The Deathworlders – Chapter 62: Tooth and Claw Part 1

Date Point: 417th Year of the Punishment
Library bunker at Old-Bent-Leg, the Great Ruin

Ukusevi, Librarian and Keeper of the Long Chant

The Chant had always promised a day when the Punishment would end, but Uku had never imagined she would live to see it.

Perhaps she hadn’t, yet. But there had been a bright flash in the sky, and the Punishers had abandoned their torments to somewhere else, and hope had a death-grip on Uku’s innards. It was a sick, forlorn, desperate hope, and only for something small—that maybe there was a future other than endless sickness and toil—but right now it was turning over in her belly like her babies once had.

For now, she and the rest of her flock did what they always did when the Punishment reached a lull: they prepared. A lull could mean many things. Sometimes, it had presaged raids on the other Libraries, sometimes a vast order from the Punishers to produce more, sometimes a great orgy of slaughter with no clear purpose…

In such times, the Faithful had learned to pack their carefully saved knowledge safely in its crates and prepare to scatter the library deep into the tunnels in the hopes that some texts would survive.

For Uku, there was a new task, however: a Listening. She sat among the frantic bustle as her people locked books away and loaded them onto carts and rails, and she Heard.

Listening and Hearing were more than just being there and letting the flock speak. It involved serious concentration as she committed their words to memory and added them to the Chant, as she had trained her whole life. The Chant was the only sure way to keep the Wicked People’s history and knowledge alive. It was the only way they could ever know what their ancestors had done so wrong that God must have hated them enough to inflict this punishment upon them all.

But this? This was a strange Listening. Ten of her flock had witnessed it, all had told the same story when separated, and her scribes had taken their first notes. Now it fell to Uku, as their Librarian, to add their account to the Chant and pass it on to the other Librarians.

“They weren’t Punishers. There were seven of them, three as tall as trees and quick as the wind, four as big as boulders with long tails. They appeared out of nothing on a whisper of breeze and attacked the three towers.”

The youngest one, barely a child and hardly old enough to be out on the surface toiling under the Punishers’ lash, was almost bouncing with excitement. “One of the big ones jumped over a shock-fence! Just… leapt over it!”

His older brother, whom Uku knew was old enough to feel the cares and hardship of the world as adults did, was just as enlivened. “Then they climbed the towers! Straight up the outside, like their hands were covered in glue!”

The boys’ father quietened them with a gesture, but even he was visibly shaking, from a mix of awe, fear, and that same terrible hope that was wriggling inside Uku. “…Then there were loud bangs and a great blaze of white light and lightning flashes, and the Punishers’ invisible walls just… collapsed. And the attackers ran away again, and… Keeper, it was like the Almighty spoke and told those towers to fall. The ground shook, the sky tore open and everything came crashing down in fire and smoke….”

Most telling of all, though, was the Old Man. A whole forty summers old, and even his eyes were bright with inspiration. Even so, he spoke more cautiously than the others. “The most amazing part wasn’t any of that, though. These…whatever they were, they broke the Punishers, as if they were insects underfoot! They carried death-wands, and wherever they pointed them, the Punishers died. But if they got within arm’s length, then they just… destroyed them. With blades and with their bare hands.”

“After the towers fell…” Uku asked, “then what?”

The four looked at each other. Finally, the old man cleared his throat and spoke for all of them. And his words made the hope in Uku’s belly squirm a little harder.

“…Thunder, Keeper.”

Date Point: 16y11m1d AV
Conclave of Champions, High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao

Hiyal, Champion of Clan One-Fang

Champion Fiin in full battle gear was an inspiring sight, even though his image was grainy, janky and low-resolution thanks to the limitations of wormhole comms. He was bloody to the elbows, and his teeth were bared in an unconscious warlike snarl even as he made his initial report to the Great Father’s court.

From Hiyal’s perspective, the impression was heightened by the fact that Fiin’s hologram was standing in front of the great mural of Fyu on the battlefield at Wi Kao. Fiin was Stoneback after all, which meant that somewhere deep in his ancient ancestry was the first Great Father himself. The juxtaposition drove that relationship home quite well.

“Initial deployment is moving along quite nicely. It’s clear we caught the Hunters by surprise. All they seem to have is numbers, and I haven’t yet met a competent tactician on the field. I don’t expect that happy state of affairs to last, however.”

Daar duck-nodded seriously. He was wearing the crown on this occasion with his court in full attendance, and sitting on the floor next to Fyu’s ancient throne—Fyu had been a much smaller Gao, and Daar couldn’t have fit in the throne even if he wanted to. But he’d always refused to even contemplate having it replaced with one in his own size.

Knowing the Great Father, the symbolism at play was far more complex than a first sniff might suggest.

“How d’you see ‘yer situation evolvin’ in the short term, My Champion?”

“…I’ve got more’n enough feet on the ground, what I ain’t got enough of is transportation. Could do with some more experienced leadership, too. An’ then there’s the natives to think about. First Contact is imminent, My Father, an’ I don’t have anyone who can handle it.”

The Great Father’s brow furrowed in thought. “Balls…Champion Thurrsto, what say you?”

“Father Garaaf,” Thurrsto decided after a moment’s consideration. “His experience on the ring megastructure may be of some use.”

“Hmm…yeah. Call ‘em up ‘fer a chit-chat, wouldya? I mean…if he can stand smellin’ me.” Daar threw in a disarming ear-waggle for good measure; a ripple of chittering dispelled some of the tension in the room, and Thurrsto pant-grinned good naturedly.

“I’m sure he won’t comment, My Father.”

“Good. As ‘fer experienced leadership, well…that I can help with, if’n we got the skies secured. Champion Hiyal! I hope you’ve got a report for me…”

Hiyal most certainly did. “The Raining Vengeance and its escorts are already in-system. We have four footballs deployed around the planet, a double layer pointed outward and another double-layer inward. So far, the inter-shield orbital gap appears to be clear of hostiles, though a complete ESDAR sweep will take five days to confirm that. Ground-to-orbit fire missions are already available over the invasion clawhold’s hemisphere.”

“Good. How soon ‘fore we can protect the planet with a Farthrow?”

“The Destroying Fury is resupplying and will be ready to jump in three hours..”

“Good. Some o’ you got a date with th’ Fury in a few hours, then. I have matters here ‘ta take care of, so I’ll be joinin’ ya tomorrow. I know you’ll have things ready ‘fer me.”

Hiyal had wondered what the answer to that question might be: the answer was yes, the Great Father would take the field. He’d been increasingly willing to delegate on numerous matters of military importance, but with his Clan’s Champion wearing three hats and selection still running for Grandfather and General of the Grand Army, combined with a planetary invasion…

Most of the Conclave would remain behind, of course. In fact, only Stoneback, One-Fang, Firefang, and Whitecrest would send their Champions (and their retinue) forward.

Daar looked around at them, duck-nodded once, and straightened up. “…Get ‘yer shit in order. Be on the jump platform in two hours. Go.”

The Conclave was thereby dismissed, though Hiyal had no particular urgency in leaving the room. He’d anticipated this, and put things in order already. He’d visit his private locker briefly near time to collect the bag with the few things in it he wanted to take with him, but other than that…

He toured the garden instead. Despite his assurances to the Great Father, the fact was that their destination was deep in Hunter space, and presumably of great value to the Hunters. As much as they’d done to secure a clawhold and make it as safe as it could be, there was nowhere in that entire stretch of space that a sane being would call genuinely safe. Only comparatively safe. Relatively safe.

What did relative safety mean in orbit around a planet the Hunters had ruled over for Keeda knew how long? Not a lot, probably. But there was nothing to be gained by worrying about it, so Hiyal did his best to distract himself with the sights, sounds and smells of the Fortress garden.

He’d always especially liked the herb garden. So he sat and luxuriated in its gentle, homely scents and was honestly quite grateful when nobody came to offer him words of wisdom or comfort. He was just… left alone, to think and prepare himself.

Sometimes, solitude was best for the mind.

Eventually, a bell over the walls roused him back to duty and wartime. He visited his locker, grabbed his bag, reported to the jump array…

…And went to war.

Date Point: 417th Year of the Punishment
Tunnels under Old-Bent-Leg, the Great Ruin

Ukusevi, Librarian and Keeper of the Long Chant

Another rumble shook dust from the ceiling, and Uku held her breath. The Penitents had done their best, but the demands of their holy punishment in unholy form had always made it difficult to maintain the ancient warrens and catacombs properly. The Punishers worked the faithful hard: often, the soul might be willing to tend to necessary repairs, but the vessel was too tired and the thoughts too clouded by grief.

Librarians rarely visited the surface. It was too dangerous. If the Punishers found them, slew them, ate them, then whatever they had added to the Long Chant and not yet had time to record or share with the others would be lost. The Chant would diminish, and that above all else was the one thing the faithful worked to preserve.

But she had to see this army for herself.

She saw the sky for the first time in… a moment’s recollection… it had been half a year. Since the last Gather, when the Librarians had been smuggled together to share the Chant, check each other’s memories and ensure that the history remained alive and unspoiled. She hadn’t expected to see it again until the next Gather, but here she was.

It was as dreary as she remembered. The Chant had it that once, long ago, the sky had been blue, and that clouds had been small white things. Not a low, heavy ceiling held up on pillars of smoke.

There were more of those than she remembered, and not coming from stacks and chimneys either. Many of them rolled upwards from oily conflagrations on the ground where some kind of force had decided that Something Must Die.

As she watched and wondered, a pair of somethings clawed the air apart with a fearsome noise as they slashed by overhead. Uku only got the barest glimpse of them, they were so fast, but the impression she got was slim and bladelike. Thunder reached her ears a few seconds later, and as she and her bodyguards crept forward she realized that a new black pillar was now boiling upwards some distance away.

“It’s not safe out here!” Uku’s oldest bodyguard announced fervently, raising his voice over the echoing sounds of destruction.

“It must be witnessed!” Uku retorted. Whatever this was, whatever was happening… it was epochal. The Chant demanded that a Librarian should see it with her own eyes.

There were a series of sharp explosions and the rattle of what could only be weapons fire from nearby, and Uku was immediately pushed to the back of the group, into the shadows where she could be rushed away through the tunnels if the Punishers happened upon them…

Instead, something new rounded the corner. The penitents shrank back in fear, Uku among them, but they were not immediately set upon and slaughtered. Instead, the new… things… noticed them, one of them touched the side of its head, spoke words that Uku didn’t understand, and they moved on. As they did, the one that had spoken gestured sharply at Uku and her bodyguards, pointing firmly back into the tunnels.

The meaning couldn’t have been clearer. ‘Go back. Not safe here.’ And this time, Uku could say nothing to explain. How could she? If this thing spoke her language, it would have… well, spoken.

With no communication possible, how could she possibly let it know what the Chant demanded? Would doing so have been safe, even if she could? Even now, the fear boiling inside her was that this was all some elaborate torment designed to add a cruel new twist to the Punishment.

So rather than try to argue, she committed the thing’s form to memory, thought about how to describe it.

Under its thick protective clothing, she judged it to be tall and lithe, though its legs and arms were slightly short in proportion to its body. It looked a little ungainly and slow when it walked, though when it clipped its weapon to its chest and dropped down to all fours to catch up with the others it became a creature of easy, flowing motion.

Other than that, the details were hard to see. It was entirely covered in armor and heavy mottled cloth, with lots of equipment pouches and pockets on top. The mask covering its face had given nothing away.

But they weren’t immediately descending gleefully on the Penitents and devouring them. That was an unheard-of blessing in its own right.

“…I’ve seen enough,” Uku decided. “Back to the Library.”

With tangible relief, they left the sky behind them again. There would be time later to meet these new things properly. Maybe it would still be a slaughter when they did.

But maybe it wouldn’t. And that was more than Uku could have said yesterday. As they scurried back down into the warrens to comparative safety, she found that the hope in her belly wasn’t a sickly little flicker any longer. Now it was dense and heavy, and felt like it was coiling up her throat to choke her.

She didn’t dare let it warm her, yet. Hope was a kind of poison, in Uku’s experience. But it wouldn’t go away.

All she could do was wait and see.

Date Point: 16y11m2d AV
Private Apartments of the Great Father, High Mountain Fortress, the Northern Plains, Gao

Garaaf, Father of Clan Whitecrest

“…It’s been a long time.”

Personal invitations from the Great Father for a day of hunting and sport were decidedly rare. It was Champions and heads of state who usually received such hospitality, not haggard old Fathers of martial Clans. That the invitation also came from the all-but-certain future Great Mother was unheard of.

They were sending a hell of a signal of esteem, and that was a thing which would make anyone nervous. But Garaaf was a grizzled Father of Whitecrest, and that meant the reason for his invitation could only be one thing: terrible duty.

They met him at the base of the Fortress’s tallest tower, where Garaaf was subjected to Daar’s infamously boisterous affection. Of course, Garaaf was no stranger to those spine-creaking hugs and Daar’s relentlessly excitable cheer. What was different…was the maturity.

Young Daar wasn’t so young any longer. Wasn’t so blissfully happy, either. Garaaf had known the Great Father for a time, through his close relationship with Regaari and through watching him become Stoneback’s youngest Stud-Prime ever, tied for their youngest Champion.

There was a weight of care on his brow now, a crown that rested heavily there even when it wasn’t, in fact, being worn. He had the air of worries that a kinder life would have spared him, though by the look and smell of him, he was more vigorous and healthy than ever.

He’d grown, too. Substantially. He’d always been a rangy and athletic giant, but now he’d transformed himself both physically and figuratively into an unequaled embodiment of power.

It suited him, Garaaf found himself thinking a bit uneasily. Because if not Daar…then who?

And then there was Naydra, who achieved with grace, poise and warmth what Daar achieved with size, strength and claws. Though Garaaf had never met her, she welcomed him into their private world like a friend. Garaaf would have guessed he’d be immune to charm like that and was a little bemused to find that, in fact, he wasn’t.

Daar chittered at Garaaf’s greeting. “Figgered you wouldn’t stand on ceremony,” he said.

Garaaf duck-nodded and bowed slightly in respect. “I doubt you’d like it if I did.”

“Eh, a ‘Back gets used to it. Whatever people need, yijao?”

“That seems… more accommodating of you than I’d been led to expect.”

“Oh? What tales are they tellin’ ‘bout me these days?”

Garaaf chose to answer diplomatically. “Oh, most good, some a bit more excitable…”

“Well, I do tend ‘ta scare most people I meet no matter how friendly I try ‘ta be, so…”

“Their nervousness might have more to do with how you have needed to, ah, resolve certain problems among leadership.” Which was as politely as Garaaf could possibly put it. The people in general loved the Great Father for all he’d done and all he’d sacrificed to save the Gao. But they also feared him, not necessarily because of his sheer stupendous presence, but because he’d repeatedly demonstrated his complete and total willingness to wield that immense power of his to destroy anything—or anyone—who became a hindrance to the Gao’s interests.

That he’d personally obliterated two impressive Champions and their equally impressive Grandfathers without so much as a grunt of effort didn’t help matters in the Conclave, either. Or so the reports had gone. Conclaves were always secretive affairs. But there was no denying the mangled corpses that had twice come from their meetings.

Daar didn’t flinch from any of the implications. Instead he challenged Garaaf directly. “That’s a polite way ‘ta talk about me murderin’ a pair o’ dangerous Champions.”

“An impolite way seemed imprudent.”

“Was that ‘cuz ‘yer afraid I might jus’ do the same t’you?”

“Not without provocation I think, but this is a test, and many of the tests I’ve been through in the past turned out to be deadly. Such a life tends to make one… perhaps excessively wary.”

“You ain’t needed ‘ta fear ‘fer anythin’ from me, Garaaf. You ain’t a threat to the Gao.”

“Knowing something in your head is not the same as knowing it in your heart, My Father. And I think that bothers you, doesn’t it?”

That was maybe a bit daring, but Garaaf was old, and he could afford to test the Great Father too, maybe just a little. It paid to know one’s leadership, after all.

“…Yeah. I don’t mind bein’ dominant an’ intimidatin’…not so much a fan of bein’ a terror.”

“Well…if it makes you feel better, I’m only a little terrified of you.”

Daar chittered again, and glanced at the Mother-Consort. “Toldya. Honest an’ tactful!”

She chittered too, and gestured toward the doorway at the base of the tower. “You’re not one for ceremony and titles, are you Father Garaaf?”

“I respect the roles, and the people filling them,” Garaaf replied evenly. “When I first heard there even was a Great Father, I knew our people were in trouble up to our ears, and when I heard who he was… well. It was a surprise.”

“Came as a surprise ‘ta me, too,” Daar rumbled. “Yulna pulled out somethin’ there that woulda made Keeda himself laugh his tail off an’ fall in love with her.”

Garaaf allowed a small echo of a chitter himself. “But no, to answer your question directly. I’ll not burden either of you with more pomp and ceremony than is strictly required.”

“Thank you,” Naydra replied, and Garaaf could tell that it was more than just polite acknowledgement: she was sincerely grateful.

“Y’ever rounded up free-range naxas before, Garaaf?”

“I can’t say that I have… should I presume I’m about to?”

“Yup.” Daar rolled on four-paw toward the steps. “My herd needs time out on the moorlands, but you gotta bring ‘em back in now an’ then ‘ta check on ‘em. So that’s what we’re doin’.”

This was not entirely unexpected from Garaaf’s perspective, and nor was it an idle waste of time on the Great Father’s part. Clearly he was taking the matter of the ‘Mordor’ natives very seriously indeed, so rather than just summoning Garaaf and giving him a job, Daar wanted a chance to sniff out whether he really was the right candidate for the job.

Which was fair. Garaaf had already been a well-respected Father of his Clan when Daar first crashed into the stratified social world of the Clans, and he knew there was now rather a hefty imbalance in how much they knew about each other. While Garaaf had a full psychological profile and his own extensive observations to work with, Daar surely had less.

Perhaps that was where Naydra came in. She was less of a known quantity, even to Whitecrest. After all, who could spy on the love of Daar’s life and still claim to be sensible?

And in any case, Garaaf had never herded naxas. Nor hunted kwek, or any other waterfowl, which turned out to be what Daar wanted to do after the naxas were safely back in the corral.

Garaaf learned three things: firstly, that herding was an endurance trial like he had rarely experienced, and he’d found himself with a newfound respect for the rural Clanless who did that for their livelihoods; secondly, he learned the best thing for brushing naxas dung out of fur turned out to be dilute vinegar; and thirdly, that he was in danger of being upstaged by Naydra. She never missed a shot, and she retrieved with a grace that had to be seen to be believed.

Daar was of course an excellent shooter as well, but he clearly preferred charging through the field at a fantastic clip, flushing and then fetching the game, or in a few instances leaping high above Garaaf’s height to catch a pond-kobu mid-flight in his jaws, just out of the sheer joy of outdoor exercise, apparently. Whenever it was his turn he proceeded with just that extra bit of zeal and seemed to relish in the opportunity to preen for his ‘Naydi.’

By the time they flew back to the fortress, Garaaf was beginning to feel the ache in all of his joints. Daar showed him some mercy, though: they went back up to the apartments where hopefully, finally, they would attend to business rather than pleasure…

Though of course, the whole afternoon had been a blend of both, from Daar’s perspective.

“Y’know ‘yer lucky, Garaaf,” he commented as they entered to find the small knee-table well laden with meat cuts and steamed buns. “I was hopin’ ‘ta play wif’ ‘ya in my gym too…but that’d be a bit too on-the-nose, even ‘fer me. ‘Ya got Naydi here ‘ta thank!”

“And I am sincerely grateful for that. My ego isn’t so grand as to think it could hope to keep up.”

“I think you’d surprise yourself,” Naydra commented. “It’s not often that somebody weathers one of these afternoons without a squeak of complaint!”

Daar duck-nodded happily. “Yeah! I think ‘ya did damn good. Y’know. ‘Fer an’ older silverfur.”

Ah. He’d even said it with a respectful tone, but there was no disguising the bluntness of the Great Father’s concern.

“Not so old as… worn and torn, really,” Garaaf replied. “I think I have plenty of years in me still.”

“I think it adds a lovely character, myself,” Naydra agreed.

Garaaf flicked the stub of his left ear and duck-nodded appreciatively. “Mother, I’ve learned to take compliments when and where I can, so again: thank you.”

Naydra looked pleased, and Daar too: Garaaf had been charming, but not flirtatious. She duck-nodded, gestured for him to sit, and went to retrieve a tea set. Amazing how that had caught on so quickly, at least among the powerful and influential.

Daar sat first, picking a couch which was clearly built to handle him unlike most furniture, and picked up a bun by skewering it with his claw. “We’re invading a second Hunter planet,” he said, launching into the reason for Garaaf’s presence with an abruptness that might have been stunning if Garaaf hadn’t been waiting for it.

Garaaf sat opposite him, and took a cut of well-cured naxas. Probably from the very same herd he’d been wrangling only a few hours before. “Yes. One with native sophonts, I understand.”

“I want you to make first contact. I won’t order it, you deserve a less…stressful life. But.”

Suddenly, the enjoyable hunting ordeal made much more sense. Daar wanted to see if Garaaf could hack the upcoming field work, could adapt quickly to novel situations…observe his interactions with Naydra…


Garaaf tilted his head as Naydra returned with the tea. “First contact is… a little outside of my field.”

“There are very few who can claim to be an expert,” Naydra said. “Mother Shoo and her partners, a Human named Daniel Hurt… and that, frankly, is the end of the list, unless you count another Human by the name of Kevin Jenkins. You see the problem.”

Garaaf duck-nodded. “None of them are Gaoian.”

“No. And while you may not be an expert on first contact, you are an expert on evading and surviving the Hunters in their own territory.”

“That’s enough common cause with the natives ‘fer me,” Daar opined. “Not sayin’ it’ll make the job easy but it’s something.”

Garaaf sighed. He was going to do it, he knew. But he had questions. “…Do we know how long they were enslaved?”

“No idea. Long enough ‘ta poison the hell outta their planet.”

“That’s enough time to completely destroy their culture. For all we know they worship the Hunters and are fanatically loyal to them.”

“Could be,” Daar agreed. “Could not be. That’d be one of the things you’d have ‘ta figger out.”

“And if they are fanatically loyal to the Hunters?”

Daar sat back in his couch. “…Then we’ll hafta cure ‘em of that.”

There was an ominous finality to that statement that Garaaf chose not to draw attention to.

“We won’t know what to do with them until after we have a definite answer, one way or another,” Naydra pointed out.

“No. I presume you’ll want me to leave promptly?”

“Yeah. My unnerstandin’ is ‘yer Clan’s ops teams have been gettin’ a head start on ‘yer equipment, an’ they’ve got several teammates staged up ‘yer likely to ‘preciate. But mission command is ‘yers, if ‘ya want it.”

“I do. Always promised I’d die with my teeth in a Hunter’s throat. Anything less than that doesn’t sit right. Depriving them of their slaves sounds… satisfying.”

Daar’s expression was just as ferally eager as Garaaf’s own. “Good. ‘Fer now, stay an’ eat. Prob’ly be ‘yer last bit o’ comfort ‘fer a while. Make the most of it. Balls, spend th’ night! Naydi’s got an engagement wif th’ Females anyway, so I’ll be here, all alone, nobody ‘ta cuddle…”

Garaaf chittered. “If that’s just an invitation then I’ll gratefully decline,” he said. “This is going to be a big mission. Better to get on it as soon as possible.”

“I’d rather I send ‘ya off well-fed an’ well-rested, but I ain’t gonna tell ‘ya how ‘ta run ‘yer hunt.”

“I’ve rested for a long time… My Father.” Garaaf added a little weight to the title. “And I’m sure I won’t arrive on that planet the second I walk out that door. So, I’m grateful for your hospitality, but I’d rather go sink my teeth into the Hunters.”

“Done that. Ain’t much fun. They taste like too-ripe nava.”

“I know.”

Daar duck-nodded seriously. “…Yeah. You would. Very well then. Good hunting.” With that, the Great Father stood, nodded serenely, and then quite literally thumped his way downstairs.

If Garaaf were to indulge a guess, probably towards the gym after all.

He didn’t get to escape empty-handed. Naydra insisted on packing him a boxed meal, and she escorted him to the shuttle pad with a wrapped selection of biscuits and meat for the flight.

And maybe a wrapped selection of inspiring words, too.

“You impressed,” she said. “There aren’t many who’d politely refuse Daar’s hospitality.”

“Most are too afraid to refuse him anything. Which I think is something he desperately hates.”

Naydra duck-nodded. “…It’s been a pleasure to meet somebody else who isn’t cowed by him. Good luck, Garaaf.”

She went back indoors, and Garaaf boarded his shuttle. There was a sparse summary of the Mordor natives waiting for him. He memorized it before they even took off, and sat back to eat in thoughtful silence.

What did generations under the Hunters do to a culture? In his experience, the ordeal destroyed them. Too many of the unfortunates aboard the hive had been barely more than animals, driven uncivilized by fear, deprivation, and for lack of even a basic education.

These natives were different. He’d never seen them on the ring, so they meant something more to the Hunters than just food. They made things, existed in some kind of a transactional relationship with their cybernetically monstrous overlords… even if that transaction did sometimes involve being slaughtered. Could it be that the Hunters valued them in some way? Not as people, obviously—Hunters barely valued themselves, let alone so-called prey—but as a resource…

Something told him the battle for Mordor was going to grow fierce, and quickly. But at least he’d be there to do his part. So, with nothing else to do while he flew, he called up the files from first contact with the Dominion, Humans and Ten’Gewek, and began to study them. He was a Whitecrest after all, and his pride forbade him from approaching this moment without due preparation.

He had a job to do.

He was going to do it well.

Date Point: 16y11m2d AV
’Mordor’ System, Hunter Space

The Builder Alpha-of-Alphas


That one single emotion was making it hard to think. It was bouncing around the whole Hunter intercommunications network, from brain to brain, picking up ferocity and fervor with every repetition.

The Builder was doing its best to filter out the noise and focus, but the network was intended to resonate and whip all those connected to it into a frenzy when a sufficiently powerful stimulus came along to unite them. That was part of the design. Eaters were at their most effective when the feedback mechanism whipped them into a frothing bloodlust.

In this instance, however, it was backfiring. Impotent anger was ricocheting around the whole swarm. Several ships had approached the system shields and taken to attacking them with their boarding cutters, fusion-edged blades scrabbling futilely over a dense electromagnetic wall of hardened photons.

One of the Sport Worlds—the most industrially productive of them, no less, with a whole captive slave-species—was under attack, and the fur-faces of all creatures were leading the charge. On the ground, they were spreading out from an expanding series of jump portals, taking and holding ground and fighting almost like deathworlders.

In the sky… they had sandwiched a narrow range of planetary orbits between impenetrable shields. Inside that orbital range, their ships were safe… and they could open microsecond gaps in the lower shields to fire on Hunter resources in lower orbits, atmospheric flight, and on the ground.

The Hunters still owned the rest, but they may as well have tried to gnaw on tungsten for all the progress they were making with that shield. The one around the Human homeworld had never been thwarted. The ones around the Large Prey worlds had only been defeated with inside assistance. Every time the Hunters encountered these shields, they represented an impossible obstacle, and the Builders had yet to come up with a solution.

Had they been ordinary shielding systems, overcoming them would have been straightforward. But these shields powered themselves using a respectable percentage of a star’s energy output, and handled waste heat with baffling efficiency. Their operating principles were unknown to the Builders, and therefore so was the means of their defeat.

That left no good options. Setting up new wormhole defenses would take time, and would be vulnerable to orbital strike. Out-system assets were useless, and the fur-faces could strike with impunity across their shields. Reinforcements planetside were ultimately futile, though there was the possibility of retrieving valuable assets—

Until the fur-faces brought in their capital ship. Hardly a moment after it arrived, all data feeds surrounding the planet went silent.

As vexing as this development was, it came with a moment of welcome silence for the Builder. The only signals reaching it now were from its own kind: clearer, colder, more calculating. Without all that anguished emotional noise getting in the way, it could think again.

It realized it had grown so sympathetically angry that it had not run through the methodical approach it usually would have. If the biggest problem was currently insoluble, examine smaller and smaller problems until one presented itself which could be addressed.

The planet was, for the moment inaccessible. But that left a whole star system, and there were resources aplenty here. The Hunters still had asteroid mining operations, still had access to the outer and inner planets…. Still controlled the star itself.

Could any of those be leveraged? System shields easily handled comet impacts, so the rocky bodies in the outer system were most likely worthless as weapons…

A possibility germinated. One that warranted investigation. One that, at the wild extremes of the Builder’s imagination, offered a most delicious variety of options. It would not normally have considered such an extreme avenue of research… But these were extreme times.

The Alpha-of-Alphas issued a command. And, seeing its intent, the Builders obeyed.

Let the Eaters gnaw at the shield. With a shift and a lurch, the Alpha-of-Alphas’ command ship jumped to an in-system beacon near the sun, and flew inwards.

Previous Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 14 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Frostal Secondary, New Baltimore Sitting down in the chair across from the Principal’s desk I nervously swallowed and tried to calm my heart. The Principal could probably hear it, and smell my perspiration. Which was only making me more nervous. “Thoomaas,” squeaked the principal from

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Next Chapter

Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 14 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Frostal Secondary, New Baltimore Sitting down in the chair across from the Principal’s desk I nervously swallowed and tried to calm my heart. The Principal could probably hear it, and smell my perspiration. Which was only making me more nervous. “Thoomaas,” squeaked the principal from

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Sweetness – Implications

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 25 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Monty Publishing House, New Baltimore Slowly gathering myself I stepped into the hologram chamber, the projection flickered and the simulation automatically paused as I stepped in. I quickly looked around to get my bearings, I appeared to be on a starship bridge enduring greatly exaggerated

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 78 Of Race 3 Year 4958 Suburbs, New Baltimore I looked back up at the shopkeeper, the small Human was trying to appear unconcerned. Not that I could really blame ‘him’- glancing over at the human I checked the chest. It was a male, the chest did not protrude and there

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire Sol 77 Of Race 7 Year 4957 PackRat IV, 5 Months out from Halfil I slammed into to deck plating. Coughing, I rolled over onto my side and vomited on the floor, trying to get over the fact that everything was spinning around me. “You know, Humans have perhaps one of the most

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Sweetness – Chapter 2 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 78 of Race 3 Year 4958 Athletic Complex, New Baltimore I jumped to the side, dodging the attack. I felt the breeze as the weapon passed my abdomen; it missed me by only a few millimeters. Twirling to the side, I brought my foot up. Reacting with amazing speed, my opponent

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Sweetness – Chapter 1 (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 78 Of Race 3 Year 4958 Divsion 3 Police Station, New Baltimore “What?” The officer frowned and pushed the circular data tablet across the table to me. On it was an image of the woman I had met at the bar last night. She had green skin, of a shade that

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Shades of White and Orange

Sneaking forwards Kalif slowly tilted his ears to either side and waited in the darkness. Not sensing anything he slowly crept forwards towards the statue, and the artifacts in its base. Slithering as silently as possible Kalif focused his eyes on the objects, as if afraid they might disappear at any time. Reaching the statue

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Mother Earth

Mother Earth. She’s a bitch. A hard ass bitch who tortured every form of life that she brought forth onto her surface. Every life form on her surface had to fight, feed and fuck. After that she didn’t care about what happened, only that they had improved on themselves perhaps a little bit. Life on

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Nyx fired off another shot from her rifle and the Prod nearly 800 meters down the street jerked and ducked into an ally. She frowned and sharpened her gaze on the point where the purple mass had disappeared, looking for the telltale red fragments on the pavement. “More of ’em?” asked Iyo, he was whispering

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

The data streams slammed into me. With practiced ease, I pushed them aside and forced myself to view the data from afar. To not see it as billions of lines of code, but rather as the small white room that any other human would see. Floating in the center of that white room was Artemis,

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

0 days Adam “You’re insane.” “Your point is what?” She rolled her eyes and tightened the straps holding me to the chair. “The point is that someone who can’t move shouldn’t really be this snippy.” She gestured at the plethora of medical equipment around us. “I’m sure I can do some interesting things with all

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13y, 8m AV Operator’s Barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean Officer Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest “I got an idea, Regaari.” Regaari flicked his ears forward in annoyance. “This again?” “Well, yeah. I gotta win that bet, Cousin!” Regaari duck-nodded wearily. Not long after Daar had received the SACRED STRANGER briefing, he’d sulked off to think

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

Messier 24 Mission day: 3 Sergeant Daar (Tigger) The third day was always when things settled into routine. Daar didn’t really know why, ‘cuz that was prol’ly some complicated psychology stuff (maybe he should read up?) but he did know how it worked, practically speaking. Daar always pondered morning thoughts like that when he was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

Date Point: 16y2w AV Weaver dropship, Gaoian space Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde “So in all the excitement, we clean forgot about these things. That’s what you’re telling me.” Champion Meereo made a sound that was half a sigh and half a chitter. “…That’s more-or-less exactly right, yes. We had… well, bigger priorities.” Wilde had to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Bellona “Ready?” asked Alpha from where he sat on top of the Captain’s chair. “I’m good!” said Red from where he sat at the controls for the ship. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to pilot the vessel. James glanced down at his own console

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

Date Point: 16y AV Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Zane Reid The cold didn’t hurt anymore. At first, it had been like forcing his way through a wall made of knives that cut through his clothes. Zane’s every breath had blinded him as it billowed and steamed in the air, and when he’d experimentally licked his

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

Date Point: 16y AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Snow. Of course, snow in January in Alaska was hardly surprising, and this one threatened to be heavy. At first, Hugh had thought it was probably just an seasonable dusting that’d add a couple of inches to the foot or

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I had made my way through the tournament, but most of my matches had been won by the skin of my teeth, and I had only the advantage of being evolved from a pursuit predator to thank for it. Our great endurance had been the one boon that had kept me going, and I was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

Date Point: 15y 10m 1w AV HMS Violent, Rvzrk System, Domain Space The ground battle churned on for days. That was the problem with Hunters. There was no surrender involved, it was a kill-or-be-killed fight where smashing their will to engage in war simply didn’t achieve enough. Any Hunter left alive would just keep murdering

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

He awoke to a pleasant smell. “…Eggs?” Hoeff detangled himself from Natalie and the sheets and stumbled towards the kitchen. Daar was busy in front of the comparatively little stove and fridge, humming some terrible Gaoian tune to himself. Seriously, their music was like Chinese opera with extra pain. Some Humans liked it, though…but “atonal”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing The [Singer] The explosion hit and [Vann] watched at the lights on the main hologram and different panels flashed a blinding white light, before dying and plunging the entire bridge of the [Singer] into darkness. “What were we supposed to do?” asked someone near the weapons

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Day 1. I’ve made it on board the human trading vessel! They didn’t detect my presence, and I’ve managed to smuggle myself into their engineering bay, and disguised myself within a cluster of cables! My small, serpentine body makes me indistinguishable from a thin, grayish cable, and the Humans won’t notice my existence until it

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

Date Point: 15y 10m AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Camp Tebbutt wasn’t actually a bad place to live, if you didn’t count the fact that it was essentially a prison for innocent victims. Hugh understood why he was there, and why he couldn’t leave… but after eleven years,

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

Firth Regaari chittered, “It is difficult to imagine you ‘humbled,’ Righteous.” “Heh,” Firth chuckled. “You do know most of my attitude is straight fuckin’ bullshit, right? Adam and John know why.” Regaari looked over at John, who shrugged massively. “He’s a scary dude. Being ridiculous kinda takes the edge off, y’know?” Regaari duck-nodded. He was

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Moving down the hallway Diana paused at the double doors, carefully she moved forwards into it’s threshold and they slid open. A woman in an orange smock looked up from her Comm for a moment, and then going back to look at it did a

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The Good Samaritan

I felt a white-hot pain in my back as I was stabbed. Once, twice and then three times. I fell to the ground clutching my new openings, and for a moment I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had walked through an alley as a shortcut back home, and then suddenly someone had grabbed

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space Darcy “Does it seem… different to you lately?” “What?” “The Entity. It’s actin’ different, dude, I swear it is.” Darcy sighed and set aside her work as Lewis sat down. She was sitting drinking a Moroccan Mint tea in the station’s rec lounge, with its

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Popping the restraints off of her legs Diana swung herself off of the table, the two class A’s still in their isolation suits were pounding at the door of the room the three of them were in. “It’s out! Open the door!” shouted the man

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

Master Sergeant Christian (Righteous) Firth The end of the movie came and the ladies were fast asleep and prolly too tired to head home with any comfort. The other bros were asleep, too, and Firth was tangled up with them pretty good. Oh well, both ‘Base and ‘Horse were heavy-ass sleepers and only danger or

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Hell. It’s a completely Human concept. The concept of a realm of eternal torture, to which you are sent depending on the whims of one deity or another, is something only found in Human fiction. And it’s not an isolated occurrence. Almost every human culture since the dawn of humanity itself has had it in

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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