|Shamgar Shroud, the Last Champion of Terra.|
Bound by chains forged from the heart of a dwarf star, enclosed in an dis-entropic shell, contained within an orichalcum casing, held aloft by gravitron beams that reproduced the effects of Magamun’s crushing gravity, Shamgar Shroud was led before the Quasid Emperor.
|Quasid Imperial Guardsman|
Above them, the Quasid Armada, a million ships strong, clashed with the combined forces of the Fledgling Empires, dotting the sky with fire, obscuring the stars with smoke and molten slag. Below them, the planet Cassiopeia, homeworld to the White Elders, was burning.
“Shamgar Shroud.” the Grand Templar, Host of the Star Legions said, dramatically unfolding the papyrus in his left hand. “You are charged with kidnapping the harem of the Emperor, theft of battle ships belonging to the Quasid Empire and its allies, grievous wounding of a number of Imperial Officers, possession of extranormal noetic capabilities, conspiracy to overthrow the Quasid Emperor, conspiracy to assassinate the Quasid Emperor, planet-heist, criminal libel against the Quasid Emperor, cultivating propaganda among the neighbors of the Quasid Empire, five counts of theft of Imperial heirlooms, forging Imperial seals and fifty offences of impersonating an Imperial Officer or Bureaucrat.” With grace, the Grand Templar rolled the papyrus back, then looked at the contraption.
“Should you accept these charges, Shamgar Shroud, then nod your head in the manner of an Earthman ‘yes’. Our scanners will detect the motion. What say you, Shamgar Shroud?”
“He’s already escaped, you fool.” The Quasid Emperor said, sitting on his great obsidian throne, his long talons tapping the stone, his rings rattling across his bony fingers. “He’s left the containment devices and he’s probably already infiltrated my guard. And if I know, Shamgar Shroud, then…”
With a flick of his wrist, the great ring in the Emperor’s index finger shot a ray of purple light among his men. The guardsman screamed and combusted into flames, incinerated on the spot, armor and all.
“Come out, Shmagar Shroud! I’ve already seen through your little ruse! Come out or I swear to the Neverborn I will open this airlock and send this entire room hurtling into the Void!” the Emperor screamed and his men shuddered in their near-impenetrable armor.
“You’re no fun, Gun’Shar.” said Shamgar Shroud and stepped from his place among the Imperial guardsmen, next to the pile of dust that was once one of the Emperor’s most trusted men.
Flame-lances surrounded him the very next instant, as Shamgar Shroud removed his mirrored helm and shook his head, smiling at the sight of the lances’ readied muzzles.
“I could have you disintegrated on the spot” said the Emperor, a great hungry grin on his face.
“And miss the chance to kill me yourself? Let go of the wonderful opportunity to rip my skin, tear me apart and set my head on a spike as the top of your banner? Come now, Gun’Shar, we’ve both been at this too long.”
With a wave of his hand, the Quasid Emperor dismissed his men and silenced the Grand Templar. With a thought, he conjured a sword in his hand, its blade the color of empty spaces where life once thrived.
“Arm the criminal, men! Give the scoundrel a fighting chance!” he ordered and a guard tossed his flexi-blade at Shamgar, who grabbed it mid-air and readied himself for battle.
“How unlike you” said the Emperor, as his anit-grav apparatus lifted him from the ground and led him before his hated enemy “to show such daring. Where are the sly maneuvers? The careful machinations? The ambushes and traps laid within traps, Shamgar Shroud?”
“I’m done toying with you, Gun’Shar. I came here to talk.” he said and parried the first strike of the Emperor’s blade. The clash reverberated across his arm, made it go numb. “I came here so we could end this without further bloodshed” he said and stepped back, dodging the Emperor’s next half-dozen blows.
“To talk? To negotiate? You seek to make me sign a peace treaty, perhaps?” said the Emperor, swinging his sword, aiming blow after blow at his hated enemy. “After decades of you thwarting my plans, of locking horns across the known Universe? I think not, Shamgar Shroud!”
|Gun'Shar the Star-Eater, Quasid Emperor.|
Shamgar dived under the next blow, his back to the wall. “Gun’Shar, listen to me: this is your last chance. Your very last chance to turn your Armada back and end this war.” he said, his fingers searching for a familiar bump in the wall, finding it and lingering there, sword at the ready.
“Do this and I will spare your life.” Shamgar said and barely avoided the Emperor’s mighty blow, as the sword moved past him and the blade tore through the wall of the ship, letting in the hungry void.
With a swift motion, Shamgar pressed the button on the wall with one hand, releasing the safety lock. The wall collapsed around him, the gold sheeting suddenly replaced by space. He and the Quasid Emperor were violently ejected, out of the chamber and into the great gaping void, the wound on the great black ship’s side closing the next instant.
Smashing his head across his breastplate, Shamgar’s helm locked onto his armor, shielding him from the vacuum. Twisting one of his rings, a bubble of air surrounded the Quasid Emperor.
“What heroics, Shamgar! What ham-handedness too! Or did you think this would kill me? Did you think I would be unprepared?” the Emperor’s voice broadcasted into Shamgar’s helmet. With another twist of his ring, he generated a field of gravity that let him hover in place, as Shamgar tumbled helplessly, seeking to right himself.
“You don’t understand, Gun’Shar.” Shamgar said, as he finally set himself upright at eye level with his enemy. “The Fledgling Empires aren’t defending themselves any longer. They fight this battle to crush you. They have entire fleets waiting, hidden behind this system’s sun, waiting to strike at your forces even as they mass. They seek to destroy every ship in your Armada and when they are done, they will head for Quasid Prime and reduce it to cinders.
“I am here to give you a chance, Gun’Shar. They promised me that if I could make you turn back, if I made you stop this war, they would spare you and your people.”
No sooner had Shamgar finished talking, when a ray of yellow light shot from one of the Quasid Emperor’s rings and struck the Champion of the Free Worlds, pinning him to one of the ship’s thrusters with enough force to crush his bones.
“You petulant, arrogant fool! You come here, on my eve of absolute victory and you dare threaten me with outrageous claims? You come before me: you, my most hated enemy; the perpetual thorn at my side and you claim to be doing me a favor? You vile little Earth maggot, I would kill you had death not been too kind for you!” the Quasid Emperor screamed, wishing he could see his most hated enemy’s face behind the hawk-faced helm, wishing he could see Shamgar suffer as his gums bled and hear the sound of his joint popping.
“Remember on the moons of Faroosh, when you made the cities of the dead turn against me and slaughtered my men like dogs? Did you forget the Hungry Hole, where you trapped my champion there to suffer forever, on the brink of death for eternity?” Undoing his robes, the Quasid Emperor showed Shamgar the great hole in his chest, where a terrible machine pumped his blood instead of a heart. “Remember how you left me to the Howling Harrower, when it escaped its binds?”
“That…was before…I was angry then…bloodthirsty…the memories of Earth…they’d driven me nearly mad…” the hated enemy said through clenched teeth.
“Ah yes, good old Earth. Had I not sold your people to slavery and smashed your planet to bits, I would have been driven insane by you long ago. How did it feel, Shamgar Shroud, when you saw my Planet Eaters consume the land, drink your oceans dry and pick at your planet’s bones? I’ve always wanted to know.
“What did it feel like, watching your home die?” the Emperor continued.
Shamgar wept beneath his helm and the Quasid Emperor knew that it was so. He knew that he had broken his hated enemy’s heart even as he was breaking his bones.
“Exactly how you felt…on Arosia…when my blade pushed through your son’s…heart…” Shamgar said and now it was the Emperor’s heart that shattered. Turning off his lethal beam, he smashed against his enemy and pressed the blade against his helm.
“I could drive this blade through your eye in one stroke. But first, there is something I need you to see.” Pulling him up like a ragdoll, the Emperor’s strength increased tenfold by the hidden Samson wiring inside his robes. He then showed Shamgar the silent pandemonium that was the battle of Cassiopeia.
“Watch closely, Shamgar. I believe you will appreciate this.” Turning to a hidden microphone inside one of his rings, the Quasid Emperor ordered:
“Release the Howling Harrowers.”
|A Howling Harrower, the Universe's deadliest predator.|
Had Shamgar any strength left in his body, he would have screamed at the Quasid Emperor, pleaded with him. But as the black ships opened their hatches, revealing their metallic, gleaming guts and releasing swarm upon swarm of iridescent creatures, each of them masses of tendrils and claws with ever hungry mouths that chewed through the fabric of space and time itself, he could only look upon them in terror.
“It was not hard to breed them. We kept the one you had left me with on the planet Dus. We fed it and we trained it. We learned its language. It taught us how to reach across dimensions, into its place of origin. We promised an entire galaxy for them to consume, Cassiopeia included. They jumped at the chance to eliminate their ancestral enemies, who had driven them from the Universe eons ago.”
He turned Shamgar to face him and his eyes were like great lakes, their surfaces writhing madly.
“Even if we are driven from this system, even if we are killed to the very last, the Harrowers will make sure that our enemies will perish. If the Quasid are beaten this day, then we shall take this galaxy with us! But look, Shamgar Shroud, look at them descend on Cassiopeia. Look at their hungry tendrils, reaching out to devour your masters!
“This world too, I shall destroy, Shamgar Shroud. I will eliminate every trace of your allies from the Universe and in the end, you will be less that meteoric dust.”
The Harrowers swarmed around the Quasid Armada, fell upon the ships of the Fledgling Empires, their terrible tendrils moving through solid matter as if it were no thicker than air, their mouths extracting the living brains from the skulls of their pilots and crews. Their weapons struck at the creatures but they were unaffected, unbound by the laws of that universe.
Below, the Harrowers descended through Cassiopeia’s atmosphere at the speed of thought, sending great amorphous shadows over its gleaming cities, screaming their ancient songs of war like they had done during the Nightmare Millennium, when their kind had reigned supreme in this Universe and every Universe.
Beneath them, the White Elders removed ancient weapons of destruction from their vaults and wore armor that had gathered dust for centuries. They girded themselves for battle and the younger among them quaked with fear, as the eldest wept.
Only one among them, who was neither ancient nor very wise, stood on his balcony and looked through the cloud of his enemies, past the glint of the sun and into the void, following Shamgar Shroud’s every movement, praying that the Earthman would muster the strength to do what had to be done.
“So this is a…”
“Trans-spatial furrowing matrix. With considerable temporotransmutant capabilities.” said Uruk of the White Elders.
“Oh. Fascinating” responded Shamgar, nodding his head in another futile attempt to convince the White Elder that he knew what he was talking about “And it…”
“Collapses space around it, causing it to fold in on itself, creating a miniature continuum without any means of escape.”
“So it’s a bomb. That makes a prison.”
“Very good, Terran. There’s hope for you yet.” Uruk flashed Shamgar another of his condescending grins. Shamgar did his best to pretend not to notice.
“What’s its radius?”
“Two hundred rull. About sixty thousand kilometers. Enough to eliminate a type two gas giant.”
“Or a planet and its moons. This is White Elder technology, isn’t it? Why didn’t you people just make a regular bomb, then? It’s not beyond your capabilities and it sure as hell looks way less draining than a Sun Quencher. What were you trying to trap?”
“Harrowers. There were thousands, millions of them, once. They were the masters of the White Elder race and pretty much the entire Universe. This was one of the weapons we developed during the final days of the war. There were few Harrowers left, then; perhaps a few hundred thousand, in total. The World Gates had since been sealed, cutting them off from their brethren across the multiverse.”
“So you decided to keep a few, am I right? Trap them in a prison of your own design, let them go about their business and proliferate, then let them loose on any of your enemies, before you reel them back in.”
“Exemplary. How did you reach this conclusion?”
“It’s what we would have done. Earthmen, I mean. It’s what I would have done in particular, if my ancient enemies were immortal beings impervious to harm who could annihilate my enemies just by letting them loose in their general vicinity. For all your people’s wisdom and advancement, you’re not so different from us Earth monkeys.”
The White Elder blushed the way all members of his race do: his eyes turned a very deep shade of blue, flecked with red. Seeing Uruk frown like that made Shamgar feel all the better.
“But this one did not detonate. Or it was dismantled, or else there wouldn’t be any Harrowers here, correct?” Shamgar asked. “Could we use it?”
“It will require some time but yes, I believe I could do it. The only problem is that, as you said, the bomb requires a considerable power source. Without it, it’s just a pretty abstract sculpture with a timer attached.”
“Could the matrix draw power wirelessly? Drain power from any nearby sources, like say, star drives or energy vortices? Weapons, even?”
“Yes. But it would require time. It would also generate a considerable amount of heat and require a dis-entropic casing. Also, its spatial distortion effect would give it away, unless it was contained inside a gravitron field powerful enough to replicate gravity 200 times the strength of that of Earth.”
Shamgar sighed and scratched his head. He’d have to consider brainstorming with Uruk on a viable apparatus later. For now, all he could think of was taking the White Elder weapon and getting back home as soon as possible.
The thought of Ursula and the kids waiting made crossing the millions of parsecs to Earth so much easier.
“Gun’Shar, I will stop you now. I will eliminate you, your Armada and the Harrowers from the face of the Universe.” Shamgar said and facing his enemy, he pressed the button embedded in his palm. To the Quasid Emperor, it seemed as if he was just clenching his fist.
Inside the Emperor’s ship, safely inside its containment shield, the trans-spatial matrix began to power up, broadcasting its signal, radiating outward. Oblivious to its function, the Emperor’s guard looked out at their master, the Earthman finally in his grasp.
“I see. You stay true to your mad little claims, don’t you Earthman? It is good, then. I did not break you, but at least I will get to watch you die.” said the Quasid Emperor, driving his blade through Shamgar’s armor and into his belly.
The matrix’s hungry signal linked to the Armada’s energy vortices and in the Allied Fleet’s star drives, nibbled at the nucleo-protonic cores of their missiles, eliminated their laser pulses. Across the skies of Cassiopeia, the battle withered and died, the ships stopping dead in their tracks. Upon the Emperor’s ship, the guardsmen were trapped in their armor.
“Is that how my son felt, I wonder? As he died by your hand?” asked the Emperor, turning the blade inside Shamgar’s belly. The Terran’s vision blurred, his senses faded into dull white noise. “Know at least that I am doing you mercy.”
The matrix’s signal reached the day-side of Cassiopeia and drained the White-Elder’s generators, weapons, ships. Their cities powered down and went silent, their endless humming ceased. The Harrowers hesitated for a moment, knowing what this meant.
“You will not suffer as I have suffered, Shamgar Shroud. You will be spared the horrors I will inflict on your allies. Think of yourself as the first in line.”
“Gun’Shar…where you are going…I am coming too…”
Gorged on stolen power, the matrix burned inside its containment with the force of a nuclear furnace. Its distortion field grew and grew, until it exploded outward, bursting through the gravitron field, shattering space around it, radiating outward in every possible direction.
Its energies washed across the warring fleets and reached the surface of Cassiopeia, missing its cities barely. Those watching the site from outside only saw a crooked apparition, the huge expanse reflected on a funhouse mirror as big as the sun.
|The end of the battle of Cassiopeia|
Those inside it felt only a tug that lasted for an instant but seemed to draw out for eternity. Then a motion toward an indescribable direction, followed by a sense of nausea and finally, a terrible feeling of folding, as space around them curled into an impenetrable ball and sent them all tumbling down into its center.
To an outside observer, the fall lasted only for a second. To those trapped within, it took a century.
Harrowers, Allied ships, the Quasid Armada and its Emperor and Shamgar Shroud himself were trapped inside the prison. And above the skies of Cassiopeia, there was silence.
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