Zkedia Mining Colony, Jiden-V
Salt crunched beneath Drex’s hooves. In front of him, he could hear the sobbing of J’vanna, the doctor’s son. The boy couldn’t have been more than six cycles old. Drex opened his mouth to offer a word of consolation to J’vanna but was silenced by a sudden jab in the back. The Centaurian mercenary behind him attempted to bray something to him in broken Kymellian but Drex couldn’t make sense of it. He didn’t need to understand it to know what was coming next.
For thousands of cycles, Drex’s people had called this planet their home. Though they were Kymellian, their isolation had robbed them of the abilities some of their kind possessed. The salt pits that had drawn them there had been both the making of his people and their undoing. They had grown weak, complacent. Drex understood that now as he marched to his end with what remained of his people.
Finally there came a cry from the Centaurian general that brought the entire procession to a halt beside a gorge. Once again Drex was jabbed in the back, though this time with enough force to send him down onto his hooves. His head hit the ground and revealed the blood red soil beneath it. Drex winced slightly, feeling blood trickling freely from the cut on his forehead. Beside him, the young J’vanna’s sobs grew louder with every passing moment – to the point that he was heaving. It was undignified, Drex thought, before damning himself quietly for his judgement.
The Centaurian general stepped forward. His bulging muscles were covered in deep blue scars and the shock of red hair that rose from his skull stood tallest among his men. He withdrew the golden bow from his back and slipped one of his arrows into place. All around him, Drex heard his people let out fearful cries but he remained silent. The general drew back his bowstring and following on from his lead his men did so too – creating a sound not unlike a thousand nails running along a chalkboard all at once.
The Centaurian general held his bowstring back without any sign of exertion. To Centaurians, the bow was more than a weapon, it was like another limb – the bond between them was almost sacred. Finally, in his last moments Drex turned his mind to all things sacred. Though his people had long since strayed from the old ways and few among them worshipped the gods of Kymellia, the prayers of his childhood came back to him.
“May the Mother forgive us.”
Drex’s eyes clamped shut as he heard the cracking of a thousand Centaurian bows unfurling. Time seemed to slow to a complete standstill as Drex sensed the lethal payload barrelling towards them. His eyes still shut he felt a hand clamp around his and his own hand compelled without his consent to reach out for the Kymellian beside him. His eyes opened and he realised to his disbelief that he was still alive.
“The Mother,” J’vanna smiled at him. “She saved us.”
There was a roar of confusion from among the Centaurian horde as they collectively reached into their quivers for more ammunition. Drex scanned his people’s numbers and saw among them the source of their salvation. There was a lone green figure stood with a single hand on the shoulder of a Kymellian woman. Drex shook his head in disbelief – it was a Martian.
Before the Centaurians had a chance to send forth another barrage, they found their numbers compromised. In a blur, the Martian cut through them. Each blow they sent in the Martian’s direction by way of defence, be it by bow or by first, passed through him. They were met by blows with ten times the force – some were sent skidding along the salt in a heap whilst others merely melted to the ground limply as the Martian’s limbs passed through them.
Drex climbed to his feet and with a roar sent his broken and beaten people into the fray to aid the Martian. In the melee, the Kymellian caught a glimpse of the towering shock of red hair that belonged to the Centaurian general. He cleaved a way through the carnage towards it with his hooves, smashing them down upon one foe after another to make his way towards him. Finally, the two adversaries encountered each other in the field.
“You will die here,” the Centaurian sneered as he drew his sword. “But at least you will have the honour of dying by my hand.”
Drex let out a guttural neigh as he flung himself towards the general. He parried a blow from the Centaurian’s sword away from his throat with left hoof and sent the right one towards the general’s exposed ribs. They traded blows for what seemed like hours and they appeared evenly matched for a time, but eventually Drex’s advanced years began to show, and the Centaurian gained the upper hand. He slipped through the Kymellian’s reach and managed to gain his back. The sacred forced itself over Drex’s neck and his hooves seemed powerless to stop the bowstring from cutting into his flesh.
The Centaurian’s grip fell limp and the bowstring loosened. The Centaurian whimpered as he felt a hand glide into his chest and grip onto his heart. He looked over his shoulder to see the blood-covered Martian stood behind him. There was not an ounce of sympathy in the Martian’s deep red eyes – only a rage that seemed to emit a cold that chilled him to his bones. All around them the fighting continue, except for those in the near vicinity who seemed to sense the significance of the moment.
<You will command your men to stand down.>
Drex held a hand to his bleeding neck as he staggered away from them. He saw the look of defiance cross the general's face. “I will do no such thing, Martian. My men would sooner die than admit defeat to the likes of you.”
<Then die they will.>
One of the Martian’s green hands pressed against his temple and the battlefield fell silent. The Centaurian horde dropped their gilded bows to the ground and marched, as the Kymellians had, towards the waiting gorge. One by one they stepped voluntarily over the edge. Soon they were falling in their tens, hundreds even, as the confused Kymellians watched on. The exhilaration that Drex had felt turned to horror as the scale of the death dawned on him.
The defiance on the Centaurian general’s face seemed to melt and suddenly, suspended helplessly in place with the Martian’s hand clasped around his heart, he seemed to relent.
“No,” he murmured in a voice that was so defeated that it shocked Drex. “No more.”
<I offered you mercy once, Centaurian. I will not offer it again.>
More bodies tumbled over the cliff to the deaths. Drex found himself instinctively reaching out for a passing Centaurian. There was a glassy look in their eye that chilled the Kymellian to his core. No matter how hard Drex tried to restrain them, he could not stop them from marching to their death. More of his people reached out for their one-time adversaries in an effort to stop the Martian’s slaughter.
Through it all, a gentle hoof came to rest on their hulking green saviour’s forearm. J’vanna, the doctor’s son, had slipped through the crowd unnoticed. Where the others were terrified of the Martian, he was too young to know better than to approach him.
“Please,” J’vanna implored the Martian. “There’s been enough death for one day.”
The Martian stared down at the boy silently and somewhere deep inside of him something stirred. He relinquished his hold on the general’s heart and allowed him to fall to the ground with a thud. The Centaurian’s seemed to come to their senses. Drex watched on equal parts amazed by J’vanna’s courage and appalled by what had been done. The Martian lent down and placed one of his large hands over the Centaurian general’s head.
<You have felt but a fraction of the suffering my people felt. Know that I have seen into your mind, held your blackened heart in my hand, and judge you to be unworthy of this world. You will live on, but ... not without paying a price.>
The general let out a scream as billions of voices howled out in pain in his brain. He saw blood and fire, families torn apart, and a world set against itself until only the strongest remained. He began to froth at the mouth and convulse until, his mind shattered into a thousand pieces, he fell to his knees abruptly.
The surviving Centaurians watched on in shocked silence as the most capable among them was rendered a vegetable with but a fraction of the Martian’s strength.
<Leave this place.>
Without a second’s hesitation the archers scattered, scampering over the corpses of their fallen compatriots, some even dropping their bows as they made a hasty exit. Had Drex been minded to protest, the Martian’s display earned his silence and, in truth, his revulsion. Something about the scene compelled him to speak and, though he knew he ought to express gratitude, as his equine lips parted, admonishment appeared in its place.
“What gives you the right?” Drex said as he gestured to the gorge half-filled with Centaurian bodies. “You did this in our names.”
<No, Kymellian, I did it in theirs.>
For a tenth of a second, Drex felt the force of emotion that had been unleashed upon the general. It was enough to knock him to his knees. When he opened his eyes he found that tears were pouring from them without end. The Martian Manhunter was gone. Only silence remained.