“By the stagnant sack of festering Seteth!” The Pharaoh’s fury at the news did not surprise Ren-Lor. “How did a Ra-damned fiend of Fey get his hands on one of our sun-guns!”
An impeccably trained imperial guard of the First Martian Solar Dynasty, Ren-Lor appeared passionless in the face of her lord’s rage. She had removed her nemes helmet and tucked it under her arm in an attempt to strike a more personable, less formal tone that would soften the news. It had not. Holding a straight face and nodding, she now questioned her decision to share that specific piece of intelligence from the report. Considering the gravity of the larger news she was attempting to convey, the bit about the leprechaun possessing an alchemical sun pistol was trivial. She wondered if she had shared it soley for her own amusement, knowing it would set him off like this. Her flawless, teal-coloured face betrayed nothing. Then, glancing down at the golden cobra that arched up and back from her helmet’s brow, poised to strike, she determined it was time to move the conversation forward.
“A travesty my lord, to be sure. The banshee also reported that the boy indeed demonstrated proficiency in the inner art, that his limited craft had an Atlantean flavour, and that his cunning was noteworthy for one so young. By all appearances sire, it seems this boy is indeed the — ”
The Pharaoh had an embarrassed expression on his wide face. He was rubbing his massive hand over his head, which was clean-shaven in the style of the Martian court. The guard knew him better than he knew himself and could see he was coming around.
“Then the prophecies are true.” His face was comically serious now as he overcompensated for his outburst. Ren-Lor smiled inwardly but expertly contained her satisfaction.
“It appears so Lord.” She re-donned her helmet, half-bowed and, with an elegant wave, indicated that they should move toward the doors. His eyes met hers — and now she saw the depth of the concern in them. Was it possible there was even fear?She truly loved her Pharaoh. He had always been a good and honourable leader. A good and honourable man. And unflinchingly heroic. It concerned her deeply to imagine him frightened by anything.
“It appears we have been right to prepare all these years.” She said. “Take comfort sire. A great test for Mars may be at hand merely another opportunity for monumental victory.”
“You were wise to summon the Steward, Ren-Lor. All the pieces, so precisely poised and waiting, must at long last grind their felt upon the board.”
Inwardly, Ren-Lor was excited for her Pharaoh, she knew his excitement was building. Not just for the pressing matter of the recent intelligence, but also because of who they were about to see. It had been over a year since the one they awaited had tipped tankard upon Martian soil.
“Of course my Lord. Shall we then?”
Teal double doors twenty-two-meters-high opened just enough for the Pharaoh, Ren-Lor and the junior imperial guard that accompanied them to walk through. The guards assumed their formal stations, one at each side of the enormous doors. In standard Martian military fashion, they wore sandals, skirts, bracers, wide, round metal collars that came down over the chest, and simple metal nemes helmets with striped-silk lappets that flowed around their shoulders and down their backs. Their rank, the highest in the empire, was designated by the gold used for the scant amount of armour they wore and the teal-hued silk accents. Regular Martian soldiers wore silver and emerald green. On their left hips, each wore a holstered Martian sun-pistol, on the right, a simple, curved short sword engraved with an Ankh containing the eye of Ra, the imperial sigil of Mars.
The Pharaoh looked up as the crystal capstone of the pyramid shifted out of phase into an extra-dimensional pocket. The flat, horizontal surface left exposed with the capstone gone, though crafted from the same dense Jovian marble as the rest of the pyramid, had been polished to a mirror finish. The glistening platform, half a kilometre square, sat three kilometres above the planetoid’s surface. It was the landing port for the largest pyramid on Memphis Nova I, throneworld of the First Martian Solar Dynasty.
Observing a personal ritual, Pharaoh Garuk Motenkahman IV turned and looked reverently upon the telescope of Galileo Galilei that sat on a ceremonial dials to the right of the doors. It had been appropriated during the second Great War on Sanctuary’s in the past century. In the year 1610 (by Sanctuary Reckoning), that very telescope had discovered the world he stood upon now. Galileo had called this worldIo. It was the largest of the seventy-nine Jovian moons that had become the seat of the Martian empire. The Pharaoh always took a moment to reflect when he came up here.
The telescope was a sacred artifact to him. An embodiment of his sworn hereditary responsibility as steward to Sanctuary.
Truly, deeply, he loved that blue-green jewel of a world and admired the unique sacrifice its people — oblivious to the existence of sorcery — unknowingly made in perpetuity. In many ways, he though of Earth (as he had begun calling it privately) as no less his home than dry, old Mars or the moons of Jupiter. But most of all he understood its value to his empire and the wellbeing of the millions of subjects under his care.
To compensate the Martian people for their willingness to undertake the Exodus prior to the projection of the Eden Veil, the Pentarchy had expanded Mars’s exemption from the Eden Edict. So long as they kept their oath — as new residents of magical space — not to initiate entry into the soul trade, they would be granted exclusive rights to secretly acquire and export limited quantities of two of the most precious commodities in the multiverse: Sanctuarian denim, the nil-probability properties of which made it a remarkably resilient armour against sorcery, and Sanctuarian alcohol, which caused a pleasurably disruptive effect on consciousness that had never been replicated outside the Rim.
He had become accustomed to finding Earth easily in the sky. Though it was indistinguishable from a star at this distance, his keen, green eyes could even make out the blue of its glorious oceans. He thought then of his ancient forefathers who would have known a Mars of green and blue. He thought of the Venusian, Sophia, High Atlantan Midwife. For a fleeting moment, the thrill of young love stoked his heart. Then just as quickly as it had come, it was gone. But an ember of that love remained in that wide and powerful chest and it slowly swelled to suite his feeling for the moment nearly at hand.
“He arrives Pharaoh!” Ren-Lor made no effort to hide the enthusiasm in her voice. She was genuinely excited for him.
The electricity in the air became more pronounced and the hair on the Pharaoh’s powerful arms and full beard stood on end. Teal landing lines at their feet faded up into view. It was impossible to tell if the lines lay upon or beneath the polished marble. They beginning at the edge of the pyramid, they ran to its centre gently curving here and turning sharply there to form a giant, shining ankh.
Effortlessly, silently, the glowing teal ankh in the polished marble rotated around a point at the centre of its loop such that the lines of its shaft glided from their default position facing south toward the east face of the pyramid. A silvery blue flicker appeared in the sky. The gatestream was opening. The point of light was perfectly centred between the glowing parallel landing lines formed by the staff of the ankh.
Then, in a blaze of white, the gatestream ignited fully, burning a hole in spacetime. It continued to burn until the large ship had passed through. Not just any ship: a Martian dreamship — a rare remaining testament to the Martian alchemy that had powered the ancient realization engines, silent now for twenty millennia and lost forever.
Having traversed the dimensional threshold from the Sea of Tears to regular spacetime, the Ramses Dynasty galleon glided toward the Pharaoh and his guards at an altitude that set it on a perfect vertical alignment with the altitude of the pyramid’s landing platform.
The guards, casually forsaking their posts, walked up to stand with their Pharaoh just outside the glowing light of the loop of the ankh at their feet.
All three smiled as they watched the bow of the ship glide onto the edge of the pyramid perfectly centred between the landing lines. Even after her flat bottom connected with the marble surface she slid silently toward them. When the galleon reached the crossbars of the ankh, the hollow capstone of the pyramid returned to this dimension. It’s return diffused the orange of the setting sun in a way that brightened the enormous chamber with a soothing ambiance that complemented the glowing pale blue of the dreamship as it glided to come to an easy rest precisely in the exact centre of the loop of the ankh.
She was The Ramses IX, flagship of the Martian Dynastic Navy. Of the four remaining Martian dreamships in existence, she was undoubtedly the most magnificent.
Every aspect of her structure, even the rigging and more superficial appointments, had manifested permanently in some alchemical form of solid silver-blue light of varying shades. The only exception was her enormous sails, which were only ever, invariably, a perfect, unsoiled white.
“Lo and behold, your highness! A Ra-damned Galleon! Admiral Farlore let me dock her for you!” The lad’s hair was shorter, in the navy style, but he seemed, even after yet another military incursion — into the United Hells no less — even younger and more exuberant than he had been upon departure over a year ago.
What was it with these Earthers? The Pharaoh thought. They relish adventure so. Perhaps the absence of magic on their world imbues them with a unquenchable, driving curiosity? He understood completely why the Pentarchy had wanted this one — this one he had come to call his own son — to be the guardian of the impossible sorcerer.
For now, he shoved all thoughts of telling the boy that the time had come from his mind.
“I see you have learned no manners from Emperor Lucifer master Kilroy!” The Pharaoh’s heart was bursting with pride.
“That may be, King Gary, but you can bet your very last sun-pistol that dirty bastard learned some manners from yours truly and Lord Ra’s dreamfleet of rambunctious Martians!”
The Pharaoh glanced sideways to Ren-Lor at the mention of a sun-pistol. He was relieved to find her staring up at the railing on the bow where the lad stood. Her face positively beaming to see him again.
Again, the Pharaoh subdued persistent thoughts of the intelligence report; of the Sole Sorcerer of Sanctuary; of rumours that the mythical Glass Grimoire had been discovered; indeed, that all sentient life in existence seemed doomed now to fall to the dread Abraxas of prophecy.
None of that mattered to Garuk Motenkahmen IV right now. Perhaps being a father to a human of Earth had taught him too much of nonchalance and tomfoolery, of foolhardiness and faith. Not even the virtual certainty of cosmic calamity could summon his wits in this proud, glorious moment.
And so, the Pharaoh of the First Martian Solar Dynasty, guardian of the gateway to Sanctuary and the young man whose care and training he had been entrusted with by the Pentarchy, rushed to the gangway for a long-awaited reunion.