I fell into the memory of Peligia,
And awoke lost in a dream of the Peligian Past,
And found that I had dug myself a grave in the Peligian future
Three Hundred Years Prior
London, England, Earth, Sol System
It would have been beautiful: brilliant orange light that decorated the sky, washing over the crystal domes of the Imperial place. The fires of hundreds of relentless nuclear blasts hammering down from the Amsus fleet in high orbit, pounding upon the near-impenetrable shield that warded mother Earth from the wrath of her attackers. The Emperor's gift, that last divine protection that sheltered the last free Imperial citizens from the vengeful Amsus. It was a token gesture from a being no longer capable of caring about humanity.
Children rushed past him, children stuffed into uniforms bearing Lord Morvanor's colours, the green arrow-and-sword patches on their sleeves, sprinting to man the defences on the Imperial Palace - thousands like them had been press-ganged across the besieged world, desperate faces, barely old enough to hold weapons, asked to protect a fading cause, for an Immortal Emperor who was about to die.
Chancellor Enarbrem Sul'Rikard marched under escort from a pair of his Praetorian guard. The two heavily-armoured men wore Imperial exo-armour as they clanked through the corridors of the massive palace. Easily fifteen feet high, the pair of steel-clad mech soldiers were the last of the elite guard not already stationed to defend the palace should the shield fail. They were present to ensure his safety, not that he needed them. The Chancellor would soon be more than capable of defending himself.
The Polian staff rang against the dark obsidian floor as he walked with a purpose deeper into the massive pyramid structure. The Imperial Palace was an arcology unto itself. Once, hundreds of thousands of people had resided within its walls, providing services to the Imperial highlord council, the token Senate and, of course, the Bishops of the Imperial religion.
Rikard offered a cold smile as he stepped into the elevator, the open-topped cube of crystal swinging away from the upper platform and descending through the floors. They passed other platforms streaming on the intricate network of tunnels that whisked people too and fro inside the monumental structure.
Where were the Bishops on that final day? Rikard smiled inwardly, remembering Bishop Lamont, the head of his order, screaming for mercy after the Praetorian had gunned down his Templar guard, ending the bitter rule of the religious fanatics. The price of Kardiac's failure. It had delighted Rikard to finally restore his own prominence in the wake of so many years of religious rule.
Of course, it came too late.
He felt the staff in his hands, heavy and solid. Captured and sent back after one of Kardiac's campaigns, it was a war trophy. The zero-point energy the weapon harnessed would suit his task, at least until he could claim what was rightfully his.
It had taken nearly a hundred years of planning, subtle manoeuvring that had pulled more personal power towards him, to ensure that a Doctor of genetics, a failed experiment, was the most powerful being in known space. And all it had taken to get him there was three wars, countless millions of dead, and a swath of destruction to carve his path to divinity.
He was the new order.
The platform came to a rest before the great hall. The entranceway was a pair of high arches that opened out into the ascension chamber, a single dais accessible only by a slender bridge surrounded in a field of light. All of it had been designed to add to the mystery of the ascension, to give it truly the impression of the divine. Black and white banners of the Imperial rose were draped down from the massively vaulted ceiling. The honour guards were gone, Lord Morvanor deploying them elsewhere in his time of need: a desperate man, grasping for hope wherever he could find it.
As influential a statesman as Lord Morvanor was, he was no Warlord. He lacked the tactical genius required to pull the Empire out of the ashes. Maybe if VonGrippen had chosen to remain things would have been different. But then, the greatest hero of the Empire had tucked tail and ran. He had gone into hiding, taking the Red Guard, the precious defence fleet, with him.
It was a minor setback to his plans, but Rikard would ensure that the fox came out of his hole. His time had come, and even if he had to burn the entire planet to a cinder, he was willing to do so. VonGrippen would have no choice; he would show himself, and when he did, the last piece of Rikard's plan would come to fruition, and time would no longer matter.
He marched along the arched bridge to the Imperial dais, the desiccated body laying within its pool of light remained in state, the Imperial uniform immaculate despite the withered remains, the black-trimmed greatcoat with its golden rose insignia, clutching the piece of Peligian crystal, the bloodroot, upon his chest.
Rikard held up a hand, indicating that his sentinels should stop. The mighty powered armours turned to train their gatling masers on the far arch, guarding their Chancellor from attack, while he climbed the steps to look down upon the body.
His second greatest creation. The second generation G-N... the shining future of mankind. The Immortal Emperor of Humanity. God made flesh for the second coming of Christ. A messiah who could be touched, his wisdom and benevolence extending to shield his devoted faithful, even in their darkest hour.
"Can you still hear me, old friend?" Rikard asked, his Afrikaner accent thick and heavy, leaning upon his staff. He reached up to unclasp his simple black tunic, allowing it to hang open. "Or are you too busy concentrating on that?" He looked upwards towards the orange sky through the magnificent crystal dome high over their heads, the firestorm that raged unrelenting down upon them.
"It is at an end, old friend," Rikard said, almost sadly, "all those dreams for a glorious future. The downfall of your Empire is at hand... I wonder... were you not consigned to unending sleep, would you be strong enough to stop what is to come?" Rikard glanced up again at the shield, "Or is it taking all of your strength just to keep the hounds at bay?"
Rikard shook his head sadly, reaching out to take the small shard of crystal out of the Emperor's hand, lifting and adjusting the settings on the device. The rotating glyphs upon it shimmered and danced as they changed colours. Only two men possessed the intelligence to read the settings and understand what he was doing, and VonGrippen was nowhere close to Earth.
Rikard turned the setting down to medium and applied it to his forehead, as his detailed research had indicated. Years of preparation had given him many opportunities to exploit what he had learned. The transcendence, the capacity to step outside of time itself, to manipulate the very fabric of the universe - there was no real limitation to the power that was available... except maybe one.
He looked down at the body, the eternally living corpse, smiling at the mind trapped within its shell, unable to escape. Perpetually bound by the prison of the flesh...
"It was a shame you weren't more diligent to science." Rikard murmured, adjusting the device again and applying it a second time, "Maybe you would have seen the danger ahead of you. But then, you were always so careless..." he gasped, feeling the ancient poison rushing through his system, altering his blood chemistry, shifting the temporal variance, edging him slowly with each dose closer to the true transcendence state. "The danger lay in too much, going too far," Rikard shifted and looked about him again, "exceeding the capabilities of the human body. Too much, and you travel across the threshold and become energy, but too little and you become trapped between two existences." Rikard smiled wolfishly as he reached out to tap the Emperor's forehead. "Stuck forever in a hellish half state, aware but unable to scream, steadily going insane as your body rotted around you." Rikard shook his head, "Had someone known... maybe they could have done something for you," Rikard leaned in, whispering into the ear, "Or maybe I wanted you laying there."
"My lord Chancellor!" A priest ran down the length of the arched bridge, "Come away, my lord, Highlord Morvanor has left explicit instructions that none are to disturb the Emperor..."
Rikard gestured to his Praetorian, the weapon arms of the Mechs spinning up as they gunned the pitiful human being down, spinning into silence once again, as they settled in to ensure there were no more interruptions.
Rikard shook his head as he administered a third dose, feeling the flow of time around him, sensing more as he became attuned to the surrounding structure. The palace of crystal had been the Emperor's first creation after the UN war, built upon the nuclear wasteland of London, raising up a monument to his own greatness, his own arrogance.
Rikard would soon see it turned into a mausoleum for his vanity.
"I gave you just the right amount," Rikard said calmly, "Just enough to push you to the threshold, but not quite over it." He looked down. "The Peligians had been explicit in their warnings. I think VonGrippen was the one to tell you not to attempt this... but then, he was always fearful of the future." Rikard smiled. "I know I talk too much, but then it's rare that I have such a captive audience." He administered another dose, feeling a rush as he sank to his knees, everything around him snapping into crystal clarity, his genetically enhanced physiology bonding with the chemical stimulant of the bloodroot. He could sense it all, the energy flowing from the Emperor towards the crystal dome, encompassing the world in a protective bubble, and drawing power from the nuclear energies erupting against it. With each detonation the shield grew stronger, more impenetrable.
"He will only come if Earth burns," Rikard murmured, struggling to stand with the staff weapon, lowering the ancient weapon to train it upon the corpse on the dais, "And he knows where Peligia is..." Rikard swallowed against the burning pain as his body pulled him towards the threshold, begging for one more dose of the bloodroot, the temptation to step across the threshold, and become...
He shrugged off the temptation, seductive though it was. He desired more, the ancient Peligian tomes that spoke of the oracle, of true pre-sentience. Of real divinity, not that transcendent illusion; he would attain it, revel in it and use it to bring about the order that the universe cried out for...
The staff weapon lowered to his hands as he thumbed the actuator, the weapon twupping out its superheated plasma, shredding the body, incinerating the Immortal Emperor, and severing his ties to the mortal realm, casting him into oblivion.
The light went out, the stream of energy faltering and failing as the shield that sheltered the world flickered and snapped off, the nuclear bombardment shrieking through to hammer the world below, burning cities as Amsus Raptors and hive ships descended towards the surface, finally able to overwhelm the last bastion of the Empire.
Rikard smiled as he formed a powerful shield about himself, stepping up onto the dais and casting the Polian staff away. He smiled confidently as the first of his seven prepared nuclear warheads detonated in the heart of the Imperial Palace, ripping through it with titanic destructive forces, echoed a few moments later by the six others.
VonGrippen would surface, and when he did, Rikard would finally know the location of Peligia. He smiled at the bitter irony that it would be VonGrippen's own grandson who would provide the key he needed.