Story: The End of the Beginning
|The End of the Beginning|
This is a work of fiction which has been started by Holbenilord. This is because he has ideas now. Don't get excited just yet, there will be a veritable avalanche after this is finished.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree;
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
I watch the points of light that move in the sky. They tell me that it is us that're moving, and I have to agree for my exams. I don't tell anyone except Blemu, but I know for sure that I'm not moving.
They lie about other things as well. Me and Blemu have a list, written in the sandrock down in the forest. It's a preserved forest, so we're not meant to go in, but it is so fun.
I like to draw. I draw creatures. Some are big and colourful, others are small and drab. Some have wings and some have big claws.
The creatures sometimes attack Blemu at night, he says, but I know that it's the Wex. They go into our houses for the warmth, the adults say. They don't bite, but they try to crawl into your mouth and your armpits. I like them, and always make sure I don't crush any when I get up. Sometimes I think they might be like me, but they don't talk.
I was out in the wood once when I found a Fow. Fow have pretty eyes, they change colour if you turn your head. They have sharp teeth, but they are scared of us and don't bite. We don't bite, but only because it hurts others. Hurting people is not allowed. If I take one of Serri's frills, the School Adults shout at me. It grows back, so why is it so bad?
Deep within the Aisva galaxy, Tyrius Levaen d'Hastea sat at the fore of the Arch-Council.
The other council members conversed amongst themselves, gentle hums and occasional trunk-snorts.
He regarded them gently, and then tapped his telson against the table. The others turned.
"What you've been hearing is true. A new foe has emerged."
The centre of the table began to shimmer, and then it was replaced by a projection. In full colour, almost real, they watched a recording.
They watched an Aian spaceship heading towards a strange fizzling in space. A dark, throbbing mass of sparking material hung in the starlight. The scan feeds appeared below the image: high vacuum disturbance, but no gravitic shear. No Rifts detected.
Tyrius paused it with a wave. "This is from the Viperius Galaxy, just a few million adla from where we sit. Vael Marass, my brother, manages the area, with a fleet of eighteen thousand. There are around two hundred notable civilisations there, at the last count."
Then, the fizzling began to widen, a gaping maw. And from it burst a Daemon Warship.
They recognised the silhouette; they'd encountered the Daemons before. But this warship was broken, shattered. It was transmitting in an untranslated tongue, but they could sense the fear in that alien voice.
And after it came another Daemon ship, and another. The Aians began to open fire, destroying the already crippled Daemon ships. Missiles and mass driver shots streaked into the smoke.
Paused. "You all know of the Daemons. They're tough foes. And something was just gamely cracking their ships."
Tyrius looked back at the projection. "Here it is."
Then, from the smoke, a new vessel emerged. This ship must have been over a dozen miles long, with enormous fins and purest black armour.
The Aian ships tried to contact, but the unidentified object simply turned to them.
A red beam, blinding and massive, filled the screen. And all the Aians were gone.
A Ravager was loose in Viperius.
On Inferno, the Elith hunting wasn't doing very well. Skayl felt angry about this.
"Where are the bots!" He yelled, booting an Imp into a seething pool of molten rock. Stupid imps, served no purpose. He was doing his race a favour.
The Shaytan around him were as hopelessly bored as he was, muttering amongst themselves and trudging along, iron-shod boots making clear prints in the ashen ground.
They carried on anyway, and found an Elith nest. Empty, again. The metal corridors were suffused with dust and ash- maybe abandoned twelve days ago?
Something big landed outside. A Shaytan shouted into the pit.
"Deadflame is here!"
Skayl shot up onto the surface, his face now a picture of fear. A gehennian calling you was not usually a pleasant experience...
Deadflame turned to look at him. There was a glint in his eye. "You're coming with me, Skayl. First we find the Elith, then we head to Nether."
"We have to perform some surgery."
The Angeli warriors were falling back from the incoming Daemons. Legions of Shaytan and Korgrath were attacking, Firegnashers sounding as they fired into the Angelus ranks.
Each death was an anti-matter bomb in the enemy horde, but it was not enough. There were millions of enemies in this world.
Jariel struck down another Hellhound, then punched a goblin into the air. His sword came round to sever a Rider's head, and he fired a blazeblast that took down another.
He felt a radio scream as Hurriel was destroyed, and then saw the flash on the horizon. A thunderous rumble raced over the landscape.
They were running out of men. A pack of Hydra charged towards him, and he braced himself for the impact...
The next thing that happened was the complete destruction of the nearby Daemons. Pulses of anti-matter crashed into them, shot after shot, decimating their line. As they turned to flee, another row of mushroom clouds rose before them.
An enormous white dragon settled down beside Jariel.
"Help for those who need it."
The Angelus smiled. "I knew I could count on you," he transmitted, "You're a friend."
The two allies took off together.
"So, why were you on Fegeb anyway?"
Jariel sighed silently. "There's a mission that needs doing. We've discovered some disturbing information about Inferno."
"What are we looking for? Korgrath general?"
Kwies the Tantapteran sat facing Farrar, the Drohov ambassador.
"Your request is that the Tantapterans leave Machinus and assist your new war."
"We need your assistance. You have to help us!"
"No benefit has been predicted. Assistance will not be provided."
"Come on! If it comes elsewhere, who can tell what will happen?"
"Answer has been given."
Farrar sighed. "Okay then." He turned to leave.
"Halt!" Kwies began to shiver as he received a transmission.
"An instance has been detected in Machinus. We will do as you ask. Assist us."
Phrenno, Pentos of the ninteen-seventeen legion, flew at the front of his troops.
He Showed them what their mission was- to find and destroy the Cimmerian, Dread. It would not be easy, but their numbers were sufficient.
They smashed through another line of Servics, electricity lashing through the exploding remnants. These foes were no obstacle, and their strength had to be reserved for their target.
Will the sky stay blue forever? Will the ground be verdant green for the rest of time?
Or shall all things be subdued by eternity?
Far under the surface of Arra, within the Great Below, the Nightfeaster cared for his servants. They brought him gifts and praise.
Nothing useful, but it was the love they showed that pleased him.
"How he loves his little children!"
His form spread within the cavern, bubbling blackness within strange protrusions and organs appearing and disappearing over its surface. Another group of worshippers entered, placing their offerings beneath his bulk and chanting their dedications.
Lovingly, tenderly, he took one in a formless tentacle, and popped them into a swirling mouth.
A planet, flying through blue space, stopped.
It stopped rotating and it stopped orbiting its star. It stopped travelling around its galaxy and it stopped moving within its supercluster.
And, under the now ruined surface, the Pantheon of Steel began to awaken.
You must have known the storm was coming.
Join the lightning and the rain.
Something is changing, and we're trying to find out what it is.
Lthr, Lord of the High Marches, let his guard down. He let himself go.
His complacency was his weakness, and he was cast down. On the point of his death, the Teacher came to him. He tended his wounds and fed him, teaching him of the workings of the universe.
And now that he understands, he has come so we all forget.
Usen Kalin d'Veron was hurling a ball at the white walls, throwing and catching, throwing and catching.
He was a guard. He was a very good guard, he thought, but this was not even guarding. He sat here, almost alone, in a Ringworld around a gas giant. Was there something in there?
He wanted to be free. He wanted to be free, to do what he wanted to do.
He was going to have a party. It was decided!
He went to make some party wreaths, and called up some relevant food on the machine. He called Tdar and Vas over the intercom.
"Party in the main hall! You coming?"
They all sat down by the table together, joking and feasting, a day off for once. Tdar managed to eat six hundred Klecc, and Vas could still complete a Rihak puzzle after eight Bsar Delights.
"You sure keep yourself together well, Vas!" Usen hiccupped.
"Time for a song, I think!"
Usen laughed "Oh no, my musical days are over."
"Come on Usen! You need the practice!"
Trunk-smiling, Usen sat down by the tempsynth and began to tap away. He took a big breath and began to sing.
"#Get your dance hat on
Let's go downtown
Gotta have some fun
We're all so crazy
gotta celebrate tonight
Get your dance hat on
gotta celebrate toniiiiiight!#"
"More, more!" They laughed, in hysterics.
Usen pretended to get up, then swivelled back to the keys.
"One more time, lads!
"# Ain't no-one gonna come beat the Aians
We're as best can be
We'll fight the Zeph or Daemons
We'll beat them on the sky and in the sea!"
Vas and Tdar swayed together, their hums slow and out of tune.
"#Ain't no-one gonna come and beat the Aians
We're the best of all
You can fight if you think you're big
We'll show you just how small!#"
They all fell down together, laughing.
"I've missed this. I don't care if I have brainsqueeze tomorrow, I had fun!"
They downed another Bsar and fell asleep.
Deadflame stood at the helm of his ship, looking out into the red and black Daemoniverse.
"Three more minutes til Nether."
He nodded, and then tested his claws, retracting and showing his clawblades.
"My lord." Skayl came onto the bridge.
"Is there a problem?"
"Well... we are being tailed, sir."
"Anathema, my lord."
"Bring up a channel."
Anathema's face appeared on the viewscreen.
"Uh, hi Deadflame."
"Go back home, worm."
"I was just heading to Nether...."
"Get the hell out, son of the betrayer."
Anathema bristled. "I serve the Master!"
"Like father, like son. You're despicable."
He closed the channel, and turned away again.
Fire Opal watched the Irihil ships enter Emenata, hundreds travelling together. She moved closer to her boyfriend, taking comfort in his presence.
"They'll help us?"
"We need to see. Any ally can help."
The lead Irihil ship docked with theirs, and the hatch opened to let them in. Blazewing stood there, Fire Opal by his side, and he extended a paw in welcome.
The Irihil commander, wearing silver armour, took the paw and gripped it for a moment, before disengaging.
"We have a common enemy."
"You speak the truth. The Daemons must die."
"The Gehennians should be free!"
"What makes them better than their slaves?"
"They are so much more! Think of the good they could do. It isn't too late to save them. If Hectocapitus is gone, it will be easy."
"And just how do you intend to defeat him?"
Blazewing held up his right paw, and gleaming claws caught the light. "Trust me that I can. I just need to get there first."
"Sarrus, Irien! How many ships do we have in the multiverse?"
The other Irihil commanders muttered to each other for a moment, then turned to him.
"More than one and a half million."
"More than enough to reach Inferno."
The silver-armoured commander looked back at his new allies. "You have our aid, whether it be in this generation or the next, until the Night." He turned to go.
"Thanks. You won't regret this."
The Irihil laughed. "Oh, indeed. Day protect you."
Let the depths rise up and sweep over the shores, rendering the works of life to dust.
The Cimmerian was near, they could sense its power. Phrenno and his troopers crashed through another line of foes, charging themselves to the maximum.
And there, floating in the darkness, was a shifting blackness. Fire and smokey grey trailed from its edges, pseudopods reached out, eyes formed and glared balefully upon the Free Minds. It lashed out with Strange fields, whipping through the oncoming entities. Where it had touched one, that being turned into grey blobs and dispersed harmlessly.
Phrenno blasted lightning and lasers at the dark form, along with all his allies. He Showed them where to focus fire and move...
More of The Vision's troops came up behind. Orbs of blazing electricity, contrasted with the pitch black of space. They descended on Dread, wolves to the slaughter...
Dread Showed them something. He Showed them a Mind greater than himself, a being which was coming. A being that would prevent them from ever triumphing.
The Free Minds paid no heed. Beings more powerful than the Exas were simple legends, perpetuated to keep the Vision on alert.
The universe unfolded, and there was the strongest scent they had ever felt. It enveloped them, a suffocating musk that told ominously of the greatest power.
Dread Showed them what they were blinded to- a great darkness, a Mind of palpable horror and immensity. It was a Tyrant Mind, and it killed the unbelievers without a thought.
Phrenno felt his Mindmatter spilling out, and he praised this new deity, he Showed his worship to his new god.
And he was saved.
The Julth Overlord watched the universes from his Toxx-Ziph, schemes and plots circling within his gaseous mind. Sezzka-ri flew around him, feeding from the nearby cluster of Rift-Stars and watching for any danger.
A Rift exploded into life but a few kilometres in front of him, shards of glowing orange and yellow. He commanded his guards around him, and his Toxx-Ziph brought up a shield of living plasma.
The vessel that slipped out was no Daemon Warship. It was Craan, but the Julth could tell something else was up.
All the Craan in this ship were Tsennu, returning to their master. They wanted orders.
On the planet Kiron, a village of Elden was celebrating a festival. They were eating and drinking, talking and playing in the woods.
A group of Salsenes watched them from above, enjoying the happy lives of their fellows on this planet. It was not unusual for the Elden to simply come to their community laden with fruits and berries- usually unpalatable, but the gesture was a kind one.
How free they were, revelling in the little things.
Zeera felt her communicator vibrate in her jacket.
"What is it, mum?"
"Elisri! Coming to kill us!"
There was a thunderous crash as an Elisri missile crashed into the valley, sending rocks and dirt flying up in a cloud.
The Elden continued to celebrate, unable to process this event.
But the Salsenes were running.
A planet, flying through bright space, stopped.
It stopped rotating and it stopped orbiting its star. It stopped travelling around its galaxy and it stopped moving within its universe.
And, under the now ruined surface, the Calmness began to awaken.
Go, and with gouls and afreets rave
till these in horror shrink away
from spectre more accursed than they...
I told Blemu that he wasn't my friend any more today. I haven't seen him since, and the school adults don't know where he is. They are not worried though. They say he'll come back.
I want him to come back. I didn't mean it.
Maybe he'll come back if I say I believe him about the monsters.
On the peak of a red mountain, a lost soldier has renounced his loyalties. He offers us his allegiance, asking to help.
And we will let him, for we are few. He can grant us the support we need, for he was not hated by his kin. And his kin are strong.
But first they must cast off the shackles of their slavery, and escape their very blood. They must become what they could have been, what they were prevented from being.
They must defeat their Master.
When the heavens above were yet unnamed,
And the name of the earth beneath had not been recorded,
Apsu, the oldest of beings, their progenitor,
"Mummu" Tiâmat, who bare each and all of them--
Their waters were merged into a single mass.
Usen woke up in pain, so he lay there for another few minutes.
He then got up, and moved over to the monitors. It occurred to him that he had no idea what he was checking for, but he watched the screen for a few moments anyway.
He decided to check up on the others.
"Locate Vas and Tdar."
"Crewman Tdar is located in the secondary sleeping deck."
"Er, okay. Locate Vas."
"Please repeat your query."
"Tell me the location of Vas, the third crewman of the station."
"No such crewman exists on records."
Usen hit his head a few times with his arms, then looked back at the computer.
"How many Aians are present on this station?"
"There are two Aians located on this station. Stationmaster Usen is requesting data, crewman Tdar is located on the secondary sleeping deck."
Usen pondered this for a moment, then decided to go and find Vas for himself.
The Tantapterans, Drohov ships amidst their ranks, filled the Machinian void and flew at their greatest speed towards the threat.
Kwies, Xeres, and Heraxies were the greatest amongst them, the three who had been enhanced by the guardians of the Synthayon, engineered in part as the Clockwork Sentinels were. Larger and with greater sheen, they were apart from the majority of their kind.
They usually shunned this area, but it was necessary to travel here. They could just about make out the flashes of a distant battle, and headed on determinedly to reach it.
The Drohov miners approached the Nithwall apprehensively.
Three crewmembers were scanning the sensor arrays the entire time, tension holding them motionless. Another carefully manipulated the mining arm, thrusting it into the Nith.
He began to move it out, scooping it up with the arm and watching it get transferred into storage, 1 second behind time.
"Edge of the scanner field!"
Little blips were visible on the display, getting closer and closer with each sweep.
"I knew they were being too quiet..."
"We're pulling out."
The ship began to fire it engines, but the Nithlings were almost on them. A vile Nithworm leapt from the wall and hit the ship with a clang...
Accelerating, the ship was moving too fast for the pursuing forms.
A light began to flash above the control panel- the hull was breached. There were repeated bangs on the hull as the Nithworm chewed its way in.
It must have been wrapped around the ship, as its tail waved regularly in front of the cockpit window. The Drohov began activating the plate heaters, trying to drive it off, but then the air began to leave their room. It would take quite a while for it all to escape, but they grabbed the sealant and timelapse goggles anyway and ran to the hole.
And there, sticking through the hole, was a Nithworm. It was gnawing through the cabling and flooring, sweeping its great head from side to side. They couldn't get around it, let alone reach the hole it had created...
Then, completely out of character, it turned to them. Eyes appeared on its upper chitin, and out of sync with its grinding mandibles, it spoke with x-rays.
"I am a Nithlord, speaking through my servant. I have a task that you must do for me."
"Take this body to Tranquil, or you will die."
"Okay! Let's get going!"
The Nithworm shuddered, then began to reform, plugging the hole. "Keep to the promise."
A monster fell, of a dusky hue,
And eyes that flashed with hellish glow;
Many it maimed and some it slew,
Then back to the forest again it flew,
As an arrow leaves the bow.
High above Tohzlocticzon, Qoaxitli received a message.
The message was from the Emperor, a video of his eyes changing, forming the shapes of symbols and places. Coatzl were forbidden to turn their backs on the Emperor, even on recordings of him, so she watched it all.
She had a mission. She was to take her megaship and travel to a planet called Nuuxitlan, where some kind of disaster had occurred.
But to send a megaship? It had to be something big.
Her pilots were already firing up the engines, and she could see the Tuetlex station they were heading towards. A two hundred parsec trip.
That would take just under two hours, enough time to relax in preparation.
"You have a front row seat here to one of the most momentous events in the history of science. In less than a minute, you will see the most powerful explosion ever witnessed by Aoarus eyes. The blast will come from a planetary nebula just about there, and this is the significance of the moment. This is the first full-scale test of a phaseless device. If the interaction goes, we are in the transphasic era. For the sake of all of us, and for the sake of our species, I know you join me in wishing this expedition well."
"It is now 30 secrends to zero time. Put on opacity goggles or retreat behind a wall. Do not remove goggles or re-enter until 200 secrends after first light."
"Niner. Eight. Seven. Six. Fiver. Four. Three. Two. One."
There was a shine of opaque white, travelling out faster than lightspeed, the ship's hull itself releasing the radiation. It grew stronger and stronger, and it was all that could be seen- a hand before the face was drowned in this solid brightness.
For three minutes, the observers stood in this corporeal light, each with their skull-like head bearing a wide smile.
There was a slight dimming, and this new world of whiteness faded, leaving the space that had existed before.
The nebula was no more. The stars around it were no more. This entire microverse was empty.
It was well that the Aoarus had put up blocking plates and ancillary shields, for their power was now completely drained and there was no trace of the enormous metal sheets that had drifted before them.
The Dread Lord Akrael grinned widest of all, and turned to his generals and commanders. "This is the weapon that shall destroy the Coatzl, the Irihil, and all the other pathetic vermin that squelch in Emenata."
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air
A planet, flying through grey space, stopped.
It stopped rotating and it stopped orbiting its star. It stopped spiralling through the cogfields and it stopped moving within its universe.
And, under the now ruined surface, the Keepers of the Bright began to awaken.
I am the Ducer. Some call me mad, but they don't know what it means.
You're sane if you know where you fit in the universe.
We are all insane.
A hundred Aian ships headed to intercept the Ravager. All were battleships, flaming nanodiamond and glowing weapons at once ready to fire. At their head was the ship of Taeron Vaerem d'Lienn, and he watched the screen with wide eyes, vigilant as he could be.
There, amongst the nearby stars, was a tremendous explosion- the destruction of a planet. Given light speed delay, it would have been a day or so ago. It was followed by another explosions and another- this being was clearing out star systems?
No matter what it was doing, it was too close to Solin to leave alone. The blue and white Deraia homeworld lay there, unaware of this unspeakable force bearing down upon them.
Taeron sent out a messenger to warn them. One of the frigates.
A sense of gloom came over him as he reached the next star system. Here, too, only gravel and cloud moved in once-steady orbits around their star.
This was far fresher devastation- but the Ravager was definitely far faster than any Aian ship. It was holding back- searching for something?
"Into FTL, again."
Before the scanners could report it to him, Taeron knew the Ravager was in this system. And he also knew that it was only a thousand kilometres away, its bladed hull pointed towards the Aians, with the weapons that could destroy worlds.
"Captain, incoming transmission!"
"Don't route it through! Analyse first. It could be a cyberattack!"
"Repeating pulses, varying in digitial amplitude within a discrete superstructure. It's a message alright, but only the top hundredth of each pulse is clean."
"Alright. Put it on."
The audio systems of the ship shuddered noticeably, as if a behemoth was drawing breath. Little feedback loops, buzzing static, appeared and disappeared.
Then, a tremendous, monotone voice. The Aians all stumbled, but the technician quickly turned the volume down.
"We can hear you, being. Cease and desist your attack!"
"Your arrival was highly desirable. Observe. Destruction of the planet 'Solin' impending."
"Why? Why do you do this?"
A slow, careful rumble. A dozen of the Aian ships exploded on the right wing, torn apart by mass drivers of unprecedented power.
"Stop or be destroyed! The Aia will not accept this destruction!"
"Deraia ships approaching. Aian ship leading. Aian ship will be neutralised."
The frigate leading the Deraia from Solin was vaporised in an instant by a titanic laser, which then swept amongst the refugee ships. Each was turned to plasma at a touch. The Deraia warships, heading in their direction, ran straight into a volley of a thousand missiles that reduced them to glowing cinders.
"Observe as the planet is destroyed."
A red glow lit up the front of the Ravager, and then an invisible beam of flowing bosons shot out faster than light. It met the planet and annihilated it- a flare of heat and gamma rays spreading out in a deadly sphere.
But the Ragnarok Beam did not stop there. It headed on through the darkness, colliding with the planet's sun- at least they knew it had, but the light from the destruction would not reach them for a few minutes yet.
And then the almighty blast hit them. The blinding light not of a supernova, but the total obliteration of an octillion tonnes of material. The Aian shields were completely gone and the ship was knocked about wildly as everything in the planetary system was expelled at relativistic speeds- moons, gas giants, asteroids, dust...
Getting up off the floor, Taeron saw the construct before him had not even been moved by the explosion.
"Termination of the Aian lifeforms commencing."
A laser swept from right to left, and then the Aian fleet was gone.
The Ravager turned back to where the star had been, and began to head towards its objective- a dimensional rift, leading from this system to the Daemoniverse...
But at the edges of the system, another force had gathered. A battlefleet of Elisri, but not like any seen before- a billion ships darted to and fro, silver armour glinting in the starfields.
This was a fleet that could destroy every civilisation in the Viperius Galaxy and many more beyond.
The stream will cease to flow;
The wind will cease to blow;
The clouds will cease to fleet;
The heart will cease to beat;
For all things must die.
All things must die.
Irithion watched the stars from the ship's portholes. This universe, Emenata, was prettier- more light and blue, less oppressive red and shadow.
But they were going after a Gehennian, and Gehennians were a wily foe if there ever was one. He'd also been told this universe was packed with sapients- maybe advanced and aggressive ones.
The Angeli worked away around him, constantly scanning, relaying commands, repairing damaged items. It was hard to understand how they kept themselves so busy, at least to Irithion.
"We're approaching our contacts."
The view from one of the scopes appeared on the wall. A large, grey ship, elegant in its curves and evidently powerful.
Then, it was replaced by a vidlink, and the face of an Irihil appeared.
"You wished to talk with us?"
"Indeed," transmitted one Angeli, "About what you told us."
"You brought Irithion?"
Irithion activated his cam. "Here."
"Very good. Follow us."
In the Valka Galaxy, a Merranite ship cruised along. Laid back and relaxing, its crew watched the stars go by, each one scanned and registered.
"Hey, pass the cake, would you?" The captain, Parel, spoke from his reclining chair.
"Sure thing." One of his pilots handed him a large slice of cake, and Parel began to munch at it thoughtfully.
"Do you think about why the universe exists?" He said, to no-one in particular.
Abira, the astrogator, nodded. "I like to look into the stars and think about where they came from, the path back to the universe's birth."
"What's your opinion?"
"I reckon it's up to us to decide why, because there is no reason."
Madro rolled over to face them. "I like to think we exist for a reason. Maybe there's a purpose."
"It's all a bit complex for a snack conversation, isn't it?"
They nodded and fell back into silence.
From the darkness, a Seared One missile accelerated towards them.
The ship was gone in a flash of plasma.
Here is your world.
It is a world of suffering and death, but also of joy and birth.
The cycle of life will continue.
But only until it is stopped.
Zeera kept on running, crashing through the undergrowth. The pounding of the Elisri orbital bombardment continued, and she made the mistake of looking up.
Hundreds of nibblers zipped across the sky, beneath the silhouetted hulks of biters and obliterators. This wasn't the kind of fleet you sent to destroy a farm...
She reached the edge of the forest, Paj and Murrun just behind her. The farmhouse was just a mile away...
The sheds and generator had been reduced to smoking ruins, and the fields burned ferociously. She caught a glimpse of her mother, running from the house. They caught each others' gaze...
The blast sounded like a hundred peals of thunder, and the building was gone.
A small group of nibblers were coming down. It was certain they had detected the Salsene children, so the three of them trembled with fright.
A drill came down from each of the vessels, and began to bore into the ground.
Vallea woke up and saw that her wings and legs were in chains. She struggled desperately, but nothing gave.
The other Banshaen beside her were in a similiar state- bound and struggling or unconscious. She didn't recognise any of them.
The walls of this place were white and sterile, but pipes and tubes ran along their length. Pulsing lights moved along the floors and ceilings- green, red, blue, green, red blue...
A pod, egg-shaped and the same sterile, shiny white as the architecture, cruised by.
It opened up in front of her, and a small, cephalopod-like organism extended a tentacle. Gently, it touched her forehead, despite her protests.
It then withdrew, and pressed some kind of panel inside its craft. Immediately, others came shooting towards her, forming a loose semicircle.
As one, they spoke, the translated words crisp and sonorous...
"Do not be afraid, banshaen. The Sphere accepts you."
A box-like construct lowered over her head, and then she saw nothing.
After the blast of lightning from the east,
The flourish of loud clouds, the Chariot Throne;
After the drums of time have rolled and ceased,
And by the bronze west long retreat is blown,
Shall Life renew these bodies? Of a truth,
All death will he annul, all tears assuage? -
Or fill these void veins full again with youth,
And wash, with an immortal water, age?
When I do ask white Age, he saith not so:
"My head hangs weighed with snow."
And when I hearken to the Earth, she saith:
"My fiery heart shrinks, aching. It is death."
Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified,
Nor my titanic tears, the seas, be dried."
The Tantapterans and Drohov were close now. The clockwork sentinels were falling, however- the sentinels who could exterminate all life in Machinus.
Farrar gulped, not wanting to think about his chances.
What they saw was a colossal silhouette in black, 4000 parsecs long, dwarfing the stars and the Synthayon that it so ominously apprached. It was not even firing- all casualties were the result of colliding with its impregnable bulk.
The Tantapterans, millions in number, faltered and began to bunch together. The Drohov ships sped on, however, needing to reach the universe-generating machine first. It was the only way back.
Usen wandered around the decks of the Ringworld, still thinking hard. It was a big place, but they tended to stay around the monitoring station.
He still hadn't remembered what they were monitoring.
He walked down to the secondary sleeping deck, and sure enough, there was Tdar. The computer hadn't died, evidently.
He walked in, and tapped Tdar on the shoulder with his scytheclaw.
Tdar mumbled something, and turned over. "Huhhhh?"
"According to the computer, Vas does not exist."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Do you know where he is?"
Tdar let out a long breath, and pulled himself up. "I last saw him down in engineering. He was diagnosing the source of some fault."
"I didn't know there had been a fault."
"Yeah, well. Maybe he just wanted somewhere to sleep where you wouldn't come in and wake him."
Usen trunk-smiled. "No harm done."
In the Great Below, all heard the Nightfeaster's call. Together, they surrounded him, and knelt before his darkling form.
"My children, I love you so that I must warn you of what is occurring."
His servants began to chant. "Keleta vasr lomon... saleh voros telemoni aramus... vkthfpre esgfarhlkvr... mrkaghghlr byfghsownr gelecc..."
"There will come, soon, a time where I must leave you. But do not fear, we shall all join together, and I shall never be without you."
As he spoke, formless tendrils drifted out from his body. They enveloped the cultists, proud to serve their god, and consumed them. Nothing was left of the people of Arra- their energies were now their god's.
He sighed a long sigh, and began to flow out towards the surface.
On Scarab, the Xenopteran War dragged on.
Sweeping Blade took another shot, and the head of another drone exploded. Behind him, a squad of Xodu and Skarg fired their Stalkers, and explosions pitted the bugs' ranks. The wave approaching was thinning down.
The Xenopterans were now only a few hundred yards from the front lines. Bullets began to zip by Sweeping Blade and his group- he cursed himself for forgetting that the Xenopterans had mastered guns.
A group of Salsenes and Zyrothans, two tanks with them, came up from behind.
"You called?" Their leader stepped out- a colonel, and special ops by the looks of it.
"Could you get some suppressing fire to shield our snipers, and some plunging shots from the tanks? We need to drive them out of the ditches."
"Sure thing. There's another battalion flying in tonight, by the way."
"Ah, right. Anyway, let's get killing! Remember the rewards!"
They renewed firing upon the bugs. This time, the sniper fire and dozens of assault rifles pinned the Xenopterans down, forcing them into areas perfect for grenade use.
And in they came, incendiaries and explosives driving holes in the mob.
"Plunging fire! Kill the survivors!"
Screeching was just about audible, but the machine guns' clatter resounded throughout the valley.
The last of the insects fell, shrieking, and the guns stopped.
"Thanks for the assist, Colonel...?"
"Barrul. Third Colonel Barrul."
"Good to meet you."
"You seem like a good squad. I'm heading into Xenopteran lines- would you like to come?"
"Any excuse! What's the mission?"
"Well... there's a fallen angel amongst the hives. We're to secure it."
"A fallen angel?"
"A crashed starship."
Barrul smiled nervously. "Veiled One."
Phrenno felt weak and light, almost giddy, but he followed this god.
He followed him through the space that opened and closed, and he was not alone- Dread was there, many thousands of Free Minds and Servics... none he recognised...
And as he travelled, he considered the Vision's chances of survival. He thought them low.
The Deathship settled down on the surface of Nether, just above the entrance to the caverns below.
Deadflame, Skayl and their bodyguards behind him, opened the great metal bulkhead with a transmitted code and began to descend, travelling past grey rock and the occasional blotch of glowing fungi. The Deathship entered too- the tunnel must have been a good two miles across.
Earthrender was there in front of the rock-hewn fortresses, watching the younger Gehennian expectantly. His scarred face and grey hide were almost invisible in the pale, subterranean twilight. What a boring place to govern- but then again, it was hardly the old daemon's fault.
"Welcome to Nether, Deadflame."
Deadflame snickered. "I'm only here for the day."
"Nevertheless, I'm told to give a great welcome to you." Earthrender seethed inside. Years and years of servitude, loss, and war circulated without an outlet within that grey head.
"As you should, cripple." Deadflame turned away and walked off, holding himself arrogantly.
He entered the fortress allocated to him, with his guards, and called Skayl over. He was evidently pleased with himself, moving around, wings held tight to his flanks.
"Do you know what it is that we're going to do?"
"No, my lord."
A fanged smile. "We're gonna tip the balance of power."
A planet, flying through purple space, stopped.
It stopped rotating and it stopped orbiting its star. It stopped rotating on its axis and it stopped moving within its universe.
And, under the now ruined surface, the Silver Darkness began to awaken.
We had our chance. We threw it away.
I haven't found Blemu yet. I miss him.
I just want him to come back. I want to play with him again. No-one else wants to play- they want to write and to watch and to prepare.
We used to meet by the sandrock- I'll go there tonight. Maybe he's just hiding.
The Tsennu Craan bowed before their Overlord.
"We have returned."
"The location of your father, great lord."
The commander of the Julth shivered with joy. He lives?
"Captured and under permanent torture."
A buzz of rage. Power crackled in the Overlord's envelope.
"Yes, great lord. The Craan have been sent in the right direction, and very soon you shall have your desire."
Then this is the first day of the Return of the Julth.
The Taalax megaship reached a stop in orbit of Nuuxtilan, and was immediately hailed. The Nahuatlec's eyes appeared on the screen, speaking,
"Greetings, taxacatlec Qoaxitli. I trust your journey was safe."
"Indeed, sir. There was a problem, and you required my assistance?"
"That is correct. We have something to show you, that you will find most interesting as one of the Emperor's personal astronomers."
Arok wasn't a cleaner. He had never wanted to sweep floors and sterilise surfaces, or to incinerate bins and package waste properly.
But here he was, a soldier clearing out the old remnants of a bunker. Not a new or even active bunker, either. It was completely empty, and there was dust on every surface.
He signalled for the others with him to follow as they moved into the next set of rooms.
These were much better- white and spotless, with working lights up above. He turned them on, and there was a short delay after he pressed the button. But they provided good illumination, at least enough to work by.
There wasn't much to do in this section, so he sat down on his four legs and took a swig of vamult. "Hey, Mokar, you brought anything to eat?"
Mokar shook his head, and came to sit by Arok. "Strange place."
"Yeah. Shut down after the generals were all imprisoned."
"I'd never heard of it, and I know all the bunkers. Above top secret, probably."
"So why are they cleaning it out?"
"Eh, no idea."
"You heard that?"
"Yeah, what was it?"
"I didn't think there was anyone that far ahead."
"Get your Blazer, then."
Arok took his gun from the trolley, and handed Mokar a Snakebite. He signalled for all the others to stay back and get armed.
They moved in, cautiously. Arok turned the lights on, but there was a zap and the lights went out.
"How long's this place been down for?"
"Only a few months."
They moved in in the gloom. "Shhhh!" They stopped, suddenly.
"See that light?"
Mokar nodded. A thin green sliver cut across the darkness, dim but real.
"It's coming from around the corner."
They reached the edge, backs against the wall.
"One, two, three!"
They burst out from cover, but there was no-one there. Only a set of monitors.
On one of the screens, there was a set of symbols.
In perfect Eisangan- let me out.
This is the End of the Beginning.
And nothing shall ever be the same again.
Deadflame blasted another Trellbat from the cave roof, and it fell with a squeak.
Skayl was behind him, along with a troop of Zahhak and Korgrath, carrying packs filled with kit. Deadflame's aims still confused the Korgrath general, but he put his doubts aside and followed what was hard-wired into him from birth- obey Gehennians.
The Drohov ship drifted on, Tranquil now clear to see before it. Blue, calm light reflected from the hull, and the Nithworm swayed gently above it. Brgsus took the steering dome in hand and made a course adjustment, compensating for the slight turbulence.
Two Alestoi ships came up alongside.
"They're calling us."
The screen turned on. "Drohov! You bring a creature of the Nith."
"Then it is true?"
Brgsus shrugged. "Heck, I just do my job. I don't care about these things. Getting this thing to where it wants to go is the best way to get back to what I was doing."
"Then allow us to take it off you." A threatening tone.
Another Alestoi ship pulled up, bigger and with a kind of cylinder attached that was evidently for the Nithworm.
"Go ahead." Brgsus felt no sadness as he watched it being transferred away, one secrend behind time.
As the Alestoi headed back to Serenus, he sighed. "Let's get back home."
A planet, flying through grey space, stopped.
It stopped rotating and it stopped orbiting its star. It stopped rotating on its axis and it stopped moving within its universe.
And, under the scarred and pitted surface, the Blood began to awaken.
You have this one chance to make amends.
As the last Aoarus ship left that now-empty microverse, filing back out into the Crossverse and heading home, the blackness of this space pressed down on them.
The Rift flared and then was gone.
For a few, excrutiating moments, everything was still and dead.
And then, the space caved in and the microversal fabric shrunk away into nothingness, leaving no remnant or place behind.
The three Beginning watched the sun set on Alunia once more, the familiar, smooth colours of gold and crimson, pink and yellow lighting up the horizon and its clouds. The autumn leaves flitted by on a gentle breeze.
Was this the last sunset for the Beginning? Was more falling than the sun? Where would the future take them? Who cared?
But they knew who cared.
- Tyrius Levaen d'Hastea
- Aian Prime
- Viperius Galaxy System
- Vael Marass d'Hastea
- Daemon Warship
- Free Mind
- Cimmerian Mind
- Servic Mind
- Aian Ringworld
- Fire Opal
- Tyrant Mind
- Julth Overlord
- Clockwork Sentinel
- Valka Galaxy
- Seared One
- Xenopteran War
- Veiled One
- Veiled One Technology
- Serenus Galaxy
Extracts used in this piece have been borrowed from-
Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge
The Giaour by Lord Byron
The Enuma Elish
Rostam and Akvan Div by Ferdowsi
Darkness by Lord Byron
All Things Must Die by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The End by Wilfred Owen