Dominus Rising

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Minis by DAK, photo by BHR

A Darker Vision

Back after I’d completed work on Starterbook: Wolf and Blake, I had several brainstorm chats with then-line developer Herb. We fleshed out a lot of the ‘hidden’ actions of certain characters within the Word of Blake’s Manei Domini faction, especially that of my (at the time) newly created Opacus Venatori and their multi-layered leader, Berith.

Working with the Jihad timeline we were continually constructing at the time, we formulated a few key events that found their way into the background of later products.

In 2012, shortly before Herb was pushed out of the LD position, we’d begun work on fleshing out the storyline and important faction details that would lead to the 3250 setting we were devising. (Not anymore, mind: that entire idea and setting has since been scrapped, for various reasons I won’t rehash here.)

One of the major points I pushed hard for was the re-emergence of the Word of Blake as a primary foe going into the post-3250 era. That meant an evolution of sorts for the faction, so I sketched out my own thoughts on how that would come to pass.

Casting Light on Shadow

Now that I’m completely severed from the line – and that those story plans have been thoroughly trashed – there’s no harm in sharing what my thoughts and ideas were regarding this defunct bit of worldbuilding, including my perceived take on the fate of Berith, his merry band of villains, and the sinister Word of Blake.

(Note that some of the info here conflicts with later published product. Such is reality versus creative brainstorming.)

Enjoy.

Berith and the Exile: (Originally outlined in 2008; additional details added 2013.)

  1. The OV suffers the loss of Portia Thomas during the battle on Gabriel’s moon; a few others are injured, but the unit survives nearly unscathed. (Berith does face down Church again, but to no clear winner. Instead, he uses the opportunity to lure out and kill Stryker, removing the traitor from the Word of Blake’s heart.)
  1. Thomas’ loss is not made up during the unit’s subsequent redeployment to Glengarry (mentioned in Berith’s TRO75 notable); Marita takes it personally and begins to whisper her discontent. To her POV, the Opacus MD are getting better treatment and replenishment, while the Venatori “Frails” are getting the shaft. (This isn’t true, per se, but because of Kari’s bitterness, it becomes truth to her.) Her grumblings become more and more frequent.
  1. Berith leads his Opacus and assassinates the Bounty Hunter. Shortly afterwards, Berith personally kills Chandresekhar Kurita, who had hired the BH to protect him. Berith commands Kendali to “finish them off,” giving her leave to hunt and kill the remaining members of the Hunter’s crew on the planet. With that command, Berith also orders Kendali to take up the BH’s mantle and to watch for an opportunity in the future to relieve Stone of his life. Kendali becomes the next Bounty Hunter and recruits three loyal Light of Mankind operatives as her team; these operatives voluntarily accept cybernetics and “ascend” into MD-hood. They hunt down and kill all surviving members of the previous Hunter.
  1. In 3076, Marita fails in a mission for a critical second; an ambush meant to take out Berith fails only due to the sacrifice of Mi Tomitaki in her Malak, who intercepts the killing shot and dies from internal injuries and brain seizure. Later, as Berith analyzes the data, he notices Marita’s critical failure; coupled with her supposedly quiet whisperings and rumblings, he decides to fix the problem.
  1. After long analysis, Berith concludes the Frails of his OV unit are no longer pure and corrupted just like the rest of humanity. (It had been his deep desire to ‘reclaim’ these six without subjecting them to MDism; his ‘social experiment’ has failed.) During a critical point in a battle on Isesaki, he orders his Opacus to execute the Venatori for their treachery to the MD order. Four of the five remaining Hunters die, caught between the Opacus and their enemies. Bryn Rivenschild is severely injured and, because of the extent of his injuries, is welcomed into the Manei Domini. He replaces Tomitaki’s slot within the Opacus. Not surprisingly, none of the Opacus question their leader.
  1. Berith meets up with Avitue post-76, filling Kendali’s open slot with the Opacus.
  1. At some point, Berith manages to meet with Apollyon for the last time on Gibson, reclaiming Appy’s key and receiving final orders to go into Exile, taking as many of the Filii as possible. He is given command of the remains of the 52nd, which now numbers less than two Level IIs. After word of Apollyon’s death, Berith takes overall command of the Manei Domini and issues Code Omicron, signaling a massive withdrawal of all MD units from the Inner Sphere.
  1. The Opacus is attacked by a hunter squad from the Fidelis on Caph; Achillius manages to lure the squad away from Berith and leads them on a long rabbit trail, which ultimately ends in his and his pursuer’s deaths.
  1. Berith is joined by the remains of the 48th, including Precentor Rimmon. The 48th brings with them a battered Thera-class WarShip and survivors of the fighting in the Federation. The WarShip becomes a refugee vessel. At this time, however, Berith learns (discovers) of another pursuing Fidelis hunter squad. He gives orders for Avitue and Rimmon to head towards the Capellan hidden world. Berith then disbands his Opacus, giving orders to Rufus to act as the fleeing refugee’s Blakist spiritual advisor (a role he knows well). He also orders Cazer to melt into the population [somewhere where we can sow some chaos between the forming ROTS and Capellan or Marik worlds]. He then reassigns a few MD who are nearer to death (mortal wounds or growing psychosis) to himself and sets out to entrap and kill the Fidelis team.
  1. Sometime in 3083-5, Berith manages to escape the clutches of several MD-hunter squads and finally return to the hidden world to carry out Apollyon’s final orders for the Order of Dominus. He brings with him a total of 2-3 more Level IIs of various MDs, most from the shattered 40th.
  1. Kendali, masquerading as the Bounty Hunter, almost manages to assassinate Devlin Stone, failing only due to a faulty detonator circuit. The ensuing blast fails to catch Stone before he finds cover; the Bounty Hunter is killed during her attempted escape, though she manages to wipe out the rest of Stone’s Fidelis bodyguard unit in a massive explosion.
  1. Berith undergoes surgery and his VDNI is removed. He declares himself the Shadow Primus, with Avitue designated as Precentor Martial/ROM. The operation is mostly successful, though Berith suffers a stroke shortly after and is confined to a wheelchair. Out of respect for their new leader, all Domini have their VDNI and DNI implants removed as well; less than half of them remain in service as pilots.
  1. Cazer manages to link up with several former LIC and ROM operatives now displaced from The Republic’s new intelligence services. The group forms the Curaitis Organization, designed to “watch the watchers.” Cazer slowly builds her own secret network, funneling information back to Berith and the hidden Domini.
  1. In the mid-90s, the Word of Blake transfers most of its leadership and core functions to the Eryines. It still maintains a presence on the last remaining Hidden world, deep underground. The Eryines and its escort of WarShips moves periodically across the Periphery, mostly through systems that were charted by IE and classified as dead.
  1. In 3101, Berith dies from another stroke. However, his Triple Core Processor remains active and is removed from his body. The TCP is attached to a mainframe and is revered as an oracle. The new Shadow Primus, Coraline, takes the Ascended name of Anahel and begins expanding the MD’s shadow network of intelligence through the Curaitis Organization and IE (through several dummy corporations and shell organizations). The Shadow Oracle, as Berith’s alternate AI comes to be known, now functions as a key advisor to the transformed leadership group. Over the decades, the Oracle’s AI is merged with that of the Eryines‘ internal network.
  1. The transformed Word of Blake remains dormant and slowly evolves, preparing for an eventual emergence post-3250, after the Third League collapses with internal strife and violence, partially instigated by the shadow empire.

A Son’s Requiem (Part III)

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18 November 3078
Denver Cargo Transit Tunnels, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate

“And I don’t give a damn who you think you are, Sir!” The last word came out in a sneer, the balding officer’s face twisting into a snarl as he responded.

Alex sighed, already writing off the conversation as a loss. He pulled his Sternsnacht from its holster and leveled it at the portly man’s jowly face. “It’s not a request, Acolyte,” he whispered.

The man’s face paled in the wane light of the cavernous tunnel. He gulped, then slowly straightened up and saluted, albeit reluctantly. “You can’t have it. You’ll kill us all.”

Alex slowly nodded. “Those who remain, yes. Or hadn’t you noticed the lack of people in the streets after the firebombing the enemy did last night? You do realize that most of the city is blackened rubble above our heads?”

Baldy paled, his already-white skin turning nearly translucent.

“I neither desire nor require your acceptance of my need, so I’m not going to explain myself.” Alex glanced at his wrist chronometer, then back at the officer. “And I don’t have the time, regardless. So. Move­—“ he wagged the gun briefly “—or not. Your body will not be a hindrance, alive or dead.”

After a moment’s brief hesitation, Baldy took two long sidesteps, then turned and ran past Alex and Rogers. Already forgetting him, Alex strode forward and pulled open the truck door. Glancing back at his aide, he nodded in the direction of the car they had driven down into the tunnels. “Drive ahead of me and make sure we have no obstacles. I’d hate to jostle our cargo more than necessary.” The aide saluted and dashed back to the vehicle.

Alex settled into the cab of the cargo truck and turned over the engine. With a muffled groan, the truck puttered to life and rattled as he pushed it into gear, rambling the ancient vehicle back up the tunnel, towards the night and the Word’s makeshift camp. He followed the dim glow of taillights, no further disturbances interrupting their trek back into Denver proper.

Rogers was waiting for him as the truck shuddered to a halt, the engine ticking loudly as he turned off the ignition. Clambering out of the cab, he brushed at his fatigues but the weeks-old dust and grime refused to cooperate.

“What a piece of junk,” said Rogers, glancing up at the ancient four-wheeled hauler, then back down at her handheld. “Pickets are reporting all’s quiet; no sign of incursion along this sector of the city.”

Alex grunted, looking around at the ramshackle ‘camp.’ Suitable in name only, the Seventeenth’s current location looked more of a walking junkyard. Only five BattleMechs—Alex’s Legacy the heaviest of the bunch—remained operational. Rogers’ Skulker was gone; her current roost was in the back of a hastily modified Pegasus. He snorted, knowing that the ‘hastily modified’ tag given by the Division’s mechanics meant ‘almost a wrecked hulk’ than any type of functional repairs. A Goblin held the last four remaining and operational Purifier suits; it was those troopers that Alex needed now. He turned and set off towards the tank, beckoning Rogers to follow.

“I’m assuming they had what you needed?”

Alex shook his head. “Not in the way of arms and supplies, no. The base was mostly reservists, who bolted at the first sign of Stone’s forces entering the city.” He gestured towards the ruined skyline beyond their small gathering. “The firebombing last night didn’t help convince anyone to stick around. I was fortunate enough to have the ranking officer meet me at the rendezvous point…” He stopped, turning to look at Rogers.

“He looked inside the crates, didn’t he.”

The young officer nodded, remaining silent.

The lines on Alex’s face deepened as he frowned with the realization. “He did look, and then tried to argue with me about it, but it was obvious he was done with everything.” Alex let out a deep breath. “Not that I blame him. What we have in mind is somewhat heinous.”

Rogers stood still, her eyes on her superior, saying nothing.

He scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling the grit and sweat beneath his fingers. “It’s a damnable thing, war,” he whispered.

“Sir?”

Alex looked up at Rogers. “Just something my father once said. I re-read it in the journal he left me. ‘It’s a damnable thing, war, but only the strong of heart and purpose can divine what is right, and what is best for the people under his protection.’” He gestured vaguely about the camp. “What we’re about to do, to carry out, will be considered reprehensible by the victors and the armchair generals…but it is what I must do to protect the Seventeenth. There is no other way.”

Rogers nodded once, then cocked her head. “Not even surrender?”

He laughed, a short, grating bark of sound that caught the attention of the nearby troopers standing around an oil drum. “Do you think surrendering to Stone and his ilk is the best option for us? Do you believe they will treat you with accordance to proper conventions and considerations?” He grimaced, shaking his head. “You’ve seen the same reports I have. There’s no mercy with this crowd. They’re here for blood, and that’s all they want. If we surrender, the best we can get is a public kangaroo trial with a bullet to the noggin. The worst? Well, I’m sure you can think that far ahead.”

She nodded again, frowning. He saw the slight tremor ripple through her shoulders, knew what she was imagining. He’d imagined it himself more times than he could count.

“Very well, sir. Just doing my duty, covering the angles.”

Alex smiled, turning back to the knot of soldiers nearby. “That’s why I keep you around, Adept. Someone has to reign in the insanity parade.”

A Son’s Requiem (Part II)

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14 November 3078
130 km Southwest of Denver, Terra
Word of Blake Protectorate

The Legacy staggered into the ad hoc camp, a locked ankle joint giving it a stiff-legged gait that threatened to topple it with each lurch. Mercifully, it came to a stop near a dirty gray field tent and Alex clambered down from the cockpit, his hand rubbing along a laser burn marring the lower cockpit glass. As he reached the ground, an aide handed him a combat vest. Alex slipped it over his torso without second thought, jogging past the tent and towards a battered Skulker. Ever since Dodge City, he’d ordered all troops to remain armored even in camp. The sniper threat from Stone’s Coalition and local rebel cells was all too real.

The Skulker’s side door snapped open as Alex approached. “Precentor, good to see you back in one piece.” A dark-skinned woman, her raven-black hair pulled severely back served to highlight her prominent cheekbones and nose, called to him as Alex slipped inside the vehicle.

“Almost didn’t, that time,” he replied. Twisting around, he located his aide who had followed him. “Get the Legacy in the queue for rearming and then start packing up. I want us mobile in three hours.” The aide raced away as Alex closed the door on the chaotic noise outside.

“Rough hike?” Adept Twila Rogers didn’t bother looking up from her data screen, her fingers flying over the device. Alex knew she was already processing the data from his Legacy’s battleROMs. Her cybernetic links to the Skulker’s sensor suites­—and by extension, to all of the Seventeenth’s combat machines­—were yet another advantage over the invaders stalking the Word of Blake’s Seventeenth Division.

An advantage sorely needed ever since the disaster at Dodge City a few scant days ago.

Her grunt was Rogers’ only response. He knew from experience she was processing the data and let her concentrate. He exhaled slowly, releasing the tension he’d stored for the last thirty-six hours. They weren’t in the clear yet­—far from it, actually—but any moment of respite was one to cultivate. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Devlin Stone. The Word’s own anathema, birthed within its own bosom. His so-called “Coalition” had invaded the Terran system a few months ago. Several task forces had landed around the globe, a multi-pronged assault that had taken advantage of the low state of defenses scattered around the world. Only a few Blakist Divisions were on-planet, augmented by TerraSec forces, the glorified reservists meant more for pacification and policing actions than active combat defense.

Nonetheless, the Word of Blake fought hard to resist Stone’s juggernaut. However Precentor ROM Kernoff spun it from Cairo, the Division commanders knew it was a losing battle. The Word’s elite forces were elsewhere, and it was up to those left behind to bleed the would-be conquerors dry.

Alex let out a sigh, squeezing his eyes closed at the flashes of memory from the Dodge City disaster. Misfortune had caught the bulk of the Seventeenth Division outside the city, where Alex watched more than half of his command die under Coalition guns. Barely two Level IIs had escaped the carnage, slipping west towards the last North American bastion not under Stone’s threatening gaze.

At least, not yet.

Precentor Martial Cameron St. Jamais’ original plan had been to withdraw from Stone along three separate axis in hopes that Stone would pursue one or two and allow the remaining Word forces turn and strike into the Coalition’s rear. Unfortunately, St. Jamais’ plan fell apart when a nuclear strike missed most of Stone’s forces; the enemy’s force had enough units to pursue each of the Word’s smaller groups.

With the Precentor Martial’s plan in tatters, and the man himself unavailable, it fell to Alex as the highest ranking commander to figure out what to do next. The burden of command weighed heavily on his shoulders, and Alex felt the yoke press him deeper into the Skulker’s bucket seat.

“A fine showing, sir,” said Rogers, her eyes never leaving the screen in front of her. Sometimes he wondered what exactly it was she saw through those green-gray eyes. “Blowing out a chunk of the highway was genius; they’ll need to go another two hundred kilometers around with their ‘Mechs. Assuming they don’t split their force; I’m seeing reports that they’ve got a sizeable VTOL contingent in play.”

“I think by now we know not to assume our own arrogance in this endeavor,” Alex groused. “Looking at it from their point of view, they’ve got enough forces to split pursuit.” He opened his eyes, shaking out the tension in his hands. “But I doubt they’d expect us to double-back and head into Denver.” Grabbing a mapsheet from a nearby seat pocket, he spread it out into his lap. The topographical map of the Rocky Mountain region was streaked with red and yellow arrows. A rust-colored stain covered the lower corner; Alex pointedly ignored it and the memory it threatened to provoke. Instead, he ran a finger along a black ribbon of road. “We’ll head northeast along Route 285 and move into Denver at nightfall. What’s the weather for today?”

Rogers tapped her pad. “Looks like the fog’s with us for the day; should give us coverage up until we pass Mount Logan.”

“Good. Notify any of our agents in Denver and arrange a rendezvous; drop the coordinates into my nav.”

“As you wish, Precentor.”

Alex leaned back, thoughtful. “Is Fort Collins still on lockdown?”

“Last we knew.”

“Find out. If we still hold it, connect me as soon as possible. I think I know how we can rid ourselves of our unwanted guests.”

“Yes, Precentor.”

Alex closed his eyes again, nodding off to the sound of tapping keys. A glimmer of hope remained. It wouldn’t be enough to stem the Coalition’s tide, but it could buy him and his people enough time to escape.

The Word had to live on. Even if it meant abandoning holy Terra.

It’s what his father would do.