Dyga19, Styracosaurus Rider, Pinguinus, Twinkyberries
- This story details the Charonites' first contact with the Praedicans, Rennites, Shellious, and Daemons. It also details the formation of an alliance of these races against the Daemons.
Chapter 1: Road to RevenEdit
"Wake up, Trezzen; we're almost there", said a voice. Trezzen grunted and tried to fall back asleep, but it was impossible; the rocking of the carriage was too distracting. He sat up and looked around him. Sitting next to him in the nwamma-wood carriage was Yrshaan, a guide from the Farassa tribe.
"Thanks for the wake up call, Yrshaan. Seriously. It's not like I've been up all night or anything", said Trezzen. Yrshaan laughed. "Yes, yes, I know how much you need you're beauty sleep. But we're almost to Reven. You need to wake up anyway, so quit your whining."
Trezzen sighed, stood up, and stretched. He looked up at the black sky. According to the elders, the sky was once filled with millions of small lights, called 'stars'. They were gone now, swallowed by the sun in the Old-Time. He had always wondered what they looked like, had wanted to see them since he was a child.
He was traveling in a small merchant caravan. Yrshaan was its' guide; it was his duty to make sure the caravan arrived in Reven safely. There were three merchants in total, each with a mjurra-drawn carriage filled to the brim with various trade goods. Trezzen had decided to join up with the caravan when he was assigned by one of his tribal elders, Ketra, to retrive an artifact of the Ancients'.
He did not know what the artifact did; it was not a couriers' place to question an elder. He did his duty for the tribe without question. The Nekkoro tribe was his home, his family, and he would do anything for them. He had traveled many miles with the caravan, all the way from the Ancient city of Xerra to the Farassa settlement of Reven. He would have regretted the arduous journey had he not been so loyal.
Trezzen gazed across the glowgrass fields, looking for the settlement. In the distance was Reven. It was a small village, only a couple dozen structures surrounded by thick wooden walls. Nearby was a large copse of pyrra trees that swayed gently in the breeze. It was quaint, almost idyllic. Even though he lived in the only major city on Charon, Xerra, Trezzen still enjoyed his visits to the country.
"We're at least an hour away! You could have let me slept a little longer...", said Trezzen. Yrshaan gave him a friendly shove. "I said stop whining. Besides, you need to be alert. I smell unarra."
"Could be a patrol. They probably have a few mounted warriors, that's all."
"I doubt they'd patrol this far from the village. Ready your weapon, just in case."
Trezzen nodded and pulled out his nanocarbine from the pack at his side. It was dark grey and covered in smooth, organic-looking plates of metal. It quickly decompressed, unfolding into its' combat form. It was a long-barreled automatic weapon that fired three-round bursts of small metal rails; the gun was also infused with xi-altering technology that could alter the projectiles' density, weight, and speed, giving it optimal impact force. It was also able to greatly reduce the recoil, allowing for much better accuracy. Trezzen had been a tech specialist in the past, among other things.
Yrshaan also activated his nanorifle, a jagged claw-shaped weapon capacle of firing bolts of electricity at extreme distances. It was the preferred weapon of marksman everywhere, but they were very hard to find. Trezzen wondered what he had to trade in order to get it.
"I can't smell anything", said Trezzen. "How far away do you think they are?"
"Close", replied Yrshaan. He pointed behind his younger companion, and Trezzen turned. Five male unarra were charging towards them, each as tall as a Charonite and twice as long. The leader roared, and the mjurra panicked. They stampeded towards the city, throwing Trezzen and Yrshaan from the top of the carriage they were riding. The merchants driving the carriages held on for dear life as they raced towards Reven.
They quickly rolled out of the way to avoid the mjurra and the carriages they pulled. Once they had passed, each stood up immediately and readied their weapons. The unarra were only fourty feet away, and closing fast. Apparently, they thought the two Charonites would be easier prey than the mjurra.
You're about to learn just how wrong you are, thought Trezzen. Dead wrong.
"Ready?", shouted Yrshaan.
"You know it!", exclaimed Trezzen.
Yrshaan fired a lighting bolt at the unarra leader, frying it instantly. It dropped to the ground, convulsing as it died. The others charged onward, heedless of their leaders' death. Trezzen oppened fire with his nanocarbine, spraying the creatures with round after round. The rails bounced right off of their armored skulls, and most of the others missed; one unarra was not so lucky. Three of them ripped right through its' left forelimb, and it howled in pain. It turned and limped back to the distant forests, defeated.
Meanwhile, Yrshaan was having difficulty getting a clear shot. The unarra were agile as well as intelligent, and dodged and weaved to avoid his fire. Frustrated, he fired wildly at the creatures. One lucky shot struck an unarra right in the mouth as it roared; its' head exploded in bloody chunks, and its' body crashed to the ground, twitching.
"Ha! Two nothing!", shouted Yrshaan.
Trezzen grunted. He rose to the challenge and ran towards the remaining beasts. He fired his carbine in controlled bursts at the closest one, aiming at its' right leg. Soon it was nothing but a ragged, bloody mess. The unarra howled and fell, writhing in pain. Trezzen quickly closed the distance between them.
When he arrived at the creature, he fired round after round into its' neck, killing it quickly. Trezzen pitied the creatures. He wished for their sake that they had not attacked; but still, they were acceptable prey, and a fight was always good sport.
He watched as the last unarra reached Yrshaan and pounced; he panicked briefly, but Yrshaan quickly raised his rifle and shot the beast in the chest. It was thrown backwards several feet by the blast, landing with a bone-crushing thud.
They stood in silence for a bit, surveying the carnage around them; four unarra lay in bloody, mangeled heaps around them.
"So", said Yrshann. "Three to one. I win; you know what that means", he said with a smile.
"Yeah, go ahead. Good hunting, by the way", replied Trezzen. Yrshaan walked over and patted him affectionatly on the shoulder. "There, there, kid; you can eat when I'm done." They walked over to Yrshaans' first kill, the unarra leader. Its' flesh was well cooked thanks to his rifle.
They sat down in the glowgrass, and Trezzen watched as Yrshaan ate his fill. When he was done, Trezzen ate greedily; hunting always made him extremely hungry. When they were satisfied, Trezzen recited the prayers necessary to guide the unarra to the afterlife, thanking them for their meat, and praising their strength and ferocity in combat. When they were done, they gathered some meat for trade, and began the walk to Reven.
An hour later, they arrived at the village gate. The warrior on duty greeted them.
"Good hunting, my friends. You wouldn't happen to be the courier and guide that was with those merchants raving about unarra, would you?", she asked.
"Good hunting, and we would indeed", replied Yrshaan. "They arrived safetly then?"
"Yes, just a bit upset. They're staying at Jarri's guest house, towards the center of the village. If you want to stay there too, tell him Unae sent you; he'll give you a discount."
"Many thanks", said Trezzen. "Just so you know, there's four dead unarra in the fields south-east of here. Plenty of good meat; might not want to let it go to waste."
Unae nodded. "We'll send a party of hunters to gather it. Reven will eat well tonight", she said with a smile. "Enjoy your stay; Reven will treat you well", she said as she gestured toward the open gate.
Trezzen and Yrshaan nodded in thanks and walked in. The main road was crowded with merchant stalls selling various trinkets, tools, pottery, and food. They followed the road toward the center of town. Trezzen watched as two children played with a gurrok and smiled; it reminded him of Biss, his pet gurrok. She had died long ago of old age. The thought began to sadden him, so he turned his attention elsewhere.
He watched as the people passed by. The way was crowded with pedestrians; he guessed as many as fourty people lived here in the various houses they passed. Not bad for a village this size, but his home was larger by far; the entire Nekkoro tribe dwelled in the city of Xerra, a population of around 2,000 people. He was somewhat eager to return home as he realized he missed Xerra's packed streets.
They came upon Jarri's guest house, a simple three story building made of wood. It was squat and square in shape. They entered through the open door and approached the Charonite standing behind the counter.
"Good hunting, friends! I am Jarri of the Farassa tribe, merchant and owner of this humble guest house. Who might you be?", said Jarri.
"I am Yrshaan of the Farassa tribe, a guide by trade; this is my companion Trezzen of the Nekorro tribe, a courier. Unae, the warrior at the gate, told us to seek shelter here. We are also curious as to the whereabouts of three merchants who recently came here. Do you know of them?", replied Yrshaan.
"Nekorro, eh? Haven't seen one of you in a long time. But yes, the merchants are all staying in the top floor; they said if a courier and guide came looking for them to send them right up. I also have two empty rooms up there. Would you like them?", asked Jarri.
"Yes, we'll only be staying the night", said Trezzen.
"Alright with me, assuming you've got goods to trade. It's not free; we've all got to make a living, you know."
"Of course", replied Yrshaan. "We've got some fresh cooked unarra meat for trade. How does three pounds each sound? Unae mentioned something about a discount..."
"Hrr...discount, eh? Alright, you've got a deal." Jarri looked almost defeated.
Trezzen handed over six pounds of meat, and he and Yrshaan went up to the top floor. The merchants were relieved to see them; they had feared them for dead. They told them off the battle, and they complimented their skill in combat. They gave them their packs, which had been left on top of the carriage when they fell off. When the merchants weren't looking, they both checked their packs to make sure nothing was missing; most traders were honest, but a few didn't hesitate to steal. Satisfied that nothing was missing, Yrshaan retired to his room.
Trezzen rested for a bit in his own room, lounging on the padded hammock attached to the walls. It was a small but serviceable room, lacking in furnishings but comfortable nonetheless. After a quick nap, he decided to head back into town and search for his contact here in Reven.
Ketra, the tech specialist elder of the Nekorro tribe, had asked him to find a person named Haxxon. All Trezzen knew about him was that he was a tech specialist that lived in the northern part of Reven, and that he had a piece of technology from before the Old-Time for Ketra. It was Trezzen's job to deliver it to her.
He wandered to the northern district. Most of the streets were deserted, most Charonites having retired to their homes to rest. The few that were out were able to offer him better directions to Haxxon's house; he found it in no time. The house was overgrown with weeds and vines. Trezzen walked up to the door and knocked.
"Who is it?!?", demanded a gruff voice from inside the house.
"I am Trezzen of the Nekorro tribe. I have come for Ketra's package."
There was a pause. Tzerren heard footsteps approaching the door, and the sound of several locks unlatching. Finally the door opened, revealing an older male Charonite. "You're the courier then. I've been expecting you for the past two days. I'm Haxxon, by the way. Tech specialist of the Farassa tribe. Come on in", growled Haxxon.
Tzerren followed Haxxon into his house. It was cluttered with thousands of pieces of Ancient technology, most of it little more than scrap. "My apologies for the delay. A pack of yxkaa have decided to make the Eastern Road their new home. We had to go around"
"Well, at least you're here now", Haxxon said as they enetered his workshop. "Here it is", he said, gesturing to a table occupied by many spare parts and a small, strange object. It looked like a smooth pyramid, with seven radial points extending from its' flat base. It was composed of a dark, reflective metal, ultraviolet in color.
"I've never seen anything like it", said Tzerren.
"Me neither. That's why I can't fix it. But Ketra, she's a clever girl. I'm sure she can figure it out."
"Where'd you get it?", asked Tzerren.
"Scavenger brought it in a couple months ago. I traded him a fully functional nanosuit for the damn thing, and I've been trying to get it working ever since! Worst deal of my life...well, you gonna take it or what?"
"Of course. I trust payment has already been taken care of?"
"Yeah, yeah. Just get out of here. Leave me to my work", said Haxxon as he sat down at a work bench and began fiddling with a spool of wire. Tzerren shrugged picked up the objects. It felt like it was vibrating slightly, an almost electrical hum similar to his own heart. Parhaps it was was part living and part machine, like most other forms of Ancient technology.
Tzerren left Haxxon; they did not exchange goodbyes, Tzerren preferring to leave the grumpy old male alone. He put the strange device in his pack and began walking back towards the guest house. Tomorrow he would make his way back to Xerra. Back home.
Chapter 2: Among NightmaresEdit
Elpen slammed his back against a rock, breathing heavily. He cracked a glance towards Tegren, who was nearby. A pair of Yallars waddled past the hiding Praedicans, sniffing the ground and growling. They moved slowly, like they were seaching for something.
It took ages for them to disappear, and Elpen was aching by the time they had gone.
"I hate this place," he exhaled, releasing the energy he had held.
"You're not the only one, buddy," Tegren said. "How much food have you got so far?"
"Not much. A bit of Xenogevene meat and a few scrubby leaves from a plant I found, but that's about it."
"Well, thank the gods for getting that meat. Good stuff. But food is getting harder and harder to find recently, it's terrible." Tegren picked up his bag. "There's a few bones in here. Of what I don't know."
"Anything goes," Elpen said. "C'mon, let's get back."
They started walking along the canyonside, trying to stay out of sight. After a while, Tegren said, "Have you heard the rumors?"
"What?" Elpen was shocked. He had heard what that group of Tengu could do---there was one story of an entire city of Praedicans that was destoyed by just those Daemons. And most of the population never even knew who did it.
"You heard right," Tegren replied. "That's another reason why we should stock up. You don't want to be found by those boys."
"Well, at least some races have made it through all this," Elpen said. Apparently, one race recently rebelled against the Daemons---and won.
"Let's hope we're one of them." Tegren turned his head, looking at the fumes of Swarga Loka, endlessly piling into the sky. "How much further, again? Sorry, but you really get lost in this place."
"Only a few miles."
Tegren sighed. "Great. My legs are killing me. All six of them."
They walked on, until they came from the sky. "We've got incoming!!!" Tegren shouted and started to run. A flock of Jatayu were diving at them from the sky. Elpen didn't have time to say anything before his legs took over.
They were running fast, but the Jatayu were gaining. Elpen was puffing, trying to keep running, even though he was exhausted. And Tegren wasn't doing much better, either. Suddenly, they sighted a boulder; they dove for it, the menacing cykrons still hot on their tail.
When the two reached the boulder, they heaved it aside, revealing a passageway. They dashed into it, and Elpen heaved it back, just as the Jatayu were about to grab them. With the clunk of the boulder falling into place, Elpen and Tegren were cloaked with cold darkness. They could hear the scratches and screams of the Jatayu as they tried to get in, but eventually they gave up.
"Man, that was close," Tegren said.
"I am NEVER...doing that...AGAIN." Elpen gasped.
"We dropped our bags while they were chasing us," Tegren said. "We have nothing now."
After that, they said nothing.
They walked down to the main cavern, where the entire Praedican race lay, lit by bundles of fire. All of them were slowly starving. "You go on to the others," Elpen said to Tegren. "I...want to talk to them."
Knowing what he meant, Tegren nodded and walked off. Elpen turned around and went to a crack in the walls of the cavern. He squeezed through to the other side. After getting through, he slept a while until nightfall. When he woke up, he continued on through another tunnel until he reached his destination.
It was a cavern containing a large pool of water. It had already become night, and the ceiling of the carven bore thin cracks to the surface of the planet, projecting thin wisps of moonlight onto the water. This was regarded as a sacred place, a doorway to the gods.
All Elpen could do was kneel and pray that his race would survive.
The Jatayu flew to Swarga Loka, its mechanical workings gleaming in the night sky. The fumes poured out, giving the city a terrifying appearance. Inside, thousands of Rakshasa continually prepared for battle, against whatever enemies may come. Watchers guarded the buildings, never faltering or moving at all. But the Jatayu did not pay attention to any of this. It paid attention to its message, and who to deliver it to.
To any other, the Jatayu's cry sounded like a scream. But Ravana understood every detail, and he smiled. Maybe this is the time those pesky Praedicans fall, he thought.
Chapter 3: Edge Of A CliffEdit
Dolen's ship hit the parched ground with a loud bang. He was ok; the ships dampener fields made sure of that. He crawled out of the ship, and ventured out into the Lankan waste. He carefully scoured the ground for signs of sapient life; he was looking for the Praedicans, so as to negotiate an alliance with them. Looking at the parched soil and the barren waste, he decided that this would be harder than he thought.
Dolen moved quickly, eager to find potential allies in the war against the Daemons; suddenly, he saw a yellow shape move in the corner of his eyes. He turned towards it, but then heard a large animal behind him as well. He backed into a large rock, and glanced around his surroundings. Nothing. Dolen sighed a breath of relief.Then, a drop of saliva plocked onto his head. Looking up, he saw two yellow predators on the top of the rock, snarling down at him. They immediately leapt down, narrowly missing him and hitting the ground on either side of him. There, they continued to snarl and walked around in circles around him.
Dolen slowly pulled out a firespitter out of his bag, and stood ready. It was probably hopeless. Whichever one he didn't kill first would almost certainly kill him. He sighed. If he had to die, he'd at least go out fighting.
He swiftly swiveled around and shot down the animal closest to him. The predator fell apart in a flurry of blood. Suddenly, he felt the whoosh of large wings and heard the dying screech of another alien. Turning around, he was faced with a shocking sight.
The other amphibian had been killed by a gigantic, part mechanical bird. The creature was at least twice his size, and two gleaming blueblades stuck out of its wings. It glared at him, and screeched. Dolen turned around and ran.
After roaming about the desert for a little while, he found something of intense interest. It was a discarded sack, full of meat. Something had dropped it. Dolen smiled; this indicated that the Praedicans might be nearby. Then, he heard the screech of the cyber-bird, and saw a winged, menacing shape flying towards him at an alarming speed.
Dolen looked around himself quickly. The only shelter was a small cave-entrance. Dolen quickly ducked into it, and fled deeper as the bird-like monstrocity clawed at the entrance.
"What was that?", said Tegren, clearly alarmed.
"I don't know," said Elpen, "Let's take a closer look."
They went closer to the surface, and were faced with a strange sight. A mid-sized, cream-colored mammal was standing at the cave entrance, holding a rifle and their bag of meat.
"Greetings," said the mammal, "My name is Dolen. I'm a Rennite. Are you the Praedicans?"
Elpen smiled. The Rennites were the race that had fought and won against the Daemons. "Yes," he said, "We are the Praedicans. What's a Rennite doing on Lanka?"
"I am here to negotiate an alliance. The Praedicans can help the Rennites, and the Rennites can help you."
Elpen smiled even more. His prayers had, perhaps, been answered.
Ravana sat in his study, scheming. A Korgrath entered the room.
Ravana groaned. "Let him in," he said.
Darkshriek entered the room, smiling. "Hey, Ravana! You're here too! Well, this ought to be fun."
Ravana glared. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here on official business," said Darkshriek, "Master himself assigned me to finding and capturing the renegade Rennite Dolen. He's a dangerous fugitive, he is."
"Fine, if you're on Master's duties. But stay out of my way."
"He ordered you and Bahamut to help out in any possible way."
"What!?," said Ravana, outraged, "Has it occured to him that I have plans of my own?"
"Apparently not. And you shouldn't talk about Master like that."
"Fine. How can I help?," Ravana said through gritted teeth.
Darkshriek told him his cunning plan, to catch the Rennite.
"You, know," said Ravana thoughtfully, "That plan's compatible with mine... I think we may be able to work together after all."
Chapter 4: Big Trouble In Little LacusEdit
Meanwhile the Seven had other concerns.
"Hectocapitus, do you by any chance remember the Shellis AI system?", asked Ravana. Ravana had just brought up something that would bring even more hate to the daemons.
"What about it? Shellis was a failed attempt. The AI never managed to collect any information and the system was obselite." said Hectocapitus.
"Not failed; just nearly failed. The scouts in Lacus found the readings from the AI to be active. Shellis knows everything about Lacus, the Julth, the Rennites, and the remains of the lost war technology."
In Lacus, the Shellious Imperium did not know what was coming.
"Isn't it a beautiful day, Yixa?"
"It is, isn't it?" said yixa. In Lacus, things were peacful and calm. Everything seemed wonderful for the Imperial family. The same could not be said for the Lacus crossgate.
"Why are we not moving?!? Last time we were in Lacus during the great war we never had these problems!" Hectocapitus was angry.
"It appears the laws of reality have changed here, in order to better suit the Shellious. I don't know how they could have become that powerful, that fast. Either way, we are working on it, Master", said Ravana.
"I will do this alone now. This is taking too long. Take a ship and go back to hunting down Dolen." Ravana followed Hectocapitus' orders. Things were looking bad in other places as well.
Far off in the multiverse, Dolen and his new allies were already discussing the alliance. "So you're saying you can help us defeat the daemon threat? How can we possibly get away from those things? We don't have nearly enough firepower." said Elpen.
"Not alone. Together, multiple races can overcome the daemons. First Lanka, then the other worlds, then the city of Pandemonium itself. With both of us, it should be at least possible to take this world." Dolen pointed to a stash of energy weapons he had brought from his ship. "The daemons will regret ever taking our homes!"
Back in Lacus, the Tower was already on it's way to Shellis.
"75% till light speed jump!"
The daemons were getting closer and closer to the darkest hour of Lacus. "Finally!", Hectocapitus roared. The tower suddenlty jumped into FTL and approched Shellis. Ships deployed from the Tower, as the Bad Neighbour shot everything that tried to slow it down.
On shellis things went dark. "Edoshai, we have to get out of here!" said Yixa.
"No. I can fight long enough for you and Gora to get the others out of the city." Edoshai rushed onto his speeder with khet warriors and rushed to the battledfield. Gora and Yixa helped get people out of the city as quickly as they could. "How long can father fight on?" Gora was amazed. He had never seen someone that looked so harmless fight like the most powerful warrior alive. "I don't know. The escape pods are gone; we need to get to my ship", Yixa said. "But how will we.." Gora was interrupted "Come on!"
They boarded Yixa's ship and fled the scene. Two grakk battleships shot at the hull. The ship roared out of control and fell into one of the rift zones. "Gora, hold the controls! We need to get out of here or we will end up in the Crossverse and who knows were", Yixa said. Gora steered, but the grakk ships fired again and the two crashed into the side of the ship. The ship was then sucked into a rift; the surrounding space was then nothing but dark abyss. Many Julth were alerted to the presance of uninvited guests. The Julth chased after the ship before it was thrown into a black hole.
"Where are we?" Yixa looked at the screen of the star map. "Xion! But how could we survive the trip from Lacus all the way to the Umbra System?" Both distressed passengers found themselves looking at the planet Charon.
In Lacus, things were not looking any better than before. "The Shellis AI system. Untouched for these 3 million years...back in our possesion", said Hectocapitus. "Welcome Daystar", Shellis said as she finally turned on her primary functions for the first time in millions of years. Ravana looked confused. "Who is Daystar?"
On Lanka, Dolen was planning how to take back the universe; in Lacus, Hectocapitus had just been reminded of a horrible memory; and in Xion, Gora and Yixa were both going to find a planet that had not been seen by a Shellious since the Julth War.
Chapter 5: HomecomingEdit
Tzerren sighed with relief as Xerra appeared in the distance. For days he had traveled with a caravan of fellow couriers, telling tall tales and jokes to pass the time. Luckily, bands of warriors and hunters had cleared most of the yxkaa from the East Road, and it was once again open for travel. The journey back from Reven had been much faster.
He was nervous. Soon he would have to deliver the artifact to Ketra, one of his tribal elders. She was a serious, severe, determined elerly female, and speaking with her always made him uneasy. Tzerren silently wished for Yrshaan's calming presence, but he had stayed in Reven for a few more days, enjoying the simple life.
As they approached the outer ruins of the city, Tzerren gazed up at the familiar skeltal structures rising into the dark sky. They were all that remained of this Ancient city's buildings, like enormous xenarces bones, and had lasted for generations. To him, the city had always reminded him of a massive graveyard; and in a way, it was. It was one of the few remaining legacies of his ancestors, and a monument to their demise.
The streets were overgrown with glowgrass and other flora. Debris from the buildings littered the streets, making the way treacherous. Tzerren and the party of couriers also kept an eye out for predators; the hunters of the Nekorro did their best to keep the streets clean, but sometimes the more cunning animals evaded them. Luckily, they reached the inner city's main gate without incident.
The massive metal walls, which seperated the deserted outer city from the inhabited inner city, dominated his vision. They were covered in organic looking blades and spikes, and like all forms of salvaged Ancient technology, were biomechanical in nature. Two warriors were posted above the gate itself.
"Halt! Identify yourselves", said the one on the left.
Tzerren was the first to speak up. "I am Tzerren, courier of the Nekorro tribe. These three that travel with me are also couriers; we have traveled the East Road all the way from the village Reven. We ask that you allow us safe passage into Xerra."
"And how do we know you aren't a party of raiders in disguise?", asked the guard on the right.
Tzerren opened his bag. The guards quickly raised their nanocarbines, fearing he was reaching for a weapon. They relaxed when he slowly pulled out the artifact. "I am to deliver this to the elder Ketra. If you would like to prevent that from happening, be my guest; I'm sure she won't be mad or anything. You know how forgiving she can be..."
The guard on the left grunted. "All right, all right; you can go through. But cause any trouble, and I'll slit your throat myself."
Tzerren entered the gate, and was greeted by the familiar sights and sounds of the Xerra marketplace. Dozens of colorful tents and stalls were set up among the crumbling buildings. Many sold various meats, pottery, tools, weapons, salvaged technology, clothing; anything that one might want or need. The merchants shouted their wares.
"Want yxkaa tenderloin? Maybe some unarra? We even have a rare shipment of xenarces steak! Hungry? Why wait; come and eat!"
"Spears! Swords! Crossbows! We even have nanorifles and nanoarmor folks! Get your weapons here!"
"Robes, sashes, scarves; everything you'll need in your travels!"
Tzerren got lost in the large crowd of shoppers, the merchants' cries fading into white noise. His companions wandered off, and he waved as they departed. Eventually the nostalgia faded, and he resumed his journey to Ketra's.
Ketra lived in a crumbling highrise building near the center of the city, just south of the Chief's home. She lived with several other scientists and tech specialists, many of them elders in their own right. Security was much higher in this part of the city, due to the presence of the Chief and his elders; the mounted warrior patrols watched Tzerren's every step.
As he entered Ketra's building, he took notice of the elevator panel on the far wall. He pressed the larger, luminous orange button. It was crystalline and spherical, and glowed a deep blue when activated. The dark, chitinous doors retracted into the walls, revealing a large, organic looking pod. It was like a giant seed. Another set of doors opened into the pod, and Tzerren stepped inside.
He had actually worked on the project to restore this elevator, back in his younger days. It had taken him and five other young tech specialists six weeks to replace the cybernetic components, and to regenerate the biomechanical tissue with artificial stem cells; he shivered involuntarily, remembering the cold, slimy, dark-colored goo on his hands. He had reeked for days afterwards.
The pod itself was enclosed in an esophogus-like structure. It began to rise smoothly as muscular contractions propelled it upward. Within moments he reached the top floor of the building; Ketra's lab and home.
In Swarga Loka, a spaceship landed.
Ravana was there to meet it, not at all happy about being forced to have this thing's assistance. He grimaced and narrowed his eyes, watching the doors of the exit bay creak open.
Bahamut stepped out. His tail whipped from side to side, and his metallic blue scales glittered. Ravana considered at once his best and worst creation, and scowled.
"Ravana. I am working with you. I am killing with you."
"Yes, I was told. Just... stay out of my way, got it?."
Bahamut wavered slightly. "I am killing with you. We are killing together."
Ravana growled. "I want you to know that you're a worthless, broken, screwed up mockery of a Gehennian. I should've killed you when you were on the table."
Bahamut stared at Ravana, his eyes unchanging and bright. "I do not need you to like me."
"Great, because I hate you. Now get out of my sight."
Ravana turned and stormed off.
Bahamut idled there for a moment, then picked up a Rhakshasa and swallowed it whole.
Ketra was facing away from him as he entered. "Good to see you again, Tzerren."
She turned, and Tzerren couldn't help but gulp as she looked into his eyes. "You had something for me?"
"Uh... yes. I found this... bought this from Haxxon, says he got it from a scavenger."
Her many eyes glittered ultraviolet as she watched the pyramid being placed on the desk.
"Oh, this is..."
She hunched over it like an excited child, a wide grin on her face. Then, she looked back up at him. "What does it do?"
Tzerren shrugged and stepped back a little.
Ketra frowned. "Come with me."
Together, they took the elevator back down. A small group of scientists was huddled around them- word had spread fast. There was no telling what ancient technology could do, but it was always exciting.
She placed it on a flat-topped rock, and took out a nanoprobe. She touched them for a moment, then stepped back.
They waited for a few seconds.
Ketra tried again.
Murmurs in the crowd. And nothing.
"Okay, so it isn't controlled by known key signals."
The crowd began to disperse, muttering about anticlimaxes and hyped-up discoveries.
But even as Ketra bent to pick it up, it began to shine. "Hey, everyone, look!"
They all turned, just in time to see a spherical burst of energy. A dimensional rift had been born, fragments of translucent space hovering around its borders. "What is it?" Tzerren asked.
"There's something waiting for us on the other side."
She stepped into the golden light, and there were cries of shock.
Tzerren sighed, and followed her in.
Dolen watched with fascination as the orb rotated slowly before him.
He hadn't meant to activate it, but the pyramid had just turned on in his hands.
The Praedicans were crowding round, also transfixed by this strange thing.
It flared, and then two aliens appeared. Tall, with bluish skin and many eyes...
"Who are you?" Tegren was staring at them.
The newcomers activated some kind of translation device. The older one spoke. "We're Charonites. We were investigating a pyramid like..." She noticed the Praedican's version. "Exactly like that one."
"Then they were both activated at the same time? A link between worlds?"
"Universes, i fear. There is no Xi here..." Tzerren spoke up.
"Xi? What's that?"
"Oh, we have a lot to discuss.
Chapter 6: ManipulationEdit
Darkshriek stood, impatient. It was originally supposed to be a simple mission to hunt down and kill that pesky Rennite. But no, Ravana was already working on getting rid of the Praedicans. What was the need? There was a miniscule number of them, and they were extremely weak.
In the meantime Darkshriek and Bahamut were waiting outside Ravana's room. Apparently he needed to "arrange" something.
Eventually, Ravana emerged. He said, "You'll be happy to know that I've devised a plan to do with away with the Praedicans---"---at this Darkshriek snorted---"---and, the Rennites as well. In fact, very easily."
He paused for effect, during which the only sound was the noise of Bahamut gnawing on a bone.
"With luck, every single one of our enemies will be vanquished. No matter where they hide, we will always find them."
"And how do you propose to do that?" Darkshriek asked.
"Well. Come and see."
They walked through the various corridors of Ravana's labs. They seemed to direct towards a central room, which was dark. The occasional flicker of light flashed from the machinery. And in the very center was a cage. And in the cage, Darkshriek could see his own reflection, multiplied hundreds of times, and a frenzy of teeth and claws.
"So what does it do?" he asked.
Ravana walked over to a piece of equipment and said, "Just look at this screen."
He looked, and no-one spoke for a long while.
"Oh," Darkshriek said, "now I'm interested."
The Gehennians discussed amongst themselves, waiting. This council meeting was being held at Swarga Loka today. These meetings were always a bit of fun---you got to walk through the various museums and taunt emaciated prisoners along the way.
Ravana was anxious to start, and a bit miffed as well. At first he was working on a glorious plan to annihilate the Praedicans off the face of the planet when that young fool gets orders from the God of Inferno to catch a tuft of fluffy rodent and wants him and that psychotic oaf to deal with the problem. That was bad enough. The only reason he informed Master about Shellis was that he wanted to be kept in favor. That was one of the more important details.
Well, no sense in letting them chatter any longer. Ravana spoke. "Alright now. Before we begin, I would just like to acknowledge the presence of our two newest members, Arethusa and Bahamut, for whom this is their first meeting."
He glanced over at the two. Arethusa was smiling, curled up at the other end of the table and clearly enjoying this. Bahamut was next to her, quivering every now and then.
"Umbran cannot attend today, because he was assigned a mission straight from the Master. Now, let us start here in Swarga Loka. You all know what a magnificent place this is. It's been one of our most prized constructs, every since we eradicated the higher race from Lanka.
"That brings us to two concerns today. One, there is still another race out here. You all know of the Praedicans, I assume?"
There was a murmur of agreement. "Yes, but why do you bring this up?" Bloodburn said. "Surely you have the power to do away with them."
"That I do," Ravana said, "and although my statement here today does concern them in one way, they were merely the starting point of my plans. For now, we have...others to deal with them. Sojobo?"
Eight winged shapes in cloaks descended from the ceiling and swiftly landed on their feet. The lead figure walked forward. "Greetings, Master Ravana," it said.
Ravana smiled. "I have assigned the Yamabushi Cult to deal with the local pests for now. They will distract the Praedicans until I reveal the secret weapon."
"So what is this 'secret weapon of yours, Ravana?" Bloodburn spoke again.
"That brings me to my second point," he said. "The facilities here in Swarga Loka. It is a fortress, true, but also a factory. A great factory of immense size and countless resources. And you all know what we produce here."
Everyone seemed to glance at Bahamut before he even defiantly stated the word "ME."
"It's an obvious question, Ravana," Death's Shadow said. "But what new type of cykron is this important?"
Ravana smiled. "Well," he said, "this one."
He sliced open a dirty drape at the far end of the room, and the remaining scraps fell to the ground, and immediately a vicious thrashing and shrieking came from the cage of doubly-reinforced blackmetal. The other Gehennians shifted back slightly.
"Meet the Seekers," Ravana said. "The ultimate scout. Entirely loyal and obedient to all Gehennians. Eventually, this will hunt down every last Praedican in existence."
Arethusa peered at the thrashing of feathers. "You need something this tempermental for that?"
"It's not just Praedicans, dear me no," Ravana said. "With a little preparation it will find every single one of our enemies and destroy them forever. I've even devised a little test."
He walked back to the table. "In this room, I have hidden a piece of Xenogevene meat. The Seekers are so highly tuned that they will immediately find the meat, and with pinpoint accuracy."
"Well then," Bloodburn said, "let's see it."
Ravana threw open the cage, and immediately the Seekers flew out with incredibly fast speed. Within an instant they had crashed into the center of the table, sending shards of metal high into the room, and a even more vicious frenzy began as they ripped apart the scraps of meat. Within seconds it was over.
The Gehennians enquired among themselves for a moment, and then Bloodburn spoke again. "To be honest with you, Ravana, we're intrigued very much. But how does it work? How are they so loyal and accurate?"
"That I can't tell you right now," Ravana said. "We all know the dangers after that whole fiasco with Chaon. But rest assured, I will explain shortly. I have a completely secure room reserved that will put us in direct radio contact with the Master."
He turned to the Tengu. "Now, hold your little briefing in a remote cave or wherever you go. I don't care exactly what you do to distract them, but as long as you do so you are free to design a strategy. I know how you love doing that."
"That we do, Master Ravana," Sojobo said. "Farewell." He turned to the rest of the Cult. "Let us depart to the Trickster, dear fellows!"
The Tengu flew up and out the room. Ravana chuckled to himself. That Yamabushi Cult was amusing if nothing else. But they would get the job done.
He turned back to the Seven. "We will report to Master," he said, "and then let slip the cykrons from hell."
"The Charonites are from Xion. It's a universe that harbors an exotic form called Xi," Ketra explained. "Many of us are able to use it for combat, healing, or other skills. But none exists in this universe, and so we can't use it."
"What universe is this, anyway?" Tzerren asked.
"Well, of all of the universes, you couldn't have gone to a worse one. This is the Daemoniverse. It's ruled by the Daemons."
"They eat people for breakfast," a young Praedican squeaked, before his mother shushed him.
Ketra asked, "How powerful are these Daemons?"
"See for yourself." Tegren led them up a narrow tunnel and pushed aside a large boulder.
Tzerren and Ketra could see an empty, barren expanse. Grimy, polluted clouds filled the sky, large feathered creatures soaring menacingly overhead. In the distance, they could see an immense building, palace-like in structure, with thick fumes pouring out.
"Each planet here is ruled by one of the dragon-like Daemon leaders. Lanka is ruled by Ravana. In my opinion, he's the worst of all."
"That's debatable," Dolen mumbled out of earshot.
"And," Tegren continued, "they are all ruled by the Dark Lord. Hectocapitus."
"Sounds cheery," Ketra said, "but I don't really feel like learning about him right now."
They walked back to the main cavern, where the two Charonites talked to each other. After a minute, Tzerren said to the Praedicans, "We believe that the Charonites have the resources to help you. With a little luck we may be able to defeat Ravana and his army. We're going to save you, and get you out of here!"
There was an erupting cheer among the Praedicans for quite a while, before Dolen noticed something.
"Hey, hold on. Quiet, guys!" he said.
He didn't have to say anything more, because everyone suddenly noticed as well. Something very odd.
Someone was talking, and it wasn't a Praedican.
Elpen and Tegren tiptoed towards the source of the sound with the Charonites and the Rennite following close behind them. It was very dark, and the Praedicans had never ventured into this part of the underground.
Soon they could see a large cavern. There were cracks in the ceiling, letting slivers of sunlight down to the floor, so that the cave was dimly lit. And in the center, seven shapes in red cloaks were crouched, while another was prowling about the cave walls.
Elpen stared. The rumors were true. The Yamabushi Cult was on Lanka, and now right in front of them. And talking about them.
"Jirobo has found that the Praedicans are dwindling in number, and so should be easy to target," one of them hissed. Elpen thought that it was probably Sojobo, the leader of the cult. "We need something quick and efficient to draw the least amount of attention. Any suggestions?"
"Some sort of mechanical killer?" one said. "I can easily create something like that."
"Too unreliable I think, Buzenbo. It could easily malfunction. You're our chief strategist, Sanjakubo. Do you have a plan?"
The Tengu thought a moment. "We need a blitzkrieg strategy," he said, "something that will overwhelm them from all sides."
"And how do you propose this?"
"Our best technology, of course. What else?"
Sojobo smiled. "Then it is settled. The Praedicans have an unfortunate surprise coming for them. Now, we have business to attend to."
The Tengu stood up and gathered their materials. Sojobo walked up to another Tengu, who was the deputy.
"I fear that some were watching us, Tarobo," he said. "Still, we didn't say anything too important."
"We'll need to be extra careful now," Tarobo said.
"That we will. Master Ravana wants us back at Swarga Loka as soon as possible. So go on, I just have to do one last thing here."
Tarobo nodded, watched by the intruders. Elpen was shocked. Was Ravana really involved with this? If so, there might be no hope of survival anymore.
"Come on," he whispered, "let's get back to the others." They walked back the way they came.
Soon, one by one, the Daemons flew up to the ceiling of the cavern and crawled through a large crack to the planet's surface. Then they were all gone---except for one.
Sojobo remained standing, seemingly calm. He looked around.
After about a minute, he closed his eyes and rubbed his hands against his head, almost in irritation. Then, slowly, he straightened up. He was not stiff, but calm and loose. And he opened his eyes, now a glowing red color.
Hello, faithful one.
"What can I do for you today, Masters?"
We just wanted to say you're doing a very good job with all this. Even Ravana is impressed, which is certainly something.
"Thank you, Masters."
Just don't forget your main task. It is very important.
"Of course, Masters."
Speaking of which, we've had a few individuals which are growing suspicious of the calmness, so if you could kindly do away with them we would appreciate it.
That is all. Goodbye now.
Sojobo closed his eyes again, but in a moment they were open, in their normal state. Looking around again, he quickly flew to the ceiling and crawled out the crack to catch up with the Cult.
Chapter 7: Planny PlansEdit
Once they had all settled down, Dolen took control of the situation.
"OK, people," he said, "Let's bring this council to order."
The Praedicans and the Charonites agreed instantly.
"Our goal, of course, is to defeat the Daemons."
A young Praedican piped up. "That won't be a problem. You're a super-hero who killed Cthire and Soulbane and took over the Angeli fleet!"
Dolen sighed. Apparently, his reputation had preceeded him, although it was barely recognizable. "That's not strictly true," he said, "I killed Cthire; I had nothing to do with Soulbane. And I merely contacted the Angeli; I didn't conquer them."
"Well," said a Praedican impatiently, "Why don't you just march into Swarga Loka and kill Ravana? Then all of our problems would be over."
Again, Dolen sighed.
"I had a Neutronium-Metal bullet at the time," he said wearily, "I do not currently possess the resources to kill a Gehennian. I do have a plan, however."
"What's that, then?"
Dolen gathered the Praedicans round. "We need to find a way to infiltrate Swarga Loka. In a place that big, there has to be someone who leaves the door open once in a while. When we're in there, we can find out what they're planning to attack us with. Then we can see what we can do against it."
One of the elder Praedicans said, "That's a bit ambiguous, isn't it? And I don't think we all need to go."
“Well, maybe just a few of us then. As for the broad focus, I don’t think we’ve got any other choice at the moment. The Daemons could have anything waiting for us. At least they don’t know that there are multiple advanced species out here now. We have the element of surprise...”
Ketra shot a glance at Tzerren. What were they getting themselves into this time?
Far away on Inferno, a Korgrath listened as its Master’s voice echoed in the room from a whole other universe.
“We’re heading back. I’m not getting anything out of this sorry little personality over here,” Hectocapitus said. “At the moment it’s hardly worth the trouble, but keep an eye on it anyway. I hope that’s perfectly clear?”
The Korgrath nodded, and Hectocapitus’s face disappeared.
Something scuttled across the floor, out of sight.
“You have weapons, correct?” Tzerren asked Dolen.
“Yeah, but they aren’t much. If we get caught with them, we won’t have a chance. But we have them if we need them. What’s more important now is deciding who’ll go and infiltrate the building. So...volunteers?”
The Charonites and a couple of brave Praedicans, including Elpen, raised their hands.
“Right, so you two, you three, and me.”
Elpen looked around at the crowd of Praedicans. “Tegren would probably want to go, too. Come on, where are you?”
Nobody else raised their hand. In fact, Tegren didn’t even seem to be present.
Tegren pulled himself over the rocky hillside and looked up. He was nearing Swarga Loka, and had a plan of his own. He thought if that he kept skirting the fortress from behind the next ridge, he should be able to avoid detection and the Watchers wouldn’t see him. He had only heard rumors of the Watchers, but they were apparently Ravana’s prisoners that got turned into cykrons and were forced to maintain eternal guard. It was pretty funny actually---Tegren had always wondered what it would be like to be a Watcher, and finally figured that it would be incredibly boring above all else.
He ducked as a Stymphalid flew overhead. It hadn’t seen him, so he continued on.
He grumbled to himself. Stymphalids were the worst. Not because they were extremely dangerous or anything, but because they were so common. After a while, they got a bit annoying.
Soon, Tegren was heading around the side of the fortress. There was smoke coming out of an open hatch on the side of the building. Could he get in there? It would be a bit messy but probably OK afterwards. He just needed to get himself over there---
Something flew out of a tunnel sticking out of Swarga Loka’s top. Tegren didn’t notice it, he was busy avoiding the sharp rocks.
But suddenly, he heard a high-pitched, electronic cross between a scream and a warble. And when Tegren turned around, he saw a hideous pincered face, two compound eyes, and the face of a Gehennian reflected thousands of times in the eyes, laughing.
Chapter 8: The SeekersEdit
Two doors slid open, and Hectocapitus the Dark Lord strode through, flanked by his Praetus guard. It was his own specific decision to come down onto Lanka as soon as he returned. According to Bloodburn, Ravana had something very interesting to show.
Besides that, Swarga Loka was an interesting place itself. Hectocapitus liked it, although hardly as much as his own majestic place on Inferno. Here, there was a suitable feel of dirt and death. It felt good.
Ravana was there, waiting in the next room. “Master,” he said. “Welcome again to Swarga Loka. A humble abode if I should say so myself.”
Hectocapitus was amused by this little statement, but there was no time for laughing matter today. “You say you have a secret weapon?”
“You can call a cykron what you like. I would have filled you in with radio contact along with the rest of the Seven, but your unexpected departure from Lacus made that a bit tricky. But look at it this way: you’ll be getting a personal tour all to yourself.”
“Lead the way, Ravana.”
Hectocapitus was led down corridors he remembered faintly, through rooms with skeletons and steam, and torturous cries from afar. And then there was a large, crimson-colored door, which Ravana opened.
The room beyond was dark and immense. Machine banks lined the circular walls, their lights flickering intermittently. Electric coils crackled from device to device. And in the very center of the room, there was a cage.
The cage itself was even taller than the entire room. Its top culminated in a dome atop the whole of Swarga Loka. And in it, Hectocapitus saw…himself. Multiplied. Reflected.
“These are the Seekers,” Ravana announced.
The cykron was a chimera, half bird and half beast. A bulbous insectoid head with two huge compound eyes and mechanical antennae rested on a feathered body. They, perhaps hundreds of them, flew about the aviary in search of their next meal. Precision and hatred seemed to emanate from their scales and claws.
“They look…alright,” Hectocapitus admitted. “But what’s so special about them?”
Ravana smiled. “They’re the ultimate scouts. They will obey anybody they are programmed to, and loyally so.”
“And who are they programmed to obey?”
“Me. And you, of course. But that’s not the half of it. Once they obtain a victim of any particular species, they will go about hunting down other individuals with acute precision. The more victims they take, the more accurate they become. In effect, they are genocide machines.”
Hectocapitus pondered this thought for a while, and then asked, “Intriguing. It’s done by recognition technology?”
Ravana nodded. “You can direct it towards a specific victim yourself---let’s say you wanted to conquer…Praedicans, for example.”
“Once the Seeker has identified its victim, it proceeds to analyze and store physical characteristics, as well as factors such as body temperature, smell, color spectrum, anything you can think of. Once it kills the Praedican, for example, it proceeds to analyze internal characteristics that it will learn to detect from afar, such as blood composition, protein types, whatnot. And it can scan the surrounding environment for signs like tracks, clothing, tools, and mathematically determine the probability that they belong to the victim using already learned information---foot shape, for example. After only a few samples, a Seeker should be able to find its programmed victim from a quarter of a planet away. And it can detect them through any myriad of tools in an infinite variety of situations: infrared and night vision, acute sensory systems, things like that. If you can think of any way to find your target, a Seeker will have that and the target before you even expected it.” Ravana smiled.
Hectocapitus could see the implications forming in his mind. This could be the start of a revolution, and within tens of years the entire Daemoniverse could finally be theirs...
"Have these been tested?"
Ravana curled up his tail. "In the lab and the field. They most certainly work, and work very well."
Hectocapitus smiled. "Excellent. You have a new job. Make as many Seekers as you can. They will be our solution to ridding the stars of every last Angelus, Typhon, and rebel race. Is that clear?"
"Of course, master." Ravana smiled. "Whatever you say."
"All systems are clear and functioning, without flaw."
"Excellent. Set the coordinates."
"Where will we be landing?"
"At a close distance, in the mountains. We know that they stay away from there, but it is no matter. That is the advantage of wings."
"Why is there only one that we brought?"
"You only need one."
Chapter 9: AmbushEdit
Elpen searched the horizon with Dolen, the Charonites, and some fellow Praedicans, looking for his most trusted friend. It wasn't like him to abandon everybody like this, but sometimes, it seemed, he just got a bit brave...
"Where could he have gone?" Dolen asked. "There's no reason for him to leave."
"Well, he must have stayed in the barrens," Elpen said. We don't go near the mountains. It's easy to get lost in there, and the cykrons lay at every turn. Not to mention the Cult."
"...the Cult? Yamabushi?"
"You bet. Rumor has it they're hiding on Lanka right now. But nobody knows where they are at the moment..."
Dolen shuddered. Things just got a little more complicated. What they needed to do right now was find Tegren, and then get into Swarga Loka.
Elpen looked over his shoulder, and saw Tzerren kneeling on the ground, looking at a patch of dust. "Tracks."
The party hurried over to see. They were six-legged tracks, scurrying across the ground.
"That's Praedican alright," Elpen said. "We can't tell if it's Tegren though..."
"Look here at the orientation," Tzerren said. "I don't know much about how you guys walk, but you can see a wider pattern between footsteps. This guy was moving at a decent pace, and determined...too orderly for being chased though. They're heading away from the cave."
"That has to be him," another Praedican said. "Nobody else would want to spend any more time out in this place than they needed to."
"Where do they head?" Dolen asked.
Tzerren looked up, following the trackway. "There, out into the distance." He pointed at the receding line of prints.
The line of prints was indeed heading in a straight line, past rocks and crevasses, and straight towards the thick, grimy fumes pouring out of the horizon.
"Great," Elpen said.
TO BE CONTINUED