Exosphere: Backlash, The last book of the Exosphere saga
Exosphere: Backlash, The last book of the Exosphere saga
Jul 29 2003, 07:29 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Welcome to Backlash, the last book of the Exosphere series. Exosphere: Invasion and Exosphere: Void can both be accessed through my signature. The review topic is here.
This story dedicated to all my reviewers, the most faithful friends I could have. Thanks again!
During the events of Exosphere: Invasion, a race of aliens known as the Khai descended on Mata Nui. They resembled scaled humans with long, muscular tails instead of legs, and a varying number (typically five to twelve) of snake-like necks and heads in place of normal heads. The Khai, also called serpent-heads, were warriors and miners of a gigantic interstellar government known as the Exosphere.
This totalitarian regime, ruled by an aging Sphere-Regent but influenced by many younger, more vigorous politicians, dominated known space. Now these Khai, not strictly under government orders but instead working for a sinister Exosphere politician named Kasstaxa, pillaged Mata Nui, destroying Onu and Po-Koro and sucking the protodermis from beneath the island to ship back to the Exosphere homeworld, Khass.
The resistance of the Toa and Matoran was futile, but they did manage to recover some Exosphere computer equipment and a prisoner during a raid. Through a stroke of luck, the prisoner, an exiled Khai named Ssrin, defected to their side; she quickly became a close friend of Nokama's, and helped the Turaga decipher the Exosphere computer core they'd retrieved.
What they found was chilling. The Exosphere was there not just to mine protodermis, but to recover the Vahi, apparently the key to some sort of weapon or device which would let them obtain ultimate power over the universe....
The Matoran sacrificed themselves in a massive delaying attack; this gave the Toa and Ssrin time to fly a captured Exosphere ship offworld in pursuit of the transport carrying the Vahi back to the Exosphere homeworld, Khass.
During the events of Exosphere: Void, the Toa and Ssrin managed to disable the Vahi transport, and it fled to a massive deep-space trading post, Crossroads Station. Run by the corrupt alien Lerneans, it gave the Toa and the rogue Khai unexpected help, as they managed to contact an anti-Exosphere resistance movement, and its power-wielding Neuroscythe leader Abdiel.
Together with the Resistance, the Toa and their de facto leader made daring raids against the Exosphere presence on Crossroads, recovering another Exosphere defector, a serpent-head named Thau. They almost succeeded in killing the cruel, sadistic leader of the Exosphere contingent on Crossroads, Korm. This particular serpent-head had stolen Abdiel's void diamond, a crystal which let the neuroscythe wield stunning magical powers.
During that battle, Korm poisoned Thau, then escaped; in retaliation, and as part of a larger plan, he used the powers the void diamond had unlocked within him, dark magic from a spot of corruption on every Khai's mind called the Heart of Darkness. With this magic, he crafted an incurable plague which turned those it strucked down into nearly invincible killing machines: Scythed.
As the Scythed Plague ravaged Crossroads, extinguishing hope, the Resistance fled, leaving Ssrin and Abdiel behind to carry out a desperate plan. Meanwhile, the Toa recovered the Vahi from the Exosphere transport; in the process, all but Pohatu were killed, but he managed to somehow access the Vahi and resurrect the other Toa. The Toa sent Korm and his minions fleeing to who-knows-where, but somehow Korm survived when Abdiel and Ssrin blew Crossroads apart by sabotaging its reactor. This desperate sacrifice saved the universe from the Scythed, but there were still many living beings on Crossroads...
As the Toa and the resistance members finally rejoined in the void of space, in their various ships, it was realized that Onua was missing. During the frenetic days of the Scythed Plague, he'd been attacked by a Scythed and fallen into a sort of coma; now he was gone.
Void concluded with the surviving Resistance members, Ssrin, the recovered Thau, and the five remaining Toa setting out for Khass, homeworld of the Exosphere, with little of a true plan...
Meanwhile, Kasstaxa, the fervent and ambitious politician who'd ordered the ransacking of Mata Nui, met with her powerful cohorts: Korm, still possessed of powers unlocked by Abdiel's void diamond; Sambiel, a corrupted neuroscythe with similarly amazing dark powers; and Onua, ravaging engine of destruction, transformed by the Scythed Plague into something only seen in nightmares....
Ssrin stared out at the jewel-studded void that enveloped them. The cold and darkness of space called to her, even through a transparisteel window; and she knew that this pull was the urgings of her Heart. Not her true heart, which did no more than pump blood, but the Heart of Darkness, a tiny spot in the back of her brain which seemed to be the curse of all the Khai, or serpent-heads.
The cancer of evil in the back of her mind had been in remission for years - but after seeing the destruction and death of Crossroads' explosion, sacrificed to destroy the Scythed, the voice in the back of her head was muttering again. Urging her to plant knives in her friends as they slept, to reduce this ship - a stolen Exosphere gunboat - to a ball of plasma and take everyone on board with her into death.
She turned away from the window, rubbing her multiple heads with one long, slender hand. Then she glanced out again. They were in between subcontinuum jumps, having stopped to get a navigational fix and resupply from a small nebula- and to her surprise, their fleet had grown.
They had left Crossroads with only a barely functioning transport - carrying the Vahi - and her own gunboat, now piloted by a crew of the uninjured resistance members left from Crossroads. Now three sleek Qwohmlin frigates surrounded them in an escort triangle, providing much-needed firepower.
As word of what the Exosphere had done on Crossroads spread throughout the universe, public sentiment had risen against Exosphere domination. Already, rebellions were underway on nearly forty Exosphere worlds, their leaders crying 'Remember Crossroads!' And meanwhile, battle fleets from most of the free world were on their way to rendezvous with Ssrin on her desperate mission to Khass, the Exosphere homeworld.
She turned away from the window again as three new sparks of light appeared- another trio of frigates, followed swiftly by a pair of lumbering carriers and a hulking battleship. At least they weren't Exosphere; that was good enough for her. She decided to attend to business she'd been avoiding; castualty counts for their crew, and organizing the rapidly growing fleet as they prepared an attack on Khass' defense.
She strode across the dimly lit room and dropped into a waiting chair. Sighing in relief at being able to get her weight off her overly sore tail, Ssrin reached for a mug of kelthac with one hand while flipping up the top of her desk computer with a pair of her heads. The screen blinked on, and Ssrin reeled back in astonishment. What is this? No, it can't be...
Memories came flooding through her head at the sight on the screen, memories of slaughter, plasma fire, huts exploding and innocents being gunned down. Her stomach twisted in revulsion. It had all been ordered by the face on the screen. The one who'd exiled her to Mata Nui.
Kasstaxa. Evil to the core; and undeniably a genius at both combat and politics. The real mind behind the Exosphere. The doddering old Sphere-regent didn't have a chance against her.
Kasstaxa peered into the screen with an amused expression. Ssrin noticed dimly that her elegant beauty hadn't faded over the last year or so; she was still a sample of Exosphere perfection, what they should all aspire to.
Kasstaxa smiled widly, sending Ssrin reeling back again in confusion. How did she find this channel, anyway? We're running under sensor-stealth?
What Kass said next made things a thousand times worse.
Feedback would be appreciated!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Dec 4 2003, 06:43 AM
Aug 4 2003, 07:25 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Ssrin has just been treated to an unexpected call by Kasstaxa, regent-Second of the Exosphere and the serpent-head behind the invasion of Mata Nui...
Ssrin stared open-mouthed at the screen. "Why....what...I thought..."
Kasstaxa laughed. It was a long, harsh sound which grated against Ssrin's ears and sent the mug of kelthac on the table rattling. "You thought that when you were banished, you'd been removed from the family? You know you have to be present for the disowning rites."
Ssrin shut her mouths and glared at the screen. "Give me one good reason I shouldn't shut this thing off and end the transmission. Or track your message and fire a missile."
"Oh, what sisterly affection. Go ahead, give it a try," Kasttaxa said, her eyes glittering with amusement. Ssrin reached forward and slammed the computer shut. It's power light blinked off with a low hum.
The wallscreen flashed on and Kasstaxa peered out at her. "You see, sister? You're in an Exosphere ship. You can't escape me."
Ssrin sighed and reclined in her chair, glaring up at the screen. "What do you want?"
"Simple," Kasstaxa said, almost laughing. "I want you to betray your companions and join me." She extended one slender hand. "You'll find where true power in the universe lies."
"Right now, my cargo hold," Ssrin shot back, thinking of the Vahi. "And I won't betray my companions."
Kasttaxa's face twisted into a neutral mask, betraying no expression. "The price in pain will be high, sister. Higher than you can imagine. And in the end I'll be a god, and you'll be dead." She laughed. "You being such a shining example of right, I'd say 'see you in heaven'. Except I won't let you in." She began to laugh as the screen blinked and shut off.
Ssrin got up and went to collect her companions. She was intercepted halfway there.
The door to the observation deck slid open and Thau lunged through. "Ssrin, ###### you-"
Ssrin caught the other Khai in her arms as he wobbled unsteadily. He was slimmer and shorter than her, more suited to his chosen profession of pilot; his features were less angular than Ssrin's.
"Thau," she said, unable to restrain a bit of tension in her voice. 'What's wrong?"
"You blew up Crossroads!" Thau shouted in her face, pushing her away and collapsing into a chair. "Isn't that the kind of thing you left the Exosphere because of?"
"Not quite," Ssrin said, her mouth suddenly dry. "Thau, I'm sorry, but I had to. What's wrong with you?"
The sudden change of topic left Thau blinking for a moment. "The autodoc did a very good job getting Korm's poison out, and it left me a bit wobbly," he explained grudgingly. "Why did you have to destroy Crossroads? I heard all this nonsense about something called 'Scythed'-"
"All true," Ssrin said grimly. "Believe me, they were the worst thing that could have happened to the universe, and I had to destroy them."
Thau sighed fatalistically. "Too late to change it now, I suppose. But I'll want to talk to you about it later. Now," he said, turning to the window, "I want to now how we've collected a battlefleet of our own."
Ssrin laughed. "Apparently the sacrifice of Crossroads has shifted public sympathy even farther away from the Exosphere. Worlds are launching open revolts, and sending fleets to us, hoping to get an early strike in against Khass."
Thau grimaced. "It seems the universe is against me." He frowned, and peered out the window. "What's that?"
Ssrin turned and looked, and her face split open in an uncontrolled expression of joy. All their problems were solved; they could track down the missing Onua and smash the Exosphere with ease. Well, perhaps not, but at least track down Onua.
Hurtling towards them on a ribbon of purple fire came a tremendous, sleek vessel, carved entirely of a giant crystal. Vaguely visible inside its translucent form were streamers of light and patterns of shifting color. At the nose, a beacon of brilliant energy lit the way through the void, apparently providing propulsion.
The neuroscythes had arrived, in force.
Feedback is appreciated!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Oct 19 2003, 06:14 AM
Aug 15 2003, 08:17 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The neuroscythes have just arrived, adding a sizable contribution to the growing fleet.
Ssrin was still staring at the massive crystal ship hurtling towards them when the door to the room slid open and Abdiel drifted in. Abdiel was Ssrin's closest friend, although his face certainly did not seem that way; it was a nightmarish visage of bone ribs and chitinous plates, although it did have a certain elegance about it.
"Ssrin," Abdiel said, his voice crystal-clear, although clearly his mouth structure should not have been able to produce the words to the perfect Khai he spoke in. "My compatriots have arrived; an entire enclave of neuroscythes. With your permission, I will go to them and negotiate a place in the fleet."
Ssrin nodded, smilling. "Go ahead. I'd be glad to have them with us."
Abdiel returned her nod gravely. "Perhaps you and Thau should begin working on a battle plan for attacking Khass? And I believe the fleet will need someone to serve as a coordinator, especially as many of the ships arriving are of races that don't often get along. We have a Lernean battle group arriving, for example, and they are not exactly trusted by the Qwohmlin."
Ssrin blinked. "Lerneans? How do you know?"
Abdiel smiled slightly. "We are neuroscythes, after all. And I will instruct my companions to find Onua, wherever he may be. You say he vanished from your medical bay?"
"Yes," Ssrin said slowly. "I don't know where he could have gone. One of our escape shuttles was missing."
Abdiel nodded slowly. "Very well. I'll work on it." He blinked out of existence in a shimmer of light, and a moment later, Ssrin spotted a cometary streak of light through the viewport, lancing across the distance between the gunboat and the neuroscythe ship.
She turned back to Thau. "Well. It looks like we better get to work."
That was easier said than done. Thau found himself immediately confused by the various complications of running a fleet. Ssrin seemed to have some sort of training in bureaucratic endeavours like this; she was competent enough to point out his mistakes as they tried to work out a method of distributing supplies between ships, keeping up a picket screen, and otherwise making the fleet run smoothly.
Thau found himself doing more and more gruntwork as the day wore on into ship's night; Ssrin sent him out to grab new datapads or a new storage chip, or fetch her some kelthac. As the night wore on, he realized he was better suited to this kind of work. Leave the tough leadership to Ssrin; he would watch out for her other needs.
And as he sat across from Ssrin at the tiny table on the observation deck, calculating the fuel needed for the next three subcontinuum jumps, he realized that this was what he did in life, too. While Ssrin led their growing army on the crusade against the Exosphere and its vile plans, he ensured that she did not become as terrible as the people she was crusading against.
That was why he had always worried when Ssrin had to make hard decisions. He had become her personal moral guardian. And surprisingly, despite the cold rage against her he was so well concealing, he didn't mind. For while he might be furious with her for destroying the innocents on Crossroads, he could not deny that it was the right thing to do. Perhaps it was his protests that in the end convinced her that she had done the right thing.
But for now, he has not sure what his role was, besides moral guardian. Ssrin had picked him up on Crossroads, as a useful intelligence tool; so far, he had done little intelligence-providing. He was a capable pilot but not an exemplary soldier; he was certainly not Ssrin's friend, because he could see by the way she talked to Abdiel that she did not consider him a friend.
In that case, what was he?
As he sat there, he realized he was staring at Ssrin, sitting across the table from him and peering down at a datapad in the dim illumination of the overhead lights. She looked mysterious, bathed in the flickering light of ship's night; an otherworldly force come to bring justice to those who had sinned.
Ssrin looked up and offered a smile. "Finding me more interesting than your calculations, Thau? Feel free to grab yourself a drink."
Thau tried to hide his embarased blush - or Exosphere equivalent thereof- as he got up and wandered into the corridor, making his way towards the tiny food dispenser in the ship's equally tiny mess. Yes, running a fleet was hard, but dealing with his relationship with Ssrin was certainly harder.
In the void outside, the fleet continued to grow, as ship after ship poured in. Tensions began to build as ships jockeyed for position close to Ssrin's gunboat, or tried to forget old grudges between species.
Kasstaxa watched all this, and laughed.
More up soon! Feedback is appreciated. Thanks to all my friends and readers, and if you PMed me recently, please resend the message, as my box was full. Sorry.
Aug 18 2003, 07:33 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Two weeks have passed, without a sign of Exosphere ships. Ssrin, with Thau as her aid, has become the undisputed commander of the growing, multi-species fleet. But something is pursuing them...
In the void beyond the little pocket of life that was the growing fleet, a tiny, black vessel drifted, showing no lights and betraying no sign of its presence. Its trajectory carried it within the outer fringes of the fleet, but its marvelous, black sensor-stealthed coating made it invisible to the pickets who warily watched for anything approaching the battle group.
As the fleet made another jump, plunging into the subcontinuum for a brief faster-than-light hop to the next rendezvous point, thrusters puffed across the capsule's surface. The two pickets who had stayed behind the fleet to watch for pursuers dismissed the sudden puff of gas as something venting out of the subcontinuum, and the black ship vanished through the closing subcontinuum rent and pursued the fleet.
Konro sighed with weariness. He'd been through a lot during the last few weeks, and the images of Crossroad's death had been burned into his mind. Unlike many of the people on the gunboat, the ragged remnants of Abdiel's resistance band from Crossroads, he hadn't been born there, but the station had become as much a home as anywhere could - at least while there were solids around.
To his dissappointment, none of the various ships that had joined the fleet had more than a token scattering of 'Splatters,' his shapeshifting race. Unlike other species, they tended to drift around rather than forming a cohesive nation, so they had no ships of their own to contribute. Konro had no real wish to speak with them, and he guessed, bitterly, that they didn't really want to meet him, either. He was left alone with his memories- and they were vivid.
With Abdiel and Ssrin gone, he had somehow taken command of the group of refugees fleeing to Ssrin's docked ship. He had seen the horror of Crossroads as they rushed through it, surrounded by screaming innocents and Scythed. And the more terrible thing was, he had almost enjoyed it. For while the circumstances around them were undoubtedly terrible, he was leading a band of people - and for once, they were not questioning him because he was a shapeshifter.
Being free of that clinging racial prejudice, even for just a few terrified moments, was something he couldn't forget. And he wasn't sure if he liked that, considering the circumstances surrounding his brief leadership.
He was interrupted from his lonely musings by a sudden, sharp noise from somewhere in the ship, followed by a rapid rising hiss. He recognized it- the ship's shields were going up. Konro lifted himself from the bunk, and swiftly adapted his current form into a sleek Qwohmlin, well-suited to running. He left a small red patch dead-center on his scaled chest to show who he was, and then burst into the corridor.
A small group of resistance members were rushing through, heading towards the front of the ship. They couldn't possibly do anything, since the gunboat was designed to run with a crew of four, plus passengers; but Konro thought that if he managed to get onto the bridge, nobody would hold it against them.
He joined the running group, ignoring their sideways glances at him, and swiftly outdistanced them as he made his way to the bridge hatch. He shoved one hand into the gap between the hatch and the wall, and flattened it into a thin, long extension which he shoved around in the tiny gap between hatch and wall until he found the locking bar and managed to retract it. The door unlocked from the inside with a slight clank, and Konro tore the hatch open, stepping inside to a scene of chaos.
The five remaining Toa were strapped into crash seats, looking confused and unhappy; Ssrin was shouting into a commlink by the pilots seat, and Thau, locked into that seat, was hastily turning the ship to avoid a massive Qwohmlin frigate, which was roaring past them on what appeared to be an attack run. The frigate's attack part was taking it towards a Lernean battlebarge on the far side of the screen.
Ssrin adjusted a control and the screen swiveled, following the two ships. Still hissing into the commlink, she beckoned to Konro and gestured for him to take over. "I'll hand you over to my chief negotiator," she said shortly, and tossed the commlink to him.
Somewhat stunned, Konro caught it. "Chief negotiator?" he muttered to himself. I've never been all that great at that...
He coughed slightly and spoke into the commlink. "What's the problem?"
A tinny Qwohmlin voice came back over the link. "Who's that? Another Qwohmlin?"
Konro felt uncomfortable lying, but replied, "Of course."
"Well," the tinny voice said sardonically, "then perhaps you can understand what the snake-headed captain of yours couldn't. The Lerneans are going to sell us out, and we intend to remove them from the fleet. Qwohmlin ships are beginning to move against the Lerneans throughout the entire fleet. We lose twelve stinking Lernean ships and we gain peace of mind. A fair deal, no?"
Konro felt himself go pale. If he didn't solve this, the entire fleet would descend into chaos as opposing factions clashed. Fine time for me to finally have something to do...
"Listen," he said hastily, "I can put you over to a Lernean negotiator." He flicked off the commlink, shifted form into a Lernean, and flicked it on. "Attention Qwohmlin ship. We understand your fears and want to do nothing but assuage them. Give us a moment to demonstrate our goodwill." He flicked the commlink to another frequency, sending messages to the Lernean fleet.
"Attention all Lernean ships, do not respond to the Qwohmlin attack! Do not maneuver or fire! This is an order!"
To his surprise, the few Lernean vessels who were moving dropped back into their slots in formation. The Qwohmlin ships slowed their charge, confused. Konro flipped the commlink back to the Qwohmlin frequency and changed hastily into a Qwohmlin. "My Lernean compatriot has stayed faithful, as you can see. Return to your position on the fleet, and both of you can send ambassadors to meet me and work this problem out."
Slowly, the Qwohmlin ships turned and began to resume their positions in the formation, highlighted against the streaking, mottled background of the subcontinuum. The glow of the subcontinuum reflected eerily off the bridge as Konro turned.
To his surprise, he found Ssrin grinning widely and Thau doubled over laughing in the pilot's chair. The Toa had similar expressions, and even Kopaka gave him a rueful nod.
Konro tried to control a sudden blush. Most solids wouldn't have even offered him applause. Perhaps his shapeshifting talents were useful, after all...
Ssrin offered him and seat, and Konro found he could not refuse.
As the fleet moved on, its commbands humming with conversation, the tiny black ship moved closer, the cargo within peering out with eager eyes. Its time would come....
Feedback appreciated! Thanks!
Aug 23 2003, 08:39 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Two days ago, Konro managed to avert a confrontation between the Lerneans and Qwohmlin in the attack fleet. Now Konro and Ssrin reluctantly preside over a conference to work out the differences between the two factions.
Konro hoped it wouldn't be taken as rude if he started growing new parts during the negotiations. The room was swelteringly hot, as both the Qwohmlins and the Lerneans liked it; and the odd tang of the Lernean group was getting overwhelming, enough so that Konro finally closed up his current form's nose. Lerneans smelled. He'd never noticed that before.
He and Ssrin were sitting at the head of a long table set up in the observation deck of the gunboat, which had been designated as the Avenger for purposes of fleet records. On each side was a motley band of aliens, Qwohmlin on one side of the table, glaring with slitted reptilian eyes and sipping at mugs of kelthac; on the other side were Lerneans, doing their best to look charming while occassionally taking surreptitious readings of the Qwohmlins on biomonitors. They're probably trying to decide if the Qwohmlin are lying or not.
Next to him, Ssrin let out a low, hissing sigh. "So, you Lerneans want to be allowed to provide a supporting role rather than spearheading the attack." She shifted a pair of heads and jabbed them at the Qwohmlin delegation. "And you're accusing the Lerneans of cowardice, and of selling us out to the Exosphere."
The Qwohmlin leader shifted his thin form uncomfortably. "We do not believe the Lerneans are trustworthy. They should be put in a role in the fleet which does not permit them to flee, and which they cannot sabotage."
Konro smiled. "Excellent."
Ssrin frowned at him. One head muttered in his ear, "How is that good?"
A few minor adjustments later, his ear muttered back, "It isn't, but I'm buying time for us to think."
Meanwhile, the Lernean leader straightened in his chair. "We would never sabotage the fleet!"
The Qwohmlin jabbed one long arm at him. "Your race would sell its own parents for enough money!"
The Lernean jerked back in his chair. "Why - you- we have suffered just as much under the Exosphere as you have!"
The Qwohmlin sneered. "Yes, and you joined this fleet just because you lost so many precious assets and investments when Crossroads blew!"
Both turned to glare at Konro and Ssrin. Konro decided he had to do something, because the rest of the diplomatic group looked like they were about to strangle each other. Venemous glances shot across the table like plasma beams.
A spark of inspiration burned within his mind. "How about this," he said slowly. Ssrin watched him anxiously, probably praying that he wouldn't mess everything up permanently. "We put the Lerneans in a supporting role, as they have proposed. Their ships will be distributed amongst the entire fleet, providing backup to fill any holes in our battle formation. They can handle any flanking forces the Exosphere tries to get behind us."
Ssrin looked quizzical, and muttered, "I thought of that. The Qwohmlin won't accept it."
Konro continued smoothly. "Of course, to maintain a position in which they can ambush the enemy, they will have to be very stealthy. Which means all their communication systems will be off, and their I.D.s will be adjusted to match that of...say...the Qwohmlin fleet."
That's rather tidy. With their communications off, they couldn't talk to the Exosphere and make a deal; and if they looked like Qwohmlin ships, the Exosphere wouldn't know which parts of the fleet were under their control, if in fact they had made a deal with the Lerneans.
The Lernean commander sputtered. "But...but... how could we talk to the rest of the force if the battle started going wrong? How could we get new orders?"
Ssrin began to smile. She was enjoying this now that they were making progress. "Abdiel's neuroscythes can communicate with you mentally." And prevent any communication from Korm, if he still has neuroscythe powers, Konro thought.
The Lernean shuddered. "No. Absolutely not. We will not have a neuroscythe mucking about in our heads."
Ssrin stood quickly. She made an imposing figure, dominating the table completely. The mutterings amongst the two groups stopped. "Admiral, commander, whatever your title is; you are hereby ordered to follow the commands of my officers and I. If you disregard our battle plans you will be convincted of treason and shot. Do you understand?"
The Lernean leader glared at her for three smoldering seconds. Then he nodded once, and turned to leave.
"Soldier!" Konro barked, concealing a grin. "Were you dismissed?"
The Lernean froze in place, and Konro winced at what he imagined the Lerneans' expression was like. The Qwohmlins were laughing, and the Lernean delegation looked ready to tear them apart with their claws.
Ssrin said slowly, "Konro here will be going with you to your ships to ensure that you work smoothly with the rest of the fleet."
Konro restrained a protest, knowing that if he appeared discontented, it would give the Lerneans more leverage. Ssrin nodded one head. "Dismissed."
In the cargo hold of the Avenger, five multicolored forms stood and talked. The five remaining Toa were not exactly happy. They had had nothing to do for the last three weeks, as Ssrin, Abdiel, Konro, and Thau each went about the business of running the fleet.
In fact, Kopaka thought to himself, they were almost being ignored. They had gone from Ssrin's closest companions to curiousities in the cargo hold. The fact that they were the only ones who knew how to use the Vahi was apparently irrelevant.
Kopaka was constraining cold fury at the behavior of the others. Ssrin was playing admiral, arranging an assault on Khass; Thau had been her assistant, occasionally venturing to other ships in the fleet to check on their readiness; Konro was the great diplomat, working out the problems between ships with his disturbing shapeshifting capabilities, and Abdiel had been deeply involved in his neuroscythe's mystic nonsense, so busy that he hadn't even come and talked to them about Onua.
Yes, the Toa had many reasons to be mad. Which explained why Tahu was venting his rage in a long rant, and Pohatu was listening quietly. Pohatu had changed over the last few weeks. Since he put on the Vahi, he was much more calm and placid, at peace while the other Toa were in turmoil. He was the only one of them smiling right now - only slightly, as he listened to Tahu. Kopaka occasionally caught flashes of bright, off-silver in his eyes. The Vahi had certainly changed him.
The Vahi. Kopaka couldn't help but stare at it where it lounged in the midst of the cargo bay. Its disturbingly bright, orange form clashed with the silver-grey metal of the gunboat. His Akaku couldn't penetrate it, and the constantly shimmering silver pearlescence surrounding it gave him a headache. In fact, the only person who could be around it without experiencing a disturbing buzzing feeling was Pohatu. Tahu had tried to put it on and kept dropping it; the comical situation nearly drew a laugh from Kopaka. He hadn't tried to wear it after that.
Kopaka switched on his Akaku and peered at the Vahi, his ice-blue eyes narrowing behind the mask. The other Toa - Pohatu and Tahu in one corner, Gali and Lewa conversing slowly in the other- became transparent and faint. Even the walls were transparent, and if he willed it, he could have seen all the way through the hull to space.
He focused on the Vahi. Nothing happened. Shrugging slightly, he began peeling away the walls like layers of an onion, looking farther and farther out.
And stopped short.
What he saw was certainly possible, but very disturbing.
It was a black, hunched form, in the far back of the ship, its eyes burning green-black. It was staring straight at him.
And 'it' was Onua. Changed, somehow - but Kopaka didn't get a chance to see before his vision was obliterated by a sudden explosion of light. He staggered back, raising one arm to shield his eyes from the blinding flare. He hit the wall, hard, and slid down to a stunned sitting position.
The vision, and Onua, was gone. Gali rushed to him concernedly, the other Toa gathering about in a half-circle, showering him with questions.
He told them what had happened, thinking that this was one more reason to fear the days ahead.
He had to admit to himself that he did not want to know what had happened to Onua. Because however much he had wanted to see his old friend again, he had been changed.
And judging by the last thing that had affected Onua- the Scythed Plague- whatever had happened to him wasn't good. No, not good at all.
Sep 2 2003, 04:52 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Kopaka has just sighted Onua somewhere in the Exosphere gunship, and he has undergone a sinister change. Meanwhile, Thau is having some technical difficulties...
Thau frowned every eye he had at the displays before him. He was lounging on the soft metacushioned pilot's chair at the front of the gunboat's control center, and, being the only one on the bridge at the time, he was doing his utmost to figure out the readings he was getting.
The pilot's sensor panel winked at him like a display of glowing sea life, as rows of intimately familiar Exosphere symbols scrolled endlessly past schematics of the space around them. Unfortunately, the readings he was getting were not quite as familiar. The fleet, grown to an impressive thirty-five ships capital ships and nearly eighty support vessels, had paused on its series of subcontinuum jumps in order to gather supplies from the Senthis Asteroid Belt, a dangerous and highly volatile asteroid field which contained the needed resources. It was perched precariously on the border between the Exosphere Homeworlds and Free Space, and Ssrin had prayed that the Exosphere wouldn't know they were coming.
Now, the Exosphere was the least of Thau's worries. The fleet was hidden amongst the asteroids, and Thau, given command of course-plotting by Ssrin, had managed to scatter them enough to keep them from being struck by the wandering chunks of rock, or getting too near to a radioactive or otherwise hazardous asteroid. Now, the readings on his sensor panel seemed to show that the asteroids were moving on different paths than he'd thought. Maybe there was a hidden gravitational influence he hadn't picked up on; or maybe the Exosphere had moved the asteroids, hoping to lead the fleet into a deadly mess of unplotted trajectories and potential collisions.
Thau sighed. He hated making decisions, almost as much as the (rather unconfident, he thought) Konro. The shapeshifter could turn into a pipe and hide, at least.
No, he amended slowly. Konro didn't mind making decisions; in fact, he was quite good at diplomacy. No, Konro hated being in the spotlight; he didn't like to be payed attention to. And Thau had to think that maybe it was because he was a shapeshifter- and uncomfortable around solids. Or maybe he thought solids were uncomfortable around him.
His thoughts were snapped back to the current situation by the bridge doors swishing open. He swiveled one head around and almost smiled at Ssrin as she walked through the door. The hours of time he'd spent with her over the last few days, planning the fleet's movements, had allowed him to think maybe they were friends. But, as usual, he didn't want to take chances. I've never been socially bold, and I don't want to start now.
Ssrin dropped into the command chair. "You called?"
Thau nodded. He had. "The asteroids are misbehaving. We may have to pull out. I don't want to risk one of the ships being caught between two or three and getting struck."
Ssrin smiled at him. Thau felt his heart flip-flop. He'd never been truly smiled at until a few days ago. "Well, Thau, perhaps it's time to test your command judgement. What should we do?"
Thau grimaced. "The resupply is just about done. Let's pack up and go."
Ssrin nodded her heads. "Right." She tapped the arm of the chair, and Thau could hear the hiss of an open channel. "All ships; this is Fleet Admiral Ssrin. We're receiving anomalous readings from the asteroid field. We're going to pull back and continue on course."
Immediately, the commline buzzed with activity, all of it saying the same thing- nobody else was getting strange readings. Ssrin frowned. "We'll pull back anyway, and take readings from a distance. Perhaps radiation is scrambling our sensors." She nodded to Thau.
He touched the controls and brought the gunboat about, then ignited the drives and sent them coasting away from the field. The black-and-brown hunks of rock about them began to spin by at a faster clip as they moved towards open space.
Around them, gleaming slivers of metal - the rest of the fleet- began to edge out of the field and join them. Thau took a moment to admire the silver blobs, rapidly growing in resolution as they approached, and the bright streamers of the drive trails behind them.
And suddenly the most distant blob, a D'revi picket ship farthest from the asteroid field, vanished in a flash of green fire. Moments later, its slot in the formation was filled with a fading fireball and an expanding field of sparking debris.
Thau stared in shock. Ssrin slapped the commlink back on and yelled, "All ships, shields up! Battle alert!"
The fleet dissolved into chaos. Screams echoed over the commline before Ssrin cut them off the command frequency. She began to issue orders rapid-fire as more crewmen began to pour onto the bridge.
Six sharp, fang-like Exosphere frigates were plowing into the fleet in delta formation where the D'revi picket had been, exploiting the gap in sensor coverage. Thau couldn't tell where they'd come from. They were moving quickly, drives flaring, and the jagged vessels - triangular and wickedly curved just like a serpent's fang- spat rivulets of green plasma fire and waves of missiles at the surrounding ships.
Missiles and plasma beams exploded on flaring defensive shields. Thau saw the nearest vessel, a Vart corvette, take a pair of plasma beams amidships. Its defensive fields turned white-hot- and when three missiles struck it just aft of that point, the shields flared and were gone. A moment later, the passing Exosphere frigate rolled casually to bring its missile launchers to bear and broke the Vart ship's back with a volley of ship-killers.
Ssrin kept calm, although Thau could see rage burning in her eyes. She calmly brought the larger ships into an inverted cone around the Exosphere vessels, closing the far end of the cone to make a a double-cone trap around the Exosphere ships. Meanwhile, the Fang frigates blazed forward with surprising abandon, completely ignoring Exosphere tactical doctrine.
Thau studied them intently. They bore the markings of the 26th Fleet, an old and expendable rear-guard unit. But even Exosphere rear-guard units fought with the skill of anyone else's elites, and Thau had to admit- with a touch of racial pride- that each Exosphere ship out there was worth two of any other frigate on the field.
In moments, the jagged slices of Exosphere plasma fire were countered by blue fireballs and red lances, particle cannons and ion beams from the surrounding ships. The Lerneans opened up with their distinctive azure-blue coronal-discharge weapons. Ssrin arrayed missile ships behind the main line of vessels, protecting them with the front-line ship's shields. She rotated ships out when their shields began to fall, keeping fresh ships battering at the Exosphere vessels. It was an excellent performance.
Thau took the gunboat closer in- and an autocannon shell from a missile support ship banged off their shields. The bridge rang like a bell, and Thau had to clutch onto his console to stay in his chair; he hastily steered the ship away. The entire vessel shuddered for a moment, and on one side screen Thau caught some debris falling away like a burning spark from the back of the ship. He winced. That had been stupid.
Meanwhile, the Exosphere ships suddenly smartened up, falling into a shifting defensive formation of rapid changes and sudden jinks. Their plasma cannons blazed against the jewel-studded night. Thau smiled as he realized that Ssrin had snuck light fighters in between the larger ships, and they were now shooting down any missiles the Exosphere ships launched - robbing them of a large chunk of their firepower.
A Qwohmlin battleship and a Lernean light cruiser took aim and opened fire from both sides of one beleagured Exosphere frigate; blue plasma beams and coronal discharges rattled and splashed off the Exosphere shields. The protective bubble flared diamond-white and suddenly vanished. Lightning crackled from where it had been to ground on the shields and hulls of surrounding ships. The Exosphere ship, exposed, began to turn to bring its armor to bear; but a D'revi picket, seeking revenge for its lost cousin, raced across the unarmored bottom spine of the Fang frigate and applied its rayslicers to the Fang's belly. The entire ship cracked in two and began to disintegrate in a series of explosions.
At this, the Exosphere ships began to break. Two fired on the Qwohmlin battleship, but their plasma beams were absorbed by its massive shields in a collossal lightning display; the other three ships concentrated fire on the Lernean light cruiser- which Thau recognized startedly as the Lernean flagship. Its bow shields vanished in a thundrous explosion, and the Lernean ship hastily retreated back behind the cover of a Vart carrier.
Thau emitted a puff of relief as the Exosphere ships shimmered and began to vanish, retreating to safety in the subcontinuum. Ssrin looked ready to follow. Thau shot her a glance and she returned it with rage in her eyes, but she did not call for pursuit. Instead she got up and began to pace the bridge, looking irritated.
"Blast it! How did they get that close? We lost four ships and they lost ONE? We lose two pickets, a destroyer, and a corvette in exchange for ONE frigate? Thau- get the fleet commanders on the line. I need to have a little talk."
Thau looked at her long and hard. "Ssrin, maybe you better-"
She glared at him with equal furor. "This fleet is incompetent, and I'm going to do something about it. "
Thau couldn't restrain a slight frown. "Ssrin, nobody can be as good as the Exosphere - "
Ssrin shouted a curse at him. The other crewers on the bridge were staring. "WE HAVE TO BE! We can't beat them otherwise, and if we don't- if we don't-"
She gave a small sob and threw herself out of the bridge doors. Despite himself, Thau got up and followed.
He found her in the corridor, pounding her fist against the wall. Thau winced. She was near hysteria. She turned her burning gaze on him. "Thau, you don't understand. If we don't win- the whole universe- it'll be like Mata Nui, or worse- the Exosphere can-"
Thau tried to smile. "Ssrin, be reasonable. The Exosphere can't take over the whole universe. There's no way it can be done."
Ssrin snarled at him, then collapsed to the dock, sobbing like a child. "They can, Thau, I know they can, and there's nothing we can do to stop it-"
"Stop what? What is it, Ssrin?"
She suddenly stopped and stared at him, her fierce gaze holding him still like a trapped rodent. "I haven't told you what I saw, what the Heart showed me. The reason I defected. The real reason I helped the Toa."
Thau knew at once he wouldn't like it. Wouldn't like it at all.
Feedback is appreciated!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Sep 2 2003, 05:02 PM
Sep 8 2003, 05:57 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Six years earlier...
Ssrin crouched by the edge of the pit, neural lash in hand. A mass of inferior races milled below, working at drills, plasma cutters, or shovels. Dirt from the digging spewed up in a fine mist, washing over her armor, and then splashed against the top of the tunnel above her. They were miles beneath the surface of Khass, and the excavation was going well.
At this depth, the pressure should have collapsed the tunnel, killing them all instantly. Force-shield generators held the tunnel open. Ssrin was confident in them. Exosphere technology was built to last. The heat of this layer should have fried them alive, but venting systems poured it into the uncaring subcontinuum, where it could dissipate forever.
They were deep inside Khass, past the crust and mantle, effectively submerged beneath an ocean of magma and molten rock a thousand times thicker -or more- than the planet's surface. Peering to either side with one head, she could see other dig pits where Exosphere soldiers supervised the slave labor. Although this job was certainly menial, her superiors assured her it was of the greatest importance.
She could hear the whining of neural lashes in the other dig pits, but she was reluctant to use her own. It didn't seem...right. And even when the whine of plasma cutters suddenly stopped, she only stood up and aimed the lash menacingly.
She frowned. The bottom of the pit was shifting. The slaves within were yelling to each other as equipment shifted and they were tossed about. One massive heavy plasma cutter began to fall towards a group of panicking Sereloth. With the uncanny accuracy common to Exosphere soldiers, Ssrin slipped her own plasma rod from its sheath, flicked it to fine beam, and sliced the plasma cutter in half. A few seconds on wide beam pushed it away from the group of slaves.
From the rumblings echoing down the tunnel, Ssrin could tell the odd vibrations were happening in other pits. Screams echoed down the corridor, presumably as falling equipment crushed hapless slaves. Ssrin winced slightly, although she'd been warned not to empathize with the slaves.
The disruptions intensified. The bottom of the pit was now rippling so madly that it looked as if it was liquid. A scream of tearing earth echoed from around them-
-and the bottom of the pit exploded upwards. Ssrin reeled backwards, shocked, as the screaming mass of slaves vanished into a sudden upwelling of darkness. The rising shadow overcame the exploding mass of dirt and continued to rose, forming into a barbed, shifting tentacle of complete blackness, reaching from thirty feet down in the pit to the top of the upper tunnel. It writhed about, slashing at the walls and leaving squirming rents of blackness, but did not come near Ssrin. She hazarded a glance into the pit. There was a void as black as space.
And she reeled back again as a hissing, cascading voice spoke directly into her mind. The tones buzzed disharmonically against each other, forming a sensation that vibrated through her bones, even though no real sound was present. It was like having blackness poured into her mind. The back of her braincase throbbed in resonance with the voice. It was like the promise of death and ruin the universe over, concentrated.
"Koranis is FREE!" said the voice, as the tentacle suddenly twitched upright and began to smash at the top of the tunnel.
"Not yet, master," a quiet voice said from the back of the room. Ssrin turned to see a bony-faced, pale creature, taller and much slimmer than her, raising his hands and speaking a slow incantation. The tentacle stopped battering at the top of the tunnel and slowly coiled back down. Ssrin felt another vibration through her bones as the voice spoke again.
"Sambiel, my disciple. You have come."
"Yes, master," the pale form said. Ssrin stepped farther back from the pit, watching both warily. Outsiders were not common on Khass. "But my powers cannot free you."
The voice emitted a hiss like a snake. "Truly?"
The pale figure bowed hastily, as if frightened. "We need an artifact of time. Something to bring you back into temporal phase with the universe."
The tentacle began to collapsed back into the pool of shadow at the bottom of the pit. "I am patient. BUT I HAVE BEEN ENTRAPPED FOR BILLIONS OF YEARS! I MUST CONTINUE..."
The pale figure groveled as the voice trailed off. Then it resumed, and Ssrin shivered. "My finest creations are all around you, Sambiel. Use them. They will rule with me."
Sambiel nodded, and walked away. Ssrin followed him hastily, shivering as if she had been dunked in ice water.
Over the next half-decade, she would become familiar with the touch of absolute evil.
Thau stared at her. "My...dear...gods."
Ssrin glared. "Now do you understand?"
He shook his head, confused and terrified. "No. Not really."
Ssrin began to talk again.
Sorry, gotta go, but feedback is appreciated!
Sep 10 2003, 06:27 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Ssrin continues her tale...
Over the next two years, as Ssrin moved about Khass, she began to notice things. A black haze seemed to constantly fill the air, and slowly Ssrin began to suspect that this was not just atmospheric pollution. Nobody but she seemed to notice it, and by the time she received a notice that she'd be shipped offworld for occupation duty, Ssrin knew she was seeing the tangible evil that flooded the air of Khass.
During the week before her departure, she researched furiously in Khass' expansive libraries. Paging through the dusty tomes in the most ancient records, she caught references to the 'power of Koranis,' and dread prophecies of what the universe would be like when he was free. It was unpleasant, to say the least.
And when she found the document speaking of the Khai as 'Chosen of Koranis,' and of the 'Heart of Koranis' each of them possessed, she decided she had to do something.
When she was shipped offworld a week from then, it was not without plans.
Sorry, have to go to school. Will do more tonight or tomorrow morning! Thank you all for your patience.
Sep 11 2003, 06:11 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Meanwhile, on the Lernean flagship...
The scarred and battered Lernean flagship held its place in the fleets formation as they formed up to jump out. The light cruiser's forward shields had been destroyed by a volley from an Exosphere frigate, and her engineers were still working on repairing the generators.
They would not repair them fast enough. A cylinder of black metal, seeming to drink in all that fell upon it, tumbled towards the ship. The occupant stared out at the fleet around it with burning eyes, eyes full of the hatred and madness of a being which knows that it is in unspeakable torment, and blames it on the universe. It had come too close to being discovered on Ssrin's vessel, and now was the time to put Kasstaxa's plan into action. It had left the gunboat during the brief battle, disguising the kick of the jettisoning pod as the impact of weapons fire; and now it was arcing towards the Lernean flagship with the deadly intent of some unholy bird of prey.
Attitude jets puffed along the side of the cylinder. It slipped through the bubble of space where the Lernean flagship's front shields should have been. Sensors washed over it without effect. Its protective surface had been imbued with energies from Korm's Heart, rendering it nearly invisible. The cylinder coasted to a stop near the tapering rear of the ship. The occupant tapped the controls, nudging it closer, and deployed a series of grapples to latch the pod onto the ship. Within a minute, the occupant was inside the ship and moving towards its target.
Fleet Admiral Rheuss could not sleep. She tossed and turned in her bunk, trying to find a comfortable position, but thoughts of the accursed Qwohmlin and their treachery, and of the inevitable destruction that awaited them at Khass, filled her mind. She had a family and children; she didn't want to die on a hopeless crusade. But the Lerneans would be forever branded as cowards if they didn't help in this mad quest.
Her musings were interrupted by the door of her quarters sliding open. Pale light speared into the room from the corridor outside, briefly illuminating her cluttered desk. Moments later, the door hissed shut again. She frowned and sat up, reaching for her sidearm. Her hands around the comforting weight of the coronal-discharge pistol, she rolled lightly onto the floor and moved towards the light toggle on the wall.
Heart pounding, she scanned the space behind her as she reached for the switch.
Ship's morning dawned bright and early. Ssrin and Thau met in the ship's cargo hold, which had been converted into a sort of mess hall. Thau was picking at a plate of meat and mixed vegetables, and trying to work up the nerve to ask Ssrin if she wanted to continue her tale past where she'd left Khass, when to his relief Konro dropped into the seat next to him. Since Thau's decision that maybe Konro feared anti-shapeshifter prejudice, he'd resolved to treat him like any other member of the crew - cordially. He was out to prove that not all serpent-heads were as gruff as Ssrin.
Konro's expression wiped any thoughts of striking up a conversation from his mind. "There's trouble."
Ssrin sighed. "What's new?"
Thau decided today was not going to be a good day.
Gotta go to school again - feedback appreciated!
Sep 12 2003, 05:44 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Konro is the bearer of some bad news...
The shapeshifter shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "The Lerneans are complaining that Ssrin shouldn't be Fleet Admiral. They think you have too much traitor potential, and that considering your...um...outburst on the bridge after yesterday's battle, you might be unstable. They want you removed and either their Lernean admiral installed as fleet commander, or a suitable alternative selected from amongst the other ships."
Ssrin glared at him. "They're insane. I'm the only one who knows Khass' defenses- no offense, Thau - and the only one who can react fast enough to Exosphere tactics. They'll be slaughtered without me."
Konro shrugged. "I'm just the unofficial diplomat. But you might want to take a ride over there- there's an ion flyer docked on the gunboat right now - and explain things to them."
Ssrin nodded. "I'll take you two along. Konro, you're due to transfer over there to supervise operations. Thau, you can fly."
Both agreed. Ten minutes later, they were aboard the ion flyer and arcing across the fleet towards the Lernean flagship.
As they approached, Ssrin took a brief glance over the Lernean ship. It was a typical Lernean design, composed of rounded sections linked together like a series of half-melted metal spheres squashed onto a long rod. The whole ship blazed with lights, a fireworks display of brilliance that was oddly beautiful. The front section of the lead sphere was scarred by black soot, covering over the ship's insignia; presumably this was from when the forward shields had overloaded.
Thau took the ship in with a steady hand and deposited it neatly in one of the vessel's docking bays. Moments later, the three of them were climbing down the ramp into the swelteringly hot environment of the Lernean ship. Light lanced through the fogged air from overhead glow panels, forming eery purple drifts of smoke in the corridors. Ssrin resisted the temptation to yank one of the 'damage' alarms alongside the hallway. She knew that the atmospheric steam wasn't smoke from a damaged power conduit, but years of instinct had a pressing force.
Two Lernean guards waited at the bottom of the ramp. They fell neatly into step on each side of them. "This way, please," one of them said, and led them to one of the corridors branching of the hangar. Ssrin examined the guards. Both were of equal height, had unremarkable russet-brown fure, and looked competent, if not imposing.
They walked, passing through two security checkpoints and seemingly miles of greyish-purple hallway before finally being ushered into a large room where Admiral Rheuss waited. Ssrin frowned at her as she took a seat. Rheuss had stricken her as reasonable, if a bit timid, before. Now she seemed more poised, and certainly more confident. She learned forward in her chair with the air of someone ready to attack the situation.
The discussion was brief, and not worth remembering, Ssrin thought. Both sides set their reasons forward, and despite Konro's best effort, neither of them could make any headway against Rheuss. She was simply too stubborn - an odd change from the Admiral Ssrin had seen before. After only an hour or two of talking, the guards firmly invited the three of them to depart. Konro explained that he'd be staying aboard, as per the terms of the earlier Qwohmlin- Lernean treaty, and so he was taken a different way, shooting an anxious glance back at Ssrin as he vanished around a corner.
Thau and Ssrin were escorted back to the hangar bay, where the two guards gave them a firm goodbye, then vanished back into the misty hallways. Ssrin had to restrain herself as she plopped down in her chair. "That was it? We just stated our positions and argued - nothing got done!"
Thau shrugged as tapped at the controls, lifting the ion flyer off the deck and rotating it to face the star-studded void outside the hangar. Ssrin was shoved back into her seat as the drives kicked in. Thau hesitantly suggested, "Maybe they thought we'd give in more easily, and when they saw nothing was happening, decided to call the meeting to an end."
Ssrin shrugged. "That doesn't feel right." She peered back at the ship receding behind them. Light reflected eerily off its forward dome. Ssrin saw movement there-
- and realized one of the cruiser's heavy gun turrets was locking on to them.
More soon! Feedback appreciated.
Sep 18 2003, 05:18 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The Lernean flagship has just locked a gun turret onto Ssrin and Thau's ship...
“Thau!” Ssrin yelled, whirling away from the view outside. “Evasive maneuvers! Get us out of here!”
The ship jerked as Thau threw it into a tight roll, and the cabin filled with the tapping of thrusters and the whine of an overstretched inertial compensator.
Light flared through the windows outside, throwing the cabin into sharp relief, like a sudden frame of black-and-white in a color tridee. Shocked, Ssrin flopped into her seat and slapped the restraints across herself. We’re being shot at by our own people!
Thau yelled something incomprehensible as alarms lit up the cabin, warnings of sensor locks and incoming fire. Ssrin ignored him and slapped the ships ECM systems to full – then realized they didn’t even have an electronic countermeasures system. Another moment was all it took to recall that the ship’s weapons could only aim forward. She was useless – and she hated that.
Thau rolled the ship again, slamming on the rear thrusters and pitching them violently upwards at the end of the roll. As he reached for the throttle, the ship bucked as if it had hit a rock, then shuddered as if punched by an invisible hand. Sparks showered from the ceiling, and an eery white flash accompanied the dull thump of crumpling metal. Alarms filled the cockpit with a cacophony of distress.
Ssrin cursed. “What’s hit?”
“Engines,” Thau said tightly. “And main power. We’re dead in space.”
Ssrin tapped frantically at the controls, looking for options. Without main power or engines, they’d coast on a straight line at their previous velocity…an easy target.
The controls lit up with a fountain of red lights – a diagram of operating systems onboard. Ssrin was relieved to see that batteries were keeping life support and the controls working. She scanned the system diagram frenetically – and one spot of green, like a leaf on a field of blood, caught her attention. This ion flyer had apparently been refitted with a subcontinuum jump drive.
“Thau! The hyperdrive!”
Thau slammed the three necessary switches to their proper position. Another flash of light haloed their ship, paler and dimmer than the flares of a coronal-discharge gun, and suddenly the eery, rainbow patterns of the subcontinuum surrounded them. The ion flyer was outracing light towards who-knew-where.
Thau sighed in relief. “What was the Admiral doing?”
“Maybe the Qwohmlin were right and we should have dealt with the Lerneans earlier,” Ssrin said savagely. “What’s our course?”
Thau looked down at the board. His heads reeled into an almost comical expression of surprise and dismay. “Oh, blast.”
“What?” Ssrin said irritably. She peered over his shoulder at the console, and nodded grimly. “Just our luck. Drop us out of the subcontinuum.”
“In the middle of deep space?” Thau shook his head. “Running on batteries, it’s safer to just keep going until we hit the star’s gravity well and are forced to drop back into sublight.”
Ssrin snarled and sat back into her chair. “Then we better keep ourselves occupied. Have any cards?” she asked sardonically.
The ion flyer tumbled down the tunnel of light, on an unbreakable course for Khass.
Sep 21 2003, 03:22 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
This chapter dedicated to KopakaX, whose battles between Djar and Asruthen gave me the inspiration for the scenes that follow. Also, special thanks to Kumata Nuva, who reviewed the chapter first, (first come, first serve!), and to all my other faithful reviewers, who, rest assured, will get their own chapters!
Konro has just reached the bridge of the Lernean flagship Sword of Might, moments before it opens fire on Ssrin’s ion flyer…
Konro restrained a cough as the door of the lift puffed open. The Lerneans liked their atmosphere hot and dry, like the inside of an oven, and he was having trouble dealing with it.
The bridge of the Lernean flagship, Sword of Might, was as much of a contrast to the bridge of Ssrin’s nameless gunboat as Konro could have imagined. Rather than the barely constrained chaos of their tiny ship, where things always seemed to be about to fall apart – despite the superb Exosphere engineering – the bridge of Sword of Might was as silent as a tomb. Apart from the hum of air heaters, there was an eerily low amount of activity.
Next to him, Admiral Rheuss stepped calmly forward and swept a commanding eye over her bridge. Konro cautiously stepped out of the lift after her, and the doors swished shut, sending another wash of baked atmosphere over him; it smelled faintly of cinnamon, and an unidentifiable musky odor.
The bridge was a flat metal plain, colored orange-yellow; the ceiling was a curved dome, with the lifts positioned at the back of the large bridge. A small stage in the center of the bridge was ringed in blinking control consoles; Rheuss made her way there. Steps led down from a pair of walkways on either side of the stage; peering curiously over the edge, Konro realized with a start that these stairs led into two long, curved pits in the surface of the bridge, full of chairs and consoles and status displays, and most of all Lerneans in the same crisp uniforms that Rheuss wore, monitoring various systems. He guessed that the vital crew was placed down in these pits to protect them from debris.
Rheuss beckoned him closer and he joined her on the command stage. She touched a control, a slight smile on her face alien face, her full-head ‘ear’ rippling, and suddenly the stage was ringed in the glowing halo of a forcefield – presumably also for debris protection. The Lernean admiral produced a chair from beneath one of the consoles and waited until he sat down.
“Welcome to our flagship,” she said softly, turning to another console and running her eyes over a diagram of the light cruiser’s multi-spherical design. As Konro watched, several blinking yellow blocks of light on the forward sphere suddenly turned green. Rheuss emitted a sigh of relief.
Konro shifted uncomfortably in the alien chair. “Thank you, Admiral. As you know, the agreement negotiated earlier between the Qwohmlin and your fleet stated that I would remain on board your ship as an observer.”
Rheuss’ smile broadened. Konro couldn’t see her face from where he sat, but the rippling of her ear increased, and he assumed that was indicative of a smile. “Yes. An entirely unfair agreement, in our opinion. If I thought it would last another minute, I would take the time to file a protest against the violation of our rights.”
Uh-oh. I don’t like the sound of that. “What do you mean, it won’t last another minute?”
And then he was fastened to his seat in horror, as Rheuss’ eyes blazed with an unholy yellow-black light and her skin began to burn. Thousands of tiny symbols, squirming and wriggling nauseatingly, flared into being across her fur, pouring out from her eyes to link themselves into a mesh of completely indecipherable script, a chain-mail suit of glowing symbols. A nauseating odor of decay and ozone washed over him, sending his face into a rapid change as he instinctively drew protective membranes over his current body’s nose.
Rheuss was a Scythed. There was no question about it. Konro reached for his sidearm and had the ion pistol out of its holster before Rheuss took two quick strides forward and snatched it away with unnatural strength. “That won’t be necessary,” she said, her voice a buzzing, ruined imitation of what it had been. She tossed the weapon across the stage with one arm and backhanded Konro into the forcefield behind him with the other. His chair collapsed from beneath him and he doubled over in pain as what felt like a rod of solid steel smashed him in the chest. Screaming, he smashed into the console behind him and toppled into the forcefield. It supported him in an undignified sprawl as Rheuss turned away from him and towards the crew pits.
She gave orders in the same buzzing, ruined tones she had spoken in earlier. “Crew! Target the ion flyer with all forward guns and fire.”
“NO!” Konro screamed, pushing himself up and levering himself to a standing position. He leaned heavily on the console in front of him. “Don’t do it!”
But he could see the crew in the pits- and all of them moved with a strange, eery slowness, as if they were puppets under the control of an invisible master, marionettes with sluggish strings. They moved, though, and there was no question as to what they were doing: complying with Rheuss’ order. The front of the bridge dome suddenly shimmered and became a view of space outside. Highlighted against the jewel-studded background of space was the blazing engine of the ion flyer, a tiny arrowhead moving away at a rapid clip.
As Konro pushed himself up behind the ring of consoles and rushed for the ion pistol, still lying where Rheuss had tossed it, targeting brackets drew themselves onto the wall-screen and surrounded the flaring drive of the ion flyer. Konro desperately extended his arms to near-maximum length, and touched the cold metal of the weapon. Range and accuracy indicators painted themselves onto the screen. Charge bars began to grow, an inevitable countdown to destruction.
No! Ssrin! Konro scooped up the ion pistol, ignoring the flaring pain in his stomach, and trained it on Rheuss’ back.
An invisible force snatched it from his hand and hurled it across the command stage. It hit the forcefield on the other side, sparked, and snapped in half.
What- Konro stopped dead as something faded into view outside the forcefield, standing at the back of the bridge. It was hunched, and midnight-black, and familiar.
“Onua! What are you doing?”
Onua had changed, and to Konro’s horror, he realized what had happened. The Toa of Earth was no more; the creature standing before him was a Scythed amongst Scythed, the paragon of unholy power, somehow enhanced and twisted. His skin was jagged and midnight-black, darker than it had been before; it was covered in Scythed symbol armor of the deepest black, like pools of oil on a slate surface. Unholy red light flared in his formerly green eyes. His mask was pitted and covered in a strange tracery of black runes; his claws had elongated slightly, and grown jagged and cruel.
Onua was staring at him. Konro swallowed and backed away as Onua raised his arms, spoke three quick, harsh, hissing syllables – something buzzing with chaotic, evil power – and wrenched his claws as if breaking something. The remains of the ion pistol snapped and twisted into a burning wreck.
Onua’s burning gaze shifted from him to the crew pit. He took up a low chant, a series of hissing syllables that sent chills through Konro’s body, even though they were not directed towards him. The crewers in the pit, who had begun to shift and move confusedly, resumed their ordered and careful activity.
Konro tossed himself to one of the nearby command consoles and looked frantically for a way to shut off the ship’s weapons. Nothing presented itself – nothing that wouldn’t require command codes, which he didn’t have.
Light flared on the screen, and the targeting brackets pulsed. The jagged beam of a coronal-discharge weapon flared out from offscreen, arrowing towards Ssrin's ship – just as the ion flyer broke into a wild series of evasive maneuvers.
Konro shouted in triumph as Rheuss emitted a hiss of disapproval. “Acquire target again!” she barked, just as Konro found what he was looking for. One stab at the console collapsed the forcefield around the command stage with an audible crackle of energy.
On the screen, the ship’s guns opened up again, and another volley of lightning crackled out, one bolt smashing into the rear of the ion flyer as it twisted through an amazing series of dodges. The tiny ship shuddered and the flare of its engines died. Its running lights sparked and went dim. Konro cursed and flung himself off the command stage, towards the crew pit. He heard Onua’s chant continue, and heard another, more ominous noise – the click of a weapon’s safety being drawn off. I have to buy Ssrin some time – before Rheuss pulps me…
In mid-leap, inspiration struck. He shifted himself madly, risking a dangerous maneuver that was also exquisitely painful. If he’d had a mouth left to scream with, he would have, as liquid fire ran down every nerve in his body.
He shifted himself into a thick sheet of flesh, very thin and very wide, then smashed down into the crew pit, covering controls and crew equally. He latched on to the crewmember’s steadily moving arms, which did not stop despite his presence – Onua must be controlling them – and held them as best as he could, managing to pin them. He was effectively a large blanket of skin, with a few layers of muscle, draped over the entire crew pit.
And now that he was covering the sensitive controls, neither Rheuss nor Onua could do anything to harm him.
Sighing in relief, Konro manifested an eye on the outside of the sheet just in time to see the ion flyer blink away in a flash of colors. Good, their hyperdrive still worked. We can recover them, I hope.
Konro shifted the one eye to cover Rheuss and Onua. His eyes burning with crimson flames, Onua had abandoned his low chant and was now striding towards him. White smoke puffed from his mouth with every breath, and fire dripped down his claws. His footsteps left black soot and faint traces of writhing symbols on the burnished orange deck. Konro’s confidence vanished. I don’t think that I can resist someone – something – that powerful.
Rheuss stalked down behind him, looking much less intimidating, although the fact that she held a rather fearsome coronal-discharge pistol was not really comforting.
Onua considered Konro briefly, his face a mask of inexpression except for his burning eyes. Flames now leaked out from the corners of his mask’s eyeholes and sputtered out into the air. Konro gulped –
- and a streak of silver burst out of thin air and smashed Rheuss off the command stage. She slid into the forcefield, her Scythed armor suddenly flickering, and lay still.
Onua whirled about, raised his spread hands with inner fingers touching, and yelled three quick, raging words that seemed to contain the fury of a storm, the crackling of a bonfire, and the raging evil of something beyond description. Flames burst forth from his hands, flames streaked with black, and washed out in a long cone, crackling with hunger.
Pohatu came whirling from the midst of that inferno, his brown hue covered in a web of shining energy. His hands raised, he shouted words that fit together like the harmony of a larger song, and each of his upraised fingers spat a ball of silver light. The swarm of silver needles whirled about Onua, smashing into him from every side. Two of the energy balls wrenched Onua's hands apart and broke the spray of dark flame.
Onua emitted a primal roar, a scream of such terror and discord that it shattered the deck around him and blew the covers off the displays closest to the terrible sound. Konro rolled himself into a ball and dropped off the console, trying to hide himself from that awful noise.
Pohatu reeled, his entire front erupting in a shower of sparks as the noise washed over him, but he seemed untouched when the roar passed. Onua came charging up the stairs towards him, out of the crew pit, his entire body limned in whirling symbols and all-devouring flames.
Pohatu met him at the top of the stairs, something more than the Toa of Stone, every limb traced in steady, pale silver, his eyes glowing with the steady energy of the sun, his motions blurred by his active mask. The two of them clashed, a flurry of flames, black symbols, silver lines, glowing kicks and shadowy punches, strike and counter-strike, sparks and smoke, blending into chaos.
Masks glowed, limbs flickered, mouths roared words of power. Light flared and warred with blackness, bolts whined through the air, seeking targets; shields of energy flared and burst, and the deck around the two combatants melted. The power of the Kanohi masks was theirs; their warrior prowess was theirs; and something new was present, a power beyond even that of the neuroscythes, although similar. It was a power from beyond death, beyond life, a primal power like their elemental abilities, but greater.
Konro drew himself into a tighter ball, trying to shut out the roar of explosions, the constant shouting of power words, the crack of armored skin on armored skin, the sizzle of black rays and the wails of flaming bursts, the flare of silver light and the wordless hum of silver darts.
But he couldn't tear his one eye away from watching. Onua and Pohatu battle in the midst of a tremendous ball of smoke and shattered decking. Onua swung heavily, roaring with each attack, rending deck plating and sundering the air with primal fury, occasionally connecting and hurling Pohatu away. Pohatu dodged lightly about the terrifying Scythed Toa, using his superior speed to deliver kicks and punches past Onua's guard.
Both were bruised, battered, and bleeding; and after a brief few seconds of melee, they drew apart from each other and roared words of power. Pohatu sung - Konro found himself calling them 'spells' - spell after spell, and silver flashed from his mouth with each syllable as he traced symbols in the air with his nimble arms. Onua's words of power were dark and chaotic and evil, and flame poured from his mouth with each syllable; his flaming claws speared rents through the smoke around him as he drew his own wizardry, or whatever this pseudo-neuroscythe power was.
Konro watched, entranced, as they warded themselves with layered bubbles of light or darkness. Pohatu bore a cocky smile, circling slowly; Onua breathed heavily, and raised his hands to begin another incantation. Pohatu launched into a counter-chant. Onua's hands trembled in the air, and black, writhing symbols flew off them like dark insects to weave themselves into a net in the air. Pohatu's chant hastened and he threw himself away as Onua seized the net of black symbols and threw it after him.
The Toa of Stone - or whatever he had become - blew the net out of the air with muttered syllable, and a quick twist of his hands which changed his shields into a blast of light to dispel the net of shadow. Then he let loose the power waiting on his fingers, a crackling link of silver lines that snapped through Onua's shields, then wove about Onua and bound his limbs. Onua spoke a series of low syllables as the chains crept up his body towards his head, and suddenly black smoke poured from his mouth, obscuring him; Pohatu began another chant as the smoke rolled towards him, forming an impenetrable cloud about where Onua had been.
He was forced to break off, coughing, and rush for fresh air. As he drew in breath and began the incantation again, dark laughter echoed from the cloud of smoke; Konro winced as he heard the sound of snapping chains, and suddenly a volley of dark lightning burst from the cloud of smoke to flay Pohatu with whips of darkness.
He gasped and writhed, trying to trace a spell, and Konro reeled back as he realized that Onua was about to kill Pohatu.
And then suddenly the cloud of smoke was illuminated by lightning of a different color.
The crewmembers from the crew pit, freed from Onua's control, stood in classic marksman's stances, pouring lines of coronal-discharge energy into the cloud. Each of them was frantically yanking on their pistol's trigger, blasting the cloud of black smoke. Konro joined them, leaping out of the crew pit towards the viewscreen, then circling about to where Rheuss lay, her symbol armor extinguished. He grabbed her sidearm and began to fire.
The whip of black lightning ceased as the volley of weapons fire distracted Onua and battered at his shields and symbol armor. Gasping for breath, Pohatu pulled himself to his feet and sang something complex and beautiful that limned him in white light. The black cloud shuddered and trembled, something moved within, and moments later Konro heard Onua chanting words of power. The twisted form of the Toa of Earth - or what he had become - suddenly became visible, even darker than the clouds of black smoke around him. Tentacles burst from his skin and slashed in towards Pohatu, propelled by his shouted spell. Each of them was tipped with a vicious black sword or claw, like one of Ssrin's Exosphere fangblades.
Konro could sense the black power surrounding those blades, and to his surprise he found that he recognized them. This was a power, or spell, or whatever, that Onua had been holding in reserve, perhaps one of his most powerful. It was an avatar of destruction that he'd seen in children's tales and in pictures of mythical demons, and the blades on those tentacles would - according to legends he hadn't believed until a minute ago- wreak havoc beyond belief.
The blades touched Pohatu, who stood calmly - and as they struck the white light haloing him, they exploded into balls of shadow, then vanished. Pohatu was blown back by the explosions of darkness, but he was unharmed; his armor of light had protected him, and he had tricked Onua.
The peaceful, silver light had unwrapped itself from Pohatu's skin and rushed up the striking tentacles like electricity along a tree. It traveled down the shadowy tentacles, leaving dark ashes behind, and plunged through Onua's symbol armor, using the convenient route the black tentacles provided. Then the light blossomed into white fire, blowing Onua's protective armor and shields away in a single searing blast.
Light flared on Onua's skin, and his dark shape vanished in another puff of black smoke. The former Toa of Earth let loose another unearthly roar, and an explosion blasted out from the smoke cloud obscuring him, leaving a scattering of twisted, writhing black symbols on the floor and ceiling.
Onua was still there, though, weakened but not defeated; and he yelled something, something truly terrible; a series of syllables containing the darkness of midnight, the yawning pit of a grave, the rotting odor of the dead, and an utter blackness, a colossal emptiness which sent Konro to his knees. At the same time, Pohatu spoke a series of words, less powerful but still effective, and sent another volley of easily cast silver bolts into the cloud of blackness. He drew out the last word of the incantation so his fingers continued to rain silver into the cloud of black smoke. After only a moment, Onua cut off his incantation with a gasp, and emitted a scream of pain as the silver bolts struck home.
But Onua's half-completed spell still took partial effect. The bridge crew exploded into blackness. Their screams echoed off the domed ceiling as the spell Konro had heard part of, the slaying spell focused on them, snuffed out their life forces irrevocably and sent them into whatever awaited after life. Konro shivered in sympathy, and then shuddered again as he realized what could have happened if Onua had completed the terrible spell. He doubted that either he or Pohatu would be alive.
Onua had already been crippled by the backlash along his now-destroyed tentacle spell, or whatever it had been, and the silver bolts Pohatu fired - normally easily deflected, Konro guessed- struck home, scarring and burning Onua's black skin.
Pohatu emitted a triumphant cry as Onua, his former friend, now his worst nemesis, reeled backwards, then simply melted into the nearest shadow and vanished.
And suddenly, it was over. Konro uncurled himself from the deck, the last echoes of Onua's horrible power words echoing in his skull, and looked around at the ruined bridge. Blasted consoles filled the air with smoke; shattered symbol armor covered the deck; burn marks marred everything; and black and silver blood was spattered over the walls.
Onua was gone. But certainly not dead.
Whoof. That was long! Feedback is appreciated.
EDIT: Made some minor edits and clarifications to the battle. Added a dedication.
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Sep 22 2003, 05:02 PM
Sep 24 2003, 05:23 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Just as the Sword of Might fires on Ssrin's ship, Abdiel awakes from his meditation onboard the neuroscythe crystal ship...
Abdiel was awoken from his meditation by a scream of alarm in his mind. The echoing ship-wide alert was still fading from the caverns of his brain as he unfolded himself from the tiny floor of his crystal cell and reached out to meld with the ship.
The neuroscythe vessel was a gigantic, artificial void diamond. All neuroscythe powers- and the ones Abdiel suspected the Toa were developing, in addition to their previous elemental abilities – were based on the principle of zero-point energy tapping. While the details of that esoteric science were difficult to understand, the neuroscythe ship was simple in its principle: it was a giant resonator for the neuroscythes’ amazing powers.
The ship allowed them to communicate mind-to-mind while they meditated, sharing information and thought at the speed of light; and it allowed them to cast tremendously powerful ‘spells,’ as they were sometimes called, on a scale far vaster than an individual neuroscythe could manage. The ship caught and amplified any co-operative ritual carried on inside the ship and magnified it a thousandfold.
All these thoughts flashed through Abdiel’s mind in the fraction of a second it took for his hands to reach the walls of his cell, barely wider than he was, and to meld completely with the ship. The link he’d kept open to the other neuroscythes aboard expanded in a flash of purple-white light, revealing the entire panorama of space around them.
What he saw filled Abdiel with concern. He could sense the minds of every being in the fleet, could feel the warmth of life amongst the void; he could also run his mind over the texture of the void, feeling the coarse, rough fabric of the nearby asteroid field, the smooth silk of flat space, and the swirling eddies of gravitational distortion around the nearby ships.
In an instant he knew their position; still at the asteroid field where they’d been attacked, within one jump of Khass, preparing for their final assault. He also knew the situation that currently threatened to tear them apart. Other neuroscythes showed him the flare of coronal discharge bursting from Sword of Might and slashing past Ssrin’s ship; they also showed him the events that followed. That brought him to now.
The Lernean fleet had broken up in confusion as its flagship fired on the Admiral’s vessel. The Qwohmlin had begun charging their weapons almost as soon as the Sword of Might fired; fleet communications chatter had tripled; and already Qwohmlin fighters were pouring from their carrier’s launch bays and arcing towards the confused Lernean vessels.
Abdiel took in the situation coolly. There was nothing this many neuroscythes couldn’t do, given time; all he had to do was buy them that time. He could feel the weight of the spells he’d memorized hanging at the back of his mind, ready to be let loose. He was a master of defensive and offensive psionics, smiting down the enemy and avoiding their retaliation; but in this case, they needed something more subtle.
Abdiel extended himself into meld with the other neuroscythes on the ship. Thousands of options were analyzed, dismissed, and re-analyzed in an instant. In moments, the Consensus had a decision, and every neuroscythe aboard acted as one to implement it.
Abdiel's hands grew warm against the edge of the cell as he stirred one of the spells in the back of his mind. Unfolding the complex chain, he spoke a series of low, complex syllables, aiding his mind in its singular focus on the texture of reality.
Around the ship, the same scene repeated hundreds of times as the neuroscythes onboard chanted identical spells, throwing them into the ship itself. The tremendous crystal began to glow, shot through with lines of purple-white lightning. Abdiel felt the spells converging, intertwining, beating back and forth through the tremendous ship like notes on a drum; and then he spoke the trigger word that twisted the spell back on itself and completed it. Raw power coursed through him as the ship flashed brilliant white.
A sphere of energy exploded from the surface of the crystal ship, expanding in all directions. Abdiel watched in satisfaction, breathless and dazed from the cooperative spell, as the sphere of light smashed over the nearest ships in the fleet. Their engines flared and went out as the spell destabilized their reactors and emergency safeguards kicked in.
Moments later, the sphere of energy had washed over the entire fleet and raced out into the interstellar void. Abdiel spoke three quick words, channeling them into the crystal walls of his cell, and the sphere of energy faded out without a sound. In moments, the entire fleet had been neutralized and catastrophe had been averted. It would take only a little while to get the fleet's engines back on-line - hopefully long enough for Konro to do something about this burgeoning civil war.
The crystal ship began to ring with incoming messages from the other ships, threatening violent death. The Qwohmlin vessels were already powering up their reactors; some of the more level-headed Vart captains were also doing so, although it seemed they were trying to stop the Qwohmlin from attacking the Lerneans. Things were falling apart, quickly.
It was only then that Abdiel remembered where Konro was. The neuroscythe let loose a silent curse and hastily reached his mind out through the crystal resonator, searching for Konro's unique pattern.
He found it quickly - and was relieved to see Pohatu nearby. Abdiel had sensed Pohatu concealed by his Mask of Invisibility while he was still aboard Ssrin's ion flyer, on the flight over to the Sword of Might. Pohatu ought to be able to keep him safe. The touch of death had brought him new power in life, enough to stand up to a few Lerneans.
Abdiel joined his compatriots in keeping things settled down, firing a few precision spells at any ship which seemed near to powering up again. He was glad they hadn't had their reactors on combat mode when the spell had gone off - only a few moments later, and the hardened safeguards put into place during full combat would have prevented their spell from striking home.
I am no diplomat, he thought wryly. So he waited for Konro's message, and considered what to do about Ssrin. Her ship had vanished, and in a one-in-a-billion coincidence, her unguided jump had taken her on a course for Khass. He sighed. She had to live; if she didn't, things wouldn't work out as the prophecies said.
But she had very little chance of surviving for even a day on Khass.
Which led him to the inevitable conclusion; Ssrin and Thau were doomed. He had to rely on other people, and hope new agents for the prophecy were found in time.
His gloomy musings were interrupted by a mental shout of Abbbbdieeeeeel!! Emitting a low chuckle, the neuroscythe reached out his mind, waiting to find out what ingenious solution Konro had this time.
He wasn't disappointed.
Short chapter, badly written, but feedback is still appreciated!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Sep 24 2003, 06:34 PM
Sep 25 2003, 05:37 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Konro, still recovering from the battle between Onua and Pohatu, must save the fleet from tearing itself apart.
"Abbbbbbbbbbdielllllllll!" Konro roared mentally. He was half-surprised, half-angry that the neuroscythe hadn't appeared in one of his magical flashes during the battle to head Onua off. The damage from the battle was bad. The bridge of the Lernean ship was in ruins, red lights were flashing all over several monitors - he had no idea what they meant - and the entire bridge crew was dead. Rheuss seemed to be alive, but fading fast.
On the other side of the bridge, Pohatu was on his knees, panting. The silver tracings along his limbs had vanished and his eyes were fading from a brilliant silver-white towards their normal shade of red. Konro began to pick his way through the detritus of the battle towards him.
The message came ringing into his mind with a clarity that startled him. "Abdiel? I don't know how to use the comm unit on this ship. I need to get patched into the fleet channels and explain what happened!"
*We have delayed the fighting for now,* Abdiel said, his tone comforting despite the fact that it was ringing in Konro's head. *Go to the forward console on the command stage.*
Konro obeyed Abdiel's instructions, tapping at the controls until the screen indicated he was on a broadband, fleet-wide communications channel. Can you tell me what happened to the crew of this ship? he asked mentally, trying furiously to think of something to say.
*Rheuss activated intruder-control systems and filled the ship, except the bridge, with sleep gas.*
Konro snorted. "That's the kind of commander I'd like to have." He cleared his throat and brought his head closer in to the transmitter console.
"Attention, all vessels! This is Konro. The events that have just occured were a result of Exosphere sabotage, an attempt to break our unity and determination through a cowardly deception!"
Konro smiled slightly as communications traffic began to slow. "Fortunately for us, Abdiel and his neuroscythes saved us from the predations of the Exosphere and kept us from tearing ourselves apart. On" - he halted that word quickly, not wanting to make too many waves- "an Exosphere agent sabotaged the gunnery controls of the Lernean flagship to fire on Ssrin's ship."
"The Exosphere seeks to break our unity of purpose, our determination to carry out this...crusade... that we have brought so far. They are masters of chaos, of deception, and of conflict. The cracks between our species, the old hatreds - like those between the Lerneans and the Qwohmlin - are what they will use to drive us apart. We have faith and the promise of a bright future to keep us together! In the end, friends, it is up to you to decide who will triumph!"
Konro paused for a moment. Then he continued. "While Search and Rescue attempts to recover Ssrin's ship, we need to elect a temporary fleet commander." He paused again, thinking wildly.
He'd made that speech up off the top of his head, and he thought it didn't sound bad. But electing a commander was a touchy subject - if it came from a disliked race, he wouldn't have much authority; and in this fleet, everyone disliked someone else. It couldn't be Abdiel, because neuroscythese were feared as manipulators and deceivers; so who could it be?
The comm channels were silent. Then someone spoke up, a voice Konro didn't recognize.
"We nominate Konro as the new Fleet Admiral."
Konro's heart shrank at the thought. Millions of lives, his responsibility; thousands gawking at his every mistake; his shapeshifting powers on view for everyone to see...
But the roar of acclaim on the commlink put an end to his dreams of refusing the position.
Pohatu watched with a sympathetic smile as Konro put his head in his hands, then muttered, "Accepted. Thank you."
Konro cut off the comm line and headed for the security station. There was work to be done; the first order of business was to restore the crew of this ship and explain what happened. To do that he'd need to get the sleeping gas out of the air...
He buried his mind in responsibilities and work, and made a resolution to find out exactly what was involved in being Fleet Admiral. Later.
Abdiel watched through the eyes of the Consensus as the fleet began to move, slowly releasing itself from the neuroscythe spell. The joined minds of the neuroscythes were ready to cast another such spell on short notice, but the fleets which just moments ago had been ready to crush the Lerneans for their treachery - and most likely destroy each other after that - were now focused on a different goal.
Konro had taken their destructive energy and redirected it towards the Exosphere. It was a masterful piece of work, something Abdiel would have resorted to a mind-blank spell to do. Konro had managed with words.
Qwohmlin ships began to return to their slots in the fleet, deploying their fighters in different patterns - to sweep the surrounding space for any sign of Ssrin's vessel. The imminent chaos of a civil war had been averted, and ships were powering their weapons back down and moving to aid anyone damaged in the short period fo tension.
Abdiel turned his attention back to the Sword of Might. Their new Fleet Admiral was there, the one who'd just saved them; but he had no knowledge of military tactics, nor any command experience.
As the Consensus' mental probes began sweeping surrounding space for Ssrin's vessel, Abdiel decided that Konro would be a fine fleet Admiral, if only he decided to play to his strengths.
Meanwhile, Abdiel had other business to attend to. He reached out his mind to a glowing, warm dot of silver near the new Fleet Admiral. *Pohatu?*
A month ago, the Toa of Stone would have at least jumped if someone spoke into his head. He did not seem the least bit startled now. *That's my name, Abdiel.*
*You asked me about your destiny.*
*Yes, I did. I thought we came here to change the past and save Mata Nui, and maybe overthrow the Exosphere. But after I met the...creature...when I used the Vahi on Crossroads, that seemed unimportant. And I began to develop these...powers. I think the other Toa are developing them, too. WE have a new destiny, don't we? Something more important than saving Mata Nui.*
*Mata Nui, the Exosphere, and you are all part of a much larger, much longer conflict, one reaching to the very beginning of the universe and beyond. A conflict I am ill-equipped to teach you about.*
*Where can I find out about it, Abdiel?*
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Sep 25 2003, 05:47 AM
Sep 26 2003, 05:53 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
As Konro and Abdiel begin putting the fleet back together, Ssrin and Thau face problems of their own. With their navigational systems malfunctioning, and no power except to the hyperdrive of their ion flyer, they are unable to affect their course - directly towards Khass...
Ssrin stared disconsolately at the black monitor. It was a tiny black screen stuck into one corner of the main control board, a simple octagon with an ebony-black surface.
It was also a countdown to their inevitable emergence at Khass, and the likely death that would follow. A subcontinuum jump drive like the one on the ion flyer they now rode couldn't work inside a strong area of gravity, like the one surrounding a star; so when they got close enough to khass, they'd drop out of hyperspace and tumble randomly, until they were found and killed or simply ran out of life support.
Ssrin had always thought she'd die fighting. This wasn't the way she wanted to go.
On the other padded seat in the ion flyer's cramped cockpit, Thau shifted uncomfortably. "Nothing."
Ssrin sighed deeply and sagged back into her chair. "Main power's completely out?"
He nodded. "We don't have environmental suits aboard, so we can't go outside to take a look. Meaning that when we drop out of hyperspace, we're stuck drifting until someone decides to pick us up, for one reason or another."
"I know that, Thau!" she snapped, glaring at the controls in search of something to do.
A line of red had crept onto the black monitor.
"Oh, blast," she said irritably. "We're coming up on the Khass gravity field. Strap in, this could get bumpy."
Thau watched Ssrin out of the corner of one head's eyes as he strapped himself in. She seemed unnaturally angry; there was no reason to be angry in this kind of situation. Then again, in his experience, Ssrin was almost always angry.
He clicked his own straps into place and tugged them to make sure they were secure, then laid his hands on the controls, getting a feel for their weight, how easily they would move, and how responsive they were. "Ssrin. We do still have attitude jets. Those aren't run off the main power system."
"Figures," she muttered. "They leave me the capability to roll over, but nothing else."
Thau frowned. "They?"
Ssrin shot him a glare. "Nevermind."
Silence hung in the air for a few moments like a thick fog, then Ssrin broke it with another sigh. "Thau, the last few years have been one misfortune after another. Things have just gone...wrong. Everywhere I go I meet people telling me there's a purpose to the universe, there are gods watching over us, and that things will be better."
She tapped angrily at the console, not looking at him. "Apparently these rules don't apply to me. I've done the best I could - given up my people, my family, everything - for what I believe is right. And still I don't get some sort of 'reward,' something that seems worth it. It would have been easier to just sit back and let life take me places."
Thau frowned. "But you've saved hundreds of lives. You might even be able to overthrow the Exosphere. Isn't having known space free of Exosphere rule 'worth it?'
Ssrin snorted. "You say I've saved hundreds of lives by abandoning the Exosphere. But what about those thousands of people on Crossroads? I killed them, Thau, just as surely as if I'd shot them myself."
"No..." Thau shook his heads, trying to see some reason that Ssrin wasn't right. Because she couldn't be right. She was claiming that right and wrong didn't matter, that in the end, nothing they did mattered. "No. They were dead anyway. The Scythed Plague would have killed them all eventually. And you prevented it from spreading."
"So you're saying I made a hard decision for the greater good of the universe," she said. Then she laughed bitterly, an eery sound which echoed in the closed confines of the ion flyer. "Tell me, Thau: When have my hard decisions ever paid off? I decide to help the people on Mata Nui - after I've been shot down and taken prisoner. That really worked. Their efforts at resistance got two of their towns blown up."
"So I left Mata Nui, with their priests' consent, and brought along the Toa to look for the Vahi. Our plan was to bring it to Khass, hook it into the Backlash Device the Exosphere was constructing there, and undo the past so Mata Nui stayed free. Then I could use the device to remove the Exosphere from the timeline. Look at me. Planning mass murder. How can killing thousands of Khai - of my own people - be justified?" She snarled and pounded on the console.
"I don't know any more, Thau. Now I might not even have to use the Vahi, if the fleet can overthrow the Exosphere on its own. Can I say what I was going to do, remove the Exosphere from the timeline, was right? Sometimes I wonder if by trying to do good, I've just expressed my own Heart, allowing it to wreak even more havoc. Whatever I do seems to have terrible consequences, either for someone else, or for me."
Thau thought for a moment, a twinge of sympathy disturbing his thoughts. "So what you're saying is, whether you do good or evil, fate seems to dictate that things end up badly. In the end, it would have been better if you never acted at all."
"Yes." Ssrin said it with such vehemence that it nearly made Thau jump. He continued, trying to find some way to encourage her.
"So what does this mean to you?"
She snorted. "The universe is flawed, Thau. Whatever - whenever - we try to build something, or save something, we only end up hastening its destruction. The universe is filled with hate and suffering and sorrow, and we can't do a thing about it. I hate it."
And for a moment, Thau looked out at the streaking tunnel of the subcontinuum, and the stars beyond, and saw not the beautiful tapestry he was used to, a weaving of glowing lights and gas filaments and streaking comets, but a bleak plain of despair and sorrow, interspersed with tiny pockets of life which quickly faded. Ssrin's universe.
He turned to say something, to do anything that might convince her she was wrong, because she had to be. The universe had purpose, and a bright future...but her dark-eyed gaze seemed to say 'no.'
He stared, captivated by her dark conviction, by the enigma she had become; someone who hated the universe, fighting to save it. He thought back and remembered the time he'd seemed to touch her thoughts, when he lay dying on Crossroads; he remembered the bitterness he'd felt there, and the hatred at the unfair universe which had put her where she was.
He shivered. So did the ship. "We've dropped out of hyperspace," Ssrin said, suddenly all business again. Thau stared out the viewscreen. They had indeed fallen out of hyperspace and were now hurtling towards a massive white globe.
"That's not Khass," he said, puzzled.
Ssrin stared at the planet, a mass of white and brown, slightly muddled around the edges from the distortion of the atmosphere around it. "No. It's the third moon, the Ice Moon."
Thau seized the controls and began to tap on the attitude jets, trying to get them lined up for re-entry and a crash landing on the ice moon. Fate seemed to have tossed them one more thread of hope, and he was going to grab it and yank for all he was worth.
Sep 28 2003, 06:39 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The ion flyer containing Ssrin and Thau is about to smash into Sailath, the ice-covered third moon of Khass. The pair of serpent-heads will have to crash-land the ship or die trying.
As the future became clear, predictable, and most of all immediate, Ssrin found her mind yanked away from the dark and gloomy clouds swirling at the back of her mind. She focused herself one their current problems, shoving away her depression and despair into a distant corner of her brain. It might return when the danger had passed...but until then, she was safe from that overwhelming gloom that originated from either her, or her Heart.
Or maybe there was no difference.
Thau was undergoing a similar focusing. He felt the weight of the controls, the play the attitude jets would allow him. The ship's rate of turn and mass profile stopped being facts stored in his mind and became things he simply knew, like how fast he could move his arm, or how much energy it took him to stand up.
He focused himself so completely on the controls, absorbed by them and absorbing them, that his sight and the readings on the monitors became blurred into each other, all simply things that he reacted to. The flashing tell-tales on the display boards around him became as much a part of him as his sight or his hearing. They required no interpretation, no attention, no understanding, they simply were.
The ship became an extension of him and he became an extension of the ship, and all that he was aware of was the position and orientation of the ship and the onrushing, blurred atmosphere of Sailath.
The ship bucked and jerked as it began to slice into the atmosphere. Designed to re-enter at much slower speeds, it tossed and rolled, trying to flatten itself out and fall into a suicidal, deadly spiral. Thau held the controls steady without even thinking about it, his mind distributed throughout the ship, feeling each puff of a thruster and each slight warping of an etheric rudder.
The ship held steady. Even a moments deviation would have snapped it in half as the air of the atmosphere, smashing against it at unbelievable speeds, caught the vessel and tore it apart. But the ship sliced through the air like a scimitar through butter, cutting cleanly, twisting and tearing at the yoke that Thau held it , but remaining steady.
The viewscreen faded from black to white as the gleaming expanse of the ice-covered ground began to grow. Everything was tinged cherry-red; the ship was surrounded by a sheath of super-hot plasma, atmosphere heated to incredible temperatures by their headlong plunge.
Thau knew, instinctively, that they had to slow down to land steadily, that they had to be slower when they hit or that they would surely die.
He rotated the ship, ignoring Ssrin's scream of protest, bringing the flat bottom facing downwards. Suddenly the atmospheric buffeting increased tenfold, trying to tear the ship away from his command. A moments deviation and they would die. Thau found the vibrations and oscillations in the ship's course growing, and growing, and realized that he would lose control and they would be incinerated.
And his first thought was, I won't let that happen to Ssrin.
With that thought, a sudden peace fell over Thau, an assurance and a confidence that strengthed his limbs and his reflexes. He felt full of a sudden power he had never felt before, a power that guided his hands as he held the ion flyer steady during its mad plummet.
With a last despairing wail, the atmosphere lost its grip as the ship began to slow, just another falling object, gradually dropping to a managable speed thanks to his desperate aerobraking maneuver. The silvery-white light that had seemed to grip his mind began to recede, taking with it the feeling of peace. They were now hurtling over the flat ice fields of Sailath, rushing towards a range of mountains in the distance, losing altitude rapidly as they glided. Without engines they were just a brick rapidly slowing down, soon to plow into the moon's surface.
Ssrin grabbed him and yanked him away from the pilot's console. He stared at her for a moment, still stunned by the peace he'd felt; when she slapped an escape pack into his hand he understood. She had already slung one of the emergency antigravity packs over her back, and he followed suit. The wind tore and screamed at the outside of the ship as they struggled over the bucking deck to the exit hatch at the edge of the cockpit.
Ssrin banged on the control panel next to the door, slapping overrides, and the hatch whirred open, allowing a sudden stream of ice-cold wind to smash into the cockpit, tearing away any loose objects and throwing them to the back. Thau saw sun glinting over vast fields of ice outside, producing a dazzling glare that nearly blinded him. Then he was forced to grab a handhold as the wind nearly threw him to the back of the cockpit.
They were dangerously low, and dropping fast. Ssrin, snarling at the wind, forced herself up to the door, slithered forward, and dropped. Thau caught a glimpse of her falling, her antigrav pack thrumming with sudden energy, before she vanished from his sight. He reached back and snagged a survival pack from the rear of the cockpit, slung it over his back next to his emergency antigrav pack, then jumped himself.
Moments later, he was plunging through a stream of bitterly cold wind towards the ground far, far below. All that he could see through the perfectly clear air was endless fields of ice, and jagged mountains like fangs of snow in the far distance.
Despite being bundled in thick anti-wind shields and heat parkas from the survival kit, Ssrin and Thau were both shivering by the time they reached the wreck of the ion flyer. They had trecked for seemingly endless hours over the gently rolling fields of ice, blinded by the glare of Khass' sun reflecting over the blue-white frozen fields all around them. Wind tossed endless shards of ice against them, bruising their tails and torsoes; the cold wrapped around them like a nest of snakes, seeping into every crack and crevice of their clothing, biting them to the bone.
Thau stopped at the top of the ridge and peered down into the canyon. Next to him, the only sign of warmth was Ssrin's breathing puffing off the side of his face. The two were crouched under an overhanging boulder for warmth, staring into the canyon where the ion flyer had crashed.
After they had abandoned ship, the flyer had plummeted on a flat course until it had hit the ground, smashing along the ice on its stomach until it finally entered this canyon. It had plowed off two boulders, ripping of its left wing, then torn open its stomach on the rough ground and spilled electronic guts along the length of the canyon before finally grinding to a halt, spitting sparks and completely useless.
Thau sighed. "Oh well."
Ssrin had clearly been hoping the ship could be salvaged and repaired. She snapped a curse that made Thau wince, then wheeled on him. "You fool!"
Thau found his temper flaring. "What did I do? What possible control could I have had over this?" He gestured widely at the wreckage below them.
"Couldn't you have crashed that ship a little more lightly?" she snapped. "Any incompetent could have aimed it so it hit the ice plains instead of heading straight for the mountains. You have the choice of three hundred degrees of flat and sixty degrees of mountain, so of course you choose the mountains."
"Well, I guess I'm not just any incompetent!" he snapped. "Or had you forgotten that while you were playing 'lord of the fleet?'"
"At least I've been trying to save the universe!" she snarled at him, taking two steps forward. "What have you been doing? Whining spinelessly about saving innocents! You're hopelessly naive!"
"You're the one whose going to destroy the universe, not save it!" Thau snapped. "And even if you do manage to carry out whatever heroics you're planning, you'll end up just as bad as the Exosphere. You're the one who murdered all those innocents on Crossroads!"
He recognized that as the source of his sudden fury at her. He hadn't been awake to consult about blowing up Crossroads...but he would have died before he allowed it.
Rage boiled in Ssrin's eyes. "What the inferno do you know about that? How could you possibly understand? You haven't been through any of what I've been through - seen the terrible things I've seen - what do you know - what can you possibly know about anything!"
And suddenly the rage was replaced by a sorrow deeper than anything Thau had imagined possible, a regret and anguish of the same cold, deep quality as the interstellar void. His insults, taunts, protests, angry shouts all died in his throat as he recognized a suffering and pain beyond his comprehension, the result of all the terrible things Ssrin had done in the name of what she had seen as right.
He had no answer for it except to begin to pick his way down the icy slope towards the ion flyer, listening to the howling wail of the wind, abandoning Ssrin to the terrible feelings and doubts inside her. She remained crouched behind the boulder, wracked by shivers caused by more than the icy wind.
At the moment, he could not imagine compassion towards her. Not after the things she'd done. The fleet had cried 'Remember Crossroads,' and Thau was going to do just that. But it wasn't the Exosphere he blamed. It was Ssrin.
More soon! Feedback appreciated!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Sep 29 2003, 04:15 PM
Oct 1 2003, 05:25 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Elements of this chapter, including the Blackscythes and the geography and society of Khass, will be explained in more depth in the upcoming Guide to the Exosphere Universe.
As Ssrin and Thau struggle to survive on Sailath, Kasstaxa has just arrived on Khass and is going to meet with the Sphere-regent, the aged and ailing current ruler of the Exosphere…
Khass was a world of wonders, shining silver wrapping around a heart of seething blackness. On the surface, it was a beautiful planet; covered in clean and well-maintained cities with excellent architecture and soaring silver spires. Parklands and farms dotted the varied terrain, mixing with small rural communities of Khai. Much of the world was pristine wilderness; especially beautiful were the icy, alpine slopes of Khass’ mountain ranges. The population density was low, concentrated in the cities; the industries were clean, producing very little waste and a very strong economy built around high-technology weapons and armor; and the world’s cool and windy climate was ideal for a brisk vacation.
Yet there were no foreign travelers on Khass, and a dark heart hid under the silver lining. The average serpent-head was a skilled laborer and a talented warrior, educated and specialized in several areas; few citizens of Khass were uneducated, or held jobs in less skilled areas such as mass production. The question that inevitably came to everyone learning about Khass was, who does the unskilled labor? Who were the factory workers, the street cleaners, the grunts who kept Khass’ cities in such pristine and shining condition?
The answer lay in the warrens in the lower city and the thousands of caves beneath the planet’s crust. There dwelt thousands of slaves, watched by elite Exosphere guards, keeping the dirty machinery beneath Khass’ shining surface running smoothly. They were the ‘lower races’, drawn from the worst of every species in known space. The Exosphere was a tremendous empire, with very few rivals; most of known space was under its domination, and Khai slavers collected lawbreakers and the unruly from every world under their possession, for shipment back to the colony worlds and Khass itself.
A few disgraced serpent-heads, like Korm’s family, grew up in the underspecies warrens or very near them; they were the result of failed political intrigues or bad power plays by their parents. Yet they were amongst the most deadly and savage warriors the Exosphere had. Often, a Khai family would abandon a few young in the underspecies warrens.
Those who survived to adulthood were the strongest of the strong, bitter and twisted berserkers completely consumed by their Heart of Darkness. They were brought back into the fold and given elite training to harness the energies of their unconstrained evil. Korm was the result of one of these harvesting programs; he had been the first of Kasstaxa’s allies to unlock the full power of his Heart and release the tide of raging evil power within it. Sambiel had dubbed him the first blackscythe.
He wasn’t the last.
The methods he had learned of unlocking his Heart were easily, and more successfully, applied to others.
Kasstaxa slithered towards the doors of the Sphere-regent’s chambers, restraining a shiver of anticipation. She had been awaiting this moment for years. She was a Regent-Second, meaning that she was a member of the Exosphere’s ruling Regent Council; but that had never been and never would be enough.
She was taking another step on her path towards Godhood. Regent of the Exosphere was probably the closest position one could attain to her final goal: complete domination of the entire universe. It was occupied by a shrewd but aging Khai at the moment, one who’d successfully held the position for nearly twenty-five years. Sambiel’s engineered plague, created on her order, had wreaked havoc with his health and his all-important genetic code; and now she was about to finish the process that the disease had begun.
She savored the feeling of her tail on the contoured surface, a welcome change after the irritating and abrasive hardness of the alien decking she’d spent so long on recently. The dim lighting in the long hallway played off the two interlocked, fang-like ivory doors before her; the soothing radiance seemed to assure her that everything would go well.
And it will, she thought, and allowed herself a tiny smile as she reached the doors and pushed them open.
She stood alone, sacrificing safety for the sake of dramatics. The council was in session as she burst in, a tall, lone, elegant figure smashing open the ivory doors, haloed by the light from the corridor outside. The darkened council chamber was simply a pitch-black sphere dotted with artificial stars, bisected by a circular floor with a large holotable in the center. Around this table were positioned eight chairs, two empty – one hers and one belonging to another Regent-Second on special assignment. At the far end of the circular table was a larger, more ornate chair, nearly a throne, occupied by the Sphere-Regent.
Every head in the room swiveled to face her as the ivory fang doors slowly shut behind her. She surveyed those in the room with an imperious gaze, her eyes sweeping through the hologram that floated above the table to pierce each and every Regent with a cold gaze that seemed to skewer their very soul.
Then she looked at the Sphere-regent.
He had once been an example of Exosphere perfection, like she was now, in both body and mind. But Sambiel’s disease had ravaged him, and his scales hung raggedly, discolored and faded; his necks drooped, and his eyes were dimmed. Still, her blackscythe powers showed his mind burning with nearly undiminished blackness. He comprehended why she was here at once.
“Your plan has succeeded admirably, Kasstaxa,” he said, cutting off whatever he’d been saying before. “Your entrance is as dramatic as the profits from your operation on Mata Nui.”
She did not reply, slithering slowly toward him. Muttering began to race around the other regents at the table. She ignored them. Even if she hadn’t had them all under her control thanks to the profits from her Mata Nui operation, they couldn’t harm her, not with the wards she and Sambiel had arrayed around her.
She focused on the Sphere-Regent, sending her powers out to probe his decrepit body, seeking the markers that Sambiel’s plague had left in him. A slight contortion of her fingertips and a few hissed words triggered the necessary power, and moments later she could feel the throbbing nodes of disease within his aged body.
The Sphere-Regent stared at her regretfully for a moment, then waved a hand, speaking a command word. Sudden destruction scorched the air of the council chamber as two concealed plasma rods hurled a stream of verdant lightning at Kasstaxa.
The plasma bolts deflected from their course just feet away from her, screaming their unspent energy out in the form of heat and sizzling noise, and smashed upwards into the ceiling, deflected by some invisible barrier. The armored ceiling sizzled and buckled under the onslaught of lethal heat. All Kasstaxa felt was a warm wind. Her wards had deflected the plasma bolts. She smiled sweetly at the sphere-regent, who clutched a pair of probably poisoned throwing daggers, but made no move to launch them.
He sat, proud and tall, in his chair as she began weaving the necessary spell. The other regents stared at her as she muttered words of power, slashing the air with her hands. A tracery of blackness began to glow in the air around her, filling the dark chamber with waves of resonating sound, humming a low tune of destruction.
With a sharp jab of her hands and one final hissed word she finished the spell. The Sphere-regent gave her a grave nod of understanding, and she returned it, giving some respect to a fallen foe.
Then the net of blackness around her collapsed – and the nodes of disease within the Sphere-regent’s body expanded tenfold, a thousandfold, feeding off the dark energy she’d released, utterly consuming his body in a horrific process of rapid decay. Within a moment, all that was left was a skeleton covered in a light dusting of ash.
He didn’t scream. Kasstaxa admitted to herself that he had been admirably strong; he simply had never taken enough initiative. What she was about to do would cement the Exosphere’s position in the universe forever.
She strode past the other regents, who stared at her, shocked, and placed a hand on the skeleton sitting in the ornately decorated, black-obsidian chair. It was a matter of a moment to sweep the bones from the chair and send them hurtling across the room. A wave of her hand caught the bones in midair and arrayed them around the room, floating, a macabre reminder of her triumph.
With that last bit of decoration, she turned to the other Regents and smiled.
They began to talk, quietly but confidently, speaking the language of the powerful; and she told them what she was going to do.
They agreed. They didn’t really have a choice.
As the meeting wound down and the regents drifted off through the ivory doors, Kasstaxa stayed in her new chair, thrilled by the sense of power she felt. Kasstaxa: Regent of the Exosphere, greatest Blackscythe, and soon…God. Her plans were falling into place.
The protodermis from Mata Nui was being shipped in to immense public acclaim, and only a tenth of the precious silver liquid they'd recovered from that rich island would be enough to construct the necessary device. She had agents ready to snatch the Vahi, and that annoying fleet of Ssrin's wouldn't stand a chance against her elite guard. She had unlocked the power of her Heart, giving her tremendous potential...and she knew an ancient secret that would make her God.
Determined to stay productive, she turned to the storm of bones whirling about the room and began to cast another spell.
Oct 7 2003, 05:22 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Meanwhile, back at the fleet, Konro ponders his new responsibilities...
Konro stared out into the void, almost feeling the heartless vacuum of interstellar space on his skin. That same chill, synonymous with death, would be enveloping them all if he didn’t do things right.
Ssrin and Thau had disappeared two days ago, leaving Konro with Abdiel, the Toa, and a load of crushing responsibility. He could feel the burden of his new command pressing down on him like a physical weight. The very thought sent his shoulders squirming into a shape more suited for holding up something heavy.
He brought himself back to reality with a reluctant sigh, and turned to face his troubles. Although Ssrin had been at home on the Exosphere gunboat that had served as her command ship, Konro found the purple-grey lighting uncomfortable, the temperature a little cold, and the ship disturbingly underarmed for an admiral’s flagship. He had transferred his flag to the vessel most in need of a commander: the Lernean flagship Sword of Might.
Ssrin had hoped he’d be here anyway, and so he would be, but as commander rather than observer. Admiral Rheuss was recovering from her ordeal in sickbay, and until Abdiel could be sure she hadn’t suffered any permanent effects from her brief infection by the Scythed Plague, Konro was in command.
The bridge had been repaired and the bodies of the crew slain by Onua’s lifesnuff spell had been given an honorable burial. No signs of the cataclysmic battle between Pohatu and Onua remained, and the bridge had been restored to its previous gleaming, orange-gold splendor. The crew pits buzzed with activity as a newly selected multiracial crew worked on installing the software needed to keep track of the entire fleet.
Konro stood on the command pedestal, where just days earlier he’d been trapped with the nightmarishly transformed Rheuss. He shifted uncomfortably as a loud bang heralded the arrival of another series of hardware carts from the rear lift. The unwieldy antigravity transports had a tendency to bang into the sides of the door as they came gliding out. Konro smiled nostalgically as he watched the pair of technology-laden craft glide towards the crew pits, tended by nervously clucking engineers. It reminded him oddly of the time the Toa had burst into their Crossroads headquarters, bringing a cartload of weapons; they’d purchased it from a Splatter weapons dealer who Ssrin apparently knew.
Konro’s smile turned to a frown as he remembered that the headquarters was gone, and that the splatter had likely died along with Crossroads, or before it at the hands of the plague. A fellow splatter, not one he’d known, but still a loss that brought a pang of grief to his mutable heart.
He nearly leaped off the command pedestal as someone tapped gently on his shoulder. A basso chuckle sounded as he whirled his head about, too startled to remember to turn at the waist. Pohatu stared amusedly at him as he realized his head was now perched backwards on his shoulders.
Straightening himself out, Konro turned to face Pohatu. “Hello, Pohatu. I didn’t see you coming…” His voice trailed off awkwardly. His name might be muttered as a peacekeepers in the halls and messes of the fleet, but he had always thought he was awkward in conversation.
“Oh, that’s me, hardly noticeable,” Pohatu said cheerfully, stepping aside to let an engineering technician past. Konro nearly gagged. Half again as tall as anyone on the bridge, possessed of glowing eyes and a near-magical mask, and a deep tan color, Pohatu was probably the most noticeable creature in the fleet. “I was wondering if you wanted to come down to the officer’s mess and have a little chat with the Toa and I about what to do next. In terms of preparing the fleet for an attack on Khass, that is.”
Konro nodded, seeing an opportunity to bring up some questions he’d been hungering to
ask. “Let’s go.”
Pohatu led the way off the bridge and through the burnt russet-orange corridors of the Lernean vessel. Konro basked in the stifling heat, uncomfortable but a nice change from the chill of the Exosphere gunship, and peered curiously down the side corridors as they passed. He caught occasional glimpses of furred Lerneans, full-head ears and grotesque faces distinguishing them from the other species onboard, working at consoles or chatting amiably. They quieted noticeably as he passed.
Konro winced. They knew he was a splatter, and an outsider as always; the message was a bit fuzzy, but it seemed obvious to him. You’re not really wanted here, was what they were saying, even if they didn’t realize it; but sooner or later they would, maybe as soon as Konro made a mess of things, and they’d kick him out. The gnawing fear of failure returned to its home in his gut, temporarily banished by the sheer workload of the last few days. He gulped, and rushed after Pohatu as he plowed ahead.
Pohatu’s long-legged strides and apparent complete knowledge of the layout of the ship – probably because of his Kanohi Akaku- quickly devoured the distance they had to travel, and after two short rides on lifts, Pohatu led him into a large and well-appointed room of the same burnt-orange shade as the rest of the ship.
Konro glanced around. It was nearly empty, but for a few senior officers- mostly Lernean – muttering to each other at corner tables. The room was mostly full of small round tables, decorated with freestyle sculptures that he didn’t recognize; the walls were covered in paintings in an odd, distorted style that was apparently popular. The far end of the room was occupied by a large serving table, and a group of drink dispensers.
Pohatu led him into a side nook and sat down at one side of a small table, folding his long-limbed bulk into the small space with surprising ease. Konro gingerly took the opposite seat. Pohatu tapped at the top of the table, which glowed with a faint iridescent light from the luxpanels within, and asked idly, “How do you work this thing?”
Konro gave it a sharp double-rap and said softly, “K’larth Tears.” He looked over at Pohatu, puzzled as to what the Toa would eat. “You?”
Pohatu knocked on the table awkwardly, trying to mimic him, and said hesitantly, “Water?” He shot Konro an amused glance.
Sighing at the release of tension, Konro leaned back, allowing his shape to flow into the nooks and crannies of the booth. “That’s right. So, where are the other Toa?”
Pohatu waved a hand dismissively. “They’ll be here shortly. I wanted to discuss something else.”
Konro frowned. “Yes?”
“You don’t seem very confident in yourself,” Pohatu said, suddenly all business. “Why is that?”
Konro stared at him, surprised at his perception. Before the Toa’s recovery of the Vahi, Pohatu had seemed rather imperceptive and less than intelligent. Yet apparently something had happened on that mission, for he seemed far wiser. A faint silver glow played about the reddish-gold hue of his eyes, like the hint of an aurora in the distance. “I don’t know what to do, Pohatu. I don’t have any military experience; I don’t know Khass’ defenses like Ssrin does; what can I possibly do to help the fleet win? I’m afraid I’ll bungle our one chance to take the Exosphere down…and that history will remember me as the one who slaughtered millions.”
And suddenly he found himself pouring his feelings out. Confronted by a receptive and understanding listener, he suddenly found release for all the pent-up frustration and despair within him. He told Pohatu about his fears, his hopes, his strengths, his weaknesses; his terror about being an outsider, and the isolation associated with being a splatter; the constant loneliness; the search to fit in. The understanding silver gleam in Pohatu’s eyes invited him to continue. When he was finally finished, he felt cleaned and reborn, ready, perhaps, to take on the challenges that faced him.
Pohatu reclined and stretched as the table’s center irised open and their drinks arrived. “You know, Konro, what you have to do is play to your strengths. If you’re no great military commander, what are you great at? I may not be the greatest fighter of the Toa, nor the most intelligent, nor the wisest; but I love koli. That made me into a warrior in the end, and now I’m smarter and wiser.”
Konro didn’t know what koli was, nor how it would help one fight, but he saw Pohatu’s point. What were his strengths? Talking, convincing, holding people together…how would that help against the might and strategy of the Exosphere?
“You know,” Pohatu said, grinning as he sipped at his water, “strategy doesn’t have to be subtle.”
And suddenly Konro saw it. The solution to their problems, and a way to play to his strengths. He nodded his thanks to Pohatu, a sincere smile on his face, got up, and left, a new hope gleaming like a silver light in his mind.
He forgot completely about the questions he'd wanted to ask Pohatu, and the former Toa of Stone did not mind that at all.
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Oct 7 2003, 05:50 PM
Oct 12 2003, 06:55 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Pohatu has given Konro a sudden idea, and he now rushes to implement it, feeling some hope that it may change the tide of the war. Konro is looking for allies in unexpected places...
Konro hadn’t felt as energized as he was now for what seemed like a year. His sudden inspiration burnt undampened by the fog of doubt in his mind. If his one talent - diplomacy – would just keep functioning long enough for him to hammer out a few agreements, he’d have a fleet to rival that of Khass itself.
He paced the length of the lift car- four steps – as it hurtled towards the bridge of the Sword of Might, reviewing the information he’d need. He had heard tales of the wandering bands of pirates and scavengers who filled space around them; the bladeling nomads who harvested asteroid fields from giant ships, and the Shorinor hunters, mysterious and shadowy beings who spent their entire lives in disparate but deadly bands, hunting the spaceborne life-forms that infested deep space.
Adding even a small Shorinor hunting band or a bladeling mining fleet to their current force of mainly Qwohmlin, Lernean, Vart, D*Kocra, and Y’lath vessels would add twenty or thirty ships, already heavily armed and with experienced crews, to their combat potential. The defenses of Khass were estimated at around one hundred and eighty ships with elite crews, plus eleven heavy defense stations. It would be close, but with the extra firepower that Konro might be able to negotiate for, they could stand a chance.
The lift doors swished open, blowing a puff of hot air across his skin, and he blinked out at the bridge. The engineering crews had nearly finished tacking the new hardware and software on to the bridge, and it looked like he would need it. Konro strode out of the lift, trying to look like an admiral, stepped up onto the command pedestal, and reclined with a muffled sigh into the new padded chair he’d had installed. He tapped on the panels in front of him, praying he know how to work them, and began to read.
He turned his brain into a sponge. Not literally, because that would have been quite unhealthy, but that was how it felt as he absorbed page after page of information on the customs of the wandering races, the bladelings and the Shorinor, manners and polite phrases and colors to wear and ways to act to impress them. He twisted his way through a maze of knowledge towards the heart of each race, getting to know their motivations, their emotions and their customs; the very essence of their race.
He looked at their poetry, their songs, and their writing; the very way they lived. He put himself in their skin, and as he read, his form unconsciously began to shift, first to a bladeling, and then to that of a Shorinor. He didn’t notice the thick, razor-sharp talons that grew from his joints as he peered with burning eyes at the family setup of a bladeling mining ship; he didn’t notice the extra arms growing from his torso and the newly wide, draconic face as he read of the Shorinor Rituals of the Hunt. He didn’t notice them because they felt right. He was no longer ‘Konro, splatter,’ he was a member of each race. He belonged.
For the barest of moments, as he grasped the very core each species and understood them and their history and their poetry and their feelings and their reactions and the very way they looked at the stars around them, he was each race. He understood them in a way that no being in history had, because no splatter had ever done what he had.
He saw into the heart of each race and saw his own reflection their, on the burnished silver essence of their souls. He was them, and they were he, and he saw suddenly what it meant to be a splatter, their cosmic purpose; not to be apart from all other races, but to be all of them.
When he was done, he looked up at the forward viewscreen with eyes that for a moment glowed molten silver, and then in a voice that no longer quavered with barely concealed doubt, told the communications officer to open a general hailing frequency.
Two hours later, he was done. When the communications officer, looking dubious, had first established a link to the Shorinor fleet that Sensors had located nearby, they hadn’t answered. That was, until Konro softly spoke into the commlink something a Shorinor never expected to hear from an outsider: the twelfth stanza of the Rituals of the Hunt, the call for aid from ones brethren.
He didn’t need to assume the form of a Shorinor when the six-armed, golden-scaled, draconically featured commander of the Crimson Talon Hunting Band had come onscreen. The Shorinor had immediately treated him as another Shorinor, because Konro acted like one, talked like one, stood like one, and thought like one. Within an hour, despite being a complete outsider, Konro had convinced them to join the attack on Khass.
He didn’t need wonderful speeches or heartfelt emotions, he simply had to understand them and make the Shorinor commander understand him. He conveyed to the Shorinor commander the desperation and hope that filled his heart in a way that could never be refused. By the time he was talking to the bladeling fleet that Sensors had located in the asteroid field where his own motley fleet had come under Exosphere attack, the Shorinor hunting ships were entering their newly assigned positions in the fleet, led by a sleek and golden Shorinor Seeker-class cruiser.
It was a matter of even less time to convince the bladelings to join up. They understood Konro perfectly as he told them of the sacrifice of thousands on Crossroads, on the bladelings who had already died fighting the Exosphere, and of the place they’d earn in history.
As Konro watched the thirty-ship-strong bladeling fleet arcing towards them, blackened hulls gleaming in the starlight, he felt a silver shimmer inside him that he decided must be a sensation of real accomplishment.
From where he had slipped unnoticed into the back of the bridge, Pohatu watched him and smiled, then turned to the lift. It was time for a little trip. Abdiel had told him where to find out what has happening to him and the other Toa, and he was determined to go before the final assault on Khass. They’d need all their newfound power to stand up to what Kasstaxa had waiting for them there.
Oct 16 2003, 06:00 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Despite his recent success in finding new allies from unexpected places, Konro realizes that he may have accidentally sparked a rebellion in his own ranks…
As the Shorinor hunter ships emerged from the asteroid field and made their way towards the fleet, streaking towards them on spear-straight trails of ardent orange plasma, Konro realized belatedly that maybe he hadn’t thought of everything. The reason nobody had even suggested seeking help from the Shorinor was because they were mysterious, belligerent, and above all very dangerous. Without a doubt, very few people in the fleet would agree with his choice of ally. He might have unwittingly opened up rifts within the fleet larger than the ones caused by the Qwohmlin-Lernean conflict.
The bladelings were simply untrusted and disrespected, seen as cheating, lying, scrap-stealing scum of the universe. Konro had no doubt that the other fleet officers, his new subordinates, would not only be resentful of his sudden promotion, but would not understand the rapport he’d established with the admirals of his two newly recruited fleets. Things might become bad quite suddenly. The flush of emotion that had gotten him elected admiral had long since past, and now several of the more highly ranked officers in each navy might be coveting the position for themselves. They’d see this as a perfect opportunity to strike.
Even as the triumphant feeling in his heart faded, his communications board lit up with a fireworks display of incoming messages. Konro watched the comm. board with a sinking feeling as green light after green light heralded incoming messages, probably the complaints and warnings he’d been dreading. “Report on incoming messages!” he snapped at the communications officer, trying to put the steel of command in his voice, and ending up sounding rather hoarse.
“Picket ships are warning of incoming attackers, consisting of bladelings and Shorinor hunters,” the comm. officer replied, tapping furiously at his own controls in an attempt to sort out the onslaught of incoming messages.
“Reply to all ships,” Konro said, feeling some comfort at returning to the familiar mode of diplomacy. “I have negotiated a truce with the admirals of these fleets. You must power down your weapons and return to formation. They have allied with us in our crusade against the Exosphere, putting aside old disputes to create new strength.”
The Lernean comm. officer nodded dubiously, his full-head ear-strip wriggling furiously, and stabbed at his controls. Moments later, Konro’s voice rode beams of laser light towards the other ships of the fleet, spreading his message.
Messages of confirmation came arrowing back, as the fleet’s pickets stood down from their battle stances and moved aside to let the Shorinor ships into their formation. However, one green light continued to burn with undiminished brilliance on the message board. Konro sighed as he recognized the source; the Qwohmlin admiral, the one who’d wanted to kill the Lerneans. His name was Dohn’kvash, and he had been nothing but trouble. No doubt he was now the ringleader of the suspected faction who wanted to overthrow Konro. If I don’t deal with him now, the entire fleet could tear itself apart.
Surprisingly, the old fear and lack of confidence didn’t come back as strongly as he’d expected. He almost felt…courageous. Even heroic. Like a real admiral, maybe, and not an amateurish pretender. He realized that he’d been like that since his talk with Pohatu. “Put Admiral Dohn’kvash on,” he said, shifting again in his newly installed chair. I hope I can keep him under control…or things may really fall apart.
The screen that was wrapped around the forward dome of the burnt-orange bridge blinked, changing from a view of the stars outside to one of the reptilian face of the Qwohmlin Admiral, filling the screen and blocking all view of his own ship’s bridge behind him. Konro caught faint glimpses of blinking lights and activity beyond the scaled vista of his snarling face.
“What do you think you’re doing, shifter?” he snapped, without greeting or any other polite words. “First you trust the money-grubbing Lerneans, and now you invite bladeling scum and Shorinor into our fleet? We’ll be betrayed on three sides before we even reach Khass! Your idiocy has doomed us!”
Even a week ago, Konro would have retreated from this fight, pulling back physically and verbally, quailing from the verbal assault the admiral launched. But he felt a new fire burning in his heart, silver flames that fed him courage, the will to stand up to anti-splatter prejudice, and the tools necessary to keep his motley fleet running.
“Stand down, Admiral,” he said, unable to believe the perfectly calm tone of his voice. “The Shorinor and the bladelings understand perfectly what is to be gained by defeating the Exosphere. What could they possibly gain by betraying us?”
The Qwohmlin spluttered. “They would gain the goodwill of the Exosphere, and whatever bribe the filthy serpent-heads are offering!”
Konro smiled jovially. “Admiral, you are an intelligent being. You understand that the Shorinor and bladelings have suffered as much, or more than, any of our races at the hands of the Exosphere. They want their revenge, badly, and nothing will stop them from having it. Not even a bribe. We may not have trusted them in the past, but it is time to put the past behind us. Together we can forge a new future.”
Dohn’kvash did not look convinced. He opened his mouth, rage burning in his eyes, to spit another series of taunts at Konro; but just then a hand fell on Konro’s shoulder. The neophyte admiral whirled to find the last person he expected to see standing there. Admiral Rheuss, apparently escaped from sickbay despite her recent possession at the hand of Onua and the Scythed Plague, her russet fir limp and burned, her limbs trembling and weak, leaned up against him, staring with determined eyes at the screen. A near-silent smattering of applause and awed whispers rushed around the bridge as she began to speak.
“Admiral Dohn’kvash,” she said, weakly and shakily but with incredible conviction, “the Exosphere and their minions have done terrible things to me. They nearly killed me. They still may. The Scythed Plague ravaged my body and soul.”
“I swear to you that nothing will stop me or my people from having their vengeance on the Exosphere. And I think the same applies to the Shorinor and the bladelings.”
The sheer burning resolve in her eyes, projected from such a weakened and frail body, nearly forced Konro to step back. The force of her will burned through the forward screen and into Dohn’kvash’s own staring eyes. It took only a moment of this silent contest of wills before Dohn’kvash bowed his head, and the communication channel closed with a silent flash.
Konro realized, then, that the final attack on Khass could begin. He wrapped an arm around Rheuss’ trembling frame and guided her to a seat. The bridge crew began to clap in earnest, the wave of applause smashing over him like a tsunami, and he realized that they were clapping not just for Rheuss, or him, but for the future that beckoned beyond the dark cloud of the Exosphere.
He decided, drawing willpower from the tortured frame that leaned against his side, that he would lead these people to that future, and he would let nothing stop him.
Meanwhile, on Khass, Thau and Ssrin are falling out of harmony…
The wind rushed and howled around Thau, battering and tearing at him like an enraged beast, and then continued heedlessly on its way. Shards of ice and freezing waves of snow pattered against his coat and exposed skin, sending slight shudders through his numbed nerves. The plains of Sailath, normally a gleaming, diamond-like expanse of ice, were concealed by endless torrents of blinding snow.
They had left the wreck of the ion flyer a day ago, having taken shelter there for as long as they could. Some of the computers still worked, and Ssrin had dug up a map and the location of an Exosphere supply depot. She barely agreed to take him along, and still she would not speak to him. The source of her fury was a mystery to him, but he had the same feelings for her. A cold hate still burned in his heart for what she’d done to the thousands of innocents on Crossroads.
Now they trudged over miles of endless, rolling ice, searching for the Exosphere supply depot and the ship that was cached there. Ssrin hoped to sneak in, steal the ship, and return to the fleet. Thau, usually the more optimistic of the unlikely duo, was not hopeful. Even the guards on a relatively useless ice moon like Sailath were fairly vigilant, and he didn’t think they could get past them and escape safely in a stolen freighter full of volatile liquid protodermis.
Sailath was pockmarked with protodermis deposits, and the supply depot they sought was over one of them. One of its side operations was drawing up protodermis and shipping it off to Khass. According to the transport schedule that Ssrin had been able to find, leftover from the data on Khass she’d downloaded from the gunboat computers back at the fleet, a transport would be departing in a few days; if they could steal it, a fully loaded protodermis freighter would be a valuable asset to the fleet. Liquid protodermis could be highly explosive, and such a ship would make an excellent weapon.
Thau just wanted off this freezing rock, and then maybe to convince the fleet that Ssrin wasn’t such a great leader after all. He was amazed that he hadn’t seen this during his time at the fleet, when he’d been Ssrin’s aide. He had to stop her before she killed millions in a suicidal attack on Khass itself. There has to be a better way to do this than open war,he thought. I’ve been an Exosphere soldier for years, dissenter or not. I know what they’re capable of. They’ll slaughter that fleet, the Toa, and everyone else.
Ahead of him, Ssrin began to pick her way up the side of a long, rocky slope, wrapping her tail around several protruding rocks to give her leverage. Thau was lost in thought, and he barely noticed the sudden shifting of the rocky hillside. Suddenly, a rain of gravel and ice began to pour down from perhaps a hundred feet farther up the hillside, bouncing off Ssrin’s coat and upraised arms. She yelled something back at him, but the wind snatched her words away and tore them to ribbons.
Thau peered, blinking, through the curtains of wind-driven snow, trying to make out what was causing the rockfall. His simmering, newfound anger at Ssrin lay forgotten. He yelled, “Ssrin! What is it?”
“I…rake…” she yelled back, fumbling with numb fingers for the plasma rod she’d salvaged from the crashed ion flyer a day ago. Thau heard enough to send a dagger of fear plunging through his mind, as cold as the biting wind around them. Ice drakes were fearsome predators native to Khass. He hadn’t thought any lived on Sailath, but apparently he had been wrong.
As Ssrin raised her plasma rod to her shoulder, the hillside above them exploded and a massive wall of stone and ice blocked out their vision. The wind snatched up the churned snow and slammed it against them, a near-solid barrier that sent Thau staggering back several steps. Ssrin stood strong against the gust, her heads darting this way and that, searching for a target amongst the snow fog.
And suddenly the ice drake was there. Three meters – nine feet- of white scales, a scaled head with four eyes and a series of deep thermal-vision pits, and a gaping maw full of crystalline teeth lunged towards Ssrin. It was like a massive snake, a long cylindrical body tapering to a tail tipped with the same crystal that made up its teeth. Its mottled brown-white scales blended perfectly in with the snow. Its most distinctive feature, a ring of glowing red scales at the tip of its jaw used to melt through the snow and ice it lived in, hissed and steamed as wind-driven snow vaporized against it.
The drake lunged silently. Ssrin leapt aside with the grace of a trained Exosphere soldier. Time seemed to freeze as Thau scrambled for his only weapon, a light ion pistol. Ssrin hit the snow and rolled as the drake’s maw smashed down where she’d just been. A massive cloud of steam exploded as the glowing scales on its forward jaw vaporized the snow into water vapor.
Green lightning speared through the cloud of steam. The sudden concussion of plasma fire washed over Thau as Ssrin fired two precise shots. The plasma rod was low on charge, and it was difficult to aim through the cloud of steam, so Ssrin’s expertly aimed fire missed to the left. Instead of scoring along the drake’s heat vision sensors and temporarily blinding it, the crackling arcs of verdant energy burnt long scrapes along the serpentine body of the drake. Scales and vaporized gore spouted into the air.
The drake emitted a wild hiss, a sound like an avalanche, and twisted about. Its tail-stinger arced in towards Ssrin’s position as she dropped her plasma rod and went for her swords. The two scimitars were out in a second, flashing in the storm, and Thau watched, forgetting his hatred, praying that Ssrin was fast enough.
She was. She crossed the two curved swords across her chest and angled the tips back. The stinger bounced off them, skittered up the swords, and passed between two of her heads as she yanked the necks apart. Ssrin rammed the swords together in a scissor cut, and they sheared through the drake’s body just above the stinger. The crystalline tail-tooth fell gleaming to the snow, and hot blood geysered into the air.
The drake had moved out of its concealing cloud of steam, and it emitted another agonized hiss. That noise was caught and multiplied as Thau finally got the ion pistol free, trained it, and squeezed the trigger. The sudden hiss of particle bolts slicing the air echoed off the hillside, and the energy darts splashed along the drake’s side, smashing off scales and blowing steaming craters in its flesh.
Hissing in frustration and pain, the drake recoiled, then plunged its maw into the snow. Another cloud of steam billowed forth as its heated scales burrowed into the ice, and the drake vanished into the ground, burrowing back into the snow and giving up this unexpectedly difficult prey. Ssrin stooped and recovered the plasma rod from the snow, brushing ice from the emitter. Thau rushed up the hill towards her. “Ssrin! Are you all right?”
Ssrin turned her eyes to him. They were as cold as the landscape around him. “Fine. Let’s keep going. The base should be only an hour’s walk from here, if you can stand the pace.”
Thau stood confused for a moment, and then all his feelings came rushing back. He tried to keep his faces from twisting into a snarl. “Fine. Let’s move.”
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Oct 16 2003, 06:10 AM
Oct 16 2003, 07:58 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
While Konro finishes integrating the new Shorinor and bladeling armadas into the combined fleet, dubbed the Crusaders by an ingenious but anonymous Qwohmlin crewer, Pohatu prepares to take the Toa on a little expedition, following the guidance Abdiel gave him after his battle with Onua…
“Pohatu, are you entirely certain this thing is safe?” Lewa said anxiously, looking even greener than usual. Pohatu was hunched over the control panel of an ion flyer, a shuttle borrowed from the hangar deck of the Qwohmlin flagship Righteous Anvil. The other four remaining Toa, including Lewa, were peering at him through the hatch between the pilot and passenger compartments of the tiny ship, with expressions ranging from amusement to contemplation to extreme distrust.
“Entirely,” Pohatu said cheerfully, just as the ion flyer rocked nauseatingly, like a seafaring ship suddenly striking a large wave. “Oops.”
“Forget safe,” Tahu said, a note of sarcasm in his voice, “can you even fly this thing?”
Pohatu peered out of the cockpit viewport. The ion flyer was hovering over the hangar deck of the Qwohmlin battleship, its antigravs pounding at the decking while Pohatu familiarized himself with the controls. The gem-studded black canvas of space beckoned towards them from beyond the atmospheric containment field and the open hangar-bay doors. “Fairly sure,” he replied.
He reached for the throttle, and with sure fingers guided it to the second notch from the bottom. The ion flyer’s engines whined, and it arced smoothly through the containment field and away from the larger ship. Pohatu ignored the murmurs coming from the passenger compartment as he scanned the growing fleet.
It was quite an assortment. Despite the knowledge that the Silver had imparted to him, and the revelations this knowledge brought, he was still astonished by the variety of life to be found out here, away from Mata Nui. And as he had expected, and the history provided by the Silver told him, they did not always agree.
The Lerneans, making up nearly 20% of the fleet, were regarded as mercenaries, loyal to the highest bidder. The Qwohmlins accused them of cowardice, and a long-running feud simmered between the two species; the felinoid, cat-like, multi-eyed merchants and the quick, hot-blooded lizards.
The Qwohmlin were without doubt the majority of the fleet, nearly 30%, their ships providing a lot of firepower and trained crews. They had a reputation as being fast to anger, slow to forget, and extremely brave (even foolhardy) in a fight. Their fighter pilots and gunners had reflexes faster than most other species, almost as fast as a Khai’s, and were therefore superb at their jobs. They were not a warrior race, but they had fought many wars and were proud of their long history and their heritage of scientific and cultural enlightenment. The multi-armed lizards had been the dominate race in Known Space before the Exosphere burst out from Khass and overtook everything in their path, some eight hundred years ago.
The Varts were another matter. They had a reputation as being eccentric but reliable, and stubborn in the extreme. Nearly the opposite of the Qwohmlin, they were slow to act, slow to anger, and slow to make friends. They looked like head-sized, floating, tentacled gasbags, and they had a point of view as bizarre as their bodies. In addition to being stubborn, they were rumored to be rather self-centered and selfish, but they seemed willing enough to fight. Their ships were small but numerous, designed to fight in groups, and they themselves were equally small; they had never played a huge role in the politics of known space, but they were everywhere. No one knew where they came from or how long they’d been around. Supposedly, when the oldest spacefaring races of this area had launched themselves into space, the Varts had already been there, buzzing about in their hive-ships and eager to have new trading partners.
The D*Kocra. Pohatu had found them to be one of the most bizarre things he’d ever heard of. They were a race of semi-xenophobs, willing to engage in trade and war with other races but otherwise keeping to themselves. No one was quite sure what they looked like, as they confined themselves to opaque, white, egg-shaped environment pods; but rumors and analysis of destroyed D*Kocra ships showed them to be strange, sessile masses of white fiber, stretched across the interior of their life pods. They had nervous systems but no apparent way of moving or manipulating the environment around them In any case, they would use nicknames in public, not giving out their true names to any but their closest family members, and they seemed to have quite a few bizarre rituals that constituted an even less comprehensible religion. However strange, they were important in trade and politics; and their art was famous across known space for its odd, abstract patterns.
And the Y’lath. Pohatu liked them, and that was saying something. They were a race of practical jokers, convinced that the universe was a bleak and dreary place, and that their job was to spice it up. They were amongst the friendliest of races – unlike the Qwohmlin or the Lerneans, they had no long-standing racial feuds or wars with other species – and were always welcome at a party, if not a serious debate. If there was one thing important to them, it was having a good time. They looked like whirling masses of tentacles with a three-sphered body at the center, somewhat like a tentacled caterpillar, constantly in motion, bouncing up and down and around with seemingly boundless energy. Pohatu hoped they’d be able to use that energy in something important, like the attack on Khass. He’d met the Y’lath admiral a day ago and liked her immensely; they’d traded bad jokes at a reception for the new admiral, Konro.
There was a scattering of six or seven minor races, of little importance, and then the distrusted but necessary Shorinor and bladelings. Their two fleets nearly halved again the size of the Crusaders, making them a much more formidable fighting force. Their total ships now came to a whopping 250 ships, perhaps the biggest fighting force assembled in the history of Known Space. They outnumbered Khass’ defenders by seventy vessels, a respectable margin, despite the fact that the Khai were unquestionably the most talented fighters- on ground or space – anywhere.
And the neuroscythes. Nobody really trusted them, except perhaps Pohatu; they had a reputation for meddling in other’s business for reasons nobody understood. They were feared and hated even more than the splatters, and for that reason Pohatu was immensely surprised that nobody had attacked their crystal ship. They were not a common race, and not an influential one, but without a doubt they were very powerful. Whatever had happened to them in the Starweb had transmuted them into immensely powerful psionicists- magicians, really- with the ability to manipulate the very fabric of the universe.
Pohatu smiled. He now had that ability, thanks to the Silver. It had begun with the Vahi, and Pohatu suspected it would end with the Vahi. The simple orange mask was the beginning, and the end, of everything. It was the Silver’s prison, and he had released it – in a limited way- when he had used the mask. It was the Silver that had allowed him to resurrect his friends and unlock all of the Toa’s hidden power.
The Silver had quite a few names; scattered throughout ancient religions of known space; one was Cyravaar; another Talis Verimaar; the most common translation of them all was God.
I know that chapter was short, but people complained that they couldn't keep all the species straight- I hope this helped! A few of the species on Crossroads are not present here, because they aren't major galactic powers. Anyway, reactions?
Oct 19 2003, 05:59 AM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
While Ssrin and Thau struggle to survive on Sailath, Kasstaxa prepares her defenses and martials her power for her imminent ascenscion, Pohatu takes the Toa on a little trip, and Konro gathers the Crusaders for the desperate attack on Khass.
A hundred hissing voices shouted the same words in unison, a chorus of destruction that echoed and rebounded from the silver-black walls of the hangar bay where the training session was being held. The stars, visible through the open top of the hangar, seemed to shudder, although more likely air was being distorted by the sudden increase of heat inside the hangar.
Kasstaxa, smiling grimly, dressed in a form-fitting armor jumpsuit that highlighted her well-defined muscles and perfect features, idly scraped her tail over the rough hangar bay surface as she watched her new blackscythes honing their powers. The power words melded with the sudden screams of the spell’s victims as bolts of dark flame, drawn from the seething power of their Heart of Darkness – Heart of Koranis, really, she thought- exploded from their outstretched fingertips and pummeled the line of slaves arrayed along the hangar wall.
It was a demonstration of power more amazing than anything she’d seen before. A plasma rod could fire bolts of energy, but the darkbolts her blackscythes produced were more powerful, never went astray, and completely ignored armor. The chaotic energies of the Heart of Darkness seethed at the back of every Khai’s mind, without exception, a mysterious spot of evil on an already malicious brain. It was tapping those energies that was the hard part. She thought she had done admirably.
Next to her, Onua growled something under his breath as the charred corpses of the slaves- a mix of races, ranging from Lernean to bladeling to Vart – slid to the floor, neat holes burned through their bodies. Kasstaxa turned a pair of heads to look at her creation. “Have a question, my Avatar of Destruction?”
Onua shifted his massive bulk. The dark flame along his limbs seemed to rip and tear and the air like a living thing. “Why do we need these…blackscythes? The combined powers of the four of us are easily enough to overwhelm any opponent, and the armies of the Khai possess formidable weaponry already. What service do these newly trained blackscythes provide?”
Kasstaxa smiled at him. “You’re more intelligent than I’d thought, my Avatar. The blackscythes have a most important role to play in my ascension. And the prophecies predict their appearance.”
Onua stared at her with his tainted eyes for a moment. She felt no discomfort, only pride in her magnificent engine of destruction. Perhaps a bit too much pride, , she acknowledged wryly. Then he spoke, his deep, rumbling bass voice crackling with the energies of a thousand worlds burning. “Prophecies? You mean Shabren’s Prophecies?”
Kasstaxa nodded slowly. The blackscythes began another eerie chant, sparks whirling and haloing about their heads and mouths, and again, the very foundations of the universe seemed to shudder.
“Prophecies? We’re going to look at prophecies?”
The confusion was evident in Gali’s voice as she leaned over Pohatu’s shoulder, trying to make sense of the cockpit displays that he manipulated with apparent ease.
Pohatu nodded quickly. “We’ve already entered the subcontinuum,” he explained, gesturing at the whirling tunnel of bizarre colors flashing across the cockpit screens and the view of space outside. “We should be there in only a few minutes.”
Gali shook her head. Something is very wrong with Pohatu. He hasn’t been the slightly clumsy, joking fellow that we all knew from Mata Nui. And he knows things he can’t possibly know. Like how to fly this ship, and where to fly it too…
She gave him a pat on the shoulder anyway. “All right, my friend. Be careful.” Then she made her way back through the cockpit-passenger compartment door, sliding it firmly shut behind her.
She sat down at the table and crossed her arms over her chest. The other Toa were staring at her, expecting a report. She no longer felt like Pohatu was one of them, and neither did they.
“He knows exactly where he’s going,” she reported grimly. “He knows how to fly this thing. And he thinks we’re going to find Shabren’s Prophecies – a complete version – when we arrive at wherever we’re going.”
Kopaka’s icy blue eyes seemed to offer up some uncomfortable possibilities, like the one he voiced. “When Onua contracted the Scythed Plague-” the other Toa winced at the bluntness of his statement – “he had visions, judging from the mutters he produced during his coma. Perhaps Pohatu is simply following similar visions?”
Gali shook her head. “He doesn’t have any of the other symptoms of the Scythed Plague. No fever, coma, or odd symbols on limbs and torso. It can’t be that, I’m afraid.”
Tahu threw up his hands, emitting an exasperated groan. “Listen, we’re all thinking the same thing. The Vahi did this to him! He was the only person who didn’t die back on Crossroads. According to his story, he used the Vahi to resurrect us.”
Lewa’s eyes went wide. “And immediately afterwards, we summoned up that silver tornado and sent Korm and his lackeys fleeing. But we could never figure out what that tornado was, or how we’d managed to summon it, or how we knew how to create it.”
Kopaka nodded slowly. “Your idea makes sense. The Vahi must have changed us when it resurrected us, just as it changed Pohatu when he used it, but less so.”
Tahu smashed a fist down on the table. “And quite a change it was! He went from irritating, clumsy, and stupid, to someone who can inspire Konro to run the fleet and produce magical effects at will! He’s calmer, more charismatic, more self-assured, and he knows more than the rest of us put together. Not to mention what we’ve all heard about what happened in his battle with Onua!”
Gali stared at them, her heart numb with shock. “You know what this means, don’t you? Pohatu might not even be a Toa anymore. And soon, neither will we.”
The cockpit-passenger compartment door slammed open, and Pohatu said cheerfully, “We’re here!”
During the excitement of their discussion, Gali realized, they must have missed the sounds of the ship touching down. Either that, or they were still floating in space. She and the other Toa stood and cautiously followed Pohatu to the rear hatch, Hau-fields billowing into existence around them.
Pohatu hit the control to lower the rear ramp. It slid down with a puff, revealing a rocky landscape outside and a sky full of stars ahead. A rolling sandy plain surrounded them for perhaps ten bios, then dropped into a sudden gorge. The other side of the gorge was a rocky nightmare of strewn boulders and odd mineral formations, stretching off into the distance. The air was cold and smelled of unfamiliar minerals.
“Where are we?” Lewa said in a hushed whisper.
“The Angel Moon,” Pohatu replied cheerfully, striding down the ramp and crunching across the sand – bluish sand, Gali realized, not brown – towards the ravine. “It’s only a short flight away from where the fleet is. Nobody knows it exists, except the neuroscythes and I.”
The other Toa cautiously followed him. Kopaka’s Akaku whirred as he peered into the ravine. He frowned. “There’s just rock down there, Pohatu.”
“It’s the absence of rock that we are interested in,” Pohatu said cheerfully, leaping nimbly off the edge of the cavern and drifting down, his Miru glowing. He touched down in a puff of sand, and the other Toa, looking about warily, followed cautiously.
Pohatu threw his arms out as they touched down. “We’re here! Start reading!”
At first Gali didn’t see it. But then she looked at the walls of the canyon, gleaming in the starlight from above, and saw there were scrapes on the wall. Scrapes arranged in circular patterns. Mata Nuian prophetic writing, lines and lines of it, stretching across the walls of the canyon, up a few feet and perhaps a hundred feet to each side, carved into the surface of the stone and untouched by aging.
Gali knew instantly what it was. Shabren’s Prophecies. The Turaga on Mata Nui possessed an incomplete version, missing the end, but had discarded it as blasphemous long ago. Nobody really trusted it, because it predicted the destruction of Mata Nui at the hands of beings from the stars. But those prophecies had come to pass- and knowing the end would be invaluable, and might even reveal what had happened to Pohatu.
There was no ignoring Pohatu’s command. They began to read.
Oct 19 2003, 06:33 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Guided by the mysterious Silver, Pohatu has led the Toa to the long-forgotten Angel Moon and discovered there a complete copy of the apocryphal Shabren’s Prophecies, carved on stone older than Mata Nui itself…
As the Toa read the letters so indelibly inscribed on the stone walls of the ravine, the story of the universe unfolded before them, a tale so astonishing and so engrossing that even uttering a sound seemed like sacrilege.
Every Toa was held engrossed, even Pohatu. The Silver had revealed very little of the true destiny and past of the universe to him, and the words he read awed him to the core of his soul. The same was true of any of the Toa; icy, analyzing Kopaka, realizing that his mission to save Mata Nui was part of a greater destiny; flippant, young, bold Lewa; who had just grown accustomed to a universe suddenly much larger than Mata Nui, and now was faced with another ; Gali, wisest and most compassionate of them all, realizing that her wisdom, compassion, and knowledge of prophecy was dwarfed by the tale before her; and raging Tahu, who, when the Exosphere had arrived, had grown to understand comradeship and friendship, then was twisted anew in the furnace of his own desire for revenge on the Exosphere. That desire vanished as he saw the true meaning of the events that had led up to this point.
The letters seemed to come alive before them, speaking to their very hearts. What they said exactly is difficult to describe, because it was not in any language they knew, and yet they understood it. As near as they could perceive, this is what the letters said.
This is the story of the universe. It cannot be called ‘the story of everything’ for it applies only to our own universe. The worlds beyond our own – the other universes – teem with thousands of other possibilities, swarming like bees in a hive. Our tiny speck of life and everything within it, no matter how mighty or how small, is only one possibility, and even this prophecy is only one path for this universe.
In the beginning, there was darkness. It cannot be called void, for void is the emptiness between life. Perhaps a better word for it would be potential.
Into this potential, from somewhere or somewhen else, came beings of tremendous power. Call them the Titans. At first they were united in purpose, seeking to make something of this potential. They crafted and carved, shaping the laws and realities of this universe and setting into motion the great clockwork of time. They did not stoop so low as to create worlds or even galaxies; they simply set the laws that governed the universe, and let things run their course.
But as their great work neared completion, fractures appeared in the unity of the Titans. Arguments and debate shuddered through the structure of their existence. Finally, war came to these demigods.
They split into two factions, headed by the greatest amongst them, beings of tremendous might. These beings were Koranis the Darkener, now known as Lord of Loss, the Deathfear, and other names not spoken; and Cyravaar the Lightbringer, now called Talis Verimaar, and the Silver, and other names of praise.
The war was over death. It was ironic that this came to pass, for by creating the laws that governed the universe – gravity, electromagnetism, time, and their manifold cousins – the Titans had bound themselves to their own creation. They could not leave, and much of their power and perfection had fled in the creation of these laws. They were no longer perfect; they could die.
Ironically, they died for death. The Silver’s faction wanted death to be something natural, something not feared but accepted, a culmination to living like the satisfying end of a long tale. We can not truly understand this view, for reasons you will see; but had the Silver triumphed, death would not be feared today, but instead welcomed as a new beginning. According to the laws the Titans set, death is not always the end of existence.
Koranis led its own army, a ravening horde of darkness and destruction that sought to make death feared, a terrible monster that lurked just beyond sight, something dreaded and shunned. They believed that death was the ultimate expression of entropy, and ought to be rightly respected. They have made death what it is today; a monster that we all try to delay as long as we can, rather than accepting it as part of the natural cycle.
The conflicts of these Titans are truly beyond our ken, for not one being in a thousand understands what has been said above. Our minds are so closed, so bound by the laws of the Titans, that we cannot truly perceive the truths that our creators battled over. But we can perceive the history and consequences of this battle.
As the universe grew and the first galaxies formed, the Titans battled. The consequences of their war can be seen even today. There are strange discrepancies in theories about the creation of the universe, and all these seeming disruptions in physical laws were caused by the tremendous energies released while the Titans dueled.
In the end, Koranis and its followers triumphed, but at great cost. Both its minions and the followers of Cyravaar were smote down, leaving the two Elder Titans to battle between the newborn stars.
Koranis might have triumphed, but it had corrupted itself; it was no longer a creator, but a destroyer, an expression of evil in itself. It could no longer comprehend the benevolent, compassionate emotions that its opponent still had. It did not anticipate self-sacrifice.
Cyravaar sacrificed all its power in a frantic last attempt to prevent Koranis from winning out. It imprisoned itself, pouring it’s freedom into a desperate casting, and through that act of self-sacrifice, contained Koranis within a binding spell. The Deathfear raged and tore at these bindings, but could not break them, for they were sealed with the Silver’s freedom, peace, hope, and light, things the Darkener could not comprehend.
The spell sundered Cyravaar into a thousand tiny shards, scattered across the universe; its mind took the form of an artifact capable of distorting physical laws, the mask known as the Vahi. Anyone who could tap its powers could alter life and death itself; for Cyravaar was a powerful titan, and its power are still great. Its shards eventually collected around a black hole, forming the Starweb which eventually gave the neuroscythes their power.* Cyravaar remained imprisoned in the Vahi, while the Starweb floated in the void, waiting to grant some of Cyravaar’s power to a worthy race.
Meanwhile, Koranis’ prison had been drawn into orbit around a newborn star. As this star aged, planets formed around it; and one of these planets enveloped and cooled around the Darkener’s prison. Four moons orbited this world, tugging at its new oceans; and eventually life emerged. This planet was Khass.
The Lord of Loss spent millennia tearing at its bonds, and eventually, through assault after assault, opened four rents in the spell, in the seams between Light, Hope, Freedom, and Peace. Through these rents it poured forth its own energies into the universe – Destruction, Plague, War and Death- darkening it, and forming the universe we know today, a dark place full of these swarming evils.
Then it turned its attentions to the beings living on the surface of the world it was within. The primitive Khai were a promising race, but the Darkener’s energies contaminated them. It left a tiny spot, a replica of its own heart, at the back of each Khai’s mind, turning each newborn to evil and corruption. Legend said that many were not infected by this mind plague, but that they were turned to evil by their friends and compatriots, or killed. Very few Khai will ever be truly good. Those that will be good will change the world forever – if they live.
The Khai were enhanced and made great by the Lord of Loss’ energy. They became great warriors and thinkers, and soon, they held much of the space around them in an iron grasp. Meanwhile, the evil that Koranis continued to pour through the rents in his bindings only grew. Soon this evil condensed on distant worlds, forming smaller versions of Koranis, minions like those he had commanded ages ago.
Although Cyravaar was imprisoned, it still tried to halt Koranis’ slow subversion of the Titan’s creation. It dispatched as many emissaries it could afford. One, named Mata Nui, met and battled on of Koranis’ newly formed offspring. Makuta and Mata Nui carried on the eternal battle of their forefathers.
Unbeknownst to them, Cyravaar itself lay on the island where they battled, and it was determined to use this island, called Mata Nui itself, as a base from which to stop Koranis. The coastline of the island was as far as its sorely stretched powers could reach.
A great war lay on the horizon…
More soon! Reviews really appreciated. I tried to use a different, prophetic writing style for this chapter.
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Oct 19 2003, 06:50 PM
Oct 23 2003, 04:59 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Readers, remember: these are the Toa's interpretations of prophecies, NOT word-for-word what the prophecies say. They don't make much sense as prophecies. They're in past tense, for one thing.
Shabren’s Prophecies continue…
Although Cyravaar had failed in its goal of protecting the universe from Koranis’ predations, it still found hope, for hope was one of its Four Virtues. Despite its stretched powers, it still maintained a tentative link to the closest of the emissaries it had dispatched to try to halt Koranis’ minions.
Cyravaar contacted Mata Nui and told its creation what it had to do. The lesser spirit created six warriors, destined to assist its forefather Cyravaar and Cyravaar’s own chosen beings. Mata Nui expended all its power creating these warriors, and even then it was unable to make them as truly powerful as Cyravaar wished. Before it could regain its energies, Makuta took advantage of Mata Nui’s weakness and imprisoned it.
But Mata Nui’s legacy remained. Six warriors, the Toa, remained, prepared to join the battle against Koranis. But Cyravaar was dismayed by how its plan had gone astray. While Koranis continued with its slow corruption of the universe, coming closer and closer to making it into the hellish living inferno it so desired, Cyravaar struggled to activate the Toa and send them to the island of Mata Nui, where they could begin their mission. The Toa were stored in a comet, known as the Red Star, where Mata Nui had hidden them so Makuta could not locate and destroy these last bastions of hopes.
Cyravaar in vain tried to extend its powers to this comet, attempting to send the activation signal. After nearly eight centuries of vain attempts, it finally managed to activate them. Within the year, the Toa had arrived on Mata Nui and sent Makuta into retreat. Makuta, though, was only a tiny portion of Koranis’ power, and Cyravaar knew that the Toa alone had no hope against the Deathfear.
It had to wait. Its only other allies were the neuroscythes, who had long ago stumbled upon the Starweb, the remnants of Cyravaar’s old power. Imprisoned within the Vahi, all Cyravaar could do was give them information and advice, but the neuroscythes themselves had gained a sizable fraction of Cyravaar’s power from the Starweb. They struggled to hold back Koranis’ minions, but could do nothing against Koranis itself.
Finally, something wondrous happened. For all its tremendously long life, Cyravaar had created servants of the Light to aid it, such as Mata Nui; but it had never had the power to create the four Avatars it needed to defeat Koranis once and for all. It would need an Avatar of Light, Hope, Peace, and Freedom, the last being the greatest of them all; and these avatars would need to defeat Koranis’ own four avatars.
At long last, Cyravaar learned of the birth of a new neuroscythe, one with wisdom and power beyond anything that had come before. It named the new neuroscyhte Abdiel, and instructed the other neuroscythes to raise him well. Cyravaar was certain this was the first and most outwardly powerful of his avatars, Light.
Through long studies of prophecies and a series of massive search-spells, Abdiel determined where and when the other Avatars of Cyravaar would be born. His companion in the search was his father and greatest friend, Sambiel, who aided him in locating the Avatars and planning what to do to protect them from Koranis
Abdiel and Sambiel were shocked to learn that the Avatars would all be born relatively soon, and that two of them would come from Khass itself, the world built around the prison of Koranis. The serpent-heads had already claimed a huge empire by that time, and were feared galaxy-wide. That one of this almost universally malicious and cruel race would save the universe was beyond belief.
Sambiel went to Khass, searching for clues as to why two Avatars would be born here. He researched the lore of Koranis, and was fascinated by it. Slowly, he became obsessed with Koranis and its dark power, and in the end, decided that the best thing to do would be to free it. He had been completely corrupted by Koranis’ will. Khass itself was permeated with evil emanating from Koranis, and like a plague, this evil had infected, subverted, and taken control of Sambiel. All that was left of the old, noble neuroscythe was gone. He was the first of Koranis’ Avatars, the Avatar of Plague.
Abdiel was horrified by his father’s defection, but he stubbornly pushed ahead with his plan. He found an Avatar on Crossroads Station, a street orphan rejected by all because of his shapeshifting talent. With this Avatar, Konro, under his wing, Abdiel founded a freedom fighter’s movement, trying to push the Exosphere out of Crossroads altogether.
Meanwhile, Sambiel contacted the government of Khass and informed them of his discoveries. The Exosphere, seeing power in Koranis’ freedom, immediately agreed to help him, and began a massive project, digging towards the core of Khass. Sambiel was unaware that an Avatar of Cyravaar, the most important of them all, was a noble-born getting military experience by guarding the dig site. She was present when the dig finally broke through into the outer shells of Koranis’ prison, and the Deathfear himself spoke to Sambiel.
Sambiel had long ago discovered that the mind of Cyravaar, imprisoned in the Vahi, would be required as a power source for the ritual to free Koranis. He told this to Koranis, then rushed to arrange an expedition to Mata Nui. Before his plans could go through, the expedition was mysteriously cancelled.
Sambiel was contacted by Kasstaxa, a famously lethal young politician who had left a trail of dead bodies in her ascent to power. She herself had canceled the expedition, because she wanted to use Mata Nui’s protodermis reserves as a lever to power and did not want anyone else discovering them.
Sambiel asked how she had discovered Mata Nui, and she replied that during her brief banishment from Khass after her early political assassinations were discovered, her scout ship crew had found the planet and its protodermis reserves. Sambiel arranged a new expedition with her, designed to retrieve the Vahi, but it was delayed for years as Kasstaxa manipulated the political situation so as to be perfectly ready for her ascent.
Sambiel found himself, despite his incredible power, increasingly amazed by Kasstaxa. He eventually found her commanding him instead of treating him as an equal, but he did not object, realizing that only an Avatar of Koranis would be able to command another Avatar. Kasstaxa was the greatest Avatar of Koranis, Death.
Meanwhile, the young guard who was truly an avatar of Cyravaar had been shipped off Khass for duty offworld. Her first post was on Crossroads, where she became Abdiel’s friend. There she became convinced that the Exosphere’s policies of extermination and slavery were wrong, and she became involved in Abdiel’s freedom fighters. However, she was relocated again, watching in despair and increasing frustration as the units she was assigned to brutalized, murdered, and enslaved countless innocent beings.
Eventually she grew to hate the universe and the things it had forced her to do. Abdiel realized that she was dangerously close to falling to darkness. The Heart of Koranis in the back of the young Khai’s mind encouraged these bitter thoughts. Abdiel realized that only a being with enough free will to hate the universe the Titans had created could be the true exemplar of Freedom, and thus, these thoughts were necessary for her true role. Still, he worried about them, for they led the young Khai towards a dangerous precipice, the fall into darkness.
During the next several years, the various Avatars waited for events to bring them to their proper places. By the time the Invasion of Mata Nui began, all but one of the Avatars of Koranis had been found and knew of their place; but only one of the Avatars of Cyravaar was prepared. Fate had dictated that it would be so, and fate had put the Avatars in their proper places for the last phases of the upcoming war.
And now the Last War of the Titans looms over us, the ultimate conclusion of the universal conflict that has shaped our fates for millennia.
The Four Avatars shall battle the Anti-Four. The warriors of Light, the neuroscythes, shall battle the Blackscythes. And the armies of light, led by the Toa, will clash with the Armies of Koranis.
The conqueror shall control the fate of the universe.
Of the vanquished, nothing shall remain.
Not very well-written, but it sure did explain everything. Comments appreciated!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Oct 23 2003, 05:01 PM
Oct 27 2003, 08:22 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The Toa return to the fleet, but first some unanswered questions must be resolved …
The Toa didn’t disturb the near-sacred silence of the Angel Moon, and only the whisper of the wind brushing like silk across the ground interrupted their flight back up the canyon wall and the short hike back to the ion flyer. But when the rear hatch had been sealed and Pohatu, the only one who seemed able to talk after the reading of the prophecies, was guiding the ship up through the atmosphere, the passenger compartment burst out into a near-shouting frenzy of questions.
Tahu restored order with a slightly muted glare, and took the seat closest to the cockpit. Pohatu had left the sliding partition ajar, and the Toa of Fire began a short interrogation through the open door. “Pohatu, what does all that have to do with your transformation? And us?”
“Transformation?” Pohatu said innocently. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, please,” Tahu snorted. “Former Toa of Stone, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Compare yourself now to the being you were on Mata Nui half a year ago. You’re more confident, wiser, more knowledgeable, and above all, more powerful. I haven’t seen you use your stone powers once since you used the Vahi on Crossroads Station.”
Pohatu shrugged. “Gali understands.”
The Toa of Water’s eyes were wide with understanding. “Shabren’s Prophecies said the Vahi was the prison for Cyravaar’s mind. If Pohatu used it, then he would have had to have talked with the Titan itself. Cyravaar must have granted him the powers he’s developed.”
Pohatu nodded, a slight silver gleam in his eyes. “Good, good. Almost right. Cyravaar simply awakened powers dormant within us all. When he ordered the creation of us six Toa, it wanted us all to have those powers, the powers of Light; but Mata Nui didn’t have enough energy, and was forced to give each of us perhaps a sixth of what Cyravaar had desired. Cyravaar enabled the dormant powers that Mata Nui had left room for, but hadn’t had the energy to create.”
Tahu stared at him, a hungry gleam in his eyes. “We can all develop the ability to smite foes with silver bolts? Create that armor we heard about in Konro’s tales?”
Pohatu smiled at him. “Indeed. Of course, it’s a humbling experience, and I doubt you’ll have your power-hungry smile after you’ve had your own innate potential enabled.”
Tahu ignored him. “Can you show us how?”
“Patience, Tahu,” Pohatu said, with seemingly infinite patience. “I have more to explain.” He turned back to the other Toa. “When I used the Vahi, I learned of its true power. Because it is the prison of Cyravaar, it prevents the Titan from using most if its powers, but Cyravaar was able to work through me to channel some power into the universe. As a Titan, it can alter physical laws and even, on a small scale, the nature of death itself. It brought you back from the dead, and channeled its own power through you and I to create that silver cyclone which sent Korm running. We might have finished him off there, if not for the fact that the link was imperfect, as Onua was missing.”
Lewa nodded. “So that’s how we did that.”
“Indeed,” Kopaka said, assessing Pohatu with icy eyes. “Tell me, Pohatu, what is our destiny in this conflict? If we are not the Avatars of Cyravaar, then what is our prophecied role?”
“Ah,” Pohatu said. “Cyravaar explained that much to me. The war has three layers; the Followers, the Warriors, the Chosen, and the Avatars. The Followers would be our fleet, the Crusaders, and the Khai. They’ll fight, and honestly, I think the Khai will crush us.”
“Fortunately, the Followers are the least important part of the conflict. The Warriors are the Scythed and us; we have to defeat the Scythed that Korm and Sambiel have been creating. They’re vulnerable to the power of the Light, so we shouldn’t have too much trouble…I hope.” He emitted a basso chuckle as the four other Toa stared at each other in horror. The Scythed were entropic nightmares from beyond the grave, things that none of them ever wanted to fight again.
“Next we have the Chosen. Those would be the neuroscythes and the blackscythes. The blackscythes have less experience, but they have the raw power of Koranis beneath them, feeding them energy. It will be a close match, and Cyravaar itself doesn’t know the outcome.”
“And the avatars.” He smiled. “Want to know who they are?”
The Toa leaned forward in invitation. Pohatu chuckled again. “On our side we have…any guesses?”
Kopaka frowned. “Two Khai…I would guess Ssrin and Thau. Ssrin seems to have known Abdiel, and that fits with the prophecies. We know Konro already…the last would be Abdiel, of course, we know that too.”
Pohatu clapped his hands gleefully. “And the others?”
Gali said uncertainly, “Kasstaxa, Korm, Sambiel, and…no…” An agonized expression twisted across her face. “Pohatu, please say it isn’t.”
Pohatu nodded, his expression becoming grave. “Onua.”
Tahu cursed. “Can we bring ourselves to slay our friend?”
Pohatu bowed his head. “If we’re fortunate, we won’t have to. Ssrin will carry that out for us.”
“No,” Gali said, the steel in her voice nearly making Pohatu jump. “We have to do it ourselves.” Kopaka nodded. “For him.”
Pohatu nodded in reply, the silver light in his eyes suddenly blossoming into nearly blinding radiance. “Are we prepared for the rituals of transformation?”
“Sure thing,” Tahu said sarcastically, from behind an upraised arm. “I’m half blind.”
Pohatu raised his hands and suddenly words began to pour from his mouth. They were beautiful, chiming, like the singing of the stars or the light refracting through a field of diamonds. They rolled and resonated through the very fabric of space, and the air around them seemed to vibrate in a slow rhythm.
As the song built towards a climax, the rhythm suddenly quickened, matching the beating of their hearts in pace and tone. Tahu emitted a scream of agony, followed by a trio of echoes. His very blood seemed to be boiling with a primal fire, an agony which stretched into every extremity of his body.
With a last despairing wail, as power coursed through his nerves and blood vessels, he blacked out. His body continued to twitch and writhe as the laws of the universe rewrote themselves around him, sheathing him in a shining cocoon of silver light.
Feedback appreciated! Sorry that chapter was so short, more tomorrow, I think.
Oct 28 2003, 08:17 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The Toa arrive at the fleet, just in time to prepare for the final assault on Khass itself, heart of the Exosphere…
Pohatu watched concernedly as the feverish, twitching forms of his fellow Toa continued their painful but hopefully worthwhile transformation. He’d triggered their transformation into cyrescythes, as the prophecies had dubbed the ‘completed Toa,’ and now he could only hope that he’d carried out Cyravaar’s instructions correctly and that the Toa would be all right – in fact, improved – when the changes wracking their bodies finally passed.
A low, rumbling sensation had built in the passenger compartment of the ion flyer as it hurtled through the subcontinuum back towards the Crusader fleet. Pohatu had himself noticed it earlier, when he alone had been granted cyrescythe powers, but it had been far lower and less noticeable. It was the aura of distortion that rang around any being of such power, neuroscythe, blackscythe, or cyrescythe; the odd waves of ‘wrongness’ that emanated from any being which did not quite obey the normal rules of the universe.
There was something magical about scythe powers, but it was easily explained. Scythe powers were the ability to alter the fundamental laws of the universe, and thereby creating changes in energy, mass, gravity, electromagnetism, or more mysterious forces via invocations and power words. This meant that a being with scythe powers did not in itself obey the laws of the universe, and therefore it interacted with other things strangely; one symptom of this twisted interaction was the fact that air around a scythe had a tendency to rumble and shift ominously as subtle waves of distorted gravity and magnetism pulsed through it, emanating from the power that a scythe tapped and held within his or her self.
Now the auras of six such beings were beginning to fill the air of the passenger compartment. Silver light highlighted the twitching, agonized Toa as they slumbered, racing up and down their limbs and collecting in their half-shut eyes.
Pohatu himself kept his power concealed, but if he chose to, he could blaze with a blinding silver light, armoring and protecting him and providing a visible symbol of his power. That power was now beginning to fill the Toa, integrating with and growing beyond their old elemental abilities.
With that power would come knowledge of the responsibilities they had to take up. The fate of the universe rested on their newly empowered shoulders.
Pohatu sighed, not sure what the sigh meant, and returned to the pilot’s chair to make sure they were still on course.
Some time later…
Konro and Rheuss stood shoulder-by-shoulder and stared out into the void. It was lit by more than the diamond-chip field of the stars; a fireworks display of glowing running lights and dazzling engine flares emitted a cascade of light that poured in through the forward viewer and threw the faces of the Sword of Might’s bridge crew into sharp relief.
“Amazing,” Konro breathed. “Simply amazing.”
Rheuss nodded next to him. Her body was still frail and weak; much of its strength had gone with the passing of the Scythed infection, and was only slowly returning.
But she was burning with an inner strength which seemed to support her and shine through the patched fur and weak joints of her now-frail body. Konro occasionally thought that strength might burn through her skin and she’d explode. She was completely devoted to freeing the universe from the Exosphere. Gone was the admiral concerned more with returning home safely than with winning their fight. She was Konro’s right hand, providing tactical advice and sound planning in the last two day’s frantic preparations for the attack on Khass. Konro himself had been amazed by how important she’d become.
With her reversal, the entire Lernean fleet had been changed. Suddenly the single-eared, multi-mouthed felines were no longer the least trusted and least inspiring members of the Crusaders; they were a quiet but dynamic engine of efficiency and inspiring leadership. The Lerneans had probably gotten more done in terms of planning and preparation in the last few days than the rest of the fleet put together.
Konro had been amazed when the entire tactical staff of the Sword of Might’s planning section had worked for nearly eighteen hours straight without sleep to integrate the Shorinor and bladeling fleets into the Crusader’s communications networks and tactical response algorithms. Even more astonishing was the fact that the entire new devotion could be traced back through Rheuss to Abdiel, a member of the neuroscythes, who the Lerneans had never trusted. Abdiel had apparently shared some long-forgotten prophecies with Rheuss, and she’d gone berserk, telling her crew members that Konro was one of the legendary Lernean Heroes who would free the cat-like race from oppression and lead them into a new golden age.
Oddly enough, Konro thought with a smile, he was beginning to think that there might be some truth to that. He’d been having strange dreams, and Abdiel had kept giving him cryptic messages in the midst of planning sessions. He’d been touring a Vart ship’s fighter bays when a crate had broken free of a hauling crane and dropped on him; it wasn’t large enough to hurt him, but nevertheless, there was a silver flash and the crate bounced off him like his skin was made of rock. Either the stress was driving him insane, or there was more to him than his newly discovered powers of persuasion.
Even this could be traced back to Abdiel. Konro remembered the neuroscythe leader coming into Konro’s quarters on the Sword of Might, but he couldn’t remember what the neuroscythe had wanted to talk about. Konro had the embarrassing feeling that he might have drifted off to sleep, because he’d awoken a few hours later with an agonizing series of aches and pains dotting his body, like he’d had a seizure while he was asleep.
Let’s hope that wasn’t what really happened, he thought with a grin, and turned his eyes back to the starfield. “Rheuss, is everything prepared?”
She nodded grimly. “We’re set. Every ship has a copy of our attack plan and our standing orders; the Shorinor have agreed to stop threatening to eat the Varts; and we’ve repaired all the damage to the bladeling mining ships. The fighter pilots have been briefed and we’ve worked out our general strategy for them. The ground assault troops are ready to begin the invasion when we penetrate the planetary defenses. But I still have a question…” Her voice trailed off apprehensively.
“Fire away,” Konro said, picking a portable computer tablet off one of the nearest tables and reviewing a short checklist of final preparations for the attack. They’d be ready within the hour.
“If we defeat the space defenses but the ground invasion fails…” Rheuss said hesitantly, her voice trailing off again.
Do we retreat, or do we blast the surface of Khass into slag with the ship’s main guns? “We can’t lose this opportunity. As atrocious as a planetary bombardment would be, the retributions by an angered but still surviving Khass would kill billions more.”
Rheuss nodded. “Good. Then we are behind you one hundred percent. I think I speak for not just the Lerneans, but the whole fleet, when I say that, Admiral.”
Konro nodded. “Then let’s get this show on the road. Begin the countdown to the final attack.”
Rheuss shook her head. “I believe that honor belongs to you, Admiral.”
Konro took a deep breath, suddenly feeling the weight of the millions of lives within the fleet pressing like a block of armor plate on his back. A voice seemed to mutter within his head, It’s not too late to go back. Go home and end this silly adventure. Save all this death and destruction
Without a quaver in his voice, he turned to address the bridge crew and said firmly, “Order all vessels to enter final attack formation. Less than a day from now, the universe will be free from the Exosphere.”
There was no applause or cheering, simply satisfied nods. Everyone here felt that this was the most important thing they would ever do, and they were determined to do it right.
A familiar, comforting voice suddenly echoed inside Konro’s mind. Konro, this is Abdiel. Please find somewhere private to talk to me. I have some explanations to make.
Outside the forward viewer, the Crusaders began to slip into their attack formations. What Konro had said had not been quite accurate. The Exosphere was the most lethal military force in known space. Less than a day from now, they would all be free from the Exosphere, or dead. Whether death was still freedom from tyranny would also be decided within the next fateful day.
Feedback appreciated! Thanks for reading.
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Oct 28 2003, 08:45 PM
Oct 29 2003, 05:00 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Just as the Toa finally return to the fleet, Konro emerges from his short mental conversation from Abdiel with an astonishing announcement…
“Incoming vessel, sir,” one of the Lernean sensor officers announced as Konro emerged from his conference room. “It appears to be the ion flyer the Toa borrowed.”
Konro nodded, still overwhelmed by what Abdiel had told him. Petty concerns like incoming ships really didn’t seem that important any more. His sudden knowledge of his own fate burned in the back of his mind, a newfound purpose that gave him both hope and fear. So he really hadn’t been imagining all those odd occurrences; they were true; and he’d have to fight Onua and his vile friends alongside the other Avatars.
More than the fate of the Crusaders rested on his shoulders. The fate of the entire universe was in his hands.
“Clear them to dock,” he said quietly, then strode up the walkway to his command pedestal and opened an all-fleet channel.
“I have a message of hope for all of you brave Crusaders. I have just been granted an astonishing revelation by the neuroscythe Abdiel. Many of you are religious; many of you have heard the tales of God’s ancient war against the Adversary, or participate in various churches which worship the mythical Cyravaar.”
“It appears that these legends are true, and that we are fighting against not just the Khai and their devilish machinations, but their overlord, the Adversary itself. If we prevail today, the universe will eventually become a place as peaceful and happy as the heavens of your religion; but if we fail, everything we know and love shall be plunged into the darkest realms of torment.”
“You may not believe me. I point to the Toa Pohatu, who has shown amazing powers and capabilities in fending off the Scythed Onua; and to the other Toa, who even know have undergone the same transformation as their fellow. They possess near-mystical powers which can be traced back to the Last Titan itself, Cyravaar.”
“As your legends state, as the Lerneans have already realized, the Avatars representing the Four Virtures of Cyravaar are fated to battle the Four Evils of the Deathfear. I am one of these avatars. I did not claim this post; it is with much reluctance that I accepted it from Abdiel. If the Avatars of Cyravaar triumph, the Exosphere falls, and so does the Adversary.”
“Suddenly a complete victory over the Exosphere is no longer necessary. All you must do is clear a path for the Avatars to make their way to the core of Khass, defeat the Avatars of Koranis, and destroy the Lord of Loss itself. I hope it does not come to this point, but if you must lay your lives down in pursuit of your duty, do so remembering that your sacrifice will be remembered a thousandfold in the days to come.”
“I hope it is with less reluctance than I showed that you accept your responsibility. Remember that the future of every living thing is in your hands. What will come to pass in death and in life in the next thousand years hinges upon our actions today.”
“Be true to this hope and this responsibility. This is Fleet Admiral Konro, signing off.”
x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x—x—x—x—
Within the hour, the fleet begins the final jump towards Khass. There is no turning back now…
“Ten seconds to jump,” the helm officer announced, his voice unreasonably calm. Konro shifted nervously in his chair and stared at the forward screen. The Sword of Might was positioned in the heart of the fleet’s diamond-around-arrowhead-around-cylinder formation, and so he could see in the forward viewer the multitude of blazing lights that marked the rest of the fleet. It was the largest military force ever assembled, 250 battleships, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, frigates, corvettes, destroyers, pickets, carriers, landing ships, and fleet tenders. Thousands of fighters and soldiers stood ready inside their docking bays. The Crusader’s fleet contained the most potent array of destruction every assembled, save in the long-ago wars between the Titans.
They were in final attack formation, every crewmember standing ready at battle stations, every hand and mind focused on one goal; the defeat of the Exosphere. Konro had half-expected the fleet to fall apart at his sudden announcement of the mystical reasons behind their war, but if anything, it had cleared up the last arguments, rifts, divisions, and prejudices that had divided them. There were no more Varts, or Qwohmlin, or Lerneans, or Y’lath, or Shorinor, or bladelings, or any of the other races; there were simply Crusaders, fixed on the goal of a better universe.
They would attain it, or die trying, Konro thought. Just as he had found his purpose and suddenly been more than a splatter, the Crusaders were know more than a fleet. They had a divine purpose, and they were going to fulfill it.
The metaphorical, invisible pendulum of fate swung up its last arc, and began to descend.
“Jump now,” the helm officer said, and with a sudden blurring the screen shimmered, wavered, and exploded into a rainbow of writhing colored ribbons as the Sword of Might and the rest of the fleet dropped out of normal space. They were in the subcontinuum, traveling faster than light, perhaps five minutes from Khass itself.
x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x—x—x—x—
Gali stared out at the ribbons of colored light that whirled by outside. They arced and twisted confusedly, as if bent out of shape by unknown forces. Like us, she thought wryly. The Toa had been torn from Mata Nui less than a year ago, and hurtled into a series of events and battle and alien races that they rarely, if ever, understood. All they could do was react to what came to face them.
And now they were part of what was reportedly the largest war ever carried out. As soon as they had landed one of Konro’s aids had bustled aboard, taken the controls of the ion flyer from an amused-looking Pohatu, and shuttled them to one of the troop transports waiting in the core of the fleet. It held nearly a thousand dedicated soldiers, but the Toa had been given births amongst the combat mechanoids in the cargo bay.
Tahu sat on the armor-plated skirt of a gigantic hovertank and moodily rubbed his hand along the blade of his sword. Lewa idly picked his way through an instruction manual for driving the same tank, while Pohatu tried to strike up a conversation with a combat mechanoid which looked like robotic, four-legged Toa in massive plate armor and wielding a pair of coronal-discharge rifles, albeit with little success, considering that it replied in monosyllabic ‘yes’s and ‘no’s. Kopaka stood by a weapons rack on one side of the dimly lit, dirty cargo bay, examining with some interest a Qwohmlin particle sniper rifle nearly the length of his sword.
Gali returned her gaze to the subcontinuum whirling by outside. This is it, she thought, and turned away to join her friends. The Scythed and other unknown horrors awaited on the other end of this madly-colored tunnel, and she was determined not to waste this last opportunity for a chat.
x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x— x—x—x—x—x—x—x—x—
Onua picked his way through the cargo bay of the Exosphere gunboat, wondering in some burning niche of his mind what an observer would make of his recent movements. He’d been infected with the Scythed Plague on Crossroads, the greatest event of his life; after it had fully taken him over and he’d broken loose of the sickbay on the fleeing rebel’s transport, he’d fled by escape shuttle to Kasstaxa’s cloaked transport.
After that he’d taken a cloaked sneakpod and returned to this gunboat, the original one Ssrin had stolen from Mata Nui, where the Vahi had been transferred to from the Exosphere transport that the Toa had escaped from Crossroads on. He had received new orders from his masters, telling him to force Ssrin away from the fleet to prevent her from being told she was an Avatar, and to carry those out he’d had to call in some assets.
He’d ordered a group of Exosphere frigates to blast their way into the fleet and cause as much havoc as possible, especially disabling the shields of the Lernean flagship. They’d obeyed to the letter, ignoring typical Exosphere tactics to cause as much distraction as possible; when the gunboat he’d been hitching a ride on had been hit, he’d jettisoned his pod, disguising the thump of his exit as the impact of an autocannon shell. From there he’d drifted through the downed shields of the Sword of Might, docked, and infected Admiral Rheuss.
He’d used her to drive Ssrin away with a pinpoint shot to her ion flyer’s power systems, and was about to follow through with Kasstaxa’s plan to divide the fleet by using the Lernean’s admiral to attack the Qwohmlin and throw the Crusaders into civil war, when the irritating Pohatu had shown up. He didn’t have the raw power of an Avatar, but he had possessed his cyrescythe abilities longer than Onua had been an avatar, and Onua had expended a tremendous amount of power infecting Rheuss. He’d had to modify the Scythed Plague so it would leave Rheuss self-aware and able to disguise herself, instead of obliterating her consciousness, as it normally would have. That took a tremendous amount of energy, and so did mind-controlling the Lernean bridge crew. It was right when he was at his weakest when Pohatu showed up.
In frustration, Onua had teleported away, heading instinctively to the safest place he knew of: Khass. After spending some time recuperating there, and watching Kasstaxa train her blackscythe minions, he’d returned to his old haunts on a new mission.
He pulled his mind back to the present. He was in the dimly lit cargo hold of the Exosphere gunboat, crawling between stacks of missiles for the ship’s launchers; and ahead of him was a room-sized cube of armor plate. Inside it was the Vahi.
Konro had had it put under guard and surrounded in a shell of armor. Onua chuckled, a deep, ruined sound, crackling with the flames of all-consuming destruction. The black inferno licking across his skin blazed up into an even darker array of flaring fire in anticipation of the havoc he was about to wreak. Neither armor nor guards could stop the Avatar of Destruction.
I shall crush them as I should have crushed those puny Matoran; their screams shall make a symphony of pain; and their blood will flow like a river suddenly let loose from a dam and returned to its rightful place. Darkness shall consume them, in the name of Koranis…
Raising his hands, Onua began to cast a spell, syllables rolling from his mouth like thunderclaps. Black lightning played around his hands and arced up his arms as he crafted an atrocity, an affrontery to the very nature of reality. Cyrescythe and neuroscythe powers worked by subtly changing the laws of the universe; blackscythe and Koranis’ Avatar powers worked by sending the laws of the universe fleeing in abject terror.
The spell went off with a sharp crack, and lightning spewed from his clenched fists to halo his form in arcs of blue-black energy. As it passed, he faded too, until he was as insubstantial as a shadow, merely a flat black form crawling across the floor.
He reached the box of armor plate and passed through it as if he wasn’t there, slipping through the two feet of solid metal without a sound, like the shadow he had become. Inside this two feet of metal waited twenty heavily armed guards, on alert and prepared to do anything to defend the fabled Mask.
That same two feet of metal prevented anyone from hearing the screams that echoed from within. Inside a minute, even they had faded, leaving a silence the charred blackness after a sudden fire, or the yawning void beyond the grave.
After another minute, a dusky shadow slipped from within, drenched in blood and clutching something shining under its dark, spiked arm.
Feedback appreciated! One more chapter until the final battle, this one from Ssrin and Thau’s point of view…
Oct 30 2003, 08:46 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
After days of struggling through the icy wastelands of Sailath, subsisting on melted ice and captured rodents, barely speaking and on the verge of turning on each other, Ssrin and Thau finally arrive at the Exosphere protodermis mine.
Thau dropped down on the top of the icy ridge, feeling the knife-like crest of the bone-chillingly cold ice hump digging through his parka and into his numbed flesh. Ssrin had assumed a similar position a few meters away, sprawled at the top of the ridge, heads splayed for better depth perception, peering down into the orderly array of silver buildings and clusters of drilling rigs that lay about half a kilometer down the flat expense of the ridge’s slope.
The mining camp was like a silver growth on the surface of Sailath, a neat arrangement of domes and buildings, glowing with warmth and pouring out waves of steam from where heated machinery came in contact with the ice. In the center of the camp, like a mother hen brooding over her roost, sat an Exosphere transport, a long, cylindrical spine with two cone-like caps, the bridge and engines, on each end. Slung around the central spine were thickly armored containers, bristling with warning labels.
Thau could spot a few serpent-heads, armored and carrying plasma rods, standing by the drilling rigs or rushing through the spaces between the buildings on unknown errands. The camp did not appear to be heavily defended.
“I make out two barracks and a guard shack,” Ssrin said. The wind nearly tore her words to shreds, but Thau made enough of them out to understand what she was saying. “They’re not expecting trouble.”
Thau shifted uncomfortably and wrapped his hands around the ion pistol at his side. “We’ll have to fight our way to the transport.”
Ssrin sneered at him. “Think you can repress your morals long enough to shoot someone?”
“Shut up,” Thau snapped, managing to restrain his hand from slipping the ion pistol out of its near-frozen holster. He snapped its power on anyway, telling himself that it was to warm it so it wouldn’t ice over.
Ssrin picked herself up off the top of the ridge and hastily slithered down towards a concealing boulder, a black-and-brown mess of granite protruding from the ice. She hid behind it for a moment, surveying the base, then quickly slipped to another boulder. Thau looked past that one and saw that the field of jagged boulders conveniently extended down the ridge and into the camp, providing good cover for their approach.
He picked himself up, trying to ignore the aches in his joints, and hurried down the slope to the first boulder, losing his grip on the ice halfway and slamming into the rock in an undignified slide. Ssrin peered down into the camp, her heads snapping into an alarmed position. “Careful, you oaf!” she snapped, and continued moving downwards with enviable skill and grace.
Soon they had both reached the bottom of the shallow bowl that contained the combined supply depot and mine. The transport loomed over the camp, tubes snaking away from it into the surrounding drill rigs and storage tanks and giving it a resemblance to a massive silver octopus. The ice around its massive landing claws was cracked and splintered. Thau could spot two barracks buildings, seven drill rigs, six storage buildings, two unidentifiable sheds, a large green power shack, and three or four smaller miscellaneous buildings, all marked with Exosphere symbols.
Ssrin jabbed him in the ribs with the end of her plasma rod. “They probably won’t have any heat sensors rigged up if they’re not expecting trouble. Remember, these are second-liners like you. To reduce our chances of being spotted, we’re going to go in seperately.”
It took a few moments to sink in, and sudden rage began to boil inside Thau. “You’re abandoning me?”
Ssrin stared at him coldly. “If we stick together, we’ll be spotted. Two serpent-heads trying to enter the transport together will be too suspicious. I’ll go first to make sure there aren’t sensors.”
Thau stared at her, trying to think of a fault in her plan. She’s tricked me! The traitor is going to leave me here to freeze or be killed by the guards. I shouldn’t have trusted her after what she did on Crossroads…
The weeks of amicable relations onboard the fleet lay forgotten, detritus at the back of his mind. All he could focus on was his burning rage and the image of thousands of innocents on Crossroads being torn apart by the massive explosion Ssrin had created. She was the true foe in this war, the betrayer who was responsible for the destruction that had consumed Crossroads and the massive engine of annihilation that now moved on Khass. She was the true force of destruction in the universe, the one who had to be stopped. If not, she and her fleet would destroy Khass and go on to consume everything in the universe, for write or wrong, in the name of this avatar of chaos.
He had no idea how to stop her.
“Go,” he spat, hands fumbling with the pistol at his side. She sneered at him again, then leapt from behind the boulder and began a cautious advance towards the center of the camp. She passed behind a cluster of pumps, moving towards the forward hatch of the transport, and vanished, plasma rod concealed under the cloak of her cold-weather gear and twin fangblades banging against her side.
Thau took a deep breath, slid the pistol halfway out of its holster, and began to slither towards the center of the camp. He hunched inside his cloak, trying to look inconspicuous, and concentrated on keeping his balance on the slick ice.
He slid behind the same pump cluster Ssrin had vanished behind, but saw no sign of her. She might have already vanished into the shadow of the transport, nearly thirty seconds walk away. He began moving towards the ship, quietly praying to whatever gods there might be for good luck.
Something tapped him on the shoulder. It felt like a rod of metal.
Thau whirled about and came face-to-face with his worst nightmare. A warrior-class, twelve-headed Khai stood there, dressed in midnight-black energy-shield armor, a tremendous plasma rod in one hand and a nasty smile painted across his widely splayed heads. A nightmarish array of bladeling-like bone swords sprouted from his joints. He looked capable of tearing Thau apart by twitching his arms. He had one finger on Thau’s shoulder, and it was nearly as large around as the smaller Khai’s wrist.
Thau had heard of warrior-class Khai. They were specially engineered from modified eggs, genetically programmed to be engines of destruction. The last time he’d heard of them being deployed was on Mata Nui, and from some of the news he’d picked up just before the Toa’s arrival on Crossroads, five of them had single-handedly laid waste to the village of Ta-Koro and its sizable guard.
“Hello, Thau,” the nightmarish creature hissed. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Thau’s mind raced, fed by the blackness lurking at its core. The malicious, corruptive Heart immediately led him to the most likely conclusion. Ssrin’s betrayed us! She’s led all of us into a tremendous trap! The whole ‘fleet’ has been a ploy to destroy the militaries of the semi-free races!
Without thinking, his muscles motivated by the bloated darkness at the back of his mind, the same evil heart that had been manipulating his actions since the crash, Thau rammed the ion pistol into the tremendous Khai’s chest and yanked the trigger.
A blue flash and a wave of searing heat rammed Thau backwards to the snow, and he went skidding across the ice to ram with a head-spinning crash into the drill cluster. He banged off the safety cowling around a cluster of pipes, and the pistol went spinning from his grasp, skidding across the ice.
The twelve-headed Khai emitted a bellow of laughter. A small, blackened hole billowed smoke from the center of the armor plating covering his chest. The ion blast had been harmlessly absorbed. Even a plasma rod shot from point-blank range probably wouldn’t have done more than burn his skin with that kind of armor on.
As if things weren’t already bad enough, the pistol’s skid carried it into a small conical pit in the ice. At the bottom of the depression was an ungrated steam vent, a tiny hole leading deep into the icy depths of the protodermis mine. The pistol began to drop towards it.
If there was one thing Thau was, it was fast. He pulled himself up from his sprawl next to the drill cluster, ignoring the sharp pain and the rising lump at the base of his neck, and sprinted for the pistol. He dove, heads splayed wide to judge the distance, and scoped the pistol up as the warrior Khai broke into a lumbering run towards him, tail thrashing across the ice.
Thau rolled and trained the pistol as the other Khai rushed towards him, hissing like a punctured steam pipe, shunning swords and plasma rod in favor of the massive bone scythes which protruded from his wrists and elbows, in addition to other joints.
Two more Khai emerged from between the drill cluster and the nearby warehouse. They were two eight-heads, both dressed in battle armor, but they rushed away with plasma rods at their sides, ignoring the battle and heading for the transport. Thau’s mind had the sense to realize that these were probably the only other armed Khai in the entire camp, considering that any warrior-class Khai would be intelligent enough to deploy the entire guard and hold nothing back.
Thau emitted a bestial roar of his own, clear thought forgotten in the storm of blackness and hate that boiled out of the Heart at the back of his mind. He squeezed the trigger of the pistol, searing the air with cerulean bolts that pitted the ice alongside the warriors’ writhing tail, then climbed up his tail greaves, leaving burning pits, and smashing across his chest armor with little effect.
The warrior Khai reached him and smashed his hands down with unimaginable speed. The bone blades on his wrists caught the light like shards of glass. Only Thau’s incredible reflexes save him, as he rolled aside. His very identity had been forgotten, his typical sense of hope and optimism lost in the blind waves of bloodlust and madness rolling like a seaborne thunderstorm from the back of his Heart.
Thau’s desperate roll carried him nearly far enough away to avoid the descending blades. One caught his torso and sliced along the side of his parka, and then razored along his side. It left bitter cold and searing pain in its wake. Blood gushed from his torso onto the ice. The other bone blade tore a rent along the chilled ground, spraying both of them with shards of whirling water crystal.
Thau launched into another roll, tumbling backwards as the larger Khai drew back for another attack. The warrior kept his balance superbly and followed as Thau completed a back-somersault, untucking and snapping into a standing position. His freezing fingers closed around the hilt of his sword. The pistol wasn’t strong enough to cut through the armor of the massive Khai, and neither was the sword; but Thau didn’t care. The smell of blood on the air merely refreshed his Heart. The semi-intelligent minion of Koranis which dwelled in the back of all Khai’s mind recognized this one as dangerous. It had to be destroyed, and so the Heart fed Thau bloodlust, forcing him to fight when running was truly his only option.
The lone sword came out in a crosswards parry as the wristblades sliced in again, the full force of the massive Khai’s musculature behind them. Thau caught the two blades and deflected them upwards, flattening his necks, and they whistled through the space where his heads had been moments before.
The massive Khai cut low with one blade, thrusting for his chest with the other. Thau slammed his lower wrist away with the end of his tail, batting away the chest thrust with a quick slash.
The larger Khai retreated and grinned at him. Blood dripped from one of its wristblades, and it smeared the flat of the sword across its armor, leaving a streak of Thau’s drying blood. “Give up and I’ll make your end quick, shol’vah.”
“Traitor?” Thau snarled. “I’ll have you repeat that when I’ve slit your throats.” His threat was brought to an abrupt end as the warrior struck with one wristblade, then cut towards his already-damaged side with an elbowblade. Thau whirled backwards frantically, ignoring a fresh spurt of blood from his wound, and managed to parry one blow and dodge the other.
A fresh wave of madness overtook him, and Thau launched into a mad attack. To an observer, it was clear which way the battle was going. Thau danced insanely, striking wildly, his blows sloppy due to blood loss, cold and exhaustion. He whirled about the warrior’s position, slashing and thrusting with abandon, doing his best to indulge the storm of insanity emanating from his Heart.
The warrior barely twitched, moving with supreme economy and intelligence, using the closest boneblade to block and riposte, hardly expending any energy while Thau tired himself. Finally the gigantic warrior seemed to slip, leaving an opening in his defenses.
Thau lunged madly, stabbing upwards hard towards the pitted holes on the warrior’s breastplate. The warrior was ready. The larger Khai blocked his thrust with a contemptuous double-cross parry, then swept both crossed swords out, forcing Thau’s blade back towards him. The smaller Khai whirled his sword away and struck low.
The warrior blocked with a slight shift of his ankle, bringing the bone blade there in line and smashing Thau’s black sword down into the ice. Thau snarled at him, a wordless expression of equally mindless rage, and tugged the sword back up towards guard position.
It stuck. A crevice in the ice had snagged it.
-x—x—x— x—x —x—x— x—x —x—x—-x—x—x— x—x —x—x— x—x —x—x—
Ssrin reached the emergency access hatch on the bottom of the protodermis transport and reached for the controls to open it. Thirty more seconds, and I’m leaving without him. Thau is too weak to survive, and I can’t be slowed down. The Exosphere has to be stopped, and I’m starting to think he’s more of a nuisance than a help.
As she tapped on the controls, she detected faint sound behind her. She whirled one head about, furiously scanning the area for danger. Two serpent-heads came edging around the transport’s landing claw, staring towards where she was hidden behind a stack of crates. Thau’s given me away! The traitor!
She smashed the last code sequence into the keypad and ducked behind the crates as the hatch swung open, puffing warm air into the frigid atmosphere of the ice moon. Reflections whirled across the surface of the hatch as it swung open.
Including one of a blood-soaked Thau dueling a massive warrior-class Khai. And losing.
And suddenly, with the instant, whirling clarity of a shattered mirror, the veil of illusion and deception that the Heart of Darkness had laid down over her thoughts blew apart.
I lied. One more chapter after this before the final battle. Any feedback? Ideas for the climactic conflict?
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Oct 30 2003, 08:49 PM
Nov 2 2003, 08:50 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
A note: when the term ‘ankle’ is applied to a Khai, it refers to the area about three-quarters down the length of the tail. ‘Knee’ is similarly about half of the way down the tail. Yes, this was intentional, not an accidental correction.
As Thau, driven to madness by his Heart of Darkness, duels with a lethal and overwhelmingly powerful warrior Khai, Ssrin’s true feelings break through the layer of deceit and anger that her own Heart has layered over her mind since the crash on Sailath…
The dark web shattered as the sight of Thau’s imminent death smashed like a bludgeon through the panes of distorting glass that Ssrin’s Heart had layered over her mind. The Heart had seen what was happening within Ssrin, and following the bidding of Koranis, it moved to stamp out the greatest danger that could threaten its dark progenitor.
Koranis was a distillation, a source, of destruction, corruption, entropy, and evil. If there was one thing in the universe that was an abomination in his sight, it was what had grown between Ssrin and Thau over the past few months.
Koranis’ minions had conspired to keep the two Khai apart, filling their minds with waves of distrust, anger, and conceit. They had ripped asunder any hint of the terrible emotion that they suspected lurked within the two’s minds. But at the true heart of their minds, the place where their concealed Avatar powers lay, love had remained undiminished.
And now, like a comet, it burst forth, triggered by desperation and fear, crashing through deceit and treachery and blasting them aside. This arc of all-consuming lightning devoured the anger that had spread between the two, smashed away Ssrin’s suspicion of treachery, and vaporized any remaining doubts as to whether Thau was trustworthy.
The two shared a bond beyond time, space, life or death. They had been through more together in a shorter time than nearly anything that had lived. They had seen friends die, millions sacrificed, and hope extinguished. They had seen the rising darkness that threatened to devour them all. They alone of all the Crusaders understood the true might of the Exosphere. Ssrin had shared with Thau her knowledge of the existence of Koranis and her determination to keep it imprisoned. They were perhaps the only good beings in a race known for pure evil, malice, and hatred.
The feelings that had sprung up between them were inevitable.
And behind this devouring explosion of compassion came a wave of silver light, as Ssrin’s avatar powers exploded from where her Heart of Darkness had concealed them, like the sun suddenly bursting forth from behind a bank of fog. Silver light poured between her scales, rushed up her limbs, and gathered in her eyes. Her skin was washed out by silver radiance pouring from within her. Raw power of good seemed to electrify her, rushing through her every vein, carried along with the oxygen in her blood cells, tracing along her nerves with axon impulses, hitchhiking on the neuropeptides that soared between the portions of her brain. She was permeated with light, filled with it, enveloped in an aura of true power.
With this power came knowledge, and an understanding of what had passed, what was happening now, and what was to come. She saw in an equally blinding flash everything that she needed to know; Shabren’s Prophecy and the role that she was to play in it; and the rank she held in the universe, as the greatest avatar of Cyravaar, Freedom.
She saw the shadows of death that lurked at the end of her path. The future was in flux, constantly changing, and she could not tell if that death was for a purpose, or a simple waste. She turned away from the end of her life.
Her mind soared along the infinite pathways of time and space, arced between strands of fate, and wove a web of silver along the traceries of the past. Then it arrowed back up the timeline to the present, leaving a rippling wake of distortion in its past.
Ssrin acted. The power that flowed through her mind exploded from her fingertips as she leapt from behind the crate. The two Khai who had been approaching her hiding place stared in astonishment as a glowing silver comet cascaded out from the stack of crates where the sensors had tracked Ssrin to.
Their orders were simple; capture the renegade. If an Avatar was killed before the final reckoning between the two sides, the prophecies would fail utterly and no one would be able to tell where the future would lead. It would be up for grabs; and Kasstaxa intended that she and Koranis would be the ones to grab it. Kasstaxa had instructed them personally to make sure Ssrin was killed. She could have instructed Onua to strike at her earlier, and in fact she had; but Ssrin had slipped away from the possessed Lernean admiral, and it had taken some time for the sinister ruler of the Exosphere to locate the renegade.
The two Khai were her best agents, not blackscythe-trained, but more than match for Ssrin. They were assassins in the deadliest sense of the word.
But they hadn’t expected Ssrin’s Avatar powers to have somehow unleashed themselves, without a void diamond or the favor of Koranis or Cyravaar being used to release them. Neither of them had time to react as a flurry of silver bolts pounded them, bypassing their armor as if it didn’t exist, and smashed through their skin. The energy Ssrin had unleashed reacted catastrophically with the energy of the Heart of Darkness, which permeated these Khai’s souls. Light and darkness met in a cataclysmic explosion, and the two Khai burst into pure white flames, screaming as they were consumed, and then vanished. The only trace left of them was a slowly cooling puddle of melted ice, surrounded by a halo of twisted armor and weapon components.
They hadn’t stood a chance. Like an avenging angel, Ssrin stalked past where the two dead Khai had stood and hurled herself towards the battle raging near the pump cluster.
Thau stared down at his doom. The sword was lodged in the ice. He frantically attempted to lever it out, as, laughing, the massive twelve-head warrior in the black armor drew back both his wristblades and prepared to plunge them into Thau’s chest.
And suddenly light exploded from nearby and Ssrin came hurtling between them, faster than either of their dazed eyes could follow, surrounded by a dazzling aura of silver that played along her limbs and collected like reflections in water in the pools of her eyes. Her twin fangblades caught and deflected the warrior’s strike. “Go, my love!” she snapped at Thau, and with a sudden shock, Thau’s mind tunneled in on those last two words.
Even as he reeled away from the newly forming battle, he recognized the deceit that his Heart had layered over his mind. He recognized the true nature of the feelings developing in his true heart since he had seemed to touch Ssrin’s mind back on Crossroads.
No flash of light came boiling from within his Heart. A different fate would set his own energies in motion. But he recognized Ssrin, swords out, covered in silver armor and blazing with sheer power, as the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
He watched, stunned by both the newfound revelation and by the speed of the battle. Ssrin’s swords twisted and danced like starlight on ice, whirring and slashing the air, catching and knocking aside the massively powerful thrusts of the warrior’s wrist and ankle blades. The twelve-head smashed and smote with the energy of a genetically engineered destroyer, but his skillful strikes and parries were no match for the power pouring through Ssrin’s body.
The two fighters met in a lethal series of strikes and blocks which became so fast that it seemed like one continuous ring of metal and bone. Their blades caught the reflections of ice and metal and threw them into newly distorted patterns. The smell of clashing weapons began to fill the air as the battle dragged on past ten seconds. Thau was stunned to realize that it had been so short a time. Feeling pain blaze from the wound in his side, he sagged back against the pump cluster. His sword lay abandoned, still stuck in the ice. He scrabbled for his ion pistol, and then saw it lying on the ice a few feet away. He dove for it.
Ssrin slashed high with one sword, going for the joint of the warrior’s heavily armed necks. The blow was fast and hard, and the warrior only barely managed to catch it on his elbow blade. The strike and parry knocked him off balance, leaving his left arm flailing to keep him upright; and Ssrin struck then.
Her second sword cleaved the air and arced in towards the larger Khai’s side. Despite being empowered by the energy coursing through her muscles, it sliced through the twelve-head’s breastplate but deflected harmlessly off his skin.
Ssrin shouted a string of invoking syllables, completely foreign to Thau, and to his less-than-astonishment a bolt of raw light flashed up the sword. The fangblade acted as a conductor to send the energy straight through the twelve-head’s otherwise impenetrable armor. The other Khai was suddenly screaming. Had he been a blackscythe, he might have stood a chance; but he had no defense against the mystical energy that warred with the blackness of his Heart. Ssrin staggered as light erupted form every seam of the warrior’s body, and he erupted into a massive burst of light, tearing apart in a cataclysmic explosion. Chunks of armor richocheted off the pump cluster, and the ice around where he’d been standing flashed instantly into steam.
As his fingers closed around the hilt of the ion pistol, Thau realized that to an unprotected Khai, the touch of an Avatar’s distilled power was instant death. It was like matter and antimatter, meeting and vanishing in pure conversion to energy. Perhaps, he mused, that’s what matter and antimatter are; good and evil. Well, most likely not.
Thau stared in astonishment as Ssrin straightened herself from the protective crouch she’d assumed. She turned towards him, smiling shyly, and reached out a hand to lift him off the ice-
-and the most horrific thing Thau had ever seen emerged from beneath the transport ship they’d planned to hijack.
Thau’s eyes widened and he jabbed a finger over Ssrin’s shoulder. She whirled, swords dropping again into a guard position, her mouths opening to spit another invocation.
What stood there was simply the skeleton of a Khai, bleached white, complete and whole but without a single scrap of flesh on it. Unholy black-red light burned in its eye sockets, and despite its lack of muscles, it moved. It had none of the fluidity and grace of a living Khai, but instead moved with the jerky precision of an android. Ripples of something seemed to flare through the very space around it, like mystic shields or perhaps invisible forces, swirling around the horrible thing.
It held in its hands two scythes made of bone. They flared and burned with the same symbols that covered Scythed skin, and as Thau watched in terror, the same symbols erupted along every bone of the thing’s body, covering it in the symbol armor which had proven so resistant to every sort of attack.
“Go!” Ssrin said again, more urgently. “Thau, please. Don’t worry about me. Trust in the prophecies. We’ll meet again, somewhere, in life or death. Flee while you still can.”
Thau found himself obeying, as if there was hidden power instilled in those words. Every fiber of his being clamored for him to turn and fight, but somehow, despite the screams of anguish echoing through his mind at the danger to Ssrin, he found the strength to turn and drag himself away, towards concealment.
The bone Khai broke into a sharp run, not fluid but sharp and jerky, like some sort of alien predator, stalking towards Ssrin with the air of something assured of its victory. Suddenly the wind howled anew around them, and as Thau reached the cover of another nearby stack of crates, he recognized that the bone-chilling wind was forming words.
“Hello, Ssrin. Your sister did this to me.”
Sister? Thau wondered, repressing another wave of nauseating terror, which, to his surprise, was for Ssrin’s sake. Perhaps there was more to this newfound love than he’d guessed. She never told me about a sister…
“She killed me and made me into this. She forced my spirit back into this body and told me to hunt you down. I can find peace only in your death. Through your passing I will find my own. So be it, Ssrin. I was once the Sphere-regent; now I am your doom.”
Ssrin’s reply was a string of sharp-edged syllables, streaming out her mouth and forming a spear of light before her. She finished the invocation with a pair of sharp hisses, and the spear suddenly flashed outwards, hurtling towards the bone Khai.
It raised its own arms and spat a series of syllables. There was a brief shimmer in the air before it, and the spear exploded in a shower of sparks. The sparks drifted for a moment, quickly shaded towards black, and to Thau’s astonishment seemed to turn into tiny globes of darkness which whirled straight back at Ssrin.
She was taken completely by surprise as the darkbolts pummeled her armor, sending the silver radiance flaring and dimming, weakening visibly. In reply, she spat another invocation and suddenly a blinding flash exploded from her outstretched hands. It coalesced into a net that toppled onto the bone Khai, ensnaring its limbs and dragging it towards the ground. The net and the creature’s skin smoked wherever they touched.
Thau raised his pistol and fired a series of cerulean bolts. They struck true, but the ion bolts simply deflected off the creature’s glowing armor. He ducked behind the crate as, apparently distracted, the Sphere-regent raised a skeletal armed and conjured up another bolt of darkness. Fortunately, the net jerked his hand wide and the bolt blew the top off the stack of crates. Shards of metal and packing material showered over him, and he hastily broke from cover and rushed for the ship.
Ssrin covered his escape with another shouted invocation. The wind seemed to blow with astonishing strength for a moment, ruffling the net of light and nearly bowling Thau over. The icy wind snatched several puffs of snow from the ground and tossed them into the air, and they came together, molding themselves into the shapes of two roughly Khai-shaped figures sculpted of ice.
The ice golems lumbered forward towards the trapped creature. The skeletal Regent emitted a hiss as the net continued to abrade his armor and structure, evaporating black lines across his skeletal form. He managed to finally free an arm and plucked at the air, hissing a few sibilant words. They seemed to contain writhing chaos within them, and the effect spread through the air in a series of ripples, shattering the net asunder into a million whirling shards.
The skeletal Khai pulled himself jerkily to his feet as Ssrin pummeled him with a volley of brightbolts. They shattered on his armor as he proceeded with his own spell, conjuring a rain of fire which blew apart one ice golem and sent sparks burning across Thau as he reached the parked transport.
The other ice golem reached him and launched a fist forward. The arm shattered on contact with the skeleton’s symbol armor, but Ssrin had apparently concealed several spells within the golem. Thau had no idea how this mystical fighting worked, but Ssrin seemed to know about it, or have gained knowledge through whatever prophecies she had mentioned. Whatever tactic Ssrin had used, it was sophisticated. The golem’s physical attack was harmlessly deflected, but as its fist shattered, a spear of light arced up the arm and blew a sizable gash through the Regent’s symbol armor, leaving scorches on his bone-like ribs.
The regent hissed and conjured another firebolt, shattering the second golem. Another stowaway spell went off, and the regent was enveloped in a flash of light. Ssrin hissed triumphantly as the concealed brightball stripped away the outer layers of symbol armor from the regent’s entire body. Her golem-with-spells-inside ploy had been successful
The regent responded with a wave of his arms and series of hissed, vowel-filled words that seemed to stink the air from Thau’s lungs. A wave of air shoved over him, and he realized suddenly, as Ssrin clutched at her chest, that the Regent had moved all the air out of the space around her.
Fortunately, Ssrin regained her concentration and managed to cast a quick spell, producing a blast of air which refreshed her burning lungs. She took advantage of the breach in the Sphere-regent’s defenses and threw a rainbow-colored ray of prismatic energy at him. The spell crackled as it whirled through the air, a massive chain of eye-stunning colors, and then it impacted. The regent was suddenly enveloped in a field of sparkling energy. The unholy light in his eyes seemed to dim as he struggled to resist the spell.
The entire left side of his body disintegrated, and the bone powder was swiftly carried away by the wind. The regent emitted a hoarse growl that seemed to come from the wind itself, and hurled a swarm of black obsidian lances from his outstretched fingers. They exploded along Ssrin’s armor, and Thau paused as he made his way towards the emergency hatch, a stab of pain filling his heart as he saw Ssrin suffering.
She screamed as the black lances impaled her, detonating in a flurry of blackness which tore ribbons of silver armor off her along with gory stripes of flesh. Blood stained the snow around Ssrin as the spells penetrated her armor.
And yet she stayed up. Thau reached the hatch that she had opened earlier and clambered up within. He was gratified to find that it led up into a long, vertical tunnel with a ladder, probably leading directly to the cockpit itself. The ship didn’t seem to be crewed, so he didn’t need to worry about guards. Security was lax at this place.
He heard a series of shouted words outside, and then a massive series of explosions. His heart surged into his chest – and then filled with hope as he heard Ssrin’s continued shouts of invocation. She wasn’t out of the fight yet.
Thau reached the top of the seemingly endless ladder and with numb fingers pushed the hatch open. The hatch at the bottom of the tube swung shot on automatic, and he climbed into the crowded cockpit of the freighter. He didn’t bother to examine the dimly lit area, simply crashing into the control couch and beginning the power-up sequence. If he could get the freighter online, he would smash it into the Sphere-regent and finish himonce and for all. There was no way he was leaving Ssrin on this rock.
He spared on head to peer at a camera display, which he trained on the area where the spellduel was taking place. He was horrified to see Ssrin and the Regent locked together in mortal combat, fangblade clashing against scythe, and he saw that nearly half of Ssrin’s body didn’t seem to be functioning, covered in scars from the volley of obsidian bolts
As he watched, Ssrin’s sword sliced an entire rib off the Regent’s body. He replied with a vicious scythe strike, which Ssrin barely parried. The tip of the scythe slid over her sword and nicked Ssrin’s parka, nearly drawing blood; Thau recognized the telltale sheen of poison on the blade.
The Regent drew back his weapon and hacked again. Ssrin ducked it and cut low, but the undead Khai spat a pair of scaly, writhing words, like living things, and suddenly the air around Ssrin's fangblade hardened to nearly the consistency of stone. The sword simply halted in mid-air, and the Regent rammed hisscythe down, drawing blood from Ssrin's back.
Ssrin ignored the apparent pain and threw her will into a dispelling spell, blowing apart the air enchantment and allowing her sword to finish its arc. The Regent had already moved out of the way, but Ssrin used the sword as a distraction, swinging her tail around and crushing a good portion of the Regent's own tail in a shower of bone dust.
The skeleton retaliated with a blinding flurry of scythe blows. Ssrin, used to working with two swords in two arms, was hard-pressed to keep the undead creature at bay. She finally slipped, and Thau gasped as the scythe arced past her guard and cut in towards her stomach for an eviscerating blow.
Ssrin wrapped her tail around a chunk of ice blown from the ground by an explosion, and flipped it up into the air. It deflected the scythe strike to the side, and she darted away from it. The battle resumed.
The transport's controls blipped, indicating the reactor was at half-power. Thau barely noticed as Ssrin kicked out with her tail, shoving the skeletal Khai backwards and giving her room to drop her functional sword into its sheath and use her working arm to cast a spell. Words of power poured from her mouth and began to array themselves into a crown around her head. Ssrin finished the spell by using her invocation to tie the crown into several segments, then folding them into balls.
Eight balls of sizzling blue light appeared in the air around her heads, and then four swarmed forward, taking up position around the Sphere-regent as he picked himself up off the ground. He cursed at them and waved a hand in their direction, spitting a series of crackling words, but to his apparent surprise, his attempt to dispel them failed. He was no match for the sheer power of an Avatar.
Hissing, the creature then returned to the attack, lunging at Ssrin with its operational arm. Thau emitted a scream of disbelief. Ssrin didn’t even have her sword out, and the scythe smashed into her chest-
-and there was no splintering of bone, no gout of blood, and no sudden sizzle of darkness or discharged spells. Instead, one of the four lights around her heads flared and vanished. So did one of the ones around the Sphere-regent’s head, and a massive rent tore itself across the Regent’s chest, a perfect mirror image of the wound he’d tried to inflict on Ssrin. The undead Khai emitted a scream of disbelief and slashed again.
There was another flare of light, two more spheres vanished, and the Regent’s remaining arm dropped off into the snow, smoking.
Ssrin sneered, raised her hands, spoke a series of glowing, light-flooded words, and blew the Regent apart. With no arms to cast spells with, he didn’t even have a chance to block the flurry of brightbolts that she destroyed him with. His tattered armor failed under the first salvo, and the second and third tore his bones apart. Strangely enough, the individual bones remained intact, although the bonds between them were broken.
Thau allowed his breath to whoosh out of his body in a long sigh of relief. The battle was over. Ssrin had won.
And then, as the control console emitted a loud beep to tell him the ship was ready to fly, the bones began to lift off the snow and dive at Ssrin like mad birds. Thau’s jaws dropped as the Sphere-regent’s bones, silently and ominously, began a mad assault on Ssrin, smashing into her armor and leaving glowing rents. The Sphere-regent’s jaws hung back from the melee, laughing maniacally, as the storm of bones smashed itself again and again in to Ssrin, drawing blood, smashing bones, knocking her sword from her nerveless hands.
Thau screamed aloud, a wail of sheer agony and despair, as Ssrin dropped to her ‘knees’, her eyes staring at him with not pleading or a cry for help, but comfort. A voice echoed within his head, telling him what he must do but what was farthest from his desires. He wanted to rush back down the ladder, throw himself onto the snow, and fight vainly against the diabolical thing that was killing Ssrin until it killed him too.
Blood poured from between Ssrin’s shattered scales as the voice in his head, a painfully accurate replica of her own, repeated, Go, Thau. Go. Trust me. You have to trust me, my love. Just go.
His vision blurred by sorrow, his chest convulsing with sobs, he threw power to the engines and tore the transport up from the ground. He smashed the nose skyward and fled this haunted, wind-torn rock, seeking the void of space and the oblivion he might find there.
Nothing mattered to him any more, except for one thing. A burning desire for revenge, to smash himself in a vain effort to throw down those who had done this to his Ssrin, and then join her in whatever afterlife there might be.
His sobs of sorrow did not diminish, but the burning anger in his mind kept his hands steady as he guided the protodermis-laden freighter towards space. He did not have the heart to look in the rear camera display, but if he had, he would have seen Ssrin raise bleeding hands to the sky, and as shards of bone whirled in and out of her like needles, she summoned one last spell. Both she and the monstrous creature who had killed her vanished in one last glorious blaze of silver fire.
The next chapter will be the final battle. I may have to split it in half.
Any feedback for this chapter? Anything you have is greatly appreciated. I hope you thought it was OK. It is 18 pages in Word, double-spaced…
Nov 4 2003, 07:38 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The Final Battle is so huge that I've split it into two or three chapters. Here's part 1...
As Thau flees Sailath, blinded by rage, sorrow, and thirst for revenge, the Crusaders arrive at Khass. The pendulum of fate descends on its final arc…this day will determine the destiny of the entire universe, as the War of the Titans draws to its final conclusion.
“Five!” The shout came from the navigation console at the front of the bridge, and it seemed to echo through the bridge dome and through the very hull of the ship itself, like some bell calling the listener to war.
Konro checked his restraints one last time, making sure he was securely fastened onto his command chair in the center of the Sword of Might’s bridge. “Forcefield on,” he muttered, and the command stage was enveloped in a shimmering sphere of light.
Rheuss shifted uncomfortably on the captain’s couch ahead of him. She was surrounded by the majority of the ship’s control consoles, while Konro had only a few communications displays and fleet overviews on the screens around him. He knew what to leave to the professionals.
Four seconds until the war to end all wars. Konro looked out the forward viewscreen and saw the twisted, whirling ribbons of the subcontinuum streaking past. There could be no turning back no; they were absolutely committed. So why did it feel like something was eating his stomach from the inside out? I hope I don’t fall apart in front of the whole bridge crew…
You’re an avatar. You’ll do fine. The cool, crisp mental syllables echoed through his mind like sea spray reflected off the walls of a cave.
Thanks, Abdiel. Good of you to remind me that I’ll be facing down the leader of the Exosphere, plus Onua and who knows what else, within a day. Way to keep me calm.
A chuckle, like dry leaves brushing together, whispered through his head. No problem.
“All systems go,” Rheuss said, quite formally. “Our ship is at your command.”
“Good luck, everyone,” Konro said.
Light flared across the forward viewer, and suddenly stars painted themselves across the fading cocoon of the subcontinuum. As the last of the psychedelic colors cleared, a blue-white planet, speckled with clouds and snow and basking in waves of sunlight, appeared in the center of the screen.
“Khass,” someone breathed, their voice full of equal parts hatred and awe. It was a beautiful world, covered in iridescent ice, blue-green tropical oceans, and long chains of stunning alpine mountains. As it hung in space, covered with a delicate spangling of city lights, it shone like a jewel.
A jewel with a huge imperfection at the center. Koranis is lurking at the center of that planet. You’d do best to remember it, Konro.
Thanks, Abdiel. Best of luck to you.
Konro opened his mouth, took a deep breath, and said with unnerving calm, “All ships, attack.”
And the universe exploded into a hellish mess.
The nearest of Khass’ moons was a cratered, airless chunk of rock, speckled with craters. As the Crusaders began to power up their engines and spear towards Khass, Exosphere frigates and destroyers burst from the craters of the nearest moon, smashing in to the astonished right flank of the Crusaders.
Plasma beams, rayslicers, coronal-discharge cannon, particle beams, and missile slashed across the night. Shields flared as energy poured into them. Engines sparked and glimmered as the right flank frantically tried to hold under the sudden assault.
Rheuss snapped orders. “Send Blue Group to reinforce the right flank. Tell the forward ships to wheel around the front of the white flank and hit the Exosphere ships from behind. Let’s move!”
Konro watched on the display as the twenty-two Exosphere ships that had emerged from the moon plunged in an arrowhead formation into the right flank. They fought with amazing skill. The eight Fang-class frigates and twelve smaller Python-class destroyers darted and wove through a series of rapidly changing formations, always presenting fresh, undamaged ships to the area of heaviest enemy resistance. The Khai gunners shot harder and more accurately than the D*Kocra who compromised most of the right flank’s Green Group.
Konro noted with worry that the status displays of ships in that area were beginning to flicker from green to amber or even red. People were dying out there.
And already another Exosphere force was beginning to emerge from behind Khass itself, streaking across the void on lances of energy towards them. Konro whistled as he counted nearly one hundred ships, mostly Fang frigates, Cobra-class cruisers, and King Cobra- class battlecruisers. That left slightly over fifty vessels unaccounted for. The larger fleet wouldn’t contact the Crusader’s forward pickets for nearly ten minutes, so Konro turned his attention to more urgent matters.
“The right flank is collapsing,” one of the fleet monitor officers announced, a worried note in his professionally cool voice. “The D*Kocra over there are falling apart. The Exosphere ships are just too good. We’ve lost seven ships already, to three on their side.”
“Where in blazes is Blue Group?” Konro snarled, leaning forward in his chair. Blue group is the Qwohmlin. I thought they were supposed to be fast. People are dying out there…
“They’re moving,” Rheuss said reassuringly. A swarm of blue dots appeared on Konro’s display, which had the right flank magnified, and hammered into the red dots who had pierced the right flank’s verdant green D*Kocra defenders. The mix of colors began to diffuse, breaking out formation into a chaotic rainbow of individual duels and clashing colors.
“They’ll hold,” Konro said. “Rheuss, Admiral Dohn’kvash, pull the forward pickets back into the main body of the fleet and prepare for contact with the Exosphere forces. Have our missile boats launch everything they’ve got to wear the Exosphere ships down on their way in. And deploy the minelayers to make things more difficult for the Khai during their final approach.”
“Let’s watch those serpent-heads burn,” someone in one of the crew pits muttered. Konro shot an icy glare in her direction and the Lernean clapped her mouths shut, blushing.
On the right-flank, amidst the chaotic remains of what was once an organized Green Group, a cruiser full of D*Kocra struggle to survive in a frantic one-on-one battle against an Exosphere frigate…
-[this is impossible]- ShipPrime A/haerad protested. –[how do these serpent-headed devils fight so well]-
His ship groaned beneath him as another wave of Exosphere missile smashed themselves into oblivion across the forward shields, leaving argent fireballs in their wake. The bridge, essentially a lightless spherical space, contained a web of mesh wires which held up several white pods. They rocked as the ship shuddered, and the wail of tearing metal echoed through the seemingly dim bridge.
If an observer could see radio light, it would be easy to tell that the bridge was not nearly as dead as it looked.
As a race of aliens who resembled cotton balls stretched across the inside of lifepods – the white eggs supported by the bridge mesh- the D*Kocra were not easily empathized with. But any captain who could see the dire straights that the Reggardu was in would sympathize with the crew, despite the fact that they communicated in bursts of radio waves.
-[our bow shields are down to fifteen percent ]- the engineering officer shouted, fighting to make her radio transmissions heard over the wail of EM noise coming from burst plasma conduits, radiation damage, and the bleed from the ship’s masers.
A/haerad made a frustrated noise in the high radio spectrum and resolved again not to let any more of his crew die. Two years ago he had been first officer of the Reggardu when she’d been struck by an asteroid on a mining survey, leading to the death of the captain and several of his friends. Since then he’d promised himself that he’d repay the deaths of any of those under his command a hundredfold to whoever was responsible.
-[ hold fire, weapons ]- he ordered. –[helm, roll us to bring the stern shields to bear on the Exosphere ship. they should hold up for a while. systems, prepare towing beams and a full spread of missiles]-
The view of the starfield on the forward screen shifted as the main engines blazed into life, twisting the ship to the side. It rotated around its center of gravity, bringing its stern to bear on the Exosphere Fang that had battered them with salvo after salvo of ravening plasma fire and waves of missiles. The smaller Exosphere ship was too fast to bring their main guns to bear on, and it kept slipping away from their own missile salvos.
-[ missiles and towing systems ready ]- the systems officer announced, a note of mystification in his voice. –[ ready to utilize on your mark ]-
-[where is the Exosphere ship]- A/haerad asked. He know that he had to win this fight. The D*Kocra were responsible for the thin right flank of the fleet; if this flank collapsed, Exosphere ships could get at the invasion forces in the center of the fleet and tear the defenseless troop transports apart.
Fighters streaked across the forward viewer, engaged in a battle no less desperate than the one he was dealing with. –[ good luck, little ones ]- he thought at the fighter crews, then waited for the report from his sensors officer.
-[it is coming around towards our stern from behind]- the sensor officer replied. –[ they are behind us and seem to be maneuvering to run up our spine and emerge over our weak bow shields.]-
A/haerad permitted himself a jubilant spike on the low radio band. –[good. that’s what i would have done. On my mark, systems, fire all our forward missile launchers, then activate the towing beams and use them to hold the missiles in place just outside the launch tubes. ]-
The systems officer emitted a pleased radio spike himself. –[good idea, shipprime. ready to act on your mark.]-
Eight heavy Orca-class ship-to-ship missiles, midnight-black metal columns bristling with sensors, exploded from the forward launch tubes of the ship, concealed from the approaching Exosphere frigate by the bulk of the D*Kocra cruiser’s hull. Before they could emerge into line of sight with the Exosphere vessel, shimmering beams of light snatched the missiles and held them in place, their engines burning furiously.
The systems officer fed them new information, telling them to keep their engines silent and targeting sensors off. The probing sensor clusters stopped clawing at the surrounding sky, searching for prey, and the missile’s fusion engines dimmed into quiescence.
The ship shuddered again as the faster Fang overtook it and ran up and over its long spine, pounding the top of the ship with light plasma beam fire. Verdant green bolts splashed off the cruiser’s shields, rending and tearing at them with the fury of a desert sun. The Exosphere plasma beams hammered at the top shields again and again, and finally one spot on the shields flashed white-hot and ripped open.
The tear in the shield was tiny, but somehow the Exosphere gunners managed to plunge a pair of plasma beams down the hole to explode along the armor of the cruiser’s spine. Armor plates and droplets of molten metal blasted into space, followed by sparking masses of equipment and trailing wisps of atmosphere leaking from countless holes. The bridge’s speakers exploded into life as reports of casualties, cries for help, and complaints about damaged systems began to pour in from the area along the ship’s spine.
The cruiser’s spine-mounted guns returned fire, sending maser beams to claw the sleek Exosphere ship’s pristine lower shields. The beams of attuned microwave radiation slashed and gouged at the Exosphere shields, pouring energy into their emitters. Sparks flashed around the frigate’s lower shield, and it sparked crimson, but held.
The Exosphere ship flashed past overhead and dipped down over the cruiser’s nose, flashing over the bridge, spearing out ahead of the D*Kocra cruiser, and beginning a masterfully executed turn that would bring its main plasma cannons to bear on the near-destroyed forward shields of the cruiser. That would be the end of the cruiser. The plasma cannon would tear through her weakened forward shields like a particle beam through construction plastic, then rend apart the hull and gut the ship in a way that the smaller light plasma beams that had savaged the cruiser’s spine could only imitate
Normally, the Exosphere frigate’s electromagnetic sensors and electronic warfare suites would have detected and marked the missiles for destruction. But their targeting sensors were off, and they were little more than inert metal cylinders.
Normally, the ship’s motion and heat sensors would have seen the incoming missiles and told the ship’s gunners to blow them apart, because even a single missile was a deadly threat to a frigate, a relatively small ship. But the missile’s engines were off and they were held in place by the towing beams, and they looked like no more than space debris.
Normally, the ship’s active sensors would have seen the missiles, no matter how stealthy and quiet they were, and known instantly that they were missiles. But the Exosphere captain had all her active sensors trained on the D*Kocra ship, analyzing weak points for what looked to be the final attack run.
Normally, the Exosphere helmsman could have avoided the missiles when their engines activated again. But he had been so talented in keeping the frigate close to the cruiser, where the D*Kocra heavy masers could not come to bear, that he had no time to do anything when the missiles did reignite.
Abnormally, the Exosphere ship was doomed.
-[reactivate the missiles!]- A/haerad barked, and the systems officer downloaded a new set of commands into the lethal shards of metal with a few quick radio impulses.
The Orca missiles’ engines exploded into life, perfectly quiet in the vacuum of space, and the eight assault-class rockets immediately saw the Exosphere ship that was positioned so tantalizingly before their noses. The missiles immediately locked on all sensors, fired thrusters to adjust their course, and armed their warheads for impact, which was all of two seconds away.
It was too bad that the missiles could not appreciate the trick that ShipPrime A/haerad had played on the Exosphere frigate. The ShipPrime of the newly victorious cruiser Reggardu could not restrain a slight chuckle as the Fang-class frigate exploded into a flower of fiery death. As scrap metal and still-burning debris banged off his ship’s forward shields, he reflected on the course he’d taken in non-D*Kocra ‘facial expressions’ while he was in tertiary school.
He would have liked to see the expressions on the faces of the Khai crewing that ship at the moment they realized they had been tricked despite their oh-so-superior minds. It would’ve sent his teacher into conniptions.
-[ they’ve been destroyed ]-, his sensors officer reported. A/haerad tore himself back to the present and reminded himself that this battle was far from over.
The Reggardu’s victory began to repeat itself over and over as the Qwohmlin blue group smashed into the Exosphere ships who had penetrated the right flank. Along with the survivors of the D*Kocra Green Group, they managed to double- or –triple team many of the smaller but vastly more skillful Exosphere ships. Explosions blossomed against the stars as the Qwohmlin took revenge for the fallen of Green Group.
The counterattack was not without its fiascos and tragedies. Four Exosphere Python-class destroyers teamed up on a Qwohmlin battlecruiser. The massive, lumbering Qwohmlin ship should have been able to crush the tiny destroyers, but the Exosphere ships flew circles around it, and in their frantic haste to destroy the nuisances, the Qwohmlin gun crews gutted a D*Kocra frigate.
An entire fighter squadron was destroyed when an Exosphere ship expanded its shields, catching and then smashing the tiny fighters up against the shields of the D*Kocra destroyer it was battling. The doomed pilots didn’t even have a chance to get out of the way or eject. Fortunately, the more a shield array is expanded, the weaker it becomes, and the D*Kocra took the opportunity to land several telling blows.
After losing three frigates and eight destroyers, precisely half the force they’d attacked with, the Exosphere ships retreated back to the surface of the cratered moon, sowing a minefield to discourage pursuit from the right flank remnants. They apparently had detailed maps of its surface, as they sank out of sight in the satellite’s craters with unnerving skill. A Qwohmlin destroyer who tried to follow them smashed up against a rock spire and tore itself apart, making the thirty-first casualty of the day. Disturbingly, the Exosphere had destroyed nearly three ships for every one they lost. The Crusaders were diminished to two hundred and twenty vessels.
Konro stared up at the forward viewer, glad for the ability to close off his pores to prevent sweating. On the screen, the massive primary Exosphere fleet raced towards them, arrayed in a shifting, fractal formation that was impossibly confusing to look at. It was simply beyond anyone’s capability, even the ship’s tactical computers, to locate a ‘center’ to the formation or to find any thin spots which could be exploited.
He sighed and turned to Rheuss. “The right flank is back in position?”
“Blue group’s taken up the slack,” she affirmed. Her gaunt, ailing body was drenched in sweat. Konro frowned worriedly at her. “Admiral, do you want to take a break?”
She grinned, showing fangs in both her mouths. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, no matter how weak I might be. Contact in one minute.”
“All the pickets are back into the fleet’s main body,” one of the communications officers reported from the crew pit. Pickets were typically used to probe for weak spots in enemy formations and to delay their assault, but considering that these ships were generally lightly armed and armored destroyers, Konro had decided that they couldn’t do a thing against the oncoming Exosphere juggernaut.
The Crusaders were also advancing, albeit at a more conservative pace; they were now within ten minutes of Khass itself, moving at about one-fourth of full fleet speed. The fleet was arrayed around the troop transports at the core, because if they fell, so did any chances of ending the Exosphere’s reign.
And the Exosphere fleet was burning space towards them. The swarm of sleek, silver Exosphere ships, a thoroughly more intimidating group than the mismatched, hodge-podge Crusaders, had flipped over and was now decelerating madly; if they somehow failed to slow down fast enough, or their engines failed all at once (the neuroscythes had said they couldn’t do that), then they would go flying off through the Crusaders and into interstellar space. In space, one had to spend as much time slowing down as they did speeding up.
“Twenty seconds!” a bridge officer called out. Flares of plasma fire began to explode from the lead Exosphere ships, swatting away the minefield that the pickets had deposited during their retreat. In response, the Crusader’s missile ships, designed for long-range bombardment, let loose a salvo of rockets. A wall of steaming white dots exploded from the fleet around the Sword of Might, stabbing outwards along a slightly curving path, and began their run towards the Exosphere ships.
Konro watched in tense anticipation as the Exosphere fleet, tagged as Obsidian Group by the fleet battle computers, replied with their own wave of missiles, smaller but still intimidating. The two waves met and passed each other as the Crusader formation rippled and reshuffled, placing stronger ships at the front as shields and putting weak ships just behind them, using them as platforms to shoot down incoming missiles.
That was a conventional tactic to deal with missiles; but the Exosphere responded in a much more staggering way. The Khai fleet’s neat formation exploded into twenty or thirty ‘cords’ of ships, long straight formations that moved as a group, each of which arced away from the others in a neat flower, moving outwards from a common center point. The Crusaders missiles, now aimed at the ‘center’ of this expanding flower, split up into an expanding circular wave, each missile selecting a ship and following it.
Rheuss let out a spluttered curse. Konro looked at her curiously as the ship’s coronal discharge turrets began to blaze away at the incoming Exosphere missiles. “What’d they just do?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Rheuss spluttered. “The missiles get most of their firepower from detonating in a pattern. They broke that pattern and scattered our missiles; the missile computers each went chasing off in a different direction. They can pick the missiles off at their leisure now.”
Konro stared intently at the forward viewer. The wall of Exosphere missiles was arcing towards them; it seemed bigger than Khass itself. He clutched at the armrests of his command chair. “They’re a bit spread out. We can hit them now and do a lot of damage if we act quickly. I think they’ve made a mistake.”
Rheuss cursed again. “I thought so too. But look. They haven’t decelerated as hard as they should. If all the Exosphere ships go into braking mode again right now, they’ll end up perfectly matched with the center of our fleet, in a ring around it. That ‘flower burst’ trick they pulled put them in position to make a sort of ring or belt around our fleet. Then, they just close the ring and split the fleet in half. If all goes well for them, we’re in serious trouble. They can divide and conquer at their leisure. And by spreading themselves out, they’ve rendered themselves immune to another missile wall or neuroscythe spells.”
The ship jolted as a missile slammed into its forward shields. The lighting flickered for a moment as power wavered. The ship’s guns continued to blaze for a moment, then cut out, but the roar of the main drive was still present in the background, like the rumble of a waterfall.
“The Exosphere missiles have impacted or been destroyed,” one of the sensor officers reported. There was a note of tension in her voice; she saw the positioning problem just as clearly as Rheuss did. “We’ve lost six ships to missile bombardment, and ten more are reporting heavy damage. Not all that bad, considering how many missiles the fleet was hit with.”
Konro nodded, deep in thought. Apparently his avatar powers were also granting him more facility with grand strategy; either that or Rheuss had rubbed off on him. “Rheuss, if they ‘ring’ the fleet slice it in half, they’ll be able to hit our troop transports.”
She nodded gloomily. “We can’t let them do this, Konro…sir. We have to do something.”
Konro nodded, and took another deep breath. He willed himself to ignore the weight of thousands of lives on his shoulders. A deep peace flooded his mind, perhaps sent by Abdiel, perhaps from within him. I…think I know what he wave to do.
He drew another breath, and spoke. “Rheuss, we’re going to have to sacrifice half the fleet.”
She nodded slowly. “Precisely what I was thinking. I don’t like it, but if it means we have a chance to win…”
“The Exosphere ships have finished braking and are in a ring around the fleet’s waist!” one of the sensor officers barked. “They’ve matched speed with the fleet and are beginning to close in. They’re going to slice us in half!”
“Communications,” Konro said calmly. “Order the troop transports to move into the forward half of the fleet, and tell all ships in Red Group to put emergency power to the engines. We’re going to leave Green Group, Blue, and Yellow groups behind. They’re going to delay the Exosphere while Red Group escorts the troop transports into Khass.”
There was a startled hush on the bridge, then, hesitantly, the communications officers began to give orders. Everyone knew that they were effectively ‘dropping’ three-quarters of the Crusaders, leaving them to die; it was like a rocket dropping its rear stages so it could reach orbit.
Communications said softly, “Receiving messages from Yellow, Blue, and Green groups. They say…godspeed and good luck, and that Admiral Konro’s example has shown them the path to victory. Admiral Dohn’kvash sends his regrets that he won’t be able to…to attend the victory celebration. There are some other things, mostly last wills and goodbyes to families from the crews of those ships.”
“Understood,” Konro said softly, feeling a silence like that of a tomb hanging around the bridge. On the fleet monitors, the swarm of red dots that compromised Red Group, mostly Lerneans and Shorinor, split away from the rest of the fleet like the nosecone of a missile peeling off the main body. As the members of the group poured emergency power into the ship’s engines, the Red swarm, which began to drift into an a roughly globular formation, slipped out of the closing Exosphere noose and began to move away, towards Khass. In Red Group’s midst were the troop transports, designed for speed, the only hope they had.
Behind them, the other three groups struggled to reconfigure their formation as the Exosphere ships entered firing range and unleashed the most devastating weapons salvo Konro had ever seen. Green lightning split the fabric of space itself, and fast-moving torpedoes slashed in after them. Every ship in the Exosphere fleet seemed to fire at once.
Plasma beams richocheted and smashed off the Crusader’s shields. Glimmering defensive fields overloaded and collapsed in flashes of brilliant light, leaving ships vulnerable to the waves of tearing torpedoes that detonated across their hulls. Explosions threw the rest of the fleet into sharp contrast as vessels caught outside the defensive formation, still in the middle of slotting into the new arrangement, blew apart under the astonishingly powerful and accurate barrage.
Konro closed his eyes in horror as reports of nearly thirty ships lost began to scroll across the screen, mostly small vessels that hadn’t managed to make it into the defensive sphere in time.
“They will be avenged,” he muttered, feeling a sharp stab of pain within his heart. “The Exosphere will pay for this.” Another pang of doubt stabbed at his heart. What if we can’t pull this off? Barely half an hour in, and already I’ve managed to condemn two thirds of my fleet, thousands of people, to death, on the off chance that the rest of the fleet might be able to land the invasion forces on Khass.
On a sudden suspicion, Konro snapped his head up and stared into the fleet display. In the middle of the fleeing Red Group, streaking for Khass at best speed and leaving the rest of the Crusaders to delay the Exosphere fleet, was the neuroscythe vessel. He called it up on the main viewer and realized that it was pulsating with energy. Waves of brilliant light would burst from deep within its core and slowly bubble to the surface, then detach like thin films of soap and wash across the rest of Red Group.
His avatar powers pulsed, and on instinct, he muttered a few words under his breath and focused his gaze on those waves of light. The quick glance was enough to tell him what they were, and somehow he understood. Apparently an avatar was more in tune with this kind of thing.
They were distortions of the very fabric of the universe, ripples of gravity that were shoving the entire Red Group along towards Khass, giving them the extra burst of speed that they might need. Konro felt a relieved smile burst across his face. He’d come to trust Abdiel ever since he’d met him in a back alley on Crossroads, fleeing another failed attempt to appear normal, and he felt more comfortable having the neuroscythes along.
Of course, Konro thought, sobering, the prophecies wouldn’t do much good if one of the avatars died back there with those heroes….
And then he remembered about Ssrin and Thau. And with a start, he realized that if they were avatars, as Abdiel had told him during his recent revelations, they had to still be alive.
His thoughts were interrupted by the words he least wanted to hear. "Incoming ships!" the sensor officer screamed, and their quarter of the fleet was plunged into the inferno again.
22 pages in Word! Whaddya think?
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Nov 4 2003, 07:59 PM
Nov 7 2003, 08:00 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Ok, this chapter is 50 pages. Enjoy...
Konro has taken a portion of the Crusaders and made a mad dash for Khass, while the rest of the Crusaders fight a desperate losing battle to delay the main Exosphere fleet. Konro’s segment of the fleet, Red Group, has just been ambushed…
“Incoming ships!” the sensor officer cried. And Red Group’s universe was once again plunged into chaos.
Konro realized with a stab of anger that he’d completely forgotten about the ships that hadn’t been accounted for during the earlier battle. The total number of Exosphere vessels that they’d seen so far added up to some twenty less than what their spies had told them Khass had standing by; so obviously the unseen ships had still been lurking about.
Unfortunately, they were lurking no longer. As the fleet continued to streak towards Khass, their active sensors picked up a drifting field of metal objects ahead. Moments later, these ‘objects’ exploded into life, raising shields and powering up weapons and engines, taking on the unmistakable profile of Exosphere warships. The Exosphere ships began to accelerate, heading towards Khass just as they were.
“Why are they doing that?” Konro asked, peering over Rheuss’ shoulder at the fleet display she was studying.
“What?” the gaunt Lernean asked distractedly. “You mean moving towards Khass, on the same path we are?”
“Right, that,” Konro affirmed, feeling a bit stupid. He kept his voice low so the other bridge officers wouldn’t hear him. It wouldn’t do to let them know I don’t really understand space combat…better to leave things in Rheuss’ capable hands.
“They’re not moving yet, and we are. If they move towards us, they’ll go shooting past us and be left in our dust; so they have to accelerate while moving away from us, to a point where we’re still closing on them but not so quickly. Then, when we’re close enough to fight, they can match our speed and slug it out.”
“Er…won’t that make things a bit difficult, in terms of aiming, I mean? We were all going fairly slowly back at the initial battle site-”-he swallowed past a lump in his throat –“- and now we’re rushing towards Khass at a good chunk of the speed of light. It’ll be a bit hard to turn and aim, won’t it?”
Rheuss was amazingly patient, judging by the fact that her expression didn’t even flicker. “Missed your physics courses, Admiral? Varying your speed around a base speed of zero, like back at the battle near the crater moon, is no different from varying your speed and turning rate around a base speed of a quarter of the speed of light.”
“Ah.” Konro turned back to the forward viewscreen, staring intently at the slowly growing pinpricks of the Exosphere ship’s engines.
“Admiral, I have a bit of a physics question,” Rheuss said hesitantly. “And honestly, I can’t figure it out. You ordered all ships in Red Group to go to full acceleration towards Khass. But a light cruiser like the Sword of Mightaccelerates much more slowly than, say, a destroyer, which Red Group is full of. Shouldn’t we be strung out across thousands of miles, with the slower ships at the back and the destroyers up front?”
Konro smiled. “Looks like it was worth bringing the neuroscythes along, after all. They’re pushing the slower ships along with some sort of gravity ripple. You can see the neuroscythe crystal ship glowing.”
“Ah.” Rheuss raised an eyebrow. “It’s amazing, really. A year ago a Lernean wouldn’t have dared come near a neuroscythe without a weapon out. Now we’re working together. I heard a little about a neuroscythe from my son on Crossroads, before he…disappeared.”
“Six minutes until contact with the Exosphere ambush force!” one of the bridge officers yelled. Konro gave him an acknowledging nod. Six minutes until another hellish battle…we may outnumber them, but they can outfight us.
He turned back to Rheuss. “You mentioned daughters a few days ago, but not a son. I lived on Crossroads until a little while ago. What happened to this son of yours there?”
Rheuss’ gaunt body seemed to stoop even more. “He…vanished. I never learned what happened, but from what I’ve heard, the Exosphere outpost there abducted him to experiment on. The outpost was commanded by a sadistic maniac, a Khai named Korm.”
Konro’s insides turned cold. “He was…experimented on? Maybe…experiments with cyborg implants?”
Rheuss’ full-head ear rippled sorrowfully, and she swallowed. “Y…yes. I think he was implanted with a variety of…painful devices. They were somewhat useful, but more of a handicap, from what my friends picked up off the street. He was distinctive enough that he was well-known, but we were never able to find him again.”
Konro sighed heavily. “I knew him. He was in the resistance movement I was in. His name was Mewtholk, although I’m not too sure of the spelling.”
Rheuss stared at him, her eyes full of a burning mixture of pain and astonishment. “Gods…what happened to him?”
“He died…a hero,” Konro said, lowering his head respectfully. “He fought off a horde of Scythed while the others planted explosives on Crossroads’ reactor . Ssrin could tell you what happened, if she was still here. No one saw him die, but against Scythed…” He let his voice trail off.
Rheuss swallowed again and turned away, back to the fleet console. “My son…thank you, Konro. I…appreciate your honesty.”
Konro patted her bony shoulder and returned to his seat. “Tactical, do you have a projection on the upcoming battle?”
One of the Lerneans in the crew pit tapped on his console. “I think we can punch through the ambush force, sir, with heavy losses. I recommend we pull into a bullet formation and put the troop transports right behind the nose. The Exosphere ships have formed into a double-layered wall; when the nose of our ‘bullet’ punches through that wall, we’ll order the tip of the bullet to spread out in all directions and hit the ‘wall’ from behind, while the troop transports continue on towards Khass.”
“Problems with that, anyone?” Konro called.
One of the sensor officers shook her head regretfully. “We can’t send the troop transports on ahead without escorts, sir. They’d be slaughtered by Khass’ orbital defense stations.”
“Send the fighters with the transports, then,” Konro said, trying not think about what that meant. “We have hundreds in the fleet’s docking bays. They’re small and fast, and they can cover the transports on the way in to land, and then provide ground support to the infantry.”
There was another pause. “Sir…” the operations officer said. “You understand that the fighters don’t have enough fuel to get to Khass, fight, and return. It’ll be a one-way trip for them.”
Konro nodded slowly. “I understand. And I think the fighter pilots will, too.”
There was another silence. Konro heard one of the Lerneans in the crew pit muttering a prayer, and mentally chanted along with him. “Aye, sir,” the operations officer said, cutting through the silence with a determined voice. “I’ll ready the fighters for launch.”
“Thank you,” Konro said softly, and everyone knew he was not just addressing the operations officer, but everyone who had died and would die here today.
“Four minutes until contact!” one of the sensor officers announced.
Meanwhile, in the main portion of the fleet, the battle is going downhill. The fleet formations have broken up into individual skirmishes, and all semblance of order has been lost. A bladeling mining ship, hastily converted into service as a warship, fights an Exosphere destroyer in a frantic battle to the death…
Light blossomed across the forward viewscreen of the Jewel of Sinai’s bridge, throwing reflections off the grimy metal braces and filth-covered controls within. The eery radiance came from the ship’s forward shields, glowing as they discharged energy from their opponent’s latest pass.
Captain Ramelk pounded her fist on the arm of her command chair and snarled with anger. The bone spike protruding from her wrist slammed off the edge of the uncushioned command chair, sending a grating hum through the bridge. “Weapons, what’s taking you so long? The cutters should be ready to fire! We’re going to be torn apart if you don’t hurry those guns up!”
“Working on it, sir,” the weapons officer snapped, sounding harried. The Exosphere ship streaked across the screen, pounding them with another wave of plasma bolts. “Ok, we’re charged!”
The Exosphere vessel rolled hard away, her engines facing directly into the viewer. The sensor officer hastily toned the screen’s brightness down so they could see through the glare of the other ship’s engines. Ramelk leaned forward in her chair and snapped, “Fire!”
Two orange-red cutter rays exploded from the disc-shaped mining vessel’s prow, slashing across the Exosphere destroyer’s rear shields. Another pair of cutters joined the first two, converging in a brilliant flash on the same spot, as another bladeling ship streaked into view, spitting actinic rays at the serpent-head warship. The Exosphere ship’s shields flared and burned under the combined attack, blaring out the energy they absorbed in the form of light.
“Nice of them to help out,” Ramelk snapped. “Status of our shields?”
The ship’s engineering officer hastily passed an eyebrow over tiny screens, optimized for mining work. “Bow shield at sixty percent, starboard shield at ten percent, aft shield at thirty percent, port shield at one hundred percent.”
Captain Ramelk pounded at her chair again, ignoring the looks her bridge crew exchanged as another wave of filth poured off the grimy, bare-metal chair. “They’re outmaneuvering us. We need to keep them off the right-hand side of our ship; that’s where they’ve been hitting us the hardest.”
As if in response to her words, the Exosphere destroyer tore itself away from the two bladeling ships’ attack and heeled hard to the left, slicing through a neat turn and bringing its nose around towards the Jewel of Sinai. “Cease fire!” Ramelk barked, as the Exosphere ship banked out of line of the ship’s cutter rays. “Roll to bring our port shields to face them!”
The disc ship began a slow roll to the right while pulling away to port, weighed down by mining gear they hadn’t been able to jettison; but already the Exosphere ship was firing on their starboard shields, the ones closest to failing. Green lightning bridged the gap between the two fast-moving vessels as they arced through space. The bladeling ship rocked, and a sudden chorus of alarms blared across the bridge.
“Starboard shields are DOWN!” the engineering officer cried, as the sensor officer hastily refocused the viewer to the right to once again show the Exosphere ship. “We’re taking hull hits!”
The other bladeling mining ship whirled back onto the screen, spitting orange death at the Exosphere vessel; but the Khai ship took the full brunt of its attacks and did not falter, loosing another salvo of verdant energy at the Sinai.
The first three bolts of plasma struck the ship’s top shields, which Sinai’s slow roll had brought into line; but as the Exosphere pilot guided his or her ship beneath the Sinai, the continuing volley of energy slashed through the area where the failed starboard shields had been. They speared into the hull, sending a rain of mechanical gore fountaining into space. Twisted hull plates and shattered armor whirled off the ship, followed by crackling components and wisps of venting atmosphere.
The last two plasma bolts caught the Sinai just below the bridge. The entire bridge rocked, and one of the low-hanging pipes which crosscrissed the dimly lit ceiling exploded, spraying noxious fumes across the stations below. Metal shards rained down from the exploding pipe. One struck the engineering officer in the head, killing him instantly; another blew through Captain Ramelk’s arming, pinning it the command chair.
Ramelk grunted and glared at the shard of metal. She took a moment to tune out the cries of the wounded and the sudden noxious smell filling the bridge. Another pipe collapsed, smashing across the abandoned engineering console and then tearing out of the ceiling completely. Ramelk realized her ship was dying. The flashing red lights covering the master systems monitor on the arm of her command chair backed her up.
The forward viewer was still tracking the Khai destroyer as it slashed over the top of their ship, pouring another wave of green bolts into their top shields, which failed with a whip-like crack. Then the murderous ship was past them, turning to confront the other bladeling ship and leaving them tumbling through space.
As Ramelk watched, their sister ship and the Khai destroyer exchanged volleys of green and orange bolts. The two ships twisted through a deadly dance as her bridge crew began to tend to their wounded and return to their stations.
The Exosphere ship executed an impossibly tight turn and caught the Sinai’s sister ship while it was still turning to bring its own weapons to bear. Six lances of plasma fire later, the other bladeling vessel was crippled, her shields nearly gone and her thrusters firing spasmodically, like a dying man undergoing one last seizure. Ramelk winced to see their friends suffering after trying so valiantly to help them. The cursed Khai win when they’re outnumbered two to one. They shoot impossibly straight, turn impossibly quickly, and think impossibly well. The only advantage we have over them…is sacrifice. They don’t understand self-sacrifice; they’re too selfish. It’s the only way we can beat them, sacrificing ourselves for the good of the whole.
“Helm,” she croaked, her throat already burning as the noxious fumes from the venting pipe crawled down it. She knew those fumes were lethal, and she likely only had minutes to live, just like everyone else on the bridge. “What kind of maneuvering and speed do we have left?”
“Some,” the helmsman said grimly. “Enough to get us out of here.”
On the forward screen, the Exosphere ship had come to a dead halt, slowly turning to bring its weapons to bear for a killing shot on the other bladeling ship. The battle raged around them in the background, but Ramelk could see no other ships available to help the two crippled bladeling miners- her ship, and the people who had tried to help her. “We won’t be leaving, Helm.”
“They’re a nice, slow target,” she muttered. She coughed again, and then said grimly, “Helm, ramming speed. Let’s show them why they should never leave a bladeling dead but unburied.’
As the ship’s stressed engines exploded into life, propelling them on one final six-second journey, the bridge crew joined the engines in a last death roar. That same death roar had been there at the destruction of Crossroads and every honorable death a bladeling had ever had.
The roar of the engines and the roar of the crew merged into one undistinguishable tone as the disc-shaped ship smashed through the Exosphere vessel’s rear shields and cut into its thick armor. The front of the mining ship collapsed, crumpling the bridge like a tin can and killing its occupants without a moment of pain. The mining ship’s momentum carried it nearly halfway through the Exosphere frigate, smashing apart hull plates and snapping power conduits, breaking the Khai ship in half and leaving both of them drifting, lifeless, surrounded by a haze of vented air.
Their sacrifice had not been in vain. The other bladeling ship still lived, and although it perished later in the battle, anyone who recovered its flight computers would have found that it registered eight kills in memory of the comrades who had sacrificed themselves so that it and its crew could live a moment more.
Red Group engages the Exosphere ambush fleet…
“Contact!” the sensor officer yelled, and a spike of coronal-discharge fire erupted from the front of Red Group’s bullet-like formation. The Exosphere ships, arrayed in a double-wall blockade before them, took the brunt of the assault, their shields sparking and flashing under the eighty or ninety beams that had been fired.
“No confirmed kills,” the sensor officer said mournfully. Both formations were still drifting towards Khass at a large fraction of the speed of light, but to anyone aboard either ship, it appeared that they were stationary, or very nearly so. This was because both ships had matched speeds to each other.
Konro grimaced. “I’ll give them one thing, they’re tough. Tell the troop transports to prepare to go to full acceleration, then order the entire fleet to three-quarters of maximum speed, forward. We’re going to ram through their blockade.”
Red Group’s engines spat flares of plasma, and the ships jerked forward, shuddering at the sudden acceleration. The tip of their bullet-formation, four battlecruisers in a diamond formation, came under sudden assault as the Exosphere formation thickened around Red Group’s projected impact point and launched a hail of fire at them.
The Sword of Might was directly behind these first battlecruisers, and behind them was the transports, surrounded by a conical protective shell of other warships.
The lead battlecruisers smashed into the Exosphere line, spraying coronal-discharge fire and missiles at every Khai ship around them. Their thick armor plate and heavy shielding blunted the Exosphere ship’s to stop them, especially as most of the Exosphere ships were frigates and light cruisers, considerably smaller than the gargantuan Lernean battleships.
One Khai ship exploded, its spine snapped in half by a neat salvo of coronal-discharge lightning. Another took two missiles into its engines and went spinning crazily into space, its pilot vainly attempting to regain control.
As the battleships continued to plow forward, two Exosphere vessels began maneuvering to get behind the battleships, slipping through a gap in the bullet formation. Konro jabbed a finger at them on the forward viewer, hastily elongating it into a pointer. “Weapons, take them out.”
The Sword of Might shuddered as its six heavy coronal-discharge turrets, one of the most powerful assemblages of raw forces on any single object anywhere, flailed the Exosphere ships with lightning. The first vessel, a destroyer, faltered under the assault, and its shields failed with a brilliant flash of light.
The weapons officer issued firing orders to the ring of smaller guns surrounding the Sword of Might’s first sphere – that is, its nose. The smaller turrets opened up with spikes of swirling lightning, azure bolts which slashed across the Exosphere destroyer’s nose, blowing hull plates into space, blinding sensor ports, and sending fountains of molten metal geysering into the void. The destroyer’s lights flickered, and it began to drift away, out of control and crippled.
The other ship, a frigate, fared slightly better, losing only its rear shields in the initial assault. The skilled Exosphere helmsman turned the ship, bringing its starboard shields to bear on the Sword of Might, and the Khai gunnery crews blazed away with a punishing volley of fire from its light plasma beam turrets.
The forward shields of the Sword of Might took the assault with barely a flash, and her heavy beam turrets opened up again even as the smaller ones were recharging from their assault on the destroyer. The Khai frigate shuddered and seemed to roll as the javelins of coronal-discharge energy cut across its starboard shields. They failed with a sickly splash of color.
A Vart destroyer which was huddling in the Sword of Might’s shadow suddenly emerged from beneath her bow, its weapons blazing. Its forward torpedo launchers, rarely mounted on such a small ship, jettisoned two black missiles into the void.
Both of the missiles exploded into life, tearing across the gap between the Vart destroyer and the Khai frigate. The Khai gun crews trained their weapons on the missiles, sending another hail of plasma fire across space, and succeeded in detonating one; but the Vart destroyer had taken them by surprise, and the other torpedo exploded into an orange fireball as it smashed itself across the Exosphere ship’s right flank.
Rents tore themselves through the hull, massive stress fractures that vented atmosphere from between blackened armor plates. The Khai ship began a hard turn, but this time, the ship’s structure was too weak; as the pilot put pressure on the ship, turning against inertia, the frigate’s spine gave a protesting wail and snapped in half at the torpedo impact point, leaving both halves of the ship to drift against the star field, essentially useless chunks of metal.
Konro pumped a fist in the air. “Got them!” He calmed himself hastily, and assessed the situation.
The forward lead battlecruisers, the heaviest ships Red Group had to offer, were still tearing through the Exosphere wall, and they were now emerging on the other side. Konro ordered the ship’s helmsman to follow, not wanting to fall behind. He took a closer look at the four battlecruisers, essentially larger versions of the Sword of Might. They consisted of seven conjoined spheres, in a long, caterpillar-like arrangement, bristling with weapons and shield generators and capped at one end by a blazing weapons array. Armor plate hugged their exteriors, reflecting the blue light of their guns as they spat death at the Exosphere ships.
One of the battlecruisers was in dire straights; its shields had failed and it was being pounded. As he watched, a frown beginning to twist itself onto his face, two Khai frigates streaked in towards it, evading a wave of coronal-discharge fire through sheer audacity and good piloting. Their launchers sent a wave of missiles pouring out into space, and as they pulled up hard, the missiles detonated across the unshielded port side of the Lernean battlecruiser which had been so heavily damaged.
The missiles struck and belched orange flame. The entire left side of the huge battlecruiser seemed to be enveloped in one massive detonation, followed by a wave of shattered armor and a monsoon of venting atmosphere.
The battlecruiser lurched sickeningly, its nose cutting towards the right, nearly smashing into the ship next to it. But its helmsman retained control, and, although it was battered and essentially dead along its right side, it began a slow roll to bring fresh weapons and armor to bear.
Meanwhile, the two Khai frigates clawed at space with their engines, trying to get away after their missile salvo. They were not as successful as they would have liked. One was eviscerated by eight heavy coronal discharge beams from one of the battlecruisers; the other managed to swoop over that ship’s stern, evading its fire, and move towards the troop transports.
The Sword of Might met it with a hail of fire off its forward shield, and it hastily turned away, only to meet the Vart destroyer that had aided Konro’s ship earlier. The Vart ship’s torpedo launchers fired again, and after a moment of two tiny cylinders streaking across the void, the tiny Vart destroyer registered another kill.
As the Exosphere wall began to move inward, its outer areas smashing at the back of Red Group, the four leading battlecruisers reached the other side of the wall, followed quickly by the Sword of Might and the ships around it. They had successfully gotten through the Exosphere blockade without losing a transport.
The four battlecruisers – one crippled – turned hard about, coming in again at the Exosphere wall from the rear even as it folded down around Red Group. Red Group’s main body was now in a bullet shape, with the Exosphere wall wrapped around them in a cone; and now the Sword of Might and the battlecruisers, in addition to a few other ships, had punched through the nose of that cone and were moving to smash it apart.
They were, at first, quite successful. The battlecruisers fired at the astonished Exosphere forces from behind, and it became clear why these ships had not been part of the main battle force; they must have been recruits, for they didn’t fly or shoot nearly as well as those in the main group.
Meanwhile, Konro was about to order the Sword of Might to join in the attack on the rear of the Exosphere cone, when a sudden light exploded across his vision. Throwing up a hand to shield his eyes, Konro saw a nova of energy bursting into being on the far side of the bridge. It faded quickly, revealing the nightmarish face of Abdiel.
“Quickly, Konro!” he barked. “Get the transports moving! We haven’t much time! Kasstaxa has already begun the ritual to free Koranis!”
Everyone on the bridge knew what this meant. There was a sudden surge of conversation, which Rheuss quieted with an urgent wave of her hand. “Your orders, Admiral?” she asked quietly.
Konro took a deep breath. “I have to be there to stop Kasstaxa, but a ship like the Sword of Might is a huge target amidst a cloud of transports and fighters. Do you think we can do it, Rheuss?”
She looked at him and said, “Admiral…Konro…we’re not here to save ourselves, or even our family. We Lerneans have legends of the four Heroes who will save the universe from evil, and we will do whatever we can to make sure those myths have a happy ending. Don’t worry about us.”
Konro swallowed past a sudden lump in his throat. “Thank…thank you, Admiral. Helm, set a full-speed course for Khass. Communications, order all ships to launch their fighters and put them in guard positions around the transports. Then order the troop transports themselves to begin their landing run.”
The battle raged around them as the Exosphere formation was hit from two sides, crumpling like a wilted flower. Konro couldn’t restrain a grin. If they’d had a little more time, he’d have waited for the engagement here to finish, then take the Red Group survivors and use them in the assault on Khass. But despite what looked to be a victory shaping up here, he couldn’t wait for it to be finished. If Kasstaxa finished the rituals, it wouldn’t matter who won here in space.
Konro realized with a start that these space battles were all an elaborate delaying tactic. Kasstaxa didn’t care for the lives of her minions, she just wanted time to bring her own dark plots to their conclusion. According to what Abdiel said, she wants power for herself, and Koranis can give her that, and more.
Now that the head of the bullet formation had burst through the collapsing Exosphere wall, then flowered outwards like a metal blossom, there was a tunnel down the center of Red Group’s bullet. The vital troop transports, containing a gigantic army, streaked down this tunnel, their engines blazing with everything their helmsman could give. Unlike warships, landing ships like these transports did not need to worry about a return journey, and they could expend all their fuel in one mad dash to their destination. They didn’t even need to worry about slowing down to a stop; so long as they decelerated to safe re-entry speed, atmospheric friction would bring them to a safe velocity by landing time.
The wave of troop transports exploded from the middle of the fight, surrounded by the tiny dots of fighters; and at the rear of their column came the Sword of Might, her engines clawing at space, engaged in a mad rush against the pendulum of fate.
On Khass, minutes earlier…
Kasstaxa breathed the morning air with a satisfied sigh. It was crisp and chill, and carried the tang of autumn on it. Autumn was her favorite season, and this year’s fall promised to be even better than usual.
She turned to the Khai standing next to her. They were on the crest of a rocky, granite ridge, high in the mountains, surrounded by white-capped peaks and rolling hills covered in verdant forest. Below them was a small valley, seemingly scooped out of the middle of the mountainous terrain and forest. In the center of the valley was a small silver building, surrounded by a thrumming array of power generators.
If it hadn’t held the key to her ultimate power, Kasstaxa would have ordered the building demolished. It interrupted the view of the mountains and the noise made an unsightly blotch on the peacefulness of the woods.
If there was one thing she loved, it was natural beauty on Khass; on Khass, Koranis had changed things to the way they were meant to be. Khass was a land of harsh, rugged mountains and other natural difficulties; but it was supremely beautiful, the kind of place that would make a wonderful tourist destination, if it wasn’t the center of a tyrannical interstellar empire.
All this raced through Kasstaxa’s thoughts as she finished her turn. “Korm, how is the space battle proceeding? Have we…removed…any more Avatars?”
“My agents on Sailath reported that they had contact with Ssrin and Thau, then I lost contact with them. Moments later, the warrior who commanded that base was killed – I know this because I had implants in his body, tracking his vital signs. Your…minion,” he hissed, clearly showing displeasure, “then attacked the two renegades. I have heard nothing since. But you claim you felt the death of an Avatar?”
She nodded. “And as Sambiel is below, preparing the rituals, and we are here, then it must be Onua or one of the Four Avatars of Cyravaar who fell. I would guess either Ssrin or Thau…” - her lips twisted into series of wicked smiles – “and I would prefer Ssrin. Thau is a naïve fool, and I will take pleasure in eviscerating him myself.”
Korm nodded. “As you say, mistress.” He turned his attention to the computer at his side, and an expression of relish flitted across his features. “My main fleet is nearly finished crushing the Crusader’s large group. Their smaller group is disposing of the second-line delaying forces.”
A frown twisted his features into a dark scowl. “The delaying forces are incompetent. The Crusaders have sent their troop transports ahead, along with a light cruiser.”
“No matter,” Kasstaxa said, “our orbital defenses can take care of them. And if we destroy that cruiser, which must have an Avatar or two on board, then we gain an extra bonus.” Slithering a bit farther down the ridge, she peered out into the mountains, watching the rising sun glint off distant clouds.
“No,” Korm said unhappily, following Kasstaxa down the ridge. “They have sent their fighters along with the transports. You know that orbital defense platforms are highly vulnerable to assault by small craft.”*
“What?” Kasstaxa snarled, whirling on him, her muscles rippling beneath her body-hugging armor. Her heads snapped at the air for a moment in frustration, then calmed, and her usual icy demeanor returned. “They have sent their fighters on a suicide mission! They do not have enough fuel to return to their base ships! Very well, we will have to accelerate our schedule. You brought an army group into the mountains with us?”
“You know I did,” Korm said, glaring at her.
“Respect me,” she said softly, “or you shall pay. Have the army group assume ambush positions. I will place my Scythed at their head. When the landing forces arrive here and try to capture the site-” she gestured at the building in the valley below – “have them come out of cover and slaughter them. As you’ll be conducting the rituals with me, I want you to give these orders now.”
“Yes, mistress,” Korm said softly, ducking his heads obediently. He slithered down the ridge and vanished into the woods, where his troops awaited orders.
Kasstaxa turned to the rising sun and basked in its warmth for a moment, then began to snatch at the air with her hands, hissing a series of sibilant words. She ran through three repetitions of the words, then bound them together with a joining syllable and let the spell go.
With a flash of light, her personal guard appeared around her. Six Scythed Khai, selected from amongst the best military troops Khass had to offer, covered in warding enchantments and glowing, writhing symbol armor, stood impassively in the morning sunlight.
Kasstaxa had put much of her power into these creations, allowing them to retain their intelligence and creativity. They were dead, but they retained the minds they had possessed in life. The six Khai were jubilant over their transformation, and they had pledged everlasting loyalty to Kasstaxa.
“My Scythed,” she said, a smile on her face, “today is the day of my ascendence, and I want you to ensure that the ceremony goes off without any…unpleasant interruptions. Join the military forces that Korm has concealed in the woods. When the Avatars and the other troops predicted by the prophecy arrive, crush them as you would a bug underfoot. Do you understand?”
The six Khai nodded. “Remember,” Kasstaxa reminded them, “you have no powers besides those I have granted to you. Your symbol armor is powerful, but you have no offensive capability besides your weapons. Do not think yourself capable of destroying an avatar. Still, the power of Koranis is strong here, and you shall each fight with the might of a hundred soldiers.”
Another nod was all the response she wanted, and that was what she got. “Excellent. When the sun sets today, I will be God, and you will find a place near my throne.”
The Scythed slithered down the slope with eerie precision, then vanished after Korm into the woods.
Another flash of light and a wave of compressed air heralded another being arriving, teleporting in with Avatar powers. Kasstaxa turned, smiling, and found Onua standing at the far end of the ridge.
The colossal, ebony-skinned warrior stood highlighted against the rising sun, his jagged, ripping skin dancing with waves of all-consuming fire. The Avatar of Destruction resembled a legendary demon. Waves of heat blackened the grass around where he stood, and the very air around him seemed to wilt.
Clutched under his arm was the Vahi, its surface now a brilliant silver, dimmed by occasional black shadows that flitted over it like oil on the surface of a pond. Onua took two steps forward, threw the Vahi at Kasstaxa’s feet, and emitted a bellow of agony, throwing his hands out wide and pouring bolts of fire into the air over the ridge. The energy bolts erupted into waves of sparks which cascaded across the ground, wilting grass and setting thousands of tiny fires.
“What pains you, my avatar?” Kasstaxa said worriedly, stepping forward.
“The accursed mask burns,” Onua rumbled, shooting a burning glare at the silver mask where it lay on the ground. “It did not hurt until I cast a spell to bring me here, but then it seemed to sear my very flesh.”
Kasstaxa picked the silver mask up, smiling grimly as she watched the shadows flit over its surface. “We need not worry about that any longer, my avatar. Koranis’ power has dimmed Cyravaar to the point where it can barely stand to exist. So close to Koranis, and imprisoned without its powers, Cyravaar is helpless. It can hurt you no longer.”
Onua stared around, his eyes aflame with a red-black, unholy light. “What is that building?” he asked, his voice crackling with the sound of a burning forest.
“The lift shaft that’ll take us the center of Khass, where Koranis is imprisoned,” Kasstaxa said with relish. “An amazing feat, really, tunneling to the center of a world. It’s impossible, of course, but with Sambiel’s help, we’ve reinforced the side of the shaft with spells.”
An ominous smile played about Onua’s face. “Underground. Enjoyable.”
His guttural pronouncement was cut off by a sudden flash of darkness, like an eclipse, which threw a sudden shadow across the area around them. Moments later, Sambiel’s nightmarish body seemed to rise from the ground itself, surrounded by a visible aura of darkness. The dark neuroscythe shielded his face from the rising sun and announced, “All is ready. I have prepared the Backlash Device, as your scientists call it, and made the necessary sacrifices. All that remains is to place the Vahi within the device and proceed with the necessary rituals.”
Kasstaxa smiled widely. “Excellent. The prophecies say the Avatars of Cyravaar will interrupt the ritual; and if they do, we will crush them. This close to the source of Koranis’ power, they have no hope of victory.”
Sambiel shifted uncomfortably, turning his back to the rising sun. “Perhaps we can continue this conversation in the ritual chamber? The light is…painful.”
“Of course,” Kasstaxa said, thoughts of the new power she was about to obtain flooding through her mind. She had never been more deliriously happy in her life. “Korm!”
After only a few moments of waiting, the other Khai smashed his way out of the trees and picked his way up the slope towards them, his crimson-black scales reflecting the morning sun in an eerie pattern. “The ritual is prepared, mistress?”
“Indeed it is,” Kasstaxa said. “My apologies that you did not get to participate in the final sacrifices.”
“Killing Thau will be worth it,” Korm snarled. “The insolent whelp evaded me on Crossroads. Feeling his bones snap beneath my blades will be pleasure enough.”
Kasstaxa smiled coldly at him. “Restrain your sadism, Korm, or you may become too rash and endanger us will. We will begin now.”
All four of the Avatars of Koranis began weaving a quick spell, designed to carry them to the chamber thousands of miles below, and the destiny that awaited them.
Above Khass, the landing force approaches the planetary defense grid…
The Sword of Might, surrounded by a halo of landing ships and fighters, arced towards Khass like a massive asteroid on an unavoidable collision course. The cruiser was decelerating furiously, just in time to avoid a collision with Khass itself; but the transports and fighters were not slowing. The transports were going to land, and the fighters were maneuverable to stop themselves.
Konro had other things to worry about besides running into Khass. “That defense platform has to be taken out,” he said, gesturing at the tremendous silver sphere, bristling with weapons, that loomed along their course.
They had had the misfortune to approach Khass just as one of its largest space defense platforms had reached this point in its orbit, neatly blocking their escape path. It would have to go, or the troop transports would be slaughtered before they could reach ground.
“Two minutes until firing range with the defense platform,” one of the sensor officers sang out. Konro turned to Rheuss. “Options?”
“We can send in the fighters,” Rheuss suggested. “They may be able to distract the station’s weapons while the landing ships slip past.”
Konro nodded. “Send the orders.”
Aboard Kappa 3, a Shorinor fighter, Pilot Malygris receives his orders…
“Attention all squadron members, this is Kappa 1,” the squadron leader rumbled in Shorinor battle language. “The prey is the defense station ahead. We must keep it distracted while the groundhunter ships slip past to prey on the surface.”
It will be a worthy fight. One any hunter would be proud to die in, Malygris thought. Still, I will miss…everything. Life is far too good to give up easily.
He ran one scaled hand over the controls of his craft, checking that all of the system diagnostic lights were still indicating that everything was fine, then raised his draconic head and peered at the ships around him. Fighters of every shape and size formed a wall seemingly stretching off into infinity on each side. His burnished grey-green, sleek vessel blended in with the rest of his squadron like a predator waiting to pounce on prey.
And his squadron was just one part of this massive wall. The sheer size of this hunt astonished him; he knew it was important, and he knew that these Khai were worthy prey, the kind of beings one did not underestimate more than once. He looked forward to testing their mettle.
His ship was fresh and fully repaired, armed with a pair of Shorinor tetryon beams, rapid-fire energy cannon famed for their accuracy, and twelve homing missiles capable of doing serious damage to even a shielded gunboat. In addition, a pair of antiship torpedoes capped his ships wings, although he was uncomfortable with how much they slowed his vessel down. The extra firepower might be what stood between him and the yawning abyss of death.
“Incoming fighters!” someone crackled over the communications line. His squadron leader, Kappa 1, threw her ship into a sharp downward dive, ‘down’ being towards Khass’ surface. Stars and planet wheeled crazily overhead as Malygris followed, rolling his ship to make it a harder target. The fighter wing broke up around him as the individual squadrons split up, making themselves more difficult to hit.
Their prudence paid off. Just as Malygris spotted a group of silver specks in the direction of the defense station, moving rapidly towards them, the station itself opened up with a series of heavy plasma beams, trying to swat the Crusader fighter squadrons with weapons capable of tearing a large vessel in half.
It was overkill, but the heavy plasma beams were unwieldy, and the Crusader formations’ sudden break took them out of the plasma beams’ path. The three lances of green energy speared overhead and vanished into the starry night.
Malygris’ heads-up display blipped, painting a series of holographic markers on his cockpit window. Red brackets flashed into being around the silver specks in the distance, identifying them as Exosphere Predator-class fighters and Adder-class gunboats. The brackets flashed to yellow when his computer obtained a targeting lock, and a slow tone began to show the chance of a missile striking the target at this range.
“Squadron, full throttle,” Kappa 1 ordered, and then threw her ship upwards and cut in her afterburners. Malygris pulled his own ship up, following the blazing markers of Kappa 1’s engines towards the Exosphere fighters.
“Break and engage,” Kappa 1 ordered. Around them, Kappa Squadron, ten ships in all, began to spread out, searching for the best paths to their targets. Malygris used one of his six arms to tap on the heads-up-display, selecting one of the nearest unclaimed ships as his own target.
He reached another arm across to his weapons console and flicked the switch to arm a pair of his sensor-guided homing missiles. Two triangular cages appeared on the heads-up display and began to chase after the darting Exosphere fighter, searching for a targeting lock.
Malygris let the missile computers do their work. Around him, his squadmates began to open fire at their targets, and the Exosphere ships, only a few amongst an entire wall of fighters closing towards the Crusader ships, returned fire. Green lances streaked overhead; one glanced off his shields, doing little serious damage.
Malygris threw his ship downward anyway, avoiding another wave of plasma bolts, then snap-rolled it onto its left side and pulled up, initiating a hard, arcing turn that took him away from his target at a right angle to his previous course. He flicked on his afterburners for a few moments, gaining ground, then yanked on his controls, flipping his ship about and dragging the nose down so that it was once again pointed at the Exosphere Predator he had selected.
His evasive maneuver had disrupted his missile computers’ attempt to find lock-on, and they once again began their search. As the hundreds of fighters around him began to break up into individual dogfights, Malygris began one of his own, flicking on his afterburners and closing rapidly with his target from above.
The arrowhead-shaped Exosphere fighter, which had not been the one firing on him earlier, seemed to notice him, and its own bow came around towards him. Malygris grinned. So the serpent-head wants to play…I’ll show him a real predator. He tapped at his systems board, boosting power to his forward shields.
A low whine began to sound from his sensor board, showing that the Exosphere ship was trying to get a lock on him. To distract it, Malygris armed both of his tetryon disruptors, adjusted his course to place the targeting pipper over the Exosphere fighter’s nose, and squeezed the trigger.
A hail of green darts erupted from the cannon on each side of his own fighters nose, crossing the space between the two ships in an instant and splashing off the Exosphere ship’s forward shielding. The Exosphere pilot threw his or her ship into a tight upwards turn, a bad error. Malygris tracked his tetryon disruptors across the Predator’s belly shields, watching with glee as the enemy fighter completed a backwards loop.
His missile computers were presented with first the wide expanse of the Exosphere ship’s belly, and then the blazing heat of its engines. They achieved a solid lock in moments, and Malygris yanked on the secondary trigger of his control stick. His ship lurched as two slender missiles erupted from the wing-mounted pods, streaking across space towards the Exosphere ship.
Both missiles hit the rear of the Exosphere ship as it began a snap-roll to the left. They exploded, ripping through its rear shields and chewing apart its engines. Golden fire squirted from the fighter’s tail, and it began a slow roll forward. Malygris nudged his own fighter to the left, flicking off the afterburners for a better shot, and then dragged the nose back to the right to settle it over the tumbling Khai ship’s tail.
One squeeze of the trigger later, and all that was left of the Khai ship was a rain of debris, falling slowly towards an inevitable funeral pyre in Khass’ atmosphere.
He was interrupted by a sudden blare from his sensor board, indicating that someone had locked a missile onto him. A stab of fear shot through his heart, and he slapped at his ECM board, dropping a series of countermeasures into space behind him. The countermeasures were designed to distract the sensors of an incoming missile, luring it away to strike the countermeasure instead of the intended target.
At the same time, although he was tempted to ignite his afterburners and move as fast as possible, he cut his throttle and slewed his ship around to face its engines in the opposite direction of the incoming missile. He caught a brief glance of the missile, a brilliant white pinpoint against the stars, and then he saw the launching ship, an Exosphere gunboat nearly twice the size of his ship.
Just a more appealing target. Despite the incoming missile, Malygris squeezed his primary trigger, sending a rain of punishing tetryon disruptor fire to cascade across the gunboat’s forward shields. He selected two more missiles and allowed them to seek for a lock, then squeezed his eyes shut and prepared to die.
The missile passed barely ten feet above his ship. Because he’d cut his engines, the countermeasures he’d dropped were now much brighter in terms of heat and EM radiation this his own ship, and the missile decided they were a better target- the brighter, the more likely it is that something is what you’re really after.
In this case, the missile was wrong. The Exosphere missile shot over Malygris’ sleek fighter, then blew itself apart amongst the cloud of countermeasures, shredding them into a haze of gas.
Malygris’ own missiles beeped as the gunboat soared towards him. He squeezed the secondary trigger, jettisoning two more missiles and allowing them to arc towards the gunboat, then rammed his throttle to full and jammed his nose down, trying to get moving again and make himself a harder target.
He succeeded, partially. The gunboat followed him through his turn, pounding his rear shields with plasma fire; red lights erupted across his engineering board, heralding the shield’s imminent failure. Moments later, the gunboat twisted away, and Malygris caught a glimpse of his missiles pursuing it closely.
“Kappa 3,” his communications board crackled. “We’ve been ordered to break out of the fight and attack the station. The transports are beginning their run.”
Malygris snarled in reply, then jammed his throttles past the redline and tore his ship away from the gunboat. Both of his missiles slammed into countermeasure the gunboat jettisoned, detonating harmlessly; but by then Malygris had already gotten far enough away that the Exosphere ship was no longer a threat.
Malygris speared through the dogfights around him, heading for the defense station, which loomed like a tremendous silver egg out of his forward cockpit window. Whenever an Exosphere ship passed through his cross-hairs, he fired his tetryon disruptors, and once he was rewarded with a blast of flame; but mostly he was forced to ignore the screams of his comrades as the Exosphere forces slowly but steadily tore the Crusader fighter squadrons apart.
A particularly agonized wail echoed over his commline, and Malygris had to grab at his own wrist to prevent himself from turning to help whatever poor soul was in such distress. If we don’t take that station out, they’ll be dying for nothing. That would be far more of a waste than not aiding them…
He managed to hold his hands steady, ignoring the pleas of those Crusaders who were in danger of perishing. He knew those cries were not directed at him, but every time he heard one, he had the urge to help his comrade, to preserve the life which was so close to slipping out of the universe forever.
And then he was out of the chaotic melee of the dogfight. As soon as he and the other Crusader fighters who were heading for the station emerged from the general melee, the defense station opened up on them with its light plasma beam turrets. Malygris began jerking his ship up and down, then side to side, making himself harder to hit. Green lightning lanced by, dangerously close. He spared a glance out of his side cockpit windows and saw that perhaps thirty ships had been spared from the battle with the Exosphere fighters, out of nearly two hundred who had engaged the perhaps one hundred and fifty Exosphere ships.
Not many at all. Those Exosphere pilots are really keeping us tied down. Thirty ships against an orbital defense station…
As he yanked his attention back to the defense station, Malygris saw one poor Qwohmlin fighter torn in half by a plasma bolt from the station; moments later, plasma fire and missiles erupted from behind them, as Exosphere ships who had left the main dogfight opened fire. We have to get rid of them, somehow!
Two more fighters erupted into flame at this new assault from behind. Malygris renewed his jinking and juking, frantically dodging fire from both directions.
His weapons board bleeped. They were now in range of the defense station. He spared on arm to arm both of his anti-ship torpedoes, then yelled the coordinates he was firing at over the general commline. He counted to three, then squeezed the trigger, loosing both anti-ship torpedoes.
The cumbersome metal cylinders erupted from the end of his ship’s wings. Not as maneuverable as missiles, they were far more deadly against stationary and slow-moving targets. Malygris watched in satisfaction as several ships to each side of him managed to maintain formation, despite the hail of fire from both sides, and launched their own torpedoes. A wave of torpedoes arced in towards the station.
Malygris’ torpedoes detonated on the station’s shields, and they flared bright red under the sudden assault. Two more pairs of torpedoes struck the shields before they collapsed, leaving the tremendous bulk of the defense station open to assault.
The fighter next to him exploded as three missiles struck it from behind. Malygris threw his ship downward, but kept an eye on the remaining torpedoes as they passed through the breach in the shield. There were six torpedoes left, enough to cripple the station.
The station’s plasma beams changed targets. The first torpedo detonated under a hail of fire, exploding early and consuming the two torpedoes behind it in the blast. Three torpedoes remained.
Malygris rolled his ship back into line with the station, then cut his engines and fired his braking thrusters. Taken by surprise at his sudden stop, two of the Exosphere ships behind them zoomed overhead, and he immediately launched four missiles and a hail of tetryon disruptor fire, gutting one ship and sending the other one into an evasive spin.
He glanced at his sensor board. Out of the thirty ships who had begun the assault on the station, six remained, including his. As he watched, two more blinked out of existence, and the fire streaking around his wildly darting ship increased.
He continued his mad rush for the gap in the shields. Tapping on the afterburners, he managed to get through the shield gap, avoiding torrents of plasma fire from the station. I’m going to see this thing destroyed, if I have to ram it myself.
The station’s plasma beams caught the next torpedo in line, gutting it; moments later, an Exosphere fighters swooped in towards one of the two torpedoes left. Malygris selected his four remaining missiles and fired, sending the Exosphere fighter fleeing with the missiles hot on its tail. And now all I have left is my tetryon disruptors. To take out a whole station…
One ship remained nearby, out of the thirty that had attacked; it was Kappa 1, his squadron commander. As he watched, she smashed an Exosphere ship into pulp with her tetryon disruptors, then dove towards the station, passing him. Malygris noted with a note of hope that while she had expended her torpedoes, she still had four missiles left in her wing pods.
The last two torpedoes in line struck the station, detonating in a series of massive explosions. Silver plating and twisted metal exploded into space, pinging off Malygris’ front shields as he continued his dive towards the station. Gouts of sparks erupted from the ragged, molten hole the torpedoes had torn in the station. Plasma fire blew through the debris cloud around him, trying to strike at his ship; but the concealing cloud of debris created by the torpedo impacts protected Malygris.
A wave of secondary explosions erupted around the area of the torpedo hit, and Malygris realized why. The torpedoes had struck a crucial area, rupturing the station’s protodermis tanks. Khass imported massive amounts of protodermis, a vital mineral and power source; it made sense that they’d store it temporarily in the orbital stations. Liquid protodermis was volatile and highly explosive.
He clicked his commlink on. “Kappa 1, fire your missiles into the protodermis tanks. The torpedoes took out the armor plating above the.”
His squadron leader did not respond, but she broke off a strafing run on a group of plasma turrets, and her ship streaked upwards in a halo enemy fire. She heeled her ship hard over, and then began a dive towards the torpedo-generated rent in the station’s armor.
An Exosphere Predator fell into line behind her. Its plasma cannons blazed once, with deadly accuracy; and Kappa 1’s rear shields failed. A strangled gasp sounded over the commlink as she threw her ship to the left and down, and the next wave of plasma fire merely clipped her starboard wing off.
Leaving her with two missiles.
Malygris watched with his heart in his mouth as she slewed her damaged ship around and fired the missiles.
Both missiles exploded from her remaining left wing; one of them tumbled off into space, its engine not igniting. Malygris cursed. The other missile exploded into life, streaking downwards, just as Kappa 1 bailed out of her stricken ship, her ejection pod blasting away from the fighter and carrying her to safety.
She was just in time, as the Predator fired again, blowing her ship apart in a shower of sparks and green fire. The missile streaked downward, narrowly missed the ragged edge of the hole in the armor plate, then punched through the protruding silver bulge of a protodermis tank.
Nothing happened. The missile stuck there, half-into the protodermis tank. It was a dud.
Malygris eyes narrowed, and he threw his ship downward again. The Exosphere vessels attacking him had let up while Kappa 1 launched her attack run, but now they attacked again with redoubled force. Green fire streaked around him, each blast the threat of a quick end to his life.
He ignored them, throwing his fighter through a wild series of evasive maneuvers. He felt his six arms on the controls, felt the reactions of his vessel; he envisioned himself as the ship, dancing through space, surrounded by spears of green light.
Malygris focused his entire being on to keeping the ship moving, whirling it about in a completely random pattern, while keeping the nose focused on the one spot in the station’s armor where he had any chance of damaging it. Tetryon fire wouldn’t ignite protodermis tanks, he knew.
His ship drew within range. Green fire exploded off his rear shields, but somehow, through tremendous effort of will, he held the nose steady and fired.
Slivers of verdant light exploded from his ships forward cannon just as his rear shields failed and plasma fire chewed his ship’s engines off. He reached for the ejection trigger and yanked it just as his ship began to come apart around him. The ejection charge carried him clear with only a second to spare.
Malygris’ tetryon fire flew straight and true, smashing into Kappa 1’s missile where it protruded from the protodermis tank. The dud warhead exploded under this new heat, and the explosion was caught and multiplied a thousandfold as the liquid protodermis around it ignited, tearing its way through the walls of the tank, rupturing the areas around it and spilling their contents into space. The sheer light of the explosion was enough to blind anyone looking at it, as the blast wave rippled through the structure of the station, tearing apart support beams like jelly and smashing vital systems in an instant.
The entire station lurched as a tongue of fire erupted from the gap in its armor. Its lights flickered as molten metal surged from the hole, like some bizarre artifical volcano. But the power surges quieted, the blast wave slowed as it passed through hundreds of shock-absorbing bulkheads, and damage-control forcefields popped into place. It was damaged, but the station still lived.
The Crusader fighters were dead or dying. All that stood between the troop transports and defeat was the Sword of Might, and it had no chance whatsoever.
The Crusaders had lost.
Thau emerges from Sailath’s atmosphere to a scene of chaos…and a marvelous opportunity…
Blinded by tears of pain and rage, Thau could barely see the controls as he guided the sluggish freighter into space. Ssrin was gone. He’d barely known he loved her for ten minutes…and already she was dead. Ripped from the universe forever.
He would kill the people who had done it. The Exosphere would pay for this, pay a thousand times over. Nothing in the universe could compare the anguish he was feeling now, but the Exosphere would experience some tiny fraction of it before they died.
He turned his attention to the controls, numbing his mind to the pain with the simple balm of flying. He kept the sluggish freighter on a course for Khass, leaving the icy ###### of Sailath far behind.
Thau stared at what he beheld ahead of him. Lights flashed in Khass’ orbit, explosions and strobes of weapons fire. The Crusaders had arrived, and the battle was already underway.
Thau shoved the ship’s engines to the limit, determined to help how he could. Ahead of him, plasma fire exploded from on of Khass’ defense stations, swatting at black dots that swarmed around it. One by one, those dots vanished, replaced by the swarming silver shapes of Exosphere ships.
A pair of explosions gouted along the station’s side. Thau could not restrain a surge of triumph. Moments later, a fresh wave of plasma fire erupted from the station. The transport’s engines whined as Thau stressed them to their limit.
The battle continued for a few moments. Thau scanned the area. Waiting in the back was a colossal mass of ships – invasion ships, he realized with a start. In a slightly closer orbit to Khass, between the troop transports and the planet, was a swirling mass of fighters, dueling to the death in the largest dogfight Thau had ever seen. Thau felt a twinge of nostalgia. Pilot was his chosen profession, and he wished he had a sleek, fast fighter now, and instrument of his vengeance.
And suddenly the defense station shuddered as a massive explosion gouted from one side. Thau snarled victoriously. Feeling the pain now, you Exosphere *******s?
But the massive, armored defense station continued to fire, pouring shots not at the area around it, but into the troop transports. The ships began to flee, breaking out of their coasting formation, as plasma fire clawed at them, snapping one transport in half and enveloping another in a ball of flame.
Thau threw everything he had into the ship’s controls, urging every bit of power he could get out of them. As he strained to push more speed out of the transport, he could feel a heat growing at the back of his mind, a burning silver light which slowly spread up from behind his Heart of Darkness and towards the front of his brain.
He was paralyzed before this silver tide as it reached his necks, crept along his nerves, and began to wag his tongues. He hissed words he didn’t understand, but somehow they made sense; the very air around him seemed to shimmer with a newfound power.
Gods! This must be what happened to Ssrin!
And suddenly he exploded into silver light as he finished his nonsensical sentence. The ripple in the air around him reached a climax, and then vanished. The silver glow raced out of him like lightning, coursing through the ship around him, picking it up and hurling it forward…and suddenly the transport was perhaps ten seconds away from the defense station.
The transport had somehow leapt over thousands of miles of space, in a way he’d never seen before, and had thought impossible. He was staring down the burning hole in the station towards the machinery at its core, and he was plummeting towards it. The ship was still on full throttle, and it was loaded with liquid protodermis. Highly explosive liquid protodermis.
And something moved at the back of his mind, a presence, cool and soothing, directing his thoughts and moving him towards one course of action. Silver light erupted within his brain again, pouring out like the blast of a lightning strike, reflecting out of his eyes. Another nonsensical sentence poured from his lips as something seemed to move his tongues for him; and suddenly he was whirling down a tunnel of light.
-Blast, hit the word limit. I'll have to put the rest in another post...see the next post. It's still the same ch
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Nov 7 2003, 08:13 PM
Nov 7 2003, 08:19 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
Something hit him on the back of the head, and he sprawled over a hard metal floor. He opened his eyes, and looked up. Light blazed in his eyes, the lights that might be found on the bridge of a ship; but they were obstructed by something.
Abdiel was leaning over him, his nightmarish, bony face smiling.
“Welcome to the Avatars, Thau.”
Thau's protodermis-laden transport crashed into the defense station at full speed, crumpling upon itself, spilling protodermis into the void. Sparks flew as the ship's huill crashed apart, rending itself in a frenzy of self-destruction. The ship's torn power conduits poured energy into the liquid protodermis...
...and a new dawn shone over Khass as the transport full of liquid protodermis detonated with the force of a thermonuclear bomb. The station was instantly blown apart, leaving only a roughly spherical haze of atoms to show that it had ever been there. The Exosphere fighters and the surviving Crusader fighters were blown apart with out discrimination. Malygris was consumed by the fireball knowing that they had succeeded, and that he would be remembered in song. Kappa 1, his commander, died happily.
And sweeping through the space where the defense station had been came the invasion fleet, descending upon Khass to fulfill the final lines of the prophecy.
Beyond the prophecy loomed chaos. The very balance of the future hung on the outcome of this day.
The next chapter will be the conclusion of Exosphere: Backlash. This chapter was 50 pages. Any feedback?
Nov 10 2003, 07:28 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
(ignore double post) ARRGH! BLASTED COMPUTER!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Nov 10 2003, 08:06 PM
Nov 10 2003, 07:35 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
NOTE: It is highly recommended that you put some music on when reading this chapter. The Two Towers soundtrack is always recommendable, according to CI, but whatever you prefer will probably do. (No, Christmas carols are not a good idea).
The Crusader’s spaceborne fleet has been smashed, but the troop transports have made it to Khass’ surface and are beginning to offload their precious cargo…
Meanwhile, the Toa, who are on board one of the lead troop transports, are languishing within the ship’s heavy equipment bay, waiting for the ship to land and offload its cargo so they can join the battle.
The landing bay rocked as the troop transport hit another patch of atmospheric turbulence. The transport’s computer had been piping updates over the ship’s intercom for the last hour or so, giving them some idea of what was going on.
The last hours had been like a Koli match for the five Toa. Pohatu had found a small display left carelessly in one cargo of the equipment bay, hidden under the chassis of a hovertank; they’d managed to turn it on and use it to watch the battle raging outside.
They’d cheered as their portion of the fleet had broken free of the initial battle; paced worriedly as the second ambush force had arrived; and sat about nervously as Red Group bulled its way through that wall, too. They’d tensely looked on as the fighter squadrons tried to clear a path for them, and groaned when they failed; and then the cargo bay had erupted into shouts again as the protodermis-laden transport had appeared out of nowhere and slammed into the defense platform blocking their path.
It’s been quite a ride, Gali thought. And it looks like we have an even bigger one ahead.
Pohatu shifted uncomfortably beside her as he watched storm-wracked clouds streak by. The transport ship they were on was plunging through Khass’ atmosphere at a speed considerably less than the speed they’d arrived at. The initial atmospheric entry had been spectacular; the ship had been surrounded by a halo of plasma as it careened into the atmosphere, madly decelerating. The glowing light of their plasma sheath had penetrated through the equipment bay’s thin windows, illuminating the dank bay with a flickering yellow light.
“Five minutes until landing,” the wall-mounted intercom crackled. Suddenly, the doors at the back of the bay sprang open, and battle-armored soldiers of all shapes and races began to pour in, filing towards tanks or other armored vehicles, rushing about in an eerie, controlled silence.
Kopaka’s face took on a settled, peaceful expression. “Well, that’s it. It looks like they’re getting ready to land, so we might as well too.”
Gali smiled as Kopaka picked the sniper rifle he’d been examining earlier off the nearby weapons rack. Their cerescythe powers had granted them knowledge, and the ability to use the equipment around them, but Gali found herself trusting in the abilities she possessed rather than the technology scattered around the equipment bay.
A line of soldiers rushed past them, covered in full battle armor and clanking with gear, snatching weapons off the equipment rack as they passed. One stopped, looking confused; Kopaka raised the sniper rifle towards him and said tersely, “I’m borrowing this.”
The soldier, a bladeling whose bone spikes protruded from hastily torn gaps in his armor, nodded, hesitated, and then ran off after his departing comrades, moving towards one of the personnel carriers parked near the equipment bay’s still-closed doors.
The ship shuddered again as they passed out of the turbulent region. The bay was beginning to whine with deafening noises as the vehicles around them came to life, drifting off the bay floor on antigravs and igniting running lights. Gali hastily raised her hands to her ears, trying to block out some of the deafening cacophony of awakening machines.
Pohatu raised an eyebrow at her, an odd expression when he was wearing a mask, and gestured deliberately at the air, spitting a series of cool, quick syllables which Gali recognized as a spell of silence. Pohatu finished the spell and tied it all together with a quick twist of his thumbs, then let it loose. Instantly, the five Toa were surrounded by a globe of silence.
“Nice work,” Lewa said. “I’m getting a hang of this ‘magic’ stuff. It’s a bit different from air mastery, having to chant and wave my hands about. Not as convenient…”
“But far more powerful,” Tahu said, watching as a hovertank nearby rose off the floor of the bay and drifted forward, all in eerie silence. “Pohatu, will our old powers still work?”
Pohatu nodded. “You can use them at will, but don’t expect them to work well. They aren’t nearly strong enough to overcome the wards the Scythed are likely to have.”
Gali shifted uncomfortably, trying to work some of the energy out of her limbs. “How many Scythed do you think we’ll have to take on?”
“Probably no more than twenty,” Pohatu responded confidently. “Don’t worry, we’ll do fine. Scythed are mindless and powerless; they’re merely very, very strong. We don’t have much to worry about.”
Tahu shook his head. “That’s now what I would do if I were Kasstaxa. I’d make six Scythed, the strongest she could create, and give them intelligence.”
Lewa rolled his eyes. “Thank you for your insight, fearsome leader. Glad to see you can think like a Khai.”
Tahu jerked around towards him, sneering. “What do you know about this, Lewa? Any more clever remarks?” Suddenly his sword was out, held at his side but still ready to strike.
Lewa waved his hands in the air mockingly. “Ooohoo, getting violent, are we? Time to work out some of that temper you’ve built up?”
“That’s enough!” Tahu snarled, his sword jerking out a few centimeters towards Lewa. “Any more insolence, and I’ll slit you open, magic or no.”
Gali frowned. This wasn’t characteristic, even for Tahu. Pohatu leapt between the two of them, batting the flat of Tahu’s sword aside. “Quiet, you two. We’re close to Koranis here. It may be trying to spread dissent.”
“Koranis?” Tahu roared, drawing stares from some of the battle-armored soldiers despite the globe of silence surrounding them. “What does Koranis have to do with this? Lewa’s being a fool, that’s all!”
“This close to Khass, Koranis’ power colors all of your perceptions,” Pohatu said placidly. “It spreads dissent and suffering to any non-Khai who approaches its world. Put away your sword, Tahu, bickering will do us no good.”
Muttering something, Tahu slid his sword back into the sheath on his back, then jumped as a blaring siren began echoing across the bay, sounding even throughout their globe of silence. The ship began to shudder, and Lewa frowned, forgetting his argument and stretching his arms out towards the floor. “We’re near the ground,” he said after a moment. “I can sense air building up beneath our ship as we descend. That’s what’s causing that bumping.”
The soldiers in the bay were either vanishing into vehicles or moving to get out of the way of the tanks. The ground infantry would be deployed from different bays, behind the tanks, so the armored vehicles could give them cover.
“Where are we landing?” Kopaka asked quietly.
Pohatu took up the display he’d found and peered at it. “Somewhere in the mountains. Hey, we’ve broken off from the main invasion force! We’re the only ship here. I can see a valley about a mile off, through a large forest…a rocky ridge around it, little silver building at the center.”
He looked up, his face suddenly pale. “That’s it. The lift shaft to the center of Khass. The Avatars are battle down at the center of Khass, and that’s the way to get there.”
“That is indeed the way,” a familiar voice said, penetrating the sirens and their silence spell as if it was within the Toa’s heads.
Gali’s head snapped around towards the nearby wall, where three familiar figures stood. Abdiel leaned against the wall besides a serious-looking Konro, whose ears were rapidly disappearing into his head in an effort to block out the noise in the equipment bay. Next to them was –
“-Thau!” Lewa shouted. “I thought you were…not dead, I guess. We haven’t really had time to think about you and Ssrin, but I know Gali was worried.”
“Thanks, Lewa,” Gali said dryly. “It’s good to see you, Thau. Where’s…”
Thau’s scales looked ashen, and although Gali was no expert on Exosphere expressions, his necks were drooped and he looked…crushed. A sudden chill stabbed through Gali’s heart. “No…”
“She…fell,” Thau said quietly. Suddenly, with astonishing speed and violence, he whirled about and slammed a fist into the wall of the equipment bay. “She’s dead!”
His voice was so filled with pain and grief that Gali found herself stepping forward to comfort him before she even thought about it. “I’m sorry,” Tahu said, subdued. “I understand.”
“No!” Thau snapped. “You don’t! You can’t…ever…understand…” His voice broke off into a hissing sob
As Gali reached out to touch him, the entire ship gave another lurch, and a tremendous crash echoed through the chamber. Moments later, the sound of grinding metal penetrated their fading globe of silence, which Pohatu had dismissed. The doors to the equipment bay began grinding open, letting in a ray of blinding sunlight from outside.
The opening doors revealed a woodland clearing around them, its grass ruffled by the exhaust of the transport as it landed. Around the clearing were several smashed trees which the ship had apparently brushed up against as it was moving in to land. “We’re not with the main invasion force?” Pohatu asked.
Thau had been thrown into shadow by the sudden sunlight from the door, and Gali took a step away from him without even thinking about it. He needs time to grieve. He must…have loved her. I can’t see any other reason…why…it would be this strong.
“No, we’ve broken off from the main force,” Abdiel said, his voice somewhat uneven. The news of Ssrin’s death had apparently affected him too. “All we have to do is reach the lift shaft and ride it down to where the Avatars of Koranis await. But with only three avatars, I fear that perhaps we cannot triumph.”
“Why can’t we just teleport down there?” Konro asked curiously. “To the core of Khass, I mean, where the other avatars are waiting.”
Abdiel smiled. “You can only safely teleport to somewhere you’ve already been or someone you’ve already met. Which is why Onua was able to steal the Vahi.”
The word came from seven throats at once, counting Thau as one. Abdiel smiled slightly. “It’s in the prophecies. The Enemy cannot be freed without the Vahi, and there was nothing we could have done to stop Onua. I know you tried, Konro, but the guards you set are dead.”
“WHAT?” Konro barked. “Those were good men and women! You could have at least warned me!” He turned away, face a mask of pain and betrayal.
Abdiel placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “The future is uncertain, Konro. I thought, too, that those guards might have been able to prevent the Vahi’s theft. They died bravely.”
“The ship with the Vahi is parked in the Sword of Might’s docking bay,” Konro muttered. “I didn’t even think to bring it. I was going to fly it down, but then you suggested teleporting. What a fool I am…”
Abdiel shrugged. “I would have reminded you, had you needed to bring the ship. Now, it appears that we must hurry. We Avatars must reach the lift and descend in haste. If we do not stop the AntiFour’s ritual soon, Koranis will be freed and all will be lost. You must guard the top of the lift shaft so that no one can descend and interrupt our confrontation.”
Konro whirled towards him. “What about the blackscythes you told me of? They’ll slaughter our troops!”
“Listen,” Abdiel said urgently. “Guarding the top of the lift shaft may seem trivial, but it is crucial. To rebind Koranis, we must complete a ritual of our own, and for it to be completed a ray of light, a projection of our power, will need to leave the lift shaft. If the Khai forces manage to reach the lift shift and blow it shut, we cannot bind Koranis again.”
Thau threw up his hands. “Stop. This is too confusing. I thought if we defeated the Avatars of Koranis, the Deathfear itself would be destroyed. What is this about keeping the lift shaft open? Why do we have to rebind Koranis?”
Abdiel shifted uncomfortably as the bay doors finished opening and the lead tanks and personnel carriers began to glide out into the sunlight on rippling cushions of antigravity. There was no sign of Khai forces…yet. “We don’t have much time. I will explain as best as I can. By destroying Koranis’ avatars, we loosen his grasp on the world outside his prison. Those avatars are the incarnations of the four different evil energies he has been pouring out through the gaps in his prison. Destruction, Plague, War, and Death each emanate from one four of the rents in his bindings.”
“By destroying the Avatars, we stop the flow of his energies into the universe. But he can create new Avatars, eventually, if we do not seal the rents themselves. To do that, we complete a ritual involving the Vahi, the opposite ritual the AntiFour are undertaking right now. Part of that ritual involves rearranging Khass’ moons. They are a part of the binding spells that keep Koranis imprisoned.”
Konro emitted a strangled gasp as the rest of them soaked in this information. “Move moons? It’s impossible?”
“Not if we focus our powers on the Vahi, using it as a focus to project these powers upwards through the lift shaft. The ray of light should pass directly up through the top of the shaft, cut a tunnel through Khass’ atmosphere, and strike the ice moon, which is passing overhead. It is the key component of the binding spells. Shifting it to a new orbit will complete the spells again. Misplacing the moon was the one error Cyravaar made in constructing this prison.”
Thau shuddered at the mention of Sailath. Gali looked at him worriedly. He had always been hopeful, optimistic, and cheerful; now he seemed on the verge of despair. “Let’s get this over with,” she said.
“Very well,” Abdiel said, and led them out into the sunlight. The eight of them jogged down the metal ramp which led to the surface of the clearing, keeping towards the edge. Hovertanks and personnel carriers thundered down the middle of the ramp, and torrents of armored soldiers marched on each side of them. Looking around, Gali thought she could see perhaps six hundred soldiers and thirty tanks, total. It was a formidable force, shields and weapons gleaming in the early morning sun.
Abdiel reached into his belt and pulled out a small metal cylinder, which he tossed to Konro. “A commlink. Admiral, you are still in command. I suggest you give the order to advance.”
Konro shrugged and put the commlink to his lips. “Troops, let’s move out. I want a cautious advance into the woods; watch for an ambush, but make good time to the valley marked on your navmaps. We need to take the building in the valley intact.”
A chorus of ayes sounded over the commlink, and the soldiers and tanks around them began to move out, pounding across the grassy field towards the trees at the perimeter of the clearing. Gun barrels and helmets shifted uneasily as the soldiers scanned the woods for any sign of Exosphere troops.
There was nothing, except the quiet of a mountain morning. The universe was apparently oblivious to the fact that this day was the culmination of a millennia-old war.
Nature did not seem to know, or care.
Konro raised a hand and flagged down a passing personnel carrier, which drew to a halt next to them and sank down to knee level, its antigravs rippling the grass beneath it into furious motion. “Need a ride?” the head sticking out of the top turret shouted.
“Glad to have one,” Konro replied, leading them to the back of the craft, where the carrier’s ramp was already folding down to let them in. A mob of grinning, armored faces greeted them, and a series of staggering backslaps and deafening applause accompanied them as Konro led them into the personnel carrier’s rear compartment and sat them down on an empty bench.
“One thing, driver,” Konro yelled up the tube to the forward command compartment. “Try to dodge any tanks, OK?”
Laughter echoed around the chamber at his comment, and the troops around him relaxed. Gali smiled inwardly. Konro had a way of making people forget that he was important, and she was impressed with his talent with the troops.
“You haven’t answered my question, Abdiel,” Konro said testily as the troops around them began to chatter again, trading jokes and nervous banter. “What are we going to do about these…blackscythes? Can the Toa outmatch them?”
“The Toa will not have to worry about them. The Scythed are more important, and more powerful. I will deploy my neuroscythes to deal with the blackscythes,” Abdiel explained, his nightmarish face twisted into an unknown expression. Gali couldn’t read his emotions no matter how hard she tried, and she didn’t like that.
“Well, we’ll have tanks, Scythed, neuroscythes, blackscythes, and a concealed army of Khai,” Thau grumbled. “Everything we need for a proper party. Not to mention the end of the universe if we don’t win.”
“Not the end of the universe,” Abdiel said mysteriously, reclining against the armored wall of the personnel carrier. “Something worse. Koranis’ dominion over it.”
Thau ignored him, crossing his arms moodily and staring into infinity. “Any word on the fleet?” Konro asked after a moment of awkward silence.
“Just a moment,” Abdiel said, cocking his head. “My neuroscythes report that our fleet near the moons, the one that engaged the largest Exosphere force, has been utterly smashed. Red Group has defeated the Exosphere ambush force they engaged, and they are now rushing towards the planet, but the larger Exosphere force is pursuing them.”
He paused for a moment, then continued. “The Sword of Might has taken up geostationary orbit over the site where the main invasion force is landing. It is providing fire support by launching weapons strikes against any Exosphere redoubts which prove difficult to defeat. However, the main invasion force has nevertheless become bogged down in heavy resistance and it does not seem likely that they are going to win. They are being pushed back towards their landing site.”
Konro collapsed back against the wall of the carrier, his face a mask of grief. “I know we couldn’t have done it without them, but it still seems like a waste. Three quarters of the fleet destroyed, and our ground troops being slaughtered out there. Still, as long as we win here...it won’t matter, will it? What about your neuroscythes? How are they going to get here?”
Abdiel placed his hands on the wall of the personnel carrier and began a low chant, triggering a wave of suspicious mutters amongst the troops around the compartment. As Abdiel completed the spell, the walls of the personnel carrier turned transparent as glass.
Gasps echoed around the chamber, but Abdiel ignored them. He jabbed a bony finger at the clearing outside, which they had not yet left, and muttered something under his breath. “My brethren, you may come.”
A ring of twelve diamond-shaped purple lights exploded into being in the midst of the clearing, sending tanks and ground soldiers rushing away. Konro hastily raised his commlink to his lips and muttered a quick explanation.
The violet lights began to orbit around a common center, arranging themselves on a horizontal plane. Light sprang into being between the lights as they whirled, forming a ring of energy, a circular door floating a foot or so above the clearing’s floor, just a few meters from the armored edge of the troop transport that had brought them there.
The middle of the ring slowly shaded towards the same shade of violet, and when it seemed to be perfectly attuned to the color of the lights that marked its circumference, whirling symbols sprang into being across its surface, a wave of odd runes that rippled and writhed like a living thing.
From this sudden rent in space floated a dark-robed, nightmarish figure, and then another. The neuroscythes had arrived, in force.
Cheers sounded around the troop transport compartment – and then turned to gasps as the lead neuroscythe raised its hands, jabbed them in the direction of the area of forest they were heading for, and unleashed a swarm of tiny fireballs.
The rain of tiny lights streaked over the column of tanks and troop transports, into the trees the lead tank was approaching, and detonated. Leaves and shredded wood exploded into the air, followed by a blast of brilliant orange-white light and an explosion of flame.
And amidst this flame was metal, silver metal. The neuroscythes had apparently seen something amidst the trees and acted quickly enough to destroy it.
As more neuroscythes poured from the portal next to the troop transport, another series of explosions sounded. Gali realized with a shock that these came from the woods, and then realized they were thunderclaps.
More accurately, the thunderclaps of weapons fire. Plasma fire exploded from the trees on each side of the clearing, cutting through the column of armored vehicles with sickening ease.
One tank foundered and sank as a plasma beam cut through its center, killing its crew instantly. Another one took two beams on its thick armor before a third beam ripped its turret off and smashed it apart in a massive explosion.
The troop transport next to theirs suddenly pitched backwards, nearly half its length into the air, and exploded, raining metal over the vehicles around it. The cause of its demise became apparent as an arrowhead-shaped silhouette flashed over the clearing, blazing at the column of Crusader tanks with its plasma cannon.
The Exosphere Predator-class fighter met a swift end as one neuroscythe gestured dramatically, shouting a quick invocation, and a wall of sparkling force suddenly erupted from the ground at the far side of the clearing. The Predator nosed up in a frantic attempt to dodge, but still smashed nose-first into it, crumpling like a tin can. The shriek of grinding metal echoed over the clearing as the ship punched through the conjured forcefield, coming out the other side little more than an elongated metal hulk, and detonated, raining burning debris over the woods below.
Trees ignited with a staccato series of snaps and hisses, and a blazing explosion of flame erupted from the woods on that side of the clearing, spreading rapidly. That explosion of flame was the least of those in the area, though, as sleek Exosphere hovertanks burst from the trees on both sides of the clearing, smashing at the flanks of the Crusader column with ferocious abandon.
Screams sounded inside their personnel carrier as more plasma fire blazed into the convoy, a tidal wave of verdant energy that left in its wake a mass of burning wreckage. Crusader vehicles exploded as lethally accurate plasma bolts killed their crews in burning agony, or punched through their fuel compartments and ignited them, or simply melted the chassis of a vehicle to the point where it foundered in a lake of cooling metal. It was a slaughter.
The Crusaders tried to return fire, but the barks of weapons fire from within the column were sporadic and inaccurate. Personnel carriers began to try to offload their troops, but more often then not Exosphere plasma fire caught the disembarking soldiers and reduced them to a haze of atoms.
Smoke began to blot out the sky above the clearing as the Crusaders tried frantically to respond to this deadly ambush. Exosphere tanks, fifteen total by Gali’s hurried count, slashed in towards the convoy from both sides, raining plasma fire at them with lethal accuracy,
They were outnumbered two to one, but these were the best tank drivers Khass had to offer. They sideslipped and twisted their vehicles with astonishing grace, sliding across the grass as if they weren’t there, vanishing behind piles of burning debris left by exploding Crusader tanks and then reappearing somewhere completely unexpected.
Their personnel carrier took a hit as a plasma bolt cut between the two tanks on their right side and smashed off their armor, throwing soldiers to the floor and nearly knocking Gali off the bench. Abdiel raised his arms, yelled a series of sharp-edged, chaotic words, and the personnel carrier’s rear hatch exploded outwards, letting the tang of burnt air and burning metal into the crew compartment. Gali was up immediately, shoving soldiers out the door, diving out herself and arresting her fall with her Miru, soaring up towards the sky in an effort to avoid another plasma bolt.
She succeeded, although the spear of green fire caught the tank to their left and pitched it over on its side, a smoking hole through its flank. The tank’s own left side hit the ground, and it was suddenly no longer moving forward, but pivoting about to the left, smashing its nose into the ground and grinding itself deeper in. Gali ignored the death throes of the crippled tank and focused on breathing as the odor of burnt air, scorched flesh, and seared metal assailed her lungs.
Behind her, troops, Toa, and the three Avatars rushed from the personnel carrier as it slowly ground to a halt, giving its passengers a change to disembark. It was fortunate that they did, for just as Thau leapt clear and rolled away, a plasma bolt smashed into the personnel carrier’s front, punching through the windscreen and incinerating pilot and crew mercilessly. They didn’t even have time to scream.
Gali steadied her uncertain flight upwards and gasped as she beheld a nightmare scene. The neuroscythes that had emerged from the portal were beginning to throw fireballs and forcespikes at the Exosphere tanks, but the heavy protodermis armor of the vehicles deflected or absorbed most of the spells with little complaint. The dozen or so remaining Exosphere tanks continued to pour fire into the helpless Crusader forces, who were reduced to about half their original strength.
Nearly three-quarters of the Crusader infantry forces had managed to escape their crippled personnel transports, though. The Exosphere tank gunner’s lethal accuracy was working against them; nearly half their shots struck crew compartments, killing the driver and crew and leaving the tank or APC useless, but allowing any passengers in the personnel carrier to escape.
And those escaped passengers were getting their revenge. Gali dropped hastily towards the ground as a white-hot plasma bolt seared past her head, knocking her aside with a wave of superhot air. She joined the other Toa where they huddled behind a shard of armor plate, watching as the refugees from their destroyed personnel carrier managed to assemble a rocket launcher and began flinging screaming projectiles back at the tanks assailing them.
Pohatu emitted a cheer as the first missile streaked between two burning Crusader wrecks, detonating just beneath the lead Exosphere tank on their right flank. Shards of metal and earth clanked against the silver tank’s antigravs, and one of the antigravity units sputtered and went out. The entire tank lurched downwards, and its nose fell, plunging into the earth.
The Exosphere tank crew quickly cut their drive and began to back the tank up, but it was no longer the moving target it had been. Two Qwohmlin tanks managed to gut the Exosphere vehicle with a salvo of cerulean-blue particle beams. The Exosphere tank lurched as particle beams slashed off its armor, then one found a weak spot and punched through, exploding from the other side of the tank, which erupted into flame, detonating with a loud concussion and a wave of blast-driven metal shards.
Gali turned to her companions as the five of them huddled farther behind the metal shard. Shrapnel rang off the front of the armor plate as the battle roared around them, filling their ears with deafening roars and the whoosh of portable missile launchers that the Crusader soldiers were beginning to set up. “We have to do something! It’s a slaughter out there, and the neuroscythe spells aren’t killing the Exospehre tanks fast enough.”
Kopaka still had his sniper rifle. He eyed it speculatively, then said, “I wouldn’t want to be accused of cowardice.”
Pulling himself up to a crouch, he dropped the sniper rifle over the top of the armor shard they were huddled behind. Gali activated her Akaku and found the rearmost Exosphere tank. A multi-necked figure protruded from its gun turret, holding a slender plasma rod against its shoulder.
“Looks like your counterpart,” Gali said, jabbing a finger towards the tank the Khai rode. “There’s a sniper on that tank back there.”
As she spoke, a slender needle of green lightning exploded from the sniper’s position, racing over their heads and striking the missile launcher that the soldiers behind them had set up. The launcher’s unspent ammunition detonated with a loud crack, scattering armored troops and subtracting another piece of firepower from the Crusader’s diminishing arsenal.
Tahu glared towards the sleek, silver tank and the dim figure protruding from its top. Clouds of smoke drifted between them and the target, and as they watched, a Crusader tank thundered between them, blazing away at an unseen target with its main gun turret. “It’s an impossible shot, Kopaka.”
“Not with an Akaku,” Kopaka said coldy. He squeezed the sniper rifle’s controls, took a deep breath, and then, in a lightning-fast, Kakama-aided blur of motion, stroked its trigger.
The gun bucked once. A single needle of blue light exploded from its tip, accompanied by an acrid smell of smoke. The particle bolt slashed through a cloud of smoke, cut thirteen centimeters over the head of a scrambling Crusader soldier, and pierced the Exosphere sniper’s plasma rod at its base.
The weapon detonated with an audible whump and a green flash. The Khai sniper was blown backwards off the tank’s turret, and slid painfully down its armored flank to come to a twitching but still living rest in the grass at its base.
“Impossible!” Lewa breathed. “Amazing shot, Kopaka!”
“It was terrible,” Kopaka said, a hint of humor in his voice. “I was aiming for his chest.”
Gali was about to congratulate him, when a sudden breath of wind on her back warned her that something was approaching. She whirled around to find an Exosphere tank bearing down on them, the killing blades that spiked out from its front armor gleaming in the smoke-impeded sunshine. Even with Kakamas and cyrescythe powers, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to go, and the Toa were all gathered in a clump.
She squeezed her eyes shot, waiting for the end, heard the sudden gasps from her friends around her as they too saw the danger, and then felt a sudden heat on her chest.
The heat grew, and a chunk of red-hot metal bounced off her stomach with a flash of searing pain. That opened Gali’s eyes.
The Exosphere tank was crashed in the grass some two meters from them, slowly being consumed by a slow wave of explosions that crawled up from the ground towards its peak. An armored Khai began to pull itself from the top of the tank’s turret, plasma rod leveled towards them, intent on killing even as its vehicle was burning beneath it – and then the Khai was decapitated by a plane of silver light which erupted from out of the corner of Gali’s vision.
She whirled, and found Thau standing there, his face contorted by a paroxysm of rage, his hands extended and blazing silver fire that was slowly consuming the tank that had attacked them.
The sheer power of the assault stunned Gali. It was astonishing to see the colossal, sleek Exosphere tank simply being devoured. “Thau!” she shouted, a strangled gasp that was filled with fear for both his safety…and the safety of those around him.
He ignored her, his heads darting wildly, his mouths hissing a series of destructive, crumbling words which were agony to her ears. The Exosphere tank finally collapsed, simply falling apart around the core of silver fire that was dissolving it.
As if in response, the Crusaders rallied again. Their tanks poured a new wave of energy bolts at the darting Exosphere vehicles, catching one, pitching it over on its side, and shattering it into a million racing chunks of burning metal which scattered across the field. Infantry managed to load new rounds into their portable anti-tank missile launchers, unleashing a wave of hissing devastation that consumed another Exosphere tank in a wave of fireballs. A fresh wave of hot air and explosion-scent washed over Gali.
The infantry without missile launchers opened up with their rifles, sending a blazing hail of energy bolts out to spark and hiss of the armor of the Exosphere tank. Pohatu shouted something out her; she could barely make it out over the roar of weapons fire and the explosions that blossomed continuously around her. “Use your magic!” he cried.
Without thinking, Gali threw her hands out, tore at the air with them, and spoke a series of mystic syllables. As she cast the spell, she realized what she was doing; casting a globe of darkness. She did not stop herself, despite the instinct that seemed to guide her motions, and finished the spell by muttering a series of dark, crawling words which seemed to lurk at the edge of hearing.
The light of the sun was simply banished from the area around one Exosphere tank. The tank had been darting between two piles of wreckage, blazing away madly with its main cannon, scything down infantry with bolts of overwhelming green plasma; and suddenly it was enveloped in a ball of blackness.
Judging by the sounds, the elite Exosphere crew cut the tank’s engines at once, bringing it to a dead halt; but it was too late. Gliding on its near-frictionless antigravs, the tank streaked from the other side of the globe of darkness, caught its bow on the pile of rubble it had been moving towards, and soared into the air, pivoting around the point where its bow had hooked into the pile of rubble. The results of the 70-kph crash were devestating. The tank flipped over in the air, its antigravs no longer holding it up, and smashed down on its gun turret, buckling inwards and belching argent fire from every seam and crease of its armor.
And suddenly it was over. The remaining Exosphere forces vanished into the woods, darting between trees or mowing them down with the scythe-like blades on their bows, vanishing in the direction of the valley where the lift shaft was.
They left devastation in their wake. Burning vehicles filled the air with the scent of destruction, and dead bodies sprawled across the ground. Thau still stood, his face a mask of rage, surveying the battle scene, the light of bloodlust slowly fading from his eyes. He muttered something in the Khai tongue, and then moved to the nearest wounded soldier and began casting a healing spell.
Stunned infantry, those that were left after most of the Crusader personnel carriers had been decimated, wandered about the slaughterfield as if in a daze. The Crusader armor column hadn’t even made it into the woods, five minutes away from their landing site, and already they had been reduced to about a quarter of their former strength. Even two neuroscythes had been killed, their wardings failing under the bombardment of plasma from the Exosphere tanks.
A sudden silver glow threw the burning wrecks into relief. Gali whirled about, echoing the motions of her companions, and found Konro standing on top of one of the intact tanks, blazing with silver light. His voice boomed forth, calling the attention of all that heard it, riveting their eyes to him without the slightest deviation.
“We shall fight on! This is not the end; all that remains to be done is to see Abdiel, Thau, the neuroscythes, and I safely to the structure in the forest valley a few miles from here. Once we arrive there, our victory is near assured. Please, do not despair; your every effort now is a blow for the freedom of the universe. Valiance today shall be rewarded forever; and cowardice is simply a blow for the enemy.”
“I beg you, do not despair. Victory is still within our grasp, despite seemingly crushing setbacks. When defeat seems close at hand, when its shadow hides the light of hope from us, then you must light your own path with defiance.”
He clapped his hands together once, and the booming resonance sounded like a thunderclap. “Let’s roll!”
The decimated Crusader column formed up in record time, consolidating and rearranging into a new formation, picking up wounded and salvaging weapons. The surviving soldiers worked like the wind, stripping hulks of anything useful and applying medical help where needed. The three avatars, regardless of their emotional state, wandered amongst the injured troops, healing the worst wounds they found.
Within ten minutes, they were moving again, and Gali found herself hanging off the side of a tank, using her Pakari to keep herself attached as the Qwohmlin vehicle began to streak ahead, crushing grass with the pounding force of its antigravs. The wind blew against her, seeking to tear her off, and throwing the scent of burnt flesh and metal against her face.
It was somehow exhilarating. She looked over the tank traveling next to hers, and grinned at Tahu, who, surprisingly, smiled back. The two tanks, third in line in the newly reformed vehicle column, smashed into the trees, and suddenly branches were whipping past her and the soldiers who clung on to the tank with her, like fingers clutching at her in desperation.
The vehicles roared through the forest, the sound of their drives bouncing off the trees around them and echoing off into the distance like the thunder of a waterfall. Gali looked forward, and saw the three Avatars hanging off the lead tank; a shift of her head upwards brought the vanguard of neuroscythes into few, drifting along supported by spells.
She emitted a whoop of exhilaration as the Crusaders plunged towards their destiny.
At the core of Khass, just outside the wall of bindings which keeps Koranis imprisoned, the four Avatars of Koranis have begun their ritual…
Kasstaxa could feel the dark power exploding from her heart, rushing down her nerves, and bursting from the palm of her hands. The two bolts of black energy that she was feeding into the machine before her seemed to writhe and crackle like living things, serpents of negative energy which sought to devour all life. It was an exhilarating experience, channeling such power; the kind of thing that she would never get used to, but would always enjoy.
The four Avatars of Koranis were positioned equidistantly around the Backlash Device, which was simply a circular bath of protodermis surrounded by a halo of silver wires in a complex, fractal pattern. At the very center of the protodermis bath lay the Vahi, half-submerged, slowly darkening with each passing minute.
Each Avatar channeled a bolt of dark power, a crackling umbilical of blackness, from their outstretched palms. The slashing ripples of power fed into the silver wires surrounding the heart of the Backlash Device, and ebony-black pulses of darkness writhed down the wires, running through a complicated dance of accelerators and magnifying circuits before finally plunging into the protodermis bath.
With each pulse that fed into the initially bright silver protodermis, it turned a shade darker, approaching a black deeper than black, a color which seemed to leach the very life from the air around it. The Vahi matched these color changes, a bit more slowly, but inevitably.
When the Vahi had changed completely to black, Cyravaar’s power would be broken, the moons of Khass would shift outwards a considerable quantity, breaking the spellwork that was woven around their gravitational and electromagnetic position, and Koranis would be free. The Remaking could begin, starting with Kasstaxa’s ascension. During her communion with Koranis, the unholy being had agreed that she, the pinnacle of Khai evolution, would be the perfect being to place in control of the entire universe. The Dark Titan itself would willingly be her servant.
Kasstaxa had been suspicious at first, but slowly she had come to realize that the Titan viewed her as its child, the perfect offspring, constrained now only by the bonds of mortality. Break those, and as even it admitted, Kasstaxa would be the greatest being in the universe, outshining both of the surviving Titans.
But one thing still gnawed at Kasstaxa’s thoughts, as she stood there throwing her power into the Backlash Device. She was still mortal, and though she doubted she could be deceived by anyone, there was one being which might be her match.
Her sister. The being who shared the same genetic code she did, and the same potential for greatness.
As far as she knew, Ssrin was dead.
She turned her attention to the chamber around her. It stretched off for miles to each side, although the lift shaft that led to the surface was positioned directly above the Backlash Device. This was necessary so that the pulse of hot air that would be created when the ritual was completed could expand upwards without causing a massive overpressure within the cavern. The blast of power that emanated from the Vahi would strike downwards, however, a ray of light which would blow apart the bindings of Koranis and free it once and for all.
Any lift car coming out of the lift shaft would stop several feet above the Backlash Device, at a station which was one level above the device, although she had had all the cars removed from the shaft, preferring to teleport down the site of the Device.
The entire chamber that contained the device, a roughly round chamber several miles in radius, was filled with a massive networking of catwalks, power generators, cables, and other dangerous equipment. The silver machines completely filled the cavern for the miles to each side, broken only by the catwalks and ladders that allowed navigation between them.
Above the level of the Device was a small, half-level, large enough to contain a station for this end of the lift shaft. Below the level of the Backlash Device was on was yet another level, visible through the silver mesh of the floor; there two more levels below that before the magnificent Core Binding which held Koranis.
It was a massive, opaque silver sphere, covered in the symbols of Cyravaar, a mesh of them, an armor of runes, intricately tied to the gravitational configuration of Khass and its moons. The sphere was split into four sections by four ragged, black gashes, although nothing was visible within them; Koranis’ true form was hidden by darkness. Each of the four sections of the Core Binding represented one of Cyravaar’s despicable virtues; Light, Hope, Peace, and Freedom. But the spells that had knit these four segments together had been broken when Sailath drifted out of place, destroying the gravitational balance of the spells, which relied heavily on the core constants of the universe, of which gravity was one. That breaking had left the four black rifts which Koranis had poured its corruption through.
Moving Sailath back into place would restore the bindings. Moving it further out of position would unravel the Core Binding once and for all, and free Koranis, whatever It might look like. Her ascendence could begin then.
As the Backlash Device proceeded towards full charge, humming and crackling with the dark energy the four Avatars poured into it, the Core Binding had begun to shimmer with great sheets of silver light. They swept across the surface of the runes as if they were great electrical storms, perhaps heralding the final breaking of the binding.
Kasstaxa smiled happily, and the three others who surrounded the device echoed her smile with those of her own. Sambiel, his smile devious and cunning, full of anticipation for the knowledge he would gain when Cyravaar was free. Korm, his eyes gleaming with dark anticipation of the crusades he would lead against those who resisted Kasstaxa’s rule. Onua, the flame surrounding him rippling as he slavered in anticipation of the destruction he would cause.
The universe was about to undergo a change for the better, although many would call it worse; and she, Kasstaxa, would be the power at the head of that change.
The Crusaders arrive at the lift shaft, and find it to be deserted…
The column of armored vehicles exploded from the trees, roaring up the ridgeline and then driving down the other side at top speed, whirling into the rocky, crater-like valley at top speed, gun turrets swiveling into position. Troops hanging off the side of the tanks crouched with weapons at their shoulders, peering about for any sign of the Exosphere forces that had already hurt them so badly.
There was nothing. The eleven tanks in the column of armored vehicles took up a circular defensive position around the small, unremarkable building at the center of the valley, their turrets swiveling nervously. Troops leapt from their sides, fanning out and taking up firing positions behind any cover they could find.
Five colored figures and three glowing silver shapes met outside the door of the central building, even as activity swirled around them. Despite the defensive preparations of the armored vehicles and soldiers around them, an island of calm seemed to surround the figures.
“Well,” Abdiel said after a long, awkward silence. “This is it. Farewell, Toa, and good luck.”
Thau nodded to each of the Toa. “It’s been…good…working with you. I hope to see you after…this. Fight well.”
Konro shot them a smile made dazzling by the silver armor surrounding his body. “Keep my people safe, Toa. We’ll see you at the victory party.”
The Toa nodded in reply, struck nearly dumb by the power of the moment. This was the culmination of the arduous, painful quest that had taken them so far from their homes. They felt acutely the weight of destiny on their shoulders, but they understood that it bore down far more heavily on those who were now saying goodbye.
“Good luck,” Gali said. “Thau…remember what she’d want.”
“I…will,” Thau said quietly. “I certainly will.”
Pohatu smiled at Konro. “I think you’ve been an inspiration to everyone, splatter. You’ve made your species proud, you’ve done the right thing, and without you, we never would have gotten this far.”
“Thanks,” Konro said. “But please, don’t call me ‘splatter.’”
“After we’re done with this, it’ll be a compliment,” Pohatu said quietly, and that sentence alone struck Konro dumb. It meant perhaps more to him than any other compliment he had ever heard before.
Tahu looked gravely at the three Avatars. “We’ll hold them off,” he said firmly. “Just do what you have to do.”
Lewa flashed a thumbs-up, which was met with chuckles, and Kopaka gave a stern nod to each of the avatars.
Then the Toa turned, and, not looking back, but sticking closely together, turned to meet their destiny.
The Avatars strode to the door of the lift shaft building and opened it. The silver armor that haloed their bodies illuminated the otherwise unlit interior. All that was left within the building was a battered framework of machinery; apparently most of it had been torn out in some haste; and a pit in the floor.
Konro stepped over to it and looked down. His stomach heaved. It was the longest drop he had ever seen; it stretched away into blackness, a pit of near-infinite length, leading to unknown horrors at the bottom.
The walls of the pit occasionally shimmered, flaring with bursts of magic; spells were needed to keep the pit open against the tremendous pressure which pushed against its walls as it speared towards the center of the world.
“A…abdiel?” Konro said hesitantly, staring down into the darkness. “There’s no sign of a lift car. What do we do?”
“Jump,” Abdiel said, quite calmly. Thau’s heads twisted into a disbelieving expression.
“I can’t believe you kept a straight face when you said that,” Konro muttered. Abdiel smiled at him, a grotesque expression on his features, and then stepped forward over the pit.
He vanished without a sound. Konro looked down and saw him calmly falling down the center of the pit, apparently held exactly in the middle by spells, plunging away into darkness.
Thau looked at him and extended a hand. “Good luck.”
“Same to you,” Konro said, through a throat suddenly gone quite dry and a stomach heaving with fear. Thau slithered forward and vanished.
Konro took another deep breath, looked back at the door for a glimpse of the sunlight he might never see again, stepped forward, and fell into darkness.
-x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x--x—At the heart of Khass…
Sambiel’s head snapped up and he spoke the first words uttered since the beginning of the ritual. “They’re coming.”
“The Avatars of Cyravaar?” Korm snarled. “Let them.” He looked questioningly at Kasstaxa.
The new Sphere-regent muttered a sibilant word, and the flow of energy from her palms cut off. The other three Avatars quickly followed suit, and the last beads of darkness drained down into the pool of protodermis, which was now a dark charcoal grey, only a few minutes from completion.
Korm peered upwards. “I see one. They’ve used spells to accelerate their fall, but now they’re slowing. A minute or so away, I think.”
He raised his hands and began to hiss a spell. “No!” Kasstaxa barked. “There’s too much chance you’ll collapse the lift shaft, even with a confusion or a fear spell.”
Korm slashed his hands vertically through the air, canceling the spell. Onua stepped up next to him and peered upwards, shading his eyes against the blinding silver light now shining from the lift shaft. “They come. Good.”
Kasstaxa beckoned them away from the device. “The spells on the shaft will catch them and land them on the end platform.” She beckoned to the long metal ramp, supported by struts leading to the level below, which hung just below the end of the lift shaft. Typically used as a receiving terminal for incoming lift cars, it was now enchanted to catch any falling down the shaft.
“We cannot cast spells at them there, either,” Sambiel noted, his voice soft and unthreatening, despite the power that rang behind it. “There is too much chance we will block the shaft with debris.”
Kasstaxa’s mind raced to the best possible conclusion. “All of you, cast an invisibility locus and prepare to strike when I do.” She waved her hands through the subtle gestures of the invisibility spell, and slowly faded out of sight.
Konro came hurtling out of the end of the lift tube with more force than he’d have liked, despite the slowfall spells he had used. His knees nearly buckled as he smashed into the platform beneath the lift, and Thau reached out to steady him.
The chamber was dark, but Konro could tell it stretched off in all directions, miles perhaps, and the soft hum of electronics and machinery made it obvious what was out there.
A dim source of light shone below them. Konro looked down to see a pool of rather dim, grey protodermis, surrounded by a halo of equally grey wires.
He gasped. At the center lay the Vahi. He looked to his right, where Abdiel and Thau stood, peering about into the darkness. “Where are they?” he whispered as quietly as he could, but still his question sounded painfully loud.
“Waiting,” Abdiel said mentally. “No doubt they are invisible.”
Konro switched to mental communication, waving his hands through the gestures of the proper spell. “Well, can’t we dispel it? What do we do?”
Abdiel shook his head slightly, and spoke into both of their minds again. “No. We should save our dispelling spells for later, when we will need them; if we act, we let them know we know they are there.”
Thau emitted a low growl, then spoke into both of their minds. “I’m not waiting for them to make the first move.” He hastily waved his hands through a series of smooth, circular gestures, speaking blunt and powerful words which seemed to resonate throughout the chamber.
Abdiel cried “No!” mentally just as Thau finished his spell. A shimmering bubble of blue light surrounded him, although it did not seem to affect material objects; Konro recognized it as a spellshield.
Moments later, Thau leapt nimbly from the edge of the platform and fell to the level below, landing lithely. Abdiel followed, muttering something under his breath about foolishness; and Konro reluctantly jumped after them, growing a pair of membranous wings to slow his fall, but retracting them when he’d landed.
As soon as Thau touched down, he emitted a strangled shout- and kept falling. The floor where he’d been simply opened up and let him through. Konro heard the subtle, chaotic words of a matter-changing spell just as the mouth opened up.
Thau fell to the level below, landing hard and falling limp with a slight flicker of spell-light, but Konro was no longer paying attention. A burning shadow moved amongst the darkness.
Konro’s heart pounded. He’d had nightmares of Onua ever since he confronted him on the Sword of Might’s bridge. And now Onua stalked from the shadows, his tremendous bulk moving with the slow immensity of a tank, surrounded by clawing, all-consuming flames that seemed to tear at Konro’s very soul.
Onua’s skin was jagged and razor-sharp, covered in lines of protruding spikes; his mask was speckled with reddish-black stripes, concealed by the inferno of flame that seared over it. His claws were serrated and jagged, and looked easily capable of tearing a sheet of metal in half. The lurid flames that played around him painted him in a fearsome light, like the burning ruin of Crossroads or the fires raging on a dying ship…
…and suddenly there was movement around him. A tall, slender patch of blackness in the vague shape of a neuroscythe stepped out of thin air, more not there than there. All light that fell on it seemed to vanish, as if it was a tear in reality. Abdiel emitted a strangled gasp.
Next to the nightmarish neuroscythe came a Khai; muscular, with midnight-black scales and a red patch on his chest; covered in glowing symbol armor and with two wicked fangblades, glowing with the same nauseating symbol enchantments, on his belt. The light of war seemed to burn in his eyes; merely looking at him seemed to suggest an all-consuming crusade, a mad conquest of the universe. Images of whole worlds being put to the torch seemed to shine in the reflections off his polished scales.
And last came the most fearsome and simplest of them all. Death. A stunningly beautiful Khai, dressed in form-fitting black armor, smiling gently, emerged into the light with the slight ripple of a dismissed spell. She was simply clothed, simply armed, and simply terrifying. A gleam of intelligence within her eyes was encompassed by a glow of confidence, as if she knew that she could trample this mismatched trio underfoot at her slightest whim. Kasstaxa was a truly intimidating sight, but why, he could not say. Perhaps it was the knowledge that such a beautiful, intelligent being could be so unutterably evil.
“Hello, Konro,” she said, looking straight at him with a smile on her serpentine lips. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. A pleasure.”
A chill ran down his spine at the sheer force of her personality, and he was hugely relieved when she turned her gaze to Abdiel. This time, there was some anger in her voice, and it was probably the worst thing Konro had ever heard.
“Abdiel. You’ve been a nuisance. Your father has told me all about you. You should know, Thau is dead. My deathwatch spell tells me he broke his necks in that unfortunate fall. What a pathetic way for an Avatar to die.””
“Murderess,” Abdiel hissed, the first time Konro had ever seen him truly angry. “I’ll kill you for what you’ve done to him – to Thau and my father.”
“Really?” Kasstaxa said with the air of someone who has just heard a mildly amusing joke. “I’d like to see you try.”
The shadows around the four Avatars of Koranis gathered themselves up and flung themselves into a net around the unholy champions. Abdiel’s hastily cast ray of disintegration, a searing beam of green light, skipped off the net of shadows and blew a sizable chunk out of a large piece of machinery behind the four unholy champions. Dust rained down over the net of shadows, sparkling out of existence when it touched it.
“You see,” Kasstaxa said, “you cannot prevail.”
And a sudden, blinding light exploded from beneath the four unholy champions, searing up through their net of shadows, burning it away and evaporating their armor into a web of dark mist which was itself burned away. Thau was clearly more alive than Kasstaxa had believed.
Sambiel emitted a loud cry as the brightness tore away the outer layers of his cloak of darkness, but the black garment once again began to spread, absorbing material from the shadows around.
The blast of light had done more than damage the four Avatar’s armor; it had temporarily blinded them. Konro and Abdiel both began screaming enchantments, slashing at the air with their hands; moments later, a series of bright bolts exploded from Konro’s hands, bombarding Kasstaxa with wave after wave of punishing missiles. The first few glanced off her armor, and despite her temporary blindness, Kasstaxa raised her arms and hurriedly cast a spell.
Kasstaxa was the most powerful spellworker Konro had ever seen, even more talented than Abdiel. Her spell caused two sweeping curtains of blackness to explode from her hands, weaving themselves around her in a shifting spellbarrier, like a grey fog.
To Konro’s astonishment, the barrier not only blocked his bolts, but through some twist in the spell, hurled them straight back at him; he barely managed to cast a shield of his own in time to deflect them upwards into the ceiling.
Meanwhile, Abdiel finished his spell, a considerably longer and more complex one than the simple brightbolts Konro had cast. A web of bright, shining strands of golden light exploded from his hands, splitting apart in two directions and wrapping themselves around the area where the four unholy avatars stood. The two branches of light joined at the back, completing a circular collar around the Avatars of Koranis. Then it slowly began to contract.
Meanwhile, Sambiel had thrown his cloak of darkness over Korm and Onua, who were still suffering from the blinding effects of the flash of silver light. As the cool draperies of the shadowy cloak enveloped the dazzled Avatars of Koranis, their vision cleared, and Konro noted with distress that they both immediately began to cast spells.
The hard, staccato words from Korm’s mouth contrasted sharply with the buzzing, power-filled, chaotic spellspeak that Onua spat. As Konro raised his hands to cast another spell, a bolt of shadow exploded from Konro’s hands, passed through both Kasstaxa’s spellshield and Abdiel’s contracting golden circlet, to strike him in the chest.
Sudden panic overwhelmed him as he realized that they were outnumbered, outpowered, and utterly doomed. “Abdiel!” he shouted, over the crackling of spells and the chanting of continued casting from nearly everyone in the room. “Abdiel, we have to get out of here!”
Heeding his own advice, he stumbled backwards, slamming into the Backlash device and nearly falling into the bath of protodermis Whirling about, he turned to flee, determined to do something – anything besides stand here and be slaughtered.
Out of the corner of his eye, Konro saw Onua’s spell go off, and a buzzing field of multicolored sparkles exploded around Abdiel. His bony face twisted in sudden concentration, and the field of chaotic sparkles suddenly flared up again.
Abdiel’s left leg suddenly began to wither, and he pitched forward, interrupting his spellcasting. Konro stopped in horror, but felt the cold touch of fear in his heart, and stumbled past the Backlash Device into the far part of the open area around the device. He ran frantically for the cover of the machinery on the other side of the open area.
Abdiel emitted a low scream as his leg crumbled into dust, then pitched forward onto his face, supporting himself with one arm while raising the other to cast again. The withering rot seemed to have stopped, at least temporarily.
Konro paused with tears in his eyes, cowering behind a boxy metal obelisk on the far side of the Backlash Device’s clearing. He looked towards the open shaft of the lift path, thinking of fleeing, but before he could, he heard Thau’s long spell from the level below drawing to a close.
Sudden silver light flared around Konro as Thau’s dispelling struck, tearing away at the dark enchantments that had layered themselves over his mind. With a sudden gasp, Konro fell forward to the deck, supporting himself on all fours, as he realized that Korm had cast a fear spell over him. He’d left Abdiel, unshielded, to face four avatars, and meanwhile had run like a common coward.
His face burning with rage, Konro picked himself up, and screamed. His scream of rage seemed to carry with it all the pain, and anger, and suffering that he’d gathered over this journey. Within the scream was his pride at the valiance of the Crusaders, and his outrage at the sacrifices they’d had to make.
This scream of emotion smashed into the four avatars, sparking against Kasstaxa’s reflective spellshield; but there was nothing that a mere spellshield could do against a spell which carried so much emotional weight and power behind it. The scream simply bullied through the reflective spellshield, blasting it aside like it was so much wallpaper; and smashed into the four Avatars of Koranis.
The pride, the anger, the suffering, the pain, the outrage, the courage, all of the emotions Konro had put into the scream expended themselves on the Avatars of Koranis, tearing at their dark nature, ripping at their bonds to their master. The AntiFour were shaken enough that all their spellcasting ability fled them for a few precious moments. Their minds were so torn that they simply could not concentrate through the storm of alien emotions to summon forth their dark power.
Abdiel, sprawled on the floor and gasping in pain, still managed to raise his hands and shout the final words that would trigger his golden circlet spell. The ring of golden threads that surrounded the AntiFour collapsed, sizzling whenever it touched metal or flesh. Still stunned, the AntiFour could do little but watch as the ring slashed through them, destroying what was left of their armor and leaving deep rents across their bodies.
Kasstaxa made no noise, but Korm emitted a soft moan, Onua growled, and Sambiel’s cloak of darkness shuddered. (hit the word limit, continued next post)
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Nov 10 2003, 07:43 PM
Nov 10 2003, 07:54 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
. Konro took that to mean that they were hurt, perhaps badly. The ring collapsed inwards to a final center point, and when the edges touched, it exploded, hurling the AntiFour apart in a sudden, golden blast. Shards of metal pinged off Konro’s silver armor, sending him ducking for cover again.
The four unholy Avatars were scattered around the edge of the Backlash Device’s clearing, and Thau took the opportunity to act from below, hurling a storm of brightbolts which pierced dark armor and exploded on Kasstaxa’s flesh. The sizzling missiles of silver energy seemed to do little more than anger her. There was no sign of wounds, burns, or tears in her skin.
Deciding that some things were more important than worrying about Thau’s problems, Konro rushed forward, breaking from cover and sprinting towards Abdiel with a healing spell waiting on his fingertips. Abdiel was down and vulnerable, and Konro was determined to give him time to raise a spellshield.
He was halfway there when Kasstaxa, untouched by Thau’s volley of brightbolts, picked herself up from where the circlet explosion had tossed her, extended her hands, and hissed a series of jagged, chilling words. Five spears of obsidian exploded from her fingertips, long, jagged javelins that slashed in towards Konro with deadly intent.
Konro winced. I’ve never seen anyone cast spells as well as she does before. He had a spellshield going still, although he hadn’t been fast enough to block Korm’s fear spell earlier; now he frantically gestured, muttering a series of soft words, and brought the spellshield into place.
The shimmering blue shield, resembling a tower shield of a type, deflected the obsidian bolts upwards, tearing itself asunder in the process. The obsidian bolts skipped off the shield, bounced off the ceiling, and vanished into the gloom behind Konro.
He had taken two steps forward towards Abdiel when he realized that Kasstaxa had been putting clever tricks in her spells the entire battle. Moments later, sharp pain stabbed through his back, and he found himself sprawled on the ground, staring at the ceiling.
Pain exploded from his chest. He looked down and found five obsidian spikes protruding from it. Kasstaxa’s spell had turned around and come back at him after he’d deflected it, piercing his silver armor and dealing a near-mortal blow.
Konro could not restrain the scream that bubbled up within him. He reformed his body so the jagged obsidian bolts could clatter out, then pulled himself to his feet and took stock of the situation.
Before his eyes, some twenty feet away, Abdiel, grunting against the pain, managed to get himself to his feet and finish a spell before sagging back to the floor again. The spell arced into the darkness towards Sambiel, shimmering like a pocket of heat on a summer afternoon; but the dark neuroscythe whirled his cloak about, smashing the spell away and sending it hurtling into the machines behind him.
The gravity bomb spell went off some fifty feet behind Sambiel, and every piece of machinery in that area suddenly twisted away from its moorings and collapsed towards the spell’s center. There was a shrieking of tortured metal, a shower of sparks, and acidic fluids began to spray across the detonation zone, which was fortunately half a hundred feet from the Backlash Device clearing. A brief gust of wind ruffled Sambiel’s cloak, then Abdiel’s spell faded and the ruined machinery in the area sagged to the floor.
Sambiel was already moving, raising his hands towards Abdiel. Konro screamed a shout of denial as a bolt of utter blackness erupted from Sambiel’s fingertips, hissing through the air in a seeming slow motion, then smashed Abdiel across the side of the face.
Abdiel’s armor absorbed the death part of the deathbolt, failing in the process, but the energy tail left behind the death-dealing head of the spell still smashed and burned the side of his face, sending bone shards whirling to the ground around him and leaving a terrible, cratered burn.
Laughing horrifically, Korm emerged from amidst the machinery where the circlet explosion had tossed him, and added to the assault on Abdiel. Lightning exploded from his outstretched hands, whirling and dancing around Abdiel and then grounding in the floor beneath him. Still lying down, Abdiel jerked and convulsed as thousands of volts poured through him, leaving burned flesh in their wake.
And still he lived. Years of spellwork and crafting protective enchantments had made him tough beyond imagining.
As Korm’s lightning whip faded, leaving the smell of ozone and burnt flesh as a last reminder, Onua hissed a series of nauseating words somewhere amidst the machinery around the Backlash Device clearing. Konro heard a shout from below, jerked his head down, and saw Thau struggling on the mesh floor of the level below, the flesh across his body seeming to writhe and shudder. He looked like he was in terrific pain, but Konro imagined Abdiel was doing worse.
Thau pulled himself upright as Konro watched, and argent red fire exploded from his hands. The bolts of flame faded before they even struck the ceiling of his level and burst through to the one above, and Konro wondered if Thau’s spell had been blocked; then he heard a sudden roar from amidst the machinery. Moments later, Onua came whirling out into the courtyard, clawing at his skin, where portions of his flaming aura seemed to have become tiny beetles. The flame-colored insects skittered across his barbed skin, tearing and biting but slowly being eviscerated or crushed by his body spikes.
Growling, Konro raised his own hands towards Kasstaxa, determined to protect Abdiel. “Get away from him, murderer!” He summoned up the most powerful incantation he knew, a meteor swarm. The words of power rushed from his mouth like the torrent of a river suddenly undammed. Light seared from between his fingertips as he slashed them through the proper mid-air gestures.
A rain of hissing, sizzling balls of light exploded from his fingertip, soaring in towards Kasstaxa with the promise of destruction burning in their unearthly glows. Konro knew that he’d likely take out a large part of the cavern along with Kasstaxa, but he didn’t care. Killing her would be worth it.
As the meteor swarm drew in towards impact, ready to unleash its destructive paylod, Kasstaxa gestured and muttered something. Konro snorted. No spellshield could stop something with the sheer power of a meteor swarm.
A shadow peeled itself up off the ground and swallowed the meteor swarm. They simply vanished as if they were candles being snuffed out. Konro stared in shock-
-and then his shock was multiplied a thousandfold as he heard a sizzling behind him, saw the meteors erupting from one of the shadows on the ground behind him, and was suddenly flying through the air.
The explosion picked him, whirled him, and slammed him down on the decking ten feet away. Searing pain exploded from every part of his body. As he rolled to his knees, moving to pick himself up, he realized the main blast of the spell hadn’t even gone off yet.
It did. A huge thunderclap exploded from that area of the chamber, burning Abdiel despite his distance. The main explosion roared towards Konro, devouring everything in its path, smashing apart the mesh floor –
-and before it reached him, the ceiling above Konro collapsed, sending him into cool and refreshing blackness.
On the surface…
The Crusaders were ready for them when they came. Perhaps five minutes after the avatars had departed, while they were still plummeting through blackness towards a rendezvous with destiny, Exospheres soldiers and the remaining tanks exploded from the woods on all sides of the lift-shaft valley. Their goal was to seal the lift shaft. If they did, it would still be long enough to serve as the air shaft that the Avatars of Koranis needed, but it would block the ray of light that the Cyravaarian ritual produced at its conclusion.
Gali was standing beside a Crusader tank when the Khai forces attacked, and she was nearly deafened when the tank’s turret suddenly exploded into life, pumping spears of cerulean energy into the forest. An explosion from that direction showed that they had hit something.
Moments later, the four surviving Exosphere tanks from the earlier ambush raced from the woods, firing madly at the Crusader perimeter. Green lightning slashed the air, heating it to searing intensity; the thunderclaps of weapons fire deafened anyone who heard them unprotected.
Behind the tanks came a wave of Khai infantry, who shot deliberately and accurately. The Qwohmlin soldier standing next to Gali collapsed in a shower of sparks, a neat hole burnt through her throat.
The Crusader infantry returned fire with rifles and rocket launchers. A wave of explosions tore up the earth amongst the scattered Khai attackers, and black-armored figures fell at the forest’s edge. Light speared through the air from both directions.
Gali raised her own hands and saw the various Toa, scattered throughout the defensive perimeter, doing the same. Although she wasn’t capable of any of the more powerful spells the Avatars had, she could still make a good accounting of herself.
It was simple to twist her hooks through the brief motions of a fireball spell, the only one she’d have the power to use today. A bead of silver flame erupted from between her claws, soaring over the temporary barrier the soldiers had erected and that she was now behind, and detonating amidst the charging Khai. Serpent-headed bodies flew through the air, followed by a rain of dirt and a blast of searing intensity.
More explosions erupted around the Khai charge as Toa and neuroscythe opened up with a volley of spells. The rain of fire from the Khai side slackened off somewhat as soldiers were hit. One Exosphere tank took a bolt of energy up beneath its armored front, shattering its antigravs and sending it skidding, useless, across the grassy slope of the lift shaft valley. Gali smiled as she saw Lewa pump his fist in the air exultantly.
Suddenly, bolts of utter blackness exploded from the trees around the clearing. Several of the neuroscythes floating over the Crusaders’ heads went limp as blood exploded from their eyes, earholes, and noses, then they drifted towards the ground.
Deathbolts! There are blackscythes out there, indeed.
As the Exosphere charge hit the edge of the Crusader perimeter, the battle dissolved into a chaotic melee of hand-to-hand fighting. The Crusader tanks, the eight of them left, could not fire for risk of hitting their own troops, so they turned their attention to finishing the two remaining Exosphere tanks, which was a long and difficult job.
Gali reeled back as a Khai erupted over the barrier in front of her, sword out, and landed lithely. It stalked forward, heads splayed wide, and emitted a low hiss, then lunged.
Gali parried its straight-ahead longsword thrust with one of her claws, then fired a searing volley of brightbolts from the other. While they did not cause the explosion that would have result if Avatar energies touched a Khai, the fist-sized bolts of golden magic still blew craters in the armored serpent-head’s flesh.
It staggered backward, wounded, and Gali moved to finish it off. It whirled to the side, sword flashing out, and with a shock of rage Gali saw the sword slip neatly between the armor plates on the back of a soldier fighting there, slashing through his heart and killing him instantly.
She blew the Khai apart with another rain of brightbolts, shocking herself with the savageness of the assault, then turned, wiping some of the gore off her front with one claw.
The battle seemed to be going well. Although the Khai were overcoming the Crusader infantry – they were by far the better swordsman and shots – the neuroscythes had rallied a counterattack, throwing lightning towards the blackscythes in the woods and producing at least one set of agonized hisses.
Someone’s spellshield wasn’t working. Gali was moving to help another soldier in his battle with a wounded Khai when she saw more figures emerging from the woods. Blackscythes?
They were indeed Khai, but not blackscythes. They slithered quickly and sharply, with an air of unearthly precision, and their skin burned with a mesh of writhing, nauseating symbols. Unholy light flared in their eyes, burning like a dying sun.
Gali’s jaw dropped. There were six of them. They had to be the Scythed that they were supposed to fight.
Somewhere to her left, Gali saw Kopaka kick a Khai away from him and unsling his sniper rifle. He placed it on his shoulder and took careful aim. A bolt of searing blue light smashed into one of the scythed Khai’s chest, causing the armor there to ripple slightly.
Nothing else happened. Gali cursed and unleashed a volley of brightbolts, but those, too were absorbed by her target’s armor. The net of unholy symbols glowed slightly more vividly than before, but there was no other sign that it was damaged.
“Toa!” she barked, though the fume-filled air around her seared her throat. “We have to go meet them outside the battle zone!”
To emphasize her point, she leapt over the barrier before her, abandoning the battle, and began sprinting up the ridge towards where the four Scythed waited. They each carried a long sword, glowing with the same symbols that protected them, and the weapons seemed to shimmer coldly in the morning sun.
The other four Toa broke away from the fight and appeared besides her, their Kakamas flashing. Lewa was the last to join them. “I don’t like the look of those Scythed,” he breathed.
The Toa picked their way cautiously up the hill towards the crest of the ridge, where their foes waited. The sounds of clanging steel and the bark of weapons still echoed behind them, Pohatu looked at the Scythed curiously as they stood impassively, silhouetted by the rising sun. “They don’t look as dead as normal Scythed. I think they still have their minds.”
Kopaka raised his hands. “I suggest we do something about it.”
As a sheet of spell-light flashed overhead, another sign of the escalating battle between blackscythe and neuroscythe, all five Toa poured a rain of brightbolts into the lead Scythed. The crackling sound of impacts faded to reveal that the golden bolts had forced its armor to another level of brightness, but done little else besides.
“Fine,” Lewa said, and, muttering a short spell, threw his axe. The weapon whirled through the air, catching the second Scythed and searing through its armor as if wasn’t there. Apparently the armor had been attuned to catch spells, not weapons.
The Scythed staggered backwards with the axe protruding from its chest. Lewa spat the trigger word to his spell and his axe soared back to him, leaving a rent along the Scythe’s dead flesh.
As if that was a signal, the six Khai leapt forward, the damaged one lagging somewhat. Weapons clashed as the Toa formed into a cooperative line. They moved like one, trained by long years of experience fighting together, their swords, axes, and claws weaving and intertwining as if they were part of some immensely complex machine.
Tahu missed a parry and a Scythed sword cut in towards his chest. Gali reached a hook over his arm and snagged the blade, knocking it away, while Tahu used the momentum of his missed parry to send his sword arcing over Gali’s shoulder and blocking a strike from the Scythed Khai she was fighting.
The sheer power and strength of the Scythed was astonishing, and despite their cooperative defense, the Toa found themselves being forced back. Steel rung and flashed as the two sides battled, and a sudden low rumble intruded itself upon their senses.
Gali spared a glance to the side and saw a Crusader tank rumbling up the hill towards them, clearly moving to either engage the blackscythes who still fired spells from the woods, or the Scythed themselves.
The spare Scythed, the sixth one, crouched and leapt, throwing itself over the Toa’s heads and rolling several meters down the slope, before picking itself up and slithering towards the tank.
The massive armored vehicle turned towards it, its gun barrel swiveling down. A sudden flash of energy split the morning air, and a particle bolt slammed into the Scythed’s chest. It staggered and its armor flashed, but there was no other visible effect. Gali stared in astonishment, missing a parry, and Pohatu had to spare a moment to block the Scythed sword that slashed towards her neck.
The Scythed downslope slithered forward, grabbed the front of the tank, and heaved. There was a brief sound of tearing machinery, and a massive section of metal simply tore away. The impossibly strong Scythed reached through the gap in the armor and began tearing out fistfuls of machinery as the tank tried frantically to back away.
A rain of neuroscythe spells hailed over the Scythed, but they simply caused its armor to spark and flash again. Gali tore her eyes away from the impossible sight, focusing on catching the next Scythed strike and turning it aside two.
The two lines of warriors battled madly, their steel flickering and whirring in impossibly quick patterns. Pohatu conjured himself a large sword, shunning his hard-edged hands, but still delivered powerful kicks whenever he got the chance.
They smashed against each other again and again, striving in vain for some advantage. The Scythed were tireless and strong. The Toa were unified and cooperative. Neither of them could gain the upper hand.
The deadlock was broken after nearly ten minutes of exhausting fighting. The battle behind them was drawing to a desperate close. Neither side seemed to be winning, but they were certainly wearing each other down. Most of the neuroscythes lay sprawled across the grass, struck down by deathbolts, but the massive burnt patches of woods showed that they had taken an equal number of blackscythes with them. The Crusader tanks still lived, and they were the deciding factor; no matter how skilled the Exosphere infantry were, or how well they fought, they could do little against the armored mass of tanks.
And in the midst of it all, the Toa and the Scythed dueled, their weapons slashing the air with incredible accuracy and precision, thrusting and slashing, parrying and deflecting. The morning sun reflected off what seemed to be a cyclone of blades and claws, a storm of steel that slashed the air to ribbons.
And still there was no victor. The Toa fought too well cooperatively, blocking any parry that one of their companions missed, striking as one, to be overcome; but the Scythed were so strong, fast, and tough that the Toa could not summon the might required to defeat them.
Suddenly, something seemed to stir amongst the Scythed. They attacked with renewed ferocity, slashing and hacking in a newly cooperative effort to destroy these irritating obstacles once and for all. The Toa found themselves being forced back down the slope.
Lewa slashed out with his axe, and one of the Scythed reach to parry. Gali leapt into the air, leaving a gap in the formation, her foot lashing out. The furious kick knocked the Scythed’s blade aside.
Lewa’s axe sheared into its chest, smashing apart the spells that formed the undead flesh, crunching bone and shattering muscle. With a shower of green sparks, the Scythed collapsed to the ground, twitching
But Gali’s leap had a price. One of the Scythed slipped a sword through the gap in the defenses where she’d been. Kopaka moaned as the sword slashed across his side, punching through and exploding from his back.
“Kopaka!” Gali screamed. Kopaka’s sword punched out straight ahead, smashing into one Scythed’s blade, carrying it backwards. “Strike!” Kopaka shouted, and fell.
Pohatu obliged, ramming his conjured sword beneath the Scythed’s blade. Kopaka had deflected its guard just enough that Pohatu’s sword slashed through the gap and slashed off two of the Khai’s necks. It reeled backwards, hissing.
The other four Scythed launched another furious assault. Four blades cut as one, and despite all their frantic efforts, the Toa could not stop them. One blade cut across Lewa’s neck, leaving a thin line of dripping blood. The Toa were tiring, and they could not hold on to hope much longer, despite having masks to aid their speed and strength.
Lewa screamed, blood burbling from the gash on his neck, and his axe dropped, sagging with the pain of the sudden blow. Nevertheless, he rammed his weapon upwards, slamming the hilt against the wounded Scythed, sending it staggering backwards.
Gali turned aside a Scythed thrust towards her chest and somersaulted between Tahu’s legs, who leapt up to give her room. She came up in front of Lewa, reaching out to parry one blow, and then another. Swords clanged off her claws in a flurry of ringing steel.
Another Khai emerged from the woods, its eyes blazing with black light. A deathbolt soared from its outstretched hands, searing down the slope, plowing the air away before it, and catching Lewa in the chest. He pitched backwards to the grass silently, blood exploding from the eyeholes of his mask.
“NOOOOOO!” Tahu’s scream of denial came at the same time as Gali’s. Kopaka might have been saved, but Lewa was dead beyond any hope of revival. The three remaining Toa struck as one, their swords shearing through the wounded Scythed, finishing it once and for all.
The sixth Scythed finished with the tank, apparently satisfied with the destruction it had caused, and rushed to aid its three remaining comrades.
It leapt from behind, and Pohatu whirled to parry, slashing that Scythed away and knocking it back. He whirled again, blocking a strike from the Scythed in front of him, but Gali knew that he could not keep both away at once.
The blackscythe at the edge of the woods hurled another deathbolt. It struck Tahu, and although he resisted, fighting off the death effect, it still left a terrible scar across his chest, a burning rent which sent searing pain through his entire body.
Gali leapt in front of him, trying to protect him as she’d protected Lewa; she blocked the Scythed strikes against Tahu as he slashed out from behind her, managing to strike on Scythed, lopping off one of its arms and sending it hissing backwards in retreat.
Pohatu kicked out, knocking away the Scythed in front of him; Gali struck to the side, relieved of pressure from that Scythed, and scored a good hit on the Scythed between her and Pohatu.
And then the Scythed behind Pohatu caught him off guard and rammed its sword between his shoulder blades. Pohatu emitted a low chuckle, nearly overwhelmed by the two remaining Toa’s screams of denial. “Fear not,” he whispered, blood burbling between his lips. “I understand now.”
He collapsed to the ground, and the merciless Scythed killing machines renewed their assault. Rage and anger swept through Gali. The Toa who had fallen were her friends, her greatest companions, and they had been stolen away by a cruel universe and the beings who meant to twist life to their whims. This could not be allowed to happen. She would not allow it to happen.
Tahu and Gali went back-to-back, their weapons weaving together in a furious dance, their parries and strikes coming as if they were one being, melded together by grief at the loss of their comrades. Tahu’s sword swept across horizontally, knocking one Scythed blade away, and Gali, moving to the left to get a better angle, kicked out backwards and up. Her kick smashed bone across that Scythed’s chest, and in a shower of green sparks, Tahu plunged his sword through the resulting gap. The Scythed sagged off the end of his sword and fell like so much dead wood to the ground.
The battle was now three versus two. Gali prayed that they’d delayed the Scythed long enough for the Avatars to carry out their ritual.
Tahu and Gali fought like beings driven to madness, sped by grief at the death of their comrades. The silver armor around their bodies, fed by the raging emotions in their hearts, flared to new intensity. Their weapons flashed and rang with incredible skill and power, and slowly but surely, the Scythed were forced back again.
At the core of Khass…
The battle was not going well for the three Avatars of Cyravaar, Thau saw. Abdiel was down, burned and still under assault, his leg scorched away by Onua’s withering magic. Konro had had his meteor swarm spell shadow doored to directly beyond him, and the resulting detonating had blown in the ceiling, likely killing him.
Cold rage burned in Thau’s heart. He’d struck the first blow in the battle; after falling through Onua’s cute little floor-trap and smashing to the ground ten feet below, he’d cast a brief spell that made him look quite dead. It had fooled Kasstaxa’s deathwatch spell, and it had given him the initiative he needed to blow away most of the AntiFour’s dark armor. Still, somehow, they were winning.
Thau’s most recent spell had been a good delaying tactic; he had conjured a swarm of fire larva from the halo of unholy flames that burned across Onua’s skin. Unfortunately, he was fresh out of fire larva spells, and he was rapidly running out of other options.
Thau tried frantically to decide on a spell as Abdiel weakly tried to throw a magic of his own. But the neuroscythe, sprawled across the floor and burned by a hail of spells, was simply unable to focus on the spellcasting, and the enchantment failed with a sharp crack and the smell of ozone.
Thau finally found a suitable spell, and he narrowed his eyes, picking a target; Korm seemed to be unprotected by a spellshield at the moment, so he raised his hands and began to hiss writhing power words which filled the air around him with agonized, twisting echoes. His hands seemed to bend and twist the very fabric of reality.
Above him, Sambiel flung his cloak out dramatically, hissing a series of low, empty words that rumbled and echoed like the empty drumbeat of the void. Abdiel suddenly emitted a terrific scream. “Father, pleeeeease!”
The shadows around Abdiel suddenly picked themselves up off the floor like living things, collapsing over Abdiel. Thin strands of shadow punched through his armor, and whenever they touched flesh, parts of Abdiel’s body seemed to vanish with a hiss. The shadows around Abdiel were simply devouring him, ripping away ribbons of his body and consuming them,
Thau winced, both at the physical and emotional agony Abdiel was undergoing. It must have been terrible, being assaulted by his own father. Like what the Exosphere did to Ssrin..
Narrowing his eyes, Thau rushed his spell along, assembling the proper power components and stringing together power words into one long, twisting flow of magic. To his distress, both Korm and Onua finished spells at just the moment his neared completion.
Korm slashed his hands through the air, trailing red streamers of light behind them, and hissed a series of words that made Thau dizzy just hearing them. Moments later, Abdiel emitted another gasp. His head jerked convulsively and his arms battered at the floor of the chamber, pounding a useless drumbeat as he went into a convulsive seizure. Blood erupted from Abdiel’s eyes, ears, and nose, pouring down his face in a horrible red river and dripping onto the floor.
They’re killing him! Thau screamed in denial as Onua’s spell ripped off his fingertips with a sound like bone breaking. Apparently the fire larva were no longer keeping the Avatar of Destruction occupied. Onua’s deep and echoing laughter filled the chamber, and moments later, Abdiel emitted a last, strangled gasp as the seizure began to wear off.
Onua’s spell hit.
Abdiel screamed, and screamed, and screamed, until his throat gave out. The blood on his face was boiling, heated to searing intensity by Onua’s spell; and judging by that, the blood inside Abdiel’s veins was likely boiling too.
Thau launched his own spell towards Korm, screaming at himself, at the AntiFour and what they’d done to Abdiel, and at the cruel universe which allowed this to happen. His painwrack spell smashed into Korm, ripping at his nerves and sending searing bolts of agony up his spine.
The Avatar of War collapsed to the deck, shouting hoarsely, as Thau’s spell sent him into a round of agonized convulsions. Korm curled up around his stomach, his screams slowly fading into agonized moans, as the painwrack spell gave his nerves the impression that a jagged dagger was being plunged through him again and again.
“That’s for what you did to Abdiel, you *******,” Thau muttered, and flicked through his store of Avatar knowledge, searching frantically for another available spell.
Ignoring the pain of her subordinate, Kasstaxa lightly leapt over Korm’s writhing body, slithered forward, and, sneering, said, “You’ve met your end at last, Abdiel. The universe dies with you.”
She hissed a jagged word, and a shimmering plane of force exploded from the palm of her hand, slashing outwards to a distance of two meters, like a brilliant blue sword growing out of her hand.
Kasstaxa slashed downward. In a shower of blue sparks, Abdiel’s left arm rolled away into the darkness, gouting blood.
Abdiel screamed again, his voice raw and hoarse. The bloodboil spell had passed, but a new wave of agony enveloped his body.
But slowly, his convulsions stopped. A silver light began to glow in his eyes, and a slow smile twisted across his lips. Kasstaxa frowned and raised her forceblade again to strike.
The silver light in Abdiel’s eyes exploded outwards, running down his body in great torrents, converting it into what seemed to be flowing mercury in its wake. His body, covered in a wash of silver, turned brighter, and brighter. Kasstaxa leapt backwards, conjuring a spellshield, as the blinding silver radiance reached the intensity of the sun and began to spread, filling the air, like a new star growing within the confines of the chamber.
“Hope still lives!” Abdiel cried, in a voice crackling with power, from somewhere at the heart of this explosion of energy, now nearly three meters across and growing.
As if in response to his words, the crackling sheets of silver energy that had been sweeping over the surface of the Core Binding far below them shimmered into new life, rushing towards a point directly below them, building and building. Wave after wave of silver light came arcing around the smooth spherical surface of the Core Binding, gathering in one blinding spot of silver radiance.
The new sun that Abdiel was at the heart of distended, flattening and coalescing into a flashing ray of silver light, and then the soul nova spell that Abdiel had cast finished. A blinding bolt of silver light, the very energy and being of a dying Avatar, erupted from where Abdiel’s dying body had been, searing across the chamber, leaving a glowing tunnel of ionization in its wake.
A tremendous rumble sounded, and a thunderclap smashed Thau to the ground. The four Avatars of Koranis staggered, or in Korm’s case, rolled backwards as the soul nova arced towards them.
The bolt connected with Sambiel, filling his dark cloak with radiance, shining light on every nook and crevice of his being. It seemed to pour into him, filling him, putting the light of a soul into the void inside him. The dark neuroscythe was less than nothing, a dark blot or tear in reality, a manifestation of Koranis’ power. Sambiel could not bear to feel the light of emotion…love…within his heart.
But he might still have lived. His dark power, reinforced by his bind to Koranis, who was so close at hand, would have carried him through, diminished but still alive.
But Abdiel’s fading spirit, shining within his body, reminded him of the things he had lost. Abdiel showed him love, compassion, and all the emotions that he had lost when Koranis claimed him as an Avatar. As it passed, the dying soul showed him that Abdiel was not angry or bitter with him, simply sad that they had not had a chance to have one last, friendly talk.
With a wail of despair and torment, torn between the warm light of the compassion he had left behind and the dark immensity of Koranis, Sambiel allowed the cleansing light of the soul nova to claim him, washing away his darkness and leaving only a faint, black halo which quickly dissolved. Sambiel and Abdiel, father and son, were gone as if they had never existed.
Kasstaxa screamed in rage. “You’ll burn in the inferno for that, neuroscythe! You’ll never escape my wrath! NEVER, DO YOU HEAR ME!”
“Not if I stop you first,” a soft but familiar voice said, and Thau’s heart soared.
What was certainly the new most beautiful sight he had ever seen erupted from the Core Binding. Where the waves of silver light had been gathering, as if summoned by Abdiel’s last sacrificial, a blinding silver light flared again – and a comet of pure, bright energy exploded upwards, smashing through the sublevels of the cavern, blowing away mesh floor and machinery as if they weren’t there. Metal whirled and crashed around the comet of brightness that erupted upwards, slowing as it approached the top level where they fought, and at its head rode a dark speck.
The comet stopped as it smashed through the floor of their level, coming to a stop a few feet away from the Backlash Device, spitting blinding silver sparks that made it completely impossible to tell who the being riding on top of the comet was.
Thau knew in his heart who it was.
The dark figure stepped off the comet, and it faded away, crackling and sparkling into nothingness, leaving his eyes dazed and dazzled. He cast a hasty spell to rectify his vision.
Arrayed in beautiful armor of silver light and armed with a pair of battered, Exosphere-issue fangblades, Ssrin stood besides a ragged hole torn in the metal mesh floor of the cavern’s upper level. She had one hand placed on the pile of debris that had fallen over Konro. The protodermis pool behind her, still a dark charcoal-grey, flared up, throwing sparks into the air as if it sensed her presence. She looked more beautiful than Thau had ever seen her before, and there was no sign of wounds on her body. Somehow, she had escaped the Sphere-regent.
“Sister!” Kasstaxa hissed, her tail battering at the floor of the chamber. “You live!”
“Amazing deduction,” Ssrin said sardonically. “Shouldn’t you be doing something to fix that?”
She turned one head to face him, and winked. Thau smiled back, feeling the warm bond of love between them, a cord of trust and compassion that nothing could or would ever break. Not even death itself.
Thau threw his hands out, yelling a series of words, as Ssrin launched into a backflip towards the Backlash Device, her tail whipping at the air to keep her on course.
Thau’s crackling spell conjured a wall of force before Kasstaxa as she raised her own hands to cast a spell, and the deathbolt that Ssrin’s dark sister hurled splashed across the wall of force and dissipated harmlessly.
More light flared into the chamber. Onua emitted a roar of outrage, and Korm hissed in disbelief, as two tall figures draped in fields of shimmering runes emerged from the lift shaft to the surface, the masks on their faces blazing with power. One was a dark, cerulean blue, the other a deep, fiery red.
Ignoring Korm’s shouts, Onua broke into a run, streaking towards the two new figures. Ssrin landed nimbly behind the Backlash Device as Kasstaxa hissed a spell and blew Thau’s wall of force apart with a single massive spell. It dissipated, hissing, into a million shattered shards of magic.
Ssrin yelled her own spell, extending her hands, and the Vahi ripped itself, dripping charcoal-colored liquid, from the protodermis pool, then soared into her outstretched arms. Kasstaxa roared in denial. “You will never stop me, sister! Two of your pathetic friends are dead! Korm, kill the whelp down there!” She jabbed one slender finger in Thau’s direction.
Thau dropped into a fighting crouch as Korm muttered a spell and flashed out of existence, appearing a moment later in a burst of black light, directly beside him. His swords were already out and sparkling with the promise of poisoned pain.
Onua crashed into the crimson figure, Tahu, sending him flying. Gali reached out, and instead of striking at Onua, laid a hand on his shoulder. “Onua…please,” she muttered. “You remember us, don’t you? You may have been twisted by Kasstaxa’s power, but you are still one of us at heart.”
Onua swiveled towards her, bellowing a roar of chaos and destruction, drawing back his serrated fists to send her into oblivion. He ripped Gali’s hand, burned by his body flames, from his shoulder and nearly wrenched it off. His eyes went to Gali’s face as he opened his mouth to spit a spell.
The friendship and compassion in her eyes tugged at his heart, halting the unholy bloodlust that consumed him. For a moment, he was the old Onua, the one who had been a steadfast on faithful companion on Mata Nui. He looked at himself and saw only a horrific engine of destruction. He knew in his briefly freed heart that he could not be saved.
“Please…” he whimpered, consumed the pain of Koranis’ dark well pressing on his mind. “Gali…Tahu…please…”
Then his mind bulked and Koranis’ will smashed down on him again, like a mountain crushing him. He had time for only one last act as flames billowed again around his body and words of power began to spill from his mouth.
He managed to, for just a moment, create a gap in the back of the rune armor that protected him from most harm. It had regenerated after Thau’s initial blast, and with that armor shielding him, the Toa had nothing that could harm him.
He still had powerful magic protecting him. But at that moment, Tahu, picking himself up from the ground, sprang from behind, his eyes full of not his usual rage, but a deep and glimmering sorrow. The object that flashed in his hands burned and tore at his flesh, searing away more and more of it with every second he held it.
It was one of the rune-covered swords the Scythed had used. It was probably the only weapon in existence, besides those of an Avatar, that could have damaged Onua’s spell-hardened, unholy flesh.
But it seared through the hole that Onua had created in the rune armor, slashing through his flesh, plunging past ripping spikes which tore deep gashes across Tahu’s hand. The tip of the sword exploded through the armor on Onua’s chest, and the disruptive runes on it flashed, once.
Onua did not even notice the sword…until the spells within it went off. Even with its Scythed power, it likely would not have seriously damaged him. But every surviving neuroscythe above had put their most powerful spells within the sword, and Tahu and Gali had channeled all that remained of their power into it, too.
Even that would not have been enough to penetrate Onua’s armor. But detonated from within, the spells had nothing to stop them, no armored skin or spellshields. They seared out from Onua’s eyes and mouth in a blaze of cleansing light.
“Thank you…” Onua cried, as the cleansing light blazed from every gap of his body, overwhelming even the dark flames that burned around him, and then he crumbled into ash as the dark power of Koranis departed him once and for all.
On the level below, Thau and Korm battled. Their swords clashed and danced with amazing agility, but slowly, Korm gained the upper hand. His swords darted and weaved with the grace and precision of a longtime master. After another minute of this slowly declining battle, Thau lunged forward, and Korm dropped flat, wrapping his tail around Thau’s and yanking him to the ground. Thau staggered as first his blade passed through empty air, and then Korm threw him off balance. He crashed to the floor with the sound of flesh on metal.
Ssrin screamed in denial as Korm’s fangs bit at Thau’s wrist, and he reflexively dropped his sword. It rattled away, reached the edge of the hole where Ssrin’s comet had punched through, and dropped into oblivion. Korm rolled on top of Thau, pinning him with both of his arms, and then began slamming him on the face with unbridled ferocity.
“Enough!” Kasstaxa snapped, as Thau reeled away from the assault, nearly falling into unconsciousness. “Bring him here!”
Ssrin froze, the Vahi still clutched against her chest, as Korm wrapped his arm around Thau’s necks and used his other free hand to cast a quick spell. Shadows erupted from the ground around him and he vanished amongst them.
Another shadow peeled itself off the ground next to Kasstaxa as she stood glaring at Ssrin, the Backlash Device between them. “So,” Kasstaxa hissed. “We’re at a stalemate, sister. You have the Vahi, and I cannot hurt you without perhaps damaging it. And I have your precious Thau.”
Ssrin snarled at her. “You won’t get away with this!”
Kasstaxa chuckled. “You don’t know how many people have said that to me…just before they died.” The shadow next to her molded itself into the form of two serpent-heads, one behind the other with his arms wrapped around the first’s throat.
Korm yanked his arm tighter, and Thau gasped for breath, his necks writhing furiously. Kasstaxa muttered a series of steel-edged words, and a ball of darkness erupted from her hands, splitting into a series of vinelike strands which wrapped themselves around Thau, holding him immobile, despite his frantic struggles.
“Release him,” she ordered Korm. He reluctantly stepped backward, looking warily over at where the two Toa stood over the pile of ash that had been Onua. “Mistress,” he said hesitantly, “they destroyed-“
“I know!” Kasstaxa snarled. “It is my fault. I should have erased all of his memories so he would not show sentimental weakness again. It won’t matter in a minute.” She turned to Ssrin, sneering.
“You and your pathetic Toa are the last minions of Cyravaar alive. The pathetic forces you have at the top of the lift shaft couldn’t hope to stop me. You’re doomed.”
Ssrin shook her head. “No. No…” She clutched at the slate-grey Vahi, holding it forth like a shield. “I have this, sister, and you can’t complete your ritual without it.” She held it forth, then muttered a few words, and the Vahi vanished.
Kasstaxa laughed. “A pathetic trick. I will find it eventually. Or, sister, I will offer you a deal. I give you my word as an Avatar that if you give me the Vahi, I will give you Thau and you allow you and him to escape. You will even be allowed to live in peace.”
Ssrin’s eyes closed for a moment, and she seemed to wrestle with something. The two Toa stood looking on helplessly. “You’ll let us live in peace?”
Kasstaxa nodded, smiling. “You can be happy together for the rest of your lives. You may even enter my favor again, if you are true to me.”
Ssrin’s eyes blinked open and she stared at the floor for a moment, looking as if the weight of a world was crushing upon her shoulders.
Don’t do it, Ssrin, Thau thought frantically. But he knew in his heart that she would accept. The hatred of the universe he had detected in her back on Crossroads had found its time to strike. She was the Avatar of Freedom, and she would make a free choice. If she thought that Thau was the last thing she had to lose in a cruel universe, then she would accept Kasstaxa’s dark deal.
“Fine,” Ssrin said, her drooping shoulders showing that she knew she’d been beaten. She looked as if a planet had fallen on her, as if she was merely a shell, with all emotions drained away. “You’ve won.”
“I hid the mask here,” she said tonelessly, reaching to the pile of debris beside her and shoving away chunks of rock and battered metal. She scrabbled at the pile, pulling rocks away in a shower of dust, and finally the protruding corner of the charcoal-grey mask was exposed again to the air.
Kasstaxa glared at her. “You are telling the truth, sister? I will mind-probe you.” She muttered a quick spell and jabbed a slender finger at Ssrin, who stiffened, a horrified expression on her face.
And suddenly Thau felt the bond of love between them pulse. Something was placed, burning, in his mind, a secret which he knew that Ssrin had torn out of her own mind and given to him. She had no memory anymore of whatever it might be, and Thau did not dare opening the tiny, glowing telepathic package, in case Kasstaxa mindprobed him too.
He was touched, nonetheless, that Ssrin would trust him with such an important secret, and let him safeguard it while Kasstaxa rifled through her mind.
Kasstaxa lowered her hand and Ssrin sagged over, leaning on the pile of debris, panting. “Satisfactory,” Kasstaxa pronounced, and extended her hands.
Ssrin yanked the Vahi out of the pile of scrap metal and threw it to Kasstaxa. It arced over the Backlash Device and dropped, glimmering, into her sister’s outstretched arms. Kasstaxa grunted as the mask, apparently extremely heavy, dropped into her hands, then smiled. “Very good, Ssrin. You are free to go.”
She placed the mask by her side, and gestured with her other hand towards Thau. He felt the black vines holding his body stiff relax, and he rushed around the Backlash Device towards Ssrin. “Ssrin, are you-”
She stopped him with an upraised hand and pointed over his shoulder. He whirled about to find Kasstaxa staring down at the Vahi, which had begun to melt.
Its coating was beginning to glow and shift, and a soft voice could be heard coming from it, reciting the words of a spell. How a mask could speak Thau did not know, but the Vahi was dissolving into a river of mercury-like silver fluid that rushed up Kasstaxa’s side and streaked up the backs of her necks as if it was a living thing.
Kasstaxa screamed in denial. “Ssrin! You- how? My mind-probe should have-” She cut herself off and began barking the words of a spell of destruction, but the stream of silver liquid arched up, streaking down over the tops of her heads, and poured down her open, gaping mouth into her throat.
Ssrin laughed. “Kasstaxa, I beat you because I trusted someone else. You and your dark minions could never imagine giving the most important secret in the world to someone else. But I did, and he kept it safe while you ripped apart my mind looking for it.” She shot a loving glance towards Thau, who impulsively folded her hand around his. They both turned to watch Kasstaxa as she struggled against the mysterious silver liquid.
The last of the liquid was pouring itself down Kasstaxa’s throat, vanishing like some bizarre parasite. Kasstaxa grabbed at her necks and sagged towards the ground, choking. Lack of air couldn’t kill her, but a sudden silver glow was beginning within her chest, brightening slowly, pulsing through the dark armor that covered her.
“NOOOOOOooooooooOOOOOOooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” she screamed, a shriek of anger and bitter denial more furious than anything Thau had ever heard before. The piercing shriek echoed through the chamber as the bright glow pulsed brighter and brighter, and Korm reeled away from her, staring at her in horror.
Kasstaxa dropped to the floor, her hands oustretched like claws, silver power exploding from her eyes and noses and mouths and bursting outwards from her chest.
Kasstaxa, Avatar of Koranis, Incarnation of Death, Sphere-regent of the Exosphere, and Future God, exploded in a massive silver fireball. Her wail continued long after her body was consumed by the raging silver firestorm, only finally dying away as Korm rushed between the two Toa, knocking them aside, and shouted a spell, beginning to float upwards towards the lift shaft.
Ssrin and Thau raised their hands and simultaneously cast a bolt of silver-white light, enhanced by the bond between them. They let the spell resonate along their bond of mutual affection and compassion, gaining strength from it, before it burst from between them and soared across the chamber, striking Korm in the back.
Korm roared in denial as his back sputtered into disintegration, reduced to a haze of atoms. His shout was like a dying echo of Kasstaxa’s death wail as the disintegration ray consumed him slowly and painfully until all that was left was dust and gas.
Ssrin turned Thau back towards where Kasstaxa had stood.
In the midst of the blackened, charred spot where the Sphere-regent had been was Konro, distastefully brushing at himself as if he was covered in an irritating rash.
“Smelled in there,” he said, looking up. “She ate something very strong for breakfast.”
“What?” Thau gasped. “Konro…how…”
“I am a shapeshifter, after all,” Konro said diffidently. “Becoming the Vahi wasn’t too hard, after Ssrin mind-messaged me what to do. And you know, being a splatter isn’t so bad now.”
Ssrin exploded into laughter, and Thau followed her, feeling the warmth between them, and Konro joined them. Their brilliant laughter soared up the lift tunnel towards the surface of Khass, a ringing cacophony of hope that seemed to brighten the dawn outside, despite the thousands of miles to the surface.
Then they joined hands around the Backlash Device, and prepared to complete the binding that, thousands of years ago, Cyravaar had left unfinished.
Well, that’s it. All that’s left is the epilogue and the dedication. This chapter clocked in at an astonishing 88 pages. Whoof. It was worth it, every moment.
The review form has been posted in the Exosphere: Backlash review topic. I would love some feedback!
Thank you all so, so, so, so much for reading. I could never have done it without you.
Nov 11 2003, 09:01 PM
Emerging Fluidic Master
Joined: 30-June 02
Member No.: 1439
The three remaining Avatars of Cyravaar have defeated their foes, and now they must only complete the long-ago binding spell that their master left undone. When it is finished, Koranis will be sealed away forever, saving the universe from his dark predations.
But what of the Toa, and Mata Nui? What is the fate of the Avatars, and their Crusaders? Tales remain to be told…for this is a universe of infinite possibility, and not even the mysterious Shabren could foretell the future with perfect ease.
The Backlash Device exploded into silver light, a blinding spray of radiance that seemed to shimmer and hum in harmony with the very undercurrents of the universe itself. The Avatars staggered backwards, shielding their eyes from the glare, as the Vahi at the center of the device rose dripping from the pool of glaringly bright protodermis around it.
Like a mystical whale emerging from a shimmering silver sea, Cyravaar’s prison rose into the air, dripping newly glowing protodermis, been restored to its former glory by the power of the Avatars. The mask began to whirl faster and faster, a silver storm that in no way resembled the pale, slate-grey mask of a few minutes ago, despoiled by the Avatars of Koranis.
The Avatars had completed the ritual. The mask’s rotation reached blinding intensity as it thrashed the air, spraying silver light and droplets of protodermis throughout the dark chamber around it.
Below the three near-blind Avatars, the Core Binding shimmered with a pale silver light, building slowly and coalescing around the four black rents through the binding. Something moved within the rents –
-and black tentacles exploded outwards, long tendrils of negative energy which probed and smashed at the machinery of the lowest level, arcing upwards towards them. Ssrin, Thau, and Konro stared in helpless awe as the massive limbs smashed aside flooring and equipment, reaching towards them. They smelled of ozone and hot metal, tinged with a hint of rotting meat. The very air around the black tentacles sizzled as they smashed through the lower levels of machinery, reaching for the avatars, seeking to quench the bright spark of life they sensed.
But as the Vahi whirled above the dripping pool of protodermis, oblivious to the approaching doom, a soft ray of light began to glow through the air above, shining up the lift shaft above the mask. It speared upwards at 300,000 kilometers per second, the speed of light which Cyravaar or one of the other Titans had set at the long-ago dawn of the universe.
With the gentle intensity of a sunbeam, the path of silver light flickered across Sailath’s thin atmosphere and settled onto it, shining gently upon its surface.
A blinding pulse of energy exploded from the Vahi, and its silver color faded to a dull, lifeless grey. A ball of silver light, trailing long tentacles of glimmering energy eerily similar to the night-black ones approaching from below, shot up the silver beam, vanishing in an eyeblink into the lift shaft.
The approaching tentacles hesitated, sizzling and cracking with immense power and evil held barely at bay.
Far above, in the void of space, surrounded by the burning hulks of Crusader ships slowly falling to an icy death, the bolt of tentacle-trailing silver light, all that remained of Cyravaar, struck Sailath. And the Ice Moon began to move. It shifted slowly, reluctantly, groaning as the laws of the universe rewrote themselves around it, and the seas of Khass stirred with it as their complex tides suddenly changed. The gravity of Sailath no longer influenced them quite the same way it had for millions of years.
Sailath shifted a mere hundred miles inwards on its orbit, taking up a slightly closer position to Khass. And then the moon seemed to explode as a webwork of silver energy burst out from it, some rushing through the space around Khass, others exploding outwards into space, even more plunging in towards Khass’ heart on complex, twisting paths. The bolts of energy traced the spellwork that had for millennia held Koranis imprisoned, and they found gaps. The bolts of light bridged them, leaping across like bolts of lightning, weaving together the gaps in the spell that had allowed Koranis to slowly pour its corruption into the universe.
With one more brilliant explosion of silver, the Khass system seemed to explode as the binding finally fell into place. A wave of silver light rolled away from it at the speed of light, a slowly expanding but never-dimming nova of energy that would eventually pass over the entire universe. Nothing changed behind it, but it left in its wake a short-lived but warm sense of…completion. Of happiness.
At the heart of Khass, Ssrin and Thau stood side-by-side, their hands clasped, as the all-consuming tentacles of blackness approached them. Whenever they touched matter it simply vanished, irrevocably gone, as if sucked into a black hole.
The tentacles smashed through the level beneath them and reached for them-
-and suddenly stopped. A low rumble filled the chamber, a deep moan of anger and malice, and suddenly the tentacles were falling, drawing back inwards, curling through the holes they had smashed in floors and machines and vanishing through the black rent in the binding.
Silently, the rent closed, simply healing over as a tide of silver symbols washed over it and left a smooth, uninterrupted silver globe in their wake. As the symbols rushed over it, Ssrin caught a brief, chilling glance of an indescribably malicious thing staring out at them, a being twisted and utterly evil, beyond description, raging with unholy fires of torment, entropy, and destruction. There were no words for what it looked like; a shadow, perhaps, but of what she could not say. Then it too vanished beyond the healing wall of the Core Binding.
Konro emitted a whoop of delight. “I don’t believe it! We did it!”
Thau and Ssrin smiled at each other. “We couldn’t have done it without each other,” Ssrin said quietly. “Any of us,” she repeated, turning to Konro, then shooting an appreciative glance at Gali and Tahu, who stood, hands clasped, in the corner of the chamber, looking somewhat bewildered but otherwise at peace.
“It is done,” a new voice said, a voice humming with long-diminished but still present power. The five beings in the room turned, already knowing who stood in the center of the drained protodermis pool that had filled the Backlash Device.
The being pulled itself out of the Backlash Device, tugging something along with it; the shattered, slate-grey remains of the Vahi, a scorched series of trailing lines crisscrossing its surface.
It was an androgynous, silver-scaled Khai, an eight-head like Ssrin, a being of beauty and magnificence beyond words. It moved with an indescribable grace and power that was stunning to behold.
Ssrin to turned to Thau. “You’re seeing what I’m seeing, right?”
“A Khai?” Thau said quietly. “Yes. Although I imagine yours has eight heads, while mine has the same number I do.”
Ssrin wrinkled her brows in confusion for a moment, then nodded. “I suppose it’s a Toa for them,” she said, turning to Gali and Tahu. The Toa of Water shot her an understanding glance and winked.
“I am what you think I am,” Cyravaar said mysteriously, its voice humming with stunning beauty and power. It held the scorched Vahi before its eyes, then snapped it in half, throwing it over its shoulder. “I was imprisoned within that mask for millennia. It is good to be free.”
The spectacular being spread its hands, a smile upon its faces. “You have done well, my Avatars and Warriors. I can use some of my fading powers to perhaps grant a wish…one wish.”
All eyes turned towards Tahu and Gali, who exchanged surprised looks, and then turned back towards Cyravaar. “We want Mata Nui restored,” they said, in surprising harmony. “To the way it was before the Exosphere came.”
Cyravaar emitted a low, chiming laugh. “Of course, children.” It spread its hands, muttering a low series of words, and a brief flash of silver haloed its entire body. “It is done. You can never return, you know.”
Tahu and Gali looked at each other again, then turned back, tears in their eyes. Before they were as different as beings got, but now, they were hard to tell apart. “We know. But the Matoran still have Toa to guide them.”
“Yes,” Cyravaar affirmed. “You, as you were before the Exosphere arrived. Both versions of you shall face new challenges and new tasks in the future. But Koranis and his poisons have been sealed away, perhaps forever. The universe will be a better place, and I think you shall find a bright future before you.”
“What of you?” Thau asked curiously. “What will you do?”
Cyravaar smiled, a stunning expression that gleamed with silver fangs and radiant light. “My power is shattered, Thau. It is time for me to take my place amongst the legends of the past. But I have one task to complete, first.”
Ssrin could not restrain herself from asking. “What is that?”
“My power over reality fades rapidly. I will travel back in time until I find the correct moment, and then…suffice it to say that some prophecies need to be written. It wouldn’t do if they were written by someone who hadn’t actually seen the future, now would they?”
And with that, Cyravaaar simply blinked away, leaving only a short, chiming burst of laughter that slowly faded into a shattered series of echoes. Even those faded, leaving only the shimmering hum of the Core Binding below, and the sounds of the five beings in the chamber beginning their long ascent to the surface.
Ssrin, Thau and Konro stepped into the blinding near-noon sunlight of Khass’ mountains. Around them lay the battered, burned, and war-torn corpses and hulks of the Crusader and Exosphere forces, intertwined and burned. A few survivors moved over the field of battle, tending to wounded, and a pair of Crusader tanks stood vigilant watch over the medics as they went about their grim business.
Konro sighed as the two Toa emerged from the lift building behind him. “Back to reality, it seems. No fairy-tale ending for us.”
A shadow seemed to flit across his face. “It’s a terrible loss. The Crusaders have been shattered. I doubt one in ten of the Crusaders lived.” He seemed to sag as he walked, but Ssrin and Thau exchanged smiles.
They were both thinking the same thing. If Koranis has been bound away, the universe is already…better. And his link to the Khai has been broken, which could mean some interesting developments on the horizon…
One of the medics picked herself up from where she knelt by a fallen trooper and rushed towards them. She had the nightmarish, bony face of a neuroscythe, and healing energy still danced around her hands. “Admiral Konro! We have a report from the Sword of Might! They’ve been contacted by the Council of Regents, and have managed to negotiate a truce. Our invasion force on the Plain of Fangs has broken off its battle with the Exosphere defenders and declared a cease-fire.”
Konro stood agape. “So…it’s not as bad as I thought.” He thankfully waved the neuroscythe away. “Do you think they know Abdiel…fell?” he asked quietly.
Thau nodded. “They have a feeling for these things.” He turned to Ssrin, grinning. “Which reminds me; impressive entrance, down there during the battle. How did you manage to escape the Scythed Sphere-regent? I thought you were…dead.”
Ssrin smiled. “The Sphere-regent had a spell going to prevent me from teleporting away. But I tried it anyway, and to my surprise, I was funneled into the binding spell that holds Koranis into place. It was a bit confusing, not having a body. Apparently, since Sailath was the key component of the binding network, it ‘channeled’ me down into the Core Binding. It took me a little while to reassemble myself, but I showed up just in time, it seems.
Thau shuddered. “Indeed. And Kasstaxa nearly killed me there, anyway. Ssrin, you shouldn’t have agreed to give her the Vahi, faked or not. My life wasn’t worth the universe.”
Ssrin stood in thought for a moment. “You know, I think the reason I became the Avatar of Freedom was because I was willing to place my feelings and my loves above the greater good. I was just the opposite of the typical generous hero; not so selfish that I wanted everything for myself, but selfish enough that I protected what I loved over the greater good of the whole. I simply couldn’t imagine what I would feel like if you died. I couldn’t imagine a universe without you.”
Thau squeezed her hand. “Sweet, if a little callous.”
Ssrin smiled. “That’s me.” She turned to Konro. “Speaking of which, Konro, what did you see when you looked at Cyravaar? A pile of silver goo?”
Konro smiled mysteriously. “I saw…everything.”
Ssrin stared at him for second, and then muttered, “Right-o.”
Thau broke into laughter. “We’ve just saved the universe, people, not to mention removing the Heart of Darkness from the entire Khai race! Can’t we be a little less serious?”
“Good advice,” Ssrin said brightly, and kissed him hard, in the Khai fashion.
“Oof,” Thau muttered, as soon as he’d been released. “I better get used to that.”
“You better,” Konro agreed, smiling broadly, and the threefold laughter that rang off the hills seemed brighter than ever before.
Konro went on to forge a new Galactic Alliance of Free Peoples, and eventually became its greatest diplomat and ruler. Through justice and fairness, he achieved the universal dominion that others had desired for so long, spending an unprecedented eight years as President of the Alliance, then another seventy as a top-ranking diplomat. Blessed with unnaturally long life by his Avatar powers, he lived to see many perilous adventures. His tale has not ended yet…
Ssrin and Thau spent a few happy years in retirement on Khass, and then returned to politics and war as council members of the new Reformed Exosphere. Tales of their exploits have become legendary as they traveled the galaxy, helping to remove the stain of evil one world at a time. Their love has only grown. Like Konro, they still live on, and a bright future stretches before them…
Rheuss died happily of her sleep a few years after the victory at Khass, a victim of the weakness that the Scythed Plague had left in her. Like the other Crusaders who had perished at Khass, and like all beings who had died since then, she arrived at the gates of death to find not the limbo that had been there before, nor the inferno Koranis had wanted, but a new journey stretching before her…
The Exosphere underwent a brief period of chaotic civil war as the plague of evil slowly receded from the Khai. A more benevolent government, the Reformed Exosphere, came to power, and within generations the dark past of the Exosphere was buried under a tidal wave of good deeds and reformed policy. Where the Heart of Darkness had once been, the light of Cyravaar now filled the Khai’s minds. But what they had now was the most precious of Cyravaar’s gifts; free will. No longer did they labor under the evil of Koranis, forced to act as he wished; they could decide to be good or evil as they pleased.
Sambiel and Abdiel were reconciled in Death, and proceeded into the New Journey as father and son, full of light and hope.
Gali and Tahu traveled the galaxy with Ssrin and Thau, and their tales have also passed into legend. They live on yet, knowing they can never return to their beloved Mata Nui, but still watching it from above…
And as for the last of our cast of characters, you may be surprised…
Voices amongst shadow.
Light in the darkness, as glowing eyes peer out at the universe.
“Things have certainly changed, haven’t they, Korm?”
“Indeed, mistress. It all seems so strange.”
“And we’ve changed too, haven’t we? I never would have dreamed that a Khai could feel friendship…love.”
“Yes, mistress. It is odd, but I don’t feel as…compelled to cause pain as I used to. Love is…different, but perhaps not so bad. It certainly is not the ‘light’ emotion it is made out to be.”
"I still think we are ‘evil.’ What a melodramatic phrase. Well, perhaps that irritating Cyravaar has gotten through to us after all ”
“Mistress, even if ithas, I do not truly care.”
“Surprisingly enough, Korm, neither do I. Come, this universe belongs to my sister. We have a new journey before us, in the universes beyond this one, places somewhat…different. Not dominating them, perhaps. Becoming God has given me perspective, and I no longer have the craving for power I once did.”
“I look forward to traveling the universes with you, Mistress. It is fortunate that your ascension went ahead despite Ssrin’s intervention.”
“Yes, I didn’t need Koranis, after all. I always thought I had potential…”
Hissing laughter echoed for a moment, and the faintly visible Khai silhouettes joined hands, and then vanished amongst the shadows.
Here ends the Exosphere Saga.
I could never have done it without the multitudes of friends and acquaintances who reviewed my stories and gave me the ‘fuel’ I needed to keep going. Of special note are:
He has been patient with my requests, thoughtful in his reviews, and stunningly talented in his own writing. He provided one of Exosphere’s most in-depth, interesting characters. He quotes the Matrix, the Bible, and other sources with hilarious abandon and wit. He has unflaggingly and courageously stood up to my irritating PMs and nervous, self-abasing jitters. And he has come through it shining. Hats off to one of BZPower’s most outstanding exemplars of friendship and virtue, CrypticIdentity!
Another brilliant writing prodigy, whose Chronicles of Darkness and Light are a stunning beacon of brilliance amongst the stories of BZPower. His hilarious sense of humor and perceptive, in-depth reviewing has never failed to astonish or encourage me. There is no joy for me like trading PMs with him, on subjects ranging from English Essays to the Nazgul Brigade (or the Nerd Herd, whichever you prefer.) A tip of the ol’ protodermic bowler hat to KopakaX![/I]
Despite a long absence, he has caught up with Exosphere and provided me with plenty of much-needed insight and encouragement. His own crisp, vivid writing is a joy to behold (and he claims he doesn’t have any talent,) and his sense of humor never fails to impress. He is also the source for one of my favorite Exosphere characters, who I hope lived up to his expectations! A round of applause for [b]Althane!
His mind parallels mine in a stunning and eerie fashion, and so does his epic. His flowing, descriptive writing is worthy of the Barnes and Noble best-seller shelf. His charm and wit are on par with the most relaxing talk-show host. He may not have reviewed Exosphere much, but he certainly has been an inspiration, and that counts for just as much! Cue the fireworks for Toa of the Stars!
What can you say about a writer so dedicated that he handles three or four full-size epics at once – and does a great job on all of them? Nothing that does him justice! A strong work ethic, a persistence beyond description, and a flair for all sorts of great writing makes him an instant success. His reviews have been most helpful and inspiring. He’s grown from a ‘can you read my story’ lobbyist to a true friend, the kind of person who I wish I was surrounded with. Drum roll for Kumata Nuva!
There’s a BZPower member with such literary knowledge that each of his ‘new chapter’ PMs has a quirky and creative title that never fails to make me laugh. He plugs stalwartly away at his epic, despite the lack of deserved reviews, and his wonderful descriptive style and perfect mix of humor and action leave the reader panting for more. Chatting with him has been a relief from all the pressures of everyday life. Exactly the kind of person BZP needs more of. Raise your glasses to MakutaTypist!
When one review can send you staggering with its perceptiveness and depth, you know you’ve got a great guy on your hands. When I read the New York Times Book Review, I think, ‘he could do this.’ Not to mention his own great epic, his kind personality, and his enviable talent with words. Cue the band for Dark Wairuha!
And lastly, two special dedications. One to Kirilin, Toa of Trees, who has been a constant exemplar of what I should aspire to be, and a personal god. She is the Franklin of BZPower, the person who always had a tale or a joke ready, the kind of member who could make me feel at home when I was still a five-post inhabitant. Our short conversation about Lon Sudar is one of my fondest memories from early BZP.
And another to Draco: DragonHunter, who is a stunning writer and who gave me the idea of having Pohatu be the one who ‘ascends’ first.
Thanks to you all! If I missed you, please PM me with an angry note!
This post has been edited by HauNuva: Nov 12 2003, 12:04 PM
|Lo-Fi Version||Time is now: 19th June 2013 - 05:53 AM|