An officer of the Danish Empire, Colonel Mason was instrumental in the defeat of the Daemon Sultan but was later captured by the Bad Faeries and imprisoned in a Mi-Go brain cylinder. Rescued during the assault on the Khirgiz citadel, he was forgotten until the approach of the asteroid fragment Nemesis.
The British West India Company: Everyone in Mahair (the capital of the English possession of Arawak) was stunned to look up on day in the fall of ’32 to see a pair of airships approaching the city. After a huge panic that the city was about to be attacked by the Ice air-pirates, someone managed to get a telescope and see that the two ships (battered, patched, weathered) had Danish Air Corps markings. As it happened, Colonel Mason had managed to achieve the first trans-Atlantic airship voyage!
Danish Empire: Another daring Colonel (the Empire had a surfeit of them), this one Joseph Mason, returned from the west, with his two zeppelins battered, patched and rust-stained. He had successfully crossed the Atlantic twice, tracing currents and wind-patterns. He managed to get his airships back to Marseille, though one of them crashed on landing, and the other caught fire and exploded three days later, during the welcome-home celebration.
October 1745: Oniko, Colonel Mason and Valerus cross the Selucian desert, hiding by day from Georgian airship and camel patrols, making their way slowly north and west by night. Luckily, Mason is familiar with the desert tribes and they have managed to acquire some camels. The march is terribly draining for the Empress, though, and Valerus wonders if she can make it to Suria and the Sunlander armies she knows (somehow) are there.
 Six years ago, Mason traveled through the land between the Two Rivers in the guise of a Circassian merchant.
May, 1746: Oniko throws her reserves into the disaster spiraling out of the crumpling center and Rashid pounces. A wedge of his pushtigbahn crash into her guardsmen and the last of the Rangers go down, trying to stop the Sultan. Oniko and Mason are suddenly at swordstrokes with a veritable giant of a man. The Pale Flame has only seconds, seeing Rashid bearing down on her, and she tosses a battered silver mirror to the Colonel.
“Go!” She screams as Valerus leaps to her side. Mason catches the ancient trinket from the air, then spurs his horse away, weeping all the while.
There is a strangled, despairing scream as Windrider collapses in death – the starstone is no protection against a bullet – and Colonel Mason snatches up the gray-green device even as Rashid leaps across blood-soaked field. Mason twists, desperately flinging the stone at the Sultan’s head. Stone strikes the black armor and there is an audible hum as two objects which cannot coexist try to share the same space.
The Pale Flame has guttered out at last. Of all her captains, only Mason has survived, dragged back from the lip of ultimate darkness by the Rangers. The flute, the stone, the lenses, even the so-useful piccolo are all gone, swallowed up in Rashid’s annihilation.
The Colonel finds he cannot weep, for the grief within him is so vast it fills the world. Limping, the Uraeus flies west, following the sun.
Danish Empire: Mason had returned from the east; gaunt and haggard, friendless. He simply appeared one day at the sprawling complex of buildings in Thessalonika which had one houses the “Macedonian” dynasty of Danish kings. He carried with him the corpse of the Empress, Oniko Paleologai, the last of her noble line.
He waited until a great multitude had assembled. No one spoke. The grief on the colonel’s face was a dagger in every heart and the silent shape at his side told all the end had come to a great, heroic age. The sun drifted overhead and at noon, when sol was a brassy, perfect disc at the center of the vault of heaven, Mason stood up on the steps of the palace and said these words:
Even in death, evil did not touch her. She alone – of all of us – remains pure, a flame which does not die, which lights this darkness gathering all around, filling our hearts. Remember her, men of Denmark, for she is the best of us, and will live forever, a queen among the spirits, a guide for the lost, inspiration to those who have lost hope, a goad to the evil, the warden and barrier of the world. See her, our Queen, among the blades, spears, arms of her enemies. Cities we will lay at her feet, burning sacrifices as the heroes of old raised sweet smoke to the heavens, laid thick cuts of fat upon the brazier, lifted cups to the sky, to the gods. Her shrine is our hearts, unyielding, indomitable. She – alone of all men, all women – will remain unblemished, perfect, untouched by age or disease or fear. Here is the flame which lights the world, drives back darkness, shatters armies, casts down proud towers, strikes falsehood into ruin. Our Queen, our Empress, our beloved Oniko.
Danish Empire: “The Empress is dead,” Colonel Mason announced from the steps of the provisional Chancellery in Thessaloniki. A silent, curious crowd of citizens filled the huge square. Still thin from the privations he had suffered in the Middle East and indelibly marked on face, hands and soul by the horrors he had witnessed, the colonel was reading from a handwritten sheet.
“She left no heir of her body to rule her subjects. In her life, there was no time for the joy and struggle of motherhood. She served humanity instead. We are all her children, held under her guardian wing.” Mason looked up, scanning the faces of the people gathered before him. “But she gave some thought for the future, despite all which weighed upon her mind. She has directed us to form an assembly – the allthing in the old tongue – to rule the Empire in consultation with the Emperor.
“And there shall be a new Emperor.” Mason raised his hand, indicating a stout, black-bearded man with a scarred, seamed face. “The closest relative by blood to the Empress is her cousin, Gregor Dushan, prince of Serbia. Tomorrow he will face the assembled ranks of all those nobles and potentates who survive in the Empire and by the grace of God, he shall be King of the Danes.”
While Georg took the remnants of the civil government in hand, colonel Mason departed for the Levant with a small fleet and army. His was a grief-filled task, but not one he would leave to another.
Upon the heights of Golan, where Oniko fell in her final sacrifice, Mason directed the Danish soldiers: “to build a memorial to her, to her father who was lost in the waters off the Frost Wolf strongholds in Alaska, and to all peoples of the world who set aside their differences of faith and history and came together in extraordinary sacrifice for the ultimate common cause. We seek to make the Holy Land a living and continual reminder, to people of all faiths and creeds, of the sacrifice made by those who recognized what was at stake in the wars against Georgia and the Ice, and that no price is too high to uphold the highest of principles.”
No effort was made to redirect the faith of the Moslem citizens Levant and Akko. Their administration was left to their own elders. At the same time, Mason made sure to inform each of the patriarchs and prelates that the Holy Land would remain open and welcoming to pilgrims of all faiths, from all nations. Proselytizing was forbidden.
ARF: This massed force then launched themselves into the trackless wastes of the Urst-Urt, following directions painstakingly assembled by Company scouts, airship overflights and certain notes acquired from a certain Colonel Mason, whose disappearance in this inhospitable region had first aroused Company suspicions…
After nearly a month of slogging through ever-deepening sand, the army crested a long, sprawling lava-rock ridge and looked down upon a fantastic sight: a great bowl-shaped valley holding a thousand-foot high spire of black volcanic rock at its heart. All around the pinnacle, enormous signs and sigils were carved from the desert floor, and everywhere there were signs of busy industry… though none of it seemed of human origin.
Enraged, the Sunlanders stormed down into the valley and within the hour were engaged in a ferocious struggle with the defenders of the Halls of Saffron. The eons-old volcanic plug was honeycombed with tunnels and caverns, and filled with Khirgizite warriors. Their cannon lit off even as the first troop of Swedish hussars galloped down the slope into the Vale of Night.
Some six thousand Khirgiz defended the Halls against 25,000 Company soldiers, Templars and a handful of Swedish ‘advisors’. The ARF aerofleet – numbering at least fifty of the latest-model airships – poured down a rain of destruction from above, bombarding the spire with bombs and flame. Papal guns dug into the ridges hammered ceaselessly at the defenses. Companymen and Templar knights battled the monstrously-deformed Khirgiz in the tunnels and battlements…
And despite the elaborate fortifications (constructed a great expense over many, many years) the Khirgiz citadel was reduced to ruins, it’s defenders slain, Swedish and ARF technicians crawling through the remains, digging out it’s secrets, within two months. Old Malank was killed, his body dragged out onto the sand, as was his son Gogor and many of the Khirgiz captains.
Surprising the other Sunlander commanders, once the city had fallen and the mopping up was underway, one of Cardena’s aides revealed himself as no less a personage than the Pope Clement himself! The pontiff then busied himself with leading the masses for the dead and seeing every inch of the malefic city was cleansed by fire, Holy Water and the sword (where necessary).
Lasila and Hallestrom, long veterans of this kind of cruel work, descended into the depths beneath the citadel where they found – first to this astonishment, an entire city built underground – and then to their horror – the malformed and tortured denizens thereof…
Gripped with overwhelming emotion, Juhani Lasila lifted the glass jar, hands tangling in the silvery tubes and wires attached to the back. A queasy amber fluid sloshed inside, first revealing, then obscuring the stunning contents.
“H-e-l-l-o… C-a-p-t-a-i-n…” The voice echoed with an unfathomable humming, seeming to come from the very air itself.
“Gasp! Choke! Colonel Mason… oh my god, you’re still alive!”
“A-f-t-e-r a f-a-s-h-i-o-n, S-w-e-d-e…” Buzzing laughter filled the shadow-shrouded hall. “A-f-t-e-r a f-a-s-h-i-o-n…”
Lajaes Airfield, The Azores, Early 1764: A Norskvarden ensign bolted up the steps of the crudely built command tower, saluted to a well-armed pair of Iroquois mercenaries lounging on the porch, banged twice on the door and stuck his head inside. “Sirs, airship on approach from the east! I think it’s the Kestrel!”
“Excellent,” Postkaptan Valgardsson exclaimed, rising from a wooden table groaning with pressure-test results. Across from him, the Swedish officer Hallestrom opened one eye, stared at the ensign with a bleary expression, and then forced himself to his feet.
“Is it Mason?” Something like excitement began to force itself through his exhausted veins. “And the other tablets?”
Valgardsson nodded, leaning on the frame of a large window looking out onto the crushed black volcanic ash of the landing field, his eyes raised above the enormous shadowy shape in the launch cradle squatting in the middle of a frenzy of activity, to the humid, tropical sky.
A sleek gray airship bearing the colors and insignia of the ARF Company was gliding in to land on the tertiary mooring poles. Another ship – a Norsk Aer heavy cargo transport – was chuffing away to the west to clear a space. Lajaes had never been intended to serve so many ships of the air and the sea. Valgardsson turned to Hallestrom, jaw clenched. “How soon can we lift?”
In the last hours before launch, Valgardsson sent a runner down to the port, ordering all ships in harbor to put to sea and disperse themselves. His note said “there may be large waves, stay well to sea and far from reefs, islets or shores where you may run aground. You will know if we have failed.”
On the command deck of the Uraeus, De Marigny was in consultation with the Iroquois ship-captain, an ancient, weathered man in supple gray and green leathers. “Captain Windrider, it would be best to ascend as close to the equator as possible, to gain momentum from the Earth’s rotation. Our latest calculations place the object here…”
The wall of charts and diagrams from the airfield office had been moved into the ship, and Windrider examined the trajectories and paths plotted by the finest minds in St. Georges and Riga. A gnarled old finger moved along the orbital plot.
“At our best speed, twelve days will pass before we can intercept this… object.”
De Marigny looked to Valgardsson and Hallestrom, who had now come aboard, and then to the shining metal cylinder bolted into an alcove beside the chart-wall. “Well?”
“Time… (whirr)… presses.” Colonel Mason’s disturbing voice echoed hollowly from his speaking tube.
“Then,” Valgardsson said, nodding deferentially to the old Iroquois, “lift at your earliest convenience.”
Two days passed and then Mason’s horrifying voice echoed in the still, dead air. “We… (whirr) see the meteor.”
The pale stars shed a ghostly glow on the looming surface of Nemesis. De Marigny and Hallestrom shuddered, feeling the icy talons of open space clutching for them, kept at bay only by a new dose of the black serum. Through the telescopes on the command deck, they could see the rough outline of the floating mountain – and more, they could see that six vast wings spread against the stars, reaching out beyond sight.
“What can the wings be for?” De Marigny wondered aloud.
“They were added,” Valgardsson said quietly, sharing a glance with old Windrider. “By the Mi-Go? Or did they find all this already as one?”
“They are not wings,” Hallestrom said slowly, reviewing his calculations, “they are sails.”
“(click)(click)(click)… where do you stand, Postkaptan?”
Valgardsson gave Mason’s cylinder a sharp look. “I concede the impossibility of our situation. But what possible wind could they catch? The aether itself?”
“No.” Hallestrom shook his head and kicked to the left-hand side of the cabin, where there was no frost on the windows. Instead, heavy wooden boards covered the viewports. The Swede caught hold of a rope and pressed his hand against the thick-grained mahogany. “Warm, isn’t it? Hot even – blinding.”
“The sun?” Valgardsson craned his neck, staring out at the dim, half-seen shapes of the enormous wings. “You mean they are mirrors, concentrating the light of Sol onto a boiler, whose steam presses that mountain forward?”
“There is a phrase in the tablets,” Hallestrom replied, “the wind from the sun, which makes no sense unless…”
“Descartes was right?” De Marigny seemed horrified. “That is impossible!”
“No – not a pressure passing through a membrane,” Hallestrom said, a strained grin on his face. “But Newton – in his early work – proposed that photons are not discrete particles but rather waves which carry energy – heat – and those wing-structures could well catch the flood of photons issuing from the sun, as the side of our ship does, and may well convert that heat-energy into motive force…”
“Then… (whirrrr)… the mountain may be moved by a guiding hand. (click) (click) (click) By… our hand.”
Everyone turned to stare at the brassy cylinder.
“I’ll tell the men to stand ready for a boarding action,” Windrider said, and swung out of the room and pulled himself down the aft gangway.
Fortified with the contents of the third vial of serum, sixty Iroquois, De Marigny and Colonel Mason, followed Windrider across the open void of space – hauling themselves overhand along long cables fired by torsion-wound ballista into a cluster of lumpy, beehive-like structures they had found on the anti-sunward side of the meteor – and into hellish combat.
Though the Mi-Go had apparently fled, they had not left their artifact undefended. Loathsome shapes lunged from the darkness – the sputtering beams of spark-lanterns flared wildly – men struggled in fantastic chambers, hacking away rugose tentacular limbs with good iron and dying, torn to shreds, to win another step deeper into the labyrinth.
Within hours, the last of the Iroquois marines were dead, De Marigny wounded and Windrider and Mason struggling to escape the grip of some half-seen thing of ravenous mouths and an infinite number of spiked, lash-like tongues.
“There is a chant,” Windrider gasped, watching his blood dance past in tiny spherical droplets. “Which invokes the Angles of Tagh-Clatur… it may force this… thing into immanence where it might be slain… Marigny! You must take Mason deeper, into the very pit if need be…”
Marigny forced himself to move once more, Mason’s cylinder strapped to his back, groping through darkness, following the chittering whisper of the Danish agent sounding hollow in his ears… behind them, the old Iroquois began to chant, forcing inhuman sounds from his wizened lips.
The Orleansman did not look back.
Queer lights flared against the walls and he sped forward, thankful for even a moment’s illumination.
De Marigny stumbled into a chamber lit with a delicate tracery of faint blue lights, the crossbow in his arms swinging wildly, and Colonel Mason clicked excitedly in his ear.
“There! (whirr) A brain-cylinder (click)(click) socket!”
De Marigny lunged across the open space, tangled in some kind of ebon webbing, and then crashed his hip into a curving panel of some kind. Wrestling Mason’s cylinder around, the Orleansman saw the base of the brass tube was fitted with plug-like protrustions – matching receptacles in the shelf in front of him.
“There!” He exclaimed, then fell silent as the entire wall before him flared to life, filled with inexplicable diagrams and patterns. “Blessed mothers of the Saints!”
“There,” boomed Mason’s voice, suddenly clear and cold. “That is the proper arrangement of things. Now we may set our hand to the true task!”
De Marigny jerked back in surprise and flew wildly across the chamber before striking the far wall. A humming growl emanated from the weirdly curved floor beneath his feet and he felt the entire structure suddenly come alive.
“What are you doing?” De Marigny clutched the wall, feeling the entire chamber – and thus, the whole of the mountain – shake with motion. “Do you… are you controlling this… thing?”
“I am,” Mason’s voice was still clear and cold, stripped of the whirring and clicking and ironic humor. “None of the Fungi remain upon this artifact, thus I may command the simple systems which maintain and drive the device.”
“We are heading away from the Earth?”
There was silence. And then Mason spoke: “My Empress entrusted me with a mission, and I will not forsake her trust. A weapon has come to my hand, and it will be used.”
“Mission?” De Marigny turned quite pale with horror. “What mission?”
“There is no greater threat to humanity, to the Empire and to the Earth than the festering pustule of the Hasturite cult.” Mason’s voice changed, and de Marigny was suddenly, horribly aware of a terrible rage and hate filling the brain’s words. “They thought to make me a slave, but have only ensured their utter destruction.”
“The Hasturites? What… no, my God man, you’re mad! You cannot do such a thing!” De Marigny shuddered from head to toe. “We have been sent to stop just such a thing! And these Hasturites… they are a secret society by the Good Lord, you cannot know where they lair!”
“But, I do.” Mason’s voice chilled, if such a thing were possible. “Even a servant may listen to the master’s speak, and no one pays mind to a… brain in a jar. I know exactly where their secret stronghold is, where they have cached their plague canisters, where their secret breeding vats lie… and it will be annihilated. Wiped clean. Sterilized. They will threaten the Empire, and man, no more! I will have revenge.”
De Marigny goggled, trying to find the words, then burst out: “You will doom us all! The Earth cannot endure a third Blow! The crops will fail, the seas rise, your precious Empire will founder, millions will starve… you must not do this thing!”
Mason laughed, a cold, ringing echo of steel on steel.
“It is already done. Our course is set.”
“Please, Colonel, you swore an oath to Denmark… crashing this meteor into Asia will blanket the entire northern hemisphere with an ash-fall which will not lift for a decade or more! Every man, woman and child in Denmark will perish of famine, or gnawing the bones of the dead in empty, ice-shrouded cities!”
Before Mason could answer, De Marigny kicking strongly away from the wall, fingers outstretched in a desperate lunge for the cylinder.
“Fool!” Boomed the cold voice, and the black tendrils drifting around the chamber seized the Orelansman in a crushing grip. “All this place is alive – my body, regained at last – ready to answer to my will!”
De Marigny choked, windpipe crushed, feeling his ribs crack and muscles tear as the black ropes wound round his limbs. With a last ounce of strength, he tore at his jacket, clutching at the silver icon around his neck. “Nnnn….”
Mason suddenly laughed. “Your friend Hallestrom has realized what I intend. And like a Swede, he flees…”
Part of the wall shimmered, parting like a curtain, and revealed an image of the Uraeus receding into the void.
De Marigny felt bones splinter in his chest and blood spill into his lungs, though the last vestige of the serum still forced oxygen to his brain, to his lifting hand, even to his tortured throat.
“Mason! Mason! Look upon me, murderer.”
His fingers spasmed, but Bernard held tight to the little santo. He felt – could not see – but felt the cold intelligence turn its attention full upon him.
“Is this the choice she would make? Would she sacrifice the world for revenge, for hate? Would she? No! How can you do less, when she chose to spend her life that we all might live?”
There was no answer, and the black coils crushed the last breath from De Marigny’s body. His fingers fell limp, the silver santo, no more than a trinket from the markets of St. George, drifting free into the glowing air of the chamber.
A tendril moved, seizing the little icon and drew it towards the cylinder. The red-glowing optic disc turned, fixing its gaze upon the santos. There was a hiss – rage? Fury? Despair?
The optic turned again, considering an image of a blue-white world now displayed on the viewer. The tendril moved, affixing the santo to the panel.
There was another, longer hiss which trailed away into nothingness. Behind Mason’s cylinder, De Marigny’s body floated aimlessly, slowly leaking blood in tiny spheres which gathered in a dark cloud.