1001 Starry Knights: The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, chapter 12

There was a sound like Zeus having an Athena-sized headache. The ship bounced and twirled, the wound in the armor closing back up as the ship’s hull flowed in, closed the breach. Its autopilot struggled with the force of the fight within. I watched, staring. “How in the hell-?”

“Oh, dear.” Brie was frowning. “It seems as though the Captain took that seriously. I do hope Naja will be alright.”

“Wouldn’t you all have been in rather serious trouble if she’d captured you?” I asked, frowning at her.

“Oh, maybe. You’re unharmed, so they probably would’ve let us go after taking our ship. But the Captain couldn’t let that happen.”

“She’d be executed?”

“No, much worse. She’d be embarrassed. It’s fine, though. She’s going to have that Fleet officer in a collar by the end of this. I guess that officer really WAS a Tiger Warrior.” She smiled at me. “You ever heard of Tiger Warriors?”

“I’ve heard them referenced, but only briefly. Special forces, aren’t they?”

“Sort of.”

There are not many outside of the Reptile Kingdom who would devote their entire life to warfare. The vast majority of the military of the Empire are levies, soldiers raised from among the common people at times of war. It should be noted that if this sounds like a shoddy and non-threatening force, the average Imperial has spent more time practicing military matters than the average human has spent alive, and is capable of bending iron bars into pretzel knots with their bare hands. The existence of a professional soldier class was only truly existent among the Reptile Kingdom. Nonetheless, every good ruler knew it was wise to have a small group of retainers; Loyal, well-trained soldiers who were capable of fighting at a moment’s notice, and organizing the levies in times of crisis. In the Beast Kingdom, the Retainers took feline bodies. Designed for war and fighting over more domestic concerns. The human fondness for cats may have influenced this development somewhat in recent centuries.

The Emperor was technically owed the full service of all ten kingdoms, their fleets, and their soldiers; But they were not always dependable. Rebellions, unpopular emperors, or simple happenstance meant that the Emperor needed their own retainers. These were the most elite, for it was not merely a good job with excellent benefits, but a religious duty. They were the last line of defense, and the cream of the crop. They have had many names, and many shapes, but in the present day, as one of Lilith’s affectations, they are based on human cultures. There are, of course, the White Scales, the Reptile Kingdom’s generous tithe. The Undead provide a full battalion of their greatest Royal Liches, former kings and queens who have sworn an oath to the Emperor above all else, even the Undead Kingdom. Lilith even could claim the loyalty of Setesh, Great Shard of El, the Protector of Heaven, after he had abandoned the divine to protect on his own terms.

But the Tiger Warriors were proverbial. They mastered their bodies on every level. Half sublime warrior, half fitness freak, and half body modification enthusiast, they were precisely the kind of people who would try to fit 150% into a single body. The fitness regime alone took the better part of a decade to complete, and involved substantial surgical operations. Their bodies were modified to the very limit of Imperial technology, going past even what the Undead thought wise or useful. And most importantly, they took pride in being unnoticed. Despite the lengths they went to, they looked like anyone else.

The official mark of one of the Tiger Warriors were the orange and black-striped pattern of ears and tail, which officially, only they could wear. Unofficially, they encouraged a certain amount of stolen valor on the part of others. Youths, bravos, con-artists; They allowed them all to steal the appearance of the Tiger. This is because, despite their overwhelming focus on physical perfection, the Tiger Warriors were not marines. Their preferred place was infiltration, and that meant being unrecognized. So there were millions of Imperials out there who wore tiger bodies. But only a few of them were Tiger Warriors. And the unconscious fear that every Imperial citizen experienced when they offended one was: “Have I just trod on the tail of a tiger?”

In truth, nobody on board the pirate ship had expected Naja to be a real Tiger Warrior. If she were, then she could have easily killed every one of the pirates with her bare hands. There are very few who can hope to match a Tiger Warrior in hand to hand combat.

I frowned, staring up at the ship as it juked. “Then how does the captain stand a chance?”

“Because she’s a Dragon. And the only reason a Dragon is embarrassed, loses, or gets hurt, is because she wants to.”

I frowned. “But… I punched her once. She broke my arm afterwards, admittedly, but Renee said I gave her a nosebleed.”

“Yeah.” Brie looked askance at me, a frown on her face. “That’s a real puzzler, I don’t mind telling you.” She turned entirely towards me, and smiled broadly. “So! What about your story, though? Leshp was pregnant? Was she happy?”

I shook my head, looking away from the juking ship, towards the rest of the crew, and the Red Cap Society, all of whom were looking at me quite eagerly. “Really? There’s a life or death battle going on between a Dragon and a Tiger Warrior, and you want to hear me yammer on about Sinbad?” Smiling faces surrounded me. I sighed, and sat down. “Well, by this time, the cabbie had spent several days with Sinbad, on and off, and was moved towards a question.”

“If I may say… You seem to have had a lot of relationships with very unusual women. Yet in honesty, I can’t see anything special about you. No offense meant. It just… strikes me as a little far-fetched.”

The cabbie watched, as a variety of expressions crossed Sinbad’s face. He finally settled for ‘Amused’. “You think I’m self-aggrandizing. Telling tales about fictional conquests. I cannot blame you, to be honest. It does sound far-fetched. But there was nothing special about me. I was slightly exotic, and the women in question were…” He looked down, his expression terribly ashamed. “Very, deeply lonely. When you are the last of your kind, or surrounded by those for whom you feel no passion, your standards become very low. You might even be driven to appreciate the company of a lout of a human. Take Leshp. She was a genius. Even by the standards of the Empire.”

The cabbie frowned. “How so?”

“Keep in mind, she had no schooling, no education except the handful of things she learned from her mentor. She was living on a jungle-covered space station just ten miles across, without a concept of writing or reading. And she outdid me in months. She picked things up faster than you would have believed. Give her ten years in modern society, and she would be up to speed. Hell, she’d probably be teaching us things. She knew so many things about the station, half of them that she’d discovered herself…” Sinbad shook his head. “And when I told her she was pregnant…”

“A life-form growing inside of me… Amazing.” The woman sat with her hands over her stomach, as though she could feel the child inside of her. Sinbad sat across from her, his expression dark. “I had theorized, you know. When I had dissected the remains of Seekers who had died, I found that the most striking of differences in biology were between those of different genders. There were clear signs of divergence. I’d always theorized it was a kind of backup system that the Need to Know had made, so that if circumstances demanded it, we could create more of the People, even if the pods were damaged. Of course, I never expected to experience it myself…”

Sinbad rested a hand on his chin, covering his mouth and the frown therein. “Yeah. It’s the way life-forms- at least, many life-forms- reproduce. Mate, have children with half the genes of the mother, half the genes of the father.”

“Allowing for mixing of one set of beneficial traits with another. Not to mention an impetus for two individuals to care for offspring, rather than just one. Increased specialization… This is fascinating.”

“It’s a problem.” He looked down, and frowned. “I’m sorry. I should have thought more about that. The truth is, your species has been having trouble reproducing. That’s why you never experienced pregnancy, despite having sex. Stupid of me. I should have thought about this.”

“You are worried about the Well of Life. This is an unexpected new life, straining our resources.” Sinbad looked up, surprised. It had been insightful. He’d been worried about the consequences of having a child when he had no way to escape, but hadn’t followed through the thought. The Well of Life. The hard limit on the population.

“Shit. That’s right.” He leaned back, his hands on his head. “Motherfucker. I thought humanity was past this. There was supposed to be enough space, enough food, enough resources. No more bringing kids into a world that can’t sustain them.” He sighed softly. “Alright, then. Worst case scenario. I can see three ways that we can deal with this. One is…” He looked down at her stomach. “I’m not ready to do that.”

“And neither am I. Do you know, that there are patterns among the People? I am not the first like me. The Seekers of Truth reincarnate, our shape passed down from one child to another. Created by the same pod, with the same traits, if not the same personality. That is something that struck me, that I didn’t recognize you. I thought you were something. But this?” She rested her hands on her stomach. “This is unique. This is something brilliant and one-of-a-kind.”

Sinbad nodded, and lifted his hand from his mouth, letting the smile shine through. He covered his eyes instead, to hide the tears. “The second option is you. And I won’t accept that, either. So the last way is… Taking someone else’s life.” He slumped down in the chair. “Fuck me.”

“That’s how we got into this situation in the first place, isn’t it? But you’re wrong. There’s one more option.” She stood up, a hand resting on her chin, casually nude as ever. He tried very hard not to stare. She was always very polite about his bad habit of obvious admiration. “You said that the problem with the Well of Life is that it is damaged, degrading.”

“Yeah.” He sat down, and rested his head on his hands. “But there aren’t any parts on the station.”

“There’s something I might be able to do. I think…” She took a deep breath. “If we cannibalized your ship. We could fix the Well. It wouldn’t be easy, but the parts it has might do the trick. Remove the hull to patch the leaks in the conversion system, use the power system to replace the old aging hydrogen batteries… It would keep it ticking over for another hundred thousand years, easy. Enough to fix things here. Get out… someday. But it would mean you would be stuck here.” She spoke softly, as she sat down next to him, a hand on his shoulder. “You would not be able to return to your world. All those beautiful things you wanted to show me…”

“It’s not so great.” He stared into the middle distance. “Do you know the reason I’m here?” She tilted her head. “My brother committed a crime. The worst crime you can commit, on my world. He was imprisoned. My mother and father, too. I was able to negotiate a deal. I find my people technology. Things like the fruit here. I’m supposed to make up for his sins. Take care of my family.”

She tilted her head. “Is it worth it?”

He jerked, and looked up, frowning. “What do you mean?”

“Does it make you happy, to do these things for others? I have never had family. Not until now.” She looked down at her stomach, and smiled again. “I would do anything to save this child within me, and to give it a good life. Would your parents do the same for you?”

He looked away. “There’s another possibility. I could try to get help. Leave in my ship, try to navigate out of the labyrinth, and send in the supplies you need. It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s possible.”

“I thought you said that your ship couldn’t navigate out?”

Sinbad sighed. “I don’t know. I have…”

“You mentioned the curses. A chance, then.”

“Yeah. But I don’t know if I could come back after that. It’s one thing to tempt fate. But two trips is pushing it. And three, to come back…”

She wrung her hands, clearly a bit worried. Then, she took a deep breath, and seemed to consciously relax herself. “I do not want you to risk yourself. But I cannot hold you here against your will. So… the decision is yours.”

Sinbad sat in the cab. He hadn’t spoken for nearly a minute. The cabbie cleared his throat. “So, did you?”

“Did I what?”

“Did you stay?”

Sinbad frowned out the window. “I’m here, aren’t I?” The cabbie didn’t speak. “There was only one real choice. That’s life, really. You find that there are so many options open and available to you, but when you actually study them, you realize that only one of them could make any sense.”

“It must’ve been hard. Leaving them.”

“Yes. Harder than anything I’ve ever done. The truth is, our relationship would never have lasted out here. She was far too brilliant. I’m just a poor, stupid soldier. She would’ve gotten bored with me the moment she saw the kind of people who are out here among the stars. When you have choice, why settle?”

The cabbie frowned into the mirror. “Hey, you’re not getting maudlin on me, are you? You still haven’t told me how you got out of the station.”

Sinbad sat in the hanger. He’d moved the ship here when he’d found it, maneuvering it around the space station. It sat, unused for the last month. It was still as strong as ever. He sat atop the ship, a wrench in his hands as he studied the parts. Leshp stood in the doorway, her eyes melancholy. “Are you sure about this?” Her voice was soft. It had taken a month to reach this point. The worst of the morning sickness was over, but they had spent weeks finding the foods aboard the ship that would satisfy her needs.


“I am sorry. I forced this decision upon you.”

“Important life lesson: Children happen. Nobody in the history of the human race has felt ready to have children, and yet, they had them anyway, and loved them, and raised them well. And… I’m sorry, too.” He twisted the wrench, and the ship’s thruster finally came free, the bolt unfastening. “I think you would’ve loved it out there. But we’re probably never going to see it, now.” He began working on the hull, stripping off the large panels of metallo-ceramic plating.

“It is alright. I’m happy you’re staying.” She smiled nervously. “It would have been… A little bit scary to go through this on my own.” She lowered her head. “I hope I don’t seem cowardly.”

“You’re the first person on this station to be giving birth in a very long time. It’s natural to be scared. But don’t worry. It’ll all be alright.” He smiled.

“And, with one thing and another, seven months passed. Soon, it was-“

“Wait, wait,” one of the pirates interrupted. “Seven months passed? What happened?”

“Sinbad never disclosed that to the cabbie, I’m afraid. Presumably, their relationship was going well. What happened next would not have hurt nearly so much if it didn’t. I imagine they had romantic walks among the mists, and worked to understand their little world a bit better. Sinbad, while no scientist, was able to help them to gain a great deal of control over their environment through the use of the hand-computer, its translations, and its codes. The Emperor’s access passwords were still good, and made things a great deal easier than they would have been. But the specifics… He didn’t share any stories of what they did. They seemed painful for him.”

Contractions had started early in the morning, waking Leshp and Sinbad up. The experience had been tense, but not frightening. He’d had confidence in her. He’d had confidence in kind-hearted Beth’al, who had taken to learning about the few remaining medical devices aboard the station. She’d made a careful study of the fruits, and put Leshp on a diet of a few of them. Things to ensure that she would be healthy and strong for the pregnancy. Leshp had been reluctant, but had accepted the diet. He’d taken her to the small medical bay where Beth’al had set things up, and had sat, anxiously. There was nothing he could do. For that matter, there was very little that Beth’al could do but monitor Leshp’s vitals and be prepared in case the worst happened.

Sinbad stared into space. For so long, the worst had already happened. He had lost his family, his command, his post. He’d had nothing to live for, and nothing to lose. He had thrown himself into danger again and again, and called it determination. He had been careless of his own life, because he realized the truth. His life had no value. And suddenly, something was happening in the other room that might give it value again. More than trying to save his brother and his parents from a fate that they had gotten themselves into. He had never realized, until this moment, how deeply he had resented them for that fact. The secret desire inside of him to not be bound by the mistakes that they had made.

And yet, he still couldn’t help the terror. The guilt. Every time he felt glad that he was here, rather than with his brother, it stabbed him. Told him that he did not deserve a second chance. That something horrible was going to happen.

As a young man, Sinbad had read A Farewell To Arms. It was part of required reading for the Orion Hierarchy, as a demonstration of what happens to mutineers and cowards. He remembered little of it besides the ending, when the two main characters, finally safe from the war and the madness, were living alone in the mountains. And the stillborn child. And the hemorrhage. An involuntary shiver ran through him. “Sinbad!”

It was Beth’al’s voice. He was through the doorway in a moment, stepping into the sterilized room. One of the few parts of the ship where there was no black foliage, no clinging scent of dirt and bark. “What’s the matter?”

Leshp lay on the medical table, smiling. “Well, we need to decide his name, of course.” She raised an eyebrow, her tail flicking slowly. Sinbad leaned closer. Children, generally speaking, had never been particularly beautiful. Even less so when just born. But as he looked into the eyes of his child, human-shaped, something half-decent that he had brought into the world, things no longer felt hopeless. Leshp sighed, and frowned. “Hmph. He’s got your ears.”

“Yeah, but I’ll bet he’s got your brain. Did you have an idea for the name?”

She grinned. “Rat-shae. The one who bridges any gap, and always connects us.” She cradled the child in her arms, as the boy wailed in the way that every sapient life-form did when it found itself abruptly forced out of its comfort zone. He softly leaned forward, and kissed the boy on the head. “How’s the Well of Life?”

“Almost finished. Just a few things left to take care of. I should go take care of that. I’ll be back with something for you, and Rat-shae there. ” He smiled brightly, and kissed her on the lips. He almost skipped as he walked to the Well of Life. It had taken a while to get everything ready. But the Well’s repairs were nearly finished. Everything was going to be okay. He smiled brightly as he made his way up the side of the building with the help of one of the security drones.

It was busy-work that Leshp had shown him how to do. Something to get his mind off of his own anxieties. Placing the new battery core into its chamber. The machine would run for a long time, now. Long enough for someone from outside to get worried and figure out some way to help them. It seemed doubtful to him- This place had been nearly inaccessible with the best available imperial technology- But that didn’t really matter. He’d been able to give up his concerns about the outside world. He pat his pocket, where a pouch of collected seeds still hung. He didn’t feel… very guilty.

The battery hummed to life. The well began extruding cups, one after another. Enough. He smiled. Another good thing he’d brought into the world. He dusted his hands off, clapping them together, and turned to join his wife.

The black sphere hung in front of him. Bigger than he was, heavy, looming. Its surface was nearly reflective, as it moved forwards. He tried to step back, but he wasn’t quick enough. It consumed him whole.

He took stock of his surroundings. He was standing on a busy Imperial street. He reached for his hand-computer, and found it wasn’t there. That was something, at least. It would be where it could do some good. Looking into the sky, he saw the distinctive dots of light that were the Pearl Necklace. He was back where he had begun.

Sinbad sighed. “It was at that moment that I realized what the curse really meant. There was no peaceful life to be had for me. I would not be allowed to simply sit back and live with a family. I would have to keep traveling. I think about them, sometimes, my Leshp, and my Rat-shae. He would probably be six years old, by now. The hand-computer was left there, so with any luck, their lives have improved.”

The cabbie frowned. “Isn’t there any way to get to them?”

“I discussed it with the Empress on my return. She has done what she can to look for solutions, but it is… difficult. Destroying one of the black holes to provide a space to escape would result in the station being torn to shreds by the other four instantly. Attempting to bypass the black holes… There are technologies that can manage it. The problem is one of accuracy. Opening a wormhole through a gravitational lens to such a small target… It’s potentially disastrous.”

“But something did it to you.”

Sinbad smiled. “Yes. The thing of it is- The real thing- I couldn’t stop. It wasn’t just about my family. Think of the others I had met, loved, and left. All of them, trapped by duty. If I simply stayed with Leshp, I would have been letting all of them down. And of course, there was the Colonel to see again…”

“Well, as I live and breathe. My boy Sinbad, moving up in the world. A full Knighthood, huh? Why, I suppose I should’ve saluted and said Sir when I walked in the door.” The colonel gave Sinbad a broad grin. “So, an ancient weapons research station full of all kinds of goodies. I’ll bet you got a nice little present for me there.”

Sinbad placed a pouch on the table. The colonel raised an eyebrow slowly, and opened it.

“Seeds? Sinbad, my boy, I appreciate the concern for my proper eating, but if all you brought back was some alien fruit…”

“These things grew on a space station with artificial lights. An entire jungle’s worth of them. They kept the primitive inhabitants of that place healthy. I’ve been eating them for the last nine months, and my blood pressure’s gone down, I cut 30 seconds off my mile run, and I can hear in my right ear again. I know it’s not a death star, but these things could revolutionize medicine and food production in the Hierarchy. Imagine what the Gliesan Confederacy would pay for a crop that could grow on their planets.” Sinbad watched as the colonel ran his fingers through them.

“You know, Sinbad, I’m genuinely impressed.” He raised his hand, pinching a few seeds between his thumb and forefinger, letting them fall back into the pouch. “Got to admit, this solves a pretty substantial problem. Put something like this on a ship, let it grow, you could feed the crew forever. Makes logistics one hell of a lot simpler. How do they taste?”

“Pretty good. Though I’ve got to admit, people are probably going to get sick of them by the time they’ve spent the better part of a year eating them. There’s some variety, but I’ve been dying for this.” He carefully lifted his knife and fork, and with great relish and ceremony, sliced into the steak. Cow was a delicacy this far out from Earth, but it was on the colonel’s dime. He briefly thought of Leshp, and the fact that she wouldn’t get to taste it. He didn’t look up at the colonel, for fear of revealing the weakness in his eyes.

“All the charms of the stars can’t beat home.” The colonel leaned back, a lazy grin on his lips. There was a new scar there. It gave him a corpse-like mien. “I’ve got to say, Sinbad. You’ve finally managed to impress me. The most we’ve gotten out of the Empire so far has been a few ships, some publicly available technology. But this? This is something special. Something that most of the Empire doesn’t have. Not that the bastards need it, but…” He grinned. “Any chance of getting the rest of that station?”

“Doubtful. The Empress is trying to figure out a way to evacuate those aboard it and reach it, but it’s not likely to happen any time soon. And I don’t think we could even begin to understand how it’s going to work.”

The colonel shrugged. “That’s life. But this… This is impressive. You know what I call this?”

“A job well done?”

The colonel grinned broadly. “A good start.”

“It wasn’t enough?” The cabbie asked, frowning.

“It would never be enough. I realized that, eventually. The truth of the matter is, they had me over a barrel. They were free to use me as long as they wanted. There was no reason for them to stop, if I kept producing results. And if I stopped producing results, then they would simply get rid of me. The Orion Hierarchy… is not a just place.”

I looked around the group. “It is perhaps important to note why, exactly, the game of cops and robbers that you play with the Fleet would seem so odd to Sinbad.”

There is no justice system for the Orion Hierarchy. There is a system of crime and punishment, but it is deliberately not ennobled with the term ‘Justice system’. Throughout history, the brutality of the law is often directly linked to the difficulty of life. In paradisaical worlds, where life is easy, there is little call to commit violence against your neighbors, and mischief is not going to get anyone hurt or killed. The Empire, with its vast material wealth and great technology, is not a place where anyone has to commit crimes, and thus, there is little point in punishing those who do, because they cannot do much harm, and would not be dissuaded by punishment in any case. Oftentimes, the prospect of being punished, of the taboo, would make it more appealing to the kind of person who would flaunt the law. By treating it as a childish action, it becomes viewed as less exciting.

In the Orion Hierarchy, as has been previously noted, there is not abundance. The worlds of the Orion Hierarchy are desert-like, inhabited only because humanity was willing to live anywhere that could nominally support life. This encouraged a brutal system of laws. A single bad actor could result in an entire caravan dying in the sands. A single criminal aboard a ship could result in the deaths of everyone on that ship. And so, crimes were often given excessive, brutal punishments. The worst part was the family. Loyalty to the Hierarchy, to your fellows, was considered greater than loyalty to family. This, by itself, is not necessarily a horrific act even by human standards. What was frightening was the way this was enforced. The punishment for any crime extended to all immediate family. The greatest crimes could result in punishment to the entire bloodline. The single caveat was that if the family turned in a criminal, then they were absolved of guilt.

Of course, like any system of laws, there was corruption that formed over time. The founders of the Orion Hierarchy had refused to call it a justice system, because they recognized that it was not justice; It was simply what was necessary, in their minds. But there were some, like the colonel, who saw the advantages of such a system. People with everything to lose will work with a desperate fire that is not visible in those who are not threatened. The crime of his brother had made Sinbad into a perfect agent, and if it meant that a great injustice was perpetrated…

Well, it was not meant to be justice. It was just punishment.

“So… What did Sinbad’s brother do?”

I smiled. “That’s a story for the fifth voyage.” I looked up, and covered my eyes as there was a rumble. The ship landed, with surprisingly little damage. “Is the fight over…?”

The airlock of the ship irised open. Standing in the airlock, the captain stood, her coat unruffled. There wasn’t a cut on her. One arm was outstretched, holding the throat of the Tiger Warrior. Naja’s knuckles were bruised and bloodied, her coat torn open. A black patch covered her stomach, with four massive orange stripes cut in parallel lines across it, like the scar from an attack. Captain Kry walked with immaculate grace down the ramp, approaching us. With a careless motion, she threw Naja to the ground in front of me. “I would recommend you keep a tighter leash on your pet, human. Otherwise, you may find her unhappily wounded.” She turned towards the rest of the crew, and eyed the Red Cap Society. “Do any of you wish to make trouble for me?”

They shook their heads quickly.

That evening, I sat in the medical bay, for once tending to someone else, rather than being the convalescent. Naja growled as I applied one of the gel packs. “Are you a Tiger Warrior?”

She frowned. “Yes.”

“Why did you let yourself get captured?”

“To ascertain whether this group of pirates had captured you. You are being sought. If you were not here, I would have arrested them and taken their ship.”

I tapped a few buttons on the gel pack, and the orange stripes began to fade away. “I thought that Imperials were supposed to heal quickly.”

“Yes. Normally we do. But those are the risks of fighting a Dragon. She has ripped away my ability to regenerate. It will take a while for my reality to reassert itself.”

I frowned. “How did she beat you? I thought Tiger Warriors were supposed to be, like, the elite. She’s just some pirate captain.”

Naja stared down at her stomach. “I lacked conviction. Tell me, do you know of the Threefold Path of the Reptile Kingdom?”

I frowned. “Military doctrine, isn’t it? Ro, Shi, Ma. Body, Fists, and Heart?”

“That is an inaccurate translation. They would probably be more accurately transcribed as… Scales, Claws, and Fire.”

The Reptile Kingdom was always the most militaristic of the Ten Kingdoms. It was once the fourth of the Great Clans of the Beast Kingdom, the military wing. Its founder, the great Shin Ten Han, was famed for his doctrine, Ro Shi Ma. It was the basis of the military doctrine of the Reptile Clan.

Ro, Body; The doctrine of defense. It was Shin Ten Han’s belief that resilience was one of the three great virtues of battle. In any battle worth fighting, the first blow will not decide the battle; It is the last blow that determines the victor. In order to win, you must be capable of receiving blows for as long as your enemy is able to land them. You cannot always guarantee the element of surprise or the first strike, but if you can guarantee the last strike, then you will always be victorious. Thus it was that the Reptile Kingdom focused on a balanced approach, ensuring that its ships could endure any attack.

Shi, Claws; The doctrine of offense. Defense is worthless without the ability to destroy. While not all situations could be guaranteed to be favorable, seeking a favorable situation was always the utmost priority. There was no sense of ‘military honor’ among the Reptile Kingdom in the traditional sense; Refusing to use an advantage in a life or death battle was not to be lauded. A sneak attack, an unthinkable weapon, an attack on soft targets, all of these things were considered acceptable if it meant that victory would be assured. This did not win the great leader many friends, but it did win him many battles.

And Ma, Flames; The doctrine of will. Both defense and offense were worthless without the will to fight. If you did not have the will to strike, and to destroy your enemy, you could not win. Ma was the foundation from which Shi and Ro gained their power. It was akin to the old practice of breaking: To break a brick, you must strike with all of your force. If you strike with less, then you are more likely to fail, and if you fail, you are injured. The more force you put into a blow, the more likely it is to rebound upon you, and to do you harm instead. But if you swing with all your might, the blow will shatter your target, and do no harm to you

Shin Ten Han was famed throughout the Expansion period of the Empire, for his many victories. But his greatest challenge came with peace. In the Orion Spur, there was another race, the equal of the Empire at that time. The Emperor, one of the Mammal Clan, sought to make peace with them, because they possessed a terrifying weapon. The troops of this forgotten culture could change reality around them. A scientific mastery, its range was limited, but within that range, their will was absolute. Anything they willed, was. Anything they denied, wasn’t. They were unassailable. They could be defeated, but at great expense, and with great losses. And so, the Empire sought peace.

This outraged Shin Ten Han. He was certain that the alien race was up to something. He believed that they were untrustworthy, and refused to abide by the peace. He agitated for war, even as the rest of the Empire ignored him. He was ostracized, cast down from his position as the leader of the Imperial Fleet, and found himself left alone. He gathered followers among the Reptile Clan who were unhappy with the peace, and sought a surprise attack. He and his men raided the home-world of this unknown culture.

The battle was shared across the Empire, its images shared through the lines of couriers, spreading out. Ten thousand of the finest of the Reptile Clan were unable to land a single blow on one of the warriors of this unknown culture. The warrior admitting the truth: That his people were preparing to strike at the heart of the Empire. The ships, floating in the sky; An armada that would destroy the Emperor, and make slaves of the Empire. The greatest warriors of the Reptile Kingdom lay broken in heaps, the alien warrior unharmed. Shin Ten Han stood with both arms broken, limp by his sides.

The warrior called upon Shin Ten Han to bow, to be given his life by the magnanimity of the aliens. If he did so, then he would be allowed to live, and his men could leave. It was impossible to defeat the alien warrior, for his will was manifest around him; No blade could touch him, no fist could bruise him, no mortal could slay him.

Shin Ten Han tore the warrior’s throat out with his teeth. And as the surprised creature felt pain for the first time in its life, it fell to the ground, and died. And Shin Ten Han declared that the Emperor would never bow to an alien. And with that, the remainder of his forces appeared in the sky, armed with fire, and burned the alien armada out of the stars, as Shin Ten Han laughed.

“Of course, that was only the beginning of the troubles. Sometimes, I think that is where it all started, this desperate violence. It etched out the fate of our race for so long.”

I frowned. “What happened next?”

Naja smiled. “I will rest, first. But tomorrow… I will tell you of the prize that Shin ten Han took.”

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