I received no feedback on my previous Book Three chapter 1 post, but I made a few changes for you to review. A few people gave great feedback on my Book Three chapter 2 post so I rewrote it again. Hopefully, I’ve made it better. I think I’ve added urgency with why the emperor needs the emitter fixed asap. I deleted the detailed information on the cyborgs since it was too much information for one chapter and will introduce it in chapter 3, which I hope to post later in the week. Let me know what you think.
An internal heat fueled Terkeshi’s determination. Chirps, tweets, and occasional shrieks created a racket that would have annoyed him at any other time. He sucked in a breath and scrutinized the wild scene before him.
Stout vines strangled limbs and branches, but the trees defiantly sprouted varying shades of green. Short invasive scrub flourished under broad-leafed plants as towering evergreens barred all but a few dabs of sunlight.
Terk wiped a blanket of sweat from his brow. The sweltering jungle air clung to him but did nothing to alleviate the dryness in his mouth. His eyes followed the barely discernable path that disappeared into the bush as he evaluated the task ahead.
“You can do this,” he muttered while flexing his fingers. No more failing.
With a few puffs of breath, he posed into a starting position. His muscles went taut, and he imagined himself a blackbeast getting ready to spring from hiding to run down prey.
His heart pulsed, flushing oxidized blood throughout his body. With a set of his jaw, he lunged into action. A giant green leaf slapped him in the face as he sprinted down the path, but he ignored the sting.
The gurgle and splash of rushing water filled his ears. After rounding a wide trunk, he jumped from an exposed root and landed on a wet stone. Without hesitation, he sprung from rock to rock until his feet squished into the mud of the opposite bank.
Getting over the stream was the easiest part.
He scrambled up the slippery bank, grabbing at roots and rocks. The slope grew steeper and his breaths deeper. His leg and shoulder muscles burned as he pushed and pulled himself up. With a grunt, he grasped the uppermost ledge and heaved himself up.
After all that exertion, the strength of his body wavered. He forced it to keep going and raced on. Razor edged leaves cut across his face. Sweat filled the slashes, overshadowing the fire of his spasming muscles.
He dashed onward—once hand over hand as he used a hanging vine to cross a swamp, twice ducking low to avoid limbs, and several times in bounds as he hurtled over rocks or dead wood.
The final leg of the course neared. His heartrate hastened. Almost there. You can do it. He huffed in measured breaths until the path cleared and a ravine cut before him. His muscles tensed as he prepared to jump.
Now! He leapt from the edge and stretched his arms overhead, aiming for the thick hanging vine. The instant it brushed his hands, he seized a hold of it. The vine slid through his palm and sliced into his skin. He gritted his teeth and endured.
His momentum swung him over the gully. As the tail end of the vine slipped away, he maneuvered his body to keep his power driving forward. His feet struck the lip of the ravine and—slipped.
He tumbled backward, falling only a few feet before landing with a thud.
The simulation fizzled out. The humidity dissipated and the jungle disappeared. Vines turned into ropes, rocks and hills became makeshift obstacles, and the ground reverted into a plain padded flooring.
Terkeshi jumped to his feet with a curse. “Chusho!”
He’d been at this for hours. Why couldn’t he get over that damned ravine? It was impossible. Whoever made this damned sim course was delusional. No one could beat it.
Except someone had—the one person he could never defeat. Terk’s younger brother had been only ten years old when he died, yet his accomplishments lived on.
Terk growled and punched his thigh. Damned that little brat. It wasn’t fair.
“You will get this, my Lord,” a gruff voice said from the edge of the court.
Terk glowered at his mentor.
“It took me hundreds of tries before I succeeded,” Sensei Jeruko continued.
“How many times did it take Jori?” Terk replied sourly regarding his brother.
“I don’t remember exactly.”
Although Terk’s sixth sense told him the man spoke the truth, he also sensed his evasiveness. It had likely taken Jori only a dozen times to defeat this course. Damned overachiever.
His mentor exuded a pang of regret and it almost influenced Terk’s own. He shoved it aside and deepened his scowl. It wasn’t their fault Jori had gotten himself killed. They both warned him about what would happen if he helped those prisoners. But as usual, his brother had let his sentiment get the best of him.
Sensei Jeruko clasped his hands behind his back. “If you’ve completed your exercises, my Lord, your father wishes to speak with you.”
Terk clenched his fists. Father had likely demanded rather than wished. Ever since Jori’s death, the man assigned him one impossible task after another. Terk barely had time to sleep anymore. Yet no matter how hard he’d worked, it was never enough.
He stomped to the dressing room, not bothering to tell Sensei Jeruko whether he’d comply. It wasn’t like Father would praise him for promptness anyway.
He put on his nanite-infused uniform. The black garb of a senshi warrior fit him well enough to show the definition of his muscles. At first, he admired himself in the mirror. His tall and muscular physique was coming along well for a fourteen-year-old.
His emotions soured. Father didn’t care how young he was. The man still expected him to perform as well as an adult senshi warrior.
Terk abandoned the TTAC room without bothering to put the obstacles away and marched to his father’s office. Giant senshi warriors veered around him. Most nodded respectfully due to his status as the last Mizukian heir, but a few made derisive faces.
Prince or not, he still had to prove himself before these men respected him.
The corridor curved, revealing a viewport that spanned about ten yards. While most of the panes displayed a sea of stars, one was pitch black. A camera was out. He tapped the MM tablet clasped to his wrist and checked the maintenance log to see if it had been reported.
While skimming through the list, a titanic object on the feed of the final viewport pane lurked in the corner of his vision. He pointedly ignored the spaceship, not wanting to be reminded of how he would have taken command of it if Father hadn’t deemed him a failure.
Adding menial tasks for the shokukin workers to take care of seemed all he was good for.
He stabbed his MM, closing the display, and entered the conveyor. The closer it brought him to the command level, the heavier he felt. It had nothing to do with the car’s acceleration. Terk delved out his sensing ability to check Father’s mood and bit the inside of his cheek. The man’s anger stewed as usual, but it held a stab of irritation as well.
The conveyor doors opened to narrow hall. Terk veered left and soon found himself at the door to his father’s office. Might as well get this over with. He sucked in a breath and braced himself.
A wintry draft struck his face as the door swished open. He stepped inside with his chin up and automatically fell into a stance of silent attention.
Father continued working. Terk peered straight ahead, resisting the urge to fidget as he waited for the man to acknowledge his presence. The dragon picture on the wall behind Father’s desk seemed more menacing than usual. Never had Terk hated that image as much as he hated it now. It seemed to mock him with its fiery green eyes. You’re not good enough, it said. You will never be good enough.
Father raised his head and his eyes sharpened. “I just read the report regarding the status of the emitter. It appears we’ve made no progress—none—these past several days.”
Terk considered his response. Of course no headway had been made. The only ones who’d had any chance of reconfiguring the perantium emitter into a weapon were gone. First Hisho Yemon for trying to blackmail Jori, then the Cooperative prisoners when Jori helped them escape, and finally Jori himself.
A mix of anger and hate swirled in Terk’s gut. It was Father’s own fault no one remained to fix this planet-killing device. He dared not say this out loud, though. “We’re working on it, Sir.”
“I don’t understand why this is taking so damned long.” Father’s dark eyes glinted with madness.
The man’s descent had begun with the death of Terk’s oldest brother, Dokuri, who was killed in battle. Montaro had been next for being more of a failure than Terk. After that, one of Father’s closest advisors betrayed him. The final snap had been when Jori got caught helping the prisoners escape. Terk shivered at how Father’s temper had spewed a destructive energy that had left Terk as the only surviving heir to the empire.
“This should have been done by now.” Father slammed his fist on his desk. “Jori would have finished it already,” he mumbled.
Terk’s gut twisted. Not twenty days ago his father had cursed his lost son. He refrained from pointing out the hypocrisy, though. No need to kick an angry blackbeast.
“If only Dokuri were still here,” his father said louder. “Incompetence. I’m surrounded by incompetence!”
Terk’s cheeks burned. Dammit, Jori. Why’d you have to die? You weren’t supposed to die.
“I will get on Haverly about this, Father,” he said, hoping to divert some of his father’s anger.
“Haverly is a fool,” Father spat. “He has no more of an idea of what he’s doing than you do.”
Terk bit his tongue to keep his rising anger at bay. “What would you have me do, Father?”
The man rose, leaning over his desk on white knuckles. His face darkened as his brows twisted inward. “I would have you do your job and live up to the Mizukian name.”
Terk resisted the urge to gulp and hardened himself instead. “I’m doing the best I can.”
Father pushed away from his desk and advanced. “Your best isn’t good enough!”
Terk’s breath hitched, and he reflexively stepped back. Father’s Herculean bulk stifled the words in his throat. The singularity of the man’s eyes flared like a relativistic jet. His black hair, black eyes, and black temper could easily outmatch the biggest blackbeast.
“Tell me what to do, Father,” Terk managed to say evenly despite his quivering chin. “And I will do it.”
His father flicked his hand. Terk flinched, expecting to be struck.
“There’s nothing you can do, boy,” Father replied with a growl. “You give me no choice. I must contact the cyborgs.”
Terk’s heart jumped. The cyborgs? Those creepy outsiders with the mechanical eyes and computer ports in the back of their heads? “Are you sure, Father? There’s something about them I don’t trust.”
“Unless you can tell me what it is, boy, I have no other options.”
Terk attempted to pinpoint the ill feeling they had given him. It wasn’t just their machine-like movements or robotic way of speaking that had unnerved him. The sense of their life force was different from most other people. It had been… He wanted to say flat, but even that wasn’t a good enough description.
“They’re not natural,” he said. “I can’t sense their emotions the way I can sense other people’s. It’s different.”
“That’s because they’re cyborgs, idiot,” Father replied.
Terk’s cheeks heated at the insult, but he ignored it. “It’s more than that. It’s…”
“It’s what?” his father demanded.
Terk huffed. “I don’t know. The only thing I can tell you for sure is they feel wrong.”
Father glowered. “Can you get this done, then? Can you step up and at least be half as good as your brothers had been?”
Heat flushed over Terk’s face. “I’ll go over everything again, in greater detail this time. I’ll get on the workers and make sure they’re not slacking off.”
Father puffed out a hot breath. “Do it. If you can’t, I’ll contact the cyborgs and have them remake you into something more worthy.”
Terk suppressed a shiver and tightened his fists instead. You can do this. No more failing.
Emperor Kenji Mizuki released his fists and flexed his fingers. Thousands of tiny sensations prickled them as blood flowed again. He glanced at his deskview screen and tightened his knuckles again.
What’s that damned traitor up to? Another attempt to dismantle his legacy, no doubt. Fujishin wouldn’t get away with this. Mizuki’s ancestors had ruled for nearly five hundred years already, and he’d be damned if he’d allow the empire to fall during his reign.
With a tap to his screen, he sent the video to his advisors. “Tell me who these men are.”
As the four seasoned warriors standing before him reviewed their MM tablets, he replayed the footage for himself. The static made it difficult to discern the two people, but the shorter one resembled the traitor well enough to make Mizuki’s insides knot. Light-colored hair with a receding hairline and a balding top could only mean Fujishin.
That chima had once been one of his advisors. Together, his five advisors had made up the Five Talons of the Emperor’s Claw. Since the betrayal, though, Mizuki was down to four confidants.
He frowned as he scrutinized Jeruko. The silver streaks through the man’s temples suggested his wisdom and his dark eyes reflected his honesty. Mizuki had known him since his teenage years, yet Fujishin’s treachery followed by Jori’s raised his suspicions. Jeruko, after all, had been Fujishin’s friend and the boy’s mentor.
Mizuki leaned in and narrowed his eyes at the video. The other man was more difficult to identify. He had Lord Enomoto’s height and the same short, boxed beard, but a lot of senshi and lords wore that style.
“Who sent this, Sire?” Jeruko asked in his usual gravelly tone that only got rougher with age.
Irritation spiked Mizuki’s temper. “What does it matter? Just tell me who they are.”
“The one on the right looks like Fujishin, Sire,” Samuru said. “I can’t make out the other one.”
“Agreed,” Jeruko replied.
“It certainly resembles him.” Nezumi added.
Mizuki turned to the oldest warrior. “What do you think?”
The wrinkles around Sensei Aki’s eyes folded into sharper creases as he pulled his MM closer. “It could be him.”
“Who is he talking to?” Mizuki tapped his foot.
As his advisors watched the video again, a hatred and a yearning clutched Mizuki’s chest. His father had once ruled from this same chair, and that drunken chima was the reason Mizuki was in this predicament now.
He regarded the case of artifacts standing in the corner of his office. Most items inside once belonged to his grandfather. If the stories were to be believed, Emperor Ryu Mizuki had been the greatest Toradon ruler of the past century.
Mizuki’s heart swelled as he gazed upon his grandfather’s sword resting on the top of the case. According to Sensei Aki, his grandfather had last used this sword in the Battle of Abira. He claimed that when the enemy had used new defuser technology to make phaser rifles and other energy weapons ineffective, his grandfather pulled out this sword and turned the tide.
The sword’s handle, made from the skin of some reptile, had degraded since then. It might have once been dyed red, but now it was browned with age. If not for the succeeding failures of Mizuki’s father, the sword could have been used as a symbol to reclaim his grandfather’s greatness.
Nezumi shook his head. “I can’t make it out, your Eminence.” His narrow face combined with his thin eyes and pinched mouth made him look like a rat, but also reflected his cunning. Rats were considered deceitful, too, but Mizuki trusted him more than Jeruko right now.
“It almost looks like General Sakon, but this man’s not as wide,” Samuru added.
Mizuki puffed out a breath. “It’s not General Sakon.” He eyed the giant man. Samuru was the fiercest warrior he’d ever met, but not always the brightest. The long scar running down the man’s cheek hinted at the number of times over the years he’d been struck in the head.
“The image is too distorted, Sire,” Jeruko said. “I can’t tell who he’s speaking to.”
Aki pulled back and looked at the video from another angle.
Mizuki suppressed an irritated sigh. “What do you think, old man?”
Aki blinked his rheumy eyes. “I don’t know, Sire.”
Mizuki gritted his teeth. Useless. “Could it be Lord Enomoto?”
Jeruko’s eyes widened. “He wouldn’t.”
Mizuki scoffed. “Yes he would. He’s got the means.”
Jeruko’s expression returned to its normal flatness. “I can’t imagine he’d be so audacious, Sire.”
Mizuki’s lip curled. Of course he’s defending Jori’s and Terkeshi’s uncle.
“Don’t be so sure, Corporal,” Nezumi said to Jeruko. “We all know what our spies have been saying about Lord Enomoto.”
A heat swelled in Mizuki’s gut. Lord Enomoto had grown greatly in power since the failings of Mizuki’s father. So far, he hadn’t openly opposed him, but there were several reasons to suspect the man was plotting against him.
Lord Enomoto ruled an entire planet in the Toradon Nohibito territory. Although he was subject to Mizuki’s domination in space, he had a great army and the resources to build his own warships. Mizuki hadn’t been able to prove it yet, but rumors of a secret space dock abounded. If the man made an alliance with Fujishin on top of it, then there could very well be a civil war.
The thought both terrified and infuriated him. He bit the inside of his cheek to keep the emotions from overwhelming him.
Jeruko shook his head. “Creating dissention among the lords is one thing. Conspiring against the empire is another.”
“This is why I must know if that’s Lord Enomoto,” Mizuki barked.
“Where was this video taken?” Samuru asked.
“It was sent anonymously,” Mizuki replied. “I don’t know where it happened or who sent it, which means the sender is worried about the consequences of his espionage.”
“Or they are merely making a false implication in order to create dissention,” Jeruko replied.
Mizuki narrowed his eyes. “Why do you find it so difficult to believe that Lord Enomoto might be plotting against me?”
“Sire, your son is his nephew and the sole heir. It would be a terrible risk for him to ally with that traitor.”
“He might do it if someone had told him I exiled the boy’s mother,” he said with accusation. After all, Lord Enomoto’s sister had been sent to the same island on Jinsekai as Jeruko’s consort.
Jeruko bowed. “I assure you, Sire, that security there is too strict to allow the word to get out.”
Mizuki refrained from pointing out that Jeruko could have leaked the information to Lord Enomoto himself.
Even if the other man in the video wasn’t Lord Enomoto, Fujishin was still colluding with someone and he needed to put a stop to it. That man had caused a half dozen minor uprisings already. Every outbreak undermined Mizuki’s rule and inspired others to conspire against him. Intolerable!
Mizuki shifted his gaze to a bulky helmet on the inner shelf of the case. He reflected on another story Sensei Aki had told him regarding his grandfather. The dragon-styled helmet had been part of a new, higher-tech space suit. A line of spikes beginning from the forehead ran to the back of the skull. Two sharp-tipped horns erupted from the sides. Its mouthguard bared a mouthful of carnivorous teeth.
Despite how menacing it appeared, Sensei Aki had said it possessed a fatal flaw—one that nearly killed its wearer. When Mizuki’s grandfather had worn it during the Rebellion of Minashi, its computer chip malfunctioned. Instead of being a protectant, the helmet became a deathtrap. The faceplate blacked out and Mizuki’s grandfather couldn’t see his attackers. Yet the man fought on blindly, his determination inspiring his senshi warriors until they’d won the day.
Mizuki relished the thought of winning a losing battle with his greatest warriors at his back—only many of those warriors seemed to want to stab him in the back instead.
The helmet now sat as useless as Sensei Aki stood. Space dust had flattened its golden sheen and dulled its sharp edges. Pock marks flawed its smoothness. When Mizuki had been young, the helmet inspired his ambition. Now it served only to symbolize the decay of the Mizukian empire.
He couldn’t let this happen. “If it’s Lord Enomoto in that video, it’s even more urgent that I get the perantium emitter operational. He can’t find out about it while it’s sitting vulnerable.”
He tapped his screen. A mostly green planet expanded to take up a quarter of the screen. “I’d rather not deal with the cyborgs for assistance. What about Pulcrate? Do you think it will have the resources we need?”
“I believe it’s pronounced pool-cray-tee, Sire,” Jeruko said. Mizuki made a face, but the man continued. “Their planetary defenses aren’t that sophisticated, which indicates they won’t have what we need.”
“Doesn’t the Cooperative help them out with experts and technology?”
Jeruko bowed. “Yes, Sire, but I believe the people there are still very much in the agricultural stage. Any specialists the Cooperative has sent them will likely be in geoscience and biology.”
“I agree, your Eminence,” Nezumi said. His upper lip rose slightly, as though he had a distaste for agreeing with Jeruko. “If they have engineers, they are likely more skilled in building and maintaining industrial machines.”
Mizuki pinched his lip. They needed physicists and aerospace engineers. The emitter he’d taken from Thendi a few months back remained in pieces in his auxiliary docking bay. He’d arrived at the other spaceship he planned on housing the giant device in, but he couldn’t move forward without the right labor force.
When he’d confiscated the emitter, he’d also taken captives. His plan had been to take scientists and engineers and use them to reconfigure the device into a powerful weapon, but he ended up with Cooperative officers instead. Jori had claimed they possessed the skills needed to fix it, but the boy had likely lied.
Heat flared in his chest. That damned little traitor.
“Sire,” Samuru said, “if a Cooperative ship is there, we can attack them and take their people.”
“We can’t plan an attack based on what might be.” We don’t have the resources.
“We can always lay low outside the star system,” Jeruko said. “A Cooperative ship is bound to show up.”
“Another might.” Mizuki eyed the man. Jeruko was usually adept at evaluating plans of action. Was he holding back?
Samuru tilted his head. “We don’t need to go to Pulcrate, Sire. General Brevak is chasing down a Cooperative ship as we speak, Sire.”
That’s just another might, idiot. A pang ran up from Mizuki’s jaw and stabbed into his temples. The Cooperative ship that had somehow convinced his young traitorous son to help them rescue their people was probably long gone, but he wasn’t about to give up and let those chima get away with it. “I can’t wait on the chance that he might catch’ them, though. I need experts today.”
“I’m sorry, your Eminence,” Jeruko said. “I’ve run out of ideas.”
The others remained silent. Mizuki expelled an exasperated breath and slammed his fists onto his desk. “Doesn’t anyone have any viable suggestions? The longer it takes for this device to become operational, the more likely my enemies will find out about it and try to stop it.”
“It’s too bad your grandfather isn’t still around,” Sensei Aki said. “That man was as devious as he was ruthless. Did I ever tell you about the time—”
Mizuki shot the man a glare. “I have no time for your stories, old man.”
Although Aki had motivated Mizuki’s ambition since his youth, those tales alone wouldn’t win him back everything his father had lost, put Lord Enomoto in his place, or get revenge for all the recent betrayals.
If he could just get that perantium emitter working.
Mizuki popped his knuckles. There must be another way to get what he needed. If he didn’t do something soon, his empire would fall apart.
He suppressed a sigh. “I must contact the Cyborgs, then.”
Jeruko’s brows twisted in a pained expression. Mizuki ignored him. Contacting those freaks could undermine his rule as well. That wouldn’t matter, though, if he got the weapon working. Not even Lord Enomoto’s high-tech planetary defenses could withstand its power.