“The day will come when you know your role in igniting the True War, and your blood will bring ruin upon the stars themselves.”
- - Alxi Corvosa
Major Cast Edit
Chapter I: The Approach Edit
A figure cloaked in white ran fearfully through a massive cyclopian hall, lines of pillars stretching farther than the eye could see, and the ceiling so distant the shadows swallowed it and the tops of every column. Everything seemed to be made of a dark glass, and a cold light seemed to be emanating from deep beneath the floor. The entire room seemed to stretch out in every direction, but the arrangement and shapes of the pillars suggested a defined entrance and exit.
"Why are you doing this to me?" she paused and shouted in clear Savikian, scanning the hall for whatever she intended to speak to. "We've both seen what comes next; you know I have the Key. Why won't you let me put an end to all this?"
A mechanical hum. The Saviki looked up. A single blue eye hung in the darkness above her, and she felt the sensation of something massive there in the abyss above, and of primordial, eldritch thought processes steering toward some incomprehensible design.
Qurik Skel woke with a start, eyes wide. He looked down at his four hands, shaking as if they'd been dipped in liquid ammonia. The darkness of his personal quarters surrounded him; he felt as if the presence of something within had woken him.
Qurik turned his gaze to the door. The comforting silhouette of Akyla Kovar stood in its open frame, left hands leaning against it.
"I'm fine,." He picked up his Mana ingestor and took a deep sip to calm his nerves. The dream… it felt more real than he would be comfortable admitting.
"We're approaching the Countenance," she said, "You ready?"
"I don't think I have a choice.."
"You can't get by just using old proverbs, sol-keñí."
Qurik let out a short puff of Mana steam in response, then slid off his bed onto the grey metal floor and removed a sleeveless black coat and tight purple tunic from their places on his ceiling hooks, dressing into his normal off-battlefield attire. Reaching under his bed, he took out a simple field-built telecscoping staff in its collapsed state, a belt attached to two points along its length, and placed it on his back, the magnetic clamp he wore under his coat holding it in place.
As he begun to walk out of the room, he heard a curious sound—like a distant knocking, feeling somehow within his mind and yet more distant than the boundaries of his skull would reasonably permit. He looked around for a moment, attempting to discern its source, but to no avail. Exhaling briefly, his thoughts strayed back to his immediate surroundings and he made his way down to the stealth ship's bar.
But across the vast darkness of the universe, the knocking found another listener.
Umbyrvraxa, Prime Magistrate of the Phero Ecumene, entered her personal meditation hall on Phero. It was by no means an incredibly lengthy interior; six windows ran along each of the longer walls, displaying the deep red mid-evening sky of the Ecumene's capital world, with one set at the shorter far side of the room from the door. Each window was largely rectangular, save for the tops and bottoms, which tapered into points. The walls were mauve stone, lined with a single, roughly U-shaped shelf below the windows, and arching up along vaguely S-shaped curves to form the ceiling, which also tapered into a point along its spine. Faint holigraphic aurorae danced through the air far above Umbyrvraxa's head. Tapping a sensory pad on her coat, she released much of the helium from her dorsal flight bladder, loosening it and allowing her to drift toward the flat onyx floor, her twin tails resting lightly on it.
Half-striding, half-hovering over to a cylindrical onyx dais, Umbyrvraxa contemplated what Hadal she would summon for the night's meditation. Powerful denizens of Cocytus, to invite such beings into one's mind required great clarity and cleverness. She picked up a strange array of attached osmium tetrahedrons from the dais, arranged in an obtuse-topped Y shape—a summoning die. Each tetrahedron was small, about 1/5 the size of each of her eyes, with a glowing blue glyph upon each face, each set of four unique to a particular tetrahedron in the die. Retrieving a wide tome from a chest beneath the shelf, she applied a finger to the surface of the disc and spun it with the other to scroll through its hallucinatory contents. She soon stopped at a page that intrigued her: Vlxanqqlau, a potent Hadal that could temporarily seal off Umbyrvraxa's sense of who she was, allowing her the freedom of pure and unbiased self-exploration. Carefully lighting each of the globe-candles that lined the room's coiling shelf, she arranged the summoning die to the appropriate configuration, keeping every glyph that now that along its composite outside surface burned into her mind as she crossed her tails in a typical meditative stance.
Before she could recite the necessary verbal component of the summoning, she became aware of a strange, distant knocking. With so much dominion over her own thoughts and perception, such an involuntary internal sensation was suggestive of something very wrong. Snapping out of pre-meditation to concentrate on it, she realized it was coming from the psychic direction of Cocytus' Veldt zone. Her eyes opened, and she saw the room around her peel away like a tide as she rapidly entered the Veldt.
Chapter II: Arrival Edit
Qurik stood at the bar, Prekis filling up a spherical drink-vessel with carbonated Mana. To his left, a scullion with a prosthetic left arm hesitantly bit small chunks off a cylinder of kelki. To his right, Lokuv, one of the skiff pilots, appeared to be carving something out of a particularly beautiful rock Kasik had brought back from Pauvenris.
"So, word is you're going to meet with Rikken, yes?" said Prekis. He finished pouring the beverage and passed it to Qurik, and proceeded to begin scrubbing the countertop with a damp rag.
"You were here yesterday Prekis; you listened to everything I said when Yvrak gave us the news." Qurik took a sip of the carbonated Mana. "You know what I'm going to tell him, and what we're going to do next."
"I was just wondering if maybe you'd changed your mind." Prekis paused his scrubbing for a moment. "Having a permanent home among planet-holders wouldn't be that bad. I really enjoy this whole bartending gig and it'd be nice to open up an actual place somewhere, make it a full-time thing..." he saw Jyrai pass by the tavern's entrance and nervously stroked his dorsal quills. "...maybe raise some offspring."
Qurik finished his drink and slid the empty glass back over to Prekis. "But why charge into battle with this age's most dangerous hyperpower to do it? There are many paths to every future, and several much easier than this."
"There's no talking you or Yvrak out of this, is there?"
"I know Jyr's not too happy about this either."
"Perfect. You two can bond over your shared displeasure. Maybe you'll even get matching tattoos saying 'I'd rather have kept fighting a suicidal war with the Galactic Empire.'"
Prekis playfully punched Qurik in the shoulder, though he could still see a slight twinge of pain in the younger Saviki's eyes. He looked away and pushed the sight out of his mind.
Suddenly, the ship's intercomm sounded to life, and the familiar voice of Shadow Without Body echoed into the tavern. "We've exited hyperspace. Qurik, the captain wants you in the bridge. Probably to kick you off the ship." Her two voices, like two separate personalities that were somehow equally sarcastic, never ceased to amuse the two Saviki.
Qurik pushed himself off of his leaning position. "Guess it's time. Wish me luck."
"Knowing how Rikken will probably feel, my luck can't save you. I'll leave that to your big mouth."
The flat ground below Umbyrvraxa was grey ash and gravel, and the sky above was silver fog. Smooth partial arches of obsidian were scattered across the landscape of the Veldt, as were small cracks and fissures through which the light and shadow of the Hadal Empyrean deep below shone.
She sensed the knocking coming from a point in the space far above and slightly in front of her. Summoning two pulseguns into her hands, she took aim at the point.
Qurik stumbled slightly while on the way to the bridge, leaning against the wall of the corridor while the knocking returned, this time more intense than ever. He felt the need to scream and ask what it was, what was happening to him, but then the moment passed, and all was still and quiet again.
Somewhere, in a chamber of metal and wires, a tall, thin cylinder split into several segments, which themselves split in half and spread out to form a tall, rhombus-shaped doorway. A dot of blackness appeared in its center and began to branch out until it filled the doorway.
The space in the sky at which Umbyrvraxa had her guns pointed suddenly became the site of a shadowy, expanding octahedron, flashes of black lightning dancing around it. A waterfall of shadows poured out of it onto the ground before her, before pulling away to reveal the newcomer. A cloak and robe of black and red, decorated with scenes of warfare that seemed to move and progress on the fabric, was wrapped around his body, with fiendish obsidian and osmiridium armor worn over it. In his hand, he grasped a large Maul.
"It was foolish of you to come here, Essence that came off them in a misty aura. Almost simultaneously, eight tendrils of darkness dropped down from the gateway, delivering Orsik's Unmakers into the realm. They were dressed in simple hooded robes of black, with ornate osmiridium skull-masks over their faces and dark energy whips clasped in their upper hands.." Umbyrvraxa's pulseguns were now pointed at the Demon-Chrill. Eight plumes of green energy arose around her, heralding the arrival of her Euphoric Scions, their purple and black armor glowing with green
"What foolishness is there in a king finding a place to put his throne?" Orsik replied. "This is such an expansive realm, I doubt your masters would notice. I certainly don't see them here."
"You have no dominion over any spaces, in here or in the outside universe. Return to your petty raiding fleets, lest I order the wrath of this realm upon you."
Orsik raised his Maul, readying himself for combat. "I'm afraid not,. I have much business here that is best not delayed."
"Very well then." Umbyrvraxa nodded to her Scions. All eight became ethereal green figures and rushed forward, but were intercepted by the Unmakers, who flew at them in cloaks of shadow and fire. The sixteen figures rose into the air as they clashed against one another in a flurry of green and black and red, while the two demigods remained on the ground below, weapons at the ready, eyes fixed on each other while they assumed combat stances.
Chapter III: Pushed Edit
Qurik stepped out of the Silent Retribution and into a passageway aboard the Countenance, Akyla and the prowler's "bounty scout," Tenvir, flanking him. Yvrak followed closely behind the three. In Saviki society, it was considered a sign of respect for a ship captain to accompany a crewmember called before his or her Chrill. Qurik appreciated the gesture, though for a very different reason.
"Remember," Yvrak whispered, "if you need anything, I won't be far from the throne room. I don't know if Rikken's going to simply let us all leave without a fight."
"I can take him if I have to," Qurik responded. "If I can't convince him to let us out of this fruitless war, I'll bash him in the head and run for the Retribution."
Yvrak merely grunted in response. The group quieted down as they entered the ship's solarium, which was lined with daises above which various trophies hovered silently, a mere sip of the Void Combine's ocean of past clients. Among the trophies were a Vanara Progressive Macuahuitl, an ancient and ornate Eovinjai helmet made of some jade-like material, a Belphrim tapestry decorated with obscure geometry, and the skull of an unknown species coated in gold with jewels of multiple colors sitting in its many eye sockets. Once the group approached the entrance to the throne room, Yvrak turned toward a nearby passage silently. Akyla placed her upper hands are her sides, just above her holstered quad-barrel pistols, while keeping her lower hands behind her back, close to her spare Boltite cases. Tenvir folded his upper set of arms, but left his lower hands resting on the hilts of his two hand-scythes, held in sheaths situated on his lower spine.
Qurik knocked on the massive, rounded trapezoid that was the throne room's door. It split along a horizontal middle line and retracted back into the floor and ceiling. The trio entered, and found themselves in a magnificent chamber that hardly looked like it belonged to a mercenary-baron of a band of corsairs-for-hire. It was shaped like a tall hexagonal prism, four pillars of the same shape stretching far up to the curved ceiling, from which the silver-plated skeleton of some alien leviathan hung. A massive rectangular section of the floor, leading from the door to the throne, was glass, beneath which was a pool of some dark violet liquid that matched the Void Combine banners hanging from several points around the room. Along both edges of the glass section were the Chrill's Guard, dressed in ornamental armor adorned with fields of amethysts. Hanging from arms that stuck out from two faces of each pillar were wide, shallow pots filled with a curious powder, from which regal blue flames licked at the chains that suspended them. The carpets choking the pillars and the base of the throne at the far side of the room were almost invisible under the piles of treasures and ornaments, crafted from every metal and mineral imaginable, that sat like a dense moss upon the roots of trees. The throne itself sat upon two stacked hexagons of platinum, a pipe to either side at Rikken's head-height, from which the purple liquid gushed out into small receptacles beneath them. Behind the throne, a leviathan cascade of the liquid ran down a wavy sheet of obsidian behind a glass window, a set of lights behind the waterfall displaying the alabaster icon of the Void Combine through it. The throne upon which Rikken sat was also obsidian, and a rather simple, if wide, furnishing. It was shaped somewhat like a hammock, wide enough to hold three circular pillows, but thin enough to require Rikken to remain relatively upright. Its armrests were wide-topped trapezoidal prisms of segmented silver and obsidian, with glass slits on the front of each to show that they too contained the purple liquid. When Rikken lowered a chalice to one of the pipes and sipped the liquid, it became clear to the trio before him that it was, in fact, dyed Mana.
To Rikken's right, an unfamiliar Saviki of a Count's height stood, arms folded, a sword hanging at her side. Her cloak was of a dull lavender shade, light enough relative to the banners of the Void Combine to suggest as different affiliation. Qurik had seen those colors only once before, on an arkship during the battle over Vasuband.
"Welcome, honorable marshal Qurik Skel. It is so good to see you, ah..." he paused, glancing at Qurik's companions uncertainly.
"It's okay Rikken, they know."
"Ah, of course. In that case, welcome back. I imagine the change of scenery since your first arrival is quite a pleasant surprise, yes?"
"Yes. Now, would you like to tell me why you've called me here?" Qurik kept his tone respectfully impatient with a hint of expertly added (and completely nonexistent) excitement, a skill he had mastered over years of dealing with clients who enjoyed over-elaborating and straying from the point.
"Now, now, let's not be too hasty," Rikken said with an annoyingly paternal wink, seemingly familiar with the conversation tactic—possibly thanks to his shared background as a mercenary. "I don't believe I've introduced you to my associate here: Count Vyklan Osukai." He gestured to the Saviki to his side, who bowed slightly.
"It is an honor to finally meet you, Plague-Smiter," she said. "I have heard many stories about you in the short time I've been awake, and was fortunate to witness the making of your latest one at Vasuband."
"Vyklan here was the former captain of the Accumulant, and thus the leader of what remained of the Cloud Combine," Rikken said. "She's familiarized herself with the current state of the universe with impressive speed, and once this war is won, she will continue to lead her people as part of the rising Saviki Star Realm."
"And where in the creation of this 'Star Realm' do you seek to fit me, my Chrill?" Qurik asked, hoping to finally get to the point of the meeting, and weaving in an extra dosage of anticipation into his voice to help accelerate the process.
"Ah, yes," the Chrill said, slowly standing up from his throne. "Even after I assigned you to your current home when you fled to me from your father, the stories of your exploits kept you in my sight constantly. The legend you wove around yourself, it became an inspiration to Saviki throughout the Combine, especially after Pauvenris." He pressed a button on his throne's right armrest as he stepped down to the floor, and a holographic display of Saviki vessels and ground troops in combat with their various enemies was projected before Qurik. Their enthusiasm and bravery in spite of the odds they fought against, viewed from this perspective, was noticeable to say the absolute least.
"Someone who can inspire such devotion to the Combine should be more than a mere marshal aboard a prowler. More than just a soldier who's name is known a bit better than all the others." Rikken shut off the projection and placed a hand on Qurik's shoulder. "And for this war, our people need a War Marshal to rally behind. Will you accept this honor? Will you lead the charge to our new home?"
After a brief pause, Qurik stepped away and paced to his right, his gaze turning away from the Chrill. "Rikken," he began, "I do not doubt the honor is fighting for a new future for our Combine and species. I do not doubt that you could be the one to bring about such a future." He turned back to the Chrill. "But my doubts of your current methods can no longer be ignored, nor my distaste buried. You throw the species you claim to love at one of the strongest powers the Gigaquadrant has seen, and for what? For your own personal dream, for your need to prove yourself to the rest of a universe that never wanted us. You may see inspiration and bravery from your mountaintop view, but I've run side-by-side on the scorched field of war with the rest of our kind, and they do not see this war the same way. Certainly not after the Republic that you indebted us to lost the damn war."
Akyla stepped forward. "There are many of us in the Combine, from scullion to captain, who have fought in this war you pushed us into and have seen only death and pain. They would leave and search for more promising work, were they not so fearful of leaving alone."
"You're fighting a war that will bear no fruits for us, Rikken. Even if the Republic wins, it will be in a trench of debt and preoccupied beyond imagination with rebuilding its galaxy. It will have no time or money to spare helping you build this 'Star Realm.' And if the Empire wins, we might as well have slit throat of our single advantage: our mobility. A target would be on the Combine's back for supporting the Republic, and we could never run fast enough to be completely safe from the wrath of such a leviathan. If you want to keep fighting, you may do so; I would not limit your choice like some tyrant. I merely ask that you give the rest of us a choice in deciding our future, whether it fits with yours or not."
The throne room was silent for several moments. Rikken's expression was unreadable. He closed his eyes briefly, then he spoke.
"Very well then," the Chrill said. "I will allow you to turn down my offer. I will not, however, let you steal my Combine away from me." He reached for something strapped to his back with his upper right hand. Qurik reached for the spear on his back, while his comrades gripped their weapons in preparation. "I am a Chrill, a leader, and I cannot allow you to defy my decrees; I will not allow rebellion to be sewn among my people, when our new dawn is just over the horizon." He pulled his hand out, grasping a strange gauntlet, upon which sat an array of weapons around a central axis. He slid his upper left arm into it, taking hold of the grip and keeping a finger over the trigger. "Even if it means breaking you."
Chapter IV: A Dance of Gods and Chrills, Part 1 Edit
Orsik lunged at Umbyr, his Maul raised and ready to cut her down. She ducked out of the path of the blow and, with her right pulsegun's plasma bayonet, dealt her own strike to the Saviki cultist's abdomen. From the point of impact, his form peeled away like smoke, and dissipated.
Annoyed, the Tvolis searched her surroundings for the real Chrill, opening up a Hypereye—one of the many gifts the Quintet had blessed her with—to give her a view of her surroundings in the hyperspatial realm. She rapidly noticed Orsik making his way in the Hadal Empyrean's direction via her Hypereye, and with a flash of emerald light, plunged into hyperspace to chase him down.
"Your insubordination ends here, Qurik. Goodbye." Rikken fired off an explosive round from his gauntlet. Qurik somersaulted backwards to avoid it, removing his skewer from his back and pulling his helmet on in the process.
"Qurik!" Akyla shouted, rushing forward with Tenvir to aid her voyage-brother. A lengthy saber suddenly embedded itself in the floor before them. Vyklan stepped forward and took hold of it.
""Let's keep this fight fair, shall we?" the Cloud count asked rhetorically. She swung the two-handed blade at the smaller Saviki, with Tenvir using a hand-scythe to block it while Akyla stepped back and fired her bolt pistols, their rounds glancing off Vyklan's energy shield. The Count kicked Tenvir in the chest, sending him back and onto the ground. Akyla switched to her bayoneted bolt repeater and moved forward.
"Call for Yvrak; I can cover you for long enough!" Akyla shouted to the young reaver. Rikken, unfortunately, noticed.
"Exit the room and guard the entrance," Rikken ordered his guards. "Use whatever force you need to keep anyone out. I can handle this." The eight guards promptly rushed to the door, avoiding the ongoing combat as they did. In the time it had taken for Rikken to give the order, Qurik had engaged his stealth module and moved into the shadows to the left of the Chrill, who now scanned the room for the young marshal.
Placing his spear on the floor, Qurik equipped Cold Embrace and took aim at the Chrill. As the triangular reticle of his scope hung over his former leader's head, his mind flashed back decades. He saw himself pulling a lever, the door beside it unlocking. He saw his uncle walk through it as he returned to his own quarters. He heard his uncle's scream, and his trepidation was suddenly so strong he could smell it. Much to his detriment, Rikken took that moment to sniff the air, and picked up on it, firing an explosive round into the shadows where Qurik crouched. While the shot missed Qurik by a significant margin, the explosions flash was distorted by his cloak, and Rikken switched to a small gatling gun to hail Qurik with rounds as he ran from cover, picking up his spear and replacing it on his back as he moved. Once he was back in the center of the room, Qurik hip-fired the Embrace, the antilithium-filled rounds detonating on Rikken's extraordinarily strong personal shield. Rikken spun his wheel of weapons again and pulled the trigger, and a long shock whip snaked out the gauntlet. Rikken swung it toward Qurik, wrapping it around the barrel of the rifle. Qurik grappled with the whip using all four of his hands, attempting to pull his weapon free, but Rikken jerked the whip to the side, ripping the gun from Qurik's grip. It clattered on the floor off to his left, and with Rikken spinning his gauntlet to a trio of electrified claws, Qurik once again armed himself with his spear.
Rikken leapt forward and attempted a downward strike with the now-clawed end of the gauntlet. Qurik rose his spear, blocking it, electricity flashing across both as they struck each other. When he felt his strength beginning to give under that of the Chrill's, Qurik gave a rapid push upward and kicked off Rikken's legs with both of his, sending him somersaulting backwards while the Chrill plunged his weapons into the floor. Wasting no time, Qurik rushed forward, striking with two diagonal blows, which Rikken blocked with his gauntlet's shielded top. Holding the spear horizontally, Qurik attempted to bash the Chrill with it, but the larger Saviki grabbed it with his two lower hands, blocking further motion. Before Qurik could respond, Rikken took the marshal's head in both his upper hands and struck it with his own, sending Qurik stumbling back, though the spear remained within his tight grasp. As he looked up, the bottom of Rikken's boot collided with his chestplate, sending him flying a short distance, requiring him to plunge his spear into the glass section of the floor to slow his movement. Rikken spun his gauntlet again, this time firing off a column a flames which forced Qurik to dodge to his left. Another burst of fire landing in his intended path caused Qurik to back up rather forcefully into a nearby pillar, and he cursed as his back struck it. Qurik dodged back toward the center of the room as Rikken, electrified claws equipped once more, swiped at air where Qurik's head had just been.
"I don't know what makes you think it wise to continue," Rikken said, striding slowly toward Qurik. "Without the Combine, you have nothing. Without the Regulators, without Mana, you will become nothing. Even if you could leave, how would you endure?"
Qurik hefted his spear, took up a combative stance, and shrugged. "I have my ways."
He rushed forward once more, jabbing twice with the spear, then spinning it so as to strike Rikken twice more, once with each electrified tip. The Chrill slashed at Qurik with the clawed gauntlet, almost knocking the spear out of his hands. Qurik leapt toward Rikken's left side, gripping his thigh with his dexterous, feet and spinning around to the Chrill's back, allowing him to deliver an unopposed blow to Rikken's shins with his pulse gauntlet. Rikken turned, and Qurik jumped into the air above him, spear curving downwards. Rikken met it with the gauntlet's claws, but Qurik used his raised arm as a balance and flipped over Rikken to a position behind him, embedding his spear in the floor and spinning around it so as to not waste his momentum. However, he misjudged the spin, and instead of feeling his feet collide with the Chrill's back, he simply spun around the axis of the spear, dizzying him. As he pulled the spear out of the floor to jab it at Rikken again, his heart stopped; the Chrill's left hand grasped the raised end of the spear just below the blade, and with it he hefted Qurik into the air, slamming him against the floor on his left, his right, and finally, on the glass section in front of him, which cracked from the impact as Qurik tumbled across it, his energy shield shattered. When he looked up, he saw that the spear had been snapped in two by the impact.
"It's a shame so much potential has become so misguided," Rikken said as he circled Qurik. "Look around you; see what 'future' you have given your crew."
Qurik looked to his right. Akyla and Tenvir battled Vyklan in a clearly mismatched melee, with Tenvir being thrown against a pillar and Akyla taking an elbow-strike to her helmet. Behind him, the door to the throne room opened, and Yvrak rushed through, quickly turning back around to fire his chaingun at the guards that were pursuing him into the room. He glanced to his side, noticing his marshal sitting defeated on the floor.
"Qurik...—AAAAAAAAGH!!!" he shouted as a guard jabbed him with a shock staff while he was distracted. The prowler captain dropped to the floor, but rapidly pushed himself back up and slammed his heavy weapon into the guard before another two jabbed him with their staves as well, forcing him to his knees.
Qurik turned back to the Chrill, looked up at his green eyes; within them swirled a vortex of regret, loss, fury, and disappointment. Rikken nodded to two of the guards, and they stepped forward, crossing their staves in an X-shaped and forcing them down upon Qurik, the point of intersection over his neck. The Saviki marshal roared in pain as the electricity singed his scales, and as his eyes closed he felt a feeling almost alien to him enter his body: a genuine fear of, hear and now, dying.
Chapter V: A Dance of Gods and Chrills, Part 2 Edit
Orsik telekinetically propelled himself through the Symmetric Aether of Cocytus, the extrauniversal energy recoiling from him like flies from a fire. The flanged electric hum of Qvd and other, less pleasant constructs keeping their distance surrounded him. And then, another sound, a wordless song of raw power. He paused in his descent to determine its location. He raised a shield of Essence on his right as a flash of arcane green fire erupted seemingly from nowhere. He brought his Therus Maul up to block Umbyrvraxa as she charged at him, locking the bayoneted ends of her pulseguns with the Maul's shaft. He pushed upwards on it, directing her fire above his head, and she rapidly disconnected to shoot from a better angle, keeping her fingers on the triggers at all times. Orsik spun the Maul around his right hand, deflecting the Essence-imbued plasma rounds with ease. Intending to break the balance, Orsik sent an Essence shield forward into the hail of energy, allowing him time to raise all four hands and fire a quartet of blood red thunderbolts at the Tvolis witch. In response, she summoned a protective sphere of energy that throbbed but held where the darker Essence impacted it, and she pushed forward, readying one of her deadlier Symmetric attacks in the process.
Upon the shield's giving in to the demonic barrage, Umbyr summoned forth a hypertorus around the two, a relatively easy feat in the strange space of Cocytus, ensuring that it was initially rather sizable. When Orsik moved to strike her with his Maul, she dodged to his side and shrunk it suddenly, bringing the Maul to strike the Chrill's own back around the torus' perimeter. Elevating herself out of the hypertorus, Umbyr expanded it, then shrunk it again, slamming Orsik against himself from several directions. Annoyed, he tore himself out of the distorted space and phased out of Umbyr's three-dimensional field of vision. She scanned for him with her hypereye, and in an infinitesimally small fraction of time arched her middle torso through hyperspace as Orsik's Maul appeared in the empty space where it should've been. He pulled it back to swing at her head, but she hyperspatially cartwheeled around him and jabbed him twice with her bayonets. He brought a sweeping crescent of Demonic Energy toward her, but she jumped back and left behind a green-edged Kinetic Projection to absorb the attack, leaving a plume of smoke that temporarily obscured even her arcana-enhanced vision.
When the smoke cleared, Umbyr saw Orsik simply floating there, Therus Maul's head at his feet. When she activated her hypereye to search for any tricks, she found her view obscured by a thick blackness. Upon reentering her normal view, she saw Orsik was gone, and the rippling bluish Aether around her growing darker. Pulseguns raised, she looked around almost frantically for a sign of her quarry.
Suddenly, a column of red lighting descended from above, gripping Umbyr in a vice of energy. More struck from around her, holding her neck, arms, and tails in place. Orsik reappeared before her as their surroundings reshaped and they returned to the Veldt with astonishing speed.
"Dearest puppet of my enemy, you should've stayed behind the curtain," he said. "You only embarrass yourself to Them here; They will have foreseen this duel's results just as I have." Several more images of Orsik strode toward her from the shadows, forming a circle around the chained Tvolis. "You will not die here—I have reserved that moment for another time, which I know every inch and second of—but neither will you be the obstacle you hoped to be." One of her Scions suddenly dropped in at his feat, as an Unmaker descended to his side in a column of shadow. Orsik planted his foot on the weaker Tvolis' neck as he struggled to raise himself back up. "And neither will your servants be obstacles to mine." He pushed down, killing the Scion.
Chapter VI: Intersection Edit
Qurik curled his arms around his head as the guards pulled away their staves, Mana-steam billowing out of his shoulders and upper back.
"Again," Rikken ordered.
The guards lowered and activated their staves once more. Qurik roared in agony. The pain was so great that he could not think, could not plan a way out, could not find a way to speak. Pain was all he knew in this moment.
Pain was a way to speak.
Pain was a language older than his flesh, older than the bones he wore on his arm. And as the pain flooded in from without, this older pain surged out from within.
The scream was silent, but it turned the room cold. Every light retreated. The pool and torrents of Mana froze solid. The staves deactivated, and the two guards stood back, gripping various sections of their bodies as they found themselves struck with feelings of sharp and searing cold. Around the room, all of the Chrill's Guard gradually began to experience the same thing, as did Vyklan, though Akyla, Yvrak, and Tenvir remained unaffected. Upon looking up at Qurik, Yvrak quickly pulled Akyla and Tenvir behind a pillar as his metamorphosing form rose up.
He was shrouded in a thick black fog, but his veins glowed with a cold blue energy, while a dark red nimbus emanated from the edges of his form. Wisps of darkness converged on his head to form a pair of horns, and upon his back to form a pair of skeletal wings. When he stood up fully, he was as tall as Rikken, who backed away and stumbled on a large chunk of glass, his hands raised in confused terror. When Qurik, though he was not exactly Qurik any longer, spoke to him in words of biting and clawing and burning agony, the Chrill sunk to his knees, tearing off his helmet and holding his head as he writhed before the demonic Saviki.
As he raised his Maul and charged it with a final lash of Demonic Energy, Orsik heard the scream, and his distraction was quickly evident. "Evrigulon…" he whispered, barely audible. Noticing this, Umbyr engaged her Wrath State, dissipating the vice and discarding one of her guns, while reforming the other into the shape of a two-handed whip-sword. As she shot forward, Orsik entered his Demon Form, blocking her strike with a sword-shaped mass of condensed shadow. The two pressed their raw, unhinged energies against each other, the Aether and ground and spacetime around them tearing and bleeding like overstretched skin. Umbyr sensed the immediate segment of the Veldt corroding and falling toward realspace, and she disconnected from Orsik, the surrounding space dissolving into the surface of some thick-atmosphered but lifeless world. The strange energies of Cocytus still swirled around them, visibly distorting the unfortunate planet and sending the force of gravity awry. The section of crust they stood on resembled a cratered umbrella, the majority of the planet having been pushed away and the yellow atmosphere rendered a non-Euclidean, vaguely star-shaped mess. A stray fork of the rupture's chaotic energy seemed to have impacted the local star as well, which now resembled a torus. Umbyr sensed various minor gravitational, magnetic, and causal anomalies throbbing in and out of the surrounding system.
"What happened, Demon-Chrill?" asked Umbyr, half-mockingly. "Second thoughts about your 'invasion?'"
"Nothing of your concern," he replied. "Crawl back to your blind gods and organize your hopeless defense, it will not hinder what is coming." His form began to dissolve and he prepare to teleport away.
Before he could leave, Umbyr projected her mind forward, getting close enough to his for a peek at whatever had distracted him; he was unlikely to be totally focused on blocking her from it.
She saw the young female Saviki. She saw the egg hatching. She saw the child and heard his wordless first words in the language of the dead race. She saw his face fade from Orsik's sight, only to force its way back in now, if only for a second, and the sudden turning of many eyes of many shapes on him. And then, nothing, as Orsik departed.
Filing these thoughts away for later consideration, Umbyr felt a presence manifesting behind her. The ground and sky peeled away in favor of fractals of a song so complex it would take longer than the lifetime of the universe to learn its underlying pattern. Senses converged and diverged and Umbyr understood this to mean that more was expected of her, and while her results were already know the path would be no less sweet. The Psal'Jinnai behind her touched her shoulder, and she was back on Phero. Immediately, she was bombarded with incoming holographic calls.
"Your Eminence, several of your Euphoric Scions entered the Veldt without warning. Can you confirm this was by your orders?"
"Eminence, we've detected a significant disruption in Cocytus. Several summoned Hadals have left realspace to repair the wound."
"My eminent Mother, all monitored Blood Combine vessels are diverging sharply from their predicted paths. We now believe they are moving to secure both claimed and unclaimed Symmetric sites across Tuuros. Are we to move forward with the Osmium Protocol?"
Chapter VII: Shadow of Endings Edit
Qurik awoke with a start. He was in his quarters aboard the Retribution. Akyla and Yvrak were with him, the former with a hand firmly on his shoulder, as if she had been shaking it. He attempted to sit up and instead vomited partially processed Mana onto the floor.
"What happened?" he asked, coughing violently. "My head feels like fire and my body feels like ash. Last thing I remember is…" he thought for a second, and his eyes widened in horror. "Oh no…" He put a hand to his face.
"Well…" Yvrak began, "once you, err, disabled the Chrill and his guards, Tenvir tried to grab you and pull you away from him. He thought you were going to kill him, I think. I don't know what was going through the boy's head when he saw you do… that. He's in the medbay now."
"What did I do to him!?"
"Soon as he touched you, he froze up and just fell down. When we got to him he was coated in frost. That's about the time you settled down and passed out. We had a hell of a time carrying you both out of that ship, but thanks to Shadow our on-board Regulators never had a chance to give us trouble. Dunno how many of the crew will approve of you two figuring out how to hack them, though, but we managed to cover it up for you when they asked about them."
"That's the least of my worries right now. Did you broadcast the message?"
"Yes," Akyla said. "The whole Combine heard it. Not many ships showed up, though. Just a pair of men-of-war, some galliots, and some corvettes. Seems most are willing to keep fighting the Empire if it means ending the Lightless Days."
Qurik picked up his respirator and took a sip of Mana, then exhaled a cloud of Mana-steam. "Again, not a massive worry for me. I'm going to need some time to think over... what happened back there. I'd prefer to be left alone to do that."
"Very well," she said, and she and Yvrak left the room, while Qurik pulled himself into a cross-legged position and closed his eyes.
Epilogue: Qurik’s Fate Edit
Ever since that moment, I’ve felt It.
A gnawing ache in the depths of my being, like a hungry worm let loose into my body, or a gaping hole in my stomach that can never be filled, or an ocean of acid in my gut that burns away at Mana and food and flesh but never runs dry. I haven’t felt This since I was small. I thought, after so many years, It had died.
I was wrong. It was just waiting, and now Its wait is over.
She could help me. I can feel Her walking in strange spaces, Her triple gaze scanning for the carefully hidden thread that will give Her the advantage she desires. I have come to think that thread is me.
I enter the bridge and tell Yvrak to set the course.
Epilogue: Umbyr's Call Edit
My fellow Children, we currently face the gravest threat to our occult jurisdiction since the fall of the Congregation. The Saviki therusist cult leader Orsik Corvosa presents a Class-5 Supernatural Threat (Type: "Multifront Destabilization Potential") and has successfully executed a Class-3 Cocytus Disturbance (Type: "Forceful Incursion") within the past Pheroene rotation. In direct response, I am Authorizing the deployment of the 179th Esoteric Operations Squad "Eris Cognate" to:
- Locate the flagship or similar location of Orsik Corvosa in realspace, using Cocytus assets if necessary.
- Track Orsik Corvosa's movements through Cocytus and combat therusist incursions where possible.
- Eliminate Orsik Corvosa by any means necessary.
- Secure the occult artifact Therus Maul for study and possible weaponization.
Regular handling of therusist aggression in both Cocytus and realspace is to be delegated to all available Euphorics and Esoteric Operations Squads not already deployed. Preservation of public stability is to be Prioritized, and I am Authorizing the removal of restraints on Reality Cloak usage to achieve this end, though unnecessary usage of this asset is strongly discouraged. A Veldtian hotline to the Mentem Discordiæ IV will be issued to "Eris Cognate" in addition to their standard array of assets, should the usage of the Eye be deemed necessary.
- Written by Parazrael
- Corvosa Rising is Parazrael's first attempt at writing a story that switches between significantly distant perspectives.