My name is Marcus Brutus, onetime Triari Centurion of the 9th Legion Hispania, dispatched with my brothers to quell the Celtic uprising in the cold and misty wastelands of Caledonia, north of Britannia. We failed in our mission due to the interference of powers beyond our understanding. Thinking we had been extended a reprieve at the moment of death, my brothers and I awakened on a far distant planet where we were given a simple ultimatum. Fight or Die. Yes, it seemed our skills were needed again, and thus began an unbelievable journey that emphasized a stark reality. Death is just the beginning of the adventure.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To fulfill my duties with honor, and then be given an opportunity to leave a life of bloodshed behind. Before all this happened, I’d served Rome for many years and was determined to see the day when I retired, found a wife, and had the family with whom I could settle down and grow old and fat with. Just because my circumstances have changed doesn’t change my aspirations. One day, all this chaos, all this upheaval will be over, and I will make my dreams a reality.
What is your greatest fear?
That I might give way to fear in front of my enemy. Trepidation grips all soldiers from time to time. It’s what makes us human, and only a fool would deny they never experience the dread of battle. But a true warrior faces his fear. Conquers it. Makes it his constant companion. Only then can we appreciate our own mortality and the value of what it is we fight for.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Cowardice, and a refusal to think of your brothers in battle. Such a man is a weak link in times of crisis and often gets those around him killed. I’m glad to say, the ranks of the Ninth Legion have been purged of such dross, and we remain true to our tenet of steadfast service.
Which living person do you most admire?
Commander Saul Cameron – if indeed he still lives – for he shepherded countless thousands of refugees from Earth through a relentless siege and gave them, and the future of Arden, a fighting chance to be reborn anew.
What is your current state of mind?
Obviously, I am under a great deal of stress. To be plucked from your life and deposited on an entirely different planet to fight somebody else’s battle once, is enough in my books. To find it has happened to us again? Well, I’m still trying to get my head around the implications of that, especially as we now have the integrity of our own historical timeline to consider. You have a saying in the future: “Walking on eggshells?” I think that sums my predicament up rather well, as I constantly have to juggle the needs of the future against those of keeping my men alive.
Which living person do you most despise?
The turncoat, James Houston. Like us, he was snatched away from a normal life and placed here under extraordinary pressure. A supposed officer and a gentleman, he has done nothing but scheme and plot to use this nightmare to his own advantage. He is not only a coward, but a murderer who lacks the slightest ounce of honor. He’d see every one of us dead, just to extend his life for just one day. I’ll not give him that opportunity, and will see him ended if it’s the last thing I do.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
A willingness to do his best, whatever the circumstances, and to work as part of a team.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“By Pluto’s Beard.” During the Gaul campaign, I was badly injured and at death’s door for two months. I kept the god of the underworld at bay by cursing him to his face, a habit I’ve continued since then whenever I face dangerous or frustrating situations.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Ha! I’d have applied to join the Eighth Legion. Perhaps then I’d have been able to settle in southern Gaul as I’d always wanted. Failing that, perhaps the Praetorian Guard? Caesar Hadrian seemed to like me enough when he bestowed the golden torc upon me. If only I’d taken him up on his offer before all this mess started.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I kept the majority of my men alive at the Battle of the Line in Rhomane City. Mere hundreds of us faced thousands upon thousands of Horde demons. But we showed them the mettle of the legion. Tempered in fire, we were forged anew and broke them. Since then, every one of us is closer than blood, and every one of us are willing to give our all if the need arises.
What is your favorite occupation?
I am – or should I say, was – rather fond of the pilot training I received after my arrival on Arden. I know the nano-bots inside my bloodstream help to augment my understanding and comprehension, but the wonders of soaring higher than an eagle could ever go never ceases to amaze me. Think about it. From what I have learned since my arrival on Arden, people from my time could only gaze at the stars in the night sky and wonder. This adventure may have torn me away from home, but now my battlefield exists among those very stars. And I get to see them for what they are…suns of infinite magnitude and majesty, many possessing other planets in which life teems in its myriads. Such treasures we’re beyond the imagination of those from my era. And here I am, living a dream in reality.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Despite my elevation to general, I still show regard for the common man and am willing to listen – and indeed value – the opinions of others, even when they differ from my own. Fortunate, I might be. Omniscient, I’m not. Listening to the insights of others has saved my skin on more than one occasion, and after all these years, I don’t intend to stop now.
What do you most value in your friends?
Their unflinching calmness in the face of chaos. Those closest to me have shared the crucible of battle and been flensed of pretense. My new friends from Arden have likewise faced many trials and tribulations. Such provide a great deal of support and source of wisdom when I need it most.
How would you like to die?
If I’m not extended the opportunity of growing old and fat, I hope I die making a difference. Elysian Fields or no, as long as my death has meaning, I’ll be satisfied.
Title: Exordium of Tears.
Author: Andrew P. Weston
Genre: Science Fiction.
Publisher: Perseid Press
Fight or die.
That simple yet brutal reality is the tenet by which the refugees from Earth – including the fabled lost 9th Legion of Rome; the 5th Company, 2nd Mounted Cavalry Unit; and the Special Forces Anti-Terrorist Team – were forced to live by while the Horde menace existed. Believing that the threat is over, the survivors now yearn to settle down, start families, and reclaim the lives stolen from them.
But such aspirations might remain beyond their reach, for a shadow looms on the rose-tinted horizon of new beginnings.
The release of the re-genesis matrix has done much to foster a restoration of exuberance across Arden. Along with a resurgence in floral and faunal diversity comes the results of splicing the Ardenese and human genomes: transmutation. A metamorphosis of stunning magnitude that not only affects the living, but those still is stasis as well.
Recognizing the emergence of a new hybrid species, the Architect – the arcane AI construct tasked with the preservation of the Ardenese race – responds by unlocking previously hidden and inaccessible areas of the city. It also releases an archive of sealed state secrets. Such revelations are eagerly perused, whereupon a shocking discovery is made.
Prior to the fall, it was common knowledge amongst the Senatum (the highest levels of Arden’s government) that not all the rabid Horde had joined in the rampage across the stars toward Arden.
Realizing that the peril still exists, the newly reformed administration elects to respond in earnest. Existing resources are utilized, suitable candidates are chosen, and a flotilla of ships is sent out to secure, quarantine, and reclaim the outer colonies.
A mammoth and hazardous undertaking. And nowhere more so than at the planet from where the outbreak was known to have originated – Exordium – for there, the ancient Horde are not only supremely evolved and highly organized, but are capable of a level of lethal sophistication, the likes of which has never been witnessed before.
It is into this kiln of incendiary potential that the cream of Arden’s fighting forces is deployed.
Worlds are torn asunder, suns destroyed, and star systems obliterated. Yes, tragedy is forged, in a universe spanning conflict which proves once again that…
Death is only the beginning of the adventure.
His commanders moved away, passing on his orders. With smooth precision, the legion filed inside and fanned out to take up their respective positions.
Marcus followed. He hadn’t taken more than twenty paces when he noticed a soft crackling underfoot. He glanced down and saw a brittle ivory powder covering the floor in a light dusting.
Did the re-genesis matrix manage to percolate down through the barriers? Amazing. It’ll make our job a damned sight easier if it did.
Putting that hope out of his mind, he concentrated instead on the hazards presented by their surroundings. Even after the third centuria left for their designated positions, breathing room was tight. So closely packed were the stalagmites and stalactites that he and his men were constantly squeezing between petrified tears, and the endless weave and bob soon grew exhausting. What’s more, their only light came from random illuminations cast by the drones or their helmet-cams. When these caught exposed facets of rock, the gloom was transposed by scintillant prismatic aspirations that only served to confound the eye.
Strange, how in a place and at a time like this, beauty can be an unwanted distraction.
Undeterred, they pressed forward, dogged, cautious.
Five minutes later, the telltale gleam of an energy barrier came into view. More than ten yards across and eighteen feet high, the huge blockade loomed at the exact point where the maze ended and the Cathedral narrowed into a natural chokepoint.
And beyond, we finally come to the end of our journey.
Vergilius snapped his fingers and his men deployed, adopting a series of defensive formations in preparation for the assault. Behind them, members of the first centuria completed final weapons checks.
“General,” someone hissed, “come and look at this.”
A group of soldiers to his left stood by a small fissure. From his position, the entrance was difficult to see, for it was shrouded in darkness and bent back in on itself. As Marcus strode toward them, the crunching sound beneath his feet became louder. He looked more closely, and got the impression that he walked on broken shards of discarded porcelain vessels.
He reached the crevice and peered inside to find a modest-sized antre. Except this was no fairytale grotto. It was full of bones.
Thigh bones, rib bones, pelvic bones. Femurs, fibulae, tibiae. And skulls. Skulls lay everywhere. Some were intact and grinning insanely, as if delighted at the prospect of a friendly face after an eternity of isolation; others lay in ruins, fragmented or crushed into dust. Only then did Marcus realize what they’d all been stepping on.
Of course, they must have fled here in their numbers during the initial outbreak, hoping to escape the madness. But they were found . . . and by berserkers too, from the look of it.
He studied the way the remains had been shattered and strewn about.
Not content to simply devour the essence of their victims, the monsters must have torn everyone apart, perhaps to enhance the flavor of their meal with terror?
In his mind’s eye, Marcus tried to reenact the scene.
Even so, it hurt to imagine the insatiable hunger of frenzied fiends as they rampaged, and the inevitable reaction of the helpless colonists as their flight led them here to their doom.
And they couldn’t have realized their panic would act like a beacon, drawing that doom toward them like moths to a flame. Except these moths were hulking great monstrosities driven by a craving so rabid it bordered on delirium.
Roars of glee, screams of terror. Flashing talons, primal cruelty. Severed limbs, tumbling in aerial display. Crimson orbs, glowering with lust. Ruby entrails, spilling gore. Glittering fangs and punctured jugulars, spraying blood in a fountain wash, staining ancient seams in the splith of human ruin.
An itch wormed its way up Marcus’s spine. He backed away and looked outside. The sense of unease was spreading: his hardened veterans glanced nervously from side to side. As they moved, their helmet lights sent peril reeling across the ceiling and cast flickering threats that made it appear as if danger lurked behind each column and within every shadow.
“Can you feel that?” Tiberius called.
The prickling intensified, and soon Marcus’s bowels were shuddering.
I’ve felt that sensation before.
“They’re coming,” Marcus bellowed. “Notify surface units and stand to.”
Andrew P. Weston is Royal Marine and Police veteran from the UK who now lives on the beautiful Greek island of Kos with his wife, Annette, and their growing family of rescue cats.
An astronomy and law graduate, he is the creator of the international number one bestsellers, The IX, and Hell Bound, (A novel forming part of Janet Morris’ critically acclaimed Heroes in Hell shared universe). Andrew also has the privilege of being a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the British Fantasy Society and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
When not writing, Andrew devotes some of his spare time to assisting NASA with two of their remote research projects, and writes educational articles for http://Astronaut.com and Amazing Stories.
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Publisher: Perseid Press
Andrew P. Weston Blog: http://theix.blogspot.gr/
The IX Blog: http://theix.blogspot.gr/