The Deathworlders – Chapter 63: Torn Part 1

Date Point:14y1m AV, two years prior to the invasion of Mordor
Planet Akyawentuo

Ferd Werne-Breaker

A Man. A tall, strange man, with a strange spear in his hand. Fire falling from the sky.

That had been his vision on the day Ferd became a man and was Given his name by the Singer. He’d earned it by doing exactly that in his manhood hunt; his spear failed him at the worst possible moment and, faced with a very angry young werne bull, Ferd did the only thing he could do. Fight it. The werne charged. Ferd met it, and wrestled it to the ground.

And then he broke the werne, with nothing more than the strength the gods had Given him.

That was not something a boy just becoming a man should have been able to do. But Ferd had always been very big and very strong for his age, even if he wasn’t very tall. He’d grown up more quickly than most, too; his crest had gone from yellow to bright orange in less than a season. He’d been proud of how fast and how well he was becoming a man, and decided to prove himself by carrying the entire werne back to the tribe instead of just its head. It was a young bull not unlike himself, still growing into his strength…well, had been before Ferd had Taken him.

Doing that had so tired Ferd, he was seeing his vision even before the magic dust, before the women of the tribe taught him the ways of man and woman, before his father and Given-Man had Given him his knives of manhood. He remembered little of it. A blur of dancing, the fire stretching out into forever. Warm skin pressed against his, the taste of a woman’s body. Holding his knives of manhood for the first time.

A Man. A spear. Fire from the sky.

He’d puzzled over that vision for a long time. Seasons passed. Ferd Werne-Breaker grew into a strong redcrest of a man, though most of that seemed to be sideways instead of up, and tended to thicken him much more than most. The gods saw fit to Give him great strength, even if that meant he’d never be taller than the women. Ferd didn’t mind. His life was happy.

Then he met the tall, strange man. The Humans were much stranger in person than his vision could have ever prepared him for. He learned what the spear was, too. Found himself wondering what the point of all his strength was against weapons like the Sky-People had.

He’d learned that when the fire fell from the sky.

It had been a terrible fight, and his tribe’s Given-Man had died in the war. Luckily, his tribe was allied with Yan’s and that meant they were safe until the gods chose which man would be Given to them. It didn’t take very long. Ferd was one of three redcrests in the tribe, and while he was the youngest, he was also easily the strongest, with the tallest and reddest crest.

Ferd could still remember the day it started. He’d woken up and felt like his whole body was on fire. He’d been drenched in sweat, everything ached from his toes on up. Even his crest hurt. He didn’t know a crest could hurt! All he’d wanted to do was drink water and eat meat all day long. He’d never been so hungry, never known thirst like that. He only stopped when he couldn’t eat or drink anymore, but still the urge was there. His Singer knew immediately what it meant of course, but in the pain of the hunger, he didn’t figure it out right away.

He did figure it out eventually, when he started tasting the magic fruit’s flavor on the air. Normally they were horrible to eat, and people went out of their way to avoid them. Now, though, he could think of nothing but eating them, and so he did, until his hands and mouth were stained bright, bright red.

The red of a Given-Man.

The fruit, when dried, was where the Singers got their magic dust. The leaves, when burned, were how the Given-Men opened their eyes to the gods. But when eaten, the fruit Gave a man the first Fire of his life, if he was ready to Take it. It was…agony. His body hurt so much and it never stopped. He was so angry at everything, even stupid little things like a twig poking him in the foot could send him into a murderous rage. The only thing that calmed him was hunting, and he needed to hunt because his hunger grew, and grew, and grew.

Once he’d tasted the fruit, he’d been Chosen. All he would have needed to do to refuse the Giving would have been to ignore the fruit, no matter how hard its taste tried to seduce him. But honestly…what man would refuse such a Giving? After that first taste, his fate was sealed.

Yan Given-Man took him to the newly-built lodge some days later, once his hunger had calmed. There, every part of Ferd Werne-Breaker was viciously Taken from him. It went on for days. There was work, and an endless series of trials to prove his worth, each harder than the last. There was fighting, real fighting, where the Given-Men showed Ferd the meaning of strength and weakness. There were rites, with cruel visions, where his very soul was laid bare before the merciless Lodge. In the end he couldn’t think, couldn’t move, could hardly talk.

Couldn’t remember his own name. It was Yan who Gave it back. But not all of it.

“We name you Ferd, young Given-Man. Stand up, and be reborn as a man of the gods.”

Ferd. Ferd Given-Man. Heaving himself upright, even using his arms and tail to help, was one of the hardest things Ferd had ever done. For the first time in a long, long while he felt weak, but it was an earned weakness. The weakness that followed Giving all the strength he had until there was none left. A weakness to be proud of. Yan smiled in approval, and embraced Ferd in a powerful hug, one so fierce it crushed the breath out of his chest.

“I knew you could do it. I am proud of you, Ferd. Now rest, and grow strong.”

He was allowed to sleep, then. So much sleep. The Lodge watched him, kept him safe and well-fed. He kept eating like a starving man. The aches in his body were so completely inescapable, he did the only thing he could and started ignoring them. Ferd regained his strength soon enough, though. Regained it, and then after that…

He had become so much more.

When the gods had finally let go of his body some many hands of days later, and Ferd started to feel like himself again, he got up, sprang from his sleeping-nest like he was lighter than a child. Moving was so easy now! He could jump—

So much higher than he’d ever done before! And when he landed, it was obvious that he wasn’t light at all, because he fell onto a big rock and cracked it open just with his weight! When he walked back, he looked down and saw that some small rocks broke apart under his feet, that his footprints sank deep into the forest dirt. His legs, though…he looked at them…

He looked at them in wonder.

Where before his legs had been big and shapely pillars a man could be proud of, now they were huge, all hard deep lines bulging thick with muscle. He stopped and explored himself, and it was the same amazing changes everywhere he felt, everywhere he could see. He looked down and felt in astonishment at the much bigger stack of rock-muscles on his belly. He felt along his huge arms, his thick neck, his enormous chest… everything was so much bigger and harder! Even his hands and feet. Even his cock. Even his tail! All of it had changed so much, it was like he was a new person in a new body, one so much better than the one he had before, and that had been one that could claim the prettiest women, and crush the biggest men.

And all that was just the first of the Givings. He could feel the world better, too. He could see better, in the dark and in the day. Taste the wind more sharply. Hear the tiniest sounds. Feel the crisp sharpness of bark under his fingers and toes, the smooth softness of leaves. The Humans’ strange sky-words somehow came easier in his bigger stretched-forward mouth with its bigger fangs and more room for his tongue. He could find his words quicker too, tell jokes he’d never before thought to tell. Never been quick enough to tell! Not even Vemik’s amazing sky-thoughts were so confusing anymore!

Well, still confusing. A little. Vemik had a strong mind, in its strange way.

Ferd had grown strong like he could never have imagined. He’d learned that the Given-Men almost never showed the rest of the People just how strong they were, how hard they were. Almost nothing could hurt him, now. And he would never stop getting better, until his strength was too great for this world and he was called back to the gods, to the Great Hunt in the sky.

Gradually, Ferd could feel himself settling comfortably into his new world. The spring had come and he was feeling his first springtime Fire. His body felt tight, almost full to bursting with everything he’d been Given. It was like every part of everything about him was crackling with aliveness. He felt like he could do anything! The women had always liked him, but now he could swagger into any friendly tribe and have his pick! Picks! And it was time to think about that, too. New Given-Men didn’t normally take over their old tribe. They protected it for a time of course, but that was only until a different Given-Man, one he judged was worthy, could take his place as their chief and protector. He’d even had a good idea who he’d offer, too…

The Lodge had very different plans for him.

Yan pulled him aside to talk about it. Ferd was…uneasy around Yan. He had been the one to show Ferd the meaning of weakness, and had beat him very nearly to death during his initiation into the Lodge. He did so almost like he was bored. Like he was doing something he had to do, and it was just too easy… A man never forgot a thing like that.

But Yan had also been the one to hunt for Ferd while he recovered. Yan had also taught Ferd very many important things about the world he lived in, now. A man never forgot that, either.

“You will be one of the best of us, in time. I can taste it already. I was much like you when I was young. We were both early and fast to manhood. I was short too!”

Ferd had to look up to see Yan’s face, because Yan Given-Man was the tallest man of the People. “That is very hard to believe.”

Yan trilled, and slapped Ferd on the back hard enough to stagger him. “It’s true! I’ve had many seasons to grow. Every year, a whisker taller…in many years, those whiskers grow tall.”

“Will I be tall like you one day?”

“If you don’t die or lose yourself to the Fire, maybe!” Yan’s enormous fang-filled grin was much friendlier than it had been not so long ago. Or so it seemed.

“That’s a strange thought. You need to duck to get into huts!”

“And turn shoulders! But yes, we are much alike, I think. We were both young to the Fire too. And we both knew this would come to us, yes?”

Ferd nodded. “I always thought it would, one day. I didn’t think it would happen so fast.”

“Most of us, the Fire comes later in life. But I think many more will come to the Fire young, now.”

That got Ferd’s interest. “Why?”

“I don’t know.” Yan shrugged his huge shoulders. “I just feel it. Since we came down the mountain, every tribe has two or three young redcrests now, the hunting here is very rich…”

He wasn’t saying something, and Ferd realized that might not have been a thing he would have noticed, before. He wasn’t ever stupid, but, well…he hadn’t really been smart, either. That changed along with everything else. He could feel that more strongly than his own huge muscles, which was saying something; walking upright felt stranger now, with his legs being forced wider apart. He could even feel his own back moving across itself! Distracting.

“There’s something else you want to say.”

Yan gave him a calculating look, and then nodded, satisfied by something.

“Have you thought about the Sky-People and their war?”

“I think…” Ferd…well, thought. He’d never really considered it before. “…I think it isn’t just their war. It’s ours too, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Our friends’ wars have always been our own.”

Ferd nodded. “Our friends have always been weak, too.”

“Not these friends,” Yan warned. “The Sky-People are not like the city-People our grand-sires and their grand-sires and their grand-sires once fought for. The Humans have much strength. It’s just…different strength. Usually.”

Ferd felt like he had to disagree. “Strong weapons are not strong people, Yan.”

“No. But sky-thinking is a strength of its own. They’re not weak, either. Look at Jooyun! Or Heff!”

“Feh.” Ferd was not impressed. “He’s not weak…but a man as tall as you should be much stronger! And Heff is small. My sack is bigger than he is!”

Yan trilled and shook his head. “You say that now. I challenge you, go and wrassle them both, see how weak they really are! And there are two Humans that even I have trouble with. One is even stronger than me! I need to do much training before I can crush him. Soon, maybe! But not yet.” Yan thumped his thick chest, “It is only that I am hard that he does not always win.”

Ferd had strong doubts about that, but he knew Yan to be patient and wise, so he held his peace. “Okay. If they can be strong like you say, then why do they need us?”

“They don’t know they need us, not yet. But you are not wrong either. Most of their people are small. Tough, and clever, but still small. There is much we could do for them. They come here to learn from us, yes?”

“…That’s true. It’s fun scaring their warriors! But without their sky-weapons, they would not stand against even the yellowest-crested man of the People.”

“Don’t be so sure, they would prove tricky for most any of the People. But we will not talk about that until after you’ve been beaten by Heff.”


Yan rumbled amusedly. “You’ll see. But again, you’re right. They have many strengths, strengths we do not have. But they do not much have the strengths we have. This is like the city-People. We can trade our strength for theirs. A Giving for a Giving. And we want you to be the first.”

Ferd stopped in his tracks, and found his tail twitching back and forth on its own. “The first? You mean, like a warband? Like the stories say we once did?”


Ferd gnawed on a finger as he considered that. The stories and songs said that long, long ago—many hands of grand-sires ago—the tribes had sent warbands of their best men, led by a Given-Man, to Give their strength to weaker friends in war, and in hunting and raiding.

“That would mean I would be away fighting for years maybe!”

“It would. It would also mean much glory for you and your men when you returned…”

…That was true. Ferd hadn’t ever had trouble attracting women’s attention, but things would be different when he founded a new tribe. New tribes were risky. The women wouldn’t so eagerly jump into their arms until they’d had a reputation for safety. Among his nieces, none were quite ready to become Singers, either. They needed time to grow. Give them a few years…

…And some brave adventures to his name…

A Man. A spear. Fire from the sky. Maybe his vision wasn’t quite what he thought it was.

“…You said the first. Do the Singers agree to this?”

“It’s not for the Singers to decide, young Given-Man.”

“Well, no, but…” Ferd shrugged. “I can’t see it being a bad thing if they agreed, too. No mother likes to send their sons off to hunt.”

“But she must, if she wants meat.”

“Is this the same? And do they know it is the same?”

“…Hmm.” Yan’s tail twitched to and fro in thinking. “A fair sky-thought. But yes, the Singers know. Only a foolish Chief would not speak with his Singer. And anything she knows…”

Ferd trilled at that. “Only a foolish man underestimates a Singer!”

“And a young man, his friends. Go, meet with Jooyun and Heff. Let them show you what they can do. But keep your purpose close. And pick your warband!”

Ferd had done as asked. And Heff had educated him. Ferd was certainly much bigger and stronger than him, and faster too, but the little hairy Human knew exactly where to grip and pinch to hurt the most or to weaken Ferd’s grasp. And he knew how to toss too. That had come as a surprise! Heff made his point at the end though, when he pressed the back of his knife against Ferd’s throat.

His expression was about half way between vicious and friendly. [“Us little shits ain’t always so nice, huh?”]

Ferd trilled warily, and gave in while he was flat on his back, still a bit confused as to how exactly the little man had managed any of that.

[“I not fight with man who can cut my neck.”]

Heff meanwhile was a surprisingly heavy man sitting on Ferd’s belly, much heavier than he looked. Heff grinned that big, smug grin Humans did when they were feeling very pleased with themselves, and showed off a pair of hard knotted arms about the size of his head. They were short, and not nearly as big as Ferd’s… But they still looked very, very strong. Only Jooyun had bigger among the Humans, and his were big around even for a redcrest!

Heff wasn’t a weak man at all. He was…small-strong. A strange thought, but he couldn’t deny what Heff had taught him, or the rock-like weight of the man sitting on his belly. And Ferd found himself impressed.

“Smart man,” Heff said in the People’s words, and then climbed off Ferd’s belly. He reached down to try and help Ferd up but that was a mistake, because strong or not…he was small.

Ferd had him pinned in an instant and played with his new friend for a good long while, until they had earned each other’s respect and were having too much fun to be angry. He could at least recover some of his dignity.

He didn’t get that chance with Jooyun, though. Jooyun took all those same clever tricks and threw in being just as strong as a good man of the tribes should be. And like Heff, he never grew tired. If he couldn’t win, he just… lasted. Until Ferd’s own strength waned and failed.

The most embarrassing part was when Jooyun somehow managed to pin Ferd face-down in the dirt, locked up in just such a way that he couldn’t use any of his strength to escape.

But Jooyun could use all of his against Ferd…to great effect. “You shouldn’t ever be losing a fight against me, big fella. But here you are…losing.” Jooyun snarled into Ferd’s ear, while that thick, hard arm of his bit deeper into Ferd’s throat. “You’ve been relying on your brawn your whole life, haven’t you? So what do you do against someone who knows how to fight?”

He almost surrendered before he remembered to wrap his tail around Jooyun’s waist and squeeze good and hard. Jooyun grunted and held on, seemingly not bothered too much…

“Hnngh… That right there’d kill most Humans…but not me.” He growled, and that big ball of stone in his arm grew just a little bit bigger. “I can do this all day long…” Another grunt, and that muscle of his swelled up even more. “Can you?”

No. No Ferd could not. Jooyun growled and cruelly squeezed his arm much harder for a long moment, just to show what he could really do, and Ferd felt himself suddenly unable to breathe…He loosened his tail to give in. Joooyun didn’t let go. Instead he grunted and tightened his grip yet again, and squeezed down harder with those thick long legs of his…

But only for a moment. He let go before he gave any real hurt and rolled off, panting. He was big and strong enough to haul Ferd up to his feet and completely off the ground with a quiet grunt of effort. They hugged it out forehead-to-forehead, all slights and insults forgiven.

He did at least get some prestige back when Jooyun put Ferd down. The big Human rubbed his ribs and belly and grimaced. [“Christ, those tails of yours…now, you wanna learn how to beat me?”]

Ferd had learned a lot from those fights, and soon enough he was happily squashing them both under his strength! Usually. To beat them it wasn’t enough to be big, he had to be smart against the two tough Humans, and he couldn’t miss any trick or they’d squirm free and maybe win. And if Ferd ever let Jooyun get a good hold, it went from a contest of strength (which Ferd always won) and skill (which he was getting better at) to one of pain tolerance (…a tie) and sheer, gods-blessed endurance. Which Jooyun almost always won, and enjoyed winning thoroughly. A hand of days later Ferd talked about it with Yan.

Yan, of course, just hooted smugly at him. “I told you, didn’t I?”

“How do they know how to fight so well? They’re the wrong shape for wrasslin’! Their legs are too long, their arms are too short. No tail!”

“Heff spent years learning how to fight. That’s what he did for his Sky-Tribe, it was his purpose. And before that, he played at wrasslin’ and something called foot-ball to win honor for his ‘skool,’ which I think is like a bachelor tribe for young Humans to grow up in.”

“And foot-ball?”

“Fun game! But sometimes the rules are strange. Has a ball, but they carry it with their hand. Or sometimes they kick it. They charge into one another a lot and fight over the ball too. Heff says he was big as a young man and that he was very good at it.”

“But wasn’t he a very small man when he first came here?”

“Yes,” Ferd nodded. “His kind of warrior is called a ‘see-al’ and the kind of fighting they do means that being a very heavy man could be dangerous. So, while he was a ‘see-al’ he stayed little. Now he lives with us more so he decided to grow big again. Now he’s bigger than he ever was, and he was easily the strongest man in his skool. He’s still growing too!”

“Okay.” That was a strange idea, of fighters who could be too strong to fight. “And Jooyun?”

“He was born very strong, and his life has been one of hard work and trials. And he is good friends with Heff, and other Humans who are like Given-Men. Except not. It’s hard to explain.”

“…And Professor Daniel?” Ferd was having a hard time understanding how a people could be so different in their own tribe. He liked the Professor, especially his stories in strange, magic-sounding words…but Daniel was very weak.

“Smarter than Vemik.”


“Once, when we first fought the big enemy and when your old Given-Men went back to the gods, I was bigger than Daar, and much stronger, and I thought it would always be so. But Daar and his people had their very thoughts poisoned by the Big Enemy, and it turned them away from the gods, away from their own strength.” Yan grew angry just talking about it, and Ferd felt himself growing angry too. How could anything do something so evil?

“And…now? I know he is a great leader of the Sky-Tribes…”

“He is their greatest leader. He has re-learned the strength the gods gave his people and is helping them all re-learn it for themselves. This is good! He has also earned a strength they Gave only to him. I think maybe he was Given to us all by the gods to be the Sky-Chief of all Sky-Chiefs. Now he is the strongest man in any Sky-Tribe and he could break me like a twig.”


“Oh yes. I…do not like this. I will beat War-horse soon I think, and maybe beat him by very much. Next spring, when the Fire fills me full again, I will go to Folctha and win. I train very hard to beat Daar too…but I may not have enough seasons left in me to ever beat him again.”

Yan trilled at the disbelieving look that Ferd gave him. “If you learn one thing from the Sky-Tribes but especially the Humans, Ferd Given-Man, learn that there are many kinds of strong. The People were made by the gods to be very, very good at one kind of strong. The best at it! But we’re so good at that one kind of strong, it’s easy for us to forget to be strong in other ways. That is the real reason we want you to fight for the Humans. Learn their strength, and make it ours, because we can be strong like them too. Bring it back and teach young men, so we can one day be mighty among the Sky-Peoples. Is a good thing! Will be very good for your new tribe, too. But I…”

Yan was nervous about something, because he was suddenly playing with the end of his tail. The sight of Yan doing that, whose crest was turning almost black from his sheer might…

“You worry?”

“…You heard the Lodge argue over this. I worry what this will mean for some. I especially worry for Vemik, he’s not much younger than you, and if you go, so will all the other men…”

“And Vemik would definitely be Chosen by the gods, if he leaves your tribe.”

Yan’s nervousness suddenly made a lot more sense. Everyone of the tribes knew of Yan’s fondness for Vemik, and knowing what Ferd knew now, he wouldn’t wish the trial of becoming a Given-Man on anyone, let alone someone he loved. Sometimes, the gods Took everything.

“…Yes. He’s too much of a man now to avoid that. And I worry. There is a lot of strength in him, but he’s got strength the rest of us don’t. I don’t want us to lose it.”

“Have you said this to him?”

“…Not yet. You haven’t left, you haven’t made friends with Wild, haven’t been trained by the Humans, you haven’t even picked your warband yet.”

“But I will. And you will have to say these things to him one day.”

“Yes. And I will have to respect his choice no matter how it hurts. He is a strong man, even if I only want to remember him as a curious, strange runt of a boy.”

That conversation stuck in Ferd’s mind through all the months and training that followed. It stuck with him when he learned to fight at the hands of gods-blessed masters of the game, and when he re-learned the meaning of weakness under Daar’s unbelievable speed and strength during one of his visits. It stuck with him when he was sent to Cimbrean to fetch things on a strange training errand. It stuck with him when he met Tooko, an absolutely tiny barely-man from Daar’s Sky-Tribe, who was nonetheless stronger than them all when he was seated in his many-buttoned ‘cock-pit.’

Strange name for it, but a good pilot could fuck things hard so maybe that was why. Sky-Tribes were allowed to be strange.

Yan had made his point well. And by the time they came to visit the poisoned, sickly wrongness of ‘more-door,’ Ferd had long ago put aside his ideas about what being strong meant. There were many, many kinds, and he was proud to bring his kind of strong to the sky and put it to use.

Now, the only thing left to find out was what kind of strength the people they were saving had…

Date Point: 16y10m AV
Correspondence between HMS Sharman and the Corti Directorate

FM CMO/[email protected]// TO 5TH DIRECTOR/[email protected]// INFO HIGHCASTLE/[email protected]/ STAINLESS/[email protected]/ BEEKEEPER/[email protected]/ RINGMASTER/[email protected]// C O N F I D E N T I A L SACRED STRANGER ORCON REL FVEY CD5 BT SUBJ/ Query regarding Cruezzir-D formulation// 

Fifth Director,

Our thanks once again for your department’s timely delivery of this month’s supply of Cruezzir-D.

While I’m pleased to say that the batch is good, my colleague Commander Mears and I have noticed some changes in the men since this batch arrived. While many of these are minor, they cumulatively represent a significant change from what we have grown accustomed to seeing.

In particular we have noticed:

  • A minimum of a 5% increase in haemoglobin levels, with an associated increase in oxygen-carrying capacity;
  • Increased appetite among all the operators but particularly with IRISH, BASEBALL, RIGHTEOUS and WARHORSE;
  • Heightened emotional intensity, above even the elevated norm for HEAT operators;
  • Cruezzir byproducts in their urine and stool samples have been reduced to nearly undetectable levels;
  • An increase in the incidence of pranks, “shenanigans” and other minor mischief, indicative of restlessness and surplus energy;
  • A plethora of minor changes in their bloodworks and urinalysis too numerous to list here (see the attached documents for the complete data);
  • Marked decreases in liver stress indicators, combined with elevated androgen signaling and improved hormonal stability;
  • They broke their most recent gravball goal (a crane tyre) more quickly than anticipated;
  • A broad and sudden improvement in body mass and strength gains, observed athletic performance, endurance and resiliency, and effective suit conditioning;
  • RIGHTEOUS and WARHORSE in particular have shown the most notable changes, which, considering their singular capabilities, is a special point of concern.

Would your department confirm for us whether the Cruezzir formulae has been altered in some way? While none of these changes seem deleterious, we find we cannot explain such a drastic improvement in their general well-being by any other means. Almost as soon as they began coursing on this batch, all of the human operators reported significantly improved feelings of health and vigor. We note the Gaoians on their Crue-G-HEAT have not reported a similarly dramatic health increase, though they too have noted large improvements in their performance.

We feel compelled to remind the Directorate that, under the terms of our contract, any changes in our medical formulary require advice and consultation beforehand. These men each represent millions of pounds in strategic investments in their personal development, to say nothing of their substantial ongoing expenses, custom equipment, and our lifetime medical commitments to them and their families after retirement. The US Department of the Air Force goes so far as to consider their Protectors and Aggressors as weapon systems, and runs a formal program office (complete with dedicated staff) to that effect. The US Department of the Army similarly has a PEO covering the American Defenders.

However, the monetary considerations are only part of the story. Men of their caliber and willpower are exceptionally rare. Less than one percent of all applicants (who are themselves often already capable special operators in difficult disciplines) prove suitable for the pipeline, and of those, upwards of ninety percent will fail entry training. Attrition through the rest of the pipeline remains unavoidably arduous and in the end, less than one in a thousand applicants make it through. For those that do, training to minimum competency requires five Earth years, and full mission capability requires even more. That has made them priceless strategic assets at the absolute bleeding-edge of sports medicine, mental conditioning, and physical and military training. They have sacrificed much to achieve that status and it would be deeply unethical of us to compromise that achievement. We would like this matter addressed promptly.

Lt. Wyndham Phillips Chief Medical Officer, HMS Sharman

Date Point: 16y10m3w AV
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Julian Etsicitty

Julian wasn’t really a fella to wake up by an alarm clock. He wasn’t a morning person, and he wasn’t a night owl. He mostly just…went with the rhythm of life. He woke up when the sun was up, and he felt sleepy when it was dark outside. Often he would wake up in the middle of the night and busy himself for an hour or two, which was a habit he’d picked up on Nightmare and it hadn’t ever really left him. There was usually some small chore he could attend to or something, but not tonight. They’d had everything taken care of.

So, he gently rolled out of bed. He smiled at the way Xiù, without waking up, shuffled into his warm vacated space to cuddle up to Allison, who responded by giving her a squeeze and a kiss before falling asleep again, and pulled on some running shorts. He clipped his personal shield to the waistband, notified his security team, padded downstairs, and got ready for a run.

He had things on his mind to clear out.

After the Lake Incident he’d been much more careful about his personal safety. There wasn’t nearly so much threat anymore, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there, and he wasn’t a fella who could be replaced these days. In a few years maybe, if Ten’Gewek attitudes shifted…but that time wasn’t now. He had a family to keep safe, too. Which was what was really on his mind.

So rather than do what he really wanted, which would have been a nicely strenuous set of interval sprints around town, he instead picked up the heavy weighted vest he kept in the mudroom, shrugged it on, and went to his little backyard exercise pit to get warmed up.

Hoeff had made sure the security detail could keep up with Julian at a reasonable jog, though he would admit to some ego about the vest. None of them were avid lifters but they weren’t small men either, and there wasn’t a man among them who could even lift his vest. Being able to pick it up one-armed and then lightly throw it around his shoulders had definitely established the pecking order, and Julian wasn’t ashamed to admit that made him feel pretty good.

They weren’t morning fellas either, but still, they were good guys and it was nice to have someone to run with. They were tall, serious-looking men who somehow radiated danger in something like the same way Hoeff did—impressive fellas!

Still…Hoeff could pick up the vest, with a quiet grunt of effort. And wear it too, and even train in it for a while. ‘Horse had made the little fucker strong as all shit, honestly. So Julian got his blood flowing with some calisthenics and pull-ups, which filled a good few minutes before the security guy arrived wide awake, alert, and ready to go. Which was good, because pull-ups while wearing that vest could tire Julian out pretty quick. Things were starting to burn nicely in his back and arms…but some part of his pride just didn’t want to let his bodyguard see him tire out. More macho ego, really. Which was kinda dumb…

…But still fun, though.

The jog gave him some time to clear his head. Nofl had something to tell him. Apparently the Directorate had completed their analysis on his “situation” and had prepared a plan forward. The thing was, Julian pretty much knew what that plan was going to be. And he knew what it was going to mean for him. Well, no. He knew what it already meant for him, if he was honest. So, he jogged, and jogged, and jogged some more. Several times he avoided Nofl’s lab, even though he knew the little grey fella was wide awake inside, doing whatever he did when the rest of the city was asleep.

Why was Julian avoiding him?

Actually…yeah. Why was he? A few years ago, the prospect of what he was going to do would have put him off. Did put him off, and with Adam’s serious recommendation, too. But now? He’d grown so crazy, ridiculously goddamned strong even before the psycho-woman had got him infected with Cruezzir, how much difference would it honestly make? He’d been apparently marinating in the prototype medicines since Nightmare, and he was a freak of nature even before that, too…

Christ, he’d been HEAT-sized for years now. Well, not like, huge HEAT, he’d been more like Costello…but Costello was a fucking big man: just a bit shorter than Julian, and literally bigger than any athlete outside of HEAT. Heck, Costello handily outweighed the biggest competitive strongmen there were…and Julian was a lot bigger than him now. In fact, at this point he was well above the team average, and in the same league as Akiyama and Blaczynski.

And given what he was like before his abduction, at eighteen? He couldn’t have played school sports even if he could have afforded it: he was too big, and naturally too big, too. He didn’t look it, either. What would have happened if he’d fallen into training anyway? It wasn’t hard to think he’d have made himself into something special. Maybe not quite HEAT-big, but…well…maybe…

Because that was apparently what he was made to do. And the thing about it? That wasn’t something he could really run away from. Even if he was almost literally doing just that right then. Julian was the man he was made to be and there was no avoiding that. He was damn good at it too, and heck, he not only enjoyed it all, he was well and thoroughly addicted. A day where he couldn’t run or work or lift or anything like that was honestly a miserable day.

So, with a shake of his head and a bit of a chuckle, he checked in on his bodyguard—gamely soldiering on, but he clearly didn’t have much left in him—nodded encouragingly, and thumped off towards Nofl’s lab.

He had to protect his family. And that meant he had to embrace being the purpose-bred freak of nature the Corti made him to be.


No, that was the wrong way to think about it. He should do like Xiù said and not dwell on how he got to where he was. What happened, happened. Was it right? No. Was it evil? Well yes, absolutely. But was it malicious? …Probably not. Does a researcher hate their mice? No. But does he let their suffering stop the study? …No. Far too many would benefit from the science. That stuck in the craw. He and his entire family were just…well, they were just a science experiment.


It was an experiment whose goal was to see just how good a human being could be. He’d shown them. A lot of his family was pretty dang impressive too, so it wasn’t just him. Whatever their reasons were, the practical effect of all that was that Julian really was special. He was made to be the best. He had about the best genes any athlete could ever want, and the best background and experience to survive practically anywhere, in any conditions where life could cling on. Whatever made the Corti decide on th ose traits specifically, seemed in retrospect pretty dang prescient. And now through a twist of fate, he knew most of the details.

So no. Julian resolved he wouldn’t wallow in the tragedy of what happened. Instead, he flipped that on its head. He was one of the absolute best and he would be damned if he didn’t show the Corti, the Ten’Gewek… hell, the whole dang galaxy just what they were messing with.

Feeling buoyed, Julian put on a grin, strolled into Nofl’s lab, and faced his fate.

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

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Sweetness – Chapter 4 (NSFW)

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Sweetness – Chapter 3 (NSFW)

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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

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Mother Earth

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 2

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Adam, Artemis, Atlas, & Icarus Part 1

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

Date Point: 16y2m AV The Thinghall, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Gabriel Arés Every civilization needed its icon of executive power. The UK had the black door of Number Ten Downing Street and, somewhere behind it, the Cabinet Room; the USA had the White House, and the Oval Office; Folctha had the Alien Palace. The

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

You may also want to read Pyrophytes in The Deathworlders series. Same story, different angles. Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “You want me to read it by next week?” Julian mopped the sweat from his face and bounced loosely in place. “What was it

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Leemu had become unresponsive. Nofl’s quarantine facility had alerted him after the patient had been anomalously still for twenty minutes, and the reason why became obvious upon a quick inspection of the cell: Leemu was sprawled on his back, staring blissfully up at

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Deep Space The Russia shuddered again as the engines slowly powered down and the ship slid out of the red blue haze that was the tachyon FTL corridor. James blinked several times trying to clear the haze from his eyes as the regular black background of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

Date Point: 16y1m AV Dataspace adjacent to Mrwrki Station Entity The Entity understood the concept of boredom in an academic, abstract way. It could even vaguely summon up Ava’s memories of being bored. But understanding the idea and actually feeling the emotion were two different things. The closest it could get was the sensation of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

Date Point: 16y2w AV Air Force One, somewhere over Asia, Earth President Arthur Sartori “…You want to give us a Farthrow generator.” Daar’s image was janky and low-resolution thanks to the vagaries of current wormhole comms, but the audio was a lot clearer now. Technology marched onwards. “It’s loaded up on a train and ready

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Good Training – Pecking Order

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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