Sargon could smell the singed air. Falling back, his opponent’s Pulse Baton nearly took his head. Allowing gravity to win, the young Fero dropped his left shoulder to the ground, rolling and swinging his own bat haphazardly while shifting directions. As expected, the opponent retreated, avoiding the wild swing. Sargon rolled to his feet, reflecting.
The Archon’s son shook his head. He’d gotten sloppy. Opponent? No, he never thought of another Fero as “the opponent” but always knew names, histories, fighting styles. Jerid Fancher was one of the better fighters on Sanctum. If Sargon didn’t wake up, Fancher would be today’s victor.
“Focus,” he murmured, dropping back into a fighting stance. “Focus.”
Sargon, known to be patient, circled. Fancher eyed him suspiciously through the helmet’s face shield. The man wore an Aster M2, not nearly as strong as Sargon’s K-Bastion. No doubt everyone assumed the Archon’s kid was trying to cheat the game.
“We’re not so infallible anymore, though,” he mumbled.
Sargon flashed in, swinging hard at Jerid’s right. When Fancher’s dodge and broad swing came, the Archon’s boy feinted, dove, and landed a shot to the other flank. Unfortunately, his opposite momentum negated much of the damage. It also opened him up to another headshot.
While Fancher’s Z-Ridge was the weakest bat in the Zark Aegis line, it mattered little with point blank precision. The blow came in slow motion, but there was no avoiding it. The sensation was uncanny. While his Warden Suit protected him from physical injury, the pain sensors scrambled his thoughts.
Dizzied from the agony bursting from his helmet’s neurotransmitters, Sargon Antares froze. They’d ask him about her. Win or lose, they always were going to. His brother Portis said he returned too soon, but their father admitted the questions would come whenever. His mother was murdered, could he get past it? Could he compete again? Had he stayed away too long?
Fancher lined up for another pass, coming in fast. Sargon threw up a forearm, but it was too little. A sensor flashed on his face screen. He’d given up too many points of damage. One more hit and his return to the arena would end in failure.
“Sargon! Prince Antares!”
The voices drifted in when the door opened. At least the locker room was still sacred. Feros and trainers, only. No matter what. Eventually, he’d have to go out there. The other Feros looked at him with pity. It was distasteful.
“Hey, it was a good match.” Jerid Fancher held out a hand. “You fought well.”
“You mean, despite the circumstances,” Sargon challenged, “right?”
“No, my Prince,” he answered, smile dripping sarcasm. “I mean, you fought well. If you hadn’t taken the layoff, we’d probably not have met until a later round.”
Sargon shook Jerid’s hand. He might have been an Antares, but he bristled at the phrase “my Prince,” which the other man knew. Everyone on the circuit knew. It’s why he chose to compete on Sanctum, rather than his homeworld. Mother traveled to see him often, but his father has business to attend to on Doma. Most of the pomp and circumstance stayed with him.
Jerid broke the grip, squeezed the Prince’s shoulder, and headed off. The calls came once again as the door opened and closed. No matter how long he sat there they’d wait to talk to a Prince of the Empire. Such incredible access to the youngest of the royal brood had been the talk of the planet when he’d first arrived.
“Prince Antares! What would you say to those who feel you dishonor your mother’s memory by returning to compete?”
“My Prince, how has the death of your mother affected your mental focus?”
“Hey Sargon, were you all there tonight? Seemed you phased out against Fancher. He didn’t even have to try that hard.”
“Well, now, hold on.”
“I believe that’s enough. Kindly allow me through.”
To the assembled mass of Homyns, she appeared at once graceful and terrifying. They knew her as a princess, and a priestess. Arriving on Sanctum years ago to dedicate herself to the priesthood, she was revered and respected. With a dusky voice, soft yet firm, she parted them and strode forward, arms open to embrace the youngest Antares.
Sargon merely saw his big sister. Of course, he knew enough to use the moment as an escape.
“Ah, sister, my Priestess, it’s so good of you to come for me. Let us go and speak of our woes together, shall we?”
“Of course brother.” She leaned close, battling back the urge to laugh. “Laying it on rather thick, eh?” she whispered in his ear.
“Whatever gets me out of here,” he responded.
“Come,” she said loudly, “let us retire to my home.”
Sargon held his mirth until they’d passed by.. Stooping ever so slightly, he allowed himself to be led by the so called Priestess Princess. Tirzah Antares, among the most graceful of the Homyn race, was practically gliding as she led him away.
“The murders are still at the forefront of your mind,” Tizah began, once alone in her chambers. “I attended your match this evening. It was clear to me.”
“Really, Tirzah? You’re going to analyze me, and not even offer me a glass of arrack?”
“You know I don’t keep spirits in my chambers,” she admonished, “and if you think I’m incorrect, I’m happy to call in an envoy, so we can enter into Karva.”
Karva. Sargon stared at his palms. His volets seemed to throb. A third person would allow them to join the hard, purple flesh to each others, and unify their minds. He’d spent more than enough time in Karva with his family since they’d lost mother…
“What progress is being made bringing Tupan to justice? I haven’t talked to father since returning to Sanctum,” he said, changing the subject.
“We spoke briefly yesterday. He’ll visit the planet soon, to watch you compete.” She arched an eyebrow. “Hopefully you’ll put on a better performance.”
He brushed away the comment, refusing to be baited. Instead, he pressed harder.
“Our cousin murdered our mother, his father, and his brother. He challenged father’s legitimacy to rule, conquered a small island, and declared himself King.” Sargon’s eyes hardened. “You can play the mysterious priestess with the masses, but be honest with me, Tirzah. Where is our justice?”
“Well,” she smiled, “now you sound like Portis.”
“That doesn’t make me wrong,” he fired back. “Yes, losing mother stings, but what of our uncle. How that little runt could have his own father murdered is beyond me. And his brother. I’ve never been so angry at Portis that I could murder him. Tupan didn’t even have the nerve to slay them himself!”
“No,” she said firmly, “he didn’t. Tupan is a coward. He’s rejected our family in blood and name. He’s run away to his island. For all of his talk, he’s hidden behind those cliffs. He whines about right to rule but has done little about it. I hate him too, but I don’t allow him to occupy much space in my thoughts.”
“How can you not? I just don’t understand why father hasn’t done anything yet. Is he so grief-stricken that he’s paralyzed?”
“Draw no parallels between your performance tonight, and our father’s actions. Make no mistake, Ogan Antares is no meek ruler. While he hasn’t the bloodlust of our great-grandfather, neither does he lack that impulse control. Be patient.”
“Hmm.” The youngest Antares was thoughtful. “Is this how you reign in Portis, too?”
“Sometimes. I remind him that there are other aspects at work than pure vengeance.”
“You mean the War of Lords, and the prophecy, don’t you?”
“For the most part, yes.” She swept to a chair, sitting gracefully. Indicating the one opposite her, she said, “perhaps we should sit and talk about how to ease your mind, so these distractions don’t destroy your career. If not for the Warden Suit, you’d have died out there.”
“Feros have worn Warden Suits for nearly fifty years, Tirzah. There was no real danger. Still, it’ll take a while to build my standing back up. Maybe I do need to work on my focus.” He shook his head, smiling, and took a seat. “You know, you’re very good at that.”
“Analyzing a fighter’s weaknesses?”
“No,” he laughed, “you’re awful at that. Seriously awful. I’ve heard your analysis before. You’re worse than father, and he’s been actively trying to improve. I meant your ability to calm and diffuse, help focus on the right things, the right path.”
“I’m a priestess. It’s my job.”
“Why did you abandon your claim to the throne? You’d have made an incredible Archona. Deep down, I’m certain you know that.”
“Perhaps.” She shrugged. Leaning back, Tirzah steepled her fingers. “My heart always lay within our religion. Serving the gods is my own way of leading our Empire. While I believe father was somewhat disappointed, Portis will be a good Emperor one day. He’s headstrong but willing to listen to reason. If need be, we’ll help him.”
“And Tupan. Do you think we’ll have brought him to justice, in some way, before Portis wears the crown?”
“Honestly, Sargon, I don’t know.” Her face darkened. “If the prophecy is to be believed, we don’t know if the Antares will still rule the Empire by then.”
Another star system, an alien race, and an empire in turmoil, Antares Ascending mixes the story of the people, the mythology of their gods, and follows their sole gladiator sport, the Tauran Games! For more, visit https://www.patreon.com/antaresascended.
(Editor’s Note: We hope you enjoyed this installment of Short Story Sunday! If you are an author and would like to be featured in our column, contact us at Janice@ScienceFiction.com.)