Children Of War Plot Updates


21-07-2009 10:15:29

As announced in my email earlier today, in the run up to the start of the House Feud there will be several prologue stories released to better prepare the Clan and make it easier to absorb in smaller parts, rather than just one gigantic wall of text all at once.

Naturally, you will still also be able to read these at your leisure on the website.

Credit must go to Raken whose DB Plot Updates layout I have ripped off. :P

27 ABY

GJWVIII: Fall of Antei

28 ABY

Battle of Telos

29 ABY

Enter the Slayer
Fearsome One
Inside Threat
Greed Will Out
30 ABY

Truth is a Lie
Forbidden Love
Avatar of God
The Trickster
GJWIX: Liberation of Antei

31 ABY

Children of War: Chapter I.i
Children of War: Chapter I.ii
Children of War: Chapter II.i
Children of War: Chapter II.ii
Children of War: Chapter III.i
Children of War: Chapter III.ii
Children of War: Chapter IV.i
Children of War: Chapter IV.ii
Children of War: Epilogue


21-07-2009 10:19:08

[CENTER]Children of War

Koros-Strohna Worldship Baanu Amnan
Telos System, Kwymar Sector, Hydian Way
Day 187, 28 ABY

Yorik coral rained from the roof of the chamber as the yammosk, the mighty war coordinator, performed its last act, going about its final death throes. Mile long tentacles thrashed through the interior of the worldship, tearing the vessel apart and splitting off Kor Chokk sized chunks and pebbles the size of miid ro’iks.

The dying worldship broke from its orbit, beginning its final spiral to cremation in the azure skies above Telos. Rifts cracked along the cavernous yorik coral interior as the flailing tentacles ceased their convulsions, slouching back into the mucous filled pit where the corpse of the war coordinator now rested, and the ship at last split apart.

His eyes befell the sight he had dreaded.

Crunched up against a shower of rocks in a small alcove, the lifeless eyes stared back.
He reached down, brushed the debris aside, and closed his claws around the severed skull of the one who had been their Supreme Commander, the great warleader of Domain Amnan: Drathul. The flesh across the base of Drathul’s neck was cauterised clean off.

A lightsaber wound.

He briefly bowed his head in respect, then hurled the skull down the corridor.

There was no time to honour the dead. And he knew Drathul would have had it no other way. He turned back up the corridor he came, using his amphistaff to carve through the unresponsive sphincter that flapped idly in his path. The smell of death permeated the walls where he ran, black sludge bleeding out across his feet as the dying vessel breathed its last breaths. There was no time to help the wounded as he passed, and they did not bother to ask him for help. They were Yuuzhan Vong, Children of the Creator; it was their duty to die for the glory of the Yun’o.

He only hoped he was not too late. To die in battle was one thing.

But to be slain from within was another.

Eshin Shul . . .

He cursed the name of the [Expletive Deleted] who had betrayed his domain. Like the Shamed One she was, she had damned them all. This was their fate for having allowed her to life. This was the gods passing judgement for their weakness.

They should have executed her. Those fool priests had done this to them.

If there was one thing he would do before this was over, even if it meant his death, it was to hunt down every last one of those seers who had ordained to spare the traitor. The will of Yun-Shuno shined on her? Pah! If this had been the will of that Many Eyed Mother of Snivelers, then the Pardoner was no longer worthy of the worship of the Chosen Race.

He reached the command chamber, punching through the slack membrane across the entrance. The floor was painted black in his brothers’ blood, matched by the vacuum that peered in from outside, held back only by a shuddering dovin basal that vibrated chaotically outside the new opening. Across the floor assorted body parts littered the chamber, ripped open by a variety of weapons—mainly of shaper origin.

Jeedai heretics . . .

It was not enough for Eshin Shul to betray the race who had spared her? Now she had led a rebellion? Heresy! The only thing stopping him drawing his coufee and plunging it into his own heart there and then were the numerous bodies of fallen Shamed Ones that decorated the floor. The heretics had got what they deserved.

He turned back to the cognition throne where the vessel’s commander still slouched within the full body membrane and wormlike tendrils of neural clasps from which the worldship and its forces had been directed. A hardened amphistaff was speared straight through the commander’s chest cavity.

In a single, inelegant motion he tore the cognition wrapping off the commander’s body, then, with a foot, kicked the carcass aside; it tumbled across the other bodies underneath in the unstable gravity, then out into the freezing vacuum where its arms instantly crystallised.

His eyes did not watch any of it. He only had moments to spare.

He leapt up onto the inflamed cushion of the cognition throne, its vivid reddishness drained of all but the last traces of life. Unlike normal seats, the hau polyp now felt cold, almost corpselike, its swelling completely deflated.

The chamber shook. Fragments from the ceiling crashed onto his skull; he tasted the iron ting as his own blood dripped into his lips. The worldship had only minutes left. He plunged his arms and head into the tall-yor cognition suit, and the body-length cilia wrapped around him like a moist glove, drawing him into a breathless skin tight embrace. The frail blaze bugs fanned to life before his eyes, their rainbow designs emitting little more than a muted glimmer and soft buzz in his ears.

He closed his eyes and reached out for the minds of the dovin basals throughout the ship. His head exploded as the pain of a thousand life forms flooded his thoughts. This was the job of the rikyam, the central brain. Without the yammosk . . .

His body convulsed under the pain. The dying of an entire planetoid was too much, even for a Yuuzhan Vong; it made the Embrace of Pain seem like light relaxation. But he had to continue. There was no choice. Either way he was going to die. And if he had to choose, then he was going to go out as a Yuuzhan Vong.

He pressed his mind upon the creatures spread throughout the ship. Hundreds of them. Thousands. Perhaps millions. From the mightiest yaret-kor to the tiniest bacterium. Every one a biotic life form, engineered by the shapers to do their bidding. And right then that was precisely what he needed them to do. To hold Domain Amnan’s worldship together. To direct it toward the stars. Where maybe, just maybe, they might all stand a chance of survival.

His mind touched the legion of dovin basals spread throughout the ship; most no larger than a thud bug, tasked with nothing more than maintaining gravity throughout the vessel; others like the massive Keepers powerful enough to drag a small moon out of orbit. Right then he needed all of them. Each and every last one. For one final plunge into darkspace.

He set his thoughts upon a random star out beyond the depths of space . . .

Then his world went black as the dovin basal outside the breach followed his command and reached toward the star in the vast distance, at last allowing the vacuum to pour into the command chamber. He felt his body turn to ice as in his last seconds he watched the assorted chunks of the dead worldship launch away into deep space.


23-07-2009 12:08:08

[CENTER]Children of War
Enter the Slayer[/CENTER]

Uro-ik v’alh Battleship Yammka’s Sword
Antei Orbit, Metal Green Sector, Outer Rim Territories
Day 124, 29 ABY

The sphincter dilated with an audible pop, and Varesh Shai entered the Yammka’s main command room. As the Slayer passed, battle technicians analysing blaze bug displays averted their gazes. Many still found it uneasy to look upon the face of one of the Supreme Overlord’s Jeedai; they claimed the Slayers were an affront to the caste system. But the will of the Great One was the will of the gods themselves, and only a heretic would denounce Varesh to his face. To challenge a Slayer was to challenge the gods. And the Slayers were still the answer to this war, and to the infidels who called themselves the Jeedai.

That was why he’d been stationed out here: on this misbegotten Outer Rim planet the infidels had named Antei. Where the rest of his brethren had been recalled to Yuuzhan’tar to die in glorious battle in the defence of the Supreme Overlord against the heretics of Zonama Sekot, he had been sent to the homeworld of the Sseeth, in case they should return. It had been several klekkets since he had heard from Yuuzhan’tar—not that that in itself was unusual with the interference from the foul anomaly that cloaked this world—but he was uncomfortable being out of contact with the Supreme One for such a long stretch of time.

The priests out here could not be trusted to interpret the will of the Yun’o adequately, and of all of the would-be heretics, it was they who looked upon him from the corners of their eyes the most. Priests did not understand the realities of battle, or the inadequacies of their blind faith. That was why Shimrra alone interpreted the will of Yun-Yuuzhan, the Creator. He understood the need for the Slayers creation, and this was why the shaping protocols of the Eighth Cortex were for the eyes of the Supreme Overlord only.

Word from the Supreme Commander was that Yuuzhan’tar had fallen. But Varesh would believe it when he saw it with his own two eyes. Talk of the God-Chosen’s demise was heresy, and the Yun’o would never have willed defeat upon their Chosen Race, even with that fool Nas Choka in charge. No, the Supreme Commander was a heretic, like the rest. But it was not for Varesh to question Shimrra’s choice of commanders.

It was only his duty to die.

In the centre of the room, Romm Shai released the hooks clasping the skin of the tall-yor hood to his face and pulled his arms and head free, then stepped down from the Yammka’s cognition throne. ‘Gadma dar, Warleader,’ the commander said, slapping his fists against each shoulder. ‘Belek tiu.’

Varesh studied the blaze bugs, arranged in several swarms to represent the local astrography. Blaze bugs distinguished themselves by colour, or else by subtle changes in smell or the drone from their wings. Most of the bugs shone a vibrant scarlet; but a new group, their light dimmed to a dark black sanguine, the colour of dried blood, fluttered into a confused cluster on the outskirts of the map display. To any but a Yuuzhan Vong these changes would have been unnoticeable, but to the carefully attuned eyes, nose and ears of a warleader, Supreme Commander, and Slayer the meaning was clear.

‘The fleet must have fallen,’ Varesh announced dryly. He had expected as much. ‘The Warmaster was a fool for blindly trusting a group of brenzlits as fleet commanders.’

If Varesh knew nothing else, one thing was always certain: Shimrra was never wrong.

Except this time.

Years had passed assigned to watch over this godforsaken planet, but the Jeedai had never returned. It was time for him to return to where he should have been when the assault on Yuuzhan’tar first began. He pulled his eyes away from the devastated navy returning home, then turned back to Romm. ‘Signal my battlegroup and take us out of this anomaly.

‘Then set course for Yuuzhan’tar. Nas Choka has had his chance.’

It was time to return to the Supreme One’s side.


25-07-2009 06:18:32

[CENTER]Children of War
Fearsome One[/CENTER]

Uro-ik v’alh Battleship Yammka’s Sword
Corulus System, Bormea Sector, Core Worlds
Day 131, 29 ABY

‘I will not hear this heresy!’

The Supreme Commander slammed his fists into his seat’s armrests, making the polyps rupture, and splattering pus coloured globules of bodily fluid across his chest. The thorns in the base of his chair recoiled and dug deeper into his spine and legs.

‘The gods would not have allowed the Supreme Overlord to fall!’

As if on cue, a swarm of qaana beetles on the wall behind Varesh started clacking their mandibles in a soothing rhythm, their ethereal sound intended to stem the commander’s rage. But not this time. He slashed his other arm backwards, his tsaisi uncoiling to spray a cloud across the unwelcome sound, causing the insects to scuttle out of sight, after which the tsaisi curled back around his arm again.

The subaltern stood his ground. ‘True that may be,’ Aarn said, ‘but we have received a direct order from the Warmaster himself to stand down and return to Yuuzhan’tar.’

‘And how exactly did we receive this order out here in the middle of nowhere? With the local defence fleet crippled by some unknown plague? And with our villip choir inoperable?’ The rising condescension in Varesh’s voice must have been palpable since the walls of the Yammka itself spasmed.

The subaltern swallowed. ‘Our villip choir picked the request up on the infidels’ HoloNet from the mabugat kan.’

A long moment passed while Varesh held his gaze on the much younger warrior. The subaltern could not have been more than fifteen cycles. This was what he was forced to work with: children. Amateurs not fit to brandish an amphistaff. The gods may have abandoned him, stuck him on a lifeless planet in the depths of space, but surely they would not have forsaken their chosen prophet? Their khattazz al'Yun? The voice of the Creator himself!?

No. Varesh thought as much. This so-called ‘order’ was heresy.

And the Warmaster was clearly a heretic. Perhaps even the ‘false prophet’ Yu’shaa himself, of the Jeedai heresy that had already cost so many domains their warriors’ lives.

‘Nothing changes,’ Varesh finally answered. ‘If Yuuzhan’tar indeed has fallen then Nas Choka’s orders are the work of the Trickster.’ He reclined back into his throne. ‘I receive my instructions only from the Supreme Overlord.’

He turned to Romm, who as usual was seated in the main cognition chair. ‘Commander, withdraw to deep space where we will await further orders. If Yuuzhan’tar is a trap, then we will not rise to the bait. We shall follow Shimrra into exile and regroup.’

Aarn cautioned a step forward. ‘I must object, dread one! A Slayer you may be—’

A gargled cry cut the warrior short as a figure emerged from the shadows and speared the subaltern through the throat. Blood spilled from Aarn’s mouth and he collapsed to the floor, hunching over while his life bled out across the coral. The new figure placed a boot atop the young warrior's face and ground Aarn’s skull into the jagged yorik coral until there was a sharp crack. ‘And a Slayer he is.’

Varesh snorted a dry laugh. ‘I see you share my position, Tsaak.’

The warrior-seer stepped forward, face and chest smeared with blood in ritual designs.

‘The Supreme Overlord lives until I see his body,’ Tsaak said. ‘What of Nas Choka?’

‘What of him?’ Varesh spat. ‘The Warmaster has surrendered. Sided with Zonama Sekot.’ He said the name of the so-called ‘living planet’ as if it were a curse. Varesh stood up, not retracting the thorns imbedded in his throne so they could tear through his skin instead. ‘Until such time as the Supreme One returns and says otherwise, I will be Warmaster.’


26-07-2009 15:33:34

[CENTER]Children of War

Uro-ik v’alh Battleship Yammka’s Sword
In orbit of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space
Day 203, 29 ABY

The commander who entered when the sphincter dilated looked little older than the children who now manned much of the new Warmaster’s fleet. There was scarcely a scar on the boy’s face. Is this what he was now forced to make do with?

The young subcommander whose name the Warmaster did not know prostrated himself on the floor beneath his thorn seat. Almost reading Varesh’s thoughts, the barbs dug deeper into his flesh, steadying his visible disappointment.

‘You are the warleader of this domain’s remnant?’ he asked sceptically. ‘You?

Without raising his gaze, the subcommander nodded timidly.

Varesh shut his eyes and let out a long, audible sigh. It had been over a klekket since Yuuzhan’tar had fallen, and still he had not heard from the Supreme Overlord. The full extent of Nas Choka’s betrayal was beginning to reveal itself. Not only had they lost the Hallowed Center, but the remnants of the empire were in disarray. Many of the outlying warleaders had broken off and gone rogue, anointing themselves new Supreme Overlords in the wake of Shimrra’s supposed demise. Their greed was sickening.

But he held faithful to the True Way and the rightful God-Chosen who ruled them. If anything, this all must have been part of the Supreme One’s plans to weed out the unfaithful.

None of that helped the fact that he was forced to make do with inexperienced parasites like the one before him. Was this one, or the rest of his domain, truly faithful? Or just in need of someone who could actually lead them? Even the high priest seemed less confident about Shimrra’s survival than Varesh or Tsaak. How could one of the Most High Order of Yun-Yuuzhan even so much as contemplate the idea that the Dread Lord was gone?

No matter. His faith would be rewarded. He would yet redeem Domain Shai for the failure of Shedao Shai at Ithor. Had it not been for that, had he not been relegated to the garbage heap of Antei, perhaps he could have exposed Choka’s deception sooner. But what had passed was the will of the gods. This was all but a test on his journey to enlightenment.

‘Where is your Supreme Commander?’ Varesh asked. ‘Your worldship’s prefect? Your high priest? Your warleader? Anybody?

The warrior dipped his head. ‘Dead, Fearsome One. Slain by Jeedai.

‘Get up,’ Varesh said. ‘Get up!’ Ever so slowly, Tolok Amnan stood up to allow the Warmaster to study his face. Varesh shook his head. ‘And they crippled your worldship?’

Tolok nodded. ‘They slew the yammosk which served as our vessel’s rikyam.’

Varesh tightened his fists until his implanted claws drew blood. Jeedai. There were no greater heretics than Jeedai. But if they could strike back they could redeem themselves in the eyes of the Yun’o. Then, just maybe, the Supreme One would return to them.

‘Who were these Jeedai?

The young warleader’s unblemished features contorted into a grimace. ‘I believe the priests call them Sseeth; dark Jeedai from the accursed land where my domain brothers Kol and Drathul first earned their glory.’

Varesh’s eyes flew open. The Sseeth! It was because of them he had been stationed on that lifeless rock during the fall of Yuuzhan’tar in the first place! Because of them he had not been there to oppose the heretic Warmaster! Because of them the Hallowed Center had been lost! And because of them the Supreme Overlord was now missing.

Shimrra had been correct all along: the dark ones had survived!

‘Where? Where were they from? Where?

‘They call their system Orian. It was Drathul’s target, but they struck at us first.’

Varesh considered these Sseeth for a moment. He had heard of them; heard stories of the damage they had done to the Promised Land decades earlier under the Empire; of their prowess in battle and the legends of how they had once ruled this galaxy in millennia past; and how even the mighty Jeedai feared and had been purged from the galaxy by just two.

Sseeth. They were the answer he had been searching for. This was the test the Supreme Overlord had left for them. If they could earn victory, they could regain honour with the gods. Then at last the Supreme One could return to lead the gods’ Chosen Race to glory!

Yes. It all made sense. This was the price the Yuuzhan Vong must pay to be rewarded. And he, Varesh, would be the chosen hand of the gods through which their final deliverance would at last be forged. This was the reward for his unyielding faith.

He returned his gaze to the young warrior, who looked as if he fully expected to be returned to the gods right then. There was a sense of dread in the boy’s eyes. It sickened the Warmaster. But these were the people he would have to make do with. And even crippled, Domain Amnan’s worldship had the resources he needed to heal and regrow his fleet.

He glanced to Tsaak who stood off to the side, hidden beneath a blanket of shadows under his cloak of Nuun. Varesh nodded and the warrior-seer dissolved back into the darkness, unnoticed. This time his audience would not need end in death. Tolok Amnan could yet be of use to him.

‘Very well,’ the Warmaster said. ‘You and your domain’s survivors may join my forces. We shall use the remains of your shattered worldship as a base with which to repair our fleet and regrow our lost ships. Then, when the time comes, we shall strike at these Sseeth and redeem ourselves in the eyes of the gods.’


28-07-2009 14:38:31

[CENTER]Children of War

Tolok Amnan’s damutek
Wreckage of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space
Day 236, 29 ABY

Eshin Shul yawned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Tolok Amnan was asleep next to her, apparently still exhausted from the previous night. She suppressed a laugh and stood up, gently avoiding waking the young commander, and pulled on a flimsy robeskin, the jelly-like cloth automatically conforming to her lithe body shape. She was attractive by any species’ standards, and the scars she’d picked up only enhanced her appeal within Yuuzhan Vong society. Few intendants could speak of fighting the dark Jeedai and living to tell the tale.

Of course, few intendants were social outcasts who had changed their identities either.

‘Up already, Eckla?’ Tolok said, yawning as he pulled the blanket up around him. Like everything else their species used, the fabric was made of living vurruk cloth.

The once Shamed One sighed inwardly, but forced a smile with her tattooed lips. Eckla Muyel: that was the name she now went by since returning to this wretched worldship—the very same worldship she had helped cripple. ‘Not all of us can sleep all day, lover.’

Tolok frowned, not getting the hint. ‘I was hoping—’

‘—I’m afraid,’ she cut him off, ‘I have a meeting to get to with the Master Shaper.’ It was not completely true: the meeting wasn’t for a few hours. But Tolok didn’t need to know that. He didn’t need to know a lot of things. Like the true nature of the experiments she was conducting with Niiriit Phaath. Yes, Tolok was a useful pet, so long as he continued to serve her purposes.

Fortunately, like most males, getting him to serve her was as easy as convincing him her ideas had actually been his ideas—a grin crossed her lips—which also meant that when that fool who was now calling himself ‘Warmaster’ finally found out what her Jeedai were really for, Tolok would be the one who got condemned for it.

She chuckled and forced down a laugh.

A bright flash burst through the gricha membrane covering the window and she was hurled into the nearest wall as a loud explosion rang through in the damutek. In the crash, a rough piece of yorik coral on the wall had thrust into her spine. The pain was deliciously agonising, but she merely winced; she would not show weakness before the warrior.

Tolok jumped from the bed and hurried over to her. ‘ECKLA!’

‘I’m fine,’ she replied hoarsely. It was obvious she was not, but the warrior knew better than to argue with her as she pulled herself to her feet and spat out a mouthful of dark blood. She was stubborn, even by intendant standards, but it was hardly the first quake. The gravitic disruptions had recently been growing more frequent. It was only a matter of time before the remains of the Baanu Amnan finally gave up and fell apart completely.

But for now, it would have to serve her needs. And when it did finally surrender to its fate? That just meant any evidence of heresy which could be used against her would be destroyed along with it. She had nothing to lose.

The villip in the corner of the room started to vibrate, causing the hau polyp it was seated on to rumble. Tolok stroked the leathery ball’s eversion stoma, causing it to pucker and invert its skin to resemble the face of Romm Shai. ‘Commander Tolok Amnan,’ the villip rasped, perfectly mimicking the Supreme Commander’s voice. ‘The Warmaster has identified our next target and commands you report for duty immediately.’

Before Tolok could respond, the villip reverted back into a ball.

Eshin feigned a sympathetic smile. ‘It seems we both have work to do. It was only a matter of time before Varesh launched his next raid anyway. Rrush'hok ichnar vinim'hok.’ Without another word, she made her way outside the damutek and into the ruined dark canyon which she currently considered “home”.

For all their efforts, the shapers had failed in worldshaping the remains of the sundered pieces of the worldship. The land was simply dead. Apart from the specially grown grashals and damuteks that served as barracks and command outposts for the Yuuzhan Vong forces stationed there, nothing would take root in the lifeless rock. Ionic storm clouds cloaked everything south of the equator where this particular fragment had broken free from the rest of the doomed Baanu Amnan, and flashed with further impacts from crumbling wreckage.

She and Niiriit Phaath still had much to do before the ‘Warmaster’ launched his future strike against the dark Jeedai. The Shamed One knew the Sseeth well enough to know they would take few prisoners, and that as devoted to pain as any Yuuzhan Vong may have been, it was better to die than be captured by ones even the Republic’s Jeedai called heretics. However, even better yet, it was so much more satisfying to break them. She allowed herself a chuckle as she hurried through the rocky canyons towards the shapers’ grashal, her laughter lost to the blistery wind as forks of lightning exploded along the mountaintops encircling her.

She ran her fingers along the scars on her cheek that the Jeedai who some had claimed to be the avatar of Yun-Shuno had given her above Telos—how ironic that the Pardoner had supposedly saved her life only to later return to try and finish her in person. But this time not even the gods themselves could stand in her way. She would have her revenge; and soon, very soon, they would all see the True Way for what it really was.

A lie.


30-07-2009 17:17:14

[CENTER]Children of War

Shrine of the Modeller
Wreckage of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space
Day 272, 29 ABY

Thanks to Tolok’s willing help—with a little female coercion—Eshin had managed to keep the nature of her work with Niiriit Phaath secret from the priests and, more importantly, the so-called ‘Warmaster’ himself. Things had gone well so far. Her infiltrators had picked up a Jeedai near Ruuria during one of Varesh’s raids; it had not taken much to get the Caamasi ‘to see the Light of the True Way’.

Eshin snickered as she stepped into the Shrine of Yun-Ne’Shel. Jeedai were so caught up in their own beliefs that seducing them to another banal creed was almost too easy. From what little she had learnt of Jeedai, such theological falls were surprisingly common.

The female Klatooinian strung up horizontally across the roof was evidence of that.

Niiriit did not acknowledge her as she entered the shaping chamber. The Master Shaper always had that tendency to get so caught up in her work she forgot everything around her. It was what made her the perfect tool. The shaper was eager to explore the forbidden fruits of the Eighth Cortex—all Eshin had needed to do was provide the raw materials.

The Klatooinian screamed.

‘I see our guest is doing well,’ Eshin said.

The barbed vines of the Embrace of Pain constricted around the wrists and ankles of the alien in a constant dry rubbing motion while Niiriit injected the captured Sseeth with assorted cocktails. On the floor, a pair of ngdins rushed back and forth, fighting over the droplets of blood that pitter-pattered.

Finally, Niiriit turned away from her prey to Eshin.

‘Eckla!’ Niiriit said. ‘I didn’t hear you enter.’

What a surprise? ‘Have you had any success with her blood?’ Eshin asked.

Niiriit shook her head; the snake-like appendages covering her head hissed and clenched up into a ball. ‘These brenzlits aren’t enough,’ she hissed, echoing her headdress’s tentacles. ‘Vasi requires a pure sample.’

Viqi Yzalli had been someone of no importance; a child abandoned by the dark Jeedai when they lost their world two years ago. Eshin had never expected Viqi’s blood to further Niiriit’s pursuit of the holy grail of the Jeedai’s mystical energy. However that did not make Viqi useless either . . .

Eshin looked up at the Klatooinian and grinned.

‘Another slave for me then.’

The Master Shaper sighed, the noise coming out more like a wheeze. ‘You must get Tolok to source us fresher produce,’ Niiriit said as the hatch sphincter closed behind her.

Eshin shook her head. Niiriit was a useful partner, but the shaper had no concept of people at all. The Jeedai were simply livestock to be worked on. Not that Eshin objected, but at times it was hard not to wonder if Niiriit only saw her as a piece of meat as well.

This was why shapers kept themselves to themselves. And why Eshin normally didn’t bother to get to know one either. But in this case she had needed to make an exception.

One of the ngdins wriggled across her foot so she kicked it off into the wall; the furry rodent yelped then scurried off, squeezing its excessive body mass through a small hole. She rubbed the surface of the Embrace and several of the vines untangled gently; Viqi’s head fell, but stopped abruptly so that the Klatooinian hung upside down facing her.

The former Shamed One smiled.

Eshin held her hand out and stroked Viqi’s cheek as a spineray uncoiled its tail from around the intendant’s arm. The spidery creature scuttled down onto the Klatooinian’s horrified face, then its long finger-like legs crawled over her head and wrapped around the back of her neck.

The Klatooinian screamed again as the spineray buried its cilia into the captive Sseeth’s spinal cord.

‘Hello again, Fiula,’ Eshin said. ‘Are you ready yet to embrace the Light of the True Way?’


01-08-2009 16:55:01

[CENTER]Children of War
Inside Threat[/CENTER]

The Greasy Hydrospanner cantina
Undercity, Seng Karash, Aeotheran, Orian System
Day 313, 29 ABY

It had been almost two months since Sylus Vega had last been contacted by the Kaleesh whose name he couldn’t so much as pronounce.

Yash, as Sylus had taken to thinking of him as—it was the only part of the Kaleesh’s name he could remember—was a representative of the now discredited Peace Brigade, the sympathisers who had thrown their hand in with the Yuuzhan Vong during the war. Most had now been rounded up and arrested. The rest had cut ties and tried to go back to their lives, probably hoping nobody ever found out about their involvement.

Yash presumably was part of the latter group. Either that or he honestly was out of his head enough to seriously believe in what the Peace Brigade stood for.

Which meant he was a lunatic.

Still, it was probably why Sylus connected with the ex-Peace Brigade officer. His own career had been thrown to the gundarks after his involvement with that double crossing witch from the True Brotherhood, Anaxela, had been found out. The former mayor had been forced under the radar, disappearing into the underworld. On the plus side, it was the underworld he had helped to build up, which made things a little easier—he knew people.

The one-eyed Gungan standing behind his stool let out an unpleasant cloud of smoke that fogged across the small corner table. ‘He’s late,’ Ghon whispered.

Sylus took another sip of his pink nebula. ‘He’ll be here.’

‘We don’t like it,’ the Gungan grunted. ‘We don’t need these people.’

Sylus hesitated a moment before he replied. He still couldn’t work out why Ghon had started saying ‘we’ all the time. Not that the Gungan having another screw come loose was all that unexpected—even Sylus wasn’t into using half the stuff Ghon experimented with.

He’ll be here,’ Sylus repeated.

A door at the far end of the cantina slid open. If it wasn’t for the grating sound as the rusted metal scratched against the floor, few would have even noticed the new arrival. Down here in the Undercity, there wasn’t a whole lot of light, so whether the door was open or shut it was just as dingy as ever. This place hadn’t been meant for habitation. The hydroponics facility beneath the main city up aboveground had only been meant for the droid workforce.

But Sylus had seen to that. As mayor of Seng Karash, it had been his duty to seek out profitable new avenues, no? Well, what better way than making use of the disused storage facilities belowground, renting them out to the local ‘protection’ rings and other assorted underworld cabals? The governors must have known what he was doing—if they hadn’t then they deserved it for being so blind. Whatever the case, they hadn’t interfered. Dlarit always had cared more about making a profit than whether the Corporation was within the law.

Not that Sylus had realised what the viceroy really was until Anaxela contacted him.

But that was all in the past now.

The man who entered through the doorway across the other side of the cantina was dressed in nothing more than a faded brown animal skin cloak and loose bandages wrapped around various parts of his body. Every time Sylus saw Yash, it bewildered him how the Kaleesh didn’t freeze to death with half his body completely exposed. It wasn’t like the tribal skull mask Yash wore could have helped much.

Not that any of that stopped Sylus cramping up as his contact squeezed between the crowded tavern patrons towards him. Behind, he heard Ghon mutter something.

‘Where?’ Sylus whispered, searching for the second figure Ghon had just mentioned. He thought he caught sight of a pair of red photoreceptors, probably from a helmet—

Before he could get a better look, Yash dropped into the seat opposite him.

‘Sylus Vega, we meet again.’

Sylus fidgeted in his seat as he glanced around, still trying to avoid eye contact and the need to use the Kaleesh’s full name. ‘It’s been longer than we agreed,’ Sylus muttered. ‘I was told to use my contacts to secure you a facility on Tarthos. I did so. I was told to secure you another one here. I’ve done that. What next? I just sit here waiting for when your boss deems it worth his time to reply?’ Sylus hadn’t intended to sound so irritated, but Yash was only the middle man, which meant Sylus still could lose his temper with him—even if the people the Kaleesh represented were not people Sylus wanted to annoy.

But right now, Yash’s employers needed Sylus.

That meant Sylus was the one calling the shots.

Of course, he wasn’t stupid enough to not realise as soon as Yash’s people got what they wanted they would cut Sylus out the picture, just like both Anaxela and Dlarit had done in the past. That was why this time he intended to make sure things stayed in his favour.

Which meant getting paid up front.

‘I’m still owed for getting you Vega Mine.’

It was impossible to tell if Yash’s smile was genuine or not with the skull covering most of the Kaleesh’s face. Instead of replying, Yash inclined his head left and gestured for someone sitting off to the side to come over. Sylus swallowed hard. It must have been the hired help Ghon had spotted earlier. How did the Gungan always do it with only one eye?

While it was not possible to make the figure out in the dim light, when they approached Sylus realised it was not a guy at all, but in fact a remarkably alluring Chiss—the red optics he had spotted were in fact her eyes. She was dressed in the smart blue uniform of the Dlarit Security Force. He frowned: he didn’t remember her, which meant she wasn’t one of the original Saraii from back when they’d been on Sif—and he knew all the original Saraii, even the ones he wasn’t supposed to.

Whatever. It didn’t matter if she was new to the system. She was still Chiss.

Wait . . . maybe she was his payment? He perked up and grinned at her. The Chiss took a seat next to Yash, however far from returning Sylus’s lustful gaze, her eyes glowered back, as full of life as a corpse. Sylus swallowed again. Evidently she was not his payment.

‘Let me introduce Wyla Sarn,’ Yash said.

Even with the skull mask on, Sylus could sense the threat in the Kaleesh’s eyes; but he was not about to rise to the bait. He recognised a test when he saw one. ‘A pleasure to meet you,’ he quipped sarcastically, no longer interested in the new Chiss recruit, and keeping his attention squarely on Yash. ‘However, I have my own contacts inside the police. Miss Sarn’s ‘services’ will not be required.’

The female Chiss said nothing, her eyes as empty of life as ever. Was she some kind of modified Human Replica Droid? Behind him, Sylus sensed Ghon shift uncomfortably, but he was not about to let this deal fall through. Whatever the Peace Brigade had planned, he could still turn this to his advantage. He’d negotiated his way out of worse deals in the past.

The Kaleesh lifted his skull mask off and laid it on the table between them. The Peace Brigade commander’s face was marked with cuts and scars, along with a mix of ritual tattoos; Sylus had no idea if they were of Kaleesh origin or not. Yash’s left tusk was broken midway, no doubt from an injury sustained when he was young given the way it had healed off angle.

‘Perhaps I should make things clearer to you,’ Yash said. ‘Colonel Sarn will be your new contact within Dlarit Police. This is nonnegotiable.’

‘And since when did you get to select my agents?’

‘Since my employers demanded it.’

Demanded? Who were they to demand anything? Sylus bit down on his response; the tone of Yash’s voice had made it crystal clear there was no point arguing. Sylus still had no information on who the Kaleesh’s ‘employers’ were. He had several good ideas. None of them pretty. The Dlarit Corporation wasn’t exactly in the business of making friends. In fact, Dlarit had done a fine job doing precisely the opposite. Sylus himself was testament to that.

He gave the cantina a quick once over, checking no one was looking their way, then leant forward so his nose was nearly touching Yash’s tusk. ‘Perhaps it’s time you let me in on who exactly these mysterious employers of yours actually are. It’s not like I haven’t proven my commitment already.’

That elicited a response from the Chiss.

Sylus glared at her. ‘Something funny, ‘Colonel’? If that is your real rank.’

The other Chiss stared back, her expression still rigid. A second later the surface of her skin began to ripple and Sylus automatically recoiled back into his chair—only Ghon stopped him tumbling over backwards. Wyla’s skin continued rippling, seeming to peel away out towards the corners of her face.

What emerged through the blue skin-coloured slime froze every blood cell in Sylus’s body. Gray, corpse coloured skin. Purple eye sacks. Pale, silver eyes. Lipless mouth. Stubby, skeletal nose. Black, confused tattoos that made Yash’s look friendly.


Yuuzhan Vong.

Right here. In front of him. Inside the Greasy Hydrospanner!

A disruptor whirled in his ear.

The Vong snorted and scowled at the Gungan. ‘Go ahead. But if I don’t report back, my commander will know I’m dead. Which will only mean your death comes sooner. When that happens, would you rather be on our side, or their side?’ She sneered, glancing around the room. ‘And for all you know, every single person in this room is an infiltrator in disguise.’

Yash turned back to Sylus. ‘Call your mercenary friend off.’

Sylus looked around the room again, the Vong’s words sending a shiver up his spine. She was almost certainly bluffing, but it was impossible to be sure. He tried to forget she had suggested it, but it still didn’t make him feel any better. ‘Stand down, Ghon. It’s alright.’ It wasn’t like he could say anything else. The Vong was calling all the shots now.

An uneasy moment passed before he heard another click in his ear.

‘We do not think this wise,’ Ghon grumbled.

‘There we go. Good pet,’ Wyla scoffed before turning her attention back to Sylus. ‘I am Ona Amnan,’ she said as the gelatinous skin that had built up around the edges of her face moulded back into the shape of a Chiss. ‘But it is probably best if we stick to Colonel Sarn.’

‘My employers want the same thing you want,’ Yash said. ‘To take revenge on the Sith who control this system.’


02-08-2009 17:18:37

[CENTER]Children of War
Greed Will Out[/CENTER]

Dlarit Navy Headquarters, Department of Defence
The Hub, Kar Alabrek, Tarthos, Orian System
Day 325, 29 ABY

Events had moved fast after the Peace Brigade leader, Yashais dei Izvoshra, secured the help of Sylus Vega. The discredited former mayor supplied the agents of the new Warmaster with whatever they required. Whether the crime lord’s allegiance was out of loyalty, greed, or fear was of no consequence to Bur’lorr Amnan: submission was all that was required. In the end, Vega’s ambitions would burn with the rest of this blasphemous star system.

The Hunter strode briskly through the hallway of the Navy Headquarters. Located in the Hub, the central sector of the military city Kar Alabrek, these were corridors of power for the Dlarit Defence Force; the home of the mechanical yammosks the infidels used for war coordinators. The natives did not so much as notice Bur’lorr as he passed, apart from the small handful who felt the need to salute an officer of his rank. He did not salute back.

He reached an office labelled ‘COMMANDER ARNET’. Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew his oggzil and pressed it against the door’s control panel. It would be good when he was free of this disguise; he abhorred having to interact with infidel technology. A spy he may have been, but his oggzil was his greatest friend when faced with such foul machines.

The pristine white doorway slid open in silence, revealing an equally spotless chamber within. The base’s designers apparently had done all they could to emulate the clinical look of the inside of a Star Destroyer—a vessel the Hunter had firsthand experience with.

It was not natural. There was no life within these walls. The level of refinery was cold and lifeless. Dead. The only things of note were the ludicrously extravagant ornaments and paintings dotted around the room. When contrasted against the white walls, they appeared completely out of place, even to Bur’lorr’s eyes.

The level of self indulgence only made him hate it even more.

Across the room, Ran Arnet sat perched behind his desk. A thin scar ran down the near-human’s right eye, which had been replaced by an artificial bronze coloured implant; dressed in a spotless, tailor-made blue military tunic—with a few rather nonstandard alterations—Ran looked every part a man of excess. His attention was still focused on the console before him.

‘Just a minute,’ the commander called, waving a hand dismissively.

A Caamasi who stood off to one side of the room coughed, getting Ran’s attention.

The commander glanced up. ‘Oh,’ he muttered, ‘it’s you. Bur’lorr, do come in.’

The Vong stepped inside far enough that the door slid closed but did not take a seat.

Visibly tense, Ran shut down the console imprinted in his desk’s surface and fidgeted through the items on his desktop, sifting out a datachip, before he finally looked back at Bur’lorr. ‘Sol told me you would be coming.’ Ran gestured towards the Caamasi, Sol Dalen, who had been assigned as his ‘Jedi helper’.

‘Can I get you anything?’ Ran continued, looking back at Bur’lorr, but waving a hand at the protocol droid behind him. The droid set a plate down on the desk which was decorated with a range of gold and jewel encrusted decanters. ‘I have several fine Alderaanian emera wines. They’re very expensive these days.’

Off to the side, the Caamasi muttered something under his breath.

Bur’lorr glowered at the mechanical abomination and simply thrust out his hand for the datachip. It sickened the Hunter to be reminded these were the people he had to work with. ‘This contains all the access codes?’ he asked bluntly. Ran’s expression fell. The man was clearly not used to having his expensive luxuries turned down. Bur’lorr sneered at the droid again, causing the artificial construct to recoil and take an involuntary step back.

‘How rude,’ the droid hissed.

‘Yes,’ Ran said, then shook his head and turned back to Bur’lorr. ‘I mean: yes,’ he quickly corrected, ‘everything you need to access the wreckage of Obsidian Station.’ Ran had not let go before Bur’lorr pulled the chip out of the commander’s hands. ‘Sylus did not tell me much about what you plan to do up there. Is it safe for me to stay in the city?’ The man’s eyes drifted around the room, lingering for a few seconds on each of the expensive artworks he had collected to adorn the otherwise sparse office.

Bur’lorr remained expressionless. He was not here to exchange pleasantries with one so evidently self serving as Ran. The stench of the man’s greed was truly palpable. ‘You and your master will get your money,’ the Hunter snarled. He inclined his head toward Sol. ‘Khalee will provide you with the information you require.’ He made a point of using the Caamasi’s true name—or, at least, his true name as far as the Gods were now concerned.

Khalee was one of Eckla Muyel’s Jeedai converts; ones who had seen the Light of the Yun’o, the True Gods, and surrendered to the True Way. The idea still left Bur’lorr a little uneasy—the Jeedai were heretics, should they not be executed? However Warleader Tolok had convinced him. If the Jeedai were to die, it made sense to put them to use first.

To die in service to the gods was the greatest act one could aspire to, no? If this galaxy was to burn, it could at least burn repenting of its heresy. The priests did not approve, but when had the priests ever contributed anything useful during the war? It was they who had spared the Shamed One who betrayed them at Telos. It was time now to trust in the will of Yun-Yammka, and have faith the Slayer would provide his children in their time of need.


04-08-2009 06:14:48

[CENTER]Children of War

Vega Mine, formerly Dlarit Mine Five Beta
Sector Orenth Four, Aeotheran Jungle, Orian System
Day 21, 30 ABY

Contrary to what Sylus had made out to the Vong, it had been relatively easy to acquire Vega Mine. Like most things in life, all it had taken were being in possession of a few choice details about Fae Taros, the president of Dlarit Mining, and thereby calling in a ‘favour’.

In this case, said ‘favour’ had meant obtaining full rights to Mine Five Beta. The mine had been abandoned years ago. Not long after opening, the mining crew had punched through into an underground labyrinth that spread outwards in a vast web of caverns. Deeming the structure unsafe for further expansion, Dlarit Mining had cut its losses and moved elsewhere.

Even today, the lower levels still remained untouched—not even Sylus wanted to risk a cave in—but the surface levels provided more than enough space for him to establish a base for Vega Incorporated. It was his private redoubt, and the perfect fortress from which to oversee his system wide crime network. He had agents throughout Orian, and a few beyond in nearby systems like Ord Mantell and in the Corporate Sector. He even had contacts on the underworld station Refuge—there were some secrets not even the ‘all powerful’ Sith knew.

Refurbishment of Vega Mine had accelerated after Colonel Sarn—Ona Amnan—had entered the picture. Between her and her commander on Tarthos, Bur’lorr, and the other Peace Brigade operatives Commodore Yash had provided, Sylus had been able to fortify the installation and spread his hand further in Seng Karash and on Amphor—even if he himself was still forced to remain nameless; but then, not being culpable was not a bad thing either.

The only complication was the bug infestation that seemed to have sprung up recently in the Undercity. They had similar problems in the lower levels of the mine, but after the first few giant ants had been dragged into his office—one beetle being four meters tall!—he had ordered the lower levels sealed off. Nobody knew what the bugs were, and he didn’t care. Anyone who had lived on Aeotheran as long as he had knew the planet was rife with unworldly creations; if you wanted to sleep, it was best not to think too much about them.

Out of sight, out of mind, that was what he had always said.

And Vega Mine was most definitely out of sight.

‘We’ve finished installing the turbolaser batteries outside the main entrance,’ Ghon said, entering the office. The Gungan still hadn’t stopped using ‘we’ all the time, but Sylus had given up arguing. It must have been a Gung thing.

‘Excellent!’ Sylus said, getting up from his chair.

The office was light years away from the plush executive suite he had once kept in the top floor of City Hall in the centre of the government district of Seng Karash. But that was three years ago, back when he was still mayor. The room was little more than a cave with a comm desk and a few other computer banks, their huge industrial power cables trailing across the floor in what would have been a health hazard back in the city.

Instead of an entire room devoted to his wardrobe, most of his clothes were boxed up in stacks of brown containers throughout the office. Most of his other belongings were still in storage in one of the other chambers in the mine. However his biggest irritation was the smell of gas that still permeated every single surface, every rock, every corridor; a remnant from the explosive charges that had blasted the mine tunnels open ten years ago. The constant echo of drilling from the works going on aboveground didn’t help either. And he could swear he could hear a strange clacking, but he might just have been imagining it.

Regardless, for now it served his purposes.

This was just a temporary measure anyway. Once the Dlarit Corporation and its dark masters had been dealt with by the Vong, then the system aboveground would all be his.

‘How is our friend Viqi fitting in?’ Sylus asked. He wasn’t stupid. It was obvious the Klatooinian was a spy. For a start, her tattoos marked her as a member of the same occult brotherhood that Orian’s local darksiders belonged to, whatever it was. The new face full of markings the Vong had given her didn’t help matters either.

The half blind Gungan rolled his one remaining eye stalk. ‘Viqi . . . or do you mean Fiula?’

Sylus shrugged at the two names—the Klatooinian’s original one, and her so-called ‘true name’ after her conversion to the Vong’s religion. ‘Do you trust her?’

‘Which one?’ Ghon snorted. ‘Do you trust someone who goes and decides they’ve been reborn as a Vong? It’s bad enough when you get those ‘reborn’ Cosmic Balance nuts.’

It was a rhetorical question, but then so had been Sylus’s original one. There was something wrong about Viqi Yzalli—Fiula Muyel—whatever. Sylus may not have been Force-sensitive, but he knew enough to tell that it made little sense that a Sith trainee had defected over to the race whose very existence was anathema to them.

And even less sense for a race who had waged holy war against the Jedi to suddenly start recruiting them into their ranks. Even if Viqi had converted: why now? The Vong were desperate, but hadn’t they been desperate at the tail end of the war? Why not do this before they were forced off Coruscant and their empire destroyed?

Sylus shook his head.

It did no good to dwell on it. The Vong’s motives were too alien to even begin to comprehend. Besides, the Vong were of little consequence. As long as he could profit from the coming devastation that was all that mattered. He just needed to get himself an edge before then. He had enough experience knowing what happened after the dust settled.

This time he had no intention of being double crossed.


04-08-2009 16:47:18

[CENTER]Children of War

Wreckage of Obsidian Station
Northern Polar Region, Tarthos, Orian System
Day 54, 30 ABY

It had been just under two klekkets since the Dlarit Navy turncoat Ran Arnet had procured the access codes Bur’lorr had needed to the wreckage the infidels called Obsidian Station. From the outside the crash site still looked no different, just a mess of mangled metal half buried by the winter’s snow. Some of the Sseeth had come snooping a few weeks back, but like the Jeedai they were too blind to see what was right before their eyes.

Inside was a different matter.

The biots from the Baanu Amnan had quickly got to work, worldshaping the wreckage into a more sacrosanct place befitting of the Hunter. Most of the lifeless durasteel corridors had been reshaped by new growths of yorik coral, along with the usual glow-lichens and hatch sphincters. It had been necessary to leave certain rooms alone to retain the connections to the planetary defence grid, but apart from those Obsidian was now ‘home’.

However right then none of that interested Bur’lorr. His mind was glued on the monstrosity shackled to the Embrace of Pain directly before him.

He lashed out with his amphistaff again.

‘What is your place of origin!’

The silver droid bound up by the Embrace’s organic tentacles shrieked as they sent electrostatic charges through its body. It had been tied up for nearly two months but had yet to reveal anything, not even a name or identifier. Its cyclopean red photoreceptor simply stared back, unblinking, devoid of life or emotion. Even its cries felt artificial and empty of true pain.

He stiffened his amphistaff and slammed it into the seemingly invulnerable contraption.

‘Where did you come from? What is your purpose here?’ He paused a second. ‘Are you . . . one of them?’

No response.

The Hunter snarled and hurled the amphistaff at the droid; the black serpent promptly coiled up around the machine’s ‘neck’, its teeth closing over the glowing red eye. He doubled checked the Embrace’s restraints, then stormed out of the interrogation chamber, barely giving the sphincter time to dilate before he was gone.

The other Yuuzhan Vong averted their eyes as he passed; the few Peace Brigade men stationed with them scuttered out of his way into random side rooms he knew were empty. Good. It was right for them to be scared. His patience was nearing its limits. Their mission here was to infiltrate the Dlarit Corporation and position operatives throughout the military. That part was going well.

However the sudden appearance of the droid last winter had not been in the plans. They were lucky that worm Arnet had got them the defence system’s codes in time. It had only taken hacking into the local city’s grid during the infidels’ recent battle over the nearby ice world, and then diverting the city’s defence turrets to shoot the abomination down.

But shooting it down had only been the start.

It had proven impervious to harm. Coufees, amphistaffs, razor bugs; nothing could cut through the armour. Firejelly, plasma cannons, magma pebbles, thud bugs; they didn’t work. Even the heretical monstrosities the infidels had shaped to look like the Chosen Race did not have the invulnerable skin that the droid possessed. He had even commanded some of the Peace Brigade soldiers to use their heretical weapons on it; still nothing. Even Khalee Muyel, the Jeedai assigned to them, had tried with his blasphemous plasma-based amphistaff.

There was only one thing Bur’lorr could think of; one thing from the distant past; from the ancient days when the Children of Yun-Yuuzhan still walked the evergreen surface of the original Yuuzhan’tar; before the Cremlevian War all those tens of thousands of years ago.

But it was impossible. The machines had been destroyed.

The gods had silenced the Abominor.

Bur’lorr listened to the shrills behind him as the next warrior resumed the unending interrogation. It sent a cold chill up his back, as the machine awakened some long forgotten, primordial fear they had discarded aeons ago. He rubbed his hand on a nodule on the wall beside the entrance to his quarters and the hatch sphincter dilated to allow him inside.

Without another thought, he climbed up onto the rack of his room’s own Embrace and allowed the pain to take him, granting him a minor release, free from unwelcome thoughts of the abomination. Pain . . . at least from his pain he could remember he was still alive.

When he was done cleansing his mind, it would be time to get back to work.

There was still much to be done.


06-08-2009 16:31:00

[CENTER]Children of War
Truth is a Lie[/CENTER]

Credit to Matthew Stover’s Traitor from which the main Embrace of Pain scene has been adapted.

Matalok Warship Voice of Agony
In orbit of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space
Day 128, 30 ABY

Vasi Khess hung in the white, exploring the spectrum of pain.

In the far infrared, he found cinders of thirst that baked his throat. Higher, up in the visible wavelengths, gleamed the crimson wire-stretched ligaments that sizzled within his shoulders; grinding glass-shard screams howled from his hip joints like the death shrieks of golden tishwii starflowers. There was green, too—bubbling tongues of acid hungrily licked his nerves—as well as lightning-blue shocks that spasmed his overloaded body into convulsion.

And higher still, now far beyond the ultraviolent betrayal that brought him here—the betrayal that delivered him into the hands of the Shamed One, the betrayal that gathered him into the Embrace of Pain, the betrayal by Niiriit Phaath, whom he had trusted—he found silent shattering gamma-ray blasts sleeting into his brain.

Those gamma-ray blasts were the colour of the lie he had believed since birth.

For he now understood the truth:

The gods were not true.

The cold moist touch of a hand along his jaw leaked time back into the white.

The tides of agony retreated, and Vasi could open his eyes.

He hung horizontally, suspended facedown two meters above a floor of wet, slick-looking greens and browns—its surface corded, viny, as though with muscle and vein. The walls oozed oily dampness that smelled darkly organic: voxyn sweat and barbfly droppings. From the darkness above swung tentacles like prehensile eyestalks, ends socketed with glowing orbs that stared at him as the tentacles wove and danced and twisted about each other. The two heretics were watching.

Something that felt like claws, sharp and unyielding gripped his skull from behind; he could not turn his head to see what held him. His arms were drawn wide, pulled to full extension and twisted so that his shoulders howled in their sockets. A single strong grip crushed his ankles together, grinding bone on bone—

Yet the greatest pain he now suffered was to look on Niiriit and remember that he had trusted her. It had sounded wise at the time. Her plan was to graft yammosk tissue onto his brain, and to transform the lowly shaper into an avatar of the gods. To do what the Supreme Overlord had tried—and failed, regardless what Varesh Shai claimed—in attempting to imbue a Child of Yun-Yuuzhan with the sacred energy only the Jeedai could wield.

But Niiriit had failed.

His body had not transformed into the khattazz al'Yun as she had promised. It rejected her experiments. The rikyam implants had mutated into a tumour that now bulged out his skull in a nest of cancerous warts. His life was on borrowed time.

And for the Master Shaper’s mistakes it had been he who was condemned; he who had been declared a Shamed One; he who was made a slave who now nobody cared what further mutilations and acts of heresy she performed on him.

‘You’re awake.’ Not Niiriit’s voice. The other. The Shamed One. Eckla.

‘You—’ Speaking tore his throat as though he coughed splinters of coral. The hand stroked his face gently as one might a child. Had he the energy, he would have torn the fingers off between his teeth.

‘There, there,’ the innocent voice whispered. ‘You are doing so well. Think of all the good you are doing. Thanks to you, we will heal the curse our race has borne for millennia.’

He heard footsteps behind him, then the needles of an amphistaff’s mouth slid up into his wrist. This time it was the voice of Niiriit, ‘Each new Jeedai is another chance,’ she muttered distantly, most likely talking to herself. ‘Maybe this one’s blood will be the key.’

His pulse sped up as lava surged into his veins and wrapped around his heart. The fire pumped up his throat, red washing over his eyes. His skull rocketed into the middle of the sun as the white swallowed him once more.

The gamma-rays returned, their whispers carrying the truth:

Your life is a lie.


08-08-2009 15:01:00

[CENTER]Children of War
Forbidden Love[/CENTER]

Temple of the Slayer, formerly the Well of the Yammosk
Wreckage of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space
Day 189, 30 ABY

The Temple of the Slayer no longer bore any sign of the battle that had been fought between the legendary warleader Drathul Amnan and the heretical Dark Jeedai and Sseeth two years ago. In the middle of the half a kilometre wide chamber, the depressed Well of the Yammosk, where the central brain of the worldship had lived, had long been drained of the yellow-green film of mucous that once nourished the holy war coordinator.

These days it was the Place of Sacrifice. The shapers had needed to regrow much of the chamber from where the yammosk’s gargantuan tentacles had ripped the worldship apart in its death throes. The new walls had been built in the same ancestral architectural designs. In the floor, passages had been carved into the yorik coral for the blood from sacrificial victims to flow to the ngdins who then consumed it for the Yun’o. The blood was harvested chiefly from Shamed Ones who claimed Shimrra was dead instead of trusting the Warmaster’s word.

Throughout the chamber, crab-harps roamed freely, beating their spare legs against the leathery drums on their backs to provide a constant background harmony in sharp contrast to the slurp each time one of the ngdins cleaned up a pool of blood.

Taug Lacap crossed the chamber, heading towards the charnel pit in the centre where the daily sacrifices were thrown to the carnivorous yargh’uns. Seef, the High Priestess, was already there. As was Tsaak Shai, the Warmaster’s personal seer. The pair appeared gripped in one of their regular disagreements.

Taug grimaced—an act that looked strange on his mutilated face, shaped as it was into a likeness of the Twin Lover Gods such that one side appeared male, to represent Yun-Txiin, the other side female, representing Yun-Q’aah. He never had liked Tsaak; the seer was too wrapped up in Yun-Yammka’s ways, and too dismissive of religious protocol. It didn’t help that, like Varesh, Tsaak still refused to accept Shimrra was dead.

The seer was going to be a lot worse after Taug gave his new update on Tolok Amnan.

As Taug approached, Tsaak did not bother to greet him.

‘We’re discussing your latest report on Domain Amnan,’ Seef said, her voice still terse. The High Priestess was naked apart from a fresh splatter of blood from the recent victims she had now lathered upon her breasts and upper torso. ‘Tolok has gone too far this time.’

Taug nodded in agreement. He spared a glance at Tsaak, who still had not moved. ‘He has already violated the Great Doctrine with his relationship, not just with someone from another domain, but from another caste. This new request to assign Jeedai to the Yammka was inevitable.’

That got Tsaak’s attention. ‘And what do you propose, apostle?’ the seer whispered, his voice sharp enough to silence the nearby crab-harps. ‘That we execute them both?’ He spread his arms as if to take in the whole chamber. ‘And what then? Without Domain Amnan there would be no Yammka’s Sword. Without the Baanu Amnan’s resources the Warmaster would not have regrown his lost battlegroup. Do you think the Fearsome One blind? He has distrusted this worthless domain since he allied with them—but sacrifices must be made.’

‘But Jeedai?’ Seef added. ‘Jeedai? The gods would never condone Tolok’s heresy.’

‘Yun-Yammka will understand,’ Tsaak retorted. ‘The Jeedai will yet face judgement at the Gate to the Lands of the Dead. Shimrra understood the need for the Slayers. Is this not the same?’

‘It has been more than seven klekkets . . .’ Taug said slowly. Seef glanced sideways at him, but he decided to risk the question anyway, ‘You still believe the Supreme One lives?’

Tsaak was quiet for a long moment, then said, ‘As long as the Great Doctrine is true, the Dread Lord lives, is that not correct?’ The look in the seer’s eyes made it clear the issue was not open for debate. Not that Taug could argue anyway. They had never been without a Supreme Overlord before. Shimrra’s disappearance—alive or dead—still made no sense.

‘Perhaps it is time we started thinking about a . . . regent,’ Seef said, ‘for until such time as the Great Lord returns.’ The naked priestess stared down into the yargh’un pit to watch the rodents chomp up the last few bones from the morning’s sacrifices. ‘I think it fair to conclude Varesh has become an augury of the Cosmic Lord’s will.’

Taug did not speak. Apart than the Supreme Overlord himself, only the members of the Order of Yun-Yuuzhan communed with the Cosmic Lord directly. If Seef believed the Warmaster had become a vessel for Yun-Yuuzhan, then none but Shimrra could dispute it.

Tsaak looked as though he had been struck in the face by a senalak. After a rather uncomfortably long silence, the warrior-seer finally said, ‘If that is what you ordain then, High Priestess, I am in no position to disagree. And if what you say is true, I am sure the Warmaster will have no objections when he returns from his current battle.’

The blood soaked priestess nodded. ‘Then so be it. We will allow Tolok’s indiscretions for the time being. But when the Supreme One returns the young commander and his illicit lover can expect to answer for their crimes in blood.’


09-08-2009 11:58:28

[CENTER]Children of War
Avatar of God[/CENTER]

Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
Arda-2, Gordian Reach, Outer Rim Territories
Day 217, 30 ABY

The Elite of Domains Amnan and Shai were assembled in the Hall of Confluence. The Warmaster had recently returned from his latest campaign along the local stretch of the Hydian Way and Gordian Reach. None would dare admit it so long as the Warmaster proclaimed Shimrra yet lived, however the gathering of hundreds of his best warriors was all but a meeting of a new Great Council. Many were sure it was only a matter of time before the Warmaster himself admitted it, and finally became the next Supreme Overlord, but until that time such talk remained heresy.

As Supreme Overlords had done for fifteen thousand years, the Elite had gathered to bear witness to the inauguration of a new avatar of the Gods, a new khattazz al’Yun. The Hall of Confluence had been built within a fragment of the shattered worldship Baanu Amnan, and then grafted to the Yammka itself, transforming the already mighty warship into a monstrous Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser, by far the largest vessel in the armada.

The walls were built of chitin marble, with four entrances for each of the Ruling Castes; the warriors being granted the largest, and most elaborate, of the four. Pillars of bone held up the ceiling, as strands of yorik coral flowed in patterns around their columns and along the arched ribcage of the roof. High above, a swarm of rainbow qaana beetles clacked their mandibles, and around the edges of the chamber crab-harps beat their drums in harmony as a fragrant vapour blew through the air from the scent glands of a thamassh.

Varesh Shai was seated on the polyp throne, atop a raised dais at the front of the Hall. His silvery eyes glowed in the dim light from the glow lichen. The crimson robe he wore was in sharp contrast to the black blood coloured armour that was bound tight to his frame like a second skin. He scraped his finger length talons along the throbbing arm rests, as his clawed feet implants clutched the dais’s engorged veins, drawing blood.

The ceremony still sat uneasy with the Warmaster. This was not the ceremony of a warleader, but the inauguration of a new religious leader. He was not blind. He knew what they saw it as.

But it changed nothing.

His loyalty remained to the true Dread Lord. It may have been over a year, but he knew Shimrra still waited in the darkness, readying himself for his glorious return. This pomp and circumstance was a necessary sacrifice, sickening as it was in its extravagances. However if it appeased the High Priestess of Yun-Yuuzhan, who was he to question it?

That right was for the Gods and the God-Chosen alone.

The amassed warriors had already taken their seats when the Elite hierarchy emerged from their respective archways that surrounded the council chamber. First to appear was Tsaak Shai, the Warmaster’s personal advisor, who many believed to be the true religious voice in Varesh’s court. Next came Supreme Commander Romm Shai, the Yammka’s captain, followed closely by Commander Tolok Amnan of the Warmaster’s foremost allies. All alone, Master Shaper Niiriit Phaath’s solitary entrance was noticeable; the last of her caste still serving the ones the Warmaster called the true Yuuzhan Vong. The gateway for the Intendant Elite was quiet, none having stayed true to the gods. Their selfish greed had been no surprise to the Warmaster, who had long decreed politicians unfit to rule the Gods’ Empire.

After the last of the Elite were seated, the High Priestess, Seef Lacap, entered through the priests’ gateway, clad in nothing but a flimsy robeskin, her face and arms smothered in ritual markings with the blood of sacrificial Shamed Ones. In her hands she held a specially bred tsaisi which would serve as the khattazz al’Yun’s new baton of rank.

The High Priestess took her place behind the polyp throne, and then stretched out above the Warmaster, holding the fully extended tsaisi aloft. The din of the crowd fell silent and the assembled warriors stooped to their knees, prostrating on all fours towards her.

‘Behold the Warmaster Varesh Shai! Behold him!’ Seef called.

In unison the assembled warriors answered with a thunderous: ‘TCHUROKK!

She continued, ‘I come before the Gods to present to them their Warmaster! He has managed what no other Child of Yun-Yuuzhan has! He has stood fast against the heresy of Zonama Sekot! He has stood fast against the Jeedai heresy! Behold him!


‘He has seen the Light of the True Way! He has embraced Their Second Gift and looks forward to the day he earns Blessed Release through the Third Gift! Behold him!

The blood soaked priestess handed the Scepter of Power to the Warmaster below her. He took it in his right claw and stood up, then turned straight upwards to the ribcage ceiling.


Seef stepped down from the dais.

Tchurokk Yun'tchilat! Witness! WITNESS THE WILL OF THE GODS! TCHUROKK!

All of a sudden the Scepter of Power lunged towards the Warmaster’s neck and sank its fangs into his throat. He roared like the artillery barrage from a bank of yaret-kors, yet he stood defiant, as the body of the serpent pulsated, as it pumped more and more venom into his veins.

The entire Yammka quaked, chips of yorik coral sprayed from the roof, the music of the qaana beetles and crab-harps momentarily jumped, skipping a beat, as his cry shook them.

The walls of the chamber convulsed.

Then, finally, Varesh stopped.

Seef turned back to the crowds.

‘ Behold the Avatar of God! Behold him! Tchurokk sen khattazz al’Yun! Tchurokk’tiz!



11-08-2009 10:36:18

[CENTER]Children of War
The Trickster[/CENTER]

Yorik-Stronha Spy Ship Zhaetor-zhae
Calabrex Orbit, Antei System, Metal Green Sector
Day 320, 30 ABY

The stench that invaded the Nachzerer as its ramp slammed down into the rotting surface of the Vong ship reminded Macron of something that came out a bantha’s rear end. Back on the Final Way, from a distance the alien ship had resembled a normal asteroid, but up close it was now possible to make out the viny, organic surface, made up of individual beds of greens and browns, laced with thick, aubergine-coloured veins that still pulsed, albeit now only faintly.

‘We have to go out in that?’ Conad’s voice erupted in Macron’s ears.

Conad!’ Jade yelled, jerking at the sound of her own voice. She paused a moment to collect herself again. ‘The environment suits amplify our voices . . . remember?

The Journeyman didn’t reply.

‘Okay, we do a quick sweep,’ Macron said. ‘In and out in thirty, all understood?’

A static crackle of affirmations sounded from the members of the Expeditionary Unit.

‘And no funny business,’ he added. ‘I’m not hauling anyone’s ass back in a body bag.’

Without waiting for their responses, in the low gravity Macron hopped down the ramp onto the mushy surface of the dying Vong ship. He could feel the rocky yorik coral beneath the layers of decayed tissue on top, but even the coral felt brittle and broke apart under his boots. It reminded him of what Violator Gas had done to the worldship they’d destroyed two years before . . .

In the distance, something impacted on the surface.

A few seconds later, the shockwave ripped through the ground. It would have thrown him to his feet had his bodysuit’s inbuilt claws not automatically latched onto the ground—the same could not be said for Zaroth and Conad, both of whom had fallen over.

‘Might want to revise that estimate, Mac,’ Zaroth grunted. ‘This hunk doesn’t feel like it’s long for this world.’

‘Copy that,’ Macron agreed. ‘Let’s make it ten.’ He surveyed the wilting plants across the surface—all dead. ‘Doesn’t look like there’s much left anyway.’

He noticed a nearby cavern near where the Nachzerer had set down. A flap of withered skin hung over the cave entrance, still swaying from the earthquake. His memory flashed back again to the Vong worldship and the sphincters they used instead of doors.

‘I think we found ourselves an entrance.’

The team followed Macron. His suit’s lamp came on automatically to illuminate the tunnel. He brushed the skin aside and stepped inside.

It did not look good.

The ship’s interior was in a rapid state of decay. Two prehensile stalks hung from the ceiling immediately inside, swinging to and fro as blood trickled from the eyeballs socketed along their shafts. Brown fluid was also dripping from the roof. The organic lining that had enveloped the coral labyrinth was partially liquefied, the same as the surface outside.

Someone whistled behind him.

‘Looks like your kind of place,’ said Sai.

The alchemist ignored the remark and instead bent down and poked a finger into the slime. His gauntlet’s sensors flared to life and began analysing the molecular composition, then fed the results directly into his helmet’s heads-up-display, and projected a ghostly blue image, magnified ten thousand times, inside of his visor.

The translucent sphere was covered in spike-shaped pili and several flagellum tails.

‘Alpha Red . . .’ he muttered, however his voice was lost to a stomach retching gurgle from inside the dying ship’s bowels—the smell this time resembled a whole herd of bantha’s backsides.

‘The thing you made Violator Gas out of?’ Zaroth asked after the clamour stopped.

For once, Macron did not giggle. ‘Yes . . .’ Violator Gas was the pathogen strain he had engineered from the original Alpha Red virus—though, unlike Alpha Red, Violator Gas had been reconstituted to target everything. But he had given it a very short lifespan. However the original was already unstable enough. Too long an exposure was sure to cause it to mutate.

He glanced around the cavern, at the bleeding, putrefied walls.

For someone to release it on this large a scale . . . ?

He stood up and took few steps deeper inside, each step testing the surface with his foot first. The others followed at a more cautious distance—unlike him, their environment suits wouldn’t prove much protection should the asteroid become unstable—

Before he could finish that thought, another quake shook the cavern. Someone cried out, then something behind slammed into him and he toppled forward into the darkness. He went rocketing downhill like caught on a water slide, the decaying sludge beneath him acting as a natural lubricant. Seconds later, something punched him head on, and he cart wheeled head-over-heels, and finally his head slammed face first into the backside a rotting skull which exploded.

He felt a sharp spike of pain along the back of his neck. His earpiece beeped, indicating his suit had been punctured, but he was still able to breathe.

‘Mac! Mac! Are you okay!’

The voice still sounded right next to him but it was only the audio enhancement.

Eugh . . .’ He wiped the grey-green corpse-slime off his face.

He glanced at his health monitors . . . despite the breach, everything checked out fine. There was still a small pang in his neck, but whiplash was to be expected. His HUD’s sensors showed he had plunged at least fifty metres, possibly double that.

Which karking laser brain pushed me down the hill!?

‘Guilty,’ said Sai, his voice crackling from static a little. ‘You able to get back up? That last impact shook something free. There’s a giant piece of rock floating off up here.’

Macron keyed a command into his wrist. Like a krayt dragon’s claws, ten five inch climbing forks shot out his boots. At least his parts were all still working.

Another spike of pain struck him from behind and a puff of smoke blew out where his earpiece was. Spoke to soon . . . kriffing puncture.

He took an experimental step, clutching the brittle yorik coral.

It held. For now.

‘Yeah,’ he called but realised his vocabulator had shorted out. He retracted his visor then yelled, ‘I think so!

The climb back was easier than he expected. The ship’s core seemed to be in a better state than aboveground. The floor only began to grow brittle again nearer the surface. At the top, Sai and Zaroth hauled him up the last few steps. Losing his footing, he stumbled forward in the low gravity from the added pull—

All of a sudden he went blind from a bright orange blur, and heard Sai swear as the light flashed across his face, slashing perpendicular to his back, as he ducked instinctively. When Macron looked up, Sai’s blood orange lightsaber was back in his hand.

What the frack?!’ Macron spun—his own lightsaber snap-hissing to life—and spotted a smouldering corpse of what looked like a long tail attached to a set of eight finger-like legs.

Sai shut off his saber and pulled a long face. ‘Looks like I killed your new pet.’

Macron continued to stare.

The asteroid rumbled again. ‘Time we got out of here,’ he muttered, still confused about what the creature was.

The trio hurried back to the Nachzerer as corvette-sized rocks broke off in the distance and the remains of the former crew drifted off into open vacuum as the asteroid ruptured.

Jade and Conad had already prepped ship for launch.

‘Whenever you’re ready, captain,’ Jade called over the internal comm.

‘Get us out of here.’

The Nachzerer fired its engines right as the surface began to come apart.

Macron looked at the wreckage of asteroid as it was peppered by further impacts from the Shroud’s ordinary debris. Good riddance to bad Vong.

He reached behind his head to key the release latch for his helmet, then flinched as a sharp jolt shot down his neck. It still felt raw where the hand-worm had penetrated his suit. The air from his bodysuit hissed as it depressurised before he took his helmet off. He rubbed his neck again and shrugged. He would be glad when they got to Antei and could lay into the alien freaks. This was a payback long coming.

He headed up into the cockpit to report back to the Overlord on the Final Way.

They were not going to like what he had to tell them.


13-08-2009 06:51:31

[CENTER]Children of War

Lucrehulk-class Battlesphere Patriot’s Fist
Orian Pipeline, Orian Space, Outer Rim Territories
Day 103, 31 ABY

The Clone Wars had given Yashais enough experience to know when resistance was futile, which was why he had thrown his hand in with the Peace Brigade soon after its formation. That was nearly six years ago. In the time since, the Vong had captured and lost Coruscant, as well as seen their Empire built and then destroyed.

As Yash stared out at the empty void of space, he wondered whether he had made the wrong choice. Not just in this war, but the previous one, and the one before that. He had not surrendered to the Old Republic, or to the Empire that replaced it, nor the New Republic. He had no urge to run to the new Galactic Alliance which now called itself the galaxy’s masters.

Instead he had surrendered to the Warmaster.

That had been exactly it: a surrender. His wounded battlegroup had stood no chance against the Vong armada when they crossed paths above Thalassia. He knew what the Vong did to people who defied them. He knew how they treated their prisoners. He had no wish to end up just another of the trophies adorning the walls of Varesh’s flagship.

In his place, he was instead forced to listen to the screams that echoed from the bowels of the battlesphere, where the Chazrach tortured their captives.

The Chazrach. Slaves like him. Except brought from the Vong’s home galaxy. The alien reptoids resembled dwarf Trandoshans, and had been a ‘gift’ from the Warmaster, a new crew to man the Patriot’s Fist due to the Brigade’s dwindling numbers. Unlike the Vong, the brigaders were not in this for religious glory or a chance to earn a righteous death.

No, the Peace Brigade had never been in it for that.

They were here because nobody else wanted them. Had they been wrong? Yes. It was easy to say that in retrospect. The Vong had lost. But they could no longer go back. They could never go back. He was probably wanted for war crimes. He had no more intention of serving time in a GA jail cell than he did being strung up on an Embrace of Pain—however, given the choice, he’d sooner it be the GA cell.

Unlike that fool Sylus Vega, Yash was under no illusions. Did Vega truly believe Varesh would grant him the Orian system? No. Just like Yash knew the Warmaster would not grant him a chance to build a New Ylesia either.

And that was why he still served Varesh.

Because he had nowhere else to go. They were both outcasts.

The Chazrach behind the helm turned its reptilian head. ‘The Voice of Agony has docked, admiral.’

Yash nodded. Behind his skull mask, his expression stiffened again. Back to business.

‘Let Commander Amnan come aboard.’

The Chazrach turned back to his desk.

The minutes passed as Yash waited, as he continued to stare out into space. Then the turbolift chimed and he turned away, right as the doors slid open, the aging motors grating in his ears. The displeasure of the sound was lost to the sight that greeted him.

Five figures stood in the lift.

Two he recognised: Commander Tolok, and Bur’lorr, their agent inside Orian.

The third Vong was new to him. A deep scar ran diagonally down her face. Like the rest of her people, nothing had been done to heal it—she wore it as a trophy.

The final two caused him to narrow his eyes.

The female Human was covered in tattoos, not Vong but . . . something else.

The Barabel carried a lightsaber.

Yash bowed his head and clapped his fists against opposite shoulders.

‘Welcome back to the Fist, Commander Tolok.’ Yash’s eyes glanced at the female Vong and two other aliens. ‘I see introductions are in order.’ He bent down in front of the Vong. ‘Admiral Yashais dei Izvoshra, at your service.’

Bizarrely, the female Vong did not wait for Tolok to introduce her but instead simply spoke first. ‘Eckla Muyel.’ Her eyes shifted left as she gestured at the Barabel. ‘This is my domain brother, Shok Muyel.’ She turned to her right. ‘And this is my sister, Nen Muyel.’

Yash did not answer for a moment.

Her . . . siblings?

Right then he was thankful his mask shielded most of his expression. He was aware the Vong did things differently. But even so. There were limits. ‘Welcome to my ship,’ he said, forcing aside his doubts. It was six years too late to be worrying.

Tolok glanced at Eckla, who nodded, before he stepped forward. ‘Good news. Bur’lorr and his agents have completed their infiltration of the Dlarit Corporation. After all these long years, finally everything is in place to deliver the True Gods’ sentence to the Sseeth.’

Yash did not bother to note the fact there was a Sith—or at least a Jedi—right there.

‘The Warmaster brings word,’ Tolok continued. ‘The invasion will be launched exactly one klekket from now. Your assistance has been invaluable, admiral.’

The female Vong’s eyes appeared to glint. Without invitation, she stepped forward.

‘We have chosen to bestow you a gift,’ Eckla said, and gestured for the Human to step forward. ‘Nen was once—what I believe you call—a Nightsister. But she has since seen the Light of the True Way and now serves as a Yuuzhan Vong Slayer.’

Yash eyed the Human as she approached. She had no lightsaber like the Barabel, but the shimmering iron blades that crossed behind her back looked no less lethal. He had heard of the Slayers. The elite warriors the Supreme Overlord had created before his supposed demise—at least supposed as far as the Warmaster was concerned. Yash himself was not so confident in Shimrra’s survival.

Regardless, he knew enough to know the Slayers most definitely were not Humans.

Which meant this ‘Nen Muyel’ was something new.

As she approached, he saw of what looked like a spider clutched behind her neck. Looking back at the Barabel, he now noticed legs wrapped around the front of his neck too.

The Nightsister Slayer prostrated before him.

‘I am yours to command, Admiral Izvoshra.’


14-08-2009 10:59:21

[CENTER]Children of War

The Hive, Central Intelligence Centre
Sadow Palace, Sepros Jungle, Orian System
Day 173, 31 ABY

Few people in the Orian system knew the Corporation even had a presence on Sepros. Fewer still knew what that presence was. The Special Operations Group was an enigma to everyone outside it. Like alien conspiracy theorists, the stories of what went on in the Seprosian jungles filled many a bar with tales of drunken adventure. Little could they begin to fathom the truth.

The door to the Hive slid aside.

Night had no meaning for the Central Intelligence Centre. Teams of technicians sat or stood monitoring streams of data as it flowed across their consoles. This was the hub of the Orian system. The central nexus. Headquarters to the highest echelons of Special Operations.

Krag Muyel stepped inside.

The Yuuzhan Vong drew no attention. His face was too familiar. A couple of junior grade officers gestured respectfully but quickly returned to their work. He grinned as he glanced at the banks of machines and their blue glowing screens. This would be all too easy.

He held out his hand and clenched his fist.

A rush of asphyxiated gasps filled his ears.

The gagging coughs continued for several seconds, and some of them stumbled out of their seats, crawling towards him on all fours, their eyes bulging, spasming facial muscles asking what their mouths could not: why?

The duty officer hunched himself over on his desk and reached for the alarm—

Krag flashed his hand in the man’s direction and hurled him into the terminal. The glass shattered and the duty officer was promptly electrocuted.

A chorus of heavy thuds followed as one by one the choking officers finally collapsed.

Krag crossed over to the central listening station and sat down in one of the chairs. He keyed in the frequencies for Vega Mine outside Seng Karash and the Navy HQ on Tarthos. A second later the faces of Fiula and Khalee flickered to life, each slightly distorted from static.

Both immediately bowed their heads and greeted the warleader in unison.

‘The wait is over,’ Krag said. ‘I have received word from the mistress.’

The Klatooinian and Caamasi each nodded, then the channels went dead.

Krag keyed up the defence networks. It was not hard. He had no need to hack in.

He typed in the same authorisation code he had used for years.

A warning flashed up on the screen:

Do you wish to disable all systems?

When he hit Confirm the lights went black and the star system was plunged into darkness.

Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
Orian Pipeline, Orian Space, Outer Rim Territories

From his throne the Warmaster surveyed the blaze bugs as they circled and weaved throughout the ordinary crew beneath his raised dais. The insects’ buzz was music to his ears. They danced in formation, patterning the swarms of coralskippers that swirled outside the mighty Yammka and her battlegroup, as well as the ships of their Peace Brigade allies’ fleet.

To his right stood Tsaak, his closest advisor, his holy counsel, his link to the Gods.

The warrior-seer spoke without turning away from the display. ‘This day would never have happened without you, Fearsome One. Your faith has been rewarded.’

Tsaak was the only priest he still trusted.

He had gone along with the High Priestess’s ceremony only out of sufferance. If, as she said, he was now a channel for Yun-Yuuzhan’s will, then where did that leave the Supreme Overlord? She had all but appointed him in Shimrra’s place. He was surrounded by heretics.

Only Tsaak held true to the Light. This was the difference between the priests and priestesses of the other gods and a priest of Yun-Yammka. Tsaak knew; he understood. This was war. Seef and Taug protested the inter-caste relationship of Tolok Amnan, but what was meant to happen? Were the Children of the Gods supposed to die out? Nas Choka had caused this heresy; it would be he who paid the price for it at the Gateway to the Lands of the Dead.

No, only Tsaak recognised that faith was about more than blind adherence. It was about the gods’ will. And in war that meant the Slayer’s will. So perhaps in that respect the High Priestess was right: it was Varesh’s duty to interpret the will of the Lord of War.

At the front of the deck below, Romm turned to face him; the Supreme Commander’s body was sheathed head to toe in the red, translucent cognition wrapping. The facial section drained of colour so that the Yammka’s captain could speak.

‘Warmaster, we have a transmission from Krag Muyel.’

Muyel. Now there was a name of a true heretic.

Her Jeedai had no place in his armada.

But sacrifice had to be made.

‘Patch . . . it through,’ Varesh said.

The main bank of eyestalks dangling from the ceiling wrapped together into a single large mass. The villip choir affixed to them everted, and their skin moulded into the scarred and tattooed visage of Krag Muyel. A Human, borne of Yuuzhan’tar. He now called himself part of the Chosen Race. He was not fit to grovel at the Gods’ feet.

‘Speak,’ Varesh said coldly.

Krag extended his obeisance to the Warmaster. It was painful to listen to the dark Jeedai’s mutilation of the god’s tongue.

‘The invasion is clear to begin, Fearsome One,’ Krag continued. ‘With the assistance of their inside contacts, Bur’lorr and Ona Amnan have brought down the shields and defences of the main settlements. The system has also been placed in a communications blackout. There will be no reinforcements. They will not even know the other colonies have been hit.’

Varesh sat up in his throne. He was uninterested in the regular death toll. ‘What of the Sseeth base?’

Krag’s eyes widened as he grinned. ‘I have rendered the palace defenceless.’

Varesh was silent for a moment.

After a pause, he clapped his hands together and roared with laughter.

Tchurokk izo’pil! Tchurokk Yammka’tchilat! Ai’tanna Shimrra! Ai’tanna khotte Yun’o!

The bridge exploded with cries. The walls of the Yammka convulsed as if in agreement.


The speckled fabric of space vanished as the fleet launched into darkspace and towards glory.

Sanctum of the Order of the Black Guard
Sadow Palace, Sepros Jungle, Orian System

Krag felt the palace shake as the Warmaster’s flagship bombarded it from orbit. It was anarchy aboveground. Within the first few minutes, masses of moulting tissue had peeled off from the Yammka and fallen out the sky, most rained into the surrounding jungles, but a few burst straight through into the palace’s upper floors, taking the unknowing Sith by surprise.

There had been no chance to mount a resistance. The sky was black with swarms of coralskippers and warrior gunships. In the chaos, some Special Operations teams had got their HLAFs off the ground, only to be burned out the sky seconds later.

While the main Yuuzhan Vong strike team hit Sepros, the Peace Brigade would right then be laying siege to the main colonies, keeping the rest of the darksiders preoccupied. None would realise the palace had been hit until it was too late. Thanks to Krag, the Warmaster had outplayed them. They all expected Yuuzhan Vong to focus on sowing mass destruction, like Varesh had been doing along the Hydian Way the past two years.

Not this time. This was about the Sith.

Few knew of the underground levels. Fewer still knew the layout.

The sublevel was deserted. Every guard had already reported to the surface to battle the assault teams. They would be busy for a while. Most of the warriors had no intention of falling back. They would fight to the death.

But not Krag. He had a different assignment. One not even the Warmaster knew about.

He sensed his target straight up ahead. The presence was like looking into the heart of the Force. The fire burned with such intensity it was almost blinding. He could feel it. He could feel the Truth. His target held the Light of the True Way. The answer to their search.

There was one more presence up ahead, the final guardian, the familiar echo of a man who stood watch over the young heir day and night. The others may all have reported to the battlefield, but this one had stayed to guard the future of their brotherhood at any cost.

That debt was about to be collected.

Krag reached the end of the winding labyrinth. He could no longer hear the crashes aboveground. This deep there was nothing but silence and shadows. Any normal man would have got lost several hundred metres back.

He finally reached the door. In the dark he could not see it, but he knew it was there. It flickered in the Force like a dark shadow. He could sense its anger at his intrusion. He was unwelcome. He laughed.

Krag reached forward and brushed the door with the dark side, pressing against its internal locking mechanisms to stir the gateway to open. The second presence inside pressed back, but Krag just doubled his exertion. His training had given him powers the rest could only wish for. One final surge and the dark iron doors swung open, their crash booming down the hallway.

The chamber inside glowed the orange of the suns from half a dozen lit candles.

At their centre stood the man brandishing a crimson blade.

The yowls of a baby cried out in the background.

‘It was you?’ roared Ashura. ‘Why?!

Krag laughed as his own twin lightsabers snap-hissed to life.

‘Because I have seen the Light of the True Way. Now give me the child.’



16-08-2009 16:35:43

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter I.i

The Hive, Central Intelligence Centre
Sadow Palace, Sepros Jungle, Orian System
Day 176, 31 ABY

The attack by the Yuuzhan Vong had come in the middle of night and taken Colonel Kal Septka and the Palace Guard totally by surprise. There had been no alarms. No surface-to-air missiles. Nothing. Everything had been turned off right before the gargantuan organic dreadnaught appeared in the sky. Were it not for reclaiming Marakith over on Aeotheran, and getting a message out to recall the rest of DSOG, they may not have survived the attack.

Fortunately, the Vong themselves had withdraw not long after appearing. That did not mean the damage was minor. As he surveyed the wreckage, Septka still did not understand it. This was the seat of power of the disciples of the Lord Sadow of the true bloodline. Pockets covered the floor where swarms of flying asteroids had laid waste to the defenders. Hundreds of Special Operations men lay dead or dying. Wreckage of crashed HLAF interceptors that had tried in vain to take off littered the area. Smoke poured from the palace’s roof where the first wave of asteroid-based drop pods had fallen out of the sky like giant hail stones.

Even now, with the planetary grids still offline, the Peace Brigade battlegroup remained in orbit of Aeotheran, Amphor and Tarthos, even though the Vong had already withdrawn. Did they expect the Dlarit Corporation just to roll over and surrender? Kal knew enough to know a diversion when he saw one, and that was what the attacks on the colonies had been.

Sadow Palace had been the Vong’s true target.

And aside from the Overlord not being there, they had got what they came for.

The Simus Institute had all but been slaughtered. It was like a scene out of the end of the Clone Wars. No, it was worse. The Empire had only shot them in the back. This was more like a horror scene in a holothriller. The Vong did not kill their victims cleanly. The blood was still splattered across the floor and walls. Many of the cleanup crew were unable to hold their stomachs at the sight before them. Adults and children butchered without remorse.

But he had not discovered the worst until the attacker’s had already fallen back.

Both the Governor-General and his deputy had been captured.

And the Viceroy’s son was missing.

Few even knew about Remy Dlarit’s existence. That meant there was only one answer.

It had been an inside job.

It must have been someone high up. There was no other explanation for how they could have disabled the defence systems and cut off the outside communications network to stop the distress call being put out earlier. They had infiltrated every level of the Dlarit Defence Force. It must have taken months to prepare and coordinate such an attack.

However they had made one key error.

Even as Kal looked at the virtual fingerprints left behind on the Hive’s data systems, he still could not believe it. He recognised the faces. They were people he had worked with.

Colonel Sarn. Commander Arnet.

Kal slammed his fist into one of the monitors. It was not as if another one broken would make any difference. Most of the Hive was already ruined beyond repair. It would take months to put the palace back together.

That was time they did not have. They needed the defence grid to get rid of the ships presently holding the Corporation to ransom. Admiral Yashais dei Izvoshra had made his demands clear: if DSOG attacked the Peace Brigade would raze the colonies to the ground.

That would not have mattered, except most of the Dark Jedi were still at ground zero.

They needed to get the defence systems back online. Kal turned back to the faces of the two turncoats, and keyed open a joint channel to Tarthos and Aeotheran. He had a good idea where to start. It was time to give these sycophantic backstabbers what they deserved.

Police Headquarters
Government District, Seng Karash, Aeotheran, Orian System

The police headquarters was still being used as an impromptu triage unit. Marakith may have been recaptured from the rogue DAC trooper, Orenth, but the main weapons systems were still offline, and the city’s shield generator still inoperable. With an old Confederacy frigate still in orbit, the DSOG fleet had no option but hold back, so the new Intel from Colonel Septka had been just what Nix and the others had been waiting for.

The rest of the battle team marched single file behind the Shistavanen as they made their way towards Wyla Sarn’s office. Dyrra and the Serpents had already taken up station at the other end in case the colonel tried to make a run for it.

‘I can’t help thinking: how many others?’ Jinius said behind.

Nix glanced around at the crowds of medics, doctors and injured service personnel. Most of the civilian casualties had been moved to City Hall. In the background, he could still hear calls down below in the lower levels as new cases got wheeled in. Special Ops had cleared most of the streets, but there were still stragglers out there.

None of that mattered right then. They could worry about the civilians later.

The woman beyond the door just up ahead was his target.

They reached the doorway, only it felt strange.

‘I don’t sense anyone inside—’ Nix said. ‘Set your blasters to stun. Remember, Governor Tsainetomo wants her alive.’

Nix didn’t bother to unholster his own blasters. He wanted the Chiss spy to see his eyes when he knocked her unconscious. This was personal.

Reaching the door, he leant up and pressed his ear against it to listen. Footsteps. There was certainly movement. ‘Maybe a droid?’ he muttered, more to himself than his team.

He stepped back then kicked the door open.

Colonel Sarn was sitting at her desk.

He still couldn’t sense her.

The colonel looked up, her face seeming surprised. ‘Can I help you, commander?’

‘Why can’t I feel her?’ Mei whispered.

Nix’s hand fell to one of his blasters. ‘Colonel . . . I’m afraid you’ll have to follow me.’

Sarn stood up and grinned. ‘No. No, I don’t think I will,’ she said as the surface of her face started to ripple and her grin withered into a scowl.

Nix drew his blaster. ‘Hands up. No sudden moves.’

Slowly, Sarn raised her hands . . . then, as the skin on her face started to peel away, dripping into a puddle at her feet, her cold grey features became plain to Nix and the rest of the squad. Behind the pool of blue gel emerged the face of a Yuuzhan Vong, her lipless mouth laughing.

‘Don’t do anything stupid.’

Sarn laughed. ‘I wouldn’t think of it.’

All of a sudden a black mass dropped from the ceiling, ropes falling atop Nix and the rest of the battleteam.

The team’s blasters flashed.

The writhing mass of amphistaffs wrapped around the Shistavanen’s arms as he pulled them off. Across the office, a door slid closed behind the colonel’s desk.

Wyla Sarn was gone.

‘Kark it!’

Nix yanked the last snake off his shoulders and crushed its head beneath his foot. He opened a channel to Dyrra and raised his wrist to his mouth. ‘Serpent, this is Sapphire. Target is on the move. Be advised, she’s a Vong in disguise. Repeat, Vong in disguise! Can’t feel where she’s gone, but definitely headed your direction.’

‘Copy that,’ Dyrra replied. ‘Serpents in position. Will rendezvous with you outside.’

Dlarit Navy Headquarters
The Hub, Kar Alabrek, Tarthos, Orian System

Like a storm cloud, the dark blue glow of Fremoc’s lightsaber swam across the spotless walls as he thundered down the corridor, the rest of the Raptors and his Special Operations squad following close behind. The fire still burned in his chest, the rage at the loss of his son. It was only a matter of time. He would get Thomas back.

But first he would have Ran Arnet’s head on a plate.

His grip on his lightsaber hardened so tight he heard the metal stress.

‘We’ll get him back,’ Ryuk said.

Fremoc did not answer. He could not answer. He could only see the fire.

They reached the office; the words COMMANDER ARNET printed on the door.

Over the years, Kar Alabrek had been targeted too many times, the Cathedral hit from orbit too many times, the hands of Marka Ragnos cut off one by one by one too many times. He had not been here for the Battle of Inos two years earlier, but this had been worse than before. That time the threat had come from outside. This was an inside job. A betrayal.

‘Let’s get this over with,’ muttered Horus.

Fremoc nodded and keyed the door. It slid aside to reveal the pristine white office of Ran Arnet, commander in the Dlarit Navy, and one-time candidate for the Special Operations Group—though he had been deselected for signs of his lack of commitment. They should have seen it then. But then, Fremoc thought, the Vong would just have found another.

Traitors were always there if you looked hard enough.

The commander was already on his feet, looking at the flames outside the window.

‘Ah, I take it you’ve found out about my little . . . deal with the Vong.’

Arnet did not turn around.

The Raptors circled the commander as the rest of the Special Ops troops arrayed behind them, blasted centred on the traitor. Too many had turned out to be Vong in disguise; though Fremoc could sense that was not the case with this one. Arnet’s greed stank in the Force. Not that Fremoc needed to feel it with all the priceless works of art amassed around the office.

‘I’m placing you under arrest,’ Fremoc said, barely holding back his urge to spear the commander right there. But that would be too kind. He would make Ran feel what his son had been put through. He would keep the commander alive long enough that he understood the extent of his rage. Arnet would learn what it meant to fear.

‘Raven,’ Fremoc whispered into his comlink, ‘I’ve got Arnet. But keep the Hawks on station in case of complications.’

‘Roger that,’ Raven replied. ‘Kalei and Ekeia are waiting at the extraction vehicle.’

Arnet finally turned around. He was smiling and looked around the office at the blood diamonds and artworks he had paid for with families’ lives. Fremoc’s family’s lives. ‘It will be a shame,’ Ran muttered, ‘to not see these again.’

The commander took a step forward.

‘That’s far enough,’ William said as his lightsaber snap-hissed to life.

Ran grinned, his eyes glancing at each of the troopers in turn, seeming to size up the weapons levelled on him. He stepped back to the window. ‘Yes, yes I think it is,’ he said. His grin widened. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got places to be.’

Fremoc felt a sudden ripple of danger up his spine right before the commander nodded at one of the trooper’s behind the Obelisk. ‘Cover!’ Fremoc shouted as he dived behind the nearest statuette. Red and green flooded his vision as the troopers fired all at once. Not at Ran: at him.

Traitors everywhere. Just like he thought.

It took less than two seconds for the Raptors to switch their attention to the men who were supposed to be there to help them, and less than another second for them to turn back to Arnet . . .


Outside, the airspeeder was already vanishing into the plumes of smoke.

‘Kark it!’ Fremoc yelled. ‘Raven, you’ve got incoming. Target jumped out the window. Be advised: our troopers are compromised. Will rendezvous with you at the designated extraction point. Make sure the shuttle’s prepped.’


20-08-2009 16:37:48

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter I.ii
The Chosen Race

Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
In hyperspace returning to the Baanu Amnan

‘The will of the Slayer truly shines on you, Fearsome One.’

After the tsaisi finished with the Sith beneath his feet, Varesh held down his hand. The serpent stretched up to wrap around his wrist, and coiled back around his arm. Then he crushed the remains of the Twi’lek’s skull under his foot.

Varesh turned round to Tsaak. ‘It was as I foresaw.’ The Warmaster returned to his throne at the centre of the Hall of Confluence, the Scepter of Power hissing as he stepped over the piles of bodies, mostly children. He swung his hand around the hall to take in the whole scene, ‘See the mark of our success,’ he called to the High Priestess across the chamber. ‘Yun-Yammka was with us. The Sseeth heretics were judged for their blasphemy. The infidel cowards who sided with us will burn in the chaos left in our wake.’

‘You are the gods’ hand, Warmaster,’ Seef said. ‘It is through you they perform their will.’

He did not answer but instead watched as his tsaisi slithered down his arm again to the nearest body, then wrapped around the metal bar still clutched in the cold hand. The snake flowed back up into his lap and held out the lightsaber hilt for him to examine. Tentatively, Varesh thumbed the activation switch and the bloodshine sword snap-hissed to life.

Seef looked uneasy. ‘Great One, you should not taint yourself with machines . . .’

Ignoring her, intrigued by the thrum in his ears, Varesh waved the weapon experimentally.


Varesh looked up from the weapon. ‘You worry too much, High Priestess. Is today not proof of what I have said all along? Yun-Yammka understands the need for sacrifices.’

‘But the infidels’ machines are heresy.’

‘And yet by your own pronouncement the Warmaster is the voice of the gods,’ Tsaak interrupted. ‘It is by his hand we have devastated the Sseeth fleet and raised their cities, why their citadel now burns and why thousands more lay dead. Is this victory not too the will of the gods?’

Varesh watched as the priests argued.

After a few minutes he stood up, the lightsaber still in his hand. ‘Enough.’

The priests fell silent.

‘By the Slayer’s hand we have atoned for Nas Choka’s heresy. This is proof enough the gods’ light shines once more upon their Chosen Race. It is now for the Supreme One to return and lead us to reclaim Yuuzhan’tar and end the Jeedai heresy once and for all.’

Matalok Cruiser Voice of Agony
In hyperspace returning to the Baanu Amnan

The baby screamed as Niiriit sank the amphistaff’s fangs into its arm.

The master shaper looked delirious. This was the culmination of a lifetime of research. Eckla knew this. She did not know how, she just knew. Remulus Sadow’s blood was the key.

A Child of the Ancients . . .’ the shaper murmured. Her hands were shaking as she withdrew the engorged amphistaff. ‘So many years searching . . .’

Eckla was more reserved, her eyes switching between the baby and the captive Sith in the Embrace behind her. Ashura’s cursing as he fought with his restraints was louder than the baby itself. Eckla feigned a smile. ‘You should be proud. Your ward’s blood will cure the affliction our race has borne for millennia.’

‘I don’t give a kriff about your karking race!’

The baby continued screaming as Niiriit carried on with the operation.

‘That’s too bad.’

Ashura started to speak but a cord tightened around his throat, choking him.

‘If I . . .’ he spluttered, coughing blood with each word, ‘had . . . the Force—’

‘—now you know what it feels like,’ she snapped. Eckla ran a finger down the gash on her cheekbone. ‘Courtesy of one of you.

‘How does it feel to know I command the Force here?’ she added and smiled at Krag.

The captive Sith looked at the figure behind her. ‘Why? Why betray your oath to the Overlord?’ Ashura coughed another mouthful of blood on the floor. ‘You’re no better than your treacherous Master.’

Krag did not move.

‘Go ahead,’ Eckla said. ‘You may speak. Tell him the truth of the Gods I control.’

‘I was a Son of Sadow but I saw the Light and am now a servant of the Truth.’

The Embrace cut Ashura off again when he tried to answer.

Krag continued, ‘It is with his blood,’ Krag nodded towards the baby, ‘the Chosen of the God’s Children will be extolled and have justice at last.’

Traitor . . . you’re just . . . a slave.’

Eckla laughed.

‘The days of slavers are over. In my world, the slaves will be the ones who rule.’

Ashura stared at her in silence. A few moments later his face twisted into shock, as if the Embrace had garrotted him, however Eckla had not touched anything. ‘No . . .’

Eckla narrowed her eyes.

‘No what?’ she asked, checking again the Embrace was not choking him to death.

‘Before . . . from the worldship . . . I remember you . . .’

Eckla jerked backwards and pulled on the Embrace’s vines to make them tighten.

Ashura managed to gargle out two last words before he passed out:

Eshin . . . Shul . . . !

Eshin spun back to Niiriit—the shaper had not been listening, her attention was fully absorbed by the baby’s screams. When Niiriit noticed Eshin staring, she held out the bright red amphistaff. Its belly was bulging.

‘I have what we need.’ Niiriit frowned at the Sith. ‘Did he say something?’

‘Nothing important,’ Eshin said quickly and turned to leave without a backward glance. ‘Let’s finish this.’


23-08-2009 15:40:51

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter II.i

Sublevel 10, Dlarit Mine Five Beta
Sector Orenth Four, Aeotheran Jungle, Orian System

Nix was hurled into Dyrra’s back when the underground tram jerked to an abrupt halt. The door slid open automatically and the two teams piled out of the packed conditions into the unknown cavern beyond. It was dark, too dark, the only light coming from the glow of their lightsabers or the small searchlights mounted atop their blaster pistols. The sound of something scuttling echoed out in the darkness, interrupted only by their own footsteps.

‘I don’t like the sound of that . . .’

‘Quiet, Marcus,’ Dyrra hissed as the sergeant stepped deeper inside the dank cavern. If this was where the Vong had been headed, it certainly didn’t look it. Apart from the scuttling, there was no sound of life, not even that anyone had been here. As they moved inside, letters emerged through the dark as Nix’s lightsabers brushed up alongside an aging signpost.

‘Sublevel Ten,’ Nix said, and lifted his saber to illuminate the full sign. ‘Dlarit Mine Five Beta? This is one of ours?’ The Shistavanen made what amounted to a human frown.

In silence, the team moved further inside. ‘Keep alert,’ Dyrra whispered, taking point.

Suddenly, a dark shape rushed across in the dim light.

‘Movement!’ Agrist shouted.

‘ I feel . . . something,’ Krandon said slowly. ‘Several somethings. Can’t be Vong.’

Dyrra looked back to one of the Special Ops troopers that had accompanied them.

‘Trooper, you got a light in that getup?’ Dyrra asked.

‘Yes, ma’am,’ one of the privates who’d come along with them replied, then a moment later a bright torchlight flooded the underground chamber in a solid white beam, momentarily blinding a couple of the newer battleteam members. After their eyes adjusted to the sudden burst of light, the source of the scuttling became apparent: perched across the uneven cavern walls and ceiling were nearly a dozen excessively oversized bugs. Another second later the creatures all clacked their mandibles together and dived atop the trooper.


Surface Level, Vega Mine
Sector Orenth Four, Aeotheran Jungle, Orian System

Alarms blared in Sylus’s ears as shapes flashed to life across the holographic display of the mine’s layout. Intruders had breached the sublevels. They’d found him.

He keyed the display for the orbital map.

The Special Operations fleet still lay in wait above Sepros. It appeared Admiral Yash’s forces were doing their job discouraging a direct attack on Aeotheran—not that it did Sylus any good that moment. Right then, he didn’t much care if Seng Karash burned to the ground.

Where the frack was Ona Amnan?

Sylus cursed. He knew he should never have trusted the Vong. He’d been hung out just like with the True Brotherhood; kriffing Anaxela; kriffing Varesh. It didn’t matter. If there was one thing he was good at it was surviving. And he was going to survive. That he knew.

He’d kept his last ace hidden; unlike before, this time he had the edge.

‘Ghon, are the charges in the old supply shafts in the lower levels still active?’

The Gungan’s throat clicked before he answered. ‘You want to use the charges? We . . . we do not think that wise,’ Ghon said hesitantly.

Kriffing we all the time. ‘Glad to know,’ he snorted. ‘Just go power them up.’

The bounty hunter’s surviving eye stalk bulged, however he left without another word.

Sylus opened up a comm channel to his Jedi aide; or rather spy—he wasn’t blind to the real reason she was there to watch him. ‘Viq—Fiula. Vega Mine has been breached. The . . . Sseeth are here,’ he put exaggerated stress on the word like the Klatooinian now did. ‘I need you to assemble my men and head down there and hold them off.’

The hologram’s canine muzzle folded into a lustful grin. ‘The Sseeth?’ she mumbled, her eyes widening at the sound. ‘At last! I will show them the Light!’

‘Yeah, yeah, that’s just great . . .’ Sylus was getting really fed up with the religious prattle. ‘Just get my men down there and get rid of them.’

‘I will bring glory to the gods!’ Fiula roared before the line went dead.

The Saraii shook his head. Why had he ever let Yash talk him into having her around?

Sylus had not wanted to use the charges in the lower levels—the mine had been shut down for a good reason—but if they were the safest option, so be it. He keyed on the rest of the mine’s defence systems, activating the droid guards. Even if the Jedi managed to break into the basement—and it was a big if—Vega Mine was still built to be a fortress. If they got too far inside—

—well, they’d not be getting back out again. The explosive charges would see to that.

And with Fiula down there that was two birds with one stone.

Sylus tore open one of the cardboard boxes he was still storing clothes in. Old mayoral gowns, dinner jackets, military uniforms . . . ah, yes, he found it: his enviro-suit. It was built more for zero gravity than subterranean excavation, but it had a breath mask and a good layer of armour—and lightsaber resistant armour at that. Thank you, Anaxela. He dug around through a couple more weapons’ crates for some of the Verpine gear he’d secured for situations like this; not even lightsabers could block a shatter rifle.

After he’d donned the enviro-suit and loaded up on ammunition, he sat back in his chair and leant back to watch the map display. He’d taken every care to ensure Vega Mine was impenetrable—and especially impenetrable by the Sith. He popped open the bottle of Alderaanian brandy on his desk and poured himself a glass. Ahhh, good vintage.

Now all there was to do was wait.

If they got too far, he’d just press the big red button under his desk and goodbye Sith.

It stung to think of the harm it would cause to Vega Mine, but everything had its price.

Being buried alive couldn’t happen to nicer Sith.

Landing Site, Wreckage of Obsidian Station
Northern Polar Region, Tarthos, Orian System

The LAAT pulled away from the buried entrance and sailed blindly through the blizzard as Fremoc and his fellow Raptors searched the snowy plains for any sign of a second entrance to the base Arnet had said was here. The larty shook as its engine fought against the wind currents; Tarthos was a harsh mistress at the best of times, let alone this far into the savage north.

‘See anything?’ Fremoc asked.

Ryuk shook his head. ‘Nothing.’

Fremoc glanced at each Raptor in turn, each shaking their heads the same as Ryuk had. The sensor readouts were no better; they were worse than useless with all the interference from the storm. A few twisted durasteel girders jutted out, only half-buried by the snow, but there was little sign of a base. It was no surprise Lord Paladin hadn’t turned up anything when he’d sensed something amiss the year before; if there was a base here, it was buried.

‘Anyone else get the feeling Arnet lied to us?’ Teu muttered.

Fremoc pretended he hadn’t heard. If this was a dead end, then by the time they found the real base the Vong would be sure to have emptied it. His fists began to clench hard enough that his nails were nearly drawing blood. If he’d made a mistake killing Arnet, he was sure to hear it when they got back to Tyren at the other entrance . . .

Suddenly, the red warning lights flared.

‘Incoming!’ the pilot called from the cockpit.

Fremoc swirled back to the window. What looked like meteorites soared outside the transparisteel viewport—that is: soared upwards. His eyes narrowed and he looked down towards the surface: a series of orange nodules had erected from beneath the snow. The nodules’ mouths closed as they sunk back into the snow, then a second later they erupted out again, spitting flaming balls of rock in the ship’s direction.

Hunter’s Grotto, Wreckage of Obsidian Station
Northern Polar Region, Tarthos, Orian System

Bur’lorr’s amphistaff burst open when he clenched his fist.

The blaze bugs flying about the room had suddenly shifted red—hostiles. Some of the blue bugs started attacking the red ones, however the red bugs were stronger and simply bit the heads off a pair of blue which then fell to the floor, lifeless.

He hurled his limp amphistaff at the swarm of insects.

The Hunter should have killed that greed driven slime months ago. Ran Arnet had jeopardised them all by leading the Sseeth right here. This was what Bur’lorr got for relying on cowards. The cluster of villips on the stool in front of him everted into the faces of various squad leaders spread throughout the now fully terraformed wreckage. At least he was no longer living in squalid halls of metal, but a coral nest befitting of the Children of the Gods.

The Hunter was greeted by a chorus of: ‘Do-ro’ik Vong pratte!

He did not return the welcome. The cries of the imprisoned machine behind him echoed inside his skull—the construct still was not even scratched. He took a moment to clear his head, then studied the faces of each squad leader in turn, ‘My warriors, the Sseeth have discovered us. Go and show them the Light of the Truth and grant them passage to the Lands of the Dead!’

The squad leaders cried in unison and the villips folded back into leathery balls.

Bur’lorr turned back to Khalee Muyel, who was still trying to sever the abomination’s arms with his sword of light. It did nothing but sizzle against the droid’s metal skin.

‘You have need of me?’ the Caamasi asked, noticing the Hunter’s attention.

‘Forget the machine. Report to the entrance with the other squad leaders. The infidels must not be allowed to reactivate the planetary grid.’

‘As you command,’ Khalee said and left.

As the hatch sphincter closed behind the former Jeedai, Bur’lorr sat down and placed the base’s translucent cognition hood over his head. The minds of the numerous biots throughout the base merged with his and he forced his mind’s needs on theirs. The base may not have been equipped with much, but the plasma cannons and dovin basals outside the entrance were enough to slow the Sseeth down.

However, even if they breached the perimeter, the Hunter had no intention of going out without a fight. Once Bur’lorr had issued orders to the yaret-kors outside the main hatchway, he pulled on his cloak and faded into the shadows. The Sseeth would have a difficult time as it was—harder still given the Hunter was all but invisible beneath his cloak. He may not have been a Slayer like Varesh, but aside from Shimrra’s chosen elite the Hunters were second to no other.

He glanced back one last time at the droid which still hung in its chains, then dilated the sphincter and headed for the lower chambers. His life was unimportant. To die in service to the Gods was the greatest victory. He hurried through the now moss coloured halls towards the last remaining infidel terminal still intact at the doomed station’s heart. Even if they did penetrate the grotto, he had no intention of letting them claim their prize.


27-08-2009 16:45:23

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter II.ii
The Light

Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
In orbit of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Throughout the armada warriors celebrated their victory over the Sseeth as the fleet arrived back at what still remained of the Baanu Amnan. The calls for the coronation of Varesh were too loud to suppress, and the bravest now even dared to call for the Warmaster’s anointment as the new Supreme Overlord.

Where was Shimrra? they asked. Now the Sseeth were beaten, why had he not returned?

Varesh was pacing back and forth before his throne.

‘The Dread Lord will yet return,’ Tsaak purred. ‘Do not trouble yourself, Fearsome One.’

The Warmaster spun round to the seer. ‘But what have I done wrong? You hear them. You hear the cries throughout the Yammka’s halls. They want me. Is this my heresy? Have I affronted the God-Chosen by acting in his stead?’

Tsaak grabbed Varesh by the shoulders; had it been any other, the Warmaster would have slain the seer right then. ‘You have done nothing wrong,’ Tsaak said. ‘Your faith has been rewarded. It is not your actions that have brought shame.’

‘For once I must agree with your seer,’ said Seef as she approached. ‘Warmaster, you have proven the trust placed in you by the Gods as their avatar. Through you the Light of Truth shines on us all. However, while this heresy is not yours, it falls on you to end it.’

Varesh studied Seef but did not say anything.

The High Priestess continued, ‘You both know of what I speak. The seeds of this heresy have cultivated these past two years. Your judgement has been vindicated, your victory over the Sseeth fulfilled, your choices absolved.’

She paused a second, then added, ‘But now you must bring it to an end.’

Varesh turned back to Tsaak. The seer did not dispute the priestess’s words.

Finally, the Warmaster nodded.

‘Yun-Yammka has so far overlooked Tolok Amnan’s indiscretions to bring us this victory,’ Varesh conceded. He paused a few seconds. ‘But, High Priestess, if what you say is true, the heresies of Domain Amnan are why the God-Chosen has yet to return.’

Seef bowed her head agreeing, ‘That is what I divine, yes.’

The Warmaster’s face fell dark. ‘Then so be it,’ he muttered in little more than a whisper. ‘The Slayer has excused Amnan’s Jeedai slaves and intercaste affairs, however he shall do so no longer. As I will it, this affront to Yun-Yammka and his caste is over.’

Varesh turned to the villip choir imbedded in his throne and gestured for it to open a transmission to the command room. A second later, the villips morphed into the life size image of Romm Shai.

‘What is your command, Fearsome One?’ the Supreme Commander said.

The Warmaster stared blankly for a moment, and then turned to the false likeness.

‘Our alliance with Domain Amnan is at an end. Tolok Amnan has shamed the True Gods; he is to be relieved of command and brought before me to pass judgement. All ship commanders will swear complete loyalty to me. Those who do not will be destroyed. It is time people were reminded no warrior may lie with another caste.’

And, then, perhaps, the God-Chosen will return.

Matalok Cruiser Voice of Agony
In orbit of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Eshin’s eyes were fixed on the captive Yuuzhan Vong.

Vasi Khess. The former shaper was strung up by the vines of the Embrace of Pain. The Shamed One was virtually unrecognisable. His body soaked in blood. Cuts and blisters on what little remained of his skin. For the most part, he was raw, as if his flesh had dissolved, leaving behind only muscle. Dangerously thin, skeletal.

The Shamed One did not move as Niiriit sank the pulsating amphistaff into his wrist.

Eshin looked on in anticipation, her eyes glued to Vasi’s arms as his veins throbbed, as the fresh sample pumped into his system, as—hopefully—at last her vengeance would be fulfilled. A few seconds later Vasi’s eyes flew open and he shot forward in the restraints. The sound was terrible. His body screamed as he gasped for air and convulsed, going into shock.

‘What’s happening?’ Eshin demanded.

Niiriit yanked out the amphistaff’s fangs, but Vasi’s body continued to reel. The shaper plugged her hand into his chest. Eshin could only surmise as the implants imbedded in Niiriit’s own hand burrowed their way inside Vasi’s chest. A moment later, an electrical pulse rippled out from where her hand was.

‘What’s happening?!’

The shaper continued to ignore the other female as she fought to resuscitate him.

Eshin could only watch.

A few minutes later, it was all over.

Vasi fell forward in his restraints and was silent.

‘NO!’ The outburst was mutual.

Behind the two heretics, Krag Muyel looked on with his domain brother Shok. The readout on the villip attached to the tracer spineray implanted in Vasi’s back confirmed it: the Shamed One was dead. Krag knew enough from his own alchemical background to hazard a guess that Vasi had reacted violently to Remulus’s blood—too potent a strain, perhaps?

The Vong were just not built for midichlorians it seemed.

The two females were silent for several minutes before Eshin stood up and left.

Krag and Shok followed after her, listening to the string of expletives the intendant unleashed as she stormed down the corridor towards the cells where Remulus was being kept.

Niiriit just stayed there on the floor, mumbling to herself.

‘I don’t understand . . . the blood of an Ancient . . . it should have . . . urk—’

She gasped as suddenly something tightened around her throat and cut her airways off.

Niiriit clutched at her throat and tried to pull the phantom hand away.


Above her, someone laughed.

Spluttering for air, she looked up.

Vasi was staring back at her, fire burning in his eyes.

The Shamed One stretched out and tore through the arms and claws of the Embrace, the ropes and vines pinging off as he pulled his body free seemingly without any difficulty. He dropped to the floor, and stretched, embracing his freedom for the first time in more than two years.

His laugh ran through Niiriit’s entire frame, as if the horror itself was made manifest.

When Vasi spoke, his voice seemed to come from nowhere, and everywhere, all at once.

I can see.’

Niiriit tried to speak, but Vasi’s hand still grasped her throat.

‘The past . . . the future,’ he continued. ‘The Truth.’

Vasi knelt down so that their faces nearly touched.

‘And I know the Truth is false,’ he snarled.

‘You have succeeded, Niiriit. I am what we always wanted to create. I am the Light.’

He watched as her face started to turn white, the colour draining from it.

‘You have won your prize, master,’ he said and stood up again.

‘Allow me to offer you Their Third Gift and grant you Blessed Release.’

He smirked. Lightning-blue bolts crackled around his fingertips.

‘It is time the Shamed claimed their rightful place as Gods.’

Niiriit’s world exploded in white.


30-08-2009 14:59:37

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter III.i
Operation Rancor

Republic-class Star Destroyer Final Way
Sepros Orbit, Orian Space, Orian System

The Special Operations Division and the limited ships still operational from the Dlarit Navy’s two main defence lines had been in wait over Sepros for nearly five days. Fleet Admiral Araic Simonetti’s response as soon as Colonel Kal Septka got the word out had been prompt. The DSOG battlegroup had rushed back from its routine patrol of the Orian Pipeline to a massacre.

The withdrawal of the Yuuzhan Vong task force that had sacked Sepros itself had only been the start of the problems. The demand from Admiral Yashais dei Izvoshra of the Peace Brigade force that still held orbit over the key colonies throughout the system had forced Araic to hold fire and wait for the Dark Jedi on the ground to get the job done.

A bitter smile crossed the fleet admiral’s lips.

The fuzzy blue image of Sergeant Skye hissed for a second with static.

‘The fleet is good to engage,’ the young woman said, the fire in her voice echoing her flame coloured hair. ‘Show those kriffing scarhead huggers not to mess with us, Admiral.’

Araic’s lip twitched as he suppressed a smirk. ‘Good job, sergeant. All of you.’

The admiral switched his attention from the hologram to the bridge crew.

‘Men, the planetary defence networks are back up. Commence the attack.’ He turned back to the hologram. ‘Sergeant, have your teams rendezvous with the Final Way.’

‘Understood, Admiral,’ Dyrra said, then the hologram faded out.

Araic turned back to the viewport as space shifted for a few moments into starlines, then almost immediately shifted back again and was replaced with the purple orb of Amphor. The Peace Brigade battlesphere hung in orbit like a miniature Death Star.

‘All hands to battle stations. Let’s send these chuff-sucking sons of banthas packing!’

Lucrehulk-class Battlesphere Patriot’s Fist
Amphor Orbit, Orian System, Orian Space

Sirens exploded as all of a sudden the tranquil purple sea vanished as a green starburst lanced up from the sky city directly below to engulf the forward viewport on the Fist’s bridge. The reptoids spun their heads round to Yashais, their startled faces looking as confused as he was.

He reached forward to the nearest railing and held on to prevent being hurled across the bridge with the next impact. ‘Shields at maximum!’ The blue envelope shimmered outside right in time for the next barrage from San Korinar’s defences.

‘Report!’ Yashais screamed. ‘How are their defences back online!?’

‘Activation signals originated from Vega Mine and Obsidian Station,’ a Chazrach answered. Outside, the sky city drowned the Peace Brigade ships in a rainbow display of heavy firepower. The other Brigade ships were pulling back.

A minute later, the Chazrach added, ‘The Dlarit fleet is breaking off from Sepros.’

The tactical display confirmed it. The same scene was unfolding over Aeotheran and Tarthos, the Dlarit fleet was springing into formation. Yashais cursed.

‘Pull back,’ he ordered. ‘Pull back!

There was no other choice. The battlesphere was too old to stand up in a fair fight.

His eyes switched back and forth between the red and orange explosions outside and the running total on the tactical display—one ship gone, then two, three . . .

They needed Varesh, but the Warmaster had withdrawn straight after sacking Sepros.

There was only one way they were getting out of this.

‘Issue the retreat,’ he said, the words tasting foul on his tongue. He was never one to give up. Until now. ‘All ships to withdraw to the Pipeline and proceed to the rallying point.’

A footstep echoed behind him.

‘Belay that order,’ Nen Muyel interrupted. ‘The fleet is to hold here.’

Yashais spun round to the Nightsister-cum-Slayer. ‘You dare issue orders on my ship?’

He turned back to the reptoids. ‘Continue with the withdrawal.’

The Chazrach didn’t move.

‘I said continue!

The Nightsister chuckled. ‘They won’t listen to you.’ Yashais heard a sword unsheathe behind him. When he looked back at the woman again, she had two of her swords pointed in his direction. ‘I’m relieving you of command, Admiral.’

It took a moment to register what was happening. The diamond shapes on the tactical display were closing in around the Brigade fleets across the system, trapping them between the planetary batteries on the ground and the Star Destroyers in space.

Yashais realised he’d been set up. The Vong had never meant for him to escape.

He and his fleet had only been a means to an end.

And now Varesh had what he came for.

‘The Mistress cannot allow you to lead them back to the worldship,’ Nen continued. ‘You shall not interfere. The Light will be revealed.’

Yashais stood for a minute as he tried to digest what he was hearing.

He reached for the vibrosword at his waist.

The human Slayer cocked an eyebrow. ‘You can’t possibly think you can beat me.’

He shot her a half-smirk. ‘Try me.’

Republic-class Star Destroyer Final Way
Amphor Orbit, Orian System, Orian Space

‘They’re withdrawing! Orders, Admiral?’

The call came from one of the ensigns at the tactical station. The display showed the Brigade vessels pulling back one by one throughout the star system. Araic narrowed his eyes. One minute they had been withdrawing, then they’d retrenched themselves again, but now it looked as if they really were withdrawing. He shook his head. Classic confusion; their command was clearly in tatters.

‘Maintain firing. I don’t want a single ship to escape.’

The battle was all over a few minutes later. Some of the Jedi battleteams had already rendezvoused in orbit and taken command of the XJ squadrons to clear out the enemy fighters; the others were en route from either Aeotheran or Tarthos. Colonel Septka had sent what survivors he could to regroup with them in Amphor orbit.

A quarter sized image of the man known only as Raven appeared on the bridge.

‘Admiral,’ the Tetrarch greeted with a slight edge of fatigue. ‘There was no information on the Vong’s staging post in the Tarthos base.’ The sorcerer paused a moment, inclining his head to speak to someone off camera, then the hologram turned back to the admiral. ‘I’m informed by Sergeant Graves our teams on Aeotheran had no success either.’

Araic studied the Krath as he considered their options. They needed to go after the Vong, that much was certain. This was only the start. If they didn’t strike back now, they may not get another chance. Araic looked back at the tactical display, then out the viewport to the battlesphere which was still soaking up fire from the Final Way . . .

‘I have an idea,’ the fleet admiral mused, turning back to the hologram. ‘Have your and Commander Pepoi’s squads rendezvous with the Final Way within the hour.’ Araic smirked. ‘We’re going to play a little game a cat and mouse.’

Raven frowned for a moment, then shook his head and just nodded. ‘As you suggest, Admiral. Hawks and Raptors will be with you within the hour.’

As the hologram disappeared, Araic looked down at the chief gunnery officer in the databanks below the main walkway that spanned the bridge. ‘Master Chief, hold fire on the Patriot’s Fist.’ The gunnery officer frowned but Araic smiled. ‘Let’s see how far down the rabbit hole we can follow him. And someone patch me through to Gamuslag.’

‘Gamuslag, Admiral?’

He nodded. How many times had he chastised that crazy alchemist in the past? The scene at Antei six months earlier had been stomach retching. But there was no other way. This was their only option. And with the Governor-General MIA, that made it his call.

Araic closed his eyes and let out a long sigh.

‘It’s time we finished this. I’m initiating Operation Rancor.

‘Get me the Violator Gas Bomb.’


03-09-2009 14:27:46

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter III.ii
The Children of War

Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
In orbit of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Varesh Shai drummed his talons against his throne’s armrests as he studied the blaze bugs swarming around the Yammka’s command chamber. The Scepter of Power coiled around his neck sissed. He had grown weary of the Hall of Confluence. It was the Warmaster’s place to lead from the front, not relax in the royal chambers while his minions did the work.

The order to sever ties with Domain Amnan had not gone down well. In fact, it had not gone down at all. Contact with the Voice of Agony had broken off during the flight home to the remains of the dead worldship. No communications had been received from Tolok Amnan. No communications had been received from any of the domain’s subcommanders either.

‘I warned you the consequences of his heresy,’ Seef whispered from the left.

Varesh ignored the High Priestess and continued to idly twirl the dead Sseeth’s metallic sword of light in his free hand, tired of her supposedly ‘clairvoyant’ prattle.
It was easy to ‘ordain’ things that had already happened.

Hidden beneath the full body cognition wrap at the front of the bridge, Romm Shai twisted his head around to the Warmaster. ‘Picking up something on the long range sensors—’ the Supreme Commander said, his voice unsettled. ‘All ships have already returned . . .’

Varesh narrowed his eyes. ‘Put it through on the viewspider.’

Romm turned back to the front, then a moment later a vine uncoiled from the ceiling above; its stalk, covered with red glowing eyes, lowered in front of Varesh’s face. The image feed reflected on the surface of one of the eyes just displayed the broken chunks of the dead worldship—

Suddenly the darkness opened up and a brown ball and rust coloured metal burst into sight, eclipsing the stars behind. Behind the rusted sphere, smaller grey shapes popped into being a short distance from the Baanu Amnan.

Izvoshra . . .

Varesh slammed his fists into his armrests, causing the throne’s thorns to recoil in shock.

‘That fool!’

‘Transmission coming through,’ Romm called. ‘Transferring it to the viewspider.’

The white skull mask of the Kaleesh admiral formed on the surface of the red eye.

‘Fearsome One, forgive my—’

Varesh cut him short, ‘Do you realise what you have done?’

‘I—I had no choice, Warmaster. The Sith regained control of their defences—’

‘You will have led the Sseeth here! Where is your . . . Jeedai watcher?’

Yashais visibly gulped. ‘I—She—I had no choice . . .’

Varesh’s talons tightened even harder around the throne’s armrests. He felt no remorse at the death of Nen Muyel. Amnan should never have relied on Jeedai in the first place. But that changed nothing. Tolok had assigned the Human Slayer to watch over the Kaleesh.
Now Tolok’s decision had jeopardised everything.

Varesh reached up and tore the viewspider’s stalk off the ceiling.

‘Warmaster . . .?’ said Seef cautiously.

He turned to her, his pulse racing. ‘This is your fault! You of the Order of Yun-Yuuzhan! You who I turn to for guidance! Why did you not foresee this?’
Seef involuntarily took a step back as the gigantic Vong climbed down from his dais.
‘Warmaster, it can only be as I have said all along. This is the work of Tolok Amnan and his lover, Eckla Muyel. It is the Jeedai who have brought shame on us.’

Varesh froze, his eyes flared and searched the shadows behind the High Priestess. ‘Us? By your own pronouncement, I am the Avatar of the Slayer! It is not us who have shamed. It is you! You have failed Him! Failed His Chosen Race! Failed me!

Seef stared back in disbelief, her head shaking. Her mouth moved but she had lost her voice.

‘This farce is at an end!’ Varesh continued. ‘The Gods have abandoned us! The Ruling Castes have failed! You, High Priestess, have failed!’

The lightsaber still in Varesh's hand snap-hissed to life as he nodded to something in the shadows.

‘No . . .’ Seef muttered, unable to hold her voice any longer, frowning at the Sseeth blade, and disgust filling her features. ‘You have truly forgotten. Forgotten our ways; forgotten the Light; the Truth. It is not our place to question the will of the Gods, to question the True Way. Everything that happens is what they—urk!

A bone white coufee burst through the priestess’s belly, her blood spilling across the floor as she fell to her knees.

Tsaak Shai stepped out of the shadows, bloodied dagger in hand. Seef’s eyes widened as she looked into the face of her assassin. The warrior-seer merely stared back coldly. ‘Through the Warmaster the Slayer has spoken,’ Tsaak declared.

The warriors throughout the bridge stared, open mouthed, but none dared answer back.

Tsaak dropped to his knees before the Warmaster and presented him the dagger.

Varesh took the blade in his free hand and examined it as he watched the High Priestess’s life bleed out across the deck, then tossed it back at her.

‘I am the Voice of Yun-Yammka,’ he said, eyeing the fiery core of the bloodshine blade, ‘and your sentence is death.’

The thrum masked the crunch when the priestess’s headless corpse hit the floor.

Varesh shut down the lightsaber and looked back at the blaze bugs still circling in formation above his head.

‘This alliance is over. The heretics amongst us must be cleansed alongside this galaxy’s infidels.’ He looked across at the captain still sheathed beneath the cognition wrap. ‘Supreme Commander, the armada is to open fire and destroy both the infidels and all Amnan ships that have not yet pledged their allegiance to me.’

The Warmaster spread his arms and stared up into the heavens.

‘By the Light of the True Way, I, Varesh Shai, khattazz al’Yammka, God-Chosen of the Lord of War, hereby deem this to be the Day of Judgement! This is the Great Sacrifice as was prophesied ages past! The priests have proven their failing; it is time we, the warrior caste, took control of the Gods’ Children once more. Shimrra may yet live, but first we must cleanse the Jeedai and Sseeth heresies that are blighting the Promised Land, as it has ordained to be by the Supreme One, to return the Chosen Race to its rightful place alongside the Gods. For the blood our generation must shed, forever to be remembered for beyond the Gate to the Lands of the Dead, I declare us the Yammka Vong!

‘The Children of War!’

Matalok Cruiser Voice of Agony
In orbit of the Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

This was the Truth.

Their amphistaffs died when their fangs pierced Vasi’s skin. Millennia of lies, of deception—washed away by one, simple injection; he, not they, could embrace the Truth of the Ancients. The priest in front froze when his amphistaff slackened and fell limp; then the priest looked up, into the eyes of the creation that floated atop phantom wings before him, the Chosen One they declared an abomination.

Impossible!’ they all said. ‘Heretic!’ they cried!

Bastard offspring of that unholy union!

The beloved children, unable to accept the truth: they were the heretics; their entire race had been shamed for centuries. Deliverance at last was upon them. The falsely shamed were rising up. The heresy was now Truth: Vasi was now the Light.

‘What—what are you?’ Taug Lacap stuttered, his voice disappearing as fast as his life.

Vasi stared into the male-female eyes of the apostle. How he could sense Taug’s hate; how he could feel the seer’s disgust. ‘I am your Undying Flame.’ Vasi grinned as he stole the life out from beneath the apostle’s skin; Taug withered, shrinking until he was nothing but bones.

Then the priest crumbled to dust.

The two malformed attendants shivering behind the pile of ash averted their eyes, knowing they would be next . . .

Only the death blow never came.

Vasi smiled softly and gestured for the pair to come forward.

‘Arise, my fellow Shamed! Arise! This is the day the Extolled rise up and take back what is rightfully ours! We are the Chosen! This is our Galaxy! We are its new Gods!’

[center]* * *[/center]

The sedated Sith drooped forward as Krag and Shok unhooked him from the Embrace. The next second, another shockwave rumbled through the Voice of Agony and Krag narrowly caught Ashura before the Sith could slip out of his restraints completely.

The tizowyrm fitted in Eshin’s ear whispered the damage reports from Tolok.

‘We can’t sustain many more hits like that—Eckla you must—’

The tizowyrm went silent.

Eshin felt no true bond with Tolok, but he was still her ticket off this ship.

‘Hurry it up!’ she snapped.

As her two Slayers freed the Sith, she wrapped a white robeskin around the baby and gently, if urgently, picked it up, cradling it against her bosom. Much as she hated the Sith more than anything, the Ancient was still the prize she had long sought. She could try again, even if it meant finding another Shaper to assist her; she had all the time in the world.

The minutes dripped by, the baby screaming in her arms.

Once the Slayers had finally released and restrained Ashura, Shok hauled the human’s body over his shoulder. ‘I have the Ssseeth,’ the Barabel sissed.

[center]* * *[/center]

Eshin reached the bridge just as a white flare exploded outside the main viewport. Krag steadied her as the ship rumbled violently from the blast; human or not, she didn’t care enough to brush the Slayer’s hand off her.

‘Eckla!’ she heard Tolok call across the chamber.

Another blue-white flash exploded, and she averted her eyes, her hands still busy with the baby, Remulus Sadow. It took a few moments for the impact’s starry blind spots to dissipate—

The flash had not come from outside.

‘Impossible . . .’ Tolok said.

As Eshin’s eyes cleared, the source of the explosion focused into view. The sphincter opposite where she had entered, ripped and shredded, burst open from the other side. In the gap shone the body of a man, a beacon of light, so bright she wanted to look away, and yet so captivating she dare pull her eyes away for fear it was just a dream and would not be there when she looked back again.

A horde of Shamed Ones, of all shapes and sizes, some deformed and hideous, others favouring limps and withered arms, surged through the new rupture in the wall.

Heretics! Kill them all!’ cried Tolok, and he and the other warriors on the bridge abandoned their stations to defend against the now more immediate threat; the ripples of the dying Voice of Agony no longer foremost in their minds.

Two snap-hisses sounded in either of Eshin’s ears, but she could not move.

Like an angel, leading the Shamed Ones stood—or rather floated—Vasi Khess.

The Shamed One levitated into the space above the cognition stations, his eyes burning with the same white fire that had erupted moments before. He caught Eshin’s gaze and smirked. The next moment lightning erupted once more from his fingertips, and the warriors fell dead in unison, Tolok among them.

Eshin still could not move when she saw Shok leap from her left side onto one of the coral arches, then across to the other side, and up again until the Barabel was in position to lunge straight for the godlike Shamed One. ‘You ssshall not harm the missstresss!

Vasi did not as much as flinch when Shok fell upon him, driving his emerald lightsaber blade toward the levitating Vong . . .

Then, like the others, Shok’s body exploded into white, his skeleton flashing.

Vasi floated down to the ground.

‘The Great Shamed One Eshin Shul,’ he said. ‘Failure. Traitor. Infidel.’

‘Vasi—’ Eshin mumbled, still unable to find her voice. ‘I—I’m glad you survived. . .’

Vasi snorted. ‘I should thank you. But I shan’t. You did this for yourself, not for the Extolled; not for the Chosen. You are worse than even that blind fool Varesh Shai. At least he has the excuse of faith; what is your excuse, Eshin Shul? Your own inferiority? Humiliation? Perhaps revenge?’

His eyes flashed as they narrowed, and Vasi’s fingers crackled with static again.

‘You have no goal, Eshin Shul, beyond anarchy.’

Krag stepped forward, bringing his hands up to throw a ball of lightning before Vasi could react, however—impossibly—the Vong had already pre-empted the attack, throwing a wave of energy that caught Krag’s at the same time, linking them for a moment as they threw crackling energy at each other, before a moment later Vasi took the upper hand and then hurled Krag into the wall beside Eshin, the human’s armour cracking in the impact.

Vasi let out a cold laugh that seemed to send a shiver through the Voice of Agony itself.

‘You and your Dark Jeedai Slayers have failed. Now witness the power of the Light.’

Vasi looked directly up, thin rivulets of blood started to trickle from the corners of his eyes, and for a moment Eshin thought the fellow Shamed One had finally lost it. Then she felt the ship start to turn and struggled to keep her footing as the Voice of Agony shifted to face the Yammka. In the darkness beyond, she spotted a series of ships pop out of hyperspace.

‘Ah, it seems our final audience has arrived—’ Vasi whispered, his focus not seeming to be fully there, ‘how good of the Sseeth to join us . . .’

Suddenly, Eshin was shooting across the floor, barely holding onto Remulus—who was still wailing—she reached out and grabbed onto the nearest coral stalagmite, elsewhere the now semi-conscious Ashura doing the same. The baby slipped from her grasp—but Krag slid along the floor right in time to intercept. Above them all, Vasi burst into an insane cackle as the cruiser kicked into maximum ramming speed and rocketed towards the Yammka . . .


06-09-2009 17:23:59

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter IV.i
Blood for Blood

Republic-class Star Destroyer Final Way
Somewhere in the Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Anarchy. There was no other word for it.

Fleet Admiral Araic Simonetti watched the scene unfold, half sure it was a dream, as the two largest Vong ships collided with one another. The Special Operations fleet had arrived smack in the middle of what looked to be a civil war between two rival Vong factions and the Peace Brigade. Araic had been right: their command was in total meltdown. Perhaps they finally realised their gods were not coming to save them.

‘Report,’ Araic said, his eyes still fixed on the chaos outside.

The Final Way was now in orbit of what appeared to be a cluster of rough planetoids. Any last reservations the admiral may have had about Operation Rancor dissolved. What he saw outside was not possible.

He had never been to Alderaan or seen the Graveyard left in the wake of the Death Star's superlaser, except in holovids, but it seemed a good enough analogy. This was not so much a hidden base as a shipwreck. A worldshipwreck. The scorch marks and the impact craters from the bombardment three years ago still covered the desolate surface of the Telosian Worldship. He had believed it destroyed and left it to fall apart on reentry to Telos's atmosphere. But apparently, somehow, it had survived—albeit no longer in one piece. The now lifeless rocks seemed to have become the shells for a new generation of warships.

It was a good job they had discovered it before it was too late.

Araic clamped down on the thought before he could picture the alternative future in his mind. He would see to it none of the Vong ships under construction ever saw completion.

Finally, one of the ensigns gave the status report, ‘The few surviving Peace Brigade ships seem to be under fire from all sides. Hard to say which Vong ships are which. Quite a few seem to be focused on the Super Star Destroyer analog that attacked Sepros.’

Araic studied what he surmised must have been the Vong command ship, larger than anything in the entire Dlarit fleet, either here or recovering back at Orian. It appeared to have been built directly out of one of the chunks of planetoids it orbited, no doubt the first of the new warships to see completion. But right then it appeared to be descending towards at an alarming pace—sometimes size was not the answer, as the Final Way itself was testament to. A grim smile crossed the admiral's lips as he thought about the biological payload now waiting in the hangar: the Violator Gas Bomb.

‘All teams to their stations. This war ends here.’

[center]* * *[/center]

Eight men, dressed in loud orange biohazard suits, hoisted the durasteel brick the size of a small rancor onto their shoulders. The sides of the grey brick were striped with yellow and black warnings, and had the obligatory ‘DANGER: DO NOT TOUCH’ lettering in massive red characters on every side. Behind their faceplates, the men did not appear worried; but in the Force, Agrist could sense their unease as if the odious feeling was literally pouring off them.

The Violator Gas stored inside had the potency to kill every single being on the ship with only a few drops.

An entire warhead full was enough to take out every Vong in the system—at least, if there had been a nearby system; out here in the bleak abandonment of Wild Space, it would simply kill everything in the local vicinity.

Damian Voss issued directions as he guided the men up the steps of the Bantha-class assault shuttle that would ferry the bomb to the Super Star Destroyer analog, where it would then be able to cause a chain reaction, which—scientifically speaking—would take out every Vong in the region.

More likely, Agrist thought, the Violator Gas would simply kill everything nearby. Violator Gas did not discriminate. It just was more effective at killing Vong than anything else.

Which was an impressive feat for something that had seen a one-hundred percent success rate in front line deployment against everything else.

Elsewhere in the hangar, the men who had not already headed out were crawling into their XJs, suited up in the dark jumpsuits and flight gear of Special Operations pilots or commandos. Simonetti was holding nothing back for Operation Rancor. Even the newly built XJ3s would see their first proper test; constructed specifically to combat Vong technology, what better time to put them to use?

The war against the Vong had gone on to long.

It was time to end it.

XJ X-Wing Rancor’s Fang 1
Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Nix sent his XJ into a dive, jinking and juking as the coralskipper behind tried to get a lock, currently spitting balls of plasma indiscriminately.

Come on you kriffing scarhead!

His XJ shook as a blast clipped one of the port wings, sending it cartwheeling. He fought to get the starfighter back under control when a second ball of red and yellow exploded around him.

Take that Huttkarker!' came Raven’s voice over the comm. ‘Wolfman, you owe me one!’

The Shistavanen muttered something under his breath, then said, ‘I still count two more for Sapphire.’

The channel crackled with static for a moment. ‘Think you mean only one more,’ Raven chuckled.

‘Both of you keep your minds on the battle,’ Manji's voice broke in. ‘We’ve still a corridor to clear to get that bomb safely onto the Vong flagship.’

Bantha-class assault shuttle Rancor 2
Leaving the Final Way’s hangar, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Dyrra was glad Fremoc’s team had been assigned to the shuttle carrying the VGB rather than her. Even on a completely different ship, being this close to that large of a payload still made her uneasy. Admiral Simonetti was insane, but the fiery redhead knew it was necessary; she’d have done no different herself.

Dyrra stared out the viewport as the shuttle headed out into the total darkness of space. This far out from anywhere, there was no light apart from the pinpricks in the incalculable distance. The only sign of anything was the lights from each individual ship, or the red glow the Vong ships emitted around the mouths of their plasma cannons. Were it not for the eerie glow of the desolate planetoids, everything would have been pitch black.

The massive Vong grand cruiser grew larger and larger as they flew towards it, the XJs flying support around them and the other two assault shuttles. This was it. This was what it had come down to. Six years since the Yuuzhan Vong first entered the galaxy, it was time to bring it all to an end, and rescue Ashura and the Overlord’s son.

Maybe the Antei and the Galactic Alliance believed themselves safe, but the future of the Sadow dynasty still hung in the balance.

‘Decoy Two, we’re just exiting the hangar now,’ Fremoc’s still bitter voice crackled over the comm.

Dyrra suppressed her first response, Who the kriff you calling decoy?

Instead she said, ‘Understood. We’re on our way to the objective now. Will rendezvous with you when we get there.’

‘Acknowledged. . .’ Fremoc paused a moment, then added, ‘Let’s teach these karkers why they shouldn’t frack with us.’

Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
Freefall, Baanu Amnan Orbit, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Another blaze bug blinked out and clattered to the ground alongside Varesh's feet as the Yammka rumbled from another aftershock. The dovin basals were failing and they were losing altitude over the nearest chunk of the dead worldship. Had Tolok Amnan gone completely insane? The impact of the Voice of Agony had come without warning. Everywhere the same series of events seemed to be unfolding. It was as if the entire Domain Amnan fleet had been taken over; coralskippers launching themselves in kamikaze runs indiscriminately, all but reverting to the asteroids they had originally come from. The Yammka Vong were now caught in a three way crossfire between the Peace Brigade, the Sseeth and the rival Yuuzhan Vong heretics.

Coiled around Varesh's arm, the Scepter of Power hissed as he thumbed the activator for the lightsaber in his other hand on and off. Snap-hiss, snap-hiss, snap-hiss . . .

‘I am surrounded by Shamed Ones,’ the leader of the Yammka Vong muttered, out of earshot of all but Tsaak. ‘Had it not been for the priestess, I would have exterminated the Sseeth entirely.’

Tsaak rubbed a finger along his forehead, smearing it with the dead priestess’s blood. ‘The High Priestess was a heretic,’ he said coldly, not hiding the contempt he had long held for Seef Lacap. ‘However this way you get to crush the Sseeth in battle. Think of it as the will of the Slayer, Fearsome One, instead of the deception of the Trickster that simply killing them in their sleep would have been.’

Varesh considered the seer’s words, then nodded. ‘True, true. This is why you have always been my true augury, Tsaak.’

A viewspider stalk uncoiled from above in front of the pair. The surfaces of the eyes along the its length rippled for a moment, then reflected the image of a much disfigured Yuuzhan Vong, a grotesque lump pulsating out one side of his head. The figure leered out of the lenses with an unnatural intensity.

‘Varesh Shai . . .’ the image whispered slowly. ‘We meet at last.’

‘Who is this?’ Varesh snapped, narrowing his eyes at the informal address.

The figure smirked. ‘I would not expect you to know me. I was but a lowly Shamed One. A slave who sought out the Light.’

‘What do you want?’


Even in the image on the viewspider, the sparks across the Shamed One's body were unmistakable. Varesh’s eyes widened, and he saw Tsaak do the same.

Jeedai . . .’ they both said in unison.

The Shamed One grunted. ‘No. I am Vasi Khess, the Chosen of the Extolled. I am the new God.’ The smile across Vasi’s face drained away into a death mask. ‘And I'm coming for you, Warmaster. The Extolled are coming to take back what is theirs.’

The image crackled with static, then a white spark shot along the viewspider and the eye stalk fell slack from the ceiling, dangling loose.

It took a few moments for either of the two Yammka Vong to say anything.

‘What . . . was that?’ Varesh said, more to himself than necessarily Tsaak.

Romm Shai called from the front of the command deck, ‘Warmaster, there are reports of a Shamed One revolt in the lower decks where the Voice of Agony collided.’

Varesh did not reply. An uprising?

Finally, Tsaak said, ‘That Shamed One . . . could he be what delays the Dread Lord's return? Perhaps it was not the Sseeth heresy that must be cleansed . . .’

When Varesh still did not answer, Tsaak added, ‘Fearsome One, if you wish to withdraw, there is no harm.’

Varesh spun round from the dead viewspider to the seer.

Withdraw? A true servant of the Slayer does not run from battle.’

The Warmaster glanced out the main window to the devastation outside as another coralskipper impacted not far from where they were standing. ‘If it is my time for Blessed Release, then I will go without fear as the true Avatar of the War God.’

He turned back to Tsaak again. ‘A Warmaster does not retreat. But you . . . Leave that you may carry on the work of the Yammka Vong should I fall. These heretics,’ he gestured around as if to take in the whole fleet, ‘they who have not embraced the Children of War—they do not understand the Truth. Go, my seer, leave that the work of the Supreme Overlord may continue no matter my fate. If it is the will of the Slayer that I die here with the Sseeth, then so be it. I will have fulfilled my role in the Great Sacrifice.’

As if reading his thoughts, the Scepter of Power uncoiled from around Varesh's arm and extended into a spear in his free hand as he thumbed the lightsaber back on in his other. ‘But this Vasi Khess, I will ensure that he falls to my sword before I do theirs.’


10-09-2009 14:57:00

[CENTER]Children of War
Chapter IV.ii

Wreckage of the Voice of Agony
Within the Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
Freefall, Baanu Amnan Orbit, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

The air was so clouded with dust that it was almost impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. Somehow, impossibly, Krag Muyel had survived, laying face down and shielding the baby beneath him as the ceiling rained down around him, the sound almost as painful as the coral knives that had torn across his back, tearing open his bodysuit across half of his left shoulder and down most of his left arm and leg. He was injured, but at least he was still alive. The baby's tears spilt down his chest as he rolled over onto his back, feeling the jagged coral now littering the floor scratch across his body as he moved, the debris crunching beneath this weight.

The arachnid spineray wrapped around his neck hissed and for a second he felt its tail tighten like a garotte, then it relaxed, going limp.

Krag reached forward and called on the Force to brush the cloud to one side so that he could see.

The skeletal remains of the Yuuzhan Vong that Vasi Khess had electrocuted were strewn around the chamber. At the far side, near one of the exits, Eckla Muyel was buried under a two meter high rib bone of yorik coral that had a few minutes before served as one of the ceiling supports. On top of the rib, the ceiling had caved in, pinning the Yuuzhan Vong down. She was not moving.

Opposite Eshin, the captive Sith appeared to finally be coming to.

There was no sign of Vasi Khess. Krag shut his eyes reached out into the Force—

The Shamed One's presence still glowed brightly, a facsimile of the Overlord himself. But he was gone. Probably to hunt down the Elite who had condemned the heretical shaper to slavery for seeking the truth.

Ashura groaned and Krag opened his eyes again. The Sith's eyes were still misty from the Force-dampening poison that had knocked him out, but it seemed to be wearing off.

The former prisoner looked at Remulus and breathed a sigh of relief; his eyes widened when he turned to Krag.

Ashura coughed, ‘You . . . saved him,’ his voice was dry enough to suggest he had not had a drink in days. He probably hadn't. ‘Why . . . why did you do it?’

I did what my Mistress asked of me . . . in service to the Light of the True Way.’

The spineray on Krag's back sissed softly again, its tail stroking his neck gently.

The proconsul glanced around at the mountains of wreckage. ‘This? Is this your True Way?’

A hoarse laugh coughed from across the chamber. Beneath the fallen rib bone, Eshin's arm quivered ever so slightly.

Krag put the baby down carefully and limped across the room to the Yuuzhan Vong, then began to lift the wreckage off her, rock by rock.

Eckla twisted her neck around at an unnatural angle. Her nose was broken, her left eye closed, and her face blackened with moist blood. ‘Don't . . . don't bother,’ she croaked.

‘But Mistress—’

Eckla cut him off. ‘I knew this day would come. I knew Vasi would rebel.’ What was left of her lips, which were now all but torn in half, pulled up into a half-smile. ‘Do you not see? I have killed us all!’

Krag frowned and put down the rock in his hand as Eckla began to laugh. ‘Mistress . . .’

‘I have revealed the True Way for the lie it is,’ she continued, then looked straight up into Krag's eyes, her smile vanishing. ‘Varesh, Drathul, Shimrra . . . you Jeedai and Sseeth are as blind as all the rest. Only Onimi ever understood the truth.’

Krag continued to frown but did not say anything.

‘I can die peacefully, knowing I have unmasked the truth for what it is,’ Eckla coughed, spitting blood across Krag's boots. Her voice grew weaker, but she carried on, ‘You will all die here. I, Eshin Shul, have doomed the Jeedai who humiliated me at Antei to die along with the Yuuzhan Vong who dared to label me a heretic for understanding what they could not. I have seen what you have all been too blind to see. Yuuzhan Vong, Jeedai, Sseeth. There is no difference! Vasi is proof! He is the Truth!’ Her neck drooped and she gazed at the floor instead as the pool of blood reached Krag's feet. She tried to laugh, though the sound came out more like guttural choke. ‘Vasi will kill you all.’

Krag stared down at the dying Yuuzhan Vong.

No, not at his Mistress, at Eshin Shul. The Shamed One who had failed at Antei four years ago. The traitor who had betrayed Domain Amnan at Telos three years ago.

The heretic who had defied the True Way.

The True Way that was now a lie.

Everything since the expedition to the Zhaetor-zhae a year ago, it had all been a lie, all of it. Krag closed his eyes and shook his head. He had been deceived. The Light of the True Way was false. There was no Truth, only the monster, Vasi Khess. With a thunderous roar, he reached behind and grabbed hold of the spineray embedded in the back of his neck. He screamed as the eight-legged hand-worm fought back, trying to choke him with its long tail as he worked to yank it free. His fingertips flashed with blue-white fire until the spineray finally yielded, then it leapt from his hand and started to scuttle across the floor towards the baby Remulus.

A snap-hiss and a thruum later and there was nothing but a smoking mound of ash by the time the lightsaber returned to Ashura's hand.

As if awakening from a long dream, Macron Goura opened his eyes and looked down at Eshin.

‘You got one thing right. You're going to die.’

Both of the alchemist's blades fired to life before he crossed them in front of the Shamed One's neck.

[center]* * *[/center]

The Yammka continued to shake every time another suicide coralskipper slammed into her side as Macron and Ashura hurried towards the feeling in the Force that they prayed was salvation. The gravity was getting more and more uncertain, the alignment shifting every hundred or so feet. The collision seemed to have knocked the Yammka out of orbit, and it was now on a rapid re-entry towards the nearest planetoid fragment. On top of the erratic gravity, each footstep was another obstacle course as they stumbled past the mutilated bodies of the Yammka Vong who had been caught in the Shamed One uprising that must have surged through not long before. The handful of victims who were not quite dead did not remain that way for long—Macron saw to that, charging ahead whilst Ashura followed behind with Remulus in safely his arms.

Take that!’ the alchemist screamed, hacking his way through the carcasses beneath him. ‘Why! Won't! You! All! Just! Fracking! Die!

Ashura grabbed hold of Macron's shoulder—and narrowly avoided having a lightsaber through his throat when Macron spun round.

The alchemist pressed his lips together. ‘Sorry.’

Ashura sighed sympathetically. ‘Easy, Mac.’

‘If only I had my supplies. I would kill for some Violator Gas vials right about now . . .’ Macron mused to himself distantly. ‘No matter. We're nearly at a hangar.’

And I can feel that freak show not far above us . . .

The pair continued to work their way through the twisting passages, passing through a number of torn or cindered sphincter muscles that Vasi must have ripped through on his rampage to the upper levels. It still seemed impossible how a Yuuzhan Vong, one of the so-called Force-dead Far Outsiders, could have absorbed the powers of the Sadow bloodline, have become an embodiment of everything the Overlord himself represented. It was like chasing after a dark mockery of Lord Sadow himself. Macron grit his teeth. It was heresy.

And Vasi Khess was a Heretic who had to die.

Woah!’Macron cried out when he stepped into the next chamber and suddenly fell towards the ceiling as the gravity inverted. Ashura tumbled after him, but called on the Force in time to steady their descent enough so that Remulus did not hit the ceiling-turned-floor. ‘I really wish it'd stop doing that,’ Macron grumbled.

He looked around to see they were in a large open chamber. A number of round, ball-shaped, T-16 skyhopper-sized asteroids were suspended from the ceiling in neat rows on one side. Tunnels were cut into the main hull wall in front of each ball. The hangar bay.

Suddenly, the chamber lit up from a torchlight at the other end and footsteps piled inside from the opposite entrance, blinking red photoreceptors of men clad all in black surrounding them.

‘Governor!’ one of the Special Operations troopers shouted in surprise, snapping to attention the instant he recognised Ashura's face. ‘SO Trooper 3305 at your command, sir.’

‘At ease,’ Ashura said once he and Macron had unwound themselves from the confused lump of arms and legs they had formed after falling off the floor onto the ceiling.

When the squad leader turned his eyes to Macron his unease seeped into the Force like a black cloud.

‘It's okay,’ Ashura added. ‘He's safe.’

After a brief moment, SO-3305 said, ‘If you say so governor,’ though he still sounded unconvinced.

‘How do we get off this hulk?’

The troopers parted and the squad leader pointed back at the corridor from where the team had emerged. ‘Our decoy shuttle is back the way we came, sir. The other battle teams are on the upper levels to plant the VGB.’

That got Macron's attention.

‘Did you say the VGB? Here?

‘Correct . . . commander,’ SO-3305 said, still a little hesitantly. ‘Commander Pepoi is bringing it aboard right now with Sergeant Skye's assistance.’

Macron did not speak for a few moments.

Instead, Ashura asked, ‘Mac . . . by VGB . . . isn't that the Violat—’

‘Yes. . .’ Macron interrupted. ‘We need to get Remulus off the ship. Even if one of the Vong accidentally—’

‘We should get going back to the shuttle then,’ SO-3305 said.

Macron shook his head. ‘There's no time for that. You don't understand how dangerous that thing is. The trigger device—I never finished it. We need to get Remulus off the ship now.

The alchemist pushed SO-3305 out of the way and stepped across to the other side of the chamber, where the skyhopper-sized rocks were lined up.

‘Mac, what are you doing?’

Macron ignored the proconsul and instead stroked his hand along the side of one of the nearest rock. The vine suspending it lowered the ball gently to the ground, then relaxed. The muscles underfoot rippled, rotating the asteroid until its front faced the alchemist, then a pink hatch on the side spread open, revealing a pair of throbbing polyp stools inside. Once the escape pod had finished opening, Macron turned back to the others.

‘You first,’ Macron called to Ashura.

‘I don't know how to fly one of—’

Macron smirked. ‘It's quite easy, really. You just have to tell it what to do,’ he paused, frowning for a moment. ‘Of course, you do need to know how to speak Vongese though. But you shouldn't have to do anything once I get it set up. Come on.’

Ashura swallowed, then joined Macron and reluctantly allowed the alchemist to strap him and Remulus inside the cramped asteroid. There was barely the room for the pair of them, but the polyps moulded to accommodate their unfamiliar body shapes. Ashura squirmed for a second when a pair of vines unwrapped from behind the polyp and embraced him in a disturbing reminder of his time in the Embrace of Pain, only this time they seemed to be meant as crash webbing.

Once the pair were secured, Macron stepped back.

The alchemist glanced back at the squad leader. ‘Trooper, have we got any fighters out there to escort the deputy governor-general and the viceroy's son back to your ship?’

‘I can comm one of the squadron leaders to guide them in to the Final Way, yes.’

‘Do it.’

Ashura frowned. ‘You only mentioned me and Remy . . .’

Macron slapped his hand against a rubbery nodule on the side of the pod. ‘That's because I've got to finish what I started.’

‘Macron, no, you don't have to—!’

Ashura started to stand up, but the translucent hatch sphincter pressed shut together like a pair of lips, leaving him hammering on the inside. Macron forced a smile as he stepped away to allow the escape pod room. A moment later, the tendril securing the asteroid to the hangar bay released and it rolled into the open maw in the wall, being sucked out the room and fired off into the loneliness of space.

Macron took a deep breath and held it in for a minute. He could still sense the Overlord's doppelgänger a few floors above, not far from the Hall of Confluence, where they would surely be taking the VGB.

And where Varesh would be as well. This was it. It would all end there.

He breathed out and then turned back to the special ops team.

‘Let's finish this. Take me to the Violator Bomb.’


14-09-2009 14:36:11

[CENTER]Children of War
War's End

Kor Chokk Grand Cruiser Yammka’s Sword
Freefall, Koros-Strohna Worldship Baanu Amnan, Tingel Arm, Wild Space

Throughout the behemoth grand cruiser, giant maggots swallowed Vong whole as they surged into escape ships, a yellowy sea of writhing worms erupting from the ship’s surface. Amphistaffs hissed and snapped together, fanged mouths lashing against each other as Yammka Vong fought Yuuzhan Vong, battling over the remaining yorik-trema as they peeled off from the grand cruiser’s surface, others piling into black tombstones of yorik coral, spiralling off into space in yorik-ta escape pods.

Balls of superheated plasma continued to stream between the warring ships of the two domains, the Children of War of Domain Shai oblivious to the death of their Warmaster, or else beyond carrying. A servant of the God of War did not run. The Children of War did not hide. The Yammka Vong would readily give their lives for the Great Sacrifice and the cleansing of the Promised Land.

All heretics would die.

The Yammka continued to fall downward on its doomed collision course with the nearest relic of the shattered worldship, from which the mighty grand cruiser herself had been grown. Fire still lanced as the warship spiralled, belching lava and yanking incoming kamikaze coralskippers to their dooms, dark singularities flashing all across her surface where dovin basals fought to devour the ongoing turbolaser strikes from the burning Peace Brigade ships still remaining.

The Final Way and her small escort broke away, taking the Sith and Krath and Dark Jedi to safety...

[center]* * *[/center]

The stench from the half-dissolved body by his feet scorched William’s nostrils, and he was sure he could feel a drop of blood running from where the vapours burned through his nose as if it were acid. He reminded himself: it probably was acid. He snorted involuntarily, then kicked the skinless skull next to him hard enough that Vasi’s head ripped free of its spine with a wet slurp and slid across the floor more like a formless sponge than bone and cartilage.

Hurried footsteps still echoed in the distance, accompanied by battle cries as Vong fought Vong. The Hall of Confluence itself was now abandoned, only the dead still left to keep him company.

How fitting . . . Will thought, his hand still gripping hold of the loose hose of the violator gas bomb.

His free hand still hovered over the manual trigger on the side of the bomb—webs of yorik coral interlaced between his fingers, imbedded between the bones, some delicately tracing his veins along the underside of his arm.

He lifted his gaze back to the bomb itself. In the uneven light from the glow lichen on the walls, he could just make out his reflection in the metallic surface—his skinless, skull-like face, staring back at him; his blue eyes drained of any warmth, only a cold, grey darkness looking back from the depths.

He could hear voices in the not-so-far distance. Harsh and guttural, more coughs and snarls than words. Vong. A pair of heavily armoured hunters entered the elaborately decorated hall. Both their amphistaffs’ tongues flicked out, sampling the air, then their heads shot to look at him.

The Vong’s eyes widened at the sight of the Warmaster’s mangled body in the middle of the hall.

One of the pair screamed in Will’s direction.

[center]* * *[/center]

‘Brenzlits!’ the supreme commander cried, ripping his cognition hood off his face. ‘The Sseeth flee!’

Romm Shai shot to his feet and slammed a fist through the swarm of red blaze bugs representing the Sith Star Destroyer and her escort squadrons. His head snapped round to one of the battle tacticians, the Yammka Vong’s bulging eyes now eying his captain fearfully.

Romm snarled and with the back of his hand smacked the staring face aside.

A voice from another crewmember arose behind Romm, ‘The Warmaster . . .’

The subaltern did not finish.

Romm spun round again. ‘What?!’

‘He . . . he has fallen.’

Romm’s eyes went as wide as the tactician’s who had been gawping at him. ‘No! The Khattazz al’Yammka cannot fall! He is the Avatar of the Slayer!’ The subaltern did not argue—he couldn’t; Romm’s already bloodstained coufee had shot right through the other Yammka Vong’s throat.

Romm suddenly heard scratches and hammering somewhere behind him.

[center]* * *[/center]


The clenched sphincter tore apart beneath the frenzied thrashing of coufees and sharpened debris and clawed implants as the horde of Shamed Ones knifed at the gateway to the Yammka’s bridge, ripping through the muscle before surging inside like a bloodthirsty fero xyn swarm.

Ushk Karsh charged inside first, swinging the bone club he had ripped from a warrior’s arm socket. The other Shamed Ones—the other Extolled—poured into the bridge behind him, their makeshift weapons and lifeless amphistaffs-turned-plain whips thrashing about as they took the warriors by surprise, severing arteries, crushing skulls, slitting throats.

At the head of the bridge, Romm Shai turned to face them—his body silhouetted against the rapidly nearing mountain ranges that were fast growing outside the central viewport. The long moustache-flaps of skin dangling from the supreme commander’s nose reared up as his lipless mouth snarled.

‘HERETICS!’ the warleader roared and leapt from the head of the bridge into the swarm of outcasts.

[center]* * *[/center]

The two hunters, both nearly twice the size of an ordinary human, glowered at William from across the other end of the Hall of Confluence. If looks could kill, the sheer murderous glare in their eyes would have done so a dozen times over. The Vong both seemed momentarily frozen, speaking urgently into the leathery balls perched on each their shoulders, not taking their eyes off him.

The skin around Will’s hand was starting to burn; when he glanced down, he could already see the flesh around his fingers peeling off where some of the gas was still escaping. He fought down the pain and looked back at the two Vong. According to the tizowyrm that had been forcefully inserted in his ear, they were still apparently deliberating what to do.

Vong truly were useless without their gods.

A few moments later, the villips on their shoulders folded away again, then they turned back to him.

Will closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh.

‘There is no peace; there is anger,’ he whispered to himself.

‘There is no fear; there is power.
There is no death; there is immortality.
There is no weakness; there is the Dark Side.
I shall render unconditional obedience to my Clan.’

The two Vong were still coming, the gleam in their eyes as hot as the core of a star.

Will grinned at them, snorting at their confused expressions, then continued speaking ever louder.

‘I shall defend with my life the sacred body of the Brotherhood.
I shall never reveal its secrets to those uninitiated in its ways.
I shall hunt down and destroy all those who would cause it harm.
I shall submit to the will of those appointed over me so long as doing so causes the Brotherhood no harm.
I shall seek an end to the cursed light, and bring darkness to all whom I conquer.’

The two Vong were but a few more rows of stools from the throne on which the bomb now sat.


Will let go of the hose when the hunters were within ten meters of him. He screamed, the gas bursting over his wrist as his skin started to dissolve, as the yorik coral along his arm began to bubble and crumble apart, as the heat seared into his flesh toward his own bone.

‘Phahg, Jeedai,’ one of the two Vong cursed and went to strike before Will could kill himself—

The Dark Jedi Knight had just enough time to smile at the Vong and shout, ‘See you in hell!’, then jabbed his forefinger into the trigger.

[center]* * *[/center]

The shockwave flung Romm to the floor, tumbling across the other Yammka Vong and Shamed Ones until he landed atop Ushk, whose face now seemed to be melting. Romm flinched back and pressed himself off the Shamed One’s body, stumbling back in the zero gravity as the Yammka neared terminal velocity—the surface of the Baanu Amnan looming directly outside the viewport.

Romm staggered backward into one of the banks of villips that made up the villip choir. He felt himself fall right through them, his arms passing through normally hard balls like sponge mould. When he looked down, his eyes went wide in shock—

His arm was missing halfway down his radius.

He looked up again and saw the rest of his arm—hand still attached—back atop Ushk, the bone jutting out of the Shamed One’s body. He cringed. Pain was shooting through his face as if it had been plunged in firejelly. He reached up with his remaining hand to brush it aside—

Only to brush half his nose off his face.

Romm finally noticed the sound of others doing exactly the same thing, their voices screaming, seeing the mangled bodies of all the other Yuuzhan Vong throughout the bridge falling apart, their skin dissolving, their bones bending, their eyes dripping out of their sockets—

Suddenly, everything went black, and Romm screamed.

The last thing he felt was his body be hurled across the room before fire engulfed him.

Lucrehulk-class Battlesphere Patriot’s Fist
Tingel Arm, Wild Space

The Fist was pulling away from the Yammka as fast as her battered engines could move it. Warning sirens continued to blare and hazard lights flashed, bathing the bridge in a bright red glow, painting the walls red as if they were smothered in blood. Admiral Yashais dei Izvoshra continued to stare out at the grand cruiser as it finally entered the atmosphere of the nearest chunk of the Baanu Amnan.

Yashais did not see what happened next.

Without warning, the Yammka’s Sword was replaced with something brighter than the distant stars. For a few seconds, the eternal night became day. No one, not even the mindless Chazrach slaves, dared look directly into the heart of the newborn inferno. Not even the transparisteel windows set on full polarisation combined with multiple shields could dim the crucible of a new star.

Then space filled temporarily with trillions of microscopic metal coral fragments, propelled past the retreating Dlarit and Synergy Corporation ships by the nuclear birth of the artificial sun.

But the Fist was too slow to outrun the blast wave. The last thing Yashais saw was the shining brilliance eclipse his eyes when something large and burning crashed through the forward viewport.

Republic-class Star Destroyer Final Way
Tingel Arm, Wild Space

The Star Destroyer’s bridge shuddered as the ripple quaked through it as it continued to pull away to escape the detonation. It all lasted less than ten seconds. Then the wave receded and the flare collapsed, the lingering residue continuing to consume itself—as it would for several days until it finally burned itself out once it used up what remained of the Yammka and the last of the worldship that should have died three years ago at Telos.

Araic Simonetti opened his eyes a few moments later once he was certain the blast was finished.

Looking out across the enemy fleets, he could no longer see the Yammka’s Sword or the planetoid fragment it had crashed into. The other large Yuuzhan Vong warships were simultaneously falling out of orbit of the other planetoids they too were anchored over, venting bodies out of massive breaches that had now penetrated every single major ship in the Vong fleet, their green and yellow organic innards spilling into the cold vacuum like alien pus and blood.

The fleet admiral fell back into his chair and shut his eyes.

By his order, Operation Rancor had just silenced thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of lives.

The turbolift doors at the rear of the bridge chimed open and he opened his eyes again to see the alchemist he had long condemned as a madman stroll inside. Araic could not help but smirk.

Outside Courtyard
Sadow Palace, Sepros Jungle, Orian System

It had been a little over two weeks since the initial attack and much of the palace was still in need of repair, but the hard work of special operations teams under the watch of Colonel Septka—with help from a small droid army, as well as slaves shipped across from the baradium mines, even a team of the warrior Ewoks from Kangaras had been flown in to help with the repair work—had gone a long way to clearing the wreckage left outside, and getting rid of the numerous giant maggot drop ships.

The wing of the Simus Institute remained in ruins and many younglings and apprentices were still in need of rehousing, but it was safe, and the war was at an end. With the Yuuzhan Vong Empire long having fallen, and the surviving Vong warlords now slain, with no more attacks on supply lines along the Orian Pipeline, they could at last rebuild and begin the much needed reconstruction work, and start sending home some of the refugees who had been taken in during the Yuuzhan Vong War.

But all that was in the future.

In the sky above, the outline of the Nebula-class Star Destroyer Dark Star hung beneath the cloud cover, the Overlord himself having hurried home with reinforcements from the Navy of the Iron Throne as soon as Antei had got word of the attack. Thankfully, the Clan had managed on its own.

‘I would like everyone to take a moment to remember William Darkfire for his courage,’ the Overlord was saying. ‘A true knight of Sadow, he gave his life so that all of us may be here today.’ Astronicus raised his cup. ‘To William!’

‘To William!’ the disciples of Sadow all cheered.

Remulus Sadow cooed in Sakura Haruno’s arms. Robert Daragon glanced over and did his best to smile—his face still carried the marks of his days in Yuuzhan Vong captivity. He had been rescued eventually, having been carted off in secret to Sif on the far side of the galaxy, but two full days in a bacta tank had still yet to fully heal his wounds.

The Overlord looked over at his son. ‘It would appear you all now know of Prince Remulus as well,’ he said as his face copied Bob’s smile, then looked back up at the assembled Clan. ‘It is thanks to all of you that the Sadow dynasty continues. To the Disciples of Sadow!’

‘The Disciples of Sadow!’

Tron stood up and tapped his glass for silence.

The Overlord’s smile faded when he continued, ‘As you all also know, my good friend and the first of my disciples, Bob, was gravely injured in the attack. Thanks to your efforts he is able to be with us today, but his injuries will take some time to recover. It is for that reason I have chosen to appoint Manji Sadow as the new emissary to the Dark Council.’ Tron looked across at the Keibatsu, seated between Dyrra and Fremoc.

‘Rise, Consul.’

‘For Manji!’ cried Sai, sounding slightly worse for wear, and was joined by several other equally inebriated cries as everyone welcomed the new Consul.

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Yorik-ta escape pod
Wild Space

The shaper in the other chair squirmed as the yorik-ta shot through hyperspace into the unknown, the snakes in his headdress copying his actions by writhing against the low ceiling.

‘I’m not going to kill you,’ the Zabrak growled. ‘If I’d wanted you dead I’d have left you there.’

The Yuuzhan Vong studied the heavily tattooed face and narrowed his eyes. ‘You . . . should not be.’

Tslotha Garnath frowned at the shaper then laughed. ‘Nor should you,’ he muttered. ‘It appears we have something in common. The Force didn’t want me either.’

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Yorik-vec transport
Unknown Regions

The starlines shifted back into stars as the escape pod dropped out of hyperspace.

The lone Yammka Vong stood up and stretched his arms as he looked outside. There was no star nearby, just the endless void of deep space, the one lone asteroid tumbling through the emptiness.

Tsaak Shai let out a long sigh.

He had promised the Warmaster he would keep the legacy of the Yammka Vong alive.

And that was just what he was going to do.

‘Long live the Children of War,’ whispered the new Supreme Overlord.