Sneak Peek Chapter: A Crown of Horns
To Traian, the dream felt familiar—but somewhere in what remained of his purely human consciousness he knew he had not previously experienced it.
The field of stars stretched out before him in all directions. In the dream he had no eyes, but could nonetheless see—in fact, he could ‘see’ in every direction at once. Part of his mind told him that was how it should be, but his human psyche felt fascination and horror as the stars seemed to swirl around each other erratically. His perspective shifted with similar unpredictability, sliding from one place to another until he eventually realized that he—or whatever was controlling his perspective in the dream—was actively searching for something.
What began as an almost casual journey from star to lonely star slowly came to feel intent, and that intensity quickly gave way to panic as the jumps from star to star increased in both distance and frequency.
Just when he thought his sanity would fail, and he would be condemned to an eternity of helpless gibbering, a sound—or, if not a sound precisely, an unmistakable sense of attraction—drew his attention. It was faint at first, but with each leap that followed he felt it tug at his consciousness with increasing strength until, finally, his mind was able to focus on something it—and he—recognized:
Lances of energy stabbed through metal and crystal alike as the dueling forces feinted, pursued, and circled each other like opposing packs of wolves seeking weakness in their counterparts. Ships invariably died, some slowly and others in a sudden flash, but as the fires of conflict were stoked by the engaged enemies Traian felt a mixture of delight and horror—delight at the naked display of conflict, and horror at himself for reveling in the sight of so much death.
He tried to focus on the specific ships so that he might catch sight of a hull marking, or other identifying feature, but he was unable to do so. It was as though the harder he focused, the blurrier each object became to his peculiar senses.
As he tried to focus, however, something unexpected happened: he began to see not ships, but collections and streams of images. The images seemed to be anchored on the ships, as though they were inexorably tethered to them, and each ship harbored a handful of distinct—and often contradictory—images which flitted by at seemingly random speeds. Some of these images accurately predicted what would happen to the ships on which they were anchored, but the majority did not, and for a moment he thought he could finally—after a life of soul-crushingly limited perspective—understand everything.
His epiphany was cut short when he saw something in one of the streams that he recognized. It was not an object or a person, but rather it was a maneuver. Something about it was hauntingly familiar, but before he could focus his mind on it he was wrenched from the sight of the battle.
‘Go back!’ he tried to scream, but his protest was in vain. Seemingly strengthened by the sight of the battle, whatever it was that controlled his ‘movement’ throughout the stars was clearly invigorated as it leapt easily from star to star. He drew steadily nearer the Galactic Rim as he soared through creation—his ‘location’ was somehow a certainty to him, though he had no way to verify whether or not it was true—but, just as with the battle, his mind snagged on something as he sped from one point to another.
This time, it was not a sound but a whirling ball of light which caught his attention—and when his consciousness came before it, he felt the urge to weep at its terrible beauty.
Swirling before him was what could only be described as a writhing, pulsing sphere comprised of threads—and each thread contained images of the future or, at least, of possible futures.
The sheer number of the threads enmeshed in this swirling vortex of possibilities was incalculable. It seemed more than obvious—even more than inevitable—that this was where the future of the entire galaxy would be decided.
It seemed right that all possible futures hinged on this pulsing, swirling convergence of possibilities.
He somehow knew that an incomprehensible amount of work had gone into bringing the vortex into being. So many years had elapsed, so many lives spent, and so many worlds had been turned to ash just for the chance to coax the vortex into being. It was the absolute pinnacle of creation, a singularity of possible conflict, and with it life itself would be forever reshaped into something stronger than it could have ever been without his help. With thoughts such as these in his mind he very nearly lost himself in the divinity of the moment.
But before that could happen, he saw a figure clarify in the center of the swirling, writhing mass of probabilities. It was both human and not, both self-aware and not, but above all it was alive. It, more than most of creation, was at least dimly aware of its role in the universe and, for a terrifying moment, its horned head turned toward Traian and fixed him with red, smoldering eyes which he knew—no, which he hoped—would see the end of the so-called ‘Masters’ legacy.’
And though his consciousness instinctively retreated from the swirling vortex—sliding past a peculiar trinary star system, the image of which burned itself in his mind—Traian somehow knew the King with the Crown of Horns had seen him.