The Weight of Joy – Part 1: The Knights Cosmic
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Wundan pressed himself against the coarse bark of a mighty, steel oak. With every exhale his cheek puffed against the cracks in the bark that gripped and scratched at his flesh. He held his breath, stifling the sounds of his being as the crell birds sang, their dulcet chimes cascading throughout the glen.
The pleasant cacophony of the woods consumed him as he tried to ignore the thrumming in his ears and the rising pressure in his lungs.
A twig snapped, somewhere close. He resisted the urge to gasp and twitch, not daring to make a noise.
“Wundan?” the voice was a harsh whisper, full of doubt.
Wundan smirked, Crateon had no idea he was here. With a shout he sprung from his hiding place and barrelled into the youngling orc that was stalking him. “Huzzah!” the two boys tumbled through the undergrowth, laughing as they tried to pin one another to the ground.
“Damnations, you humans are too sneaky!” Crateon struck Wundan across the jaw, who grunted and tumbled off so that the orc could gain the upper hand in the brawl. “Pinned, give up, hummie!”
“No fair!” Wundan spat out a mouthful of dirt and blood, “We said no punching!”
“I didn’t punch you I hit you!”
“Bah!” Wundan relaxed, resigning to the hold Crateon had on him. “Fine, you win!”
Crateon chirped and roared—to the dismay of the crell birds that fluttered away with squawks of alarm. After relishing in his victory—and once the crell birds settled to resume their song—he hefted Wundan up. “Now you owe my village one of your chickens.”
“Mother won’t be happy with that,” Wundan grumbled.
“Then you shouldn’t have made the bet, hummie. If you wanted to get one of my father’s piglets, you should have been stronger.”
“I’ll be stronger.” Wundan shoved Crateon. “Don’t you worry about that, tusk face.”
“Now don’t be mean . . .” Crateon made to shove back when he suddenly went quiet, his muscles going tense.
“What, got no come back?” Wundan laughed.
“Shh,” Crateon grabbed Wundan by the shoulders and shoved him back down into the undergrowth.
“Hey I said you won, hey . . .” Crateon muffled Wundan’s voice by shoving his lightly scaled hand over his mouth.
“Something’s wrong,” Crateon said, “The crell stopped singing.”
Wundan ripped Crateon’s hand from his mouth, “You scared them off.”
“They settled down afterwards, they haven’t flown off this time, they’ve gone quiet.” The two boys waited in the undergrowth, listening in the now silent forest. Crateon’s nostrils flared, “I smell smoke.”
“I smell something else,” Wundan gasped, his nostrils rankled, “Smells like rotting crops.”
The boys locked eyes as the setting dread pulled them closer to the soil.
“You don’t suppose it’s carrites?” Crateon asked.
“Carrites only creep in to feed in the wake of raided villages, dead bodies and all that. Though, my village is the closest and I haven’t heard no warning bells.”
A low clicking growl interrupted them, sending chills down their spines. Something rustled in the brush. Crateon eyed Wundan. “They could be anticipating bloodshed.”
“But that would mean . . . they think one of our villages is about to get raided?” Wundan said.
“We need to warn them.” Crateon said.
“They won’t believe us,” Wundan protested, “I’m not even allowed to be out here alone!”
The clicking grow grew closer.
“Shh,” Crateon growled himself, he pointed through the undergrowth, “I see it.”
Wundan squinted along the line of Crateon’s finger and saw a creature with ragged furs slink around a tree and out of sight. It had red gleaming eyes and claws of granite.
“That is a carrite!” Wundan’s voice cracked and he started panting.
“Look,” Crateon pulled him close, “They eat bodies, not living people, we need to make a break for it to warn our villages.”
“Yeah, but I’m sure they’ll like munching on a little boy once in a while!”
“Wundan!” Crateon growled lower. “Our families are in danger. Think of your mother.”
Wundan bit down on his fears. He had to be strong, for Mum. “Okay, on three, we up and leg it.”
Crateon nodded, “One,” he tensed.
“Two,” Wundan tried to not to think about the sick feeling about to spew from his guts.
The clicking growl piqued as the Carrite glanced in their direction.
“Three!” the orc and human boy upped and bolted from their cover, splitting up and startling the carrite.
Wundan didn’t look back as he stormed through the foliage, tearing down the hill towards his village on the outskirts of the forest. He didn’t falter as the clicking growl followed in his wake. But he did pale when his village’s warning bell rang out across the glen . . .
. . . Twenty Years Later
The tips of dead tree branches tore at Seria’s face as she sped through the swamp. The horrible creature crashed through gnarled roots and dredged up the foul smelling bog in her wake.
Light and nimble, she scurried up a log and leaped from tree to tree, protecting herself from being caught in the treacherous waters and keeping one step ahead of the creature.
But it was catching up.
Her robes caught in the skeletal fingers of a half submerged mangrove and halted her momentum. “Fuck!”
She spun as an enormous, insidious maw loomed to engulf her and the entire tree she was caught in. Its jaws opened like demented flower, revealing a conduit into the black abyss within, lined with row upon row of razor sharp teeth. The stench of rot and bile assailed her and she scrunched her face in revulsion.
She made a motion with her arms, as if lashing out at the beast. With a bubbling hiss the waters of the swamp surged upwards at her command and whipped the grotesque creature across what passed for a face. With a howl it stumbled back into the darkness.
Seria was a nymph, small and blue skinned with flowing hair that resembled dark green seaweed. When this thing attacked her commune she drew it away into the dead swamps. She alone took on this burden, because out of all the nymphs in her city, she had the one advantage over them to help her defeat this creature.
She did not care about abusing her sacred power in order to kill a beast when it asked for it. The rest of the nymphs vowed only to defend, and that’s why many of them were now dead. It grew with every kill, their essence siphoned into the creature. But Seria was not about to let that continue.
She watched with a satisfied grin as the beast lurched back in pain, then she whipped a lashing of water to slice the dead fingers of the tree that gripped at her and she fell into the churning swamp with plop. Her feet sunk into the bog until she was waist deep. But that did not matter to her, this would be where she made her last stand.
The hulking creature staggered in the mush until it righted itself. It was unidentifiable, with grey, gelatinous skin that churned and frothed and folded in on itself like the raging seas. It was like a great slug with random spindly sharp spider limbs protruding from it at every angle and irregular intervals. It turned to leer down at its defiant victim.
Something flickered deep within Seria as she met its gaze, a spark, fleeting but powerful. She gasped, “What was that?” but she did not have time to dwell on the strange sensation, as the thing was poised to strike. “Come on!” she challenged, biting back the sudden fear that surged in her throat. This might have been a mistake, but it was me or my commune. “Come on, you bastard!”
With a deep, rumbling roar the creature descended upon her. With a twist of her body and limbs, the waters swirled about Seria and channelled into the beast as a mighty blast of pressure. The swamp surged toward Seria and her spell like a whirlpool before jetting into her enemy as a continuous stream.
The foul creature roared and pressed against her attack even as she summoned more water to her cause. As the two struggled, locked in a battle of wills, the coursing waters lowered around Seria’s legs. She could not keep this up for long.
The hulking horror ducked to the side and tore down the edge of the jet stream to swipe at Seria. She twisted again and lashed the last of her power downwards, whipping the waters to smash her enemy into the rapidly draining swamp. Mud splashed up into her face, stinging her eyes and she cried out as she slipped back in the bog with a squelch.
The creature reared, and bore down to feast on her bones.
Before she could scream, before she could cover her blurred vision in order to avoid witnessing her dreadful fate, there was a flash of bright, colourful light and a titanic boom.
The creature roared as it stumbled back, and Seria blinked away the mud and disbelief to find a knight in technicoloured plate armour, standing between her and the monster.
In his hands he held a war hammer of silver that pulsed and shone as he did. The creature reared to strike back, and there was another explosion of coloured light, and another, and another. A whole squadron of knights streaked down from the star scattered sky and struck at the beast with weapons of brilliant light and power.
The first to arrive turned to her as his comrades engaged the creature in a brawl of stellar brilliance. His armour flashed with bright, cascading, ethereal colours, as if someone was pouring liquid light over him from above. The plate was almost translucent, revealing hints of the warrior beneath it, with rippling furry muscles and a smile beneath the visor that revealed sharp fangs.
“Are you well, maiden?” his voice was deep and rough.
“Who are you?” Seria said, as a knight using his shield as a bludgeon leaped onto the creature and clobbered it from above.
“I am Sir Rorc,” he lifted his visor, revealing the head of a lion that flashed its teeth with a cheeky grin, “And we are the Knights Cosmic.”
“Rorc, you bastard!” one of his comrades bellowed with a guttural sound, “A little help!”
“Yeah, Captain! What was that talk about teamwork, and leading from the front?” another of his comrades hissed. Their voice was harsh and wispy at the same time, it came from a knight that had many legs and two curved fangs protruding from its visor.
Rorc grunted, “Scuse me, ma’am, but they have a point.” He flicked his visor closed with a nod and turned to the fray, hefting the silver hammer which was almost as tall as he was.
With a roar that made Seria flinch, the Lion Knight Sir Rorc catapulted himself from the muddy mound and struck the hideous creature into the marshy landscape. It bellowed a pained moan and lashed out in response with unseemly, wiry limbs that resembled the dead sinuous tree branches around the swamp. The nightmarish limbs raked against the Knights Cosmic, scraping upon their technicoloured, translucent armour with great sparks which knocked the warriors back. But each blow failed to kill or maim, the integrity of the strange plate held even against the might of the foul beast.
Every time they were knocked back, the Knights picked themselves out from the swamp with an agility that belied the weight of their armour and weapons. They kept converging on the withering creature with the sheer resolve of an inevitable victory.
Seria watched in awe as the squadron fought the beast with a fury that matched its terror, as they assisted one another without hesitation and with a litany of jovial banter. As the battle raged, her eye was drawn to one particular knight. He fought with sword and shield and maintained a stoic silence in comparison to the banter of his friends. When he struck at the beast his cry was more blood curdling than the lion knight Rorc’s. When his comrades were knocked back he would throw his body between them and the follow up strike of the beast, and then retaliate with a ferocity that would make the embodiment of rage tremble in fear.
After weathering an ungodly assault from the Knight’s Cosmic for so long, the creature cried out and launched its mass of twisting, wiry limbs into the swamp. It burrowed itself into the murky, half-solid depths.
The silence as the trembling earth dwindled to stillness was punctuated by the breathless knights trying to regroup, and the gasp from Seria as she exclaimed, “A whole division of nymphs who hailed from fire, stone and water failed to even make that creature flinch. What are the Knights Cosmic, to make it flee?”
“Ah, but more impressively,” the hulking knight that had a voice gruffer than Rorc’s swaggered up to her, “Who are you, to stand alone and keep the creature at bay for so long?”
“I am Seria Wish of Marsil. And you are?”
The Knight dropped his war hammer—a smaller affair compared to his captain’s—and removed his helmet to reveal an ape looking creature with a mischievous grin. “I am Sir Rafek Gauntlet, at your service, ma’am.” He made a show of bowing low. With the top heavy nature of his hulking arms and torso, compared to his relatively skinny legs, it seemed he might topple face first into the slowly refilling swamps, but his balance held.
“Rafek, the battle isn’t over yet,” the stoic Knight said sternly, “Banter comes afterwards.”
“Of course, Sir Drade.” Rafek winked at Seria as he donned his helmet, “He’s always so serious when he channels Prismatic Plate.”
But Seria’s question went unanswered as the swamps bubbled and the earth trembled. The beast burst forth from the depths, larger and more terrifying than before as it pulsed with green, necromantic light.
“Fuck me where did those souls come from?” the multi armed knight hissed and skittered away like a spider.
All the knights were knocked from their feet and smacked down into the bog by the exploding earth and the now thicker limbs of the emerging beast—all the knights save for Sir Rorc and Sir Drade.
The beast towered into the air with a body thick and slimy like a slug’s, and it twisted, weaving its limbs around it like dancing blades that whistled in the air. It formed a spinning, razor sharp point at its head that swivelled and bore down to drill through the lion knight, the captain of the squadron.
Rorc roared and conjured a shield of prismatic essence. It winked into existence, cascading outwards from his very heart, appearing like a rainbow after a storm. He braced himself for the attack as Drade packed in behind him, placing his arm on the pulsing shield and adding his power to Rorc’s. The shield shone brilliantly and grew in thickness, twice as strong, three times, four, before the beast’s drilling body slammed into it.
The spinning point of the creature with its whole mass behind it drove against the mighty shield that the two knights conjured as they held their ground. The creature screeched and drove harder, mud and bog and decaying matter were flung in every direction as it spun, as if a hurricane raged through the battle field. The knights roared and hunkered down. The titanic struggle of wills ended when the shield cracked like glass. There was an explosion of colour that blinded Seria from seeing the outcome.
Dazed, she blinked away the stars from her vision and found Sir Rorc. He was pinned halfway up a gnarled tree, with several of the beast’s limbs skewering through his torso, leg and neck. He gurgled, his head turned to look into the monstrous, gaping jaws that towered over him.
A grunt of pain drew her attention further down the tree where Sir Drade was pinned by his shoulder, the spindly limb skewering his pauldron. His face was obscured by the shimmering, technicoloured helm, but Seria could tell from the way he glanced between the creature and his skewered captain that a rage dwarfing his previous display was building.
The other knights were still recovering, it was up to Drade.
Drade’s plate armour flared bright. The creature screeched as the limb skewering him was burned at the pauldron and snapped off. Drade stumbled to his knees and grabbed for his sword. It responded to his call, flicking into his grip and he burst from the ground like a streaking comet, slamming into the beast’s head. He swung his silver sword with a mighty arc that cleaved through sinister flesh and bone. He burst through the other side, having decapitated the thing with one fell swipe. His streaking path arched down into the swamp and he landed with a plop as the twitching, writhing body of his enemy crashed into the ground. It released its hold on the dying captain who fell into the arms of the monkey knight, Rafek.
The creature writhed as it crumbled into ashes, and Drade picked himself up from the muck to stalk back to Rorc as the squadron congregated around him.
Despite her more timid instincts begging her not to, Seria crept over to their vigil. “Is he . . .”
“Yes.” Drade grunted. “My power was only enough to avenge him, not to protect him.”
“Do not be too hard on yourself, brother.” Rafek laid his captain down against the tree as the other knights whispered their respects and held his armoured paws, “Now his duty is done, his soul can finally return to the sun of his people and be at peace.”
“I guess so.” Drade didn’t move a muscle as Rafek placed his mighty palm on his wounded shoulder and cocked his head with concern. “My powers will heal it soon like all the rest.” Drade answered the unasked question.
“I am not worried about your physical ailment,” Rafek replied.
Drade’s helmet shifted to regard his friend, he gave a slight nod, and went back to watch over the captain who spluttered and gasped his last.
“You can let go now, Captain,” the multi limbed Knight hissed.
“Be with your people,” another knight with a scaly tail and a snouted helm whispered gently.
The captain sighed and his body went limp.
“I’m sorry.” Seria said. “He died to save me, I’m sorry.”
“Not just you, Seria of Marsil.” Rafek hummed, “But a great many souls, all as worthy as the rest. Now watch, his armour shall carry him home.”
The prismatic plate shimmered, polyps of silver light rose from the surface and then seeped back through the cracks and rents in the armour, into the lion’s flesh.
“May his soul shine brightly upon the cosmos,” Drade murmured.
“As his duty allowed others to pass on in peace,” the knights chanted like a prayer, “His time has now come to rest.”
The shimmering intensified, Rorc’s body shuddered and then the light waned and winked out.
The knights collectively cocked their heads.
“Arachton, is he still alive?” Drade asked.
The multi limbed knight leaned in closer and shook its head. “No, he is gone.”
“Why has his armour gone dark? Why has his soul not acquiesced as all knights are owed?” Drade growled.
“Is this not supposed to happen?” Seria asked.
“No,” Drade turned and stalked away, regarding the churning ashes of the dying creature. His armour waned itself as he turned back to the group. “Something catastrophically fucked is happening. This voir shouldn’t have been able to ensnare the souls it did as it resurged, something is catastrophically FUCKED!” his armour flickered and waned further. The translucent nature of the armour increased, revealing fragments of the man beneath.
“Easy brother,” Rafek growled, “Hone that rage to keep your armour intact, we are still exposed out here.”
Drade sighed and his erratic demeanour calmed, his armour brightened and grew more opaque. “What about the girl? She has the fire.”
“Yeah, little Seria, do you need an escort back to Marsil?” Rafek asked, “Or would you rather something else?”
Fire? Seria wondered, “Marsil is lost to me. The Council cast a spell to dissolve it into the sea miles away, it will reconstitute in time. But that could take decades, and it could take me decades more to find it. I am alone.”
“Not exactly,” Arachton skittered closer, “Any who can hold their own against the voir must possess celestial fire.”
Oh, fire. Seria shook her head with a laugh, “You mean paladism?” she scoffed, “I am no paladin.”
“Paladism is a parlour trick to what the Knights Cosmic are capable of, ma’am.” Drade stalked up to her. “You possess the celestial spark, it can summon prismatic fire. We all see it. With training you can bend it to your will in service of innocent souls that wander lost between the suns. If you wish, you can join us, and we will train you.”
Seria regarded Drade for a long moment. “If I get to help people against those things, I will do anything you ask.”
“Excellent attitude!” Rafek grinned and slapped her across the shoulder. “Now grip on tightly, you’re about to experience what it’s like to jettison across the universe!”
“I will bring Rorc’s body.” Drade knelt down and hefted the lion knight over his shoulders, gripping the war hammer under the nook of his arm. “The Roaming Wall is passing over us now.”
The Squadron shimmered with technicoloured power as Seria gripped onto Rafek with all of her might. Then, with a blinding flash that mimicked their arrival, they jettisoned into the sky like streaking comets.
Seria was buffeted by icy winds, but the gentle heat of Rafek’s technicoloured light warmed her. Those bodily sensations faded away however, as Seria watched her blue green world arch away from her as the horizons receded on all sides. The pillars of prismatic fire that the knights soared upon left streams of aurora in their wake and she gasped in wonder. They ascended higher, until the clouds dissipated and the stars shone brighter than Seria could ever imagine. They sailed through the night sky, hurtling towards a floating fortress that drifted above it all.
It seemed like a castle at first glance, fierce and imposing. It looked as if it was torn from the ground and jettisoned into the heavens as a beacon of might. It was a fortress built from intricate blocks of blue hued granite with tiers of crenulated walls and turrets that sprouted from it in all directions to account for the three dimensional assaults it must have endured. They hurtled towards a draw bridge a built of oak and iron which lowered itself into the void to welcome the approaching party.
With a yelp from Seria that made Rafek chuckle, they hurtled across the drawbridge and into the rapidly approaching gates. After she managed to pry her eyes open, Seria found herself still gripping onto Rafek with her head buried in his chest. They were standing in a great hall with a roaring fire, comfortable lounges and a large dining table that stretched into the edges of the room. Pennants hung from the high ceilings which flew strange sigils and markings from a whole manner of different cultures. The walls were etched with designs of embossed precious metals, depicting figures, some in silver that resembled the shape of the knights she now found herself with, and others in gold, tall and magnanimous.
“Welcome to the Roaming Wall.” Rafek said as he pried her fingers form his chest. “It’s one of the many Star Forts that drift across the cosmos.” He allowed his armour to fade away, revealing a brown furred ape with bulky arms and lean, muscular legs. He was now wearing nothing but leather trousers. “This is the common nexus.” He gestured with his grey skinned knuckles to the surrounding space. Gateways without doors stood against the walls beneath the embossed designs, revealing nothing but the bare stone behind them. “We just came through one of those portals on the outer gate to let us into the nexus point here. We are quite safe from any voir.
Seria silently took in the great hall as the other knights let their armour fade, revealing an eclectic mix of races and species, some of which she could not comprehend.
Besides Arachton, who was some kind of spider creature, there was a lizard man with red scales, a squat looking human with brown skin a black beard that reached to his knees, a muscled behemoth with light yellow scales and tusks . . . and a human man, the one called Drade. He still held his dead captain in his arms. Even bearing the great weight of the lion knight in his armour, plus the war hammer, Drade reacted as if he carried nothing.
Drade was unassuming, seeming like any of the humans that inhabited Seria’s world. He was tall, broad and possessed an agile look about him even though he was rippling with musculature. He smiled at his companions, but his eyes remained stoic.
“Rafek, would you mind showing the new recruit the ropes while I report on Rorc’s fate to the Knight Council?”
“You taking over the squadron there, Drade?” the squat one with the beard asked.
“Fuck no, I’m recommending Rafek take over.” Drade said.
Seria wondered at the sudden change in him, without his armour he seemed almost light hearted.
“That ape is too rash to lead,” Arachton cut in, scuttling up to Rafek and Seria in a manner that made her skin crawl. “Look at his arms, they take all the blood supply from his brain.”
“Does you kind even have a brain, bug?” Rafek squared up to the spider-thing, “Or is it just some weird nervous system designed to move in a way that gives me the creeps?”
“This should be good.” The lizard man curled his tail around his waist as he crossed his arms.
“Hey!” Drade’s voice rose to deafening bark, “We have bigger problems to worry about than your people’s stupid blood feud!”
“She’s just antsy cause I ate her eggs for breakfast, hmmm.” Rafek rubbed his belly.
“You know my kind doesn’t lay eggs!” Arachton reared, her legs waving in a threatening display as she bared her fangs. Her cluster of beady eyes fixated upon the monkey.
Seria glanced between the altercation and the other knights. The lizard and the other two were exchanging banter while Drade looked on with hopelessness, still cradling his dead captain. She remembered the way this spider and ape fought side by side not moments ago. They must be reeling from their loss. She had to help, these were her knew comrades, after all.
“So, Arachton,” she said, sidling between the Ape and spider-thing. “Your people are some sort of spider race, and you’re named Arachton? Sounds a lot like arachnid.”
Arachton stopped rearing and scuttled back a step, regarding Seria with her myriad of eyes.
“It’s a nickname,” Rafek sighed and his chest deflated from an intimidating display, “Most warm blooded ape folk can’t pronounce her name in her language.”
“Not just the warm-bloods,” the lizard man sniggered.
“So, what is it?” Seria asked.
Arachton regarded Seria for a while longer as she tried to suppress the need to shudder. Then Arachton started sputtering, her fangs snapped against one another as the fur on her legs rattled and hissed in movement.
After Arachton stopped, Seria stood looking at her, bewildered, “So, Arachton it is then.”
“Heh,” Arachton huffed, “Maybe I won’t have to eat this one.” She turned and scurried across the floor and up the wall into the dark heights of the ceiling.
“This one really can stand her own.” The hulking, yellow scaled creature lumbered up to Seria and held out a big palm for her to shake. “I’m Harahn,” he said, and at her expression he quickly added, “I’m an orc.”
Seria took his hand gingerly, “What is an orc?”
“Hah!” The squat one bubbled up to her, “Your world has only humans and nymphs, yeah?”
“Well there are a lot of worlds out there, many with only one or two races. I’m a Dwarf! The name is Leppin.” The dwarf took her hand from Harahn’s and shook vigorously, “You’re in for a world of bizarreness. Took me a while to get used to it. The lizard looking thing over there is from a race called Scein, his name is Drawg.” Drawg nodded his greeting to Seria but kept his distance. “And you already know Rafek and Drade. Rafek’s people call themselves Chimpmen, Drade is a human, as you can see.”
“I see. And, Rorc?”
Leppin’s face fell, “His people call themselves Felisin.”
“And that’s all that’s left of Pride Squadron.” Rafek said. “Every squadron has its own Star Fort with its own name and they report to their own Knight Captain, who then reports to a Knight Commander, who all report to the Knight General. Right now they are in a meeting, so Drade,” he turned to his human companion who was moving up to one of the portals. He grunted as he hefted his captain’s large body. But he bore the pain without complaint. “You can break the news to them all at once.”
“That would be helpful,” Drade said as he held his palm up to the inert doorway and concentrated. A moment later the empty space winked with white light and pulsed. “Except many of the commanders are assholes.”
“Do you think you’ll be the new Knight Captain?” Leppin asked, more seriously this time.
“I’d rather not, but that’s up to Boln.”
“You don’t have to be alone when you tell him.” Rafek said, stepping forward.
“Boln and Rorc recruited me, Rafek. Out of everyone here I know them the most, I should be the one to tell Boln his brother died.” Drade hefted the mighty war hammer that was laid across Rorc’s chest and tossed it to Rafek. “He would have wanted you to have it.” Then Drade turned from them and stepped through the portal’s light. He disappeared as the portal winked out of existence.
“Right.” Rafek turned to Seria after a short silence, holding the enormous war hammer in both hands with reverence. “First things first, we eat. Then I show you around, and tomorrow, we train!”
Across the Cosmos . . .
The Star Citadel was the seat of power for the Knights Cosmic, a cathedral fortress of blue hued granite that drifted through the stellar dusts and motes of celestial warmth. It was a beacon of strength for all squadrons scattered throughout the cosmos that fought existential terrors by the day. Its high towers and vast courtyards whose fountains spilled into the void were designed to reflect the eternal nature of time and life.
As mighty and large a structure as it was, it was all but unoccupied. Incurred losses were adding up, the Voir were swarming between the stars in numbers not seen since the old days. Back when the stars were young and the first wisps of sentient life crawled from the mud of their respective worlds. It was a dangerous time, the first time the Voir could actually feed on something substantial in this universe. It was when the Knights Cosmic were first founded by the Sun Guardians.
Now something was stirring the Voir into a frenzy, and the council members met to discuss their response.
The sole occupants of the Citadel stood within the council chamber, a vast monument to infinity carved from a single block of stone. Golden statues of the Sun Guardians stood resolute down either side, towering over the mortals below. The statues doubled as mighty pillars in the hallowed space, interspaced by high arched windows which looked out across the shifting star lit tapestry. Some windows showed the deep black, others an array of starlight, wisps of celestial debris, or the worlds that circled their luminous suns.
Each arch window was framed by a portal, and had a stair case leading down into the room. Running down the centre of the council space from the large doors to the balcony was a stone table, also carved from the same block of granite as the chamber. It served as a long basin, with a stream of water running through it before spilling into a fountain on the balcony and dispersing into the night. The water running through the table had magical properties, mingling with the Citadel’s granite to forge a starlit map of translucent images. It was an impression of the cosmos, the territory the Knight’s Cosmic presided over.
Convened around the table were four humanoid Knights, three were Commanders, one was the Knight General of the Order. They were distinguished only by the crests on their helmets and the adornments on their cuirasses and pauldrons.
“Voir assaults are becoming more frequent, more deadly than ever before,” the lion maned knight said, his helm rested upon the table’s rim. “I have my Roaming Wall dashing all over the cosmos, usually arriving too late to save the innocents.”
“Boln,” the Knight General, an elf who furrowed his rosy pink brow as he talked, “All of my commanders are reporting similar things, what would you have us do?”
“Assemble the Knights Cosmic en masse.”
One of the Commanders scoffed, a human woman with short dark hair and pointed features. “A mustering call to go after lone voir one at a time? It’s a waste of resources.”
“Quite the opposite, Shrath,” Boln growled, “I want us to gather where no voir have been sighted, over the world Trist.”
“Hah!” the other Knight Commander slammed his fist on the table, an aging orc whose scaled skin was turning from yellow to green, yet he still reeked of vitality. “Now that is something I had not considered, the Voir are out in force, coordinating like the mindless soul feeders they are in order to misdirect our forces!”
Shrath and the Knight General chuckled along with the orc.
“Gruhtal makes a compelling point, Boln.” The Knight General said. “You have too keen a mind for strategy I think. It aids you well in battle but poorly in the space between each bout. Maybe that is why your only remaining squadron still suffers dwindling numbers.”
Boln resisted the urge to bare his teeth, “Please, General, I send my Knights to do their job no matter the cost. And right now that means we need to realise we are being divided between worlds in a way that never happened before. Someone is making moves against us.”
“Well you . . .” Shrath’s reply was cut short when the portal behind Boln winked into existence. Drade stalked through the magical conduit into the council chamber, without his armour and carrying the body of Rorc. “By the stars . . .”
“Sir Drade?” Boln turned, his eyes flicking between that of his knight and the body of his brother “What is this? Put him on the table!” Boln rushed to grab the body from Drade, who shook his head with solemn eyes.
“It’s too late for that. I regret to inform you, Boln, that your brother is dead.”
“That can’t be,” the orc commander huffed. “As a Cosmic Knight his soul would have acquiesced with his armour and body, there would be nothing left of him once the Sun Guardians escorted him personally to his world’s star.”
“He was skewered in three places by the limbs of a large voir, Commander. I tried to shield him but proved too weak. I am truly sorry, but Rorc is fallen, and some foul magic has prevented his final honour.”
Boln caressed the dead face of his brother, taking the body gently in his arms and laying him on the ornate table, half submerged in the running waters. He looked up to Shrath, who watched on with a chilled expression, he glanced at Gruhtal, then to the General. “Now do you see? There is more afoot here than the rampant attacks of mindless beasts.”
“Knight . . . Sir Drade was it?” the general asked.
Drade straightened and nodded, “Yes, general.”
“What can you tell us about this voir?”
“It was different, general. We had it on the back foot, and then it somehow summoned more souls into its manifested body. It grew stronger, larger, more ferocious, yet it fed on no physical bodies. It almost looked liked necromancy, but the Voir can’t wield such a power.”
“That’s not possible!” Shrath interjected. “Once a Voir ingests enough souls to become manifest, it can’t consume the immaterial anymore, it must seek souls sheltered within bodies.”
“I am well aware, commander.” Drade said stoically. “I have been fighting this war longer than you.”
“What did you say? You little . . .”
“Enough!” The General cut her short and she stifled her tirade. “You are the human knight who has refused promotions since you joined?”
“I want to fight on the front lines. I have ever since my training was complete. And I’m telling you, this voir was different.”
“Now do you see?” Boln said. “We must muster the knights.”
The general bit his lip, considering the star map projecting from the table in ethereal brilliance, disturbed only by the flow of water around Rorc’s body. Points of red light on the mapped stars marked recent attacks, and there were fewer over Trist than spread out across the cosmos. “I need time to consider this, by gathering our forces we leave many bereft souls unprotected.”
“Decide quickly, general.” Boln said, “One of those souls may be my brother’s, if he was not escorted to safety.” He turned to Drade, walking him back to the portal with his arm around his shoulder. “Did he die well?”
“He fought with a lion’s heart, sir.” Drade smirked, huffing a bittersweet laugh. “I am sorry I could not save him.”
“By the sounds of it, you did more than I would have asked than any of my knights.”
“Still commander, it was not enough.”
“Don’t do that Drade. It wasn’t your fault. You have to let go of that story in your head from . . . well, from before I found you.”
“I’ll work on it.”
“Now, I need a new captain.” Boln squeezed Drade’s shoulder.
“Rafek seems a fine choice.” Drade knew it was a weak attempt.
“Aye, he is a good leader, cares for his own. But when he gets riled up his ego takes over. I need someone who can discard his ego when the time calls for it, someone who can care for his squadron like a father would, someone who can brighten the mood when necessary or discipline with a firm, fair hand. Sound like anyone on the squadron to you?”
Drade considered for a moment, “Leppin?”
Boln sighed, “That dwarf can’t be serious long enough to make breakfast! You know I meant you.”
“Commander, I don’t want to lead.”
“Did you want to be a Knight Cosmic? Or was it just a necessary duty at the time?”
Drade didn’t answer.
“Good lad, Captain Drade. Return to the Roaming Wall and ready the squadron, orders shall be following soon.”
“Yes commander. I should let you know, we also picked up a new recruit, a water nymph called Seria.”
“Train her well then, I wager we will have a fight on our hands soon enough.”
“It will be done,” The portal winked with white magic and Drade made to step through.
“And Drade,” Boln spoke more softly, “Don’t blame yourself for my brother’s death. I know you, you’ve been the same ever since we found you. His death is on the voir that killed him, not on you.”
Drade stopped short, looking into the bright, crackling light of the portal. “I will do my best, Boln.” He stepped through and the portal winked out of existence.
“Now, how to best recall our engaged squads?” the orc commander hummed.
The portal behind Boln flickered open again and he turned with a perplexed expression, expecting Drade. Instead, something else stepped through and into the council room.
It was a tall creature, taller than even Boln, and was draped in a strange cloak that covered it from its shoulders to its feet. The cloak hissed against the stone floor as it dragged in the wake of the creature’s steady gait. Its face was garish, stone like, with bat ears, a snubbed, pig like nose, and possessed a maw of fangs that grinned at the perplexed knights.
“Greetings, Knight Council,” It said with a deep, rumbling voice as it stalked down the steps to the council table.
The knights growled and drew their silver, star forged weapons on the thing.
“This is the sanctum of the Knights Cosmic, what business do you have here?” the Knight General demanded.
The creature chuckled, a sound like rocks trembling against each other as the thing pulled a long, decrepit hand from its leathery cloak, pointing a black taloned finger at each knight in turn. “I am Vurrel Maym, formerly of the Gargoyle Court, and I bring tidings to you, guardians of souls, from my master.”
“Who is your master, and what tidings do they bring?” Boln growled, the flickering of the still opened portal broke his focus for an instant. Something’s not right. As he glared back at the gargoyle, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Shrath was inching closer towards her portal.
“Oh, Commander Boln, my master transcends even my understanding. It hails from the space between spaces and moves with a purpose that even your Sun Guardians would pale to consider.” The gargoyle let his cloak splay open, revealing that it was not a cloak, but great bat like wings. He drew forth a gnarled staff with a red gem set into its top and incanted a spell that blasted the knights back as sickening tendrils slithered through the portal behind him. “And the tidings are such!” his voice boomed, “You are but a stepping stone towards its goal, your souls shall feed the great beast that musters in the dark and the pillars of creation you fight to protect shall be shaken!” Vurrel leaped to strike at the general as the tendrils embroiled with the orc and Boln.
Boln fought valiantly against the onslaught, the tendrils were the ends of the twisted limbs of dozens of voir that now poured through the portal. “Shrath!” Boln cried, “Destroy the portal, cut them off!”
But she had already fled, opening her own portal which led to her Star Fort. This only allowed the teaming voir to pour in through after her and wreak havoc on the fort from within.
Vurrel slammed the Knight General upon the table, cracking it open which caused some of the flowing waters to spill over the floor. The gargoyle then drove his staff through the general’s chest plate, breaking through the armour and pulverising his heart. The orc was overwhelmed by even more voir and torn to pieces.
But Boln surged through the losing brawl with a lion’s roar and made for the portal. He smashed the supporting pillars with his war axe. The portal flickered out of existence, leaving only the view of the eternal night sky beyond it. A voir half emerged dissolved with pained screams and Boln turned to face the rest of his enemy.
The gargoyle weaved more magic and, to Boln’s horror, all of the portals flickered and opened. The remaining voir sped through them to their respective Star Forts. The Knight’s Cosmic would be overwhelmed from within their very fortresses. Boln smiled with grim relief, knowing that the portal to his own fort now lay in ruins behind him, knowing that Drade and his squadron still were safe.
“Who let you in here, gargoyle?” Boln bellowed as the room emptied of all but Vurrel and himself. “Who is in line to taste my axe after you?”
“Oh, Sir Boln,” Vurrel chuckled. He whirled his staff and the bodies of the orc and elf general writhed as their souls were siphoned in green wisps to gather in the heights of the dark ceiling. “There is so much you don’t know.”
An insidious slithering echoed throughout the chamber, the souls of Boln’s comrades were absorbed by an unseen creature that now pulsed and broke into corporeal form. It was a voir of epic proportions. It shimmered, winking into existence as it fed on the fresh souls of two great Knights Cosmic. With a terrible screech it launched itself from the heights and slammed into the lion knight.
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