Markram Battles: Omens of Doom is finally here! Can I just say how excited I am to share Part II of the series with you? Yep. I am very excited. It has been an incredibly fun process and your support and love have made it all the sweeter. I’d like to congratulate the 5 lucky winners of the giveaway: Tawna, Mirel, Barbara, Debra, and Sarah. You should have instructions to download your free copies of Omens of Doom in your inboxes. If you didn’t sign up for my Newsletter in time, don’t worry, you can still do it. Just click on “Join M.C.’s Newsletter” on the top right corner of this page and you are good to go.
Without further ado, here is a little teaser for Markram Battles: Omens of Doom. I hope you enjoy it!
The glass walls of the Grand Hall glimmer under the silver light of the moon. The loud merriment and laughter of senators, Army officials, and Markram civilians echoes off its glass walls and throb in perfect harmony with the excitement. Colorful, exotic dishes, served to symbolize the newly conquered sector, lay atop white tables, arranged delicately in tiered platters. I make my way toward the food, eyeing it suspiciously, and find myself slightly impressed by the meticulous craftsmanship of the carved fruits. Senator Thirty-Two no doubt had humans prepare everything on display.
My eyes scan the room and I smile in amusement. Board representatives, senators, and civilians, all dressed in formal attire, bounce from one unit leader to the next, like busy bees in search of pollen. They concentrate on the most popular leaders, as expected. Still, every unit leader in sight seems to drown in the midst of the inflated attention.
I am startled by the voice of the Major General as she comes to stand next to me. “I don’t see your star protégé anywhere, Commander.”
I turn toward her and nod, noticing the flawless fit of her dress uniform. “I don’t favor any leader in particular, Major General.”
She lets out an amused chuckle. “I do hope Seven arrives soon. There are many representatives impatient to meet him.”
“I would believe so. He has won every battle in the past month.”
She scoffs, clearly bothered by my remark. “So have other units in the battle force.”
I smile inwardly, swallowing the reply I’d like to give. “That is the beauty of our battles, is it not? Over one hundred units fighting in the arena, until only one remains.”
The Major General steps around and faces me directly. “Yet, Unit Seven seems to have earned the favor of not only the people, but also the representatives of the board, more so than any other unit.” Her tone and demeanor remain unchanged as she continues. “Tell me, Commander, how can this be?”
I do not answer immediately. Instead, I let my gaze drop to her left shoulder and the two regimental stripes indicating her rank. The high collar of her white jacket, the asymmetric flap extending from her right shoulder to her left hip, and the curve of her cuffs, all piped in the black regimental facing color. The dark lines encircle her body like snakes ready to attack anyone daring to come too close. I return my attention to her eyes and find them glaring. “I am not at all surprised. Seven has always excelled beyond everyone’s expectations.”
She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, overly controlled. “Perhaps he is overcompensating for something.”
I stiffen immediately, remembering the last training exercise we supervised together. Seven had just conscripted a pair of new recruits to offset the loss of two of his fighters and was practicing sword tactics with his unit when the Major General arrived without notice, supposedly to examine their progress. The memories of the incident flash through my mind with perfect clarity.
The Major General’s gaze, though ambiguous and unreadable, moved across the training field. Something about her expression worried me. I fixed all of my attention on her black eyes, seemingly oblivious to my examination. I couldn’t find the slightest hint of her true intentions.
The Major General didn’t look at me as she spoke. “The Senator of Sector 32 has requested two fighters as entertainment for the Opening Ceremony.”
I forced myself to look at Seven and his unit. His unit had won every battle so far, and even though other units had performed just as well, his unit, unlike any other, seemed to be the crowd’s favorite. Clearly, Seven’s techniques, combined with the unexpected performance of some of his fighters, had caught the interest of the spectators. The Major General liked to maintain control of everything and everyone within her grasp. I knew she felt Seven slipping away. As did I.
Seven stopped in front of Thirteen. “Battles are more than winning. We will need more than victories to achieve success.”
Thirteen’s reply, though a whisper, carried her full disapproval. “I am required to fight and kill my opponents, so I fight and kill them. Why should I embellish the process any more than I have to?”
Seven sheathed his sword calmly and wrapped his fingers around the hilt. “You still don’t get it, do you? The battles are about excelling. They are about earning the remembrance, love, and respect of the crowd that wants to see us die. Anyone can fight. But making them love you because of it requires more than just killing your opponent. Your disregard for my orders claimed the lives of two fighters. You can’t go and fight on your own as a separate entity. We are yoked together, so we fight together. I am responsible for the safety and performance of the entire unit, not just you.”
Thirteen’s anger flared at his remark. “How dare you blame me for those deaths? I acted as I thought was best under the circumstances.”
“You are supposed to obey my commands, not act as you think best. We can’t afford to lose anyone else if we expect to survive. I recruited you to win.”
“You recruited us to die!”
Seven tightened his jaw, biting down as if to control a sudden torrent of frustration. I held my breath, expecting the worst. The Major General wouldn’t fail to notice any indication of emotion, and Seven, for the first time in a very long time, had been struggling to control himself. He narrowed his gaze. “Don’t push me, Thirteen.”
“Or what?” she asked in her usual insolent tone.
Seven tightened his grip around the hilt of his sword, digging his nails deep into the soft handle. “There are many things worse than death. I would really hate to be the one forced to enlighten you on the subject. Every choice you make, no matter how small and insignificant, affects this unit. I won’t let your choices squelch my goals of success. No more fighters will die because you refuse to follow my orders. You are not here to think for yourself.”
“Your orders have turned us into murderers!”
Seven made his way closer to her, slow and composed. The flare of exasperation in Thirteen’s expression softened, slowly receding until there was no trace of it left. Seven clenched his free hand into a tight fist, almost as if he were consciously trying to stop his fingers from reaching out to her. “Would you have rather my orders turned you into a martyr?”
The unmistakable warmth in his tone surprised me. Even in the distance I could see Thirteen’s hands shaking, sending rippling vibrations through her arms and chest. “I hate you,” she said, her voice breaking.
Seven leaned back slightly, the shock on his face quickly replaced by a mask of indifference. “Whatever makes you think I care?” He turned around and walked away.
Thirteen’s nostrils flared in anger. She unsheathed her sword and I frowned, knowing what she would do before it happened. Thirteen threw the sword in Seven’s direction. It landed on the ground next to him, immediately drawing every fighter’s attention. I clenched my fists, hoping Seven would act as the unit leader I trained, not the Markram boy infatuated with the human recruit. The Major General’s gaze was fixed on the exchange, her limbs rigid in anxious anticipation.
Seven gave a quick glance in our direction. The colored window facing the field hid us from view, but I had no doubt Seven was aware of our presence. His eyes returned to the metal blade on the floor. “I told you not to push me.” He clenched his fist and turned his attention to his unit. “Nine, front and center.” For a second no one moved. “I said front and center.”
Nine walked forward, her fear and uneasiness slowing every step like shackles around her ankles. She took her stance in front of him and waited. Seven grasped her throat. I saw him hesitate, considering what he was about to do. I swallowed hard. I had only seen him use his extrasensory ability to its full extent twice, and neither of those instances was something I wished to recall. Nine began quivering, her confused expression growing in pain with every passing moment. She brought her hands around her neck, fighting against his grasp like a wild animal. Seven lifted her off the ground while Nine squirmed and kicked relentlessly.
“What are you doing?” Thirteen asked. “Stop it!”
Seven’s arm shook from the exertion, but he didn’t let go. Holding Nine while extracting every sense with the exception of pain, which only expanded its presence inside the victim’s mind, wasn’t easy. Most people were completely unaware of the fact that creatures of any race had a multitude of senses. Sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch were only the most recognized. But they weren’t the only ones. Extracting the traditionally recognized senses usually worked without much effort; the victim lost consciousness instantly. Nine continued struggling because Seven was purposefully keeping her conscious until the very end of the extraction, which I knew required a massive amount of self-discipline on his part.
Nine finally passed out and Seven let her fall with a loud thud. “Six, front and center.”
Thirteen’s expression grew more distressed at the sight of Six stepping forward with the same fearful, yet obedient pace. Seven took hold of Six’s throat and repeated the sensory extraction, leaving only pain. “Stop it, Seven,” Thirteen demanded.
But he didn’t. Seven dropped the unconscious fighter on the floor and clenched his jaw. “Ten, front and center.”
“No! Please,” Thirteen cried out.
Seven looked up. “I told you not to push me. Every action has an effect. Every choice has a consequence. I will teach you the meaning of duty, to your unit and to me, even if it’s the last thing I do. Not one of your fellow fighters will eat, not one will sleep, not one will recover from training, until you have yielded. Even if it means the death of them all.”
“You just said you are responsible for the safety of the entire unit. How am I supposed to interpret your behavior?”
“You aren’t supposed to interpret anything. You are supposed to listen and obey, without question, without discussion, and without doubt.”
Seven grasped Ten’s neck and extracted her senses in the same painful manner, letting her body fall atop the other unconscious fighters after he had finished. He repeated the process until every fighter with the exception of Thirteen lay on the ground. Thirteen’s chin quivered and, in spite of her obvious efforts to refrain from crying, tears began to stream down her cheeks. Seven remained immobile for a moment after the last fighter hit the ground, his shaky fingers revealing the regret that I knew coursed through him. Seven had never been a punisher. He had never encountered a situation, either in training or real combat, where anyone could force him to be cruel out of necessity.
“It seems Seven is finally acting as he was trained,” the Major General said.
I blinked several times, realizing I had somehow forgotten she was standing next to me. I turned toward her and said the first thing that came to my mind. “I have always trusted his judgment.”
“Inform Seven that Thirteen will be one of the fighters at the ceremony.” I nodded, then watched as she made her way down the corridor, all the while wondering how Seven would react to the news.
Thirteen’s voice brought my attention back to the training. “For a race so bent on repressing emotions, you sure have a very spiteful way of expressing yourself.”
Seven looked up from the pile of bodies at his feet. I couldn’t help feeling upset at Thirteen’s remark. She knew nothing of our ways. We didn’t repress emotion. We controlled it, mastering our natural instincts and everything else that might impair, and therefore weaken, our rational and superior thinking. “I need you to understand that just as I have to do what it takes, so do you.”
Thirteen wiped her tears away with the back of her hand. “I won’t compromise my beliefs.”
“Your beliefs aren’t applicable anymore.
“Of course they are,” she said. “They make me who I am. I won’t dismiss them simply because you consider them irrelevant.”
Seven grunted. “Our opponents won’t hesitate to kill us and we are no good to anyone dead.” He glanced in my direction again, deepening the crease on my forehead. Something about his expression looked different, more at ease. I realized then that his previous demonstration of cruelty had been for the benefit of the Major General, not Thirteen. He must have sensed her leaving, just as he sensed our presence behind the glass in the first place.
Thirteen directed her gaze toward the window, probably in an attempt to find the source of Seven’s distraction. “We are no good to anyone alive if our lives don’t mean anything.”
Seven’s eyes returned to her. I had the strange impression that her words, perhaps because of her tone, zealous, truly believing, had in some way awakened something deep within him. His reply confirmed my belief. “What would you have me do?”
I remember grimacing in disapproval as I waited for her response, knowing that Seven, either because of the changes I had already seen in him or the changes I feared were yet to come, wouldn’t easily dismiss her words. Her answer unsteadied me. “Dare to make a stand.”
Seven shook his head, scoffing in frustration. At least he had the common sense to pause at such a suggestion. “There is a time and a place for everything, even you should know that. I meant every single word I just said and I will enforce my orders whether you agree with them or not.” His eyes seemed to darken, bringing out the unremitting leader I knew lived inside of him. “You will remain standing, exactly where you are, until morning. Move and the entire unit will pay.”
Seven turned around and headed out of the training field. He stopped in front of me, acknowledging me with a nod. “Commander.”
My eyes fixed on the blank expression in his blue eyes. “The Major General has arranged a one-on-one combat between two fighters to honor the Senator of our newly acquired sector.”
He didn’t blink. “Has she already picked the fighters?”
“Do I have any say in the matter?”
I didn’t answer.
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