Karen, Queen of Illium, stared up into the sky. For almost half a sun the tiny ship Argo was suspended in the air surrounded by huge city-sized ships. These ships appeared upon the aftermath of their greatest victory against the armies of King Rakamore at Mull Garden, Count Voslow’s castle. Like unwanted relatives at a banquet they seemed to demand what was "rightfully" theirs.
Karen’s hands instinctually went to her stomach feeling her unborn child kicking within. She was almost "due," and like all expecting mothers, could not help but associate current events with that of her child’s future.
The woman had never been so frightened.
"Wizard?" Karen asked, taking her husband’s hand.
From the wizard there came no response.
Jatel, King of Illium, was as concerned as his beautiful wife. But, as king, he could not afford to project an unstable constitution. The man was just as terrified as he looked up at the alien vessels.
Keeth’s hands pulled at his long beard lost in serious thought. This was a game that was almost beyond his ability to play. If these mysterious visitors were indeed the Nowns of ancient lore how could he stop them? The Nown were said to be above all magicks and sciences. Indeed, the clergy almost worshiped them as gods. How could one out think a god?
A sign of activity came from the ships. A pinging noise filled the air, causing a slight discomfort within the ears.
WE ARE THE NOWNS. WE HAVE COME BACK TO TAKE WHAT WAS ONCE OURS. LIVE WITH US AS SUBJECTS, OR DIE.
The ships started to turn clockwise, slowly. A small hum filled the air, and within beats all became accustomed to the sensation. Thousands upon thousands of windows soon opened up within the ships as if to give the occupants inside a chance to see their new home.
Karen was not going to have it! Not after achieving so much.
Not after learning to live as a woman, having once been a man. Not after finally discovering the joys of love. Not after achieving a glorious victory against overwhelming odds.
This was not fair!
Huge blasts of fire and steam began to belch from the strange ships as they continued their slow turning. As far as they could all see, each ship, which seemed to fill most of the sky, were mimicking each other in their actions. Keeth had suggested that it was a means of communication. But the wizard was only guessing.
If one were to associate a single word with the Dark Ships that word would be "cold." Dark, metallic, and obsidian in nature, uncaring hands built these vessels. Unlike the Argo, which had been built by Keeth with both love and dedication, these ships were only built to serve.
Circular in shape, oval in height, there appeared more decks in the middle of the things, then as you approached the sides. A ditch or dug out hanger - possibly a cargo hatch entry - separated both top and bottom superstructures. At no time did the bright gleam of the suns touch the skin of the ships. It was as if the light were absorbed instead of simply enjoyed.
These were terrible and ungodly machines.
Both Jatel and Karen approached the wizard. The old man stood at his ship’s wheel thinking and rethinking plans of attack. This was evident by the increasing rows of worry projecting from his tattooed forehead.
The tattoo had its own history -- As once explained upon their original encounter, Keeth’s marking resembled the true nature of the universe. Three rings of galaxies and planetary movements. The rings resembled gold, silver, and copper. They also represented the metaphysical. Any wizard worth his salt never ignored the metaphysical! Each ring stood for the three layers of the universe: Creation, existence, and destruction. Upon his final lesson, the mark of a wizard was placed upon his forehead by his master. Keeth wore the honor proudly.
"I do not envy you your puzzle, wizard," Jatel stated, trying his best to look unmoved by surrounding events. It wasn’t working. "This is quite a conundrum. We have been under enemy control for almost half a sun and there appears to be no escape."
Karen shot her husband a concerned stare.
Jatel soon quieted.
"What do you want of us, wizard?" Karen finally asked, looking up at the ships.
"Your Grace, I have absolutely no idea," Keeth shrugged. "I am open to any suggestion, though."
"Then, we are prisoners?" Jatel asked, reaching for the hilt of his sword.
"A prison is only a prison if there is no chance of escape, son." The wizard barked, annoyed by the king’s lack of faith in him.
Jatel, if only to prove a point, stretched out his hands, walked to the center of the deck, and pantomimed their current situation. He showed the wizard that they were all completely surrounded.
"There appears to be no escape."
"Your Majesty, there is always escape. After all, we escaped from Tork, did we not?"
Upon the mention of the dragon’s name, Jatel humbled himself. It was almost impossible to escape the inner-verse of a dragon’s stomach, and if Karen and Jatel had not had the good fortune to encounter Keeth and his incredible wooden ship inside of Tork, he knew that they would both still be there.
"Sir, I am sorry," Jatel bowed, "I am just concerned."
Keeth’s eyes softened. He understood.
The humming noise from the ships stopped.
Things turned remarkably calm.
The skies became devoid of sound.
"What is this?" the wizard asked.
Small doors opened at the bottom of each ship. The actions were done smoothly and without so much as a squeak or noise.
"What could it be?" Karen asked, looking up.
"A welcoming party?" Jatel hoped.
Keeth shook his head to the negative.
"To the Gods, Your Majesty, I do not think so," Keeth’s eyes narrowed in study. "It is my experience that most welcoming committees do not start off their mission with a subjugating threat. No. This is an evil thing meant to destroy. Frankly, I fear our safety."
Karen’s eyes turned hard upon the wizard.
"Well," Keeth shrugged, "You know. It’s always wise to prepare for the worse."
As if on cue, several tiny metallic beings sped from the ships’ underbellies. They looked like floating barrels. They had fiery red eyes constantly searching for targets. Claw-like hands shot out from their sides, clamping down several times, giving the impression that they could produce great harm if contact were made. All seemed to be propelled by flames which endlessly sparked from their sides and bottom.
"What in hell are they?" Karen asked, marveling at them as they flew near.
Jatel and Keeth were not so impressed.
"Wizard, I suggest some kind of action." Jatel withdrew his sword
"I believe that you may be correct, Your Majesty."
Battle stations were soon called on board the Argo!