Celestina relaxed in the enormous chair behind the even grander desk in her new office. Once Minister Scharbigot Canchorus had passed away, in such an untimely manner, she decided to consolidate the Ministry’s administrative functions in one location. Multiple buildings in the central city of Stujorkian City had been acquired and retrofitted to her needs. Her new office suite occupied the entire 187th floor of the building. The panoramic views were stunning.
She looked across the plains to the mountains far in the distance. Somewhere far over those mountains, her uncle rested at peace in what was now her estate in Beliasium, situated right on the ocean. She was looking forward to next week when she and Tomar were planning a few days away to plot their next moves. The Ministry was firmly under her control, and with proper planning, there would be only one Corporation for the development of other worlds in the future.
The buzzing sound from one of her secretaries shattered her relaxation, and she returned to the present moment, eager to attack another day.
“Chief Executive Minster,” came the voice from the holographic head that rose from her desk. “We may have a little bit of an issue. I am not sure how to proceed, but please look at the lobby.”
A screen rose up next to the holographic head, showing the pretentiously large lobby of the new headquarters of the Ministry of Interplanetary Corporate Relations. An old man, dressed in worn clothes that seemed to be of a tropical and native pattern, was seated near the security desk. On his lap was a long crystal box. Even from a distance, Celestina could tell that the box held a sword of some type.
“What’s the issue?” demanded Celestina.
“He claims that he is the Ministry’s last archivist, and he demands to speak with the Chief Executive Minister,” replied the secretary.
“He looks like a crazy man,” Celestina noted, with disdain. “Send him away.”
“Madam, the problem is that he claims to be an employee of the Ministry. He told the security guard to enter his name into the system and validate him.”
“And?” demanded Celestina. “Is he an employee of the Ministry?”
“We don’t know,” the secretary replied hesitantly, “All that came up with his name was that he was the head of the ‘Endowment of the Archive, Guardians of Sabro, The Frozen.’ That in itself might not be impressive, except that when the guard tried to access the associated files, the system returned a noncompliant warning. These files haven’t been accessed in over six hundred years.”
Celestina looked at the old man in the lobby. Her curiosity was piqued. This could make for an exciting start to her day. She bid her secretary to have the man escorted, along with his box, by heavily armed security personnel to her office suite. She now had a mystery to start what was sure to be another grand day.
The old man was seated in the comfortable couches in an area near the windows. Four brutish securities guards stood watch as Celestina greeted him. “Welcome,” she began, “I am Celestina Wiroviana, Chief Executive Minister for Interplanetary Corporate Relations. You have us at a disadvantage, as we know so little about you.”
“My thanks for your time to receive me,” the old man answered. His voice was weak, and Celestina could see that many, many years weighed heavily on the man. “I am here to fulfill the promise of my house. Without an heir, I return Sabro to the Chief Executive Minister.”
Celestina looked at the crystal case in his hands. The sword was not what she had expected from seeing it on the security monitor. It was not of a metal that she could describe; she wasn’t even sure whether it was metal or not. It seemed to shimmer, with flecks of bright strands and waves moving through the blade in random patterns. In one moment, the sword would be a soft, whitish color, and in the next moment, translucent. It was magnificent and memorizing to behold.
“So, this is Sabro, the blade in this case?” she inquired.
“Yes,” he replied, “in the case where we hope and pray it will remain for all eternity.”
Sitting herself down across a small table from him, she bid him place the case on the table. He reluctantly held the case in his lap. She glared at him for a moment, reveling in the mystery that this was becoming. “And why, my dear sir, should this blade remain encased?”
“Only the bloodline of the true chief of the Burongi may handle the blade,” he explained, looking at her and wondering what kind of woman she was. Like generations before, he was separate from this world. He cared little for what happened outside the jungles and rain forests of his homeland.
“Okay, I’ll take the bait,” she told to him. “Tell me who you are and why this sword is in my office.”
“Will you, as the Chief Executive Minster, take back Sabro?” the man asked, as a terrible coughing fit began to rack his body. “You must keep it safe and pray it is never needed again.” The coughing became worse and worse, and the man seemed unable to control it. Celestina ordered medics and instructed that the old man be taken to the Ministry’s private medical clinic for treatment and observation.
Unable to speak much at all, he set the case on the table. As the medics placed him on the hovering medical transport board, he managed to utter, “There is no other.”
She studied the case on the table. The case itself was magnificent. She was practically giddy like a schoolgirl. A mystery had been given to her. She summoned her staff, who in turn convened various experts in history, metallurgy, and computer science.
The files related to the Endowment of the Archive, Guardians of Sabro, The Frozen, were corrupted entirely. The team searched archives and data across the two planets but came up empty on any references to an Endowment or Sabro. Almost as intriguing was that no one could identify the material of the case or guess at the composition of the sword. Despite scans of all types, no hinge, lever, lock, mechanism, or even crack could be found in the case. It was as if the container had grown around the sword, except that it appeared perfectly carved on both the outside and inside.
After days of research, nothing could be found. The old man had lost consciousness on the way to the clinic and slipped into a coma. He was dying from something the best experts could not identify or understand. Everything about this sword intrigued Celestina more and more. She had it placed in her office and studied it every day. In her heart, she knew that she would eventually understand it, but what she really wanted to do was wield it.
Late in the evening, she was studying the case and the sword again. She knew so little, and it was eating at her. She ran her hands along the lines of the case. Over and over she caressed it, her fingers hoping to find something that so many experts had missed. As she was about to give up, she felt a surge of icy coldness. There was a cold spot on the case. It began to move, and her hands traced the path. Suddenly, the top part of the case slid open. She gently set the top portion aside. She had done it. She stared into the case. The sword was hers to wield.
The moment she touched the sword, the old man in the clinic sat up, awake from his coma and screaming. “Don’t touch Sabro!” But blocks away, Celestina could not hear his warning as she gripped the handle.
Celestina screamed as her skin came in contact with Sabro, and she jerked her hand back violently. Her fingers felt as if she had dipped them into something colder than the coldest thing she had ever felt. The joints in her hands immediately locked up, and a frigid, icy coldness began making its way up her arm. She felt as if each nerve was being sliced open and burned with frozen fire.
As she looked at her hand and her arm, she could see the arteries and veins in her arms turning a brilliant white, and then bluish-black as the brutal chill moved up her arm. She tried to step backward, away from that cursed blade, but she only crumbled to her knees, screaming as the sensation pulled her into a frozen wasteland. In her mind’s eye, she could see a vast, lifeless, frozen landscape. She felt naked as she was sucked into this frigid reality. Icy, howling winds ripped at her exposed soul, peeling away strips of her very being. Sheets of ice crashed down unimaginably massive mountainsides, shaking the frozen tundra into which her spirit was slowly sinking. Her screams alerted her diligent secretary, Besnik Treowe, who always worked late whenever she did. He immediately summoned security and medics. Within minutes she was evacuated to the Ministry’s private medical clinic. Her arm was completely immobile and frozen solid. They wrapped her in heating blankets, unable to determine what had happened or why.
She drifted in and out of consciousness for days, often mumbling about the cold and the wind and the ice. The doctors struggled to keep her body temperature from falling. Over the next few days, she began to stabilize, but the arm would never be the same.
The doctors were unable to ascertain what had happened or why. Her arm started to regain functionality, but the bluish-black tint to her veins and arteries remained. The lines fanned out from her shoulder to her fingers and pulsed with a lighter hue with each beat of her heart.
With her arm in a sling, she walked to the room where the old man was dying. He had become weaker and weaker while she struggled with the effects of touching the blade. More than once his heart had stopped, and the doctors brought him back.
A doctor was tending to him when she entered the room. He appeared to be asleep, and his face was even more gaunt than when she had met him.
“Give him something to wake him up and make him alert,” she commanded the physician.
“Yes, ma’am,” blurted out the physician, “I’ll be back in a few moments.”
She stood watching as the doctor returned and injected a stimulant into the IV line running into the man’s arm. As the drugs flooded his system, his eyes popped open wide, and he bolted into a sitting position.
“Only the bloodline of the true chief of the Burongi may handle the blade,” he warned as he collapsed back into the bed. “You should have never touched the blade. It is a relic from a long-lost time, and you must pray it is never needed again.” He looked at her with a piercing intensity that frightened her. Then he blinked, and the milky cloudiness of his ancient eyes returned.
“What happened to me when I touched Sabro?” she demanded.
“You must understand that only the bloodline of the true chief of the Burongi may handle the blade,” repeated the old man, sighing heavily, “Only he is capable of wielding this weapon.”
“We can’t find anything about you, or Sabro, or any endowment for an archive,” she accused him, the frustration growing in her voice. “By the Lords of the Fourth System, who are you and what does this blade have to do with the Ministry?”
“I am the last Archivist of the Ministry. Without an heir, I have returned the blade,” he repeated, as his eyes seemed to drift into a trance. “I pray we never again see the Lords of the Fourth System.”
“What are you talking about?” she demanded.
“Do you even know where the phrase, ‘Lords of the Fourth System,’ comes from, Chief Executive Minister?” the old man asked, with a seriousness that made her shiver.
“It’s just a phrase,” she replied. “It’s been around forever.”
The old man coughed, but more gently than before and looked at her questioningly, as if he was trying to decide whether he should say something or not. He was being well cared for by the medical staff, and they would ease his passing. Sadly, the doctors believed that he would die within the day.
“It’s more than a phrase; its meaning has been hidden in history,” the old man told her. “My father and his father before him and his father before him have kept the secret alive and guarded the blade. For generations, we have lived a simple life in the jungle, fulfilling our duty.”
“Okay, tell me the story, so that I may protect the blade and its secret for you,” she suggested.
The old man relaxed, and his eyes glazed over as his mind drifted into the past. “Do you know what the Fourth System was that men from Koranth invaded?” he asked.
“Not off the top of my head,” she replied.
“It was the Twelfth Corporation that installed the portal on the Fourth System,” he began.
“There have always been Eleven until recently,” she interrupted, declaring that he must be wrong.
“Please listen to my story,” he commanded, “and I will tell what the Ministry itself hid in history over seven hundred years ago.”
He began his tale, explaining that after the Exorthium Colonial Wars, the Ministry had been formed, and it was to monitor Twelve Corporations, not Eleven. As planets were identified that contained life, missions were sent, and portals were opened to three other planets. The profits and riches that flowed were enormous. A mission, to the fourth planet that had been discovered by the early explorers from Koranth and Zoranth, found a planet with vast cities that were frighteningly similar to the metropolises of Koranth and Zoranth, with one exception – there was not a living human on the entire planet.
That first crew visited many of the massive cities, finding nothing but nature taking over what once had been built by the hand of humans. There was one striking similarity in each of the cities. A colossal pyramid had been built on the south end of each city that was unlike anything on either Koranth or Zoranth. The base of each pyramid spanned well over a square mile. The walls rose quickly to over two thousand feet. The top featured a massive courtyard with nine buildings in a horseshoe. In each city, it was the same.
The largest of the buildings atop these pyramids was at the top of the horseshoe. On each side of the horseshoe, four temples stood, with towering columns supporting high roofs. In every one of the buildings, massive amounts of jewels, coins, and objects of rare metals were piled in gigantic heaps. The walls were stacked deep with bars of precious, shining metals. The amount of wealth in each of the buildings was impossible to calculate.
However, that largest building at the top of the horseshoe was very different. A flight of a hundred stairs led to a single door, well over two stories tall. Opening that door revealed a huge throne room encompassing nearly the entire building. The ceiling, floor, and walls were decorated with exquisite tiles, adorned with gems and rare metals. Statues of grotesque beasts that were abusing and consuming humans lined the walls, gilded with thick layers of precious metals, and adorned with gemstones larger than the fist of man. The throne itself was raised above the floor of the room by many steps, with each of the steps, covered in razor-sharp spikes of gemstones of a thousand different hues. The throne itself was made of a material that no one had ever seen. It was pure white, but light seemed to pass through it, sending off bursts of brilliant colored lights. The wall behind every throne exhibited a macabre mosaic of blackened human skulls, stretching up for over five stories.
Behind each of the thrones, in the middle of the wall of skulls, was a passageway, a long corridor that sloped downward, deeper and deeper, winding into the very heart of the pyramid. The walls of the passageway tunnels were lined with countless human bones and skulls. Splitting off from the main passageways were more rooms filled with treasures. The passageways all ended in a large room that should have been pitch dark but was not.
In each corner, a large cauldron of oil burned. The oil seemed to be fed slowly from an unknown source. A few of the caldrons had flames running down their sides, as the oil fed slightly more quickly than it burned off. In the middle of each of these fire-lit rooms lay a massive, stone sarcophagus.
The first crew was wise enough, or perhaps superstitious enough, to leave the sarcophaguses as they were. They believed that whatever was in those sarcophaguses had probably sat on the thrones. They dubbed them the “Lords of the Fourth System.” They sent their reports and artifacts back to Koranth in the return vessel, and within a few years, a ship returned with a portal. A sizeable hydroelectric station near one of the cities was brought back online, and Koranth was connected to the Fourth System.
Celestina watched as the old man began to cough again. The telling of the story was obviously taxing in the man’s condition, but when doctors came to tend to the man, she ordered them to give him another stimulant and sent them away. She wanted to hear the entire story as quickly as possible.
“I can’t believe that we’ve never heard any of this,” remarked her secretary, Besnik Treowe, who had accompanied Celestina to meet with the old man.
“No, my friend, the Ministry has long been a powerful organization,” replied the old man with another cough. “What I have told you and what I will now tell you was erased from history to protect all of us.” The old man continued the story.
Once Koranth and the Fourth System were connected, the Twelfth Corporation’s military flowed through the portal as a precaution. Experts were sent to study the planet and, moreover, to study the grand pyramids. They were declared some planet-wide religion. Of course, as is the reality of human nature, one of the sarcophaguses was opened.
Inside the sarcophagus was something like a man, or perhaps it was a god. It was hard to tell. Its skin was almost translucent, but light seemed to be lost into its surface. It was clothed in royal, but functional, almost warrior-like clothing. Upon its head lay a crown of gems welded together somehow, as no metal or other material was apparent.
As that first scientist gazed upon the being, its eyes opened, and a cruel smile spread across its face. It rose from the sarcophagus, climbing out, but seeming to float and barely make contact with any surface. It stood before that poor scientist who was transfixed by the creature’s presence. Those who saw the event said that the caldrons all began to burn brighter as the being stretched out its hand and touched the scientist’s face. The scientist screamed as his entire body erupted into flames. A nearby soldier opened fire with a laser gun, but only managed to end the scientist’s suffering.
Energy blasts, lasers, and projectiles seemed to only pass through the being as it came up the passageway, turning each person it touched into a human torch. Within hours, the Corporation had exhausted every weapon in its arsenal, trying to stop the being. But nothing seemed to work. Knives, rocks, and sticks seemed to pass through what looked and moved like a large man. Over the next few days, the few humans left on the Fourth System retreated to the portal, pursued by this terrible being. When the last of the humans on the Fourth System perished, the creature stepped through the portal to Koranth.
“How can this be?” asked Celestina. “I’ve never heard of anything like this.”
“Of course not,” replied the old man. “Your own Ministry never wanted you to hear of this ever.” After another cough and drink of water, the old man continued to tell his tale.
As is still the case, portals are dangerous devices. The Twelfth Corporation had placed the Koranth side of this portal in the remote jungles of the country of Zuoruntu. Unbeknownst to the Ministry or the Corporation, the portal had been placed near a sacred site of the Burongi.
When the being came through the portal, it massacred everything the Corporate military could throw at it. It merely walked up and whomever it touched burst into flames. It was a terrifying death, but what came next was even worse. Some of the Burongi had been watching what was happening. They were still mostly a tribal people, living in the jungles and the mountains at that time. They witnessed the creature’s destructive nature and then watched as the beast began to gnaw on the burned bones of the dead.
A young warrior chief among the Burongi was outraged at what was viewed as sacrilege. He traveled into the sacred site, where a warrior king of old was buried. The Burongi believe that this king of old had fought demons of some hell with a weapon from the gods—Sabro. The chief retrieved the blade from the burial tomb and returned to fight the being.
“The blade passed through the creature, just as every other weapon had. For a mere second, it appeared that the being would be unaffected, but then its scream shook the trees. Much like Celestina’s arm, the creature was frozen.
A scientist, who had hidden in the jungle, began to examine the being. He was frozen solid, but within a few hours, the Lord of the Fourth System began to thaw. Fortunately, one of the Ministry’s Ministers had come to the site. Upon seeing the creature starting to move, he ordered it thrown back through the portal. The being, that Lord of the Fourth System, was returned to his own world and within a few minutes, the portal was powered down.
The Ministry moved quickly to absorb the Twelfth Corporation and all its assets. A large stone temple was built over the portal, and within a few years, the jungle reclaimed the evidence of our so-called advanced human activity.
Celestina watched as the old man worked through another terrible coughing fit. It was apparent that he was in great pain. She felt some pity for him but wanted a few more answers before she left him. She summoned the doctor, commanding him to administer another dose of whatever stimulant was keeping the old man alert.
“So, the Ministry actually absorbed the Corporation and took its rights to this planet of great wealth?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied, “but only to power down the portal and make sure no one ever opened it again.”
“So, your family long ago was entrusted with the sword and the story. Who else knows?” asked Celestina, her eyes getting wider and wider.
“Chief Executive Minister, the people in this room are the only ones,” replied the old man, as yet another wrenching coughing fit gripped him, and he began to choke.
She glared at him until the fit ran its course. He stared at her with blank, empty eyes. She cared little, as she only had one last inquiry. “Pray tell me then, old man,” began Celestina, with a greedy glint in her eyes, “where is this portal hidden?”
Celestina let out a scream, as the old man’s head slumped and his eyes glazed over, staring into a distant place from which he would never return. He was dead, and any secrets from the Ministry’s past vanished as the final bit of air escaped from his lungs.
Turning to her longtime, trusted secretary, Besnik Treowe, she declared, “You’ve just been promoted. I don’t care how long it takes, or what resources you need, find me that portal!”
• • •
|Chapter 31||Chapter 33|