Story: Night's Children
An enormous fleet of Notrox ships had gathered at the crossgate.
Tioni stood at the helm, smiling as he imagined a whole new universe to conquer, species to exterminate, worlds to scour. They'd used up their own dimension, and now they moved on!
The other Masters stood behind him, conversing amongst themselves. The excitement was tangible, hanging in the air.
A Dominator, manning the sensors, looked up at him. "Opening in five pers."
He braced himself.
In the Daemoniverse, a lone patrol vessel cruised along.
Athog, an Afrit commander, relaxed. He watched the red void pass by, and thought about killing.
Then, all the sensors blared.
"Something to port!"
A swirling portal bloomed into life, revealing an entrance to the Crossverse. And through it shot an armada of Notrox ships, vast beyond imagining.
The patrol ship disintegrated under spray driver fire, and Athog gaped as everything around him became fire. "What in the Master's..."
On Inferno, Hectocapitus growled.
The panicking Korgrath was struggling for words. "There... must have been... a hundred thousand or more, coming... through."
Hectocapitus' eyes narrowed. He grabbed the Daemon before him, and ripped a leg off.
"Get me Bloodburn. And Etherclaw. And Soulbane."
A flotilla of the Notrox ships settled down on Psel's rocky surface. Their bombardment had softened the defense forces, and now the remainder would be little work to clear.
That said, these Daemons were remarkably tenacious.
Tioni looked around as the door opened onto the world's surface.
"All right, with me!"
An army of Dominators and Dominated were right behind him, and they leapt into the fray. The Shaytan began firing, firespitters blazing away, but the Notrox were ready.
A defense field flashed around them, slapping away the projectiles. The Notrox roared as the charged, straight into the enemy, their guns blasting and blades slashing right and left.
Tioni took a choice Korgrath as his target. As he walked towards it, it grabbed another two Dominated and crushed their skulls.
"Well done, Daemon. Let's see you really fight."
The Korgrath snorted. "Arrogant fool. You are nothing against us!"
Tioni began to run, gathering pace. And then he jumped, straight for the foe's neck.
The blades met in mid-air, and Tioni twirled around the impact. His 4m-tall frame was no impediment as he sliced the creature's head off, smoothly and rather neatly.
Around him, the other Notrox pressed forwards.
"In the sky!"
A Gehennian swooped down, and crushed three of Tioni's companions as it landed.
"You invade our planets, kill our soldiers? You pathetic creatures! Watch yourselves die!"
The Master laughed. "I see you're somewhat proud. Well, we'll take you down a notch!"
The Gehennian snarled. "Before you die, what is your name, maggot?"
Tioni sneered at the insult. "I am Tioni. And you?"
"Stormfear, herald of your doom! I am the son of Bloodburn, and more powerful than you can ever imagine!"
"Let's test that, then."
Tioni faced the Gehennian, and they circled at a respectful distance.
Then the dragon lunged, swiping at him with its talons. He leapt over the blow, and slashed downwards.
The Daemon roared, and its plasma beam raked the ground at Tioni's feet, but he was no longer there. He was above Stormfear, and falling. Even as the mouth opened wide, the blades sank into its brain and it collapsed, dead.
Tioni wiped the blood and nanobots from his knife.
"This is too easy."
Five Gehennians entered the Tower, their escorts staying outside.
Argi gazed down at them, and the Praeti stood at attention on either side. Flying eyes and other organs swarmed around them, and the shifting tower rose up.
They entered Hectocapitus' chamber. Bloodburn, Soulbane, Etherclaw, Eklipse, and Nighshadow, filing in to the darkness, amongst red braziers and broken forms.
Hectocapitus regarded them angrily.
"We have an incursion. A fleet of ships has entered the Daemoniverse and captured the whole of Psel."
Eklipse did a double-take. "What? I mean, i apologise Master, how did they manage this?"
"Their fleet is very large. They defeated out ground forces through bombardment and then an infantry sweep."
Soulbane's eyes glittered. "What is your plan, Master?"
"You five, take your ships and a few detachments. Break them apart and hem them in. Keep them close to their point of entry, and then storm them."
"As you command." The Gehennians bowed, and marched out.
The Notrox had reached Arkul. The massive fleets met in the sky, trading blows of enormous power, lighting up the night sky with explosions.
Tioni's ship settled down, and he was straight in, slicing one way and then the other.
In the warm darkness, Djinn swooped down. Dominated leapt up, pulling them down, ripping them open. A pack of Hellhounds surged towards him, and behind them shrieking Ghouls.
He activated his Shaderifle and the shots blistered on the Daemons, blowing great holes into their flesh. The first wave was down in an instant, but they were on him.
A Ghoul swiped, but he jumped over and sliced through its head. Another, screaming, ran straight onto his blade.
The other Dominators around him fired away with joyful abandon, slicing through the foe.
Now, Hydras raced towards them, mouths bellowing noxious gas. The spaceship's weapons took some down, but not enough.
Tioni grabbed one's Rider, and climbed onto the creature's back. The heads turned, snapping viciously, but he dodged them. He got to work at the necks, and the shuddering heads rolled away along the floor as he cut. Then, headless, it crumpled down. Tracks trailed in the dust.
Tioni got up, and brushed his armour down.
On the horizon, striding over hills and trees, came a Titan. It swatted one of the Scourers down with a massive paw, and crushed Notrox beneath its feet.
Apprehension filled Tioni as it came to him.
Only a few dozen yards ahead, it stopped. He could hear the ragged breath and the pumping of the blood within.
It stooped down, and its hand tried to grab him- but he was too fast. He was running up its arm, shooting towards its eyes, and it yelled pitifully, an enormous bellow. Stumbling back, it held its arms to its face for protection.
But he was on its shoulder, and as it tried to grab him, he entered its ear. Inside, it was dripping with cold wax. Armoured flesh stood out around him, but-
the eardrum. He pointed the Shaderifle, and fired.
The ground shook as the Titan staggered forwards. Tioni was out just in time as it crashed into the rocks.
He laughed, joyfully.
Then, his radio crackled. "Sir! In orbit! Another fleet!"
Eklipse's ship drifted gently into Arkul's orbit. An enormous fleet of Daemon Warships surrounded it, engines blazing furiously and hulls glinting.
A few thousand kilometres away, the Notrox fleet began to accelerate towards them. This was medium range, so the ships opened fire.
Deadly Lucifer Cannon salvoes streaked towards the Notrox, and in return a barrage of sprays and driver shots swept through the void.
Explosions appeared across both fleets, but still they pushed onwards. "Prepare Harvengers!" Eklipse yelled.
In the centre of their viewscreen, heading straight for the ship, was a Skyblade.
An Afrit spoke up. "Its weapons are charging, mistress!"
They swerved just in time, as the Skyblade beam materialised a few metres to their port. It blazed there for a second, and then was gone.
"Swerve back! Focus fire!"
The two ships raced towards each other, weapons all firing. Harvengers left their bays and rocketed towards their foe, Rending Cannons already going.
The Skyblade beam appeared again, massively bright. It swept across the Harvengers, and they were gone.
Only a few dozen kilometres now seperated them. Eklipse turned to her officers.
"Prepare boarding Harvengers! Evacuate all Daemons!"
All crewmembers raced to their way out. And just in time, as the Deathship and Skyblade crashed into each other.
Both shields flared for a moment, then Eklipse's ship failed. It fragmented, bits flying out across space.
The boarder ships had already attached to the Skyblade, and now the Daemons were trying to cut their way in.
Fiur, Master of the attacked Skyblade, grabbed his Shaderifle.
"To the bays! Seal off the enemy's route!"
Dominated strapped themselves into armour and took their weapons, before marching rapidly towards where the Daemons were breaking in.
The first wave of Daemons were Djinn. They were brought down in a hail of splinter fire, blood spattering behind them. The Dominated had now brought heavy weapons down, and set them up on tripods.
Another group of Djinn, this time backed by a Grendel, charged in. But before they could even fire, they were all downed, bodies twisting as they were impacted.
The Grendel was thrown back, but pulled itself back up. Yanking a pipe to use as a club, it growled at its foes.
Its head then exploded as a Dominator fired his missile pistol.
"Set up barricades!"
Eklipse had watched the first groups by vidlink. Now, she advanced cautiously, flanked by Zahhak and with Shaytan in train.
Her radar told her that the barricade was just round a corner. She prepared herself, then ripped out the wall between them.
In the hail of splinters and dust, the Notrox were blinded. The plasma beam swept through them, leaving nothing.
Eklipse smiled, satisfied.
Fiur had gathered together most of his troops, and they were well entrenched, tripods up and fully armoured.
Shaytan growling was just about audible, its volume increasing gradually. The Notrox held their breath.
Red armour burst open as it turned the corner, shaderifle fire ripping straight through. The Shaytan were down in an instant. Now, a Zahhak came round the corner.
Every Notrox there fired, but the bullets simply cracked on the adamant hide. Tripod weapons scarred it slightly, but the fluid nanobots simply moved back into position.
The Zahhak lunged, blueblades sweeping through the first line of Dominated. It bit at Fiur, who just dodged and fired three shots into its eye.
With a moan, it crashed onto the floor.
Two more Zahhak now entered, along with a Gehennian. "Ah, so this is where you've been hiding!"
The Zahhak thrust straight into combat, shots ricocheting off their armour. Eklipse strode carelessly through the path they cleared, straight up to Fiur.
The Dominator smiled. "Now."
The ship's Skyblade beam reversed and obliterated itself, reducing everything and everyone on board to plasma.
Nightshadow watched the death of her sister from afar, and sighed.
She opened a channel to her fleet. "Let the skies turn red."
All at once, her fleet began to blast out from their engines, moving straight towards Arkul. It was barely visible under the Notrox ships.
"We're not here to kill them. We are here to annihilate them!"
Several of Nightshadow's specially designed deathships, the Deathslingers, began to fire. Their Abberant Cannons began to rotate, slowly at first, but faster and faster until they were a blur. From their barrels came Flamedrills, constructs which used a flamebubble to slice through the opposing fleet. They shone red as they crashed into the Notrox, cutting ships in half and spouting flares of orange, spherical in the microgravity.
Her own ship was at the forefront of the assault, and its Lucifer Cannons activated first. Long yellow streams traced from the Deathships to their foes.
The Notrox returned the favour. Skyblade beams swept across the black, vaporising and then disappearing again. Mass and spray drivers laced the darkness with sparks and crushing power.
"Break through their lines! Get to the planet below!"
Now, another Daemon fleet, even larger than hers, was detectable. The Antagonist was leading it, so it was Etherclaw's.
Nightshadow got her ships to descend, but their foes were waiting for them. Notrox turrets and tanks initiated their defense, explosions smashing against the flame bubble.
The Rending Cannons smashed through Notrox right and left, and Lucifer Cannons obliterated the emplacements. Daemons began to rush out, straight into the enemy lines. There were suddenly gunshots and screams everywhere, blasts wracking the plain and fire racing across the dirt.
Nightshadow and her Zahhak bodyguard came forth, their great wings blocking the light that reached this world.
Bullets simply bounced off their nanobot armour, and the unheeding Gehennian searched for the enemy leader.
A gold-armoured Dominator suddenly stood out from the crowd, and they dived down. As they landed, they crushed Dominated and slashed out at those all around them.
The gold-armoured one charged, and leapt straight at Nightshadow. She blasted him from the sky with her plasma beam and then stomped down on his neck.
He stuggled to breathe under her claws, which curled into the dirt.
"Your tenacity is admirable. If only our troops were like yours." She made an effort to appear wistful.
Then, she squeezed, reducing him to a pulp.
Looking up, she saw the battle continue. Neither side was winning, but that was soon to change.
Tioni regretted not being on the surface with his troops, but judging from the reports they stood no chance. These Gehennians were stronger than expected, and their troops never retreated.
Arkul was lost, but not the Daemoniverse. The Notrox would simply find another way around, as they always did.
The Antagonist and its vast fleet were right behind Tioni's armada. They were outnumbered and outgunned, but their power lay in their blockade. The Notrox would not be able to get to the Hellstar in time to avoid Bloodburn and Soulbane's larger fleets.
Etherclaw was restless, but he did not feel like killing the Notrox today. He wanted to save them up.
It, then, was quite annoying for him to see an attack force descending upon Lisiss, a city with a Daemon garrison and one of Hectocapitus' 'species to kill later'. He directed his ships to cut them off, as he had to, with a rather reluctant air.
It was going to be necessary to land, which Etherclaw also disliked. He felt like space today, to watch the jewels of the Daemoniverse- but it was not to be. Damn Notrox, interfering.
Some of the Deathships stayed in orbit, ready to provide a bombardment or to counter any assault by the enemy. The Antagonist itself headed down, shooting a few ships down on the way using its Lucifer Cannons.
It came to rest, and Etherclaw climbed out with his guard of Zahhak and Reapers.
The Reapers' forms dissolved and were replaced with those of Notrox Dominated- at least to the non-Gehennian eye.
"Go out, and split up their forces."
Etherclaw himself took off into the air, his Zahhak behind him, and circled above the Notrox force. A few dozen thousand, at most.
"Orbital bombardment, please!"
From space, a salvo of missiles crashed down, exploding in the middle of the Notrox army. A giant repulsor over the site reduced the damage somewhat, but it still scattered the legion and killed a fair few.
He could see the location of the Reapers, marked in his vision as they were, leading groups of Notrox out from the defended area. One Reaper had already been found out, it seemed, but the others were doing their jobs very satisfactorily.
He swooped down on one emerging column, and a rain of flechettes poured from his mouth. Each struck down a foe, and half the line was gone in a moment. A few of the smaller Gehennians that had accompanied him were destroying the other emergent groups, and everything was going to plan for once.
He landed, and cracked the skulls of two Dominators against each other. Using a Dominated as a club against its own kind, he smashed left and right, sending them flying.
A gold-armoured enemy general appeared on the far side of the throng, slashing down the Shaytan that threw themselves blindly at it.
A large dart, stained acid green with poison, went straight through its skull, and it fell down. Etherclaw wiped his mouth and carried on.
Hey, maybe today wasn't so bad for fighting after all.
Bloodburn's fleet headed towards Malisma, to counter a broad sweep by the Notrox forces. At its head was the Armageddon, but many tens of thousands of other warships were there too. And this was no majority of the Daemon navy- it was perhaps a hundredth, as there were constant wars to attend to elsewhere.
The two fleets had no wish to make contact, as they were evenly matched. But Soulbane's fleet- almost the same size as Bloodburn's- was heading to cut them off. If they did not fight their way through or make berth, this would be the battle in which the cream of the Notrox fleet was destroyed.
Both sides had their own battle computers and master tacticians, predicting and preparing for every possible move. No ships had to move, as each pre-emptive maneouvre would be pre-empted, and then that pre-empted again...
A detachment of Notrox cruisers broke formation, and accelerated headlong into a broadside that reduced them to ashes.
The wings of the Daemon fleet edged forward, moving to encircle the Notrox. Spreading forces was not usually a good idea, but Bloodburn was confident enough in his defense.
A Skyblade beam lashed out, inaccurate at this range, followed by another and another. It was a warning- get this close, and die.
The Daemons unleashed their Hellfire missiles, streaming towards the foe in their thousands. Most were shot down or had their explosive power dissipate over the Notrox defenses, but a few broke the shields and caused a ship to split into many pieces.
In reply, space-twister missiles rushed at the Daemon armada. The Daemon point-defense and shields were effective too, but several ships were broken apart and then launched outwards.
Now they knew the enemy's capabilities- or at least the capabilities they were unafraid to let on- and their tactics changed accordingly.
Then, three sets of launches occurred. One was from the Notrox, heading towards Bloodburn's fleet. Another was from that fleet, heading towards the Notrox. The final was from Soulbane's fleet, having rushed at maximum FTL to behind the enemy line.
The effect was devastating- under the wiltering barrage, hundreds of explosions travelled along the Notrox battleline. It was but a fragment of their forces, but every ship counted and the Notrox jumped into FTL to escape, each blue flare lighting up the darkness for a precious moment.
Tioni shook his head, sorrowful, as he studied the universe map in his ship's bridge. It was not going to plan- they should have been surrounding the Hellstar system, but instead they had been pushed back to a sphere only a few hundred lightyears wide. A stalemate had occurred, but the Daemons could produce ships faster than the Notrox would ever be able to.
He accepted the drink that a Dominated offered to him, and sighed.
Was this the end? Had his species run its course, now fated to fade away slowly, squeezed out of existence by the accursed Daemons- how could they be losing to such a stunted, twisted empire?
The deep thoughts surrounded him, and he slowly fell to sleep.
This was a strange dream.
The abstract was all around him, a mess of geometry and flowing hues.
And then, a voice. It had solidity, power.
It was calling him. What kind of dream was this?
He almost woke up. What on Deonox-
"I don't like doing this. Last time was 1.9 million years ago, with- ah! How interesting. The web of causality."
Tioni could just about make out eyes, shadow and flame.
"But. I'm here to offer you a way out of the stalemate."
And, restless in his sleep, Tioni smiled.