0 | Planet Orlaith: The Fall
Gems fell from the sky like dazzling stars crashing to Orlaith. It would have been a beautiful sight if it weren’t for those gems being monsters.
Hundreds of them shot through the cosmea and smashed into the astral barrier. With each impact, ripples of energy surged across the planet-wrapped dome, sending waves of energy to clash into one another like a heavy rain on a deep pond.
It was supposed to be impossible. The archaic barrier withheld far greater attacks than this. But regardless of what he believed, the massive swarm of enemies ripped through and stormed the empire.
Hope and safety dissolved at the same terrifying rate.
The few soldiers in the vicinity fought desperately to hold off the invaders, spending their lives to buy a few more vital seconds for the bloodied citizens to get away.
By the time Reks and his squad arrived, countless lives were already lost. A blaze of rapid-fire worked on charring the lush sunset-hued forests into ash while the horde of crystalline monsters continued their savage rampage. The four of them separated in order to cover more ground — jumping through their gate-rings across the newly made battlegrounds.
Reks’ legs pumped like pistons as he raced across scorch marks and deep gauges pockmarking the ground that had been civilian’s homes only moments before.
His entire body burned with an adrenaline that demanded either fight or flight.
Explosive light reflected across the monsters’ bodies, stinging his dark eyes as he joined the fight.
A cold, cruel intelligence burned behind the crystalline eyes of the Adamant Horde. But it did so in his eyes too.
Reks vaulted over a fallen tree, catching the sound of distant cries and panic through the burning forest while evacuation squads led surviving civilians to safety.
The distraction nearly turned fatal when a nearby explosion erupted, sending chunks of what used to be someone’s home arcing through the air.
He protected his head with both arms as he suddenly went flying from the blast. He tucked and haphazardly rolled in front of an enemy combatant.
He got to a knee, ears ringing while looking up towards the nine-foot, blood-soaked monster a short distance away, which rapidly thinned as the beast charged.
Reks smiled. Did this overgrown rock construct think it to be a real monster? He was the one worth fearing. In this duel, on this planet, in this empire.
At the last possible second, Reks lunged out of the impact zone and thrust his hand out, facing the back of the monster. A powerful sensation moved down his bicep and through the tightly packed muscle of his forearm before launching out of his wrist like a loosed arrow.
The snake-like whip pierced the back of the monster’s neck and shot directly through its mouth on the other side.
The strangely beautiful sound of shattering crystal reached him before the creature convulsed and fell to the crimsoned ground with a rigid thud.
“Shayd end you.” Reks spat the curse down at the soulless husk as his Guide pulled back into his body, like a viper slithering back into its pit to patiently await its next victim under the guise of his skin.
His Guide needn’t wait long, for the crystalline monsters before him were seemingly endless.
Using his gate ring he warped small distances, appearing behind enemies in order to perform a swift attack to one of the precious few weak spots deep within the backs of their necks. He did this over and over again, eventually losing body count along the way.
Warp and slash.
Rinse and repeat.
Even in a surprise attack like this, his squad performed the same brutally efficient tactic they had drilled for and executed thousands of times as evidenced by the growing pile of crystalline bodies before them.
When Reks and one of his comrades shared a look, the same questions were written into their hard expressions. And the ever-growing absence of their monarchs in this time of great need began casting worry and doubt among the ranks. It wasn’t like the Lucils to be absent in the orleizen empire’s need, especially times of great peril such as now. Their lack of attendance did not go unnoticed, spreading panic like a damned plague.
But the ruling family’s whereabouts was not the only thing pissing him off.
After months of planning and preparation, the Fates chose today of all days to ruin his personal agenda. He had even snagged exclusive reservations to the Star Rite on planet Vi’lr! The hoops he jumped through and strings he had to pull with Elder Avitus in order to secure those outrageously expensive yet perfect spots for the Rite… and now this? Of course one of the empire’s most bloodthirsty enemies would pick today to lay siege. It would be another eighty years before that event occurred again. By the Fates…
~Another time will present itself; I assure you.~ his Guide, Luk, spoke directly into his mind. ~Simply ask her outright.~ Despite the surrounding chaos, his Guide’s words were clear in his mind. It was like a wash of clarity over the battle-lust fueling him during this fight. The steadfast reassurance when everything around him was pure havoc.
We’ve went over this, Luk. Reks thought back to Luk after stabbing another aquamarine monster in the back. He refrained from bringing up the obvious loss of the hard-earned reservations. Asking her during something like the Star Rite would boost the chances of her agreeing. Setting the mood. Remember?
Luk’s serpentine laugh slid in his mind. ~Are you sure you didn’t collaborate with the enemy, just so you could avoid it a little longer?~
He flared at the lighthearted accusation. “Now’s not really the time for that!” Reks hissed out loud, dodging a monster armed with a crystal battle-ax.
~I remember your very first date with her…~ Luk kept going. ~Remember how your hands wouldn’t stop shaking? Hard to believe we got a second date after that.”
“We didn’t get a second date - I did.”
Reks jumped on the monster’s back, wrapping an arm around its neck for leverage while stabbing repeatedly. The sharp edges of the beast cut into his torso, sending thin rivulets of blood to flow down his armor.
The serpent tsked in disagreement. ~Have you considered taking her to the Star Rite may lead her to believe you have other intentions for the night? You may infuriate her, unintentional as it may be. Yet still a possibility.~
“Marriage is not what Ellison wants, nor is possible.” He said in a tone flat enough to cease the conversation from proceeding as he checked himself for any major injuries. It was hard to tell during the heat of battle. Check her status again.
~Still dark.~ Luk responded. ~Ellison must still be occupied in the Void. It’s unlike her to be gone for this long, however.~
Keep trying, he thought back, wiping at the dirt and sweat running down his face, stinging his eyes.
It couldn’t be a coincidence she went off the grid nearly the exact moment all hell broke loose. But on the other hand, it wasn’t like her to hide from a fight. He both admired and resented that attribute of hers.
He chuckled to himself. Even had she not been an empress, a woman with a will like that was unparalleled, but all that did was make his job as her vitiate all the more difficult.
But he had no way of reaching her until she came back from the Void. The thought of that cold, sentient energy sent a shiver up even his battle-hardened spine. Thinking of her there alone always made him deeply uneasy, but it couldn’t be any other way. Or at least, he didn’t have a choice in the matter. She made that clear.
His dark eyes swept across the chaos while working on solving the bigger picture at play.
The Adamant Horde had never been able to penetrate this far into orleizen space territory, let alone attack the planet’s protective barrier directly. What were the odds of this attack happening at random and the monarchs being unreachable somehow not being connected?
Bad odds, he thought.
Theories spun in his head while he continued to dodge and fight for his life on the battlefield. Then an even darker thought crossed his mind.
Where was the Full Spectrum, the Queen of the Horde? That tyrant wouldn’t dare take a back seat in a siege so much in her favor. No. She’d be here reveling in it, in her disgusting glory.
Then the answer smashed into him full force.
Reks cursed out loud. He quickly focused on his right ear and Luk activated the comm with the rest of his squad. “RYSC, come in! Does anyone have eyes on the royal family?”
“Negative!” Cyra yelled over rapid-fire.
“Yuri and I haven’t seen them either,” Sorren answered. “Why, what’s wrong?”
He gritted his teeth. “Something’s off. First time the Full Spectrum manages to invade us and she doesn’t show? I’m not buying it.”
“No… you’re right. She wouldn’t miss this chance.” Sorren weighed in.
“Are you saying that walking-prism is after the Lucils?” Cyra yelled in the comm while shattering crystal reverberated from her sound link.
“Okay, but where the hell are they!” Yuri snarled. “We can’t hold them off forever! The evac squads are saying the underground asylum is filling quick!”
“Shit. We can’t fit the entire damned empire down there!” Cyra snarled.
“I have an idea where, but—” before Reks could finish, abyssal black figures flowed out of the sizzling woods like carved shadows. Unlike the crystalline monsters they’d been fighting thus far, these moved more smoothly than something that large and diamond-hard should have been physically able to.
Not only were these constructs much stronger and more resilient than their blue counterparts, but faster and worst of all, smarter. If the blue golems were toys to The Full Spectrum, then these obsidian deviants were like her damn children. It was a bad omen to see one. To see multiple? A destructive prophecy in the making.
Reks sucked in a breath, catching one of the abyssal monsters locking its pyrope-red eyes on him. Unlike the blues, this one didn’t immediately charge. Instead, it analyzed its surroundings as it thought of a strategy.
~Reks, I’m picking up on nine obsidians in the vicinity. We do not have the ability to penetrate their armor like the others. And without the Lucils, we don’t have the firepower to bring one of these down. I advise we retreat and request an artillery strike.~
It’s a distraction. Reks realized. Dammit — he may already be too late. How had he not seen this sooner? There was a reason why they hadn’t seen The Full Spectrum. They had just been too overwhelmed by her numbers to have time to realize it.
“I’m gonna need another set of eyes here. I’m not sure if mine are working too well.” Sorren said, voice hollowing.
“It’s a coordinated attack - a distraction from what the Full Spectrum is planning!” Reks cursed into the sky. If he was right, then there was no time to waste. He needed to move.
His Guide registered where his train of thought led and quickly synchronized the gate ring’s coordinates. The reliquary was a generational secret passed down in the Lucil family, and the only reason he knew about it was because of a situation that called for Ellison to reveal it to him a couple years ago. Even still, it was forbidden for him to know about it. The empress swore him to secrecy.
His heart twinged from the thought of leaving, especially now that obsidians were on the field. They would tear through any allies not heavily armored, like nothing more than ripping through cobwebs.
Yuri scowled through the comm. “Then what’re you waiting for? Go take care of it! We’ll rally with the General and hold things down here.”
Reks steeled himself. “Got it. I’ll update you once the monsters’ queen is dead.”
Unsure of what to expect, he readied himself for a fight as he flung the gate ring in the air. He leaped through right as the gateway opened, leaving the battle in order to face another one in front of the reliquary’s hidden entrance.
The moment his boot touched unburnt grass, a barrage of hell-rendered claymores sliced through the air with the goal of cutting him in ribbons. He lunged a hair too late, and a colorful sword tore into the side of his shoulder like cold fire.
He rolled, then sprang back up just as the multicolored crystals rejoined its owner.
He gripped at his bloodied arm painfully, dark eyes glued to the crystalline woman before him. The claymores deconstructed themselves and merged into her body without her so much as lifting a finger.
Even with the towering mountain and all the shadows the forest cast, every color imaginable gleamed off her feminine yet sharp curves. She studied him in mild interest as he grasped the scene.
It looked different than the last time he was here when Ellison shared this secret. The imposing hoop etched into the mountainside now glowed in runic symbols of the primordial language of the Divine Fates, and there were signs of smeared blood around the outer rim. The middle had crumbled to the ground, revealing a small chasm inside where water trickled down over another seal of arching runes.
Off to the side laid a dead man in a pool of his own blood. Strange, grotesque black veins splintered over every inch of visible skin. His Guide had been ripped out from his body, depicting a picture of absolute cruelty.
Reks took one look at the man, and he knew. Death had not come swiftly for the High Emperor of Orlaith, Geraios Lucil. The emperor’s once-blue eyes were now absorbed in the same demonic black splayed across his entire body.
Bile threatened to rise as sickness churned in his stomach. Ripping one’s Guide from their body was worse than death. It was an act against Fate. Without a Guide, an orleizen’s soul wouldn’t be able to ascend to Celestia. A lost soul without a Guide could easily fall into the hands of the Shayd, damned and enslaved for all eternity.
A fresh swell of rage flooded him like a storm’s tide. Reks couldn’t move, couldn’t tear his eyes off his emperor. Ellison’s father.
The Full Spectrum noticed the effect seizing Reks, and she smiled with inhuman satisfaction. Her motley grin manifested into disgusting joy as she rubbed the death in by licking the high emperor’s blood off her finger.
Hatred lashed through him, body trembling. Even his Guide burned with conviction.
“Honestly, I expected the Moon’s Fangs to figure it out sooner.” she mused. “But you were so slow that you couldn’t even be here to help those you were sworn to protect. What a failure you must feel like.” Despite her thick accent, her skill of language was impressive. But the silky purr of her voice had a lethal bite at the end of each sentence, like sharpened claws.
Don’t let her get in your head. Get it together, damnit.
Reks held his ground in the stalemate, glancing behind the Full Spectrum to steal another glance at the partly chasm. The emperor’s blood smeared all the runes surrounding the second seal as well, yet it remained closed.
“You’re going to wish I never found you.” his voice shook.
“My, what a lively specimen you are.” Danger flickered across her prismatic eyes. She pointed directly at him, her elbow appearing relaxed while her eyes stayed cold and focused. Her pointed finger began to lengthen, growing slender and needle-like.
He didn’t have time to waste a breath before the Full Spectrum expelled a weapon created from her own crystalline cells.
Reks dropped to the ground — the elongated spike sang a sharp tune as it zipped through the air above his head.
An immediate warning from his Guide forced him back up in a jolt. ~Behind you!~
Blood sprayed when the spike sliced his arm just under the first wound. But it slowed down its momentum just enough for him to snatch it and redirect its force back at the kaleidoscope queen, full circle.
When he chucked it back at her, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the spike converted into liquidized crystal when colliding into her body. The spike never made a sound as it melted back into her core.
Luk slithered from both his wrists like twin serpents sharing the same fury.
The snake-like whips raced towards the Full Spectrum’s neck, but - fates - she was too fast. Motley crystal erupted from her skin, rippling like liquid for a half-second before coalescing into a diamond-hard shield in front of her.
He switched tactics, influencing the whips to dart around the sides of the shield at once as he charged her.
The crystal monsters he fought earlier could form basic weapons and shields from their body depending on their size, but none could compare to the mastery and speed he just witnessed from their queen. The Full Spectrum split her small shield in two, having complete mental control of how her crystals moved. She pounced, tackling him to the ground in one fluid motion.
His back smacked against uneven ground, and the burning sensation of jagged crystal bit into his hands and arms as her split shield clamped on like ravenous leeches. The Full Spectrum’s lips curved into a bloodthirsty smirk as she manipulated the crystal to break his skin.
A guttural yell erupted from his lungs, competing against the roar of the approaching fire.
When he tried to free his hands, the crystals only dug deeper.
She looked down at him with sinister fascination as she moved her hands over his shoulders and chest while straddling him. Despite her petite frame, the pressure of her crystalline weight against his hips was not something he wanted on him for an extended amount of time. Suffice it to say, it felt like a huge, serrated boulder was attempting to flatten him.
“Oh, little warrior,” her whisper cut into his ear. “You know, the fact I recognize you makes you pretty special.” her crystalline fingers squeezed into his side, forcing her razor-sharp claws to punch shallow holes into him.
He ground his jaw from the pain, staring back at her defiantly.
One of her slender fingers traced the crescent moon insignia on his chest. “Poor creature… you continue to fight these pointless battles for your Little Moon. How is that turning out for you?” Her chin elevated with cold amusement as she grasped his jaw and squeezed. “Did she abandon the Fangs that protect her?”
He saw right through her. She was a predator. And like all predators, she was probing for weakness in her prey. He would know.
When the Full Spectrum reached out to touch the small braid behind his ear, he jerked his head. He let out a sharp, condescending laugh. “All this attack and you still can’t get what you want. I guess you’ve figured out royal blood alone isn’t enough. You must feel pretty stupid.”
Real anger flashed across her face for the first time since their meeting.
The Full Spectrum applied more weight against his pelvis. When he buckled from the crushing pain, the crystals holding down his hands cut deeper. Black spots dotted his vision.
“Hm. I wonder how long I can let your maimed corpse dangle as a trophy display before she comes for you. But you know, a good ruler doesn’t throw away a valuable tool if it can be salvaged.” her body rippled in vile pleasure. “Think about the things you and I could do together if you just devote yourself to me and tell me where she is hiding.”
Reks didn’t even bother to stifle his laughter. This monster couldn’t honestly believe he’d betray Ellison. “I knew you were a bitch, but I didn’t think you were that stupid.” he spit blood at her rainbowed face.
~Fates above! Will you stop fanning the flames? Did you not see what happened to the high emperor’s Guide?~
“How do you think my Horde was able to get in in the first place?” she leaned closer, not even bothering to wipe away the blood splatter.
Reks pushed against the restraints, bloodying them further until his hands were no longer visible through her motley restraints. “You better have a name to back up that accusation.”
The Full Spectrum manipulated pieces from her body to form a dagger pointed at his neck. A mixture of pyrope, amethyst, and amber swirled wickedly in the tyrant’s eyes.
“A shame I will not witness you learn the answer in the afterli—”
She was cut short as his tendrils burst forth from the ground and snatched her by the neck from behind. Luk yanked her backward, constricting the monster’s throat.
With his hands still trapped, he wrenched his legs up and stomped both boots against her sternum, knocking the breath out of her. The Full Spectrum rolled off, grabbing at the coiling tendrils.
A wail like a thousand grinding crystals pierced his ears.
Luk worked on eliminating the space between her and the ground, sinking back into the dirt in order to buy time while he kicked relentlessly at the restraints.
The Full Spectrum was already ahead of him. She tore one tendril from her neck and would soon be free of the second. Her crystalline spine spiked up and out in a dangerous rage.
He kicked furiously at the crystals, continuously slipping from the blood.
Luk! His mind screamed. Without another word, his Guide sent a voltage pulse through his wrists, centralizing around his hands and forcing the restraints to shatter. It was something Luk could do only once a day, and he was absolutely pissed about having to use it so early in the fight.
Simultaneously, the last tendril tore free and the kaleidoscope queen turned to him with a look dripping in animosity.
The fire burning behind him flickered across her spiking form. Needles of all sizes sprout up from all over her form. He lunged for cover behind the nearest tree as dozens of needles sprang free from the Full Spectrum.
The tree was pelted by most, but a couple of needles impaled his calf on his way to cover. His jaw clamped, face twisting from the pain. He pulled them out, chunking them away before standing. The tree bark creaked when the needles pulled free and rushed back towards her.
“Ooo. A survivor, aren’t you?” her purr had a sharp, irritated edge to it now. “Keep flaunting that intriguing Guide, and I may decide to rip it out before ending you.”
He reached back over his head with both hands and withdrew the daggers crossed between his shoulder blades. Blood trickled down his arms from multiple wounds. “You’re nothing but a cheap piece of glass just waiting to be shattered.”
A bestial grating sound emitted from the woman, which turned into a shrieking chime as she unleashed an attack.
Reks dove away from the tree just as a large, imperfect lance severed it in two. In his dive, he hurled both daggers at her before the falling tree blocked their line of sight. The crash boomed through the forest, providing him with a couple extra seconds of cover.
His vision swam and he struggled to keep balance while moving to the treeline before the dirt could settle.
~You’re losing too much blood. I need time to heal the wounds.~ Luk unhelpfully chimed in.
Just do what you can. But I need your focus on this next move.
He kept to the shadows, walking in a slow half-circle while searching for a weak spot. It was risky, probably too risky. But his options were running dangerously low.
Reks watched her pull the dagger out of her chest. The Full Spectrum stared down at it as if surprised he landed a blow.
He inhaled a deep breath, getting ready for the faint and roll that, with luck, would put him behind her within distance of a killing strike. Though, before his foot left the ground, a faint whisper from behind froze him to his core.
“Be still, my vitiate. For your greatest test has yet to come.” Something cold pierced the back of his neck, sucking away every ounce of strength he had, like oxygen in space. “May Fate guide you back to me.”
He tried to reach for the voice, but he no longer had control over his body. His vision was nothing more than blurred images. Hands pulled him away, deeper into the trees as a blur of silver moved towards the settling dirt where the kaleidoscope monster waited.