Hakan stood in the doorway of the infirmary, mouth agape, barely breathing. The door chimed for the third time, caught in a loop; unable to shut, although programmed to be open only long enough for entry or exit. Hakan took a cautious step into the room, the doors swishing closed after his guards followed. They took up post next to the Drorian guards clad in tan uniforms. Gethin smiled at Hakan with a grin that was all teeth. His eyes lacked their usual vibrancy, and his dark brown skin had a gray undertone that was worrisome. Despite Gethin’s haggard appearance, Hakan was relieved to see him.
“I thought you were dead!” Hakan said walking over to the bed.
Gethin tried to talk, but the words caught in his throat.
“Easy,” Hakan said, motioning for the physician. “What happened to him? Why did they think he was dead?
Placing his hand on his throat, Gethin grimaced.
“And can we get him some water?”
Gethin took the water as Hakan waited for answers from the doctor who was studying the notes he had on his wrist-com.
“All of the readouts on the bio-coms indicated all life functions ceased,” the doctor said. “Honestly, we are still trying to figure that out. He told us he suspected poisoning, but we won’t know for sure until the toxicology screening comes back.”
“How long will that take?” Hakan asked.
“Within the hour sir.”
Hakan grabbed a seat, pulling it close to Gethin’s bed. “Make it half an hour, and report to me as soon as you know something.”
“Now, if you will excuse us, we have matters of state to attend to,” Hakan said, waving a dismissal to doctors, staff, and guards. Gethin made a similar motion, and his two guards followed the others, making a small procession as the room cleared.
“What happened?” Hakan asked. His eyebrows were pulled together, examining Gethin from head to toe looking for signs of trauma.
“I…” Gethin began. He took another sip of water. “I was about to eat dinner, but the words of the prophet took my appetite. While I was considering eating, something struck me! There was a sharp feeling in my chest. I’ve never felt pain like that before Hakan. Never.”
“Not even when your wife caught you teaching your youngest to spear fight?” Hakan asked.
Gethin’s laugh quickly turned into a coughing fit. “Please. You’re going to finish me off.” He chuckled a little more, grabbing the glass with one hand, holding the other up in an attempt to silence Hakan. “A few bloody knuckles and bruises and the woman went mad.”
Both men laughed, Gethin coughing once more. Though less severely, it winded him still.
Hakan held up his hands in defeat. His smile quickly faded as he waited for Gethin to recover his breath.
Gethin took a deep breath and resumed. “The pain was sharp, and it felt like someone stabbed me in my heart. The pain dulled into a warm tingle, then it seemed as if my fingers were being pulled out of themselves, then my feet.”
“What?” Hakan said, shifting in his seat.
“Like the way you take off boots or gloves. Slipped right out of them. The next thing I know I’m looking down on my body,” Gethin cleared his throat downing the last drops of water in his glass.
“The worst part was that when I looked down at my body,” Gethin said, leaning on one elbow for support. “There was a creature, red eyes, full of hate, wearing a white robe, white leather clothes underneath, holding what looked like a black sword. It was lodged in my chest, sucking the life away from me and all the light out of the room.”
Leaning back in his chair, Hakan interlaced his fingers under his chin and rested his head on his hands. A grim look on his face.
“Then lights poured into the room pushing back the darkness,” Gethin continued. He lay flat on his back, looking up at the ceiling, as he recalled his experience. “One of the lights floated over to me, told me ‘it’s not your time,’ and pushed me back into my body. The ball of light became a beautiful woman, hair as rich brown as brunnut tree bark, and a soft voice. She sang to me until I fell asleep.”
Hakan was silent, staring at his friend. He opened his mouth to ask a question, then quickly shut it.
“He told me I was going to die,” Gethin said.
“Ithiel the prophet,” Gethin said, turning to look at Hakan. “He came to see me about a week ago.”
“He threatened you, and you let him go?” Hakan asked. He furiously pushed buttons on his wrist-com.
“No, he didn’t threaten me, just told me that if I didn’t follow the path of the Ancient of Days, I would die soon. He told me my enemies were plotting my death. He told me someone I trusted was going to poison my evening meal. I didn’t believe him, at least not until tonight!”
“I thought all of the prophets were dead. I haven’t heard of one in almost twenty years,” Hakan squinted recalling the memory. The culling of the followers of the Way after they were deemed fanatics was swift and gruesome. “Not many people follow the Way anymore.”
“We used to,” Gethin said laying back down.
“That was a long time ago.”
“Too long it seems,” Gethin said as he closed his eyes. “I don’t want this to be my legacy Hakan. I don’t want to die at the hands of cowards.”
“You’re alive Gethin,” Hakan said, grabbing the arm of his friend.
“I made it out this time, but what about the next?”
“What makes you think that there will be a next time?” Hakan asked. “You came through it alive!”
“No,” Gethin said as he sat up. “Yasen wants us dead. He has never forgiven us for the Elan initiative! He wanted to be the nation to search the stars, and we took that from him. I also suspect he knows about the secret joint base we built.”
“How would he know? No one is allowed to leave if they know anything about it. And we both know if he ruled the heavens, our lands wouldn’t be far behind.”
“I know. But still, he wants us dead. How many times will we suffer his attacks without retribution? It was me, but it could have just as easily been you, or your daughter.”
“I’ll never forget the day I decided to send my daughter away. Just to keep her safe from him and his assassins. He’s tried to kill us both.”
“Which means he will try again until we are dead,” Gethin leaned in. “Or he is.”
Hakan’s wrist-com beeped. He tapped the screen in acknowledgment. “We will continue this later; we have a guest.”
The door opened. The guards saluted then parted allowing the man to enter. The soldier that walked through the door commanded their respect not only with his rank, Warrior Class 5A, the highest level one could achieve, but his presence and stature demanded it. His appearance was the epitome of military precision. Short black hair with curls brushed down left a wave pattern on top, the sides almost shaven clean, freshly shaved face, accentuating a strong jaw line, and dark brown eyes. His uniform was black as night, with attachments for piloting the Universal Battlefield Vehicle, the advanced fighter planes of the Ranis military. He saluted Hakan, then bowed to Gethin.
“Sub-Commander Belial,” Hakan said, nodding his approval. “Good of you to join us.”
“Sir,” Belial said, handing a report to Hakan. “I saw the doctor outside; he asked me to give this to you.”
Hakan reached out and took the tablet, skimming the report. “That was fast.”
“Sir?” Belial asked.
Hakan waved him off as he read the report. Once finished, he looked at Gethin, confused. “There’s no trace of nay poison in your blood.”
“Let me see that!” Gethin grabbed the slim pad.
Belial shrugged. “I’m no doctor. What I do know is that Yasen is behind the attempt.”
“Do you have proof of that?” Gethin asked.
“Intelligence reports, as well as a witness,” Belial said.
“A witness? Who?”
Hakan retrieved the tablet from Gethin. “You’ve gained his trust. That’s good.”
“I don’t know if he trusts me as much as he is planning on using me,” Belial said. “If I may say, sir, we should strike now. We know he’s in his palace.”
“I am still holding out hope for a diplomatic solution,” Hakan said. He locked eyes with Belial.
“Sir, I believe that’s a mistake. Yasen is subverting diplomacy,” Belial said standing his ground.
“We’ve been over this before,” Hakan said.
“I agree with the Commander,” Gethin said. He sat up in bed with no small pain. “Yasen deserves to die. The bastard tried to have me killed.”
“I will not be the Regent who destroys over two hundred years of peace!” Hakan said. “There must be a way to achieve our ends without open conflict.”
“Then I will be the Regent to do it!” Gethin said, erupting into a coughing fit again. “We have to kill him; there is no other way,” Gethin stammered out between ragged breaths.
Hakan, addressed the Commander, but looked directly at Gethin. “Thank you, Belial. Have the doctor come in on your way out.”
Belial saluted to Hakan, bowed to Gethin, then stormed out of the room.
Hakan waited until the door latched. “You have to be careful what you say in mixed company. Striking Yasen’s palace is not an easy task. There are miles of forest surrounding the palace on all sides, and many anti-air arms in the woods of Nira.”
Gethin shook his head. He looked as is he wanted to say more but took a moment to catch his breath.
“If Yasen knows that you are alive, there will be no reason for him to leave the protection of his palace,” Hakan said. “Regardless of our aim, we need him out of his palace. Then we can decide what to do with him.”
“I thought of that as well,” Gethin said slowly. “I have a plan. We let Yasen believe that I’m dead, then we can lure him out to the funeral. It will be easy to manage, and we can set the surroundings to our needs; although we will have to bring my wife here for this to work.”
“I can arrange that,” Hakan said. “Ancient help us. If your wife thought I was holding your remains, she would take this Basidion apart brick by brick. Well let’s get started, we only have two days to come up with a fake funeral and a strategy for capturing Yasen.”
“Two days?” Gethin asked.
“You’ve missed some details,” Hakan said. “On second thought, it might be better if you get some rest, then start fresh in a few hours.”
Gethin began to protest when the doctor burst through the doors. He shoved pills into Gethin’s hands and poured another glass of water. Hakan took advantage of the distraction and used it as an excuse to leave. As he walked away, he heard Gethin complaining to the doctor, issuing commands that the physician promptly dismissed.