Title: In The Gardens Of The Past, Part 23 (Book II: The War Cry, Part 1)

Author: B5Crusader@geocities.com
Date: 07-15-98

Ser'pak Outpost, Ser'Hal Alliance (Location: Eta Cephei A (Terran Designation)) (1248 AD EC)

Delo scurried across the open space quickly, hunched to provide a small a silhouette as possible to incoming weapons fire. Reaching the relative safety of a the remnants of a Ser'Hal fighter, he fired a short burst from his PPG and glanced back to see the Ser'Hal soldiers covering his retreat as promised.

Who ever had attacked Ser'pak Outpost were as vicious as they were technologically advanced. They had wiped out most of the outposts inhabitant with two hours of the initial attack. Delo had been unfortunate enough to have been on stopover at the Ser'pak outpost when the attack occurred.

Now he found himself trying to reach his small ship with the promise of the remaining out post defenders trying to buy him time to escape and return to the Anla'shok with the news of what happened.

In Delo's mind there was no doubt the attackers were dark servants of the Shadows. The strange looking creatures and their ships matched the description of other equally brutal attacks.

He needed to get back to the Anla'shok and warn Valen. To warn them all, for this brutal enemy now had a name.

The K'ran.

Worse still, they had chosen their latest target: Ser'na, the Ser'pak homeworld.

War Cruiser Hestanna, Sigma 957

Valen watched silently as Shai Alyt Kerilar paced the bridge of his cruiser impatiently. He made sure he kept his face expressionless to hide the small smile he felt tugging at the corners of his mouth.

He didn't blame the Shai Alyt from pacing as he did. Sigma 957 was not a comfortable place to be. The dark world, almost appearing dead to the casual observer, was enough to unnerve even the most veteran space fairer.

'She was right.' Valen thought to himself as he turned to stare once again at the planet before them, remembering words from another time. 'You can almost feel their presence here, feel their foot prints in the sand.'

"Is there anything yet?" Kerilar asked the communications officer again.

"Nai, Shai Alyt." Was the instantaneous reply.

Kerilar looked over to Valen, not surprised to see a distant look on the other minbari's face. Everyone had seen it on his face at one time or another since they arrived in system two days ago. Despite their curiosity, no one dared ask the strange minbari to reveal his thoughts and concerns.

"Valen, it is obvious that they are not here, nor have been here for quite some time. We should move on to another prospect." Kerilar stated.

"Continue to send the signal." Was the reply, as it had been everyday the question was asked or even alluded to.

"Valen, this is pointless!" Kerilar started to protest but stopped when the other minbari fixed his stare upon him.

"The ways of the First One are unknowable to us. As we are to them. Keep sending the signal." Valen stated.

"Yes, Entil'zha." The communications officer replied after it was obvious the Kerilar would not acknowledge the order given. The Shai Alyt shot the comm officer an angry look but said nothing.

Valen heard Emphilio politely clear her throat behind him to get his attention. He knew she was already there, and had been for sometime, waiting patiently as she had on numerous occasions the past few days. He sighed to himself and turned to face her. "Yes, Alyt?"

Emphilio's eyes narrowed slightly at his use of her rank instead of addressing her as one of his Anla'shok but remained silent knowing he was subtly indicating his mild annoyance at being disturbed.

"Entil'zha, perhaps it would be best if we return to the observation gallery and continue our planning sessions while we wait." She inquired.

Valen glanced back out the main viewport of the bridge silently before slowly nodding his assent. He was tired from standing and a bit stiff. Though he did not wish to leave he knew it was probably for the best that he do so. "Very well, Anla'shok."

"Shai Alyt." Valen bowed his head. Kerilar returned the bow politely, though Valen did catch an annoyed look pass across the older Minbari general's features.

A few moments later Valen found himself once again staring out at the planet, this time from the main viewport of the observation room. He could practically feel Emphilio's gaze burning into his back from where she sat across the room.

"Valen?" Emphilio called quietly.

"Yes, Emphilio. You wonder at my fascination for this place, do you not?" He replied quietly.

Emphilio quickly joined him at the viewport and stared at the planet critically. After a moment she sighed. "I do not understand what you see in this place. Even if it the home of one of the Ancients, it does not appear they dwell here any longer." Emphilio gestured to the dark world. "It even lacks any aesthetically pleasing value."

Her final comment elicited a chuckle from him. "That depends very much on what you consider 'aesthetically pleasing'."

"I still do not see what you find so fascination with this area of space. There is little out here of value." Emphilio said, trying to keep her distaste from being evident but failing.

"One day, far from now, when you and I are but distant memories and dust, this sector of space shall be thriving with life. Great empires shall rise and even greater empires shall fall. There will be great and wise leaders and equally heinous and cruel despots who will try to command the stars themselves." He spoke more to himself than her. Catching the quizzical look she gave him he smiled. "It is the force of nature, the universe itself, that these things happen, is it not?"

Emphilio nodded slowly. "Perhaps. But you sounded certain about your words. As if you had already seen what you spoke of."

"I have seen many things, Emphilio." Valen said cryptically.

"And have you seen this?" She asked directly.

"Does it matter? As long as there is something new to be witnessed then I am satisfied. When there is nothing more to be learned and nothing more to be seen then there is no more reason to exist." He said and quickly turned away from the window.

"Come, let us review the reports we received from the Anla'shok this morning." It was obvious evasion to her question, but she willingly allowed it to pass. Valen had warned her that some things he knew were far to dangerous for anyone else to learn of. She had no reason to doubt his word this world was another such case.

Anla'shok Scout Vessel, Ser'pak Outpost, Ser'Hal Alliance (Location: Eta Cephei A (Terran Designation)) (1248 AD EC)

Delo dodged the ship through the deadly blasts of energy near his ship as he tried to ignore the computer's recitation of failing ship systems. The console before him sparked and sizzled dangerously, but he continued onwards. The gate was only a short distance away.

Three of the oddly sleek yet somehow ugly black and metallic ships of the K'ran fighters were his only obstacle to reaching the gate. Unfortunately two more were in pursuit of his ship. He could not help but feel a wave of revulsion at the ships that morbidly reminded him of insects. It wasn't lost on him that the K'ran had purposefully painted their ships to be grotesque reminders of their Dark Master's ships.

He sighed to himself in resignation as he checked his weapons systems and found only a single ion cannon still operational. Anla'shok didn't complain, they made do with what they had.

His will resolved, he started a towards the three awaiting ships determined to get to the gate. He had to get a message to the others. To Entil'zha. Nothing else mattered.

War Cruiser Hestanna, Sigma 957

Emphilio looked up at the sudden dimming of the lights. "Power drain. Must be something wrong with the reactor." She muttered.

"No." Valen replied, an odd other worldliness to his tone. "They've arrived."

With that he quickly left the room and headed for the bridge. Emphilio followed in dumbfounded silence through the darkened corridors of the ship. Once on the bridge she stopped and gaped in at the sight before her. Around her others on the bridge stared in equal awe at the massive ship coming through a jump point.

Valen walked to the main viewport and nodded slowly to himself as the jump point closed allowing for an undistorted view of the ship for the first time. 'Catherine was right. It is beautiful.'

As the ship started to move towards them, he turned to the communications officer, noting Kerilar simply sat in shock, staring at the First Ones ship with genuine fear in his eyes. "Levek, send the message I gave you." He ordered.

The communication officer looked at Valen startledly. Valen smiled reassuringly to the minbari. "Send the message." He ordered again.

"Yes, Entil'zha." Levek quickly went to his task and after a moment nodded to Valen. "Message transmitted."

"Good." Valen replied. "Now we wait."

War Cruiser Adenra, Hyperspace

Shai Alyt Trefall of the Star Riders Clan looked through the bridge's main viewport into the shifting red gloom of hyperspace. He was amazed to find himself here, commanding such a fine ship. It was a far cry from the old cruiser he had commanded, so much more space and equipment that he had only dreamed about before. Despite this opulence he missed his old ship. It, like he, had served long and well.

Strange though it sounded to others, Trefall had an odd fondness for that old cruiser. One he couldn't explain in words and had long since tried to communicate to others. They simply did not understand.

"Shai Alyt, we are receiving a distress signal." Olun, the communications technician reported.

"Whose signal?" Trefall asked sharply.

After a moments silence the tech reported back crisply, eagerness in his voice. "It's Minbari. Anla'shok Delo indicates he is being attacked by multiple enemy vessels."

"Acknowledge the signal." The Shai Alyt ordered. Olun instantly relayed the reply.

'Delo is one of Valen's hand picked Anla'shok.' Trefall though to himself.

"Take us to those coordinates immediately." Trefall ordered the helmsman, before toggling the ships internal communications. "Attention Roin Na prepare for immediate launch."

"We are at target coordinates."

Trefall kept his face impassive despite his own surprise at the helmsman's words. His old ship would have taken at least a minute longer to safely make the transition from hyperspace. He sat in his chair. "Take us in and launch Roin Na."

Seeing the disarray the Adenra's sudden arrival into the fray had caused made Trefall smile predatorily and truly relish his next command that rang in accordance with his warrior spirit. "All batteries, fire at will."

In matter of seconds the six alien vessels were wiped out and Delo's heavily damaged scout flyer escorted safely into the docking bay of the massive war cruiser. Trefall had to admit he was very impressed by this newer vessels performance but did not praise the crew for their efforts. After all they had only done what duty required.

"Take us back into hyperspace." He ordered, feeling a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that for once the Shadow's would be wondering who now stalked their servants in the cold dark of space.

Several minutes later a dirty and battered looking male minbari came onto the bridge. His uniform was torn and his cloak hung around him in tatters, but Trefall was most impressed by the determined look upon the other minbari's face.

Delo bowed deeply in respect. "Delo of the Anla'shok." He said by way of introduction. "I thank you for your timely rescue, Shai Alyt."

Trefall returned the bow more shallowly, knowing it was preferred by the Anla'shok over that of the traditional warrior caste salute. "I am always pleased to be able to assist the Anla'shok in anyway I can. Perhaps you can tell me what exactly you were doing out here in a scout flyer?"

"There were reports of possible Shadow activity in this sector. We were ordered here to investigate." Delo reported crisply.

"By who? And where are the others you speak of?" Trefall asked in surprise.

"We received our orders directly from Valen. The rest of my team are dead."Delo replied briskly, a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice at the Shai Alyt's questions.

"Those were not Shadow vessels." Trefall gestured vaguely to indicate the ships that had been destroyed.

"No, they are servants of the Shadow called the K'ran. We must return to Isildrah'tha immediately and inform the Entil'zha." Delo practically demanded.

"Tell him what?" Trefall asked, keeping his patience with this particular Anla'shok despite his rather imperious tone. He had noted a rare number of the Anla'shok acted this way when questioned by others about their duties.

"We must stop the K'ran from invading the Ser'Hal. They do not have the means to stop the attack and have asked for direct assistance from the Anla'shok." Delo replied.

Trefall did not even consider questioning the Anla'shok further recognizing the stubborn tilt of his head that had become all too familiar in his dealings with Valen's chosen warriors. It was a clear indication that they expected to be obeyed, at the very most. At the very least, they expected to be left alone to carry out their assignment.

"Take us to Isildrah'tha station, immediately." Trefall ordered.

"Yes, sir."

War Cruiser Hestanna, Hyperspace (Enroute to Isildrah'tha station)

"You're awfully quiet." He commented, his voice just loud enough to carry to her ears in the otherwise empty room.

Emphilio cast a short glance to the minbari beside her before again returning her gaze to the shadowy images of hyperspace. "Just thinking." She murmured.

"About what happened?" He asked.

She nodded slowly. "They....were not exactly what I was expecting, I guess."

"And what where you expecting?" He asked as he sat on a nearby bench.

Emphilio sighed in frustration and turned to face Valen. "I don't know. But..they..." She shook her head and smiled bemusedly. A hint of the awe she had felt showed on her face causing him to smile.

"They are quite amazing, aren't they?"

"Yes, they are." Emphilio agreed as she sat next to him. He inquisitive gaze earned her a small smile from Valen.

"You have a question." He stated after a moments silence.

"How did you know they would agree to support us?" She asked.

"I didn't." He admitted much to her surprise. "It's all rather complicated."

"So I assumed, Entil'zha." She replied in mock sarcasm. "But I got the sense from them that they were reluctant."

"They were." Valen agreed. He glanced at her with a conspiratorilly look. "I think they were more interested in keeping an eye on the Vorlons that actually supporting us."

"Where did you get that idea?" Emphilio wondered aloud. She had witnessed the entire exchange between Valen and the Ancients but hadn't detected anything she would have defined as suspicion or dislike on their part. But then again what did she know about a race that had probably existed since before Minbar was even formed?

"Let's just say that I have a good idea that the Vorlons and Ti'ki do not always agree on things." Valen replied.

"I see." Emphilio said, knowing all to well by his tone that he would not explain any further than he had. She smiled slowly. "I am actually looking forward to their Ambassador arriving on the station. It should bolster your standing greatly."

"I'm not interested in how others view me, Emphilio. I just need to be sure we get enough to join us so that we can actually survive the coming Darkness." Valen replied.

Emphilio looked at him oddly. "You doubt our victory?"

He shook his head slowly. "Doubt? No." He shrugged. "Let me say instead that I know the cost will be high. Perhaps too high to ever be deemed a victory."

Emphilio looked down at his words and nodded in silent agreement. She had experienced such conditions before, albeit on a much smaller scale, during her career in the Wind Swords. She suddenly sat straighter. "THen we shall do what ever is necessary to defeat the enemy and leave it to others to question whether we were correct in our actions."

"Oh, No one will question why we did this. They may only end up asking why we didn't do more?" Valen said as he rose from the bench.

Emphilio looked at him quizzically, wondering why he seemed to be contradicting himself now. 'How can we have done more but the price of victory be too high?' She wondered.

He smiled almost hearing her unasked question. "I think I shall retire to get some rest before we arrive at the station. It's been a long few days."

"I am going to meditate for awhile." Emphilio replied absently, her thoughts already elsewhere. Valen merely nodded and left her to her thoughts.

Isildrah'tha Station

"How long ago was the attack?"

"A few days. No more than that, Entil'zha." Delo replied immediately, fatigue obvious on the Anla'shok's face. Pride kept Delo from giving into the exhaustion he felt.

"And this is all the information your team gathered?" Valen asked, as he tapped information into the console in front of him and nodded to himself as if agreeing with some inner debate.

"Yes, Entil'zha." Delo answered.

Valen looked up and saw the Anla'shok appeared ready to fall asleep on his feet. He smiled proudly at the Minbari. "Excellent job. Please, go and rest." He frowned slightly at his next words. "I'm afraid I can't give you the time to mourn your comrades passing."

"They will understand, Entil'zha. Millions of lives are at stake." Delo replied, regret and acceptance mixing freely in the minbari's words.

"When there is time, I ask that I may join you in their remembrance?" Valen asked formally.

Delo blinked in surprise at Valen's request. "Of course, Entil'zha! I and the others would be honored at your presence there as much as it honors those who have fallen. Thank you."

Valen nodded humbly. "No, it is I who am honored by their sacrifice in our common cause. We should not forget them."

Delo swallowed hard, fighting back a rush of emotion at Valen's words. He hadn't realized how much he missed his comrades until this moment. Valen saw the other minbari fighting his emotions and smiled in sympathy, feeling responsible for the deaths of his Rangers. "Please, go and rest. I shall be calling upon you soon enough."

"Respects, Entil'zha." Delo bowed deeply and quickly left the room.

"You have all seen the report. Your opinions?" Valen asked slowly as he stared at the small group gathered about.

"We should confront the enemy." Emphilio stated simply.

"Why? None of us have an alliance with these Ser'Hal anyway. THey refused your Anla'shok's entreaties to ally with us. Let them suffer the consequences of their mistakes." The Ikarran Ambassador spat acidly.

"Have you no compassion? We can not simply allow the Ser'Hal to be wiped out simply because they have no alliance with us?" The Markab ambassador replied, aghast at the Ikarran's attitude.

"They shall serve as an example to others." The Ikarran reasoned. "When they see what may happen to their own peoples they will flock to our banner simple for protection."

"That is *not* what this alliance is about!" Valen stated angrily, his voice booming. "We are here to protect all life! Not just those that are convenient allies!"

The Ikarran waved his hand placatingly to the quite angry Minbari. "I did nor mean to seem so callous, Valen. But surely you can see that there would be little point to aiding them. They are rather isolated from any other space faring race. It would take a considerable effort on our part to help them."

"I am afraid, logistically, the Ikarran Ambassador is correct. It would prove to be nearly impossible to sustain an operation in that area." Sherann added, though obviously very grudgingly. It was obvious to all Sherann greatly disliked the Ikarran.

"But it can be done?" Valen asked.

"Only with great hardship. The end result may not justify the cost in material and lives." Sherann nodded slowly.

Valen sat and considered the Shai Alyt's words carefully for several minutes while the others watched in silence. Feeling an odd sensation Valen turned his head to find Kosh and Ulkesh watching him intently. 'Would the Vorlons offer assistance?' He wondered.

"No. It is not our time." Ulkesh spoke, answering the unasked question.

Valen merely nodded once, as if expecting the answer. The look he saw Kosh give the other Vorlon was not one Valen equated as a pleased one. Ulkesh had let drop that they had been telepathically scanning him. The others in the room looked in confusion at the two Vorlons, casting each other wondering looks.

Valen smiled grimly, having made his decision. "We're going to help them."

"What?" The Ikarran asked in surprise as Emphilio and the Markab Ambassador smiled in satisfaction at the decision. Sherann simply waited, uncertainty obvious on his face.

"I said we are going." Valen repeated.

"Who is going? The Ikarran's will not waste time and effort of a fool's errand such as this. You are asking to get your forces slaughtered!"

"As many as the Anla;'shok I can gather shall go as well as any one else offering their help." Valen said.

"That may not be wise, Valen. You do not know the capabilities of these K'ran or their numbers. Fielding such a fleet so hastily gathered could prove fatal." Sherann cautioned.

"I understand this, Shai Alyt, but the Ser'Hal may be dead by the time we were to properly organize a fleet." He turned to Emphilio. "Send a message to all ships in the Alliance. In twenty standard hours we launch for the Ser'Hal Alliance."

"Understood, Entil'zha." Emphilio saluted and ran from the room to carry out her task.

"I state for the record that the Ikarrans shall not participate." The Ikarran Ambassador stated again.

"I understand." Valen replied evenly as he turned his eyes to Sherann. "Will your Clan join the fight."

"I can not speak for those not under my command, but my fleet shall stand with you." Sherann stated, bowing his head slightly with a slight little smile.

Valen returned the smile and bow. "I thank you."

"We shall provide you with any medical supplies and assistance you deem necessary, Valen. I shall go now and prepare for your requests. MAy the Gods protect you." The Markab said, bowing quickly and left the chamber. THe Ikarran snorted in disgust and stormed from the room.

Sherann started to leave but stopped to stare at Valen for a moment. "I hope this plan of your works."

Two hours later. Grey Sector, Isildrah'tha station

"Yes, I am sure."

"It is of no concern." One buzzed causing the agent to involuntarily shiver.

"But the K'ran shall be falling into a trap." The agent pointed out.

"All is as it should be." Another replied in an almost condescending manner. "You are prepared?"

"Yes, all is in readiness." The agent replied, warily.

"Then go. We shall deal with him."

"You underestimate Valen." The agent stated.

"We shall deal with him. The plan shall continue."

"I warned you nearly a cycle ago of what was coming and you did not listen! Now no matter what you do he will become a martyr!" The agent snapped angrily. One of the shadowy figures moved slapping the agent with a enough force to send the agent sprawling.

"You question us?" One asked, an angry buzzing accompanying the words.

"No! No, of course not." The agent replied in real fear.

"Valen shall be taken care of. He is of no consequence to our plans."

"I understand." The agent replied, for the first time doubting his decision to accept these creatures aid.

"The go."