“I’m sorry?” Marideen asked, a look of confusion on her face.
Maximil gasped in several more breaths before speaking again, “Wraiths. There are Wraiths on this planet.”
Marideen eyed the others around her. They had looks of confusion and disbelief just as she did. At least she wasn’t alone on this.
“Wraiths don’t exist, at least they haven’t, not for nine hundred years.” Berret finally spoke up, breaking the uneased silence.
Maximil shook his head, “Wraiths never stopped existing. Just because we stranded them on another part of the galaxy doesn’t mean they suddenly just disappeared like the Iridians.”
“True,” Berret responded slowly, “However, not a single colony has seen a Wraith since they were stranded. I think it’s pretty safe to say they either died out or became content wherever they are.”
“Look, I don’t care how unbelievable it seems, I just saw one of their ships!” Maximil defended himself.
“How do you know it’s a wraith ship?”
“It’s unlike anything the colonies ever made, it looks like it was built by Iridians. I’ve seen some old schematics that survived the test of time and they resemble those.”
Marideen exclaimed, “Iridians? Then it could be Iridians.”
She couldn’t believe her own words. It was simply too unbelievable to thing that a Wraith ship landed on this planet. However, she was trying to convince him that one mythical creature was actually another equally-unlikely mythical creature.
“Not in the condition it’s in. It is heavily damaged. An Iridian wouldn’t leave a ship in that condition, it looks like it could be nine hundred years old.”
“Crash landed?” Berret suggested.
“I checked, it still has a strong power signature, “Maximill explained, “And even if the power cells had held that long, the ship would have been buried in sand by now. It must have landed fairly recently.”
Berret finally sighed, giving a shrug as he had nothing else to say.
“If Wraiths had landed on this planet, then it already would have been destroyed,” Marideen explained, “We can’t assume anything. What we can assume is that if there is an Iridian signal, then eventually Taerrens are going to come looking for it. We need to avoid it at all cost.”
“I’m very confused here, what are Wraiths?” Darian finally spoke up.
Berret glanced over at him, “Imagine the worst, most hellish, demon monster you can. Imagine it as it rains destruction and death over everything you’ve ever known and loved. A Wraith would be its’ angry older brother. “
Beiromon pushed Berret aside softly, “What do you know about the Great War?”
Darian stood for a second, trying to remember what Devin had told him, “It was some war a thousand years ago against some aliens?”
“Right, “ Beiromon nodded, “but what the history books don’t like to mention is that we were losing that war. The Iridian’s were significantly more advanced than us and we didn’t have a chance. At least, until the Wraiths were created. They were some kind of biological weapon. Very illegal by today’s laws, but at the time, desperation bred necessity. They bioengineered a creature using various animals… even humans, and then turned them into these monsters, and set them loose on the Iridians.”
“That’s horrible,” Darian responded somberly.
“Yes, well, the Wraiths gave us the edge needed to survive the hundred-year war. They evened out the battlefield and kept us from losing ground. When the war ended without warning, with every Iridian suddenly vanishing off the face of the universe, they no longer had anyone to fight.” Beiromon explained.
“You can imagine what happened next,” Berret cut in.
“They turned on all of humanity. It took a coalition of five of the colonies to manage to stop them. They had murdered seven billion people, destroying six colonies across three systems. It took disabling the jump gates and stranding anyone on the other side to stop the progress of the Wraiths. To this day no one has attempted to return to any of those systems. It is forbidden to set up a jump gate from any location that could potentially connect with any of those systems, even by accident.”
“None of this matters. Either the Wraiths are here, and there is nothing we can do, or it’s just some strangely decorated test ship that crashed. Whatever it is, we want to be heading in the opposite direction,” Marideen interjected.
“We need to check it out,” Darian suddenly stated, staring off in the direction Maximil had come from.
Of course, he’d say that. Marideen growled under her breath, biting off a particular vicious retort. She would not let him get under her skin again. The other men only faired slightly better than herself. Maximil, having finally recovered his breath, gaped at Darian with open disbelief. Berret’s eyebrows rose and he shook his head as well.
Beiromon, on the other hand, thought about it for a few minutes, then nodded. He nodded! What was he thinking to believe that any of this was a good idea? Had his time in prison truly muddled his brain?
“Well… think about it,” Darian continued when he realized everyone wasn’t instantly interested in his insane plan, “We have at most one or two days of supplies. Right before us, we find a ship. We go to the ship, maybe find a Wraith, maybe we die. Or we leave, and we almost certainly die. There has to be supplies on that ship, one way or another.”
Maximil finally closed his open mouth, and after a moment nodded in understanding. Berret was close after him, although he had more resignation in his look. Even Marideen had to admit they had little choice. Alright, so Darian had used logic and for once wasn’t making a crazy declaration without rhyme or reason. Although, it wasn’t lost on her that they were only short on supplies because of Darian’s decisions in the first place.
“Plus, I have a feeling about this, this is the right way to go,’ Darian added.
Marideen ground her teeth. Maybe she had spoken entirely too soon.
“How far away is this ship?” Marideen asked, recovering her control over the situation.
“About six klicks,” Maximil answered.
“Alright, we better get going before it gets too dark,” Marideen ordered.
The sun was already starting to set, and they would not have very much time before it was too dark to see. The heavy atmosphere on this planet and lack of a satellite moon left the nights here far darker than other planets. It was one of the reasons they had made no attempt to move at dark. If they attempted to light their way, they would stick out like a sore thumb.
The group immediately began to pack up the camp, putting away all of the equipment they set up. For once, Darian responded and assisted without asking questions or making objections. She supposed he was getting his way in the end, but she was starting to become used to his continuous interjections and questions.
Not before long, they were making the trek, with Maximil leading at the head. It almost seemed like they were racing the sun. She wanted to get a clear look at the ship before darkness fell. She needed to see it for her own eyes. She imagined everyone else felt the same. Even Beiromon seemed to sprint with a little more vigor in his step.
As Maximil started up a hill, he crouched down before reaching the top. Marideen joined him. Darian kept on moving to the top of the hill, and Maximil had to shout in a hoarse whisper for him to stop. Darian seemed embarrassed as he took a few steps back and joined them. It was new seeing Darian with just a little bit of humility. When he dropped his cocky demeanor and actually showed his vulnerable side for a minute, he could actually be kind of attractive.
Marideen froze with mortification when her brain finally processed the flippant thought. Now why had she thought that? The man was a murderer, and probably a rapist. No, he had told her he did not do it. For some reason, she found herself believing him. He killed a man, but then again, she had killed many men in her time. She certainly couldn’t claim she was better than him, just because he had been imprisoned for it.
Still, these thoughts were not in the least bit useful. She had to concentrate on the mission ahead right now. The oddity that was Darian was not something she cared to assess right now, if ever.
Maximil motioned for the group to follow him and he crawled slowly up to the crest of the hill, using his Binoculars to focus on a target off in the distance. With the sun already half past the horizon, spreading out milky brown colors across the sky, there shouldn’t be any risk of glare giving away their position.
After a moment he passed the binoculars over to Marideen. She was already aware of the object that he was looking at. It was already apparent it was a ship, but at this distance, she couldn’t make out any details. She looked into the binoculars and gasped at the magnified view.
It wasn’t a particularly large ship. It looked heavily damaged, filled with cracks, dings, and dust. However, she could see what she could only imagine were landing platforms flush with the ground, Sand had already started collecting at the base of the legs, but it was clear to her that the ship had only been there for a few weeks at most.
The most jarring part about the ship was its color. It was a dark obsidian black. It was so dark, in fact, it almost seemed to be sucking in the light around it. The ship possessed large spindly arms that protruded from strange angles out of it. They were more like spikes. Four of them dug into the ground around the landing platform. Six more stood on top, shooting into the sky. It almost made the ship look less like a space ship, and more like a giant spider.
She tried to focus on identifying properties on the ship, and immediately noticed the markings. There were drawings all over the ship, written on the spindles, the body, and even the landing door. It was not in a language that she was familiar with, and it took her a moment to realize that they formed pictures. She turned her head for a moment in disgust when her mind finally recognized those pictures.
They were scenes of slaughter. They were pictures of people dying. The blood flowing was most definitely apparent in the drawings. It also included portraits of people being murdered, impaled, or disemboweled. The drawings were crude, but the sheer animalistic natures of the drawings were a shock in and of themselves. Wraiths could draw?
That probably wasn’t the first thought that should have come into her head at that particular time. At some point, her mind had subconsciously decided that Maximil had been right and that this could be nothing other than a Wraith ship. Lord and Lady, what were they going to do?
Suddenly, she identified a flicker of movement. The Wraith ship started to eat up more light, seeming to engulf the area around her. What was it doing? It was growing darker by the second; she could barely make out the ship now. She wanted to scream and run. It was going to destroy them all!
She looked away from the binoculars at her companions and sighed. She just realized that the sun had set. That was all. She handed the binoculars away before allowing herself to feel some relief. Darian snatched it up and eagerly tried to make out what he could in the growing darkness. Marideen silently berated herself for being so foolish.
In the end, it was just a ship like any other. It had no mythical or magical abilities. It looked a lot different from colony ships, which often were a metallic grey or painted with bright colors. They typically were slim, streamlined, and most certainly functional. She couldn’t imagine what task the spindles would serve for an Iridian.
She knew the ship had to be Iridian. Wraiths lacked the capacity or intelligence to build their own ships. They only could steal ships others had made. At least, that was how the stories had gone. She also vaguely recalled that during some of her nobility training she had seen schematics for an Iridian ship, as Max had, and it did seem familiar. The image certainly did not do the real thing any justice, but she imagined that it fits an artist extrapolation of an Iridian ship as it was described to her.
After a moment, Darian gave up trying to see the ship and sighed regretfully. The other men also looked disappointed having missed their chance. Marideen rolled her eyes, before staring out across the black desert before her toward the ship, as if willing her eyes to pierce the cloud of darkness.
“So, what do we do now?’ Maximil asked.
Marideen shook her head, thinking about it for a moment, “We need to approach it very carefully. We have no clue what we would find aboard that ship, even if we knew how to get aboard that ship.”
“Its lights are on,” Darian interjected suddenly.
Marideen glanced over at him, “I’m sorry?”
Darian pointed out across the desert and Marideen squinted. There were most definitely lights. She snatched the binoculars back and glanced into them. The ship now displayed several lights, although she couldn’t identify their sources. The lights simply served to outline the shape and mass of the ship. It had made it more ominous and forbidding that it had been in the light.
Perhaps that was why the spindles were there, to seem scary in the blackness of space. Marideen shivered, handing the binoculars back behind her. Each of the men got a chance to look at the ship before them. When Berret finally finished his look, he whistled sardonically.
“I don’t think there is a single plan we can take that would allow us to approach that safely,” Berret cringed, pulling the binoculars to his side.
“We don’t have any other choice, Darian’s right,” Beiromon explained, gesturing to where Darian was.
They glanced over and froze. Where was Darian? It took Marideen a couple of moments to register that he was gone. She quickly looked around her, they were surrounded by darkness, Darian could have literally gone anywhere and they might never find him. With a groan, she predicted where he would be.
Marideen glanced down the crest of the hill towards the glowing Wraith ship. After staring for a few moments, her eyes finally focused on a barely seen shadow moving away from her camp. That idiot! Marideen cried out a curse, getting to her feet and storming down the hill after Darian.
She could hear footsteps falling behind her that let her know that the remainder of the group was following close behind. With darkness having fallen, anyone inside the Wraith ship would not be able to see them, so she suspected they were relatively safe from being caught, even out in the open as they were. That still didn’t excuse Darian’s rash actions. What was he thinking?
“What are you doing?” Marideen snapped, coming up to a brisk walk beside Darian.
Darian turned to her with a raised eyebrow, “I’m going to go say hello.”
“You’re what? We need to go in their secretly. We need stealth. We don’t know who is in there.”
“Sneak? Why that would be rude,” Darian responded jovially, winking at her.
Marideen’s step faltered. She had thought he could be attractive? He was a pompous ass. A moronic, childish, insane… the names continued to flow through her head as she continued to follow him.
Then she came to the startling realization that she was indeed following him. She was following him, and the remainder of the group was following her. They had already made their way about three fourths the distance to the ship and she hadn’t even realized it. This was suicide! Everything this man did was suicide!
She caught back up to him with a few quick steps and grabbed his arm. He turned back, suddenly surprised by whatever look he saw on her face.
“Don’t,” She pleaded.
Darian hesitated for a moment, glancing back at the ship, already fairly close, then back at her eyes. After a moment, the determination left him. He placed his free hand on the one touching her arm. The touch was surprisingly gentle and she snatched her hand away as if shocked. He kept the hand there for a moment longer, nodding to her.
He began to turn around when a light suddenly exploded around them. Beiromon, Berret, and Maximil had only just reached up to them, and they froze in their steps. Marideen looked over Darian’s shoulder and saw two beams of light shining directly at them from the bows of the ship.
Marideen watched in dread as the ship’s landing platform suddenly began to open. The screeching of old gears grinding permeated the darkened error, and a shock ran up Marideen’s spine. This was not good. Marideen took a step back, but noticed Darian not moving, as if frozen in place by the sight before him.
The door finally clicked open, and a large shadow came out, showing a large shuffling mass as it emerged from the insides of the ship. Maximil pulled out a small pistol that he had tucked away at his built. It felt painfully inadequate at this particular point and time.
The form emerged from the ship and Marideen had to gawk. It was a man. He was not particularly large in size. He seemed to walk with just a bit of a hunch, his legs seeming stiff to the movement. He walked directly towards them, and as his face came into focus she could see a broad smile on it.
The man’s face was surprisingly normal. He had a strong jawline, wavy brown hair cut at about a half foot in length, and high cheekbones. Something about the man’s eyes seemed wrong to her, but she couldn’t point a finger to it. He was a middle-aged man, maybe just a little older than Berret or Deiron.
He walked directly up to Darian, who remained standing there as if completely frozen.
“I’ve been waiting for you a long time,” The man said, his voice sounding surprisingly weathered and aged for the body it came from, “You must come with me now.”
Darian finally seemed to snap out of whatever was holding his attention. He focused on the man in front of him.
“Who are you?” He asked.
“Me?” The old man smirked, his eyes not changing a single bit, “You may call me the Immortal.”