Mania glanced over at Invictus. He seemed relax and at ease, despite the large number of people in the room. She knew he hated crowds. He was wearing black slacks and a crimson button down. He had forgone a tie and had the cuffs rolled back once. His beard was trimmed to stubble and hair hung loose held back by his crown. When it came time for crowns to be made Invictus had fought viciously claiming he wouldn’t’ wear it. After Mania convinced him it would be best for the psychology of the nation and the security of the Empire, he relented and allowed an onyx crown with tip that looked like medieval spear heads with garnets set in the heads. He was leaning forward on his axe, both hands on the butt off the axe and his chin on his hands.
Mania also wore slacks, and black business coat over a red button blouse. Her katana hung from her hips and her hair was down, held back her matching onyx circlet with a garnet set in the center. Mania had asked for something small, light and easy to wear. She knew she would be wearing it more often than Invictus wore his, and wanted something that wouldn’t bother her in long diplomatic meetings. Invictus and her had agreed to look nice, but not overly so to host this meeting.
The Empire of Earth had agreed to host the first ever meeting of the Union of Allied Systems. Invictus and Mania knew that it would be the first time so many planets would come together to form one solid alliance. Invictus had compared to a Galactic United Nations. They had offered to host the first meeting, provide security, food, and a room large enough for the leaders and ambassadors of hundreds of planet systems to meet.
The co-rulers of earth stood in the largest room the imperial complex had to offer, waiting for the rest of the leaders to arrive. Guards dressed in crimson flanked Mania and almost all the other important visitors. Invictus had sent his two guards to patrol the room. Earth had provided two guards to anyone that would have them. Very few leaders had turned down guards. Earth had come into a reputation for fierce powerful warriors and the most elite guard corps in the galaxy.
Mania glanced over at her companion again. She could just barely make out a hint of a blue glow from between the buttons of his shirt. Her angle afforded her a view of the glowing blue line that ran flush with his right collar-bone and disappeared into his shirt.
“How long until you leave to begin the Sagittarius project?” Mania asked as she scanned the room. Invictus glanced over at her without changing position.
“My men and I are ready to deploy at any time. We are just waiting for the Pakshakur to gather the men he wants to take” Invictus rumbled, glancing longingly at the bar. Mania frowned at him.
“Don’t even think about it before giving your presentation of the project!” Mania said glaring at him. She returned to looking around the room. “And you’re sure it will work?” she asked.
Invictus frowned. “As sure as I can be without going in and checking for myself” Mania sighed then glanced at the door and very nearly cringed. The Pakshakur had finally arrived. She could see Invictus grinning like a wolf beside her.
“You should have told me he proposed marriage on his last visit” He smirked. “I’m very interested to see how you answer him now that he has returned expecting an answer.” Mania shot Invictus an extremely dirty look as the leader of Earth’s staunchest allies approached.
The Pakshakur was easily over 8 feet tall. He was a massive humanoid alien, he wore something similar to leather leggings and metal boots. His torso sported a single leather strap that strapped a massive spiked shoulder pad to his shoulder. He and his guards looked like professional bodybuilders.
The most unsettling thing about the Shakur race was their eyes and skin tone. Their skin ranged from light pink to a mute purple, and inky black markings covered their skin from head to toe. Invictus said when darkly colored Shakur bled out, the color slowly faded out of them until they were light purple, and the pink ones turned solid white.
No hair grew on their body, instead they had horns. The Pakshakur had small pointed multiple horns growing from his head, but both his guards only had two long thick curled horns that nearly represented rams horns.
Shakur eyes only came in two colors. The males all had eyes the exact same shade as a sapphire gem. The females eyes where the color of a ruby. Mania had never seen a female Shakur, but Invictus claimed they were terrifying creatures.
The Pakshakur was purple, and wore a bright orange cloak over shoulders the sole symbol of his leadership.
Mania’s eyes popped slightly at the cloak. “Does he wear that on Trappist?” Mania asked. She heard Invictus chuckle beside her.
“They keep the heat and sand off you.” He responded “I don’t know exactly how they work, but you can cross the biggest desert on Trappist in one of those and not sweat a drop” Invictus glanced over at the bar again. “I’ll show you mine later, they made me a red one.” Mania glared at him again.
“You’re never going on another field trip to newly discovered planets without me again.” She huffed. Invictus smirked but didn’t reply as the Paksahur closed in.
He stopped in front of the leaders of Earth and to Mania’s surprise, he addressed Invictus first. The Pakshakur dipped his head in Invictus’s direction.
“Zetherim” He said quietly. Invictus responded with a deep nod.
“Pakshakur.” He responded. The alien didn’t raise his head until Invictus responded, then turned to look at Mania. He bowed onto one knee and bowed his head.
“Empress Mania, World Builder, Warrior Queen, Ruler of Stars, Caretaker of the People,.” He said. Mania was somewhat taken aback by the bow. Invictus had explained to her the Shakur process of formal greetings years ago when the Pakshakur had first come to Earth. She knew it was custom to greet one another with titles that you acknowledge the other person held, but normally two people of the same rank did not bow to one another. After the first formal meeting, the two individuals could decide on a less formal quicker greeting to be used in the future. The Pakshakur hadn’t greeted her with her full titles in years.
Mania did not bow but inclined her head and took a deep breath.
“Rise Pakshakur, Warrior King, Undefeated Commander, Friend of the Empire of Earth.” She knew the Pakshakur had many more titles, but wanted him up off his knee as soon as possible. The large alien rose gracefully and a full grin split his face.
“How are you my friends?” he asked as he moved into conversation distance. Mania and Invictus smiled at him and Invictus shrugged.
“I’d be better with a drink in my hand.” He said. Mania shot him a look as the Pakshakur looked curiously at Invictus.
“you still have yet to let me try this rotten drink that makes humans so clumsy.” He said. Invictus chuckled.
“We still aren’t sure if Shakur can process it!” He looked slyly over at Mania. “I’m sure Empress Mania wouldn’t mind escorting you to the bar and letting you try a drink. Since I’m not allowed over there myself right now.” Mania shot Invictus a look so full of venom it would have killed a lesser man.
“hmmm, I see your ruse Zetherim.” The Pakshakur rumbled. He turned to look at Mania “I would like your answer to my proposal if it pleases you. So that we may continue the rest of this event without it hanging about us.” He jerked a thumb at Invictus. “And so this one stops grinning like a child with his first sword.”
Mania looked over at Invictus who was straight-faced, still leaning on his axe. Mania looked back into the Pakshakur’s sapphire eyes. She laid one hand on her Katana and squeezed lightly.
“I am sorry Pakshakur, but I must decline your offer. The planet of Earth is still young to the idea of aliens and intergalactic commerce. Many of our people still fear what they do not understand. It would greatly upset our people If I married a non-Human.” She paused. “As great of a travesty that is. Humans tend to be slow to change and accept anything different.”
After a long moments pause, Pakshakur looked over at Invictus.
“She bedded you didn’t she?” He asked a grin splitting his lips. Invictus’s face remained impassive. Mania’s “No!” was nearly drowned out by Invictus’s quiet “Hard to know.” The Pakshakur’s grin widened. “I thank you for your thoughtfulness in your response.” He smiled at Mania. “I asked mostly to appease my Other Half. She felt it would benefit Earth and Trappist relationships and wouldn’t listen to anything otherwise.” Mania glanced at Invictus in confusion.
“Shakur don’t take wives. Shakur women have combat over which male they want. The two are then paired and referred to as “Other Half”. Aside from the fight itself there is no marriage or bonding ceremony.” Invictus explained. Mania shook her head as the Pakshakur chuckled.
“now let us go have that drink” the Pakshakur said. He motioned for Mania to lead the way to the bar. Now that the hard part was over, Mania happily fell instep beside the Pakshakur.
“Bring me a –“ “No.” Mania cut off Invictus request as they made their way to the bar. Leaving Invictus to scour the room from his prop on his axe. She could hear the Pakshakur laughing as they made their way to the bar.
“Sometimes you are too hard on the Zetherim.” He rumbled as they stopped in front of the bar. Mania pointed to two beers behind the bar.
“When are you going to tell me what that means?” she asked looking up at the large warrior. He curiously picked up glass full of a light beer. Mania’s was darker and he examined it too.
“Zetherim? He hasn’t told you himself?” He sniffed the lighter beer. “The story is his alone to tell. I will not tell it for him.” He took a long drink, draining half the glass of the light beer. The warrior’s nose scrunched. “it taste like rotten wheat.” He said.
“You’re not far off. How come you always greet him with only that title? And always with that title?” she asked, sipping her own beer. The Pakshakur looked thoughtfully into his glass and downed the rest of the beer.
“It is the highest title we may bestow on our world. There has only been two in our history and he is one. It is enough to know that at any moment he could call upon my warriors and they would take up their weapons and follow him.”
Mana frowned. “Even while you are living?” the Pakshakur nodded. Then looked down into his empty glass.
“How long until I start stumbling and talking over loudly?” he asked. Mania laughed.
“For you? We don’t know, wait about 15 minutes and if you feel fine have another.”
The pakshakur’s face changed suddenly from a jovial smile to a warriors rage from a sight behind her she couldn’t see. She was dimly aware of a thumping sound, and the sound of metal sliding on metal.
A loud buzzing sound filled Mania’s ears. She felt rather than saw her guards spin and hoist their weapons, a large glaive in David’s hand, and a spear in Andy’s. She looked up and drew both her Katana in the same instant. Things she didn’t recognize descended from the ceiling. They had wings like beetles, but had two legs and two arms.
When they landed, she saw that they hardly stood at four feet tall, but there wings folded onto their backs to form a hard shell. Their legs seemed short and stumpy with two claw like toes on the ends, but their arms were thick and bulging with insect like muscle. They were built like a beetle, thick and boxy, with no neck to speak of, just a thick head and two beetle like pincers that extended from their jaws like elephant tusk.
The first thing Mania noticed is that they were heavily armed. Many of them carried spears to make up for their short stature and reach. The second thing she noticed is that there were a lot of them. With a quick glance around she could see that at least fifteen had surrounded her and her guards. They must have known she would be guarded. She could hear her guards fighting before the creatures ever hit the ground behind her, and the sound of the Pakshakur roaring in rage. She snapped her head around towards Invictus in a moment of terror. He had sent his guards away.
She realized now the sounds she had heard earlier. Someone had walked up behind Invictus and pulled him at the same moment as kicking his axe out from under him. He had fallen and his axe slid across the floor. Mania glimpsed a human figure sprinting towards the exit with Invictus axe in hand.
She turned to look where Invictus was standing and her heart dropped. She could see a dagger, in its off state lodged in Invictus’s ribs. Two of the creatures lay dead at Invictus feet. She could see his knuckles busted open and bleeding where he had beat them to death. Nearly twenty of the creatures surrounded him, pressing for a chance to take out the Praetor of Earth while he was guard less and weaponless.
Mania turned her attention back to the enemies in front of her just in time to behead one for stepping to close. She blocked a jab from a spear and watched David’s glaive appear over her shoulder and strike the spear wielding enemy. He staggered and Mania struck him down. She spun and sliced open the chest of two more enemies and watched green blood spill from their wounds as they staggered back.
She glanced back over at Invictus. His face was a thunder storm and she could see six more creatures dead by his hands. The sleeves of his shirt were all but torn off and she could see his arms stained up to his elbows with green blood. It mixed with the red blood that poured from his knuckles. A spiked mace was lodged in his left shoulder blade. She could see the handle sticking out from over his shoulder.
She watched in horror as two came from behind him and attempted to grab his arms. She could see the rage etched into every line of his face as he swung his head forward and down head-butting the approaching enemy. The creature’s beetle tusk pierce Invictus’s chest but the thing crumbled, Invictus’s crown caving its skull. The one on his right arm leaped up into his back and attempted to pinch Invictus with its tusk. Invictus roared and reached up curling his arm around its head. He jerked his arm down, snapping the creature’s neck and pulling it to the floor before turning and lifting the one in his left arm off the ground with the help of his now free right arm. He slammed the creature into the ground, then lifted it back up and repeated the process. His others foes backed up slightly as he pounded the creature into the ground until it died.
The creatures seemed timid when not in numbers. She could see now that her attackers had become more cautious and even started to back up now that her and her guards had whittled their numbers down. All around the room she could see guards protecting their charges, and moving them towards the exit. She moved forward and sliced two more at the neck and called back to her guards. “We have to reach the Praetor.” She felt them move closer to her as began cutting her way into her remaining attackers.
Just then all hell broke loose. Dozens more of the beetles flooded down from the ceiling and she heard the sound of Invictus roaring and snapped her head around.
He was fury incarnate. A beetle sized great sword was lodge in to his hip bone. A total of twelve enemies lay dead at Invictus bare hands. He was covered in a mixture of green and red blood. Red blood poured from his forehead under his crown, and from all of his knuckles.
“YOU DARE ENTER MY HOME AND ATTACK MY PEOPLE”. Invictus roared. She watched as the creatures warily closed back in on him, many of them looking terrified, some even shaking.
Invictus stepped forward awkwardly and grabbed one by its pincers, throwing it into more of its comrades. A brave beetle stepped forwards and snagged Invictus shirt with its sword, his shirt finally tore and slipped of his torso and the entire room froze.
A blue glowing line ran from Invictus’s sternum up to his collar, flush with his right collar bone, over his shoulder, and down his bicep until the line disappeared inside his forearm, but that wasn’t what caught the beetle’s attention. Every single person in the room with the exception of Mania and the Pakshakur looked straight at three small black pouches hanging from a leather cord around Invictus’s neck.
One of the beetles gave what could only be called a scream. It threw down its weapon and bolted for the door. Word spread through the enemy and soon they were in mass retreat. Running in terror from Invictus as he lashed out at as many as he could with his fist as they passed him. Invictus moved forward as fast as he could. Attempting to chase the retreating enemy.
“Guards!” Mania called to the room. “Rally forces and run them off this planet!” Every guard in the room except her royal guards, turned and sprinted after the retreating enemy. Then she ran and cut off Invictus. “Stop.” She told him as she stood in front of him. “Infirmary. Now.” She looked Invictus in the eye.
Invictus glared and bared his teeth. “Mania. Get out of my way or so help me God I will drop you and every single guard you place in my way.” At his words, both David and Andy stepped in front of her and raised their weapons. “You DARE?” Invictus snarled.
“You made your commands perfectly clear when you established the royal guard Sir.” David said. “Empress Mania’s word is law, and we are to protect her from ALL threats.” He emphasized ‘all’ with a steel in his voice. Invictus leveled his gaze at the two men.
“You are good men.” He told them. Then everyone watched in horror as Invictus reached up and across his back. He pulled the spiked mace from his shoulder blade and gave it a small test swing. “I’ll try not to break anything.” The guards tensed and waited for Invictus to move first, but then they heard the sound of the Pakshakur swearing in his native language and the sound of thundering footsteps.
Invictus couldn’t turn in time. The Pakshakur’s unarmored shoulder slammed into him at a full run, shoving Invictus across the floor and laying him out cold.
“He is a great warrior.” He rumbled. “But his leadership skills need a little work.” He huffed. Mania sighed and looked around the room. Green blood covered the floor and bodies of the attackers lay strewn. She couldn’t see any of her men’s bodies nor the bodies of any of the leaders. She watched as the two royal guards that had been assigned to Invictus appeared. They moved quickly Mania.
“Empress. During the battle the Praetor sent us after a man who stole his axe. A traitor or spy we think.” The man paused. “He got away.” Both men hung their heads slightly.
“You are guards, not stalkers.” Mania replied. “He should have kept you by his side.” She glanced over at Invictus sprawled on the floor. “Take him to the infirmary and stand guard and I will send someone to relive you. You’ve done the best you can to your ability.” The two guards moved to do as Mania had asked. “How did he lose his axe?” Mania asked looking over at the Pakshakur. The massive warrior frowned.
“He was leaning on the blasted thing, and the traitor came up behind him and kicked it out from under him while pulling him down. The axe slid across the floor as the-“ he said a word in his language she didn’t recognize. “descended.”
“I saw the man running with it.” Mania frowned. She glanced at the Pakshakur. “You know of these creatures?” He nodded. “Do you know where their home world is?”
The Pakshakur folded his arms. “I do. I will go and gather my men and meet you there.” Mania nodded and turned to Andy. “Go and alert Imperator Joseph and tell him to gather the Legti.” Mania curled her hand around her katana. “We have a planet to burn.”