Saturday, August 28, 2010


June 30th, 802 AT.

Two weeks had passed all-too-uneventfully since the crew made their two strange communications. The search among the refugee fleet for Skunk, Owl, and Spider had continued, but it still turned up no results. The confirmation they were alive had bolstered the crew’s hopes, but there was no sign of them among the two-hundred-odd survivors of Sector Four.

At long last the Quinn, and the refugees it led, was coming up on Sector One.

((69 — Tower of the Gods))

Here, near the center of the Nebula, the fog was clearer, but due to the density of the crystals visibility was about the same. For the last few hours, though, something had been growing ahead of them.

The heart of the Void itself.

A massive crystal, hundreds of kilometers across, but uniquely non-gemoetric. Whereas every other crystal was a regular shape—a cube, a dodecahedron, an icosahedron—this one looked like a misshapen snowflake, spikes of all sizes jutting out in every direction. The huge spires made a roughly spherical formation, a ball of jagged chunks and crystal towers. The valleys between the largest peaks were filled with smaller crystal spears.

The crystal filled the world below and ahead of them, looming in its immensity. They had seen other crystals this size, certainly, but always shrouded in mist, just shadowy edges and sheer faces. Sector One was impossibly huge, far larger than anything any of them had seen with their eyes. All four crew members were gathered in the cabin, awestruck by the sight.

The radio crackled suddenly. "Ship Quinn, ship Quinn, this is Sector One, do you read?" The voice was young and male--the same radio operator as before.

Kasby was startled out of the near-hypnotism of the crystal, and pushed the talk button on the radio. “This is Captain Bellwood, of the Quinn.”

“Good to hear from you, Captain Bellwood. Hope your journey hasn’t been too eventful.”

“Afraid it’s been eventful enough.” Kasby raised an eyebrow at Goat, who was getting back to his feet. He had been so startled by the radio that he’d fallen over. Goat shrugged apologetically, and dusted himself off.

The radio operator continued. “Mm. We’ve cleared a landing zone for the… ah... fleet, just outside the city proper. Your ship has a berth in the private zones up near the Inner Chamber.” There was a pause. "Forwarding you the telemetry data for both now."

“Much appreciated. Should be landing soon.”

“Talk to you planetside, then. Sector One out.” The rudimentary navigation computer beeped affirmatively, confirming the receipt of the data. The data instructed for the Quinn to orbit the crystal ahead of them another three-dozen degrees.

"Planetside. Interesting concept," said Kasby without much inflection.

“Like, one side is a planet and the other isn’t?” Goat said. “Cool! What’s a planet?”

Kasby's leather-gloved hands pulled the controls back, tilting the Quinn upwards and around the crystal. "Reaaaally big landmass, Goat."

Slowly, the Quinn made its way around the crystal. Gravity was strange, this close to the heart of the nebula. When they’d left Sector Four, they’d been in freefall, down towards the Void’s center. As they’d gotten closer, the crystals had gotten dense enough to make blind freefall suicidal, so they’d cruised downwards at something of a steep spiral. Here, gravity pointed inwards towards Sector One. By driving the Quinn what felt like upwards and forwards, they were really orbiting the massive crystal. The rest of the refugee fleet would be doing the same, when it arrived. For now, it was several hours of travel behind them, dimly visible in the rearward distance as a cluster of dots and blinking lights.

As they orbited, something began to come into view. Nestled between three of the immense crystalline spires was what could only be described as a city. Easily thirty kilometers across, the buildings of it filled the chasm between the spires fully, running up the sides of the spires as well as spilling out between them.

As they came closer, details became visible. In the center of the city, a fourth, smaller spire jutted straight up, pentagonal in contrast to the triangular prisms of the main three. Wires connected different parts of the cities, and small boxes hung from those wires, moving slowly back and forth. In the flats of the city, rails connected different areas, and high-speed vehicles moved along them, all over the place.

The data pointed to a spot just below the pinnacle of the central spire. Kasby tried to keep his eyes focused on the landing point, instead of letting them wander across the gleaming, manmade landscape. The last thing he wanted was to crash the Quinn into one of these beautiful buildings. It didn’t help that Goat was leaping around the deck excitedly.

The pentagonal top of the spire came into focus. The spire itself seemed to be hollowed out and inhabited--balconies and bridges jutted out of it at odd angles. At the top of the spire sat dozens of intricately designed ornate houses, though none as grand as the building at the very top.

The Quinn flew towards this tallest building, a masterwork of sweeping angles and buttresses, to a small landing pad on a balcony near one of the edges.

Finally giving into the temptation, Goat leapt onto the building. He jumped up to the very top, finding nothing but a communications dish, and, having satisfied his leap-lust, came back down.

Kasby activated the landing pads and gently set down the Quinn just as Goat leapt back.

A man stood on the pad, watching the ship descend. He waited patiently for the crew to disembark.

Kasby was the first to step off, and was just pulling on his brown long coat as he left the Quinn. Zebra and Giraffe followed him quietly, with Goat leaping down to the landing pad in his usual fashion, coming down behind the waiting man.

The large man smiled at the crew, and walked towards them. He had thick brown hair all over the top and bottom of his head, and wore a thick coat. "Welcome to Sector One, Captain Bellwood! I'm Anton Vojtek, Transportation Secretary." The bear-like man's voice was gruff, but friendly. He extended a hand to Kasby.

Kasby hesitated for a moment before clasping it in his own. "Warmer welcome than last time.”

"You'll find nothing but friends here, Captain."

"I get the feeling somebody probably wants to speak with us."

"I daresay just about everybody here does! The, ah, Inner Council Chamber has actually put together a bit of a reception in your honor."

“Hooray!” cheered Goat, still behind Vojtek.

Kasby opened his mouth as if to respond, but couldn't find anything to retort to. He quieted himself and merely wore a small smile. "All friends, eh?"

"Of course!"

Kasby breathed out. "That's... good to know."

"Now, if you'll be so kind as to follow me, the reception is being held at the Articulate Gardens. We'll take a tram." Gesturing for the quartet to follow, Vojtek began walking down a set of stairs from the landing pad.

“Take a wha?” Goat asked, following.

“A tram, my boy!” Vojtek smiled. “Do they not have them where you come from?”

Giraffe gave him a skeptical look, as if to say “duh.”

“No, of course they don't, none of the bases are large enough to merit transportation systems as sophisticated as ours." Vojtek laughed to himself.

The stairs wound down around the edge of the building, and into a large open room inside. They stood on the metal upper balcony of a pentagonal room, the central floor of which was full of hundreds of people, hurrying forth and hither across the room. Openings at various points around the room held the wire-boxes they'd seen from the air, which would quickly fill with people and then depart down the wires.

Vojtek spread his hands wide, and boomed, "Welcome to Central Transit! My pride and joy."

Kasby looked around, no real evidence of his amazement beside his wide eyes and high-set brow. “Impressive.”

“Where are we headed?” Goat asked, gesturing to the large map of the city that covered a nearby wall.

Vojtek pointed to an area halfway up one of the spires. "The Articulate Gardens. Very beautiful place, fabulous for receptions and parties and such. We've got a private car waiting just over here." He walked over to one of the boxes, sitting just through a door on the balcony, and gestured for them to enter.

“Swanky, even,” Kasby said quietly as Vojtek walked off, seeming to finish his earlier thought.

“You guys have fun with that,” Goat said. “If it’s all the same, I’ll get there on my own.” He set off for the nearest window.

“Yeah, uh, I choose cool moving boxy thing,” Giraffe muttered. “If it’s all the same to you.”

Vojtek raised a curious eyebrow as Goat threw himself out the window, then turned to Kasby. “Will that boy be alright?”

Kasby nodded absently. "Goat's fine. He's just leapy."

“Leapy. Sure. But hey, if he wants to miss out on the best transit system in the Void, his loss."

"Best adjective available," muttered Kasby with a half-smile.

“I always thought springy also worked,” Giraffe said, as the trio followed Vojtek into the box.

The inside of the tram car was roomy, with about a dozen seats lining the two edges, and windows just above them.

“Off we go!” Vojtek said, smiling. The door closed, and the car disconnected from the station, sliding smoothly out along the wire, carrying them over the city.

From closer-up, they could see the sprawling buildings below. Many of the buildings lower-down were ramshackle-looking, cobbled-together from strange bits. Only the areas higher up the four spires were shiny and strangely artificial.

Giraffe didn’t notice the city, cowering in the corner of the ‘car.’ Zebra looked over at her, vaguely concerned, but not enough to keep her distracted from the view. They passed another car, heading back the way they'd come.

Their destination became readily apparent ahead of them, halfway up one of the outer spires. It was a massive swath of greens, reds, browns, purples, blues, and other "natural" colors. Plant-life as none of them had ever seen it before, at least two kilometers across. It climbed and interwove and spread in great open patches, all forms of strange and unfamiliar foliage. It had a truly alien beauty to it.

“Gah! Stable ground! Not some zippy little box with no engines!” Giraffe whispered shrilly.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Vojtek's grin widened. "You've got Thalia Ayara to thank for it. And these days, her daughter Suraya."

“It’s remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it,” remarked Kasby. “How did you grow all these plants?”

“Years of study and work. We have such efficient hydroponics that we can afford to grow unnecessary plants. As such, we’ve bred many of these simply for their beauty.”

Kasby looked back, seeming a little distracted. “Giraffe, are you alright?”

“I don’t like these tram things! I’m fine with big ships, but these tiny things are going to crash.” Her eyes were wide with uncharacteristic fear.

Vojtek frowned, but continued about the gardens. "Some in the gardens do serve other purposes, such as medicinal or otherwise, but most are simple for relaxation and the enjoyment of all."

There was a thunk and the car swung slightly to one side, prompting a yell of fear from Giraffe. It was just Goat, though, hanging onto the outside of the tram car. His hair was full of leaves, and a flower was caught in one of the horns of upswept hair. “It’s so beautiful that I crashed!” he said happily.

The tram drifted into a small building, where it stopped. Even the building was natural-looking, built out of interwoven wood branches, their flowers still blooming off of them. It bordered on a dense copse of trees, shielding the station from whatever was just on the other side of it.

Vojtek opened the door and led into the tram station, gesturing to the trees around him. "It's so massive we had to go hunting in the dictionaries for an Old Earth word for it. We had a few different ones, but we settled on 'forest.'" He laughed.

Kasby let out a whistle. “Impressive.”

Giraffe jumped out and pressed herself flat against the floor. “Ahhhh, safety!”

Vojtek stepped past her, to the door. “Alright, everybody try to look fancy. The whole city is watching!”

“Aw shit,” Giraffe muttered and she stood up, dusting herself off. Goat ran his fingers quickly through his hair, trying to get some of the plant life out. Kasby didn’t seem to react much, just pulling his coat a little straighter before he walked through the door.

((70 — Spectre Induction))

Outside, hundreds of people were standing in a clearing, watching expectantly. As the four walked--or leaped--out into their midst, wild cheering broke out. The people were of all ages and types, dressed in leather jackets and lab coats, cloaks and light shirts. Many were armed openly, unsurprisingly. Goat grinned as he spotted a young woman carrying a spear much like the one he had stashed on the ship.

The four of them stood on a small platform, suspended above the main crowd. A small bridge connected to another pedestal, where Vojtek stood with five other people. The back of the pedestal descended into the crowd, and the staircase was covered with various finely-dressed attendants, crew members, and so on. The six people atop it smiled, waving as well, all dressed in various suits and dresses.

Vojtek motioned with one hand for the crew to join them on the pedestal. As if summoned, Goat jumped out, giving a hearty wave at the vertex of his leap. Kasby stepped forward, pushing aside his coat to let it billow a bit in the breeze. He stepped up onto the pedestal with the others.

“Right-o, onward we go,” Giraffe muttered, shuffling after the others.

An elderly woman, with white hair and a sharply-cut suit stepped forward to greet them, shaking each of their hands in turn. Her voice, artificially amplified, boomed out over the still-cheering crowd. "I am Mercuria Barret, Defense Secretary, of the Inner Chamber Council, and it is my utmost pleasure to formally welcome you to Sector One!" As she spoke, a sextet of cloaked attendants moved into position just behind each of the Councilors.

She turned to the crowd, gesturing with one hand to the crew. "Please, join me in extending our warmest welcome to the heroes of the outer Sectors! The noble crew of the good ship Quinn!" The crowd erupted into even wilder cheering than before.

Barret turned and whispered to the crew, out of her microphone. "Do you have a few words for the people? The cameras are on, and the entire city is watching."

There's no place for heroes in the Void. Kasby remembered his own words well enough. Why he had said them—the memory was still clear and harsh. Still stung. But in front of all of these people—civilians defended daily, cheering for a fleet of underdogs... it was enough to make the young captain doubt his own words.

Barret watched him, her face an unreadable mask, a blank smile.

His own words still ringing heavy in his ears, Kasby turned to the microphone presented to him and opened his mouth for a second, pausing before saying anything. As he moved to the mic, the crowd quieted considerably, waiting to hear what he had to say. "Thank you. I don't know how much we deserve your praise, but it's nice to see that someone cares. That so many people care so strongly. It... it helps." He looked like he might have wanted to say more, but stepped back before saying anything else.

The crowd paused expectantly, listening for more, but, realizing that he was done, went back to vague cheering.

Mercuria nodded, then turned to the rest. "Let me introduce you to the rest of the Council. "You've already met Anton Vojtek, Transportation Secretary." He waved. She gestured to each person in turn as she named them.

"Symphet Hollum, Habitation Secretary." An old man, with thick glasses and no hair. He nodded sharply.

"Daniel McKojiro, Education Secretary." A short man, with spiky black hair and many freckles, who smiled at them.

"Monash Wallace, Communication Secretary." The middle-aged woman Barret gestured to had an earpiece affixed to the side of her head, and didn't even look up from the conversation she was having quite intensely with it.

"And lastly Suraya Ayara, Supplies Secretary." The youngest member of the Council had dark skin and darker hair, in a long braid hanging over her shoulder.

Giraffe nodded at each of the Secretaries, forgetting their names almost immediately. Zebra, meanwhile, had lost interest in the introductions, and was looking around, observing the crowd.

The six cloaked attendants took another step forward, falling into a matched line behind each of the Councilors. The crew only had a flash of warning. A gleam of crystal. A hint of mottled skin under brown cloth.

((71 — Decisive Battle))

Then a metal blade was sticking out of Ayara’s chest.

Hollum. McKojiro.

The three fell, bleeding from brutal wounds in their backs.

“Shit!” Zebra backed away as quickly as possible, shocked.

Secretary Wallace spun to face her attacker, but was cut down almost immediately by the sharp sound of a gun at close range.

Barret fared better, bringing the blade from her belt up to block the swing of the assassin coming for her.

Behind Vojtek, a crystal blade raised, coming out of the sleeves of the attendant behind him. Kasby didn’t so much think as react—no time for shock. A click as he whirled the crystal blade of Quinn out of its sheath, slicing masterfully at the blade meant for Vojtek. The sharp sound of crystal on crystal rang out as Kasby’s blade met its perfect twin.

Shock passing, the crowd erupted into horrified screams as four of the six Councilors fell bleeding from the pedestal.

“Trouble, trouble, everywhere,” Giraffe said, stepping back across the bridge, hands burning. She locked her eyes onto the assassin that had just killed Hollum, and raised her arms, letting loose with twin jets of flame. Its cloak ignited, but this only got its attention. It leapt at her, a burning assailant.

Goat, meanwhile, had leapt into the crowd, heading for the woman with the spear he’d spotted earlier. He landed in front of her, and grabbed it out of her hands, shrugging apologetically. “Gotta borrow this!” She blinked in confusion as he threw himself back up to the fray on the pedestal.

Zebra, recovering, looked around for a makeshift weapon. After a moment her eyes settled on the heavy metal microphone stand. She ran to it, ripping the wires out of the back, and hoisted it into the air, looking for a target.

Barret kicked out, landing her foot in her attacker’s chest, throwing it back. She pressed on, swinging her sword viciously. The cloak made her opponent’s movements hard to judge, but she felt the blade slice through flesh on two swings before the enemy managed to regain its footing and get its own blade up to block.

Kasby spun, putting himself between Vojtek and the assassin with the crystal blade, swinging a fast horizontal strike with his own. Behind him, Vojtek had fallen to the ground, and was crawling hurriedly down the stairs, clearly terrified. The assassin danced back, matching Kasby’s swing easily. The movements beneath the all-encompassing cloak were all too familiar.

Giraffe aimed again at the burning man coming at her, sending out more fire. Her target roared an angry challenge, the sound simultaneously human and not, but it burned out in a column of flame as the man skidded to a dead stop at her feet. Not stopping to think about the kill, Giraffe looked for her next target. One behind her, raising a blade, not enough time to bring her hands up—

Goat came down out of the sky with deadly accuracy, spear piercing straight through the attacker as he landed on its back. Leaving the weapon embedded in the assassin, Goat kicked the cloaked figure off of the pedestal, nodding sharply to Giraffe.

Zebra ran to a second one heading for Barret and swung the podium as hard as she could. It connected with a sickening crunch, the impact almost breaking Zebra’s grip on the metal pole. The figure went down, but Zebra hit it again just to be sure, then adjusted her grip.

Kasby followed his target step for step, slicing and twirling with all the violence of a hurricane. She matched him blow for blow, stepping lightly down the stairs, cloak still swirling around her. Kasby took hold of his blade with both hands now, spinning and striking, trying to find an opening, but there was none.

Giraffe watched Kasby fight, hands at the ready, trying to help, but the swordfight was too close-quarters. At this range, her fire would burn her captain just as badly as it would their enemy.

Zebra watched as Barret ducked under a violent swing, the woman surprisingly agile for her age. The Councilwoman threw herself forward, impaling her assailant on her metal blade. With a single practiced motion, she pulled the blade back out, wiping the blood on the sleeve of her coat.

The second-to-last assassin threw itself at Goat, a metal blade shining in each hand. He leapt back, dodging its first swing, then jumped forward to attack. He planted both feet on the attacker’s chest and kicked off, sending the figure flying. “Zebra!” He called out.

Zebra turned as the assassin landed with a thud in front of her, coughing loudly. She swung the stand hard, bringing it down into the would-be-assassin’s head, crushing it solidly.

Kasby tightened his grip on his blade, and with one great swing tried to knock the last assassin’s blade to the side. She ducked under his attack and darted past him, launching herself back up the stairs with almost supernatural speed. He reached out a hand to grab her cloak, catching the soft brown fabric. He tugged hard on it, trying to pull her back.

Instead, the cloak swirled off from the assassin as she reached the top of the stairs. She laughed, a sound that had haunted their best dreams and worst nightmares.

Standing atop the pedestal, in the midst of the corpses of the Inner Chamber Council, was Jazrill Quinn. Her skin was red and black, covered with bulging red veins, and her hair was a tangled spiky affair. Her goggles seemed to blend fluidly into her forehead, just as her crystal blade melted out of the end of her right arm. Her eyes glowed an unmistakable bloody red.

Kasby felt his knees almost give out underneath him on the sight of Jazrill Quinn—this mockery of Jazrill Quinn—upon the podium. He wavered, unable to move. To his side, Giraffe mumbled incoherently, as Goat and Zebra stared in shock.

The creature that had once been Jaz laughed again, a sound like glass breaking, and leapt backwards off of the pedestal, landing in the grass below.

Barret scowled, looking up. “AFTER HER! I’ll deal with this mess! CATCH HER ALIVE!”

The words snapped Kasby into motion. Over the pedestal and the stairs in one vault, he chased after her with all the determination and madness of a man possessed.

“Well, that explains THAT,” Zebra muttered under her breath. Goat scrambled for his spear, and leapt after his captain, already a few precious seconds behind.

The creature ran terrifyingly fast, making for the tram station. Her feet flew over the grass, propelling her forward.

Kasby pulled his pistol from his coat and lined up a shot. With a click of the trigger, he fired a crystal round into the gears of the tram, jamming it in place.

She leapt, scampering up the wall, and into the tram house.

Kasby kept forward, after her, at a breakneck speed. Pushing himself forward and off a wall, he grabbed the branches the tram house was made of and vaulted upwards, after her into the tram house.

Jaz paused, turning to look at him with no recognition in her eyes, and let out another blood-curdling laugh. She leapt backwards, landing on top of the halted tram car.

The captain screamed back a reply at her—incoherent and full of anger, full of despair.

She smiled down at him, a smile that was at once painfully familiar and horrifically alien.

Kasby raised his pistol at her, hand trembling, taking aim—and froze as his eyes met hers.

Then she turned her back on him, stepped onto the wire that carried the tram and, balancing on it, darted away.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


((66 — Bloscid))

Time is impossible to follow, here.

She’s been running, walking, journeying for…

She long ago lost track of how long. Days, maybe weeks, maybe years.

The gray has taken her through fields, skies, worlds too strange for her to see or comprehend. Always at the edges of her vision, the shadows lurk, swimming about with their blood-hungry red eyes.

The corridor was hexagonal, here. Purple and red flowed together along the walls, tracing patterns of hexagons within hexagons.

Jaz rubbed her face with one hand. She was not tired. She should’ve been tired. Every part of her mind was yelling that she should stop running now, should have collapsed… years? ago, but her body disagreed. She wasn’t tired, and she was still angry.

She slammed a hand against the wall. “What the hell. This isn’t working. This isn’t…. I need to get out.” She turned. “Hey! You! If you’re still around, still following, show me how the hell I get out of here! I need to get back to Kasby…” If he’s still alive, her mind whispered quietly, just loud enough to not be ignorable.

Her words echoed down the corridor, bringing back no response. Only a quiet, dangerous buzzing.

“…Fuck. Fuck!” She looked around at the hexagons. “Alright. Think about this. I’ve been running for…” She stopped, unable to think how long it had been. “I’ve been running. And that hasn’t worked. So there must be some other way out. A door, somewhere.”

Up ahead, there appeared to be a break in the side of the tunnel.

Jaz narrowed her eyes. “Be careful what you demand. Wish and you shall receive…” She headed towards the opening.

The gap—hexagonal, like everything else in this part of wherever she was—opened onto a massive six-sided chamber, which ascended vertically far further than she could see. The shadows filled the space overhead, flitting about wildly. In the base of the room was a pool of sticky red liquid. Occasionally, one of the things would break away from the swarm above, diving down into the pool and re-emerging a moment later.

Jaz’s eyes widened. Her hands tightened on her swords, and she took a cautious step into the room. Her eyes followed the path of the shadows, drawn more and more to the pool.

There was something at the back of her mind. Some memory, tugging. Red…

She approached the pool, in a moment between dives, and knelt by its edge. Her reflection was murky, shadowy, not quite right. Somehow… larger than she was.

She hesitated, for a long moment, before dipping her finger in and gingerly tasting the liquid. It was sweet and sticky, catching her finger. A taste not unlike blood mixed with honey.

She frowned, and quickly stood again. She circled the pool, looking at the room, looking upwards at the things, searching for a door, an opening, a ladder, something. The walls were notched, unsmooth, easily climable, and she headed for the nearest, starting to move away from the pool.

Just as she did, it flashed, emitting a bright yellow glow.

Jaz leapt back, blinking the spots from her eyes, the sudden light startling in the dim of the chamber.

The pool flashed again, and Jaz frowned at it. She looked between the pools and the easily-climbable walls. She chose the walls. Strapping her swords to her back, she found handholds and footholds and started her climb. “Hopefully, whatever it is won’t have wings…”

Behind her, a seven-fingered claw burst out of the pool, the viscous liquid dripping off of it, and grabbed the side of the pool. The first claw was followed by a second, then a third, and together they pulled a dripping-wet robe out of the pool. The bent, spindly figure from earlier dragged itself to the floor before rising on whatever limbs currently bore it.

“YOU!” It raised one of its claw-hands, which began to glow with a cool red light.

The pool pulsed yellow again, brighter, and the light stayed, turning like a spotlight to focus on the thing climbing out of the pool.

Jaz looked back at the creature. “Oh. Hey, is this how I get out?” She nervously eyed the shadows, which had begun to flit closer to her as she climbed. Both hands were holding her to the wall, rendering her swords unusable. She cursed quietly to herself.

The yellow glow continued to narrow on the creature, beginning to coalesce into something like smoke, pouring out of the pool and the beam of light at once. The smoke whirled into the room, circling it once, twice, passing by both Jaz and the creature.

The cowled creature took several steps towards the wall, long, insect-like legs unfolding beneath it. It rose up on its spindly legs, bringing it nearly level with Jaz. It gestured foreignly, seeming to indicate the gas. “You did this?”

“… guess you don’t need wings.” Jaz shook her head. “No, that’s all you.”

“No. No, it is not.”

The smoke began to concentrate on the far side of the room, coming together, solidifying, forming into a figure. A humanoid figure, an upper torso, with four arms and a head exactly where one should be. At least seven glowing yellow slit-eyes covered its face, with two more on its chest. Its legs simply faded into more of the yellow smoke, just below the waist.

“Fuck.” Jaz stared at the smoke-being, her voice starting to ramble without her paying attention to it. “That’s a demon. Hell, YOU’RE a demon! Remind me why I haven’t killed you yet!?”

The sound of a throat being cleared filled the room, coming from everywhere at once.

With a mass of scuttling, the creature shuffled to face the sound, surprised. It had been too… something… to notice the coalescing earlier.

“Greetings again, Soul Eater.” The words seemed to come from the walls, echoing through the room, but were clearly spoken by the glowing yellow humanoid. “Far too long since last we met.”

Jaz’s eyes flicked to the long-legged thing. Soul Eater?

“I get so many visits now,” the creature said, clearly displeased.

“Am I too unwelcome in your realm, now?” The yellow-skinned being gestured around the chamber with two of its hands, and at itself with the other two. “I, who was once your trusted general? I, who was your greatest asset? I, who thrilled at a thousand thousand worlds under my fingertip?"

Jaz quietly began to half-slide, half climb back towards the ground. Too helpless, like a fly on the wall. Her ears picked out every word the two demons said, rifling through all their possible meanings.

“No. You may enter full-form, conditional: you take nothing with you. Nothing in, nothing out.”

“Of course not, Soul Eater. I am yet loyal to our terms of aeons past.”

“Good.” The creature scuttled back and forth, as if uncomfortable.

“I have come to once again offer my allegiance, under word of a new contract. I owe you a newmade debt, for your selves freed me from the prison that long held me bound.”

Jaz jumped to the ground, and cleared her throat in turn. “Um. Excuse me? I can see you’re, uh, having an important meeting, but unlike you I AM an unwelcome guest, and I would very much like to… leave. If one of you…” She searched for the word. “Gentlemen? Could just show me out, I’ll leave you in peace.”

“An unwelcome soul in your realm, Soul Eater? A curious thing indeed. Are your defenses so weakened?”

The glowing red eyes beneath the hood narrowed slightly. “I have no weakness.”

The being rotated on its pillar of smoke to Jaz. “I owe you no debt, little one, and even if I did, I am under oath to take nothing from the Soul Eater’s realm.”

“You don’t have to TAKE me out, I can go on my own. Just show me the—”

“The huming captine is my new plaything.” It glared at Jaz, as if daring her to disagree.

She stopped, and turned on her feet to face the Soul Eater. “Plaything.”

A booming laughter filled the room, at that. “I see you have learned from I, O Soul Eater! It is true, the lesser of my kind do indeed make fantastic entertainment!

Jaz ignored it, and strode up to the thing, which loomed over her, its attention on the other demon.

“A human in a cage will provide mirth for all eternity, if kept well-fed,” the yellow demon continued.

The Soul Eater bobbed its head. “It feeds?”

Jaz glared up at the creature whose realm she had been in for who knows how long. “You listen to me. I’ve seen you scared and confused, I’ve seen you bewildered. I don’t think you’re so tough. I said I’d like to leave you in peace, and I would. But I’ve had enough. And right now…” In a single motion, she drew her crystal sword and swung it at one of the creature’s stretched-out legs, as hard as she could. “I’d rather leave you in pain.”

((67 — Les Soldats))

The crystal sliced through the leg, taking a chunk of glowing red energy with it as it did. The creature’s eyes glowed bright as a telepathic voice urgently flashed through Jaz’s mind. Careful! Powerful, this one is, dangerous, if it knew of our wea—RRRRRAAAAAADRAGH!

The smoke-man’s nine eyes widened in shock. "YOU LET YOUR TOY BRING A CRYSTAL? THE WORK OF THE SHADOWS IN YOUR OWN REALM?"

The creature flailed, sprouting a new leg in time to catch itself. It kept its distance from Jaz, now.

Jaz’s eyes narrowed. “No. FUCK you and your rules. I don’t fucking CARE if your reputation is ruined, if you die from this, you hear me? You will let me go, and you will let me go NOW. There are people who need me. People I need.”

“No fun,” the Soul Eater says, covering up a whimper. “The toy is no fun if it has no chance.”

Jaz turned to the smoke-thing, glancing at her crystal sword. “This? Why, does this scare you?”

“I am scared of nothing, merely ill-reminded of my time in a cage.The blade you wield is of the same lineage as my jailors.”

Jaz’s eyes widened. A cage… she smiled, tight, angry. “You are a demon, then. Good. I can kill those.”

“A demon?” Without warning, the creature swelled in size, looming over them suddenly, passing through the shadows and shades, filling the room, dozens of meters tall. "I AM NO MERE DEMON, CHILD. I AM MAGID, LORD OF DJINN, A NAME YOU WOULD DO WELL TO REMEMBER."

The Soul Eater whirled, and its limbs became a jumble again as runes flowed in streams out of its missing face.

The Djinn faced the creature from above, staring down its old master. Its four arms splayed wide, somehow, despite it already filling the room with its arms crossed.

The runes glowed the same bright red as the Soul Eater’s eyes, and encircled Magid like chains.

His hands caught the rune-chains, clutching them tight in fists the size of airship engines. "YOUR TIME IN PRISON HAS WEAKENED YOU, SOUL EATER—”

The runes exploded. The blasts caught the Djinn unaware, throwing its hands open wide.

“YOU ARE A FOOL. FOOL, FOOL, FOOL.” The Soul Eater shook its head. “YOU HAVE MAGIC. I AM MAGICK.”

Jaz, still standing beside the creature, swallowed, but her grin was back, small and tight and triumphant. “Yeah. You’re made of smoke, Magid-Lord-of-Djinn. Made of steam. Hot air.” She looked up at him, and threw the words at his eyes, like darts, like flies. Distractions. “Lies.” She didn’t LIKE the Soul Eater, but he wasn’t, at the moment, trying to kill her. Her words appeared to impact against the great being like bullets, leaving holes in its head, holes of drifting yellow smoke.


Jaz bristled again, but this time kept quiet.

Magid howled, a sound of fury and rage and captivity too well remembered.

An etheric wind picked up, and started billowing the yet-empty robes. “YOU WILL SUBMIT OR YOU WILL BE STRIPPED OF YOUR POWER. SERVE OR BE BOUND!”

“NO!” The smoke swirled up, glowing blindingly hot, shielding it from the wind.

Jaz raised an arm to ward off the heat, and backed away. “Something tells me you chose wrong,” she muttered.

“You come making claims of DEBTS? Debt of RELEASE?" Red lightning crackled into being, lashing at the smoke. "You are IN my debt, for your continued EXISTENCE."

The lightning cut through the smoke, knocking the Djinn back against the wall. Magid grunted angrily, a strangely small noise from such a huge creature.

"I would have SWALLOWED YOU. AEONS AGO. But you are too loyal and pleading and full of words. 'My gifts will be lost inside you, master.' 'True strength is cunning, not magic.' True, not-true. MAGICK is power. WORDS have magick, but they are not the same."

The runes didn’t bother snaking this time, they just appeared, in a circle missing one link. “So, use your words. You will never walk free, but you have your choices…” The Soul-Eater pointed at the remaining spot in the circle with a two-fingered claw covered in shadowy hair, indicating the last rune to be added. “SERVE me, and in doing so, lead others… or be bound, destroyed, crushed.”

The Djinn’s four arms snapped to points along the edges of the circle, and stuck there. It thrashed wildly against the restraints, unable to break them.

Then it fell still.

Jaz let out a tense breath, still clutching her crystal sword in one hand.

Once more, a booming laugh filled the room. "VERY WELL, SOUL EATER. YOU IMPRESS ME ONCE AGAIN WITH YOUR MIGHT."

“Time is my tool, not my enemy. You remember this, yes?” The runes faded away, flicking out of existence, and the winds died down.

“I DO, SOUL EATER. SO BE IT. I DO HEREBY SWEAR TO SERVE AT YOUR SIDE, I DO HEREBY SWEAR TO BE YOUR GENERAL, I DO HEREBY SWEAR TO DO AS YOU COMMAND, I DO HEREBY SWEAR FEALTY." Each sentence reverberated through the room, each sentence forming into a solid chain of words around one of the Djinn’s four wrists.

“Good. Go; retake your position, muster your armies. What are still captured will be free soon, so soon." It waved dismissively.

The Djinn shrank down, returning to a more humanoid size, though it still towered over Jaz. “As you command, Soul Eater. I leave you to your devices, and to your… plaything.” The yellow smoke swirled up from beneath it, enwreathing it in a shimmering noncorporeal veil, then faded out of existence, leaving Jaz alone with the Soul Eater.

The creature collapsed, falling against the wall of the room as its various limbs withered and disappeared. The silence in the chamber would be deafening, were not for the still-present buzzing of the shadows overhead.

Jaz coughed. She walked over the creature, the Soul Eater, and stood, for a moment, in silence. “I’m not your toy.” She wasn’t offended, anymore, just… matter-of-fact.

“No. You are headaches.”

Jaz stared at him, and then started to laugh. It was a painful, angry, horrible sort of laugh, edging on hysterical, edging on tears.

It sat up slightly, still little more than an animated robe. Its barely-visible eyes flashed with interest at her laughter.

Overhead, the shadows continued to circle, beginning to grow darker, more real, more solid.

Jaz caught her breath with a wrenching gasp. She looked at the thing, eyes clear. “Get me out of here. Please. I wasn’t kidding, before. I will hurt you, if I need to.”

“You already hurt me more than is possible.”

“And you still won’t let me out.”

“I tell you twice, Headaches, there is no way out. And now we will both die.”

The shadows continued to coalesce above them, now sticking to the walls, beginning to climb down. Points of white light glowed within each of them as they became more and more corporeal, shining through their chitinous exoskeletons.

Jaz’s eyes caught on the things crawling down the walls. “You came out of the pool. You and the smoke thing. What happens if I jump in it?”

“Do not! Put me inside! It is transport, but you don’t have place!” Since Magid’s departure, the Soul Eater’s voice had lapsed back into being a dozen different voices, layered and fading in and out of each other. Its grasp of grammar had also inexplicably collapsed again.

She blinked. “What?”

“Eeeeuh.” It flopped over and wriggled pathetically towards the edge of the pool.

The buzzing grew louder, joined by a clicking of mandibles. The insects continued to skitter down the walls, now crawling over the pool’s surface as well. The only place they steered clear of was the hole in the wall that Jaz came from, still opening back onto that matte gray walkway.

Jaz stepped on the creature’s back, holding it down under her boot. “What about if I get to the top of the walls?”

“No! No top. Infinite hive.” It flailed, seeming to start to panic. “Release! If they reach me, they will lose control! All control!”

“…fuck.” She looked around. “Goddammit! Fucking pointless, this whole thing!” She lifted her foot, and jogged back towards the corridor she came in through.

Quickly, the Soul Eater squirmed and fluttered its way to the pool, and vanished into it, leaving barely a ripple behind as the insects closed over where it had just been.

The insect creatures hissed, trying to block Jaz’s path, skittering in between her and the corridor. She kept going, hacking and slashing anything that got in her way.

Her crystal blades, both now in her hands, hacked off bits and pieces, but only when she pierced the glowing white hearts did the bugs properly break.

She paused, and suddenly smiled. She was angry… and there were a lot of bugs to take her anger out on. She fought to get her back to the corridor, then faced the hordes of bugs, her smile becoming a full-on grin. “Come on. I need this. This, I can do. This, I can understand.”

The room was empty now, save for her and the seemingly-infinite swarm of bugs.

Jaz became a whirl of crystal and flesh, her eyes blank, her mouth in a twisted grin. There was a rhythm to her strikes, a dance, familiar somehow. She felt her heartbeat like drums, saw the walls of the room, hexagons in purple and red. Red… There was something tugging, something pulling at her. She struck, struck, struck at the heart of a bug.

Jaz froze amongst the chittering cries of death, and remembered her dream. “Friends who look like demons… or demons who look like my friends?”

Then one of them came too close, and she snapped back to reality. Or whatever this was.

Putting the thoughts out of her mind, she let herself fade into the bloody red of the infinite battle.

Monday, August 16, 2010


((65 — Ko-Ku))
June 17th, 802 AT.

Up ahead of the Quinn, the crystals began moving. That didn’t happen, normally. The crystals were steady, sturdy, pillars. More stable than anything else in the Void.

Kasby muttered something to himself, then stood from his chair. “Goat, take the controls for a moment.” He took a few steps over to the sensory readouts, scanning them. The sensors showed a buildup of energy in the five crystals ahead, but...

... it wasn't the normal series of spikes that showed when a demon was escaping. Instead, the readings showed a gradual ramping up, and then... the energy pulses inverting? The readings didn't make any sense at all.

“Uh…” Goat said from the controls, staring out the front windows.

Kasby saved the readings for later pondering and returned to the controls. "Well, Goat, we haven't crashed and we aren't on fire, so good job with the controls. That said, something weird's going on. I'd like to pilot again."

“You mean like that?” Goat pointed as he relinquished the controls. Up ahead, five matching icosahedral crystals were slowly drifting into position in front of them, forming a pentagon large enough for the Quinn to pass through. The space between them was starting to darken.

"...Yeah. Something weird like that." Kasby shoved his way into the pilot seat and tried to turn the ship around, as up ahead the pentagon continued to darken, turning an impossibly deep black. The edges of it rippled and fuzzed slightly, and the whole thing almost seemed to be vibrating audibly.

“CENTER!?” Goat yelled at the top of his lungs. A moment later he was gone.

Kasby pulled the ship hard to port, trying to get them as far away as possible. The Quinn came around, to point back the way it had come—

—only to have another matching pentagon of shadows behind it.

Goat landed on the back deck of the ship, just as Zebra came out of the ladder, looking for the source of the yell.

The two pentagons began to slowly close in towards the ship from either end.

Kasby’s jaw dropped. He struggled with the controls, but they refused to obey him.

“Well, that’s not good,” Zebra commented, staring at the encroaching blackness.

The shadows and darkness drew closer, looming larger, filling the world on either side of them. Then there was nothing else. Just darkness. Shadows. The Quinn floated in an empty black void, lit by... nothing at all, and yet still quite visible.

Something flickered through all of their minds, a series of concepts more than words.


"Well, that's a relief," muttered Kasby.

“Hooray!” expressed Goat.

“Um? Who are you?” asked Zebra.


Kasby didn't speak this time, only waited for the shadows to continue. Sure enough, they did, the concepts coming in waves and bombardments, fading in and out, a stream of consciousness more than a conversation.




Kasby inclined his head towards Goat and Zebra. "I assume they mean you guys."

Suddenly, an image filled the void around them. It was of the crystal pillar, glowing red, the original six of them clustered around it, and Spider spinning, kicking, shattering it open. The image was simultaneously in front of them and behind them and above them and alongside them.



More images appeared.

Spider floated alongside a reddish insectoid demon, with Seth Quinn nearby, sitting on a chunk of crystal.

Another image.

Skunk and Owl, aboard a small aircraft—Skunk at the helm, Owl writing in a notebook.



Yet again, an image filled the space around them.

This time it was of a strange creature, vaguely humanoid, but with too many arms. A cowl hung over it, so leathery as to be almost a part of its skin. It stood in a cavern of crystals, or ice, or something like that, gesticulating angrily at whoever or whatever was on the other side of it. The being or person behind them was obscured from view by its body.

Zebra drew back slightly from this last image, surprised.

Kasby stood from his chair, fascinated and terrified by it all.


This image was different. It showed no people. Only a small, gray, box, with runes sketched on each side.

Kasby reached out a hand to grasp it, out into the open air. It was too far away, insubstantial, impossible--all of the above, and none of them. Yet despite this, his fingertips brushed it. The box skidded half an inch to one side, leaving the sound of metal on metal ringing in the air.

The image--was it just an image?--faded.



This image, like the last, had no people. Instead, a large mountain rose up, covered with something white and powdery. More of the stuff fell from the solid black sky overhead.

Atop the mountain's peak was... something. It glowed blue, green, orange, red, yellow, pulsing, swirling, spinning... It was unmistakably magical.


This last image faded away too.


Kasby was utterly speechless.

After a bit, Goat spoke. “So… our friends are in trouble, but everything will be okay if we go to the center, into some cold tunnels, climb a big triangular thing, and get a pretty box?”

“Seems to be what they’re saying,” Zebra said. “Basically, anyway. Though you may have it slightly out of order.”


Goat shrugged, seemingly pleased that he had understood the semi-coherent stream of concepts.

“Let’s… let’s just continue, okay?” suggested Kasby, sounding exhausted and somewhat confused.



“Well, thanks anyway, I guess,” Goat said into the shadows.

Slowly, the blackness faded away around them, revealing the crystals and Void Nebula once again. The ten crystals that had formed the twin pentagons quietly crumbed into dust, and fell away into the fog.

Kasby sat there, stunned. "I am so over my head in this," he muttered.

Zebra turned to him. “Does it matter? Do what you should, and what you have to.”

“Wasn’t planning on doing anything else, Zebra. Just… doing what I can.” Kasby pulled a lever, and the thrusters activated again.

“Let’s save the known universe, then, shall we?” Goat said. “But first, I’d better go make some dinner!”

Saturday, August 14, 2010


((68 — Temple))
June 16th, 802 AT.

“Tell me about Cyclops.”

Spider lay in the air, her head resting against Seth’s bare chest.

“Mm?” He took the cigarette out of his mouth, letting out a breath of smoke. It drifted outwards, mingling with the fog that made up Noh’s outer layers. Noh was currently an opaque black, giving the two teens a modicum of privacy.

“You keep mentioning this Cyclops guy, but no one will tell me who he is.” Spider took a puff of her own cigarette.

Neither of them was sure who exactly had started their rendezvous like this. There’s not a lot to do in a month of freefall, and one night when Spider had been resting on a chunk of Noh, it had just sort of happened. Neither of them thought of the other as anything like a lover—just people enjoying each others’ company and each others’ bodies.

“Cyc, huh.” Seth grinned, remembering. “You ever stole something, Spider?”

She thought for a moment. “Don’t think so. Face wasn’t like that. We worked together, really. If you stole, they sent you over the edge.”

“Huh. Well, the rest of the Void isn’t so friendly. Sometimes people wind up on the edge, and have to use what skills they’ve got to get by. Cyclops, well, he’s good at stealing.”

“What does he steal?”

“Anything. Artifacts. Weapons. Ships. Food. Whatever he needs, and whatever he feels like, really.”

She thought about that for a while. “But why?”

Seth took another puff of smoke. “At first it was to survive. Then it was because it’s what he does. He got known. People heard of him all throughout the Void. Cyclops, the legendary thief. He can steal anything, they say.”

“Can he?”

Seth just laughed. “Damn right.”

“How? What makes him so good?”

“Same way he got his name. His eye.”


“When he was younger, he lost an eye to a demon. Took it right out of him. Most people would settle for a glass eye, learn ways to compensate for the lack of depth perception. Cyc’s not most people.”

“What’d he do?”

“Went out and found a demon that could regenerate from its wounds. Took him ages to track one down. Then he cut its fuckin’ eye out, and jammed it into his own eye socket.”

Spider let out a low whistle, impressed.

“It worked, too. His demon eye can see just about anything and everything. Through walls, through crystals… it can see further than just about any telescope, it can trace electricity through walls, track heat signatures of people coming after him… perfect for a thief.”

Spider nodded, blowing smoke through her nose. “How do you know him?”

“He found us, us Talons. Few years back, we stumbled on one of his little bases while out patrolling together. He liked our style, took us in. Taught us how to fight, how to sneak, how to give authority a proper middle finger.”

Spider said nothing, her mind drifting briefly back to her education back on Face, her studies as an architect, as a hookball player.

“Most of us Talons, we didn’t have much family growing up. Cyc’s the closest thing we’ve really got to a father.”

“What happened to him?”

“He got caught. Went after some artifact, this box thing. One of the first times a crystal’s been opened to reveal an object, rather ‘n a demon. Of course, Cyc being Cyc, he wanted it real bad.” Seth shrugged. “Guess he got sloppy, or underestimated their defenses, ‘cause they nabbed him.”

“Did they… did he go down?” Spider raised a hand, and pointed it down into the Void.

“No, no. They just locked him up. He was being stored on the Roost for a few days, but they shipped him off towards Sector One a week before we met you.”

“What’ll they do to him there?”

“Stick him in the Complex. Prison. Impossible to escape from, even for him.”

“So now it’s up to you to rescue him.”

Seth flicked his cigarette, the ash dropping off into Noh. “Damn right.”

Spider rolled over, looking up at him. “That’s pretty badass.”

The teen grinned. “Damn right.”

He bent his neck, leaning down to kiss her, letting the butt of the cigarette fall away into nothingness.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


((64 — Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun))
June 14th, 802 AT.

Two weeks.

Two weeks since the Devourer Swarm attacked Sector Four, destroying the Roost and killing an estimate six hundred people.

Two weeks since the formation of the refugee fleet, two hundred survivors, clinging to whatever hope they could find.

Two weeks since people started hailing the crew of the Quinn as heroes, for rescuing as many as they did, including Coordinator Ammon, still in a coma.

Two weeks since Spider, Skunk, and Owl went missing.

Two weeks since Kasby started visiting every ship in the fleet, looking for his lost crew members, to no avail.

Two weeks since the rest of the crew took over the positions of their missing comrades. Giraffe on the HAVOC, Zebra tending the engines, Goat helping Kasby in the cockpit.

Two weeks since any sign of the Swarm.

Two weeks to go before arrival at Sector One.

The Quinn drifted, silently passing crystal after crystal. Here, the crystals were far closer together, mere miles apart, and the fog much thinner. They had set out ahead of the main fleet to find a communications relay. With things this dense, long-range radio didn’t work, but a relay system had been set up to maintain contact.

Kasby guided the ship steadily, eyes directly ahead. His leather-gloved hands gripped the controls of the ship with the cold confidence of experience. Ahead, the small outpost drifted into view. It was basically a large metal radar dish, maybe thirty meters across, attached to a small box of machinery atop one of the crystals.

Goat stepped out onto the main deck of the ship. “I’ll, um, scout.” He launched himself at the outpost, out through the Void.

His landing was easy enough--the crystal was chiseled flat around the outpost. An area nearby looked like a landing pad, but for ships far smaller than the Quinn.

Overhead, Kasby began to pull the ship into a circular motion, keeping it in the air while Goat figured things out.

The box itself, about twice as tall as Goat, was mostly solid faded gray metal. Rivets stuck out along its edges, and wires sprung up from the top, spooling into the dish above. The dish was on a gimbal, and a control panel at the base looked like it would probably control rotation. There was a large array of connection ports, for various types of communications cables.

Goat put his hand to his thinly-goateed chin, puzzled. Getting an idea, he jumped the dozen meters back up to the Quinn.

"What's up, Goat?" Kasby asked. He seemed more anxious than usual since they left Sector Four, but he had been covering it up for most of the time.

“What we need,” Goat said to Kasby as he re-entered the cockpit, “is a cable. We have cables, right? For making sound jump from point to point?”

“Yeah, over by the Communications Panel," Kasby replied, gesturing with a free hand.

“Ah!” Goat leaped to it, and extracted a cable. He unwound it, trailing it out onto the deck, and shot back to the machine. The thick cable dangled behind him, unspooling in the air. After finding what he hoped was the right port, Goat connected the Quinn’s radio to the machine.

Aboard the Quinn and on the relay, a matched pair of connection lights blinked an affirmative green.

The teen leaped back to the ship. “Okay!” He called to Kasby from the deck. “Communications online!”

“Good job, Goat,” Kasby said briefly, before flipping a switch and pressing the talk button for the radio.

He cleared his throat. “Sector One, this is Captain Kasby Bellwood of the Quinn, do you copy?”

There was a long silence.

Then the radio crackled. “Captain Bellwood, this is Sector One, reading you loud and clear.” The voice was a calm, male one.

A smile tugged at Kasby’s lips, if only for a moment. “Glad to hear it, Sector One. We have a bit of a situation on our hands—big time.”

“Understood. How can we help you?”

"It's a bit complicated to explain in full, but there's been a demon attack of tremendous scale on Sector Four." Kasby hesitated before proceeding. "The Base was destroyed. At least a third of the people managed to get out alive, and are tailing my ship a good distance back hoping for some shelter." Kasby waited for a reply with bated breath.

“…I…I see. Um.” The voice faltered. “Hold on a moment, Captain Bellwood.” The radio crackled off.

“Encouraging,” Zebra said sarcastically, from where she was standing by the door.

After a few seconds, the radio buzzed on again. A new voice came through, an elderly female one. “Captain Bellwood?”

“Yes ma’am?”

“This is Mercuria Barrett, of the Inner Chamber Council. You say Sector Four base has been destroyed. Can you explain your situation in more detail?”

“I think it’d be easier to explain in person.”

Barrett grunted, clearly audible over the radio. “How far out are you, Captain?”

“About two weeks out, ma’am.”

“I see. And you said you have refugees with you?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’d estimate around two hundred.”

“Two hundred… Hmph. Alright. We’ll see what we can do about setting up to provide for them.”

“Much appreciated, ma’am.”

“What about the demons that hit Sector Four? Are they still following?”

“They are indeed,” Kasby responded grimly.

Her voice took on a solemn tone. “Alright. We’ll prepare for a full siege, then. This isn’t the end of the world. We’ve lost bases before.”

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” replied Kasby. “I think you need all the information before you go and say something like that.”

“…where are you from, Captain?”

“Sector Seven, ma’am.”

“Heh. Then I guess I’ll forgive you this one time, as I take it you’ve never been as far in as Sector One before.”

“I have not.”

“Sector One is a fortress. It’s a city. It’s not like the other bases. They might fall. The Center will not.”

Zebra raised an eyebrow skeptically, but said nothing.

Barrett continued. “You may be noticing on your way in how much denser the crystals are here. More crystals means more demons. We can handle anything the Void can throw at us.”

Kasby let out a quiet breath. “I sure hope so, ma’am.”

“Hope? Hope’s got nothing to do with it. We’ve got something far better than hope, here.”

“And that is?”

“We have guns. A whole lot of guns.” The Councilwoman paused. “Anything else, Captain?”

“No. That’s all, ma’am.”

“Very well. Thanks again for the information. See you in two weeks. Sector One over and out.” The radio crackled and faded.

Kasby switched the Quinn’s radio off. “Go down and unplug that, if you will, Goat.”

The boy did so, leaping back after a minute. “To the Center, then.”

Zebra scoffed, still leaning against the door. “Wow. Guns. I guess there’s nothing to worry about, now.”

“Wait,” said Goat. “Can’t the Devourers eat bullet?”

“My point,” said Zebra sharply.

Kasby remained mostly quiet. “Maybe they have better guns.”

Zebra raised an eyebrow at him. “Right. Of course they do. How could I possibly have doubted?” She shook her head. “I’m going back to the engines.” She headed for the ladder at the back of the cockpit, and climbed out of sight.

Kasby shrugged and continued to stare straight ahead through the Void. He pulled a lever from the floor, and the boosters of the Quinn kicked to life. With her wings unfolded, the ship soared forward again, weaving its way between the dense crystals.


((37 - The Airship Chasm))

The pit was still very deep, and very large. The building was still very square, and very gray. The Void was still very foggy, and very empty. The crystal underfoot was still vaguely white-ish, and mildly striated with ore. Various strange noises, such as yelling and skittering, drifted up from the pit.

Kiara yawned. “I’m bored,” she complained.

Chun was leaning against Torrential Black, looking at the pit. “Huh, that doesn’t sound like fun.” Torrential bobbed his head, as if chuckling.

“Nope,” Kiara responded, glancing over at Umbra.

Chun walked a few paces towards the edge of the shaft. “Do you think we should check on them?”

Kiara looked up at the Void. “Well, I don’t see anything entertaining up there… so let’s.”

Chun grinned. “Yes!” Torrential bowed and she swung onto his back.

“Plus, I’m curious about those sounds.” Kiara added. “The shaft should be big enough for you both, right?” She looked at the entrance to the mine, dozens of meters in diameter.

“Probably!” Torrential began to fuss and pace.

Kiara nodded and beckoned to Umbra, who leaned down to allow Kiara to get on to her back. “Let’s go, then!”


((61 - Battle))

“Uh,” Spider said, very pointedly, her eyebrows raised. “Are you sure you want to do that? Really?”

Seth just grinned, laughed, and kept walking. The flickering flame from his lighter was barely enough to see another few feet, but it was something. “When am I gonna get another chance to do something like this?”

“Huh,” was all Spider said. She watched Seth for a moment, as if making up her mind, shrugged, and then followed after him.

Reno turned to Caf and uncessesarily jerked her head in the direction of Seth and Spider. The two of them, in synchronized step, strode towards the entrance of the cave, bringing up the rear.

The tunnel stretched ahead of them, bored out of the pure crystal. Occasional lamps hung from the ceiling, but they were broken. After a dozen feet or so, they came to a room branching off to one side.

“Whatcha guys see up there?” called Reno from the back.

“There’s another room, but it’s dark,” Spider replied.

“Let’s see what’s in here…” Seth turned and walked into the room.

It was clearly a storeroom. Various cabinets and drawers ran along the sides, stretching down the long, narrow room. The light from the lighter barely illuminated anything, but it was enough that they could see that all the shelves here, too, were empty.

“Kay, Scorpia—” The scuttling creature lifted its head. “Sniff out the place.”

At the foot of one of the shelves lay Wurm--or what was left of him. The skin of his chest had been ripped open, and his rib cage was bare within it. There was no sign of any internal organs or blood. Everything had been cleaned to a disturbingly shiny state.

“That’s pleasant,” Seth said quietly, as Scorpia examined the body.

Reno wrinkled her nose. "Ew. Ew ew ew ew," she muttered. "Do not like sight of dead creepy guy."

Spider frowned, then stole Seth’s lighter and lit up the cigarette between her teeth.

Reno raised an eyebrow in disgust as Seth followed Spider’s lead. "Okay," she said "You know, I REALLY don't see what you guys get out of those things."

“Styyyyyyle, my friend,” said Seth as he took his first puff. “Style.”


The pair and their demons reached the bottom of the shaft, looking around at the various tunnels. Five of them were lit, but the sixth was dim. Seth’s semi-corporeal demon floated outside the darkened one, as if guarding it.

Torrential quickly slowed, flapping his wings to hover for a moment, then landed calmly and squawked. Chun looked at the tunnels. “Well, well, well. Which way?”

Something yellow-white erupted from one of the tunnels, a glowing ball trailing light. It circled the shaft a half-dozen times at high speed, flitting wildly about it. It seemed to catch sight of the two Talons, though, and darted into the darkened tunnel, passing straight through Seth's demon as it did.


Scorpia moved away from Wurm’s body, looking bored or dissatisfied, if that were possible on a creature such as that. “Nothing here, let’s keep going,” Spider said, ignoring the sharpened hairs on her neck.

Seth nodded, letting out a steady breath of smoke. “Let’s.”

Caf, meanwhile, had trotted over to the corpse, and leaned down to sniff it. The fibers in his wings seemed to grow more tense. It smelled recently dead, with a hint of... something else. Something hard to place. Something fast and dark, if such intangibles could be said to have a smell.

The demon then tentatively extended his tongue. It tasted worse than it smelled. Dark, and predatory. Like a spider's web, waiting for a fly. Caf shuddered a little and backed away. Reno scrunched her face. "Ick...okay, Caf," she said "No more licking dead stuff for you. I can taste it too now, you know."

“Reno, you coming?” Seth said from the doorway.

She opened her mouth to say something, but went silent as something illuminated the tunnel behind Seth sharply.

A yellow-white glow rushed towards Seth and Spider, through them, past them--

The same glowing will-o-wisp they had seen before, or something very like it. It shot off down the corridor, vanishing around a corner.

Seth broke into a full sprint, chasing it. “I LOVE HIDE AND GO SEEK!”

Spider flew down the hall after him, falling faster than he was running. Her demon was crawling on the wall beside her.

Reno grabbed a handfull of Caf's fur and swung herself on top of him. "Hey! Don't leave without us!" she called as Caf's wings buzzed to life.

It was easy enough to follow, due to the trail it left imprinted on their eyelids as it flew past, almost seeming to glow visibly through the walls.

At the corner Spider bounced off the wall, and the halls tilted again. “What the hell is this thing?” she shouted to no one in particular as she fell.

The trio flew, ran, and fell down the corridor, chasing after the thing. It darted around dozens of turns, through intersections, past other rooms, stairs, ladders. Bodies.


Torrential wheeled around, trying to follow the will-o-wisp as it vanished down the corridor. “What the fuck was that!?” Chun said.

“Uh…” Kiara just looked after the thing. “Well, let’s follow.”

The thing had left a glowing trail behind it, easily visible in the dimly-lit tunnel. Umbra walked towards it, gingerly avoiding Seth’s demon.

Torrential raised his feathers like hackles. Chun shivered, but stroked the crow demon on the beak as she walked into the tunnel. It was clearly far too small for her demon to fit, and it squawked in protest, but she shushed it, then started down the tunnel. “I don’t like this, was that even a demon?”

“I’m not sure… but maybe it’ll lead us towards the others.”

The tunnel was long and narrow, with broken hanging lights, leaving it very dark. They could barely see anything save for the glowing trail zig-zagging in the air, slowly fading as they followed it around twists and turns.

"Shit, we have to go faster." Chun cracked a smile and began to run.

Kiara, barely visible in the darkness, closed her eyes, holding on tighter as Umbra sped up.


((62 - Black Water))

Up ahead the light glowed brighter, as if they were catching up to it.

“Okay,” said Reno nervously. “SOMEthing weird is making LOTS of people dead around here.”

All three of them burst out into a cavern-like space.

The glowing creature was hanging in the air, twitching wildly. It looked like it was stuck somehow, trying to free itself. The room was larger than they could see by the glow of Seth's upheld lighter. A pile of some sort of equipment was half-visible at the back of the room.

Spider slowed in the air, and oriented the world to normal gravity. She touched down, and stared up at the strange demon. “Woah…”

Seth looked up at the glowing orb. “ ‘Sup?”

A low rumble filled the room around them.

Reno and Caf stiffened a little. “That doesn’t sound like a good thing…”

“These things never make nice sounds,” Spider said quietly.

Chun walked in, covering her ears and looked VERY annoyed at not having Black with her.

“Hey,” said Seth to the latecomers. “Nice of you to drop by.”

Umbra (somewhat shrunken) darted into the room behind Chun, followed closely by Kiara.

The room rumbled again.

"...that doesn't FEEL like a good thing, either,” Reno muttered.

The glowing ball twitched faster, faster, shedding more and more light. As it did, they began to see something around it. A few thin places the light did not illuminate, almost like a net or a web that the orb was trapped in.

Umbra edged back for a moment, then stood straight, exuding more darkness in a small area around it that the light could not penetrate.

“There’re two things here,” Seth said slowly.

The rumbling came a third time. Louder. Closer.

Spider looked around, trying to pinpoint the source. Scorpia sniffed at the air, doing the same.

"What is that thing? And what the hell is that rumbling?" Kiara looked around nervously, taking a step out of the hallway entrance.

Caf let out an entirely uncharacteristically feeble squawk.

“That light isn’t the one we should be worried about.” Seth moved over to one of the strands of dark and tried to see if his knife would make contact with it, if it was something tangible. The darkness caught his knife and stuck to it, held it fast.

“Don’t tell me…” Reno’s eyes widened. She had an idea, and she didn’t always like it when she had ideas. “Are we INSIDE a demon right now!?”

Then then room around them erupted with motion. It was impossible to tell what was shadow and what was demon. The darkness itself seemed to be alive, seething and twisting and turning.

All of them, humans and their demon companions, hunkered down, trying to secure a foothold on the ground. All except Spider, who shot into the air, swearing violently.

The glowing orb in the center of the darkness-web suddenly stopped stock still. The shadows seemed to coalesce around it, surrounding it, scooping it up. The orb pulsed once, then dimmed slightly. The shadows seemed to manifest slightly more as it did.

Kiara cursed, backing towards the entrance she came through, drawing her crystal sword as she did. She bumped up against the wall—no, the exit behind her had become a wall. She stuck fast to the same webbing that trapped the will-o-wisp.

“This, uh, looks bad, guys.” Seth tried to yank his knife away from the web, but found it thoroughly stuck.

The light pulsed again and dimmed further. The shadows strengthened.

Spider hovered, careful not to touch the ground or any of the walls. “Dammit! Can’t even see a thing! Scorpia, help me sense something!” She began to feel through the demon for the energy in the room. There was a lot of demonic energy.

The orb pulsed a third time, and seemed to sink slightly.

Reno gasped. “I think…” she said, "I think those two demons are fighting!”

It pulsed a final, half-hearted fourth time, and went out.

“…and one just lost.”

The darkness shuddered around them, its meal finished, and let out a satisfied rumble. Without the will-o-wisp, the room fell into pitch blackness, save for Seth's lighter and the smoldering tip of Spider's cigarette. Everyone still in the empty blackness could feel the shadows moving around them, pushing up against them.

Reno felt cold. It was an eerily unique kind of cold. Almost like the brink of death.

“We could use some more light in here,” Seth said, barely lit by his flickering lighter. “How about a smoke, Reno?” No one could see his grin.

"Thanks, but no thanks Seth," said Reno "I’m not interested in dying faster right now. If you need more light, fine, but don't expect me to put that in my mouth!"

Kiara began to feel the strands at her back tightening, and the shadows pressing up against her. They wrapped themselves around her, pinning her against the web. "Shit!" She yelled, and Umbra moved back towards her, clawing at the webbing. Umbra's claws, no matter how many forms they took, made no impact against the webbing, though it didn't stick to the demon.

“What’s happening?” Spider called out. “Where are you?”

"The... it's trapping me!" Kiara tried to slice at the web with her crystal sword. The crystal shuddered and shimmered, and seemed to catch on the webbing. The webbing shook violently on her back.

Spider fell over to where Kiara’s voice was coming from, and felt around carefully until she touched Kiara. “Let’s not let it get you. Gimme your hand!”

“Try cutting it with crystal!” Kiara tried to jerk away, stabbing it again. The webbing seemed to shred apart, sucked into the crystal blade. The shadow-stuff still clung to her, though, wrapping around her tighter.

Spider pulled out one of her crystal guns. “Gimme your hand!” She repeated.

“Can’t… it’s wrapped around me!” It jerked her tighter, and she lost her grip on the crystal sword. It clattered to the ground.

Seth, meanwhile, had lifted his lighter to the darkness around his knife. As he did, the shadow-thread melted away, as if fleeing from the flame. “Excellent.” He ran for the flickering red dot of Spider’s cigarette.

“What the…” Reno seemed to just become aware of Kiara’s situation. She goaded Caf in their direction. “What’s cutting it?”

“Crystal absorbs it, a bit!” Kiara replied.

Chun suddenly ripped off her crystal-lensed goggles and pressed them onto the shadow. The goggles shook in her hands, sucking up the darkness they touched.

Reno withdrew a crystal dagger from the holster on her belt. Next to her, Seth picked up Kiara’s fallen sword, and they went to work.

Spider wrapped her legs around Kiara’s chest, holding tight. “Sorry, this might hurt.” She altered both of their gravity to be directly away from the wall, pulling with both of their weight.

Between all of their combined effort, Kiara ripped free of the shadows. She and Spider went flying backwards, tumbling towards the other wall.

The shadow mass whirled around all of them angrily, rumbling loudly, whipping past each of them. It was everywhere in the room at once. Nowhere to hide from it. Seth, still holding his lighter, was the only one untouched.

“Hey guys,” Seth said, shaking his head. “You won’t hear me say this much, but… group hug?”

Chun looked around, then went right up to Seth and put an arm around his waist, holding tight. Kiara, breathing heavily, followed suit, putting her back against his chest.

Spider, meanwhile, pulled herself to her feet against the far wall, and realized with a start that she was leaning against something metallic—not part of the wall. She gasped and felt beside her at once, trying to see what it was.

“You all right, Spider?” Seth asked, as he made his way towards her voice, lighter still held high. Reno joined the little huddle after a moment. Tucked into the light of the flickering flame, the four of them were untouched by the shadows swirling around them. They could feel them brushing against their feet, though.

Spider’s hands explored the object—a metal tube, maybe a meter long, open on one side. She’d seen them before, on ships and bases, and knew they emitted light from the open side. Normally, anyway. This one seemed dead. “AHA!” Spider shouted. “Get over here! There’s this thing! It makes light, I think…” She continued fumbling at it, trying to remember what she’d learned of mechanics from Kasby.

Chun thought for a moment. “It just needs energy. Use a crystal!” She held up her goggles, visibly pulsing with dark purple light through the darkness. “Catch!” She threw them to Spider.

“Woah!” Spider turned, and snatched the goggles out of the air. Without hesitating, she forced them into the slot, crystal lenses first.

The lamp hummed, flickered twice, and then lit up. It cast a wide beam of blue-purple light across the room, half-filling it.

Seth grinned. “Bitchin’.”

The shadows caught in the beam seemed to shred and disintegrate, as the rest of the room shuddered in pain. It let out a horrible rumble, fleeing back from the source of the light.

“Heheh… you don’t like this light stuff, eh?” Spider used her gravity to lift the light, shining it towards the shadows in the corners of the room.

Kiara raised an eyebrow, amused now that the danger seemed gone. “Well, there are less… convenient weaknesses.”

((63 — Hindsight))

Under the new light, they could see the rest of the room. The floor was littered with half-opened food packages and torn crates of supplies. There was enough food here to feed a hundred people for two weeks.

The shadows continued to shy away from the lamp, fleeing into the corridor they had all come down.

“Let’s chase it!” Seth sounded way too excited as he grabbed Spider’s wrist and tried to aim the light down the hallway. “Quick, before it gets away!”

“Aye aye, Sheriff Seth!” said Reno, mixing up her anachronisms. She leapt back onto Caf and the two took off down the hallway, followed by Seth and Spider, holding the light.

“Wait!” Kiara called. “Maybe we can find more batteries in here!”

“Demon now! Supplies later!” Seth kept running.

Kiara muttered a curse, climbing onto Umbra, and followed. Chun ran alongside her to keep up with the others.

Together, they all chased it, the light pushing it further and further back up the corridor, retracing their steps.

Chun spoke as she ran, sounding tired. “Why don’t we just go get the supplies?”

“Because Seth is insane?” Kiara said half-jokingly.

“Ding ding ding, we have a winner.” Seth advanced menacingly on the door of the supply room they had passed on the way in, where the demon had fled to.

“You guys gather up supplies,” Spider started, coming to a hovering stop in the doorway. “We’ll—”

“Let’s get this bitch!” Seth cut her off. “It tried to jack my knife.”

Reno raised an eyebrow. “It also tried to jack your life, Seth.”

“Minor detail.” He pushed his way past Spider, into the room.

Now the shadows filling the room were just that—shadows. Nothing supernatural about them. Wurm’s mutilated corpse still lay slumped against the back wall. The demon shadows clustered in a far corner, huddling against it, trying to seek refuge from the light and finding none.

“No escape now, demon-face!” Seth’s mad grin was fully visible this time.

Spider set down to the ground, pinning the demon against the wall with the light.

Kiara held out her crystal sword, and walked slowly to the demon, careful to keep herself from casting a shadow on it, in case it could use that. She stabbed her blade into the mass of shadows. The cluster hissed wildly, angrily, and began to dissipate, flowing into Kiara’s sword. She smirked, keeping her blade in the demon.

With a final, twisting rumble, the last of the shadows vanished into the crystal.

“Try and eat me now, fucker,” Kiara said with satisfaction. “Now, can we go back to that room with the food?”

Chun smiled. “Yeah, I’m hungry.”

“Let’s.” Seth laughed. “All that hunting made me kinda hungry too.” He looked at the space where the demon had been. “Another one in the books for Team Talon.”

Kiara grinned. "Now, some victory... dinner? Lunch?"

Reno spun her dagger around her fingers. With one final twirl, she redeposited it into its holster. "I'm up for whatever meal, as long as it's fit for HUMAN consumption." She cast an accusing glare at Caf.

“Shit yeah.” Seth headed for the room with the unboxed supplies, and the others followed.

“I’d go for something barely edible, right now,” Chun said quietly. It had, after all, been well over a full twenty-four hours since they’d last eaten, back at Sector Four.

They reached the now-quiet cavern, its floor strewn with supplies. The foodstuffs came in all varieties of genetically-engineered protein vegetable, as always.

None of them seemed overly picky, just grabbing the first food bar they saw and devouring it with a will. Chun started to wander, looking for more crystal batteries.

Reno took a huge bite out of the round-ish item she’d procured. “Ahhhh,” she sighed. “Sweet sweet olive loaf. I missed you.” She kissed the protein vegetable before chomping down again.

“So…” Spider said, a bit too casually. “Are we headed to Sector One?” She looked over at Seth.

He nodded, then bit into a massive tomato. “Yeah, ‘s why we gotta grab supplies here. Not like we can go back to Sector Four.”

“I guess you guys don’t really have a plan either.” Spider took another bite of her protein bar, then began to scavenge for more food, dumping what she found on Scorpia’s back.

Chun found several ripped-open boxes of crystal batteries, but many were already drained. She carried a few handfuls of powered-up ones over to the lights, and piled them there.

Kiara had started tossing protein packs into Umbra, who tucked them into her shadowy interior for storage.

Seth looked up from the crate he was filling with food. “You got any ideas, Spider? All I know is what your people told me.”

“Gonna get dark for a second,” Chun announced. She pulled her goggles out of the light, plunging the room into darkness. Then she shoved in the most charge-filled crystal she had found, and the light came back on, this time a healthier yellow glow.

Spider frowned. “They didn’t have much of a plan either. Crystals are breaking, and… my guys seem to think that the answers are in Sector One.” She put more supplies onto Scorpia, who swallowed them into her semi-transparent body, leaving them floating like curious organs. “The, uh, what’s it called? Center of the neb… thingy.”

Seth nodded. “We need to get to the Center, too. That’s where Cyc was taken…”

The others fell silent a moment, but Spider just rolled her eyes, still unsure of who exactly this Cyclops fellow was.

The silence passed, and they all returned to their packing. Demons, crates, and pockets were all filled to their brim with food and batteries for the long trip.

Seth came up alongside Spider, putting his crates down. “That was a nice trick back there, with the light.”

Spider shrugged awkwardly. “It was afraid of your fire thing. It made sense.”

He let out a laugh. “Yeah, well. Good to see you can pull your own in a fight like that, no matter how crazy. I like a pretty face like yours much as the next guy, but I like one better when I know she can watch my back.”

The girl frowned, not sure whether or not she was being complimented. “I, um, thanks? I guess?”

“The point is,” Seth continued. “Welcome to the team. You’re properly one of us now.” He held out a hand.

After a blinking pause, Spider remembered that it was custom for her to shake his hand, so she did so. “Yeah, thanks. You guys are a lot more fun than my old crew. Nice to be back with people my own age.”

Their hands stayed locked for a good bit longer than normal as they stared at each other, as if still evaluating the other.

Reno broke the moment by calling out. “Let’s get out of here! We’re all full up!”

The two sixteen-year-olds let their hands drop, and turned to carry the supplies they’d gathered.

After a few quiet minutes walking through the tunnels, they all arrived back at the open shaft, where Torrential Black and Seth's demon were still waiting.

Chun ran awkwardly toward Torrential and dropped what food she was holding in front of him. He flapped, bobbed his head once, and then began to devour the food.

“Ah, good to see these guys again.” Seth tossed his crate full of food in the general direction of the demon. A slice of quartz extended from the floating cloud of mist, catching it.

Spider looked around. “Anything else to do here?”

“I suppose not,” said Chun.

“Let’s get going then,” said Kiara, looking upwards.

Seth turned to his demon. “It’s about time I named you. How about… Noh. Yeah, Noh sounds good.” He walked towards it, and steps formed in its side. As he walked up them, they receded back into the crystalline creature.

Torrential finished his meal, and crouched over at Chun’s gesture. She swung herself onto Black’s back.

Reno followed suit, climbing onto Caf. “Oh, don’t be so negative, Seth,” she said, chuckling.

Spider sighed. She was tired, but she could probably hold her gravity in any direction for a few hours of falling before having to rest. Spider and Scorpia lifted up off the ground, the demon’s paper-like wings flapping to greater sizes.

Noh floated upwards, matching height with Scorpia. Seth sat in the chunk of crystal shaped like a chair, riding his demon like a throne. He caught sight of Spider’s exhausted face. “Hey,” he called to her across the open air.

“Nn?” She looked at him.

“If you get tired, you can rest in Noh. Don’t think he much needs energy, and there’s room.” He gestured to the various other large chunks of crystal suspended into the fog.

“Alright…” Spider nodded, then looked down, making sure the others were still with them. Confirming that everyone was together, she turned her gaze back up the shaft. “Let’s fly.”

The quintet rose into the air, flying up and out of the mine. Slowly they crested, coming level with the surface of the crystal.

Seth waved to the ground as it started to recede. “Later, rock.”

Reno saluted, with her middle finger.

The Void above them stretched wide, the same blank gray as always. Now fully stocked and loaded with enough food to last them the voyage, the Talons settled in for the three-week flight to Sector One.

To Cyclops, and to the Center.