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Out of interest @Roman, will you be picking anyone up yourself to play in the game? I noticed in the old IC thread that you didn't before so was wondering whether that would be the case this time out too.
Colour me interested.

I don't have much experience in fantasy games but the Stone Blight concept definitely captured my attention. As regards which time period the game should be set in, personally I would err against starting after the fall if only because I think there's a lot of storytelling potential to be found in terminal decline. Pre and post-collapse Vassidia will be wildly different places and by starting prior to the kingdom falling, you allow for players to explore both.
I've hit a bit of a funk on this and don't know whether I'll be able to push through it. I thought I'd just put that out there in the interest of being transparent rather than ghosting.
I read the Quinlan Vos trade paperbacks produced by Dark Horse earlier this week and have been itching to write some Star Wars ever since.

I'd like to pick up my old Mandalorian idea from the last Coruscant Underworld game a few years ago (since I never really got done with it) but I'll have a think over the next couple of days and see if I can come up with something fresh.

Mota-Tovi, Denuvi-VII

The cockpit of Jack Knight’s weathered ship vibrated as the sound of Nirvana’s “Something in The Way” passed through it. In the pilot’s seat, the Opal City product sat strumming along as best he could on a guitar as battered as the scavenger’s ship. The cracked and peeling sticker on its body was innocuous enough at first glance but on further inspection marked the instrument out as special. It had belonged to Woody Guthrie once – and as out of practice as Jack was, resistance still seemed to ring out with its every chord.

Lights flashed on the console in front of Jack. “A watched pot never boils,” his father used to say to him. It was one of the few pieces of advice his father had given him that he had taken onboard. It would be another hour or so until the ship’s scans were done. Until then, Jack intended to do little else but sit back and relax. Or so he thought.

Jack’s body tensed as he felt the shock of cold metal against his neck. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t slit your throat where you stand.”

“Cal’syee, is that you?” Jack laughed nervously. “I mean, of course it’s you. I’d recognise that sweet voice of yours anywh-”

“I’d sooner cut that silver tongue out of your mouth than listen to more of your lies, Jackson Knight.”

Cal’syee Nerami, the Shi’ar princess known to friends and enemies alike as “Deathbird”, clutched the back of Jack’s seat with ole hand and held her blade against his neck with the other. The human had no idea how she had snuck onto his ship without setting off an alarm, but she was with him now – and the sudden knick she gave him with her knife was a sign she meant business.

With a slight grimace, Jack let the antique guitar in his hands fall from his grasp onto the floor of his cockpit. With his mind he called out to his cosmic rod. He could feel it stashed against the wall on the other side of his ship. He felt it travelling through the air towards the pair of them and stuck out his arm to collect it.

“What th-”

A moment too late he realised that the rod had stopped short of his hand. Not only that but it rested between the long slender fingers of Deathbird’s left hand. A thin, cruel smile appeared on her face as she brandished the rod in Jack’s direction triumphantly. Try as he might to beckon it to him, the rod seemed completely unresponsive.

Sensing Jack’s confusion, Deathbird’s grin grew and she let the knife slide from his neck. “What’s wrong, my love? You look surprised.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jack murmured as he backed away from Deathbird. “You shouldn’t be able to do that.”

In one swift movement Cal’syee slid her knife back into an unseen slither and placed both hands around Jack’s rod. She pressed a button and it seemed to hum its approval. Again Jack shook his head, trying to make sense of what was happening, but was too alarmed by the threatening energy the rod began to emit at Deathbird’s direction. She thrust the rod closer and closer to him.

“My entire life men have presumed to tell me what I can and cannot do, Jackson, and I have proven them all wrong. You think this rod of yours answers only to you? How could it? I spent months sleeping beside you at night. It sensed our bond. I am as bonded to it as you are – and whilst you have no sense of loyalty, it seems your rod is not as disposed to betrayal.”

Jack had inched so far back that he was almost sat on the console when one of Deathbird's hands snaked towards his groin. “What are y-”

“Perhaps I’m wrong?”

A wave of heat seemed to run up Jack’s leg and suddenly he realised his pink face had become a flushed red with embarrassment. Within seconds, Cal’syee’s fingers had exposed the buried desire he felt for her touch. She drew closer to him, near enough that Jack could feel her warm breath on his face. He was willing to endure the point of his rod thrusting into his neck just to be near her again. The Shi’ar had almost placed her lips on his when clarity shook Jack from his stupor and he pushed her away from him.

“No, this can’t happen, Cal’syee,” Jack said as he straightened himself out. “The last time I saw you, you tried to kill me. Have you forgotten that? Because I sure as hell haven’t. You don’t get to try to murder me and then just waltz back into my life. Not again.”

Deathbird threw the rod to Jack dejectedly. “I told you that I would not share you. Did you think I could not smell them on you? Those perfumed whores you took to cavorting with on Korugar?”

“They were not … women of the night. I told you a hundred times, they were doctors. Doctors! That fever I picked up on Sakaar was going to kill me and, surprise surprise, being tied to your bed without food or water was not helping.”

The scowl that had been plastered on Deathbird’s face softened but Jack knew better than to mistake that for acceptance. He had never once known the Shi’ar princess to concede. He had watched her cut down six Kree for suggesting that she had been cheating at cards. She had, of course, but to Cal’syee that hadn’t mattered. It was only in the rarest of moments that she allowed for even a suggestion of vulnerability to slip through.

“You left me on Korugar with those ghastly people, Jackson,” Deathbird purred with uncharacteristic softness. “I could have been killed. Worse, I could have been captured by that bore Sinestro. What then? You would have let me languish in the Klyn whilst that child rules over my empire?”

There it was, Jack thought, as Cal’syee returned to the subject closer to her heart than any other – even now she contended that the Shi’ar throne ought to be hers, long after her failed coup, and her subsequent banishment from Shi’ar space. Having her birthright rent from her was the source of Deathbird’s seemingly unending desire for retribution. So far from his own home, the thought of it never seemed to convince Jack to plum to new depths in order to find sympathy for his former companion.

“Look, I shouldn’t have left you there without saying goodbye. That was wrong of me. I know that, but … I just didn’t see any other way out. You can be very intense sometimes, Cal’syee.”

Deathbird’s avian features seemed to narrow with disapproval at the suggestion she was anything but dispassionate. “Intense?”

Jack’s response was cut short by a sudden banging from the far end of the ship. Both he and Deathbird’s heads turned to face it in confusion. They stood in silence and waited for several moments until the banging commenced for a second time. Jack sighed and pressed a button on the console and a small screen appeared. He squinted as he tried to make out the blurry images on them. The loading dock looked almost as if it was covered in a glistening blanket of snow – or at least, he had thought it was snow, until he saw a white figure step forward and strike the butt of an unlit torch against his ship.

With a nervous smile, he prompted Deathbird to look at the Solaris worshipers surrounding them. “You aren’t expecting visitors, are you?”

“Pathetic cultists,” Cal’syee spat. “This whole planet is crawling with them. Huddling together in prayer like grieving widows. If they had any honour at all they would accept that their planet is doomed.”

Eighteen months, Jack remembered, as his thoughts drifted back to Shirax and all the other hoarders and junk traders he’d befriended on Denuvi-VII. His head dropped as he tried to imagine the sense of loss they must all have been feeling. Finally, he reached for his rod and strode along the length of his ship to open the landing ramp. He could feel Deathbird stalking behind him like the bird of prey she was and this time was sharp enough to hear her blades slip free when the ramp began to lower.

The screen had been wrong. Though the Solaris-worshipers were dressed in white tunics they were not snow-like, far from it. They were heat. A white hot flame that stretched as far as the eye could see and made even Mota-Tovi’s grimy streets seem bright. They stood in silence, observing Jack and Deathbird wordlessly, their torches flickering. Jack looked to Cal’syee for some kind of instruction and when none was forthcoming he stepped forward gingerly.

“<Uh, sorry fellas, I think you’ve got the wrong ship. Bible study is the next one along.>”

Jack’s broken Denuvi didn’t move them at all. For a second time, the human looked towards the Shi’ar for advice and found only that she had lifted her blades in preparation. He was about to protest when he noticed a hulking figure making its way through the crowd. His skin was not yellow like the others, but a cascade of yellow, white, blue and pink light, that seemed to ebb and flow like liquid. He screamed in a language Jack didn’t recognise and the army of worshipers poured into the ship.

Within seconds, something struck Jack on the head and he folded to the ground. His vision began to fail him, but he could still make out Deathbird striking out at their attackers. One by one they fell at her feet until eventually even she was overran. Another blow hit Jack and this time he slid into unconsciousness – but what he saw was not blackness, but white.

Location Unknown, Space

Celestial bodies danced across the black canvass of space as if guided by a divine hand. Suns rose, set, and rose again on planets too numerous to count as their unsuspecting inhabitants went about their perfectly ordinary lives. All was at peace in the cosmos until its stillness was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a crimson scythe. It tore through the darkness with intent and left behind it a blood red streak that seemed to scar all that it came into contact with.

Aboard the crescent-shaped ship was J’onn J’onzz. The Martian was immersed in a deep sleep. He had long since stopped staring out with wonder at the stars as they went about their balletic journey through the dark. For J'onn there was no beauty in it anmoyre, only pain. It had been a hundred million years, more perhaps, since he had held his youngest daughter’s hand and pointed out the constellations to her, her absence was ever present. Not even sleep provided the Martian with respite from it.

On his way back to his ship, J’onn’s thoughts had turned to the boy on Jiden-V again. “There’s been enough death for one day,” he had said. At that moment with the Kymellian’s hoof resting on him, the Martian had felt the weight of their suffering. Though he was but a boy, J’vanna had seen and endured terrible things: things that ought to have compelled him to urge J’onn on, to bid him to make the Centaurians suffer a thousand times over, and yet he had done the opposite. It had puzzled J'onn. Perhaps if he had seen into the hearts of those J’onn had sent to their deaths, he would have understood that some wickedness could never be allowed to go unpunished.

The Martian had managed to exorcise the doubts from his mind by the time he'd reached his craft. It was the lone connection J’onn had left to his homeworld. A living, breathing bio-ship psionically connected to its pilot. No civilisation before or after had been able to replicate the psychic link his people had established between pilot and ship. Were they to have asked, J’onn would have explained that what they lacked was not ingenuity, but desperation. The Green Martians had pooled cutting-edge technology with ancient and wicked magic to will the bond into existence, running roughshod over their traditions to do so – but it had been for the most noble of causes.

An unexpected judder caused the sleeping J’onn J’onzz to wince. With the disruption there had come a stabbing pain in the Martian’s side. The tank he was floating in shook slightly but steadied once the pain subsided and the green liquid he was immersed in began to calm. Though his body was at rest the Martian’s mind was in turmoil.

He could see his home planet as clearly in his mind’s eyes as the day he had fled from it. The screams of his wife and children rang in his ears until his heart pounded so loudly that it could be heart from outside the tank. Every recollection was as painful as the first time. My’ria’h on that plain holding K’hym and T’ania against her whilst the White Martians approached. J’onn watched on helplessly while their whole world burned. Even now his throat grew hoarse remembering how he had screamed to them, and how his strong, beautiful, loving wife had confined him to their ship and bid it leave their world with her last action. He was out of orbit when he felt his children slip from this world into the next, followed by My’ria’h’s rage burning brighter than any star ever could. It too was extinguished by those monsters.

It was to this ship, propelled by My’ria’h’s love, that J’onn owed his life. Where millions of Green Martian crafts fleeing their world had been gunned down, J’onn’s survived. It would be millennia before he realised that his had been the only one. In his desperation to escape and return to his wife and children, J’onn damaged the ship's navigation system, and still bound to My'ria'h, the ship proved unable or unwilling to respond to his demands. Once rage subsided and grief set in, J’onn succumbed to his grief and entered a catatonic state. His unpiloted ship tore through space for millions of years before the Martian finally rose – and was forced once more to grieve for his lost loved ones.

Still the ship forced J'onn on an unwilling pilgrimage. Celestial bodies grew old and withered, passing from one life into the next, replaced by those with limbs less wizened by their eternal dance. Suns were born, died, and born again on planets whose inhabitants took their first mewling steps onto dry land and in a blink of an eye depleted those same planets of their resources. It was only when J’onn’s grief turned to rage that the Martian found meaning again. The Martian would wield the scythe. He would make those that razed Earths and murdered innocents fear him.

Once J’onn had entered into that deadly compact with himself the ship’s pilgrimage came to a halt. J’onn was not a superstitious man, but even he could not deny that he took the ship's stoppage as an endorsement for the lethal justice he intended to dole out. It would not be long before he learnt that striking a man’s mind with madness was a far more effective form of punishment than extinguishing their meagre lives.

All the while J’onn’s mind remained focused, determined. The passage of years were as nothing to a Martian. Thousands of years turned to millions and all the while the Martian's crusade continued. Empires rose, Skrull, Kree, and Shi’ar all fell at his hands in equal measure during their demented scramble for territory, and the toothless Green Lantern Corps, serving order whilst all the while claiming to defend justice, proved too enmeshed in politics to investigate J'onn's existence.

A deep and throaty alarm roused the Martian from his sleep. His green eyelids slid back and revealed red orbs resting in sunken sockets. “Existence,” J’onn thought to himself as his feet pushed the dark green liquid apart for a few moments. The Martian listed eerily through the liquid and his green arm passed through the hardened glass tube encasing him seconds before. One of J’onn’s huge green hands hit a switch and the tube began to drain leaving him stood covered in globules of swampish gunk. If it bothered J’onn he did not acknowledge it and instead calmly walked towards a monitor to assess his vitals.

They were good. What few wounds J’onn had taken on Jiden-V had healed without complications and it seemed that the little problem he had encountered on D’bari last month had gone. He reached his hand down to deactivate the monitor and stopped abruptly upon noticing something was amiss. Without warning, his hand had passed through the station. The Martian looked down at his hand, which in the last second or two had become faint, and tried to touch his fingers against one another with no success. Growing perturbed, J’onn looked to his other hand for confirmation that it was some trick of the mind but no such reassurance presented itself.

The Martian wasn't sure why or how it was happening but it appeared that he was phasing out of existence. There was only one person J'onn knew that might be able to help him. He let his ghostly hands fall to his sides and instructed his ship to change direction at once. <Denuvi-VII.>

Zkedia Mining Colony, Jiden-V

The Protector of the Universe they called him and yet as he watched the clouds above Jiden-V fill with smoke, Wendell Vaughn couldn’t help but feel undeserving of the title. Drex, leader of the Kymellian outpost at Zkedia since before Wendell was born, was sitting beside him on a stool with a pink shawl thrown over his shoulders. There were red blotches over it where his wounds had bled through their dressings. The sight of it was a reminder of how recent their suffering was. The human struggled for words of comfort before settling upon a cliche.

“I’m so sorry for your loss, Drex.”

Drex’s eyes remained glued to the ground but he managed a feeble, distracted response. “Thank you.”

“Had I only arrived sooner I might have been able to st-”

Something about Vaughn’s tone shook the Kymellian out of his stupor and he stood up from his stool. As he did so the shawl fell from his shoulders onto the floor of his quarters to reveal the scale of the injuries beneath it. If he were hurting, Drex didn’t let it show as he lifted one of his hooves and placed it sympathetically on the human’s shoulder.

“You must not blame yourself, Wendell. Not even the mighty Quasar can be in all places at once. My people understand that. You have done enough for us over the years.”

Wendell nodded and a pang of guilt passed through him as he realised that Drex had done a better job of liberating him from his guilt than he had done of consoling the Kymellian in the first place. Vaughn scanned the horizon from the window of Drex’s quarters at the hobbling Kymellian’s making their way across the salt. It was hard to believe that they had survived – it almost felt wrong to say that they had given all that had been lost in the process.

“There’s something I need to ask you about. I busted some Centaurians trying to escape the system on my way here. They were babbling about something the whole way to the Kyln. Something that, well, ought to be impossible and yet I’ve not been able to get it out of my head ever since.”

Vaughn felt the bands on his wrists tingle slightly as the cosmic awareness he had been gifted by Eon began to awaken. The conversation he’d had with the captured Centaurians played in his mind as clearly as if he were having it that very moment. His eyes had glazed over, replaced with a starry look that made Drex flare his nostrils with discomfort, but in a matter of seconds Wendell had returned – and Drex’s discomfort had been replaced by expectance.

“They said that their general’s mind had been melted by a Martian.”

“It’s the truth,” Drex nodded.

A heavy sigh left Quasar’s chest as he pinched the bridge of his nose. Since Eon had named him Protector of the Universe, he had seen no shortage of impossible things – and yet that a Martian would never stray from their homeworld was one of the few unshakeable rules the universe had ever produced. He found himself recounting the reasons, almost in an effort to convince himself as much as the Kymellian.

“No Martian has left Mars for millions of years, hundreds of millions of years even. Why after all this time would they break with tradition? What business would a Martian have on Jiden-V of all places? It doesn’t make any sense.”

The Kymellian brayed in frustration and strode towards the thick glass to place one of his hooves against it. For a time the men stood in silence and watched Drex’s people hobbling along, a Kymellian child or two playing amid the salt, even an elderly Kymellian feeding a wounded Centaurian that had decided to remain on Jiden-V. It was a microcosm of the world that Drex loved so dearly, what he had almost lost, and crucially, what he might lose again if he revealed the full truth to Wendell – and yet he knew he had no choice.

“Do you trust me?”

“You know I do,” Vaughn swore with a sincere nod.

“I saw it with my own eyes, Wendell,” Drex sighed heavily. “I’d be dead now had that Martian not intervened, so too would my people, and for that we are all in its debt. There’s no disputing that. But what it did to the Centaurians was… barbaric. It could have subdued them, planted them to the ground with a single thought, but instead it chose to send them to their deaths as penance for what they had done here. Those aren’t the actions of a man, they’re the actions of an angry god.”

With one of his hooves, Drex tapped against the glass at something in the distance. Wendell squinted in the direction the Kymellian had pointed in and noticed a makeshift shrine that had been erected by a fire. At its centre stood a statue of a hand holding a beating heart.

“There are some among my people that already raise icons in the Martian’s image. Perhaps I’m being impetuous, but it does not bring me comfort to know that such a force exists in the universe. That one day should its wrath might be turned upon those I love, I would be equally powerless to stop it.”

There was pain in Drex’s voice. The kind of pain that Wendell Vaughn had encountered all too many times over the past few years. Though he was ashamed to admit it, this pain he felt more keenly than the rest because of his relationship with Drex. In their hour of need, Quasar had failed Jiden-V and a lethal protector had stepped into the void to fulfil his Wendell’s for him – and now, no doubt, the Centaurians that slipped through his net would pass this horror story on when they returned to whatever hive of villainy they called home.

It would only be a matter of time, be it ten weeks or ten years, before some would-be despot rose the Centaurian banners and sought to finish what was started here. All that death and murder was for nothing – it was an indulgence that served only to perpetuate a cycle of violence that would see more dead. Wendell raised one of his fists in Drex’s direction and let his hand open gently.


“There are times when it takes everything I have to hold back the power of the Quantum bands, but I do it. Even when it means putting my own life at risk, I show restraint. And you know why? Because wearing these things does not make me a god. The power I wield doesn’t give me the right to play judge, jury, and executioner – nobody has that right. There’s nothing impetuous about standing by that whatever the costs, Drex. It’s principled.”

Once more the Kymellian gestured towards the shrines that had been erected.

“I am afraid there are many among my people that will not see things that way, old friend.”

Quasar chuckled sardonically at the suggestion. “Then I suppose it’s a good thing that justice isn’t a popularity contest.”

Drex nodded reluctantly, signalling his acceptance more so than his approval, and limped back towards the stool he had been sat on. As he reached it he perched down to pick up his shawl and let out a pained wince. Wendell knew better than to offer to assist the Kymellian, as proud as he was, so instead stood with crossed-arms and waited as Jiden-V’s leader pushed through his discomfort to grab the shawl.

The Kymellian threw the bloodied shawl over his shoulders and then looked towards Wendell Vaughn resolutely. “What are you going to do?”

Quasar's boyish features hardened into a determined scowl. “I’m going to track this ‘god’ down and make it answer for the things it did here.”
<Snipped quote by Morden Man>

Jack Knight?!?

<Snipped quote by Morden Man>

Opal City?!?



You've got your boy @Byrd Man to thank for that one. It was very much his idea, as most of the things I write that are any good tend to be.

Mota-Tavi, Denuvi-VII

The door to Shirax’s antique store swung open and through it stepped a bearded man in a leather jacket that looked like it had seen better days. His slicked back hair was as black as the night’s sky and the white specks that dotted it like stars only strengthened that impression. Shirax could tell by the urgency of the man’s pace who had entered her store, but the sudden appearance of the Earthling they called Starman’s eyes from beneath a set of green goggles confirmed the Denuvian’s suspicions.

“What’s happening, Jack?”

Jack Knight rested his cosmic rod against the counter with a tired shrug. “You know how it is, same old, same old.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Shirax nodded by way of recognition and then lent towards Knight. “What are you after this time?”

The Denuvian’s voice had changed almost immediately. Once the pleasantries had been put aside, so too had the old woman’s butter-wouldn’t-melt act. Jack’s body language had shifted too. He could barely contain his excitement as he nosed around the store at Shirax’s wares. They were both collectors – though the old woman got her hands on treasure without ever having to step out from behind her desk. Jack hadn’t quite worked that one out yet.

“Word on the street is you’ve got your hands on something special.”

“Oh yeah? Well you have to be careful listening to word on the street. Sometimes the streets will lie to you.”

Jack frowned hard at Shirax and found her to be completely unmoved by his disapproval. Sensing it wasn’t working, he picked his elbows off the counter, leant back and reached into his leather jacket. From inside he plucked a sickly greenish-purple grub that writhed between his fingers. The Denuvian’s eyes widened at the sight of it.

“Alright, I’ll show you, but you so much as sneeze whilst it’s out of the box and you and I are going to have serious trouble, understood?”

Jack nodded and threw the grub to Shirax. One of her wrinkled yellow arms reached out for it and she immediately bit into it. It burst open with a pop that sent pink goo all along the old woman’s face. She chewed on it greedly as the high-pitch screech coming from the grub grew quieter by the second.

Once she was done, she wiped the back of her mouth with one of her hands and reached beneath her counter towards a lockbox. As she was about to enter the code, she glared up at Jack and he let out a sigh and turned his back. There followed what sounded like an endless procession of beeps but finally the lockbox opened and from it the elderly Denuvian produced a vial. She held it up to Jack with a proud smile.

Knight’s eyes widened as they locked onto the grainy black substance inside. “Holy fuck, is that what I think it is? How the hell did you get your hands on Uru?”

“You see the way the filings move around?” Shirax beamed as she titled the vial back and forwards. “That’s how you know it’s the real thing. It wants to find its way back to Asgard.”

The Denuvian tilted the vial every which way and Jack watched on in an almost trancelike state as he watched the filings react. There was something about the way they moved that was nearly hypnotic. Even if he hadn’t known that they were magical, just from watching them he would have sensed it. Here they were, Jack thought, lightyears away from home. That last syllable seemed to get caught in his throat as he thought it and he found himself muttering it under his breath.

“Home.”

With a sudden jerk, Shirax plunged the filings back into the lockbox and slammed it shut. Or at least it had felt like she had slammed it shut. It wasn’t until the second bang that it became clear that the noise had come from another source. Jack shot the scene outside of Shirax’s store a perplexed look. Through the grime of Mota-Tovi’s streets, there appeared a shock of white. It shifted and moved, as the filings had done, but when Jack focused he could see that the white mass was a group of people in pristine white tunics. In their hands were lit torches that emitted blinding fires. Occasionally, they would fire the flames from their torches into the air and they would burst, lighting up the dim sky above them and all around them for a few moments.

The old woman was busy running a stock check when Jack called her attention to the scene outside. “What’s going on out there?”

“You been living under a rock or something?” Shirax said with a perplexed smile. “Those freaks are everywhere you look these days. They reckon their “god” is going to save us all. Solaris, they call him. Fat chance. Scientists say we’ve got eighteen months until that thing goes out for good. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get on the first ship out of here.”

The nonchalance of it all shocked Jack so much he almost knocked his staff to the ground. It couldn’t have been more than a year since he’d passed through Denuvi-VII. Sure, it had gotten a little darker than he remembered it being before, but it had always been a little run-down. That was part of its charm. He was trying to get his head around the revelation when he realised how little time eighteen months was in the grand scheme of things.

“What are you still doing here? You’ve got enough treasure under this roof of yours to bribe your way into Hala, you old mountain goat.”

Shirax fired Jack a toothy smile. The pink goo along them made it slightly sinister but Jack could sense there was something different to this smile. Junk collectors, antique traders, they were sentimental people by profession, but for the first time since Jack had met her all those years ago, Shirax let the gruff mask she adorned in his company slip for but a moment.

“Heh, I’m not like you, kid, I was born on this planet. A thousand generations of my family have called this little rock home. It’ll take more than the lights going out to get me to leave it.”

Jack nodded understandingly and once more thought of his own home, Opal City, and all he had left behind there. He sensed a knot forming in his throat and swallowed hard to force it back down. He stayed for a time to talk to Shirax, showing her some of the trinkets that he had picked up since his last visit, before making his goodbyes. As he left the Denuvian’s store he found himself wondering whether he would ever see the old woman again. He hoped so. Just as he hoped that one day he might see Opal City again.

With a tug Jack pulled his goggles over his eyes and his trusty cosmic rod lifted him off of the ground. A hundred feet away from him there was a sudden bang followed by a flash of light that caused him to lose his balance slightly and he scowled in the direction of the Solaris creeps in their white tunics. He felt the eyes of one of the worshipers on him and he brandished an angry middle finger in their direction before disappearing off into the horizon.

Little did Jack Knight know that there was more than one set of eyes watching him. From a nearby rooftop, a set of binoculars trained on the Earthling as he drew further and further away from Shirax’s store. The binoculars lowered and a set of thin lips twisted into a wicked smile.

Zkedia Mining Colony, Jiden-V

Salt crunched beneath Drex’s hooves. In front of him, he could hear the sobbing of J’vanna, the doctor’s son. The boy couldn’t have been more than six cycles old. Drex opened his mouth to offer a word of consolation to J’vanna but was silenced by a sudden jab in the back. The Centaurian mercenary behind him attempted to bray something to him in broken Kymellian but Drex couldn’t make sense of it. He didn’t need to understand it to know what was coming next.

For thousands of cycles, Drex’s people had called this planet their home. Though they were Kymellian, their isolation had robbed them of the abilities some of their kind possessed. The salt pits that had drawn them there had been both the making of his people and their undoing. They had grown weak, complacent. Drex understood that now as he marched to his end with what remained of his people.

Finally there came a cry from the Centaurian general that brought the entire procession to a halt beside a gorge. Once again Drex was jabbed in the back, though this time with enough force to send him down onto his hooves. His head hit the ground and revealed the blood red soil beneath it. Drex winced slightly, feeling blood trickling freely from the cut on his forehead. Beside him, the young J’vanna’s sobs grew louder with every passing moment – to the point that he was heaving. It was undignified, Drex thought, before damning himself quietly for his judgement.

The Centaurian general stepped forward. His bulging muscles were covered in deep blue scars and the shock of red hair that rose from his skull stood tallest among his men. He withdrew the golden bow from his back and slipped one of his arrows into place. All around him, Drex heard his people let out fearful cries but he remained silent. The general drew back his bowstring and following on from his lead his men did so too – creating a sound not unlike a thousand nails running along a chalkboard all at once.

The Centaurian general held his bowstring back without any sign of exertion. To Centaurians, the bow was more than a weapon, it was like another limb – the bond between them was almost sacred. Finally, in his last moments Drex turned his mind to all things sacred. Though his people had long since strayed from the old ways and few among them worshipped the gods of Kymellia, the prayers of his childhood came back to him.

“May the Mother forgive us.”

Drex’s eyes clamped shut as he heard the cracking of a thousand Centaurian bows unfurling. Time seemed to slow to a complete standstill as Drex sensed the lethal payload barrelling towards them. His eyes still shut he felt a hand clamp around his and his own hand compelled without his consent to reach out for the Kymellian beside him. His eyes opened and he realised to his disbelief that he was still alive.

“The Mother,” J’vanna smiled at him. “She saved us.”

There was a roar of confusion from among the Centaurian horde as they collectively reached into their quivers for more ammunition. Drex scanned his people’s numbers and saw among them the source of their salvation. There was a lone green figure stood with a single hand on the shoulder of a Kymellian woman. Drex shook his head in disbelief – it was a Martian.

Before the Centaurians had a chance to send forth another barrage, they found their numbers compromised. In a blur, the Martian cut through them. Each blow they sent in the Martian’s direction by way of defence, be it by bow or by first, passed through him. They were met by blows with ten times the force – some were sent skidding along the salt in a heap whilst others merely melted to the ground limply as the Martian’s limbs passed through them.

Drex climbed to his feet and with a roar sent his broken and beaten people into the fray to aid the Martian. In the melee, the Kymellian caught a glimpse of the towering shock of red hair that belonged to the Centaurian general. He cleaved a way through the carnage towards it with his hooves, smashing them down upon one foe after another to make his way towards him. Finally, the two adversaries encountered each other in the field.

“You will die here,” the Centaurian sneered as he drew his sword. “But at least you will have the honour of dying by my hand.”

Drex let out a guttural neigh as he flung himself towards the general. He parried a blow from the Centaurian’s sword away from his throat with left hoof and sent the right one towards the general’s exposed ribs. They traded blows for what seemed like hours and they appeared evenly matched for a time, but eventually Drex’s advanced years began to show, and the Centaurian gained the upper hand. He slipped through the Kymellian’s reach and managed to gain his back. The sacred forced itself over Drex’s neck and his hooves seemed powerless to stop the bowstring from cutting into his flesh.

<Enough.>

The Centaurian’s grip fell limp and the bowstring loosened. The Centaurian whimpered as he felt a hand glide into his chest and grip onto his heart. He looked over his shoulder to see the blood-covered Martian stood behind him. There was not an ounce of sympathy in the Martian’s deep red eyes – only a rage that seemed to emit a cold that chilled him to his bones. All around them the fighting continue, except for those in the near vicinity who seemed to sense the significance of the moment.

<You will command your men to stand down.>

Drex held a hand to his bleeding neck as he staggered away from them. He saw the look of defiance cross the general's face. “I will do no such thing, Martian. My men would sooner die than admit defeat to the likes of you.”

<Then die they will.>

One of the Martian’s green hands pressed against his temple and the battlefield fell silent. The Centaurian horde dropped their gilded bows to the ground and marched, as the Kymellians had, towards the waiting gorge. One by one they stepped voluntarily over the edge. Soon they were falling in their tens, hundreds even, as the confused Kymellians watched on. The exhilaration that Drex had felt turned to horror as the scale of the death dawned on him.

The defiance on the Centaurian general’s face seemed to melt and suddenly, suspended helplessly in place with the Martian’s hand clasped around his heart, he seemed to relent.

“No,” he murmured in a voice that was so defeated that it shocked Drex. “No more.”

<I offered you mercy once, Centaurian. I will not offer it again.>

More bodies tumbled over the cliff to the deaths. Drex found himself instinctively reaching out for a passing Centaurian. There was a glassy look in their eye that chilled the Kymellian to his core. No matter how hard Drex tried to restrain them, he could not stop them from marching to their death. More of his people reached out for their one-time adversaries in an effort to stop the Martian’s slaughter.

Through it all, a gentle hoof came to rest on their hulking green saviour’s forearm. J’vanna, the doctor’s son, had slipped through the crowd unnoticed. Where the others were terrified of the Martian, he was too young to know better than to approach him.

“Please,” J’vanna implored the Martian. “There’s been enough death for one day.”

The Martian stared down at the boy silently and somewhere deep inside of him something stirred. He relinquished his hold on the general’s heart and allowed him to fall to the ground with a thud. The Centaurian’s seemed to come to their senses. Drex watched on equal parts amazed by J’vanna’s courage and appalled by what had been done. The Martian lent down and placed one of his large hands over the Centaurian general’s head.

<You have felt but a fraction of the suffering my people felt. Know that I have seen into your mind, held your blackened heart in my hand, and judge you to be unworthy of this world. You will live on, but ... not without paying a price.>

The general let out a scream as billions of voices howled out in pain in his brain. He saw blood and fire, families torn apart, and a world set against itself until only the strongest remained. He began to froth at the mouth and convulse until, his mind shattered into a thousand pieces, he fell to his knees abruptly.

The surviving Centaurians watched on in shocked silence as the most capable among them was rendered a vegetable with but a fraction of the Martian’s strength.

<Leave this place.>

Without a second’s hesitation the archers scattered, scampering over the corpses of their fallen compatriots, some even dropping their bows as they made a hasty exit. Had Drex been minded to protest, the Martian’s display earned his silence and, in truth, his revulsion. Something about the scene compelled him to speak and, though he knew he ought to express gratitude, as his equine lips parted, admonishment appeared in its place.

“What gives you the right?” Drex said as he gestured to the gorge half-filled with Centaurian bodies. “You did this in our names.”

<No, Kymellian, I did it in theirs.>

For a tenth of a second, Drex felt the force of emotion that had been unleashed upon the general. It was enough to knock him to his knees. When he opened his eyes he found that tears were pouring from them without end. The Martian Manhunter was gone. Only silence remained.
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