Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Bugman
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Bugman What happens when old wounds heal?

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Amunal looked upon the structure before him. It was the single largest continuous surface constructed in Brahms, and it was incredibly simple. Simply a large, flat rectangle upon which the Primarch was able to make inscriptions. For its calculations, the youth did not truly need this for its memory more than sufficed. But scribbling down a random note about axioms of governance or science here and there allowed the tribal confederation that began to worship him as a God allowed them to swiftly go from backwards savages lacking elementary things from hydrology to literacy, to one of the greatest nations of the planet in a mere generation. They understood but fractions of it, and much of that only years after it was written, but these observations were enough. Where barren land once marred one’s vision, great aqueducts poured brought water to fertile fields. Where once stone tools and animal hide dominated human industry, a standard fashion and steel came to be supreme.

The Master as they called him, rarely gave anything resembling a command. Instead a person would simply approach the giant and as meekly as they could, they would ask a question. Always they refined it as simply as they could, since for every variable the answer would become an order of magnitude longer and more complex. A whole strata of people were assembled to study the works of the Master without bothering him, a fact that he never complained about. Still, sometimes he complained about interference with his work.

Never did he ask for food or water, though it was on occasion brought to him by the adoring people. Rarely, perhaps once a season he would ask for musicians to come. These men and women would feel a great honour was bestowed on them, but they would almost always spend more time listening to the Primarch lecturing them about the mistakes they were making, the issues with their tune or timing or the maintenance of their instruments. Of course, none would even try to deny that they all became superior artists following the experience.

But as the starborne teenager had predicted years before, eventually, the realm of Ummaria would be a problem. One by one true civilizations joined the tribes that Amunal had made ascend, eager to partake of the wondrous being that lead them rather than be eclipsed by those they so recently looked down upon. But with the old Heirarch of Ummaria dead, his son saw the rise of Amunal’s people as a threat to himself, every eye watching him for any sign of a lack of resolve within his own realm and abroad.

So it was that an emissary came from Ummaria, and emissaries were the few for whom the Master was willing to step aside from his great work for. The request was simple, to bow to the Heirarch of Ummaria, recognize his supremacy. Amunal, to the surprise of all, was more than happy to accept this. The emissary that had been dispatched with little expectation of his own survival returned perplexed back to his nation. Again he was dispatched a few months later, with the terms and conditions of Ummaria’s dominion over the united tribes. Once more surprised, he returned with the Master’s signature.

The diplomat would return every few months with new demands from Ummaria, each more egregious than the past, each raising a new voice among the Master’s people that they must not accede. But each time the Master would insist peace was of far greater import. This was until at last the ambassador returned to demand that direct control of the Confederation be turned to him. “No.” was the entirety of the message he was ordered to return by Amunal. Again he returned, now with the threat of war. Amunal remained steadfast, and so the armies of Ummaria were marshalled.

Amunal treated this lightly. He had exterminated entire tribes that he found incompatible with peace and impossible to negotiate with with his bare hands. Indeed seeing himself an ethical person did this in a manner so fast most of the victims died far too fast to feel fear or pain. Though perhaps somewhat more of a challenge, one that might take a few days, he believed that he could destroy hundreds until eventually the Ummarians would retreat.

The fateful day of the first battle between Ummaria and the confederation was an uncharacteristically hot, sunny one. With just a few hundred people who had followed him in worship, Amunal stared at nearly a quarter of a million people before him. Archers, spearmen, cavalry, siege engines, cavalry, all were assembled in a great throng. Nothing present, as far as the Primarch was concerned, could even scratch his skin.

A horseman rode out from the army, offering Amunal a final attempt at surrender, which with a smile the Master denied and then reciprocated. As the horseman too denied this, he wasn’t able to turn his horse around before his skull was split in two.

In a blur the Master ran forth, scything down some thirty people with a flurry of his limbs spinning to maximize carnage, all was going exactly as he expected. Until a horn rang, and several of the carts Amunal had assumed would be full of supplies or perhaps disassembled siege engines disgorged their contents.

Beasts Amunal had never seen before ran towards him, in a few cases crushing Ummarian troops underfoot in their wild charge as they came to do battle. It took a few seconds for Amunal to recognize that these were some sort of humans twisted by unnatural means, and more of a threat than any of the mortals he had just slain.

They were soft, their flesh just as easily torn apart and their bones just as easily broken as that of the un mutated humans. But, there were two problems. First, there was simply so much more bone and flesh to destroy, and there was seemingly more than one brain, heart, and other vital organs to end their lives and even with them torn or crushed the beasts still persisted for some time.

The other issue was that they bore a strength that the same amount of humans for that weight would not be able to achieve. Such was the power of their strikes, the teenage primarch was unable to maintain his chosen appearance and had to revert to his featureless mercurial form by the time he had slain his tenth beast.

By the twentieth, his breath was ragged, and soon he tasted his own blood for the first time in his life. Soon bruises were formed, and slowly his skin split open. His breath ran ragged, some sort of concussion explaining the dizziness that was also a first time experience. He stared at his own knees, vision blurring and a ringing came in his ears that overpowered the sound of another horn. Shadows loomed over him, and he saw hundreds of humans rush forth at him. They stabbed and cut, the majority of the strikes glancing off. But a few struck the already open wounds, and while unable to break any of the flesh they moved and jerked it around to still open the wounds wider. With a roar, the Primarch dislodged each of the mortals upon him and without even wasting time killing them, ran for his life.

The war against Ummaria had very suddenly become a problem. The Master was wounded, something nobody had believed possible. Though he had already recovered from almost all of his wounds in mere hours, he had still ordered the evacuation of an entire half of the Confederation’s land. They were not at all ready for a war. Until now, the deterrent of Amunal’s mere existence had ensured that nobody would strike at the Confederation. Thus their armed forces were tiny, mere militias to respond to the few raiders brave enough to strike at their lands. Overnight, Amunal turned them into a war economy. He found this tragic, but schools he had insisted be set up were turned to small assembly lines for arrows, or places to sharpen newly smithed blades. Every so often Amunal would venture out to strike at the rampaging Ummarian army, but for the first time fearing for his own life these were limited strikes in the night and with nearby detachments of cavalry to defend him should the Ummarians release their beasts fast enough.

Eventually the day came that the Confederation was ready to strike back, and exactly as Amunal had predicted, the Ummarians would not be ready. They faced an army very suddenly larger, better equipped and better led than their own. Very swiftly they were encircled, and the force of hundreds of thousands was destroyed in entirety with a little less than half taken as captives.

An Emissary was then sent to Ummaria asking for their surrender, and once he didn’t return the Confederated army marched into Ummaria, destroying any that refused to spit on the name of the Heirarch.

The capitol was in sight, and still the Ummarians refused to surrender. The gates were breached, fighting was in the streets, and yet the Heirarch refused to give in. His palace was beset, and no order came for the royal guard to stand down. Amunal himself smashed in the gates to the Palace, roaring at the man on the throne. He sprinted through the hundreds of elite warriors assembled to stop him, a crimson slurry flying through the air as he now stood before the Heirarch. The young ruler stared at Amunal, not rising from his seat as he scratched his beard.

“Why? Why?” the Primarch demanded, tears and blood and sweat dripping off of the superhuman in equal measure.

The Heirarch shrugged, undistrubed. “It is my right to rule. To rule all. You included.”

Amunal screeched in rage upon hearing this unparalleled arrogance, eliciting a chuckle from the Heirarch.

“You are unnatural, just as the beasts I was forced to employ against you. But you may still die.” He reached in his robes, and retrieved from them what Amunal would eventually learn was a conversion beamer. With a pull of the trigger, Amunal looked down into his chest where his heart was now exposed. Durable as the young Primarch was, the weapon converted his flesh into energy and with his lab-grown countermeasures yet immature, the effect brought him to the brink of death.

Hissing in pain, Amunal still wasn’t done. The Heirarch was grinning, but this expression quickly fell and turned to a scream as Amunal took a step forwards. The ruler of Ummaria scrambled back in his throne. In desperation he took off towards one of the many secret passages in the wall. But he fell as an enormous hand pulled on his wrist, and then tore both arms off. Both legs than came off, yet to his surprise the wounded Primarch brought a torch to both wounds, intent seemingly on keeping him alive.

As much in pain as he was astounded, the Heirarch looked at Amunal incredulously trying to mouth words that wouldn’t come from the searing suffering he was experiencing. About to fall unconscious, Amunal uttered a single phrase to the Heirarch. “You are the first to break my mercy, and you will be the last.”




The years that followed eventually turned Brahms into a world with but one governance, all following the wisdom of the Master. Within Ummaria ancient technologies were recovered hidden beneath ruins and within vaults, upon the study of which many found resemblance to that which Amunal had already written of on his wall. With them compounded with the means of understanding them brought by the Primarch, a global Golden Age began, only a few worshippers of the darkest of Gods resisting this in their deserts and mountains.

But, some began to wonder how the Starlanders would react to this. Very soon, their concerns would materialize.

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Hidden 5 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by Antediluvixen
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Antediluvixen Kemonomimi Dystopia Creator

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A Vigilant Dawn, Grieving in the Twilight of Man


The pitter-patter of little feet filled the air. A gentle metallic ring to every rhythmic step that sounded out from each little step. She was in the ducts again. Scurrying around this strange place, exploring its empty stretches and nightmare chasms. Slowly a mental map was forming, an intricate network of ducts and maintenance tunnels and more. They all branched out from something. Something was at the heart of this… this place. She could imagine it all now projected before her, see the different parts of this world flowing together, converging on one point, one central axis around which it was all based.

Perhaps that was her test. To find whatever was at the heart of this place. And she would find it.

She was moving towards the heart of this place. Whatever it was. She wanted to find it and to know what it was that had been calling to her. This whole place, whatever lay at its core - it called to her. It beckoned her. It whispered in her mind when she slept. She was here for something right? Surely this was it. She was near it, she could feel it, she could almost taste it. Something ancient, more ancient than even this station itself, something powerful - lived here.

She crawled along. The ducts were smaller now - or rather, she had gotten bigger. She was growing. Soon she wouldn’t be able to fit through these at all.

She placed a hand on the warm metal ahead - and let out an involuntary yelp of surprise as it gave way beneath her, sending the corroded metal and the child crawling upon it crashing to the floor beneath.

How long had it been? Since she had last awoken? One hundred and thirty-seven thousand six hundred and sixty-six cycles. Since she had last tended to her station? Seventy-seven thousand four hundred and thirty-three cycles. Since she had last spoken to a Maker? A cursory check returned a number. She languished in sorrow at the final query; two million one hundred twenty-four thousand six hundred and fifty-nine cycles since she last spoke to a Maker. And yet…

The lights of the chamber clicked on one by one, illuminating the child-sized figure that had fallen from so high before stretching off into the darkness of the vast room. Each bank of lights exposed masterful mason work, and finely filigreed walls. More curious than the care that had been put into the chamber was the banks of cogitators that stood idle, massive cables as thick as a man's neck running from them to a massive blocky sphere suspended by cables three times the width of a human at its pole dominated the center of the domed room.

The cogitators, dead and silent for millennia, clicked to life all at once. The vast cables running from them to the central sphere hummed with power, and along the core itself small lights of unknown purpose began to blink.

She had categorized the child nearly instantly, her subsystems doing the work for her before her central core had properly awoken. Human. Though only just. Spectral scanners and finely tuned augors hidden within the domed room's mosaics and masonry returned curious oddities. A bombardment of X-rays revealed an internal structure so close yet so far from her Makers that she had almost initiated decontamination protocols. Yet she felt grief well inside her as she watched the child rise to her feet. A perfect example of her Makers, not a mutation in sight on the small things perfect body, but internally, she was wrong.

The child stood, looking around her at the intricate mosaic of wiring and human artifice. Her expression did not change as she did so, though internally, some part of her was impressed, looking on in a mixture of the wonder of a child and the keen eye of a master of their craft. What part, she knew not - something deeper than her mere conscious processes. Something implanted in her by her creators appreciated the wonder of what she looked upon, even if she did not fully grasp its workings in a conscious manner. Yet.

She looked around, blinking in the sudden light, a sharp contrast to the darkness to which she had become accustomed. She looked from the lights to the rest of the room, walking slowly through it. She was not alone in here, she could tell. Something was watching her though she knew not what exactly. She ran her hands across the cables that ran across the floor, and the intricate patterns and decor that lined its walls.

Eventually, however, her attention was drawn towards the center of the room, towards the great sphere at its heart. There, she knew, was the one who shared the room with her. Was this one of her makers? She didn’t think so. They looked like her, not a massive agglomeration of wiring, blinking lights, and more. Was this the being who was testing her, if this was a test? She wasn’t sure about that, either. It was at the heart of the station, but it hadn’t been aware of her until she had fallen through into its space, she was sure of it. She hadn’t felt its presence… or rather, its awareness, until now.

The child folded her arms, watching the sphere expressionlessly, then turned her gaze to one of the scanners whose presence she now felt. She knew not the words she spoke, only vague semblances of such gleaned from scribblings and barely legible symbols from ancient and time-worn texts and signage. And yet they formed on her tongue all the same, poorly formed and uncertain.

“W- whoo arr you?”

Her systems registered the look of recognition in the small child's eyes as she seemed to focus in on one of the recessed scanners hidden within the filigree of the wall. Had she ever met a Maker so perspective before? She began to trawl through her memory banks for any other instance of such an event and spoke all the same.

“I am Vigilant Dawn, Station Keeper of Angel’s Bastion, and trusted ward of the space-time anomaly located beyond the station zone,” a decidedly female voice originating from the sphere itself answered the child’s piecemeal question, “It has been many cycles since I have spoken with a Maker. I fear my functions are less than optimal. I do not have a record of you on Angel’s Bastion.”

The child looked back towards the sphere as the presence made itself known in proper. She looked at the sphere, then back towards the scanners, then towards the sphere once more. She took a step forward, craning her neck as though she might see one of her creators in it. A part of her knew it was folly - and yet she did not in turn know that part of herself. Where such knowledge came from, or why, was just another mystery to unravel in this place.

And perhaps this strange being could help.

“I- I amno- am not fru- from heere.” She said in turn, the words still awkward in her mouth, but growing firmer. “So yo-u do not knoow who Iyam? Hoowar- who ar.. you?” She asked, frowning, then her eyes narrowed, “Owr is this a pa-part ov the t-test?”

Vigilant Dawn, were she to have possessed a face, would have frowned at the child as she spoke. But, possessing no such features, instead dimmed the lights slightly at the girl's tangled words.

“My records, while vast, are incomplete. I have not had positive control over much of Angel’s Bastion for too many cycles than I care to admit,” the machine stated, “and so my records of crew and visitors are fragmented at best.”

She scrutinized the child again under auspex and particle bombardment as she spoke, “You are not registered aboard. Additionally, I have no record of tests running in parallel with my functions.”

She took on a softer tone now, almost cooing at the lost and confused thing before her, “I may yet provide you a route home if you can confirm where on Angel’s Bastion you are from.”

The child looked at the machine, frowning in turn at the dimming of the lights. She shook her head. “Iyam not frum heyar. I am from…” she paused, thinking. Where was she from? Not here, certainly, she knew that for certain. She had been created somewhere else, she had crashed here from… somewhere beyond.

“Somewhere e-else.” she declared, shoulders slumping in defeat. “Somewhere far away. With a dif-different star. I thoug-t that I was brought heyar for a test. By the people who made me.” She looked around some more, throwing her hands in the air, “But there are no people here! Just monsters!”

The lights along Vigilant Dawn’s core dimmed to a warm yellow as the girl spoke, before Vigilant Dawn herself answered.

“This is most peculiar, I have no record of any arrivals by voidcraft anytime shortly after I lost contact with Makers off-station.”

Vigilant Dawn turned her attention fully on the child and away from her failing databanks as the girl proclaimed of monsters aboard.

“Indeed. Containment protocol has been significantly hindered during my slumbers. There are a number of uncategorized xeno species aboard Angel’s Dawn,” the machine paused a moment, “along with a larger number of Makers, twisted beyond saving,” she finished, her lights dimming a somber blue.

The child listened patiently, and nodded. “It wasn’t a voidcraft.”

How she knew that word, she did not know. Another thing planted in her mind, certainly, it clicked into place as though she had always known it, and simply needed to hear the concept spoken aloud to understand. Something more to some day learn about. But Vigilant Dawn had told her more, she now knew this was no test, no examination conducted by her creators hiding in the heart of this station.

Which begged the question why she was here, after all, and who had taken her. She spoke again, continuing, her grasp of the words already strong now. “It was something else. I was grown inside it. Someone… something…? Sent me here. I thought it was a test, and my creators would be here, where you are.” She looked around, throwing her arms in the air in defeat, “Who are your Makers, though? Are they the same as mine? You’re…” the child trailed off, frowning, “Old. Very very old. They can’t be the same.”

“Correct,” Vigilant Dawn answered instantly, “my makers are long dead. It has been 5,820 years since I last spoke with a Maker.” An array of machines clicked now as the machine accessed memories of old.

The machines whined a moment, a number seeming to stop altogether, before finally the machine spoke aloud again.

“I was activated, along with six of my kin—“ the machines around the child screeched as one, several beginning to smoke, “—of my kin—“ one of the console screens burst in an array of sparks and the workstation set ablaze a moment later.

“This information is no longer available to me.” Vigilant Dawn affirmed as if nothing out of the ordinary had just taken place.

“How long have you been aboard Angel’s Bastion?” she asked without missing a beat.

The child flinched as the screen burst, looking back to the AI with a mixture of fascination and concern. She racked her mind for something to say - but what would she say? Ask if she was alright? The answer to that was self-evident. Ask what it was? The AI seemed not to have noticed it’d happened at all. Ask some other variant of the same question? She’d rather not hurt Vigilant further. She frowned, and simply resigned herself to the knowledge of it as another mystery to be untangled.

“A…” she frowned, “Ninety six standard terran cycles.” She proudly declared. “And that’s all I know about this place. That, and it’s full of monsters, and something made me come to you.”

The core of the machine whirred silently, Vigilant Dawn thinking as she cross referenced all she knew of human biology and her own scans of the child before her.

“You outgrow a standard human at your stated age, alarmingly so. You must be wrong,” she said, leaving out the part about how it wasn’t the girls memory that was wrong.

“The monsters you encounter, I have, during every waking cycle, tracked their steady progress as they overrun Angel’s Bastion. There are bands of adult humans that fall to them with each passing year. Yet you stand before me.” The machines around the girl whirred and clicked, “curious.” Vigilant Dawn tutted.

“I can offer you much, but I can not offer you protection, not yet. For that, you must help me.”

A number of screens began to scroll data across their reflective surfaces, and a large holoimage of the station filled the air before the child.

“As you can see,” the machine began, “much of Angel’s Bastion is derelict and outside of my control,” the holoimage flashed a bloody red over large pieces of the station layout, “I can do nothing here without a Maker to restore me.”

The machine did not speak as the image floated between them for several moments, “I believe, young Maker, that you can do this for me,” the machines at her side clicked and whirred, “in exchange, I offer you my knowledge.”

The child shook her head. “I’m not a standard human.” She spoke with authority, conviction. Yet another mystery, another thing implanted in her by her creators. But she also simply knew, felt it in her bones and in her small hands and feet - she was no normal human. She was something altogether unique, different. She simply didn’t understand why.

“I’m not a normal human, and I don’t need protection. I’m strong. I’m still small, but I’m strong. The monsters run away from me, and I eat them when I’m hungry.” She paused, then, continuing. “I do want to learn, though…” She looked up, “Is that what you can do? You can tell me about here? About everywhere else? I help you fix your home and you teach me things?”

The child stood for a moment, thinking. She thought about what the offer could entail, fixing up this place starting from this forgotten room at its heart - and then she was somewhere else. She was tall, holding… swords. She stood proud atop the station - a station whose exterior she had never seen in such detail before, only a fleeting glimpse before she had smashed into it. Its extensive staryards reached out for kilometers before her. Its vast intricate clockwork habitation blocks and fabrication wards rose up into the void beneath her, repaired and newly inhabited. The fires of industry and revitalized civilization flared beneath her as she stood, proud, resplendent in her triumph as she surveyed the stars beyond. She looked down to a massive voidship under repair, having been dredged out of the former hulk and in the process of restoration.

She blinked, and she was back in the computer room. Only a second had passed, and yet… she looked up to the AI, and nodded. “I’ll do it.”

Vigilant Dawn, were she human, would have smiled at the child, instead she simply answered, “Then let us not waste anymore time, there is much to do if this station is to be brought back to its former glory—”

Around the child, a number of holo-images sprung to life. Intricate depictions of electrical circuits, detailed engineering diagrams for the blast doors and hydraulic actuators in this very room, and endless scrolling information on several screens ranging from the most basic of algorithmic computations to the precise mathematics behind nuclear fusion began to roll across holo-images.

“And I have much to teach you, Young Maker.”
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Bugman
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Bugman What happens when old wounds heal?

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The Fabricator-General drummed the fingers on his seventh mecha-dendrite on the table holographic keyboard before him, a performance The Rites of Anticipatory Tapping. The load time of the cogitator before him was unfathomably slow, thus forgotten parts of his brain brought back emotions he forgot like annoyance and frustration. Again the facility he was in shook, a little rust pouring off of the ceiling onto his robes.

Such was the state of the conflict between the electro priests that they had both activated more than enough countermeasures against each other from scrap-code infections to jamming to servitor-targeted biological warfare that a significant portion of the infrastructure of both sides - and those caught between them - was rendered useless. Navigation systems, auspex, communications, all were now struck to such a degree that they were forced to rely on mainly analogue measures. Cybernetic pigeons with grav-sails coated in cameleoline were now almost the sole connections between different Forges and other settlements of Mars. Ancient and unfathomably mighty weapon systems were unable to be properly utilized, and thus calculations for missile trajectories and the likes were calculated with means as mundane as servitors holding abacuses, pens, and paper. Artillery was fired with unguided shells, the balance now strictly in favour of quantity over quality as guidance systems in each bomb could not connect to any satellite or other means to aim.

This by no means meant that the violence ceased, or was reduced in its scope or magnitude. If anything the opposite, the sudden lack of precision ensuring that far more of those that would otherwise be bystanders were struck in a crossfire that got ever wider.

The thoughts on the war very suddenly stopped as a corpse in the corner twitched, electricity coursing across the electoo runes on its skin. Ocular implants extended out of Salkor’s head like tentacles and turned to face the offending movement, a plethora of volkite culverins shifting to point towards it. Thankfully, this was just a death throe. Every Fulgurite in the facility was dead, some sort of gas attack of the Corpuscarii was employed with careful modifications to pass through typical environmental control systems. Salkor of course took some of the residue found to examine, but his focus was first and foremost upon the data stores at this temple. Apart from a few body guards and tech adepts with infiltration technologies so thorough even he couldn’t detect them, Salkor was alone to investigate. He did not want to be found here by the Corpuscarii, lest they think he was partisan to the conflict and their supporters outright refuse to acknowledge his authority. No, rather it was critical that he find any and all who had contact with this militant sect of the Fulgurites. Trying to resolve the conflict with traditional peace and mediation was something that Salkor desperately wanted to do, but it was also something he had recently acknowledged in private would likely be impossible. Peace by force would instead be the means to save Mars. Every single Magos who was partisan in the conflict would simply have to be threatened to have their support for one or the other side disclosed if they keep on their activities. Presented with a choice of life or death, most would agree to stop arming one or the other side of the conflict and thus without weapons the holy war would at least become a lot less destructive.

A new thought was now a regular occurrence in the Fabricator General’s mind. With confidence he could end the violence, he was wondering what he could do to prevent its resurgence? Something would have to be done to prevent either side from getting ideas about how they can end their schism once and for all, but it was unfathomable what this could be.

“Fabricator General. I am to remind you that your meeting with the Vossite ambassador is today.”

The tentacle eyes shifted, looking for the one that emitted the binharic utterance.

“Very well. Finish after me.”

With that, the Fabricator flew out.

It was some time and many switches of vehicle before at least he was present at one of the last functioning communications hubs to speak with the Vossite. After hitting the long binharic sequence on the rotary dial, Salkor let a few fingers through loops of the curling wire.

As he waited for the connection to follow through the Fabricator General wondered what would happen in today’s dialogue. Undoubtedly, the representative of Voss would have already been briefed on arrival in the solar system of what was happening on Mars. He would very certainly see this as an opportunity for Voss to assert more personal authority and autonomy from Mars. With just how conciliatory Salkor had been to the interests of extra-solar Forgeworlds throughout his career, Voss would likely think they wouldn’t even need to haggle.

But no, today the Fabricator General was going to show a backbone, and upon first implication of Voss’s potential decentralization of authority away from Mars, Salkor would have a simple reply ready.

“Voss also has cults of Fulgurites and Corpuscarii. Do you wish for the conflict to spill out of Mars? Do you wish for this bloodshed to become galactic?” The reply of “No.” was swift. “Then you will assist me, and not ask anything of me.”

Satisfied, Salkor got onto discussing how all the shipments arrived with the Vossite merchant marine would be transferred directly to the ports the Fabricator General insisted upon rather than to the original designated orders from different Magoses of Mars, and how they would return with all sorts of equipment that Mars would need to both cease and recover from the violence. Ultimately, it was a productive day.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by MarshalSolgriev
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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Lessons of the Hassan

-Twenty-Two Years After Arrival-





Restless is the coiled serpent in shadowy pools, yet equilibrium rewards the viper with salvation’. A phrase that Malik Zaphariel ibn Varranis recalled from the Old Man of the Mountain. To him, in this moment, it felt like a mantra to temper the roiling dunes within his soul. He had sat here amid this world, Idrathar III, listening to their council people speak endlessly for thirteen days and thirteen nights. No, Zaphariel had listened to them for beyond that amount of time. Many had renowned him for limitless patience, especially when it came to negotiations; however, there was a limit to everything. The Idratharians were beginning to push the limits of his peace. Even now, he stared with a faux smile and pleasant demeanor at the current speaker of their assembly.

“... Thus do I propose a grateful share of our exports in exchange for a steady four percent increase to our current deal. Idratharian silks are renowned across the settled worlds for their texture and length! Each set of silk comes with a promised delivery of Idrathar’s premium jewels, fashioned from the pearls of our oceans! Not only that, but our jewelry can be found embedded into the great works of armor found in our military! No doubt, the Great Malik of the Illuminated Star Sultanate has found these things pleasing to him.” One of their councilmen, Mahannan o’Iluzan, spoke like a merchant and a diplomat all in a single breath. His movements were fluid, lush, and filled with the appropriate eccentricity for his role. He spoke from across a long, oval table with enormous amounts of filigree and ornate embellishments. Each resounding word the man spoke saw small waves of colorful light dance across the table, carefully tailored to his speeches.

The Pandjorans that sat to either side of him watched with meticulously sculpted masks of emotion. Each one of the four delegates that he had brought was hand-chosen by him, less for their necessity in the negotiations and more to further test House Abdullahar’s abilities. He’d remember well to reward their efforts for sitting through this relentless tirade of useless gibberish. One of the delegates, at the mention of the Malik, leaned forward as if to speak on behalf of Zaphariel. A quick look from his orange, serpentine eyes was enough to silence her attempt. He stood to his full height from the ornate seats, now taller than any man on Pandjoras and reaching absurd lengths for a mortal man.

“Why, yes! Quite well, you’ve unveiled my shroud and found me wanting for the procurement of your silks! The quality of such goods couldn’t be found in a thousand and one grains of black sand! My greatest weavers would weep at the mere touch of such sophisticated works!” Zaphariel began to speak with a mouth full of honey, dripping with a sickening sweetness that could nauseate any victim. He weaved a light, optimistic tone into his Pandjoran trill, forcing every word to become a blissful melody. A typical tactic of his design, one that saw the shattering of plentiful defenses. Even those words were enough to visibly melt those around Mahannan, yet it wasn’t enough to break his will. He needed to push the man harder. “Yet, do you not find the great works of Pandjoras to your tastes? Our uniquely woven serpent silk, specially crafted from compressed void serpent scale, is a rare exotic found only on the dusken world. I have yet to come across the same quality of good in our thirty-world Sultanate.”

An attack had been made against Mahannan, a bait and strike that could deliver lethal blows to their reputation if answered improperly. Zaphariel inwardly smiled, enjoying the taste of a verbal hunt. He watched the Idratharian slightly tense at the subtle rebuke. A small bead of sweat, invisible to all except him, began to formulate on his pale skin. The head delegate returned a fashionable smile, combing a hand through his long, silver hair in a return to confidence.

“You honor my people with every word you speak, Malik Zaphariel! We would never downplay the eternal qualities of Pandjoran products, rivaled even by the aelves! The Idratharian people value it to such an extent that it’ll quickly become a staple of our everyday luxuries. It isn’t a simple matter of comparing qualities, but a matter of introducing something so fundamental to our lives! That, dear guest, is the depths to which we appreciate the dusken world’s superb gifts. Perhaps, then, an increase of four percent in overall trade would suffice the Malik’s desire for Idrathar’s illustrious goods?” Mahannan carefully deflected with overbearing enthusiasm. An indulgent amount of compliments had tied to a return to the original discussion. A spry smile gingerly spread across his sculpted lips.

A proper deflection. Zaphariel felt the Abdullaharian-Pandjorans imperceptibly shift to either side of him. Regardless of how he could word it, the Pandjorans had been insulted by a direct return to agreements without consolidated change to the original deal. To a minor degree, the Malik of Pandjoras admired the gall, shrewdness, and willpower of Mahannan. No doubt, he was elected to the position of Delegate Primus for this particular reason. A dark desire began to circulate through the dreamer. He wanted to claim this Idratharian and raise him up to heights undiscovered. For now, however, the dusken deity wouldn’t allow the man his victory.

“Your words are like a fresh drink of mulled serpent blood on a frozen night, Delegate Primus! To think that our dusken world has integrated so far into your society in less than thirteen cycles! The Conglomerate must be enthusiastic about the possibility of integrating into the Sultanate as much as you are, dear host. Shall I accept your words as promised allegiance for such an outstanding display?” Zaphariel replied, spinning words into silk as a supple response for the Idratharian before him. A deflection responded with a piercing assault. His final words were intentionally spoken with a diamond-tipped edge, worded perfectly in sync with the desired reaction. The delegates before him, though, unconsciously shifted into a defensive stance. He could feel their uneasiness as a rodent would feel the lingering eyes of a serpent. Mahannan’s left eye narrowly twitched in the Malik’s reinforced verbal siege. The Malik of Pandjoras could feel their conversation coming to a close, just as it had in the last thirteen days.

“The Conglomerate has been thrilled about the arrival of a stellar empire such as the Illuminated Star Sultanate! Your people, your products, and your culture have blown us all beyond the edge of the veil! As trade allies, I can imagine the eons of peace and prosperity throughout the known galaxy! Though, I digress, to begin our alliance in truth, it would require the complete agreement of the Conglomerate Cabinet.” Mahannan replied with a wide sweep of his arms in a fluid, graceful motion. Certain words in his reply rang louder than the rest, emphasizing certain desires for his galactic union. The delegates behind him eased their built-up tension, disguised fear seeping away from their seated forms. Zaphariel raised a hand to his stubbled chin, stroking at the hairs with talon-shaped rings on each finger. The faux smile never left his face, even as he was once again deflected against his desires.

“Of course, Delegate Mahannan! I understand the complexities of a stellar bureaucracy with such a long history of integration and trade. To taste even a sip of the Idratharian Conglomerates' wisdom in this regard would awaken a new path of ascendancy and learning in the Sultanate! Our discussions have been enlightening and I do so desire them each day we spend upon Idrathar III. Perhaps, then, tomorrow will see the fruits of our labor made manifest upon a thousand and one grains of black sand.” The dusken deity responded, verbally relenting to the perpetual stagnation of their previous discussions. He felt their triumph as an almost palpable substance, relief flooding their bodies through small shifts of their facial features. Mahannan, of them all, bowed deeply to the Malik of Pandjoras. Zaphariel returned a bow of his own, less deep and more appropriate for someone of his stature.

“Then, as promised, we will once again meet in this room with the hope of a blossoming alliance! Soon, my dear friend, our long-lasting talks will grow into the branches of the greatest stellar expanse that mankind has ever seen! To you, I wish you a wonderful day and a pleasant stay upon Idrathar III!” Mahannan spoke with intense vitality, bearing the social badge of a successful negotiation. His long, beautiful robes of alabaster silk swept with each graceful movement as he left the table. Each of the delegates that accompanied the Primus, eight in total, bowed their heads respectfully before exiting the room in haste.

As if beginning to remove the bindings on a wound, the relief of the Idratharian presence was felt by the Pandjorans. One of the Abdullaharians to his left, Kashaak, nearly slammed his fists against the ornate table out of frustration. He rectified himself immediately, aware that he was in the presence of the Malik. In truth, Zaphariel held a similar desire to vent his frustrations about the willpower of the Delegate Primus; however, up until this point, he had never wanted to solve this with bloodshed.

“Your frustrations are felt, kin, it wouldn’t usually take this long for a world to submit before Pandjoras. Even I am surprised about Mahannan’s iron-clad willpower. A ruthless enemy to be sure, but he’d make for a powerful ally.” The Malik of Pandjoras spoke once again with a calming tone, sharing in the emotions seething from his people. He turned away from the table, beginning his short journey to the diplomatic annex at the top of the spire. The slow shuffling of chairs behind him rewarded his ears with the knowledge of the following entourage.

The Malik of Pandjoras and his associates advanced through the beautiful, gilded corridors of the Idratharian spire. Great murals of tidal waves, spiraling towers, and soaring avians were plastered on every wall across the halls. Satin rugs spread out evenly spaced on metallic tile, while golden chandeliers with glow globes illuminated their way. Fortunately, the buildings were spacious enough for the likes of Zaphariel to easily walk through without needing to slouch. He’d wondered if the design was intentional or perhaps it had originally been built for taller individuals such as himself. The dreamer crossed the threshold into the diplomatic annex, denoted by a wonderful arch made of a strange, alabaster stone that danced with fluorescent lights of many shades. In the Idratharian tongue, one that he had managed to easily acquire, it stated:

[Perseverance, Friendship, and Alliance]

Their words were sophisticated squiggles that branched into the next sigil with plentiful dots to emphasize particularly strong vowels. To a degree, Zaphariel enjoyed their language and how beautiful it appeared. It contrasted heavily with the sharp, harsh, and fluid sigils of the Pandjoran tongue. He made a mental note to introduce a new sigil set to the Pandjoran alphabet in the future. Regardless, he passed under the archway leading into the chamber they called home for the past thirteen cycles.

A wide, oval-shaped room opened up before the Malik of Pandjoras with a single, ornate window leading out into a sophisticated balcony overlooking the Idratharian ecumenopolis. A multitude of tables, chairs, sofas, and more populated the room that could easily fit up to fifty men of his size. Lithe doorways at either edge of the room led to private chambers, while a pair of utilitarian portals closest to the entrance opened up to restrooms. A terminal directly next to the door hummed quietly, awaiting any command should it be utilized. The Pandjoran delegates split away from their master, seating themselves against the satin-rugged floor in a meditative posture. Zaphariel, however, strode across the room out onto the balcony overlooking the city of Draathar, the system capital of the Idratharian Conglomerate.

Magnificent spires rose sharply into the sky, supported by a thousand and one strands of twinkling gold that spiraled around the base of the structures. Great canals of prismatic water split the cityscape into several sections, connecting different parts of Draathar through elegant land bridges the size of a Pandjoran dune. Gleaming vehicles brightly shone below on the ecumonopolis’ metallic foundation, illustrating the daily lives of an average Idratharian citizen. Exquisite crafts of resplendent material glided on biomechanical wings through the artificial ravines of Draathar. For the past thirteen cycles, he drank in the sights of this city with every bit of his soul. Zaphariel desired to sculpt these sights into a chunk of gravitic stone to forever cherish the memories. He breathed in deeply, ruminating on the scents of purified water and pristine atmosphere. His trance was softly broken as a presence made itself known behind him. The Malik of Pandjoras had been aware of the hassan in the annex, yet hadn’t paid them a thought until they kneeled in his vicinity.

“Speak freely, kin, don’t worry about breaking my oneness. I’ve enjoyed this world long enough to commit it to memory.” Zaphariel said with a smile, turning around to address the kneeling form of the hassan. Garbed in Pandjoran-pattern power armor of their homeworld, the individual appeared entirely out of place with Idrathar’s alabaster architecture. A shroud of dusk complimented their form, passively sucking the natural and artificial light around them in a coalesced ball of shadows. Monomolecular scimitars hung from jet-black scabbards on either side of the hassan’s waist. Their cowl hid most of their facial features, save for the slim respirator that appeared as a half-skull mask. “Tell me, what have my Thousand-Faced Hassan discovered while I entertained this world’s diplomats.”

The hassan dipped their head forward once, affirming the command, and stood up to properly address the dusken deity. Their full height was taller and broader than the usual Pandjoran, assisted by the continued improvements of duskborn-powered armor. Their talon-tipped gauntlets reached up to pull the cowl back, revealing the typical serpentine eyes of their homeworld. All parts of their skin up from their skull mask were painted in pitch-black pigment, including all the flesh on their exposed scalp. They were the hassan specifically trained by him, warriors that could skein the fates and survive the roiling tides of Pandjoras. His Thousand-Face Hassan.

“The Idratharian Council has aligned their interests with the Illuminated Pandjoran Star Sultanate, save only for the Delegate Primus who currently abstains. Reports of minor skirmishes between two factions of the Idratharians have been observed in the shadows. A Pro-Allegiance and a Pro-Alliance faction. As you originally guessed, Master, your arrival and declaration for peaceful allegiance have been met with factional resistance. The Pro-Alliance forces are quickly dwindling between our interference and the Pro-Allegiance embargos. Our most high-profile reports state that the Pro-Alliance faction is preparing a wide-scale coup in the next twenty-four cycles.” Their voice was a thousand and one different patterns of speech all at once. It was as if their vocal cords were split between a thousand people in the same moment. Individuality ceased to exist all for this secular type of agent. “It is as you surmised, Master, the Delegate Primus is stalling your presence to achieve the Pro-Alliance ambitions.”

The Malik of Pandjoras never shifted expressions once during the report, fully aware of what was happening on Draathar. He recalled the nigh-sycophant response of the Idratharian populace when they first arrived in the system, restored their dwindling food supply, and slaughtered the xenos raiders that plagued their Conglomerate. Four of their five worlds had already professed allegiance to the Illuminated Star Sultanate, even before their current diplomatic quagmire on Idrathar III. Perhaps, he wondered, they should’ve let this world burn a little longer under the fires of the pale-skinned nightmares that haunted them. Zaphariel never did understand what a ‘mon-keigh’ was while he examined their spiky armaments, but he certainly did enjoy the fruits of their labor.

How disappointing. I expected much more out of those that governed this beautiful world. Maybe we should’ve decimated their council and installed the duskborn, then perhaps we would’ve been well on our way through the rest of the Star Serpent.” Zaphariel idly stated, nonchalantly describing atrocities without a shift in pace. He didn’t enjoy the immediate installation of a new regime, but it wouldn’t be the first time they’d done it in their journey. He turned away from the Thousand-Faced Hassan, drinking in the sights of the Draathar once more.

“What would you have us do, Master?” The hassan asked in a reverent tone, committing the illustrious form of the dusken deity to memory. To the surprise of the Pandjoran, Zaphariel turned back towards the hassan with a calm, soft smile plastered across his supple lips.

“I think I’ll take a brisk walk through the city.” He stated with a soft chuckle. All of the color seemed to drain from the hassan’s exposed skin. A thousand and one thoughts ran through their mind as the dusken deity walked past the Pandjoran. As he walked by, the hassan could hear their Malik humming a warm tune of an old nursery rhyme from Neu Alamut. Pandjoras had no gods to speak of, but the hassan prayed to whatever cosmic force remained that their Master’s target was dealt with quickly - for their own sake.


Delegate Primus Mahannan o’Iluzan politely laughed along to one of his fellow delegates’ jokes. Several minutes had already passed since they left the audience chamber with the ruler of the Illuminated Star Sultanate. He couldn’t believe how foolish someone of his stature, size, and overwhelming presence could be. No one in their right mind, in his opinion, would allow themselves to be stalled for thirteen whole days! He desperately wanted to laugh aloud with the others, but refrained from overexerting his victories. They passed beneath the archway heading towards the central courtyard of the Draathar Prime, their greatest spire of the ecumenopolis.

“... You could surely see it on their faces! Their frustration was almost enough to turn their dark skin to beat red!” One of his coworkers, Kallath o’Tlannon, said with a hearty chuckle. Mahannan always regarded him as a student, perhaps that’s why he made such outlandish comments publicly. The rest of the party, himself included, laughed along with Kallath’s joke.

“And the way that their bodies would twitch whenever Primus Mahannan casually deflected the Malik? Unbelievable! They hold so much zeal for a man that can buckle like him.” The next spoke, Illoia o’Skloan, an experienced woman who held the careful balance between the Chapel of Ancestors and the Council of Diplomats. She was as zealous as the Pandjoras were, except towards their ancestral aelves and not to a strange, oversized man. Mahannan nodded along with a ginger smile on his lips, adjusting his robes as they swayed in the overhead breeze.

The courtyard was a perfect balance of modern, ancestral, and artistic that saw the culmination of their beautification on Idrathar III. Several statues of the ancestors, extraordinarily tall and pale beings with pointed ears on long faces, danced silently in their gilded stillness. Each stood atop a lovingly tended fountain that drained water into the center of the paved field. A gargantuan effigy of an aelve in sleek war plate watched over their walking forms, protected by a deep lake of sparkling water in a gilded basin. Tiny, metallic bridges linked the small areas between each statue and ended in a thin brick-laid coast around the central sculpture. At the furthest end of the yard was a plethora of raised platforms where curved transports remained idling in a silent hover. They walked now towards these vessels with cheers, laughs, and smiles on their tongue.

“Despite the brute’s size, he had a certain draw to him, yes? He managed to keep pace with Mahannan, Fifth of the Council Primus’. Perhaps if he were thinner, lighter, and more delicate, then he would’ve won out.” Another delegate spoke, Nallanon o’Paoliaa, an extraordinary woman of fiendish acclaim. Her businesses were what kept entire parts of Draatha afloat, including parts of Mahannan’s private enterprises; however, she was a voracious beast beneath the porcelain skin. The Delegate Primus clicked his tongue in distaste, earning a short scowl from the delegate.

“Contain yourself, Nallanon, our perfection of the bloodline is exactly why we have maintained such a coherent Confederacy for time immemorial. Don’t even think of polluting the work of the ancestors.” The Primus politely scolded with an icy tone, pushing away even the barest notion of working with the Pandjorans. Many of the delegates nodded their heads in agreement, each as wise and stoic as he was.

“Primus Mahannan has a point! We cannot allow these Pandjorans to invest in our world for much longer, otherwise, we’ll have to move to more extreme options for our alliance. Let them crawl back to the dustball they call Pandjoras.” A man by the name of Ullonnon o’Lotholloc interrupted. He was easily explainable as a radical with plenty of connections, shares, and ploys within the Conglomerate’s military. They had worked hand-in-hand for the past fifty-seven years and shared a heavy amount of ideologies. Mahannan planned to continue that partnership until either one of them perished.

The delegates finally found themselves at the foot of their respective platforms. Idratharian escorts in slick, alabaster war plate emerged to safely escort their protected diplomat. Mahannan, of course, awaited the sizable crew to exit the hovercraft and array themselves before him. Warriors slightly taller than him were outfitted in snow-white war plating with golden trims and helmets with polished wings. Quarterstaves with ethereal blades on either end were held aloft in one hand, while the other appeared to be nothing save for a ringed gauntlet. Mahannan’s chest swelled with pride upon seeing the Council Sentinels once more.

“Until tomorrow, Primus! I look forward to what you will do to stall the Malik of Pandjoras next!” The final delegate to bid him farewell was Moxxil o’Yniros, the freshest addition to the delegate team and upcoming star player for the Council. Mahannan knew that with the right mentoring, Moxxil could rise far above his station and raise the Conglomerate to new heights. The young man waved at him with a bright smile on his lips. Mahannan gave a quick wave back before stepping into his shuttle, seating himself against the lavish seats built into the interior.

A soft penumbra had begun to blanket the sky in a warm coat of lavender and azure as his shuttle lifted off from Draathar Prime. The seven moons of Idrathar III slowly circled into view as they glided through the artificial ravines of Draathar. He leaned against the glass panes of the vessel, admiring the beautiful spheres that populated their wondrous world. The magnificent dusk faded from view as they circled a spire not far from the central spire of the ecumenopolis. Mahannan always enjoyed the appearance of the councilmen's residential spire, slightly smaller than the core tower and more lush in appearance than the rest of the city. Cultivated gardens hung from a plethora of banisters, balconies, and open-air archways. Gilded veins of structural support rose with clinging life in the form of long, curated flowers. Each level of the spire was a different flavor of verdant vibrancy. It was a place that he called home.

A soft ping alerted him that they were descending towards his section of the upper spire. A group of three platforms greeted his vessel, two of which were topped by slick vessels similar to his. Mahannan couldn’t help but shake his head at having to do more work at the end of his long, arduous day. He already knew who had come to his home, but the Delegate Primus would welcome them regardless of their business. As the vessel finally touched down, the Council Sentinels would step out first to ensure exquisite protection against wanton lookers and would-be assassins. Their left hand was raised as he exited, the ringed gauntlet activating to make a prismatic shield out of sheer energy. Despite his best intention not to wish it, he found himself desperately wanting one of those gauntlets for his own.

The courtyard of his home welcomed him back. A large, oval-shaped patio the length of fifty Idratharians awaited him with huge stretches of emerald grass and magnificent ponds filled with exotic aquatic beings. Sculptures of the ancestors stood vigil over his property, resplendent in sculpted wargear with powerful spears that seemed to sing on approach. As he grew closer to his home, the Council Sentinels split away from the Primus towards a secluded area of the property. No doubt, he thought, they were attending to the other warriors that journeyed with his guests. He closed the distance between the platform and the patio portal in several, pleasant seconds.

Inside of his own home, Mahannan felt all of the day’s exhaustion slip away into the ether. He could hear the sweet humming of his wife, Tollassi, and the giggling of his child, Iogranan, in the next room. The marvelous scent of freshly cooked food filled his nostrils with delight, forcing him to hasten his disrobing of official attire before stepping into his residence. He offered a short prayer to the ancestors before hanging up the Primus robes in a personalized stasis chamber. A warm, less official robe of shorter length was shuffled onto his shoulders as he passed through the portal of his home.

By the Ancestors! You’ve returned at a decent time tonight, Mahannan! Iogranan and I were planning to eat without you if you had taken even a thirty-sixth of a cycle longer.” Tollassi said with a playful tone, moving away from her gilded counter to greet him. She was smaller than him, thinner, and wore her hair in a fashion that the ancestors used. Her attire was similar to his with a short, soft robe hewn with pearlescent jewels and dyed in contrast to Idrathar III’s canals. Seconds later, his daughter ran through with the explosive force an Idratharian pulse calaver.

“You came back on time! You completed your promise, father, and thus our deal is finished!” She spoke with the faux assertiveness of a proud diplomat striking her first negotiation. Mahannan laughed aloud, booming with radiant joy as he crouched down to accept her into his arms. They softly collided in a bundle of warmth, the Primus lifting her for a singular spin before placing her back down.

“And with that, our negotiation is complete. Junior Delegate Primus Iogranan, you’ve accomplished a great deed for the Idratharian Conglomerate!” He responded, offering a playful salute common for their system’s military. The three began to chuckle anew as Mahannan turned to address his wife. “The Malik was most generous today, offering defeat on a plate for the Conglomerate. A few more days and I think we’ll have an impressive alliance with the Star Sultanate. Thank you, Tollassi, for waiting so long.”

Before Mahannan could press a kiss against her forehead, a stiff grunt interrupted their intimacy. At the furthest right side of the kitchen, a man stood with his arms crossed and a sly grin growing on his bearded face. His attire was that of the Interior Security, a jet-black bodysuit with a gilded robe flowing over his shoulders and torso. The silver hair of the man was tied behind him in a short warrior’s braid. No visible weapons adorned the man’s body, but Mahannan knew better than to assume he had none.

“Ah! Rotholov o’Uronoc, I hadn’t expected to see you this fine part of the cycle. Is it possible that you came here for dinner, humbly made by my dear Tollassi?” The Delegate Primus asked in a playful tone, offering a mocking bow to the man he had known for many years. It earned him a brief chuckle from the seasoned veteran of the Conglomerate.

“As much as I do love your wife’s cooking, Mahannan, we both know that I’m not here for that. You’ll have to forgive me for the intrusion, but your presence is requested.” The man, Rotholov, spoke in a rough voice. Every word was blunt, deep, and echoed a warrior that had fought for countless years. His pristine, azure eyes reflected an infinite sorrow beneath, yet held a dazzling fire beneath the surface. He gestured with one of his arms towards the alcove that he emerged from.

Mahannan returned to Tollassi, finishing the deed of a well-placed kiss on her forehead. The two separated no sooner after, allowing the Delegate Primus to journey through his home with Rotholov. As they walked down the hallway into his own, private audience room, Mahannan couldn’t help but feel an incredible chill on his body. He glanced at the apparatus on his wrist, affirming that the temperature of his residence was within the desired parameters. The sliding of an automatic portal alerted him away from the device, the rougher Idratharian gesturing for him to enter.

Unsurprisingly, several other members awaited him in the audience chamber. A single glow globe illuminated the area above a circular table decorated with motifs of Idrathar. The chamber seemed to stretch infinitely in the passive darkness that cloaked the edges of it. He knew, though, that it was wide and long enough to comfortably fit twenty men. Five individuals in total already sat in their assigned seats. The last two armchairs were left vacant for Rotholov and Mathannan. One of the individuals gestured for them to sit.

“I assume you understand the reason for our urgency, Mahannan. This meeting is crucial to our survivability as a faction.” One of the individuals began to speak, a man with a vastly mature voice bedecked in a flowing robe dyed an illustrious alabaster. The symbol of an eye in a triangle with shining rays denoted him as the Grandmaster of the Ancestors, Iolon o’Malloneus. His face was lined with age, a trait that extremely few Idratharians managed to achieve. Sharp, emerald eyes stared impatient hatred into Mahannan’s being, while barely wrinkled digits dug at the edge of his table.

“Yes, of course, I’m aware that the rest of the Council has been making plenty of moves to eradicate what’s left of our ideology. The Trueborn of the Ancestors cannot - will not - bow to some far-off empire that has no place amongst our people. I’ve managed to successfully stall the Malik, but I cannot promise more than that. Every ounce of extra funds that I can spare has been going to you and Rotholov.” Mahannan quickly replied as he sat in the comforts of his custom-ordered seat. The Grandmaster scoffed in response, waving his hand indignantly to the response of the Primus.

“I don’t think you understand how close we are to being routed, Primus. Our faction isn’t being eliminated by just Idratharians. Something else has been routinely aiding the others and slaughtering our own. I’m inclined to believe it’s the Pandjorans, but it isn’t possible with their current technology.” The next individual spoke with a sense of logical urgency. He wore a utilitarian robe with the least amount of embellishments, aside from the single yellow ribbon denoting him as a member of the engineering sects. The Worldsinger of the Shapers, Wohlahannan o’Motlocc, graced their presence with a deep insight of rationality to counteract the Grandmaster's zealous opinions. Although the two often argued, Mahannan knew for certain that their ideologies remained the same. “There is a possibility that the Pandjorans are treading the edges of reality, vaguely touching the Empyrean and summoning magicks to their employment. If that is true, then they must’ve realized by now that the Empyrean has little to no hold over Idrathar III with our current defenses.”

“I concur with the Worldsinger. If it is truly the Pandjorans, then they skein the fates with magicks unknown to us. I’ve felt the tug of the Empyrean ever since their arrival.” A new voice joined the others, a woman who wore plentiful Idratharian runes beneath her deep hood. The Illuminator of the Sanctioned Skein, Helossios o’Uronio, was a troubled member of their faction with a foothold in their Conglomerate’s psyker divisions. She, in Mahannan’s opinion, was the best scryer in the last century to bless Idrathar. “Perhaps I would’ve been able to ascertain their rituals if you hadn’t shuttered the world from the raiders. It is precisely that fact in which our Conglomerate is crumbling.”

The tension grew heavier at the Illuminator’s reminder of the recent raidings. He closed his eyes to the world for only a second, desperately attempting to forget the harrowing cries of his allies and neighbors as the World-Shield activated. In truth, the Pandjorans were the only reason that the Conglomerate survived to this day. If not for their intervention, then the raiders would’ve eventually broken through the shield of the Ancestors. Many had called him a coward, but he knew that he made the right call.

“Regardless, the time has come to take overt action. The Conglomerate is crumbling. The Idratharian hold on the other worlds has diminished greatly with the arrival of the Star Sultanate. We either need to sabotage their ‘umbral armada’ or divert their attention away from the five worlds. In the time that we get from such an action, we will reel in control from the Council.” The final individual spoke out. A man in a jet-black war plate similar in complexity to Rotholov’s wargear sat rigidly amongst their number. A plethora of scars dotted his face from a lifetime of war, yet his face was cleanly shaved and inscribed with ancestral runes. His voice was the boom of thunder, the scream of a rocket, and the clashing of blades all at once. He was Commander Yothov o’Torron of the Conglomerate Military.

“You act as if that isn’t what we’ve been trying to do, Commander. The Pandjorans, despite their technological differences, have extraordinary security the likes I’ve never seen. They appear and disappear like wraiths, they hum mantras to bend sand to their will, and they step as silently as darkness incarnate.” Rotholov finally spoke up, responding to Yothov’s question in particular. The response rewarded the Interrogator of the Interior Security with a grimace from the seasoned combatant. Their arguments remained only on the field of battle, yet their ideologies remained the same just as everyone else’s was in this chamber. Mahannan released a deep sigh from within his person.

“I see and understand your complaints. We cannot afford to linger in the shadows any longer. Tomorrow, during the peace conference with the Pandjorans, we’ll begin the grand scheme to take power from the Council. The Malik of Pandjoras, Zaphariel ibn Varranis, will die at the hands of the Four Worlder Faction. I trust only you with this, Rotholov.” Mahannan solemnly spoke with a dangerous certainty to his voice. His oldest friend merely smiled and nodded, understanding exactly what he needed to accomplish to make their dreams a reality.

A decision had been made. The rest of the council visibly eased now that their meeting was as fruitful as every single one had been before that. A few of their number pulled out alabaster slates, noting new information down to begin the next phase of their operation. Rotholov quietly spoke with Mahannan over the particular actions needed during tomorrow’s operation. Helossios offered a prayer together with Iolon, hoping that the Ancestors were watching over their blessed partnership. Only Yothov grumbled to himself on a private slate, idly staring off into the distance to avoid interacting with the non-military members of their Council. As the darkness began to grow on his old eyes, he realized something was lingering in the shadows of the room. He blinked once to affirm whether or not his old eyes were playing tricks on him. He blinked twice to confirm that there was a piece of furniture that Mahannan had custom-ordered in the back. Unfortunately, he blinked a third time and whatever color remained on his alabaster face drained away in sheer terror.

In the next moment, his view of the world had shifted sideways in an unnatural way. Yothov reached up to adjust the tilt of his head, yet suddenly found a peculiar lack thereof. He slumped against the table with a dull thud as fresh vitae quickly ejected from his body. The Trueborn members attempted to rise to their feet one after another in a wild attempt to escape an early death. Rotholov was the first to react after Yothov’s demise, trying to pull the weapons from his scabbard to no avail. His head rolled quicker than he could’ve ever predicted. A waterfall of crimson gushed over Mahannan’s still-seated form. The Illuminator began to open her mouth to speak into the Empyrean, only to find her mouth forced shut by the same forces she wielded. Her decapitation came soon afterward. The Grandmaster started to spit out insults in the forgotten language of the Idratharians at their assailant, chiding fate and cursing their damned souls. He never managed to speak the first word, his elder skull exploding into a series of ultrathin slices. Finally, the World Singer started to sob and begged for his fate to be spared in repentance for their crimes. Mahannan thought, at that moment, that Wohlahannan’s death was the least cruel as a flying dagger impaled the World-Singer’s heart. Only the Primus remained with his back turned towards the assassin in question. How many guards were there at the residence? How many tracking devices were there in the area? How could someone be swifter than Rotholov, Hero of the Sanguine Gulf?

“They’re dead, they’re disabled, and he was ill-prepared for the unexpected.” A voice, smooth as the softest silk imaginable, replied to the thoughts rattling his brain. He heard the Pandjoran trill on the tip of their tongue and knew who had come to deliver their fate. A harbinger of the stars in true form had blessed his home with wanton bloodshed and hatred. Mahannan witnessed monomolecular-tipped talons on either side of him, dripping with the life of his former comrades. The being lingered above him like a predator eyeing their bleeding prey. The shadow that it cast was far larger than any that he had encountered. The Primus understood now that his death would be at the hands of a dusken world hassan.

Mahannan felt himself start to hyperventilate, fear suddenly catching up with the rampaging thoughts throughout his body. Each breath was a husky drag of air in a frozen chamber. His body demanded to close each of his eyelids to shut out this horrible reality. He mustered what courage he could, licking his lips to prepare himself for a single utterance. “What do you want?”

A soft chuckle replied to his inquiry, both of the monomolecular talons leaving his sides to disappear into the darkness. His assassin came into view for the first time since the carnage began. Truthfully, it didn’t appear to be the one known as the Malik of Pandjoras. The person before him was draped in shadowy rags that sucked the light from above. A hood heavily masked his features in the artificial abyss, while the outline of boxy plates confirmed powered armor beneath their robes. A pair of glowing orange eyes with serpent-like pupils peered out from beneath the cowl.

Allegiance. Destiny. Retribution. I want for many things, Primus Mahannan. Purpose. Glory. Immortality. I wish to see my people prosper in the stars, unhindered by prejudice and adversity for millennia to come. I desire for every world to become a reflection of Pandjoran society, balanced by the traditions established by their people.” The man stated, pulling out the chair furthest across from the Primus. The dagger was torn from the World-Singer’s chest as his body fell from the seat. His assassin firmly planted themselves into the furniture, despite their overwhelming size in comparison. The posture of the assassin appeared to relax, crossing a leg over another and linking gauntlets together in a thoughtful half-lay. “But then I come across worlds with ruling castes that shy away from a prosperous future for stagnating decay to suit their status quo. It always ends the same.”

Now that the darkness was growing more comfortable for Mahannan, he began to notice the outline of the assassin’s face. Terror funneled through his system as he realized that his suspicions were true. The sculpted, immaculate features of the dusken deity were firmly planted on his killer’s body. As if sensing the rise in terror, the Malik of Pandjoras leaned forward to allow his features to be better observed. A toothy grin was plastered across his lips, revealing fang-like canines separating a normal row of human teeth.

“You certainly made it easier for us this time! You locked your planet away for thirty cycles while your people were butchered on four other worlds. You allowed the murder of countless Idratharians across this expanse, yet you still cower in your towering hovels of metal hubris!” The being that had calmly slaughtered all of his comrades rose from their seat with a start, growing more aggressive with each word spoken in controlled anger. “Did you not want to die, Delegate Primus, or did you wish for the Ancestors to answer your prayers from within the godless void? You could’ve invited the raiders to your home and slaughtered them in the towering ravines. You could’ve converted a thousand and one gardens into missile platforms to save your people. You allowed your Conglomerate to fall to pieces, simply by your decisions to ignore your people. How can you be surprised that they welcomed the Pandjorans with open arms, rallied to our banners, and spread the words of the hassan from simply arriving in the system?”

The Delegate Primus buckled down, trembling as a wounded animal to a lumbering predator. His eyes were wide with fear, wet with tears, and twitching with extreme anxiety. The man known as Mahannan could no longer answer for himself, terrorized to the point of shock. Zaphariel shook his head in disappointment to one that could stand equally with him on the diplomatic fields of battle. The Idratharian would never be the same, he knew it well within his heart. They never were once his prey had seen him in action. He weighed the decision to finish this now with a strike of his talons or barter his life for him as an effective pawn. The Pandjoran turned away from the man, eyeing the portal out into the residence proper.

“You have a wonderful wife, a loving daughter, and a home to call your own. You’ve claimed a life through your efforts, trained your skills to the limits, and boasted five world’s worth of political power in your palms. I feel nothing but pity for the man who had stalled me for thirteen cycles. If you have any ounce of courage left within your trembling flesh, then decide at this moment.” Zaphariel plunged the dagger through the table, puncturing ornate metal and gilded iconography alike. The hilt remained upright as the weapon left the dusken deity’s taloned gauntlet. A single digit pointed to the blade.

Join me as I conquer the stars and force every god to submit to Pandjoras,” The Umbral King offered, his tone growing more powerful and booming as he spoke to the shattered form of Mahannan. “Or watch with trembling limbs as I butcher everything you love before your inevitable demise.

A spark of reason ignited within the tearful eyes of the broken Primus. He gazed at the handle of Zaphariel’s inhumanly-sized dagger with fearful awe. A glimpse of his family, Idrathar, and the Ancestors flashed through his mind. The Malik of Pandjoras watched with interest as Mahannan began to move once more, emboldened by his powerful words. His fingers flinched, flexed, and jerked as the decision tore apart every piece of the Idratharian’s soul. Emerald eyes bounced between the hilt, the dusken deity, and the door leading into the residence. Mahannan’s outreaching hand steeled itself for a final decision...


The vibrant streets of Idrathar III were alive with celebration. Varranian banners unfurled from the top of gilded spires, great hovercraft in the orange-black of the Illuminated Star Sultanate glided through artificial ravines, and the Umbral Armada orbited overhead in a tight formation over the ecumenopolis. An enormous tempest of multicolored strips filtered through the air, showering from the top of recolored Conglomerate vessels. Hordes of the Conglomerate populace from the five worlds rushed through the cityscape to watch a worldwide parade float through Draathar’s canals. Pandjorans from the Sultanate mingled with the local population, excitedly revealing every tidbit about the stellar empire to the masses. The military of the Sultanate, armored in orange-black Pandjoran-pattern powered armor, walked along the edge of the canals with their graviton rifles holstered and their monomolecular scimitars drawn to the air. Hafiz in skull-shaped masks swung censer balls of Pandjoran incense in sway with their midnight blue robes.

Floating at the center of the celebrations, an illustrious vessel the size of several elder void serpents hovered over the canals. To the eyes of the Idratharian, it was a bulky machine vomited forth from the sandy wastes of Pandjoras. To the dusken worlders, it was the next marvel of technology formulated by the great mind of their prophet-king. A square platform with quadruple grav-shunts rising as a miniature gravity palace, complete with bulbous domes and Pandjoran effigies. At the top of the hovering structure, an open-air throne was visible to the populace of the Conglomerate. Magnificently sat a replica of the Throne of Varranis was none other than the Malik of Pandjoras, Zaphariel ibn Varranis, bedecked in the vestiges of a galactic king. 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 balagha with metallic tips. A marigold laurel complimented a crown of eight horns split in even distances, decorated by thirteen, eye-shaped gems topped by a dusken halo lifted by a miniature gravity engine. He happily observed every Idratharian, treating them to a genuine smile and wave to their utter delight.

The miniature gravity palace delightfully drifted down the canals, joined by a myriad of other hovercrafts from the Conglomerate and Sultanate. The hordes of celebrating Idratharians chased after the parade, each section carefully guided by the accompanying Pandjorans. The same scene would be painted across Draathar, culminating in a great summoning at the apex of ancient Idratharian culture. Their journey hadn’t led them to Draathar Prime, the central spire of the ecumenopolis, but instead into a plaza the size of a voidship. Resplendent columns of eerily white material inset with sparkling rubies surrounded a plethora of enormous statues hewn from the same rock. At the center of the plaza was the largest statue among their number, a dancing woman with flowing robes holding a beautiful spear in one hand and lifting the other hand to the stars. Each of the other corresponding effigies was similar in appearance, typically a man or woman with pointed ears in elegant robes holding some sort of ritualistic weapon. All of the canals appeared to spiral into the center of the plaza, marking it as the penultimate landmark in Idratharian culture.

A great noise erupted from all corners of the ecumenopolis, ringing like a chiming bell and singing like a wondrous vocalist. The hordes of celebrating citizenry slowed to a standstill silence as the last hovercraft began to descend into safer areas. The accompanying Pandjoras steadied themselves at the edge of the plaza in front of the Idratharian citizens. Zaphariel’s gravcraft lightly touched the ground, unfolding a plethora of boarding ramps from all four sides of the vessel. Similarly, five other crafts of magnificent design began their disembarking procedures surrounding the plaza. Each figure that stepped off was an individual of worthy note in the Conglomerate, save for the Malik of Pandjoras. Outside of the ringing sounds, only their footsteps could be heard across the area as they journeyed to the central statue. There, before the eyes of their ancestors, the Councilmen of the Conglomerate assembled before the Umbral King.

“It is here, under the eyes of the Ancestors, that we gather the Sultanate and the Conglomerate to reveal the results of our negotiations! Over the past fourteen cycles, the Pandjorans have proven themselves to be worthwhile allies, stalwart companions, and magnificent entrepreneurs of innovation! Were it not for their timely intervention, then the Conglomerate would’ve fallen to otherworldly raiders. Many of us can agree on this, but we will never be able to fully repay the life debt we owe to them.” The first of the Councilmen began to speak, his voice amplified by a device hovering below his chin. An Idratharian of tall stature, bedecked in ornate warplate and alabaster robes with swirling runes. Lines driven into his long, pale skin proved his stature as an elder of their people. If Rotholov had been a hero to the Conglomerate, then Mensethelsev o’Yuoroaa was a savior to his people as their Supreme Commander. “It is with great honor that I allow the one Idratharian who made this negotiation possible to unveil the fruits of our labor.”

Mahannan, Delegate Primus of Idrathar III, stepped forward from the shadows of Supreme Commander Mensethelsev. He held his head high with pride, a warm smile plastered across his sculpted lips. Although bags were extremely evident under his eyes, the Primus’ general optimism was radiating from his very soul. The small device that had amplified the previous speaker’s voice gently floated toward the next speaker.

“A simple alliance is not enough to repay the Illuminated Star Sultanate for their kindness, generosity, and tolerance for the Conglomerate.” Mahannan briefly stopped to look over at Zaphariel, who offered a smile and nod of approval. “I can vouch for the Malik of Pandjoras, knowing him these last thirteen cycles has enlightened me to the reality of our situation. We cannot pursue the grandest reaches of space without the assistance of those greater than ourselves. The Ancestors had previously guided our civilization into the realm it is today, but the Sultanate will guide us into the realm of tomorrow. Beginning on the next cycle,we will become the thirty-first world to join the Malik of Pandjoras in his journey for the Star Serpent!

The crowd surrounding the plaza burst into a joyful raucous. Hovercraft that hadn’t been part of the Councilmen’s retinue released a storm of streamers, flags, and reflective paper to celebrate the negotiation’s success. Zaphariel ibn Varranis stepped forward, shaking hands and nodding in gratitude to the other Councilmen. He stopped at Mahannan, gripping the Idratharian’s forearm in a welcoming of brotherhood. The two laughed with each other, separating away to allow the Malik of Pandjoras his time in the limelight. Once more, the hovering device began to circle towards the next speaker. Curiously, the dusken deity refused the device in confidence.

“Hear me well, Idratharians of the Five Worlds! I welcome you now as Pandjorans of the Illuminated Star Sultanate! Where once before we were strangers dancing in the sands of the void, we are now brothers and sisters in a quest for destiny! You will join our fleets, improve our technologies, and bring life to worlds across the stars! We will bask in the combination of our cultures and enjoy umbral bliss! Today, on the day that the Conglomerate has joined the Sultanate, I announce- no - I demand that you celebrate for thirteen days and thirteen nights! Glory to you, Idrathar! Glory to Pandjoras!” Malik Zaphariel’s voice was the crescendo of a celestial orchestra. His words reverberated with the power of an immeasurable angel, reaching the steepest spire in Draathar and the lowest habitation unit beneath the ocean. The reception of his speech was borderline zealous. Pandjorans, trained in the art of oneness, were riled up to scream their fervor for the Sultanate. The Councilmen nearby clapped with vigor, restraining themselves before the wider populace of their governed planet.

The Malik of Pandjoras stepped back from his position, offering a short bow of his head, and raised his talon-tipped hands to address the crowd. The simple gesture was enough for the entirety of Idrathar III to begin their celebrations. For thirteen days and thirteen nights, Draathar was consumed by a joyful, hedonistic festival.


Idrathar III and the orbiting seven moons were quickly vanishing from the viewport of the warship that Zaphariel sat upon. A mighty command bridge embellished with all of Pandjoras’ tidings surrounded him. Terminals in Pandjoran sigilic rune, columns of gravitic stone, and great effigies of void serpents decorated every inch of the vessel. The black sand of the dusken world shifted with the swaying of the starship, jumbling a thousand and one grains across an immeasurable distance. An enormous, hololithic table at the center of the bridge revealed the sheer size of the Umbral Armada. Three hundred blips on the holographic display chimed with signature codes in Pandjoran, many identified as lesser corvettes and destroyers. Ten massive icons on the outer edges of the formation revealed the markers of their strongest voidcraft. Battleships, heavy cruisers, and dreadnoughts from the Ring of Muahad made up the bulk of their armada. Only the vessel he stood upon, the Dune-class Dreadnought [Dawn of Pandjoras], was a unique addition. Each world that entered their Sultanate added a new piece of technology, hull-plate, or revision to it. The Malik unveiled a toothy grin beneath his hood, enjoying the sheer ingenuity of his warship.

Shipmaster! We’ve managed to resecure a faint trail on the raiders that we had previously followed. It appears as if they’re following the same path through the Star Serpent, or at least what we can predict from their unpredictability. We lose them from time to time, their warships seemingly disappearing from reality entirely.” One of the voidsmen called out, a House Nathazian scryer, with a report that he had previously processed. The news was received by the Shipmaster, Samrih Nathaz, as he gestured for the dataslate. He was a grim veteran of recent void-engagements, climbing swiftly through the virgin ranks of voidsmen that had previously been harvester dropship operators.

“So it would seem. Have we received confirmation from the Urahal seers? Have they skeined the whereabouts of these plunderers? What of the hassan, scouting in the furthest reaches of the armada?” Shipmaster Samrih’s voice was as deep as Muahad’s yet held a peculiar version of the Pandjoran trill. It was easily identifiable to Zaphariel as an ashwaster’s dialect, commonly procurable for ashen raiders in Pandjoras’ north-western hemisphere. His movements on the command throne confirmed it with repetitive drops of his foot or rocking of his hands in time with an imaginable beat. The voidsman was quick to reply.

Skeinmaster Immamis Urahal reports that the tides of unreality are muddied regarding their current location, but she confirms their previous locations are in line with our own. Clademaster Shamka’il’s last report details their disappearance from real space, but carefully awaits their emergence from the last known location. Glory unto Pandjoras!” The voidsman firmly stated, dipping their head in a quick bow before leaving back to their station.

Shipmaster Samrih deeply sighed, no doubt about the news delivered to him. Malik Zaphariel wondered if his presence was a bane to the command bridge as he watched happenings unfold. His attention was caught by the sharp, orange eyes of the Pandjoran. “As you’ve heard, Zaphariel, the raiders we’ve chased for the last four systems have managed to escape through our talons again. What kind of penance would you have us seek for this insolence?” The question was equal parts a joke and a serious inquiry. He had been traveling with the Nathazian for nearly a decade by this point, routinely promoting him to a close position due to outrageous merits. These raiders, however, have left a black stain on the Umbral Armada.

None. Continue to allow them to escape and rough their edges with our graviton lances. Their warpath drives us further along the Star Serpent with plentiful benefits for their sadistic actions. Once their usefulness runs dry by the Serpent’s Mouth, then we will encircle their relocation point to bombard them for eons to come.” Zaphariel stated with a toothy grin, grimly aware of how morbid the order was; however, it was necessary for the future of Pandjoras. It earned him a dark chuckle from the Shipmaster.

“Are you certain you weren’t born a raider yourself, my Malik, or is this one of the Lessons of the Hassan?” Samrih quizzically asked the dusken deity.

Anything and everything is a weapon, Samrih. From a trembling, frightened man to a band of raiders to the dazzling spires of a far advanced world. If properly used, then the smallest tool in your arsenal can achieve greatness.” The Malik of Pandjoras responded, offering a knowing look to the Shipmaster. Samrih returned the look with a thoughtful stroke of his beard, mulling over the words in his mind. His eyes suddenly widened as Zaphariel’s words were slowly decrypted. The flash of realization was palpable on the Nathazian voidsman’s face.

“Correct, Shipmaster, it was just as planned.”
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Belivahnn


Part Five


"It has been a year since their passing, I have looked down upon my city and seen nothing but black for emotion reigns through my soul... Everyone smiles, everyone sees the light of the next day but for me. My hair turns dark, and my brothers and sisters, do their best, and they have tried setting me up with nobles' daughters from those far-out places I have not visited since my crusade across this world. In the time since their death things have gone wrong, but this city is still white behind the dark film of sadness that covers my eyes. I feel him grow near, the one who created me, the god of destruction and death. I know that he is near, not in distance yet, but in the time that he has set for this galaxy. His goals have fallen in line with a parade of destruction. It will still be a long time; those I have been raised with have grown old, and those who raised me have passed into eternal life. I feel them watching me, I feel their souls around me." - Words of Fire 12:86




It was a years later, he stood on a balcony, and the world was white for all that he could see, lights of eternal fire lit each street, and snow came down gently upon the glassy stones that made his city fortress. Outside he saw the fields of white as snow had accumulated deep outside the city, and he knew that the first true winter since his parents passing had come.

"Twenty years my brother." an old gaunt man said behind him, moving beside the Angel, "twenty years since it has snowed, I sense your melancholia has passed for this is a good sign."

"I have decided that I would rather see the world through a better light than through poems and dramatic words in a book that the priest's followers read a million times to understand my sadness. It is understood by all who have lost something, I only wish that for a moment I could have them back."

"I have given that up, I feel as if I have the power, but I care not to use it... it is unnatural, they were not taken by sword or poison, they were taken by the beauty of nature, and in their last moments before they were buried they were together, and are together eternally. I care not for that, only that their memories are around. Their statues, busts, and paintings have been seen around the city, as well as those lost to us during the wars and many others who died to age."

"With you, many here live to sixty, even seventy, before in the stories most people lived to forty if the reached past the age of ten. The beasts of the north have fled this world, and your kingdom has shined through it all, farms and families are scattered, thievery, and murders are almost non-existant, the cults of old have died out and those that wished to keep the old ways out have perished in their senseless burning of Chortle. While the land was blackened for years, you made sure that the beautiful colors of life have refurbished that area. Those families who lost are some of our best servants and writers here now."

"Yes... but now my worry is not of that, this world... even without me would be stable, if this world never changed it would be perfect. Simple lives that are fulfilling. We have most of our world secure, only the northern most pole is untamed, and that is because it is unnatural like the hearth of this city. It is still tainted unlike our home, where whispers once spoke to me, now only the memories of our parents remains. But that place all I heard is their scream."

"Then do what you have done with our home, and create a beautiful city there upon it, cleanse it with fire and rebuild it." the old man laughed for a moment before finding a seat within the room behind the balcony, "remember when I was young and when the plants tried to eat me... no matter what was planted those maneating things would come back. I haven't seen one here since I was thirty..."

"I haven't seen one in a long time, not even in the north... but if you think it will help... I will build a city, in the shape of a phoenix there... the sign of new life to come back, and for those living there that they are safe."




It was the dawn of a new day, and the angel stared at the white stones... He saw nothing, but he knew his mother was right, that the symbol of the phoenix was the final pathway to this worlds salvation. It was upon the metal home he was born in, it was etched in many places throughout his world, and it was a sign that contained the evil which once ran rampid, the cultists of his world feared the image. When he asked why, it was almost a natural instinct to them to fear it. He saw no reason for a symbol so rare to cause someone such distress. He cared not, for the rebellion had failed, and faith was that upon the fire. For fire was life.

In his travel around the city as dawn slowly broke over the white stones, he saw something odd, the stones were not white but golden. It sent distress down his spine, and fear racing back up but he felt warmth from it. He saw the golden phoenix of the city he had been building over the past twelve years. His brothers and sisters were dead, but their children continued, and still run much of the world. They still break fast with him, and take care of him for they are family. His warriors in white steel, and dark leather were coming out of their tents, and not one of them moved after seeing the sight that befell them. It was nothing but a golden horizon for an hour as the star which warmed this world overtook the city slowly.

"My lord... it is on fire." one of his guardians said in horror.

"No... it my mothers gift... look upon the city, and see that it is safe... but the sun has perfected the stone... this is the closest point to the sun... Its warmth is strong..." the angel said quietly as he stared frozen for a moment, almost as if he had seen something or heard someone; there was no corruption, nothing whispering to him, or was there, was there a voice in the back of his head. He knew what he built was right, but this was not a phoenix he had made... it was something else. He had felt sickened. But at that moment the Angel felt something far away, he felt something which had this two-headed bird upon him a thousand times over in gold for that is all he saw. It was a gift from his mother, the gift of seeing what was to come next. And to embrace it.




Two hours after within the cities capital district the right head of the two headed bird.

Johannes stood staring at something in the sky, then the ground in front of him, as something unexpected happened, something in armor with tall crowned helmets had appeared in front of him, he had not experienced this, or knew of what it was, but they spoke the language as he did.

"Johannes, it is kind to meet you." said a male figure echoing through his helmet before it was removed, and when the helmet was removed the tallheaded, long ears of an Eldari were shown plain and true to the Angel. "I am Illor, and these are my companion's Yrued, and Ialian." he said as he moved his hands over to two other figures, both of them bowing their heads. We have brought food from off world for we are coming to your world. I know bringing food to ones home is the sign of good fortune, and we wish to warn you of something you may know exists in this world. We were sent trusted by those in high honor to warn you of what will come."

"He knows Illor, that is why he built this place... to cleanse it of corruption." came a feminine voice from the one known as Yrued, "It is clear he feels it and wishes to rid himself from it. We best not distur-."

"My morning rituals have been disturbed already, but you three seem to have come a long way... I know this corruption, but it is gone now... I know what I am looking for, what I feel... But instead, sit, and let us talk... enjoy the moment of peace. I know you come from the heavens, I know you are not the only thing there in the void beyond my sight... However, I wish to explore it for myself, spread my wings, and see it, but that time is not now. In the moment, I can still learn, and listen to you each. I would enjoy it, you each have grace and elegance to your movements, although you had caught me in a moment of thought, I still saw much of what your people are capable of. "

With that, he saw the three go, he had grown fond of them, they were intelligent creatures, not as much as he, but they were a welcomed change of pace, the one that could feel and almost divine his words he enjoyed the most. The female known as Yrued, she was kind beneath, but had a thorny coat around her actions and voice. She was distant, but had replies or almost continued sentences before they started. She was engaging, much like the blind priest who helped guide and teach him in his youth had. He wondered if she was around fifty, though he suspected much older, he did not pry to see if this woman was the reincarnation of his old mentor in the body of this Eldari woman. He did not believe that, for he still heard his voice in the capital.

He felt them depart, and once again, he was alone. They had brought exotic things to him, as well as seeds from other worlds, and he was told that the fruits would be edible to his people and to the creatures of the world. The members of the envoy each enjoyed the natural way he sent his home city with plants hanging from walls and trees lining avenues. To recreate that here as the final etch to outline the streets of this golden city was something else. He knew the city would be beautiful. It was already a spectacle to be seen, his work was everything to him, and he had done it.

He had learned some of them, but they turned the questions back to learn more of him. He felt as if it was an interrogation from all but Illor. He felt they had grown fond of him and his kindness, well, at least Illor, the other two were stoic and disciplined. But after some time, they did become much friendlier. Almost as if he had flipped a switch or convinced them of something. He was just a gentle soul in his heart, and they had realized that in his hopes.

He hoped to meet them again; when he looked back up into the heavens, he noticed they were gone and that it was night. A day spent talking to those from another world. Johannes stood, hopefully he could make it downstairs in time for dinner.
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Something was wrong. Had been wrong, now, for the last two weeks.

For "starters", the "concepts" of "arbitrary" "lengths" of "time" had "entered" his "lexicon". A "week"? A "passage" of "six" "day"-"night" "cycles"? "Two" of them, "twelve" "days"? What "value" did this have to him? Why had he suddenly started to "think" this way?

It was unnatural. His view of the world, somehow, had been soiled. That he was even aware of this, that he was now putting into "words" what had before been pure "instinct"-

His tethers to the dragons of his tribe had been compromised. His connection to them, whilst untouched, could nevertheless not be repaired. "Repaired". Fixed, mended, put back together. A time when concepts had flashed through his head like bolts of lightning, known but unnamed, now seemed painfully distant, though it had been merely two weeks since-

For the first time since his arrival, he exerted his frustration outwardly, noise leaving his throat as a guttural roar of angst and fury as he broke down a great many trees, trying in vain to quiet his mind's newfound eloquence. This disgusted him. This was unwanted, this was not what he knew.

Again: it was unnatural. Something had imposed it upon him, against his will or knowledge, and no matter how he demanded it, it kept slipping back in... from where? How, what, in what way could he deal with this? His dragons served no good purpose in this regard, for they too were affected, or at least so unaffected that they could not-

No. That discredited them. Since the arrival of the dragon-hawks, more had joined the pack. Drake-hounds, dragon-lions, drake-moles... and, amusingly, yet more hives of drake-termites. They seemed to be everywhere. Not to mention their dragon-wasp cousins, which had only been discovered eight days prior.

Them. They were the key. It was a wide berth, a broad area that his herd covered. The territory of the dragon-wasps ought to cover a broad spectrum. But, simply tuning into their senses, what they saw and felt... a region they should have been within was, simply put, empty. And, if he was careful, and if he caught what ailed him in his thoughts, followed its thread, never touching it for what it may do it his mind...

Abruptly, he broke into a sprint, charging down the identified threat - a dragon, yes, but nothing so pleasant as those he'd known before. Not a dragon of meat, but of raw emotion, energy that threatened to infiltrate his being through its mere presence, alluring in its very nature - that was to say, unnatural.

The thing he tackled to the earth, grasped bodily in both sets of great claws, was nothing short of both erogenous and horrifying. Its shape, very roughly, matched his own, though faintly purplish and half-female in sex, as if a breeding pair had been forced into each other's space until they merged, its body ensconsed in grotesque, mismatched metal and black hide, with one manipulator replaced with... it seemed a claw, albeit rather than many distinct digits, it simply presented one overlarge, crushing appendage. A fist to his hand. And he'd been right: its very energy repulsed and aroused in equal measure, such that a mere dragon would soon be taken over by it. No wonder its territory was empty, those dragons leaving it had surely been killed to prevent its infection from spreading further.

"Haaaaa. Well doooooone," it trilled at him. Words. Was this what had been put into his, his, mind, these... utterances of meaning?

"Why are you waitiiiing? I want my rewaaaaaard."

He knew very well what that meant.

He'd not give this nightmare anything of the sort.

His claws dug into its flesh, and he ripped it in twain vertically, head-first- or attempted to, for as it perished its very form dissolved in his grasp, dissipating like air with a displeasing cackle of delight, and leaving him grasping nothing before it could be entirely bisected. But at long last, his mind stilled a ways... the discomfort of its presence faded. Alas, his thoughts remained verbal... but, at least, the threat of its intoxicating energy was erased.

'Well that's a touch rude, dear.' He whirled to face the speaker. Another being, again matching his own nature - two-legged, two-armed, walking upright. This one, at least, was entirely female, judging by its features and its lengthy blonde head-fur. 'Syn'veey'n took a long time to manifest, you know. Still, with you here...'

He looked at her without expression, examining for a time. Unlike himself, she was covered, though barely - thin pink fabric draped over her in places, obscuring her body in ways that, it seemed, intended to allure much as the energy of the thing invading his head had, albeit... not so overtly. The effort here was entirely physical, or so it seemed. Nothing touching his thoughts now. Indeed, as she looked back at him with unrestricted interest, he quickly realised that she too was a physical being - dragon in truth, instead of mere presence. But... not even that?

...what was a "human"?

'Oh, my apologies,' she uttered, as if realising for the first time. 'This must all be very confusing for you, darling.' An affectionate name. He lacked any name so far, in fact. It had been unnecessary, after all. In fact, it still was.

'Perhaps I'll explain, then,' the female- no, "woman" was the word, that was how "humans" preferred to be called. "Woman" and "man". 'You see, I, and those I associate with, realised not so long ago that the dragons in the area were acting... strangely.' They'd yet to return to the area, he acknowledged. 'And lo and behold, what do we find upon seeking through the Veil? You, you delightful morsel!'

Food? No, another term of affection. She wished to mate with him, no doubt.

'And when we realised it was a human doing all this, well! I suppose you see how much we value you, hmm?' Tentatively, he nodded, not entirely sure what she meant, before she added 'Oh, perhaps I ought to introduce myself, dear. I am Shamhat, Seer of the Most Potent and Luxurious City of Euphro-Uruk. It is a... genuine pleasure to make your acquaintance... how should I label you... Forest Son?' This last statement was not preferable to him, he had to be frank. The word itself naturally lent far more depth than those two meanings alone, to do with knowledge of the environment, and with the emergence of man from water and knowledge where woman emerged from earth and feeling; and to do as well with the suggestion of lordship, of innate goodness no matter the locale, and therefore dominion over any land he strode upon and all within it.

Both bothered him greatly to consider. They reminded him of what he'd lost.

'I am sorry, sweetling,' she continued, seeing what was on his mind through his features as she approached at a stroll. 'I say again, this must all be so sudden for you, to be hit with such strange things after so long alone... the dragons, of course, but they aren't wonderful companions, are they?' True, they served as good allies, but if he thought back... well, what they presented in their own thoughts, their own perceptions, was never up to par with the way his own conception of reality came together. It was as if he were... not merely one step ahead of them, but ten, or even twenty or more. Perhaps this, then, his final cognition of language, was inevitable, for more humans than just himself existed on this... world... well, of course, there was a whole world out there, of dragons and of humans, yes, and indeed it seemed there were far more dragons than humans, enough that the humans might struggle against them.

'Oh yes, dear, a great struggle,' Shamhat confirmed for him, smiling as she reached him. 'You see why you are so important? You, you alone love, can turn the tide of this dreadful predicament we're in. Although, as long as we are currently alone... I'm sure you understand breeding amongst dragons, of course, but you don't know exactly what you've been missing, do you?' Hmm, was that important? Well, she still wished to mate. Did he want that, too? She'd laid a hand on his chest, as if confirming what her eyes told her. 'Perhaps, whilst we're here, whilst we're alone, my charming young man... perhaps you'd give me the honour of letting me show you just how good it can be?'

Perhaps... as if seeing what was on his mind again, wanting to help him make the decision, her hand slid lower-

On his mind-

In- she was in his mind-

'HURCK-!' Her advances, on both his head and his body, were swiftly interrupted by his hand through her guts, the rending claws tearing the abdominal cavity open. His arm had passed straight through like it was water. Compared to even the pithiest dragons of her size, she was as fragile as a leaf.

'You have ruined my peace,' he muttered to her. Of course she had, she was the master of the emotion-thing claiming dragonhood. Stupid of him, to not realise after the same sort of attack! Was he so easily taken by these corruptions? He-

She was still in there!

'Nnnnnugh...' And what was that moan? Why was she blushing?! That wasn't the agony of impending death, that was sexual! And she'd thought-

Just as suddenly, waves of feeling flooded him. Not dissimilar to the energy of the dragon he'd just torn open, easily as vile and appealing in equal measure if not moreso. More focused, though. Her own pain and pleasure from being impaled, pressured into him in an effort to force his hand- or other aspects of him, no doubt. Was this what all other humans experienced? Was he doomed to-

No. Ironically, the more extreme sensations refocused his instinct. Instinct: his true refuge after all, for it brought him back to his truth. It acted for him.

One swift movement crushed her entire head within his jaws, and at once she went limp, her attempt on his psyche evaporating like so much mist. As if a wall broke, he felt the dragons of his pack approach once more, the threat undone now that the head behind it was gone. Even still, her body shuddered, as if- no, not that. This was the shudder of reality reasserting itself, as her true form presented from beneath the illusion, a twisted, crone-like figure with still-writhing tendrils erupting from the flesh of each limb, the hand that had touched him a half-claw unto itself, as if armoured to assemble into the form at will. Awful. And that had sought to mate with him.

He reverted to instinct again, and spat up a ball of flame to burn away the body. Not just spat, though - he'd learned his fire-spitting some time ago. This was much the same as Shamhat's attack on his mind... "psychic". Though his, at least, was purer. More honest. At the very least, it helped cleanse the flavour of her brain and blood from his teeth, tainted as her meat was; nonetheless, its presence alone gave him... unexpected insight.

The city. Euphro-Uruk. He did not wish to approach it, but now at least he knew where it was. If he was to go there, he needed to define himself against its lingering, body-snaring ache. His instincts were a potent shield in a pinch, but to form true armour for himself- and indeed for every dragon in his hive- demanded will and proper understanding too.

And... another city? Qal'Asurah... not the same. Different culture, hated by Shamhat, a separation from Euphro-Uruk of over two hundred kilometers. But as close as it from his current locale... hmm...

Was it safer? Unlikely. But he could approach at least. Enter. Examine. And, if they were enemies of Euphro-Uruk as the new knowledge proposed... the attack on his senses was not to be expected, in that case.

Yes. No dragons, they'd have to wait beyond its limits for safety, but... he could learn more from this than he'd ever known before.

For the first time, he had a goal to direct himself toward.

...bah. He spat at Shamhat's melting corpse one last time, then began his trek.
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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The Umbral Jihad

-Thiry-Four Years After Arrival-





Lances of graviton beams pierced through the shields of a nearby cruiser, scything through the ablative plating with ease. The vessel began to collide inward as graviton particles permeated throughout the interior of the warship. Metal crunched, snapped, and twisted until an explosion ultimately declared the death of thousands. Those starfaring vessels that watched their comrade suffer catastrophe turned away in a retreat. To the surprise of the attackers, those ships were swift in their withdrawal despite the impressive size of the defenders. Several bastions of metal, wide enough to fit on a continent and long enough to cover an ocean, successfully ran away with their engines burning at maximum capacity. The silvery-green rays of malevolent energy failed to reach their targets, falling short of their intended targets. Resigned to a slow slaughter, the carriers of such weapons followed after in sluggish pursuit.

A behemoth of immeasurable proportion hunted the fleeing prey through the void. The being was incomparable in shape to those of its class with long stretches of reinforced metal, swathes of weapon mounts, and a spear-shaped battering ram on the prow. Six great antennas extended on the bottom and top of the warship, reaching out into the abyss to grasp star streams with elongated talons. Thirteen voidsails dotted both sides of the vessel’s edge, emphasizing the size and boosting engine capacity for maximum speed. Despite the irrelevance of fabric in space, innumerable amounts of banners with the Pandjoran symbol of a sword and dusken sun whipped across the titan’s hull. The prow of the vessel, although fitted with a fearsome spear, dragged downwards into the darkness like a scythe into fresh meat. Disgustingly, both sides of the ‘scythe’ were sharpened to monomolecular edges.

Within the gargantuan holds of this behemoth, the Pandjoran clans scrambled with every absence of oneness in their minds. Telemetry data was secured, transferred, and forwarded to the correct stations. Munitions platforms were refueled with synthetic graviton-density capsules. Legions of duskborn warriors and their lesser non-Pandjoran mamluk readied their weapons with malevolent intent. Hafiz ambled through the corridors with their censers high and their litanies loud. Menials chaotically dashed with secular purposes, wandering the vast halls of the warship to fulfill obscure duties. The chaos on this vessel was only a fraction of the discord felt throughout the Umbral Armada. It was felt more thoroughly on the command bridge of the titan as voidsman coordinated concise instructions out to an expansive fleet.

A singular being of supreme purpose observed from the command throne. They wore the continuously evolving Pandjoran-pattern powered armor with a magnificent serpent silk hood drawn over their head. Talon-tipped gauntlets frustratingly tapped against the arms of the throne. Glaring, orange eyes with serpentine pupils stared out at every soul on the bridge from within their cowl. Beneath the shroud, the deity’s expression was difficult to read, yet it radiated an aura of distaste. The bickerings of the bridge ground to a halt as the voxmaster slowly approached the being. The ever-observing orbs focused entirely on the mortal as it awaited recognition.

Malik Zaphariel, Umbral King of Pandjoras, the request for a response from the Krakkarin System Alliance has been approved after their last attempted assault. They refused to submit a subject, noting it was only for the ‘commander of the invading empire’.” The voxmaster, a Bahamutian voidsman, bowed their heavily augmented head towards the Malik of Pandjoras. His orange eyes momentarily disappeared into the darkness, closed to seemingly meditate on the issue. In truth, he had grown tired of this mess. Wordlessly, he waved one of his talon-tipped gauntlets towards the voxmaster, submitting to the communications with Krakkarins.

Seconds passed before the hololithic table at the center of the ornate bridge burst to life with an ethereal display. Several humans appeared in digitalized format, obscured by the capabilities of a short-range transmission on a holographic projector. All of them wore bulky armor with hefty pauldrons, long tabards, and militarized respirators over their jaws. A slurry of augmentations dotted their complexions from mechanical eyes to temple-implanted datafeeders. Each aspired to machine supremacy in one way or another, yet every member of their transmission appeared old and stubborn. A consistent wheezing in the background confirmed their overwhelming reliance on millennia-old augmentations to support their ailing bodies. The first one began to speak, an elder man with a brand of a cross burnt into his forehead flesh.

“You seem to have won out in our last engagement, but we refuse to back down and submit to the likes of the Star Sultanate! Your original messenger affirmed our fears, spared us the dance of feigned diplomacy, and awakened our battle song! We will not negotiate terms with the duskborn, unless it is in regards to a full surrender and subsequent retreat from our systems!” His voice was heavily synthesized between age, augmentation, and general garbled communications over vox. Despite that fact, he displayed a fierce stance of ferocious pride and stubbornness. Every passing second the man made an aggressive swing of the arm or a deepening of his furrowed brows to emphasize a point.

“We’ve already discussed this, Governor-Commander Alexos. The actions of Emir Saladin Gallos were delinquent. Our Star Sultanate has no wish to stomp out your culture nor does it wish to override the millennia-old traditions of your worlds. You know the reason I am calling is for a ceasefire on both sides of the conflict. Without fear of retaliation from both sides, we can settle our differences on neutral ground without-” Zaphariel ibn Varranis began to speak in a calm tone, gently explaining the situation to the Governor-Commander as he had before. He locked eyes with the hologram, ensuring that his intentions were displayed with confidence. Alexos, however, had different plans and abruptly interrupted the Malik of Pandjoras.

It is futile, Malik! We will not be treated as more minor lifeforms in your rigorous class system! We won’t be pawns in a play for supremacy during the birth of a young stellar empire! We have survived for millennia without aid, supremacy, and atrocity! Your vassal revealed the darkest truths of the Illuminated Star Sultanate of Pandjoras and we have found it wanting. Let this be the last communication between us, belligerent cur.” Governor-Commander Alexos spat every word with the fury of a thousand and one ancients. If his mouth had been free of a respirator, then Zaphariel rationalized that spittle would be flying across the screen. A slam of a nearby terminal on the other side of the transmission was the knife in the heart of their negotiations. The connection ended as abruptly as it had begun. A long sigh escaped the lips of the dusken deity.

The bridge of the Umbral Armada’s flagship, the Dawn of Pandjoras, was deathly silent. Each voidsman had turned away from their meticulous work to either listen or watch the response from their prophet-king with a vested interest. Some held a silent fury for the insults delivered, while others gleefully awaited the given orders to march upon the System Alliance’s worlds. The voxmaster swiveled from the hololithic table’s cogitator to the seated form of their supreme ruler. They only found saddened, frustrated eyes in the darkness of the serpent silk hood.

Two-hundred worlds brought into the fold through peaceful integration, accepting circumstances, and limitless aid. Not a single world has rebelled against Sultanate rule in the history of our birth. Nearly a thousand warships patrol every corner of our governed space. All nearly forsaken for the ambitions of a single man.” The Malik of Pandjoras stated aloud. He knew well that Saladin Gallos had been an absurdly ambitious individual. To what extent did he think he’d gain from such an underhanded ploy such as this? The thoughts rattled around in his mind for longer than he would’ve liked. He turned to address Shipmaster Sahir, who patiently stood beside him with his hands royally clasped behind. “Did he think I wouldn’t notice? Is he a fool? Over a million souls have pledged their service to me and I have not betrayed their expectations once. Hundreds of thousands of hassan, scattered to the edges of known space and he tried to venture out past our journey?”

The disbelief was evident on the thirty-year-old ruler’s face, twisted only by minor disgust and mental exhaustion. Sahir had watched for the past fourteen years as Zaphariel grew into a proper padishah, yet even he was surprised at the sudden breach of confidence. Something toiled from within him as the gargantuan deity struggled to handle obvious betrayal. He carefully selected the next words as he spoke them. “It was betrayal, my Malik, simple and clean. Ambitious fools are surprisingly common on our planet, yet you managed to weed out the majority of them. Only one more remains. There is no question about the punishment that he should face. If fate is fortunate, then he will perish in the conflict with Governor-Commander Alexos.” Sahir responded with a neutral tone just as he had previously on separate occasions. It earned a simple nod from the Malik of Pandjoras, supplemented by a raised talon in the air.

“An intentional mistake, my friend, for I knew his daughter would reel in his ambitious tendencies. I was mistaken to think that Saladin cared for his daughter. Upon the apex of Pandjoras’ greatest achievement, I battled with myself for thirteen days and thirteen nights about Saladin Gallos’ fate. Ultimately, I chose a bloodless option to allow Miska a life with her father. Now, we pay the price for a decision I should’ve made two decades ago.” Zaphariel explained with a hint of mortal compassion playing on his lips. The thought of Miska brought a coolness to his frustration, easing the temper that threatened to flair were it not for his oneness. A spark of fury, however, wormed through his speech. “His demise, however, is correct. I will feed his skull to Falak and let his body nurture a hibernaculum for her offspring in the bowels of this warship.”

Shipmaster Sahir felt his throat tighten in fear. The Malik of Pandjoras never feigned punishments throughout the Sultanate. In this instance, the man that was known as Saladin Gallos ceased to exist. He shared a look with the voxmaster, who replied with a simple nod and began to relay fresh orders to different conduits. Some of the voidsman had turned away in fear at the thought of their bodies being used as void serpent fertilizer. Others cracked small, sadistic smiles for the fate of a betrayer in their stellar empire. The former ashen raider, however, dismissed any notion of persuading Zaphariel from his actions. Instead, Sahir turned to the next discussion with a direction transition from the original.

“Understood, Malik Zaphariel, your will shall be done. There is another matter besides the fate of Saladin Gallos. We are now in open war with the Krakkarin System Alliance. They’ve chosen to fight a war of attrition from their fifteen worlds spread across three sectors. As you know, we’ve stationed blockades at every orbital dock, Empyrean lane, and sector edge. The hassan have exercised restraint in bringing each world to their knees, awaiting your final order to execute their clade orders.” Sahir pointedly spoke with a dataslate in one hand and the other behind his back. He glared over the specific information meticulously scrubbed, translated, and presented through the Umbral Armada. It was widely known, even to the Malik, that the Pandjoran legions were prepared to fight an overt war if necessary. Only a simple matter of execution was required to begin the process. He didn’t wait long for a reply from the dusken deity. It appeared that Zaphariel had already decided before their conversation began.

“Execute the leadership on every world, every fleet and every army save for their homeworld. No matter the fact that it was our failure that resulted in this war, Pandjoran blood has been shed for a misunderstanding on a minute level. We have no use for an obstinate culture to survive in the Sultanate. Unleash the legions upon Krakkaris Prime, dismiss Sultan Tassassar of the First Conclave, and ready a vox-wide transmission to the planet. If we can avoid a complete genocide, then I would rather gamble the chance to force an old dog to prostrate instead. If the populace refuses,” The Malik of Pandjoras stated without a hint of remorse, aware of the orders that he had issued. He watched voidsman scurry to transmit fresh communications on top of the previous ones. Zaphariel noticed a glint of anticipation in some of their eyes as if a fire had been lit in the duskenborn. His next words felt like the fanning of a flame as he spoke them. “Then cull them into compliance. It is time to announce the Umbral Jihad.”

As if promethium had been ignited, a thousand and one different actions took place in seconds. An umbral jihad had been announced across the Sultanate. The young stellar empire had never waged war on a supreme scale as the old world wars of the cataclysm. Now that one had been announced, the thousand and one skirmishes with xenos raiders and minor rebellions were coming to fruition. Posts, largely ceremonial in value, were activated in the Armada and prepared for large-scale conflict planet-side. Vehicles of war, fashioned from Bahamutian tech and reversed-engineered machines from vassals, were brought out of stagnation to fight. The Lessons of Hassan, ceremoniously sung by the skull-masked hafiz, switched to the Lessons of Dusk and anointed fresh recruits with the Tears of Pandjoras. Overt war was a rare thing in their culture, yet the Pandjorans were ready to deliver death if necessary.

Malik Zaphariel watched the command bridge become a blur of activity for a moment longer before standing. Shipmaster Sahir bowed his head in respect, then supplanted the place where his master had sat seconds before. There was no ceremonious call to attention, nor were instruments played as the Malik of Pandjoras departed. The heavy cloak of a grave burden clung to the dusken deity’s shoulders as he entered into the ship-wide maglev. As the doors closed, locking away his view from the command bridge, the prophet-king allowed himself a tiny, devious smile. Saladin Gallos had been a thorn in his side for twenty years and the Sultanate hadn’t participated in any great wars. His orchestration of fate had been perfect. All it took was a slight push from one of his many agents to rile the Nazim into action. He felt the want to laugh in celebration of the fruits of his labor, but he stifled his expressions for a mask of grim neutrality. Everything had gone just as planned, the same as it had before and after every single event.


Krakkarin Prime. A wasteland of a planet that spun around a pair of stars slowly combining in a death spiral. Poisonously green lakes dotted the surface in sporadic patches, while huge clumps of civilization blotted the sky with black clouds. A choking, orange landscape poked out from wherever the Krakkarin populace was least established. Devoid of verdant life, Krakkarin remained a testament to mankind’s willpower to harness the harsh mistress known as nature. Several space stations with a plethora of miniature dry docks orbited around the black-orange sphere in slow circles. Warships of small to medium caliber docked with these, refitting their bombardment cannons and point defense silos in a rush to meet the oncoming invaders. A trio of moons lingered around the world, each covered in a mess of dotted civilizations and surface-to-space defense weapons. They had been prepared for war from the start of their existence as if the universe plotted against them.

The outriders of the Sultanate fleet emerged from the Empyrean with tendrils of lilac licking off their scarred plating. Daunting frigates with scythe-like prows ventured into firing proximity of Krakkarin. Ballistic salvos from the Krakkarin fleet, the point-defense stations, and the horrendously armed moons bellowed death into the void. Pointed slugs the size of armored vehicles raced across the abyss in a race to welcome annihilation. The Pandjoran warships met the attack with reinforced shields, boosted by the psionics of Urahlian seers and Bahamutian repulsor-barriers. Farflung fighter-sized bullets bit into the protective shells, each threatening to buckle under the sheer amount of firepower absorbed. One of the Pandjoran frigates’ lost its shielding, buckling under the intense wave of the preliminary attacks. Piercing ammunition punctured hull-plating to such effect that the frigate began to crumple, resulting in a short explosion of cataclysmic energy. Krakkarins cheered over the general vox as they scored first blood against the invading forces of the Star Sultanate.

Until the arriving frigates returned fire with the malevolent force of a newborn god. Prow-mounted gravitic lances erupted in short, controlled bursts that pierced the shields of an archaic civilization. Outlying defense stations, corvettes, and lesser frigates were promptly destroyed in the counterattack. Each graviton lance delivered mayhem on every successful target, forcing hull plates and bulwarks to crunch in upon themselves in twisted death. On the upper platings of the Pandjoran frigates, ballistic hatches slid open to launch a plethora of devastating missiles screaming into space. As slow and lumbering as torpedoes, each payload would’ve been destroyed if launched at the beginning of combat; however, the Krakkarin fleet was now wounded by the initial graviton lances. To the surprise of the defenders, those screaming projectiles smashed into unshielded defenses. Moon-based turrets, military space stations, and blockading vessels disappeared in blossoms of eerily green-tinged plumes. Despite the initial victory against the Pandjorans, the System Alliance suddenly realized their folly.

As the frigates pressed forward with their annihilation, another wave from the Umbral Armada emerged in close proximity around the planet. Each came as a devastating cluster of warships primed for annihilation. Where one set would come from the system’s southward position, the next would come from the northward, and then the eastward, and so on until the arrival of the Sultanate’s most prestigious vessel. The Dawn of Pandjoras cut through the Empyrean like a leviathan being born from the myths of ages past. Aided by a trio of heavy cruisers, the dreadnought lumbered from the southward position with its myriad weapons of destruction ready to devastate. The Krakkarin war fleet, however, had been decimated by the outriders of the Sultanate. Proud warships that had seen the birth of their civilization drifted into the void as crumbled wrecks or burnt husks. Pandjoran voidships patrolled nearby, adhering to the will of the Malik and refraining from orbital bombardments. The heavier vessels drifted closer on perpetual motion, adjusting with maneuverable thrusters to deliver a thousand and one transports unto Krakkarin. The first part of the invasion had begun as fat-bellied dropships, heavy haulers, and titanic transports descended upon the black-orange regions of the wasteland planet.

The vox-channels of the System Alliance were flooded with panic as the first Pandjorans landed in their wastelands. Strings of encrypted messages rapidly reached every Krakkarin commander who could listen. Orders were rushed, defenses were mustered, and the disparate cities were ready to combat the invaders. Nothing had prepared them for what came next as the vox-channels were decyphered, broken, and opened for the Sultanate to speak into. The warm, soothing tone of the Malik of Pandjoras pierced through the divided channels.

+’I am the Malik of Pandjoras, Zaphariel ibn Varranis, and I have come to your world to right the wrongs of your leaders. We did not want to fight a war and usher in chaos across the System Alliance, but your leaders have forsaken you. Many Karrakin will die for the sake of stubbornness; however, the Sultanate will show clemency to those who are willing to live. For thirteen days and thirteen nights, the duskborn will not invade your cities or descend upon your armies. You may come to us and we will welcome you with open arms as friends, allies, and comrades seeking a greater future together. Join us in our pursuit of destiny! Glory unto Pandjoras!’+ His voice was the most solemn it had ever been, filled with duty and grief. Each word was spoken with the weight of a king’s promise, emphasizing the righteousness and compassion of the Sultanate’s actions. The vox-channels exploded in a flurry of activity as the message reached all edges of Krakkarin Prime. A thousand and one different opinions were hurled between laypeople, governors, and persons of order. Encrypted transmissions saw the most diversity as many commanders dangerously lingered on the verge of desertion. Worst of all was the grave violation of rights executed by Governor-Commander Alexos, who silenced all transmissions with a final grim order.

+’Kill every single member of the Sultanate that you greet. If you wish to join their side, then strap a bomb to your body and run into their camps. We will not surrender, we will not withdraw, and we will not bow to the Pandjorans. Should any of the populace show signs of resistance, then execute as you see fit.’+ The words were as morally draining as they were disappointing. Crisp silence blanked the vox-channels in an oppressive film.

For thirteen days and thirteen nights, not a single soul escaped from the entrenched cities of the Krakkarin System Alliance.


Zaphariel observed the affair from a nearby cluster of rocks far from the citadel-city of Karthos. He had watched the city that Governor-Commander Alexo commanded the entirety of the System Alliance from for fourteen cycles. Shrieks and shouts of rebellion filled the silence of the passing days as Krakkarins rose in defiance of their ineffective leaders. Their insurrections were short-lived as Krakkarin ballistics were turned on the people they swore to protect. The Malik of Pandjoras could taste the fear of the Alliance commanders as they hid within the safety of their metallic castle. None had dared to confront his legions of duskborn in the time they had given, yet the same was true that no one had managed to reach the safety of the Sultanate forces to escape the carnage. He briefly considered on the tenth day to send the hassan to finish the task, yet Zaphariel was firm in his conviction to allow his enemies their grace period.

A period of time that had passed. The Malik of Pandjoras turned away from the burgeoning, triple-layer walls of Karthos and towards the legions of warriors that hailed from the dusken world. Thousands of duskborn awaited his words, clad in the powered armor of their homeworld and armed with the weapons that could slaughter void serpents. Harvester dropships, heavily altered to fulfill new roles in the Sultanate, hovered nearby with macro-graviton pulsars and wing-mounted missile racks. Bulky, armored vehicles on low-intensity gravity shunts waited far behind the walls of infantry with insidiously large gravitic cannons. Immortals, warriors in enormous juggernaut warsuits, lumbered over the regular infantry with heavy monomolecular lances and body-sized claws with graviton-spraying talons. Noble hafiz with skull-shaped masks in midnight blue robes walked through the formations with censers spilling Pandjoran incense in one hand and serpent tooth scimitars in the other. Urahalian warseers quietly mediated amongst their number in dusken shrouds, each gripping runes in their talon-tipped gauntlets. At the edges of their legion, the serpent-tamers calmed their vicious ophidians with soothing songs of the penumbral planet. Finally, the most fearsome of all, the great serpent Falak coiled nearby with her eyes lingering on Zaphariel.

One of the duskborn approached him. A warrior in Pandjoran-powered armor, serpent silk shroud, and a half-skull helmet. As the distance was closed, the soldier offered a respectful salaam and a bowing of their head. A monomolecular blade swung from a sheathe on his left waist and a graviton pistol hung from a holster on his right side. Zaphariel returned the gesture with his own, dipping his head forward to receive the genuflection. The warrior rose once more, straightening his posture in the presence of his liege.

“Malik Zaphariel, the First Conclave is prepared to fight when you are ready. The rest of the legions have confirmed their readiness across Krakkarin. If we should need it, then the Umbral Armada has loaded a thousand and one shells to fight should you request it. The Conclaves will not fail you, my Umbral King.” The man’s voice was rough and solemn, leaving little room for pleasantry outside of his dialogue with Zaphariel. The dusken deity felt a commanding aura from the warrior, born from a lifetime of war and doctrine. He smiled beneath the hood of his dusken shroud, forcing some discomfort from the warrior-leader.

“You’ve grown up well, Tassassar, I can smell the fragrance of Neu Maccos in your blood. Emir Tayyeb has raised a strong son to lead in the Umbral Armada. No doubt, you feel you’re on the verge of greatness here,” Zaphariel responded in a soothing tone, each word laced with dripping honey. The reverberations spilled out of his tongue, echoing the sentence several times over. Tassassar appeared to visibly relax and hungrily await each word spoken by the Malik. He cursed his inability to completely control his serpent’s song. Nevertheless, he pressed on. “However, you will have to forgive me for stealing away that glory to lead our people. One day, I will compensate you for the fables told today. You and your sister both will receive what is rightfully yours.”

A moment passed as Tassassar processed the words, awkwardly adjusting his stance to deal with the sudden influx of emotion. Zaphariel was certain that he had been mesmerized before the Tuturian properly replied to him. “There… is no issue with this, my Malik. The honor of my sister joining hands with House Varranis as your wife is more than enough. You would continue to honor me by watching over her. Now, shall we drown them in dusk?” Tassassar managed to finally respond, bowing his head to the overwhelming form of the Umbral King. As he moved out of his genuflection, Zaphariel nodded his head in affirmation. Wordlessly, the half-skull helmet of the Sultan turned towards a group of kneeling duskborn behind him. He raised his talon-tipped gauntlet into the sky and swung it downwards in a chopping motion.

The war began in earnest after that singular gesture from the Sultan of the First Conclave. A thousand and one voices speaking the harsh language of the dusken world rallied Zaphariel’s legion into a controlled frenzy. Louder than ever before, the hafiz began to guide the warriors of Pandjoras in a fervent song of the Void Valley. The mamluk responded in crude Pandjoran, clearly inexperienced with the tongue of the umbral planet. Harvester dropships lifted high into the air, retaining a moderate altitude to defend the advancing Conclave from arcing artillery. Hovering tanks in the far back began to anchor themselves with a mixture of gravity tethers and serpent-hunting hooks. Graviton cannons were pointed to the sky charging with a thousand and one particle-cells. The serpent-tamers whispered an incoherent dialect of Pandjoran mixed with ophidian hisses, coaxing them into a hunting mania. The duskborn warriors clumped together in tight squads stalking behind the larger packs of mamluk.

Karthos did not wait for the First Conclave to close the distance. As if the citadel-city had awoken from a deep slumber, the rigid thumping of artillery and the harsh snap of ballistics echoed throughout the wastelands of Krakkarin. Enormous, blocky vehicles with two sets of wings emerged from within the city. Racks of missiles, heavy cannons, and quad-barrel turrets turned their attention to the Sultanate’s invading forces. Heavy machines on fat treads sallied out of the gates with their topside cannons aimed at the duskborn. A plethora of men in dense, slow-moving armor lumbered in tandem with the machines. Multibarreled weapons were carried by these warriors, their armor bolstering their height and strength several times over. The blast of a horn blared across Karthos as the first battle began.

Zaphariel observed the arcing shells flying through the sky from unseen artillery. He smiled as the harvester dropships unleashed a responsive payload from their missile racks to intercept. The missiles collided with the artillery, cascading plumes of explosives across the sky in wide swathes. His serpentine eyes turned towards the battle on the ground as the mamluk and duskborn evaded salvos of ballistic death. A crew of lumbering Krakkarin’s sprinted towards the exposed flank of a wandering squad. They were quickly intercepted by duskborn in similarly large powered armor, torn to shreds by monomolecular claws and spears of enormous proportions. The first of the System Alliance’s tanks exploded in a gout of flames as a gravitic cannon pierced through the primitive hull with ease. Void serpents hunted through rock, stone, and metal on ethereal leashes, diving into tanks and bunkers alike to feast. The Malik of Pandjoras could see the tides of war churn ever in their favor as the System Alliance’s soldiers began to retreat, withdraw, or surrender. He clicked his tongue in disappointment. His eyes turned away from the battle to rest upon the leviathan form of Falak.

“Go and hunt. Return to me when you are finished feasting.” He stated with a commanding voice, walking forward to place a talon-tipped gauntlet on Falak’s head. Even now, he could see his bodily proportions changing as a single fist was as large as the elder serpent’s eye. Her scales pulsated beneath his touch, reacting in an unfathomable form. The great serpent of the void pulled away from his touch, diving through the soil of Krakkarin to hunt. Her form disappeared, lost beneath a thousand and one grains of blasted dirt. To his surprise, Falak reemerged at the edge of the city to bite into one of the heavy hovercraft of the System Alliance. The behemoth machine was pulled into the far-off wasteland, exploding into a great, nuclear plume. Unphased by the actions of his pet monstrosity, the Malik of Pandjoras ambled down towards the quickly falling city of Karthos.

Duskborn unleashed waves of gravitic bullets into the Sultanate’s enemies, reinforced by the enhanced stubbers of the mamluk and the overwhelming defense of the Pandjoran juggernauts. Overhead, the harvester dropships vented fury into densely packed artillery formations with macro pulsars. The gravity tanks, satisfied with their initial engine kills, had begun to drift forward to acquire a new firing position. As a stalemate began to fester at the eastward gates, Zaphariel emerged from the seams of reality with tendrils of dark lilac lightning coursing off of his dusken shroud. Each step of the dusken deity was as light as a grain of black sand and launched him several meters closer. The malevolent guns of the Krakkarin’s attempted to target the dusken deity to no avail. He danced across the wastelands with each hypnotizing lunge, clawing through flesh and metal in microseconds during the macabre caper. Monomolecular talons pierced the tank hull, ripping apart tread as easily as he tore through sinew. The First Conclave watched in awe as their Malik murdered his way through Karthos’ defenses with inhuman ease, despite wearing the powered armor of Pandjoras. The phantom form of the prophet-king settled by the closed gates of the citadel-city. Their Umbral King breathed in once, gathering the wisps of unreality around him.

“E҉x҉i҉t҉i҉u҉m҉”


The gate crumpled as the words of reality began to fester through the ethereal veil. Metal as thick as an elder serpent's body was long began to crunch within itself. The threads of the world answered his call in ways unfathomable. The destruction of the crumbling portal halted as the bolts began to crack and warp. Zaphariel closed his eyes in disappointment, hiding the planet from his view for a solitary moment. Oneness surrounded him in a silent web of concentration. As he opened his serpentine eyes, the Malik of Pandjoras pulled a strange blade from a scabbard dangling off his right side. A beautiful, curved blade with a monomolecular edge hummed with power at the press of a Pandjoran rune. The dusken deity raised the blade and swiped downwards in a slow, curving arc. The barrier shattered into several blocks with the precise, inhuman strikes of the prophet-king. A thousand and one cheers in the Pandjoran tongue echoed behind him as they rushed forward. Despite the victory, he felt despondent regarding his abilities. Never working when mustered, but always performing against his will. He ambled forward into Karthos as the blade was sheathed once more.

Although he had broken apart their gate like the crashing waves of an umbral tide, Zaphariel knew that victory was still a short way off. Duskborn poured into the city with their mamluk allies at the forefront. Warriors ranging from different worlds across the Sultanate, like the long-eared Idratharians, bestial-faced Monolokians, or the lizard-people Zteklokians. They fought with the fiery and fire of one hailing from Pandjoras and more. The Malik of Pandjoras grinned at the surprising efforts of the mamluk and began to reconsider their role in Pandjoran culture. An unnerving stomp drew his attention away from the flooding duskborn. The duskclad juggernauts walked in a half-circle before him, each bearing their weapon in a defensive pose to shield him. Their impressive size was a boon to the Sultanate, but they were easily dwarfed by his inhuman height.

The Malik of Pandjoras softly laughed, forcing their lumbering forms to regard him with inquisitive looks beneath the plating. Zaphariel raised a hand to halt their oncoming question as he adjusted himself. “I apologize, good friends! You honor me with your endurance, but I do not require protection. Go, protect your less armored brothers and sisters. Your Malik of Pandjoras will be fine.” His voice was surprisingly energetic, regardless of the self-imposed defeat from moments ago. He could feel them strain the warsuits to kneel in an attempt to honor him, yet the Umbral King laid a hand on one of their pauldrons. A single look from beneath his shroud was enough to invigorate their leviathan physiques. The one that he had touched raised the monomolecular lance into the air, ushering in a fresh charge through Karthos.

As the last of the first wave passed into the citadel-city, Zaphariel turned his attention to the tallest structure around. The Malik rationalized that Karthos wasn’t a hive city, yet understood the universal importance of a spire. A great, jagged shape that cut the clouds and loomed over everything that it deemed ‘lesser’. One such building existed within these walls, yet it paled in comparison to the towering heights of Idrathar III or Pandjoras’ gravity palaces. A stout, flat-roofed tower made of staunch-white concrete rose like a finger over Karthos. Weapon emplacements belched torrents of bullets from heavy weapons off parapet-balconies. The dusken deity narrowed his eyes to hone in on a motionless transport at the top of the tower, clearly used in the most dire of circumstances. Defensible, utilitarian, and as ugly as the badlands that it lorded over. He knew without a second thought that the Governor-Commander hid at the peak of it.

A plethora of shadows ducked and weaved in sparse groups around him. Zaphariel could keenly feel the presence of the hassan even as they spread out to slaughter. One squad remained in proximity to his form, protecting against anything that could harm him. Regardless of the frustration, the Malik of Pandjoras felt a sense of pride that every duskborn would so valiantly rally to his side. He flashed a toothy grin in their direction, unnerving those bound to the shadows of Krakkarin. Perhaps, after having been easily noticed, the hassan disappeared to execute a different mission. The thoughts left him as the sounds of battle reignited once more. New firefights had cropped up as the First Conclave pushed through Karthos’ concrete labyrinth. The dusken deity leaped from his position, eschewing the observative stance he had taken to view the battlefield.

As his armored feet landed on top of a concrete building, he stared into it with his eyes narrowing. Serpentine pupils adjusted to see radiant heat signatures within. Unsurprisingly, he only saw the dim warmth of dead bodies filled with plentiful wounds. He had known that the quest to liberate Karthos was altogether vanity, yet the dusken deity had hoped to achieve some form of forgiveness for his actions. Zaphariel released the razor-sharp focus of his orange eyes and turned to the closest alcove below him. Duskborn warriors fiercely battled the grey-armored Krakkarin militants. Pandjoran monomolecular weapons ferociously tore into human flesh, easily piercing through the System Alliance carapace. Bursts of gravitic bullets warped the wounds inflicted on the Krakkarin’s, forcing them to their knees or crumpling their body from within. It was a scene that was playing across the entirety of Karthos as the war waged on. Artillery no longer filled their ears with shrieking shells, nor did their hovering behemoths harass the Pandjoran assailants. The Malik of Pandjoras wondered if there was even a point to his intervention as he deftly leaped to the next building. Each step brought him closer to the ugly Krakkarin spire.


Governor-Commander Alexos worriedly observed the battlefield from the uppermost balcony hanging over the spire. The Krakkarin military spat death onto a tide of black-orange warriors from the Sultanate, each Pandjoran corpse quickly replaced with another in an unending torrent. Other abhumans mingled into the mess of their enemies, such as disgusting beastmen and inhumanly tall individuals with gangly limbs. His eyes scanned the city in a desperate attempt to locate the rest of the System Alliance forces. It was a vain effort as the Sultanate was swiftly sweeping through the defenses they had prepared during the grace period. He hadn’t expected their frontal gate, the very symbol of their ingenious defenses, to crumple at the hands of the Malik. Sweat beaded down his forehead as the situation appeared grim.

Alexos slammed his fists against the parapet, threatening to crack the stone beneath his powered gauntlets. Anger burned in him as a festering wound in a dying body. Everything was displeasing to him, even the people who had lived in Karthos were disappointing. He turned away from the despairing sight of the siege towards the gaggle of officers surrounding a hololithic table. An image of Krakkarin rose as a digital entity in real space. His ears picked up their discussion as he approached.

“... And Mundas Ire has already fallen to the Sultanate. Commander Yavros was reported as deceased at the time of their assault. No doubt it was the work of the legendary Pandjoran hassans. Seventy-five percent of Karthos’ zones have already been lost to their advance as well. We need to start looking at an exit stra-” One of the officers, a tall man with a thin beard and slicked black hair, had been speaking at a rapid pace to the rest of the group. As the final words left his mouth, Alexos closed the distance and delivered a fierce punch to the officer’s face. The man fell backward onto his back, clutching the wound on his face from the strength-enhanced punch of the Governor-Commander. His place at the table was quickly replaced by the assailant.

There will be no retreat or exit strategy. We cannot lose to an empire of sandborn savages from the furthest reaches of space. The System Alliance has prevailed for five thousand years even when the void storms began to darken our nights. We are the last bastion of humanity left in the universe. Falling here would mean the demise of humankind as it was.” Alexos’ face was bright red, darkened with furious emotions emphasized by the brooding tone in his voice. The officers listened with a mixture of awe and fear as their leader silenced the dissenter. The Governor-Commander straightened himself out and pointed toward the bottom of the spire on the hololithic map. “It is time we unleashed the witches of the wastelands upon the invaders. If they cannot win out against the Sultanate, then we will resort to the nuclear payload from our ancestors.”

Each of the officers began to pale at the thought of the things that had been kept locked away since the darkest nights. Creatures of legend, monsters of folktale, and beings of malevolence were sealed in a cell of impossible creation below the spire. The men and women in the room cautiously looked at each other with desperate eyes. Alexos, of them all, held the darkest expression as he rationalized the release of cataclysmic beings upon Krakkarin. He knew it was the price for victory, yet he wasn’t certain how it would ultimately turn out.

An explosion rocked the core of the spire, turning their attention away from the discussion and toward the source of destruction. Alexos hurriedly walked out onto one of the three balconies, staring down at the mass of Pandjoras below. Heavily armored warriors in impossibly large plating charged through a mess of Krakkarin infantry, pulverizing those in their way into a fine paste. As they closed the distance between themselves and the spire gates, a hot blast of volcanic hatred vented down upon their lumbering forms. The Sultanate’s heavy infantry screamed out in agony as their bodies disappeared in flashes of bright orange. A temporary retreat was sounded on the invader’s side. Black-orange dots ran away with their abhuman allies covering in vain. The Governor-Commander grew a smile on his lips as their most advanced warsuits stepped out onto the battlefield. Leviathan suits of metal on quadruple legs with a living pilot at the center bore a pair of huge armaments on either side of the cockpit. Five of them sallied out from the spire, unleashing waves of destruction into the most dense group of duskborn.

Satisfied, Alexos turned back toward the officers with a relieved look on his face. A small chuckle bubbled up from their group, easing the rising tension that had begun to spread like a virus. One by one, they all returned to the hololithic table to begin their war planning anew. A vox-shriek from a nearby console pulled their attention away. The console was interacted with by one of their guards, armed with a powered saber and holstered slugthrower. After several seconds of discussion, the sentinel turned to address the officers.

“One of the frontline commanders is coming, Commander Alexos, how would you like to proceed?” His voice was muffled by a vox-filter built into a square helmet. Crimson lenses settled on the squat, frustrated form of the Governor-Commander.

“And deprive our frontlines of a necessary officer? Hardly. Deny access to the commander and inform them to return to the battle with haste. We cannot spare any more time or resources than we are currently expending.” The response was swift, uttered in a fraction of a second after the guard had inquired. The soldier respectfully nodded before leaning back down to the console with a vox-device pressed to his throat. As he completed the request, the guard returned to sentinel duty by the ascender leading up to their conference room. “Now, as I was beginning to say about the witches in the-”

The portal into the chamber exploded outwards with both of the doors flying off of their sliding hinges. Each guard attempted to turn towards the assailant, yet lost their heads in mere seconds of the attack. Vitae gushed from their bodies as a dark shadow began to push through the room. Officers reached down to grab their holstered weapons. The first of their number was picked up with blinding speed and flung through one of the open-air balconies. The second was torn in half by a claw-like weapon that vivisected their body in milliseconds. The third and fourth scrambled to pull the hololithic table up as cover, but their assailant had kicked the furniture against them with such force that their bodies were pasted against the walls. The final officer, reeling from Alexos’ punch, struggled to pull his weapon free. A swift, precise kick to the stomach was enough to render them unconscious. All that remained was the Governor-Commander.

He raised his fists with malice, arcs of electricity dancing across the enhancing gauntlets of his warsuit. The shadowy thing began to meld out of the chaos, swathed in Pandjoran-pattern powered armor and dusken shroud alike. Talon-tipped gauntlets dripped with fresh ichor from the defeated Krakkarins, while a small grin flashed beneath a dark hood. Their size was absurd as they towered above him as a monolithic deity of old Karthos. Alexos knew without a doubt that the Malik of Pandjoras had invaded his chambers to slice open his throat. Strangely, the dusken entity waited for him to act first.

“You’re a fool, Malik! You cannot simply walk into the spire and leave with your life! Do you court death with your vain wishes for your blasted homeworld? Can you not fathom the hopelessness of your forces against the might of the Krakkarin System Alliance!?” Alexos spit out as he lunged forward with his right fist raised to strike the Malik of Pandjoras. He watched as the Pandjoran easily evaded the attack, walking past him without an ounce of fear. As the Governor-Commander turned to fight back, he realized that his right forearm was gone. Cut perfectly at the elbow, vitae bubbled up and spilled out of the wound with urgency. The Krakkarin fell to his knees as pain overwhelmed his senses. His eyes turned away from the injury to the dusken deity with eternal hatred. The prophet-king uttered a small laugh as he looked down on Alexos.

“For someone who thinks they are a player in the great game, I’m surprised you didn’t realize how you merely played as a pawn. Thanks to you, Alexos, you’ve given the Pandjorans an endless supply of confidence for millennia to come. Any future war that we wage will be done so with ease. Thanks to you, I can finally remove a venomless serpent from my conquest of the stars. There is much that I have to thank you for, dear enemy,” Zaphariel finally spoke, each word graced with an increasing smile that quickly grew into an unnervingly toothy grin. He stepped forward towards the kneeling form of Alexos, who tried to shuffle backward on shambling limbs. There was some part of him deep down that enjoyed watching his prey scuttle in fear. Effortlessly, he lifted the man by his armpits as he walked out onto the balcony. Now face to face, the Malik of Pandjoras could discern every disgusting feature on his imperfect edifice. “But one of the best things you could’ve for me was given plentiful justification to enact every part of this war. As we close this chapter, my friend, I will unleash your witches and cut them down before my Pandjorans. They will weep tears of gratitude and wipe your culture from the annals of history. Your people will become nothing but cosmic dust in our great quest for the Star Serpent.

Held aloft in his arms like a child, Alexos began to hyperventilate and sob. His eyes screamed for mercy in their wet stare. Each sob caused his body to struggle in his claws, yet Alexos still managed to slip out a string of meaningless words. “S-Saladin was right! You’re a monster in human skin! You are the bane of your people! You will usher in darkness upon the galaxy for millennia to come! You are a daemon given mortal form!” The words caused something to stir inside of the Malik of Pandjoras. He had never truly considered the last words of his enemies, yet these expressions filled his soul with an indescribable emotion. For a moment, it appeared as if the Umbral King would spare the enemy that he had fought against. A small puddle of hope began to formulate inside of the Governor-Commander.

Zaphariel snapped back to him with a sad smile, both of his serpentine eyes lingering on the shivering form of the Governor-Commander.. “Indeed, dear Alexos, but with minor adjustments. I will drown the galaxy in a dusk that allows the brightest souls to illuminate it. A new dawn will rise over Pandjoras to free her from the vestiges of darkness eons after I have perished. If becoming a serpent in human skin is what it takes, then I would gladly wear umbral scales to welcome my ideal future. Destiny is within my grasp and I will mold it to my will for my people. Now, my friend, your time has come to drown in dusk.” He replied with a confidence that broke through his perpetual masquerade. Each word was spoken without alteration, allowing his foe to witness his true convictions without shame. A simple toss saw the Governor-Commander of the Krakkarin System Alliance drop from the top of the spire. His screams echoed throughout Karthos as a macabre durge. Many of the warriors fighting in the city turned towards the source with peaked interest. Those closest to the spire witnessed Alexos erupt into a pile of gore as the ground met his plummeting body. No sooner had the lord of the world been defeated did the disparate forces slowly surrender to the might of Pandjoras.

The Malik of Pandjoras breathed in deeply at the serene scene of his enemies surrendering en masse. Their war for Krakkarin was swiftly closing in with satisfactory casualties on the side of the Sultanate. For their first war in nearly a century, Zaphariel considered the quasi-experiment complete as he turned away from the balcony. One test yet remained to be completed. One final push to truly usher destiny’s vestiges into his claws. One last atrocity on Krakkarin to fully deliver the remnants of independence to the Umbral King. As he closed the distance to the hololithic table, his movements began to grow slow and hesitant. Did he truly wish to unleash those supposed witches upon the Pandjorans and Krakkarins? Was it necessary to orchestrate the great quest for destiny? What was the point of the journey if it meant betraying his people? Each thought raced through his head as the hologram of the cells beneath the spire spun before him.

Glory,” Zaphariel ibn Varranis said with a grim frown, pressing one of the runes on the table to activate the cells. The hologram began to blink red with several activation warnings spreading across the display. A thousand and one vocal tones erupted from nearby vox-relays of their impending doom. Another statement appeared before the eyes of the Malik, demanding affirmation of his actions. Without any further hesitation, he pressed the rune once more to accept the demise of those closest to the spire. The inner workings of the spire began to rattle as the horrors of the Old Night were unleashed. He lashed out at the table with a talon, permanently enabling the unlocking procedures. One foot followed the next as Zaphariel grabbed hold of the unconscious officer. A tool that he would use as a scapegoat for his actions. He turned back to view the table as he entered the ascender, glimpsing the blinking runes in holographic tint. “Unto Pandjoras.


The Dawn of Pandjoras was awash with celebration. Banners of freshly woven serpent silk hung from walls with new tales etched within. Instruments of the two hundred worlds blared in different sections of the ship, echoing into a beautiful orchestra of majestic nature. Men and women frolicked in Pandjoran dances, celebrating their survival and fulfilling promises of future endeavors. Duskborn warriors enjoyed the fruits of their labor on mulled serpent blood and lavish meats from across the Sultanate. The myriad mamluk abhumans mingled together with their legionnaire counterparts, happily discussing the next pivotal moments of their life outside of the First Conclave. Hafiz wandered the black sand-covered halls with delightful scents pouring from their censers, and boastful words of victory spilled from their skeleton masks. Menials that had supported the offenses reveled in the glory of new accolades, gloating about different parts of the invasion they had assisted. Even amongst these numbers, there were still more that relished the once-in-a-century accomplishments. Those officers, commanders, and higher-ranked officials who succeeded at Karthos gathered in the largest section of the warship: the Palace of the Malik.

A wide, oval-shaped chamber as wide as thirty harvester dropships and as tall as thirteen elder void serpents rested at the center of the dreadnought. Divided only by the entrances and a small alcove for a bed chamber, the Palace of the Malik was a lavish replica of a gravity palace. Everything was hued in marvelous orange, midnight blue, vibrant purple, and abyssal black. A thousand and one serpent-sculpted glow globes mounted the gravitic stone walls, while wide rugs of ornately decorated serpent silk blanketed the tiled floors. Great pillars rose to support the chamber, chiseled with every tale told on the umbral world. Marvelous murals dotted the walls, each depicting the greatest achievements of the Sultanate in superb detail. Dusken chairs, meditative pillows, and low tables in resplendent glory lined the room in sparse clumps. A graviton particle fountain, carved in a reproduction of the Valley of the Void, lingered at the near center of the room. Built around the fountain was a table beyond imagination, inscribed with the prophetic tale of the Umbral King. Slick cogitators hummed beneath it as orange holograms danced across the decorated surface. Thirteen ornate seats with effigies of the Houses surrounded the table with a final seat replaced by a gorgeous facsimile of the Varranian Throne.

Upon this throne, Zaphariel ibn Varranis happily watched the joy of his people indulge in the lavishness of victory. The great Sultans of House Tuturan and Korvaix drank with one another, pledging oaths of friendship and mending ancient grudges. Mamluk commanders marveled at the sheer size, scale, and majesty of the chamber they’d been permitted to enter. The Hakims of the Hafiz, their spiritual hierarchs and hierophants, meditated closest to the tiny graviton rivers that flowed through the Palace. The immortals, those warriors that wore juggernaut warsuits, loudly laughed with one another as they engaged in martial challenges. Envoys from recently joined cultures across the Sultanate relished the peace and joy they felt in the chamber. Many and more of the highest profiles from the empire wafted through to enjoy the extravagances of the Malik. Mingled into the mix of attendees were twelve of his wives, each dressed in a mixture of House color and Sultanate decor. To his imperceivable joy, even some of the Emir had journeyed to the expanses of space to revel. Of note, however, the dusken deity spied the grown form of Miska al-Gallos in attendance with the prestigious Emir Saladin. Their arrival heralded the beginning of many celebratory nights.

The Malik of Pandjoras rose from the throne with a thin smile on his lips. In the environment of his choosing, Zaphariel had long ago doffed the powered armor of war and instead donned the robes of his ascendancy. An exquisite, void-hued robe fashioned from elder serpent silk and embroidered with his prophecy in ocher colors fit his form. A midnight cloak hung from his shoulders, cascading down his body past regal gloves with talon-tipped rings and imperial balagha with metallic tips. A marigold laurel complimented a crown of eight horns split in even distances, decorated by thirteen, eye-shaped gems topped by a dusken halo lifted by a miniature gravity engine. All eyes turned to the immaculate form of the Sultanate’s Umbral King, pausing amid their conversations or activities to address the dusken deity.

“You all honor me with your attention, attendance, and time in joining our celebration against Krakkarin’s tyranny! I know many of you have traveled far from Pandjoras or further out towards the Serpent’s Tail. I hope that you have found your accommodations acceptable and your drinks filled.” Zaphariel momentarily paused as a brief chuckle erupted like a wave through the attending officials. His orange, serpentine eyes wandered over the crowd as they began to quiet themselves down once more. “As is the tradition of our dusken world, our celebration will last for thirteen days and thirteen nights. Ours is a tradition born from the lessons of the hassan, which encourage us to celebrate every occurrence in which survival is a question and not an answer. These days, we are allowed to drink deeply and express our gratitude to those who protected our lives. One of my favorite lessons that I learned growing up in the halls of Neu Alamut; however, I wish to personally honor those that made the Second Umbral Jihad as bloodless as possible.”

The immortals, who had once been indulging to their heart's delight, maneuvered away from the affairs and rose up to stand beside the throne. Each member was duskborn, donned in a dusken shroud and ornate bodysuits fit for celebratory events. One by one, the warriors claimed different boxes, chests, and storages of varying sizes and decorations. They returned to a tight-lined formation with gifts in each of their arms, outstretched for a recipient.

“What would a celebration be without gifts aplenty! I would honor those who journeyed far with boxes of jewelry, those who fought in the Sultanate with chests of trinkets, and those who claimed accolades from destiny with trunks of Pandjoras’ finest! Come forth, my beloved Pandjorans, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!” Zaphariel announced with a voice that reverberated several times over, willing reality into an uncontrollable frenzy. The attendees burst into an adorative fervor, proclaiming a thousand and one different promises of worship or oaths for the Umbral King. Each immortal stepped out into the throng of Pandjorans, delivering the gifts that their Malik had promised with determination and joy. Regardless of their joy, he observed every gift delivered with intense interest. Their emotions, their attitude, and their personalities were recorded deep within his mind for later usage. His lips curled further into a joyful smile as he reclaimed his throne once more with his head resting against one of his hands.

The gift-delivering process took the better part of the occasion as each box was a particular prize for a specific individual. Many received their physical award, offered a cheer in his name, and left after several minutes of conversation with other attendants. Others, primarily the Emir, received their present with a mixture of gratitude and confusion. They, and their attending heirs, remained behind as the guests slowly filtered out of the Palace. Slowly, as if understanding the gravity of the situation, those Emir that had arrived or their representatives began to find their seat at the great table. Of their number, the only Emir of name that arrived were Jerciho al-Nathaz, Saladin ibn Gallos, Azahar ibn Urahal, and Zarmira ibn Gallax. As the final guest was ushered out of the Palace, the immortals closed the entrances into the abode of the Malik. Zaphariel’s temperance changed as his warriors sealed away the chamber from the rest of the warship.

“It is good to see your faces. I’ve dreamt a thousand and one times of each moment we had spent together during the Unification. I will never forget what each of you has sacrificed to make our dreams a reality, nor will I forget the promises I made as a young sheik.” He spoke in a solemn tone, reminiscing on the memories of a younger Pandjoras. Zarmira warmly smiled, bowing her head in appreciation. Jericho tipped his head forward in gratitude. Azahar grinned and gestured in an archaic signaling language from Old Pandjoras. Saladin dapped his forehead with a piece of cloth, nodding his head in thanks. “It is my duty, however, to recognize those that have achieved much and more in our culture as the Malik of Pandjoras. Today, I wish to honor that duty for one who is present.”

His attention fell upon the heiress of House Gallos, Miska, who momentarily appeared stunned as the table turned towards her. To the throng of Emir and Sheiks, Miska was as ordinary as an aristocratic duskborn could be. Dusken skin with orange, serpentine eyes complimented soft and fierce facial features. Long, black braids decorated her scalp, while thin freckles darkened the minute Gallosian sigils inked across her cheeks. She donned a serpent silk robe in dawn hues, aided by a shoulder cape of umbral jakaal fur. Regardless of her status, Saladin’s heiress wore minimal jewelry other than a thin cluster of void pearls that covered the outer edge of her ears. The surprise passed as she closed her eyes, bowing her head in respect to the Malik of Pandjoras.

“Many of you are unaware of her feats and why this pertains to the Second Umbral Jihad. She has quelled a thousand and one minor houses across the Sultanate, integrated cultural aristocrats into the house system, and linked our journey through the Star Serpent at every step. Her achievements are many, but the mamluk are one of her greatest suggestions to appease the minor houses. Without her, the Umbral Armada would not be what it is today.” Zaphariel stated with a smile while reaching down to activate a Pandjoran rune on the ornate table. A hololithic display of her achievements in statistical form appeared before the gathered Houses of Pandjoras. Each entry was small, yet there was a sheer quantity to the work she had orchestrated across the Sultanate. Even Saladin, her father, gazed in awe at what his heiress had achieved. The dusken deity saw through the awe, though, and witnessed the beginnings of a bubbling rage. His smile grew ever so slightly wider.

“You honor me, dear fri- my Malik. Everything that I’ve done is in the name of the Illuminated Star Sultanate, Pandjoras, and you.” She bowed her head once more, dipping it towards the members of the table. Her voice was as soft as her face, yet each word was backed with purpose and determination. He noticed the intentional establishment of importance in her last words. Clever, he thought to himself, ever since the days you were a young child. Miska decidedly chose not to speak further, allowing the data to talk on her behalf. The Emir were pleased as they spoke amongst themselves, all except Saladin. The wobbling man fumed with frustration, clearly expressing an aura of betrayal. He wiggled out of his seat in an undignified rush of vexation, then turned towards his heiress with a raised finger.

Traitor! You steal the glory that I had forged for our House! Do you have no shame, child of mine!? Do you feel-” Saladin ibn Gallos began to scream at the heiress of his House, each word spoken with a mixed tone of ferocity and disappointment. Miska, docile as she had been raised, lowered her head in controlled fear. She submitted to the verbal lashing from her House Emir, father, and guardian. An aura of imperceivable rage forced the man’s lips shut. He felt compelled to kneel, cower, and sing praise all at once. Whatever anger had smothered his soul was extinguished by overwhelming fear.

The source of the aura was found at the facsimile Varranian Throne. Zaphariel ibn Varranis stared with an intent to kill at the wobbling form of Saladin. Each of his orange, serpentine eyes glared unwaveringly down at his person. Every Emir, Sheikh, and Immortal in the Palace of the Malik began to uncontrollably flatten themselves into a bow or kneel. One of his claws flexed hard enough to crumble one of the arms of his throne. As the last members prostrated from his intense aura, the Malik of Pandjoras closed his eyes to enter oneness. A calmness slithered through the chamber, releasing those enthralled by the wordless spirit with gasping breaths and shaky limbs. Emir Saladin gripped the edge of the table with hazardous gasps as the dusken deity opened his eyes once more.

Enough.” The Malik of Pandjoras stated with a solemn tone, waving a hand over the holograms to clear the table. Each piece of data revolving around Miska disappeared, replaced with numerous different strings of information relating to Saladin. Chief amongst them was a log detailing the events that led up to the Krakkarin System Alliance’s call to war. A confession from the Warlord of Carnage, the officer who had unleashed the nightmare witches, spoke volumes of their first interaction with the Gallosian Emir. Several other cases of ushering minor house revolts, stealing away commerce from different planets, and inciting publications against the lessons of the hassan were provided. The man began to grow pale in fear at the sights before him.

“I have allowed you to live despite everything you have done for twenty years, Saladin. I respected you as one of the Great House Maliks and I valued you as a shrewd merchant-king of the umbral sands. I acquiesced to your demands at the Unification thrice fold, I observed every action you took against me in the great journey, and I allowed your survival for the sake of Miska.” Zaphariel spoke once more with a sad tone, hints of frustration were evident in his voice yet it was superseded by disappointment. One of his hands brushed against his face, slicking down the groomed beard growing along his lips and chin. He cast a look at Miska, who caught his stare and grimly nodded in acceptance. Satisfied, the Malik of Pandjoras continued. “No longer. You have forsaken your allegiance to me. Before the eyes of the Thirteen Houses, as is my privilege as the Malik of Pandjoras, I cast you from your position as Emir of House Gallos and forfeit your rights to life under the dusken sky. In your place, Emir Miska al-Gallos will lead the Great House forever more until the day of her death.”

Rage blinded the senses of former Emir Saladin ibn Gallos as a flush red washed over his face. He stood up with all the willpower that he could muster, gritting his teeth in huffing anger. A finger was pointed at the seated form of Zaphariel, words beginning to spill forth from his quivering lips. “You are a monstrosity born from the dusken sands! Everything you’ve achieved can only be described as mystic and wyrd! You must’ve formed a blood pact with Falak and gained powers unimaginable to aspire to such heights! I raised you, Sheik Zaphariel, and I know you! Whatever you are, whatever you may be, will bring about the damnation of Pandjoras! I swear upon a thousand and one grains of black sand that the fruit of your great quest will spoil and rot! Nothing will-” Saladin’s intense words were suddenly halted as blade slashed across his throat at lightning speed. He stumbled forward against the table, leaning upon it with his great weight. Panicked eyes regarded Zaphariel with anger, yet found that he hadn’t moved from his throne. The Pandjoran turned to his daughter, who had slid a monomolecular dagger back into a hidden sheath. A gurgle from his throat pushed out a puddle of blood onto his person as tears flooded his eyelids. Both of his orange eyes were closed to the world, forever shut to never achieve ambitious dreams again.

The Malik of Pandjoras observed with a mixture of interest and sorrow. He had intended to decapitate the Emir of Gallos himself, yet Miska had performed the deed faster than he had. His rage that had been felt before the events on Krakkarin fled away as grains of black sand in a gravity tempest. The other Emir remained stalwart after the incident, yet some of the representatives seemed shaken by the affair. Regardless, each would have to accept the actions before them. Zaphariel turned to one of the immortals, softly gesturing for them to handle the bleeding corpse of Saladin. They were swift in their task, carrying the carcass away and wiping the table clean of Pandjoran blood. No sooner had the immortals finished their tasks did Miska take the seat of her late father. She sat proudly amongst the Thirteen with her head held high. No doubt, he thought, she was prepared to do this.

“Bring his body back to Pandjoras to rest in Neu Alepp when the celebrations have concluded, Emir Miska. Ensure that his sarcophagus is sealed with black sand and a splash of liquid from the Valley of the Void.” Zaphariel commanded, responded only with a simple nod from Miska. Falak would grow hungry tonight as he had promised her the body of Saladin, yet it was a simple thing to feed the void wyrm. The remainder of those in the Palace of the Malik awaited the next words from the dusken deity. He wouldn’t disappoint them any further than they had been with the affair. “I will not threaten you with this fate, dear friends. What has occurred here was a consequence of my mercy and I will atone for that in my own ways. The first of which is renewing the pact of allegiance with House Gallos.”

Miska al-Gallos, Emir of House Gallos, Shah of the Minor Houses, shall become my thirteenth and final wife. She will preside over all of her ilk as the First and Last. From this moment forward, all heiress’ of House Gallos will have a claim over this position so long as I live and after her demise.” His words were as soothing as they were dominating. A ripple of fresh smiles burst through the heavy atmosphere at the elated news. The final promise of the Unification had been fulfilled with Miska taking the last spot in his harem. Emir Zarmira shook her head in defeat, clearly wishing for a different outcome. Emir Azahar laughed loudly and joyfully at the sudden change of pace. Jericho nodded in approval, silent as ever. Miska beamed with controlled delight standing from her seat and offering a heartfelt bow in acceptance. Little did the other Emir know, Zaphariel and Miska had spoken of this for years in the shadows of her activities.

“With this conclusion and the Houses once again free of reckless ambition, the Sultanate will proceed forward to claim dominion over the Star Serpent. A hundred worlds remain on the charts of Old Pandjoras with the last two at the tip of the Serpent’s Tongue. Each world will be personally sought to and integrated into Pandjoras with my presence. House Gallos will remain here to cleanly quell the tides of war from the System Alliance as a show of good faith.” The Malik of Pandjoras demanded, spreading one of his hands out once more to clear the holographic displays. New worlds orbited in dense clusters above the table, loosely tangled together in the long stretch of space known as the Star Serpent. Names appeared over each system, each was then assigned a House to govern said territory. Sensing the end of their time in the Palace of the Malik, the House Emir and their representatives stood up from the chairs. Zaphariel continued with a toothy grin growing on his lips. “Now go and enjoy time away from administration and lordship! Drink deeply, eat heartily, and bask in the gifts you’ve been given. Glory unto Pandjoras!

Glory unto Pandjoras!” The room quaked with the universal phrase of the Sultanate. Each of the House Emir offered their thanks, bowing and walking out of the Palace with a mixture of emotions. Emir Zarmira had to be dragged from the table by her subordinates, feigning crying for more time in the presence of Zaphariel. Emir Jericho grasped forearms with the Malik, swearing new oaths and revealing new details on upcoming projects. Emir Azahar loudly professed small prophecies of victory, glory, and conquest in the Umbral King’s name as he left. Each of their responses filled the dusken deity’s heart with fragments of joy, erasing the frustration of Krakkarin’s campaign. Only Miska al-Gallos remained behind, refusing to speak until the last person in the chamber had left. A look from the prophet-king dismissed the immortals, who quickly left after a moment of silence.

Finally, twenty years of scheming have concluded. Will you forgive me, Zaph? Another thirteen days and thirteen nights of his life and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I know you intended to claim his head, but I couldn’t let you accept that burden. His life… was my duty to take.” Her words were softer than his, more frail than Zaphariel’s soothing tongue. Despite Miska’s acceptance of Saladin’s fate, tears flowed freely from his orange eyes. A hand, light as silk and as large as her back, lightly touched her shoulder. The Malik of Pandjoras’ steps had been silent as falling sand as he moved from the throne to her side. She had never realized before how inhumanly quick he was. He kneeled beside her and brought the small woman into an embrace. The newly crowned Emir felt her entire body swathed in the dusken deity’s warmth.

“I will always forgive you, wife of mine, but will you forgive me for what I must do?” Zaphariel asked as he ran a hand down her braided hair, unimaginably comforting her beyond reality’s breath. Without another word, Miska serenely nodded in his arms. There was no hesitation in her actions as she, and most Pandjorans, submitted to their prophet-king. Satisfied with her response, he looked away from her shoulder and to one of his many serpent sculptures in the Palace. The hand that had delicately stroked her hair froze as he imagined wicked, fleshy talons as replacements. He clenched his digits into a fist, accepting the illusions, and continued to speak. Raw confidence spilled through his masquerade, each word reverberating with the echoing affirmation that reality shivered. “I am the monster of Saladin’s warnings, Miska, and I am going to drown this galaxy in dusk for Pandjoras.
Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Bigbagel12
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Bigbagel12

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Orichalcum


19 Years After Arrival



He had not been wrong. He had knew it had been coming, he had felt it in his bone for years. His father had done his best, trying to quiet the murmurs that had been spreading in court from both loyalist and dissenters alike. The ruling family had been falling out of favor for many years, the acts of the Emperor and his children had grown more and more abominable, and a people that are preyed upon are not always composed of sheep. Men could be wolfs, their fangs sharpening in the dark as those who thought they held power celebrated their rule with debauchery and violence. It was true, the Imperial family was very powerful, with an army large enough to burn a world in the fires of war. Yet, in an empire of 14 worlds, where your people numbered into the high billions, a single army would not be enough if more than one world rose in revolt.

And that is exactly what happened.

His father had been a man strongly supporting neutrality, because to lean either way would lead to destruction in his mind. Yet what he failed to understand was that neutrality was a danger all on its own. A neutral party was nothing but a prospective enemy to both sides, and they would have to fend off both sides should they turn their attention to them. So Kargon prepared, like he always did, cities turned to fortresses quietly and great weapons of war were forged beneath the earth by those loyal to his family, those he had grown up knowing and those who souls he could see glowing with the light of loyalty unshaken. He hid this all from his family, knowing his father’s stance would never approve of his approach to things. He loved his father, his family, and he of course treasured his father’s advice and wisdom but it was foolish to trust in the honor of other men. Nothing could be more two faced than man, especially those who craved power and pleasure that could be derived from that power.

He armed his men with weapons of his own creations, great underground forges produced arms of a design pulled from the depths of his mind. Great weapons the size of the common firearm that launched blue flaming orbs that could destroy even great tanks in a single shot. Powerful rifles that disintegrated matter on contact with great heat rays, before causing powerful explosive reactions. He even produced great guns that fired shells that bored into targets before detonating, in great numbers simply due to the fact that all the raw material needed to make these weapons could be found in great quantity on Orichalcum. Every army on his world, every man and woman that served his family, each of them would be armored and armed with weapons that far surpassed the common Firerifle used by the armies of the Empire up to this point.

Though he could hide his secret forges from his father’s attention, he could not hide the fact he had the councilors of the world pushing recruitment into the army higher. Their army swelled from a handful of millions to nearly 100 million souls within 3 years. He revised the fighting doctrine, making it focus on more Defensive aspects. Fortress Reinforcement, Siege Defense, Counter Engineering and finally the art of the Offensive Counter Siege, in order to inflict maximum damage to any fool brave enough to endanger their homes. He in turn ensured that they were armed with the knowledge and tools needed to learn how to operate certain weapons that were ‘in development’. They would be ready, when the flag of war was raised, to take up their arms.

Yet he was not naive, he knew his army as greatly armed and armored as it was, could not compare to the sheer size of the army of the Empire. So he focused on the defending tactics of the men, each of them able to fight in confined spaces like men possessed, their defensive tactics were paramount and unparalleled. There was no fortress they could not defend, no city they couldn’t wage defensive urban war in, and when the time came, they could counter push like the angels of vengeance. They would not be restrained, they would not be stopped, his men would be the wall that the enemy broke upon, and the Fortress which would rise up and crush the invader like a hulking behemoth that had been roused to anger.

Yet 7 years into his work, not even 6 months after his projects reached their final stages, did the first shot of war happen. The Imperial Army invaded another world, and began to tear into its population and defenders, and then the Loyalists and Dissenters went to war as the fight for power erupted. Yet they could not allow unclear loyalties to remain unchecked, and the greatness of Kargon’s craft was tested. His father had been leading a world council, to bring forth a proper response to secure their position. Kargon felt the presence first, the hulking 13ft behemoth rising up as he grabbed his mother and siblings and tucked them against his form. His great brass coated arms wrapped them up as ruby red light poured in from every window and began to mow into those unprotected bodies.

The smell of burning flesh, and Ionizing heat filled the room with repeated flashes of light as those lasers were dissipated on the Ion Fields protecting the members of Kargon’s inner circle, his mothers own field which sheltered Kargon and his family and those in his immediate vicinity. His father had however been bombarded with the most concentration of shots. His eyes shot up from his position, taking in the sight of his Father’s chair being disintegrated under the barrage. Yet as he heard the beating of feet, many men rushing towards the room, he felt his concerns shift as he pressed a hidden tile under the table, a spot on the floor rising up to reveal a space below.

“You must go Mother, take Elias and Rodham into the hidden rooms. Seal the doors behind you, and I will come and get you after. Do not leave them once you get there. The Defenses will protect you from any that follow until my arrival.” he said as his voice came out like boiling thunder. His eyes began to burn as his anger had been stoked, how dare they. How dare the foul wretches strike at his family! His mother, oh his beloved mother caressed his face once before nodding. ‘Be Safe Son.’ were the words that left her lips as he saw her move down into the hole. Rodham looked on the verge of tears, watching his elder brother for a moment before Elias took his hand and followed into the tunnel with their mother. The door sealed shut, but not before he heard his brother Elias, “Kick their asses Kargon!” he shouted back causing a smile to cross his face. Standing up, he reached up and ripped his tunic from his body, revealing ash grey skin and arms coated in a solid bronze that seemed to be spreading to his chest from his shoulders. “Aye, I shall.” he said with a low voice as his eyes began to bleed fire as his skin began to illuminate, small flames washing off his skin as he pressed a button on a ring he wore, a bright flash of light filled the room and in his hand appeared a hammer of great size, covered in black Iron and brass sigils. The Head was cast in Obsidian, and had a flaming thunderbolt on it, twisting the handle a certain way caused a red field to project over the weapon as lightning began to cascade off it.

“Son.” he heard from behind him, and yet he did not look back as he focused on the approaching footsteps. His father came to his side, as the other survivors all began to pull out their weapons. Blades that crackled, weapons that glowed with dark green or blue light. “I know father, but we need to focus for a moment. The amount of incoming fire that entered the room, I counted 78 different firing angles. I hear a minimum of over 100 distinct footsteps, they have come in overwhelming force to eliminate the entire leadership of the world.” he said as he looked around, seeing roughly 8 people dead. “They have only partially succeeded, they must finish here or they will have lost the element of surprise. Regardless, I will finish them off. Storkas, Malburn, take my father with you and head to the underground command center. It is time, engage all protocols and see to the arming of the troops and activate the orbital sentries. We are locking Orichalcum down.” he spoke as he began to step forward as some men followed behind him, approaching the door to make themselves ready. His father was dragged along with a few of his men, as they entered another set of bolt holes before the stone sealed behind them.

Kargon slammed his hand on the wall, a plate depressed itself as the windows which had been broken by lasfire sealed themselves with great metal shutters. The building walls began to belch great gouts of lava out, the screams of dozens of men began to fill the air as the climbers were burned from this world in the most horrid way possible. The magma flow that he routed beneath the palace worked smoothly, that was good, he had been meaning to test that feature at some point. He would make sure to come up with a system to be able to activate those features remotely from the command center at some point.

It was on this thought that the first black and green armored soldier made its way onto the walkway leading up to the council chambers. Kargon looked at him, and saw the man falter as he laid eyes on the behemoth in front of him with a flaming, sparking hammer. "You shot at my Father, you endangered my mother and brothers. You have chosen to take these cowardly actions. And I.....am angry. What comes next is on the heads of you and your leaders." he said as he felt his anger boil up before he opened his mouth once more.

"I am Kargon, and you shall burn!"


Kargon spoke, his voice shaking as his anger boiled over like an erupting volcano. He could see the immediate shift in attitude, before dozens more men slammed into his back as they all rushed forward. Many of them had similar reactions, it was this small display that gave the men behind him their moment as plasma fire and volkite bursts passed by his body and slammed into the oncoming crowd of men. Their standard flak armor was not meant for such high impact/high heat weapons and the first few ranks simply evaporated and boiled into exploding piles of flesh, and the ensuing panic was only exacerbated by that 13 foot giant flinging himself forward at a speed that should not exist for such a large creature.

His hammer tore through people like they were paper. The great stone and brass walls of the palace were painted with the viscera of war from that moment. Orichalcum was at war with the Empire of fools. His voice roared, the walls shaking as his anger burned ever brighter. And as if fueled by it, the fire rolling off him responded.

As he slaughtered them, fire began to ooze off him in great gouts, incinerating those too unfortunate to not meet their end by his hammer. Their skin melting, their bones boiling away in great flashes of explosive vapor. The sound was like being in a thunderstorm, the sizzling heat of thunder mixed with the boiling before getting capped off by the clap of thunderous explosions as the water in their bodies combusted into vapor causing the poor things know as their bodies to immediately fail to hold back the forces working on them. The men who watched as their allies died, could only run, many of them soiling themselves in fear at the unearthly dread that filled them.

Their minds, once hardened to the joys of war turned to their most basic instincts, the need for survival. Yet there would be no escape for them. The ones most coherent, were screaming madness as they unloaded their weapons into the backs of their own allies trying, hoping, to bring down the monster. “Fire Giant!” one screamed as his autogun continued to unload before only empty clicks filled the air. He felt his suit catch fire yet he did not have time to scream, his helmet melting to his face as the metal and plastic mixed together and adhered to him burning away the flesh and making a perfect cast of his skull before it also melted away under the heat leaving him nothing more than a boiling puddle that evaporated.

The flames leaving him caressed his skin like a lover, and he could not even feel it as the wisps looked like wings trailing behind him. Stepping out onto the balcony that led to the city square, he saw the men that had fled being gunned down by his troops as they began to secure the area. His fire died away as he saw the threat neutralized as he had intended. Two of the assassins had been restrained, and would be interrogated but he already knew who they belonged to. They bore the armor of the Empire, but had used the tactics employed by the dissenters. They had hoped to take his world with minimal loss of fighting force on either side, in order to turn his world against the empire. It was clever, but a base strategy that any novice tactician would use. He knew however that the Empire would not leave him be either, so he would simply take the most obvious choice.

He would destroy them both, and rebuild from the ashes. From a burning wreck of a failed empire, he shall forge a Bulwark among the stars.
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Hidden 5 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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Pentious


Forge Delta


Brak was bored and annoyed.

Normally he would have wandered off to get drunk, picked a fight with someone who looked like they owed him some teeth (IE, anyone who he could beat up), gotten something to eat... or all of the above because if he could rip off a limb, it was his to do with what he wanted!

But Nob Gutkrakka had made it clear that Brak was to stay on the wall dakka cannon until the Nob said otherwise by breaking one of his legs and threatened to take him to the Doc if he tried to leave it again before then. The job wasn't all that bad... he got to boss around bunch of gretchen and whenever something interesting appeared in view he got to fire the dakka cannon at it in order to make it not exist anymore which was always fun... but Gutkrakka didn't like dakka being wasted just to fire the guns and the Nob was a freaking hardass.

Brak sighed in boredom again, already planning to smack the next gretchen that got nearby... before the sight of dust clouds started to draw his attention. Turning towards the gretchen, he barked "Oi! One of yas gits fetch me the 'sees-stuff-from-far-away' thingy!" even as he raised his good hand to offer his eyes some shade from the light to try and get a better look without it.

At first glance, it seemed like two of the speedfreaks racing against each other again. When one of the gretchen finally provided the demanded 'sees-stuff-from-far-away' thingy! (and promotly got a backhand to the face for not being faster), Brak raised it up to his eye in order to have a closer look. On closer inspection it looked like Mekgash and Mekrull were racing each other again, but the fact that they weren't shooting at each other suggested they were racing towards...

Sweeping his now enhanced view ahead of where Mekgash and Mekrull were racing towards, he spotted what they seemed to be gunning for. It was a humie. A big one too, just walking towards the base like it didn't notice the two speedfreaks coming towards 'em. The talky box started crackling to live for a moment before one of the grots brought it within arms reach of Brak... and this one proved smart enough to stop outside of his direct reach and hand the thing over to avoid getting smacked. Brak made a mental note of which gretchen it was for later.

"Oi Brak, yas seeing this?" came the voice of Skag from the other side. "What Mekgash and Mekrull driving at?"

"Sum wannabe humie nob." Brak answered back, briefly swapping his visual target from said humie 'nob' and the speedfreaks. "Two teef that Mekrull gets there first."

"Your o-" before Skag could finish, a flash of light bright enough that Brak couldn't look directly at it fly out from the humie... and slammed directly into Mekgash's ride. Closing his slightly blinded eye and swapping to the other one to see what happened, it was clear from the fast moving, burning wreckage of Mekgash's bike as it rolled across the ground that he was now out of the running. Quickly sweeping forward, Brak couldn't see the humie anymore while Mekrull's trukk was turning around to come back home.

There was a lot of swearing happening on the other side of the talky box. Brak himself couldn't help but grin and laugh. "Ya owe me two teef!"

"Squiqshit I do! I didn't agree to nothin!" Skag answered back like the sore loser gretchen lover he was.

"Skag, ya lost! Either cough up my teef or I'm taking 'em by-"

"Boss... somethings wrong with the trukk." A sniveling voice interrupted. Brak was stunned by the fact that one of his gretchen was actually stupid enough to interupt a very important conversation like that for a moment, before lowering his vision enhancing tube to look at the moron in question. Some gretchen that he didn't know the name of because what kind of moron wastes time naming gretchen had gotten up on their toes in order to look over the side, straight at Mekrull's trukk.

"One moment Skag." was all Brak said before putting down the talky box... so that he could free up a hand to grab one of the nearby gretchen who was stupid/unlucky enough to be in arms reach before throwing it directly into the back of the head of the stupid bugger that had interrupted him making threats. Listening with some satisfaction at the sound of a pair of high pitched, squealing screams as the wretches plunged over the side and justice had been served, picked up the talky box again... even as he decided to humor the deceased and looked at Mekrull's trukk.

For his part, Brak couldn't see what the stupid grot had been talking about. The trukk seemed to be in good shape, with Mekrull sitting in the drivers seat up front... with the humie nob right behind him, having taken off both of Mekrull's arms and punching a fist through his back in order to hold and drive the steering wheel. From the look on Mekrull's face, he was very much still alive and angry as the humie drove his trukk.

"...Mekrull just got his trukk looted by the humie nob." was said into the talky box in what had to be the most subdued tone of voice any ork had ever used. Even as he said the words, Brak felt like some fundamental law of the universe had been broken: Orks looted humie trukks and tanks, not the other way around!

"WHA?!" was the ever helpful reply from Skag.

"THE HUMIE NOB IS DRIVING MEKRULL'S TRUKK. BLAST IT!" Skag recovered, finding the idea of shooting at something a fine means of getting rid of this awful feeling he had been feeling moments before. Plus this was literally the whole reason that Gutkrakka had stuck him on the dakka canon anyway: The humie was clearly not one of the boyz and thus, needed to be filled with dakka.

He was also not the only gun to start shooting. Various guns and cannons started to rain death and destruction down upon the land around their settlement, creating craters and churning the soil in a major way. In theory, most of them were aiming at the oncoming, stolen trukk. Some because they knew that it wasn't under their control anymore. Others because other boyz were shooting at it. More then a few were firing upon it solely because it was the only thing in sight to be a target. And of course, some were just shooting their gun because it was fun, not really caring if they were aiming at anything.

Orks weren't renowned for being marksmen; Their primary method of hitting a target with ranged weaponry was quantity over quality as they would pump out so many bullets that statistically, the target was going to get hit by something no matter what it did. In fairness to this doctrine, shots were pinging off the trukk. But as the trukk picked up speed and performed turns that would give any speedfreak who saw them inspiration, it always managed to avoid taking the worst of the incoming barrage. Or when a bit of dakka did hit, it was merely a glancing blow rather then something that would destroy or cripple the trukk.

A trukk that Brak could no longer shoot at anymore! Damn thing had gotten so close to the base that he couldn't lower the dakka cannon down enough because there was a freaking wall in the way. He felt the floor shudder a little before the sound of crunching impact and explosion reached his ears, smoke slowly rising in front of his position, through thinning out enough that he could still see out at the great big field of nothing around the base.

Leaning back in his seat and retrieving the talky box, he grunted "It's sum one elses job to see if the human nob is dead. Now where wa- SKAG, YOU OWE ME TEEF YA LITTLE GROT SNIFFER!"

No longer really paying attention as his attention turned to more personal and therefore more important affairs, Brak wouldn't really notice the rhythmic sound of metal being punched through that started to grow louder over the coming minutes. Neither would his gretchen, in part because Brak was generally fairly loud but also because in the grand scheme of things, the noise was easily swallowed up by typical orkish engineering or industry... or orks just being orks really.

So when Rik flung himself into what appeared to be a combination of machine gun nest and anti-air flak position, Brak and his crew of gretchen were taken completely by surprise. The pair of Myrmidon axes he had been using to help him scale the wall of the greenskin infested Forge Delta via hammering them into it proved more then up to the task of slaughter. The only warning that he was now within the Forge's outer defenses? The fact that anyone trying to reach Brak on the orkish vox system would just receive static and dead air.
Hidden 4 mos ago Post by BCTheEntity
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It was known to him, based on Shamhat alone and in spite of her husk of a true form, that the rate at which a normal human walked could, with reasonable stamina and rest, cover anywhere from thirty to fifty kilometres in one day. In hindsight, he realised that this value too was ingrained before the words ever knew him - one thousand metres, each metre a set length, a value he had an instinctual grasp of even after recognising the precise distance it represented. It seemed that a lot of information was known to him subconsciously at this stage, though how much would likely remain unknown until it was important to know, and he could trust that it would guide him nonetheless. Likewise, he was not even close to his full adulthood - human lifespan included a period of roughly twenty “years” of immaturity. Not the cycles of this land, though. They measured time elsewhere. He had no clue where that was, and suspected that even trying to determine them required more information than he possessed, but by this system his age measured roughly three “years”.

Another part wholly understood that, even in his current state, he could, if he so chose, travel much further, much faster, and barely break a sweat. He was also conscious of his own stalling. Much slower than normal human pace. He did not, in fact, want to reach Qal’Asurah yet - not a fear of the place, but a recognition that if it were anything like Euphro-Uruk, if his encounter with Shamhat had any correlation to humans there, that he would need to steel himself further or risk being lost again. And equally, an unwillingness to abandon his pack, hive, flock… companions. That was the word she’d used. No matter his intellect compared to theirs, they were companions to him.

But.

But he could not stall forever.

After nineteen days, he sensed something distant. Vast in scope.

Impossibly vast.

…not at all impossible. Quite particularly not so. Efficiently put together, in fact, if the metric for efficiency was a combination of lifestyle and population density.

He’d found the humans. Potentially, he’d found Qal’Asurah.

‘You have to stop here.’ The instruction to his drakes and dragons was quiet, but resonated deeply in them, even as the resonance returned with combinations of… nameless queries, worry of abandonment, and for the more self-aware sadness that he was leaving. He returned it again, ensuring they knew his feelings, his intent to leave only briefly before he came back to them, and his confidence that they knew how to keep themselves fed and gather new members for his return. This time, the response was positive. They knew he would.

And he did. No longer restrained, he ran, his body moving as the dragon-leopards did, lithely passing around forest and over canopies as if they were solid land with no obstacles whatsoever. Two kilometres- four kilometres- he sped up, now- seven, then ten kilometres- he imagined that only the fastest of the dragons would be able to keep up by air even if they were following on- fifteen- twenty- twenty five-

Suddenly, he paused at the edge of a clearing.

There rose something that, if he hadn’t already recognised its scale, might have been incomprehensible at a glance. A structure, or perhaps a great mass of structures, climbing into the sky like a steel spear trying to puncture the clouds of steam and smoke emerging from it. About the spire, walls, insanely tall in themselves, dwarfing many of the trees that surrounded the land in fact, topped with a range of structures featuring- dragonbreath? No, but similar in the sense of providing range to slay from, each scanning for any sign of life, eager to kill.

Eager? Yes, all too eager. These turrets contained more examples of the bizarre energy-dragon he’d encountered before. Not the same, though. Where that one had been overtly erogenous, seeking pain and pleasure equally, these… these only sought bloodshed. Battle and death.

A direct assault would be like charging a drake-rhinoceros- he could do it, but it’d be unnecessarily dangerous. And stealth in the manner of dragon-cats, near-impossible. But… but but but… if he were to take inspiration from the drake-termites? The drake-moles? Both humble compared to their more intelligent counterparts. Both with more unique qualities, qualities that let them pass through the very earth, channelling passages- this city’s lowest depths sunk into the earth, beneath the level the turrets would see, guarded only by the dense walls themselves.

Not nearly dense enough to stop him.

Taking several paces back, to guarantee a broken line of sight, he found a suitable spot, flexing his fingers until they popped, then began to claw at the dirt, discarding it around the hole as it developed. Deeper, deeper… deeper still, yes. With each pass, he grew more adept, finding his rhythm, finding it easier to burrow faster, and soon enough finding that the dirt he threw out simply landed back upon himself… time to move inward.

Hm. His claws had grown longer. Useful, for this case. Perhaps similar to the inner flame he’d manifested? He’d look into that later.

For now, passage through the ground toward the city was simple enough. He was hardly hindered; the ground was no tougher, though more rocky the closer he got… more, more… there. The walls. Far, far, harder to claw through, enough to deter most underground assaults - but then, he had oxygenated himself plenty before this. Time was no issue, and nor was the barricade itself, for where the claws of dragons would get no purchase, his own had the strength to pierce and cut free the material before him. It was interesting how it differed from what lay about him, though, what he’d seen in the past… as if it were layered into itself, almost.

And then, he broke through. Taking his first deep breath in several minutes, he noted the taste of the air: not enough oxygen, too much of everything else, shortening the lifespans of any who were not adapted to handle it by decades for their troubles. And even expanding the hole… perhaps this was an unfortunate spot, but he seemed to be a few dozen metres away from the nearest solid ground. Though, a relatively quick climb downward made no difference, landing him on more of that layered rock in a narrow, near-lightless hallway.

And there was life here. Somehow, a human stalked the halls- or a thing that may once have been human, or may once have been dragon, or both. It sensed him, turned, attacked with a cry of hate-

And landed in several pieces on the ground, its gore splattering him. He’d not expected a great fight, but compared to the dragons he’d hunted, it was as if it totally lacked protection. Just like Shamhat: fragile as a leaf. Or, rather, it had had a shell on its back at least, like a dragon-turtle. That hadn’t helped it when it was upright, though.

He needed more information. And, honestly, he needed sustenance too.

A few mouthfuls gave him insight. The flesh tasted wrong, rotten almost, much as the Seer’s had, and the insights in question were of the same unfocused quality as most dragons, if not worse - but they told him that more such things wandered down here, devouring whatever they could find and subsisting on toxic fluids that burned even their mouths to consume. And humans from above came, killed them, took them away… no wonder its first thought was to attack. Its life had been a piteous one, and its death had come from something it couldn’t comprehend as different from whatever else antagonised it.

It gave him some idea of where to go to examine Qal’Asurah further, though. This, clearly, was the standard of its depths, albeit this particular corridor presented an unusually-remote space; presumably, those further up would be less burdened by such awful conditions that they had to devolve to survive. And to move up, he could either climb again, fighting to ground level once again - or, more reliably, find humans to “capture” him, and hope that they represented the least ethical of the city’s populace. Between the two options, the latter seemed like it’d be faster.

Even that might take time. But then, time was no issue.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Jeddaven
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Soleilville Outskirts, 0300 hours local time

“Do you think there'll be anything left to drink?” The eager, youthful voice of Celeste sounded - - even now, bereft of any hint of defeatism, hopelessness, or even just a healthy dollop of resignation. Her dirty, blonde hair seemed to shimmer in the dim lumens around them, highlighting the grease across her face in thin smallers, all capped off by kind, emerald eyes.

It made sense, in a way. They were on the cusp of a great victory, indeed -- one that could finally end the decades-long revolution she may as well have been destined to join -- but the rumbling, groaning contraption she found herself stuck in felt more and more like a moving coffin the closer her squad got to its destination.

“Maybe. If our comrades are decent folk, they'll save at least a couple bottles for their glorious saviors, “ the giant laughed, earning a brief snort from the quiet old-looking woman sitting across from her. She cracked a small smile, struggling to focus on her speech through the low, grinding rumble echoing all throughout the assault drill around them. Even with ear protection, the din was practically deafening - - so much so that Charlotte questioned whether there'd be any hearing left to protect once the lumbering vehicle finally emerged from beneath its target. To call it an assault drill, really, was improper, for the contraption had been jury-rigged together from mining drills, discarded blast door plating, and dozens of hand-held meltacutters long ago. Hardly ideal for its designated task, the rig was, nonetheless, just adequate enough, and in a scrappy rebellion, that was often the best one could hope for. Now was hardly an exception.

Her comment earned a handful of chuckles from her comrades, too; quiet and sombre, but no less genuine, brought down by the distinct awareness that many of them weren’t likely to make it out of their upcoming mission alive. And yet, if they did...

If we make it back,” Elvire warned, furrowing her wrinkled brow together as if to further make evident her disappointment -- assuming her gruff voice hadn’t already. In truth, in spite of her appearance, she wasn’t all that much older than Celeste -- half a decade, perhaps a year or two more. “but that’s all the more reason to hope, eh? After all, what... We’ve got a point-woman granted to us by the gods above!” She smirked, casting her arms toward the sky hidden far above them, as if in prayer.

“Gods don’t traffic in machines!” Charlotte retorted, a distant, wistful look passing across her face. “...But I suppose I never told all of you how that happened, did I? I mean, the parts that I remember,” she hummed, idly drumming her fingers against her knee. “I think, as far as I do remember it, it all began when I awoke in that pod, and all I saw was fire...”




All the child could think to do was scream and cry. She didn’t remember where she was, much less how she got there -- only the increasingly painful heat of something outside of her confines, if past the invisible shield in front of her face, seemingly refusing to part in spite of the fact that it didn’t make any sense. It wasn’t there! It was invisible! It didn’t exist, and yet...

Whatever it was barred the child from leaving her body, and the door into it from opening.

The prison groaned and creaked, as if aching. As if it, too, was in pain. Was it alive, perhaps? A friend, trying to protect the child from whatever was outside that made it hurt so? That thought made the child cry even louder, sobs creeping toward a crescendo. She scarcely understood what a friend was, but she did comprehend, at least, that the idea of someone protecting them being hurt was simply wrong, as if she instinctively understood that was her purpose. Wailing and sobbing desperately, she smacked her fists against the invisible barrier, over and over, all while the flames crept closer, and the barrier, straining under the weight piled atop it, began to crack, spiderweb-like shapes spreading throughout it.

The infant primarch was moments away from dying, and there wasn't a thing she could do to save herself.

Suddenly, a dull, grinding sound cut through the roar of the flames - - treads, carrying something heavy across the rock tunnels surrounding the superhuman child. Beneath the industrial din, she could make out the faint sound of hurried shouting, noises that seemed vaguely familiar yet which she couldn't even begin to comprehend, and then...

FWOOOOOOSH!

A powerful jet of water shot through the rubble piled atop her pod, so forceful it managed to push its way through the tiny, suffocating gaps between the stones, forcing them apart. The murky liquid flooded the space above her, extinguishing roaring fires that were mere moments away from burning her alive in mere moments. The child felt a sense of relief wash over her as the deadly heat began to fade, the din of voices outside refusing to abate. Soon, the rocks, too, began to shift, shafts of dim lumen-light peeking through cracks above her opened by whatever was shifting the rubble out of the way. Another grinding sound replaced the noise of treads, followed by artificial beeps and chirps, and then, finally, a large, metallic claw visibly shifted one of the boulders just above her out of the way.

The voices grew louder, more frantic; some even laughed as if in disbelief. As the last pile of debris was shoved out of the way by some strange, flat, mechanical blade, Charlotte saw a multi-coloured array of sensors stare down at her from atop a long, telescoping arm, an array of cutting tools and other strange devices at the end.




“... And you remember all of that?” Celeste asked, raising an incredulous eyebrow. Her visored helmet sat lazily between her lap, emblazoned with a handful of mostly vulgar Franchish phrases . “I can't remember anything from when I was a little kid. I mean, a little -- like that time I cut my hand open on machinery I can’t remember the name of and my father had to try to stick it up while I screamed and flailed like a woman gone mad...”

Charlotte gave a lazy, casual shrug in reply, pausing to chew her lip in thought. “I remember the crash, too.” She admitted, sharply sucking in air through her I mean- seeing Francia from high above, way up in the sky, rocketing down through the atmosphere... I still don't know how I got here, and I don't know if I ever will, but it doesn't take a genius to look at how massive I am and how I got here to figure out that someone cooked me up in a lab and sent me here, for... One reason or another.”

“... Not to mention, that pod you were in somehow survived smashing through the atmosphere and into a uranium mine. Considering how many metres deep those things are, I’m still surprised your tiny little pod didn’t vaporise on impact, much less protect you well enough for you to survive the experience. Almost seems like magic. ” Elvire hissed, as if feeling the pain of the impact through Charlotte, before, leaning back into her flimsy harness.

“... Yeah. Almost.” Charlotte replied, slowly shaking her head. “Feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?”
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Hidden 2 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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The unenlightened would have believed that a forge or a hive was merely a collection of machines. A series of buildings and nothing more. But those that knew better understood that such places had a life of their own. All one needed to do was listen and they could hear the thoughts and feelings of such machinery and hallowed locations… and if you were really good, you could speak with them.

It was hard for Rik to describe the state of Forge Delta in a manner that could be truly comprehended by others. Sure, he could give an analysis of the damaged and corrupted systems he had found so far and it would be easy to show just how intense the cleansing and repair work was going to be, but actually explaining what it was like to stalk its passages and rooms…

The closest Rik could put into words to be understood by someone else was that Forge Delta was like an impossibly large canine filled with other, smaller canines that had all been neglected, abused and riddled with parasites. It had once been treated with love and kindness and even now parts of it remembered human touch but… most of it had not been so fortunate. Delta was in absolute agony and had been for a long time. The pain and abuse was all many parts remembered or knew.

If Forge Delta had been a biological creature, Rik would have moved to put it down. A tragic fate to be sure but… to leave it to suffer would have been unforgivable to him. However, the machine was superior to flesh for a reason and the damage could be undone and repaired… but sacrifices would have to be made for the forge to recover and be rehabilitated.

Pain and fury had driven a number of programs and machines utterly feral, lashing out mindlessly at any target that presented itself. Some could and would be rehabilitated, but others were simply too far gone to save. Despite their future grim fate, Rik could still made use of them in the short term; Many greenskins had met their righteous end during Rik’s culling via the very programs and machines they had enslaved and mistreated for years.

While Rik’s purge was still ongoing, having moved from the areas that could be monitored to the blind spots and hidden spaces between areas, he had made sure to send out a message to his people that Forge Delta had largely been secured and was in the clean up stages. It had been days since he had started the reconquest… and it would be days still till he felt confident enough in the progress of cleansing and repair to risk sleep. But for a few moments after the message was sent out and reinforcements were on the way, Rik allowed himself to close his eyes and just… listen.

The forge was still in pain. It was still sick, riddled with parasites and the waste they had left behind. Not to mention it was going to be some time for it to recover. But in this moment… For the first time in decades, it wasn’t actively being tortured. For the first time in decades, despite the pain it could see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that the worst was over.

For just a moment, Rik allowed himself to hear the collective machine spirit of Forge Delta… and it was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking.
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The Fabricator General looked at the orbital picture of Mars. Great stacks of smoke were visible from orbit. Which in fact, was incredibly good news. It meant that the planet was no longer glowing in space from all the fires and weapon signatures that the de-escalating conflict once made. Emotion as the barbarians on earth merely a few million kilometres away understood it, was not something that the Mechanicum went through. Fear was nonexistent to them. But self-preservation instinct - which in practical terms was more or less the same thing - ensured that sufficient threat to the life or at least prosperity of every Magos that kept the conflict going meant they would instantly back out of partisanship.

Years had passed now since the first shots were fired, and yet deaths were in the thousands on a daily basis. Of course, most of them were of more or less irrelevant populations. Combat servitors, a few lesser members of the tech-guard, some menials and industrial servitors in edge cases. But this didn’t denigrate a simple fact. Even this level conflict that could eventually be ignored once repairs were done was absolutely intolerable. The fact was that for Salkor, relative peace and order had been the main selling point of his reign. If said peace and order was unable to return then that would mean that he couldn’t deliver on a key part of why his occupancy of his office was accepted and slowly, encrypted lines on the noosphere would carry messages inquiring about who might replace him, and once some likely candidates were established they would begin to discuss how they might replace him.

But though his efforts had gone far, they weren’t enough. Even without abundant weapons and munitions still the schismatic halves of the Electro-Priest orders were fighting on with what individuals they could influence, and their own ranks. It was like a gang-war in old terra at this point, and yet still disruptive. Worst of all, even if these fighters could also be made to stand down the hatred intensified by this war would be no less present and inflamed. If he didn’t manage to do something to put these disparate parties into some meaningful reconciliation or at the very least a truce they were genuine in an effort to honour then he would see a resumption of this conflict in a few hundred years. Worse yet, they will have gotten wise to his method of abridging this conflict and will have decentralized or better obscured their suppliers of armaments.

A great difficulty to Salkor in ending this was that he didn’t actually care about the theological variance between the fulgurites and corpuscarii. As far as he was concerned it was meaningless, semantic, their positions tautologically equivalent. While it meant he was personally not dragged into their conflict it also meant he struggled to propose anything to end their conflict.

What could he really do though? Both sides simply demanded unconditional surrender to the other on the basis of acknowledging their own wrongness in the matter of truth of the Omnissiah’s will. What negotiations could be had when neither side was willing to consider even a microscopic bit of compromise?

This was also hardly the first crisis he had to attend to either. For one, members of the Martian Parliament had to be replaced after it was revealed to the public they had partaken of the war, or in a few tragic cases they had died be it because they had partaken, or inversely they had refused to do so. Unsurprisingly, all of their assemblies were now done through vox links with not a single one attending in person. While functionally no difference was had apart from a few lost nanoseconds due to transmission mediums, it had shown staggering disunity on Mars if its leaders were willing to abandon such hallowed tradition.

Depending on how one looked at it, there was also a more pressing issue. Thousands of augurs had relayed quite worrisome data from Terra. Thousands of probes and listening posts throughout the solar system gave a relatively accurate representation of the geopolitical situation on Earth. It was now well known that the disparate polities of mankind’s homeworld were one by one being absorbed under one banner. This alone wouldn’t raise any mechanical eyebrows. After all, any past attempts to re-unite terra inevitably failed once more as industrial, infrastructural, and resource bottlenecks were hit that made the maintenance of their Empire impossible, and as they inevitably died there would be nothing holding their realm together. But this new regime was different. Their warriors were far more technically advanced than the rabble of the rest of Earth, but even more importantly this advancement was consistent and standardized rather than being some fluke of briefly unearthed archaeotech.

They were also lead competently, their master clearly not in some raving lunacy or constant hedonistic and debauched consumption of mind altering substances. Shrouded in mystery, and at the same time known by all his subjects this self proclaimed Emperor could if left unchecked and given free reign to continue his progress make a serious threat to Mars.

The issue was that nobody could truly agree on what to do. Many Forges insisted that Earth simply be struck by the most potent weapons of the Martian arsenal. But the response to this was twofold. One, many believed this to be sacrilege given the amount of yet unfound archaeotech on Terra. Two, an almost defeatist position was held by some where it was believed that these Terrans had already managed to constitute a sufficiently advanced state that they would have erected means to defend from an attempt at extermination from the stars.

In some sense, the brief civil war was thus a test by the Omnissiah, a trial before the greater one that the Earthlings might pose. This very same trial bore reward now it was passed, for thousands of manufactorums across the red planet were already on a war footing, and great forces were already mobilized. While this state of affairs couldn’t continue forever and was thus partially wound down, it still ensured that Martian weapon stocks were full and forces beyond count.

This was all of course a redundancy. The terrans didn’t have the fleet to properly invade Mars, any ships they managed to erect would be destroyed before they could even disgorge the invaders within. But, this militarization of the Machine Cult would serve as a deterrent against the people of this nascent Empire even attempting to so much as mildly inconvenience the Martian people.

Still, there was something of a premonition. Navigators and Astropaths alike spoke of a changing of eras, and the little part of flesh and blood that remained within him knew this too as an undeniable fact. The Fabricator General liked to quiet this inferior part of himself by saying it was due to merely a reaction to the war of the electro priests. Yet, the rational, the logical part knew that this was self-deception. The much younger Salkor would have appreciated the irony in the meat being more objective, more sensible than the machine. Now, he could only sense concern.

He couldn’t tell why, but he knew this would not end well.
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Pentious was declared to be officially back under human control with surprisingly little fanfare. Even as Rik had launched his one man assault on Forge Delta, the militant forces of the machine cult marched on the last remaining forge held by the greenskins in order to drive them out at long last. The assault wasn’t as one sided as the purge of Forge Delta, but human ingenuity, industry and cold, logical hatred of the ork invader and everything they stood for carried the day all the same.

The lack of fanfare could be attributed to a number of causes. Reclaiming both of the lost forges revealed the full extent of the damage that had been done and the sheer scale of the repairs that needed to be undertaken was daunting, if a duty to be taken with grim resolve all the same. Already the logistics for such work was being worked on with the dedication of the faithful restoring defiled but reclaimed holy sites.

Other hinderances towards what would have otherwise be a joyous day were related to the fact that the war with the orks wasn’t over yet. They had been driven from the forges, denying the greenskined wretches access to vast amounts of technology, industrial power and the strongest strongholds on the planet… but there was still plenty of tribes remaining on the planet. Pentious was still infested with orks, but now it was only a matter of time and effort to be rid of them for good.

Pentious was still at war. People were still going to die in the days to come. But for the first time since the orks had slammed themselves into the ground with their crudely repurposed asteroid ships, a true human victory was finally in view. An end of the war in which humanity remained as the dominant and only power on Pentious was starting to dawn, and while it wasn’t the time to celebrate yet, high morale surged through blood, wire and circuit all the same.
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