The blazing space was rent by fire and light, and energies beyond ken coruscated between the combatants. Here, a Veiled One No-Ship appeared from the under-space, straight into the Julth fire. Particle beams and gravitational blasts shot through the translucent form as it came up, energy-converter starting to glow. A whirling, screaming vortex exploded out, and the Julth were gone in blinding flashes of light and dead matter.
Retaliation was swift and fatal. A Julth Sezzka-Ri opened up its envelope and disgorged an invisible disruption blast, tearing through the very fabric and shattering the No-Ship even as it slipped out.
More Veiled One ships were coming up, brazen Sin-Barges, Sii Aether Ships and the enormous Thean-ships. And at their centre was the hooded planet-station of Third Paradise, releasing swarms of kill-fighters and resurrection ships. The No-Ship that had shattered now leapt back together under their calm blue lights, and joined the advancing convoy.
But the Julth had not been idle. A long chain of them stretched across space, visible even at these ranges of millions of miles. One of the fortresses of Julth-kind, a Toxxk-Zoph, gleamed blue above.
Despite the resurrection ships and Julth generators, the enormous efforts to conserve and plan properly, numbers had fallen. Where before a million ships had faced four thousand, now only hundreds clashed.
This was catastrophe.
Gehenne watched the latest neu-vid with apprehension.
Too many were dying. This war was to allow the Veiled Ones to survive, but numbers plummeted and plummeted. It was impossible to be sure of the Julth numbers, hiding as they were.
Solutions, solutions. The only thing scientists could think about now was how to end this war, how to save their race. It was the most fundamental and necessary of desires, and still so relevant despite their advancement.
A glittering, seven-fingered hand came out from his sleeve. His fingers rolled gently as he drummed them over the hapt-board, thinking, thinking. Even the processing power connected to his brain was at full capacity, the humming holo-servers and quo-processors behind him.
There had been ideas, that was true. The PlasVore had been one, but had been lost in its first battle. The Warp-in-a-Box, the Underspace Ants, none worked well enough!
There had been suggestions of opening It up, but that was mind-numbingly stupid. Again, he considered how much they had really advanced. In their weakened state, they would be annihilated, and loose destruction past the Daemoniverse.
In this field, you couldn't just have ideas. You had to see all the consequences and connections, the precision, to such accuracy that even a Veiled One brain wasn't enough. And there were so many unknowns!
Gehenne had set the sixth interface screen to display random images, 600 a second, hoping for some kind of epiphany. But none came.
The blip in his neunonics told Daystar, Servant of the Veiled Ones, that he was transmitting.
"As you have seen, there is still no respite from the war. We believed that our latest design would prevent the Julth from firing, but it achieved nothing.
"There is no choice. We cannot negotiate with them, we cannot hide from them, we HAVE to face them here and now. And we have to win. Everything we have is directed at this single aim.
"In other developments, the most recent time-travel experiment, attempting to discover the outcome of the war, failed again. The ship was lost, but luckily no-one was on board- it appears the Cylinder was fully functional, but that the ship was destroyed en route. Further investigation has begun.
"Production of Energy-Converter weapons has reached an all time high, and you will all be pleased to find out that there have been 346 confirmed Julth kills this dekester."
The transmission stopped. He felt the responses, already coming in thick and fast, and redirected them to the relations staff. He was so tired.
All the scientists were calling for more resources, but everything was stretched thin. Daystar had decided priority should go to Gehenne, as if anyone could solve this, it was him. It wasn't a lack of creativity that had caused so little to come from Gehenne's laboratory- it was his discretion. Too many researchers sent every idea.
Daystar wanted a miracle.
There was only one attempt left, the only one nobody had tried yet.
It took days, and in the middle of the experiment Gehenne had an unexpected visitor.
"How is it coming?" Rutilus said, as he walked in the room. His cloak was even darker than other Veiled Ones', and black as night.
"This is hopeless," Gehenne sighed, as he gazed upon the dismantled bits of technology in front of him. "Nothing has worked, and there are no more ideas inside my head."
"What is that supposed to be?"
"Merely just a device of disguise that modifies the perception," Gehenne said. "I was hoping it could be used to infiltrate the Julth ranks, but there is nothing to hide. We need a miracle to win this war."
"That is what they all say," Rutilus said. "Remember the Sii? They were powerful, but now only a few remain. We cannot walk down that path. We must choose our own destiny."
Gehenne sighed again. "Yes," he said. "We must."
He still had a tiny spark of hope in his mind, searching for something that might possibly end the war. But it was so small.
Rutilus walked down the corridor. He was trying to inspire Gehenne in some way, but he doubted anything had been achieved.
Either way, he felt his job was finished.
Promptly, there was a flash of light outside, and the corridor was vaporized.
Outside, more Veiled One ships descended in a firey blaze. The Julth paid no attention, at least not while there were more still to kill.
It was a total stalemate. No side was winning, and the numbers of soldiers was dwindling. So was any motivation.
All may have been lost, but it would not be.
Daystar looked down desperately at the holo-board. All over the multiverse, things were the same. They were losing hold of Xion and Lacus, and Emenata had been cut off from the rest of their civilization. All in all, things looked bad. They needed a miracle.
Just then, he had a message from Gehenne. It read simply, "meet me in my lab. I have an idea." Daystar wasted no time in hurrying to Gehenne's lab. At this point, he would do anything to win this war.
He hurried to a Voi-Wall, and entered "Gehenne's Lab" as the coordinates. There was a hiss as Daystar was torn apart and reassembled miles away. He reappeared in another Voi-Wall inside Gehenne's lab, and he stepped out in front of his chief scientist.
"Well," he said, "You said you had an idea?"
"I did," said Gehenne, "And it might just win us this war."
He hurried to a drawing board, that showed a black, winged reptile, spouting plasma at a squadron of Julth.
"This," said Gehenne, "May be the ultimate weapon, or it may be madness. Perhaps both."
"What is it?"
"I call it the "Gehennian". You see, after a long while of thought, in occured to me to look to Father Nature for inspiration. And then I saw the same design echoed throughout the universe. For example, the Sii, and this little thing we found on a research world." He gestured towards a small winged Dolosid sitting on his table.
"Where was I?" asked Gehenne, "Ah yes. My plan. Well, here goes. If we were able to transform our soldiers and commanders into Gehennians, we could win this war."
Daystar was shocked. "Err," he said, "How would Gehennians help us against the Julth?"
"Gehennians would be armed with only the latest technology. Hellbeams, Neutronium-metal... That sort of thing. They would be capable of sensing Julth from a distance. And last but not least, they would be given a serum that would enhance their cognitive abilities. They would become brilliant tacticians."
Daystar thought long about it. It was risky. But, he remembered seeing his board, showing Julth everywhere, eating stars left and right. If something wasn't done, they wouldn't have a species.
"Very well," he said, "You may conduct your experiments."
"Thank you," said Gehenne happily, "I won't disappoint you. The Veiled Ones will triumph!"
"You should have consulted us before Daystar, Gehenne. What you want to do... it's madness. You want to destroy everything we hold dear! You'll make us monsters... there's no way you can guess the consequences of this." Psamos, one of the three Chief Scientists, shook his head. "There are other ideas. Don't take this path."
Aeka joined in. "Why not use the materials, like the neutronium-metal and hellbeams, on ships? There's still plenty of metal and rock left around in the Daemoniverse."
Gehenne's heart sank. He had hoped they'd see things from his perspective. "This is a guaranteed way to end a war that has cost untold lives and held back our advancement for years! Don't you see- this is the only way we can survive! The Gehennians are the ultimate weapon against the Julth. They take the only thing we have reasonably high numbers of- people- and make them into a weapon that could win us the war! Do you defy the Servant?"
Kiur had been silent until now. "I think we should let Gehenne see for himself the depth of his folly, so he'll come back to doing proper work. Let's let him make one of his Gehennians."
The other scientists nodded, indignant about not having the idea themselves. Advancement didn't always bring common sense.
"What... Daystar? Why you?" Gehenne was horrified.
"They needed proof, friend. If anything will get rid of their smugness, it'll be me showing how great you are."
"I have to thank you, though I must try to discourage you. This will be painful beyond experience."
They entered the clean, white laboratory where Gehenne had set things up.
"The first stage will be the application of drugs to anaesthetise and detach. Your body will be completely restructured during the procedure, if you were aware of what was going on... it would be horrific. We're going to be broadcasting new growth materials and chemicals in all the time, but the suspension needed will mean that we can't scan you and monitor progress. The only communication will be through a speaker and microphone, at the top of the room. We can stop at any time, though once we've begun you'll never be yourself again."
Daystar nodded. Anxiety nibbled at the corner of his mind.
"The entire thing will take around an hour. Try to think elsewhere- you'll still feel great pain. Before you can enter, you'll need to take this multi-serum for preparation."
Gehenne held out a small white tube.
Daystar reluctantly pulled back the veil over his arm. Blue, slightly scaly skin covered one half, and grey flesh the other. His fingers were brassy and long.
Gehenne thought for the serum to broadcast, and it was done.
"Okay, in you go."
Daystar entered the operation room. It was enormous, maybe 60m long- excessive use of spatial pockets, probably.
The invisible speaker activated. "Can you hear me?" "I hear you." Daystar looked around, nervously.
"Beginning in 3... 2... 1..."
Invisible suspensor fields buoyed Daystar up, lifting him into the air. The room grew brighter and brighter, then Daystar's brain disconnected from his body.
He floated through timeless darkness, feeling around him shifting, incorporeal shapes. They may have believed that, in their moments of existence, they were gods.
He felt his mind twisting. Rage, joy, sorrow, calm, grief, flew past in an instant.
His life flashed and flashed, along with the intertwining lives of all he had known. Julth died, ships exploded, planets vanished in his backward eyes.
Spirals, warping geometric shapes, forms familiar yet so alien.
Voices, voices of the living and the dead, the animals and the universe, and they induced yet more flowing emotions.
A thousand years was gone, dead, and cried in pain from beyond the grave. Dancing tendrils, flat time, universes of blue and glorious purple...
It was his turn to scream, but nothing moved.
And a new voice.
It didn't feel like the others. It had solidity, power.
It wasn't Gehenne... was it himself?
"Concentrate on me."
A new form came into focus. Bright, fiery eyes, shadow and flame.
"I wanted to congratulate you!"
On what? Daystar was confused.
"You should have seen the number of time travellers who came back to try and stop this moment. A veritable army! One of the best fights I've had, really."
Why would time travellers want to stop this? Julth?
"The Julth never developed, or will develop, accurate time travel."
Stop reading my thoughts.
"I can't help it, you're so LOUD. Your actions, cause and effect... the web stretching from this moment... it pleases me, and that makes it worthwhile. Ah, I am but a servant... like you were, a good title. Modest."
What will happen? How could you know?
"Think. How do you feel?"
I feel... angry. I want to destroy... why? What is happening?
"Gehenne tried the best he could. But the brain is so intricate, and we may have... accidentally... drawn his attention away at a vital moment. Daystar is dead."
I'm not dead!
"Neither are you Daystar. Well, nice talking to you, and as I said, well done."
Come back! Tell me more!
But the form was gone, and there was darkness. Flying through the void...
He woke up.
He looked right and left, at his ashen scales and great wings. His new claws glinted furiously, and his teeth ground within his mouth.
The door disappeared, and Gehenne ran in.
"Are you okay? Talk to me! Daystar!"
Hectocapitus frowned. "Daystar is dead."
And then, what was once Daystar was gone.
It had all happened so fast for Gehenne. He was thinking that maybe his plan had not gone as well as he thought.
And in the meantime, Hectocapitus was building his army.
It was a good name, really. He didn't really know why he chose it. It just came to him.
What did it mean? Something about seven heads. He may have to look into that at some point.
And just then, Psamos appeared.
He gasped, and said..."Daystar...is that you? This is what you have become?"
"I'm afraid Daystar has...been inconvenienced. Rather permanently." And Hectocapitus smiled.
Psamos was backing away now. "What...what has he done?"
"Oh, he's done nothing really. It's all a bit difficult."
He calmly looked around. It was another lab.
"Tell you what, I'll show you something." He pulled out a vial. "I took the liberty of taking some of this. Primitive Gehennian formula."
"But there's...there's nothing in there..."
"Easily turned into an airborne virus. And mixed with a few other substances that should definitely not go together..."
Hecocapitus grinned, and dropped the vial. It shattered on the floor.
Psamos instantly dropped to the floor. His eyes watered, and he started quivering.
"Unfortunately for you, it will hurt very badly. Within a few seconds you shall be converted." Hectocapitus was clearly enjoying this.
Psamos started convulsing, vomiting up blood. Through squinted eyes, he could see himself sprouting claws, and he felt his mind slipping away, and, horrifyingly, he could feel his DNA changing into that of a monster.
"The formula spreads quickly. Soon the whole of the Veiled Ones will fall deeper into the pits of insanity and evil. In everyone's mind, there will be nothing but hellfire."
And as Psamos finally blacked out, Hectocapitus grinned once more:
"We're all Daemons now."
Kiur stood at the railing, watching the terror unfold before his eyes.
First, the first Gehennian had been created. And immediately after, all hell started to break loose.
There was now a potent virus running through civilization. It changed the Veiled Ones into monstrous nightmare beings. And as far as anyone could tell (at least, the ones which weren't writhing and coughing up their organs), there was no way of stopping it.
Kiur went back to try and resolve the situation.
Aeka took out the plaga-shields from a heavily guarded safe, and handed one to Kiur, who made a small grumble.
"Deep down, I knew this would be a bad idea," he said. "You would think creating the most vicious monster from hell that could ever be imagined---out of the Servant---would make you see your ways. But Gehenne is nowhere in sight."
"Put this on. Whatever outbreak is down there, it's dangerous beyond belief." Aeka paused, and picked up a golden bow, equipped with Sapphire Arrows. "You might want to take this as well. Outdated technology, but whatever works."
A Veiled One named Pharrin appeared. "Ready?" he said.
"We can only hope so."
In Hectocapitus's mind, this was quite fun.
He strode calmly, to nowhere in particular, watching his former bretheren suffer and die around him.
Before, he had made a trip to the armoury. A collecting excursion, that was it.
He noticed three Veiled Ones walking toward him, seemingly unaffected by the virus.
As they came closer, he said, with a hint of contempt, "Why aren't you dead yet?"
"Plaga-shields," Kiur said. "We've come in an attempt to negotiate."
"Now, did Gehenne deliberately create you this way, or was this an accident?"
"No, to both of these questions," the Gehennian said. "He didn't do this, but it wasn't an accident in any way."
Aeka said to Kiur, "This isn't working."
"Then there's only one option left," Kiur said. He raised a large energy weapon. "Kill it."
Hectocapitus did nothing.
And suddenly, there was a red glow in his throat, and a large red blast fired from his mouth, and where Pharrin was there was now flakes of dust drifting the ground.
Kiur and Aeka gasped at the smoldering remnants, and then fired at Hectocapitus. Nothing happened.
"The reason I like you Veiled Ones is that you're so persistent," the Gehennian said, and swiped a clawed hand, directly at the two.
Gehenne crawled out of the cupboard, shivering.
Whatever happened, it didn't happen the way it should have. That was for sure.
After the thing took off, Gehenne ran, frightened. He could hear the screams of others from behind his back, and he knew he cared about his friends, but the scientist kept running anyway, picking up a plaga-shield along the way.
He had been in that cupboard for what had felt to him like days. Looking around, he tiptoed away.
And straight into the eyes of Hectocapitus.
Gehenne let out a small yelp and stepped back, but immediately regained his composure.
"Are you Daystar?" he said.
"Dead," Hectocapitus sighed, "I've already told you."
"Then what are you?"
"Whatever you are, this has to stop."
"Now why would I? I'm having so much fun right now."
Gehenne gulped, and said, "Whatever you want, you can have it. Just stop killing."
"I can't help myself," Hectocapitus said. "Killing is just so...addictive."
"Anything you want," Gehenne continued.
The Gehennian mumbled something under his breath that sounded like "persistence" and said, "What are you offering?"
"What I said."
Hectocapitus looked Gehenne in the eye and said, "I know that look. Instinct. You're wondering why you haven't been killed yet."
Gehenne shivered again, and said, "Well, yes."
"It's because you in particular are quite amusing," the Gehennian said. "I may need you sometime."
"If you are converted, you could become a valuable advisor." He smiled.
"No," Gehenne said.
"Your own undoing," Hectocapitus said calmly. "Then you'll die. Not right now, but eventually."
Gehenne made one last leap. "Anything you want."
"Really?" the Gehennian said. He leaned closer to the scientist, too close for comfort, and whispered:
And without ado, Hectocapitus jumped up into the sky and flew off to inflict more destruction.
Gehenne was left standing. He didn't even look where his "creation" was going. He just stared off into space.
There was nothing more he could do.
Oh, this was going to end well.
Hectocapitus had just taken a big weapon. It was from one of the higher races. If the weapon was meant to be closely guarded, it wasn't. No fight was put up, it was like they just left it for him. Already he was forgetting about them, and turning his attention to the weapon.
It was hefty, to be sure. Engravings covered it all, adorned with pictures and text. Called the Consecro, or something like it.
He hadn't forgotten why he was created, to get rid of the Julth forever. Perhaps it was time to do that.
After talking with that little midget Gehenne, he'd rigged a nova bomb to explode near the Hellstar, where a large legion of Julth was coming from. The bomb might alter the orbit of the planet a bit and bring it too close the star, but that would just be a desired side effect.
Just a few seconds now, and another wave of Julth should be here.
A few freshly created Daemons walked up to Hectocapitus, ready to fight with their new Master.
And then, the wall exploded, debris raining down, revealing Julth. Lots of Julth. They seemed to be startled at the monster in front of them.
"Who are you?" the lead Julth demanded.
Raising the Consecro, Hectocapitus said, "Your final enemy."
And he fired.
The result was satisfying.
A small shape, followed by a giant light, shot from the barrel of the Consecro, rendering the entire surroundings a blaze of white that burned the eyes. Within seconds it had sped through the entire group of Julth, many miles long, and when the light hit them they literally exploded. And then it was over.
Hectocapitus smiled, knowing that the light would continue for a great distance, driving the survivors away forever.
This was only the beginning of the empire. There would be others like him, quite soon. He knew he was capable of conquering the entire universe single-handedly within a few days. His soldiers would keep things in order.
The last of the Veiled Ones should have perished by now. Good. The conquest was almost complete.
It was the beginning of the Daemoniverse.
After that, Gehenne ran again.
He just took a spaceship and fled. It didn't matter where, just away from the planet.
As he ascended, he saw the firey remains of his civilization, burning away into the new empire of his creation. A nova bomb detonated near the star, and he watched helplessly as the planet drew closer and slowly became hot and barren.
He didn't mean to do it. It was a valid experiment, and theoretically should have worked.
It was all his fault, he was convinced.
By himself, Gehenne effectively created the most sadistic monster known in Obeidon, inflicted genocide on the Veiled Ones, his own race, and then destroyed his planet.
It was too much to bear.
He ran, past other planets, past the other stars. He was certain they would be gone soon.
He reached the Crossverse, finding Julth. He didn't care that they were here, where the rest of the race was, who would win the war. They almost didn't register in his mind.
He kept running, out of the Crossverse and in, running through galaxies and universes alike.
It seemed like ages until Gehenne had his epiphany.
The Veiled Ones used to be saviours of the multiverse. They were everywhere, colonizing planets and seeding worlds. They were all gone now.
Was it really worth living after that?
Gehenne must have thought for hours, staring off into space, thinking.
There were weapons in the ship. Quick, but not painless.
A beeping in the craft drew his attention, and he pulled up the scanner.
There was something very large, extremely immense, heading toward the dead planet. He recognized it immediately.
Gehenne had never seen one himself. Nobody had dared go within millions of miles of a Wreaker.
He watched the scanner intently, the enigma slithering ever closer through space.
Soon, he could see the Wreaker itself, tiny glints of light reflecting off its body, heading vaguely towards him. The light of the stars went out as the thing moved over them. It would be closer than it looked.
Well, at least it'll be efficient.
There was a dead, lifeless planet nearby, and he landed on it. His craft wasn't out of fuel yet, but it didn't matter.
The Wreaker was very close now. Minutes, at most, before it came to this world and continue to feast.
Well, it could've been worse, he thought.
And Gehenne sat in the ship and waited for his destiny, thinking back to the mornings with scarlet sunrises.
Epilogue: 10 Years Later
The Daemoniverse was quiet. Once, the radio signals of a thousand races had blasted across the universe. But no more. Hectocapitus couldn't help but feel pleased with his work.
As soon as he had secured victory over the Julth, he had set to work killing all remnant Veiled Ones: those who were immune to his virus, and had scattered throughout Obeidon. Undoubtedly some had survived, somewhere, but they were out of his way, and that was good enough for him.
Next, he had set about the extermination of the other races; the Charonites, the Shellious, the Tuoco... Although he failed to completely drive any of them to extinction, he had at least pushed them out of the Daemoniverse. And again, that was good enough for him.
He was certain that other races would someday surface in the Daemoniverse; the Rennites and the Typhons were rapidly approaching advanced societies. Although he could destroy them with ease whenever he wanted, he decided to let them grow. Give him a challenge for when he was bored.
Hectocapitus's reverie was interupted by a loud crash from behind him. Turning around, he saw his newest child, Soulbane, being knocked about by Bloodburn, his eldest.
"When will you learn, Soulbane," said Bloodburn, laughing. "I'm bigger and stronger than you are. You'll never defeat me."
Soulbane hissed angrily. "I'll get you for this. Someday."
Hectocapitus chuckled. Already, his spawn were developing well-defined feelings of hatred and revenge. With any luck, they would someday make great commanders. But for now, he had other things to occupy himself with.
On the now-blackened surface of his homeworld (he had decided to rename it Inferno), thousands of Grakk wearing special suits labored to build him a great city, one worthy of Hectocapitus.
And as Hectocapitus looked about at his empire, at his armies, and his armada of new warships, he came to the only logical conclusion.
That the Daemons would rule, forevermore.