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The Planalto Hive, Hy Brasil

Costas Residence, Outer Spire, Upper Reach


There had been whispers of a man traveling through the high spires of the Planalto. It had been whispered that he came with promises of wealth beyond measure and influence to stretch far into a family's future. They said he had promised, that a new world was just beyond the horizon. All one had to do to suckle at his claimed infinite fount was to give the man one’s firstborn daughter. Miguel had laughed these frivolous claims off. They were nothing but the wives' tales told between the bored and the unhappy among the wealthy circles of the Planalto. A man traveling around offering wealth and power beyond what they already possessed? And all one had to do was give up a child? Nonsense.

Or so he had thought.

“Lord Costas, there is a… visitor for you.”

Miguel tore his concentration from the scrolling text of manufactorum output and shipping manifests to wave a dismissive hand at the servant, “At this hour? Nothing but brigands and thieves, peddlers in the night. Send him away from the gates.”

“He will not leave, and he is not at the gates, Lord.”

Miguel reeled at the tone of his servant, a man of some forty Terran years, all of it in loyal service to the Costas Family, rebuking him for the first time in his lifelong service.

“Lower your tone Sandova--” Miguel stood suddenly, his hand tearing open a drawer at his desk and pulling a masterfully crafted laspistol from within, “What do you mean he’s not at the gates?”

His servant hesitated a moment, looked behind himself, and shirked from the doorway without a word. Miguel raised his laspistol squarely at the open space.

“You shall not find me there,” a voice as rich as honey called quietly from a darkened corner of Miguel’s study.

Miguel spun in place, his laspistol spitting iridescent bolts into the darkness that had spoken to him. He stopped shooting only once the laspistol fizzled at every trigger pull. His eyes struggled to adjust in the dark, the flickering flames from books and tomes he had ignited with his wild shots only heightening the length of the shadows cast about his study.

There was a whisper of the wind to his side, and Miguel felt the presence of a being too immense for him to not have noticed earlier simply appear at his side. He felt the armored hand, far larger than any human should possess, close completely over his shoulder. He sat back down in his chair at the gentle insistence of the intruder, the laspistol slipping from his fingers as he keyed the silent alarm in the chair's armrest.

“It makes no difference, I have silenced all communication within the premises,” the intruder spoke before, finally, Miguel could see him.

“H--- How did you?” Miguel sputtered as he felt himself sink further into his chair at the sight of the being before him. Armored from head to toe in an impressive, if not overly indulgent golden plate, Miguel could see no exposed skin of the massive being from his quick, if not completely terrified, once-over.

The being shifted, the weight on Miguel’s shoulder easing as the golden giant walked around the front of the desk. “Unimportant, Miguel Jose Costas, what is important is that you listen to me as though everything you and your ancestors have built hangs in the balance,” the armored giant stopped squarely in front of Miguel and stood unnervingly still. Miguel felt as though he wished to disappear as he stared at the emotionless red lenses of the giant's helmet.

“Your family, your legacy. Everything that you and the countless Costas’ before you have toiled for, has led you to this exact moment Miguel,” the giant spoke through the helmet’s vox amplifier, though Miguel could not recognize any distortion from the device, a masterwork lost even to the technocrats of Planalto, “it has led you, to me.”

Miguel choked on his own spit, coughed for a moment, and with wild eyes searched the flat plate of the giant for any sign that he was dreaming, “To you…?” he eked out, sweat stinging at his eyes.

“Correct, Lord Costas, to me,” the giant gave him a nod of approval, “I am here to decide the fate of your lofty house, to offer you a place at the side of the Master of Mankind, and to secure the future of your lauded family in the golden age that approaches sooner than you know.”

Miguel felt his breath catch in his throat as the rich voice of the golden giant spoke the name of the tyrant halfway across the planet, “You come from the Imperials…” he stated as much for himself as for the golden statue of armor before him, “to decide my fate…?”

“Just so,” the giant agreed, “I am Amaranthus Gallus, Custodian of the Emperor of Mankind, and judge of all you hold dear.”

Miguel felt the weight of the words pressing in at his psyche. The overwhelming threat of destruction that the Custodian before him represented would have been enough to drive a lesser man mad. Miguel, with great effort, sat himself a little straighter in his chair. “I am listening, Custodian.”

The Custodian took a step away from the desk, satisfied with the little lord's answer, and began to walk about the study with steps far too quiet for the elaborate suit of armor he wore.

“My Master claims glory across the globe, he unites our disparate tribes into a cohesive whole once more,” the Custodian stopped to inspect a number of books on the shelves as he spoke, “he will not remain across the globe for long, Lord Costas,” Miguel watched as his gauntleted fingers plucked a book from the shelves and began to turn through the pages, “It is here, right now, that you must make the most important decision of your life.”

Miguel watched as the Custodian turned O Príncipe, by the 15th-century histographer Matcheveley, his lips going dry at the sight of the book.

“My Master will arrive here, and Hy Brasil will bend the knee, or it will burn. But the end will be the same, this land and its people will be united under his rule. Would you be ground to dust, or rebuilt anew in His light, Miguel Jose Costas?”

Miguel searched for the words to answer the Custodian, struggling to form coherent sentences in his mind as he felt his soul was being bored into by the red lenses of the Custodian.

“Is it as simple as a promise? As my word that I would join your Master?” Miguel stammered unevenly.

The Custodian shut the book and placed it neatly back in its exact spot on the shelf. “There is one condition,” the Custodian began before his helmet turned to face the doorway.

“Who is that Daddy?”

Miguel turned, his heart shattering at the sight of his daughter in the study doorway, “A friend, Clara, now go back to sleep.”

The Custodian watched as the child disappeared from the doorway and only seemed to speak once it was clear the girl was gone.

“It is a small price to pay, Costas.”

“I couldn’t, it’s beyond my ability to give.”

“Nonsense, it’s well within your right, to secure your future, and hers in the annals of history.”

“It’s unconscionable.”

“It’s what is right.”

Miguel felt fire in his belly, for the first time since he had dropped the laspistol he yearned to strike back against the unstoppable intruder, “You take from me my very heart, for what? Leverage? A hostage for your Emperor’s game?”

The Custodian didn’t seem to react behind his stoic helmet, only shaking his head lightly at the outburst.

“We will forge anew what you give to us. She will be perfected, she will outlive all you hold dear well beyond what you could ever imagine possible. Ten thousand years from now, she will walk amongst the stars and stand side by side with our greatest achievements, a perfect representation of all that humanity can be. And you, Lord Costas, will be nothing but dust. Yet your family will remain, by your sacrifice.”

Miguel could find no words. He slumped back in his chair and sighed, only a small whimper escaping his lips as he nodded in defeat to the golden giant. There was no survival here without the giant's blessing. He felt tears well in his eyes and keyed a personal vox that surprisingly crackled to life on the desk before him.

“Bring Clara back to my study, there is someone she must meet.”


[Undisclosed Location]
[Deep Beneath the Himalazian Mountains]


There should be some sort of grand pronouncement at things like this.

At least, that’s how the histories always wrote them down. The Director shifted uneasily as she looked over the final report for the… she had lost track of how many times she had read it. Everything seemed correct, but far from feeling the triumph of success the scientist kept searching for a flaw, some error that she had missed earlier. She didn’t dare to let herself have hope anymore. But…

It was undeniable. The two children, vat-bred and flash-grown from her own genetic stock, had passed every preliminary test and screening she and the rest of the Biotechnical Division could devise. They were perfect, or at least as close to perfect as any human could ever become. It was them, or cancel the project entirely.

With a deep, bone-weary, sigh, Amar Astarte stood from her desk and prepared for surgery. Distantly, suppressed, the glory hound that lived in the heart of every great genius mused upon the words she would use to usher in a new era of human history, the thoughts flashing by as she reflexively went through the motions. She had done the procedure enough times now after all.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds flashed into her mind as the boy and girl were sedated.

Too trite. Long overused by generations of madmen unleashing their newest weapon. Besides, these were meant to be more than a weapon.

She paused at that last thought, hands covered in soapy water. Did she still believe it? Did she trust any one of his promises? She had to. It was the only way.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End intruded upon her as the first of the artificial organs were being implanted in the girl’s chest cavity.

Better, but too aspirational. She wasn’t playing God. A frown crossed her face, hidden by her mask, as she looked down at the organ in her hand. Secondary heart, the simplest and easiest of implants. Very low rejection probability. Most of her assistants in the operating theater - failures, all, for so few could be trusted with this most sensitive of tasks - had one beating in their chests, placed there by her own hand.

Perhaps she was playing God. Then again, what did that make those who had commissioned this great work? The heart beat its first beat as she was lost in her musings, her body having carried on with the task without her. The work was good, flawless even. How many of these had she implanted? There was a record with the exact number. She decided she didn’t want to know.

I am He who protects you for millions of years took months for her to remember, the woman thinking of it as she sliced open the boy’s brain. The full-production models would rest years in between the surgeries, but the prototypes didn’t have such a luxury.

The thought was better, she decided, seizing upon the distraction as she took the occulobe in hand. That was the point of all of this, wasn’t it? To create protectors. But that did really mean robbing those chosen of their childhoods, their lives? She stopped, letting out a shaky breath as she pulled her hands back and gave the implant to one of her gene-lineage. She couldn’t work, not like this. The failures could continue the surgery.

Her mind did not intrude again. The thirst for fame fled from her thoughts, chastised, knowing that it had almost brought about failure. The remaining surgeries went as planned, the Director icy-eyed and unfazed as she butchered the pair. She needed the focus more and more as they proceeded, as the two proved themselves capable of withstanding what was done to them. There were far fewer successes with each step further she took after all.

Until, at last, she was upon the greatest and final desecration. Flaying the girl, for there was little else that could be said of the procedure, and piecing the skin back together again with the grotesque black layer now laid beneath.

Like clay I shall mold them.

The thought wasn’t hers, of course, but then again none of them had been. That ate at her, somewhat, that at the precipice of her triumph, she could only think of the ancient prayers of long-dead religions. But this wasn’t one of those either. No. This was his.

“They shall be my finest warriors, these men who give themselves to me,” she whispered to herself as she grafted on the last of the plates. “Like clay I shall mold them and in the furnace of war forge them. They will be of iron will and steely muscle. In great armor shall I clad them and with the mightiest guns will they be armed. They will be untouched by plague or disease, no sickness will blight them. They will have tactics, strategies and machines such that no foe can best them in battle.” By now she had moved on to suturing up the mess of skin she had created, hiding the horror she had unleashed upon the two - they were no longer children, no matter the age attached to them.

“They are my bulwark against the Terror,” Amar continued in a stronger voice, the heads of the failures turning towards her quizzically as she turned off the drip of sedative to the warriors she had forged.

“They are the Defenders of Humanity,” she recited, nearing the end of the charge that he had set down when this project had begun so many long years ago. The Director took a shaking step back away from her work as a rebellious part of her prayed that these two, unlike so many before, would wake.

“They are my Space Marines and they shall know no fear,” the Director said with a confidence she did not feel as stimulants began to flow into the pair’s blood.

Two pairs of eyes flashed open.




The echo of boots clicking along the floor vied for supremacy over the sounds of hissing mechanical arms and chattering cogitator banks. The place was alive with the actions of several hundred white-suited scientists working tirelessly in the cold sterility of the lab. They spun liquids in glass beakers, moved pipettes of unknown organics across Petri dishes, focused magnometers, and clicked away at archaic cogitators of immense power. Between them, scientists with red stripes running vertically down one side of their sterile suits from their shoulders crossed from station to station, their hands writing ceaselessly at the dataslates they held.

Above it all, Aria Allectus watched through the armorglass windows and floor of her office. She had the best view in the entire facility, her circular office set high above the laboratory floor allowing her an unimpeded view of every workstation. She could pull information from any cogitator bank or workstation she gazed at with her implanted optical augmetics, monitoring the progress of the hundreds under her charge with ease. Few things unsettled her here, in her domain, at the forefront of scientific advancement. But the being standing in her office unsettled her beyond words.

“The cultivation goes with only minor issues, th---”

“Minor issues?” the voice rumbled, rich and low at Aria’s choice of words.

“Minor issues, Lord-Tribune, when the stocks were lost to us---”

“A temporary setback, Assistant Director Allectus, we will bring the stocks back into our embrace soon enough. For now, you must make do with what you have, no matter these setbacks.”

Aria gulped, hoping that the Custodian before her couldn’t sense her fear, but knowing all too well that he could. “Of course, of course. My people are working as efficiently as possible,” she eyed a cogitator bank on the far side of the vast space below her and pulled up the scrolling information within it, the information projecting onto one of the windows of her office as she did, “In fact, we are operating at 137% efficiency, the cogitators provided to us from the Terrawatt Clans have raised our numbers significantly and my Floor Leaders tell me they expect a further increase by the close of next year.”

Tribune Sachiel, resplendent in the golden armor and fine filigree of his station, nodded in approval as he took in the data in what Aria could assume was less than a heartbeat.

“Fine work, Assistant Director Allectus, the Emperor will be proud no doubt,” he paused, turning his head to face Aria as he took a step across the room, “but you must do better.”

“Better, Lord-Tribune?”

“Better. The Sigillite foresees the need for your work far sooner than anticipated, and the Emperor agrees. Show me then, that we can meet His request beyond doubt.”

Aria nodded to the Lord-Tribune and scooped up her dataslate from her desk. She motioned for the Custodian to follow despite knowing she did not need to, and made her way through a hissing autodoor and into a brightly lit hallway. The walls were roughly hewn bedrock, sterilized, and hermetically sealed by engineers long ago, but they had the peculiar look of glistening rock at all times despite the humidity in the entire facility being zero. She brushed past the lingering thought and made a quick pace through the halls with the Custodian close behind.

“Lord-Tribune, might I ask, why the timeline is being accelerated?”

The Custodian, keeping easy pace with the far smaller Assistant Director, nodded as his voice rolled through the corridor in step with them, “Ursh makes inroads in Europa, threatening Franc and Albion as we delay here.”

Aria listened intently as she walked, soaking in the information from the world outside her aseptic halls and security doors.

“We have achieved much, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Nordafrik Conclaves bow to us, and the central Steppes our the Emperor’s as they should be,” the Custodian gave a nod to a fellow Custodian standing before a massive security door to their front.

Aria stopped as an automatic security scan quickly read the pair's biometrics before releasing a set of heavy interior locks from within the door ahead of them. She gave an uneasy smile to the Custodian Guard before it, grateful to warrant such protection but well aware that they served as both protector and goaler here. The groaning of the behemoth of a door filled the hall as it rolled along its track into the recesses of the wall, pulling her focus away from the demigod and back to her task at hand. She stepped through the doorway into a new hall, she noted the auto-turrets tracking only her as the Tribune walked alongside her down a long causeway suspended over a seemingly never-ending abyss.

“So Ursh forces our hand? Can the first of the gene-wrought truly not handle Ursh?” she asked carefully.

“The Legiones Cataegis make a game of the conquest He leads. They accomplish their task well, but there is a need for reinforcement, Assistant Director. Stable reinforcement. Reinforcement that can be sent into our own territory is desperately needed, foul magicks are unleashed in our conquered cities as we march on toward victory, and the Thunder Warriors are not the proper instrument to deal with these incursions, lest we leave our hives and manufactorums devoid of life and purpose.”

“Of course,” Aria agreed, well aware that the Thunder Warrior’s ranks had been left to dwindle for longer than she cared to admit.

Another biometric scan and a lifetime of security checks later and the pair were finally at the final destination. An observation unit, large enough for some fifty people, looked down on an operating theater in all its aseptic glory on one side of the room. On the opposite side, shuddered windows overlooked an unknown room.

“The Director has been busy, I apologize if it seemed a purposeful slight to you, Lord-Tribune,” she bowed her head in deference as she stepped toward the windows of the observation unit, “but I have received word that we have finally had the success you so push for.”

“Survival?”

“More than survival, Lord-Tribune,” she turned her gaze to the two subjects, still strapped down to their operating tables with fluid lines and archaic constructs running from their flesh, and smiled as she noticed their eyes searching the room.

“Space Marines.”

Tribune Sachiel did not seem to share Aria’s awe at the sight before him, turning away in what she could only assume was frustration.

“Only two, they will not be pleased with this progress, the Director must be aware.”

Aria smiled, tapping a key on her dataslate as she spoke, “Two Space Marines, Lord-Tribune yes,” the security shudders began to slide away from the windows on the opposite side of the room, revealing a new room beyond.

“With a hundred thousand more well on the way,” she smiled.
The shudders rose quickly, revealing a room beyond full of growth vats. Myriad organs floated suspended within liquid solutions, monitors reading critical data by the millisecond, in some of the vats, far in the distance of the expansive room, floated humanoid figures. She motioned toward the center of the room, wreathed in cryogenic frost and surrounded by mist, and stood twenty massive edifices, like the sarcoffagi of the Gyptian Kings of old.

“137% efficiency,” she stated proudly, “We are ready, at present, for the implantation of forty-four thousand subjects.”

“Forty-four thousand Space Marines,” Tribune Sachiel corrected with a hint of a smile.
Ixhun



The stink of death permeated the air, a sharp smell of iron that filled Cuauhtl’s head with a dizzying uncertainty as he turned the corner of the passageway. He found himself witness to a charnel house of slaughter, the inner sanctum of the temple desecrated with the bodies and life-blood of its keepers. He ducked under a rope of intestine stretched from wall to wall, its owner's face contorted in a final scream of agony from where he was impaled some three meters up the side of the wall. He slipped as he crept forward, his footing giving way atop a worryingly soft object as the world tilted ninety degrees and pain filled the back of his head.

He scrambled to right himself, his hands sliding across the blood-soaked stones of the sanctum as he hauled himself back to his feet. He wretched, viscous fluid dripping from his hands and knees as he continued his slow movement toward the far end of the sanctum.

Cuauhtl gasped as he approached the sanctum’s pedestal, the haze of the room shifting before him to reveal the tortured form of one of the temple’s keepers strung above the flat surface of the holy altar. He gagged again, the sight of the keeper with their ribs spread wide and their innards missing causing the young boy to swallow down bile in the back of his throat as he inched past the sight.

He stopped dead in his tracks as he heard movement above him. With bated breath he turned his head upwards, following a streak of dried blood up the wall to an overhanging piece of mason work. It was there that his gaze locked eyes with the crazed eyes of the Easterner. The man, crouching on the outcropping, smiled back at Cuauhtl with teeth filed to fine points.

Cuauhtl let out a surprised yell as the man leapt from above him, arms outstretched as if to hug the young boy. His feet carried him without thought from where he stood. He slid into a wall at the far side of the chamber, his hands slamming into the cool stone as he propelled himself down a small hallway and toward the dying light of dusk.

He could hear the feral shrieks from the Easterner gaining on him as he sprinted down the passage, the guttural vocalizations of an animal gaining on him alarmingly fast.

The young man exploded out of the passage and into a new hell entirely. He had only a moment to take in the sight of the death of his home, the fires leaping into the night sky, the silhouettes of bodies on spikes atop the city walls, the feral chanting of the Easterners, the shadow of a savage standing before him.

He slammed into the shadow, his body careening around as he twisted from the impact. He hit the dirt and slid, dust filling his vision for a moment before he came to a stop. Laying there for a moment, staring at the night sky above him, he wondered how the Turquoise Prince could have abandoned him, abandoned his city. His thoughts were interrupted as the Easterner from within the temple sanctum took hold of his ankle and pulled.

Cuauhtl screamed, his fists coming up to beat uselessly on the feral man’s thighs as the Easterner knelt on the boy's chest and cackled like a jungle dog. The horrific stench death and decay of the Easterner brought tears to Cuauhtl’s eyes even as he beat at the man with all the might he could muster. He watched through cloudy vision as the Easterner raised a ritual knife above his head with a crazed grin on his face and could do nothing to stop the inevitable. He closed his eyes.

A crack followed, Cuauhtl gasped as he expected to feel his ribs torn from his chest and his heart ripped still beating to be offered to the moon, but he struggled to register such a horrific fate taking place. At once he realized that it had not.

His eyes shot open, clarity filling them as the head of the Easterner was pulled clean from its body in a gout of dark blood. The savage he had ran into stood behind the Easterner’s body, a small hand, no bigger than his own, rested lightly on the Easterner’s shoulder propping up the lifeless body without effort as the savage, no, the girl, studied the head she held before her face.

“Thank the Turquoise Prince,” Cuauhtl whispered as he the girl tossed the head into the darkness with disinterest, followed by a simple shove to remove the Easterner’s body without effort from atop Cuauhtl, “We must leave this place, run west towa---.”

The girl mounted Cuauhtl just as the Easterner had, except that she was far stronger than the man had been. His eyes rested on the vacant brown eyes of the girl as she studied him now. A hand came down to the side of his cheek, and he felt his heart quicken faster than it had even as he ran for his life just moments earlier. Cold sweat beaded along his forehead as the girl's fingers traced the curve of his jawline, and he felt too hot as her fingers came to rest lightly around his neck.

“Please…” he whimpered as he felt the fingers tighten.

His mind began to slip as the fingers dug deep into the skin of his neck, uncomfortable pressure turning to pain as he felt things within his throat shift to unnatural positions. Warmth spread between his legs. Tears leaked down his face. The pressure released. The weight on his chest disappeared.

He choked for air, his throat ablaze as he greedily sucked in breath. A voice rang out from above him.

“Take us west,” it said, the voice that carried them as sweet as honey, “I will protect you, I promise.”

He felt his heart drop in his stomach as he opened his eyes to find the girl standing over him, those lilting words spilling from her lips. She was lit now by the growing fires around them, and he was more terrified at that promise than he had ever been of anything in his life. The surety with which it was delivered twisted his guts into a knot, and he struggled to calm himself as he stared at the girl as firelight danced over her face before him. Her eyes were too knowing for her age, and her features so unconcerned as a city died around her that he felt nausea well inside him. But even more than these things, he was terrified that he had seen this all come to pass in fever dreams and nightmares, since as long as he could remember he had dreamt of this terrifyingly beautiful being standing over him, and he had seen what was to come next. He prayed to wake.


We've gone ahead and talked over the CS, so here's our ruling.

In no uncertain terms, the only Blanks we are comfortable with the Null League having are those five (5) of the ruling class. Any other Blanks within the Null League are to be so weak they are unobservable and unrecognizable from a standard human, and function as standard humans. There will be no city of Blanks or Psi-Dense individuals.

Second, it appears that this CS has been written without an understanding of what is currently going on IC, and as such it is stepping on the plans of another writer here that has already laid out story plots IC. Given the events that have already taken place, Albyon itself is short on the list of "despots needing to be removed" by the Imperium and is expected to be an open war front after the shortly-to-arrive time-skip. So, the Null League can not be in control of all of Albyon.

Finally, and this is important, the Null League does not appear to either of us to be compatible with the ambitions and direction of the Imperium as it stands. In short, we expect to have the Imperium stand opposed to the Null League. So it is important to understand that while you can write and play with them as you see fit, they are on the list of "to be overthrown" as far as the IC Imperium is concerned and will eventually cease to exist. There are a few player-made nations and characters opposed to the Imperium at this point, and another player-driven enemy to face off against would be a very welcome addition as it adds another layer of novelty to the enemies we all get to write about. I also have no doubt it will allow you as it's writer an interesting and engaging writing experience if you are willing to still write the Null League knowing this.

The Sun Child


A fog lifted over the mind of the infant, like a curtain pulling free from her eyes as she floated aimlessly in the confines of her world. She pressed a hand against the edge of all she knew, watched as the muscles in her hand and forearm tensed, undeniable strength pulsing beneath her too-small hand, and pushed herself away from it. Spinning in the opposite direction she had once been, she brought her other hand out and moved it slowly before her, the fluid surrounding her playing gentle lines through her vision as she made aimless hand motions.

Had she known of this before? Of her body? She opened and closed her fist as she swirled, brushed her fingertips against the edge of the world, and relished the sensation of the cold steel beneath her fingers. She was unsure of the answer to her own question, for she knew all about her body, but could not remember a time before that she had learned such things. She wondered a moment, for what had come before?

She could remember lights flashing through her world. A great flash like lightning, whatever lightning was, had filled her vision long ago, but how long? She had vague recollections of a multicolored world, strobing reds and pinks, purples and yellows. How did she know the names of these colors? She was unsure, but she knew that the edge of her world was white now, clean, sterile. These things she knew. Just as she knew the strobe of colors that had been her world for… she could not tell how long.

She thought about this now, felt her brow furrowed in concentration as she tried to remember. She grew frustrated. Why did she know what lightning was despite never seeing it before? Why did she know of colors and her own form? Why did she know the complete molecular structure of the edge of her world?

Her memory lagged behind her too fast mind as she attempted to decipher the passing of time in a timeless world. Becoming impatient, she began to wish for the scratching that had lulled her to sleep during that unknown time, she ached for the familiar tapping from outside her world.

She started in her fluid, her eyes opening wide as she spun herself on instinct, and found herself staring out into a world of soft yellows and vibrant greens. The window before her was scarred, as if a great tiger of ancient myth had been attempting to enter, but it did not bother the infant for she could see beyond just as well.

Her world, she decided, was not all there was to know. She could make out uncountable flora of unknown origin beyond her world. No, she knew better, for she knew some of these plants. Good. Her world had taught her something useful after all.

Her eyes narrowed as a pack of quadrupedal creatures darted, vaguely ape-like but with limbs that were far too long. Her mind did not remain on the creatures for long as she knew immediately that she wished to test herself against them.

The infant brought her hands to the glass, and recoiled as it lit up blue at her touch. Text scrolled across the window in long flowing lines. She felt her stomach churn as she took in the too-familiar characters and her mind swam as she suddenly found herself reading a language she knew disturbingly well.

XVII STATUS: VIABLE.
POD STATUS: UNHINDERED.
RECOMMEND: RECONNECT LIFE SUPPORT POD TO POWER SOURCE.
967.M30


Strange. Her world was only a fraction of the world out there, yet her world wished her to stay? She pondered it for a moment, pushed herself away from the window and allowed herself to float idly in the fluid she had known since forever. She liked her world. The warmth, the quiet peace, the safety of those sterile walls. Her eyes closed and she felt her consciousness slip away to something other than this newfound wakefulness, something more familiar to what had been before.

She woke with a jolt, hands scrabbling along the walls of her world with surprise as she twisted and spun in the fluid. Her hands steadied on the familiarity of the cold walls, and her hearts began to beat slower as she recognized the comfort of everything she knew. She wondered for a moment why she had awoken, and turned to her window.

Her hand brushed over the glass, noted the floral growth that now obscured her view of the unknown world beyond it, and focused her attention on the text as it scrolled by.

XVII STATUS: VIABLE.
POD STATUS: DETERIORATED.
RECOMMEND: IMMEDIATE RETRIEVAL OF XVII.
968.M30


The infant thought about these words far longer than the last time she had, and decided that they held no sway over her world. For how could they? She was comfortable, content. So there could be no issues with her world. The text was simply wrong. She allowed herself to slip away as she took comfort in her world once more.

The infant was torn from her sleep as her world evaporated around her. She screamed as the familiar liquid bubbled away and drained through previously unseen holes in her world. She hauled herself upright, her hands clasping at new edges in her world as she wretched vile colored liquid from her lungs.

She looked up to reach for her window, only to find it was gone. In fact, that entire side of her world was gone, laying some distance from where she sat now, the lower half of her body still within the only world she had ever known, while the upper half was in that world she had glimpsed when she had first gained understanding of herself. She stood up, the liquid of her world swirling around her feet as it drained by some unseen mechanism, and she took her very first breath of air. She turned her head slowly, surveying her new surroundings. Massive trees stretched into the sky, obscuring her view of what lay beyond. Vines hung low all around her. Smaller flowers and bushes grew along the earth. She knew this was known as a jungle, though she knew not how. Quietly she thanked her old world for this knowledge, and climbed down out of her pod.

Her feet sank into the unfamiliar world’s edge and she was surprised it was not solid like her old world’s edge. Her toes dug into the cool soil as she took a tentative step toward the edge of her world that had left her open to this unfamiliar new one. No, she knew this was a hatch, not the edge of a world, just a piece of machinery. She walked towards the hatch, noting the obvious signs of an explosive separation in the burn marks at its edges. She hoped dearly that the window still worked.

The infant knelt before the hatch. She ran her fingers anxiously along the window and breathed a sigh of relief as it lit up in that familiar blue.

She drank in the last text she would ever read from it.

XVII STATUS: VIABLE.
POD STATUS: COMPROMISED
RECOMMEND: REAWAKEN XVII. FREE XVII.
969.M30


XVII, that was her, she knew this now.

And so, XVII stood, a child alone in a new world.
Ixhun


The midday sun stood perfectly aligned above the massive pyramid of obsidian and limestone, the blazing ball of light and power reflecting dazzlingly off the massive edifice, the center of life in the city-state of Ocotepec.

The temple itself was an imposing pyramid made of finely hewn obsidian and limestone, the work of three generations of laborers and the finest artisans in recent memory. The obsidian stones were shining a deep purple in the glow of the afternoon sun, the dazzling effect serving only to highlight the great disparity between the color of the pyramid's finely carved four faces and that of its hazardously steep central staircase. An ominous streak of rusted brown wound its way down the white limestone steps from the flat top of the temple to the plaza below where it ended in stained stone.

“Our allies to the west leave us for dead!”

The wails of thousands of people washed over the plaza like a wave, an entire city mourning the words of their High Priest as he lamented atop the Temple of the Sun. Their cries were amplified in the plaza, the sounds bouncing off the surrounding lesser temples and structures before flowing out of the plaza into the greater sprawl of Ocotepec as a tumultuous wave of noise.

The sobbing masses ceased their lamentations at the wave of a hand from their High Priest, a single movement enough to sway the thousands in the plaza out of their distress and into utter silence. The High Priest stood, his elaborate headpiece of brightly colored feathers swaying in the soft breeze atop the pyramid’s top with the masses utterly enthralled by his gaze as he stood reticent before them.

“They believe us already lost! They believe that the Easterners will crest our walls and take out every last one of us to the blade!”

The crowd took up a furious howl at the horrible revelation they were being made to understand; that their allies had abandoned them.

“But they are wrong! For Ocotopec, for all of you, are stronger than they could ever understand!” the High Priest raised his hands in a sweeping motion across the crowd beneath him, “Our allies to the west do not understand our struggle! To them, the Easterners are a problem far from their walls! But to us! To us it is real!”

The crowd began to quiet as around them the shadows began to grow long. The dazzling intensity of the pyramid began to dull, the light dancing around as the Sun seemed to waver. Whispers began to pass through the crowd, a growing discontent at the sudden waning of the Sun.

The High Priest brought his hands up above him, reaching out toward the Sun with open palms, “Our Lord will protect us!” he began as the shadow of the moon began to cross in front of the blazing star, “He is always with us! He has not abandoned us!”

The crowd began to wail once more as the Sun’s light shined weaker and weaker, before plunging the whole of Ocotopec in twilight.

“Do not fear! He shall deliver us!” the Priest called out to the crowd as he brought a hand down to his heart in a dramatic display of emotion for the holy man.

The crowd had been quiet up until this point, but began now to call out in surprise as around them the world shifted from darkness to something far more sinister than the night. The obsidian pyramid, dark as the abyss began to glow a scarlet hue, the sickly red casting out from the pyramid in ever more vibrant reflections across the crowd as the source of the light seemed to grow in intensity.

There was a yell from one of the High Priest’s assistants atop the pyramid, and the retinue of holy men and soothsayers turned as one to face the source of the assistant’s distress.

Above the pyramid the moon seemed as though it had been split asunder by the appearance of a streaking red comet. The light from the pyramid glowed ever brighter as the comet seemed to creep across the sky of Ixhun, growing larger as it fell from the heavens.

The holy man attempted to take up some chant at his place atop the pyramid, a hymn of protection or deliverance perhaps, but his words were drowned out by the crowd as they called out in horror as the red comet streaked across the sky above them and disappeared over the eastern horizon.

As the comet disappeared the pyramid seemed to glow its brightest, almost too bright to look upon. It cast the entire city in scarlet, as if the heavens themselves had rained blood upon all the land.

There was quiet once the comet was lost over the tops of the trees, the shocked milling of thousands of people the only noise as they all kept their eyes focused on that unseen object. Above them the moon began to slip its position in front of the sun, and slowly the bloody mess of Ocotopec became the shining city once more, the Sun creeping its touch into every corner of the land as it once again became the dominant force in the sky.
[The Defense of Memphos]
[Commander Vadym Yaroslav of the 51st Genehanced Guards Assault Brigade of Sanctii]


The sounds of battle were distant but, concerningly, they were creeping closer. Vadym adjusted the heavy collar of his carapace armor, tugging it out from his chest as he shifted in the relentless Gyptian heat. Around him members of Memphos’ internal guard went about their duties at speed, men ran reports from one table to another, cogitators printed out long sheets of data ceaselessly, and the voxbanks filled the air with relentless calls for reinforcements or notices of retreat. The defense of Memphos was going terribly.

He took a step forward and leaned his hands against a holotable, the vivid colors of friend and foe crashing together in the center and in most places, the blood red of the enemy seemed to sweep aside the sky blue of the defenders entirely. He studied a spot that seemed to be holding well, a collection of bastion houses placed atop a small hill. He scrutinized the map for a moment before pushing off the table and making straight for the armorglass windows of the command center. He took a few steps to his right to clear away for a trio of officers speaking hurriedly in their native tongue, and brought his magnoculars to his face.

Off across the city he could already spot the bastion houses atop their hill, a deluge of fire was pouring from its redoubts and it seemed just as much hurt was being hurled back at them. The bastions themselves seemed to not yet be the focus of the siegers, instead bringing their might to bear on the circle of bunkers about halfway up the hill, but Vadym knew that couldn’t last.

A chirp at his waist tore him from the magnoculars as he scooped up a dataslate and tapped at the screen.

“What now?” asked Andriy Skliar, Major and second-in-command of the 51st Assault Brigade.

“A message from the Administrator,” Vadym began as he read, “Central believes that Memphos will fall before nightfall,” he shrugged, not worrying to keep his voice down around the Gyptian officers as he spoke in his home tongue of Rus.

Adriy pondered the information, a hand raising his own magnoculars to his face as he did.

“Seems that the Administrator is likely right,” he agreed as he motioned with his free hand for Vadym to join him in the spectator sport. Vadym quickly took up his own magnoculars and focused again on the bastions from earlier.

The redoubts circling the bastion were awash in flame on the Northern side of the hill, a number of them simply gone, nothing but smoking craters left where once a hail of gunfire and las had leapt at the invaders.

“So it would seem,” Vadym echoed in amazement as he watched brutes the size of his own genehanced guardsmen appear through the dense smoke. He zoomed in, focusing the picture as warriors of the invaders waded directly into the bastion houses’ gunsights.

A fury of weapons fire met the advancing barbarians, washing out his magnoculars for a moment before the system automatically filtered out the most intense of the light. He was astonished to see the massive warriors already against the walls of the bastion houses, a number of them working at the walls as fire from the defenders continued to pour into the area beyond the bastions themselves.

“The Emperor’s Thunder Warriors,” Andriy practically spat the word as he too watched on in amazement, “the fools blinded themselves with the opening salvo, they must have just walked right under it,” he added in disgust at such an oversight.

Vadym tapped away with one hand at his dataslate as he watched. “Cronies of another crazed warlord. Still, they’re formidable,” he said as the Thunder Warriors finally finished what they were doing against the bastion wall. A flash filled his sight and not a moment later did the Thunder Warriors disappear into a freshly blown hole in the defensive structure.

“What does the Administrator think of this?” Andriy asked without taking his eyes from the spectacle.

Vadym reluctantly tore his eyes away from the combat to read over his dataslate as text streamed across its screen.

“Deep Winter believes it is time we take our leave. Quietly,” Vadym said as he read, “we have gathered sufficient data, and apparently risk our exit staying any longer.”

Andriy laughed, a callous thing devoid of emotion, “No shit?”

Vadym brought his eyes back to the magnoculars and let out a mirthless laugh with his second-in-command.

The bastion was ablaze with the flashes of internal gunfire. A number of defenders atop the bastion seemed to be firing down the stairwell to the roof, and Vadym watched with piqued interest as a massive figure, perhaps this one even larger than a Thunder Warrior, burst into the middle of the group of Gyptians. Bodies flew from the rooftop, mists of blood and limbs flew every way as the huge warrior moved almost too quickly to follow as he made quick work of the defenders.

Vadym felt his breath catch in his chest as this warrior of the self-proclaimed emperor stopped atop the roof and turned to face him. The light broke through the dense smoke flowing over the city now, and the warrior was suddenly ablaze in his golden armor. Certainly he couldn’t be looking at him? Vadym knew better than to think that, they were nearly eight kilometers distant from the bastion houses, and behind mirrored armorglass no less. And yet, he couldn't shake the feeling as the warrior lifted some form of archaic halberd in his direction. He breathed a sigh of relief as the warrior turned and disappeared from the roof.

“Time to go Andriy,” he stated as he turned and made for the protected hangars of the Memphos command center, their Gun Cutter’s engines ready to leave the moment they stepped aboard.
Albyon
Terra


Rain pattered off the armor glass of the enclosed patio, except, the man noted as he sipped at his still-too-hot cup of tea, that it wasn’t actually rain leaving streaks of ashen gray on the glass but the condensed byproducts of the castram-city’s stifling manufactorums. He placed the tea down and swept his view across the datapad in his lap, quickly skimming the contents of the proposal on the screen before raising his head up from the screen to once more direct his gaze to the entrance of the parlor.

He’d been here for nearly fifteen minutes now, five of that past the proposed time for the meeting, and yet he still sat alone. The parlor was one of many in the city, and of those that were open, not even the finest. He sighed at the thought that he was relegated to such minor meetings as this, an anonymous request for a shipment requiring the utmost discretion, smuggling he knew as he wondered when he’d finally get his break, the job that would place him on the up and up he so deserved.

He took another sip of his tea as around him the only moderately rich and powerful of Albyon made small talk as they drank too hot expensive teas and nibbled infuriatingly small biscuits and pastries with smug grins and arrogant laughter, as if they meant anything in Albyon at all.

The doors parted, a pair of people stepping through at once -- both were clad in thick, grey, hazardous materials gear, their faces hidden behind worn gas masks. Hardly an unusual sight, in a city so oft-plagued by DNA-ravaging pollution, but a sure indicator of at least somewhat substantial wealth. One by one, the pair removed their masks to reveal pale, androgynous, ashy faces, mostly unworn by the ravages of manual labour, little smatterings of freckles and ginger hair visible beneath their rubbery clothing.

For a brief few moments, they appeared to talk to one another -- the rightmost figure, slightly taller than their opposite, headed toward the cafe’s counter to order something, while the other swiftly proceeded toward his table, swiftly sitting down with a friendly, all-too-familiar smile.

“Terribly sorry for our lateness,” they began, wiping droplets of sweat from their face. “You know how I am -- always losing my keys on my way out. I can never keep track of the damned things!”

Allowing himself an uncomfortable laugh, Elijah Gallows; intermediate functionary of House Hastings; smiled.

“No of course, I know the feeling all too well…” he pulled the dataslate off the table and back into his lap as he spoke, “besides, you’re just in time for a fresh batch of kreps, they’ve the most delightful selection of toppings this side of the wire,” he offered as he flagged down a server and took a helping of the thin cakes.

“Whipped cream? I’m told it’s only 15% synthetic here.”

“Kreps, and mostly-real whipped cream?” They chuckled, shaking their head as they moved to sit. “Well, I suppose we'll have to see if they're as good as the ones in Franc. I've heard that's where Kreps are originally from, actually!" "But, yeah -- I'd love some."

“Of course,” Elijah smiled as he motioned for another of the plates of the cakes to be brought over. He waited a moment for the server to be out of earshot before he leaned forward to his new table mate.

“I’m sure you’re aware of Hasting’s discretion, lest you wouldn’t be sitting here across from me,” he smiled as beneath the table he placed a second dataslate with scrolling lists of transport options and price selections on the lap of the stranger, “I’m sure you’ll find us quite… agreeable in terms of pricing and craft selection.”

He leaned back, a grin painting his face as he took a small bite from kreps, “Though, we do not need to know what it is we’re moving, we of course need to know where it must end up, just a fact of business of course.”

"Money is no object," they whispered, their expression stern and unmoving as their partner idly made their way over to the table, quietly seating themselves. "We need your fastest, most secure vessel -- and a pressurized one. It is imperative that our cargo is not intercepted, no matter the cost," they continued, narrowing their eyes at Elijah.

"Oh, heavens, is that so? That's ridiculous!" They blurted out, emitting a soft peal of laughter with a beaming smile.

"As for our destination," they continued, their expression fixed into a small, gently happy smile, as if conversing with an old friend, "the Himalazian Plateau."

Elijah had already begun to formulate costs in his mind, his fingers tapping in unison across the dataslate in his lap without even looking as he selected an appropriate ship as requested by the buyer.

“I may…” he paused, puzzled for a moment at the fact that money was no issue, “your cargo is living I take it? What sort of ride would you prefer? Comfortable, or cramped? Luxurious or utilitarian? Would you sacrifice discretion for speed?”

He hated to inquire more, but the request for a pressurized space made it clear he had to narrow down his option of flyers.

"Living, yes. Luxury is preferred, but discretion is our utmost priority." They explained. "The cargo is used to luxurious conditions, but getting to the Plateau safely is more than worth less suitable, even squalid conditions. Sharing the cargo space with non-trusted parties -- a passenger ship, for example -- is not an option."

Elijah gave a nod of understanding as they clarified their needs, his fingers dancing over the datapad as he did, the options narrowing down to only two craft. He took a moment to make the decision for the stranger.

“The Ambivalent Mortality offers speed and discretion, while I wouldn’t call it particularly luxurious, it certainly isn’t lacking in amenities,” he smiled as he reserved the venerable, and exceptionally expensive, Gun-Cutter for his strange friends.

He tapped a few buttons on the screen and smiled, “We need a port for your cargo, the Hymalazian’s are a big place, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

"The cargo," they continued, sucking in a slow, deliberate breath, "is intended for the warlord calling himself 'Emperor'."

His fingers stopped their tapping across the dataslate as Elijah looked incredulously upon his guest. He had been certain this was a minor smuggling request, moving some less than savory goods from one place to another, nothing new or entirely out of the ordinary though most definitely below the prestige of higher placed functionaries of the House.

“That is uhm…” he directed his gaze to the screen now, his fingers tapping across it as new menus and orders were prompted, “well it’s,” he tapped away as he continued to speak, “it’s an unusual request, of course, I’ll need to verify this with my superiors.”

He sat eyeing the stranger for no more than a handful of seconds before he saw the familiar amber rune for a priority message appear in the corner of the dataslate.

“They’ve already gotten back to me, should be simple enough,” he laughed awkwardly as he tapped the symbol.

++PROCEED DIRECT TO AMBER MOON++

Elijah stood almost immediately, fumbling with a handful of credits that he slapped onto the table before he spoke shakily to the stranger, “You must don your gear, we’re no longer secure here,” he stated as he haphazardly strapped his own rebreather to his face and started out of the parlor.

"Very well," they replied in unison, both of the strangers smoothly standing to their full height as they donned their rebreathers, all in one inhumanly precise motion. "Fear not -- we will protect you if necessary."

Elijah ignored the pair as he left the parlor in a hurry. Leading the strangers down a maze of twisting alleys and roads, his pace quickening as he navigated the familiar pathways as he noticed the distance between himself and the surreal strangers was increasing slowly.

He turned a corner, the tight confines of the backroads and alleys suddenly opening into an empty square. He glanced at his chronometer, smiling under his rebreather at the timing to miss shift change, a low rumble growing in intensity as he surged forward into a sprint

The rumble transformed into the high pitched whine of jet turbine engines as a Stormbird; painted in the red and blue of House Hastings; swept over the cramped habblocks blowing loose shingles and items about the plaza as it came to a halt in front of the path of the two strangers, lascannons swiveling to aim at the pair as Elijah disappeared into the far alleyway.

A vox-amplified voice called out over the deluge of the Stormbirds engines as a host of House Hastings guards swept into the plaza on all sides.

“By order of The Sigillite, First Lord of Terra and Hand of The Emperor surrender yourselves,” the voice echoed off the habblock walls, “remove all weapons, rebreathers, and prepare for search,” the Stormbird hovered incredulously before them as a number of grav-enhanced House Hasting’s Guard jumped from it’s open assault ramp toward the strangers.

“You have five seconds to comply,” the vox-amplified voice boomed.

The emissaries complied instantly, far more quickly than any baseline human could -- twin pairs of cybernetic arms unfurled from beneath their heavy coats, sharpened claws -- evidently usable as blades -- glinting in the light of lumen-lamps. Their rebreathers, too, fell, as did the pairs of concealed pistols about their hips -- two volkites for the leftmost, and a set of blank, blocky laspistols for the other. Their pale faces stared out at the Stormbird, unfeeling and unafraid -- but their eyes rapidly, even violently, darted back and forth, constantly vigilant for any sign of attack.

The troops from the Stormbird swept up to the pair in perfect synch, two men splitting from the group as they hurried forward to the emissaries.

“Restraints,” one of the others barked, a leader of some kind.

The two nearest troops pulled two small discs, no larger than their palms from pouches and quickly slapped them to the cybernetic arms of the emissaries which fell limp to their sides only a moment later.

From behind another pair of House Guard brought the strangers to their knees, placing their arms into cuffs and slipping sensory deprivation hoods over their heads plunging the strangers into an utterly silent void.



The Stormbird rocked as it flew, the fully masked faces of the House Hasting Guards cast in hard shadows by the harsh lights of the interior troop bay.

A trooper removed both of the sensory deprivation hoods and motioned the strangers to Elijah just forward of where they sat.

“Apologies, you must understand,” he began as he scrolled nonchalantly through his dataslate, “but we have orders to ensure we bring no one to the Emperor without the utmost care and caution.”

He motioned to a wide screen against the wall, scrolling data and a map of Ierné’s plateau “You could have brought this higher, Ierné warrants our best, not smoke and mirrors,” he shrugged, “Though I appreciate that, made it easier to keep away from prying eyes and ears, until well,” he motioned to the Stormbird.

He laughed to himself at the insanity of the stunt in the plaza before turning back to the emissaries, “The Ambivalent Mortality is enroute now from Europa, and will be ready to pick up… Well we assume the Novator, within the hour. We have armed escort as well, not something to play around with,” he tapped his dataslate and the restraints on the emissaries' augmetic arms clattered to the floor, “I hope we have an understanding now, no harm intended of course.”

"The Novator will only travel under guard." The two said, speaking in perfect unison. "Ierné is aware of its value. She will be treated with due respect, as will her nation, or there will be no negotiation." They continued, staring blankly at Elijah. "Otherwise, yes, we have an understanding."

Elijah raised an eyebrow at the emissary's words, weighing his response a moment before he answered, “House Hastings has no intention of treating the Lady Novator in any way undeserving of her position. You must understand though, the Emperor demands caution and… great care in such situations as this. You are mere emissaries, had we left you for ash and slag in the plaza, The Emperor, Ierné, and House Hastings would have been no less positioned to try again than before we met,” he smiled.

“You two and myself are very similar in that regard, despite me being still human, we’re all expendable in this game. Your Lady Novator however, is not, her safety is our top priority and an audience is already being arranged with the proper authorities upon her arrival.”
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