CHAPTER 4 – The Fight for Freedom
“Grandfather – tell us, again, about great-aunt Claudine and the Dark Lord!”
Raphael looked around at a crowd of expectant faces, young faces, his grandchildren from Jychondria, Dante, Remilla, Daniel, and Lyonell. Dark-haired, blonde, tawny, and even one tiny red-haired girl, the children looked up at him with anticipation with their beautiful great blue eyes, lined with violet and one pair of great golden eyes from Commander Lyonell’s son. “Tell us, Grandfather!”
“Settle down, children!” Raphael gently chided, even as he settled the youngest child firmly on his lap. The tiny red-haired girl looked up at him, grinned, and then slumped against his warm comforting chest. “Better than me telling you – I will show you what happened now many years ago – how your great-aunt Claudine and our great Fleet and allies saved all the Pleiades! Now, quiet as I tell you the tale!”
As he spoke softly, Raphael also sent telepathic images of the events as they unfolded, events that he had lived through, some of which he had participated in, and others that he had witnessed from afar with his remote viewing skills and visions: “Once upon a time, I lived on Alyona and worked with my father, your great-grandfather, Lord Demetrius VaCoupe, a great man and a great leader, who had led the Pleiadian people for centuries, despite the depredations of the vicious war against our people directed by the dark Orion forces.
At that time, I was a Head Commander, although not one who has been promoted up through the ranks upon the ships of the Fleet. I started out as a Line Communications Tech and then became a Specialty Commander when the Starship Project began. By the end of the project, when it was shut down, I had already been promoted to a 2nd Level Commander. After the end of the project, when it was evident that enemy attacks would soon elevate in strength and frequency due to our unveiling of their agents amongst our people and Fleet, I was again promoted, this time to the rank of Head Commander and assigned to work out of the administrative offices in Alyona and in conjunction with the Alyona Communications Control Center. I was given the official title of “Aide” for my father, Lord Demetrius. In truth, I worked more in concert with the Command Center to advise my father and his on-site commanders of any enemy incursions within our borders.
Since I was a trained Communications Specialist and had designed the program to train these men, I was able to periodically do scans on my own with the assistance of my highly qualified Aide, Specialty Commander Salaniel DeAires. We often performed our own scans to test the waters, to see if we could detect anything out of sorts within Federation space. It was during one such scan that I saw an attack on the Elexa spaceport and shipbuilding yards – only it was a vision from the future and had not happened yet. While at the Command Center, I was hit, again, by another powerful vision and saw that the planets of Krey, Vey, and Serana were also about to get hit by a multi-prong attack. The enemy was determined to make us pay for thwarting their efforts to infiltrate into our midst.
After giving orders, I collapsed into the arms of one of my Feline Eagles, the great Milo, and was carried fainting into the Head Commander’s office. Coming awake briefly I gave more orders and fainted once more. Then my Father arrived and requested I be taken back to my quarters where I could rest and be taken care of by Julia and her companion, Mistress Frida.”
Here Raphael stopped as one of the male children remarked, “Grandfather, you fainted? Isn’t that unmanly?”
Raphael grinned and nodded, as he replied, “I’m sure some people would regard it so, but the burden of my powerful gifts of Sight occasionally caused an equally powerful reaction at times and I require a long rest to recover. Now, are you going to listen or ask me more questions?”
Some of the children nodded and others shook their heads. Raphael looked at them and huffed, “So, what is it going to be? Listen or questions?”
“Listen, listen, Grandfather – tell us your story!” yelled the oldest boy, Charles, son of Jychondria and Lady Rita, as he frowned at the other little ones who were fidgeting.
“Okay, children – you’ve now heard me place myself on the stage. My lady and I were living on Alyona. Your uncle Dante was still attending school at the University Ship and receiving private tutoring since he was but fifteen at the time.”
“It was only two months from the first attack when another took place, larger than the first. This time I had had another series of potent visions outlining the anticipated attacks and so we were able to get our ships into position and set up ambushes for the enemy fighters and frigates before they arrived. Our citizens were forewarned to stock up on supplies and to seek shelter, especially those living in large cities.
The targets of this next attack were the worlds of Airus, Maia, and BerWare. Our men in the Command proved their bravery in those long hours as they engaged in battle against the enemy fleets, often over the very cities and villages they were defending. In the end of each thrust, the enemy was defeated, unable to land a single fighter anywhere on the targeted worlds. We knew this would not be the end of the attacks since our defiance seemed to anger the dark lords even more…
And so, it went on, attack after attack, usually striking three planets at a time from different sides of the Federation. While our men fought valiantly for over an entire decade, the constant state of vigilance and defense wore down the spirits of the Fleet. It took the great heart of Commander Lyonell and some of our great allies, including the Ashkerians, to instill courage and hope back into our people. And now, as I look back upon those difficult years, I can feel I am there once more, with the people I love… and loved…
Many years before…
Raphael came back to his senses, pulling out of the scan. As Commander DeAires watched him with concern, he took a deep breath and stated, “The enemy forces are about to attempt another attack on Elexa. They know we have two motherships under construction there, never mind the assorted fighters, scout ships, and troop carriers. To destroy that base would be a major victory for them, but we’re going to prevent it once again!”
It was then he remembered his father was at home in Medina for a visit. He exclaimed: ‘I must warn Father and Raimundo! The town of Medina is going to be hit!”
Frantically, Raphael punched in his father’s code for Medina. There was no answer. He took a deep breath, connected to the Mother Crystal of Alyona, and sent a telepathic message, “Father, Raimundo! Answer me! Lady Amethyst, answer me!”
It was the calm voice of the Shekinah, Lady Amethyst, who finally answered him, “What is wrong, Raphael? You feel panicked. Breathe, my son, and calm down. Tell me what has happened or is about to happen.”
“My lady…oh, my lady, Medina itself, the town is about to be attacked! My father and mother are there; you and your ladies are there! The Shemont, our home… my friends!”
“Again, calm down, Raphael. I have seen this, too. We have and are taking preventive measures to defeat the purpose of the Enemy who knows that this modest town is a center of devotion for the entire Federation and the home of the Lord of the Pleiades. They mean to strike at the heart of the People and to break our collective will so we will be utterly defeated and easy to conquer. However, the Enemy knows not the power of the Shemont or the great Mother Crystal of this planet. Even now, we have extended a great energy Dome over the city that will fend off any attacks from the air. It will not prevent an invasion by ground troops but let us hope it doesn’t come to that extremity,” replied Lady Amethyst calmly even as she sent calming energies to Raphael. “Notify the closest ships so they can defend the outlying villages and towns like your old town of Jolf. We are safe…for now.”
Raphael took another deep breath as recommended by Amethyst and then replied telepathically, “Thank you, Lady – now I must try to connect with Father once more. I tried at home but there was no answer in his study…”
“Ah, didn’t you know that your Father departed earlier today so he could return to Alyona in time for the High Council. Your mother, Lady Anna, is still here assisting one of your distant cousins through the delivery of her first child, along with Lady Arrina and our local midwives. When I spoke to Raimundo earlier today, his brother had already departed. He is up in space flying The Golden Sparrow…”
“Unescorted? Oh, my stars – excuse me, Lady. I need to get ahold of the Communications Center. Be safe, my Lady!”
“Raphael – I will endeavor to reach Raimundo and Lady Anna, even if I have to go in person!” Lady Amethyst’s telepathic voice conveyed her concern about the safety of Lord Demetrius. His little ship was fast, but it was not a fighter designed for combat or capable of evading a whole fleet.
Why did his father leave Medina alone? What possessed him, a man well-known for his caution and discipline? A concerned Raphael stood up and shouted out to his patient assistant, Commander DeAires, “Salaniel – we’re going to the Command Center! Milo, Loki, to me!”
Even the long-legged Felines had a tough time keeping up with a hurrying Raphael as panic lent speed to his feet. He burst past the startled guard, entered the Command Center, and yelled out: “Another attack is coming, men! Tiny Pea-on, Majohra, Romana… and Medina are targeted! Part of you focus your attention on those planets and notify the nearest Command vessels to set in motion immediate defensive efforts. Oh, Commander Lo’Telle – could you have a couple of your men perform a survey to locate Lord VaCoupe’s vessel, The Golden Sparrow? Apparently, she left Medina just this morning. She should have arrived here by now. I fear something untoward has happened to her… and my Father!”
As Commander Lo’Telle approached Raphael, he noticed the young man’s face blanch as he began to sink to the floor. Lo’Telle shouted to the nearest Eagle, “Get him, Loki! He’s being hit with another vision!”
Eagle Loki tenderly picked up Raphael and carried him to the Commander’s office and placed him on one of the pillow chairs there. The Eagle held him upright as Raphael stared blankly, grimacing at what he saw…
“My lord, what are you seeing?” asked Commander Lo’Telle carefully, knowing not to disturb the vision Raphael was experiencing… but he was unprepared for what Raphael whispered next:
“My father, The Golden Sparrow – they’re gone, destroyed!” Then, unexpectedly, Raphael opened his eyes and clutched at the commander’s arm, “My sister – Claudine, needs to notified immediately!”
“Milo or DeAires – get Lord Raphael some juice to drink for when he fully comes to… What are we going to do now? The Lord of the Pleiades dead? Commander Francis is too young yet to be the Lord…”
Raphael grimaced again at what he was seeing and then, he said firmly, “Claudine will have to accept the Regency on behalf of her nephew until he is old enough to rule on his own! She should be within the Castle by now; the High Council starts in a day or two and she always arrives early. Get ahold of Francis Polaño now and have him notify Claudine that I will be visiting her in her suite this afternoon so we can plan our next steps…”
Later, with the assistance of his two Feline Eagles, Raphael limped to the suite of his sister Claudine, which, oddly enough, he had never entered for as long as he had known her. Loki knocked and stepped back when Lady Arla opened the door and looked at the head commander with alarm. “What ails you, Raphael – you look so pale and why are your Eagles holding you up?”
Raphael ignored Claudine’s query and abruptly interrupted her, an uncharacteristic move that startled the priestess and advisor to Claudine. He asked, “Is my sister present? I need to speak to her now!”
“My lord! She is resting after the long trip here. Could you come back later?” Lady Arla replied firmly, momentarily confused by Raphael’s aggressiveness.
“No! It can’t wait – my father, our father is dead!” snapped Raphael, who then shouted, “Claudine – I need to speak to you; it’s an emergency!”
Curious as to all the commotion outside her door, Claudine sauntered out to the sitting room. She was surprised to see her brother Raphael standing there, confronting her disturbed confidant, Lady Arla, “What is going on, Raphael – Arla, let the man in! Now, sit down, brother and explain yourself!”
Raphael felt he just couldn’t wrap the news up to break it to her softly, so he blurted it out, “Father is dead, and The Golden Sparrow has been destroyed!”
Although her complexion was darker than Raphael’s, Claudine’s face now looked like the color of milk. She stared at him as he sent her a telepathic vision of what he had seen: The beautiful Golden Sparrow was flying through the deep of space and coming up even with BerWare when, suddenly, the ship was confronted with a squadron of darkly tinted fighters. Startled, Lord VaCoupe attempted to cloak the vessel, but it was too late; the fighters had their coordinates and blasted away. The golden ship died that day, carrying the Lord of the Pleiades to his death and the Enemy rejoiced believing that now the Pleiadian people would surrender…
Raphael’s face was grim as he delivered more shocking news: “Four worlds are now under attack or about to be – I’ve already had the local authorities and closest ships notified so defenses can be put into place, but all for naught. Father is gone and we must produce an immediate replacement!”
Claudine stared at him for a moment and then asked, “How is our nephew, Francis VaCoupe, coming along in his training?”
“He’s a bright young man, industrious, intelligent, and obedient, but I don’t think he is ready to lead the Federation in the midst of war, Claudine,” replied Raphael as he gave a sober assessment of his nephew’s state of mind. “He is going to be crushed to hear his grandfather has been killed, and frankly, I don’t trust him to be mature enough to handle what comes next…”
“And what is that, Raphael?” Claudine searched her brother’s face. He wasn’t displaying much emotion but she knew he was suppressing his grief for the moment so he could continue to function.
“You, Sister, will have to become the Regent until young Francis is older or until this destructive war ceases,” replied Raphael. “Now that Father has been killed, the Dark Lord is going to demand our full surrender! I don’t think – no, I know Francis would not yet be able to handle that kind of situation.”
“You want a regency? Have you thought of taking the place of Regent yourself? You’ve been training and guiding Francis for years now. You, of all people, would know when he is ready to assume full command over the Federation as its leader,” inquired Claudine.
“I will be frank with you, Sister, I don’t feel that the Federation would never accept me, the adopted son, in place of a real VaCoupe. And I fear that Francis will go the way of his father if the Dark Lord confronts him in person. I don’t want that to happen to another member of my family, not like what happened with Reynar, my father TorSeth, your mate’s cousin, Salazar, and what almost happened with Esturias,” replied Raphael. “I don’t feel the young man has had enough life experience or possesses the necessary toughness and strength of will endure such a confrontation but would be soon overpowered and then we would truly be lost as a people.”
“Why do you feel I would make a better regent than you, Raphael?” Claudine still pressed Raphael, knowing full well he was right, yet she was hesitating until he convinced her with his arguments.
Raphael looked into his sister’s deep blue eyes, like her father’s, and said, “I know you, Claudine – I have never said this before aloud, but you were my mate when I was Rigo. We have walked side by side as soul mates for lifetimes together. There is great Power within you, Claudine. Now, is your time to prove your courage before your people and save them from a fate worse than death – permanent slavery under the cruel hands of the Dark Lords of Lower Orion.”
The color returned to her face as Claudine listened to her adopted brother give his dissertation. A tiny smile appeared on her face as she finally replied to him, “I will do it, Raphael, for you and our people. We will stand together and deliver them from certain servitude for after this long war and so much loss, the Enemy will seek to punish us in kind.”
“Then, we need to address the High Council and let them know of the change in leadership,” replied Raphael. “I will notify Francis to make the arrangements. There will be no celebratory dinners this week. We are under siege. We will have a memorial service for our fallen leader later. Lord Demetrius VaCoupe, may he ever rest in peace!”
“Yes, you and I will have to wait to properly mourn our Father, perhaps back on Medina, if there is anything left of that world; however, until we stop the Dark from conquering our worlds, we must wait for the time when we can bring our family together and mourn for the loss of our great patriarch,” replied Claudine. “Now, I need to inform my husband, Stephanus, that I outrank him, as I will when I take the regency. I hope he will understand and support me in this effort. Stephanus will be shocked; he doesn’t know the full array of my gifts like you do. Yes, we stood together at the outpost long ago. Perhaps that long-hidden memory stirred my longing to see those beautiful golden ships, again, like we did when our first fleets left the planet now called Medina. It is ironic that I was born on that planet and that you would find a home there, again, after so long a time… but now, go and tell those who need to be informed. I will prepare myself here and pray hard for guidance.”
Raphael straightened up and gave his sister a salute, hand to chest, “My lady, I will speak to Master Francis Polaño who can advise me on what arrangements are needed. And then, I must speak to the top commanders and notify them as to what has happened, as well as what may happen if we do not pull together and fight to defeat the enemy who is beyond our gates.”
The head commander saluted the astonished Lady Arla and stalked out of the door. Arla turned to Claudine and said, “Your father has been killed? I can’t believe it!”
Claudine went inside briefly and conferred with the crystallines. They verified Raphael’s vision as something that had already occurred. She opened her eyes and calmly replied, “It is so, Arla – and now, we must gird our loins and go into battle!”
When Raphael reached his father’s office, he found a worried Francis who looked up and said, “I don’t understand it – your father should have arrived long before now. Your expression, Raphael – what has happened?”
“Sit down, Francis and brace yourself,” ordered Raphael. He turned to Milo and asked the Feline Eagle to get some tea for the man. “I cannot phrase this anymore gently, Francis – the Enemy has killed your long-time master and lord. Even now, they are planning to force us to surrender, believing that without our leader we will be helpless. I am here to tell you that we will fight and not allow our people to be taken into servitude like that which I suffered as a child. I have already spoken to my sister Claudine – she has agreed to become regent until Commander Francis VaCoupe has matured enough to assume the role of the Lord of the Pleiades. He is not anywhere near that stage yet in my honest estimation. To be fair to the boy and to protect our people, I have enlisted my elder sister to serve, at least temporarily, as our Supreme Leader.”
Francis stared at Raphael in shock, “A woman, Raphael? Are you insane? The lords will never accept her, even if she is a mated to a king.”
Raphael gave Francis a warrior’s grin, “Then they don’t know her like I do, Master Francis. For my beautiful sister will prove her great courage to our people in the days to come!”
“You have seen this, my lord?” Francis was stunned. Then he nodded, “She has a powerful personality like all your family… well, you weren’t born a VaCoupe, but you certainly fit in that family. So, now, what are we to do? Is there time to have a memorial for our fallen leader, Lord Demetrius VaCoupe?”
“I don’t wish to shock you, Francis, but no, not now,” replied Raphael. “We have to do a great deal of planning in preparation for the onslaught that is sure to come since the enemy believes he has us by the throat!” He paced about for a minute and then announced, “I’m going back to the Command Center for a while; I need to contact some of our allies to send immediate help!”
“Isn’t too late, my lord?,” questioned Francis. “The enemy is already here…”
“However, they don’t know that I already contacted our allies a month ago. Their ships are just inside our Federation space and will reveal themselves when I order them to do so,” replied Raphael.
Francis stared at him, shook his head, and then remarked, “Sometimes I forget that you were Lord Delos a couple of lifetimes ago, my lord. What should I say to the representatives from the planets; most of them are already here and ready to start their sessions tomorrow?”
“I will take care of that, too, Francis – only there won’t be any dinners or celebrations. We are currently in a state of siege and mourning, as well, for my father, Lord Demetrius,” replied Raphael. Francis had never seen the commander appear more sober in aspect, but also alight with inner determination. “Open the chapel for those who wish to pray for the soul of Lord Demetrius. Our family will hold a memorial service at the Shemont when this is all over – if we survive!”
“Yes, my lord – I will send word to the representatives as to the change of plans. However, I will not give out any specifics until you speak to them, sir,” said Francis. “I wish you well with your plans, my lord; it is good that you are here to oversee these developments.”
“Right now, Francis, unless our plans go well, Alyona may be the last world to fall, so prepare accordingly. Order supplies while you can and make sure the shelters are prepared for non-combatants. We have a lot of extra guests here right now,” ordered Raphael.
“I will, sir – may I say you should have been a top commander, sir; you have a natural understanding and ability to see the big picture, my lord,” said Francis with admiration. “Now, we both have work to do, my lord – you better go to the Command Center and see how Commander Lo’Telle is managing…”
“Indeed – take care, Francis; if all comes to naught and we lose, I have enjoyed knowing and working with you, Master Francis. And thanks for being such a dedicated staff member for my father,” said Raphael, briefly grasping the shoulders of the slender personal assistant. “Now, I’m off – Loki, Milo, DeAires – we’re going back to the Command Center!”
When the guard captain saw a determined Lord Raphael approaching the Command Center, he merely saluted and stepped aside. Raphael nodded and entered the building and shouted, “Men, I need your attention now!”
Commander Lo’Telle was on the floor surveying the workstations and looked up startled. He came over and asked, “How are you feeling, my lord?”
“Fine, fine, Commander Lo’Telle; now, I want the attention of all your men. I have an announcement to make!” Raphael stood tall, backed up by his huge Feline Eagles, with Commander DeAires nervously lingering nearby awaiting orders. Raphael surveyed the room as Lo’Telle called for men’s attention, and then he stepped forward, projecting his voice so all could hear him easily, “Men, I will not hide this from you; our Lord and Head Commander Demetrius VaCoupe has been killed by enemy forces this day. The attack also claimed the lives of his two dedicated guards, Commander Stephen Montoya, and Captain Longalis… and destroyed The Golden Sparrow, nearly the last of her kind save my own ship The Golden Cat.”
Raphael began to stride around slowly, emphasizing, “Although our leader is dead, we have a new leader. As my Father’s Aide and at present, the highest ranked military officer currently stationed here in Alyona, I have selected my elder sister, Claudine VaCoupe Vanairus of BerWare to be regent until such time as when Specialty Commander Francis VaCoupe is deemed mature enough to lead our people. If we were not at war, he would become the Lord immediately, but right now, we need an experienced leader, one who has proven herself determined and courageous in the face of relentless attacks against her own planet of BerWare. I realize it is unusual to choose a woman, but that is the person we have. Being the adopted son of Lord VaCoupe, I am aware that I would be even less of a choice to most of our worlds since I am not of the blood of the great House of Coupe. Therefore, I have arbitrarily chosen my indomitable sister, Claudine VaCoupe, to represent the House of Coupe until such time as we either fail as a free people or we break free of the enemy and throw him out beyond our borders forever!
“Since our leader has fallen, the Enemy will think us already defeated, but he is very, very wrong. If there is breath in our bodies, we chose to fight on. Are you with me, men?”
For a long moment, the men stared at Raphael completely stunned. Then, Milo, in his deep bass voice roared, “We are with you, Lord Raphael! God Bless Claudine!”
The other men roared in approval. Then, Raphael waved them silent once more: “Now, men, we need to prepare our strategy; how to defeat an Enemy who believes he has defeated us! Then, he proceeded to delineate all the parties to contact, including the great Ashkerian motherships and their attendant fleets who were standing off cloaked just inside Pleiadian Federation space, as well as the great Ashkerian fleet, led by Commanders Joffrey DeAir, and Tazo of Sirust. Orders were given out to reposition all the motherships and their fleets, with all ships cloaked. It would appear to the enemy scans that Pleiadian space was completely deserted… It would be far from the case…
The next step of the plan was to introduce Claudine as the regent over the Pleiadian Federation. Morning dawned bright and hot; it was the last week of summer. On Alyona, autumn would soon be nigh with cooler days and longer nights. Breakfast was served to the representatives before the main session got underway. The BerWarian king Stephanus attended on his own and spoke little to the others present. Some of the experienced representatives, lords, and ladies, wondered where his lady was, but Stephanus did not appear eager to speak to anyone.
When the representatives finally entered the great Council Chambers, they took their seats. They were stunned to see Claudine Vanairus escorted into the chamber by her brother, Lord Raphael Kantor-VaCoupe. Most of the representatives present had met or were aware of Lord Raphael as the military aide for Lord Demetrius VaCoupe. Gasps went up from the spectators and representatives when Lord Raphael escorted Claudine to the seat normally reserved for Lord Demetrius VaCoupe, Lord of the Pleiades and Supreme Head Commander of the Pleiadian Fleet.
One of the representatives from Maia stood up abruptly and shouted, “Where is Lord VaCoupe! Why is his daughter Claudine Vanairus seated in his place?”
It was then that the astonished representatives observed Lord Raphael come to stand in front of the Grand Council table to address the participants and spectators alike. The crowd was fidgeting, comments being made, while Lord Raphael stood there silently, his face somber. He was dressed in his formal uniform, complete with his blue Kantor sash, medallion of lordship, tall white boots, the silvery-white form-fitting uniform covered by a full ankle-length white cloak edged with blue and gold braiding. At length, the audience quieted down, especially as they felt his presence. Raphael pushed out his white pillar of protection to encompass the entire room and those present who were sensitive felt its power.
Raphael spread his arms wide with palms upward and called out for the Presence of Source Creator to bless the gathering. Now, the room was silent, observing this strange ritual which was without precedent. Then, Raphael spoke in his clear deep baritone, his voice pitched to reach the corners of the room: “Fellow citizens of the Pleiadian Federation, I greet you this day on behalf of the House of Coupe, the family from which the hereditary title of Lord of the Pleiades derives. Today, I must inform you of the passing of our great leader, Lord Demetrius VaCoupe, who as Lord and Supreme Head Commander of the Fleet has served our people without stint for centuries. Unfortunately, just hours ago, our lord and my father met with his demise when his ship, The Golden Sparrow, was shot down not far from BerWare. Lord VaCoupe and his two faithful BerWarian guards, Commander Montoya, and Captain Longalis, were also killed, and his ship destroyed.”
As Raphael paused there was a long moment of shock as the people present digested the news. Then a rumble of voices began to be heard as questions began to formulate in people’s minds. Again, Raphael spread wide his arms and the voices went silent as he effortlessly caught up the attention of the crowd. “Our lord was killed by the Enemy against whom we have been fighting for many centuries without respite. Now, the Enemy will expect our people to simply cave before their might. Without our leader, they think us without will or self-determination, but we are not like that, my people… I ask you my people, will we simply give up and allow the enemy to desecrate our lands, murder, rape, enslave our people, and pillage our industries, our fields and farms, our cities, towns, and villages? Or will we fight until we no longer have a breath in our bodies? What say you, my fellow Pleiadians?”
A brawny BerWarian chieftain abruptly stood up and shouted, “We will fight! To our last breath!”
Another representative stood up and addressed Raphael with the question on everyone’s mind, “My lord, will you be our leader? You are not a Top Commander in the Fleet, just a mere Aide for your father. What authority do you have and who has granted it to you?”
Raphael gave the questioner a penetrating glance, which shocked the man into silence. He nodded and replied, “It is a good question, my people. Yes, I am the adopted son of my father, the Lord of the Pleiades, who has served long in the background and so I shall continue to do so. However, as the oldest living son of Lord VaCoupe present, I wish to introduce you all to our next Regent, Claudine of BerWare!”
“Where is Commander Esturias VaCoupe? He is the oldest son of Lord VaCoupe!” shouted a representative from Krey, a newcomer to the Council.
Raphael smiled grimly, “It is clear you have not attended these events for quite a long time if ever, sir – the eldest son of Lord VaCoupe was incarcerated as a traitor some ten years ago and is still imprisoned within these walls. The second VaCoupe son is Master Roméo, a scientist and instructor in Astrophysics and not interested in leading the federation as the heir of Lord VaCoupe. So, that now leaves Claudine, who is eminently qualified – far more than you realize in the moment – to lead our people through this immediate crisis. There is a formal heir, the eldest son of Esturias VaCoupe, who is named Francis Dino VaCoupe, who is not present today as he is in mourning for his grandsire. Yet, it has been determined that Commander Francis is not yet mature enough to meet the enemy on the field for the enemy will expect it and soon. We will be expected to make a formal declaration of surrender. I have seen this… in my capacity as a Seer. And now, without further delay, I give the floor to Claudine!”
Claudine was wearing a formal cape lined with bright Berwarian embroidered silk. As she stood up, she shed the cloak revealing a dazzling form-fitting dress in gold and white, embroidered with seed pearls from Maia on the bodice and flowing over her hips to the ground. She was a beautiful woman, but today she was breathtaking, with her white blonde knee-length hair caught up into multiple braids, beaded with diamonds, silver and golden beads, and tiny bells that tinkled with every graceful move. She walked around to the front of the table where Raphael had remained and, while standing at his side, she began to address the people:
“I am Claudine VaCoupe Vanairus, Lady of BerWare, mated to King Stephanus when I was young. Since that time, I have attended these High Councils along with my husband and know many of those present very well. More importantly, I am the only daughter of Lord Demetrius VaCoupe. I am willing to take on this burden for my people, for, although I live on BerWare, I am from the House of Coupe, descended by blood from the Founder of our House. I have agreed to carry this burden until such a time as when my young nephew, Francis Dino VaCoupe, can fulfill his inherited duty to his people. More than that, I am willing to represent the entire Pleiadian Federation in any official dealings we might have with our enemy within the coming days. My brother, Lord Raphael, is a Seer and has sworn to stand at my side to act as military advisor, along with the assistance of our top commanders out in the field. Lord Raphael works through the Alyona Command Center, which, he himself set up many decades ago. He will be guiding our tactical teams on all ships while we wait to hear what is expected of us from the enemy. I am putting aside my grief for my father, so I might fulfill my duty to you and the rest of our people scattered across our stars. So be it! I AM Claudine!”
Then, Raphael brought out his great Crystal pendant and raised the Crystal to towards the ceiling, “I call forth the Light of Purity to guard our Regent as she endeavors to fulfill her duties in the hazardous days to come! Hail to Claudine, Regent for the Pleiadian Federation!”
As the people responded, the great Crystal glowed with a steadily increasing effulgence until its great Light filled the entire chamber. The people present looked at the sight with great wonder and awe. Yet, when they left the room, they were hard-pressed to describe what they had seen…as their minds were not yet ready to comprehend it.
Next, Raphael escorted Claudine back to her seat and he stood to the side of the table as he was not an official member of the High Council. His Eagle Guards were arrayed behind the high table as guardians of the High Council, those representatives who included lords and ladies from the largest planets.
Next, there were several items of business to cover, along with notification that there would not be any official dinners during this High Council week, out of respect for the passing of Lord VaCoupe. It was announced that the main Castle chapel would be open for those who wished to pray for the soul of their departed lord.
Raphael remained present in the council chambers until there was a break in the proceedings and he could leave without causing a stir. There was another exceedingly important item to take care of within the Fleet, the selection of who would become the Head Commander of the Fleet, a process in which he would have no input. Signing his Eagles to follow, he walked with Eduardo and Giorgio Montoya and asked them specifically how they were doing as they had lost an uncle even though he had lost his father that day.
Burly Eduardo had some tears running down his face as he answered, “Oh, my lord, thank you for inquiring. Both my brother, Giorgio, and I, are stunned. Commander Montoya served a long time in the service of our Lady. Our family was so proud when he was selected to attend to Lord VaCoupe. He served with great dignity and honor. While I have not seen him often save on occasion since we’ve been stationed here, I have always known our lord was safe in his keeping – until today. And I am profoundly sorry that you have also lost your father today – the second father you have lost in this lifetime, my lord?”
“It is so, Eduardo – this is only my second life as a Pleiadian and already I have lost three fathers – but this last one was the most difficult. I expected him to live another 200 years at least and instead he is taken from me, from all us prematurely as were my other fathers. I hope the end of this terrible war is arriving soon, so no other children need suffer such a loss!” Raphael glanced up at his tall companion, “Thank you for being here, Eduardo, despite your understandable grief.”
The tall BerWarian looked down at his companion and replied, “Like you, my lord, I must put aside my grief for now and protect you so you might serve our people along with Claudine. What a brave woman! Our people have always been proud of her courage and determination in the face of the brutal attacks suffered by our planet. And now, the future of our worlds depends on her… and you, my lord. Are you prepared for this, my lord?”
“I’ll just have to be, won’t I – we’re not going to have a second chance at this, whatever happens in the next few days…”
The tall BerWarian just nodded and walked by the side of Raphael, content to be there where he was needed and appreciated.
In a somewhat shocking move, the top commanders chose the Feline commander Leo Menas as the next Supreme Head Commander. Commander Menas had been a top commander for nearly three hundred years and was extremely experienced, tough, and nearly as great a tactical genius as the former Lord Lyonell. Knowing that the next few decades would be vital for the survival of the Federation, it was felt that having a top commander who had been originally trained by Lyonell would be a promising idea. Commander Menas then immediately deputized the remaining eleven top commanders as his tactical committee. He felt it was important to work together. Also, since he had personally met Raphael, Commander Menas made it apparent he was quite willing to work with some tactical advice from the Head Commander in unison with the Alyona Command Center.
In the end, it did not take the leading dark lord of the enemy forces long to communicate with the new Pleiadian leader. Two days after the death of Lord VaCoupe, word was received via the Alyona Command Center, of a demand for the immediate surrender of the Fleet to the regressive Orions. Within another day, arrangements had been made for the regent to meet with the Dark Lord, My-ko-ul, upon the Dead Plains, on BerWare. Raphael was going to fly his sister Claudine in The Golden Cat, nearly the last golden ship existent outside the ancient Feline outpost. The ship would be escorted by a battleship command consisting of ten ships of the Tiger class. Within the battleships were ten battalions of mixed Eagles and Warriors, human and Feline. Commander Monteras would accompany Raphael along with his other Eagles but would stay aboard The Golden Cat and observe the proceedings. The battleships would remain cloaked as would The Golden Cat until she landed safely. Then, she would automatically set the protect mode while in the vicinity of the enemy troops.
It was midday on a late summer day; the intense BerWarian sun was high overhead, with its blue light causing shimmering mirages along the horizon of the vast Dead Plains. The plains were named thus as it was a place without oases, with large salt pans and intense winds. The plains could not be crossed on foot or camel in less than four days, enough to kill most humans and animals being without water for that long. The fierce winds that swept across the plains picked up the salt and drove it into the skins of men and animals alike making them dehydrate even faster. The shamans and wise women of the tribes also claimed the place was also haunted by the ghosts of warriors killed in a battle long ago before the BerWarians arrived on the planet. Tribes lived on the fringe of the plains, but seldom ventured across it unless suitably prepared for the journey. It was the perfect place to make the meeting with the Dark Leader uncomfortable for the enemy forces.
The enemy forces were in place before Claudine arrived. However, native BerWarian warriors and disguised Eagles were also in place when The Golden Cat arrived. From the forward window of the Cat, Raphael noticed that the Dark Lord was pacing back and forth on the white sands as if he were impatient for this ceremony to get underway. He could feel the utter contempt of the man for the Pleiadians standing nearby simply oozing from the dark leader.
Raphael took a deep breath to calm himself, surrounding himself with a pillar of White Light. He handed Claudine out of the little ship and then stood behind her, allowing her BerWarian escort to encircle her, even as he faded back into the background to observe the proceedings.
Claudine had chosen this site well, knowing the enemy forces would have a grim time dealing with the oppressively dry heat of the BerWarian desert. For this ceremony, Claudine was wearing one of the silvery white Command uniforms and knee-high boots, covered with a loosely woven white linen robe and hood. Her long white blonde hair was tightly woven into a long braid that was gathered up at the base of her neck in a soft bun. Claudine walked slowly across the burning sands towards the impatient dark leader. He was sweating profusely in the heat, having worn his customary black garments for this ceremony.
Halting some paces away, Claudine carefully observed her adversary, suppressing her distaste of what she was seeing and feeling. He was a tall male Gray humanoid with gray-brown skin, a bald elongated skull, an annoyed look on his features, angular long limbs, small almost non-existent ears and nose, and large slanted black eyes set on a pale triangular face with high cheekbones. He wore a pentagon-shaped pendant with tiny reddish jewels, as well as a long knife shoved into a red-dyed leather belt. The man exuded sensuality and animal lust at the sight of Claudine’s ripe female form. The energy emanating from the pendant he was wearing was abhorrent. Claudine was not intimidated. She lifted her strong, firm chin and met the dark glance of the Dark Lord without flinching.
The Dark Lord My-ko-ul looked contemptuously upon Claudine, standing there in the stifling dry heat like she was standing in a well-watered and cool garden. He sneered, speaking in common tongue: “What, are the Pleiadians so emasculated that they send a woman to do a man’s job?”
Claudine ignored the comment and said, “I AM Claudine, Regent of the Pleiadian Federation. I have come to come to demand your immediate surrender, without quarter!”
For a long moment, the Dark Lord stared at Claudine in shock. Then, he let out a brazen laugh, “What – surrender? We have this world surrounded and five of our fleets even now within moments of arriving upon my command! We can blast you and your people to ashes at my command! No, woman – you will bow to me, Lord My-ko-ul and your people will become my slaves to do as I will with them!”
The Dark Lord turned and paced off a bit and then abruptly turned back and growled, “We killed your leader, Lord Demetrius VaCoupe, the other day. Who are you? What is your relationship to your fallen lord?”
Claudine looked into the black eyes and calmly replied, “I AM his daughter and now Regent of the Federation.”
“I heard you the first time, woman! You will be my slave! Come to me now and bend the knee to your new Master!”
Claudine began to slowly approach the Dark Lord even as the men behind her gasped, believing that the dark lord’s reputed superior mental powers were compelling her. Some even believed in that moment that she was going to willingly surrender to the dark lord. Then, when she came within four feet of Lord My-ko-ul, she casually extended her long beringed index finger towards him with a graceful gesture.
There came a startled gasp from the dark lord as he suddenly clutched his heart and slowly toppled to the ground in a heap of dark cloth. One of his commanders, a human, came up and tested the fallen man for signs of life. He shook his head, and stared at Claudine in horror, whispering hoarsely, “He’s dead! What are you? What have you wrought!”
This was the sign Raphael was waiting for; he signed Commander Monteras to send a signal to all waiting ships across the Federation to surround the enemy fleets, uncloak, and attack NOW!
Even as the dark lord staggered and fell to the sandy hot ground, his troops stumbled and began to wander aimlessly around. It seemed that most of men had been implanted and were now helpless automatons without the control exercised upon their wills by the dark lord. Raphael pushed through the stunned Eagles and BerWarian warriors and swept Claudine up into his arms, carrying her back to The Golden Cat, even as he shouted, “Withdraw NOW, men – take cover – get away from those enemy troopers!”
The Eagles and BerWarian warriors scattered even as swift fighters built in the style of the golden starfighters swooped down across the stumbling and confused Orion troopers and strafed them. After the non-sentient golden ships flew off, the BerWarian and Eagle warriors closed in to finish off the remaining troopers. Claudine and the commanders watched the slaughter of the enemy forces without remorse. It was a complete victory, a total and unexpected rout of the enemy forces on BerWare!
As the warriors finished off the last of the enemy troopers they headed towards The Golden Cat, where Claudine stood, with Raphael at her side, protected by Raphael’s Eagles. One of the BerWarian chieftains came forward and bent his knee and bowed his head to Claudine. In his deep baritone, he spoke for all the warriors present, “Forgive me, my Lady; for a moment, I thought you had succumbed to the devices of the Enemy. And then, I was astonished to observe your seemingly careless gesture and then to watch with amazement as the dark lord crumbled before you!”
There were some cheers from the tired troops who were watching on.
Claudine waved the men silent, once again, and then said, “Thank you, men. Now, let us leave this place of death and await the reports on the great space battles that Lord Raphael signaled to begin even as the dark lord fell dead at our feet. Lord Raphael will carry me back to BerAir to await the news of the outcome of this great battle, which is engaging not only our ships, but the ships of our great allies, the Ashkerians.”
Before Raphael could climb into The Golden Cat, one of the BerWarian warriors walked up to him and showed him the pendant that had been worn by the Dark Lord. “My lord; you should see this thing. It is dangerous!”
Raphael asked the warrior to place the pendant on the ground and advised the warrior to get scanned after touching the piece. Then, he took out his great Crystal and held it over the jewel. Advising the nearby men to move out of range, he asked the Crystal to send a ray of white light into the pendant. The pendant began to glow and boil and then suddenly shattered. As it did, tiny trails of blood dripped out of each of the red-colored jewels. Raphael looked upon the resulting mess with distaste and explained, “The Dark Lord had entrapped the soul essences of the various Tribes he has conquered during his time in this quadrant. It was a thing of black magic. It has been destroyed. Bury it carefully, men, and do not touch it again!”
With that distasteful task completed, Raphael escorted Claudine onboard The Golden Cat, with his Eagle escort following close behind. The steps folded up, the door shut, and the golden ship levitated silently above the burning sands, swiftly disappearing in the direction of the town of BerAir. The warriors who had been left behind loaded into troop carriers which were carefully landed and soon followed The Golden Cat.
In a move reminiscent of his first landing in Jolf, Raphael carefully landed The Golden Cat in the main town square in front of the government buildings and the royal palace. The king’s advisor Lanello and Lady Arla were waiting on the top tier of steps in front of the building, looking up with amazement and relief to see the golden ship land quietly before them.
Upon escorting his sister into the Royal House, Raphael went up to Lady Arla and requested he be taken immediately to an interactive comm. The priestess escorted the commander, Monteras, and his Eagle escort into the nearby library. Raphael punched in the code for Commander LoTelle and requested the latest report of the ongoing space battles.
Commander Lo’Telle’s expression conveyed his relief, as he inquired about the outcome of the confrontation with the Dark Lord. Raphael laughed harshly, “The fellow didn’t know what hit him! Upon hearing his stated intention to make my sister his slave, Claudine stretched out her index finger towards him and the fellow toppled to the ground, dead!”
“Very dead… and all the men with him were killed either by our fighters or the BerWarian warriors who were eager to remove the enemy presence from their planet!” Raphael paused a moment, as Monteras came up. He commented, “When the dark lord fell dead, I signaled for Monteras to send the signal to start the attack against the enemy fleets. Any news, yet, Charles?”
“Not yet, my lord – oh, wait, Commander DeAires is heading my way. Wait a moment, sir – I’ll see what he has to say!”
Raphael heard some excited voices through the comm connection and then DeAires sat down at the interactive comm in Lo’Telle’s office. His dark face was brimming with excitement, “My lord… it is astounding, but the entirety of the enemy fleets have been defeated! We’re still getting in reports, sir, but it appears that the combination of your brilliant plans and the determination of our brave men and allies has won the day! We’re free, my lord! Let Claudine know, sir… I’ll convey these tidings to Master Polaño so he can get word to the representatives here at the Castle. Since you’re still alive, I take it… the dark lord is not?”
“Correct, DeAires – he’s very dead and all his men with him! I’ll take this news to Claudine immediately. This is a momentous day – our former leader, my father and all the thousands of our people who have died during this long conflict… now they are avenged!” Raphael took a deep breath and shook his head. He thought: was it only a few days since his father died in that awful attack? And now… what?
Commander Lo’Telle came back online and commented, “I am thankful you and Claudine are safe and that our enemy’s leader has been removed. Now, you had better report the news to our new regent. It is going to take some time to realize that we won… we won!”
Raphael sighed and nodded his head, “Yes, Charles, we won. Thank you and your men for your diligent efforts during this intense planning and execution of what appears to have been a perfect campaign. I doubt if I can ever recreate it in my head – I was just acting from a strong inner conviction – and hope – that we could, with the assistance of our allies – pull this off… and we did! I am a bit in shock… and now will have to deal with handling the grief and fatigue that is about to set in. I’ll let Claudine know the results from the battle. See you in a couple of days, Charles.”
“Get some rest, my lord; you’ve put some long hours into planning this campaign. I’ll see you when you arrive back on Alyona,” replied Commander Lo’Telle.
Raphael nodded briefly and then shut down the comm connection. He wiped his forehead and gave another sigh. Monteras murmured, “My lord… it’s time you get some well-deserved rest…”
“Yes, Tomás, but first, let us take the good news to Claudine.”
Gareth guided the two commanders back to the audience room where Claudine was waiting for their arrival. She watched the approach of her brother Raphael and his companions with some impatience. Finally, she stood up and called out to Raphael, “What news, brother?”
Raphael saluted his sister and announced in a loud voice, “Claudine… it is victory! Our ships… and the ships of our allies have defeated the enemy. We have won the battle!”
Claudine stepped back and sighed with relief. Then, she straightened up and announced, “Raphael – we must announce this great victory to our people. Even now they are gathering in the town square awaiting the outcome of the space battles!”
Raphael gave another salute and then took Claudine’s arm so he could lead her back out to the terrace at the front of the palace. Lady Arla and a couple of her priestesses, Master Lanello, and others followed the two siblings. The people who had gathered in the square, a great crowd, nervously waiting for news of the outcome of the space campaign. When Claudine appeared on the porch, still dressed in her command uniform and white robes, the people cheered. She raised her hand and waited until the crowd grew silent. Then, she began her report:
“My people, not only has the Dark Lord been felled by his own arrogance, so has his fleets sent against our other planets. My brother, Lord Raphael, has received reports that all the fleets sent against our people this day have been defeated! Through the guidance of the tactical genius of Lord Raphael, the top commanders of the great motherships, led by Commander Menas, have with their battle fleets, supported, and sustained by our mighty allies, the Ashkerians – have successfully and utterly defeated and destroyed the great fleets arrayed against our worlds!”
For a long moment, the people stared at the two siblings who stood side by side on the porch. Finally, an impatient warrior bellowed out, “Victory! It is victory! All Hail to Claudine and our Fleet!”
The rest of the crowd roared their approval and relief. The crowd continued to swell even as the BerWarian warriors finally returned from the Dead Plains and news began to circulate about the death of the dark lord that day and the utter defeat of his space fleet.
Claudine waved the crowd to silence and then made a further announcement: “My beloved people, I can tell you that the Dark Lord himself has been defeated this day! We are free forevermore! The dark Orions will never dare enter our space again for today a mere woman defeated their greatest lord. If a mere Pleiadian woman can do this, how can the rest of their fleets defeat such a people!”
Lady Arla directed some of her younger priestesses to ring the temple bells in celebration. The people of BerAir, who had been sheltering in their homes due to the enemy’s close presence, now came streaming out into the square and the streets, adding to the growing crowds. When they saw the golden ship, with their beautiful Lady beside it, they began to cheer.
Claudine smiled and waved at the cheering crowd and then made one further announcement: “Tonight, my guests and I will partake of a dinner in celebration of this day’s achievements. Then, in a day or two, I will be required to return to Alyona to take up my new position as Regent of the Pleiadian Federation, as Alyona, not BerAir, is the administrative center of our government as it is! Now, dear people, it is time for us to pray and integrate this momentous news. I will see some of you later at the dinner. Meanwhile, my people, thank our Source, Creator, for blessing us this day with an amazing outcome, victory, and freedom for our people from today onward!”
With one final wave to the crowd, Claudine turned and gracefully re-entered the palace, closely followed by Raphael and his Eagle escort. Claudine continued onto the audience chamber, while the visitors, including Raphael, were led deeper into the palace by some of the waiting staff who had been forewarned that they might have off-world visitors that day. The sleeping quarters were down a wide flight of carven sandstone steps that were gently worn by the passage of many feet through the long ages. The Vanairus lineage was an ancient Family, its antiquity reflected by the magnificently carved lintels and pillars lining the wide subterranean hall that led to the visitor’s quarters. Raphael and his cousin, Commander Monteras, were shown into a large suite complete with a bathing room and several sleeping rooms.
Upon entering his quarters, Raphael partially pulled off the uniform leaving his arms, shoulders, and torso bare and sat upon a bench holding his head. “Oh, my stars! – I am glad that is over. Never do I want to be within spitting range of a dark lord again! My head is aching!”
“Rest for a while, cousin,” urged Tomás. “After all, you’re a hero today if you didn’t realize it! Your plan was brilliant – I’m not sure there was anyone left to tell the folks back home in the lower Orions that their Dark Lord has been so easily defeated and by a woman!”
“My sister was amazing and proved her great worth today!,” replied Raphael, his voice strained with pain.
“I’ll take your word for it, Raphael – after all, despite the fact that everyone was concerned about what was going to happen today, I noticed you had utter faith and confidence in your sister, Claudine Vanairus,” commented the Eagle Commander. “Now, you had better lie down for a while and rest, while I go check on the men. I want those Eagles treated well!”
Raphael stumbled the rest of the way and tumbled onto the sleeping pad, falling instantly asleep. When one of his Eagles looked in later, the commander was sound asleep. The Eagle took one of the blankets and carefully tucked Raphael into it like a little boy and then sat down nearby to watch over his commander.
The lights came on as Commander Monteras entered Raphael’s sleeping quarters and peeked in at his sleeping cousin. He told Eagle Felipe to give Raphael a stir as he would soon be expected to attend the celebratory dinner being held in honor of the defeat of the Dark Lord and his fleets. Felipe nodded and then went over to gently shake Raphael’s shoulder, “My lord, it is time for you to wake up! Claudine is waiting for your appearance tonight!”
Raphael groaned and then opened his eyes, blinking as he attempted to focus on the tall Eagle, “Felipe? Where am I?”
“You’re in the palace in BerAir, my lord – in your rooms!” The Eagle replied quietly even as he shook out an extra dress uniform that Raphael had packed just in case things worked out… “It’s a good thing you brought your dress uniform, my lord!”
After drinking down some fruit juice and taking a bath, Raphael was ready to face the crowd that was sure to greet him once he rejoined his sister Claudine. “Now, how do I get to the audience room from here,” he asked Giorgio, one of the BerWarian Eagles.
“Just this way, my lord – follow me!” The tall Eagle proudly strode ahead of Raphael who had also remembered to bring his medallion of lordship and a dress cloak. He silently wished he were far, far away, but he wouldn’t, couldn’t deny his sister her moment of triumph, as her people savored the return of freedom from the stresses of war and conflict. He wasn’t sure if their gambit would completely end the enemy attacks but hoped for the best. He knew that the enemy had been completely surprised and stunned by the reaction from what they deemed a defeated opponent.
The formal audience hall was stunning, with its hand-carved pillars, soaring coved ceilings and high arching entrances passing into other half-seen rooms beyond. Raphael looked around at the great room with a sense of awe. A great carven panel rose above the raised platform where the chairs for the king and his consort were placed. They were intricately carved from tropical woods and inlaid with native BerWarian metallic inlays that looked like intricate vines and flowers. There were some chairs arranged along the side of the room out of the main flow of traffic, but few people were seated. Instead, the crowd was gathered near the dias where Stephanus and his mate, Claudine, were seated.
As Raphael and his Eagle escort approached, Claudine stood and spoke in a clear voice, “My people – let us greet my brother, Lord Raphael Kantor-VaCoupe, for thanks to him and the rest of our great Fleet, our enemies are truly defeated!”
The people of BerWare looked with curiosity upon this strange sight, a white blonde man with a pale complexion and sea-green eyes, followed by his huge Eagle escort. The stranger did not appear to be a great warrior, standing nearly a foot shorter than his BerWarian Eagles, yet the most sensitive among those present could feel within him a power similar to what resided within his adopted sister Claudine. Some even wondered if he was an Ashkerian, but no, Claudine called him brother…
Lord Raphael paused at the foot of the steps leading up to the thrones and gave a deep bow to Claudine and a salute to her mate, Stephanus. This time, Claudine acknowledged Raphael’s bow with a courteous nod of her white blonde head. Claudine then stood and spoke, “Were it not for the confidence that my brother displayed towards me, this day of freedom may not have happened. It was his devotion to the people that inspired me and gave me the courage to step before the Dark Lord and to use my Source-given power to strike him down. Yes, my people, I will be required to pay for my deed done this day, but I willingly and knowingly took on that debt so you all may be delivered forever from our mutual Enemy. So be it!”
“All Hail, Claudine!” shouted the people in unison, with their voices echoing through the chambers of the palace.
There was a stir in the crowd towards the rear of the great room, closest to the outer entrance… As Raphael swung around, he felt the frequencies of several well-known men approaching. Sure enough, the dark-haired tall commander of The Golden Falcon, Myka Strom approached, followed closely by several individuals including his son, Jychondria, his foster son, Lyonell, and three tall massive Felines, Lantrill, Sukio, and Bakken. Raphael stepped forward and was enveloped in a massive bearhug from his white blonde son, Jychondria, followed by one from Lyonell, until all the visitors, including Myka had managed to hug him or pound his shoulder. Then, Myka remembered himself and marched the rest of the way to the foot of the dais and gravely bowed deeply to both BerWarian monarchs. He said, “King Stephanus and Lady Claudine, as a formal representative of the Command, I hereby report the complete and utter defeat of the entire enemy fleet throughout the Federation. It is a great Victory, an unprecedented one, and as the top commander of the nearest Mothership, I was given the honor to convey this news to you today!”
Claudine clapped her hands and graciously replied, “Thank you, Commander Strom, for the news! However, seeing that we have the great Seer Lord Raphael among us, we were aware of the great Victory some hours ago. Nevertheless, we invite you to attend our celebratory dinner this evening. My lord King, shall we lead our guests into the dining room?”
Myka Strom looked over at his friend, Lord Raphael, and nodded, “Ah, I should have guessed who was the genius behind that counterattack plan!”
Raphael just grinned in response, delighted to see his sons and his friends safe and whole. “I’ve missed all you! Let’s follow Claudine into the dining room. We’re sure to be in for a treat tonight!”
The dinner was extraordinary and long, but Raphael just soaked up the opportunity to sit near his eldest son and to listen to the stories shared by his former companions. Then Lyonell said, “I understand you were there when Claudine encountered the Dark Lord. How was the…meeting?”
“I would imagine it was bit of a shock for the Dark Lord, for there she was, a woman attired in a Command uniform standing in front of him as representative for the entire Federation. He was nonplussed, arrogant and threatened to make her his slave. Wrong last words. Claudine extended her elegant arm towards the lord, pointed her finger casually at him and then he tottered back in complete surprise, clutching at his chest and crashed to the ground. Next thing, his men, apparently all implanted, either collapsed, too, or started wandering around aimlessly. I removed Claudine out of the way, back to the shelter of my ship and called upon our nearby fighters to strafe the enemy troops. That complete, the BerWarian warriors could no longer hold in their fury and wiped out the remaining survivors. The enemy troops were all implanted and beyond saving. Claudine was magnificent and now she is ready to serve our people as Regent until young Francis Dino VaCoupe is deemed mature enough to successfully lead his people as Lord of the Pleiades. Then, when we arrived here, I checked in with Commander Lo’Telle. He and Commander DeAires were able to share the good news regarding the defeat of the Orion fleets. Next, we return to Alyona in two days so we can finally have an official memorial for Lord VaCoupe and a ceremony creating Claudine as Regent. All these plans were so hurried as we knew we only had days, perhaps hours before the Dark Lord would begin to make his demands for us to surrender. We weren’t about to do that, no sireee!”
Raphael, his sons, and friends spent the next day touring BerAir, being greeted by the friendly people who were relieved to no longer have to fear ongoing attacks or the kidnapping of their children by enemy forces. Raphael entered the ancient temple with the intent to pray for those who had died in the long wars and was greeted by his friend, Lady Arla, who was High Priestess of the temple. “My lord, so finally you can walk within the temple where you once saved your grandson, Lord Tazo of Sirust. Does it look anything like your vision?”
Raphael looked around at the high buttressed ceilings and carved sinuous pillars. He smiled at the priestess and replied, “It is more beautiful than I remember, my lady; I wasn’t sightseeing as I guided my grandson and his companion, Captain Ulrus, to seek shelter within these walls. And then, I could not feel the sacred quality of the Presence here. It is a beautiful old temple.”
Lady Arla smiled, “Well, it is a blessing that you are now able to walk freely here and in BerAir, our King having forgiven you long ago. And now, the war is over, my lord?”
“Well, my lady, I cannot honestly answer that question yet,” replied Raphael. “We will keep watch and make our reports on any possible enemy activity near our borders, but I feel that we have accomplished a great feat – that Claudine has brought down the Dark Lord and we have destroyed his fleets. So confident was he that he brought almost all their existing ships to destroy, strip, and pillage our planets. I’ve heard reports that the Dark Lord even brought several slave vessels in hopes to cart back to Asba’a numerous young fresh slaves for the entertainment of their troops. Such arrogance – the Dark Lord has – had no conception of the power of the Light when it is released righteously for the protection of the people. Had we struck out at the Enemy on his ground, we would have suffered mightily, but as it was, we were rightfully defending our children, our families, our homes, our planets, and way of life! Now, only Claudine will carry the debt for her destruction of the Dark Lord. She did it without malice, but with great forethought, and carried out her date with fate magnificently!”
“Ah – I wish I had been there to see it,” sighed Lady Arla. “Now, I’ll let you return to your sightseeing, as I must attend to Claudine, who, I understand, will be returning with your party back to Alyona on the morrow.”
“Indeed, my lady – it was good to see you. I guess I will see you on Alyona on occasion, although my duties keep me very occupied. Now that Lord VaCoupe is gone, I am the main coordinator on site for the Fleet, between the Command Center and the top command. I hope they station a few senior level commanders in Alyona soon so some of my burden can be lifted from my shoulders. After all, I was always told as a young communications tech that I would never be promoted to commander, much less head commander like I am today. Yet, here I am… in charge, temporarily, in Alyona – so both Claudine and I must return tomorrow to be where duty calls us. I will see you there!”
The next day, as the graceful Golden Cat landed in the Alyona spaceport, an honor guard greeted her. Lord Raphael escorted Claudine off the ship as they were greeted with cheers from the waiting Council Guards. After he aided Claudine and Lady Arla into their waiting viscar, he waved off the driver, “Go ahead! I’ll take another viscar!”
Raphael didn’t want to detract from the greeting he knew Claudine would receive upon arrival at the great Alyona Castle. And he did not want to be the focus of attention. Per his usual custom, Raphael was content to melt into the background so he could do his detailed work in relative peace. Yet, when he, too, arrived at the Castle, there was still a crowd waiting to greet him, largely made up of the Alyona Command staff, men who had come to know and respect him through the years while they served together. Raphael saluted quickly as the men cheered. Then, he waved to them and began to depart. However, there was another man waiting for him, a man whom he recognized, Bashar Kadish, top commander of The Golden Dragon. Raphael looked at the top commander with surprise and some irritation, “What are you doing here, Commander Kadish?”
The commander looked Raphael over with a practiced eye; he could see the well-hidden exhaustion in the man’s eyes and slightly slumped shoulders stemming from a burden long carried without respite. He replied, “Well, it was decided by the rest of the commanders that someone needed to be on site now that Lord VaCoupe was no longer present. They didn’t want you to carry the entire burden of coordinating the Fleet from here, so they tagged me. We may alternate this position from time to time or I may be here permanently; I don’t know yet. I will have lodgings not too far away from yours so we can work together for the time being. I will suggest that a permanent command staff be reassigned here, as well, so there are more boots on the ground. Congratulations for managing the latest attack; your plan was genius and phenomenally successful. Now, we must wait and see what happens next – whether or not there will be another response from the Enemy.”
Raphael looked directly into the blue eyes of his distant cousin, who, like many of his cousins, probably didn’t really like him – many senior commanders considered Raphael as an outsider, an aberration who was only tolerated because he was the adopted son of Lord VaCoupe. Now that his father was dead, his protection was no longer present. While Raphael was sure that his sister, Claudine, would continue to utilize and appreciate his advice, he felt sure that the Command would probably now rather he just disappear.
Raphael was tired after keeping watch, utilizing his gifts without respite for over a decade. He was irritated to be bothered by further command business when all he wanted to do was rest for a few days. He grimaced and snapped, “I know why you are here, Commander Kadish – to push me aside. I am no longer needed, required, or appreciated as I don’t fit into the mold expected of a high-level commander. If Top Commander Menas wishes it, I will resign tomorrow or the next day – whenever he demands it. My father pushed me into the Command, and I’ve tried to leave it ever since. I am quite willing to let go of my commission. The Enemy will not return, ever again, to darken the skies of the Pleiadian planets. I have completed my work here, at least with the Command. Good day, sir!”
With that final statement, Raphael turned and strode away, leaving a startled commander in his wake.
“Sir!” Commander Bashar started to follow Lord Raphael, but his progress was blocked by a gigantic Feline Eagle, Milo, who regarded him with his two golden eyes.
The Feline said, “Sir – if it wasn’t for Lord Kantor-VaCoupe insisting his sister take the Regency, we might not be standing here today. You people have no regard for the sacrifices made by that quiet sensitive man, do you… sir? You will leave him alone. He still has duties to perform at the Command Center and you will let him perform them in peace, won’t you, sir?”
The commander stared at the Feline, with surprise and the beginning of outrage etched on his finely drawn darkly tanned face, “That is insubordination, Eagle!”
The Eagle looked down at Bashar Kadish with contempt and replied with a growling bass, “When Commander Raphael turns in his commission, all his Eagles are leaving the Command, also. We owe you no allegiance. It is by the command of his former father that we serve that man who has long been the servant of these people. You may not respect him, sir, but we know and revere him for the brave man he is despite all the hardships he has endured during this life!”
With one last growl, the great Feline followed his companions who were escorting Raphael back to his quarters.
The commander was dumbfounded, but he had been forewarned by other commanders who had encountered Lord Raphael periodically through the years. He was, by nature, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and extremely independent; and his keepers, the great Eagles, were fiercely loyal. Now that Lord Raphael was quite aware that he was now stationed here in Alyona, Kadish would have to proceed with caution, knowing that the fierce loyalty displayed by the Eagles, would, no doubt, also be echoed among the Alyona Command Center staff, as Lord Raphael was one of them, a highly trained and skilled line communications officer. And Lord Raphael was still the brother to the temporary ruler of the Pleiades, his adopted sister, Claudine. Commander Bashar didn’t quite know what to make of the whole thing, but decided to err on the side of caution and watch Lord Raphael and his sister closely in the days to come…
Rather than walking directly to his suite, Raphael told his Eagles he wanted to visit the Command Center so he could, allegedly speak to Commander Lo’Telle. “Men, thank you for serving me so steadfastly. Now, I only require two Eagles to accompany me, Felipe, and Paul? I will see the rest of you later. Monteras, take care of these men!”
His cousin looked on as Raphael strode away, escorted by his original two Eagles. He felt something was off…
When Lord Raphael reached the Alyona Command Center, the guard on duty saluted him and opened the door. He strode within and spied out Commander Lo’Telle, who was observing the work of his teams. The commander looked up as Raphael entered, sensing his presence, which was unmistakable. Lo’Telle was surprised, knowing that Raphael had probably just returned from BerWare, “What are you doing here, my lord; I wasn’t expecting you so soon!”
“I would like to speak directly to Commander Menas,” replied Raphael without further comment. He stood there, slapping his leg with a nervous gesture.
Commander Lo’telle was confused and replied: “Okay, sir – but you could have done so from your own office, my lord.”
Raphael just replied, “Could you punch in his code; I want you to witness this call, too.”
“As you wish, my lord; come this way – it will be just a minute to make the connection since The Golden Condor is stationed near Maia,” replied Lo’Telle.
“I can wait, Charles – I’ve waited a long time for this day to arrive!”
The commander blinked when he heard that cryptic statement from his commanding officer. He shrugged and obediently punched in the code to reach Commander Menas, who was now the Supreme Head Commander of the Fleet, chosen by his fellow commanders to lead in the place of the deceased Lord VaCoupe. After a few minutes had passed, the connection came up and the Feline commander looked at Lo’Telle with some surprise. He asked, “What is the matter, now, Lo’Telle? Have any more enemy ships been seen or imagined by that commander of yours?”
Commander Charles Lo’Telle cleared his throat and sat up straighter, pushing back his shoulders, “No, sir; my commander has made sure that no more enemy ships will ever again enter our space, sir! Here he is, Lord Raphael – he wishes to speak with you, sir!”
Then, the disgusted commander stepped away from the comm and whispered, “It’s all yours, my lord!”
Lord Raphael sat down at the interactive comm and stared into the amber eyes of the Feline commander. He said: “Greetings, Commander Menas, and congratulations on your promotion to Head Commander. I just hope you can do as good a job as my father did for centuries. Oh, and I met my replacement today just as I arrived at the Castle. You forget, sir, that I am a Seer and can see through lies. Now that I am being pushed aside since I am no longer protected by my father, I am hereby tendering my immediate resignation from the Command, sir. I will be fulfilling yet another role as permanent advisor to my sister, Claudine, as she undertakes her new role as Regent of the Federation. Seldom were my gifts ever appreciated or valued by the Command. Now that my father is gone, I am no longer required to protect or serve him. I am no longer an officer, but I am still a Lord and a VaCoupe, for all that’s worth. Good day, Commander Menas. I can’t say I enjoyed this call, but it one that I have waited many a year to finally be able to make!”
With that, Raphael flicked his fingers and disconnected the line. The astonished face of the Feline commander disappeared. Raphael looked up at his surprised friend’s face and apologized, “Sorry, Commander Lo’Telle, for all the drama, but I’m done now with the ingratitude and dishonesty of these top commanders… with a few exceptions like Leo Adrigus, Capeto Vanderis, and Myka Strom. I am honored to have served with you, Commander Lo’Telle, here in this Command Center for so long. However, now another duty calls for my attention as I assist Claudine to adjust to her greatly enhanced and expanded role as Regent of the Pleiades!”
Lo’Telle replied calmly, “I am sure your sister will greatly appreciate having you at her side, my lord. Do you want to announce your resignation from the Command to the men, sir; after all, they have also served with you for a long time.”
Raphael sighed, “I will – I would rather disappear, but I’m going to be living at this Castle for a long time yet to come – I have seen this– so, let’s get this over with!”
Lo’Telle preceded Raphael as they re-entered the main control room. He announced loudly: “Attention, men, Lord Raphael wants to make a statement to you now!”
Raphael thanked the commander and stepped further into the room, “I want to inform you, men, that as of today I have just resigned from the Command. I feel there will no longer be a need for my services in the capacity of acting as a commander. I want to thank you all for your magnificent work and dedication to your positions as communication specialists. Few are the commanders who appreciate the challenging work you do here, but it is a vital part of the Fleet’s activities, as was seen by the intense planning of our latest campaign to finally and ultimately defeat our enemies. And we have accomplished that great feat, men. I have looked into the future; the Pleiades will no longer be subjected to invasion or war. Now, we can turn to the job of healing ourselves and our worlds, for this has been a long hard war with many losses suffered by our people. I don’t want to keep you any longer, men. I wish you all well!”
With that, Lord Raphael turned on his heels and strode out of the room, leaving the men staring after him. One of the curious specialty commanders looked up at Commander Lo’Telle and asked, “What brought that on, Commander? Lord Raphael does so much for the Command!”
“Well, son, you and I know that – but few are the Commanders out there on the ships who acknowledge it. I fear Lord Raphael will be an unsung hero in this last gambit where he and his sister, Claudine, gambled everything, including their lives, to save our people. And they did!” Commander Lo’Telle hoped he could sit down with Lord Raphael someday, but right now, he had to return to work. With a sigh, the commander returned to his office just as a call came in on his comm. Opening the line, he answered… surprised to see Commander Adrigus on the screen. The commander seemed upset, and demanded, “Where is Lord Raphael? Menas just informed me that he’s resigned his commission! I can’t believe it!”
Commander Lo’Telle looked at the top commander and replied quietly, “I’ve been waiting for him to resign his commission and leave the Command since he was nineteen, sir.”
“What? What do you mean by that preposterous statement, Lo’Telle?” roared Adrigus.
“Commander – Raphael was never meant to be a commander, not in this lifetime. He only became one to please the man who gave house and home to him, Lord VaCoupe. Now that his father is gone and his ultimate mission to free his people has been completed through the person of his magnificent sister, his job within the Command is now done, mission accomplished. He was unable to finish his task of giving us the golden ships, but this time, he was victorious. He is a Seer, one of a rare sort of man who does not normally enter the Command. He knew when he surveyed the timelines that there was a chance that his sister held within the necessary inner Power to overcome the Dark Lord if they confronted each other directly in person. And so, it happened; a miracle occurred and we, as a people and Federation are free forever! And you and the Command have already planned to push him aside. Well, he effectively forestalled that final humiliation. He is gone from our midst, Commander. He will continue to serve the Pleiadian people, but in the capacity of an advisor for his sister, Claudine, Regent for the Pleiadian Federation.”
Without waiting for a reply, Lo’Telle abruptly disconnected the line. Despite being aware he might be disciplined for insubordination, the usually calm and steady Commander Lo’Telle felt good after laying down his honest thoughts and observations to the top commander and frankly he didn’t care what the Command tried to do to him in retaliation. If necessary, he would also resign and return home to Maia and become reacquainted with his family once again. Peace had returned to the Pleiades, but it would take some adjustments on the part of the many who had suffered at the hands of not only the enemy but, on occasion, at the hands of their own misguided leaders.
For those readers who might wonder, the version told to the children was quite a bit shortened, but in order to purge these old memories, the truth must be revealed and so it has… as it happened.
All Rights Reserved, Eliza Ayres, videos and recordings of this material are not permitted, http://www.bluedragonjournal.com and https://sunnysjournal.com