had once led. By the time she reached arlesk, Carthea had become the single most renowned battle trainer in Xilon past, present and future, and her unparalleled abilities were never forgotten.

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