“Brothers, Sisters… Outsider. Welcome. Firstly, I must thank you for making your way out here, I know that for many of you Space Port Alpha is a long journey. But I’m sure you can understand why at times like this it is important that The Order be seen as united at the base of our power. As many of you know the Warlock Edward Hives has sworn death to Empress Rose and has started mobilising his armies to hunt her down. It is our belief that he plans to capture her and then publicly execute her. We cannot, repeat cannot let that happen. She is currently in hiding and it is now our mission, or most of our mission to not only ensure she isn’t found but to stop Edward. Not in three generations has our order engaged in a war, but this can no longer be tolerated, Edward must be stopped. I’m sorry my brothers, my sisters, The Order is declaring war.”
The already quiet room turned a stage colder as the gravity of the situation set in. It wasn’t new information but it hadn’t yet been said out loud until now. Mother Freya waited until she was sure the news had settled.
“I have sent specific mission briefings to your ships for you to go over and debrief your crews accordingly. I am not here to tell you how to run your ships, or even what to do next. You are, of course, still always welcome to reject any mission but I think we all know what’s at stake and I have faith in all of you to do the right thing.”
For the first time, she allowed herself to glace at Joshua and they locked eyes for a single instant, but that was all she needed. He instantly understood that his mission would not be like the others and after blinking away he nodded. Freya blessed them all and sent them on with love and then waited quietly as the room emptied and she and Joshua could be alone. He was a tall man with broad shoulders, a thoughtful face, dark eyes and a deep rasping voice. Those who didn’t know him often believed he’d once had his throat slit, but the truth was far more complicated.
“Hello beloved, I trust you are well.”
He nodded in response, and she smiled.
“I have been alive for a very long time, and I have had to do many things in that time but I… I feel this might be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
She stepped forward and rested a loving hand on his face.
“I’m afraid, I’m afraid that the mission I have for you will lead to your death, or worse. And yet I know of no one else who could accomplish it. You have shown time and time again your dedication to the order, your infinite patience for the behaviour of the others and I’m so sorry that your final rewards are to have to carry the heaviest burden.”
A thin smile that didn’t touch his eyes spread across his face and he put his hand on hers.
“Your voice doesn’t frighten me, child, you may speak your mind.”
For a long moment, he thought about his words then heaved a heavy sigh.
“I swore an oath to The Order and to you. I do not regret that oath. You accepted me when no one else would, I will do whatever it takes to complete my mission.”
A single tear rolled down her cheek.
“That’s what I’m afraid of and proud of, it’s also why of everyone I chose you for this mission. But before that, I have a gift for you.”
She pulled her hand free and walked to her desk and lifted the sword that hung on the wall behind it.
“Joshua, I present to you The Father Sword, the holy symbol of our order, given to the person most cherished and trusted by The Order.”
As she approached he dropped to one knee and bowed his head and she touched the blade to his shoulder.
“I wish I could have done this as a public ceremony, but I know you understand why that cannot be, but you may wear it publicly and proudly, and woe betide anyone who dares dispute my decision.”
Joshua rose and accepted the sword with both hands before bowing again and attaching it to his belt. He then locked eyes with her, it didn’t matter that she was scared of him, speaking still wasn’t something he was used to, and with her, he knew he could convey just as much without words as with them. She smiled again and closed her eyes for a second until there was a gentle knock at the door and a robed figure was escorted in by two guard. Joshua watched the guard stare at the sword for a moment then regain their compose before looking the figure over and turned his attention back to Mother.
“Guard, you may leave us.”
Once alone the figure removed her hood to reveal a young girl with bright red hair pale skin and bone-deep fear. Instantly Joshua dropped to one knee with his arms starched out sideways palm up.
Her voice in contrast to his was light and sweet.
“Oh no, please rise good brother.”
Joshua rose but his jaw tightened.
“Forgive me your highness but I am not a brother of the order, my name is Joshua.”
The Empress looked at his robes and at the sword on his hip then to Mother Freya, who smiled cheerfully.
“That might be the most words I’ve ever heard him say at one time. Empress Rose allow me to introduce you to my most trusted friend. It’s true he’s not officially a member of our order but I would no more disrespect him by telling his story than I would yours. I hope that serves as evidence for the faith I have in this man, and gives you an understanding as to why I am putting him personally in charge of your protection.”
Joshua drew a sharp breath in but as always maintain his composure and bowed.
“On my honour.”
The Empress looked at him, then at mother and back to him.
“Mother, would you please give Joshua and I a moment alone please?”
With that, she quickly made her way out of the room to stand sentinel at the door.
“You may rise, please.”
Joshua straightens up and cast his calm gaze towards the young woman.
“I take the Mothers recommendation with the deepest respect, but before we can continue there are two things I need from you.”
Joshua nodded, and although a simple gesture the empress felt a deep and sincere meaning behind it.
“Firstly, I want you to tell me honestly if you want this task, with the current state of the empire and the events of recent weeks I have to admit that being around me is more of a death sentence than a mission and I don’t wish anyone to die simply because they are obeying orders. And if so, the second thing I require is in order for me to trust you I need to know you trust me, and I would like you to tell me something that few or no other person knows.”
Joshua stood silent for a minute, considering his words carefully.
“I will do whatever it takes, to ensure the success of this mission.”
She nodded solemnly and took a deep breath.
“I understand, thank you. I shall have my things moved to your ship and wait there for you if that is alright?”
“No, take them yourself, and dress… down.”
She looked at him quizzically but didn’t speak.
“Hanger 5, look for Jack. He’ll be the one talking.”
The Empress nodded in understanding.
Then turned to leave while Joshua simply stood, waiting for Mother to return. As she entered he could see the look on her face had grown more grave, he also knew what was coming next. They stood alone in silence for what felt like a long time.
“Do you know where he is?”
Joshua shook his head.
“Could you find him?”
Again he shook his head but added.
“He is hiding himself.”
“Would he know if you tried?”
“He’d know if I found him, it’s not one way.”
“So, what are you going to do?”
Joshua nodded thoughtfully but didn’t bring his gaze back up, leaving it on the floor.
“It’s alright, say what you’re thinking.”
He let his mind clear and after a long breath said.
“They must fear me.”
He raised his eyes and stared directly into hers.
He held the look unflinching but said no more.
“You mean that should one of the Order push you on your way out, as they so often did in the past, you will no longer reply with patience.”
He nodded but did not break eye contact.
“And you don’t want me to get involved obviously.”
She sighed and thought for a moment.
“If they’re afraid of you and they become compromised they speak of you as something to fear. But if you attack a member of the Order you will no longer be tolerated back here at Alpha and I … we will never see each other again.”
She let out another sigh and looked away.
“The reality of a horrible situation setting in, I understand. It breaks my heart that it has to be this way, that you are correct and that I have put this on you, but I understand.”
She turned towards him and in a quick graceful motion threw her arms around the man and hugged him, whispering in his ear.
“You truly deserve that sword.”