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[Archive] With This Ring (Young Justice SI) (Story Only)

Discussion in 'Story Archive' started by Mr Zoat, Jan 30, 2019.

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  1. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    The skeletal-thin chief archivist of the city of Caernouid bows apologetically.

    "I am sorry, my lord. Preserving the media in its original format proved quite impossible under the light of-."

    "The vampire sun." / "-the Vampire Sun."

    I nod. No computers from humanity's prime. Nothing written on paper or parchment or vellum. No… Artefacts of whoever came before the Sheeda.

    "So how do you maintain records?"

    "Task-adapted biological computers and ultra-dense chitin are the two main methods. We feed the chitin into specialised digestion receptacles for it to be read. It is not a quick process, and the summaries are often.. long out of date. If you tell me what you're looking for I can dispatch our retrieval specialists."

    "I'd like to know about the first generation of Sheeda. Was… Your current form the result of gradual change, or engineered specifically for… Some reason."

    The cadaver-lookalike nods. "Those are not our oldest records, but it is the earliest period that is well recorded. Do you wish to review the recreations of the source material, or are later analyses acceptable?"

    Uuh. This is going to be a long haul. We're going to be looking for sources for our sources, all the while knowing that the Sheeda have had more than enough time falsify anything they want.

    Ping.

    Sure you're up to it?

    Ping.

    "How about-?"

    "What about the Justice League?"

    I raise my eyebrows at Artemis's enquiry.

    "What?" She shrugs. "You're the one who said that kryptonians live thousands of years if they get enough sunlight. There's gotta be some kind of record of Superman."

    I shake my head. "I knew a time traveller. Superman dies in the next couple of decades from-"

    Her eyes widen. "What?"

    "-our point of view. Oh, yeah. Why do you think I've been pushing the Earth Defence Force through so hard? Earth gets conquered and the Justice League killed… Well, in the original timeline it did. I doubt that will happen now."

    "So…" She frowns. "Are we dealing with original history or your fixed history?"

    I make a show of slowly shrugging.

    "Okay, but was that just it? Humans got wiped out?"

    "No, humans were taken as… Janissaries? By the people who conquered Earth, and the population of Earth wasn't completely wiped out. Just… Reduced a lot. My contact didn't make any mention of the Justice League… A Justice League reforming at any point-."

    "Forgive.. my interruption." The archivist looks genuinely interested, a strangely open expression which looks odd on a Sheeda's face. "But what was the Justice League?"

    I get a half-second glare from Artemis, which causes me to close my mouth and give her the metaphorical floor.

    "The Justice League is-. Was a group of heroes who-."

    I mime biting my lip.

    "Who fought for freedom-"

    I mime biting my lip really hard.

    "-and justice against criminals and evil people."

    "They were guards?"

    "No, they… Didn't work for a government. They just did what they thought was right."

    No, no, he's got no framework for understanding the concept of 'superhero'. How to put this..?

    "Imagine a group of Highborn who -rather than serving the Queen directly or ruling cities in her name- used their abilities to enforce a code of moral behaviour, primarily on other Highborn but occasionally on regular citizens."

    "Warriors."

    "They have a wide variety of skills, but primarily:-" I nod. "-yes."

    "I don't remember any group called the 'Justice League', but I… Seem to recall mention of a Justice Legion. Are they related?"

    I very dimly remember something about them from Earth Prime comics. Reading the summaries didn't make the concept sound very appealing; clones of heroes from an earlier era with a few cosmetic changes. Ridiculous, really: put a picture of the Justice Society next to one of the Justice League and even the people with the same name don't look the same. And that's just two generations.

    "Ah..?"

    Artemis looks at me like she expects me to know. Which I'd normally like, because if she decided to go Richard-the-Justice-League-Puritan on me this would rapidly become very tiresome.

    "Perhaps you could call up a file and we could see if there are any familiar faces?"

    "I'm afraid that we don't have good records from that period, but…" He walks over to an organic-looking console and presses several buttons. Symbols I don't recognise appear on a… Holographic? No, an illusion-based display. "Relating to your query regarding the origin of Sheeda-kind. Our best information suggests that we were deliberately created. The city with our largest flesh vats is still on that site where the first of Sheeda-kind were created. And the Justice Legion…"

    A severely degraded illusion of a human torso appears. I… Think it's a dark-skinned baseline human man, but I've got no guarantee that my concepts of any of those things mean anything to future-humanity.

    "…art, I… … …halos fall…"

    The quality is not good, but a damaged record that has been translated through several formats for… A very long period of time isn't going to be high quality.

    "…site… …extract… …rom the Justice Legion's last st… …it here, but everywh… …understand what's killing us."

    The archivist presses another button, and the playback stops.

    "If you have any insight, I would be fascinated to hear it."

    "A 'halo' could be a sign of an angel's divinity, or it could refer to an orbital ring. My.. future contact said that those became rather common forms of habitation for humans."

    Not unusual. There are a lot more systems with valuable materials in them than there are habitable planets. At a certain level of technology building habitats makes economic sense.

    "That sounded like 'from the Justice Legion's last stand', indicating that they tried to fight something and were wiped out in the attempt, and that someone went there later to pick something up."

    Artemis nods. "And they were going to study it here. Does it say what they were fighting?"

    "There are references to a great destructive force. It isn't clear whether they're referring to a singular being or group or… Perhaps even a natural event."

    I nod. "Yeah, we're going to need all of those. And anything that mentions the Legion and wherever Sheeda came from."

    The archivist smiles. "How long do your people live?"

    "Indefinitely."

    The archivist nods. "'Indefinitely' might be enough. I will gather a party, and my successor's successor will relay the last of the materials you requested to you. I wish you the best of fortune, my lord, my lady."
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2020
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  2. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Late Summer, IC 687

    Not the fastest a new Lantern has grasped a power ring's basic functions, but far from the slowest. His actual speed in the air leaves a little to be desired, but he's understandably of two minds about this whole endeavour.

    At least he's not filled with fear any longer.


    "And.. that is how a man's desires affect his nature?"

    "No."

    "Then-. I don't understand. Why have you explained this 'Hierarchy' to me if it isn't true?"

    "In the Imperial Library, how do they order the books and scrolls? Is it by the name of the author? The date? Or is it by the subject?

    "For the most part, by their subject. So I should organise my desires in the same way? To… Make them more comprehensible?"

    "Just so. 'Architecture' has no objective reality. Take the universe, grind it down to the finest powder and run it through the finest sieve, and you will find not a single atom of architecture. Architecture is a label we apply to a group of concepts as a shorthand. Likewise, how we classify sets of desires is irrelevant. That we do is relevant. If you have a better system, use that instead."

    "No, I.. don't."

    "Studying your own desires is the first step to mastering the orange light. This is how I will begin your instruction."

    He glances in the direction of Alnus Hill.


    "Do I have time to reflect on them adequately?"

    "Throw some at me, so that I know what I'm working with."

    "What's the second step?"

    "Identifying and resolving contradictions. But please, Prince Diabo El Caesar, focus on the task I set you. If you die, I will have to find another, and that will be inconvenient."

    "My brother?"

    "I will never be that desperate. His pet rabbit on the other hand is desperate enough to obey me and heed my words. Rebuilding the Empire from ash after she has taken her revenge will be time consuming, but time is a resource I have in abundance."

    We dip in the air as he
    loses his focus.

    "Interesting. That made you genuinely afraid. You understand that for that to happen you would be dead, and thus entirely beyond her-"

    There's a flicker of light from a forest I can see in the distance. Alnus itself seems relatively quiet at the moment. Infiltrators? Commandos?

    "-wrath."


    "I just-. Imagined what would happen if you'd chosen her instead of me."

    "I doubt that she would specifically target you. Your brother and your father, yes, but if you ran fast enough then you would probably survive. But that isn't-"

    There's another flicker. Hm.

    "-relevant. Stop for a moment."

    Stopping, he manages easily.

    "That flash of light in the forest over there. Identify it."


    "A forest fire?"

    "That isn't what I meant. Use this ring. Want to see it, want to know, and you will. Want it because it could be a threat, or because it could be an opportunity to advance yourself. Want it because you care about the people in this region or because you want them to care about you. But unleash your want, in whatever way you see fit."

    He raises his left hand, and I.. feel it, as he wants the knowledge so that he can better understand his position. That work-.


    And he feels fear and we're heading for the ground again.

    "Do you want to break your legs? Because while this ring can heal your injuries, I assumed that we'd have longer before you needed that lesson."

    He recovers almost instantly, his desire to keep his own hide intact having the expected effect. It was either this or strengthening his environmental shield enough to take the landing. Now, what did he see?


    "It's a dragon."

    "Okay."

    "A giant, ancient dragon. It's burning its way through a forest village."

    "Good show. Let's go and kill it."

    "It's a dragon!"

    "When I'd been a Lantern for a year and a half, I fought and killed an ancient, sentient, magic-using dragon who also had a ring like this one. Can I assume that the creature you are looking at is simply a large and strong reptile?"

    "Very large and very strong."

    "The orange light is stronger. As long as you want to be unharmed, you will be proof against fire and claw."

    "And how exactly am I proof against fire and claw?"

    "Imagine armour. Full plate. Imagine that the dragon is attacking you, striking you, breathing fire over you and doing its level best to kill you. Imagine that the armour is the only thing keeping you alive in the face of its assault. Hold in your mind your desire for it to stay there."

    "And.. it will?"

    "It will. That is the power of the orange light. Likewise, it can generate any weapon you want, and the weapon will be as strong as your desire for it to be strong."

    "And you want me to fight that dragon?"

    "Can you imagine arriving at the gathering of armies with a dead dragon's head in your hands? The looks on their faces? The reverence in their hearts?"

    "I…"

    "I know that you don't trust me. That is fine at this stage in our relationship. But please at least accept that this is far more effort than I would need to put in if I simply wanted you dead."

    "I-."

    "And that I have no desire to see the inside of a dragon's digestive system firsthand."

    "You guarantee that I will be proof against its attacks?"

    "The strength of your defences is proportionate to the strength of your desires. Try it now."

    "I've been wearing armour under my clothes for years. Armour is something I know that I want."

    And appear armour does, construct full plate such as a medieval knight might wear. Not something that existed in Rome where they were limited to light horse, but the Saderan Empire isn't exactly Rome. The construct isn't super strong by any means. I wouldn't want him to try fighting an apostle like this. But it'll do for a dragon.

    But what about offence? He's been hiding himself in the courts for years, not drawing attention to himself for fear that he'd be executed like his eldest brother. Weapons don't come naturally to him. So, perhaps something a little different?

    "Have you ever ridden a dragon?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2020
  3. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    I raise my right hand in greeting as Artemis and Buddug return to the reading room.

    "Good trip?"

    Artemis nods, and I note that her quiver is fully restocked with quill arrows.

    "All of the zombie children are back where they should be. And your gene analyser is being set up in the lab."

    "Thanks. Did you get to see much of Caergwaed while you were there..?"

    She drops into a nearby chair and starts loading up the next batch of research files.

    "Not really. Things got a bit… Tense, when I told them the Queen wouldn't be coming back." Behind her, Buddug heads in the direction of the archive kitchens. "Thought I should probably keep my head down."

    "Probably wise. The last thing we need is the Sheeda cities going to war with one another."

    "Yeah. Anything new on your end?"

    "I'm pretty sure that the Vampire Sun isn't Mageddon, which is a bit of a relief."

    "Really?"

    "Yes. Mageddon has about four thousand times the mass of Sol. Aside from how aggressive it is, there's no way the Earth could survive close to it for any length of time. And the images Mother Box and the archivists have been able to piece together of whatever it was that killed the Justice Legion don't show a star or star-like object."

    Artemis watches me for a moment.

    I watch back.



    "Grayven, what's Mageddon?"

    "Oh, an ancient.. sun.. weapon system.. thing. It's supposed to have been made by the people… The people before the New Gods who manifested Source attributes. We usually call them 'Old Gods', for… Obvious reasons, though that term also gets used for gods who emerge from the Dream."

    "And that's… Around in our time?"

    "Yes, but it's anchored outside of our galactic cluster and extremely well guarded. Last time Darkseid tried taking a fleet there to study it, he was one of sixteen survivors out of a total crew of two million. No recoverable ships. I'm led to believe that one of the defenders was mildly bruised." I shrug. "Anyway, that was the only thing I could think of that came under the category of 'evil sun'."

    "So if it wasn't a sun, what was it?"

    I shake my head.

    "Humanoid. It appeared to either have dark skin or prefer dark clothing." I shrug. "Either it killed everything that got a good look at it, or it was so long ago that all the records have degraded to near-uselessness. Or more likely both."

    "Just… One guy?"

    "Or possibly girl, or other or none. I couldn't even tell you whether or not it was conventionally humanoid. I've still got a lot of reading to do, but the outline appears to be confirmed from enough sources that I'm prepared to accept it. A single immensely powerful being comes out of nowhere and gradually starts destroying everything in its path. Fleets are sent and fleets are destroyed. The 'Justice Legion' are called in. They fight, lose, rally… Until eventually they run out of time and decide to go all-in. There aren't any mentions of the organisation as a going concern after that final battle, so I assume that was about it for them."

    "So what was that stuff about trying to understand it?"

    "Ah, that is interesting. It's not entirely clear, but it looks like someone collected samples of biological material from the site. And sent those samples to various places, including to the forebears of our friends in Caergwaed."

    "And they used it to make the Sheeda?" She shakes her head. "Why?"

    "Maybe the same reason why Lex Luthor commissioned Kon; use the strength of the one you hate to beat them."

    "And that's where they got the Highborn? Yeah, they're.. strong, but they're not 'kill the galaxy's greatest heroes' strong."

    "No, I don't think it was that. Remember, Earth went through multiple alien occupations. It isn't the centre of human civilisation in the future-past. There's no obvious reason why a laboratory here would be given vital work when there would be better expertise in other places."

    "Maybe they were specialised."

    "Maybe. Magic-rich worlds are unusual, and unlike modern… You know what I mean, humans, they all use magic."

    "So they needed magic to beat him."

    "What makes you think they won?"

    "The planet's still here. The.. Sheeda are still here."

    "And we haven't seen a single baseline human since we got here." I shrug. "A lot of things are possible."

    She nods slowly. "So what's the next step?"

    "Full genetic work-ups of every Sheeda creature we can get. And while that's going on, the local Vat Masters and I have been trying to work out how to create an organic Bleed membrane instability generator. Because even if the rest of the universe stopped existing, the Bleed should still be there."

    "The Bleed. That's the thing between parallel universes, right?"

    "Indeed." I nod. "Because if we can generate electrical power, then even if we have to immediately funnel it into some sort of organic system, all of our problems become a lot more manageable. And even if the sun somehow eats it, then at least we'll learn more about what it can-"

    "Grayven?"

    "-do-. Yes?"

    "How long have we been here?"

    I smile. "Less than a day."

    She huffs, closing her eyes and bowing her head. Then she lifts it back up and looks me right in the eyes.

    "How long, Grayven? And don't tell me it doesn't matter because if we get a time machine we can go back to whenever. I've eaten meals, I've slept, and… Everything outside is the same. There aren't any days here and my computer's busted so I've got no idea how much time has passed. How long?"

    "What makes you think I kn-"

    "Don't dodge the qu-"

    "-ow-? I'm sorry."

    "-estion!"

    "I'm sorry, I… Genuinely don't know either. Humans tend to default to a twenty five hour day cycle if they can't see the sun, but neither of us are human."

    She considers that for a moment.

    "What about your mother box?"

    "She's struggling to operate, and I've got more important things for her to do than use her connection to the Source to measure time."

    "Can you build a clock?"

    "Um. Probably? But I've got nothing to peg it to."

    "Yeah, I… Think I need something. Not being able to schedule things is… Really confusing."

    I nod. "Alright. I'll add it to the slate."
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2020
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  4. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Lord Caeryg has actually turned out for this one in person. Quite why he decided to turn it into a social event rather than keep it top secret eludes me, but there are Highborn representatives from several other Sheeda cities along with their escorts. Servants are moving around the demonstration area with platters of edible beetles, and a small cluster of flesh shapers are making final checks on the booster beetle.

    They've even put out some glow flies, though it's still dingy as heck here. I suppose that explains the full face helms the Sheeda who were part of the Harrowing fleet wore: our bright light must be blinding to them. Caeryg hasn't been quite daring enough to grow back his severed limb, but this is effectively him 'coming out' as a Queen-doubter. I imagine that Sheeda politics are about to get very interesting.

    I take a moment to check the etchings on the booster beetle. Since it's a reasonable assumption that the 'vampiric' effect will get stronger as we get closer, this beetle will effectively be integrated into my armour's soul circuitry. Not fully; the Sheeda don't have the ability to make the materials I need for that. But a close enough resemblance mixed with a little magic make something which sort of works.

    All looks fine to me

    I pat the carapace, though I know full well that it's far too insensitive to feel it, and far too simple-minded to understand the concept of familiarity. And since it's almost certainly going to die in the next few hours that's just as well, really.
    Flawless Posture.
    On the launch pad, Artemis stretches, eye stalk arrows ready to be plucked from their unfortunate donor. Telepathy is unknown to the Sheeda, but psychometry clearly isn't.

    I nod to the flesh crafters, and they ignite their sigils and lead the booster beetle towards the launch platform.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, Highborn of the Sheeda, scholars and warriors, today I and my faithful steed take the first glimpse at the universe beyond the mist shrouding the Earth."

    I make a circuit of the viewing area, making sure to make eye contact with at least the leaders of the delegations.

    "I wish to take in the state of the rest of the universe! And I wish to share that knowledge with all of you, so that you will have less reason to doubt my intentions. Each of you has had the opportunity to check the equipment; each of you knows that what you see will be what I see. What is actually there. And perhaps it will go some way to solving the mystery of your situation."

    Or if I'm really lucky, get me to somewhere from which I can boom tube away, recharge my rings and build up a decent production centre. If I'm less lucky, then whatever's keeping the red giant away only extends as far as the edge of the mist and I'm about to get horribly burned. Or the beetle could blow up and I'll get horribly burned from that.

    My tested level of resilience are why Artemis is staying on the ground rather than taking her chances on the beetle.
    Fortify.
    I head towards the beetle, smiling to myself as a couple of magic-focused Highborn get their fingers burned by the sigils they were using to covertly monitor the magics in my body. Could be they think I'm a novel Highborn created in Caernouid at Caeryg's instruction. If he's bringing people in at this stage I assume that he's got his story and approach sorted out for bringing them around to his point of view.
    Fortify.
    I walk down the short series of steps that lead underneath the booster beetle and pull my armour's goggles and seldom-used face covering into place. Then I take a firm hold on the carapace's handholds.
    Fortify.
    "Artemis, ready?"
    Fortify.
    "Whenever you are."
    Fortify.
    The idea of using the beetle to get off the surface was a non-starter. A beetle acting as a rocket would have to be the size and composition of a rocket, and survive having me hanging off it as it powered up to escape velocity. And if something went wrong or if the Vampire Sun doesn't act in the way we tentatively think it does, we'd be rogered.
    Fortify.
    Ping.
    Fortify.
    I activate my aero-discs and rise, slowly lifting the beetle off the launch pad. Learning to keep the aero-discs functioning under ground-level disruption took… A while, as measured by Artemis's beetle clock. But I took it up to the upper levels of the miasma and with a map memorised I'm confident that I can avoid falling on anything too important.
    Fortify.
    Once I reach eye level with Artemis I nod. She draws, and looses the first shot.
    Fortify.
    She can only bridge to places she knows, but she can fire an arrow pretty much any distance. If she fires an arrow with an eye on the end? We're back in bridge-business.
    Fortify.
    The rainbow explosion goes off just above me and I rise. It's not fast, not compared to ring-based flight and even compared to what I managed with aero-discs back in the past. But as Artemis sends an arrow through the bridge ahead of us the booster beetle and I are accelerating at a slow but steady rate.
    Fortify.
    And then space gets peculiar for a moment and we're… Not all that high up, actually. With a quick glance I can still just about make out the lights of the city below. But we're about as far up as fly-mounts can take their riders.
    Fortify.
    Then the bridge behind me closes and a new one opens in front of me. Keep going.
    Fortify.
    This one opens further up. The ground is fully shrouded and the sky above me similarly obscured. I can see my hand where it's gripping the beetle, but not much further than that. I don't see the arrow that creates the next rainbow bridge, but fortunately the bridge itself is bright enough that I can still aim at it.
    Fortify.
    I feel a momentary kinship with the early hot air balloon aviators getting caught in a cloud. At least the beetle's carapace is surviving having its entire weight pressing on my hands.
    Fortify.
    Up again, and this time while I can't see anything at least the clouds above me are bright enough to let me know that I'm going in the right direction. They don't shine white, of course; it's red light all the way and really does put me in mind of the fire pits, when the fug from the forges gets really bad and the overseers have to move their lowlies into shelters or lose the whole lot of them.
    Fortify.
    Up again, and this time there's a shape to the redness. I can see the outline of the sun, the baleful glare strong enough to trigger my goggles.
    Fortify.
    And up again. The clouds are wisps, the sun disturbingly large in the sky, and… Ugh. I can't see stars, but I can see that there's enough dust in the system that they could well be blotted out. The sun itself… I'm no expert in solar dynamics, but it looks like an early stage red giant in the growing phase. What I'd expected from the illumination but not from the chronology. Red giants don't grow particularly fast, but they grow faster than this. Once things get hot enough to evaporate all surface water… But again, the surface of the Earth isn't all that hot.
    Fortify.
    And now I'm standing in what passes for its full glare I'm not that hot, either. Oh, at this distance a red giant wouldn't do me measurable harm, but I would feel the distance. Light without heat? I'm not feeling as if I'm being drained at an accelerated rate, and my armour feels just as functional as it did at ground level.
    Fortify.
    I can't see the moon…
    Fortify.
    Wait. Don't I remember that in the comics the Dominators blew it up? But Earth was the centre of human civilisation in that comic, whereas I've had it confirmed that it isn't here. Won't be, here. Then again, there is a lot of dust. Maybe they do?
    Fortify.
    Mother Box?
    Fortify.
    Ping.
    Fortify.
    Good show. I turn away from the sun and trigger the booster beetle. And after a brief delay, its internal gas bladders undulate and release the thrust plume that propels us forward.
    Fortify.
    Ahead is… The dull glow of light from the sun reflecting off a billion billion particles of dust. I can't see any object of any size, which makes sense. This beetle is an organic booster rocket. It doesn't have a faster than light drive, if only because there are very few organic non-arcane faster than light drives and they all require substances we don’t have. But the thrust is constant, my armour is replenishing my air and I'm not being harmed. I could pretty much just go to sleep here and wake up when we've gone far-
    Fortify.
    Ping.
    Fortify.

    -enough… Really? Already? And you're sure that it's New God?
    Fortify.
    Ping.
    Fortify.
    That's lucky. I switch the setting of my goggles to pick up anything that touches the Source.
    Fortify.
    Let me know when we're close…
    Fortify.
    Enough…
    Fortify.
    Oh.
    Fortify.
    Dimly through the dusty miasma I look left and right, up and down, at the outlines of the titans whose imprisoned forms make up the Source Wall.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2020
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  5. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Bullshit
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    Turns out? It's a small universe.

    I haven't toured the whole star system-. 'Star system'! A quick bit of mental arithmetic shows it's not even as large as the orbit of Jupiter, so either we're in some sort of New God Dyson sphere-. No, no, even Darkseid wouldn't make a Dyson sphere decorated to look like the Source Wall. It would be too much like waving his own failure in his face. And Izaya certainly wouldn't.

    That is actually the Source Wall. The universe has shrunk until Earth and the sun are all that's left. If Mercury or Mars survived whatever the hell did that, they didn't survive the expansion of the sun. It's just Earth, and the sun, and the Source Wall, and the dust.

    I got close enough that it should have pulled me closer. That's what happened last time. Does the Source Wall here not work like the one in Universe 50? I'd sort of assumed it was, you know, the Source, but I suppose that physical laws could be different enough for it to interact with its environment differently from one parallel to the next.

    The universe is smaller than a star system.

    Okay. Okay. I know that it's possible to escape. The Sheeda did that repeatedly with the Castle Revolving. I don't know if the… Size of the universe-.

    THIS IS RIDICULOUS! THIS SITUATION IS RIDICULOUS! AND I'M RIDICULOUS FOR BEING HERE!

    Haaaa. Ugh. Haa.

    I need to stop thinking about it. Just get back down to Earth, tell people, then grab a few Low Born and teach them how to play frisbee or something.

    I need to stop thinking about it because my thoughts are looping around in a decidedly unhelpful manner.

    And… At least I know why the Bleed membrane instability generator didn't work. The Bleed is still there, but the physical laws which allow us access to it have changed. We can probably adapt-.

    A red.. beam… Flashes past me. Not close by, but light scatter in the dust cloud makes it clearly visible.

    What? This is… This is not a good time for something stupid to be happening.

    I pull my handholds slightly, and the booster beetle farts out a cloud of burning rocket fuel. We designed it to contain more than I'd need for the journey they thought I had planned, and I didn't even get that far. I'm heading back to Earth-.

    There are more red beams WHY ARE THERE MORE RED BEAMS!

    I mean, they're not aiming them at me, at least not with any accuracy, but they're punching through the clouds…

    Mother Box, am I seeing things, or..?

    Ping.

    I can feel… An etheric… Motion. Something's… Rising from the planet, and… Drifting, towards the sun. Did I not notice before? Or… Was it not happening? It's-.

    I gasp for breath as my armour dims!
    Fortify!
    The beetle's flying as fast as it can, but I add a little extra oomph with my aero-discs as we head into the uppermost clouds. I'm not sure exactly where we're landing OR WHY THERE'RE SO MANY RED BEAMS IN THE ATMOSPHERE but with the mood I'm in I'm not going to worry about it. The booster beetle isn't going to explode if I can make a controlled landing, and it's not going to have that much fuel left anyway.
    Fortify.
    My kingdom for a radio. One that actually works here. I try feeling for Artemis but get absolutely nothing.
    Fortify.

    It's hard to tell exactly what's going on. I'm not used to these precise weapons and the light-scatter that this environment generates. But it looks like THEY'RE SHOOTING EACH OTHER WHY ARE THEY SHOOTING EACHguuuh!
    Fortify.
    Right. When I panic, it gets worse. If I didn’t just fail to see it, the planet started getting drained when the shooting started. Assuming that the mechanism is the same, that means that with people fighting for their lives down there the whole place is being drained faster.
    Fortify.
    I wish Luna was here. This sounds like a pony problem.
    Fortify.
    Only with more killing, obviously.
    Fortify.
    Ah. Okay. Whatever's feeding on the world's suffering doesn't like love. Definitely a pony problem.
    Fortify.
    Lights over there, lights over there. I can't really steer the booster beetle directly, but if I angle my aero-discs slightly I can aim away from both of them. Ambush is my best bet. Find someone, grab them and find out what just happened.
    Fortify.
    I know that time's gotten sort of fuzzy without clocks or days, but I can't have been away that long.
    Fortify.
    Can I?
    Fortify.
    I never bothered trying to understand the effect of gravity on time as experienced at the personal level. I don't think anyone… Perhaps outside some of the more fanatical Source-focus religions who build their monasteries and prayer halls around the Source Wall back in the twenty first century, knows how the Source Wall affects time, if at all.
    Fortify.
    Alright, we're low enough. I twist my hands and the booster beetle chokes off its fart exhaust. Apply upward thrust with the aero-discs, angle so that we get a little lift from this ungainly thing… It's definitely lighter coming back than it was taking off. Shame it won't live all that long; I'd love to show it off to my children. But it'll probably be recycled once the biomechanists have given it a once-over to see how well it fared. They're still that human, at least.
    Fortify.
    Beams and a sense of conflict from a direction I'll call west. Ideally I'd like to come down near the edge of that, but though Sheeda air cavalry only make up a minority of their forces they are perfectly competent in using them. Without the rocket plume the booster beetle isn't that visible, and without the glow of my rings neither am I… But Sheeda can scry through this murk reasonably well. If they're keeping an eye out and want to shoot me, then they'll shoot me.
    Fortify.
    And of course the beam goes right through the booster beetle's head.
    Fortify.
    For goodness' sake.
    Fortify.
    Pushing off my aero-discs I hurl the beetle in the approximate direction that shot came from and then drop. Even a terminal velocity fall won't do me any damage and given everything that's happened I think that a bit of the old ultra-violence is just what Desaad ordered.
    Fortify.
    I draw my daiklave and start switching between optical modes until I find one which-. There we are.
    Strike Them Down.
    I'm not as powerful when fighting on an ally's behalf as when I'm fighting on my own, even less so when the alliance is as uncertain as the one between Artemis and myself on one side and Lord Caeryg on the other.
    Strike Them All Down.
    And there are the fly-riders and I'm coming for you, you miserable bondage-elves!
    Leave None Alive.
    I don't use my sword on the first. Like an ironic bug on the windshield she and her mount splat across my armour, their remains falling to the ground where I can already see the zombherds directing their charges to recycle the fallen.
    Well Maybe One.
    "I need one of you alive."

    I charge, because while those flies are pretty agile their speed is a bit rubbish.

    "The first to surrender-"

    The closest comes close to bringing their pivot-mounted gun to bear before I cleave through him and his gun and his mount.

    "-gets to live."

    I grab the part of the gun with the fuel cell analogue and throw it at the fly trying to manoeuvre behind me for a shot. It detonates in the rider's face and he fails to correct his course before slamming into the remains of the fly I just bisected. They don't explode but their fly does lose a wing and they begin to tumble towards the ground.

    The zombie children don't have to wait until things are dead to eat them.

    I grin as I look at the survivors.

    "How about it?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2020
  6. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Bull's
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    "…and they're actually following through on their obligations?"

    Heledd, the highest ranking of the surviving Highborn of the city of Caeremyr, nods politely.

    "Yes, my lord. It seems that even slow learners understood your intent after you fed seventeen slower learners to zombies in front of them."

    We're somewhere near where the Earth's south pole used to be. No idea whether or not the pole is still here or if the Earth's rotational axis has shifted. Though even if it hasn't the fact that magnetic poles shift every so often this could be the north pole now.

    Since my brief chat with actual Grayven, I've been covertly reading up on him. His equipment, his techniques and ways of thinking, his allies… Everything I could get. And I find his decisions so completely natural than I can generally work out what he'll do, because… It's what I'd do. He conquered a down on its luck gordanian clan and built them up as the foundation of his empire, and I've conquered a Sheeda city that was mostly trying to sit this… Thousandth World War out, and built them up.

    "Good. And no more arguments about incorporating New God designs into our armour?"

    Heledd glances down at his own symbiotic insect armour with New God detailing.

    "Not since the last skirmish. The superiority in the quality of protection it provides is inarguable."

    Sheeda warfare is very economical. Very… Real Time Strategy. Everything is biological. Biomatter and time are the only resource and flesh vats the only construction centre. Powerful beasts cost relatively small amounts of time but large amounts of biomatter, once you have the genetic design for them. Highborn cost little more biomatter than regular Sheeda but require far longer to sculpt and train. And so cities focus around their core competencies, eking out percentage decimal points in efficiency while they try to be the ones dragging their enemies' corpses into their digesters. Or hunker down and focus on using Deep Crawlers to slowly harvest the residual bounty beneath the Earth.

    "Good."

    I stride towards the doors which lead to the inner keep's boardroom. Deputations of Highborn from allied, 'allied' and potential ally cities are on the other side. Not a huge gathering, but better unified and better at sharing ideas than most of this war's… I can barely dignify them with the word 'alliance'.

    The Sheeda on either side of the doors pull them open and I stride inside, the Highborn within already lined up at each side of the table. Most Sheeda don’t give me backchat when we're having face to face meetings, and I get the impression that's due to me fitting into a Queen-shaped hole in their psyches. They're certainly not this agreeable when I can't see them.

    I take my place at the head of the table and sit, Heledd taking position behind me. And I wait exactly two seconds before gesturing with my right hand.

    "Please, be seated."

    And they sit, a simple courtesy permitted by me. Most of them haven't been in a room with this many Highborn from other cities since the Queen's muster prior to the Harrowing.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, this war is the height of stupidity, a pointless waste of biomass we can't spare from the task of ensuring Sheedakind's long term survival. You are here-" Because you know that I'd kill you otherwise. "-because you share my belief, and you know that unlike any other would-be king or queen I'll vanish the moment it becomes possible for me to return to my own era. I'm a compromise candidate, but while I'm here I expect obedience."

    "Now…" Heledd reaches past me and plugs a small chitin disk in a slot in the desk. "If you would..?"

    With brief glances at each other which I commit to memory, other representatives mirror my action with their own discs, which are absorbed by the table. What happens next is a fast digestion-read, funnelling our intelligence reports through the table's brain, filtering the more egregious claims and displaying the most reliable data. The output is… Tiny. With no surface water on the planet the Earth's habitable surface area has increased massively.

    With no reliable intercity communication in war time we have little to no idea what the other cities are doing. I'm on the wrong side of the gosh darn planet to help Artemis. I doubt that the other Sheeda would have flat-out destroyed Caernouid. Too much biological matter would be lost, and inefficiency is the Sheeda's one taboo. But with that many Highborn in one place, a lot of things could have happened, and me dashing across the planet at full speed isn't going to help. No one can spend time or biomatter on solving the core problem of our tiny universe, which means that I've got to beat them into order.

    What a waste.

    The table makes its decision, and an illusion of the Earth appears. Cities are marked by size, alliances in areas of colour whose intensity is determined by the reliability of the information and strength of the bond. Approximate numbers and dispositions of their forces.

    Several things become clear at once.

    We don't know much about the groups not immediately abutting us.

    Anyone who has the resources to fight, is.

    Alliances are primarily defensive and made by groups who've taken significant losses.

    No one is in charge of anything and that offends me.

    I don't have a rival. No one has control of a significant area, and the largest alliances are the most uncertain. There's no one I can crush and then expect everyone else to fall in line.

    These people can't overcome their instincts enough to fight effectively. They need me.

    "This…" I look around the room as they try to commit every inch of the illusion to memory in case I decide to give them an erroneous copy to take away. "Is how civilisation ends. How a people dies. I will not allow that."

    I point, and an alliance cluster near to us expands to fill the illusion area.

    "This will be our next target. The leading city of this group. I will lead the vanguard myself. There will be no quarter given. Every living creature will be slain and portioned out, the city stripped of all of value. Then the other members of the group will be offered the opportunity to join us."

    I'm painfully aware that I'm channelling Caesar here. And not Julius Caesar. I'm channelling Edward Sallow. But… What else can I do? I need these people to build a solution, and no one has what I need. I can't just bunker up.

    "Participation is mandatory. Rewards will be apportioned according to the degree of involvement each city has. Severe punishments will be meted out to any who try sitting a fight out, or not providing resources they have promised. I will notice."

    Because I'm becoming dominant. Giving full reign to my conquer-and-rule instincts. I'm not working off half of my nature any more. The New God insignias on the equipment of those directly sworn to me helps me buff them, but all here are connected to me sufficiently that I can feel it when they resist.

    I don't think they all know that yet.

    I wonder who will be the first example? I'm looking forward to it.

    "But now: old news. I was in space when this whole mess started. Why are the Sheeda city-states fighting each other?"

    No one speaks. I pick one at random and point.

    "You. Why are you fighting?"

    She looks very briefly around to see if anyone else wants to jump in. No one does.

    "There are many reasons. Fighting in the Queen's absence is unwise, for she is harsh in her vengeance upon the profligate and disobedient. But we had all heard your claims of her death and the Harrowing fleet's defeat. If there was no new food to come… The gift of survival would go to the strongest. But it was not until you revealed what lay beyond the clouds that the boldest cities were shocked into action. To think that the universe is so small."

    "It wasn't always like that. Once this war is over I will be finding out 'why' and either fixing it or evacuating you all via the Bleed to a new universe. Resisting this sort of fait accompli is fundamental to my nature." I look around. "Were they the reason for the rest of you?"

    Some nervous looking around, then a brave soul speaks up.

    "For my city it was… Defensive. We were struck at first, and needed to retaliate less we fall behind. We would… Prefer, a return to order."

    I nod. "Sensible. But as I see it, this mess will last until I'm in control of it."
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2020
  7. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Bull's
    Stop


    Shield-beetle on my left arm I leap from the latest generation rocket-beetle and dive towards our soon-to-be latest conquest.

    At this point, I should probably be able to say that I've lost count of how many Sheeda cities I've conquered. But I haven't. I know exactly how many. I can recall each with perfect clarity. Every fight. Every wall taken. Every keep fallen. Every skirmish. Every battle. And every one has made me feel more complete. I've.. never wanted to give full rein to this part of my character back in the past, but here? Every Sheeda I kill brings me closer to my objective. Every nation I overrun. Every oath of submission I gain-.
    Indefatigable!
    The lightning towers shielding the city against fly fliers give vent to their electrical charges, brilliant white flashing across the sky as the rocket beetle mark 2 begins its uncontrolled descent into the city suburbs. But my escort are Highborn, their armour warded against attack by their magic and by the strength of my soul. And I've been getting stronger.
    Unstoppable!
    No one reports injuries as we pass through their effective range, and… Ah! They're using acid golems to counter our attack! Figures shaped like a poorly-coordinated child's first effort to sculpt a person in clay, vacant eyes glowing faintly with the magic their controllers are using to direct them and the green gel making up their bodies bubbling and churning as they prepare to assail us.
    Incomparable!
    No actual Huntsman, but those are ridiculously energy-intensive and even my growing alliance can't really spare it. The biliferous creatures are moving to defend their inner keep's walls because their masters have heard from those who fled before my advance how I usually deploy my forces. Decapitate the leader of the defence or capture their production facilities and the battle is over. They can't let that happen.
    In Your Face!
    My Highborn activate their wing bugs, living hang gliders clamped to their armour and turning their downward movement into lateral movement almost immediately. They rocket away from the keep towards the spinward walls, ready to seize the defences for my army. I on the other hand keep falling, tossing my shield beetle away and hitting the upper level of the keep-
    Onslaught!
    -and smashing right through the coral that makes up the roof and sending grey fragments exploding outwards in all directions! The second surface my feet hit fails as well, though this time the collapse is much less explosive.
    Heeeeeeere's Conquest!
    Dust rains down on me, and a chunk of coral finishes cracking off and falls to the ground just behind me.

    I give myself an eight. Maybe an eight point five.

    Their controllers will send the acid golems down after me once they've overcome their surprise. I need to get going. Daiklave in hand I charge further into the structure the feeling on the edge of my soul allowing me to feel it as my soldiers engage the enemy.

    I hear the hiss behind me as the first of the acid golems splashes down and begins eating through the broken coral as it tries to reassemble itself into a shape that will allow it to follow me. The drawback of psychometric control: the controller can only direct it when it and they are roughly the same shape. But when they are they can fight with surprising agility and speed and, frankly, I'd rather not.

    A wrath spider scurries around the corner on the ceiling, a shot of venom squirted at me a second before it leaps at my face. The venom I sidestep, blade raised to bisect it as I turn to avoid both halves of its body as they fly past me. Wrath spiders have become a pretty common form of first responder because they're awkward to fight and biomass-cheap. What they're not good at is stopping rampaging New Gods.

    Another spider on the wall to the left, three more on the ground. I jump, slashing left as I do so. My daiklave slices through the spider and the wall its standing on while the spiders beneath me miss their shots, too slow to traverse to keep up with me. Large doorway coming up, and the two Highborn on guard duty are releasing their defensive spells. Ghostly strands anchored in the strength of this edifice grasp at my armour, trying to bind my body and tear apart my soul.
    Tear Through Their Lines!
    I'm slowed slightly, and then I'm upon them, daiklave slicing through the space the Highborn on the right was occupying before she forward-flipped out of the way. I use my left gauntlet to parry the flat of her spear, sending the point scratching across the floor as she completes her dive and forward-rolls into a defensive crouch. Turning to keep her in sight I spot the acid golem coming up behind us, parrying a sword thrust from her partner and head butting the owner in the helmet as I do so. Small stagger, both our swords out of position as the spear-wielder darts left and stabs at me, hoping to use my larger size against me.
    KNEEL
    I catch the shaft in my left hand just below the head and pull, the Highborn shaking slightly as her anti-disarming wards cook off and she has a split-second to choose between losing her weapon and being pulled into grappling range of someone monstrously stronger than her. She chooses to let go, and I twist my wrist and narrowly fail to impale the sword fighter as he hurriedly shuffles back.
    KNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEL!
    I shift my grip, letting the spear slide through my hand and gripping the shaft near to the butt while lunging forward to slash with my daiklave. He blocks with his shield, my swing being slowed as the ridiculously oversized sword overpowered its defensive spells. He sidesteps and cuts at my extended forearm only to be smacked across the cuirass by his partner's spear.

    And then cut from shoulder to sternum by a heavy downward swing from my daiklave. He staggers back… Into the first acid golem, his flesh steaming away inside his armour as the acid gets to work. I swing my new spear back to ward off its former owner, then thrust my daiklave's tip into the golem's forehead.
    You Are Dismissed
    Its eyes flicker as its controller's binding is disrupted, then I jump and trigger my aero-discs as it collapses in a wave of acid slime. Sword-fighter has dropped his weapon and collapsed on the floor, his wounds and exposed flesh smoking from the acid. A downward stab trepans his skull and then I swing back towards the surviving Highborn.

    "Kneel."

    Her hands are in a guard position and her left holds a long knife shimmering with runes. Some of her armour flickers, but between my goggles and the fact that I own most of this planet Highborn invisibility doesn't really work on me. She lunges, and I drop her spear to half-hand my daiklave and smash the broad side into her knife hand. She keeps the knife but her hand twitches, clearly injured.

    "Kneel."

    I swing the blade back, striking her in the chest and slamming her back into the doors, then charging forward, stabbing my daiklave into the ground and grabbing her head in both hands.

    "Kneel." Accept Your Defeat

    The wards on her armour burn out, then she drops from my hands and falls into a kneeling position. I glance back at the corridor and see two more acid golems stumbling after me.

    "Pick up your spear and follow."

    I grab my daiklave out of the floor and savagely kick the doors in. They explode across the room and-.

    Arrows pincushion my cuirass, biting into my armour! No penetrations, but that's more power than I'm comfortable being hit with. I charge-.

    "Artemis?"

    The figure with the bow straightens slightly, not completely relaxing their hold on their bowstring. It took me a moment; the bow is familiar but the arrows and armour are different and her hair is white, but…

    "Wait… Gray… Ven?"

    I lower my sword. She lowers her bow.

    "Hi."

    "I… Thought you were-. Wait, it's you?"

    "Ah…"

    "The guy whose been rampaging around and conquering every-."

    I take a few steps closer, shrugging as I do so.

    "Well… Yeah, that's what I do." Hang on. "Are you the one who's been organising the resistance against my campaign? I thought they'd been more unified lately."

    She walks slowly towards me, bow hanging from one hand as she pulls off her Sheeda-issue facemask. Aside from the hair she looks the same.

    "I thought you died."

    "No. Landed on the wrong side of the planet and had to fight my way back. Thought I'd end the war by force on my way."

    "So… We can just tell them to stop?"

    "Yes. Prob.. ably. Assuming your side are sufficiently unified." Um. "How have you-?"

    She jumps up, hands bracing on my shoulders, and kisses me.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2020
  8. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Bull
    Stands


    "Like the hair."

    Artemis rolls her eyes at me as we walk down a corridor in Caergwaed. Finally, things are settling down. Finally, we can return to the task at hand. I miss the fight already.

    "It was an accident."

    "I didn't even know New Gods could bleach their hair."

    "I've been bleaching it since forever. But you must have known that. Why did you think my hair stayed blonde after you 'awoke' me?"

    "I thought that your divine nature might have included being blonde." I shrug. "The phenomena isn't well studied in humans."

    "No, still dyeing it. Which I couldn't do here, because Sheeda don't have hair. One of my-" She glances backwards at our escort. "-attendants looked at my two-tone hair and asked if there was a problem. Only they didn't know what bleaching agents humans use and gave me something that turned it white instead."

    "Is it permanent?"

    "Ask me in another two hundred years."

    I nod. "Will do."

    We emerge onto a balcony which grants a good view across the city, if mist-shrouded military base is your idea of a good view like it is mine.

    "Nice place you got here."

    Artemis steps forward, indicating a complex over to our right with her right hand.

    "That stuff's new. We had to fortify our long-range communications, and since even when it got really bad no one wanted to risk destroying Caergwaed's vats this was the best place to put it."

    I nod. Local experts are copying the really quite clever system to the cities on my side of our renewed alliance as we speak, and inscribing New God designs on them for superior effectiveness.

    "So what happened?"

    "After you left, two of the 'observers' turned out to be assassins. After they got killed we found out that a bunch of other cities were attacking the cities who sent representatives to the launch." She turns around to face me, leaning back on the railing. "Caeryg died right away-" Unfortunate. "-and so I had to try and get everyone to work together."

    "Looks like you did a pretty good job. Yours was the second largest alliance on the planet."

    The only other one worth talking about. Once the unaligned cities found out that our war had suddenly stopped they began making representations. More to Artemis' side than mine, but since what's mine is hers I'm not going to complain.

    "This…" She shakes her head. "Isn't my thing. It's like herding cats! I spent like ninety percent of my time just trying to get them to even talk to each other!"

    "I just killed anyone who disobeyed me. Saved a lot of time…"

    "I wanna say that's bad… But I know how many people died every time one of the Highborn on my side decided to act up."

    "That's politics at the national level. People die whatever you do. I like the way I do things but I can't tell you I'm objectively right. Your way might have been better."

    "Or it might not have worked."

    I nod. "And you won't ever know for sure because you can't do both." I smile. "And this is the difference between Earth, and Apokolips and New Genesis. You encouraged cooperation and I compelled obedience, and rather than fight to the death we're talking about it like rational people and combining our power bases to do something more important."

    "Did you kill a lot of people?"

    "The total Sheeda population is far less than the population of Earth in our era. Do you mean as a proportion, or in absolute numbers?"

    "I-." She gives a tired snort. "I suppose it doesn't matter." She shrugs. "So what's next?"

    "Bleed torsion generator."

    That gets her attention.

    "You know how to make it work?"

    "Think so." I huff, shaking my head. "I've had to have Mother Box working on war-related things, but between what she already knows and what she learned in space, it should be possible. And…" How to approach this? "When did the picture cut off?"

    "A little bit after you started your tour of the Source Wall. The universe is really small now, huh?"

    "That's my conclusion, though I don't plan on touching it to check."

    "Yeah."

    "I… Saw something, when I was coming back. An etheric tide flowing from the Earth to the sun. I'm not sure.. exactly what was happening, but once things are stable here I want to go up again and get a closer look at the sun."

    She nods. "That's the only other place to look."

    "Technically, we could look underground." She smiles faintly. "And I know that we knew that the sun is continuing to.. feed, but it became noticeably more intense when the fighting started. And when I began to despair, it was able to drain me."

    She shrugs. "I don't think the Sheeda are going to start another war."

    "No, but once the generators are up and running, I think it might be worth putting resources into light entertainment."

    She nods. "To keep people happy, and make it harder for the sun to feed on them."

    "Or just to add circuses to the bread. Anything new on your end?"

    She nods. "We found records of the tissue sample. The one-"

    "The one they got from the Justice Legion." / "-they picked up from whoever it was-. Yeah."

    "And… Were you able to learn anything about it?"

    "I.. got the local Vat Masters to look at it, but the record's really old and… Weird. The Vat Lord said that he thought the problem was their ancestors making a copy of a copy of a copy without really understanding what they were looking at."

    I nod. "To be expected, really. Unless they find the original I doubt it will help. But… I am pleased that you kept looking."

    She nods with a smile, stepping away from the railing.

    "We should go talk to the Highborn. Let them know what we want them doing now that the war's over."

    I nod. "Maybe I could bring more people up with me next time. See if going above the mists affects Sheeda differently."

    "That-."

    "My lady? My lord?"

    A Highborn I don't recognise walks around Artemis's attendants and hesitantly halts before us. Since this is Artemis's city I wait for her to reply.

    "What is it, Edwyn?"

    "You asked about a particular tissue sample collected by our ancestors?"

    "What about it?"

    "With the help of Lord Grayven's arcanists, we… We believe that we may have found it."

    She frowns. "A better record?"

    "No. The original sample. It has… It appears to have somehow survived. We.. initially misidentified it, but… With a more thorough review-."

    "Take us to it right now."
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2020
  9. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Where We
    Stand


    The Vat Lord of Caergwaed puts a block of chitin into a reader device and then places his hands on the work station, sigils lighting up as he uses magic to read the contents.

    "It's in the block?"

    The Vat Lord nods at Artemis's inquiry.

    "It's a standard sample container. It's designed to exclude external contaminants, but given the age of the sample it should have long since spoiled. But in fact…"

    An illusion image appears… That's not human DNA. I… Don't even think that's DNA. I'm… Passingly familiar with genetic encoding which uses other chemicals, but nothing like to the level I'd need to be for what I'm seeing to actually make sense to me.

    "As you can see, this sample is undamaged. Pure. Even after all this time."

    Artemis looks at it, then looks at me. I shrug, and she peers at the image instead.

    "Do you know what sort of… Thing this molecule would create?"

    "No. I could begin work on a specialist vat to grow it, if that is your wish."

    "This… Thing killed the most powerful superheroes in the galaxy when the galaxy was full-sized. Let's not create another one."

    I take a closer look, but…

    Ping.

    Really?

    "Vat Lord, my Mother Box recognises parts of this."

    "Well, yes, my lord. These segments here and here-" Several parts are illuminated. "-exist in every creature on Earth. In myself, other Highborn, Lowborn, our beasts, even the material of the ground. All of us."

    The work station glows and a series of example cell structures appear, each showing the segments in their own structures in the cell. Other parts of the cell vary greatly; this is a cross section of Sheeda-life.

    "Our every cell contains structures specifically designed to grow and maintain it. This discovery implies that either this… Creature is a more developed form of Sheeda, or that we were created as derivatives of it."

    Artemis regards him levelly. "Meaning?"

    "It's not my personal specialty, but there are wards which can be created from the blood of one's foe which will function perfectly against the donor's spells. It is known amongst Vat Masters that creatures without this component will fail to develop correctly, but the component itself is generally regarded as being purely inert. And… Biologically, it is. But perhaps there is some magic unknown to us where having this… Shields us."

    I nod. "Like the visovoric effect which drains everything which is unprotected."

    "Perhaps. Certainly, I cannot think of anything else that could explain this state of affairs."

    "Design a small creature without it. I will shield it with my New God abilities so that we can study the precise effect."

    "Very well, that is simple to achieve."

    Artemis points at the illusion. "Could those work in a human body?"

    "Yes, certainly. Though not without… Problems. You have met our recycling units?"

    The zombie children. But if they are as… Human as they can be… "And if you wanted to create…" Artemis and I share a glance. "Something… Intelligent, as similar to a human as possible, that could contain that genetic sample and still be alive?"

    "I have never seen unaltered human flesh. The Harvest Dreadnaughts convert it into a more useable format before returning to the Land of Summer's End."

    Artemis slightly raises her right hand. "Grayven, do I have human DNA?"

    "Sort of. If you're planning on offering it for analysis it probably wouldn't work. Don’t worry, you can still get pregnant and donate blood without it killing anyone." Huh. "Uh. Actually, don't donate blood."

    "What?"

    "It won't hurt anyone, but it might give them temporary New God powers or something, and that would be confusing. But, yeah, we can't provide material for human comparative testing."

    She nods, then frowns. "'We'?"

    "My mother's from Earth. We don't know where, or what her name was, but this is her planet of origin. Did you think I didn't have any human biological traits?"

    "Oh. Yeah, okay. Vat Lord, is this material in the mists as well?"

    "Most certainly. Microbes in the water droplets contain the exact same segments."

    "So-."

    "My lady, you are not Sheeda. I am not… Sure you understand what a significant finding this is?"

    I raise my eyebrows.

    "I'm not sure you do, either. I'll wager you a pint of my blood that Sheeda were created by the final generation of humans specifically to be able to survive the draining effect of the Vampire Sun."

    He shakes his head. "I will not take that bet. It sounds all too likely."

    "That doesn't… Bother you?"

    "Not really. I think everyone who would have been bothered by it either left with the Queen or died in the war. For myself… I have reached the pinnacle of my career, and I have nothing to look forward to but a gradual reduction in my capacity to create novel forms of life. But if you are successful… I will be unbound, free to create as I will. Purely from a self-interested point of view, the choice is an easy one."

    Hm…

    "When we're finished here, I may have a role for you. I know some people involved in the 'novel life form' business." I shake my head. "Can you use this sample to create a better ward?"

    "Certainly. I would first have to find a way to reproduce a pure sample. And then there would be… Limitations. The creature sustaining it would effectively only exist to sustain the sample, though that would be quite sufficient for sorcerous purposes. For a sojourn to the Vampire Sun… Additional design work would be needed. A great deal of design work."

    I nod. "You have the resources of the Sheeda civilisation." I smile at Artemis. "Chances that the thing that killed the Justice Legion is having a kip in the sun because the only thing left that it can feed on is warded against it?"

    "Would the ward work if it just flew here?" Artemis makes eye contact with both of us. "I mean, it's a sun. If the tissue was blocking its draining spell, why wouldn't it just come here in person?"

    The Vat Lord gestures to the room. "For much the same reason that we Harrow the past. There is nothing here. If the Vampire Sun can sustain itself upon us, then it will do so for as long as it can. It has no alternative."

    "So that's not the sun-sun?"

    I shrug. "Could be. Might not be. Might be… I mean, it was originally humanoid. It might have flown into the sun for fuel, and be draining Earth as a bonus. Either way, we need a creature that can survive the sun and this thing's draining. And an organic bleed torsion generator. Probably easiest if I have my people work on the generator while yours work on the rest."

    Artemis nods. "I agree. With the Vat Lord having oversight of everything?"

    I nod. "He's the best on the planet. Meanwhile… You and I have about a thousand and one meetings to sit in on."

    Artemis nods, and we both step away as the Vat Lord deactivates the station and peers longingly at the sample container.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2020
  10. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Where We
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    If I close my eyes and listen, I can hear it.

    Not the generators themselves. Those are near-silent, and even with my ability to feel exotic effects I only really notice them when they're close by. Not the greater illumination. Even those poor unfortunates with electrosensitivity wouldn't feel anything from the super-efficiently shielded living lights parasitising on the city's blood network. Not the giant aerial box jellyfish who lift the mists up from ground level so that the lines of sight are a little more sensible, nor the growing planetary nervous system we're building to improve data transmission.

    No. What I hear is civilisation. Growing civilisation. Strong civilisation. Growing, vibrant, peaceful civilisation. One that doesn't need my constant input to remain so. In a universe burned down to nothing, Artemis and I have surpassed Red Son Superman.

    And so my unrest grows as progress slows.

    And from the way Artemis is looking at me, she knows where my thoughts are heading.

    "We can go whenever you want."

    I nod slowly. "What can I say? I'm a completionist."

    With improved lines of sight, our ability to travel via rainbow bridge has expanded hugely. And with clear vision granted by the eyes of new generations space-dwelling Sheeda creatures, getting into space is easy.

    If only there were somewhere to go. If only it was this simple back in the past.

    But she's right and she knows it and she's already heading for the balcony and notching an arrow. It could be because our souls are responding to one another, but equally we've been together for a… Long time in the ongoing 'now' of Sheeda civilisation. A burst of rainbow light, then she stows her bow and… Offers me her right hand with a mock-condescending smirk.

    I roll my eyes, and take it.

    Even reducing military expenditure to next to nothing, we don't have anything like enough biological material to support a space elevator. We could just about make one by devoting almost all Sheeda biomass into it -including the humanoid Sheeda population- but that would rather defeat the object.

    It would also weaken me, and since I'm the point man in this exercise that rather takes precedence.

    I take Artemis's proffered hand and we walk across the rainbow bridge into the sky, emerging in the space-based vat station which has been creating our solar probes and has nearly completed our sun diver. Vat Masters and functionaries turn and bow in our direction, and we give them a polite nod of dismissal to return them to their duties.

    "I guess…"

    I raise my eyebrows. "What?"

    "We're nearly done, aren't we?"

    "It was just a matter of time once the war finished."

    She tilts her head back slightly, staring at nothing.

    "Gotham Academy."

    "I can lend you the g-gnomes if you need to swot up on things."

    "No… It's not that. I'm not.. sure… How to go back to it." She shakes her head and then looks up to me, shrugging. "School. And.. not-."

    I smile, nodding. "Not being queen."

    "It's not that being queen's been.. super-great, but I've kinda gotten used to it."

    "You don't have to go back. Depending on what sort of time machine we end up using, you might be able to commute. Or-."

    "You told your followers you wouldn't stay."

    "Sure, but you didn't tell yours that. You could oversee the change from autocracy to oligarchy, and become a mere constitutional monarch."

    She looks away again.

    "I used to really look forward to it. I wanted to get the mission over with, and see Mom and… Tao, again. And it's not like I don't want to… I'm just… Not who I was when I left."

    "That's growing up for you. Some change is inevitable. And this probably isn't the most extreme thing that could happen to you, given our careers." Hm. "Speaking of careers -and certainly not speaking of the fact that you mentioned your mother and boyfriend and not your sister- can I-?"

    "I hadn't seen Jade since she started working for you. And I saw her, like, twice? Since she left home." Something occurs to her. "Did you tell her about your new girlfriend yet?"

    "No. I don't really think she's a pony person."

    "Actually, Dad did take us riding a couple of times."

    "In Gotham? Were you riding sewer crocodiles?"

    "No, the mutant sewer guppies ate all of those." She takes a deep breath. "But that all depends on what sort of time machine we get a hold of."

    "True." I look around at the staff. "Vat Lord, are we in position to launch solar probes?"

    The woman stops pointedly ignoring our conversation and approaches, giving us a deferential nod as she does so.

    "We can, now that you are here. My lord, you will need to reinforce the protective spells. My lady, if you assist us with the launch we will have the results far more swiftly."

    Artemis nods. "Show us where we need to be."

    The Vat Lord turns aside and beckons. Two Vat Masters approach, one bowing to me and the other to Artemis. I follow my guide over to a fairly standard looking Sheeda organic console with New God additions. Some parts of this station were salvaged from the Sheeda's last group of New God visitors, the ones who gave them the Castle Revolving in the first place. As a result it's far easier for both Artemis and I to connect to it than Sheeda organisms with ersatz rune work.

    "Here, Lord."

    The Vat Master steps aside and I feel all of the ways this device is a part of the civilisation Artemis and I have built. All of the people who have worked on this, and prepared the raw materials and who harvest the food that sustains them.

    I lay my hands on the console as I extend my purpose through the mechanism.

    "All ready here. What's the spread on what we're going to find?"

    "I'm afraid that 'malevolent super powered human' is far in the lead, lord."

    "You think that the progenitor of the Sheeda was human?"

    "Super powers sometimes manifest with physiological oddities, lord. And humans have shown a tendency to develop unusual abilities of tremendous power."

    "No super Sheeda?"

    "None save those which were deliberately designed, lord."

    "Anyone betting that it's me?"

    "There…" She looks away. "May be some, lord."

    "A Sheeda using a time loop?"

    "I believe that the former king Melmoth's name was mentioned in that capacity. Of course, this is all purely speculative. It is more likely to be something none of us have considered."
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2020 at 12:02 PM
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  11. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Where You
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    By New God standards, it's not much. A simple spear. But shot from a New God bow by an archery-focused New God it has a little more kick to it. Artemis looses in the direction of the sun, her aim guided by the probe array.

    And then we wait.

    I kicked myself after I spotted it, but given everything else that's been going on, noticing the fact that despite its level of illumination the sun was far smaller than it should be wasn't all that far up my list of weird things. The Earth is habitable despite that due to being a great deal closer. What happened to the extra mass? No idea.

    Artemis nods. "I hit it, but-."

    A translucent figure appears just in front of us. Pale red skin, short black hair with a noticeably receding hairline, skin tight black body stocking with a black cape and a collar which must obscure his vision if he turns his head left or right. Red boots which extend to the tops of his calves, red gloves which extend to near his elbows, a white belt and a white starburst on his chest which reminds me of the logo of the Japanese version of Dr. Light. His ears are slightly pointed and his eyes.. glow the colour of the sun which serves as his backdrop.

    He looks… Tired. His eyes aren't fully open and he doesn't appear to be focusing well. His clothing isn't as tight as I thought at first glance; it's flopping in places, as if it stretched in the wash. Either that or the wearer shrunk. Though it's possible that the spear sticking out of his chest has something to do with that.

    I have no idea who he is.

    "Hello there."

    The figure… Blinks, looks in my direction and then closes its eyes for several seconds.

    "You look rough."

    "How I look-" He opens his eyes and the glow is a little brighter. "-is but a tiny fraction of how I feel."

    "Good show. That's what you get for killing the universe."

    "True as that may be, I'm still more than strong enough to add another godling to my tally." He raise his right hand to the spear impaling him and.. it vaporises, the material simply vanishing. "Do you have something you wish to say, or are you simply offering yourself to me?"

    "Before I do that, I'd like to know what happened. We've had to piece things together from very little, and I'm sure that we've missed some things. And I doubt that you've been overwhelmed with conversational partners recently."

    "True again. And yet I find that I do not care for it. In short: I won. But I misjudged the nature of the game. I absorbed all of the energy in the universe and it was glorious. Briefly. All too briefly."

    "Because once all of the energy is gone, what do you eat next?"

    "Yes. Originally, I ate slowly enough that it wasn't a problem, feeding on the fear and pain of worlds before throwing them into their sun. But when I came to this region, the United Planets fought… Better than anyone I'd fought before. They did… Something to me which exacerbated my hunger. Whereas before I ate to please myself, now I was constantly ravenous. I was forced to drain more and more systems to sustain myself, long after everyone had stopped resisting. I was reduced to draining power from the spatial dimensions themselves!"

    "And it amounted to nothing. As the universe shrunk and shrunk around me, I was forced to hide in the last remaining system. The only place I couldn't drain directly because my powers have been deluded into treating it as part of my body."

    "Okay, but why couldn't you just smash it to pieces manually?"

    "What makes you think I couldn't?" He manages a small smile. "The material is useless to me, but the emotions they radiate give me some relief. Those I can feed upon."

    "Did any of them contact you?"

    "Melmoth did, him and Aurakles. When I told him the story, he seemed quite taken with my lifestyle. I believe that I inspired him. He offered me a tithe of pain and suffering in exchange for a trivial amount of help in overcoming the New Gods and guaranteeing that I would maintain this sun. I assume that you do not intend to continue that deal."

    "Couldn't if I wanted to. The time machine left this era and ended up being destroyed in our relative past. Unless an earlier version of it jumps forward, you're out of luck."

    "Unfortunate. Still, I imagine that the Sheeda will feel at least a little despair if I kill you."

    I nod. "Probably. For a while. But that's all temporary, isn't it? A microcosm of your foolish overindulgence in the rest of the universe. Once you've eaten all they can provide, what do you do next?"

    ...

    He watches me for a moment.

    "Do you have a better idea?"

    "Of course I do. Otherwise I'd have tried to kill you with the opening bombardment. Though it does rely on you being rationally self-interested and not just a total maniac. I've been disappointed before on that score."

    "Tell me."

    I carefully draw the Sword of the Fallen from its scabbard.

    "This blade was created to kill things that can't die. It does this by nullifying their exotic energies and causing them to reincarnate as mortals. If you allowed me to use it on you, you would survive and be freed of the need to feed on the huge amounts of energy you do now. Though you would obviously be weaker, you could then seek ways to re-empower yourself that didn't come with the same drawback."

    "And what would stop you killing me once I gave up my power?"

    "We need you to repair the universe. I assume that you know what you did to shrink it?"

    "Yes. But there isn't enough power to undo something on that scale."

    "On the contrary: there is a way to get more power from the Bleed. But there isn't enough material to build enough generators to satiate the being who ate the universe."

    "So you expect me to let you stab me."

    "Or you could go and join the titans on the Source Wall. They can't be destroyed. If eternity staring into space is what you actually want, that option has been available to you since you got here. Or you could keep going as you are, and eventually the Sheeda will die, and then you will too. So my question is:-"

    I smile and fan out my right hand.

    "-how rational are you?"

    "Killing you sounds more appealing."

    "Lots of people say that. And I'd make a fight of it, but against a being who killed the universe I think I'd probably lose. But… Then what?" I shrug. "Killing me might give you a short term boost, but it doesn't fix the core problem. You're still stuck here, in a dead universe."

    "There are other universes."

    "Sure, but you're not stuck here because you can get to one. You're stuck here because you can't. And I can't build a portal because I can't adjust what I know about portals to the altered physical laws your actions have produced. And frankly, I'm not eager to unleash you onto anyone else."

    "And what will you do if I choose the status quo?"

    "Try to work out how to kill you. Kill you or die trying. And in either case, you don't get what you want. Would you like some time to think about it? We've got a clock based on beetles."
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2020 at 6:31 AM
  12. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Where They
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    The Ender of Days reappears on the platform where I'm waiting.

    "I've thought about it."

    I raise my eyebrows as-.

    "Sorry, none of the files I read had your name."

    "You didn't tell me yours, either."

    I didn't, did I?

    "I apologise. My name is Grayven. I'm from Apokolips, but you probably already know that."

    "No. All Source-bound creatures taste too similar to me for the difference to be worth mentioning. Apokolips was memorable, but it's inhabitants? Hardly."

    "Lots of tasty misery? Father considered himself something of an expert."

    "He was a virtuoso in a single note. I've played entire orchestras. He defined himself by the lives of others while I define myself."

    "And what name do you define yourself as?"

    "I have been called many things. 'Starbreaker' was the name the Justice Legion used for me. It serves as well as any other."

    "Alright, Starbreaker. Got to say, you're sounding more and more like a high-end New God. Godly powers, a God Name-."

    "I am not so pathetic."

    "You never met my grandfather. There was always a wide range of power levels amongst my kind. You're not that out there."

    His lip curls.

    "I didn't come here to be insulted."

    "Alright, alright. So what's your answer?"

    "My answer is 'no'." He smiles faintly. "I can still live a very long time. You seem like the cautious type. I think you will try everything you can to survive without risking yourself. And I think that you're a good deal more imaginative than the near-human refuse that litters the Earth today. I think there's a good chance that you'll be able to work something out before I'm dangerously weakened-."

    He frowns.

    "Where's your knife?"

    "By now?" I raise my eyebrows. "About six inches into your primary body's right ear."

    I step up to him and grab him around the head! He counters by extending claws and stabbing at my forearms. He's strong enough to go through my armour but between my resilience and the regeneration he can't do enough damage to break my hold.

    "You really shouldn't have told me that your powers don't work on things with your genetic template."

    I hook my fingers together and squeeze.

    "Though if it's any consolation at all-"

    Ruby beams blast from his eyes, biting into the flesh of my forehead as I duck my head slightly but swiftly cutting out as I move my thumbs to crush his -argh!- eyes. I feel the flesh being stripped from my thumbs and the disconcerting feeling of my own bones falling off, but the beams cut out and his head… IsCompressing

    "-you achieved far more than any other New God."

    His head-. Doesn't exactly burst so much as come apart, his body decaying into grey vapour a moment later.

    I step back from the platform where I'd been waiting for his response… No real pain from my thumbs, and though the stumps are a little disconcerting I can already see them starting to regrow. No need for mana infusions when I'm in full conquering and ruling mode, I take it. No, irrelevant. I turn away and walk back into the station proper.

    "Anything from Artemis?"

    A shimmer of rainbow light, and the woman herself strides back into the command centre, along with her retinue.

    I grin. "Dead?"

    "He kinda turned to dust. Yours?"

    "Dusted." I smile. "When did you get this sneaky?"

    "Ah, some time between Dad dropping me in a forest at night next to a pack of wolves with a rucksack full of bacon, and working as a superhero in Gotham."

    "Right, but I thought you were learning Tao's abilities."

    "Tao's… Kinda the God of Warrior Heroes who Happen to use Bows. I'm more like the God of Bow-Ninjas."

    "Great, so-" Outside of the station, the sun goes out. "-now there's literally nothing in the universe that can stop us."

    "Unless he kills himself as a mortal."

    "Yeah, someone who was prepared to endure torture through starvation for this long isn't going to kill himself just to spit in our eyes. Mother Box?"

    "Ping!"

    "Glad to hear it. Glad to hear it."

    "Ah…" The Vat Lord hesitantly approaches. "My lady? My lord? The sun is… Gone."

    "To be expected, really. That wasn't the sun; that was a synthetic sun generated by Starbreaker using his stored power. But without him around draining everything, we can build artificial gravity generators strong enough to stop the Earth crashing into the Source Wall. With a little longer we can build an energy to matter converter and use that to build a proper sun. And once the spine riders have finished with Starbreaker's mortal form we can get busy expanding the universe and rebuild the star system."

    Artemis looks mildly concerned. "And… How long do we have until the planet crashes?"

    "Well, the Earth was barely moving, and while the universe is small compared to its old size it's not small in absolute terms. We should have plenty of… Time…"

    "What?"

    For the first time in a while I take my rings out of their pouch in my armour. No glow, but… That's probably just as well. If Starbreaker had released all of his stored energy in one go there probably wouldn't be much left.

    "If we can find a way to give my rings even the smallest spark of charge, I can bring my personal lanterns out of subspace. At that point things become simplified to the point of absurdity. Do you know any Sheeda who specialise in emotional magic?"

    "Yeah, I've got… One city where they do that. They're kinda weird, though."

    "Sounds like just the ticket. The time machine thing is still at the speculative stage, but-."

    One of the Sheeda manning the consoles jerks in surprise.

    "My lord and lady… A Harvest Dreadnought has returned from the past, directly over the old capital!"

    I frown.

    That… Can't be right. Sivana… Checked. The Dreadnoughts don't have their own time drives.

    Artemis walks over to the console as its operator calls up an illusory image of the Dreadnought.

    "Just one?"

    "Yes, my lady. And no sign of the Castle Revolving."

    "Does the Dreadnought have any kind of identification? Do you know which one it is?"

    "Not… From the last Harrowing fleet. I don't… Know."

    Artemis looks at the image for a few moments, then turns to face me.

    "We need to get down there."

    I nod. "Indeed we do."
     
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  13. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Where They
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    "Ah!"

    A grinning, human-looking figure on one of the lower gantries grins broadly as Artemis and I approach, carried through the air on our aero-discs. We're a little way away from Caereglwys, the city that used to be the Sheeda capital before the war… Well, the place sent the largest proportion of its populations with the Harrowing fleet and then its rulers tried to lord it over the other cities…

    It didn't go well.

    "Hello! You must be the caretaker-management!"

    He… Does actually look familiar-. Ah! Yes.

    "And you must be ex-king Melmoth. I hear that you're immortal."

    "Indeed I am. And I hear that you disposed of that blight in the middle of our sun."

    Artemis's eyes narrow slightly. "And exactly how did you hear about that?"

    "I didn’t rule this world for centuries by being second with the news. I had beacons set in place to transmit that information to me whenever I was whenever it happened. You're…" He looks at me with condescending curiosity. "Grayven, aren't you?"

    "Guilty as charged."

    "And… A female archer with the powers of a goddess..?" He raises his eyebrows. "Artemis?"

    Artemis looks away. "I need a new name."

    "If it's any consolation, Donna's isn't much better." I look back up at Melmoth. "Look… What do you want? We've just gotten this place working properly. We were just about to grab Starbreaker and put him to work rebuilding the universe."

    "Do you like this era so much that you no longer wish to leave it?"

    Artemis and I glance at each other. I incline my head slightly, prompting her to field the question.

    "No, we want to leave."

    "Then I have just the thing. A small quantity of the liquid which the Castle Revolving uses to travel through time. And unlike my ex-wife, I actually understand how to use it. Would you like to return to your own era? A little before? A little later? The very instant you left? I-."

    "Sorry." I raise my right hand. "Sorry to interrupt. What year is it?"

    "I have no idea. And given that we don’t have a sun, and that the Earth never exactly 'orbited' the Vampire Sun, I don't see the relevance."

    Artemis throws her hands up. "Oh, come on! How can you be a time traveller if you don't know what the time is!"

    "By aligning my chronal sensors to known temporal events. I don't need a calendar to follow a beacon. Though if it's troubling you this much, we're approximately one billion years from the Last Harrowing. Does knowing that make you happier?"

    "Actually-" Artemis nods. "-yeah. Yeah, it does."

    "Then I'm happy to be of service. But as I was saying, I can send you home. That's what you want, isn't it?"

    "Yeah." She nods again. "We do, and thanks for telling us there's a time machine on your ship. And I'm guessing you want us to hand over Earth-now to you?"

    "It would help. But in all honestly, both of you leaving would be quite adequate. I'm more than confident in my own ability to rise to the top of whatever civilisation you've built here."

    Hm. We have created a House of Lords analogue, but Artemis and I have a firm grasp on executive authority and we haven't… Put in place a system for Sheeda civilisation to govern itself fully after we leave. That was something we were planning on doing, obviously, but it wasn't urgent enough to prioritise just yet.

    Of course. He can't let us entrench a new planetary ruling elite. Taking over is easiest when there isn't anyone with a vested interest in keeping the job themselves. They served us and they can serve him. They might be mildly peeved not to get the power Artemis and I implied that they would, but they won't be losing out. Nothing would be taken away. The moment they get their new power, the moment one of them gets it and the system is there for others to peacefully receive it in turn… Suddenly, they aren't inclined to let anyone take it away from them permanently.

    Artemis nods. "And what happens if we say 'no'?"

    "Then… I… Simply take it from you. My Harvest Dreadnought has been extensively converted, and I picked up a few willing assistants before I returned to the present. Unlike the people who serve you, they're used to fighting in an environment where they're not having to carefully avoid being drained of all life. Their raw power is really rather impressive."

    I'm… Not sure whether that's an actual risk or not.

    "I know we haven't been focusing on our military force recently, but we did fight a world-spanning war not all that long ago. Not only do we still have all of the weapons and warcraft of that era, but we've got plenty of veterans who think well of us. And big as this ship is, I… Don't think you've got the resources to carry out a coup de force."

    "And I don't want to carry out a coup de force. I'm afraid.. that.. I don't understand your hesitation. You've achieved something wonderful here. You've freed Sheeda civilisation from the need to feed upon the past. You've given it a chance to build a new future, a chance that it didn't have before. A chance I've never had before. And I'm grateful; we're all grateful. And I'm offering you a chance to go home."

    "How exactly are we supposed to trust you not to just dump us back with the dinosaurs?"

    "Well, that wouldn't kill you, and would put you in the perfect position to disrupt our Harrowing of the sauriods. And since I don't remember you being there and since I don't want to risk erasing myself, I can't risk it. If you want to ask about another era, I can open a portal -briefly- and you can send through such probes or use such magics as will satisfy you as to its authenticity. Really…" He chuckles darkly. "It would be far more effort for me to produce a convincing fake than it would be to just send you away, when I know that doing so will result in your death… As.. evidenced by the fact that you're not here now. Some time in the next billion years the universe takes care of things for me, so whether it happens a mere million years one way or the other makes no difference to me at all."

    He tries an earnest smile, and even if he's genuine it comes off as completely dishonest.

    "I honestly just want you gone. Tell me what I can do to convince you, and I'll gladly do it."



    I think I've been here too long. I'm feeling… Possessive, in a way I wasn't when I let Myand'r continue ruling Tamaran. I didn't feel this way when Armstrong gave me orders. I didn't feel this way when Jon asked me to do things or when Batman used to… It could be the… Time that's passed, or the closeness of the Source Wall, or… Just how dominant I am here. Or how attached I've become. I could hand over to Artemis without a moment's hesitation, but… This man…

    Artemis comes to a conclusion while I'm still mulling it over.

    "What exactly do you want to do with the place?"

    "While I've been away I've discovered new techniques, which can sustain us without needing to raid the past!"

    "And those are..?"

    "Dreams. We can raid the dreams lingering from more prosperous times and manifest them into reality. With this universe so stripped down they'll be no interference as we bring entire worlds from the unreal to the real."

    He might be onto something. Deep Dreaming manipulation hasn't really been an Apokoliptian thing. Which is a little surprising, now that I think about it.

    "Entire peoples, entire civilisations, ours to hunt and despoil, then return to unreality so that we can do it all again tomorrow! I almost wish we'd never bothered raiding the past, but alas, I didn't know this was possible. Such a glorious pleasure it will be!"

    I sigh, and look at Artemis who is in turn looking at me expectantly.

    "Yeah. Okay."

    I raise my left hand, orange power ring shining brilliantly, and brand him.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020 at 6:53 PM
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  14. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    AND WE'RE FINALLY
    OUT OF HERE!


    The leaders of Melmoth's… 'Guests' watch as their ancestor and would-be overlord works the console that controls the temporal displacement system. It's only got enough… 'Time juice' for one journey, though we can keep the portal open for a few minutes to check things. Then… That's it. The Sheeda are stuck in the future and we're stuck coming after them the slow way.

    They're from some parallel not-quite Earth Melmoth was planning on using as a fallback position after Gloriana backstabbed him. They weren't keen, overthrew him when he was at his weakest, then followed through on their puritanical instincts and cast out anyone who didn't conform, thus creating a 'natural' following for him to lead into the promised land. He was originally going to take them to post-Harrowing Earth, but with the Harrowing falling at the first hurdle and Starbreaker suffering an existence-failure he changed his destination. They sided with him on the grounds that it was better than being burned to death and none of they seem all that bothered with me controlling him.

    A couple of the less-mutated ones look a little like Klarion, but I suppose that's a fairly generic look.

    I don't know if Melmoth was right about us being doomed. His systems don't record exactly when the fall of civilisation happens, and I haven't wanted to risk being marooned in the future by using the chronal viewer to check. I'm going to have to actually have one of my rare meetings with the Controllers to make sure that they're keeping an eye out for 'Starbreaker'. And… One of my rarer meetings with the Guardians.

    Melmoth jerks, and I apply a little more orange light to render him obedient. Puppetting someone like this isn't something I've found easy, but since I've sworn off assimilation I've been trying to use it to futz around with the target's desires. Make them pliable. I haven't quite… Got it, yet, but it's a work-in-progress.

    "It's… Ready… On… Your command…"

    I glance at Artemis. She takes a moment to confirm her desires on the subject, then nods to me. Back we go, then.

    "The command is given."

    Melmoth presses a button and green-glowing liquid burbles through the system. A moment later a portion of the Harvest Dreadnought's bridge disappears as the space within is subject to a temporal overlay. Artemis draws and looses a volley of eye-arrows, but it's a formality. The monitoring technicians confirm the target a few seconds later.

    It feels… So long. Not in a… I've been off work for a few weeks and it takes me a moment to remember the processes. Not, 'I've been on holiday for two months and school starts in September' long. I… Haven't forgotten as much as I expected to. Details… I'm going to need to relearn some of the paperwork requirements for my role in the Department of Metahuman Affairs and some names… I think they've slipped away. What I was doing in the days before the start of the Harrowing attempt. But my family? I remember them as clearly as when the attack started and I ordered them into the Challenger Mountain facility. With… I was with… What'shisname, the… Piper! The piper fellow! I don't know if that's something to do with how memories are encoded, something to do with being a New God… Something to do with the 'we stop ageing at thirty' thing.

    Or maybe the time I've been here is nothing like as long as I suspect that it is. Artemis is in much the same position; I get the impression that she'd be a lot less enthusiastic about returning if something wasn't happening which weighted her life prior to her arrival in the future differently to the life she's lived here. But then I was thirty while she was seventeen. Even if my theory's true, that's thirteen years of being moulded by the Land of Summer's End.

    The Lord President Anarawd steps forward to wish us a good journey. He was appointed by Artemis and I due to being on a relatively even moral keel and having the charisma to bring Sheeda civilisation with him in its new direction. Melmoth's novel methodology has thrown a few new wrinkles in that plan, but he appears to be coping so far. Which is good: he can be removed by the collective will of the Witam and will have to be careful to maintain their support.

    "Lady Artemis, Lord Grayven. I don't have time to fully describe your impact on our civilisation, but to be brief: we owe you everything we've become and everything we will build in the future. Thank you both."

    He bows, and the Sheeda all across the bridge mirror the action. Artemis looks around and then dips her eyes, looking away slightly and trying to avoid eye contact.

    I smile for the crowd.

    "Our pleasure." I raise my left hand and disintegrate Melmoth. "Just be on the watch for Starbreaker. Artemis?"

    "Oh, ah, yeah." She draws an arrow. "Anywhere in particular?"

    "The Hall of Justice?"

    She blinks. "In, ah… Washington?"

    "Unless they've moved it."

    "Rrrright." She draws and looses, a rainbow smear linking the future with the past. "Let's get out of here before the time juice runs out."

    I offer her my right hand with a faint smile, and she slings her bow and takes it.

    5th May
    09:12 GMT -5


    "This is a restricted-."

    The American army lieutenant whose men are pointing guns at us cuts himself off.

    "Agent Grayven? Ah, sir?"

    "Lieutenant. Status of the Sheeda?"

    "Ah-. The Castle ship got destroyed yesterday, and… Luthor's fleet got all but one of the harvest-ships." The soldiers mostly return to guard duty, with a few flashing curious glances at Artemis and me. I suppose that she's not all that well known-.

    Ugh. Just lost my connection to the Land of Summer's End. All that… Wonderful conquered territory.

    "We think they made it invisible, somehow. These-" He holds up his rifle a little and I see the underslung spell-breaker unit Clea is lending to the United States. That was a fun surprise for the Sheeda who assumed that their armour would adapt to attacks from regular soldiers. "-came in real handy, but HQ reckons that there are a whole bunch of the bastards still out there. You… want us to call in..?"

    Right, Artemis's radio got eaten by Starbreaker.

    "No, we're good. Shout if they notify you of active combat."

    He nods. "Sir."

    Sinestro… No. Ring, show me Venus. Was Sivana successful?

    Images of acid hurricanes and barren rock flicker through my mind.

    Not found.

    "Grayven to Jean. Send a team to secure Doctor Magnificus Sivana. He will be staying at Challenger Mountain for the foreseeable future."

    "Yes, Mister Grayven."

    "Please inform my children that I'm alive and well and that I'll be with them within the hour."

    "Of course."

    I fabricate a League personal computer for Artemis and pass it over to her. She looks at it blankly for a moment, then straps it to her left arm.

    "Ah…" A couple of miss-presses, then she finds the communication function. "Artemis to Justice League. I'm at the Hall of Justice. Grayven and I got off the Castle before Sivana destroyed it."

    "Are you hurt?"

    Who-? Batman. Bruce Wayne. I haven't… Forgotten who he is, but the slight distortion in his voice meant that it took me a moment to link it to him.

    "No, I'm… Fine." From her expression, Artemis is having a little-. Ah, she's remembered. "But-. Some things happened, and I… Unless you really need me I'd like some downtime."

    "I'll inform Aqualad. Debrief tomorrow."

    "Sure." She closes the channel and then turns to me. "Grayven, can you… Take me home? I… Can't remember how to get there."
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2020 at 8:34 AM
  15. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    5th May
    16:23 GMT -7


    I sit on the floor in the middle of the living…

    I sit on the floor in the middle of my living room, television on and showing the highlights of a meeting between the UN Security Council, the Justice League, and Lex Luthor and a few other EDF officers. My… Small people who live in my house. My children, are clustered around me, drawing reassurance from my presence as I… I try and get back into father-mode after so long in cruel tyrant mode.

    It's… Not as bad as when I got anti-lifed. So there's that.

    I note that in the establishing shots they show the Pax Lex guarding the sky over New York and EDF marines in light armour looking considerably more dangerous that the US army personnel standing guard outside. If the few shots that show his face in any detail are anything to go by I'd say that Lex looks pleased, and… As my God senses readjust to being back in this era I think I'm getting feedback from him.

    It's so weak.

    "Daddy?"

    The youngest -Sarah, her name's Sarah, don't forget it- hasn't really stopped looking at me since we all sat down. She keeps touching me, reassuring herself that I'm still here. I'm not entirely sure why. I… Don't remember her being this clingy.

    I smile down at her beneficently. "Yes, honeybun?"

    "Why were you gone so long?"

    "Didn't Jean explain who the Sheeda are?"

    Sarah nods, stroking my left side with her right hand and looking away.

    "Then you know what I was doing. I was fighting them. And now they're nearly beaten."

    She's not looking at me. That's… Bad..? With Sheeda that's a sign of deference, but with human… Humanish, children, I don't… Think it's a good sign.

    I reach around and pick her up, an action which causes her to jerk her head upwards in surprise as I deposit her in my lap and wrap my… Well, my hands around her.

    "What's the matter?"

    She has to tip her head all of the way back to look up at my face.

    "You feel different, Daddy. We can…" She looks around at her natural brothers and sisters for support, and they're all watching me too. "We can all feel it. Do you need the ponies?"

    "No, not -hah!- right now." I lean down, remember I'm too big for that, then lift her up so that I can kiss her forehead. "I was sent to the future, and I was there for a very long time until I could come back. I'm a little out of sorts, but I'll be fine in a little while."

    I stretch out my arms, and the rest of my brood squeeze in closer so that I can hug them all at once. Except Lynne, who's…

    I look around at where she's sitting on the settee. "Lynne?"

    I feel her mental probe and **I try to arrange my experiences in the far future into some sort of coherent narrative for her perusal.** She frowns very faintly, her eyes becoming a little vacant as she focuses on her internal slideshow.

    "Do you want us to call Artemis?"

    "Yes."

    I blink in surprise. I hadn't.. meant to say that. My children need me around and Lex needs me out of the spotlight. Artemis…

    Needs to talk to the friends she hasn't seen in… Decades, at least.

    Lynne's already offering me the phone, Artemis's home number already ringing. I smile faintly as I take it from her and hold it against my right ear.

    "Thank you."

    It's… Ringing. I still haven't entirely gotten used to American ring tones. Land line ring tones, I-

    "Hello?"

    -mean.

    "Paula, good afternoon. Is-"

    "Grayven?"

    "-Artemis with you?"

    "Yes, she-. Hold on."

    "Hey… Grayven."

    "Not exactly a grand palace, is it?"

    "It's… Home… Apparently."

    "Is it all coming back to you, or..?"

    "Kinda? I remember where stuff is, but… It's.. not… Home, anymore. Y'know?"

    "I thought you said that your apartment made you feel like you stepped out of an Edgar Allan Poe poem?"

    "Ye-ah, but at least the poem was about me. I keep-. Looking around for servants."

    "Only to be expected."

    "I think I've lived like that most of my life now." I hear her exhale. "I took a look at my wardrobe and I don't understand any of it."

    "Do you want a g-goblin? I'm sure the genomorphs can spare one."

    "I don't think Mom's got.. room. Hey…"

    "Yes, it feels weird for me t-. You know what? Mother Box, hush tube."

    "Ping!"

    "OhthankGod."

    I barely have time to toss the phone back to Lynne before Artemis strolls in and-.
    Embrace my Other Half.
    "Oh." She stops. "Is.. this..? Ah, hi!"

    She smiles at the children who are now all staring up at her like a pack of meerkats.

    "My children? Yes."

    "No, I meant-. It felt like… We were back in the future."

    "Apokoliptian technology runs throughout my mountain. It helps me project my power, anchors it… It's not quite like having-. Children, move over and let Artemis sit down."

    There's a shuffling around as they make space for her to my right, and she plonks herself down, not quite leaning against me but being about as close as she can without doing that.

    "It's not quite like having an entire civilisation at my beck and call, but it's the closest thing I've got. You can feel it?"

    "Mm-hm." She nods, looking around. "It's not.. the same, but it's… Familiar. Better."

    "Well, feel free to drop by any time you want."

    On the screen in front of us, Lex climbs up to a podium.

    "So is this where Luthor takes over the world?"

    "No, this is where he makes mildly smug remarks about the fleet's performance relative to the Justice League but otherwise sounds like a public servant. He needs to create-."

    "Capitalise on the good will to get everyone invested in the fleet, so that no one tries to stop him."

    I smile and nod. "Correct. Mass participation defence of the planet."

    "Which we both… Know is better than a small… Group of Highborn. Ah, super… Heroes." She thinks for a moment. "I didn't… Use to think like this."

    "Life changes us." I should probably shift the topic. "So are you going to keep your hair like that, or dye it back to blonde?"
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2020 at 9:13 AM
  16. Mr Zoat

    Mr Zoat Dedicated ragequitter

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    Late Summer, IC 687

    "Shit."

    "Prince Diabo, the dragon may have-"

    "Shit."

    "-an understanding of language and it-"

    "Shit."

    "-genuinely wants to comply-"

    "Shit."

    "-with your instruction, but you do need to actually-"

    "Shit."

    "-express them coherently."

    Diabo merely clutches the hastily converted saddle's reins and stares straight ahead as the dragon he's sitting on flaps towards Alnus Hill. As I suspected, he found it far easier to force it to do what he wanted it to than he would have to beat it down, and right now it's got a glowing Orange Lantern sigil shining out of its forehead. We interrupted it in the middle of ''burninating' an elven village, where the locals were ineffectually trying to kill it with what appeared to be longbows. Fortunately for the locals, Diabo drew its attention almost immediately, and now we have a way to make an epic entrance.


    "Shit."

    If he can regain sufficient control of himself to actually use this ring.

    "I can't really see from here, but from the sounds we were hearing earlier I suspect that the people we are flying towards have a large number of weapons which can accurately hit flying targets. If you can't get a hold of yourself, they will shoot you dead. If you want to live, I can only suggest that you grow some testicles."


    "Yes, yes I want to live, but this is insane!"

    "I know. You beat a dragon in a fight. Who knew you had it in you?"

    "I don’t-."

    "Oh that's right! Me. I did. And while you're not exactly impressing me right now, I have faith that you can handle this."

    "R-really?"

    "I could have chosen anyone in the Empire. I chose you. Now, can you work with me?"

    "What range do their air weapons have?"

    "Want to know, and the orange light will show you."

    It takes him a moment, but glowing orange reins appear around the dragon's muzzle and pull it into a circling pattern while Diabo's eyes glow orange. Interestingly, I can see what he's showing himself as the ring picks out infantry fighting vehicles, tanks and gun emplacements owned by the people who now hold the area around the gate. Looks like… NATO standard equipment… Late twentieth century. High rate of fire explosive-driven kinetics for the most part. They don't appear to have any dedicated anti-air, though that may be because they saw that diving wyverns died perfectly easily to automatic rifles. The flag is… Post World War 2/Pre Great Awakening Japanese, though oddly I'm not seeing anyone from America.

    The ring also shows him ranges and arcs of fire, and while he twitches he doesn't let his fear of getting shot distract him. I metaphorically nod approvingly as he bards his mount and armours himself in glowing plates instead.


    "What should I do?"

    "That depends on a number of factors. Meeting up with the commanders of the Empire's armies will firmly establish your authority with them, and allow you to halt any foolish attacks against the Japanese position. Attacking the Japanese directly will allow you to utterly destroy them. You could then use this ring to shut down the gate, or bury it in a hole. You could even use this ring to mentally dominate the Japanese and learn their secrets."

    "That sounds risky."

    "I'm afraid that there is nothing that can be done here that is entirely without risk. Another option would be to attempt to negotiate with the Japanese. This ring will allow you to understand any language and be understood in any language."

    "And they won't attack me?"

    "There are no guarantees. But there are ways to indicate that you wish to parlay that it would be surprising for them to ignore."

    "A.. white flag. We use something similar."

    "Though to be honest, establishing yourself as powerful and then attempting to negotiate might be a better idea. Are there any wounded Empire soldiers down there?"

    "They-."

    And now he sees what heavy machine gun ammunition and canister tank rounds do to people in lamellar armour. Ah… Well, the Empire's army has only just arrived, so those are almost certainly the reserves for the original attack…

    "No."

    "In that case, I'm going to suggest flying down and landing just ahead of the Imperial army."

    "Those are actually.. vassal armies. The Imperial army hasn't arrived yet. Which… Is almost certainly my father's intention."

    "They die, he has some spies watching and learns what the Japanese can do without risking any further Empire soldiers and doesn't have to worry about the vassals siding with the Japanese. What a depressingly short term thinker." Hm. "Do you have a personal standard?"

    "Yes? I don't.. use it very often…"

    "Prince Diabo, you're hesitant. And I understand why. But I'm sorry to say that the only way to overcome these obstacles is to rise to them. To confront them. The only way to stop feeling the constant fear that you feel is to throw yourself into it. If you were now the man you ideally want to be, what would you do?"

    He breathes in.

    He breathes out.

    Then we're diving towards the centre of the battlefield, construct wyvern riders bearing the standards of the Empire and the Imperial family and blowing battle horns. Through his ring-granted sight I see the moment the Japanese soldiers spot us. They're well-disciplined; there's no panic or shouting, just people rapidly talking on their radio. And I see one man… A lieutenant, mouths the words 'raid boss', and I see the tanks and IFVs aim their primary armaments in our direction.

    And then we land, the dragon-.

    The air in front of us lights up, rifle rounds, depleted uranium anti-armour rounds and heavy machine gun rounds slamming into a construct barrier just in front of us! I see that Diabo has reinforced his own armour. Not to better protect him, but to keep his limbs from trembling as he endures that assault. The wyvern construct escort fall in close by our dragon's sides and are dismissed.

    Then Diabo rises off the dragon's saddle, floats over its head and stops just this side of the construct barrier he's using to keep the firepower of the Japanese assault force off him. He stays there for thirty seconds, until an order goes out on the Japanese side and the fire slackens off somewhat. They're still shooting, but it looks like they know that the weapons they're using aren't going to brute force their way through.

    Then Diabo lands, creates a construct table and chairs and sits down. Behind him, a construct standard appears with the flags of the Empire, the Imperial family and a third which I assume is his personal device. Next to it, he transmutes a white flag and attaches it to a wooden pole.

    As the fire from the Japanese army stops he puts his feet up on the table to wait.


    "You were right."

    "Oh?"

    "Yes. It is very hygienic."
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2020 at 8:17 AM
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