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[2010: SEP-OCT] *WINNER* Beneath the Raptor's Wings


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THE SKY BURNS with the incandescent fury of a thousand cities aflame. I flick my tongue out, wetting parched lips, and taste the bitter ashes of my fallen home. My eyes narrow, shielding themselves as a spark on the horizon mushrooms into a searing display of fire and light.

A thousand and one cities.

I do not know why I come to watch. There is nothing new to see here. The fires of creation scorch the skin of this broken world as they have done for days, my horizon no different than millions of my kinsmen.

They fear me. Vulcan burns, because I command it. And so my kinsmen fear me.

I take no joy in this, their blinkered emotions.

They do not realise our planet burns, for them.

* * *

HE MADE NO attempt to soften his footfalls as he paced across the cracked red earth, for the simple reason that there was no need. A thick layer of ash captured the sound from his heavy boots, dragging it down into the earth below. His gloved fingers tugged a respirator free from a shrouded face, revealing a lip curled in distaste. He remembered a time when the ground beneath his feet had bared its face to the sun, warmed by its touch. Now, both soil and sky suffocated under the cloying remains of their once-glorious civilisation.

“General.”

The man in front of him was as immobile as the great statues that stared out across the Voroth Sea. Rather, they had done, before the war had sent them crashing into the surf below. There was no care for the artistry of their ancestors when there was a battle to be won.

“General,” he pressed again. “Romul.”

“What is it, Valek?”

“You should not be out here. The air is poison.”

“The ashes are poison,” as harsh and cracked as the dirt below his feet, the General's voice betrayed his fatigue. “I know. So does our quarry.”

Valek spat into the ground at the veiled reference, a small plume of ash rising at the impact. “I hope he chokes on them.”

Finally, the General turned. His face was carved of granite, his charcoal eyes dark with renewed passion. “He does. My spies have told me. Surak is dying.”

* * *

MY HEART BURNS brighter than any of the destruction I have wrought upon my home. I am passionate, I desire. I love beyond measure, I hate with every fibre of my being. I nurture with deepest affection, I kill without remorse. I delight in pleasure, I relish pain.

I live.

Surak would see me robbed of that. He would see me cold, empty and heartless like the vacuum. I am not. I am Vulcan, the crimson jewel in the black; tempestuous, merciless, untameable.

I will see him dead at my feet for this betrayal.

* * *

MOUNT SELEYA CAST her great shadow over the army massed at her foundations. The soldiers wore no uniform, save for a baldric emblazoned with the stylised wings of a bird of prey. Fractured, disparate and riddled with internal conflict, they were united in one thing only; they marched under the banner of Romul, the Raptor, True Son of Vulcan.

The sky above them was filled with the screech of engines, the battle for air superiority fought around the dangerous peak. Explosions rolled through the Forge, debris rained down on the troops below. More than one man who stood beneath the Raptor's wings lost his life to the air battle he was not a part of.

“We are losing the sky, General.”

Romul answered without moving, the burning, twisted remains of his fighters mirrored in his eyes as they fell from the heavens.

“You say this as though I should be surprised, Valek. Our pilots are a distraction, nothing more.”

“Then we should take the advantage, before they are all dead.”

“We will.”

Valek's respirator moved as the skin underneath pulled into a scowl. Without turning his head from the army in front of him, the General spoke again, a rumbling baritone invigorated by battle.

“Speak your mind.”

“You're hesitating. We could win this – here, today – and you are hesitating, because he is your–“

The crunch of Valek's jaw breaking was a wet, unpleasant one. As he collapsed to the ground with a scream of surprise and pain, the troops surrounding the General edged away. Romul loomed over the fallen man, his fingers clenching and unclenching until he stormed away, a luminous presence fuelled by rage.

Valek had been right.

He would hesitate no longer.

* * *

I HAVE WON.

The lives lost were countless, my army decimated beyond recovery. But I am here, in his last sanctuary and he is dying. I will not grant him the mercy of a quick death. I shall watch him live out the final dregs of his life in suffering. It will be a memory to keep me warm in the harsh Vulcan night.

The philosopher-traitor gasps his last breaths, watching me with dead eyes. No hatred burns within them, no fury at his defeat. Not even a flicker of fear as his blood slows in his veins. How I despise him, this empty shell.

“What have you won, Romul?”

He speaks, his breath a caged rattle, his teeth stained green from his own blood. The words, an echo of my thoughts, draw a hiss of rage from my lips.

“The battle. Your soulless crusade ends here. You are dying, brother.”

Finally, I see something in those dead eyes. I see pity. Horror drags at my stomach even as the bile climbs toward my throat.

“You won the battle,” he concedes, “but you have not won the minds of our people. Look how they have stood, united against you.”

The realisation strikes me, hot and painful, a lance through my soul. In my fury, I built my victory upon the funeral pyres of those I sought to save. Those who remain are either mine or his, destined to be forever locked in conflict. I see his end and I feel mine lurking within its shadow.

“Leave,” he insists.

“I will watch you die, first.”

He closes his eyes, pain twisting his features for a tired heartbeat while he wrestles back his control. I feel a surge of pleasure, knowing that even the Father of Logic cannot maintain his false mask in perpetuity. He is flawed, imperfect.

But then, he never claimed to be anything else.

“No, Romul. This world. There is no place for you here.”

He is right. I know he is right and I hate him all the more for it. Even in death, this world, my home, belongs to him.

He has stolen it from me.

* * *

Ash still tumbled through the air like lazy flakes of charred snow when the ships left. On great wings of green, the colour of so much shed blood, the Raptor's followers took to the sky, leaving behind home, friends and families. There was no weeping crowd to wave them goodbye, for logic dictated that such emotional displays served no useful purpose. Instead, the assembled few watched in stoic silence, motionless except for the billowing of their heavy robes.

When the pinpoint green of the ships finally vanished from the crimson sky, the crowd turned their backs and left.

* * *

“We'll be better off this way. Fools, all of them.”

Valek's words were thick and strained through his teeth, his jaw wired together as it healed. Romul said nothing at first, staring through the viewport at the star-threaded expanse of space and the ever-diminishing red orb suspended within it. The creaks and groans of the hastily constructed ship filled the vacuum that silence left between the two men.

“Fools,” he finally replied, “who knew enough to let our divisions destroy us. We are strong, Valek, but we are undisciplined. We fight among one another when we should turn our fury on our enemies. Had we been of one mind, one will, we would have scoured Surak and his followers from our world. Instead we are forced to flee our home and abandon what is rightfully ours.”

Romul's fingers curled into fists, his voice tempered steel.

“I will not see us brought any closer to ruin. I will take my people and I will reforge them. We will build a great empire among the stars, our hearts and minds as one, and we will take back what is rightfully ours. It may take a thousand years - ten thousand - but Vulcan will once again be ours.”

His voice dropped, steel wrapped in silk, and he breathed words that would be remembered by those who followed for generations.

“The universe will gutter and die before Surak's whelps are forgiven. We will have our vengeance. We will reclaim our home.”

And in that moment, born of hate and grief, the Romulan Star Empire was whispered into being.

Edited by Quinn Reynolds
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