Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Bugman
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Bugman What happens, when old wounds heal?

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The Council of High Studies looked upon the silver child that mere moments ago they feared would extinguish their lives. But they couldn’t even begin to fathom what to make of its gesture of submission. These men spent centuries of their lives performing maths that the rest of human life could hardly fathom. They studied arts and history to find leisure and purpose, yet to also understand their own human nature and shortcomings. Despite almost the entire day being dedicated to learning in one form or another for all peoples of Asclepius, none could comprehend what was happening here.

Directness was the only thing the High Polymaths could think of. “Explain yourself.” Proctor Balear said, tapping his ceremonial staff upon the ground with the sound somewhat muffled as it struck his bear.

The child’s arms shifted, away from the pose of one upon its heart and the other outstretched to now both being spread far apart in an embrace of the whole world. “I cannot. It was my hope that learned men as yourself could.

Under their breaths, the Polymaths made grumbles of explanation that they could explain the situation, though they certainly needed more context and facts to make a final judgement. But ultimately, even these most arrogant of teachers were also the most eager of students and thus were willing to - if somewhat begrudgingly - concede that they knew not what the hell was going on.

“No, we cannot. Who-... what are you, why are you here, what are you called. Let us know that.” Proctor Kampande asked, with his free hand making the slightest of gestures that would get the onlooking crowds present to clean up after the performance of The Fall; it was over, and there was a new matter to attend to.

The child looked overhead with some fascination before it answered, its eyes moving with imperceptible speed as it tracked each and every drone that came to the site. Only then it spoke. “I do not know what am I, or why I am here, I have no name, or memory of events prior to my arrival here.” It ran a hand down its own cheek, smiling ever so slightly as it did so. “But… insofar as I can understand, I was born this day. I may have had a gestation period of sorts previously. I am… confused. I hope you can help me. Your words, knowledge, it pours into me. But I cannot fathom what to do with the information that ever more floods my thoughts. I believe such a question has been asked times infinite before. I believe today all of this effort I have seen has gone to trying to reply to the question. But, I cannot yet see from it an answer. I hope you can help me. Please.” it said, almost pleading and verging upon tears as it spoke.

Logical as they were, the fact emotional manipulations were all but bred out of the Asclepian populace made the Council of High Studies largely soften towards the creature before them. Still, ever greedy for new morsels of knowledge another voice spoke. “You say you were born today. Yet, you know so much of us, of the world. Explain this. Did your progenitor perhaps somehow install knowledge within you?”

The primarch nodded, now smiling with the melancholy seemingly evaporated. “No, that is not the case. I was born knowing nothing but my existence. I think, therefore I am. From there I assume my sense do not deceive me. I consider the smallest of things; the pull of the soil beneath me, every word you millions speak and the reactions from them. The very ripples and waves in the air you use to ferry knowledge among each other, and to these machines. All the tiniest of details, but interconnected. I learn this foundation. But I hope from you to learn so much more until that inevitable day my knowledge eclipses yours.

Now, almost an excitement overcome the men. They were issued both a challenge, but also an opportunity. One by one, the Polymaths arose from their seats and raised their staves towards the sky, the orbs at the tip of each staff touching the one of the neighbouring man.

“To learn from the best.”

“To overcome the faults you were cursed with!”

“To defeat the laurels upon which one rests.”

“To seize the days, months, years, and life!”

“To befriend numbers, though they may be irrational.”

“To challenge our norms, yet adore tradition!”

“To ponder the axioms of truth and love.

“To know time flies, but to dream to outrun it!”

“To fathom the unfathomable.

“To shatter the walls between our disciplines!”

“To never yield to lies.”

“To plot twists, in tales and geometrics alike!”

“To let your study’s fruits pour on eager minds.”

Then as one, the Polymaths struck the ground with their staves. “Though we know not your name, you as all willing minds are given an opportunity; to become a humble student with the greatest minds of man. Welcome to Asclepius, the World-Academy!”
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by MarshalSolgriev
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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The Great Conclave of Pandjoras

-Ten Years After Arrival-






Neu Antioch. Formerly the seat of House Sulkat in the eastern Dune Sea of Hassan. A great bastion of masonic stone, crackling lightning licking off of a thousandfold armament emplacements. Grand banners of serpent silk flowed from carefully crafted bricks, their insignia of intertwined snakes and blades once proudly displayed on dark fabric. Now, however, the dusken sun and sword fly from the highest battlement for those to witness the glory of House Varranis. Where once the citadel was forced to sit between gargantuan dunes and the Obsidian Reach, it now hovers through dusken sky upon prolific gravity shunts. A thousand and one grains of black sand drip from sculpted orifices unto Pandjoras below it, graviton tempests and void serpents alike avoiding the sky fortress. Hulking, graviton-fed turbines hovered to a halt above the Korvaix-Tuturan Massifs, several other dark shapes beginning to grow closer to the leviathan castle.

Within the once austere halls of the Great Dune Marshals, bright glow globes illuminated large passages to reveal Pandjorans within. Sulkatian warriors in heavier variants of the Varranian-powered armor journeyed throughout on routine patrols, gravity spears tightly held in both hands. Their orange eyes were particularly trained for any threat, yet the men-at-arms were glued to the hassan that skulked their House’s home. The assassins of House Varranis, armed in their signature lithe powered suits, walked their former adversaries' halls with serpent silk banners in hand. In a callous display of superiority, Sulkatian insignias were tarnished, removed, and replaced with the sun and sword of Neu Alamut. Many Pandjorans would’ve ferociously fought against disrespect upon one’s domain, and yet the Sulkat house guard simply watched as their history was overwritten with sad eyes.

Across the entirety of Neu Antioch, Sulkatian and Varranian Pandjorans cautiously coexisted for a singular, grand council unlike any the dusken world had seen before. A pair of colossal, metallic doors etched with Pandjoras’ long history led into a great, circular chamber a hundred meters in diameter. At the center of the chamber stood a large, round table inscribed with an accurate map of their dark planet. Vast dunes, graviton oceans, House palaces, and beautifully sculpted icons emphasized the sheer majesty of it. Arrayed in a full sphere around the table were thirteen seats, each as unique and magisterial as the next. Great effigies hoisted from these magnificent chairs, reflecting the various insignia of the Exalted Pandjoran Houses. Each held a spot of importance correlating to the exact positions of their domains. Only one seat rivaled the rest in stature and size.

The Throne of Varranis. Stony, coiled serpents as armrests, a titanic slab of supreme sculpture for the backrest, and a lofty dais complimented by superior serpent silk filled its anatomy. A great effigy of House Varranis’ dusken sun and sword hovered over the throne upon a metallic pole, purposefully positioned to express supremacy. As if it were sculpted by a dusken deity of penumbral night, only the most worthy could sit upon the silken cushions. And so it was filled by none other. Zaphariel ibn Varranis patiently gazed down from his position at the table that he had crafted himself, eyeing imperfections and flaws to his critical regard. Unlike his usual appearance, the Malik wore an exquisite, void-hued robe fashioned from elder serpent silk and embroidered with his prophecy in ocher colors. A midnight cloak hung from his shoulders, cascading down his body past regal gloves with talon-tipped rings and imperial balgha with metallic tips. A marigold laurel complimented an eight-pointed, obsidian coronet that sat atop his dark, groomed hair. His appearance echoed the divinity of Old Pandjoras, further enforcing the image of a prophetic individual.

The Malik’s golden, serpentine eyes switched from his imperfect piece to those that stood beside him. On the right side of his throne, the old man of the mountain in an alabaster mask and austere, black robes silently waited. A glance from Muahad’s piercing blue orbs affirmed the former sheik of his quiet comfortability. To Zaphariel’s left, Ramses ibn Varranis stood with a dataslate in one of his armored fingers, refusing to part from his Varranian-powered armor. Unlike his mentor, the mature hassan failed to notice the promised dreamer’s scanning and pressed on with data surety. Beyond the three of them, another pair of Pandjorans sat several paces to his right-hand side. In a seat with blade-sculpted arms and legs, the Dune Sultan of Sulkat sat proudly with his eyes drawn to the intricately carved table. Skin as dark as the dusken sands, brown hair cut tight to his skull, and scarred facial features complimented the aging face of an elder. Two others perched to either side of the Sulkatian Malik, a younger boy with similar qualities and a grown man with an even greater plethora of scars accenting an unkempt beard. The great hassan peered at the effigy behind their seat, the serpent and blade of House Sulkat met his gaze.

“Will they arrive soon, Father?” The younger one spoke as quietly as one can in a wide chamber. The Dune Sultan nearly jumped in his seat as if shaken awake from a long dream, turning away from the etched table to the youth beside him. A warm smile formed across his lips, one of his augmented hands reaching up to pat the adolescent on the shoulder before beginning to speak.

“They will be arriving momentarily, Aswin, I’m sure some of the other heirs are keen to see you once more. Remember to practice your patience, my son,” The Dune Sultan’s voice was raspy and deep, certain syllables emphasizing occasional loudness in his speech pattern. Aswin, the apparent son, beamed with a smile and returned to an idle stance with small, giddy movements abound. As if noticing the attention drawn to them, the Malik of Sulkat inclined his head towards Zaphariel. “My apologies, Malik Varranis, my son grows weary from sitting idly and wishes to see his playmates once more.”

The dusken deity propped an elbow against the sculpted serpents upon his throne, leaning his chin into an open palm. A small smile danced across his lips, predatory eyes lowering down to the frivolous adolescent. Like an animal knowingly stalked by a predator, Aswin swiftly hid next to the Sulkatian Malik once noticed. The youth’s actions failed to affect his smile, perhaps even making it grow slightly larger in a wide spread. Fearful, curious eyes occasionally glanced back at Zaphariel’s larger serpentine orbs.

“No apologies are needed, Asghar, I admire the spirit of our dusken world’s children. Though, I certainly hope Aswin will one day grow to be as legendary as Pandjoras’ High Sultan of the Obsidian Reaches. Your House’s expertise is unrivaled in overt war, a trait that will be necessary far into the future.” Zaphariel responded with a voice as sweet as honey and as soft as serpent silk, a wonderful trill naturally woven into it. He witnessed a physical response within Asghar as his words crossed the distance between them. Eye dilation, slight flushness, and short breathlessness. All symptoms that the promised dreamer had become accustomed to when dealing with all others aside from his adoptive father. It disgusted him.

Before the Malik of Sulkat was able to respond, the first of the other Houses arrived. Malik Zaphariel straightened himself out to witness every person that would cross the threshold into their council chamber. Asghar picked himself out of his seat, gaze readjusted to those that would enter his former home. The old man of the mountain silently watched with unreadable emotions. Ramses lowered the dataslate, taking a step towards the table to become the official announcer of their event. The mature hassan cleared his voice only once during the entirety of his announcements, a testament to a lifetime of endurance.

“We welcome the arrivals of the Pandjoran Houses to the Varranian-Sulkatian abode of Neu Antioch! Glory to you, Malika-i-Zarmira ibn Gallax, and her heiresses Farahdia and Maharwa, of the Serpentine Dune Sea!” The hassan announced as a trio of dusken women sauntered into the council chamber. Impossibly thin veils of serpent silk complimented their forms while living void snakes of miniature size coiled around their bodies. At the forefront of their procession was a tall woman with a coronet of clinking, ophidian trinkets trailing across her celestial veil. Long strands of variously dyed hair fell beside an ethereal, gaunt face. A robe of similar fabric to the Malika’s headdress clung to her body, embroidered with gravitic oceans and gleaming stars. A pair of younger women, the heiresses, ambled beside her in heavier, exquisite robes. One wore their dark hair in braids, while the other wore their lighter strands in sleek, straight lines. All three carelessly displayed serpentine inscriptions and images upon their skin, a prideful tradition of Gallaxian tattooing.

The women seemed to glide across the chamber similar to the reality-defying serpents that lingered over their forms. All three passed by their beautifully sculpted seat to stand before the visage of Zaphariel, staring up with mesmerized eyes hidden behind majestic veils. In one fluid movement, the Gallaxian women dropped to their knees and bowed their heads low to the Malik of Varranis. None of the Varranian hassan appeared surprised, but Asghar seemed particularly perturbed by their sudden, humiliating genuflection. Malika Zarmira was the first to rise, her darkened lips opening to speak.

“O’ Master of Falak, the tamers of the Serpentine Sea come as requested for we are your humble serpents. As you have previously, please treat us well.” Zarmira spoke with utmost reverence, a soft and meek voice dancing across a serpentine tongue. The Malik of Pandjoras, guided by ceremony, lowered one of his talon-ringed hands to the Malika of Gallax. She pressed the dusken hand against her forehead, a momentary pulse of indescribable energy connecting the two for only a moment. Zaphariel held a small, thin smile playing on his lips, but he truthfully felt utterly repulsed by the exchange.

“Certainly, Malika Zarmira, I could not possibly begin to describe the necessity of your serpent pools and the quality of Gallaxian silk. I look forward to our continued interaction.” The Malik of Varranis responded as if perfectly spinning the words that Zarmira wished to hear. She trembled for only a moment, succumbing to temporary weakness from words alone. Both of the Gallaxian heiresses placed their soft hands on the Malika’s shoulders, assisting her and retreating to their seat with apologies on their lips. Zaphariel’s serpentine eyes watched as the Malika of Gallax sat upon an exquisite chair of reinforced, black glass. Their effigy, a pair of hands praising a serpent, hovered over the three women.

Another trio entered the council chamber as the Gallaxian women took to their seat. A tall, thin man in a majestic robe of embroidered Pandjoran sigils, runes, and bone trinkets led a pair of similarly dressed attendants. All three were cleanly shaven, silvery-green Pandjoran characters dyed into their skin on all visible parts of their body. Vials of penumbral sand slowly leaked onto Neu Antioch’s floor from across their bodies, swaying and clinking as they walked. The head of their process wore no coronet unlike the other three in the chamber, allowing their dusken skin to drink warm air. The pair that followed behind him, a younger woman and an elderly man, carried two heavy grimoires bound in serpentine flesh.

Glory to you, Malik-i-Azahar ibn Urahal, High Seer Kadar, and heiress Raaina, of the Spiral Palaces!” Ramses loudly announced as the Urahalian attendants crossed the chamber in a few strides, all three of their long legs propelling them to the foot of Zaphariel’s dais. Similar to the Gallaxian women, Azahar and his cohort lowered themselves and deeply bowed before picking themselves up to address the Varranian Malik. A broad smile, unfettered by any emotion chain, greeted the promised dreamer’s sight. It was only then within their proximity did he notice that the Malik of Urahal and his seers were purple-eyed, instead of bearing the Eyes of Hassan. A singular, great eye of ink was etched upon the flesh of their foreheads, eternally looking outward.

“Great Prophet! Brilliant Soul of the Dusken Sands! We humbly come before you in a show of gratitude! Your insights have proven beyond resourceful in our pursuit of knowledge! Please, take these grimoires as gifts. My daughter, Raaina, had spent thirteen nights and thirteen days pouring over a thousand and one grains of black sand to craft these for you!” Malik Azahar’s words were rapid, manic, and filled with ecstasy. He wildly gestured with his hands for every spoken word. The heiress, Raaina, meekly walked forward to deliver one of her tomes to Ramses. Her other grimoire was delivered to Muahad by Kadar, the pair of elderly Pandjorans sharing a knowing look before reassuming their rightful positions.

“You honor me with your praise, Azahar, yet it is not I that should be honored. Your seers and prophets are essential to the future of Pandjoras! I accept your gifts, friend, and I will pour over them for thirteen days and thirteen nights. Truly, Malik-i-Urahal, glory upon your name,” Malik Zaphariel said with enthusiasm, intentionally leaning forward to incite a positive spark within Azahar’s soul. In truth, he despised the way the Malik of Urahal spoke with such fervent energy. Another individual he felt repulsed by, yet required for the sake of Pandjoras. The promised dreamer turned his attention to the smaller form of the Urahal heiress, who slightly cowered when directly looked at. A wicked grin hid beneath a coy smile on his lips. “I will personally thank you for these when the time comes, Raaina Urahal.”

Honored by Zaphariel’s words, all three of the Urahalians bowed their heads before moving to their assigned position. Their seat, a panoply of midnight serpent silk and carved skulls, was positioned between the Varranian throne and Ashgar’s Sulkatian seat. An effigy of House Urahal’s sigil, a skull and shining star, rose from behind to hang perpetually over their forms. As the southern seers began to relax, another group of attendants entered the conclave’s spherical chamber. Five hooded figures in modified suits of powered armor and heavy rebreathers strode from the entrance to their seat immediately. Tiny, modular graviton jetpacks were mounted to their backs, painting them as the one and only Nathazians of the western reaches.

Glory to you, Malik-i-Jericho al-Nathaz, and his attendants, of the Scarab Oases!” Ramses' voice boomed, reverberating against Neu Antioch’s reinforced walling. The Nathazian Malik, Jericho, inclined his head in the direction of Zaphariel. An average-sized, broad man without any prestigious iconography for him to stand out as the leader of House Nathaz. Only an obsidian brooch in the shape of a scarab, a pair of fierce eyes, and a burgeoning bodily form picked him apart from his cohort. Those that had accompanied him were smaller in stature, younger than their leader, and yet as disciplined as a Varranian hassan. No doubt, the promised dreamer thought, they were all his children.

“Malik Jericho! It is good to see one of the brightest minds on Pandjoras join us from Neu Constanoplis. We are always in your debt for the limitless amount of harvester dropships that House Nathaz prepares out in the Scarab Oases. Let it never be forgotten the gratitude I feel for the season I spent learning the Nathazian way. I look forward to your assistance in future endeavors, my friend.” The Malik of Varranis said with a trained smile, his words responded to with a deep bow from all five of the Nathazian attendees. Their House was a silent one, almost as hushed as the hassan of Neu Alamut. A strong people that spoke little and worked hard to ensure their livelihoods out in the dark sands. People that he would need for eternity and beyond.

Zaphariel watched as Malik Jericho carefully sank into a seat decorated with prolific scarabs for arms and legs, while a large backrest in the form of a harvester dropship held up his form. An effigy of House Nathaz’s insignia, an obsidian scarab mid-flight, hovered over their heads attached to a lengthy pole. Their perpetual silence only served to enhance the raucous arrival of two Houses at one time. Six individuals approached the council chamber, two of which pushed their way in as if it were a competition of sorts. A man and a woman, similar in facial structure yet vastly different in appearance, managed to squeeze through the chamber’s enormous doorframe. Each huffed as they awaited at the foot of the circular table, ready for their presence to be announced.

Ramses shared a look with his nephew, questioning as to which one should be announced first. The Malik of Varranis simply shrugged with a coy smile, raising a pair of fingers in response to the mature hassan’s silent inquiry. A sigh escaped from the lips of Zaphariel’s mentor, who prepared himself for a lengthy introduction.

Glory to you, Malik-i-Nader al-Korvaix, and his heirs, of the Western Massifs! Glory to you, Malika-i-Tayyeb al-Tuturan, and her heirs, of the Eastern Massifs! Do not degrade into infighting while in the presence of the other Houses. The Korvaix-Tuturan feud is known and it is not tolerated.” Ramses sternly stated, eyeing the pair of warlords that stood before their gathered council. The man, Nader, stood rigidly in ornate powered armor with a variety of melee weapons decoratively etched into the plating. Dusken skin complimented his smarmy smile, yet heavy eyebrows and slicked hair darkened an already-lined forehead. The woman, Tayyeb, apathetically idled with eyes narrowed in on Nader. A bodysuit fitted with a decorative tabard of ranged weapon embroidery complimented her slender form. A long ponytail trailed out of her hood, which hid similar qualities to the Korvaxian Malik excluding burn marks and kind eyes.

“Thank you for your hospitality, Malik-i-Zaphariel, you’ll have to excuse my twin’s disgraceful actions on arrival. If he were more like our mother, then Nader would be more patient than a thousand and one grains of black sand.” Malika Tayyeb spoke first, bowing her head in apology to the seated form of the Varranian Malik. Both of her attendants, a younger boy and a grown girl, repeated the action of their leader. Ramses disappointingly clicked his tongue in response, clearly aware that her words were likely to spark an argument between the two Houses. Zaphariel lightly chuckled from the audible disappointment.

“Such ugly words from such an uncouth mouth, please forgive my sister’s transgressions and arrogance! If only our father had taught her how to properly forge and wield a blade, then perhaps she would be less volatile.” Malik Nader spoke next, bowing and swinging his arms up in a dramatic display. His tone was akin to an envenomed blade, overtly courteous and secretly venomous. Zaphariel was familiar with the act, one that he had played time and time again. A masquerade of emotions. The Korvaixian artificer was sloppy, however, at least in the promised dreamer’s eyes.

“I see the feud between your split homes is alive and well! Raise your head, Malika-i-Tayyeb, I would never have Pandjoras’ finest armament maker feel the need to prostrate herself. The sleepless, Tuturian workshops have always assisted ruin delvers and serpent hunters alike. So glory to you, Great Artificer!” Zaphariel said with laughter upon his lips, a toothy grin growing on his features. He approved of the candor in her speech, the ruggedness of her personality, and her worthwhile abilities as a master craftswoman. The promised dreamer made a note to keep her well within his pockets. The Tuturians raised their heads, Tayyeb adding a thankful nod with a bright smile before moving to her seat. A small throne of gears, barrels, and stocks awaited beside Zarmira and her attendants. An effigy rose behind it bearing the Tuturan insignia of a cog and a shield.

The promised dreamer could see Malik Nader’s anxiety build up like an overstimulated serpent, aware of the fact that his words had been ignored. Zaphariel hid a wicked, gluttonous smile behind his emotional masquerade. His eyes fell on the Korvaixian noble like an elder serpent to a relic salvager. “Worry not, Malik-i-Nader, you are similarly prized for your blade masters and weaponsmiths! Not a single Pandjoran could craft a monomolecular dagger quite like the Korvaixian gravity forges! Glory upon you, Bladesinger of Pandjoras.” His voice dripped with deceptive honey, intentionally kind and overtly flattering. It was enough to satisfy the man who attempted to play Zaphariel’s own game, a beaming smile influencing his smug looks. The Malik of Varranis hadn’t lied, the Korvaixian forges crafted the greatest blades from across Pandjoras. Though it displeased him to admit it their greatness, he would at least have this man dance across his palm like a puppet.

The Malik of Nader positioned himself opposite Malika Tayyeb, Jericho ibn Nathaz directly to his right. He found his crafted throne to be a mixture of metallic talons, blades, and other melee weapons. An effigy of House Korvaix, a saber gripped in a clawed gauntlet, rose above the Malik as a shining representation of their domain. The smug, satisfied man sat himself down with both of his heirs, a pair of grown men, flanking him. Conversation began to flow from those that attended, first from Nader to Jericho and then from Zarmira to Tayyeb. Asghar and Azahar idly chatted about issues in their conjoined domains. Boredom began to set in for Zaphariel when the next of the Houses arrived, all other dialogue silenced in lue of who had come to the conclave.

Five dusken women poured through the conclave’s great portal dressed in unnaturally elegant robes that flowed as if a gravity tempest had blown through. Weightless, light, and temperate in their attire, they effortlessly glided from the table’s head to Zaphariel’s dais in a manner of seconds. Each individual was as awe-inspiring as the previous, with a variety of rare cosmetics preciously applied beneath their flowing veils. Regardless of their individualistic schemes, all of their eyes were shaded by bright orange to accent already golden irises. The female that led them was small, lithe, and sublime in serpent silk spun in as many shades as the dusken world could offer. A coronet sat upon her head, stars dangling from gilded chains.

Glory to you, Malika-i-Fariyah ibn Abdullahar, and her heirs Inaya and Fatima, of the Gravity Ocean!” Ramses stated after shaking himself from the stupor of their arrival, the mature hassan had found himself stupified by how quickly they crossed the room. He peeked over to Muahad, attempting to decipher the old man’s attitude yet found the elder comfortably standing still. Curious orbs sought the Malik of Varranis for guidance, and yet only found a smirking deity playing a hidden game sat upon his throne.

“It has been too long, Malik-i-Zaphariel, your absence has been sorely missed in Neu Sallah. We appreciated your visits even when you were a young sheik traveling Pandjoras. Now, you call for us when we have endlessly called for you. Do you seek to play games, little hassan?” The woman who spoke, Fariyah, held a serious and ridiculing tone. One that had drawn the ire of those like Malika Zarmira and Malik Azahar. Despite this, her voice was as lightweight as a thousand and one grains of black sand, yet as soft as freshly baked penumbral bread. She refused to bow before the great hassan, her attendants echoing her defiant actions.

“You’ve grown quite beautifully, Ayra Abdullahar, but you are decades away from being able to fool me. The Gravity Ocean is ruled by Malika Fariyah, but the Abdullaharian Coasts are lorded by a Malik,” Zaphariel said with a chortle, a smug smile dancing across his lips as the procession before him began to break. The one who had been called Fariyah jerked forward for a moment, surprised that she had been discovered so quickly. Slowly, all of them dropped to their knees in a low bow. All save for one of their numbers. “Or am I wrong, Malik-i-Avdol of the Shimmering Coast?

A hearty laugh gurgled from the remaining Abdullaharian standing, their hands reaching up to remove the veiled mask to reveal the slender face of a man. His androgynous form stepped forward past all four of his heiresses, stopping short of the Varranian dias to smile up at Zaphariel. Within a single step, the dusken deity had left his throne to embrace the other Malik. Both laughed to their heart’s content amid their conclave.

“A trueborn hassan is what you are, little sheik! My wife would weep silver tears if you hadn’t exposed our eldest daughter, yet she will cry a delightful song regardless for allowing us to attend. Glory to you, Zaphariel!” Malik Avdol released the promised dreamer, beaming with delight in an ecstatic tone that threatened to illuminate their world. The Varranian Malik felt no small amount of true joy blossom in his chest at the sight of the Gravity King. “You will have to forgive Ayra for the little test I put her through, her training isn’t complete and her sisters have already been promised to House Rassnar. She has grown quite aggressive in the absence of a suitor!” The Abdullaharian man stated with another laugh, aware of his daughter’s growing wroth behind him.

“Fret not, Avdol, you and the sirens will always have a place in my being for the time we’d spent together! I couldn’t possibly hold any ill-gained anger towards the finest diplomats across all of Pandjoras. Consider yourselves forgiven, by my name as Zaphariel ibn Varranis.” The Malik of Varranis stated, his tone dancing between playful and courtly. Surprised, Malik Avdol prostrated himself before the dusken deity with a smile on his lips. He rose once more, clapping the promised dreamer on the shoulder before guiding all four of his heirs to their seat. They found their decorated throne beside Malika Tayyeb, elegantly carved with half-women, half-serpent ornaments. An effigy of House Abdullahar’s sigil, the siren serpent, comfortably watched over their gathered forms as the next attendee arrived.

It came as no surprise to the conclave as the next to attend were a trio of individuals shrouded in dusken robes. Their raiments were devoid of ornamentation, sigils, or expression of gender. They appeared as a lesser form of the hassan, thin veils coating their visage where a cowl would naturally suit a Varranian asasiyun. Malik Avdol gave them a warm smile as they crossed the room, short bows of their head acknowledging the Gravity King’s gesture. Silent footsteps brought all three of the individuals closer to the dais. To Zaphariel’s surprise, his presence was completely ignored in favor of Muahad’s idleness. Three heads respectfully inclined to the old man of the mountain, their bodies prostrating before the eldest man on Pandjoras. The alabaster mask of the grandmaster hassan drew in a long breath.

Rushdi ibn Rassnar,” Muahad announced his name before Ramses had a chance to evoke the Rassnarian’s titles and domains. The old man of the mountain’s heavy cloth swayed as he stepped forward to gaze down upon the one named Rushdi. Piercing blue eyes witnessed a Malik without a crown, an individual that truly upheld the tenets of a hassan. Zaphariel watched with modest interest at their exchange, leaning forward to prop his chin onto one of his hands. “Former heir of mine, I am no longer your master. A Malik must not casually bow their head, or have you forgotten all that the hassan had taught you?”

“You misunderstand me, Old Man, I bow my head in defiance,” The Rassnarian stated in a gruff voice that dripped with venom, spittle freely flying beneath their lightweight breather. Rushdi removed himself from his prostration, lowering a pair of glaring, orange eyes on the Malik of Varranis. Hostility built up from the Malik of Rassnar, his focus entirely turning from old master to new heir. “The dusken sands have taught me that no man can tame Pandjoras, nor can a single individual rule over the hassan. It is folly to name this one the Malik of Varranis while the Grandmaster yet lives.”

“Calm your blood upon a thousand and one grains of black sand, Malik Rushdi. Are you so guided by envy and jealousy that you would not seek a grander future for Pandjoras? Your hassan, even if they aren’t Varranian born, are legendary across the dune seas. I would see their legacy heard for thirteen thousand nights and thirteen thousand days to come.” Zaphariel chortled, initially laughing at the pettiness shown by the Rassnarian Malik before delving into his plans. For better or worse, House Rassnar has proven a firm ally to Neu Alamut and continued to train optimal assassins of near quality to the Varranian hassan. His rise to Malik had soured their House’s relationship, calling back to a time when Rushdi studied beneath Muahad. A playful smile plastered across his lips as the Malik of Rassnar’s face scrunched up in anger.

As tensions began to ramp up between Malik Rushdi’s silently fuming form and Malik Zaphariel’s overbearing confidence, the Gravity King rose from his seat to beckon toward the Rassnarian leader. “Come now, come now! This is a conclave of Pandjoras’ great houses, do not let a sour history bleed into our world’s bright future. Sit with me, Rushdi, please.” Avdol asked with a warm smile, utilizing their established relationship in a gamble to reel in the hot-headed hassan. It proved successful as Rushdi turned away from Zaphariel, his attendants quickly following after him as they approached their seat. A vastly smaller facsimile of the Varranian throne awaited, complimented only by plentiful, dark-hued sheets. An effigy of House Rassnar, the serpent-coiled dagger, rose behind to loom over the other attendees.

Tension ebbed away from the conclave as the Rassnarian Malik claimed his seat, conversation shortly returning between all of the members in attendance. Their dialogue lasted for only a moment as the next to arrive barreled through Neu Antioch’s enormous doors. An enormous man built as thick as an elder serpent’s body led a party of five others of smaller, similar builds. Dark bodysuits fitted to their forms, enwrapped by long stretches of midnight-hued serpent silk. The leader held a great smile on his face, one of such intensity that those that witnessed thought of him as simple-minded. A great coronet complimented by obsidian filigree sat upon his exposed, cropped hair. Zaphariel ibn Varranis knew, however, that this man was one of the most important figures on the surface of Pandjoras.

Glory to you, Malik-i-Aadil ibn Delukar, and his children of Nahyira, Shuhria, Khafifa, Azariel, of the Penumbral Fields!” Ramses boomed in an enthusiastic voice, content to deal with less irksome Houses in comparison to his prior announcements. The mature hassan lowered the dataslate as the Delukarian giant approached the Varranian dais, orange eyes eternally set on the Malik of Varranis. Zaphariel rose to greet Neu Alamut’s most generous neighbor with a fresh grin on his lips. Aadil thundered with laughter as the two embraced, the Malik of Varranis nearly disappearing in a mass of muscles. The two separated with a chuckle, Aadil’s giant hand remaining on the promised dreamer’s shoulder.

“Young Zaph! It’s been some time since we last met, I hear you’ve been relatively busy as a fellow Malik! You look a little gaunt! Has Muahad not been feeding you the knafeh that Nahyira and Khafifa have been baking!? Azariel, bring the young hassan his favorite halawa!” Malik Aadil spoke with a voice reminiscent of a harvester dropship’s heavy engines. Each syllable was a crack of torrential thunder, physically forcing more sensitive Pandjorans to recoil in audible agony. His infectious energy afflicted even his children, three of which were his daughters and one of which was the House heir. Zaphariel delighted in the Delukarian Malik’s energy, such that a look from Ramses had to draw him back to reality.

“Glory to you, Aadil! There is no need to worry, but I won’t pass up Delukarian sweets! I am thankful to the dusken sands that your joy has never faltered! Without you, our planet would be forced to dine on a thousand and one grains of black sand.” The Malik of Varranis responded, watching as Azariel hefted a great box of food onto the council table. Plates, confections, and drinks were distributed amongst the Houses in even portions. For everywhere Aadil went, there was always the certainty of a feast. The Malik of Delukar granted Zaphariel one last smile before moving over to his seat, positioned directly to the left of the Varranian Throne. A seat heavily ornate with penumbral stalks and gluttonous, laughing faces awaited Aadil. An effigy of House Delukar’s sigil, the grain and sun, rose behind their forms. As the last dish was served, even to the absent attendees, the heirs returned to the side of their father with smiles on their faces.

And so they dined while they awaited the last three Houses to arrive. Mulled serpent blood, penumbral oat-roasted coffee, and distilled stalk whiskey were imbibed from shadowy glasses. Juicy serpent kebabs, umbral kanafeh with scarab bits, and azure rosen dates disappeared in a matter of minutes. Pastries, stacked nearly as high as Malik Aadil, were all that remained of the feast. Marble bricks of halawa glazed with scarab honey, thin cubes of dark cakes drenched in purified snake venom, and baked spheres of umbral dough dusted with tempest flakes decorated the feast. The Malik of Varranis received a single brick of halawa with a thin smile, sipping upon a goblet of ophidian vitae while the rest of the deserts disappeared.

A group of Pandjorans entered the conclave as the Delukarian feast began to die down. Three individuals dressed in ornate robes specifically tailored for ease of arm movements walked towards the council table. At the head of their process resided an average-sized woman with dark hair pulled into a bun, dusken spectacles, and a thin coronet that belied the extravagance of Pandjoras’ ruling castes. A pair of piercing eyes scanned the wide chamber beneath her glasses, momentarily halting on each House ruler for seconds at a time. An aging face pulled into a scrunched frown as her name was announced by Ramses.

Glory to you, Malika-i-Thanaa al-Tallora, and her heirs Zaniya and Laifah, of the Twin Lakes!” The mature hassan thundered after quickly consuming a piece of halawa, one of his hands still coated in bits of sticky honey. His eyes scanned the newly arrived before casting a glance at Zaphariel, who had leaned forward with a serious look.. A feeling of unease entered Ramses’ stomach as invisible tension built between the Malika of Tallora and the Malik of Varranis.

“The great thief of Neu Jerusal sits upon the Varranian throne? Has Muahad finally succumbed to his aging mind, or have you replaced him with an agent of your own, Zaphariel of Neu Alamut?” Her tone was fearless, a voice that dared to question where others would not. Thanaa crossed her arms as she awaited Zaphariel’s answer, aware of the angry stares given by many within the conclave. Curiously, the old man of the mountain was not amongst those that glared. Both of his pale blue orbs were focused on the Malik beside him, watching with interest to see how the promised dreamer would respond. Much to her chagrin, a toothy grin broke out across the dusken deity’s thin lips.

“How could I possibly pass up the information stored in Pandjoras’ greatest library, maintained by Neu Jerusal’s exceptional scribes? Should I have counted a thousand and one grains of black sand, or instead delved deep into the valuable knowledge of Tallora?” Zaphariel’s voice was playful, toying with the emotions that played across Thanaa’s face. He couldn’t help himself from growing a wider grin as the dialogue continued, his voice as soft as serpentine silk. “Hate me as you wish, Malika Thanaa, but your vaunted tomes are the very reason I’ve grown as powerful as I did. I cannot thank House Tallora enough for their safeguarding talents, a set of skills that I would see continued.”

A broad variety of emotions shifted her face in several directions. Anger, frustration, confusion, appreciation, and surprise all flashed in a manner of seconds before Thanaa recollected herself. She clicked her tongue in defeat, offering a sudden bow of her head, and retreated to her assigned position between House Gallax and House Tuturan. A throne of sculpted parchment, quills, and Pandjoran sigils decorated House Tallora’s seat. A great effigy of the Tallorian sigil, the quill and laurel, idly lingered over Malika Thanaa’s silently fuming form. The Malik of Varranis calmly sank back into the Varranian throne, a thin, smug smile replacing the toothy grin previously worn. A glance at Muahad confirmed whether or not his actions were correct, yet the piercing blue eyes always seemed to judge every one of his actions. While his mind began to drift onto that subject, the second of the last Houses marched into their great conclave.

Three, majestic figures waltzed through the leviathan doorway adorned in magnificent raiments of brilliant orange and dusken black. Heavy jewelry jostled with each step, Pandjoras’ precious metals and obsidian glass echoing throughout the chamber. The man at the front of their cohort was a giant of majesty and gluttony, rivaling even Malik Aadil in quantity of meat. A pearlescent crown with thirteen points sat against a lion’s mane of hair. A pair of women clung closely behind him, one vastly younger than the other. They, too, wore exquisite and ornate robes bedecked with glass and jewelry of supreme qualities. The attendees halted just shy of the circular table, golden eyes lingering on Zaphariel’s enthroned form.

Glory to you, Malik-i-Saladin ibn Gallos, his daughter Miska, and his wife Qaima, of the Gilded Heights!” Ramses announced, raising the dataslate to ascertain House Gallos’ arrival. Immediately, the mature hassan felt a ping of disgust when his eyes rolled over Malik Saladin’s rotund form. Fury built up in his gullet the longer he stared, calmed only by a glance from Zaphariel. The great, golden eyes of his nephew seemed to share his thoughts exactly. He entered a state of oneness as the Gallosian ruler began to speak.

“Glory to you, Malik Zaphariel ibn Varranis! It has been some time since last you visited the illustrious halls of Neu Alepp! Your presence is always sorely sought by the Gallosian people, more so than other Pandjorans,” Malik Saladin spoke with a cocky, exuberant voice that echoed the luxurious raiments he wore. His eyes fell on every Pandjoran that complimented the chamber, an air of superiority building up around him with every second that passed. Only the dusken deity sat upon the Varranian Throne gave him pause, perhaps finding a worthy foe or ally in Zaphariel. “You simply must return with all haste, Miska has long awaited the days when you two would play together in the golden palace!”

The final comment was followed by a gleeful smile from Miska, the young daughter of Malik Saladin. The Malik of Varranis offered a warm smile back, momentarily reminiscing the time they shared. A smaller melancholy wormed into Zaphariel, keenly aware of his abhuman growth as Miska and himself were physically the same age. Yet, she was much smaller and much younger in appearance. His golden, serpentine eyes adjusted from the spritely girl to Saladin’s burgeoning form. Behind his emotional mask, the dusken deity felt unending disgust and fury over the Gallosian’s plumpness. A sign of selfish gluttony, one such trait that is abhorred in Pandjoran culture.

“You will have to forgive me, Malik Saladin. Many things have happened since last I stepped into Neu Alepp. This conclave is one such reason for that. I hope that the minor houses of Pandjoras have given you less trouble in recent years. I would hate to hear that my childhood friend was in dire straits.” Zaphariel replied with a tone that danced on a threatening edge. Sweat began to perspire on the Gallosian’s forehead, a worried look spreading across his wobbling face. Nervousness was apparent in the Malik of Gallos’ stance, yet it was quickly replaced with faux confidence as he straightened up. The dusken deity’s orange orbs narrowed as if he were a predator eyeing wounded prey.

“W-Well, the rabble do tend to stir trouble amongst themselves! No worries, dear Zaphariel, they have been handled for the time being. Your worry is greatly appreciated though! If ever I require assistance with the minor houses, then I shall call upon the greatest hassan of the dusken sands! Glory to you, Malik of Varranis.” Malik Saladin quickly spurted out in a tone that belied his faux confidence. He swiftly patted his forehead with an embroidered rag of serpent silk, partially unveiling a heavy set of cosmetics applied to his aging skin. The trio departed, bowing their heads and attending to their assigned position between House Nathaz and House Korvaix. A sculpted throne of filigree, jewelry, and glasses awaited them with an effigy of House Gallos’ sigil, a ring and a sun, lifted overhead.

Zaphariel observed the Gallosians for only a moment longer, silently planning for the disposal of Saladin Gallos. His thoughts were disrupted by the arrival of the last major House on Pandjoras. A single individual hobbled into their chamber clothed in a storm of dark robes, hissing mechanisms clotting the air around their form in processed gravity particles. A pair of circular, crimson goggles peered out from beneath their hood, accompanied only by an impossibly large rebreather fitted to their face. Mechanically driven legs brought the attendee forward to the final seat in the council chamber, each step slow and motor-assisted. The tapping of a metallic, decorated cane echoed each footstep the figure took. Several of the House rulers glared at the newcomer with eyes full of contempt and ignorance.

Glory to you, Malik-i-Saahir ibn Bahamut of the Fallen Palaces! We welcome you as the newest Pandjoran House to achieve major household status in this conclave. With your addition, we now number thirteen in total as it once was and forever shall be,” Ramses spoke with a smile, aware of the nature of Bahamut’s rise to power. The dataslate was sheathed into one of his various, armored pockets before turning to address Zaphariel. “My lord, all of the dusken Houses have arrived. Every minor House shall be represented by House Gallos. Those who are not present include the varying hassan clades of the dune seas, the valley clansmen of the void, and those currently operating harvester dropship incursions.”

The Malik of Varranis stepped up from the Varranian Throne with a great smile on his lips. His golden orbs scanned the room before falling onto the frail form of Saahir ibn Bahamut. “Thank you, Ramses, refresh your throat with a fresh drink. You’ve earned it. Glory to you, Saahir! I do apologize for pulling you from the great work to attend this council, yet I require you now more than I ever did before.” Zaphariel spoke with a calm, accepting voice. Serenity spilled forth from his lips, easing the tension in the chamber with words alone. A slight reverberation affected each syllable in his speech, noticed only by Muahad’s cunning ears.

“... You honor me, great dusken one. We would… never not heed the call of… our great founder. The ashen tribes… owe you their loyalty… on a thousand and one grains of… black sand,” Malik Saahir began to speak in a heavily modulated voice, momentary hisses breaking his speech after several words. His body shifted forward to his assigned throne, a great cacophony of cogs, gears, and scavenged metal carefully sculpted together. An effigy of the newly risen House Bahamut, the cog and shattered moon, hovered over his hobbled body. “The great work… will continue in the hands of your… most aspiring aspirants. Once this conclave concludes… I shall personally resume it… with great efficiency… my lord.”

Satisfied with Saahir’s answer, the Varranian Malik spread his arms wide in a gesture to each House ruler currently assembled in Neu Antioch. His golden, serpentine orbs scanned all of their expectant forms. He knew with calm certainty that there would be a great many opinions throughout their council. Regardless, Zaphariel prepared himself for every possibility should things go awry. The dusken deity’s smile grew to a wide, toothy grin at the thought of Pandjoras’ future, peaceful or bloody.

Houses of Pandjoras! I am Zaphariel ibn Varranis of the Caliphate House of Varranis and I welcome you to Neu Antioch for our dusken world’s grandest council! With the arrival of House Bahamut, I announce the beginning of the Great Conclave of Pandjoras! Glory unto us!” Malik Zaphariel roared, sending a course of rippling excitement through the gathered rulers. Empowered by the dusken deity’s enthusiasm, each ruler rose from their seat and rhythmically clapped in anticipation of their conclave.


Several moments passed before the enthusiasm in their council chamber dispersed, each ruler taking to their dignified thrones before falling silent. All eyes fell on the dusken deity as he sat upon the Varranian Throne. Both Ramses and Muahad stepped backward out of either respect or necessity. Zaphariel’s gravitas dominated every aspect of the council chamber, every word or movement from then onwards a deliberate action. The dusken deity’s serpentine eyes scanned each of the House rulers, halting momentarily on those he considered allies such as Houses Bahamut and Gallax. A silent breath inhaled through his nostrils, filling enhanced lungs with fresh air to begin a long-winded speech.

“For six years I have ruled over Neu Alamut as the Malik of Varranis. With Muahad, my adoptive father, as my witness, I claimed the gravity wyrm of the void as my own and finished my trials to become hassan. Soon after, I set out across the dusken world atop Falak to see our planet as it was. I must thank each one of you for the hospitality that you had shown me,” Zaphariel chronicled, inclining his head in gratitude to the thirteen houses of Pandjoras. He continued before any of them could express their emotional responses. “When I had returned to Neu Alamut after two years of traveling through dusken sand, Muahad and the hassan proclaimed me as their Malik. So it was that I began reforming parts of Pandjoras through my experiences.”

The dusken deity removed himself from his throne, stepping down the dais to the edge of the circular table laid out before them. One of his talon-ringed fingers pressed a Pandjoran-sigiled rune, activating a hololithic project at the center. A wide hologram of Pandjoras’ surface hovered over the thirteen rulers, wide marks and notes annotated in varying forms. Malik Zaphariel allowed them a moment to scan over the various paths, careful projections, and blurred locations that made up his plans. A small smile grew on his lips as Aadil, Thanaa, Azahar, and Jericho leaned forward with peaked interest.

“When I traveled across Pandjoras, I brought together all of the ashen salvagers to create the House of Bahamut in the Dune Sea of the Lost. Together, we delved into every fallen palace from Neu Alepp to Neu Jericho with Falak clearing the way. Many of these were reconstructed and tested for the sake of the gravity citadels you use today. Thus far, with the assistance of House Bahamut, we have risen Neu Antioch, Neu Alexandrios, Neu Sallah, and Neu Constanoplis. Even as we speak, Neu Damasc and Neu Maccos are in the process of gravity reinforcement,” The dusken deity said, carefully illustrating every subject with colorful displays across the hololithic map. Each city named by his lips was echoed by the associating symbol rising into the sky. His golden, serpentine eyes fell on the lords of those named citadels. Asghar inclined his head, Zarmira sweetly smiled, and Jericho nodded, while the remainder of the unnamed held a silent, neglected fury amongst themselves. “This is only the beginning of a long, serpentine plan that I have for the fate of Pandjoras. Already, between House Bahamut and House Nathaz, our world has become increasingly different in nearly a decade. Faster, safer harvester dropships, variations of grown crops in the graviton ponds, and much larger grav-rifles for elder serpents. These are only a taste of what our people can do! With enough time and focus, we could see Pandjoras covered in azure roses instead of choking sand.”

He felt their attention draw to him even more intensely than before, ferociously devouring every word that was spoken with the hunger of a starved man. Of the many, Aadil of House Delukar and Tayyeb of House Tuturan felt the most sense of accomplishment with their aforementioned projects rising as topics. The dusken deity was well aware of the other ruler’s disinterest, such as Nader of House Korvaix and Saladin of House Gallos. Rushdi of House Rassnar kept a loathsome stare upon Malik Zaphariel, never faltering in his perpetual envy. The promised dreamer didn’t worry about their current disinterest, for he knew well enough of their eventual certainty in his plans.

“All of these facts bring me to a single, important conclusion. I would see Pandjorans fill the void around the dusken world once more for we now have the technology capable of breaching the sky," Zaphariel stated solemnly, collectively watching as each one of the Pandjoran rulers suddenly widened their eyes in surprise. Those that had begun to falter in interest began to lean forward at the mention of intersystem travel. He accepted it as a small victory in a long, drawn-out war against his primordial foe. The Malik of Varranis continued, refusing to wait for several gasping responses to his statement. “House Bahamut, House Urahal, House Nathaz, and I have seen fit to reconstruct the harvester dropship from the ground up. Larger, focused gravity engines capable of blasting a thousand and one grains of black sand into the atmosphere. The stars are within our reach, friends, we only need to grasp it within our hands.”

A myriad of murmurs and gasps rippled across the conclave in an explosion of excitement. The possibility of space travel had, once again, become possible for the Pandjoran people. Every dusken entity grew a broad smile on their lips, even those disinclined to share their true emotions. All save for one individual, Saahir, who simply stared at Zaphariel with an unknowable expression. The Malik of Varranis knew what the Malik of Bahamut was thinking through his crimson goggles. He had just lied before their conclave, a great and terrible fabrication of the truth. The ashen waster failed to raise his voice, nor did he allude to a disappointed expression. Behind the umbral sheikh’s masquerade, an ugly smile grew on his soul.

“Since the moment I was born in Pandjoras’ black sands, I had dreamed of the void. My one selfish desire, the true goal I want for our people, is to see the return of Pandjoras to the glory it once had. I would see what is rightfully owed to the dusken people and claim the length of space our ancestors had lorded over: The Star Serpent.” Zaphariel said with immeasurable glee, pressing one of the Pandjoran runes once more to switch the display. The map of Pandjoras disappeared, replaced only by several documents and ancient star charts. Each piece of data coalesced into a hololithic projection of a great and terrible expanse that stretched several stars like a winding snake. Unknown worlds, unknowable regions, and immeasurable depths filled the blotches beyond Pandjoras. Many narrowed their eyes in concentration, focusing on the raw data that the dusken deity has curated. “Our ancestors ruled from their palaces on Pandjoras and in great, leviathan ships that sailed through the void. They were of such great quantity that they cast shadows over entire planets. All of which brings me to the only, golden path for our world.”

Tension built in the air as every Pandjoran in the grand council hung on his following words. A swarm of orange eyes, occasionally broken by Urahallian purple or Muahad’s blue, stared at the dusken deity with endless anticipation. Some began to perspire, gravely desiring the conclusion that would bring their people into the void. Others leaned forward on their thrones with one of their aides unveiling dataslates to record upon. Several seconds passed before Zaphariel spoke next, intentionally allowing those around to perceive feigned gravitas.

We must unify the Thirteen Houses of Pandjoras.

He had anticipated some level of outburst from the rulers of the dusken sands, yet they exploded in such a way that Zaphariel never would have estimated. Thrones burst backward as greedy, arrogant Pandjorans erupted from their seats. Pandjoran slurs that would turn an elder serpent flush red were tossed without regard for those present. Insults flew in dire protest against those with pre-existing tensions between each other. Malik Nader and Malika Tayyeb violently gestured to one another in open conflict. Malik Rushdi openly growled at the Malik of Varranis, earning distasteful words from Ramses. Malik Saladin pointedly insulted the House of Bahamut, vowing to never work with bloodless ashe wasters. Each House feud reached a boiling point resulting in the conclave doors opening to reveal Neu Antioch’s armored sentinels. A single, loud tap of a metallic weapon hit the tiled surface of the graviton palace, forcing the feuding Pandjorans into silence.

Silence yourselves. I refuse to allow Pandjoras to devolve into the violence of the Umbral Jihad. Become like the dusken ancients of old Pandjoras,” The old man of the mountain began to speak in a heavy, slow tone as he stepped forward. Piercing blue eyes harshly glared at each ruler behind his alabaster skull mask. An obsidian great blade was delicately held in both of his gloved hands, pointed downward against Neu Antioch’s tile. An ancient weapon with an extensive history across the dusken world. Eyes widened in fear at the very object that had cleaved legends throughout Pandjoran history. “Or will you proffer your heads as compensation?

As requested, a deathly silence wafted across the conclave of Neu Antioch. Where once a roiling horde of dusken individuals had furiously bit at one another, now only a hushed crowd of whimpering rulers bided their tempers. Satisfied, Muahad wordlessly stepped back from his position with the great blade slowly sheathed across his back. Azure orbs turned away from those Pandjorans in the conclave to rest upon Zaphariel’s nonplussed form. His golden, serpentine eyes had simply watched everything with vetted interest, having not attempted to halt their screaming. Aware of the old man’s attention, the dusken deity nodded his head in gratitude to his adoptive father. A responsive nod was returned before the Malik of Varranis spoke again.

“Your frustrations are justified, my friends. I proclaimed something that is equal parts selfish and selfless, yet I propose unification as it is the only way forward. There can be no star-spanning Pandjoran empire without the Thirteen Houses conjoining together. There can be no future for Pandjoras without unity.” Zaphariel said with a calming voice, easing the tension that Muahad had built up for him to disperse. Already many of their number had leaned into the idea of unity as he spoke, perhaps the silence had given them time to think about the future. Few remained stalwart and ignorant, such as Gallos, Rassnar, and Korvaix. Truthfully, however, he didn’t require a single one of their number to make his star empire. They were easily replaceable.

“Malik Varranis, perhaps I speak for myself in this endeavor, but none of those gathered here would see their identities - their cultures - wiped from Pandjoran history. I, for one, will not stand for my House being eradicated from the annals of this future star empire.” Malik Saladin stated, standing from his throne once more with his rotund body pressing against the council table. Fierce, orange eyes stared down Zaphariel, while a scrunched face of one severely insulted uglied his wobbling features. The Gallosian’s mere presence was enough for the dusken deity to feel bile rise in his gullet, yet Saladin wasn’t wrong in his speech. Several members nodded their heads in agreement, wishing to preserve their unique part of Pandjoran culture. The dusken deity shook his head in disappointment, his message misunderstood by the vast majority of the conclave.

“You confuse my words for a serpent’s song, Malik-i-Saladin. I don’t seek to eradicate the Houses to reform a new government. All Houses would survive under the banner of one - the Malik of Pandjoras. Allegiances will be pledged to the holder in the name of unification, territories will only grow in size, and our Houses will prosper across the Star Serpent. As it has been for time immemorial, so too will it within our stellar empire. Only Thirteen Houses will ever rule as the nazim of their territories, ruled over only by the Malik of Pandjoras.” Malik Zaphariel explained, leaning into the council table to activate another rune. The hololithic display began to savagely cut up equivalent territory along the projected expanse of the Star Serpent. House sigils, like those current in the council, hovered over different sectors as an example. “The Malik of Pandjoras will only hold the dusken world itself and all the closest territories around it. As the Star Serpent grows, territories will be divided equally and with merit as it has been for many millennia on our planet.”

Malika Thanaa stirred from her throne, straightening herself out as she regarded the Malik of Varranis. Unlike Saladin, the Tallorian held a more inquisitive air about her. Her golden eyes, however, held the intense flame of curiosity and excitement dancing between them. “These terms are, indeed, more acceptable now that we’ve had the chance to discuss them. Only one question remains to be answered: who will be the Malik of Pandjoras? Who, amongst our number, would rule over Pandjoras?” It was a question that Zaphariel had awaited since the moment of their arrival. A toothy grin plastered across his lips as Thanaa finished speaking. Fear, or perhaps awe, caught in her throat as the dusken deity eyed her down.

I, Zaphariel ibn Varranis, will lead the Thirteen Houses as the Malik of Pandjoras. I know I am not liked by some here, but I have walked over a thousand and one grains of black sand to see Pandjoras for all of her beauty. Perhaps that is egotistical of me to say, yet I desire to grasp destiny as one would a void serpent. I would see the stars tamed by Pandjoran hands, just as Falak was tamed by my own.” The dusken deity said without any fragment of his masquerade, momentarily letting it fall away to speak his earnest feelings. His words were felt across their number, even by those Pandjorans that chided his existence. Zaphariel could feel their want, could see their anticipation, and could hear their breathing quicken as he spoke. He pushed them further, his lips spreading once more to speak of a glorious future. “I will see the creation of the Illuminated Star Sultanate of Pandjoras and raise an umbral armada to spread our kind across the universe.

To his surprise, Zaphariel watched as several Pandjorans pushed out of their seats to prostrate onto Neu Antioch’s tiles. His golden, serpentine orbs widened as he counted each of their forms. Sulkat, Urahal, Delukar, Nathaz, Gallax, Abdullahar, Tuturan, and Bahamut all bowed their heads to the Malik of Varranis. Even the old man and Ramses had bent their knees to either side of his risen form. Only House Tallora, Korvaix, Galos, and Rassnar remained unbowed, yet even they were beginning to falter after such an impassioned speech. The dusken deity couldn’t help but chuckle as he was humbled by the arranged Pandjorans.

“You honor me. All of you. Even those that have not bowed their heads, you honor me in the fact you so furiously resist against one aiming to claim power. Tell me what it is that I can do to become acceptable in your eyes. And to those who had shown their loyalty, what is it that I can do to cement our relationship?” Zaphariel asked, inclining his head in gratitude to those that had shown their loyalty so suddenly and fiercely. Regardless of their necessary involvement, the dusken deity felt inclined to hear their requests. He gestured to Muahad and Ramses with either of his talon-ringed hands, the former upending a large slate of masonic stone and the latter unholstering a dataslate primed for usage. He had planned for there to be requests, yet the Malik of Varranis hadn’t expected what was requested.

The first to request anything from Zaphariel was Malik Saladin, as he had expected. The Gallosian stroked his thick beard as he spoke. “House Gallos will bow its head in acceptance so long as every single ruler here is granted a gravity palace.” Saladin said, his jewelry jostling against his rotund form as he eyed the rest of the conclave. Some cast a distasteful look at the Malik of Gallos, but the Malik of Varranis had been prepared for such a request. The dusken deity nodded to Muahad, who began to quickly sculpt upon the gravity slate.

“I will do more than this, Malik Saladin, I will raise thirty palaces into the air for each ruler and their heirs, followed by minor Houses and their heirs. The great engines of yore shall blot the sky with majesty.” The dusken deity stated, earning him a broad smile from Saladin. The Gallosian bowed down to the tile in an offering of his allegiance. Zaphariel gave a respectful nod full of gratitude to the Lord of Neu Alepp, turning his attention then to Malik Nader of House Korvaix.

“House Korvaix will follow the Malik of Pandjoras if we receive equal, equivalent, and priority territories to House Tuturan. I refuse to fall behind my twin, nor will my House accept less than this!” Malik Nader stated, his insecurities freely aired to those around him. A troublesome soul, even his twin found the statement as revolting as Malik Saladin’s previous comments. The Korvaixian leered at Malika Tayyeb as if he had won a conclusive battle over her. Zaphariel intentionally mulled over the request for several seconds, a plan having already been formulated long before the man had even spoken.

“Granted, but I will extend this to each ruler of the Thirteen Houses. None shall be stronger than the other, save for the Malik of Pandjoras who rules over the dusken world. Merit and personal conquest will influence where one’s territory expands, but it will ultimately fall to the Malik of Pandjoras’ decision in how the Star Serpent grows.” Malik Zaphariel concluded the matter, watching as Nader contemplated the decision for a terse moment before bowing his head in acceptance. Malika Tayyeb inclined her form once more in thankfulness, swearing allegiance on her lips for the second time this day. The dusken deity despised their feud, yet he understood it drove their craft to greater heights. As Muahad inscribed the current proposal, Malik Rushdi of House Rassnar maneuvered from his seat to speak.

“You will not have House Rassnar become a part of your Star Sultanate, not while the Varranian hassans already fulfill a position that we are proficient in. Would you exile your hassan all for the sake of unity, Malik Zaphariel?” Malik Rushdi asked with venom dripping from within his rebreather, a pointed question that failed to move the dusken deity. The Rassnarian had fallen into the Varranian’s trap, one that he had set from the very beginning of their conclave. A sly smile grew on Zaphariel’s lips, drawing unease from deep within Rushdi’s spirit.

“Dear Malik-i-Rushdi, you think you are the only one worthy of a specific position within the Star Sultanate? You underestimate how long I have desired to see Pandjoras thrive. On this matter alone, I had spent thirteen restless days and thirteen restless nights deciding how each House would govern the Star Serpent,” Zaphariel chortled, thoroughly enjoying that his trap had been sprung by the old man’s former foremost pupil. Another rune was activated on the council table, shifting the hololithic view from the estimated Star Serpent into a list of all Thirteen Houses with their sigils. Roles, positions, estimated governed sectors, and several other factors were listed under each House. It was as if the dusken deity predicted that all of them would bow their heads to his unification. “Behold, I have devised how every one of our Houses will govern the Star Serpent!”

“House Gallax as the Star Sultanate’s Void Diva, Malika Zarmira personally leads her serpent tamers to examine all newly discovered lifeforms! House Urahal will skein the void with Malik Azahar as our Penumbral Archseer! House Nathaz has long governed our planet’s harvester dropships, it is only reasonable to grant Malik Jericho the rights to build the umbral armada and beyond as the Obsidian Shiplord! House Korvaix and House Tuturan will jointly lead security across the Star Serpent as the Spears of Pandjoras! Malik Avdol of House Abdullahar shall lull those scattered remnants of the Star Sultanate back in as the Dusken Emissary!” The Malik of Varranis was a blur of logistics, every title and duty spoken was greeted with fresh data translated into hololithic form. Heirs and assistants recorded new information with strained urgency. Malik Rushdi found himself backed into a corner as if he had unleashed a vault full of void serpents. Relentlessly, the dusken deity continued.

“Malik Saahir of House Bahamut will continue to develop new technologies and progress our civilization as the Ashen Hierarch! Malik Aadil of House Delukar shall wreath the Star Serpent in new, impressive crops to feed our expanding population as the Umbral Harbinger! Malik Asghar of House Sulkat has always marshaled a dusken army and for that, he will continue to do so as the Dune Sultan! Malika Thanaa of House Tallora has upheld the greatest administrative effort on Pandjoras, for this she shall continue to do as the Shadow Administrator! Malik Saladin of House Gallos openly lords over the minor Houses of Pandjoras, he shall continue to do so as the Dawn Lord!” Every administrative effort to keep up with Zaphariel ibn Varranis’ rant was in vain as he spoke with such speed and certainty that their hands failed to keep in sync. Only Ramses of House Varranis managed to keep a steady pace with the Varranian Malik’s incessant, breathless speech. Rushdi of House Rassnar merely bit his lips in silent fury, blood easily drawn from the endless torrent of words spawned forth from the dusken deity.

“And finally, Malik Rushdi of House Rassnar, you will claim all clandestine operations across the Star Sultanate as our foremost assassin and former hassan. You are the sole individual I trust with gathering new hassan and ensuring our empire remains free of outside influence. In this, I trust only you as the Shade King.” Zaphariel said with a toothy grin, small hints of reverberation evident within his voice. Defeated, humbled, and risen once more within minutes of the dusken deity’s speech, Malik Rushdi bowed his head in acceptance. Tears fell from the Rassnarian’s eyes, silently crying in awe of his new task. One final challenger remained to be confronted. The Malik of Varranis threw his gaze towards Malika Thanaa of House Tallora, who had just finished typing the last of the newly processed data. She met his gaze, rising from her throne to stand against the Varranian.

Malika Thanaa removed her spectacles, allowing them to sit against the warm surface of the council table. Without any stated requests, the Tallorian bowed her head in acceptance of fealty to the dusken deity. He narrowed his eyes, suspicion growing from the sudden genuflection. It was only as she raised her head once more that her lips parted to speak.

“House Tallora offers allegiance. We request only one thing from the future Malik of Pandjoras. To firstly verify, however, are you currently engaged to any member of the Thirteen Houses?” Malika Thanaa inquired, earning a raised eyebrow from the Malik of Varranis. His golden, serpentine eyes turned to regard Ramses, who simply shook his head in confusion. Zaphariel echoed the movement, earning a sly smile from Thanaa. “I see. Then as sand turns to glass, so too will our Houses be conjoined through Zaniya and Laifah, my daughters.”

Realization dawned on Zaphariel at the same time as the rest of the conclave. Another explosion of activity erupted amongst their number as a new conflict boiled over. Malika Thanaa of Tallora had proposed a direct tie to House Varranis through her daughters. Houses Gallax, Abdullahar, Galos, Urahal, and Delukar all immediately offered their proposals through their heirs. Ramses unleashed howling laughter, tears forming at the edges of his eyes at the sudden excitement in their council. Muahad releases a single, deep smirk as the Houses fought over arbitrary rights revolving around his adoptive son. The dusken deity watched the events unfold with a coy smile, yet he truthfully felt unending exhaustion for this singular moment compared to the rest of the gathering. As Malika Zarmira began to threaten Malika Thanaa with her void serpents, the Malik of Varranis raised a single talon-ringed hand to halt their feuding.

“I… shall accept. Not just to House Tallora. I will accept all of the heirs and heiresses from House Gallax, Abdullahar, Galos, Tallora, Urahal, and Delukar. May we find some level of peace in our Houses being united, hopefully for more than just matrimony.” Zaphariel finally spoke with a tone equal parts exhaustion and acceptance. Of the many requests he had planned for, several marriages from all of his closely allied Houses had not been one. He felt little and less desire for the carnal acts, yet the dusken deity understood the necessity of it. All of it was for the sake of Pandjoras’ unification.

With the final issue resolved amongst their number, Zaphariel ibn Varranis walked up his dais to seat himself on the Varranian Throne. The air around him became more solemn as each House stepped back from the council table to prostrate themselves to the dusken deity. An uncomfortable feeling built up in his chest. Loathing, revulsion, and exhilaration mingled together within his soul. He despised their genuflecting forms, yet the Malik of Varranis found himself drawn to their overwhelming faith. Pandjoras had no gods, either dispelled by the cataclysm or slain by the old man of the mountains’s hands in the eternal night. The power of belief was nonexistent in the dusken sands, and yet he felt empowered by their convictions. How could he wield it? His thoughts were interrupted by Muahad’s footsteps.

Lo, behold, Thirteen Promises have been made for the sake of unity. Intone thy fealty for Pandjoras’ unification. Prostrate thy body and spirit to the regent of the umbral sands. Bear witness and constellate thy will in eternal loyalty to the dusken one. He, prophesied by sand wyrd and sung by serpent alike, who claims destiny. Sing ardently in glorification of the umbral king. Glory to you, Malik of Pandjoras!” The old man of the mountain spoke ceremoniously, his voice a deep dirge that reverberated across Neu Antioch. An indescribable energy perforated the walls of reality with each syllable of his speech, seemingly tying his words from one existence to another. Whatever Muahad was doing, Zaphariel felt uncontrollable emotions dig through the fabric of his being. Tears welled at the corners of his eyes as the grandmaster of the hassan removed the coronet from his forehead. A new crown sat where the coronet last was. Eight horns split in even distances were decorated by thirteen, eye-shaped gems topped by a dusken halo lifted by a miniature gravity engine within the jewelry.

The Malik of Pandjoras, Zaphariel ibn Varranis, raised his head to witness the bowed forms of the Thirteen Houses once more. The piercing, blue eyes of Muahad turned away from the dusken deity as a multitude of voices mingled together to form a cacophony of allegiances. Their voices mixed into an ugly, saturated tone that disgusted and excited him in equal measurements. He closed his eyes to the world as he listened to their cries of loyalty. A cry of allegiance that he would remember for years to come.

Until our blood becomes dusken sand, we give our lives to the umbral king! Glory to the Malik of Pandjoras!
Hidden 7 mos ago 7 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Pentious


Forge Beta


Originally called Forge Beta by its human creators, what was once a bastion of technology and humanity had long fallen into disgrace and defilement. It had been denied the dignity of complete destruction in its final moments of human control, instead having been gutted by under-powered self destruction rituals in a last ditch attempt to take as many of the Greenskins with it as possible and prevent those that came after easy access to its facilities.

Unfortunately, Orks were nefarious for their ability to 'loot' just about anything they set their minds too. The fact that Forge Beta had been badly damaged wasn't overly that important to them and their Mek Boys descended upon it like scavengers using its corpse as the foundation for their new nest.

Forge Beta was an abomination, its human origins still poking out in defiance in some places but otherwise bent and twisted to the will of the Greenskins. Spikes, weapons of all variety (almost all of them unleashing a deafening noise when fired) and walls that on the surface appeared to be scrape metal wielded together in some cases... or stuck together with the Orks own dung in others. All of it lambasted with the hideous browns and reds of the Kneekapperz tribe.

Mere hours ago, an invasion army of orks left the Forge behind in order to march on the overstretched and underpowered Toothbreakerz tribe to stomp 'em good and bring their turf under Kneekapperz' control.

Mere hours later, five or so damaged trucks with battered and injured orks clinging to the side rolled back up the road in order to return.

There was a degree of confusion among the Greenskins at the main gate, but even as word was sent to the Boss that some of the boyz sent out had come back, the big ork sitting in the shotgun seat in the lead truck leaned out the broken window and shouted up one of the correct pass phases in a voice that sounded a bit like a radio turned all the way up ("OPEN THE BLOODY GATE OR I'LLZ SMAZH YA HEADZ IN!!!") so the gate was opened and the trucks came inside.

The orks that stepped off the truck were strange to the eyes of their fellow greenskins. They were clearly orks, even if all of them were covered in stitch marks, missing limbs or inflicted with a variety of burns (often in combination with each other), but the stiffened why they moved around, gazing off into the distance as they dumbly walked forward.

The majority of the veterans of Waargh Kracker'Laker had died with the Warboss himself years ago, but there were still one or two boys around who recognized the look, through had never witnessed it on an Ork before. This was something that happened sometimes to other races when the boys had stomped on them good and were taking slaves, one or two of them might simply be so overwhelmed by defeat that something... broke in them. They generally didn't last long as slaves, but to see such a thing happen to a fellow ork was... unnatural. Unnerving even. These broken orks didn't seem inclined to talk to anyone and they just dumbly walked off... and they were given the space to do so by Orks that honestly didn't want to catch defeat or whatever it was they had.

As the trucks pulled to a stop and the big ork in the front stepped out, it was clear that they had likewise suffered harm in the manner of his fellow survivors. Stitching had clearly been used almost to put all of his limbs and parts of his torso back together, different shades of orkish green flesh suggesting that the parts used might not have all originally been his own. The skin on his face was discolored further, as where his eyes should have been, a glowing red light was all that was in their place. A speaker of sorts was sticking out of his throat, clearly allowing what must have been a very injured ork the ability to speak; Some doc had gotten a field day out of him and he had been in bad enough condition to let it happen.

Even as the big ork was barking radio like orders at his fellow survivors, the air nearby crackled with unnatural energy as, with a flash of light, Mekboss Thumper manifested from his teleportation, causing the stupid gretchen that had been standing there that hadn't gotten out of the way fast enough to explode as a thick, metal leg suddenly appeared inside of him. No one noticed, or cared beyond the Mekboss shaking some of the gore off as he walked forward.

"WHY YOUS GROTS BACK ALREADY?! AND WITHOUT THE WARBOSS OF THE TOOTHBREAKERZ SKULL!" The massive ork rumbled as he lurched forward on his mismatched legs, stopping every now and then to shake off some more gretchen meat. Despite the mismatched legs, Mekboss Thumper towered over the ork that had taken over what remained of the broken invasion force, even at the distance between them. The height difference only grew more pronounced as the Mekboss drew closer, as the power klaw on the boss' left hand was almost as big as the ork he was yelling at.

The radio that was pulling duty as a voice box crackled to life as it answered in a grainy tone "HUMANIES SET UP AN AMBUSH WITHIN THE CRAPPY TOOTHBREAKERZ ONE! MAYBE IF YOU WERE ACTUALLY THERE INSTEAD OF SITTING AROUND HERE ON YA FAT ASS LIKE A STUFFED DINNER SQUIG, WE MIGHT HAVE NOTICED IT BEFORE IT WENT OFF!"

Ork settlements of any kind tended to be loud places and silence was just something that never happened until after the explode that consumed it had faded away, but right then and there the closest thing to stunned silence that could exist around living orks settled in as every greenskin in the vicinity turned towards their warboss and this recently 'promoted' nob. There were some things that Orks didn't say or do unless they were either completely confident they could win the resulting fight or they actively wanted to die; Calling the Boss a stuffed dinner squig to his face in front of all the boyz was a challenge for a fight to the death if ever there was one and regardless of the outcome, this was gonna be good!

Mekboss Thumper blinked several times as he looked at this patchwork of an ork that had dared to yell an insult back at him in stunned silence; Getting insulted by another ork that was challenging him for Boss of the tribe was a very normal occurrence, but normally challengers were bigger and stronger and generally had an actual chance. This was honestly the first time he had ever seen an ork commit suicide by Warboss, but as the rage at the impudence of the little frakker started to boil his blood, Mekboss Thumper stepped forward, his power klaw shooting out and snapping around this unworthy challenger faster then would be believed before....

...The crushing of metal instead of bone?

The explosion that followed was large and consuming in that the ork body in the klaw was completely destroyed as the blasting charges implanted into its body went off. The klaw itself was blown asunder, rendered useless even as the Mekboss' defensive shielding flared to life; While the shield likely hadn't been the difference between life and death since any ork claiming to be a Boss tended to be a rather tanky bastard, it did manage to protect him from the worst effects of having a blasting charge exploding in ones face.

The orks in the crowd weren't so lucky.

While they had been far enough away from the Mekboss and his 'challenger' to avoid that explosion, what few if any of them had noticed was a number of 'surviving' orks from the trucks slipping into the crowd about to watch the fight. Confusion and panic surged among the greenskins as a wave of powerful explosions suddenly ripped through their ranks, killing and maiming seemingly at random as attempts to find out what the zorg was going on were failing to get anywhere.

Then the trucks opened up and the Skitarii inside opened fire on targets of importance as squads of Myrmidons charged in order to get in close.

From the front truck, Myrmidon Uixien seemed to manifest as he launched himself at Mekboss Thumper.

The engagement between the two of them lasted a total of 7 seconds. Despite the loss of his klaw and dealing with being knocked off balance by the explosion, Mekboss Thumper had been able to parry the first blow of Uixien's axe with the broken remains of his klaw, endured the blast of plasma to the chest as the barrel was physically shoved through the shield before being fired and managed to get his zap gun up and pointed at his foe because a backhand from Uixien knocked it off target. The struggle ended quickly as the rad-gun was unloaded into his face, destroying his organic eye and causing his mechanical one to freak out before the second and third blows from the axe came down, ending the Mekboss' life.

The second target that Uixien turned to was a nob that had managed to survive the explosions to the point where he had managed to defend himself against one of the assaulting Myrmidoms by slamming a power klaw of his own into the poor woman's chest and yanking out a lot of her torso, tossing her wounded but still alive body to the ground with the intention of finishing her off. It didn't get the chance to before Uixien was upon it.

As some of the Skitarii broke from their fireteam in order to pull the badly wounded Myrmidom to the relative safety of the trucks and medical aid, Uixien scooped up her fallen axe in his off hand and proceeded to wield both in a whirlwind of death, striking down any foe that dared to get his attention for any length of time.

Somewhere else within the former Forge, additional explosions started to go off. Defensive weapons were taken out of commission and the main gate of the stronghold started to grind open again, this time with no intention of closing. As the entrance way to Forge Beta started to run low on orks and begin to look somewhat secured, one of the Myrmidom covered in orkish blood pulled out a flare gun and fired off a blue flare into open sky outside. In the distance, outside of sight from the forge turned orkish stronghold, a variety of transports flared to life as they started to race across the terrain. The reconquest of Pentious by its rightful owners had began!

............................................

The reconquest of Forge Beta was not done in a single day.

Purging greenskins from anywhere tended to take time, no matter how many advantages had been gained going into it. The extermination of the invasion force they had sent out prior followed by the death of their Warboss alongside a respectable number of orks in the opening moments went a long way, but orks by nature were stubborn bastards who didn't know when they were meant to be dead yet and rarely accepted defeat until there were no orks left alive.

Inciting what machine spirits remained that were willing to listen to the Tech Priests had resulted in a number of Forge Beta's long neglected systems that had somehow survived orkish occupation being employed to help in the cleansing, through it was clear that Forge Beta was going to have to undergone in intensive campaign to cleanse each and every system and restore it to proper function again. So many malware and data daemons created by the ork's savage abuses and mockery of science that would need to be undone and put to rest...

The orkish defenders took their grim toll in quite a number of human lives and ceremonies of mourning had already being scheduled to take place once Forge Beta was properly secured and defensible once again. A sad reality of conflict and war, but the pain of losing those good people was somewhat offset by the balm that they had given their lives for a victorious win. One that came at much less of a cost then predictions had feared. They may have died, but they died retaking a forge that had been lost to humanity for far to long and they would be honored as heroes for it.

As the mastermind behind the gambit that opened Forge Beta to reclaimation, alongside the one who felled the Warboss of the tribe holding it and the wholesale slaughter of a number of orkish defenders from the original breach and throughout the operation to reclaim Forge Beta as a whole, Rik Uixien would be granted a great deal of prestige and credit for the success. His plan to take orkish corpses from the original ambush and turning them into makeshift servitors to be puppeteered by tech priests remotely in order to better infiltrate the main gate, give the vanguard as much of an opening advantage as possible and sabotage defenses while forcing open the main gate had been a topic of some debate prior to the operation, but its overwhelming success had vindicated it.

Success would cause new problems of course; The cleansing and restoration of Beta, purging the lands between Forges Alpha and Beta of orkish life so that logistical networks could be safely organized, patrolling those secured areas to ensure they stay secured... but as far as problems were concerned they were a pleasure to have.

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Bugman What happens, when old wounds heal?

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Salkor looked upon the wide assembly of the Martian parliament. Hundreds of figures representing all the forges, and indeed the voices of the broader galactic Cult of the Machine were present, all array in small cubicles that provided no privacy, but rather simply served to give a small workspace for each to accommodate the often bulky assortments of cybernetics the Martian Priesthood bore. In many cases, representatives were not present in person and instead had a servitor bear a screen, hologram projector, or other means of display along with vox gear to relay their speech.

"Let the rite of percussive appraisal begin!" A tapping noise would come as mechanical fingers struck the foam upon the hundreds of microphones in the parliament, each followed by a quiet expression of "Testing, testing, testing, one-two-three...." the noise punctuated on occasion by random squeals as incense drifted into the devices.

“Have the spirits of the transmitters been sufficiently appeased?” The Fabricator-General asked, but the slightest of binharic whines through the air indicating the words had been outputted.

“Yea and verily, o’ speaker.” Returned a servitor to his side.

“Very well. Before we begin, is all the roster present?” the question was redundant of course, the milliseconds of it ultimately a waste of time as a part of his heads-up display showed that indeed all nine hundred and seventy three figures scheduled to be in attendance were in fact present in one form or another. But it was tradition, and to brook the mere thought of violating it would cause indignant outcry and the pointing of plasteel fingers.

“Good. Today we mark the thirty-second plenary committee of the Martian plenary, which I now state to be in session.” A gong would ring at glass shattering volume behind him. “The occasion is a solemn one, and indeed one of emergency.”

“Get on with it!” a heckler demanded, a fact that was made all the more annoying as in the cybernetic communion of the hundreds of figures assembled there was no anonymity, yet Forgemaster Antares seemingly felt no regrets about his outburst as Salkor examined him with his ocular implants.

“On this day, an unacceptable attack happened.” A hologram activated behind Salkor and in front of the assembled parliamentarians. It displayed hundreds of missiles fired and laser countermeasures ineffectively attempting to destroy them. Although all present already knew of the attack, they nonetheless immediately broke out into bickering and accusations.

“Silence!” The Fabricator General demanded, flicking a wax-encrusted switch to deactivate the optic cables connecting individuals, such that any speech could only be made through analogue means and without private mutterings upon the noosphere. “I am ordained as servant of our Omnissiah to bring order to this madness. We are all aware of the tensions between different schools of our faith.” he said, not elaborating on the tense situation of the electro priests.
“The violence that stems from it is unacceptable, however. Thus, while we will abide by all the laws and ordinances of this establishment and the red cloak, the right is waived by the commission to bring the perpetrators of this matter to justice.” He heard the gurgle of respirators and static of old synthesizers as again cries of protest came, but they were ultimately ignored.

“Thus we will begin with what is known. Magos Khur, the missiles fired upon the aircraft of the Corpuscarii pilgrims came from your Forge. The serial numbers and make and model inevitably match to Manufactorum IL-99. In particular, the photoreactive plasteel diamantine coating on the warheads is a known specialty of your forge. Do you have any comment?”

“I. AM. UNABLE. TO. SEE. HOW. THAT. INCRIMINATES. ME.”

If Salkor had a lot more of his human biology from brain to respirators system, he would have sighed. The Magos used an ancient synthesizer that was an archaeotech pride of his, supposedly reliable enough to last many tens of thousands of years without any parts needing replacement. The trouble was, his pride and joy seemingly would take that long to construct paragraphs. “You are not incriminated, we simply need to know if any orders were placed that were suspect.

“I. KNOW. NOT. OF. ANY. SUCH. ORDERS.”

“Very well, then we will require a full listing of any and all orders for your surface to air and other missiles matching the remains we found for the last three years.”

“THERE. IS. NO. CONSTITUTIONAL. BASIS. FOR. SUCH.”

“In this emergency we have waived the requirement to only receive the exact work orders matching each serial number given that far too many of said serial numbers have not survived.”

More outcry, and now on somewhat expected partisan lines. The Fulgurites were eager to defend their little gun runner, while a great many Magoses were enraged at the precedent being set. If this was centuries ago, Salkor would understand. He absolutely would hate the rest of Mars to have a right to root around in his work. But, what other options did he have? This was the closest to a middle ground he could come to.

“THIS. OUTRAGE. CANNOT. STAND.”

“No, but neither can we have your air-defence penetrating missiles used against fellow Martians. We are to be better than this, and yet we seemingly are not.”

The bulbs that displayed the preparation of speech of Magos Khur’s synthesizer began to glow, but this was interrupted by a great shock that rattled the Parliament building.

All present immediately read hundreds of readouts, a servitor then unfolding a screen from a mecha-dendrite beside Salkor. “The entourage of Magos Loiy is no longer present. The entourage of Magos Khur is departing. The entourage of Magos Khur is no longer present.” it announced. That was certainly an understatement, as the site where several vehicles an dozens of Skitarii and attendants once stood was now ash.

Salkor played back the footage of the servo-skulls that had observed them. It had taken mere milliseconds, but nonetheless there was a capture of the blue wave that fell from the sky. Dreamily, almost like a cloud the plasma had descended from the sky and turned the figures into nothing. A great many figures not part of either Magos’s party wwas caught and melted in part of entirety.

To Salkor, this was an opportunity. “Magos Khur, if you would care to reveal information that would make you reasonably believe you are at risk, security may be provided for you and your forge.” He announced, quite satisfied with how this line of inquiry was going even if the sum total of disaster had only just doubled, perhaps tripled.
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Jamesyco
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Jamesyco Forever a Student

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Belivahnn


Part Four


Johannas stared up at darkness; there was only darkness as he created it. He had created and combined the beauty of nature with that of stone masonry and rustic carpentry. He had originally made a fortress of white stone, domes atop each tower, rows of trees atop each thick wall digging deep into the earthworks within. It made a structurally ecological and stable structure; the roots of those trees made the walls thick, tall, and strong. But he stood in the center of the main citadel, staring up into the darkness as the stone had turned black. There were stains of white on the walls in the shapes of three men; he paid them no mind. He had done what he had done when he learned his adopted mother had passed away. He did feel sorry for them; his action had killed the three men, and it was out of grief at the news. I heard crying from one of the portals into the large room, but he did not mind it. It was a woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, burned likely from head to toe from his sudden outburst of emotion.

When others entered the room, he was on the floor scrubbing away with his tunic, the beautiful blues, and whites soiled by black soot, it was smeared everywhere on him, and he scrubbed the stone until it cracked under his perfect hands. He was beautiful, even in sadness, with soft, delicate skin that looked like a marble statue in motion. His hair flowed in locks around him; the lighter blonde and brown strands turned black in ash.

A man, old and frail, entered with a bucket, and beautiful robes collecting the deathly black ash in his trail as he moved to his adopted son's side. Instead of a tunic, it was thick cloth, the two started side by side. The elderly man waved the others off, leaving the two alone with only the scrubbing sounds to break the silence. It was like this for hours; while the old man moved around and cleaned, the perfect giant continued to get darker and darker with the ashes of his sadness.

"You have worked hard to control it. You have grown and turned into a handsome man. An angel of peace, of life, your fires warm the city. You have become a beacon of hope and of light. You have spread your wings and become the angel that stares above us. You are like the child of fire my son. Though the gods have faded, they gave us a son made of fire. Fire feeds the earth, the earth feeds the plants, they feed the animals, the animals feed us, and we give fire to the earth. You are the incantation of the beginning of life; you were born in flame. Your mother, I, and your first guard. She took you from your steel and flame cradle, raised you, and now... It is your time to continue, your sons, Watchers, your crusaders of old. Continue that tradition of honor you already have with this fortress. You bring balance to everything you touch, but it is your time... Your mother and I... we grew old, she is gone, and soon enough, I will be as well... While you have killed so many, you have forgotten about time. It does not affect you, you still look young. It's been almost a half century, you still look twenty... your brothers and sisters look the age I did when you started the city. All of us, even the sons of a god are naive in our own ways. While I taught you many things, I forgot to teach you the basics of life, you have lived as an immortal, as we all have. Unlike your sisters, and brothers who lived lives, who created families and reputations away from their crafts. You grew in your work, I forgot to show you how to live. How to go things besides be a warrior, a craftsman, a general. You became an artist of reality rather than one of romantics, and in that I have failed you."

The man continued to scrub, harder and harder, the black soot-coated tunic having streaks of marble dust across it's tearing fabric. He stopped, and rested back on his knees, holding the cloth in one hand, his chest covered in running lines of sweat in soot.

"Father, you did not fail to teach me that... you haven't failed; while states craft is complicated, I enjoy it. Some minds cause me to rethink my thoughts, but that is rare. Death is something I know is inevitable, but I wish I had lived my life with you both differently, instead of holding court in the foundation of a city, holding it in a room full of those close to me. Now around me, all I see are those of penitence, the souls of my army that lost everything, including themselves, to a war I held across this world. They wear the hoods of shame, masks of their sins, and mutilate themselves to atone beneath. They are my most disciplined guard in terms of protecting the innocents of the city. But they are fanatical, they see me as this god you call me, I am just a man."

The elder shook his head, and smiled, "The blind priest was a fine teacher for a man who never learned to read or write. He was simple, and while you took his words, you took the meaning of his teachings to heart, drawing others to that thought. You became a god when you first breathed the air of your realm but confirmed it when you took his teachings. I suspect he was a prophet, a witch, but he was a man of good faith, good company, and honor. I trusted his judgment, and so did you. It leads this world to prosperity and beauty. Our homes and walls are farms; our fields hold pastures full of creatures. If we were under siege today, we could outlive everyone outside it, and our walls would be undamaged even after centuries of attack and torture. The stone of their weapons would be the next tower on the horizon with your skills. But, that is not the point, you let go... and while I.. while we have been all telling you to control it, you should have listened to your mother, and let it go. Let it be wings... let it be apart of you, not just a hindrance, but a tool."




He stood over a casket in which two bodies were embraced. Shortly after they had left the citadel, his father, too collapsed and passed away soon after. He held his father for hours, and everyone knew who it was as fire encased the two both. He stood there like a statue when he saw his parents in one last embrace. He was dressed for war, an honor guard at his sides as he stood like a statue guarding the bodies as people moved by to pay their respects. His siblings were in front of him in rows, their children in front of them. Sorrowful music played from somewhere in the marble city, somber and sad the walls echoed through each chamber and a nearby street. He had the acoustics done for a musician friend of his, a bright young conductor, Elbus Krone, he had known for twelve years; he suspected this last orchestral piece would be his last in the rise of current events.

And hour after hour passed, thousands of people moved through, but the last was the hoods of the penitent soldiers, a line of men in peaked caps of greens, reds, whites, and blacks came forward. A crown of thorns, a missing mouth, no man's sin was the same between them, and each had a single distinction upon their body or head. Each moved forward, and as the last one came through, his guard moved for their respects, his siblings, their children, and himself. He turned and lifted a thick stone slab, normally, this took twenty strong men, but it was simple and easy for him. He sealed his parents' tomb and slowly began to pull on two chains to lower them down into their final resting place. He chose the place he found them; well, they found him. He felt something else nearby when constructing, but he chose not to explore; he chose this place in their honor. He chose it for their love, he wanted his memories to be in one place, and it would be in his beloved city, with his parents. Two stories above him were his quarters, his offices, and where he spent his evenings looking over the city of white and green. He had planned for this moment, he just wished it never happened. But in that moment, he decided to let go, and he did.

He did not expect the wings, the last gift his mother gave him, wings of the eternal fire, an expression heard so many times before; now, he has embraced it as a gift from his mother. Perhaps, he thought, it would not be her last. It was an expression, one that balanced control and emotion. He, for once, controlled his flame.
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itarichan

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Before moving on to the lower levels, Suni explored the rest of the third level. She passed a large dining area occupied by a stone round table. Seated around it were nine figures dressed in pure white robes tied shut with white sashes. People in black robes tied with black sashes scurried around the room, setting down food served on metal tableware decorated with gold accents. She moved on before being noticed. The mountain city had a distinct lack of doors, instead using open archways. However, each High Priest had their own set of rooms with locked ornate metal gates. These were easily obliterated by Suni. They opened to an office connected to a set of apartments, once again separated by a metal gate. Each oozed with overindulgence, filled with rare wood furniture, decorations made of gold, and plush cushions. She moved on after looking at only two of them.

The third and fourth floors were where the bulk of what would be considered a town square in a regular town built on land. Winding hallways replaced streets and buildings were simple caverns carved into the stone walls, the yawning openings covered with dirty drapes, strips of dry seaweed, or nothing at all. The bright electric lights of the previous floors were replaced by the occasional dim orange glow of whale oil lamps. Luckily, Suni already had poor vision and could easily navigate in the darkness. She ran her hand across the remnants of electrical wiring and broken lights on the walls, frowning. The air here was also noticeably colder, wetter, and thinner. Townspeople walked past her in groups, all making their way to the upper levels. They cast her quick, nervous glances and whispered among themselves but did their best to avoid the strange creature dressed in a priest’s robe but a servant’s sash stalking their home.

“This place is a dump.”

This mountain range was attacked by the Azoras to the north not long ago. It appears they have been unable to recover.

Suni rolled her eyes, “‘Not long’ for you usually means ‘actually a very long time, but since I’m an old fart it doesn’t feel like a long time to me.’”

Hessen flicked her with his tail. Only a couple hundred years or so.

“That’s a long time to be living with so much broken shit.”

The next three floors were full of vertical gardens, bathing under UV lights, though less than half appeared to be functional, with the last floor being completely abandoned. “How come you didn’t defend them when they were attacked? Aren’t these your people? They worship you.”

Hessen snorted. Worship? They perform ridiculous rites and leave me useless “gifts” and call it worship. They use me because they are weak, pitiful creatures. Their priests demand tithes in my name so that they may live in decadence. The common people say prayers in my name looking for forgiveness for their sins and to explain phenomena they don’t understand. I owe them nothing.

The next five floors were all residential. In comparison to the priests' rooms, these homes had no doors. Each was made of one to three interconnected chambers. The walls were bare and any small amount of furniture they had was made of carved stone. Their beds were thin cloth mats placed on the floor and the pillows were made of woven straw. She paused at the top of what would have been the sixth residential floor and sniffed. “The air past here is dead.”

They do not have enough working generators to pump air into the rest of the mountain.

“How far down does it go?”

Even a small mountain would have many hundreds of floors, and this one is an average size.

Suni leaned back to sit on her tail, legs crossed and arms crossed in front of her. Her eyebrows wrinkled into what Hessen affectionately called her “thinking glare.” He slithered across her shoulders and gently bumped his head to her cheek.

What will you do, little one?

She jumped up and grinned. Her eyes glinted with excitement. “I will remind these pitiable creatures who the god they worship is.”

The majority of the mountain residents were gathered on the first floor, heads bent in their daily morning prayer when the mountain began shaking. Suni exploded into the room from the floor below at the same time the ocean rushed in from above. It churned around them, herding them into a tight group on the far side of the room. Suni ignored their screams of panic, her face lit up with a smirk as she skated across the surface of the water to the center of the room. The water left as quickly as it appeared, draining down the stairs into the depths below. Before anyone could breathe a sigh of relief though, the room was filled with the sound of cracking stone. They looked up just in time to see the sacred statue of their god collapse. In its place, Hessen loomed over them. At only a fraction of his true size, he still nearly filled the entire room, the statue’s head dwarfed in his enormous claw. The townspeople cowered in fear. One man attempted to crawl away, only to scream in terror when Hessen swung his head towards them, revealing Suni standing on top of it.

“Lower your heads!” She snarled. “You dare look upon your god with such filthy eyes?”

As one, her audience scrambled to their knees and prostrated themselves before her. Some of them mouthed silent prayers. Others choked back silent sobs.

Mind your language, Suni. They will respect you more for it. Use their faith against them.

“I am Suni Straov. The Great Dragon has long doubted your faith and sent me here as his envoy. I came here hoping to prove him wrong, but what did I find?” She jumped down from Hessen’s head, lithe and catlike and began slowly pacing in front of them. “Priests engorged with their ego and wealth! A city in ruins! A people who don’t know what it is to worship and respect their god!” She stopped in front of the familiar smell of the nine priests she’d come across earlier. “Stand up.”

They shuffled into a line in front of her, fighting to be the first to obey and stand nearest to her. One of them dared a glance upwards. The swing of her spear was so unexpected that the priests didn’t realize what had happened until the offending party’s bun had fallen on the ground. “I said stand up, not look up. Are you deaf?” Though she was only a child, a freakishly tall child but a child nonetheless, she appeared to tower over them. The priest could do nothing but shake their head, the greedy fervor from just a moment ago nowhere to be seen. Suni swung her spear once again, causing all nine of them to flinch. Four of them screamed. Three wet themselves. Their sashes fell to the ground. “Strip.”

They didn’t hesitate to obey,

“As of this moment, you are stripped of your positions. You are to live on the lower floors, among the rest of the citizens. You are no longer allowed to live off of tithes or receive special treatment. Now get in the back and out of my sight.”

The nine former priests did as they were told, wearing nothing but their underclothes. If the situation had been different, they may have been jeered and laughed at. As it were though, they made their walk of shame in silence. Suni held her arm out behind her and Hessen dissolved into water that snaked out towards her, wrapping around her arm and forming back into the miniature version of him.

It would be best to keep my true form separate from this smaller version of me. A god should remain mysterious.

“Our god has departed. You may all stand and raise your heads.” She waited for them to find their feet before continuing, “Starting today I will serve as your…” She paused for just a moment, attempting to make up a word that would fit. “…Arha.”

Hessen snorted on her shoulder and turned his head away to hide his laughter. Suni ignored him.

“Together with this messenger the Great White Dragon has left me, I will repair the mistakes you have made and guide you back onto the proper path.”

The crowd stared back at her in silence. Their entire world had been turned upside down in only a few minutes, and they now had no idea how to react. A lone middle aged man wearing a black robe and sash with dark skin and hair that showed the first traces of gray stepped forward. He placed his right fist high on the left side of his chest and bowed his head. “Arha, please guide us.”

The rest followed suit. Their words echoed across the cavern. “Arha, guide us.”

If you can name the book I stole "Arha" from I will give you a cookie
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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The Ring of Muahad

-Twelve Years After Arrival-






A great wall of ashen sand rose a hundred kilometers into Pandjoras’ northern hemisphere, dusken sky blotted by a tide of black grains. Darkness coated the regions surrounding the Dune Sea of the Lost, perpetually afflicted by raging storms and brutal waves of ash blizzards. New knolls of sublimated, umbral grist built up with each gust that blasted through the region. Little survived the bleak reality aside from the slithering forms of void serpents, fist-sized obsidian scarabs, and orange-eyed marsupials with needle-thin pelts. Fragments of broken palaces dating from before the cataclysm sporadically dotted the wastes, accompanied by tiny pools of silvery graviton particles. Devoid of the southern hemisphere’s penumbral stalks, small groups of azure roses bloomed in isolation around these miniature pools. Dusken-skinned humans in extremely low numbers carefully harvested the aforementioned flora, tending to one of their only food sources before disappearing into ancient ruins.

The brutal serenity of the wasteland was interrupted by the heavy thrumming of graviton engines speeding across the umbral sands. In their journey, a gang of harvester dropships blasted through swarms of void serpents and looming sandstorms alike. Each was a fat-bellied, austere craft with quadruple gravity shunts paired on the prow and stern respectively. Grizzly tethers with huge, monomolecular hooks freely hung from beneath the vessel, while variable firing ports passively held elongated gravrifles locked in place. The cockpit on the prow of the vehicle quickly burst through each wave of the ashen blizzards with reinforced umbral glass curved for superior aerodynamics. It continued to barrel through an aeronautical sea of sand, jostling those members within the hull.

A vast deck of vertical seats and gurgling cogitators spread across a boxy interior separated by a cockpit and a lower area. Twenty-four synthetic silk beds hung from skyward railing magnetically locked in position for comfortable, space, and ease of access. Twelve variable vanes acting as firing slits remained closed mid-transit with several Pandjoran-sigil runes lingering nearby for activation. Crackling screens sufficing for external viewports lined the cabin furthest from the bay floor. A short staircase led down to another level full of macabre tools for dissection. Bay doors, shut tight by graviton-powered hydraulics, formed the center of the chamber, while quadruple gravity tethers hung freely from enormous reels at all four corners. Weapon racks lined the walls from the lower and upper decks with a plethora of blades and guns varying in quality. All of these were closely inspected by a dusken deity of staggering proportion.

A team of ten Pandjorans of one House would normally embark on one of the dropships to hunt an elder serpent. Instead, the Malik of Pandjoras, Ramses ibn Varranis, and a mixed group of Bahamutians, Nathazians, and Urahalians resided within the craft. Each one was as solemn as the next, focused on any manner of duty that filled their minds. Pandjoran-powered armor, of a unified design akin to the Varranian-pattern, adorned their patient forms. Sleek rebreathers fit snug to their faces, overshadowed only by midnight-hued cowls of serpent silk. Each individual wore House Varranis’ sigil, the blade and dusken sun, boldly on their armor, while personal sigils from other Houses were emboldened on a single shoulder. Only the dusken deity, Zaphariel, wore vastly different attire than the rest of his retinue. Sleek, modified powered armor of a custom design befitting his station fit his enormous form, and yet the Malik was devoid of a rebreather. A coy smile, typical of his demeanor, was proudly displayed across his lips as he watched Ramses deal with movement illness.

“... Even within a year, you’ve already changed the dropships this much! I’m not certain that I could handle any further advancements.” Ramses stated, kneeling against the bulkhead leading into the cockpit. Sweat perspired on the mature hassan’s forehead as he held open a sack. Flecks of bile dripped from his lips while his rebreather hung around his neck. Gall sloshes inside of the fabric, threatening to spill over with every jostle of their craft.

“I warned you about the transit, uncle. If you cannot fathom such changes on Pandjoras, then I cannot fathom how you remain so obtuse to my warnings.” Zaphariel chided the hassan, shaking his head in feigned disappointment while offering a hand to Ramses. His adoptive uncle refused with a shake of his head, allowing the bile to resettle within his stomach.

“I couldn’t let the Malik of Pandjoras travel without his closest advisor or any hassan. The old man of the mountain would cleave me in two with Azrael. No, I believe it’d be best to-” The dusken-skinned man began to speak before catching his words to spew bile into the cloth. His adoptive nephew patted Ramses’ shoulder in a comforting, pitiful manner. Exhaust, orange eyes turned to regard the promised dreamer with a mixture of gratitude and contempt. He continued to speak after wiping his mouth clean of filth. “-accompany you no matter the distance. No matter what happens to me. Even if I continue to spew gall for thirteen days and thirteen nights, then I’ll simply do so quietly and without you noticing.”

Ramses’ words earned him a toothy grin from the Malik of Pandjoras, who lifted the mature hassan from his slumped position. The bay around them shook under pressure from the oncoming ashen storm, forcing those within to harshly jostle. Zaphariel handily stood his ground, keeping a firm grip on the mature hassan lest he fall into a pile of his filth. His adoptive uncle gave an appreciative nod as he regained his footing against the metallic floor. A single, lightning-quick step was all that was required for the dusken deity to help the Varranian noble into a vertical seat. One of his talon-tipped digits activated a Pandjoran-sigil rune, locking the straps for his mentor.

“If you wanted to help me, Ramses, then you would’ve stayed behind to handle all thirteen of my wives. I can only handle a thousand and one different tales of the same serpent song before I feel the need to wander for thirteen days and thirteen nights. You handle women much better than I, after all.” Zaphariel stated with a playful smile, ruffling the freshly grown beard beginning to compliment his face. The hassan gave his adoptive nephew a worried look before tiredness overtook him, closing both of his orange orbs to savor a single moment of oneness. A glance from the dusken deity to the Pandjoran seated next to Ramses, an Urahalian seer, was all that was required for them to overlook his defeated uncle.

The portal into their dropships cockpit slid open with a press of a rune, the Malik sliding through even before the opening sequence had finished. His golden, serpentine eyes gazed around the austere interior of the craft. A pair of rooms flanked him on either side, one leading to several furnished bunks and another to a faculty. In front of him, five chairs arrayed in a pentagonal shape. Large blocks of terminals surrounded each one, save for the most forward seat. A miniature throne with a worming nest of metallic cables peered out into the ashen blizzard their craft flew through. The Pandjoran pilot at the helm, a Bahamutian experienced with atmospheric flight, was slaved to the harvester’s neural feedback umbilicals. Slithering, chromatic tendrils hooked into several ports augmenting the back of their skull, irritated skin bubbling up around the fleshy plugs. Unlike other Pandjorans, the salvagers of Bahamut had ashen skin dyed by the relentless graviton tempests that raged down endless flakes upon their unprotected forms.

We will be arriving momentarily at Neu Babylos, my Malik.” A deep, reverberating voice hailed from several voxcasters arrayed in the cockpit, yet it failed to shout from the lips of the Pandjoran before Zaphariel. One of the few upgrades he had managed to ply from the fallen palaces was a seat-mounted neural network - or a command throne, as he liked to think of it. A mechanism hissed on the back of the throne, pumping fresh narcotics and other stimulants into the Bahamutian pilot. Tubes full of silvery, black liquid continuously fed into a port around the Pandjoran’s wrists, while smaller drains full of filth emptied below them into the faculty behind them.

“I see Saahir has managed to develop even more ways to synthesize void serpent venom. His industrious attitude never ceases to surprise. Have the ashen platforms already been hailed?” The Malik of Pandjoras said with carefully veiled disgust, actively intrigued by the Malik of Bahamut’s infinite creativity and repulsed in the same thought. His hidden abhorrence wasn’t detected by the pilot, who continued to monitor an unseen field of view. A soundless sigh escaped Zaphariel’s lips, disappointed in the lack of communication with the Bahamutian. Crackling voxcasters burst to life once more as the Pandjoran spoke through neurological connections.

A platform has been designated for your imperial presence, Malik Varranis. The House of Bahamut advises you to change into heavier armor upon arrival.” The pilot stated through the blaring voxcasters, an advisory tone entered into their otherwise monotone voice. Confused, the Malik of Pandjoras eyed the seated form of the Bahamutian with peaked interest. A sly smile began to creep across his lips as he pondered the Pandjoran’s words.

“Is that so? Why is that? Does Saahir think that I’ll blow away with a thousand and one grains of black sand?” The dusken deity asked with his eyes beginning to narrow on the command throne, Zaphariel’s enormous body looming darkly over the Bahamutian. A shiver passed through the seated pilot even while their nerves were synced with the harvester dropship. Sweat began to build up on their ashen forehead, threatening to drip down over their exposed skin.

It is so that we can hear you arrive, Lord Zaphariel, your steps are as soundless as a serpent.” They blurted out around the cockpit in a mixture of fear and anxiety. Zaphariel’s eyes widened in surprise, his serpentine pupils dilating as if affixed on a new type of prey. Thin lips spread wide as laughter burst forth from the dusken deity’s lungs.

Pfuha! Pfuhahaha! A joke? From one that has wandered the umbral sands without dusken shroud for thirteen days and thirteen nights!?” The dusken deity boomed, his laughter filled with enthusiasm and majesty. He laughed heartily from deep within his body, threatening to drown out the sound of graviton engines with his guffawing. Although the pilot couldn’t shift in their throne, Zaphariel was certain that they watched him with fearful eyes. “I demand your name! It shall be enshrined within my mind for eons to come!”

While Zaphariel’s laughter slowly died down, the pilot of the harvester dropship silently mused on the correct words to speak. After the last of the dusken deity’s guffaws, their voice came through the voxcasters in a hushed tone. “Zahia al-Bahamut of the Ta’allan.” They said, announcing their name and their tribal suffix. The Malik of Pandjoras committed it to memory, a toothy grin remaining on his lips after a hearty laugh. Before he was able to respond, warning klaxons rang throughout the interior of the craft. They had finally arrived at their destination.

The Dune Sea of the Lost stretched out endlessly around them in a tidal ocean of ashen dunes. Perpetual graviton tempests blasted the dusken sands with silvery flakes, flattening and cascading new formations across this stretch of Pandjoras. Towering mesas of grey rock crackled with fresh energy, frequently stricken with lilac lightning by each passing storm. Incredible ruins of fallen palaces dotted the landscape in vast quantities, each picked cleanly through by the nomadic tribes of the ashen wasters. Only one object held their particular interest in this corner of the penumbral planet: The Ruins of Old Pandjoras.

A great and terrifying gravity engine the size of Pandjoras’ grandest massif stuck out of an umbral mountain range. Enormous chunks of rusted metal and bulbous domes scattered around the fallen engine in vast quantities. Colossal weapons of unknown caliber or design lay dormant as they stretched from one end of the range to the next. Sheer kilometers of metallic fragments, carbon fiber clumps, and technological clumps filled the gaps between mountain, mesa, and desert. Lonely as it appeared, Pandjorans stalked the haunting corpse of the cataclysm in substantial swathes. Serpent silk tents, carbon fiber yurts, and swarms of broken dropships acted as impromptu settlements for those that ventured into the abyssal depths. Brilliant glow globes dotted locations where the populace was most dense, while tremendous banners of House Bahamut and House Varranis indicated structures with high importance. Each structure, impromptu domicile, and salvaged compound paled in comparison to the hovering citadel tethered nearby.

Eight immense tethers with monomolecular hooks dug into eight towering mesas reinforced with metallic scaffolding and topped with frequently used landing platforms. Each tether rose to an enormous reel attached to one of the many hovering palaces of Pandjoras. Thirteen gravity shunts of preposterous size lifted a series of towering structures atop a circular platform encircled by a rustic wall of metal. Electrifying coils and tarnished cogs heavily decorated the gravitic seraglio, paled only by the billowing smog spilling from leviathan smokestacks. Carbon fiber awnings sheltered gangplanks and causeways between closely dispersed buildings, yet tempest flakes still managed to savagely warp parts of the palace.

“Neu Babylos never ceases to amaze me, the foremost location of the greatest inventors in all of Pandjoras all located in the same place. A labor of love, a dusken desire, and part of the great plan. Wouldn’t you agree, Zahia?” The dusken deity spoke through the klaxons, marveling at the palace that had taken beyond thirteen days and thirteen nights to construct. He fondly remembered combing the Dune Sea of the Lost with Saahir and his ashen tribe, recruiting each nomadic clan they passed, and finishing their home with bits from Old Pandjoras. His conversing partner failed to respond, focused on using their neurally linked network to land the harvester dropship.

The cockpit door slid open behind them, Ramses ibn Varranis stepped through with vastly improved confidence compared to the start of their journey. Flecks of bile that had once decorated his facial hair had disappeared along with his beard, stubble decorating his scarred visage from chin to jaw to lip. Exhaustion still lingered within his orange eyes and fatigue afflicted parts of his movement. The mature hassan still managed to confidently stumble through the dropship to stand beside the dusken deity. He flashed the Malik of Pandjoras a small smile, offering a bow of his head in apology.

“Apologies for the wait, Zaphariel, I hadn’t expected to be so prone to illness. Muahad would be ashamed of me if he were to see me in that state.” The hassan said with humility on his lips, turning his attention away from the dusken deity to the glorious form of Neu Babylon. He whistled in appreciation of the architecture while resting his body against the command throne. Ramses' closeness earned him a slight, angry twitch from Zahia, who guided their craft ever closer to one of the many platform-topped mesas.

“You should be more worried about my approval, Ramses. You looked dramatically better with a full set of facial hair. Not that your wife, Yaminah, will complain though.” Zaphariel said in a playful tone, eyeing every specific detail on the hassan’s matured face. Ramses raised a hand to fend off a wave of fluster at the mention of his spouse and in a vain attempt to hide from the dusken deity’s scanning. A pair of talon-tipped gauntlets slowly rose from the Malik of Pandjoras as if prepared to attack his adoptive uncle. Their momentary event was interrupted by the voxcasters blaring to life once more with Zahia’s voice.

Cease your play-fighting, my lord. To all other crew, prepare for the final approach. Reel the gravity tethers, roll the weapon cages, and close all variable portals. We have arrived at Neu Babylos.” Zahia stated in a monotone voice. A great cacophony of noise blasted behind the trio of Zaphariel, Ramses, and the Bahamutian pilot. Pandjorans that had once been buckled to their vertical seats were now unleashed to perform their aeronautical duties. Partially open vanes were closed after the heavy gravguns were rolled in. Gravity tethers were reeled in via automated graviton-fed miniature engines. Weapon racks, filled with jostling weapons, were magnetically locked for descending procedures. All twenty-four of the vertical seats were actuated, allowing them to fold skyward to open the deck for superior movement. Four Bahamutians urgently barged into the cockpit, deftly avoiding both of the hassans to occupy co-pilot seats and terminals alike.

The oncoming dropship quickly approached one of the many enormous, reinforced mesas that encircled Neu Babylos. Specifically, their craft descended upon one illuminated by four harshly blinking glow globes with crimson-hued bulbs. A small group of Bahamutians awaited a distance away from the landing platform, one of their number more highly ornate than the rest. Four landing gears unfurled from the vessel, flat-footed mechanisms aiming to squarely complete the arrival sequence. Once the harvester was fully landed, all three reinforced doors on the left, right, and back opened up to roll out boarding ramps. Many of the Pandjoras trickled out from any of the exits except the pilot, Zahia, who remained synced to their command throne. As the dusken deity turned to disembark, one of the Bahamutian’s hands grabbed hold of his arms. Turning around in surprise, the androgynous pilot rewarded him with a small, thankful smile beneath their trio of crimson lenses.




The last of Zaphariel’s retinue left the harvester dropship, turning to watch as it rose into the ashen sky once more. Night had begun to fall on an already dusken world, further casting great shadows over all of Neu Babylos. Glow globes grew brighter as darkness loomed over the Bahamutian edge of the planet. Hundreds of red lenses glinted in the brief bit of artificial light, revealing large pockets of House Bahamut Pandjorans skittering about Old Pandjoras like mechanical insects. It all paled in comparison to the crimson hive that swarmed before their procession. Five individuals wearing the ashen cloaks of the wastes surrounded a greater being of staggering proportions. A dusken shroud of exquisitely woven serpent silk cowled over its features, allowing only thirteen crimson lenses and a heavy rebreather to remain visible on their person. The thrumming of a graviton-fed engine could be heard within their apparel, though they weren’t bulky enough to hide such an unfathomably large component. Hissing mechanics revealed a cluster of metallic arms from beneath their robes, each gripping some form of intricate cane to steady themselves.

+’Welcome once again to Neu Babylos, great one.’+ The thing said in a voice that reverberated several times over. The tone would’ve been pleasant were it not for the abyssal masking over their lips. It earned a small smile from the Malik of Pandjoras, yet he couldn’t help but feel dejected at the thought of what the former ruler had become.

“I see you’ve continued to augment yourself once more, Saahir. I expected that type of fervent attitude from the Urahalians, yet it doesn’t surprise me that you went against my advice. Was it the elder venom or the tempest flakes that forced you this time?” Zaphariel asked as he closed the distance between himself and the Malik of Bahamut. Saahir reached out with his only remaining, fleshy limb to grip forearms with the dusken deity. The rest of the umbral king’s cohort remained several meters back, suspicious of the thing that called itself Saahir. In a sense, he also shared their unnerving reaction to the ashen waster’s absurd growth, yet it was his intervention in the Dune Sea of the Lost that had propelled this outcome.

+’The tempest flakes had churned my body during our magnetic shielding experiments, but the latter half of my body was augmented due to the venom. Save your worry for our future, Lord Zaphariel, I gladly forsake my humanity for your vision of Pandjoras.’+ Saahir responded in a solemn tone, his voice filled with humility and gratitude. Zaphariel felt a part of his masquerade chip away, yet he resolved to utilize whatever was left of the great ashen waster’s vitality for their dusken world. He simply smiled, lowering his golden, serpentine eyes to gaze into each crimson lens.

“It will not come to that, my friend. You will see the great plan come to fruition upon a thousand and one grains of black sand spread across thirteen hundred worlds.” As Zaphariel spoke, he could sense Saahir shift where none other could. It was as if he was trying to prostrate with limbs that he no longer had. An air of fervent exaltation swam around the being that rose just shy of the dusken deity, propelled by any manner of hidden mechanism.

+’You honor me, yet it is not for myself that you have come to Neu Babylos today. It is to claim dominion over Pandjoras once and for all, is it not? Come and see what I have mused upon for thirteen days and thirteen nights.’+ The mechanical monstrosity that was Saahir shifted upon unknowable components, gliding away towards a heavily shrouded mesa to their immediate right. All five Bahamutians around the Malik of Bahamut followed him, carefully lifting parts of his dusken robe lest it dust against the masonic stone. Ramses shared a look with Zaphariel as they watched the great being move across the magnetic railing connecting each platform. The dusken deity merely shook his head, moving forward to follow after their terrifying host.

Magnetically driven platforms on metallic rails delivered the combined cohorts of Zaphariel and Saahir to the experimental mesa. Awning stretched from far above the reinforced column, draped by a hovering machine on miniature gravity shunts. Several Bahamutians in ashen robes patrolled the edges of the veiled structure, gravrifles and Varranian-powered donning their aggressive forms. As the biomechanical monstrosity that was Saahir grew closer, a pair of the Pandjorans spread open a dusken curtain to allow their entry. As the dusken deity passed, he witnessed the sheer size of the Bahamutian sentinels. No doubt, he thought, Saahir had augmented them with a thousand and one different reinforcements.

Inside the veiled mesa was an extraordinary amount of projects tended to by ashen wasters of all different sizes and scales. Multi-limbed engineers tended to minute, precise components, while hulking warriors with plentiful, venom-filled tubes hefted large chunks of metal to be crafted together. Miniature machines with gravitic shunts wandered back and forth, delivering smaller items constructed within the depths of Neu Babylos. Urahalians dotted their number with dusken shrouds covering their bald heads, wyrd weaving from their hands to afflict reality with fresh sores. Nathazian dropship masters fiercely spoke with Bahamutian pilots on the details of certain specifications. It was an accumulated series of projects that brought their world together, one way or another.

Each experimental machine was a wonder to Zaphariel’s eyes. Bipedal, humanoid machines of gargantuan proportion rose above his head with menacing claws and shoulder-mounted gravcannons. Vastly smaller, sleeker vehicles fit for a single operator idled nearby with singular gravitic engines. Behemoth war machines on a variety of gravity shunts attempted the first activation, while gravweapons the size of an elder serpent were lowered onto a swivel-mount. Back-mounted, personal-use gravity engines were tested with some success nearby, influenced only by the weight of two-handed armaments. It amazed him to no end what the Pandjorans were capable of, nearly bringing a tear to his eye with a sense of achievement. All of these inventions paled in comparison to the hulking vehicle at the center of the mesa.

A vessel that he could’ve only imagined in his dreams lay before the umbral king’s eyes. What had once been a harvester dropship was unlike anything that it had once been. A pair of gravitic engines triple the size, a body double the size, and a length as long as the great wyrm of the void stood on the platform. Heaving graviton tanks were mated to areas where turrets, gravity hooks, and the lower deck would normally reside. The term ‘dropship’ was no longer an accurate title for what awaited them on the platform. It instead stood as a penumbral corvette of improbable power, though lacked any offensive demeanor.

+’The Bahamut-class Corvette, a craft with no military purpose and built for the sake of breaching Pandjoras’ unusual atmosphere. A great being that would’ve taken me a thousand and one years to assemble without the assistance of House Nathaz, House Urahal, and House Varranis. It had begun as a converted harvester dropship, but it quickly become apparent that the original design was not intended for spaceflight. Everything needed to be rebuilt up from umbral sand. Heavier plating, denser engines, graviton pods, Urahalian meditation chambers, experimental magnetic shielding, hyper synthesized venom-fueled generators. We used every note from our ancestors to achieve a creature somewhat resembling our ancient starcrafts.’+ The Malik of Bahamut said, beginning to explain every small detail that led up to the creation of the corvette. He spread all of his arms wide in an excited gesture. The great plan had been conceived, gestated, and was ready to be born anew into Pandjoras. Scarlet lenses turned to regard the dusken deity, who eyed the corvette with wonder in his golden eyes.

“Impossible, within three years you’ve managed to create something like this? This wasn’t the only project, either. You’ve managed to invent machines of all purposes from war machines to commercial novelties. I am… beyond pleased with your progress. The great plan is ready to be born, my friend,” Zaphariel stated with a hearty chuckle, planting obsidian talons on what could only possibly be Saahir’s shoulder. The Malik of Pandjoras was responded to with harsh and awkward coughing, construed only as the ashen waster’s sheepish chortling. The dusken deity opened his mouth once more to speak, a toothy grin spreading across his lips. “But is it prepared for immediate launch? You wouldn’t have invited me to Neu Babylos for anything less than a finished product.”

A short, pregnant silence overtook the Bahamutians that lead them to the corvette. The thirteen crimson lenses of Saahir seemed to whirl as if to muse upon the inquiry. Each of the great ashen waster’s attendants turned their augmented visors toward their House ruler in anticipation of his answer. The enormous mechanical being began to address the dusken deity, a solemn air overtaking the scholarly attitude he had performed earlier. The heavy rebreather unleashed a coughing fit that echoed across the experimental mesa, turning the attention of every worker towards himself. One of his fleshy digits was raised to point upwards toward the darkened sky.

+'It is with utmost certainty that it is prepared for atmospheric flight. The great plan is within your hands, Lord Zaphariel,’+ Malik Saahir announced, earning a beaming smile from the dusken deity. The rest of the cohort exploded into a cacophony of cheers. Praises of glory were shared between the Pandjroans as the long-awaited dream rapidly approached. If one could discern the Bahamutian ruler’s facial features, they surely would’ve discovered the smile on his long-forgotten lips. He cleared his throat once more to refocus the attention of Zaphariel’s cohort. +’Will you travel beyond a thousand and one grains of black sand, my Malik?’+

Perhaps it was the way that it was said by Saahir that forced his next action, or maybe it was the excitement that had already built up in his body. Zaphariel exploded into a fit of howling laughter, confidence woven into each guffaw. Sharp teeth, capable of puncturing serpent scale and meat alike, flashed with each howl. Even with his plentiful augmentations, the great ashen waster felt fear and awe filter through his mechanical body. It only further propelled his inherent loyalty to the Malik of Pandjoras, desperately compelling his altered form to prostrate where it no longer could. The Malik of Bahamut settled for bowing his head as deeply as he could.

I will do more than that, Saahir! The void will be claimed by no less than the duskenborn of Pandjoras! Come, my friends, witness our glory!” Zaphariel said with a voice that thundered for miles, reverberating a thousand and one times over. Wyrd coagulated in each syllable, further enforcing the excitement and confidence he felt in those around him. A great chorus of cheers erupted from all of the Pandjorans, ranging from those of the dusken deity’s cohort and the augmented ashen wasters of Bahamut. The colossal form of the promised dreamer stepped forward toward the corvette, leading his cohort who loudly bellowed the glory of their Malik into the night. Saahir watched from afar as many of their number congregated around his liege.

As Saahir was left to himself with his retainers, he felt a long-forgotten emotion well up from his being as each crimson lens watched Zaphariel leave. Each of his hands were brought together in a steeple, his head inclined towards the dusken deity, and his rebreather muttered words in a spirited chant unheard by those around him.

+’O’ dusken deity, may the stars and sands align to ward over His journey, and may He claim His rightful dominion over the universe. Umbral sands of Pandjoras, guide His hand over the Star Serpent for eternity.’+




The inside of the corvette was similar to the harvester dropship, yet staggeringly different in several areas. A singular, long corridor made up the vast majority of the vessel, sectioned off by bulkhead and quarters alike. Devoid of a lower deck for hauling fresh meat and resources, a singular chamber for an Urahalian sand seer was placed where an ascender normally would remain. Weapon racks, gravrifle turrets, and terminals were all replaced to save space for storage, weight, and larger seatbeds. Several Bahamutian entourages awaited in this area, strapping themselves to the vertical placements. Atmospheric suits complimented their forms, bulky powered armored retrofitted for the possibility of void expeditions. Rebreathers stretched up into full helmets of reinforced obsidian glass, doming over facial features and skulls alike. Only Zaphariel, Ramses, a veteran pilot, and a Nathazian shipwright sat in the cockpit.

An entirely reconstructed cockpit surrounded the umbral king. Where obsidian glass would normally allow those within to view Pandjoras were thick layers of blast-shielding. Several monitors tied directly to different functions of the corvette actively read old, new, and present data in near-instantaneous statistics. A command throne sat at the center of this chamber, larger than any of the recently retrofitted harvester dropships had. Prolific cables spread out in a web across the room, stretching beyond to unknown areas of the ship. Their pilot sat on this throne, slaved to the system that would’ve overwhelmed normal Pandjorans. Plentiful augmentations bolstered their dusken form, yet none-so-much as the mess of mechanical serpents that snaked out of their skull. To Zaphariel’s dismay, the ashen waster’s nerves had been stapled some time ago through intensive surgery, leaving a remarkably humorless Pandjoran to discuss with.

The dusken deity sat on a slightly raised platform behind the command throne, his seat angled to watch a monitor connected to an externally mounted pict-recorder. Opposite the umbral king sat his adoptive uncle, who was silently chanting the teachings of Muahad to himself. All of the excitement that initially paraded the Malik of Pandjoras onboard had diminished to a significant extent, yet he was still enthralled by the wonder of Saahir’s progress. He knew that in a manner of moments their craft would be spearing through the atmosphere of the dusken world. The mere thought of it was enough to keep a toothy grin plastered across his thin lips.

All souls have been counted aboard the corvette, Lord Zaphariel. Safety restraints - satisfactory. Trajectory - satisfactory. Graviton storage - satisfactory. Approval for launch - satisfactory. We are prepared for an experimental launch. Requesting clearance for atmospheric flight...” The voice whispered across each voxcast, their voice trailing off as if focusing on another matter leagues away from their current affair. Zaphariel knew of the Bahamutian sigilic language, one of precision, logic, and faith that belied the suave tone of the Pandjoric dialect. Perhaps unconsciously, their pilot reflexively twisted their fingers in a practiced code that reflected the secret tongue of the ashen wastes. An invisible conversation was held between the waster and their leader, ending as quickly as it had begun. “...approved. We will now begin the first flight beyond Pandjoras. Glory unto the black sands of the umbral world.

“Let it be done! Glory awaits us in the void!” Zaphariel echoed the final phrase of the pilot, a myriad of cheers and cries from within and outside of the corvette. Ramses flashed a smile to his adoptive nephew, turning away to enter oneness in avoidance of his rapidly changing environment. The Malik’s eyes were perpetually glued to the monitor, eager to see the fruits of their labor in real-time. Many of the Pandjorans on the experimental mesa had since cleared out, a barrier erected around the corvette to avoid damaging any prototypes. Only Saahir and a handful of his personal cohort watched from the edge of the platform. The awning that veiled the dock had been untethered, allowing free ascent into the dusken sky above. Everything had been prepared specifically for this single moment, and hundreds of Bahamutians watching with bated breath.

Enormous gravity engines thrummed to life with an impossibly ear-shattering sound that defied any cry heard on Pandjoras. Heavily sublimated graviton particles propelled the elongated shuttle upwards in a shaky ascent. Convergent nozzles began to narrow, shaping the stream of jettisoned particles into a roaring torrent of aetheric liquid that ushered an urgent climb. The hulking drop ship roared upwards with an intensity that belied the chassis it was originally based on. Several magnetically fused panels began to chip in pieces from raining tempest flakes and graviton rock alike. A great pulsation of energy spread out from the center of their craft, lilac bubbles coalescing into a wide shield that propelled debris and environment away from the vessel. Unhindered by Pandjoras’ raining refuse, the corvette burst forward through the atmosphere with the speed of a serpent swarm. A second shield activated as darkness greeted their view, magnetic barriers further reinforcing the Urahalian wyrd. Clouds of metallic detritus slammed against both aegises in their sprint through Pandjoras’ celestial ring. Intense vibrations threatened to knock the starship off-course, rocking those within to an extremely uncomfortable degree. This persisted for several long, anguishing minutes before the craft was finally free of impending doom. The lilac barrier faded away as their voyage came to a thankful halt.

Launch - successful. Glory unto Pandjoras. Affirming crew survival status...” The voice of the pilot broke through the tension in the cabin. Pandjorans began to stir in the chamber behind them, several unbuckling from their seat and floating into non-existent gravity. A pair of ashen wasters hovered close to assist the Urahalian seer, who seemed nearly on the verge of death from wyrd strain. Others began to slowly grab analyzing tools, slave to terminals, or repair minor damage across the bay. “...affirmed - satisfactory. Beginning scanning procedures, Lord Zaphariel, await confirmation of celestial presences.

Ramses felt ill, more so than he did originally on their journey to Neu Babylos. Luckily, this time, he hadn’t vomited inside his helmet. The hassan turned his eyes to witness Zaphariel clamber out of his seat, freely floating within zero gravity. Although he couldn’t tell how his facial features were arranged, Ramses could tell that his adoptive nephew held an impossibly wide smile on his lips. Their attention was drawn to the monitors as exterior lights on the corvette began to awaken in a desperate search of the surrounding area. Beams of highly concentrated light searched the celestial ring that orbited their dusken world, eager to discover whatever was possible to gleam about their home.

Wait,” Zaphariel stated as he narrowed both his golden, serpentine eyes on a piece of floating formation passing by their craft. His floating form rapidly approached the monitor, scanning over every shadowy detail unhindered by concentrated beams of light. A taloned digit rose to hover just above the screen. “... Something lingers here, adjust the vessel and aim all light sources on this piece of rock.”

Adjusting to the commands of the Malik, the pilot guided the corvette through their interlinked nervous system. The vessel groaned as it shifted several degrees, aiming a myriad of high-intensity lights where turrets would normally be. As the craft grew closer to the object of Zaphariel’s desires, the truth of the elongated piece came to be known to them. It was not, in fact, chunks of celestial rock that had impeded their ascent into the void. They were remnants of ancient, forgotten void craft from before the cataclysm. Husks of Old Pandjoras listed in a death spiral, unmanned and unoperated for countless millennia. All around the singular vessel were several other void wrecks weaving through cosmic dust and shattered moon fragments alike.

The umbral king could feel the attitude of the Pandjorans in the craft shift. Fear, anxiety, grief, and hopelessness wafted through like a repugnant oder. Zaphariel refused to bow before such defeat, floating away from the monitor to hover beside the command throne. The Bahamutian pilot turned his crimson lenses to the dusken deity, curiously watching the leader of their world act unperturbed by the revelation. One of the snaking appendages unlinked from a nervous connector, allowing the Malik of Pandjoras to connect it to his powered armor. Reign of the voxcasters, external and internal, were surrendered to the promised dreamer.

I am Zaphariel ibn Varranis, Malik of Pandjoras, Umbral King of the Dusken Sands, Caliph of Neu Alamut, Hassan of House Varranis, and Emissary of Falak. If you can hear this transmission, then know that you are no longer alone in the darkness of the void. We have claimed destiny! Rise from your tombs, respond to my voice, and join us in glory!” The Malik of Pandjoras was no fool, he already knew that not a single soul was alive aboard the plethora of spiraling wrecks around their dusken world. His voice reverberated several times over, flowing with the unseen energies of his destiny. Every word of his outward cry was heard from those within, Pandjorans hanging off every syllable that he spoke. The effect was immediately felt throughout the vessel. Hope bloomed as an azure flower from a graviton pond. The aura of defeat dispersed, replaced by enthusiasm and ambition. The dusken deity turned his head to regard the pilot, disconnecting the metallic tendril and moving away from the throne.

Wordlessly, the corvette began to move further along Pandjoras’ ring as Zaphariel traveled further back into the residential deck. Starships, orbital stations, freighters, warships, observation decks, and more floated in destroyed masses along the celestial ring of Pandjoras. Fragments of broken moons, likely destroyed by the cataclysm, cast wide shadows over the dusken world. Ramses marveled at the sheer amount of debris, rocks, and ruins clustering around their homeworld. He thought to himself a moment longer when it finally struck him with an epiphany.

“It cannot be… the shattered rocks, the wrecks, and everything that makes up the ring around Pandjoras is the reason our world is eternally dusken?” Ramses whispered to himself as the dusken deity passed through the portal into the next chamber. Stirred by the departure of his monarch, the hassan unbuckled himself and accompanied Zaphariel with urgency in his floating figure. He arrived just as the Malik of Pandjoras was beginning to gather each of the crew members in a partial circle around himself. A singular monitor displayed the entirety of Pandjoras’ dark surface with its celestial ring in constant orbit.

Zaphariel pointed to their homeworld with a single talon-tipped digit, drawing the attention of each Pandjoran with his strange movement. Ramses watched intently, even as he felt their corvette lurch to a full stop with Pandjoras on full display. Unconsciously, the hassan pulled out his dataslate to record anything and everything that his adoptive nephew was about to say. Damn near everything he spoke was worthy of recording after he became their world’s monarch. His fingers moved as the Malik of Pandjoras opened his mouth, breathing words he hadn’t expected into reality.

Do you see what has become of our umbral ancestors? Forgotten, dead, and decaying in a death spiral around Pandjoras. I cannot fault them for how they passed during the cataclysm, nor will I shame them for their demise. We will grow stronger from their sacrifice, we will rebuild what our ancestors had left for us, and we will go beyond what they had achieved in their lifetimes. Their spirits will be avenged when we claim dominion over the Star Serpent,” His voice was somber and solemn, each word emphasized to draw the most emotional response from the gathered Pandjorans. Ramses watched as each of them drew closer, hinging on every word spoken by their umbral liege. They danced on the palm of his hands, yet his nephew seemed consumed by his own desire to claim destiny. “And so I promise every Pandjoran on our world here and now! We will fill the stars of Pandjoras a thousandfold as our ancestors once did! Every wreck that orbits our world will breathe life once more as an umbral armada for the Star Sultanate!

Their cries of adulation flung from trembling lips, every Pandjoran prostrating as much as they could in zero gravity. None held the attention of the dusken deity. Only the swirling world of Pandjoras held sway over his golden, serpentine eyes. Hesitantly, Zaphariel turned away from his beloved homeworld to glance at Ramses’ recording figure. The Malik of Pandjoras was no stranger to his adoptive uncle’s habit of encapturing every one of his speeches. He had even grown used to the idea of dedicating someone to chronicling his reign, yet it all paled in comparison to the far-flung dream of a united Star Serpent. He desired more for his people, no matter what it may cost him. The promise dreamer gestured for their return to the cabin, further echoing the movement to the Nathazian shipwright accompanying them. Both followed him shortly after he floated back to the cockpit.

“Let it be known here and now to both of the highest present representatives of your Houses,” Zaphariel began to speak to the pilot of their craft and the shipwright from House Nathaz. Unable to turn their head, the Bahamutian simply nodded their head while slaved to the command throne. The Nathazian woman dipped her head in respect, awaiting the next words the dusken deity would speak. “House Bahamut will oversee the restoration of everything in the celestial ring around Pandjoras, including every starship that can be repaired. House Nathaz will refit every vessel in the creation of an Umbral Armada, our future starfaring fleet for the Star Sultanate. Know these tasks well and report back to your House leaders with these. I’m certain Saahir and Jericho will be quite pleased. Let the Umbral Mountains become the first grounds for a starport as was depicted by our forlorn ancestors.”

Each nodded their head in agreement, perhaps happy to simply be the focus of the dusken deity or exhilarated to personally assist Pandjoras’ technological advancement. Both began to return to their duties when Ramses cleared his throat to draw their attention to him. Zaphariel cocked his head in confusion for the hassan never made a severe comment about his plans. He listened intently to the mature hassan as he broached a new subject for their ears.

“All is good and well, Zaphariel, but there is a severe lack of knowledge in one regard for Pandjoras,” Ramses stated, pointedly referring to the celestial ring that surrounded their homeworld in a perpetual spin, “our ancestors never had a ring around their world, nor had they ever anticipated the shattering of their moons. It is your discovery, nephew, but I would advise that you name it on this occasion. Lest someone take it upon themselves to bestow an unfitting name upon it.”

The dusken deity broadly smiled beneath the helmet. It had slipped his mind to even consider using this occasion to name the celestial formation that he had watched for two decades. He floated close to Ramses, ushering him closer to the monitor that watched over Pandjoras. The mature hassan felt an unexplainable emotion build within himself as if fate listened in on their conversation. When Zaphariel opened his mouth next, his voice was a serpent’s song of reverberating beauty. It felt as if reality shifted to perfectly orchestrate that very moment.

The Ring of Muahad.
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Pentious


Forge-Beta


Deep in the core databanks of the ship that had been converted into the heart of Forge-Alpha lay instructions and rites that had largely gone unused by the residents of Pentious. The original goal of their expedition had been to brave the uncertainties of the galaxy in order to locate long abandoned colonies and planets of humanity, with a priority being set to locate lost forgeworlds; As such, the fleet had been granted the knowledge of how to undertake the task of restoration of a forgeworld, ranging from the best case scenario of maintenance and repairs for simple neglect and disuse to catastrophic levels of damage caused by a variety of sources.

The level of damage that Forge-Beta had undergone due to its history of warfare and its occupation by the orks was utterly unacceptable; In fairness, the fact that any damage at all had befallen the Forge during its existence was unacceptable; The damage done during the reclamation led by Rik was regrettable, but forgivable. Even more so due to the damage being limited to the more optimistic of calculations that had been brought forth.

On the physical side of things there was plenty of work that was going to need to be done. The orkish 'tech' needed to be torn out or destroyed and the spores of the greenskins purged from the facility, least further orks start spawning inside the walls. The walls themselves were largely intact and after several scans and surveys were deemed to be acceptable for the short term; While many weapons would need to be replaced and temporary sensor systems set up, the physically barrier itself could be left for the time being until the planet was more stable and thus tearing out part of the defensive walls to replace them with proper human construction rather then some ramshackle ork crap didn't risk Beta being overrun again.

The spirits of the Forge however... that was a lot more complicated.

Some of the machine spirits of the Forge had, despite all the years under Greenskin slavery, responded to the call to arms of their former human masters and caretakers. These were among some of the first to undergo inspection and treatment. Those tech priests who were blessed with the task were more than honored to do so as these resilient machine spirits deserved their long overdue maintained rites. Some were more... complicated then others.

The occupation had taken their toll on them and while they had still been willing to aid the returns of humanity, some where more corrupted and damaged then others. Three of them were feared to be so far gone as to be beyond help, but when these concerns were raised Myrmdon Uixien took time away from his other duties to personally try and bring these heroic spirits back from the brink.

The recordings of Myrmdon Uixien's efforts would be shared and actively be used as an advanced course for those inducted into the higher callings of the machine cult in regard to advanced maintenance protocols and repair for for a badly damaged machine spirit. An eye opening experience at just what a tech priest could truly do if they put their minds to it and what kind of damage could be undone if you were creative and dedicated enough... along side what couldn't be.

Of the three machine spirits, two made recoveries that would have been considered miraculous if it wasn't for the evidence of the work that went into saving them. There was no miracle for the third one.

It had been the machine spirit of one of the secondary power grids that the orks had enslaved and abused to a somewhat noticeable degree more than most, slaved to provide power to the abominations devised by the mek boys. When the call came, it answered by overloading itself in order to destroy said devices, killing and maiming a surprising number of greenskins in the process. It had been abused and poorly maintained for a long time and in the end that final act of rebellion against its slavers was its final moment of clarity from the insanity of program corruption that had been eating away at it for years.

No one would ever be able to claim that Myrmdon Uixien hadn't done everything he could to try and perform a third 'miracle', but despite what analysts reviewing the process that Rik used would label as a 'superhuman effort', in the end all Uixien could do was bow his end in restrained sorrow and perform one of the rites of deletion to euthanize the machine spirit and end its pain.

As he turned to return to his duties, Myrmdon Uixien turned to those observing (and recording) and made a brief statement that was observed by those watching those recordings for educational purposes down the line. "In a triage situation, I would have terminated that poor machine spirit without hesitation so that I could focus on those that might still be saved. This was not a triage situation... and for surviving all this time, battered and tortured by the orks as it was while managing to retain enough of itself to raise up when the call of liberation finally came without being deafened or broken beforehand... To give it anything short of my best would have been disrespectful to it."
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itarichan

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Hessen was very careful to tell Suni to watch her behavior and speech; he wanted her to act the part of a divine messenger to gain their respect. It lasted for a little under two weeks, which was longer than he expected. Currently, a month after her first appearance in the mountain, Suni sat in a meeting, head resting in her palm and eyes crossed to look at the pencil she was wiggling between her upper lip and nose.

“Arha!”

The pencil fell from its perch and tumbled onto the floor.

Leave it, Suni

Suni reluctantly abandoned the pencil and sat straight in her chair, turning her attention to the six men and women seated around her.

Faro, the man who had first stepped forward for her a month before, handed her a folder, “Arha, the six of us have each written reports for you to look over. They will give you an idea of the current state of affairs here in Pale and the greater Vaharan mountain range, as well as our suggestions of how to move forward.”

Suni accepted the folder sagely.

“If you don’t mind, we’ll go over the financial reports first.” Suni shuffled through the folder and brought one of the packets to the front. She looked at Faro and gave him a slight nod. He gestured to the woman sitting across from him. “Tilda?”

The woman was thin and had a pinched face with high cheekbones. She stood and cleared her throat, “It will be difficult for us to find the proper funds to repair the generators, but once the capital meets– Arha, you’re looking at the wrong report.”

“Oh sorry, I can’t tell which is which.”

“Pardon?”

“Well, I can’t read them.”

Tilda blinked rapidly several times, “Why didn’t you tell us earlier you couldn’t read?”

“You never asked.”

“Now, now, no need to get worked up over this,” Faro said and motioned Tilda to sit back down. "Arha, we’ll arrange a tutor for you. With your intelligence I’m sure you’ll be able to learn in no time.”

Suni looked back down at the packet. The words on the smooth rock paper looked like masses of black horizontal blurs. “Oh, I don’t think that will be necessary. I can’t see well enough to read.”

Faro pinched the bridge of his nose, “Arha, I will schedule a time to go over the reports with you. For now I suggest we adjourn our meeting.”

Suni glanced up at Hessen, who was resting on her head, his head dangling onto her forehead and front limbs splayed out to the sides.

He means pause it until later.

Suni leaned back in her chair and kicked her feet up onto the table, face screwed into a glare. “I think we should hold off on doing anything drastic until I visit the capital. Nothing matters until everyone in Vaharan knows of my existence and our God’s presence. After that, I will go to Azoras and demand they share their resources so we can restore Pale and other cities here. Let’s say… in about six months.”

The advisors exchanged uneasy glances around the table, “Six months, Arha?” Gallen asked from next to Tilda, “Should we not wait until you’re an adult?”

“No worries. I’ll be fully grown by then.”

It seemed preposterous, and yet made sense at the same time. In the short month she had been here, Suni had grown from a large child to a teenager that towered over the tallest man in the mountain. Tilda opened her mouth to protest, but Faro held up a hand to stop her. “Arha, if you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?”

Somehow Suni had retrieved the pencil from the ground without anyone noticing and returned it to its rightful place on her upper lip, “A year and eight months now I think. I don’t really keep track.”

“That’s impossible,” Tilda muttered under her breath.

Suni sprang on top of the table in one fluid motion, the pencil clattered to the floor once more. “Are you accusing me of lying, Tilda?”

The older woman shrank back in her chair, “No, Arha! Never! I only, it’s just, outside the realm of my knowledge how such a thing could be possible.”

Suni sighed and shook her head, walking along the edge of the circular table, “I told you when I got here. I was sent here by your god. Don’t you see? He made me for this. My sole purpose is to act as his messenger.” They looked up at her, eyes full of wonder and worship. Suni squatted down in front of Tilda, marble eyes unblinking. Her tail patted the woman lightly on the cheek. “There’s nothing to worry about. Six months from now I’m going to make the bastards from Azoras bow their heads to me.”

That evening, Faro came across Suni in the library. She was resting on her stomach, head cupped in her hands and legs bent over until they touched the ground in a scorpion shape. An open tome lay in front of her.

“Arha.”

“Faro.”

“What are you doing?”

Hessen turned the page with a flick of his tail. The barest hint of a smile danced on Suni’s face. “Why, reading, of course.”
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Hidden 6 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Pentious


Forge-Beta


Nature abhorred a vacuum. Orks merely saw it as an opportunity.

With the Kneekapperz's effectively destroyed as a tribe, with its leadership beheaded and its power base shattered and taken by the local humans, a power vacuum had been created in the orkish political landscape. While Forge-Beta had been a weaker position of power and production for greenskin kind due largely to the fact that parts of its self-destruct rituals had been triggered in earnest while an utterly brutal defense beforehand and during said rituals had spent most of its stockpiles and likewise damaged more of it in the process while other forges had by comparison been taken with relatively little issue, it had still been a position of power.

One that was, by Greenskin standards, now up for grabs. The fact that the humans had been the ones to take it and were intent on keeping it was more of a bonus in their violence loving, reptile eyes.

This was to be expected of course. Part of the calculations and plans for retaking Forge-Beta was holding it from those greenskins seeking to claim it for themselves. They had covered their bases in that regard because any campaign in which calculations of the possibilities weren't hammered down to the final 1 or 0 was one that was taking a high degree of unacceptable risk. They had been prepared for anything.

...So in true orkish fashion, they broke reality.

..................................


Examining the dead post battle was a sadly necessary tradition of humanity from well before they had originally left their homeworld. Normally it was to allow for recognition of the dead so that a life that was cut short for one reason or another could be officially declared deceased and the proper records kept, messages sent home to survivors, ect. Sometimes through, it was to work out just what exactly had killed them, in the hopes that the knowledge would help save others.

As Rik walked along the site of the now ended battle he felt the rage, horror and disgust that his body was producing at the brutal, unnatural things he was seeing. He isolated them, implants assisting with the process because right then and there they were merely a hindrance in performing the task in front of him... but once it was done he intended to allow himself to experience the sensations in full. Failing to experience them at all would have been inhuman after all.

Some of the dead had been killed in more... conventional manners. Blunt trauma, bullet wounds, blades... typical injuries and causes of death where orks were concerned. Their deaths were unfortunate and those skitarii would be missed, but they weren't the reason for this autopsy in the field.

Even from a distance, he could feel the warmth radiating from the still molten, still glowing corpses of the fallen. Even as he observed them, listening to the occasional pop or burst of some piece of cybernetic that had somehow survived being turned to slag finally surrendered to the heat, his mind was processing the combat footage. Those viewpoints that didn't reveal the information he needed were put aside until he had a collection of several feeds, showing an interesting pair of orks.

The first was designated as a 'Weird Boy'. Such creatures had been encountered by the humans of Pentious before, through they were rare. Their abilities were... poorly understood, with the how and why so far being unknown. Their rarity and habit of not dying in one piece (be it via their own unstable power or the effort needed to kill them) made dissection attempts few and far between.

What he did know was that the vid feeds showed the greenskin shooting some kind of lightning from its glowing eyes that 'chained' between several Skitarii. Despite the fact that the standard implants and kit of the Skitarii included means to ground themselves from electrical discharges, armor being non-conductive and had plenty of systems in place to prevent overheating, within seconds all those struck started to be cooked alive as all the metal in their bodies heated up to the point of melting... and remained in that state over an hour later. The screaming stopped after forty five minutes.

The second persona of interest was clearly a Mek Boy... and thus one was wielding something that was completely new to the war on Pentious as far as records Rik had access to could tell.

From the vid feeds, the Mek Boy had some kind of cage on its side filled with the smaller 'gretchen' subspecies and a strange, closed tube like 'weapon' under its other arm. It would take the time to fish out a clearly unwilling and unhappy Gretchen and shove it into a slot on the side of the tube before pointing it towards a target and pulling a trigger. Vid feeds tended to get... glitchy whenever the trigger was pulled, unable to properly record whatever exactly was happening. The aftermath, however...

Watching a gretchen be morphed with someone like what records revealed to be a technological teleport gone horribly wrong was terrible enough, but it seemed that whatever process the ork was using to teleport its 'ammo' also drove them completely insane as their cowardly nature was completely abandoned as they started to recklessly attack whomever they were now fused with or inside of, intent on digging themselves out.

The grand finale of the 'Weird Boy' loudly declaring that "'e could dos t'at too!' before looking towards a Skitarii and...

Well, the vid feeds didn't reveal exactly what happened. Much like the strange ork gun, all the feeds suffered glitches at the time... with those actively seeing what happened having their data corrupted and those moments lost to history. The aftermath could be seen with the naked eye through...

A popped balloon filled with blood and meat as the cybernetics tailored to be installed inside of a full grown human critically failed to co-exist with the squig that the meat part of the man had somehow been converted into.

The orks had withdrawn after that point. Tactically it had been a probing raid rather then a dedicated attempt at pushing for the Forge. But as Rik gazed upon the carnage and felt goosebumps form on his skin that had nothing to do with temperature, he allowed himself a moment of questioning how mankind was meant to overcome such inhuman madness as this... before he turned his thoughts towards answering that question.
Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by BCTheEntity
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BCTheEntity m⊕r✞IS

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The first dragon-hawk to enter the hive did not do so with full intent of it, but it was far more planned than the first acquisitions of the hive. It was certainly smarter than the drakes it fed upon, smart enough indeed to pick at their edges, taking away one by one the tiny morsels of meat, cracking their shells and roasting them once it returned to its nest. It was much larger than they - and, more importantly, it had realised that this was an especially productive group! Seemingly, despite its picking away, there were more drake-termites to feed upon every sunrise!

It had figured out the why of it not too long ago. A presence, something pressing on it when it got too close to the center - which threatened to eat it, not its body, but something more integral to it. This was, at least, what the dragon envisioned. Something it sought to avoid, desperately desperately.

Yet... the more it sensed this presence. The less true this was. Was it being eaten already? It didn't know. It didn't feel like it was being eaten. Part of it wished to figure out the truth of the matter. Curiosity - lethal to most, but the curiosity grew, until it one day decided to satisfy its curiosity, and to flee if it was indeed attacked by the presence.

So, finding the drake-termites again, it flew toward their centre instead of away. The presence grew, again, but it did not eat it... the further it went, the more it discovered signs of other drakes. Drake-sloths. Drake-moles. Drake-boar. How many had it eaten? Why was it not being eaten too?

It found the presence eventually. Not another dragon, or even another drake. This one... this one stood on two legs. It had no wings, only one pair of arms, both slightly too long for its body, and not even armour upon its flesh. It had some of the look of a dragon, and indeed much of the presence of one - but not a dragon. Not nearly so unkind. Not... unfriendly? Unthinkable.

But it did not eat the dragon-hawk. Wordlessly, it bade it land nearby, the drake-termites it had eaten moving aside to form a space for it. With great caution, it took its position, suspicion rippling through its body. The moment the presence acted, it was ready to lash out and take flight again, plasma roiling in it in preparation... but nothing. It held its position, held one of its arms out, asked the dragon-hawk to come closer. Every step closer seemed a step into greater peril - but no. Even once its head had touched its clawed hand, the presence remained calm, claws grazing over its head... jolts of enjoyment. What? What was this? Why was the scratching nice? It was like being groomed by a mate, but different - not for mating, only for bonding. It did not want to mate.

It wanted to bond. The presence would not eat the dragon-hawk, no... that had been an error of its child self, when control was unknown and intolerable to it, and it could not touch anything more than the near-mindless drake-termites to begin with. Its will was greater now - so too was its mental touch. It could- but it would not. It would never, not now they knew each other. The Presence was a friend. The Presence was an ally.

The Presence needed more dragons to join it. Dragon-hawks... it knew of nests, yes. It could find them, bring them. Enhance the Presence's protection, ensure they could hunt for more and more, and in exchange, the dragon-hawks would have more of their fill than they'd ever dreamed of...

Perhaps it had been eaten, after all? Oh, well.




'How long has this threat been in the vicinity?'

'Oh, weeks now. We divined it from the Charmed Lord's Skeins, and sent some scouts into the area. Two returned just yesterday, reporting quite a few dragons clustering in an area. Ah, not a faint expedition, Seneschal...'

'Clearly. Any understanding of why?'

'Hhhmmmmm... I did some more study into the matter, and Syn'veey'n did a bit of searching through the Skeins, and she was the one who sensed a great presence there. They've drawn to a leader, believe it or not!'

'A leader... dragon?'

'Human.'

'Really...? A human that can command the feral dragons... how rare.'

'Unheard of! And not quite a match for the aether-dragons, unfortunately.'

'Still impressive. Did you reward yours?'

'Oh yes, Seneschal! I've pinned her to the floor with a rusted blade. She'll be there for a while yet-'

SHRKK-Pltltl

'Huaahhhnnn-! Ahh... Syn'veey'n... phhleasure to see you again... sh-so soon?'

"I got booooored. You need to be more creatiiiive."

Clang-Tr-r-r-r

'Sorry, dear, I'll... hooh that stings nicely... I'll find something a bit more interesting to add to it...'

'Enough flirting, you two. Seer, Familiar, you two will serve the purpose of bringing this... human into our fold. Assuming you're right about his nature, that is.'

"I don't make mistaaaakes. Stop criticizing meeeeee. Just punish me for being wroooong."

'No. Shamhat... you know what to do.'

'Mmh... and may the Charmed Lord's will be done, Seneschal...'
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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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The capsule sliced through black skies, parting the planet’s anaemic air with the ease of a knife hurled through water. Light glanced off its chromed sides, the pale glare of the stars mingling with the stain of incandescent heat expanding like an inflamed welt on its underside, but never quite overtaken by it. Sparks scattered in its wake, never finding quite enough opposition in the tenuous atmosphere to coalesce into a blazing trail, nor the robustness to grow the screech of its friction into a fiery roar. Least of all did it find a force to oppose its precipitous descent, so that the incredible speed at which it had been vomited from the void was scarcely diminished.

It was not flawless, that capsule. Whatever paths it had taken through the realms immaterial had left its scarred, with burned, jagged gouges running down its flanks. An uneven round pit marred its front, as if a tendril of impossibly hot flame had lashed against it there. What yet intact quartz eyes spanned its length were extinguished, leaving to fall blindly into the endless night of the world below.

From those shadows, grey wastes rose to meet it. Sharp mountains stood in the distance like silent witnesses to its fall, as impassive before it as they had been to the aeons of desolation at their feet. A hulk of rigid angles and dim yellow lights briefly flashed underneath the arc of its trajectory, and was soon lost to the horizon. Soon the mountains, as well, receded into murk, and nothing was left but the expectant face of the lithic desert. It looked up lazily at the pod’s approach of the many eyes of its craters and cavern-mouths, unstirring in its dreary immensity.

The capsule struck.

Metal screeched against stone, its sound deadened by the emptiness. The tremendous impact, of momentum unhindered by compact heavens, pulverised and crumpled rock upon itself. The minute gap the pod had blasted into the loose grey surface blossomed into a spiderweb of cracks which soon tumbled down into an expanding sinkhole, as the shattered equilibrium of the world’s crust dragged more and more fragments into the exposed gash of its hollow underbelly. Had the stars in the black sky been any less apathetic, they would have briefly glimpsed the cavity of a small vault before it was buried in the settling debris of a great crater. But their snow-white marble eyes were jaded, and this moment of devastation went unseen and unremembered.

And below, in Laethem’s depths, the capsule fell still.




“How far away?”

“Too far, Implementor. It went over the Dtheni ridge. Beyond striking distance even in the best conditions.”

“Hmph.”

Myrline turned away from the auspex-tech hunched over his console and stalked towards the centre of the monitoring chamber, the metronome clacking of booted heels cutting through the droning hum of machinery and sporadic rattle of switches. The station took up a sizable section of a spire-floor’s corner, but its acoustics were impeccable, their design enduring after centuries of less than optimal maintenance. The lighting, on the other hand, was feeble, and issued from the rows of consoles along the walls and their shifting emerald patterns on abyssal black screens as much as from the dirty-white tubes overhead. The shabby look this lent to the worn rockcrete walls irked her, but the best she could do about it now was spend as little time in the place as possible.

“You heard that. Stop tracking the meteoroid,” she barked, the command carrying from where she stood to the remotest monitor, “Return to standard operation status.”

There was a uniform murmur of acknowledgement from the auspex-techs, more metallic in some places than others, followed by snapping and clicking as they reoriented their instruments in the customary downturned direction and reactivated their resonance functions. Some did not budge a finger as they did, the knots of cables running from their temples to the consoles relaying their instructions to the machinery with the ease of a thought. Myrline’s eyes alighted most sharply on them, for a moment’s distraction from one of them would have been more disastrous for the entire grid than the missteps of every unaugmented technician at once. But they carried through their motions as diligently as they had thousands of times before, and she strode out from the corner chamber with some amount of momentary relief.

Outside, the hive greeted her with a nervous bustle of motion. News of the rogue meteoroid had been curtailed by the Spire Council to forestall tension and unrest - which the underdweller scum was counting on, if the latest reports on their activity were correct - but somehow word of some vague novelty never failed to slink out onto the passageways. There was nothing too abnormal in the sights around her, not overtly. Small groups in light grey boilersuits filed around the massive habitation blocks in good order, without tarrying in place longer than sanctioned nor raising their voices above the permitted low tones. To her practised, intransigeant eye, however, the minute traces of apprehension were almost glaring. A ring that formed at an intersection of connecting passages near the central well and milled in place very nearly long enough for the nearest Secutor to take notice, only dispersing when his crystalline red faceguard began to shift in their direction. Some mumbles rising to a momentary pitch before being guardedly quieted.

Her glare quieted the nearest cluster, which promptly scattered along the inter-block passage, but then she turned away. Reprimands or even simple acknowledgement would confirm to their restless minds that the Council sought to suppress something, and the seeds of disorder would be sown then and there. Instead, Myrline purposely crossed the thoroughfare between the coreward hab-block clusters, vast and many-eyed pillars shadeless in the ubiquitous yellow glow of artificial light, cutting a direct path towards the well. Like an immeasurable sacrificial pit in the middle of a temple, the perfectly square abyss awned hungrily in the reinforced floor, the parapets around its edge all but invisible before its shadowy immensity. The pit measured nearly a full klick on each side and pierced the spire through its core, like a trail carved by an impossibly precise meteoroid into its semi-hollow massive. The dozens of elevator cabins and platforms that served as the main means of transportation between spire levels appeared minuscule in its maw, despite some of them being spacious enough to fit a hab-block’s base. The nests and strands of thick metal cables supporting them were no more than fleeting silver sparks in the gloom.

The entrance to the cabin she had ascended on was covered by a Secutor. His presence truthfully served no greater purpose than to denote that this conveyor was being used for pressing Authority business, as the transports in that well area were designated for exclusive military usage regardless, and so Myrline motioned the black flak-armoured figure aside with some irritation. There was the customary instant of unease when the cabin, which was more akin to an elongated cage with a lower half of solid plasflex, swayed under her entering steps before finding its equilibrium again. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in the surface of the door as it closed. It was an unpleasantly ruinous sight. A sharp-edged stony face, still all too young, pale even for a Koytan and marked with weary shadows; once trim chin-length black hair deteriorating into greasy strands; dark grey uniform whose press and silvery pins could not hide how limply it hung in places. She grit her teeth and yanked a lever in the wall, and with a silent shudder the cabin began its downwards slide.

There was no independent lighting in the well, and so the cabin fell into darkness when it crossed the floor-stratum beneath, only to dazzlingly reemerge into the next layer, and thus again and again, in an accelerating succession that would have been kaleidoscopic had it not been so monotone in all its parts. Every shadowy interlude was exactly as long as the previous one, and every illuminated layer was so uniform as to appear a continuation of each other. The yellow light, the even rows of towering hab-blocks, the geometrically regular passages and crossroads, the grey figures that traversed these sterile landscapes in regimented order. In spite of the elevator’s now considerable speed, it was a long time until shades of imperfection began to appear in the defilade. Dimmer lights, grimier walls, the stench of rust and cinder in the air. The spire’s lower levels were ailing from the decay that crept up from the degenerate underworld, and though the figures moving about its bridges and grate-floored alleys - ever so gaunt now - were no less orderly, the hive around them was steeped in the rot of centuries despite their and the Council’s best efforts.

For all that it held to this tenuous and unwilling compromise, even that precarious balance stood on the brink of annihilation if the underdwellers were to breach it. If they struck at the generator districts, the entire spire would fall with it. If they cut through her defences, she would be the one to bear responsibility for it before humanity’s last silent grave. If she failed ---

The cabin ground to a halt with a moaning clank. Myrline breathed in, straightened her jacket, its edges beginning to wear from the periodic redundant tugging, and unlatched the door, stepping out into the subterranean corridor.

The depth she had reached was not the lowest one, reserved for the mustering of rank and file troops and the unloading of supplies from cargo platforms. Here, the elevator opened directly onto the entrance of a tunnel just about large enough for two people, once carved into the live rock, then reinforced and sporadically lit by evenly spaced illumination tubes. The two sentries that greeted her with their faceless salutes were not Secutors, but grey-clad troopers of the Entrance Guard. The bulky tubes and reserve tanks of their flamers gave them the look of something mechanical, but under their protective masks she was glad to know them as human as herself.

The stone corridor led Myrline through a claustrophobic span that was deceptively short for how it awkwardly twisted and sloped, as if in preparation for the striking sight that awaited on its other end. Under the natural balcony of the outcropping she found herself on, almost wide enough to accommodate an entire hab-block, but minuscule in proportion, there gaped the enormity of the access chamber. The cavernous hall was at least a fourth as large as a spire level, and almost as high; testament to the immensity of the work that had reared Koytos itself, its smooth floor was covered in a labyrinth of control towers, depots, rail stations and inspection points, most of their angular carcasses now eviscerated by time or worse. In the potent floodlights that still lit the half of the chamber closest to the entrance, she could see the teeming of grey-uniformed bodies among the ruination. On the further side, however, only the distant lights of a few guardposts tentatively straddled the edge of what seemed to be boundless, bottomless shadow.

It was a sight that could awe a newcomer, but not one who, like Myrline, had seen it more often than the hive proper in the latter years. What instead drew her eyes was the handful of figures gathered around a wide plas-table set on the edge before her, near the pointed antennae of a field vox station.

Two of them turned to look as the clacking of her steps on the stone roused them from their contemplation of the sonar chart spread on the table. One wore the same dark grey as her, though the fabric of his uniform was stretched taut over the girth of his flaccid constitution. None knew how Implementor Zarec Guicon could have grown fat on siege-time fare, though rumours abounded of misappropriated rations and a ghoulish taste for reprocessed meats, but as long as he kept himself useful about the access, none thought to ask either; his unassuming stature and dull, faintly melancholy eyes drowning in rolls of pale flesh belied the mind that had won him his position. Presently, however, any wit in his features was further concealed as he flinched at the inhuman rasp that rose from the man across the table.

“Implementor Levran! Were you hoping to arrive as the next push began? Your punctuality would be wasted on the Pale Ones.” Myrline did not dignify the mechanical jibe with more than an undisguised contemptuous sneer. If Guicon was respected or tolerated at worst, Tech-Intendant Kleial was suffered. There was little about him that could endear - not his abrasive flippancy, not the mystique he deliberately and grotesquely cloaked himself in, and least of all his awareness of how indispensable he was for the hive. She avoided the sight of his fleshless jaw’s eternal sardonic grin and the five lamp-eyes set in a semicircle above it, of the wires and tubes protruding from his bulky frame’s rust-brown trappings, of the two faceless hulks of steel towering behind him. Even after years of reluctant collaboration, she could hardly stomach the wilful rejection of humanity that oozed from him like a miasma.

Guicon gave her a placid shrug and nodded upwards. “How is it up there?”

“Controlled,” Myrline leaned on the table, running her weary eyes over the charts. Masses of movement. Sharp spikes signalling the clatter of metal. Jagged plateaus, something heavy scraping over the cavern floor. The mutants were moving in force. “The Secutors don’t need reinforcement.”

“Good, it’s not as though we could spare any,” the older Implementor looked discontentedly over the troops shifting around the chamber below like grey rivulets. Numerous as they were, they were far too few to fully cover such an immense space. “If anything, the Council could have transferred some of them to our command. Lasguns are lasguns.”

“And donate more of those precious guns to the enemy?” Kleial leered, “Levran’s newfangled vanguard units have already cost us enough. My manufactora are not so boundless as to supply every genetic reject and untrained floorwatcher you fancy.”

“The vanguards are adequate as long as your machines cover them, Intendant.” Myrlinee picked up a simple magnocular device from the table and pointed its lenses at one of the chamber’s central thoroughfares. A column of grey-clad scrawny figures was marching down it towards the edge of the light, holding weapons that seemed bulky in their hands. Most of the vanguards were young, having just entered the age of conscription and immediately fallen under the purview of her new recruitment census. Lawbreakers, gene-deviants discovered by the Council’s periodic scans, children of unsanctioned couplings - all dangers to the hive’s stability, better served holding ground in the siege’s deadliest spots. Kleial was not wrong; more than one lasgun had been pried from their inexpert hands by the Pale Ones. But the mutants had paid dearly for it every time, and that was what mattered.

She shifted the magnoculars further back along the road, where a second, smaller column trudged in the vanguards’ wake at a distance. Twelve hulks of rust-coloured metal akin to Kleial’s bodyguards marched in perfect lockstep, dome-shaped heads staring stolidly ahead, arms ending in piston-claws and integrated heavy weapons rigid at their sides. Since the last cyber-priests on the planet had perished in the fall of Hive Baligae many decades prior, the venerable automata had been dwindling in numbers. As with most relics of the order, its inheritors in the Tech-Intendancy could maintain them well enough, but were unable to reproduce their design, and their losses to the mutant hordes, however rare, were keenly felt. Unbidden, the thought grew from this stray observation: the Pale Ones were innumerable, and Koytos only had so many robots, so many weapons, so many people. Eventually, it was inevitable that their sheer mass would drown out anything the hive could array against them, and then it would go the way of Baligae and Stagyas. It and, as far as she knew, all of mankind.

Only something unexpected could change that. Something from outside the dying world, like that insignificant meteoroid…

No. She scoffed and clenched her jaw. That was not the way. They had not survived until now by hoping for miracles. They would trust in their own strength alone, and it would have to suffice.

For her, for Koytos, for humanity.




Golog Kin-Breaker crouched at the summit of the ruined tower. Once a compact square pillar of a structure, the edifice had been eviscerated by surfacer weapons in the early days of the siege, and now bared its skeleton of stairs and crumbling floors to all sides through ample fissures in the walls. He preferred it this way; the sounds and smells of the battlefield reached him easily through the gaps. The padding steps of his warriors told him of their advance, how they split off to slip into the stone maze ahead and flank through hidden tunnels in the distant walls. The wafts of metal, unsettled dust and restless bodies showed how many had gathered where, who was afraid, who was impatient. All this Golog knew, though he had no eyes to see with.

His enemy alone was outside his reach. The surfacers were too far for him to smell, without a breath of moving air to bring their scents to his perch, and only the echoes of their war machines’ clanging steps reached him now and then. But he knew well enough that they were soaked with fear, twitching with unease in their holes. They were aware that the thing which fell from the upper world would herald his next attack, and they dreaded it even more than they must have the mystery of that impact. For many lifetimes, they had held their vault against every warleader who had tried to breach the last way to the surface, and then he had come and claimed most of it in less than half a generation. They were right to fear. No vault-lord in the lower world was or had ever been greater than he.

The Kin-Breaker slavered with pride as he took in the immensity of his horde. More of his warriors had already been spent in this siege than in any conquest, and still he had the strength to both advance and hold his vast dominion in the lower world against his many rivals. His predecessors had paid with their reigns and their lives for rushing blindly to the surface, sure that their forces would overwhelm the sparse defenders of the uppermost vault, but he knew better than them. By moving forward with the steadiness of the iron-head worm, he had come so far that the sharpest eyes among the lookouts could see the vault’s far wall and the great doors that opened in it. He was patient, but he knew that soon he would reach these gates and storm through them, sweep away their last defenders and climb to the very top of the surfacers’ lair.

And then he would live like a god.

But Golog reined in his ambitions. Before that moment, many battles awaited still, and one lay just ahead. He rose from his haunches and grasped his shard glaive, the unbreakable weapon whose blade was a fragment of a metal lost to antiquity. Scales of that strange alloy were fixed to his armour, tightly held and padded with dry moss so that its jangling would not disturb his ears. His panoply was the envy of every warrior in the lower world, but it did little more than flaunt his wealth and authority; it had been a long time since he had taken to the field in person, and he knew that not even this protection could stop the strange weapons from the surface.

With almost silent steps, the Kin-Breaker loped down the spiral staircase in the tower’s center and out upon the vault floor. The semicircle of his warleaders and advisers already waited for him around the gouged door, and they prostrated themselves upon his appearance. Satisfied with the scraping of their hands and chins on the stone ground, the warlord clicked his tongue, and they obediently rose again.

“Is everything done as I’ve ordered? Are all the warriors in place?” he growled in the chest-deep voice of a native of the deep vaults.

“Yes, great Kin-Breaker,” replied one of the warleaders, stooped in servile cringing. Most would have balked at that title of infamy, but Golog wore it with nonchalant arrogance: let all know there was no blood he would not spill in his bid for power.

“The Glaathi will be stirring again after that quake from the upper world,” Uluudh, one of his veteran advisers, spoke up, “It’s just the sort of thing they would take for a sign from their putrid god. I doubt the sealed tunnels would hold them back.”

“Then send word to Ogon to take his warband against them. If they clear the tunnels, tell him to clog them again with their rotting carcasses.”

Uluudh made a sound of assent and scampered away to summon a messenger. At a curt grunt from Golog, the others scattered in the same way, their footsteps rushing in all directions. The Kin-Breaker listened to their sound growing faint for a few moments, then unhurriedly crawled forward over the unnaturally smooth ground, his long loose-jointed limbs stretching and bending like the legs of a spider. He smelled broken rock and dust ahead; his hands found grips in a broken wall, and he deftly climbed onto the roof of a small monitoring cabin, his dense armour of little burden for the still powerful muscles underneath. From his new forward station, he breathed in the first signs of the starting battle.

Feet and hands scrabbled over stone, metal quietly rattled. His warriors were on the move, advancing, encircling, probing. Soon came the surfacers’ reply, the sizzling and strange smell of burning air spat out by their weapons. Golog’s scouts had told him that the vault’s defenders made a habit of sending their youngest, weakest runts to the very front. Perhaps they wanted to lure him into striking this weak, inviting target, all the more likely since their far more threatening machines were usually close behind.

The warlord knew better than to fall for such transparent bait. More scorched wafts filled the air, but now they came from his own side, fired by the chosen warband he had armed with trophies seized from fallen enemies. These clumsy armaments, guided by eye rather than ear and instinct, were not made for Pale Ones, and almost none of their shots ever struck home. But these surfacers were young and nervous, and the mere sight of his horde returning their fire threw them into a panic. Their cries rose in pitch, their shots became scattered and disorganised. They were already as good as dead.

Heavier running steps came and passed. The Kin-Breaker expected the machines to show themselves now, and he was not disappoint as the crash of heavy mechanical movement drowned out the frightened voices. More fiery intangible spears cut the air, this time impossibly fast and regular, and other arcane smells accompanied them - acrid fire reeking of earthblood, something difficult to describe and crackling like a sack of dried bones. Golog had felt some scraps of armour struck by the strange forces let loose by the unliving monsters from the surface; it was as though the iron was melted and cooled in the same breath, and only ashes were left beneath.

Yet the machines were not invincible. He heard the heavy steps again, and then sharp Pale One battlecries, tremendous crashing and shattering, the screech of wounded metal. Under the cover of the surfacer vanguard’s disorientation, some of the strongest and bravest among the horde had slipped past them. They carried great shard-mauls tipped with spikes of ancient alloy, and their sudden attack was clearly costing the machines dearly. The Kin-Breaker grinned to himself as he savoured the sounds of the surface’s most terrible weapons being smashed to scrap. Many of the champions would be dead as well, but more were always eager to take their place.

The commotion of battle was steadily rising. More voices shouted as the surfacers’ main force came into motion, and their weapons’ fire filled the air. Savage cries answered from his side as his warriors surged to take advantage of the frontline’s disarray. The deafening scrape of enormous iron plates pushed ahead as massive shields filled his ears.

It was now impossible to follow the course of the battle, but he had heard and felt enough to be satisfied. The Kin-Breaker bared his pointed teeth in a rapacious smile, knowing that his conquest of the upper world moved ever ineluctably closer.




His first sensations were a hard impact, followed by silence, distant points of light in blackness, and the smell of dust. This, he decided, was birth.

He lay unmoving for some time as he absorbed all that was laid out around him and tried to make sense of it. Under his back was a rough presence, rigid and stinging with many small points. It was not pleasant, but nor was it unbearable, and so he let it be, sweeping aside the tiny spikes of pain. Above him was emptiness. He could vaguely see something large and grey with the corner of his eye - his eye - but was shapeless, indistinct, no more than a sign of presence. Everywhere else, his sight met nothing but empty murk and innumerable white eyes far above.

It was restful. The darkness felt welcoming, somehow familiar, a protective and reassuring embrace he did know he could long for. The lights did not feel like an intrusion. They were but an ornament to the gloom, a toy for his eye-

His eye.

With jittery, uncertain motions, he raised his right hand to his face, smelling the dust and pebbles that stuck to it. Cautiously, he ran his fingers over the bare smoothness of his forehead, the timid bristle of his eyebrow. After that, nothing. He lowered a trepidant finger into the cavity, and felt nothing but more unblemished skin. His hand quivered as he withdrew it. The absence rankled him, chilled him with anxious unease and a nameless feeling that resembled impotence. He knew that it was wrong to not find anything in that hollow, that he lacked something he should have had. Suddenly, the ground below him seemed less tolerable than before.

He tried to push himself to his feet, propping himself up on backward-turned hands until he could raise himself upright with a shove. More things came into his view as his head moved up. The amorphous grey presence resolved itself into a compact enormity of matter - a wall, yet more than that, a monumental outgrowth of the earth underneath him. He lay, he saw now, at the bottom of a titanic pit, so wide and deep that its rim was lost in shadow far above. It reminded him of the aberration of his socket, but magnified on an incalculably greater scale. As with it, there was a wrongness about this staggering hollow, obvious in the great shattered heaps of boulders, some of mountainous size, that rose around him. It was as if the earth had fallen inward and met a hungry gap of emptiness that swallowed yet more of it.

His arms strained, shoved, and for a moment he staggered on his two feet. But his legs were unsteady, and he collapsed forward, landing on his outstretched hands. The unsettled dust stung his nostrils. Laboriously, he moved on four limbs. A hand and a knee. A hand and a knee. He looked around.

The seed of the cataclysm lay behind him. Rounded, hard and smooth, it bristled with angular growths whose purpose he could not imagine. It was surprisingly intact for having struck such a blow, but it had suffered all the same on its deformed, dented underside, and an odd darkened gouge ran along its side. Something about that last detail unsettled him, not merely as another image of mutilation, but with a deeper, more obscure feeling he could not catch hold of. He left the object behind and crawled towards the edge of the pit, his motions quickening as they gained confidence.

It was a long way. The fissure was immense, so much so that soon he stopped thinking of it as one. He was moving along a surface, one that seemed without end, among the feet of ruined colossi and fractured giants of silent stone. Cold began to set in. Breathing, something so natural he had not noticed it until now, became more difficult, first stifled, then almost painful. Whatever sustained him in this abyss was fading, and it was being replaced by an emptiness that had little in common with the soothing arms of night. He redoubled his efforts, the ache from his scraped and torn hands and knees rivalling that in his belaboured chest. Would he truly be safe if he reached wherever he was going, the thought stung him, or was his survival just a brief accident whose time was quickly expiring now?

His eye had begun to darken, his breath grown ragged, but inexhaustibly he crawled on, unconscious of his own tremendous endurance. The wall of the abyss now towered before him, and the pale lights were nothing but a memory. With fading sight, he saw heaped stones at its foot, and among them, a gap. Small, perhaps just wide enough for him. A final, furious effort pushed him through its mouth, its edges scratching his sides, and into the blissful reward of warm air. Unbalanced by his passage, stones fell behind him, sealing the opening.

Exhausted, he did not immediately notice that the darkness was now absolute, even more than at the foot of the wall. He lay on his belly, breathing deeply, feeling nothing but the strained beating - in two places, as it seemed - inside his chest. Gradually, more sensations came to him. The smell, still dusty, stale, dry. The solid bodies all around him. And to his ears, at last, so feeble, yet persistent…

Water. Somewhere far away, he clearly pictured in his mind, ran a flow of something light and limpid. Water.

Life.

If there was water, he realised in a way that astounded him, he could survive.

Breathing deeply, he rose to his hands and knees again. He moved without haste now, crawling leisurely, but with surety undaunted by his blindness. He smelled walls in his path before he met them, felt the emptiness of tunnel turns and branches at his sides. The darkness here was not constrained, as it had seemed at first, but winding and sinuous, enclosed in many passages that ran deep in the rocky earth. He could scarcely imagine the spaces he was moving through, but he held steadfastly to his guide, the clear, flowing sound that drew closer little by little.

It was, he thought, very close by the time he heard the other. Somewhere behind him and off to the side, a heavy, rhythmic dull thumping on the tunnel floor rolled to his ears. More sensations followed it closely: a stench of something warm and unclean, the perception of something very large moving in the dark, and a strange weight inside his head. He did not immediately understand what the latter was, and the realisation only unfolded after a few moments of confusion. Something alive was approaching, and somehow, by means he still could not grasp, he felt this life, this thinking mind as it neared. He had no sense of what it was, but instinct stirred in alarm within him. He hastened his pace, but it was not enough.

Massive, horrid, something loomed behind him, sending out foetid breaths that almost made him wince. A monstrously large hand forcefully curled around him, filthy nails digging into his skin, and he lost his grip on the ground as he was lifted with dreadful ease. He felt something - a mouth - opening before him, disgorging its rancid breath, and then he was moving helplessly towards, into it-

Anger surged up, surpassing his alarm. He had survived the journey through the abyss. He would survive this. His hand reached forward, brushed over the sharp points of gigantic teeth and found the coarse sides of the cheek. With a surge of strength that almost rivalled his captor, he seized it and tore away.

The next moment, a dull, raucous roar deafened him, and he fell, landing painfully on his tailbone. His hand was warm and wet, dripping with something that ran down his arm in twisting rivulets. He hardly had the time to think about it before the hand seized him again, swung him through the air and let loose.

He struck the wall with a crack and a jolt of lacerating pain throughout his body. He had not imagined anything could hurt so much. Dazed, numb from the spreading agony, he tried to reach for something, but found himself rising again, a furious grip around his ribcage wracking him with more torturous fracturing snaps, feral roars rattling his desperately groping mind.

His hands moved almost of his own. He reached forward again, but instead of avoiding the thing’s teeth he eagerly grabbed them, heedless of the wounds they tore in his wrists, and stretched his fingers around its jaw.

Then he wrenched.

The bellowing was so stunning that he barely felt the blow of his fall, though he himself cried out as it cascaded through his broken body. Hazily, he felt his assailant stumble away into the dark, howling and gurgling as it gripped its limp lower mouth. He did not think of it anymore. The pain. He could not die. He had to survive.

Life. Water.

With no thoughts, no conscious hope, he tugged in the direction he thought he had heard the flow. The throbbing in his head filled all his senses now. He could no longer move his legs, or perhaps he did, yet felt nothing but pain. His left arm hung deadly from its broken shoulder. Every twitch seemed to nearly tear him into bloody shreds.

Still he moved. Stubbornly, he dragged his mangled body ahead, leaving behind a damp, viscous trail. His senses struggled to rise above the pain, sporadically warning him of walls, turns, descents. In the moments they did, he could feel the running water increasingly close.

Rapid, continuous motion. He sensed it in front of him, its strength enough to momentarily dissipate the fumes of torment that clouded his head. He leaned forward, trying to reach it with his lips, only now conscious of a thirst almost as overbearing as the pain, but it was too far below the lip of its dimly perceived stony canal. With an effort that made him groan, he leaned forward, trying to reach deep, deeper-

Too deep.

The half-agonizing, half-insensate weight of his body slumped over the sheer edge. He tried to grasp for it, but it was futile, and instantly he was wreathed in cold more pervasive than he had known outside. He spluttered, flailed, but the current had him in its grip, and carried him far, far and down.

The last thing he felt before utter inanition claimed him was the chill of water spilling down his throat.
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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Bugman
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Bugman What happens, when old wounds heal?

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The Primarch strode through the streets of Ummaria, his insistence on being let in to see its ruler somehow having had the entirety of the guard give him free reign to walk through the great city he was in. Hundreds, soon thousands of people came to watch the silver child. From afar that was certainly what it looked like. Yet those at the very fronts of the crowds would realize that this thing had corded muscles that even to the naked eye could be seen to be greater than that of even the mutants on some of the planet’s cursed lands.

Nobody spoke to it, all were in awe. Sheitan, some people called it. They had seen the rabid tribesmen bring forth such creatures at times, and this stranger certainly had an otherwordly appearance like they did. Yet, it was not prancing about tearing people apart. In fact, it had an otherworldly beauty and not one that brought the mind to immodest thoughts like the sheitan that were of handsome form.

Priests murmured strange thoughts as they saw it pass by, was this a Deva? An Avatar of God, of the Truth? It certainly seemed to foresee a higher purpose for itself, as it went right towards the palace of the Grand Heirarch.

It ascended the steps with the confidence that it was meant to be here, time almost slowing for the onlookers. The steps designed carefully to take a solar minute for most men to ascend seemed to take lazy hours for the arrival to traverse. But, if one looked at the sun it would not have shifted by any amount.

At the top, two guards stood sentinel. Their wills were stronger than that of billions on Brahms, but they melted as they saw the Primarch smile at them in a way so horrific. The corners of its lips went as high as either eyeball, and at that moment they opened the gates.

The smile very abruptly became the usual friendly gesture as the two men acquiesced to the unspoken command of the skylander, the child walking inwards. There in the distance sat Roskandar, the Heirarch. His son flanked his left side, the High-Priest of Ummaria flanked his right.

As the Primarch stood before him with hands clasped behind his back, Roskandar’s desire to wait for the intruder to explain himself wordlessly as a show of his will collapsed even quicker than the spines of the guards that had let it in. “What are you. I know of your arrival, the messenger pigeons flew faster than you came. You were not invited!” The Grand Heirarch roared, rallying some of the menace that had let him climb to his current position all those years ago.

For its part the child cocked its head, examining the Heirarch for a few minutes, as if watching an interesting new insect under a microscope. Eventually however, he knelt and then pressed both hands and forehead to the ground in supplication in an almost instant reversal of what many present has mentally parsed as an attempt to intimidate the ruler of Ummaria.

“Oh Lord of Ummaria, you are a ruler noblest, one to whom I am supplicant.” The stranger said, its voice not in the slightest suppressed by its position and indeed seemingly louder, as if spoken by lips within one’s very ears. Yet despite this it was soft, tender almost like a lover’s touch.

“I seek to find service under you, such that your throne may eclipse the very sun.”

“Rise.” The Grand Heirarch growled faintly as he was mollified but still confused. “That tells me little, no-name. Explain yourself. Who are you, where from, why do you believe I should take you in? What do you offer?”

Only when the Grand Heirarch did finish speaking did the Primarch stand as commanded, bowing to reiterate his almost unnatural recognition of a superior.

“I shall answer your queries in the order that makes the following best understood.”

“Go on.”

“I do not know where I am from, not in a meaningful sense. I know I came from the stars, my arrival heralded by a sharp descent from the stars. I come from a realm outside of this world, and yet I know not any more. The primitives of the wild seemed to think they had brought me forth, yet this I believe to be wrong. They believed me sacred. This I too believe to be wrong. I have no name, not one I care to keep. But I know I am destined for greater things.”

“Explain.”

“I am more intelligent than you. Any of you.” He said, turning to the High Priest and the many other nobles present within the chamber. Indignant gasps spread out across many voices, with the brows of the trio before the Primarch furrowing in a synchronous fashion.

“I mean this not as an insult, but as a mere observation. The previous sunrise, I knew not your language. I have been here some few hundred heartbeats, yet I know it better now than any present. If you would but give me the means, I can show you I can create great works faster than you could even think of them. I have already concluded knowledge your greatest researchers believe to be lost to time. I am stronger than any present in any physical test, with my bared flesh I could destroy your armies.” The Primarch closed its eyes, and inhaled deeply.

“But I will not. I know now that my betterness than any man on this world does not mean I cannot be humble and see the chinks in my proverbial armour. I am inexperienced, I know not of this world, how to lead it. But I may still serve, tell truths and wisdom none else will.”

“You wish to be an advisor after presuming so much?” The Heirarch demanded, for now to the surprise of the court not sounding particularly angered.

“Advisor, and student. There will come a day when I will be of greater import to this realm than you, but I can promise that when that day comes your children, grand children, and great grandchildren all of whom I will outlive will have secured themselves a finer life and fate than you could even dream of in this moment. This is a promise not out of mere confidence, but an inescapable guarantee if you accede to my request.”

The Heirarch stood at this moment, walking to a brazier some distance from himself and wafting the scented smokes leisurely drifting skywards back to himself. As sweat began to come from his crowned forehead he turned back to the Primarch.

“You come into my home, and promise to supplant my dynasty? Ambitious, but I am afraid I must decline. I bid you no ill will, child, but your promise is not enticing enough. If that is all, I believe I must exile you for this statement. I do not wish assembled company to believe this to be an invitation to come forth with similar ideas.” He stated, waving a hand across the onlooking court.

Shock came over the face of the Primarch, followed by a brief panic, its face molding and remolding itself into different shapes as it could not settle on emotion until eventually coming upon a pleading one. “You do not understand, I fault you for this. I warn you now. Should you reject me, I will find another realm to perfect. It will eclipse your’s, and in likely jealousy you shall strike out, forcing me to thereby destroy your majesty. I beg of you, do not do this. Ummaria is the greatest land of this world, I wish to see it prosper and grow! Not, to burn and shatter.”

“Is that all?”

“Please!”

“Leave.”

Fluid skin turned this way and that upon the child’s visage, until eventually settling upon a stoic one even as fluid tears came out of yet incomplete eyes.

“I hope you can forgive me for what will have to be done.” With another thought he turned to the Heirarch’s son. “I hope you can forgive your father for what he will bring upon you.”

With that, the Primarch left Ummaria as wordlessly as he had first entered it.




He wandered the deserts for some days, perfecting his thought, his speech, coming to new conclusions, thought systems and patterns. His musings in the arid sands were stopped abruptly as a column of people walked towards him. A majority were shackled, with some prodding and goading the restrained folk with spears and other cruel implements.

With great curiosity the Primarch walked towards them. “I say!” he called out. Hundreds of heads turning this way and that to try find where the newcomer was. “I say!” He repeated, this time using the power of his voice to have all the humans instantly know where he was calling from.

In a flash, he sprinted towards them, in particular stopping before their leader based upon his head-dress having the most flowers and shiny stones on it.

“Tell me, why are these men so restrained?” he asked cheerily.

“What?” the warrior asked.

“These people. They are not able to act freely owing to these chains binding them. Why is this?”

“They are mine?”

“Elaborate, please.”

“You have something in your ears, sura? We defeated the Godless. Did the wisemen not summon you?”

“They do not wish to be like this?” the Primarch asked, ignoring the latter question. The thought was very common!

“The desires of the faithless do not concern sons of the great four!” The tribal shouted, seemingly pleased with himself as he roared and shook a spear to the subsequent cheers of his fellow warriors.

“I see.” It took a little more than a second for the warband to be slain, most of the fallen bodies having only a finger-shaped hole in their throats.

With a flick of its wrist, it tossed a rusty key towards one of the shackled men who undid his collar and then passed it to the next one.

“Who are you?” the bearded fellow asked, his skinny, starved frame trembling slightly as his freedom was bought with a sight far more terrifying than he had imagined the horrors his captors would inflict on him.

“I have told this tale many times, but I am delighted to recount it again. Very simply, I came from the sky. Many believe they called me forth from their Gods, but this is likely a thought in error. I do not know of anything before I fell from above! I have no name, but since it is so often asked of me, would you give me one?”

A small rope of stunned drool hung from the man’s beard, before in awe he rasped a phrase. “Amunal. Born of the Sun.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Bigbagel12
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Bigbagel12

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Orichalcum




The crackling stone welcomed me, the heat kissed my skin as it rose from the earth below, the cavern was lit well with the glow of magma that flowed through the stone and poured into the pools below the ledge. My hands drifted over the carved stone tables, holding numerous tools of varying size, shape and strength. My Fathers Forge called to me sweetly, and it felt as if I had returned home after years away.

I doffed my robes, and donned my apron. My arms were swollen with muscle, my chest expansive and taut under the apron, and my eyes glowed like molten fire as I took in the shape of the anvil and hammer that laid upon it. I was but a boy of 12 years, yet I had a body surpassing that of any man on Orichalcum. My skin had gone from a light pale, to a more ashy hue, my hair blackened like coal. I had adapted fast to the world I had come to call home, resembling its people more and more as time passed. I reached down and took the hammer from the Anvil and lifted it up, the brassy head of the hammer reflected my visage in the magma light, and so many things I could make with it came to mind. Yet I turned my gaze to the blueprints I had crafted a few moons ago, small devices that could be worn on the body and required a more delicate touch than this hammer could give.

So returning the hammer to the table, I instead picked up a finer tool, a set of tiny chasing hammers and carving pins. I pulled a set of near micro headed pins and hand tools made for the most delicate of work. A device, no larger than a common pocket watch, was pulled from its place as I sat down and began my work. The steady sound of the magma flow eased me into a working lull as my eyes took in my work, and I could see all I would need to do to make this device to the degree I wished.

Small rivets I had forged earlier were pulled from shelves, alongside other devices such as Micro Fusion cells and field emitter arrays the size of pinheads. Some looked like elegant jewels, some were slotted into surface faces no bigger than a ring face, yet each of them was no less effective than their upscaled brothers and sisters on the ships above his planets atmosphere. If anything, they so far surpassed them that it would be an insult to rate them together. These small emitters could stop so much more per volume, compared to those things. It was the perfect gift for his family, for the father and mother who had taken him in despite the oddity of his existence. They had provided safety and warmth for him, and so he shall do the same. It took but a handful of minutes to assemble the devices, to insert them and hammer coverings into place gently. A bit of micro shaping to give the elegant surfaces some added finery to add an element of nobility so that they could be worn acceptably in any scenario in the future.

He had modified his fathers seal of house into a personal shield emitter that would reliably stop even a direct hit from one of the army's heavy tanks. His mothers Choker was far more powerful, given he could fit more into it. With his younger siblings' penchant for staying at their mothers side during events and galas, it would also have to be able to widen the field to accept more bodies to protect. He would of course be forging more things for his family, for his siblings, as they grew older he would extend to them the same protections, they were his family and he treasured them. He felt himself shift, as his cool gaze turned towards the anvil once again knowing that soon enough he would be forging more deadly things upon its surface.

He could feel it coming, a change. He felt the stirrings of War.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by itarichan
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itarichan

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Suni. Hessen walked through piles of scales, and past a half completed breastplate to reach the mound of blankets in the middle of the room. He put one foot on the top of the pile and shook it. You haven't finished making your armor. We agreed to make for Azoras the day after tomorrow.

Suni’s head poked out from her haven. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes. "It's fine. We're just going to say hello to the small fry. I don't need armor if I don't get hit."

Suni...

"You worry too much, old man." The head disappeared back into the mound.

Two days later Faro led a yawning Suni down to the exit chamber on the fifth floor. The metal doors screamed as they opened, rusted from disuse. Faro touched two fingers to his forehead, then chin and placed his open palm on the front of his left shoulder and bowed. “Safe travels, Arha.”

Suni returned the gesture without the bow, “See you soon, Faro.” The doors screamed shut once more, and the room began to fill with water. She took a large breath as it closed over her head. The pressure in the room increased gradually, collapsing her lungs, until it was equal to that of the ocean outside, and the doors out the city slid open. Hessen was waiting for her, his body snaking around the mountain. She grabbed onto one of his horns and they began the journey north.

Azoras had a total of five deep mines under their control, located approximately three hundred kilometers to the north of Pale. The mines were too deep to send submarines and were instead operated using unmanned machines controlled at the surface. This meant that all of the Azoras defensive measures were focused on protecting the operating stations there.The five stations were patrolled by three fleets at all times, each one consisting of a warship over five hundred feet long and twenty smaller ships about hundred feet in length each.

They arrived at twilight, so there was no need to worry about the harsh afternoon sun making it difficult for Suni to see. As they neared the mine site, Hessen dove to a depth of two hundred meters to avoid detection and positioned himself underneath the lead warship. On Suni’s signal, he launched himself from the water, knocking into the side of it. The ship rocked from the blow, sending some of the crew flying overboard. Suni jumped from Hessen’s head, landing on one of ships tall towers. “I am Suni Straov,” she announced, her voice booming across the deck. “Surrender or die.”

As one the ship’s crew raised their guns. Before they could open fire though, Hessen rammed into the ship from below once more, knocking them off balance. A thick wall of water enclosed around the warship, cutting them off from the rest of their fleet. Suni dove off the tower, did one perfect flip, and landed on the top deck. With a swing of her arm, the fish hook spearhead extended out on fibers made from Hessen’s mane and then snapped back into place, cleaving through the seven crew members before they found their feet.

Suni jumped on a railing and slid down to the lower deck. Several bullets tore through her body, but she didn’t seem to notice and soon she was dancing among them. A cackle bubbled from her chest as blood spray stained her white robes and bodies fell around her like petals of a blooming flower. Three blades came at her from different directions. She caught one with her spear, grabbed the wrist of the second with her long limbs and pulled him into the crossfire of the third, and kicked both away into another wave behind them. Someone swung at her from behind, only for Suni to twist at an impossible angle, slicing both him and the person next to him in half. At some point, they stopped attacking, and ran for their lives, caught behind the feral beast hunting them and then abyss of the ocean below them.

Suni! That’s enough!

She froze. The wall of water came down and she stared at the carnage and trembling forms of the survivors in front of her. Hessen rose from the water, the carnage of the remaining fleet behind him.

You are injured, and they have lost the will to continue.

Suni dug her fingers into a wound on her shoulder, fishing out the bullet and flicking it off the side of the ship. Hessen eyed her from his position next to the ship. “Shut up.”

I didn’t say anything.

“You don’t need to. I know what you’re thinking.”

He retreated back into the water, As long as you finish it before next time.

Faro arrived twenty minutes later with a small crew of around twenty people. Suni had already made most of the preparations with the crew’s unwilling help, so it did not take them long to turn the vessel around back towards Pale. As they were pulling out, a second fleet appeared to stop them. A jet of high pressure water erupted in front of the lead warship, slicing straight through its metal armor. It made a futile attempt to turn, shearing off the left half of the front hull, before sinking into the depths below. The remaining retinue immediately turned around and fled.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Pentious


Recording from Servo-Skull #5342
Mission: Spying on Orkoid entities known as 'Weirdboyz'
Video: #342


The recording started innocently enough as far as orks were concerned; The Burna Boyz tribe had gathered for a feast in order to celebrate... something. Normally such celebrations were held due to some victory or a successful raid, but cross referencing with other Servo-Skulls in the area revealed that such a thing hadn't happened with this tribe. Some Analysts suggested that the celebration might have been religious in nature, through the finer details evaded them. Others held the view that the Ork simply felt like throwing a feast and did it. Neither viewpoint was important for the purposes of this recording.

The festivities were suddenly interrupted as a 'Weirdboy' from the Stonemaulz seemed to arrive unannounced. "Hey, are you guys having a party?" There was a moment of confusion among the Burna Boyz at the arrival, which allowed the strange 'weirdboy' to walk forward and look at the ground. "Wow... your floors are so clean." before his eyes went in what could only be called an empty headed, thousand yard stare, his jaw opening up as he started making a loud, low droning "Ahhhhh" noise.

The local Burna Boyz 'Weirdboy' suddenly snapped to attention, removing the blindfold they were using to play 'Put the Gretchen into the Squiq' and cried "Oh frig, it'z an ambush!"

The warboss of the tribe, rather then be angry about the situation, seemed more frustrated and annoyed as he bellowed "Oh for the love of-" before reaching up to pinch the skin between its alien eyes "-not thiz curze thing again!"

"It's okay bosz, I've been practicing!" The local 'Weirdboy' announced. "I can win thiz time!" before closing their own eyes and starting to yell "Blahhhhh!" back at the first ork. While the sight was comically stupid at first, moments after it began as the two idiots were screaming at each other, the very ground itself began to shake as greenskins braced themselves and food started to fall off the 'table'.

After a few minutes, the screaming of weirdboys subsided and the earthquake started to fade away, the Warboss crying out in anger "Damn it! What in Gorkz name did you zogzing idiotz do thiz time?!"

The weirdboy from the Stonemaulz shrugged before answering "I don't know, he messed my curse up. You guys have some really clean floors."

The ... victorious(?) weirdboy announced as they pulled the blindfold off their head completely, rather then just wearing it like a bandana "Heck yes! And now we are tied!"

"What do you mean you don't know?! What did you do?!"

"I don't-" there was a sudden flash of light that blinded the recording for a moment alongside a roar of thunder. When the video returned, several of the orks were dead, smoking from something that had killed them. Some of the dead (and a few of the alive) were actively on fire. Observation of wounds suggested that all targets had been struck by lightning. There wasn't a storm.

.......................................


Recording from Servo-Skull #9532
Mission: Observe Orkish 'Mekboys' creating orkish weaponry.
Video: #12


The workshop of the Mekboy of the Twisted Blade clan was more of a sweatshop for the smaller greenskins called Gretchen then a proper factoria, with the so called Mekboy serving the role of taskmaster. Some would be assigned to the production of screws, nails, nuts and bolts and other crude metal creations, others would be assigned to straightening out pipes or hammering out scrap metal to create clips to put bullets into. The third group would be assigned to create stocks out of whatever was on hand for the task.

The fourth group and the one that the Mekboy tended to yell at and abuse the most were the ones that had to put everything together in order to create the clan's guns. All they literally did was take the items that the other groups were producing and hammering or 'gluing' it all together in order to make something that was vaguely in the shape of a firearm.

The fact that beyond the hammering or gluing, nothing was actually connected to anything in a meaningful way meant absolutely nothing, as despite the fact that the clip was hammered into the 'barrel' without any means for the nails that were packed inside to actually leave the clip or the fact that the trigger was more or less glued on without being connected to anything close to an internal mechanism, the Mekboy was still able to pick up the abomination of metal, aimed it at a Gretchen that had been tied to a pole for the purposes of target practice and actually fired off several shots.

They then proceeded to beat the gretchen that had made the 'gun' because the sights were off, since none of the shots actually hit the target.

...........................................


Many recordings were being processed by Rik as he openly walked towards the nearby greenskin outpost. Each one an example of Orkish stupidity, cruelty or the sheer insanity of their existence. Each one making his blood boil as rage started to grow.

It was a minor orkish outpost and Rik was alone, outside of some servo-skulls that were following at a safe distance. He was unarmed and unarmored, naked from the waist up and with what implants and additions had been added to his form over time either removed or turned off... through he did leave himself with those that had a more passive effect, such as his replacement limbs or those that monitored his vitals and recording equipment.

The calculations running through his mind for the battle to come were not optimized to the task of the extermination of the outpost and there was a part of him that honestly disliked the fact that he was using plans that had improvisation as a fundamental component, but it was an important part of the test and thus, he would tolerate it.

Ever since he was able to understand the teachings of his adopted mother, he had known that his biological body was the result of genetic engineering so incredibly advanced that even now, when he ran tests and tried to uncover the mysteries of his own flesh and blood, Rik couldn't help but be reminded of the saying 'Any technology advanced enough comes across as magic to those who do not understand it'. He would have loved nothing more then to obsessively dive into the mystery of his own creation, but there was simply too much that needed to be done to do so.

This test was less about trying to uncover the inner mystery of the self as it was about discovering the limits of the self. A field test to see what he could do without the assistance of technology or even weaponry... well, almost. Some exceptions had to be made, such as his replacement limbs, but such things couldn't be helped under the circumstances; Hobbling into battle on one leg might have been more organic, but it may have sewed the results more heavily. Besides, those limbs were as much apart of his being as his actual flesh and blood at this point.

Implants had also been disabled for the purposes of this test... including those that allowed for emotional regulation. It was way he was watching the archived recordings of the greenskins; Because of all the emotions he could feel, fury would be the most helpful to his biological brain for the purposes of what was about to happen.

...............................


It was... hard to put into words what happened next.

Everything was like a blur... but at the same time he remembered it all in clear, perfect detail. Completely in control of his own actions and yet... out of control all the same. The idea of stopping had never even occurred to him at the time.

He remembered grabbing the gretchen and throwing it directly into the open maw of the leaping squiq hard enough to force it to close its mouth long enough for him to punch it through the top of its head, grab and handful of its matter and using the corpse to block an axe strike. He remembered grabbing that ork and using the dull shiv that one of the dead gretchen had tried to use and slammed it into its chest and neck again and again in a sloppy, painful fashion because he wanted the ork to feel the pain before he jerked it to use it as a meat-shield against a spray of bullets... then as a projectile in order to knock the gunner down.

He remembered breaking the ork with a flamer's arm and forcing it in different directions, ignoring the attempts by the screaming greenskin to free itself from his grasp as he made it pull the trigger several times to roast his companions before bending the arm towards his own face.

He also remembered breaking the arm of that ork with the power 'klaw', forcing the metal limb towards his head before grasping the claw itself and pushing on it until the straining motors trying to keep it open finally failed, snapping shut and crushing the head of its owner. He remembered the looks of fear and pain in their voices and eyes in their final moments and felt the hatred he felt for all Orks proclaim that this wasn't enough... that he needed to kill all of them.

And he remembered hearing something coming up behind him and instinct being faster then thought for just one moment before his fist shattered the servo-skull that had drifted too close.

That was the moment where he stopped and turned on the emotional regulation implants again so he could properly examine the hatred, the sense of self justification for a slower kill just to see the target in agony as they died, the need for more victims in earnest and apply logic and true calculation to what the outcome would be if he allowed them to drive him forward.

Mankind had long associated anger with that of fire. Rik could see why; Both could carry someone through the harshest and darkest of events. Both requiring a degree of care-taking in order to continue burning and even after it was believed to have long died down, cinders and embers could be stoked to start it anew. But they could also both go out of control in an indiscriminate blaze, consuming everything around it and leaving nothing but ash in its wake.

Hate... was different. Many humans believed that hate and anger were fundamentally the same thing but as Rik found himself breathing heavily for reasons other then the physical actions he had just taken, he knew at his core that it was different. Hate had weight to it that simple anger didn't. It was like a black hole, pulling everything around it towards it to be consumed and only being visible via witnessing what was currently circling the event horizon. Hate consumed until only it remained, alone in the empty darkness... and that would be the fate that awaited him if he followed that path.

The Orks would have simply been the start.

They needed to die, but not because he hated them. They would die because their existence was a danger to all around them and if they were not stopped, they would be all that would remain.

Quietly, alone, a blood soaked Rik began the process of scooping up all the pieces of the broken servo-skull. It would be tricky, but far from impossible to put it back into working order... even if it would never be the same as it was. But while he couldn't undo the mistake he had made completely, he would still try to make things right.
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Bugman
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Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Antediluvixen
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Antediluvixen Kemonomimi Dystopia Creator

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In The Ducts


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The sound of fabri-printed boots echoed down the corridors of the station, through its myriad pipes and passageways, their true layout long forgotten for millennia past. A man swung his rifle back and forth to an inaudible tune as he walked, eyes scanning the empty halls around him. Another person struggled to keep her eyes open, hunched over and shuffling along with the group - but careful not to be left behind.

They’d been patrolling this way for some time, now. Ever since that… whatever it had been had impacted the station. Whatever was loose was something they needed to find, even if it was something they might not have wanted to. The number of mutant attacks had dwindled since then, as though something had been drawing them away - or perhaps keeping them away. Whatever the cause, it had been eerily quiet. Some had relaxed, taking the reprieve to repair and patch up their defenses or to simply sleep a full night. Others knew something was wrong, even if not what. Were they simply experiencing the calm before the storm, or had something worse entered the fray?

It was quite possibly that. They’d seen hide nor hair of living mutant, but now and then they were finding pieces, shards of bone and claw, mangled viscera. Always the parts of the organism with the least nutrition, as though something was eating them. Or hunting them.

Did they want to find whatever was hunting these things? Did they even have a choice in the matter? If they were all to die to a new unstoppable superpredator, it’d be better to know it was coming.

And, at the very least, it got the constant clicking of Arash’s slapping the cylinder back into that gun out of the goddamned community. But that also meant it was with them now. An annoyance at best, giving away their position at worst.

“If you weren’t actually useful with that thing, I’d have cut your arms off by now just to get some peace and quiet.” Another member snapped, whirling on the man. “Do you need to do that? Or is that just your way of trying to kill us all before the mutants do?”

“Ah piss off, Kaveh, we’re all gonna die sooner or later. We’ve lost contact with the rest of the station. We might be all that’s left before the muties kill us all. Can’t a man have his simple pleasures in life before the end?”

“We might die even sooner if you keep at it, you know.” Came another voice from the head of the patrol. A heavily augmented woman, her hair fanning out behind her as she turned to the squabbling pair. An autocannon that, ordinarily, would have been mounted to a vehicle, or at least a tripod, nestled in her augmetic arms. “By alerting whatever muties are still around, or by starting a shooting war amongst ourselves. So why don’t you shut both of your mouths and keep your eyes peeled. We don’t know what we might be facing out here, an-”

She froze, the sound of a heavy boot treading in something wet, interrupting the unfolding argument. Flashlights, or augmented eyes, turned down to the floor. One man let loose a string of muttered curses in some unintelligible dialect from another region of the station. Others simply stared. The woman in question held only a look of absolute disgust as she stepped back, shaking her foot to clear it.

A half-eaten human corpse looked up at them through eye sockets devoid of contents, only a thin trickle of blood seeping from when something had pried them from the still-warm body. The bare ribcage poked up, a boot-shaped imprint still visible in the ripped and mangled innards it had trodden on. A stray strand of intestine clung to her boot, still, but she like the others seemed not to notice, instead continuing to stare in dismay at the corpse.

Where might ordinarily be the unmistakable marks of razor-sharp blades of warp-altered bone and armor-piercing claws, there were none. Where one might have expected to find the telltale signs of gnashing jaws and knifelike teeth, they saw only smooth skin. The eyes had not been bitten out as if by a ravenous beast, but rather plucked out, deftly, by human hands. There, the marks of fingernails - not claws - around the eye socket. The gash pulled open in his stomach - those same marks. Something human, or at least, human in form, had done this.

One man - Kaveh, who had spoken earlier, seemed nauseous. It was one thing to see a man dismembered by some mutant, feral beast. Abominable constructs of whirling claws and gnashing teeth were, though terrifying, at least sensible. Such things would of course want to hurt and kill and hunt and rip and tear and maim an- it made sense. But this? What sense was there to make of this? In a world gone mad, had they finally lost the one thing they could rely on? Was a human face and form now just another guise for the predators who would hunt them? Was it not enough to die in agony at the hands of amorphous monstrosities, never seeing the light of the sun and stars sung of long ago? Did they now have to fear themselves and each other, too?

The corpse was far too damaged to even hope to identify. Whether it had been one of their own or someone from another part of the station seemed immaterial now. If he had survived then perhaps he might have brought news, or he might simply have been one of their own who got lost. Whatever he might have been seemed immaterial compared to what had killed him.

They all looked around at each other, each one trying not to say what was on all of their minds. Thumbs rested on hammers, and one made a gesture over his chest, warding off bad luck.

Someone broke the tension, pointing further down the hall. More carnage, mutants this time. They hadn’t seen it before now with the variably dim lighting in the area. Flashlights turned towards it, illuminating jagged spires of shattered bone and torn cartilage. All of them picked over clean by the same human hands that had killed the man they stood around. Dead, empty eyes stared out from a misshapen mass of flesh that sprawled before them, closest. There was no apparent cause of death that could be seen on it. It was as though something unearthly and terrifying beyond even the fearlessness of the mutant’s degenerated brain had simply reached out, and willed an end to its life.

Others lay piled further behind it. Eyes, chunks of liver, hearts - these had all been forcefully ripped from the bodies with exacting precision. The hands, whoevers they had been, had seemingly known the exact easiest route to the most nutritious parts of the beasts. Hardened and malformed plates of bulletproof chitin had simply been peeled back, ripping away skin and flesh from bone. Images of the battle seemed to conjure themselves in the onlookers’ minds. Or perhaps less of a battle than a slaughter. The creatures seemed to have gone from hunting to fleeing.

“There’s more.”

The voice dragged the horrified group’s gaze back from whence they had come. Their leader, the augmented woman, crouched below a piece of open ductwork, inspecting something on the floor. Then she stood, reaching up towards the ductwork to pull back… what looked to be a piece of liver. Her lip curled, and she tossed the meat down, then pointed towards something indistinct. The group drew nearer until it became apparent what she had found.

Handprints. Human handprints. Scaling the wall and then into the ducts. Little tiny human handprints, no larger than a child’s.


The child stood, looking at her handiwork. She was proud. Right? She had accomplished the task successfully. This was something to be proud of, right? She wondered if this was a test. Something had taken her, she knew that much. This was not where she had been made. So had she been put here to find a way out? To test her ability to survive? She wondered when it would end, when she could go back to sleep. It was warm in here. But not warm like the tank. This was a different warm, it clung to her in a way the tank did not. She looked down at her hands, the bright crimson liquid covering them shining in the light. It was blood, of course. It suffused the circulatory system of complex, multicellular organisms bringing oxygen bound to hemoglobin and nutrients required for basic vital function. It also served to carry away metabolic waste to the kidneys, liver, and lungs for disposal.

The words slid into her consciousness easily, from where she knew not. Perhaps they had been placed there by her testers-slash-creators. Had the words always been there? Or had they been placed there now, to educate her about something? Had they already educated her?

She crouched down, looking over the body. Where to begin? The eyes were the tastiest. The liver was the most nutritious. She pouted. This was a dumb test. She already knew all of this. She wanted to go back to sleep in the pod.

Tiny little fingers dug into the skin in the upper right abdomen of the corpse, gripping harder and harder until the skin ripped apart under her grasp. The soft hands of a child reached in, feeling around in the hot, sticky environs of the organism. There, the liver. She grabbed hold of it, but it slipped from her grasp. She frowned, ripping the cavity open wider, tearing off a chunk of the body - rectus abdominis muscle, she thought, contained within the rectus fascia comprised of the anterior abdominal aponeuroses and the internal and external oblique muscles, an important postural muscle responsible for respiration and the flexing of the lumbar spine. Muscle tissue was nutritious, but it was not what she needed. She was a growing girl. She dove deeper, glimpsing properly the reddish-brown tint of the liver, and fastened her hands around it. Her eyes glowed with a golden hue as she pulled, and a ripping sound echoed through the hall as it tore free.

She sat down, happy, pulling chunks off and stuffing them into her mouth. These creatures always tasted the best. The spiky-monsters tasted funny. Some of their organs weren’t good. It was always hard to tell, but she was getting better every time. Soon she would be able to tell on sight if a monster was good eating or not. But these, these ones were always good. Barely anything truly toxic, as long as she avoided the digestive tract. She made a face at that memory, bad taste, very bad taste, and shoved more liver into her mouth to clear the thought, happily munching away. She pulled it apart further, separating the yucky bits out. The hepatic portal vein, hepatic ducts, inferior vena cava, the gallbladder, all of them she pulled out and tossed aside, splitting the liver into its four lobes.

The anatomy of the creature was strikingly familiar. It reminded her almost of her own - at least, superficially. Some parts were the same, others so… simple and silly. She reached down, fingers digging in around the eye socket, clenching, and then pulling it free. She looked at the eye, like this, for instance. It was so much… simpler and yet less elegant than her own. She held it in her hand as she studied it, blood dripping down to the floor. She understood everything she saw and what it meant, but not why she did. Sclera. Vitreous body. Optic nerve. She popped it into her mouth and chewed. The vitreous was soft, gooey in a way - and then a crunch. The cornea, the transparent frontal portion of the eye that acts to help refract light for vision. She chewed some more, pondering, as she reached for the second eye.

Or perhaps it wasn’t a test? Or at least, not a test as she would think of or know it. Perhaps whoever had been making her had been planning a test, a different test. But whoever had taken her had wanted to do their own test. Was this a test? Was she failing? Was her test to see what she would do here, in this strange space station? What did they hope to learn from the test? Why was she packed in here with these strange creatures? So similar to her but so weak and stupid. This one had been running - logical, of course. But then it had seen her and had stopped. Obviously, it stood no chance against her might, as she chewed on its eyes, but why had it stopped? Why had it started walking toward her, making noises she hadn’t understood?

Why would she know the anatomy of these creatures so well, as well as her own anatomy? She did not know the anatomy of the spiky-monsters nearly as well or of the teeth-things, the flesh-pits, or the skin-walls. So why these? Why these… almost harmless, weak, stumbling things? Why, when she looked upon them, did words and definitions and thoughts force their way into her mind? Who had put them there? If this wasn’t a test - and she was truly starting to doubt it might be - then had she been taken before she was ready?

Was it by the white-faces? Those figures that moved almost like her, but burdened. With the white, crinkly skin and the polarized acrylic faces. They looked different from her, or from these creatures. But she had seen them outside the tank. Turning dials and knobs on control boards whose readouts she could not see. It probably was the whitefaces - who else could it be? She poured over her memory, searching for names or faces, or for words to offer themselves up to her. Who else could it be but the white-faces? She did not know any others who had interacted with her before she left the tank. Not well, anyway. She did remember… a man. She remembered a man, or something like one. Hazy and unclear, clouded by saturation and the patchwork nature of memory, the edges fuzzy and indistinct. He looked at her with an expression she did not understand. But she did remember him, if just barely. Maybe it was him, then, or the white-faces.

She looked down at the creature, chewing. She was small, it was very large. Almost as big as the white-faces. But she was stronger than it, stronger than the other creatures too. It and the others like it had exuded fear and anger when she had killed them, too. Nothing like the curiosity and diligence of the white-faces.

Fear, that was what she had felt. And anger, too, or something close to it. She had run towards it, and it had begun moving towards her - until she jumped. She remembered its fear as she did so, and the crunch of bone under the impact of her hands. It was a fun feeling! The satisfying cracking of something unyielding finally giving way beneath her hands. She had squeezed harder, laughing as she shattered vertebrae and collapsed the esophagus. She was just annoyed at what the creature had felt. The fear and anger sat in the back of her mind like something heavy in her stomach, spoiling all the fun. It always came back whenever she sat down to think, and she hated when it came back. She wanted to have fun, to break more of the funny things and hear the crunchy bone sounds. If she wasn’t being tested, that meant she got to have fun. And if she got to have fun, that meant she didn’t want it being spoiled by their mean thoughts.

Something pulled her from her contemplation and she froze, looking down the hall. Sounds. Footsteps. The sound of something clicking - mechanical? It was definitely mechanical. She looked around for an exit - there, a duct. She grabbed everything she could carry, ripping the heart out and stuffing it in her mouth, throwing pieces of muscle and liver up through the hole, as much as she could as the footsteps came closer. There were voices, now, she could hear voices, and she stepped back, taking a running jump as she clambered into the duct above, dragging as much of her haul with her as she could. Just in time. They were almost below her, she would flee. Flee back into the network of ducts and ventilation and forgotten passageways until they left. She turned, carrying the meat, and scurried away.
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Slynn, a male or unisex derivative of Sylynne - one of the heroes of Asclepius - was the name given to the strange star child. It was fitting, the child seemingly having a similar origin to the starborne woman that graced Asclepius many centuries ago. A fellow human supposedly from a fallen civilization she had brought great knowledge to the world. Oh the technologies she carried on her lone vessel weren’t particularly impressive, some constructs now long buried in archives of the world.

But it was the philosophies and ways of thinking that she developed that set her out so, instantly grasping the zeitgeist upon Asclepius in her era and improving upon it as any dedicated polymath should. It was in her memory a great many were named, and the gargantuan being that had now come to Asclepius was certainly fitting of the legacy. Slynn had learned to adapt its skin to look more human than it would merely displaying its natural form looking of liquid mercury ever running along its flesh. A pale young man with chin length black hair bound tightly in a pony tail, the strange being would be unthreatening if one saw it from afar. But once one examined it from the distance of a few paces this illusion would melt. Even forcibly hunching itself ever so slightly under its robes in a permanent effort to look non-threatening the primarch was much taller than any living person on Asclepius.

Yet it was decidedly human. Willingly submitting himself to a great many tests it was quickly discovered that the thing was human. Its heritage was clearly in that of a forge of flesh, but still there was something resembling mankind as it was known on Asclepius therein. Incomprehensible, but still distinctly of Terra’s seed.

Indeed the primarch cooperated fully with all examinations done of it, the questionings, and experiments. It was difficult to take the smallest of samples, such was the durability of its hide, its meat, its bone. Thankfully, Slynn was glad to oblige, drawing his own blood, beeling off his own skin. When asked how it could not feel the pain of this, Slynn looked at them with pure confusion. “I do feel the pain.” was the simple response, and after some discussion the super human elaborated that in fact hurting itself was incredibly painful. However, there was a greater good to be served in doing this.

Slynn did a lot more than study himself however. Invited directly by the Polymaths to study, it quickly ascended the ranks of students to surpass those who were studying for decades. Yet dutifully Slynn wished not to skip any steps, like a sponge absorbing every single bit of knowledge it came across. Without consulting a data-slate, it knew the name and much of the lives of every single person on that great performance of the fall on the fateful day that the child slammed into the soil of Asclepius. Elementary things like what someone ate for breakfast on some day or the science behind a plasma generator seemed to be no different in the mind of the starborn. A voracious maw, one that could only be fed by knowledge and yet would only hunger ever more.

It was only a few years before Slynn stood together with the Polymaths. The greatest men of Asclepius, they found their minds honed by centuries dwarfed by the alien that had been on their world less than two decades.

If they were lesser men, they would have been jealous. Instead they were honestly nothing more than perplexed. They knew of all sorts of genetic experiments to make the brain a more refined tool. After all, every person on the planet benefited from such. But Slynn was something that could only beggar belief.

The primarch was now a teenager if one assumed it followed ordinary human maturation. It had already joined the ranks of the Polymaths. Yet, for the moment, it had no apparent interest in trying to become the most equal of the first among equals, so to speak. No it came to the Council of High Studies seemingly eager to only fulfill that which its name implied it was intended for. It wanted only to learn, and to apply its knowledge for the betterment of its adopted people.

Seemingly, it only struggled with two things. One, was the forbidden arts. This was ultimately for the best, but it nonetheless interested the Polymaths and Proctors that Slynn couldn’t even comprehend the concept of the warp. The equations of the gellar fields were incomprehensible to the youth. The very idea that something could be so absent of logic bewildered Slynn, and to the shock of the Polymaths who had not previously encountered any negative emotion from the being seemed to anger and upset the primarch too.

For the first time ever the youth raised its hands in fists and smashed many statues of the Lyceum around it. Of course it then apologized profusely and ran off to hide in its quarters. Nobody dared knock what with the display of sudden if ultimately harmless violence, but some of the handmaids that brought food to the suddenly reclusive Slynn reported that they heard tears from its rooms.

It was thus unsurprising that once returned to its studies, Slynn could not particularly understand the ancient war that separated Brahms and Asclepius, and why it recoiled in seeming terror like a puppy yelled at when Proctor Balear raised his voice to not prod at the matter. Slynn was nearly twice as tall as the ancient, yet rebuke from his teacher seemed to hurt more than any of the surgical implements that had pierced its flesh years ago.

From this one point of unclarity spiralled a great struggle to understand history, and emotions of ordinary people. Sometimes Slynn would speak to people in a monotone voice, yet the primarch would bear an eerie smile wider than its cheekbones and yet not even showing any teeth! At others, Slynn would have his mouth agape with an otherwise absent expression as it was listening to glorious poems and speeches, many of which it was known for a fact the extraterrestrial had enjoyed on prior and later occasions.

Every single one of these eccentricities was recorded very, very thoroughly. Slynn gave great contributions to the philosophies of Asclepius and indeed was already making changes to the sciences of the world. It was thus clear that Slynn would be remembered as long as Asclepian civilization stood.

These events would make it quite simply to understand in hindsight, why Slynn quite abruptly was made privy to the most intimate secrets of Asclepius. One day the inhuman was summoned by the Council of High Studies, supposedly for a matter that they had never discussed before. Indeed Slynn was taken to a room in a complex he was not aware of, for it did not appear in any map available to him. Within something of a planetarium. It was beautiful, a display of the stars undiluted by the atmosphere even if unlike mortal man the primarch could see well past it.

A few Proctors nodded to the arriving primarch, looking upon a hologram of strange otherworldly scenes. Aliens, clear by the pointy ears and yet ever so strangely human. Other similarly anthropoid creatures now with green skin, and at last the sight of the first aliens in combat with amber skinned humans. It was only some images later showing foreign architecture did Slynn understand what was being displayed. Something was happening both on Brahms, but also here, because of it. Somebody was uniting the disparate peoples of the world, and they had fought off aliens. Aliens that the Polymaths never spoke of, who were now very mad with Asclepius.

Suddenly, Slynn felt hurt by all the knowledge withheld from the young superhuman. Suddenly, he knew his world was about to change and expand perhaps as much on the very day that as an infant he landed on the world he called home.

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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Pentious


Rik had always been intelligent. Even in the early days when he had been little more then a burned, mangled babe he had always been a quick leaner. Concepts and ideas that would have taken a normal person decades to properly understand, he seemed to get instinctively. In the event he didn't, he was a remarkably quick study. When his adopted mother had taken the time to sit down and talk to him about it, Rik's description of what he experienced with these 'flashes' of knowledge pointed to a method of information imprinting of a scale as legendary as the genetic engineering that had been employed in his creation.

It was not, however, perfect. The information was present in Rik's mind to be drawn upon but that didn't bring understanding; The information was more or less in a vacuum without context. It was honestly one of the reasons why he valued the teachings of his mentors and teachers so much because while the information might not have been new, the understanding of it and the context in which it could be employed was of vital importance to him.

It was something of fair exchange, since where Rik gained better understanding of himself, his mentors and homeworld gained access to the knowledge stored inside of him. While historically such prized knowledge would have been horded by the higher ranked members of the Pentious, their near destruction at the hands of the orks and Rik's own habit of freely sharing the knowledge he could access to just about anyone who wanted it had caused something of a cultural shift.

The risk of knowledge or know how being lost due to a single specialist dying had been judged too great in the years before Rik's arrival, but the sudden flood he caused of new information and knowledge had cemented the shift. There were still restrictions in place; Secrets that needed to be kept because to properly appreciate and respect the dangers and methods of those rites and practices required a strong foundation of understanding and study of the topic. The lack of which would almost certainly result in a lot of needless death and destruction.

But with the exception of the restrictions put in place for experience and understanding of the subject, everyone more or less had access to everything that wasn't restricted for one reason or another. Anyone who wished to gain access to a restricted topic could study and prove themselves trustworthy not to kill themselves and everyone around them to be granted access to their respective field. It also had an interesting side effect in that, by granting everyone access to all the information they needed those more driven, talented or insightful tended to stand out among their peers and rise up in the ranks.

Outright physical experimentation was restricted, but theoretical experimentation wasn't: Anyone of any level of rank or experience could work on developing theoretical adjustments to existing blueprints or designs in order to make them work more efficiently or better suited to certain tasks or conditions and submit them for review. If the idea is not on record for having been attempted before and was found to be theoretically sound by several more experienced members of the machine cult, the new design would be physically constructed and tested by the recently created Experimental Development Department.

The EDD was vital in its testing of the theoretical in order to see if it could translate into the practically physical. Most ideas that made it to the Department fail to leave it for one of three reasons:

1. The new design, for whatever reason, simply doesn't operate or suffers a flaw that makes it worse then the original. Several items of the new design are built for the purpose of making sure a failure to operate isn't just a fault in the construction of the prototype and is purely an issue with the design itself.

2. The new design doesn't outperform the original in the manner that it was theorized to.

3. The new design is simply to expensive for the benefit it might give. This category covers times and resources used in not only construction, but repair and maintenance as well.

Despite the fact that most of the experiments fail, having an idea reach that stage in the first place is considered something of a feather in the cap of those Mechanicum members who do so. Even a failed idea furthered the quest for knowledge because it helps give a greater understanding as to why the original designs are the way they are. It also served as an unofficial way for lower ranked members of the cult to showcase that their knowledge and talents were at a point where they would benefit from having access to a higher tier of information and resources.

Everyone had to submit their ideas for review and all the prototypes needed to be made within the Experimental Development Department... through exactly who was making the prototypes was a bit more open to interpretation.

.....................................................................


GC-118's appointment as a Magos had always had a degree of friction to it among the more elder members of Pentious, largely because of how young she was when she was granted the rank. For the most part she didn't really mind since her observations and calculations both rational and emotional she dedicated on the matter revealed that the majority of their disquiet about her appointment had nothing to do with her personally at all; They were remembering the peers, friends and sometimes more that had been been torn out of the orderly mechanism of their lives by the uncaring, easily entertained hands of the greenskin tides and finding the replacement to not to live up to their nostalgia of what once was.

Well, apart from Magos YS-530. She was just a bitch to everyone.

Still, she rather enjoyed her work in the Experimental Development Department. In her mind she couldn't help but picture herself akin to the Explorators who had originally set out from Mars, striving to uncover the lost knowledge of mankind! In fact, it made her feel closer to those who came before during the height of Humanity, before the Age of Strife and the loss of so much in its chaos. With each project she got to work on, success or failure... she could better understand why they made the decisions they did and thus, better understand the nature of the machine spirits and their physical shells.

It also had the wonderful benefit that she got to work alongside Myrmidon Uixien occasionally. For example, the two of them were currently working on two different parts of a pair of experiments that he had put forward himself: Designs that would, in theory at least, alter the armor and implants of the various Vanguard units so that they would be better suited to protecting their wearers from the side effects of the radiation of their own Rad weapons by a considerable degree and giving the average Vanguard additional years, if not decades of life to live.

There were two different experiments put forward because they were designed around different ideas: The one she was currently working on bringing to life was a serious of redesigns on the currently active Vanguard technology, improving the systems and designs currently in use and allowing active Vanguards to be cycled off of combat duty for a time to be upgraded.

The one Uixien was working on was a complete redesign from the ground up.

Where GC-118's work might, if the prototypes proved promising and the engineering, construction and logistical challenges didn't doom it to be lesser then the original design, be used to upgrade the hardware and implants of the currently serving Vanguards of Pentious, the Myrmdon was actively working on a design that would replace them in generations to come.

Taking the lessons and knowledge of the original Vanguard armor and implant designs, the battlefield data connected to them for good and ill... and designing something without having to worry about upgrading or working around what was already in place in order to create something that would give the average Vanguard solder a fighting chance of dying of natural causes unrelated to radiation poisoning. It would be an absolute evolution of the technology and would cement its creators place in history... but knowing Uixien like she did, that wasn't why he was doing it.

GC-118 wasn't the sort to let her thoughts distract her from her professionalism or her work, but she was a girl of simple pleasures and the means to achieve them. There was a mental vault that she kept separate from her primary one that was linked up to the optic sensor that she was using to observe Myrmdon Uixien as he worked while also containing the various emotions the sight made her experience. It also allowed her to see the interesting servo-skull that was hovering about him, seemingly made of a broken skull that had been put back together with... gold? It was strangely beautiful, through she was sure that there were those who would consider it wasteful.

When she finally decided to speak up, her emotions were easy to read, despite her instinctive desire to hide them. "[Bashful Query:] Myrmdon Uixien, may I make an attempt at understanding the circuity of your brain and how it processes thought?"

Neither of them stopped working: They were both professional and rather talented at multitasking when it was called for after all, but GC-118 couldn't help but notice that it took Uixien an extra moment to respond to her when he answered "If you wish to make a hypothesis about how my mind works, you are welcome to try. I will respond with total honesty."

The ball now back firmly in her court, GC-118 took a few seconds to review what she wanted to say in order to see if it needed to be corrected or refined in any way before being put out into the world. "[Probing statement:]You could have very easily turned all your attention towards the prototype you are working on... yet you still made the point of putting together something to upgrade the current generation of Vanguards in order to reduce the upon of damage that their own weapons cause them, despite the fact that future Vanguards would be equipped with greater resistance to radiation from the start then the current generation will ever have."

"[Questioning confession:]Some of my processes and calculations suggest that the reason behind this is that you are not blind to the suffering of others and you are actively trying to reduce it to a level you find closer to acceptable. [Tentative Admiration:] I believe there is truth to this... but that it is not your only driving motive." Something happened that GC-118 had not been expecting to happen: She saw Uixien pause in his work when she concluded that he had more motives to his work. She had never seen him pause like this before.

"The acceptable level of suffering, despite what some of our peers might believe Magos GC-118, is suffering = 0. However, since we do not live in a perfect world, we can only get as close as we can. You are correct in that assessment... but I admit I am curious as to what other motive you believe my work has." Turning from the processing machines he had been working on, GC-118 saw a biological eye focused on her as he waited with curiosity, giving her a great deal of his undivided attention.

Ignoring the way that her heart was beating... and the machinery around it was working slightly overtime to regulate it, GC-118 took a deep, multi-filtered breath. "[Deductive Reasoning:] Two grander motives come to mind. The first is that you simply wished for the fame and recognition that would come with submitting two designs at once and having them be successful... [Dismissal:] However, from what I have observed of you, political ambition and fame are not primary driving forces for any of your actions."

"[Deeper Deduction:] The second option is that you are planning for a time post-orks on Pentious. Something to trade with other Forge Worlds we might come across in the galaxy. [Reconsideration:] No... You wouldn't trade something like the upgrades for the base Vanguard design because hording it to yourself would cause needless suffering. [Realization:] You would give that information for free in order to develop good will with other Forge Worlds... while keeping the more advanced Vanguard designs as an ace if the Forge World proved untrustworthy and to have something to offer them in the future if relations improve." There was a moment of silence as she watched him watching her... and a small smile starting to dawn on his face that made her feel warm.

"It would appear that my machinations are transparent to you, Magos GC-118. I admit that I have always found your habit of trying to understand how I think and see the world rather then just asking me to be rather quaint." He paused... before he asked a question that would change the course of history. "Maybe we could spend some time together when we both have a free meal time and talk in a slightly less professional manner then normal?"

"[EMOTIONAL PROCESSING ERROR! EMO5$*%AL PRO&#SS*ING ERR#R! Emotional Reboot in 3... 2...1...]" GC-118 stood stock still as the glow of her optics flared bright, then suddenly dimmed before her body seemed to relax a little. "[Completely Normal & Calm Response:] I would like that very much. We can compare schedules after we are done here Myrmdon Uixien."

"Wonderful. And please, call me Rik."
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