The builder Yoggoth has arrived in our Solar System, but his goal is not to conquer our world. He has locked the sun in a Yoggothian Sphere designed to siphon our star of all power.
Earth is hurled into darkness, denied the lifegiving heat of our sun, even as Yoggoth's fleets move upon our world. Our heroes, led by Blair, Liz, and Isis, must deal with the new winter before they can even hope to oppose them.
In Australia Jordan has used the intervening five years for one purpose. To become a Builder-slaying dino-enhanced death machine. Under Uluru's tutelage he has mastered combat, and stands ready to face Yoggoth, whatever the cost.
Outnumbered and outmatched Liz leads a desperate assault on Yoggoth's flagship, where Excalibur's destiny will finally be realized. If the blade breaks our world will be annihilated. If it holds, then Liz will provide Blair one chance to save everyone.
One desperate gamble to rewrite history
Release date: July 13, 2021
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5 years before the present…
Arjun had grown up knowing that reality was a country peopled by harsh and bitter citizens. Starvation had been rampant in port cities like Kolkata, even after it had become a tourist Mecca. He’d lost a sister and a brother, one to hunger, the other disease.
Every family had a similar tale. Woe and misfortune, with perhaps a cousin who’d done well enough to keep the rest fed through lean times.
And then the world had ended. Zombies had come. It had been marvelously consistent with the rest of their fortunes, but at least the zombies had the side effect of thinning out the crowds. Arjun hated crowds.
He peered over the top of the church’s railing, high up in the steeple where the bell was rung. From up there, he could spy zombies, and if they spied him, they weren’t smart enough to get inside and do real damage.
Their little collective always kept someone up here, Arjun as often as not. Today had been boring and hot, just as every other day, but without the breeze that normally wafted off the bay.
Light flared in the sky above, something like a falling star, but moving erratically…toward Kolkata.
“You had better come and look at this,” he yelled down the shaft into the church. “Get to a window, now. Something is happening to the south.”
The shooting star came in off the ocean, and the closer it came, the more definition the object took on. It was a living creature, but not one with wings, curiously. Rather it resembled a dinosaur from the book Arjun had grown up leafing through. The one with the spiky tail, but with two legs like a man.
If social media had still existed, or smartphones, then he’d have been annoyed that he couldn’t afford one and thus, couldn’t capture such a momentous event. Now those things were gone, so everyone was equally poor.
The flying dinosaur landed in the courtyard outside the church, and his body began to ripple and change until he became a man. Well, more a wall of muscle forced into an American military uniform. He reminded Arjun a great deal of the greatest actor of all time, Dolph Lundgren…but scarier.
“Anyone here speak English?” the man called in the most American accent that had ever existed. He must have been from California.
“I do,” Arjun called down from his makeshift crow’s nest. “And I can speak for the people within, for now. Who are you and why have you come?”
“Name’s Jordan,” he called back, hooking his thumbs through his belt loop. “I’m looking for the big chief on the hill, whoever is in charge of the Ark. You guys got a local god who’s been terrorizing you?”
“Indeed.” Arjun paled. It stood to reason that he must know of the Ark Lord. “You seek Vritra, also known as Ahi if he is wearing his benevolent face. He is a vicious ruler, and he will come for you if you dare to touch his winds, as you already have, reaching here.”
“So flying will get his attention?” The man drifted into the air and floated upwards until he could look Arjun directly in the eye, in his little perch in the steeple.
“Indeed.” Arjun stabbed a finger north at the mountains in the distance, so far away that the sky all but obscured them. “He rules from Mount Kailash, a holy place. Each week he descends from the mountain and takes a ration of water from the local rivers and streams. It has put us in a bad way, but we are few in number now and get by with some simple desalinization techniques. Food is a more immediate problem.”
“I can help with the food issue.” Jordan nodded back at the water. “I’ve brought a submersible with a fair amount of food and medical equipment. I have water as well. Before I go fetch it, what can you tell me about this Ahi Tuna guy? He throw lightning bolts out his ass?”
“He can control the winds.” Arjun took a step down the ladder and resisted the urge to flee back within the church. “He will hear you, since you are using his name, and he will come. Yes, there will be lightning, but I do not think it will come from his posterior.”
Thunder cracked in the distance, far to the north, and the clouds began to swirl as a storm darkened the sky then moved south. Swiftly. Too swiftly to be anything natural.
“Please, you must move away from this place. He will kill us all if he thinks we are listening to a heretic. He is a very jealous god.” Arjun prayed that the stranger was a benevolent god and that he would accept worship. “I will follow you, Jordan of the Americas, if you protect my people.”
“No collateral damage seems like a fair request. I’ll be right back.” The American rose up into the sky and shifted back into the bipedal dinosaur form that had first flown into their city.
Jordan hovered there, waiting, as the storm grew in ferocity. It howled its way south, growing ever stronger the closer it came. By the time it arrived, Arjun would have called it a monsoon, save that it had come from the land.
“Who are you, heretic?” Ahi thundered across the sky, his voice cracking down from above.
The man’s answer was lost to the wind, but Arjun already knew his name. Whatever he said made the sky god very, very angry, and Ahi hurled a bolt of lightning, which veined across the sky, converging on Jordan’s head.
Arjun had seen people executed in just that way and winced sympathetically, knowing that being a dinosaur would offer no protection from something as savage and primal as a real god, returned from millennia of slumber.
But the bolt came and went and Jordan still hovered there. He hadn’t moved that Arjun could tell, and yelled something, but these words too were torn away by the wind.
Ahi extended one hand, his face twisted into a mask of inhuman rage and eyes boiling with power and wrenched downward. This too Arjun had seen when Ahi used the winds themselves to throw a man up into the sky and then dash him down upon the rocks.
But Jordan merely hovered there, unmoving.
A third time the strange flying dinosaur spoke, and this time by chance or magic, the words reached Arjun’s ears.
“Listen, Tuna, I’m starting to get pissed off. You aren’t going to like how this plays out. Now—”
A rolling wall of thunder drowned out all other sound as hundreds of bolts of lightning flashed down from the sky, all aimed at Jordan. On and on and on they fell. This Arjun had not seen. Perhaps no one had. Ever. Not in an age of the world.
The sky boiled with lightning and darkness, for as far as the eye could see. Rain fell in thick sheets, and the storm became a monsoon in truth as it engulfed the bay. All that fury was directed at one man, who hovered placidly in the sky. Jordan shook his head sadly. A parent disappointed in a child.
The dinosaur shot across the sky and his tail came around and slammed into Ahi’s chest with the weight of a mountain. It knocked the sky god into a puff of wind but seemed to have little effect otherwise.
The gods began an exchange of blows, Ahi becoming physical long enough to strike Jordan, and Jordan trying to land counterattacks before Ahi fled back to the wind.
The battle went on for some time, but neither opponent seemed able to gain advantage. And then it happened.
Ahi was a bit too slow making it back into cover, and Jordan’s clawed hand found his throat and watered the winds with his blood. A second clawed fist punched through his chest, emerging with his heart.
Then Jordan zoomed straight down faster than the eye could track, forming a deep crater as he drove Ahi’s body into the ground with the force of a falling star.
Arjun lost sight of Jordan until he came hovering out of the pit, once again wearing his American uniform and a layer of dusty gore. He drifted back over to the church as the winds above began to return to some semblance of calm. The storm was already dissipating, the rain fading to a soft, warm patter, a welcome one.
The god came closer and closer, and Arjun soon realized he was coming to speak directly with him. This Jordan wanted Arjun?
He waited there in his creaking steeple, terrified until this new god hovered before him. Shiva, let him be better than the last one.
“Arjun, right?” Jordan held out a hand, where he had a glowing silver light pooled in his hand.
“Yes, Master Jordan.” He bowed thrice and hoped it was enough.
“Please, none of that crap.” The man waved his free hand dismissively. “You’ll understand what I’m talking about soon enough. Arjun, it’s pretty safe to say you’re a local man, yeah? You grew up here?”
“That’s right.” Arjun’s eyes couldn’t leave the mesmerizing silver light, even though he knew his own survival might be at stake.
“How would you feel about a job promotion?” The man gave a lopsided smile. “The pay sucks, but the job title is pretty cool, and there are some damned nice perks.”
Dark & Cold
Blair rose into the moonless sky over San Francisco wearing his Ka’Dun warform, the land dark below him save for a few lights in the city’s financial district and the faintly glowing Ark towering behind him.
Numberless stars provided the barest hint of light, not really enough to see by, not that anyone remained outside to see it. The temperature had already begun to fall, and the survivors of Santa Rosa had retreated indoors, sheltering in place wherever they found themselves. That would work for today at least. For as long as three or four weeks if they had supplies.
“What will you tell them?” Isis appeared in the sky beside him, the wolf-goddess staring down at the same lands he studied as the wind rippled her silver fur. “I have wrestled with such questions many times, but never in so dire a circumstance.”
“The truth. No sense putting it off any longer,” Blair decided and drew upon the strength of the Ark behind him.
He projected his image into the sky, a vision large enough to be seen anywhere on the western seaboard, his shaping appearing like a false dawn as people shaded their eyes toward the only source of light in the solar system.
“Darkness has fallen across our world,” Blair began, the shaping carrying his words to every ear. “The sun has literally been stolen from us by one of the Builders, the beings who created the Arks, who created the shaping that led to champions, werewolves, and demons alike, so far as we know. My fellow Ark Lords and I will attempt to stop them, but whether we succeed or fail, that’s not going to help you right now.”
Blair hesitated then and tried to come up with a plan that would save as many as possible. He couldn’t see the Great Pack, loping across Oregon behind Yukon, but he could feel them out there, utterly confident in his ability to save them.
“Each day the world will get colder as the planet loses heat.” He tried to make his description clinical, but the thoughts of people freezing wouldn’t be banished. “The process will increase by a factor of two, meaning it will accelerate over time. Blankets and stoves will work for a few days. Maybe weeks. And that time is vital. You must use it to make your way to the Ark of the Redwood.”
Blair flung a hand out and behind him, the Ark pulsed with power. A great ball of shimmering golden light rose from the tip of the pyramid and floated into the sky. It pulsed heat and life and warmth, impossible to look upon unless you were an Ark Lord.
“I have created a sort of mini-sun, and will instruct other Ark Lords on how to do the same.” He moved closer, enjoying the warmth he’d created. “Come to one of these sanctuaries, and we will keep them running as long as possible. If you are a shaper…husband your strength and be prepared for war. We don’t know if this is the prelude to an attack, and we have to assume it is. Melissa will be in interim command while I am…dealing with Yoggoth. Stay safe, people. We’ll get through this. Like we always do.”
Blair gave what he hoped would be taken for a fatherly nod, then allowed the shaping to dissipate. That left him hovering in the wind next to Isis, who studied him wordlessly with lupine eyes.
“The others will not understand,” she finally uttered, the words battling the wind, “how much of the Ark’s reserves this will cost. This will deplete our resources in months when you could have saved the best and brightest for centuries.”
“Do you really think Yoggoth will give us that time?” Blair gazed up at the night sky, at the place where the sun should have been. He couldn’t see the titanic vessel, but he knew Yoggoth was up there.
“Not if he is canny.” She shrugged as the wind tore at her fur. “Were it me in his place, I would not act. I would simply allow Earth to wither and die. We will kill each other as shapers battle for the last scraps. And all while Yoggoth…well, you know what he must be doing?”
“I suspect.” Blair zoomed skyward, toward the patch of empty night sky high above where their mothership lay, captured during the battle with Akenat and the remaining grey men.
Isis kept pace and while he couldn’t see the Primary Access Key, she carried its strength sang within her. Rescuing her had been the right thing to do. She’d already helped reforge Excalibur, even if it hadn’t gone entirely according to plan.
“He is draining our star,” Isis roared over the wind, zooming a pace closer, “taking the power we require to shape. We understand how sunsteel works. His sphere must be similar.”
Blair didn’t reply as they zoomed close enough to see the mothership’s pyramidal shape looming above them. It reassured him, having a literal spaceship built by a species with a far greater technological mastery than their own.
Of course, Yoggoth’s own technology would be far superior. They had the old models, and Yoggoth knew the specs.
Blair rippled through the floor of the ship and into the forest of obelisks covering the ship’s cavernous interior, and Isis arrived a moment later, towering over him in her Ka’Ken form.
They’d arrived near the central control stone, a giant blue sapphire hovering at the center of the obelisks. Most of the others had already gathered.
Liz and Jes’Ka had also donned their fur, one auburn, the other blond, and stood talking in low tones a little away from each other. Jes’Ka nodded at Excalibur, the blade hanging absently in Liz’s right hand.
Anger sparked through their bond, though Blair didn’t press to find the source. There was often anger there. The pair struck sparks on contact, but they also fought incredibly well together in combat.
“That was quite a speech.” Trevor strode up, grinning in that disarming way of his. He ruffled lengthening copper hair, something that hadn’t been possible until recently. “That should keep people moving while we do what we have to. I’ve been working with David to study Yoggoth’s tech, and as expected, we’re getting nothing back from scans. We can see them but can’t pierce the hull. It just eats the signal.”
“That tracks.” Blair stared up at the central view screen, which the grey men had used to connect to the rest of the collective. Currently, it displayed an infrared image of the Yoggothian sphere. It exuded just enough heat to be visible. “If he’s draining the sun, then eating signals must be something he’s good at. We should be ready for that. Our shaping might make him stronger.”
David came striding into the center of the clearing with a golden tablet cradled in one hand. The bearded hacker looked up as he approached, and his expression tightened. “It isn’t good, people. We can’t get anything. At all. But he’s docked what is clearly a flagship outside the sphere itself. He’s giving us an obvious target. Too obvious. Why would he do that?”
“It’s a trap,” Liz, Blair, and Trevor all chorused at once.
“We are summoned.” Isis shifted to a petite goddess with platinum hair, shining with inner light. Moonlight. Then she extended a delicate hand, and a pool of gold formed in her palm. It elongated into her Primary Access Key, brimming with power. “He expects us to bring our full host, all of our powerful artifacts and best shapers. That suggests he is confident of victory.”
“It makes sense.” Blair sighed and shook his head. “We try a last desperate strike and fail, and then he’s won entirely. Does that mean we should take our time and gather more resources?”
“He knows we can’t do that. Time works against us.” Anput shook her head in disapproval, the raven-haired vampire goddess’s pretty mouth turned down into a frown. “If we wait…he grows stronger, while we grow weaker. So we must strike and do so quickly.”
Blair watched them all as he considered options.
“Hey, guys?” David looked up from his tablet. “Something is approaching the ship. Fast. Small. Not a fighter. It repels signals, but not the same way Yoggoth’s tech does. And it’s coming directly for us like it knows right where we are.”
Blair opened himself to the ship, still a dizzying experience, and inspected the approaching object. They had a visual—there was enough light for that—but all it revealed was a small mottled-grey blob approaching.
The ship continued scans as it approached, and the view screen flickered, then showed…a flying dinosaur? But with legs. And an angry expression.
“Is that?” Trevor started.
“Jordan!” Liz leapt to her feet and surged toward the screen. “Can you bring him aboard?”
“On it.” Blair willed Jordan aboard, and the vessel obligingly locked on to the dino. “Uh…it’s not working. The ship says it can’t get a lock.”
“He’s almost here anyway,” Anput pointed out. She sat with her back against one of the smaller obelisks and was now trimming her nails. “Give him a moment or three, and he can explain everything himself.”
“I can help with that, too.” David scratched at his beard as he avoided eye contact. He flushed like a fifteen-year-old caught masturbating. “I’ve been carrying this secret for a long time, and I’m glad I finally have a chance to spill it.”
“It’s time nonsense, isn’t it?” Blair began massaging his temples. “Tell me it’s at least good news.”
“The best kind.” David looked up with a grin. “Jordan arrived in the past five years ago and has been quietly making preparations for Yoggoth’s invasion.”
“Wait a minute.” Trevor’s hand shot up like they were in a classroom. “How did he know about Yoggoth? We dropped him in the past when we rescued Isis before we even knew about him.”
“Turns out we have another ally,” Jordan’s voice rumbled from the edge of the circle.
They turned to find the man himself in human form, looking just as he had the day Blair had met him in Peru a lifetime ago, in a black t-shirt and green camo fatigues. Jordan removed a pair of mirrored sunglasses and gave the ghost of a smirk. “Uluru’s been masterminding this for some time. I guess as soon as she saw what Yoggoth had done, she began enacting her—what did you call it—time nonsense?”
“She brought me in first.” David shivered and glanced behind him as if fearing to find the Builder. “Through my dreams. At first, I thought they were just that, but…they were more.”
“This was back before we even knew they’d survived.” Anput rose to her feet, her interest clear. “Back when we were working together. You got real distant all of a sudden. That’s why you abandoned Solaris.”
He nodded, expression pained. “I did what I had to. Uluru has been prepping things and swore me to secrecy. I couldn’t risk telling anyone, not even Jordan.”
“He knew I’d survive the blast.” Jordan ambled over and wrapped a friendly arm around Trevor, who blinked up at him like he’d grown a third eye. “Man, it is good to see you guys, even you, Trevor.”
Trevor barked a short laugh and shook his head. “I’m not sure I’d want to have one of our, uh, rivalries anymore. I’m weaker, and you’re a hell of a lot stronger.”
“Good thing we’re all nicely nice now.” Jordan withdrew a pocket knife and cut a stray thread from his shirt. “And we’re more ready than we have a right to be. I took over the Ark of Kailash five years ago and have been using it to repair the network and stockpile both power and general supplies. As we speak, every Ark is receiving a list of coordinates for the caches we’ve set up in their vicinity. You’ll find blankets, fuel, food, and most other necessities.”
Blair ran over and threw his arms around Jordan. “I have never been so happy to see you.”
“Jesus, man, we’re in public. Your wife is right there.” Jordan disengaged and pointed at the screen, which showed Yoggoth’s vessel once more. “We need to get aboard, hit them hard, and stop Yoggoth. Uluru is ready to join us, though she wanted to send me in first to pave the way.”
“If you have a Builder in your pocket, I’d like to meet her.” Jes’Ka sauntered into the light, and Blair noted Jordan’s muted interest. Jes’Ka did too, and he suspected it had been intentional. “Summon her forth.”
“All right.” Jordan gestured behind him, and a short green-skinned creature perfectly resembling Ka appeared. “Everyone…meet Uluru.”
Blair didn’t know precisely how to react to the presence of a Builder. He’d known from conversations with Jordan that one resided on Earth, and was of the more benevolent variety. Or so they assumed.
The green-skinned hominid, a taller version of the grey men, strode into the clearing around the control crystal with dignity and grace and extended her hand to allow gold to pool in her palm. It flowed outward, gradually forming a staff that strongly resembled the Primary Access Keys, save that this was thinner and bore a stylized Egyptian eye at the tip instead of the more familiar scarab.
“Behold, a secret I never once shared with my peers.” She released the staff and it floated into the air of its own accord. “It is from this that I delved the secrets of sunsteel. I spent millennia studying. Hoarding it. Killing any who sought it out. Until not even a whisper of its existence remained. All that occurred two millennia before Akenat arrived on my shores. He has no idea it exists, nor does Yoggoth.”
“What is it?” Blair found himself whispering as he approached it. “It looks like a Primary Access Key.”
“It is how we conceived of the keys, but even after all that study…I can only guess.” Uluru’s tiny mouth turned down in a frown, and she blinked at it with those dark eyes. “It has been on our world a long time. A very long time. The temple where I discovered it was tens of millions of years old, in the deeps, in the blackest part of the ocean.”
“That’s eyeless territory.” Jordan shifted and something like fear came into his stony face. “You must have run into them.”
“Eyeless?” Liz moved to join Blair and leaned against his side, her clean scent a balm against their current situation.
“I fought them last year with the landfinders.” Jordan shook his head slowly. “They’re legit. Immune to shaping and damned tough. They’re vulnerable to sunlight, and that’s what I used to cook them before. About fifty, but there are supposed to be millions of them. The only thing that’s been keeping them in the deeps is daylight.”
“And the deeps is where you found the staff?” Blair asked Uluru. He noted that Isis’s posture had gone rigid and that the Ka’Ken stood ready to fight, with her daughter behind her in a similar pose, their attention all on the Builder.
“Indeed.” Uluru nodded, a bit too rapidly for a human. “The staff was contained in a sort of…prison? A negative space of sorts. Or perhaps they were guarding it. I don’t know. This was in my youth, and I am ashamed to say I slaughtered my way through them and took it because I could feel its power. Yet, no matter how much study I have devoted, I am still no closer to understanding its purpose or function.”
Uluru turned toward Isis, who stiffened, and offered the hulking Ka’Ken a respectful bow. “I have seen your handiwork and grant you the respect due a master shaper. Akenat himself would do no less.”
“Akenat?” Trevor mused. “That’s the guy we have down in the brig, right?”
“That’s the one.” Blair nodded back.
“Explain.” Uluru didn’t change in size, yet her…presence somehow increased. Blair knew it for some sort of shaping but had never been exposed to this variety. He felt not compelled, but encouraged, perhaps? To speak his mind.
“Akenat surrendered.” Blair nodded down at the ship’s floor. “We imprisoned him down in the Ark for the time being, but he’s offered to help us in the assault against Yoggoth.”
“Yet, you do not utilize him?” Uluru cocked her head and blinked. “Why?”
“Because we don’t trust him.” Blair barked a bitter laugh. “I’ve had some bad experiences with people getting out of that brig. Akenat isn’t our friend any more than Yoggoth. He attacked my Ark. We have to know what he is and what he’s after.”
“I do.” Uluru sighed a very human sigh. “Yet, in this, he is an ally. He will do anything to see Yoggoth stopped and possesses knowledge of shaping that even Enki did not. He might find a way to render aid, though it is true he will look for advantage if he can find it. Were it me, I would utilize him. Carefully.”
Blair nodded and found himself agreeing. He turned to Trevor and Anput, always standing near each other. “Trev, can you talk to Mark and see how we can use Akenat for the assault? Ideas, strategies, specific powers—we’re fact-finding.”
“On it.” Trevor rose and departed with Anput in tow, the two already whispering.
“Do you have any other great shapers?” Uluru cocked her head in the other direction. “Of the caliber that you have already gathered?”
“There are a few I can think of.” Blair blew upwards, pushing the hair out of his face. Time to cut it again already. It would only get worse. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Irakesh might be a good choice. He’s an Ark Lord, nominally speaking, and has a good deal of power.”
“He’d be an asset,” Jordan rumbled his agreement. “But I don’t think he’d bring a lot to the table militarily. He’s more conniving and less straight assault kind of god. One thing that’s important to consider…if we fail, what do we leave behind? Who?”
“I see your point.” Blair’s thoughts turned to Melissa and her people. “And the Deathless are the inheritors of the Earth if we fail. They don’t have to deal with the cold in the same way and could conceivably continue on long after everything with a heartbeat dies off.”
“If they survive the eyeless.” Liz ticked up a finger, then another as she continued to speak. “And whatever Yoggoth has planned, and the next three things we don’t even know are coming. We need better answers. It can’t be stopgap after stopgap.”
Blair knew her agitation through the bond, but there wasn’t much he could say to ease it. He shared her frustration and badly wanted to find a way to permanently protect their world. Did it even exist?
“Uluru, did you learn anything at all about the staff during your study?” Blair couldn’t help but stare at the magnificent golden metal with its golden eye.
“Nothing of note.” Her spindly shoulders slumped. “The eyeless who could have revealed the truth died in the assault over two million years ago. We could time skip for the answer, but it is dangerous and rarely yields the right information.”
“I don’t like messing with time.” Jordan frowned at the lot of them, but no one challenged him.
“We’ll keep that to a minimum. We have Isis. No need to mess further with the timeline.” Blair longed for an easy answer, a time loop fix where he went back to before Yoggoth’s arrival, but there were simply too many variables and too much they didn’t know about that kind of shaping.
Everyone nodded their agreement to Blair’s immense relief. They’d gotten lucky and knew it.
“So the staff is irrelevant to our predicament then?” Isis moved closer to inspect it and peered up in awe. “I can feel the immensity of it, the presence. It is…indescribable. This isn’t some mere key. At least not so paltry a key as to unlock an Ark. This is something greater. Something…divine?”
Liz moved to join Isis, and Blair could feel her wonder through their bond. She extended a furry hand, then hesitated and turned to Uluru. “May I?”
The Builder bobbed its head in ascent. “It is safe to touch. So far as I can tell, the weapon is aware of us somehow, but does not react.”
Liz brushed a hand against the metal, and a low ringing echoed from the staff, a chime just past the edge of hearing, almost imagined.
“Ahh.” Uluru gave a knowing nod. “Rare candidates were able to produce an auditory response. However, this was not repeatable on subsequent attempts. All attempts to record the sound produced have failed, and it was infrequent enough to prohibit study.”
The chime still echoed through Blair’s mind, the sound maddeningly familiar, but also one he was positive he’d never heard before.
Uluru closed her hand, and the staff flowed back into her, disappearing all in an instant. The room lessened as it passed, and Blair sighed wistfully, wishing the staff would return.
“I needed you to see and understand.” Uluru looked from Blair to Liz to Trevor, her gaze traveling slowly around the room. “For all our power, for all our knowledge, we Builders are misnamed. A better name might be scavengers. We found power and learned from it to fashion our own power, as Isis did. In this, there may be a tiny ray of hope. We are not so infallible as you may assume. And even after two million years, Yoggoth is not invincible. It is possible answers exist out there if we seek them. And if not, it is possible you will triumph through strength of arms.”
“You?” Isis growled softly. “You don’t intend to go with us?”
“I do not.” Uluru rose to her full height, almost to Isis’s furry waist. “If I leave the dream for any length of time, I leave myself vulnerable, and my enemies will take advantage. I came only to prepare you as best I am able for the struggle to come. You are a gamble, but there are others to be made. Ark Lord Jordan’s people have found my shores, as have many landfinders. I have extended the dream to the very edge of my continent and unmoored it from time. My continent still remembers the sun, and the people upon its shores are safe. For now.”
“Can the eyeless reach you?” Jordan’s expression hardened.
“Yes.” Uluru’s face twisted into a very human snarl. “And I will be there when they do. I cannot leave my lands unprotected.”
“Can you shape us as you did Jordan?” Anput stepped from the shadows, cautiously like a fawn ready to bolt.
“I could.” She cocked her head, too far for a human. “I will not. Doing so costs immense reserves. Making a god as potent as Sobek is draining. Making Jordan has left me barren for a time. Were it the difference between victory and defeat, I could bring you into the dream and prepare you, but how would Yoggoth use that time? What would become of your peoples, those counting on you to restore this world to habitability?”
“I’m not sure it would help anyway.” Blair shook his head, then extended a hand and summoned his own access key. “We’re bringing a lot of strength to bear, but we don’t know what we’re fighting or what extra help would even be useful. We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s a bad plan. Let’s get out there and make it less bad, then we’ll circle back and compare notes. Clock’s ticking, people.”
Yoggoth gathered his consciousness and forced it back into his carefully constructed Avatar aboard his Yoggothian sphere, a true triumph of demotech, the discipline to which he’d devoted the previous epoch.
Now that he’d dealt with the countless pressing matters that had been building in the star systems he controlled, he had the freedom to focus solely on his homeworld, on Terra itself.
Or rather on the star that gave the world significance.
Sol. Known in the cosmos as the Eye of Ohm, the mythological creator deity that so many spacefaring races believed in.
The rock itself? Other than a few good memories, it contained nothing of significance. Right now it could do nothing but serve as a staging ground for his enemies, one he’d need to deny them soon.
Not yet, though. First, they would come for him, and he needed to be ready.
He strode to his bridge’s main console, with a wide arced screen similar to the ones Akenat had devised in his youth, which overlooked the star and displayed countless metrics on the process of devouring the star’s power.
Yoggoth willed the screen to shift to display Terra, and one of the countless drones he’d secreted throughout the system provided a feed of the dark side of the planet. Well, all sides were dark now.
The feed showed a ragged fleet, greatly diminished and scored by prolonged battle. It hovered above a fully powered Ark, which had dispatched a small proto-star to return the light and warmth he’d denied.
Sa, Enki, attend me. Yoggoth sent his command into the ship, which relayed it to the pods where the other Builders slumbered. Bringing them had been a gamble. A large one.
A moment later, the wall hissed and a stasis pod emerged as it opened. The pod folded back into the armored hoverchair Enki used, his desiccated grey body wired into every part of it so that one could not be certain where machine ended and flesh began. His bulbous head flashed as circuitry within pulsed, his thoughts reaching through the entire sphere at once.
You risk much, Enki accused, the enslaved vassal’s rage as refreshingly consuming as always. Those black eyes, twin to Yoggoth’s own, narrowed. Bringing three Builders to this world. And so many of our ships. If you fail in this, you will set our plans back another epoch. Longer. We lack the resources to rebuild.
The risk is great. True enough. Yoggoth welcomed the insubordination, which he’d burned out of nearly all other servants. But the gain is incalculable. You can already see our reserves after a brief collection interval. In a solar cycle, we’ll have erected the galaxy’s largest factory. In ten, we’ll have a fleet that cannot be stopped by anything in this sector. In a hundred, we’ll rule this galaxy and look for the next.
Enki’s need to argue swelled, then ceased when he realized he would not sway Yoggoth. Both knew who was really in charge.
You fear Uluru. The shadows parted, and Sa’s looming form stepped into reality, the shadows obscuring all but the assassin’s black eyes, lighter patches of shadow. That is why you have brought me, yes?
Indeed, Yoggoth thought back. He waved a chitinous hand and the screen zoomed around to the other side of the planet over the continent they knew as Australia. She is hiding within the dream. It is a Catalyst of some note, possibly sheered off of the Eye of Ohm itself. If she has become Guardian, then even you will need to take care. Leave your hubris here, assassin.
Amusement pulsed from Sa as she prowled toward the screen with deadly grace, a moving patch of shadow. She can hide within the dream, but given enough time, I will find her. And if she emerges, then she is mine.
She will, Yoggoth confirmed. He waved his hand again and the screen went black, forcing them both to look at him. She will empower our enemies as best she can before they make their strike. During that time, she’ll be vulnerable and will know it.
Then she will be ready. Sa’s thoughts darkened. I will not catch her unawares. I will need another opportunity.
Yoggoth smiled as he considered what came next. If it worked, then he’d be able to provide just such an opportunity.
For now, he thought to them both, focus on preparing your defenses. Our enemies will gather their courage soon and launch an assault on the sphere. They will be coming here. Enki, you know your role.
I will attempt to slow them. The circuitry flared in his face again under the cheeks as he linked to the ship. Your data profiles on our enemies are incomplete at best. We do not know all they are capable of, and they possess temporal shaping. You are aware of this. What is to prevent them from utilizing it and lessening our entire possibility until this reality fades to shadow?
Youth and hubris, Yoggoth answered smoothly. He waved a hand and the screen activated again, this time displaying those opponents his spies had identified. Their crude experiments possess power. Raw power. Frightening power. And they are gathering that power as we speak. They have our access keys. Our ships. And who knows what they will surprise us with? They will try themselves against us because they still believe their world can be saved in this reality.
Then you have considered their inevitable response, Enki ventured, but cautiously as he felt his way through the logic, when they realize they cannot win.
Of course, I have. Yoggoth let his joyful contempt flow through the demonic bond he’d forced upon them so long ago. They will have no choice but to employ the failsafe.
Are you so certain? Sa’s thoughts also held contempt as the assassin eyed Yoggoth in amusement. Did you not just speak of hubris? They have a Builder as an ally. That they possess the grey men fleet suggests that Akenat is with them as well. Two Builders to our three.
I rely on you to further skew that ratio. Yoggoth rounded on the assassin, confident that she lacked the independence to strike him, much less kill his avatar. And if she did? It would mean suffering until the last star died, and she knew it. Harry them. Kill who you can. Remove one of their greater champions swiftly, so the rest fear. Someone they think unstoppable. Eventually, they will break, either from you or from Enki’s forces.
If they trigger the failsafe, Enki mused, his bulbous head alive with circuitry now, then our sphere will be tested to its limits. There is a chance it could suffer extensive damage or fail entirely. Our bodies would be vaporized. Sa and I would cease to exist.
A tragic loss if it occurred, Yoggoth admitted as he shifted back to the screen. One I do not think we need fear. Even now, they gather the last of their forces. When they arrive, we will be ready to greet them properly. And then we will absorb from this star for the entirety of its main phase, seven thousand years to build freely as we once did, as I promised, before conquering the galaxy. Fitting that our ascendance should come where it all began.
Enki nodded his sullen agreement, but then he’d always been sentimental. Sa had already turned her disinterested attention to her weaponry, a mix of sunsteel and demotech armaments she’d woven into her own body. Even Yoggoth didn’t know the use of them all.
Ready yourselves. Even now, they gather their courage.
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