Issue 16: The Long Shadow of Ta’rammon
We are already at the edge. If this is the only way to save a part of myself and her? I will do what is required. The long grip of the All-Father dogs us. We should have never allied with that one in the first place. His blood is tainted. To the point where it makes my wife seem angelic in response.—Ta’rammon
I know they are watching. Those cherubs. Why they insist on remaining within those feathered forms is beyond me. I do wonder what an angelic creature would taste like.—J’anu
A part of me knew, even then, how fixated the enemy was on children or babies. Each of our enemies was a puppet for him. That nameless dread in the middle of the night. There is evil that walks within those tight spaces. Ever searching. This is why we must remain vigilant. For if we fall? Those we protect fall with us. Into the Abyss. The House Orator wonders why I placed the Prison above homeworld’s orbit. It is a reminder. Of the Vigil. Of what could escape once more if we do not heed the words of the past.—Sleeping in Starlight: Upon a Dark Star
Eastern Cavern System
June 5th, 2136
J’anu groaned and maneuvered to the hover unit. As the HUD came online it flickered in the corner of her vision. ///Terran Alliance medical unit online. Administering pain killers. Contractions detected.///
The white canopy closed about her head. Great.
Why had they agreed to this madness?!
A flash of mottled yellow skin registered. The pod teleported.
///Unknown energy detected. Operation Mother Goose initiated.///
J’anu gripped the sides of the pod.
The Herald of Flesh. She would have to warn her father.
The ruler behind Unity had made itself known.
Mordred’s dark brown peered into her blood-red orbs. His voice rang out within her mind. A dark caress. She snarled silently at the intrusion. It shouldn’t be possible. Her face fell. He was gathering his Heralds. Unity thought it was taking command. It would be a rude awakening.
>>Clothed in crimson. Guided by the Sundering. Brother against brother. Death is not an escape for us. You know this. Pale blood spilled. Urraden chained. No recourse. His eyes see into the eternal dark.<<
The Herald of Flesh. That monster of Nyx’s making.
The Orator of the Abyss. Rejected son of Chronos.
The Eyes of the Void.
J’anu hissed through clenched teeth, “My father would never….”
Mordred laughed. The sound was as smooth as honey.
Meathook prowled about the hidden cave system. Ta’rammon and his wife had been smart. Nothing of the bone, blood or flesh left behind for him to analyze. That medical pod had done a neutralizing burst as it escaped. No matter. Meathook inhaled. His nostrils flared as he detected the faded aura of Cherubs. Not just any lower angel. The Brothers of N’iavah.
The End Cycle.
Before the passing of Humanity.
Meathook crawled over the rocky ledges. Yes, they had been here.
They could hide no longer. What wonders would be in the orange bag?
What traps did the Arbeiter of Light place within?
Meathook cooed, “I am patient. Let the terror build. Sweet nectar!”
J’anu had an idea of his true strength. He drank in her mental residue.
Not even that Banner could save her. The flesh had already been offered.
Ta’rammon held his knives at the ready position. They prickled his palms.
Light Shaman weapons. How revolting. Necessary.
A shadow fell across the clearing.
A gargantuan wolf appeared. Its coat was darker than the void between the stars. The orange eyes gleamed. “It is here. I can smell it.” The voice rumbled outward. Divine. Power rippled with each step. Cerberus. Ta’rammon stated, “What price shall I pay?” Cerberus replied, “The Red King has already marked you. That is price enough for anyone.”
Cerberus peered down at Ta’rammon. Pity in his lupine gaze.
“We shall save your son. That is all that remains untethered from his crimson grasp.”
The former ruler of the Eternal Empire asked, “How is that possible?”
Cerberus flicked his ears forward. They quivered as they detected rocks falling into the waters of the cavern system. “Not here. The Herald is present.”
Ta’rammon circled. Every muscle tense. “Noted.”
Meathook giggled to itself as the mighty guardian of Elysium keyed in on the sounds. It couldn’t detect his steps. Provided it remained within the Red King’s shadow. The gift of ages. It did not need to hunt these two. It would merely observe. The knives held by Ta’rammon burned the ruler’s palms. How quaint! He was willing to bear the stink of the Light.
Meathook gurgled, >>Fe’tha’rahulk<<
Cerberus snarled, “Unclean wretch!” It howled. The sound shook the earth. Meathook slipped into the shadow of the treeline. Let them chase ghosts within the caverns.
It slipped past the warrior pair. No need to prove anything. Meathook wasn’t a warrior. It was a creature of shadow. It hungered to devour the innocent resting within J’anu’s womb. Those Cherubs had done the job wonderfully. For they were made to protect the unborn. That mandate from the Highest would be its undoing.
The All-Father mocked me, “You adorn an empty Throne.”
No conventional energy or ballistics weapons could tear through the necrotic ball. That baleful sun continued to stare. Volcanos of noxious green flame burst forth from the surface. Its disease-ridden eyes were glued upon the Jupiter Rising. Dexter’s voice linked directly to my mind. >>This is my burden. You have no dominion here. But I will need your help. He is fixated on you. Get the fleet to fire everything they have at these coordinates.<<
My brother’s aura was different. I said nothing. Asked instead, >>After that?<<
He replied stoically, >>Shield them all.<<
Paradise Falls interjected cheerily, <<Arbiters! I have full augment shielding. I will activate when commanded!>> I nodded. Made sense. If I was Life? The flip side must be represented. The cycle of mortality. Soul Shards. I narrowed my gaze. >>How can I be Life? I cannot give it. <<
Dexter’s response, when it came, was direct. >>That is why you have the mantle. If it was given to another? The Red King could manifest through you. He has attempted it before.<<
Nyx’s experiments with children. What she told me of the All-Mother’s pregnancy. Unity had tried to infect the baby. So the switch was made. Its aborted bones were cleansed within the other universe. Under the pillared temple of the Three. In return? We had protected J’irax. So many stories. I had read the accounts after my “death.” As Sunburst? He had been vital in holding back the Artock hoards during the Breach Wars. Unlike me, he could drench the enemy in cosmic fire via his hands.
That boat had sailed for me long ago.
If Sunset Showdown’s reports were anywhere near accurate.
I’ve always been the trusting sort. Strange things happen in Florida.
Being that close to the Triangle.
Auggie scampered onto the bridge. <<Need to give the Howling time!>>
I took the controls. “Let’s play Chicken with the Evil Necrotic Sun of Doom then!”
Jupiter interjected <<No further Artock presence currently detected on the hull or within the cargo bay. Proceed with Operation Looky Looky Ducky!>>
I asked, “When did Trouble get into the OP files?”
Mom strapped herself into the weapon’s station. Doc followed. The sensors pinged as Lorain’s hands danced over the console.
“Let’s get started. Show us those flying skills Captain!”
Auggie jumped into my lap. My seat conformed to secure us both for high-force maneuvers. O’rioh called out over the coms, <<The rest of us will aim the crew service guns. These aren’t Terran Alliance standard. Light Shaman special spec’d!>>
Gwen cackled, <<Let’s give the All-Father a set of black eyes!>>
Anna said, <<Just remember the Order mandates!>>
My stomach dropped into my toes as I sent the Jupiter spiraling skyward.
>>Paradise. Stand by for shielding bursts.<<
The Shield World complied. I watched as the ancient wards around the sphere shifted. Their energy prickled against my skin.
Ta’rammon froze as the subsonic crack echoed through the atmosphere. That flash of white, black, and red let him know it was her ship. Cerberus crept quietly through the opening. His fur bristled as he took in the myriad of scents. The sense of wrong permeated everything. He summoned the cleansing sphere bombs from his satchel. Hideous keening emanated from the shadows. Ta’rammon sent one dagger flying. It sunk deep into the blackened flesh. Four jagged claws shot out. He kicked one. Magical wards flashed silver within the semi-darkness.
The hunchback retreated. Metal clanged as the knife dropped to the rocky floor.
Its flesh expanded. Leathered wings sprouted forth. Tipped with amber.
“Promised sacrifice.” Black scrawl poured forth. Each fang was as long as Ta’rammon was tall. Not good. A chimera? Brood Hoard?
Cerberus snarled, “Nargus Samata.”
Ta’rammon readied his fire sigils.
Things were looking up!
J’anu bit back a yelp as two feathered forms appeared on either side.
Those black eyes were equal parts cheerful and concerned. She snapped, “YOU!”
Gulliver replied, <<Indeed! We offer 5-star accommodations to innocent babies. Even if they come from one as lovely as you!>>
Trouble ducked his head. His orange bill ruffling about. J’anu wanted to kick them but the pod had immobilized her legs into birthing straps. Trouble announced, <<AHH! Here it is!>> He lifted a triangular object. The wards glowed. J’anu sagged against the cushioned backrest. “To clean his blood.”
Trouble bobbed its head, <<Correct. We used this on one other of your House.>>
J’anu responded, “To combine our House to Ayeer. It was no mercy, you 2nd rate creatures!”
Gulliver peered down at J’anu, <<Lady Sy’mir requested it. We provided the means. As was proper. We aim to help our fellows here within the mortal realms!>>
J’anu seethed, “She is a traitor. Thoth should have beheaded her!”
Gulliver positioned himself over J’anu’s stomach. <<Now remember! Proper breathing!>>
Her face reddened. The pain hit a moment later.
The only pleasure she would have? A part of her and Ta’rammon would survive.
Even as the Universe burned all others within its cold grasp.
Trouble opened the Cherub line: <<What did mom say about this part again? That woman wants to kill us and cook us.>>
Gulliver responded serenely: <<Get the baby to safety. We must travel through the Path provided.>>
There was no humor in his voice. Trouble knew that meant only one thing. Whatever happened next? Would be a danger to them both. His brother loved to joke. Trouble glanced at the monitors. Gulliver pulled at the infant. Made sure to position the head for a clean delivery. The soothing aura of the duck brothers reassured the young bright mind within.
Destiny would take its course.
Trouble sent up a silent prayer.
May the Highest Guide us in all the dark places we must walk.
I jerked the controls. Circled the false sun. Wraiths burst forth. Their forms collided with the shields. Not the normal ones. Arcane energy hissed. The purple hue lit up the void as each hit connected. The All-Father said, “Pathetic creatures of flesh and bone. Submit!”
Ghostly flames shot out from the dead corona.
I sent the ship into an evasive pattern. “Not today! Not ever!”
O’rioh shouted, <<Let’s give the rest of the fleet an open shot! Force all the wraiths to one sector!>>
Professor Nara chanted. The sound didn’t carry across space. The holy magic did.
Bright golden flames danced around the ship. I let the Ur-Flow guide me. Jupiter Rising announced, <<A-Shield at 25%>> I pulled Jupiter back into a climb. Those ghostly tendrils followed. Just a bit more.
Allied ships moved in. Their anti-grav missiles broke apart the necrotic layer simmering just under the garish white exterior. The All-Father spoke, “Your weapons mean nothing to the rites of Flesh. For it is the common commodity of the Universe.”
Lorain exclaimed, “There!”
On the display, a hole formed within the northern sector.
Dexter immerged from the shadow of a Terran Alliance cruiser.
His armored outer layer was golden. He burrowed within the break.
The All-Father howled. I took the brunt of the assault. My ears bled. I signaled Paradise.
Shields sprang forth. Triangular silver disks all across the planet. I formed a sigil against my palm. My finger moved quicker than anyone could track. The same protections encased the fleet. Super strength and speed would not win the day. I knew what my brother had intended.
Issue 15: Here
Issue 17: Here