|The Dark God|
Story: Shadows of Penumbra
Soulbane miserably walked alongside his new master, Rothel. The forest they walked through was already cold and dismall, but Rothel seemed to sap all the warmth from the air.
"Where are we, Master?", said Soulbane. He did not like calling Rothel "Master", but he had no choice.
"WE ARE NO LONGER IN THE DAEMONIVERSE," said Rothel, "WE ARE IN ANOTHER UNIVERSE, XION BY NAME. THIS IS THE PLANET NEVERMORE."
"I see," said Soulbane, "And might I ask what we're doing in this waste of interstellar space?"
"I HAVE BUSINESS TO ATTEND TO."
Soulbane knew better than to argue.
They came to a large palace, guarded by avian humanoids.
"STEP ASIDE, TUOCO," said Rothel. The avians shook visibly, and stepped out of their path.
They were led into a large room, where a Tuoco sat perched on a marble throne.
"Master!", the avian said, leaping up, "You have come again. I welcome you to the kindom you so graciously gave to me."
"DO NOT SPEAK LIES, CROAK. YOU DO NOT GIVE ME THE RESPECT I DESERVE."
"NONETHELESS, I WILL MAKE USE OF YOU. YOU SHALL GIVE UNTO ME YOUR ARMY."
Croak gasped. "I cannot do that!", he protested, "I need it! There are a dozen races that would attack me immediately. And there's a flock of Thesserexes coming in a few days."
Then, Rothel waved a tentacle in Croaks direction. The avian turned pale, and began to grovel on the ground. "I'm sorry, Master!", he screamed, "Please, forgive me! I repent!"
"THEN YOU MUST GIVE ME CONTROL OF YOUR ARMY."
"Yes, yes, anything! But make it stop! Don't leave me like this!" He tossed Rothel a small device.
Rothel caught it with ease. He waved another tentacle in Croaks direction, and left the room.
"What did you do?", said Soulbane, once they were on the outside.
"HE WAS FORCED TO CONFRONT HIS OWN WORST NIGHTMARE."
"How did you do that?"
"IN XION, THERE IS A FORCE THAT RENDERS MUCH POSSIBLE. I SHALL TEACH YOU TO MAKE USE OF IT SOMEDAY. BUT FOR NOW, WE MUST GO HITHER INTO ANOTHER UNIVERSE. TO EMENATA."
Zaira stepped out of the RDC truck.
"Where's the Rift?", she asked a short Zyrothan female.
"Down the hall, you can't miss it. There's a giant insect in there!"
Zaira groaned. That might mean Scarab. They'd have to be extra careful. "Come on people," she shouted, "We've got an insectoid down this hall. Can't just let it be, can we?"
She led the team down the hall, where a rift could be seen. Like all rifts, it was a beam of light, with what seemed like glass fragments floating in it.
"Where's the bug?", said a Zyrothan recruit. He was answered quickly, as he was dragged into another room by something unseen.
"Come on!", shouted Zaira, "In here!".
The squad quickly made their way to the other room.
Zaira burst in, pointing a Mincer Machine Pistol ahead of her. In the room, a Cthonian Tigrid was gripping the Zyrothan by the throat. The poor boy wasn't dead; but he would be soon if she didn't kill that thing. She slowly put away her Mincer in favor of a Snakebite. What she needed here was accuracy, not speed.
After a few moments of aiming, she fired. Instantly, the Tigrids head exploded into a burst of ichor, showering everyone in the room. Regardless, they all cheered, in particular the Zyrothan she had saved (even though he had been soaked in the most ichor.)
"OK, boys," she said to her team, "Let's get back to base. We've got a report to file, bills to pay, and a universe of enemies to fight."
Umbran slowly walked into The Tower. "You wanted to see me, Master?", he said.
"Yes, Umbran," said Hectocapitus, "I have a task for you."
Umbran groaned inwardly. Tasks from Hectocapitus himself often involved huge fleets of Angeli, trips through the Crossverse, etc.
"Your will is my command," he said, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.
"Recently, my child Soulbane left me. He betrayed me, to serve an ancient evil known as Rothel. He is currently traveling with him through many universes. You are to take the Torment, and capture him."
Again, Umbran inwardly groaned, but outwardly said, "Yes Master. It is a pleasure to serve you."
"It is known he entered the Xion universe," continued Hectocapitus, "But he may have gone elsewhere from there. Here, take this."
He gave Umbran a silvery device, that fit perfectly on the end of his tail. When he fitted it on, it stuck fast, and would not come off.
"This device can detect rift residue," said Hectocapitus, "It shall give you an electric shock whenever rift residue is detected. It will also tell you where the rift led to. One last tool, before you set off."
He gave Umbran a large book, with a black cover and faded words.
"This is the Codex Futurae, or, the Book of the Future. It may give you valuble information. And now, Umbran, go forth and capture Soulbane the Treacherous. Bring him to me. Here he shall recieve punishment."
At this exact moment, a penetrating shriek from the Wall of Screams rang out. Umbran shuddered at Soulbane's probable fate.
"It shall be done, my Lord!", he said, "Please inform Ravana that I can't make it to the council on Lanka."
"Very well," said Hectocapitus.
"Well, I'm off now!" And with that, Umbran left the Tower, and headed for the Torment. Perhaps if I hurry, he thought to himself, I'll be back before long.
And so he left Inferno.
Dante was a frightening world; twisted trees dotted the landscape, parched earth cracked in the heat of a giant red sun, and the cries of alien animals filled the air. They were now approaching a ruined city. Soulbane was surprised that this world was not located in the Daemoniverse.
"What are we doing here, Master?", he asked grumpily. On joining, he had been told that he would be given immense power. He had been told that he would rule many a universe. So far, however, he'd just been dragged all over Obeidon, to the most unpleasant worlds in the multiverse.
"FEAR NOT, SOULBANE. YOU WILL RECIEVE GREAT POWER SOON. THIS WORLD ONCE BELONGED TO MY KIND; IT WAS WE WHO BUILT THESE CITIES. AND IT IS HERE THAT WE WILL FIND A WEAPON SO POWERFUL, IT WILL RENDER US INVINCIBLE."
"Invincible is good," said Soulbane, smiling.
They walked to what looked like a temple, and entered. Within, there were dusty weapon racks, and moldy tapestries depicting strange wars and creatures. But in the center of the room there was a golden amulet, that seemed to shimmer with energy. Soulbane immediately strode across the room, and grabbed it.
"Is this it?" he asked greedily, "Is this the weapon?"
Rothel hovered past Soulbane and the amulet, and swooped towards the dusty weapons rack. Inside was a small gauntlet, covered in cobwebs.
"MY PEOPLE WERE DEVIOUS, SOULBANE. THE AMULET IS A MERE TRINKET, A BAUBLE. THEY HID THE REAL WEAPON HERE. GREAT POWER IS IN THIS GAUNTLET."
Although Rothel's tentacle was much larger than the gauntlet, it seemed to fit perfectly.
"THIS IS CAIN, THE GREATEST WEAPON IN OBEIDON. AND NOW, SOULBANE, WE SHALL BRIEFLY RETURN TO YOUR HOME. I MUST... NEGOTIATE WITH DAYSTAR."
"Who's Daystar?", said Soulbane. But he was not answered, as they then walked throught a rift that had opened nearby. Well, thought Soulbane, things just got a whole lot better.
"You wanted to see me, Colonel?" said Zaira as she entered Brelac's office. Brelac was a bulky Atrenid, with battle scars and a prosthetic arm.
"As a matter of fact I did," said Brelac, "First of all, I wish to congratulate you on the elimination of that Tigrid. That rift provided us with the location of the planet Cthonia. We're now planning an expedition to the surface of the world. Knowledge is our most powerful weapon against alien lifeforms."
"And as a reward for your achievements," continued Brelac, "I wish to promote you to First Lieutenant."
"Wow," said Zaira breathlessly, "Thank you, sir. I mean, it's an honor..."
"Don't get to excited. With great power comes great responsibility. I need you to go on a dangerous mission."
"Just tell me the details. I'm ready to leave the moment you say the word."
"Well, here goes. An alien spaceship has just entered orbit around the planet Dante. The penal colony. You must go there immediately, and inform the craft that it must not remain there."
"I'll be happy to take care of this, sir. I'll be right there!"
And with that, Zaira turned and exited the room, in the direction of her ship.
Umbran chuckled to himself as the alien ship exited FTL nearby. The ship definitely had Veiled One features; but they were crudely reproduced, and they had stuck bits of their own technology in various parts. It wasn't even made out of blackmetal. Umbran often amused himself by destroying ships of an inferior design, but this time he refrained. Suddenly, the Torment recieved a hail from the crude ship. Umbran sighed, and listened to the message.
"Attention unidentified ship," the hail began, "I am Zaira Toklein of the Rift Detection and Control agency. You are commanded to state your identity and purpose here."
Umbran was shocked at the sheer gall of this species. They had flown right up to an obviously superior vessel, and started issuing commandments. After pausing for a minute, he burst out laughing.
"You! Commanding me?" Umbran was totallly incapable of concealing his amusement, nor did he wish to. "Very well," he said, still laughing, "I will play your little game. I am Umbran the Seven, Captain of the Torment and lieutenant of Hectocapitus, who is the lord of all Daemons. I have come here pursuing a dangerous traitor by the name of Soulbane." He chuckled a bit more, and then continued. "You have given me a good laugh today. I'll tell you what. If you stay out of my way, I probably won't destroy your ship."
A few moments later, Zaira Toklein's return message came through.
"I don't know how powerful your ship is. Actually, you probably could blow up my ship and carry on with your life. But if you do that, you'll have the entire Salsene Grand Fleet to deal with. Not only that, but we have allies. The Lutrians, the Lentaa, the Deraia, the Skarg, the Iridi, the Vrah, the Zyrothans, the Aians, the Banshaen, the Phoebus, the Xodu, the Atrenids..."
Umbran groaned. All he wanted to do was flit into Emenata, capture Soulbane, then go back home. As appealing as destroying a dozen different species in one trip sounded, he couldn't let himself get delayed that much.
"Now I'm going to say what I want you to do," said the alien, "You're chasing down a fugtive. I don't know anything about this "Soulbane", but he could be a threat. You know more about him. I will accompany you, making sure you don't do anything besides search for Soulbane. We'll find out what he's doing in Emenata, and stop him, together."
Umbran growled slightly, but he could not find anything wrong with her demands. Truly, she was a good negotiator; some other time, he'd have to come back here and conquer these Salsenes. It would be most amusing.
"Very well," Umbran transmitted back, "I agree to your demands. Let's meet on the surface of Dante, and I'll tell you everything I know about Soulbane."
"Thank you very much," said Zaira, "I'm sure it will be most enlightening."
Hectocapitus, Lord of the Daemons, sat in his throne in a silent rage. He knew what was coming; he also knew that every Grakk in his dominion wouldn't stop it. He would be a fool to try. And Hectocapitus was no fool.
As soon as he had figured it out, he had made all of his Praeti evacuate his throne room. He did not want to have to produce any more of them then were needed.
Once Inferno had rotated sufficiently to face away from the Hellstar, a Dimensional Rift appeared in his hall, and Rothel and Soulbane walked in.
"I HAVE COME TO SPEAK WITH YOU, DAYSTAR," said Rothel.
If Soulbane was surprised to hear his father's true name, he didn't show it. "Hello, father," he said with a sneer, "or, since you gave birth to me, I suppose you would technically be my mother... interesting..."
Soulbane gave Rothel a dark scowl, but backed down.
Hectocapitus ignored his treacherous son, and spoke directly to Rothel. "You have no right to enter my hall. Be gone."
"NEITHER DO YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO RULE THIS UNIVERSE. YET YOU DO. I WILL NOT LEAVE UNTIL I HAVE SPOKEN WITH YOU, AND GAINED WHAT I WANT."
Hectocapitus glared. "I owe you no favors. This is your last warning. Leave."
Rothel hovered in one place, silently daring the Gehennian to do his worst.
Infuriated, Hectocapitus fired his Hellbeam at Rothel. He did not care that the blast would probably do extensive damage to the Tower. All he cared about was destroying the Chaos Lord.
Casually, almost lazily, Rothel flicked the tentacle wearing the Gauntlet at the blast. The beam was deflected through a suddenly formed Dimensional Riflt, where it flew into another universe. Someone else's concern. Rothel then turned to face Hectocapitus.
"I SEEK A BOOK FROM YOUR LIBRARY. THE CODEX FUTURAE."
Hectocapitus's eyes widened, and then hardened. "I have no such book."
"DO NOT LIE TO ME, DAYSTAR. DISHONESTY DOES NOT BECOME YOU."
He paused for a moment, thoughtfully. "THERE IS NO REASON FOR YOU TO LOSE YOUR THRONE. IF YOU COOPERATE WILLINGLY, I WILL ALLOW YOU TO CONTINUE RULING THIS UNIVERSE."
Hectocapitus paused for a long moment. He was a proud individual, but he was not a foolish one. After what seemed like hours of deliberation, he made up his mind.
"I will tell you where the book is when Inferno freezes over," he said grimly.
Rothel let out what may have been a sigh. "VERY WELL THEN."
With a flourish of his armed tentacle, he cast some form of energy bolt into the Daemon's chest. It struck the Neutronium-metal, slowing but not stopping. The beam passed through the armor, somewhat diminished, but not truly stopped. Hectocapitus fell to the ground, gravely wounded.
As he slipped into unconsciousness, he heard Rothel speak once more.
"DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIGHT ME, DAYSTAR. YOU ARE COUNTERING THE RACE THAT CREATED THE VEILED ONES. YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY WIN."
The last thing he saw was Rothel's arm coming towards his head. He could feel the Chaos Lord sensing into his mind, prying out the correct answer. And then he left, to another dimension.
Zaira's shuttle landed in the forest of Dante. The planet was strange and frightening, and she had heard terrible rumors about the place. Besides which, it was night, when the largest predators on any planet always came out. She wanted to get off of the planet as soon as possible. She and about two dozen guards positioned themselves with their backs to a large hill, and watched as the Daemon shuttle touched down.
With a frightening hiss, the doors of the shuttle came open, and Umbran came out. He was a huge creature, and was so completely dark in color that he blended in perfectly with the encroaching darkness on all sides. Flanking him was a legion of Zahhak warriors, which regarded the RDC personel with something of contempt.
"Greetings," said Zaira, trying to seem amiable, "On behalf of the Salsene Grand Fleet, I would like to welcome you to the Viperius Galaxy..."
"Cease your prattle, savage," snarled Umbran, "I will not tolerate this nonsense. If you wish to leave this desolate rock alive and well, you will do exactly as I say."
Zaira attempted to control her rage, but failed. "We don't obey any other species, you kragging lizard." She regretted the words as soon as they came out of her mouth.
Umbran seemed outraged for a moment, but then chuckled softly. "You are a feisty race," he said, "that might come in handy at some point. But for now, we have stuff to do."
Zaira relaxed a bit. "In orbit, you said you were pursuing a fugitive. Can you give me any details concerning this individual?"
Umbran thought for a moment, and then relented. "I suppose so. His name is Soulbane; he was once one of the most high-ranking Daemons. He ranked even higher than me. The only one he answered to was Hectocapitus himself.
"However, that was not good enough for Soulbane. He decided to rebel; to kill Hectocapitus and cease control of the Daemoniverse. To bring his plot into fruition, he made some sort of pact with Rothel, one of the ancient evils of the multiverse. However, it seems that Rothel was too powerful for him to control; in the end, Soulbane became Rothel's apprentice. They came to this universe; they were on this exact planet not long ago."
Zaira thought for a moment. "This is disturbing," she said finally, "How powerful is this "Rothel"?"
"When we last saw him, he was powerful enough to fight both Ravana and Death's Shadow at the same time. And to make things worse, he may have gained some new technology since then. For all we know, he's nearly invincible by now."
"Do you have any idea where he may be going? Or what he's planning?"
Umbran reached into a pack, and brought out a small book. "This is the Codex Futurae. It was simply discovered one day in our capital city. It seems to predict the future. It mentions Rothel a couple of times; it may hold the answers we are looking for."
Zaira held out her hands. Umbran hesitated for a moment, and then handed it to her.
The book was full of obscure writings. Most of it seemed vague and incoherent. It was very confusing. What really got her attention was the mentions of Viperius, and the races there of. She read it out loud:
In the First Galaxy
There lies a world
Covered in vast Cities
Where Old and New mingle
In every single
Ruins falling, nations stalling, every creature crawling
To reach their Saviour and destroy what threatens the ancient Calling.
"That part always confused me," said Umbran, "it doesn't even rhyme well."
"Oh my god," said Zaira, "this is talking about Centro. It's a planet in this galaxy!"
"The Codex mentions a "Saviour." Something which threatens them, perhaps? Could it be that this Saviour could be what we need to stop Rothel?" Zaira was excited.
Umbran looked thoughtful. "It could be that there is technology there that could stop him with ease." His voice lowered, as if he were talking to himself. "Imagine the glory that would come to the Seven that brings Hectocapitus a weapon that powerful..."
He shook himself. "Bring me to Centro."
Zaira climbed back on board her shuttle. "I'll lead you there. But you must swear to never betray us. Never come after us with intent to conquer."
Umbran smiled. "Would I do that?"
Rothel and Soulbane walked again on the surface of Dante. They now knew that the Codex Futurae was here, and Rothel would stop at nothing to acquire it.
Rothel hovered for a moment, and then lashed out in rage. The land tore, trees uprooted themselves, the sky glew red with energy.
After a moment, he calmed down.
"THEY HAVE LEFT FOR CENTRO. THIS IS UNFORTUNATE. THE OUTLANDERS HAVE PLACED WARDS ON THIS PLANET; NO CHAOS LORD CAN GO THERE. THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO SERVE ME, SOULBANE."
A huge Dimensional Rift appeared in the sky, and dozens of highly advanced ships came through.
"What the..." said Soulbane in wonder.
"THESE ARE THE TUOCO. I HAVE EQUIPPED THEM WITH OLD CHAOS LORD TECHNOLOGY. WITH THIS, THEY COULD EASILY MATCH ANY FIGHTING FORCE IN EMENATA. SOULBANE, YOU SHALL HAVE THE JEWEL OF THEIR FLEET. YOU MUST GO FORTH TO CENTRO, AND CONQUER THE PLANET IN MY NAME. GO DEEP UNDERGROUND, AND DESTROY THE WARDS IN PLACE. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY OF ALL, SLAY UMBRAN AND BRING ME THE CODEX FUTURAE."
Soulbane smiled wider than he had in ages. At last something he knew he could do. "It shall be done, my Lord."
Overhead, several billion highly advanced ships prepared for battle. The Battle for Centro, stuff of legends, was about to begin.