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Lords of Rock

The Rockaverse

a part of Lords of Rock, by Nulix.

The Land of Plenty

Nulix holds sovereignty over The Rockaverse, giving them the ability to make limited changes.
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The Rockaverse is a part of Lords of Rock.

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A Rock Hard Land for Rock Hard Men.

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YEAR 2E,466 - 12 years after the Oblivion War.

In the depths of Dark Space, the Lord of Malice Oblivion emerged with a terrible horde of Phoenix barbarians, determined to cleanse the world in his fire. One by one the galactic kingdoms fell, but not all hope was lost. In the darkest hour a fleet of heroes from all parts of the galaxy, both Phoenix who fought for good and humans of old nobility alike, stood against Oblivion. And after a long war the lord of malice was defeated. From the remnants of the shattered worlds the victors formed the Holy Matranical Empire under the leadership of former Ulfirian Princess Anaszia Kusiliosc. The Empire now looks to reconquer their lost stars.  

But this story, for the most part, is set far from this empire. It’s set on a desert world. resting on the edge of charted space. Inhabited by natives from before the first age and the brood of criminals stranded there three-hundred years ago. This planet was rediscovered by the galactic kingdoms fifteen years ago. The kingdoms attempted to colonize the planet but Oblivion’s war destroyed all hope of that. And since then it has been in a state of chaos, ruled by warlords, barbarians and thugs. The Rock has long been divorced from the events of the galaxy. Its Phoenix were never part of any great empires or conquests, its people unfamiliar with the history the rest of space had lived. But as the Holy Matranical Empire tries to piece together their galaxy once again the Rock no longer has the luxury of being ignored.

It was a new age. And in this age anyone, even the least important of Rockian peasants, could change the fate of the world. Or at least, in Argent's case, become Captain of the Royal Guard and member of the Presidium: the ruling body of the Empire. Few knew he was born in a shack in the middle of the desert, having grown up never even hearing of outer space or planets beyond his.

There was the familiar wheeze of a starship's steam-powered core, a royal servant moving through the lounge where Argent and the others sat. The weather outside looked warm, unlike the Red City. "Now I must say a little sweat and heat is a nice change of climate," He murmured.

A body-suit of black ring-mesh chainmail hugged Argent's skin, with gaps at his joints so the metal would not ride up. Over the armour he adorned a silken black tabard, a coat of arms weaved in gold on the stomach. His legs crossed on his seat, a polished codpiece poking out between his thighs.

"After Raejo's winter it's nice to see some sun," The woman across from Argent replied. Blonde hairs tucked behind her ears and a friendly smile adorned her face. Caithe Azleir, the First Minister of the Crown. Across her chest were various gold pins that represented her statuses, one of the Wordsmith, one of a Sentinel of Knowledge and another of the First Minister - but by far the largest symbol was the Empresses embroidered coat of arms.

“Beautiful, beautiful. God, the sun," Chancellor Kovacs, another member of the presidium, chimed in. Her outfit was in layers, a gold weaved tunic beneath a black-short-jacket. Symbols of a diplomat hung off her neck. All three wore armbands of pure gold silk with the symbol of Eye of God threaded in pitch black. Designed by the Empress to look as striking as possible.

"You roast like a Vench pork out there,” Kovacs continued. Her distinct ramblings were a quality Argent and Caithe had grown accustomed to. “We uh, won’t be staying, uh, particularly long though. We’ve got to report to the Empress after this. And you know how the, uh, disgruntled families can be,” Kovacs made her hand into a pistol and placed her fingers to her neck, sticking her tongue out the side. “Not our fault, of course. We’ve been making so many new nobles it’s hard to remember the old ones.”

They’d been flying above the clouds of the Capima Islands for some hours now, on a stately visit to a family meant not to be involved in the state.

“Anora was once part of the royal family of Sor,” Caithe said, turning to face Kovacs, “Not just any old noble family.”

“Not, uh, not actually a noble family at all, anymore,” Kovacs replied, a toothy smirk growing on her face. Ratlike, almost.

They breached the clouds, swooping over the sandy banks of the Eullian archipelago. Flocks of flamingos took flight as the ship descended. The island was lush with greenery. Small ponds and streams stretching through the rain forests toward a clearing, where two men in black chainmail and skirted armour saluted up to the sky. Royal Guards; Argent’s men. Protecting what remained of house Maximus.

The landing horn echoed as uniformed crew moved through the lounge. The sound of the steam engine defusing in crisp release as they began to hover down to the grass.

The trio of aged statesmen exited the polished black cruiser out into the warm sun. A breeze wafted sweet fragrances of capima lilies; one of the many bright, tropical flowers that bloomed a path toward the stone estate. A tall structure surrounded by trees and walls. Moss covered limestone pillars at the estates corners that held statues of late Sorillian kings. Reliefs of great victories decorated its outer walls, and standing beneath the archway the last of remnant of that great kingdom stood.

“My, my,” A voice said, the melodious quality it once held faded from years of silence. “Visitors from the capital of the Empire come to the Capima Islands to hear our pleas.” Standing under the archway was a grey-haired lady in her sixties, brown eyes cradled by wrinkles. Her nose arched like the best of Sorillian nobility, whatever that meant anymore.

Beside her a young man towered; her features clear on his face, though there was another in him. Green eyes and a square, uneven jaw. Memories of his father.

“Anora! Augustus!” Kovacs exclaimed, her robed arms held wide as she waddled forward. “You’re looking! You’re looking strong,” She said, examining the youth. “Azleir, take a look at this kid.” Kovacs squinted at Caithe from beneath her sunglasses. “Built like a yak. A yak.”

Kovacs laughed, taking their hands. “Come on, let’s talk.” Kovacs escorted the two former royals into the gardens of their own house, Argent and Caithe following respectfully. But as they entered through the estate’s archway another figure shifted into view. Old armour, muscular arms folded on chest as he stood against the wall- like a guardian angel. A gruff beard covered his face, grey streaks now running through the red hairs. “Argent,” The man murmured as the Captain of the Guard passed. “Mister Michael,” was all Argent said before continuing on.

“The birds always come out this time of year; and the summer season brings the most beautiful rain showers. I take great joy in seeing them bathe, hearing them sing.” “It’s beautiful stuff. Red City is, uh, I hate to say it, a shithole, I hate that word, a shithole compared to the islands. I’ve been saying we should move to the city of Sor for years, haven’t I? Haven’t I Azleir?” Voices echoed from the wooden gazebo in the centre of the estate's gardens. Argent approached the assembled group sat around a table, a servant pouring tea into fine china. Pulling a seat up the man took his place. From a distance Michael strutted into the gardens, watching the group with suspicion.

Anora took a sip as the servant dismissed herself with a bow. “Now, for the reason we’re truly here.” Her eyes scanned over Caithe, Kovacs, and Argent. “I assume the Empress has received my request?”

"Yes. You wish for the Empress to acknowledge your claims," Caithe responded. Her eyes had faint lines of weariness. Perhaps from knowing that this would not be a pleasant affair, nor a long one.

“The war is over, the lands of the old nobility are again under the banners of the Matranical faith,” Anora said. There was a wide smile, nervously kept up as if dropping it would do the same for her claims. “My family ruled these lands… surely it’s time to reinstate our titles?”

“Yes, you speak of the Sora System,” Kovacs said, holding her tea. “An ancient regime, so long ago.”

Anora kept her smile. “It was… fourteen years ago.”

“So long,” Kovacs continued wistfully. She lowered her cup. “Listen, Anora, darling. You’re not wrong. We are reconquering the lost worlds. The problem is, they’re not yours anymore.” Kovacs sighed. “We’re in negotiations with… new lords all over the place, they’re so many of them. Argent has had his guards here to protect you and your family on these… beautiful islands, the treasury has kept you comfortable. I would describe this as sort of a, a lottery winning, miracle mile situation.”

"And we are grateful that cousin Anaszia has been so generous. Yet still we long for our nobility,” Anora replied. “We haven’t left the archipelago since the war... Augustus wants to join the Knights and I long to taste alien air again. Anaszia’s claim to royalty is the same as ours... our families have age old treaties by marriage. Surely she must have some loyalty.”

Caithe looked at her with genuine sympathy, “As much as she would like to, the Empress cannot reinstate your titles. And if... the Empire recognized you as nobility, your claims to those titles would have to be recognized as well."

"I don't understand the issue. Let us recognize the claims. Sorillia has been conquered, and I am the last of my line, the rightful queen of these lands," Anora replied. “I can rule them.”

"The Empress won’t give you your land back, and so she cannot recognize your nobility since your nobility has claims to the land," Caithe explained. "And thusly here you must stay." She paused. "I'm sorry, if the situation was less delicate perhaps-"

“The Sora System stretched from Bakobay to the Land of the Baonauts," Anora snapped. Her smile was gone. "From Wild Space to the Rift. It was grander than anything your empire has managed to assemble in its tenure. And I am her rightful queen."

“A queen without title or power ain’t much of a queen now is she? See that's the big difference between you and the Empress, the way I see it,” Argent pitched in, playing with a sugar cube between his teeth. “Otherwise you wouldn’t be begging. Now our empire is as persistent as sand. Can’t very much say the same for yours though, now can I, Miss Anora? Ain’t nothing left of your home now.”

“And what's left of your home, Argent?” Michael intruded. Argent turned as the burly man marched toward the gazebo. “Because last time I visited I had shot a bullet through you and we had conquered it with a single dreadnought.” Michael grinned, predator like. A loyalist to the end. A loyalist to a dead kingdom, and the family that remained of it. “Your home was our bitch. And when our kingdom fell our colonies fell with it. That’s right, Argent. Your home- our colony. What’s the last ten years been since then? Civil wars and petty squabbles?” Michael squinted at Argent. “So tell me, Captain. What’s left?"

Argent looked at Michael. His face held more repulsion now than when it stared down the barrel of the gun. A bead of sweat rolled down Argent’s forehead despite the pleasant weather. He still saw the sun before him, Alarisset’s curves doing little to shield him. The last real ruler of the Rock.

There were small bamboo huts in the distance, running along a white river. Crops richer than any he'd seen in his lands stretching along its banks. A village of Sudean people. The men stood hunched in the hut entrances, but their women were nowhere in sight. Instead they sat by him, in fear. In the palm of his hand he held the sweaty breast of one and in his ear was the lips of another. A mesquite smell filled the air as fire burned in the distance.

The feeling of soft skin shifted into the rough of stone, his hand rubbing along the side of the clay house. The small adobe homes came in all sorts of different shades but they all shared the same cracks. Creaks accompanied every step he made on the wooden walkway. Men in brimstone hats watched in fear, careful not to do anything that would anger the man. Women did not dare look up at him as they passed but the children peered from behind their mothers. Argent could see his nose in a few of them. This was his tribe. His people. The Skylanders. Though they had different races and skin-colours they all shared the same past. The descendents of pirates, Sorillian speaking, though they'd long forgotten where they'd come from.

No. Now they were simply Rockians. Survivors. By any means necessary. And Argent was at the top of the food chain. Here he could walk about freely, for any man fool enough to attack him in his own land would learn why Alarisset had entrusted him as her top enforcer.

There was still much that escaped her though. Cool wind caressed his face and the smallest noises echoed around him. The healer Damou had warned him of the caverns, of the lands beyond the desert, far north in Alakat’s Maw, on the peaks of the mountains. Argent had seen things in the nights, the wandering nomads, ants being swept away by animals he never could name. Men whispered that forests lived among the deserts and lights blinked without source in sandstorms. Ancient structures, covered with sand. They'd fought in the dunes and among the rivers but there was still much of his world that he had never seen. Much that brought back nightmares. Tales he'd heard as a child. Tales he could never forget.  

“I’m afraid the answer is a no,” Kovacs’ voice cut in. “The treasury is willing to raise your weekly stipend, we’ve got more money now that we captured the Pollusian Shipworks, the new tariffs with Neijei are in effect... you’re an important part of the empire, just a part that has to remain here… in safety.”

Kovacs echoed on as Argent looked away. For a moment he was back on that faraway home he had left so many years ago. What had happened to it?

“You could, you could see all the uh, the fire and brimstone in her eyes,” Kovacs laughed as they made their way down to the pathway back toward their cruiser. The meeting was over, and the setting sun rested on the treetop horizon. Caithe pursed her lips, “Can you blame her?”

From the cruiser a figure emerged, a crewmate, holding his black naval cap down on his head as he ran forward. “Lady Azleir, Lord Rapedo, Lady Kovacs! We have a telegraph!” The crewmate called, raising a printed scroll in the air as he ran.

The crewmate breathlessly approached the trio, before outstretching the paper to them. “Report from central. A Matranical vessel has been downed. The Meritocrat, reportedly at half crew. Severe engine failure.”


“The Meritocrat? Ain’t that a transport vessel?” Argent asked as he scanned over the telegraph.

“It was transporting King Horocrat’s Sceptre,” The crewmate said. At the name a collective pause came over the presidium members, as if a bomb had just dropped. Even Kovacs, in her limited military knowledge, knew of King Horocrat’s Sceptre. The most powerful piece of artillery the Empire had ever built. A twenty-inch barrel gun. Powerful enough to siege cities from a distance and shoot ships from the sky. A devastating piece of weaponry. Whoever had that gun could do unthinkable damage to their enemies.

“The Imperial Domicilian is still trying to figure out who authorized the transport. Could be the Knights, the Military,” The crewmate’s eyes blinked up at Argent. “Perhaps the Royal Guard.”

Argent glared at the crewmate. Under the black-cap was not still a boy but barely a man.

“Where’d it crash?”

***



The Rock. So named because of its big ass rocks. At least, that’s what the two men sitting off the edge of one assumed. Above them stretched a pale blue sky. The sun was blinding as it reflected off the desert around them, but their old eyes had grown accustomed to the harsh light. On the horizon before them flat rock turned to shifting dune, an endless sea of sandy waves. That’s where you got lost. The flat earth could be farmed. Built on. But the dunes, the shapeless desert - that was a wild land of nomads and nightmare creatures.

That’s why the two old timers stayed by their town. Schittle was nothing more than a collection of wood and adobe houses, all circling a single, massive well. Protected by old walls, built by their grandmothers and grandfathers. It was small, unimportant, but it was home.

On the edge of it all, where the desert truly began, Ackleton and Źambra sat quicksand fishing.

“Now I tell you Źambra these stones in’ be’ a changin’,” Ackleton muttered.

“Nethen’ be changin’ but what gang come into town with his men, been like that since the day of Northboroughs fell,” Źambra said. “Rememberin’ those days and them peace, before them god damn southmen came in with their armies.”

“Yeh, the days we huntin’ them Sudas,” Ackleton said. “Fightin’ for the Northboroughs. Uniform and everything. You and me, bein’ young men again. Now that’s somethin’ I dream about many a day.”

Źambra laughed as he crossed his legs. An old wheeze. They could still remember the days when all the Skylanders were united. Fighting the Sudeans. Before the decades of warlords. Before the systems came and tried to colonize them.

Ackleton let out a long whistle. His gaze had shifted from the quicksand to a nearby beetle ranch outside the town walls. A dark skinned woman with wild knotted hair had bent over to change the food stacks, giving a keen view of the ashy legs beneath her dress. “Boy, I tell you that there Gorgon daughter… she be ripe for breedin’.”

“Ye’ old bastard...” Źambra said through what few teeth he had. There was a sudden tug on his line, the harsh rope ripping through the quicksand below their hanging feet. Źambra laughed, standing up to reel in whatever he’d caught. “I got it, I got it, I got-!”

With a thunderous boom Źambra’s fishing pole snapped in half, the rope flying down into the sands. Źambra looked in fear at his pole, and then at Ackleton, whose gaze was fixated on the horizon. That boom was not from Źambra’s pole. It was from whatever was falling from the sky.

Engulfed in flame and smoke the two could see a ship plummeting toward the earth, its sounds deafening even from a distance. The ship disappeared behind a dune, an explosion of fire blasting out and darkening the sky.

The burning wreckage skidded across the sands leaving a long scorched trail behind it. A symphony of foreign noise blared over the desert. The shrieking of the metal hull ripping apart across the dunes; the exhausted screams of fire blasting out as the burning engine’s flames escaped a weakened shell.

The passing nomads shepherding their cattle were knocked into the sand by the sheer force of sound. Their grasshoppers leaped off the ground and flapped their wings in alarm, only to be pulled down by the weights of the ropes between them.

The sky turned dark from the thick smoke pouring upwards from the new mountain of fire rising out over the dune. Leaving the cattle behind, one of the shepherds, Moth-From-Darkness, ran up the side of the dune.

With feet buried firmly in the sand Moth-From-Darkness reached the peak, looking down at what had crashed. A smoking metallic mass, creaking as chunks of its hull began to break apart and drop down upon the sand below with heavy thuds. Like a lit oil well the back half of the ship burnt into the sky. Even from this distance the nomad could feel the heat from the fire.

A strange feeling grew in the pit of Moth-From-Darkness’ stomach. A feeling that things were about to change. That being in the wrong place at the wrong time had altered her future for the worse.

A feeling shared by most close to the incident, including Pilot Palavan as she crawled out a hatch opening of what used to be the Meritocrat. In her arms was the body of Captain Belüt. Her senior office. Bearded, elderly, Ulfirian. They both wore the black and gold uniforms of the Empire’s military- now obscured by ash and blood. Palavan dragged her captain out into the sand, his legs completely motionless.

Palavan looked up from the man to the inferno at the stern of the wreckage. “Captain, the core. How do we stop the core?”

Captain Belüt wearily turned his head to the fires, even that small movement a strain. With a gulp of his own blood he raised a hand in the air, clamping it into a fist. The erupting fire imploded in on itself with an echoing bang, and the engine collapsed at the sudden impact.

Captain Belüt was a Phoenix. Palavan had known this since she was assigned to his crew, but never had she seen his powers at work before. The fire started to subside. The sky peeked through the smoke. Steaming hot water began to flow from the cracks in the hull.

Belüt breathed heavily, looking up into Palavan’s green eyes. “We… were not supposed to be here,” he said. There was pain and fear in his voice. “We were not supposed to be...” His words choked off into a gurgle as more blood leaked from his mouth.

“Captain?” Palavan swallowed hard as the man slumped in her arms, dead-eyed as his wounds overtook him. The Meritocrat had landed. And every soul within a fifty-mile radius had been witness.

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Sa. Ka. Ti. Ri. Here, there lay once, now dead, gone, and forgotten.

Stomp

"Liar!"

Stomp

"Ya swindler!"

Stomp

"Ya got that big knife! No one taught you how ta use it?!"

The weight of three heavily booted feet came crashing down upon his back painfully, and then another one at his head. Any more and there'd be a concussion.

Stomp

Stomp

Stomp

That last one really hurt. Enough to jog some memories of the fall. Into the pit unseen. And when he ventured through the darkness, what did he find? The road to the truth. M'Kama felt the sand fall off his face, as someone, a large man, lifted him by his hair off the ground. Facing him was another man, this one thin, and an older woman. M'Kama supposed even they grew tired of the repeated stomping.

"You heard the lady, partner... why ain't ya fightin' back. You mean to tell me that fancy swords just fer show?" the big man lifting him up spat. "If you ain't about ta use it, we might as well take it for ourselves partner!"

M'Kama responded by first spitting a wad of sand and blood onto the desert beneath and then grumbling, "I decided to take a nap. Better use of my energy..." he stated drowsily, with a slight grin. The three jumped him from behind on his way to Schittle. They had already ransacked his wagon, but he did not stop them then. He'd correctly assumed they'd find nothing of his worth their time. All things truly valuable he had on his person, which he'd supposed they'd only find if they ransacked his corpse. A terrible fate, but one that would not come to pass.

"Yer a goddamn liar!" the other man spoke, his face turning bright red. They were all around M'Kama's age aside from the woman, who appeared a little bit older and all had wore the garb of typical Skylander farmers. Wide brimmed hat, pants with suspenders. Their clothes looked worn, and the three had the look of the impoverished and hungry. Such was the state of this world. M'Kama could not help them in that regard, but they didn't seem to think that was the case... at least not yesterday in the Slowpak Saloon.

"You said you were a phoenix!" the woman began to shout. "We thought maybe... maybe if you joined us..." her voice began to quiver. "Maybe you could help us make a fortune together... robbin' banks. Stealin' cattle. But you had to go and lie!"

"I didn't," M'Kama responded.

"Yes, you did!"

"But, I didn't..."

"Don't you try and correct us!"

M'Kama sighed. "When you met me in the saloon, I mentioned I was a shaman. The fact that you took that to mean, phoenix has nothing to do with me. I then told you not to follow me, because you'd be disappointed and you failed to heed me," he explained dully. "I'd been hoping you'd allow me to speak my piece. To allow you to see reason..."

The smaller man, began to draw out a pistol, shaking in anger. The look on his face appearing to be on the verge of tears. "We've been gettin' by on scraps for three years... all the most powerful gangs on the Rock have a phoenix. They can make rain pour from the sky. They can turn sand into gold..." he frowned beginning to list the tall tales he'd heard throughout the years.

M'Kama wondered if they even considered the fact that he appeared just as poor as they did, but given their general absentmindedness, he supposed not. He supposed he'd have to retaliate, if they were aiming to kill him. But at the very least, before he struck they had a right to know..." As a Shaman, I am capable of many things. None that you may find useful, but a great calamity is supposed to befall Schittle."

The large man, holding down M'Kama spoke after being silent for a long while, "WHY DON'T YOU SHUT UP! We just heard the last of yer goddamn lies! We gonna take that fancy sword of yers and sell it to-" All three of the farmers turned criminals began to glance up at the sky as it began to light aflame and tear asunder. A burning hulk of metal searing the atmosphere and plummeting into the sands near the town of Schittle.

"God, what is that..." the big man stared as a massive plume of smoke began to loom into the sky.

"It's true... it's calamity!" the woman spoke. "He was telling the truth! He is a phoenix! He is one!"

"Alright, enough of this..." M'Kama sighed, elbowing the big man as hard as he could in the gut as he was distracted, causing him to let go of his hair. M'Kama then grabbed the large man by his arm and tossed him over his shoulder at the other two, who bowled over before they even had a chance to react.

M'Kama himself turned towards the site of the crash with curiosity. Sitting on the pile of criminals that now lay on the sands before him, he looked into one of their packs and grabbed a telescope. Convenient. Lucky. Either way, he placed them to his eyes and took in the sight of the burning metal hull. A ship... The Outlanders must've lost control of their vessel. Given the ships size, it was likely that it housed many travelers. Many who were now dead. M'Kama grabbed a handful of sand before letting it flow away in the wind. They weren't all buried properly... but he'd hope they have a safe journey to the underworld, nevertheless.

M'Kama sat up, his bone necklace rattling he got onto his feet. He turned around... his wagon was destroyed and if the sudden attack didn't scare off the ants that had pulled it then the crash certainly did. Well, he was headed to Schittle anyway on business. Whether the crash would hither him or make things more interesting had yet to be seen. Stretching his legs, M'Kama glanced one more time at the trio of would be murderers now groaning in pain upon the sands. They'd be fine. Probably.

Here they will rise, long forgotten, but not dead. Sa. Ka. Ti. Ri.

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Guardian: Before the Oblivion War, the title had meant nothing to the natives and assorted colonists of the Rock. But Mohan's death had changed all that. For better or worse, near everyone had heard the tale of how local hero Mohan had been slaughtered in cold blood by the Guardian's leader, Tera Roth.

No one had expected the Guardians to return. No one had believed they would dare, after what they had done. But after Oblivion's defeat, a small contingent of the hated organization had been dispatched to the Rock. The Rockians were at first shocked, then furious. They had protested the murderous group's arrival and presence, even formed mobs to drive them from their world.

Yet despite the overwhelming opposition, the Guardians had remained, quietly working out of the spotlight to make the Rock a better place.

***

Otis' adventure began with an escape and a tragedy.

"Ain't no rest for the wicked," Otis sang to himself, low under his breath as he entered the organized decay that was the local market of the gathering of huts known as Muddstix. "Ain't no sleep for the damned..."

Bobbing his head in time to the music that was playing through his Pocketman spinoff product, the Musicman, Otis snapped his fingers and picked up a particularly plump fruit known as a capritot, a yellow and hard root that grew in surprisingly perfect spheres. He grinned. Fruit & vegetables were hard to come by on the Rock, and though expensive, he was happy to pay for anything that even resembled the lost food group of the desert world.

"I'll take a dozen of these," he said to the shop owner, who glared at him angrily and charged him double. Otis courteously pretended not to notice the obvious artifice, and handed over the money in exchange for a small bag of the vegetables. Otis waved to the man, who simply raised his middle finger in return, and Otis cheerfully moved on to the next stand.

"Oh, are these fresh?" Otis asked, pointing at a group of Great Gorga lizard eggs, which were roughly the size of a softball and a pale brown in coloration.

"Screw you," the shopkeeper spat, hitting Otis in the chest. Otis absent-mindedly wiped the spittle away and grinned again.

"I'll take three," Otis said, flashing his hard-earned cash in the shop owner's face, who angrily grabbed the money and threw the eggs at his unfortunate customer. Thankfully, Otis was used to this preferential treatment and caught the eggs skillfully, juggling them into the bags with a gentle flourish. Waving again, Otis skipped forward, snapping his fingers in time to the beat of the song.

"Friends of the desert, friends of mine, tell me why you cannot sleep," Otis sang again, sliding around a group of market scavengers shouting at the store owner for more lice mice meat. "Something something girls never come cheap, wait, no that's not right." Otis paused, trying to listen to the song as the shouting increased in volume. Shrugging, Otis continued on, wondering if there would be any terror bird jerky to be found here.

"Hey you!" an ugly cry came from behind, and Otis turned to find the group he had just passed facing him, murder in their faces. "You're one of those Guardians, ain't ya?"

"I mean, yes," Otis said, politely. "Just... trying to buy some groceries."

"He's stealing our food! You know what that means boys?" the leader of the group shouted, followed by various suggestions on what exactly that meant, none of which were very nice and only one of which involved Otis keeping his food.

Otis sighed. It was, with some concern on the frequency, time to run for his life again.

Luckily, Otis was quite used to this, so as he sprinted from the furious mob, he felt good about his chances of escape. Firstly, he was quite fast, and running in sand was no problem for him. There was often not much to do on the Rock, and Girthfield, his superior, had often had Otis out on the sands, doing sprints or long distance runs across the dunes, rocks, and sand patches that made up the desert around Schittle, their main base of operations.

Schittle hadn't been their first choice as a main base, but it was the calmest that they had found, at least according to Galneryus, the third and final Guardian stationed on the Rock. Galneryus had been here the longest, sent with the first wave of Guardians, and here he had remained, much to his distaste as Otis had discovered.

Otis quickly got ahead of the group, sliding around a corner and kicking off one of the mud huts to launch himself up to the rooftops. His second advantage was his acrobatic abilities, something which had often earned him the title of "monkey" or "spider" or "spider monkey" (the last of which he had always imagined as a monkey with eight limbs, which he was sure would be equally terrifying and disturbing). Otis excelled at rock climbing and parkour, a talent which only perhaps the desert nomads could match. Surely, the Skylanders who inhabited this town couldn't.

Finally, Otis thought with a smile as he reached the outskirts of Muddstix after only a few moments of rooftop running, was his dirtbike, which he'd nicknamed Shyla. His dirtbike was his most prized possession, even more so than his Pocketman collection. There was just something so very freeing about getting out on the sands with something that felt like it belonged there, and Shyla, a creation he had built himself for this very assignment, definitely belonged on the sands.

Otis landed near the disguised bike, which he had rode to Muddstix from Schittle, and banished the illusion he had created from the air with his Phoenix magic. Shyla wasn't something he believed anyone would really steal, just... tear apart and use the bits for scraps. His wind magic allowed him to disguise objects that were standing still however, and silence anything he was nearby, which luckily included the powerful engine inside Shyla.

Slipping a pair of goggles over his face, Otis carefully stashed the fruit and eggs inside a compartment under the seat, then settled in and kicked the engine to life. With a satisfied smile, Otis drove off over the sands, back to the Guardian base. Shyla hugged the sands like a champion, and Otis let out a carefree laugh as he launched over a small rock outcrop.

That's when the ship descended above his head with a massive wave of heat and sound, sending him careening out of control. With a huge boom, the ship rammed itself into the ground, and Otis picked himself up, staring in consternation at the resulting fires that lit the horizon past Schittle.

"That's... not good," Otis muttered to himself, brushing himself off and looking at Shyla, which now lay in a twisted pile. "That's... also not good."

"There he is men, get that guy!" the gang shouted from behind him, and Otis blanched, having hoped the angry mob would have lost interest by now. Apparently, he had been wrong.

"This isn't great!" Otis yelled, taking off at top speed towards Schittle. "Shyla, I'm sorry! I'll never forget you!"

"Shyla?" the gang leader shouted. "Did you hear that? There's a female nearby! Spread out men, find her! Forget the Guardian!"

"Well, that's actually... better," Otis mused to himself as he ran. "That actually worked out okay." Chuckling to himself, Otis kept running, wondering what Girthfield would say about the crash landing he had just witnessed.

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"Go back to Sor!"

"Ye' friends come for us, eh?"

The yells were met with silence. There was a bang, windows shattering, followed by a monstrous shake, almost everything flying off the desks. And of course, the shake was followed by screams. Girthfield exited the Guardian office, his spectacles and an unfinished letter in hand as he emerged onto Schittle's main road. Dust flew into his face as he saw the source of the bang. There were heads crammed all the way to the town wall, some directing their rage at him, but the rest simply onlooking. Beyond the wall that sky had darkneed, a mountain of fire shooting up like a needle in the centre of the horizon. That was a burning ship core. Industrial grade. Like something from out of the war.

And for a moment he was somewhere else.

"Time for the bombs like you did ta' Longbao?"

"Pardon!" Girthfield said, snapping out of his trance and grabbing hold of his sword hilt. His spectacles and letter were dropped as he began to move through the crowd. Behind him the paper flew off in the wind, one of the men harassing him picking up his spectacles and glaring at them. Girthfield elbowed through a family, then a few bar patrons who had come out to look as he continued up the packed mainstreet. He cursed under his breath. Otis and Galneryus were out. And why shouldn't they be, he thought. It was a quiet day, they hadn't had bandits for weeks.

"The end of the world!"

Girthfield gritted his teeth as the fire went out, like a sudden end to a chorus of drums. The sunlight began to peak through the black smoke. The engine had failed, somehow. Perhaps overrun by fluid. Through the crowd he continued, his pace speeding up as the dunes beyond the town wall came into view. His touch grew a tad more aggressive as he nearly broke free from the crowd and readied himself for a full sprint toward Schittle's open gated entranceway.

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They followed the tracks that bordered the Narrows from the Bright, the usual scouting route of the north-west, all four of them atop of ants - huge black and red beasts that were native to the Rock – scuttling across the sand and kicking up clouds of dust while four pairs of squinting eyes scanned the horizon. None of them were particularly enthused to be on scouting duty today. Gusts of harsh wind blew grit into their mouths and the sun made a torrid, inescapable heat, both of which were unpleasant on the best of days. Three of them were hungover and looking awfully grim under their wide brimmed hats. Khada, on the other hand, didn't drink the 'garbage' they brewed in Cobran but was always grim. The old woman had gaze that would make a man wet himself and a weathered face from years of living on the Rock. Eren rode beside her, a large burly man with an even larger beard and a single arm that gripped the reins of his straining ant. Lagging behind them was Bones, who never shut up and slacked off constantly, but he was good for a laugh and deadly with a rifle. Last of all was Seru, younger than them all by at least a decade and the only non-Phoenix in their party. She chewed on Kajo tobac, trying to mask the taste of stale beer at the back of her throat and cursing Bones for convincing her to join them last night.

The scouting party of four passed a single sandstone ruin which probably belonged to a house from a village long gone. Sweat and dirt stuck to their skins and they focused on staying on their ants instead of sparking conversation. It was a while before anyone said anything, but of course Bones started humming a merry tune which Eren couldn't resist, and it wasn't long before the two of them were singing the lyrics to an age-old classic:

“Sweet Hor-e-nor with 'er whores galore,
Spend money on wine and ta hav' a good time,
Go empty ya load in their humble abode,
Sweet Hor-e-nor, Sweet Hor-e-nor,”


Even Khada corrected them on one of the verses which was the most participation they were ever likely to get from her. Seru simply smirked and spat out the tobac she was chewing, feeling too sorry for herself to join in. It was too fucking hot and bright and she wanted more than anything to get back home to Cobran and sleep her hangover away. She made a lazy attempt to peer at the dunes in the distance but eventually her mind wondered off and she began thinking about how miserable she felt and how she would kill for a good juice. Which is why it came as a surprise to her when she noticed something dropping from the sky off in the distance.

At first Seru thought it was a starship descending into one of the towns up in the north, but the more she looked at it the more she realized how quickly it was falling and how big it actually was. She looked over to the others where Khada was scolding them about chanting so loud the Naraat could hear them, “Oi, are you seeing that?”

The three of them spared her a glance and then their eyes followed to where she was pointing. “Look like a ship, donnit?” Bones shrugged, leaning back in his saddle.

“Dreamin' of better places, Roo?” Eren laughed. Khada was still glaring at the UFO in the distance.

“Ya it's a ship, but it's not alive, right?” Seru looked to the old woman for support, “Like it's falling too fast.”

As if on cue the ship landed far, far away, but even from there they could see the cloud of sand and smoke that went up into the sky from the crash. The four of them gave each other wary glances. Eren's tone was serious, “We should go see, hm? Before the fucks up north get to it.”

“Yes. It looks like it landed near Schittle.” Khada nodded. Bones seemed hesitant, “Nah, let's go back and tell Cobran. Not worth goin' to see without some backup.”

Seru bit her lip. She seemed hesitant as well, “It was big. Like very big. I dunno if it's a good idea to go to Schittle right now...”

“C'mon it wont take long. We'll just getta quick peak and see if it's worth our time,” Eren suggested, “If we go back now we might not later, yeah?”

“We should tell Tamil,” Bones frowned. None of them were sure if this was coming from a place of genuine concern or if he was just being lazy again. At the mention of Cobran's Commander however, Seru had made up her mind.

“Neh, ya right, let's go,” she grinned at Eren and Khada, ignoring Bones' protests, “It'll only be a peak.”

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A figure obscured to only silhouette in the dust- standing firmly in a fighting stance, blade drawn in a longpoint guard. With a breath the figure took a step forward, and then another. Careful footing on the shifting dune. It was like the thickest fog, but a fog of debris and sand. One foot after another, Girthfield continued, down the side of the dune. Black smoke obscured the view before him. Suddenly, a another silhouette shifted into view- hooded, facing away from Girthfield. Surprise was on his side.

Girthfield let out a sharp inhale before rushing, with his forearm pinning the figure to the ground and aiming his blade down. The tattooed face of a nomad stared back up at him. "Will you kill me?" Moth-From-Darkness stuttered.

Girthfield stared down at the woman. "Do I have to?" he asked. After a moment he released his pin and rose. "No."

Girthfield continued up the dude, leaving the woman behind. Specks of sky cut through the smoke. Over the other side would be the crashed ship. Ships didn't crash on the Rock because ships didn't fly to the Rock. Not big ones. Not industrial core ones.

As Girthfield approached the summit voices could be heard from below. And crying.

"Watcha' doin down there?" A voice. Sorillian?

"Please, please, help me." An Ulfirian voice. Thick accent.

"Yes, yes, I'll help ya."

Girthfield lay prone at the top of the dune, looking down at the clearing scene below him. He could see the outline of the broken ship, now leaking across the sand and forming a small pool. There were figures, but their faces remained obscured by the smoke.

"You're all wet," the Sorillian voice creaked with a laugh.

Crying. "I'm not!"

"You're all wet. From a ship, are ya? Oh dear, oh dear,"
the Sorillian's voice echoed as the crying continued. "So much whining."

"They're dead. They're all dead..."

The smoke subsided and through squinted eyes Girthfield could spot the figures. Beside the ship, covered in ash and blood, a Matranical pilot. Girthfield bit his lip. Approaching her was another woman, wearing the raggedy garments of a smith. The smith took a knee beside the pilot and cradled her head. "Ooh... there, there... no more complainin'." The pilot weeped. "Come now... you shouldn't be out here all wet. Come on... there, there."

Girthfield watched as the smith rocked the crying pilot. From behind her two black-adorned people exited the ship, a large ash covered crate between them. "There's more, these are just cannon balls," the one at the front of the crate called to the smith, but there was no reply. Instead the smith continued to rock the pilot in her arms. The two figures glanced at each other before placing the crate in the sand and reentering the ruined ship for another.

Girthfield blinked at the scene. His grip on his hilt had weigned from soft to tight as he watched, considering what was the best moment to intervene. Scavengers, of course, had gotten to the ship first. But a Matranical vessel- what was it doing here? Unless preparing an invasion? As the scene continued below Girthfield decided it was enough. He stood and began to descend the dune. This was about to become a Guardian matter.

"Hands in the air!" Girthfield called across the sand to the wreckage. "Hands in the air, all of you!" The smith ignored him, continuing to cradle the woman. Girthfield continued his approach. "Hands in the-"

Gunshots rang out, so loud he wasn't sure if he had even spoken the word air or if he had stopped in shock. "Shit," The Guardian murmured, turning to see a parade of ants begin to rush down the side of an opposite dune, gunslingers smacking their feet into the side of the red beasts. Girthfield looked back in the direction of the pilot and the smith, both of whom had vanished.

"Shit," Girthfield repeated as the gunshots rang out, hitting the sand near him. He made a run, leaping for cover behind the nearest part of the destroyed vessel. A large chunk of the front-most ram. Girthfield sheathed his sword as he put his back against the metal. Instead he loaded his pistol, expecting a shootout over the leaking remains of a ship.

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Follow the river. You're almost there. You're almost there. You're almost there.

Come on. We'll go together.


Raw skin peeled and bled even underneath the cloth. Those rough hands bound in makeshift gauze tugged at the rope with less gusto than before, slower and slower through waves of endless sand. Left. Right. Left. Right. The sun blinked out as the shades of the dunes cast themselves upon the girl, towering over her. For a second she thought to rest, but wisely decided against it. If she never woke up, then there would be no one around to carry her, after all.

Better go the long way around.

She flexed her fingers experimentally, finding that they've gone stiff from tugging the rope for so long. Might be trouble later, but it wasn't like she was in any shape to deal with something more complicated than walking either way. Picking it up again, she gradually started her way around the desert waveforms and continued hauling the box behind her for, hopefully, the last stretch until nightfall.

Wiping the sweat from her brow, her vision finally settled on a town of sorts. That, and a pillar of smoke rising on its outskirts.
A fire? At this time of day? And a big one, too. . .

Some big shot phoenix blew a gasket, was her guess.
If I can't get a good night's sleep today, I am going to fucking kill somebody.

With that in mind, Frey trudged onwards and towed her luggage behind as slowly as ever. She blinked away some stray tears.
Damn, is this heavy.

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The smell of burnt metal filled the air as sirens deafened all who could hear. Red light filled the narrow corridors of the fatally wounded shuttle craft as the heat of reentry began to seep through the holes left by enemy fire. bodies littered the way as she pushed herself forward toward the cockpit. Blood dripped down the walls, and pooled at her feet, rising quickly, threatening to drown the sole survivor of the unwarranted attack. They’d just been trying to go home, to put the war behind them. She was young, alone. The blood filled the corridor and she could feel he weight of thick liquid crushing her as the ship plummeted through the atmosphere of the desolate, lawless planet that was The Rock.

She awoke with a start, cold sweat coating her naked body and sheets. She struggled to regain her breath as she looked around wildly, trying to make sense of everything around her. Slowly the memories returned and the uneasiness of the nightmare faded. 12 years had passed since she’d crashed on The Rock, 12 years she’d been enslaved to a band of former military hotshots that felt peace was a waste of time. A company of outlaws, pieced together of former platoon mates, and enemies. All working side by side for a better life. When you grow up feeling disposable, you begin to dispose those that see you only for your disposable nature. These men and women wanted more from life and thus created their nomadic monarchy on the one world no one would care to look for them on.

It was here that Syra had found her fate. Rescued, or so she thought, from the wreckage of the ship she’d served on, she now served the King of these soldiers. One of his many wives, and called little more than a Thrall by everyone else.

She pulled the sheets over herself and noticed that the other women ho shared her fate still slept. Their mighty king snoring loudly, his arms around two older women he’d chosen to spend the night with, neither of them his property, but rather a former member of Oblivion’s army, and the other a former member of Seed. “The three warring factions sharing a moment of peace!” He’d called out during his night of pleasure. It all made her sick to her stomach.

There was no escape from this, her life had been stripped away by the same people who’d relentlessly killed her friends and shot their ship from the sky for no other reason than sport. There was no honor among these forgotten soldiers, and their was no sense of caring or duty to anyone but their own. New members would arrive daily, bringing with them stolen ships and goods entrusted to them by the governments they’d allegedly served.

With a deep breath, she pushed the nightmare from her mind and quickly dressed herself in the simple linen dress she’d been given once her real clothes had been taken and burned. Torture was nothing for these people and she’d learned a long time ago that it was easier to go along with their king’s wishes than to try and fight.

Though it was early, the camp was already bustling with activity. Livestock was being tended to by other Thralls and those who enjoyed freedom sat around swapping stories of their adventures, or working on the various ships and vehicles that belonged to them.

“You have permission to be wandering around, Syra?” A woman called out harshly.

Syra turned, tucking her hair behind her ear, “No, however, King Theory has always allowed me to watch the sunrise whenever I chose, ma’am.”

“Psh, sunrise? If you have free time, you’ll be helping me this morning. I need these barracks cleaned from top to bottom, and the needs of everyone who wishes them to be, met. Now.”

Before she could protest, two bigger men, each wilding their weapons took up positions on either side of Syra. “Y-yes, ma’am…” She sighed. From one nightmare, to another. She was quickly stripped of her clothing and felt the dagger like stares of all who occupied the barracks. They’ simply sit and watch her clean until they felt the urge to take her in front of any and all who would watch. Though she was the King’s, what was his belonged to the people he reigned over.

The sun was setting when she closed the door of the barracks behind her. fresh bruises covered nearly every inch of her body, and she ached all over. Tears stung her eyes, but she brushed them away before anyone could see. Other Thralls offered to escort her back to the King’s tent, but she shook her head and made her way there alone.

She laid down on the dusty floor and pulled her blanket around her now shivering body before crying herself to sleep, only to be woken up a few hours later by other women in the King’s harem. Something was going on outside, and it had the soldiers excited.

“My fellow soldiers!” King Theory began, “For too long we have served men and women who never gave a damn about us!” Cheers erupted from his subjects as he continued. “for 12 years we have lived a good life away from those who’d seek to use us!” The irony of his statement wasn’t lost on Syra. “Now, it is time we become the masters of this world! The Rock shall be ours! We will begin concurring this forsaken world, and build a true haven for all those who seek to escape the pointless wars created by those too afraid to fight themselves! We will do what no other army could, conquer The Rock!” The crowed exploded, cheering, clapping, chanting. Syra simply shook her head and returned to her bed. She fell asleep praying that every last soldier in the King’s camp would die trying to fight in his pointless war.

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The chanting continued outside the tent, Syra once again trying to sleep. Soon the chants would turn to rummaging, marching- the sound of shields being handed out and orders being barked across the camp. Something was happening.

She was awoken by blinding sunlight, the flaps of her tent burst open by Muskrat the Molerat, the hilarious camp person. "Syra! Wake up ya' stupid thrall!" The tiny man exclaimed, smashing a sandalled foot into the woman. Muskrat glared down at her cross-eyed. "Come on, 'den, wake up! Wake up!" He barked in a thick Sorillian trudge of an accent. "We caught sometin' on the old legionnaire radio. A distress signal. A ship sayin' it was in da' Rock's atmosphere. Sometin' 'bout a mutiny, Captain barricaded 'imself off and all 'dat. Don't sound good. Fer 'im at least. Fer us sound like a potential payday of weapons."

Muskrak ripped the blanket off her, hobbling toward the tent entrance with the fabric in hand. "The Prince is takin' 'da rough riders 'ta Schittle, thats where they said they were flyin' over, cross' the river. Twenty hours nonstop ridin'," Muskrat glared back at her. "You're comin with. Now."

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M'kama watched the distance skirmish begin to unfold from above. He stood on the rooftops of the doctor's office in Schittle, which thankfully hadn't received too much damage from the crashing ship aside from it's now shattered windows. From it he had a view over the wall, into the desert. Raiding parties had arrived as soon as the dust settled. Foolish scavengers desperate to collect something before they even had a clue as to what it was. And thus cause needless death.

M'kama drew out three cards from his pouch at random. "Needless death will occur. With no time to give the bodies a proper burial. At least most will have their weapons in hand..." he noted idly as he examined one card with interest. "But one such death will be a catalyst..." he sighed, placing the cards back in their pouch. "Maybe there's a point to this after all..." he wondered aloud, sitting down on the rooftop and drawing out a wine filled canteen to drink from.

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It was about five miles from Muddstix to Schittle: a distance long enough to consider Muddstix its own village, but close enough that no one bothered putting Muddstix on any map next to the larger and more popular Schittle. The two weren't exactly rivals, but Otis had always thought it to be somewhat of a sore spot for the residents of Muddstix. The two villages had been organized at roughly the same time: Schittle around a deep and rich well, and Muddstix around a puddle that never dried up.

Then again, Otis thought, maybe that was the answer. On one hand, you had people who built around a well, and on the other hand, people who built around a puddle. Even on the Rock, you had the people who were willing to try harder to get their resources, and the people who were lazy enough to ask the desert itself to squirt water in their faces.

None of this was important. But Otis needed something to distract himself from the run. Five miles over sand was no picnic, even for Otis, so by the time he arrived at Schittle, he was a bit short of breath. Not allowing himself to take a break, however, Otis reached the small hut that served as the Guardian headquarters.

"Girthfield, sir! That ship..." Otis called out as he entered, before realizing that Girthfield was not in the hut. Looking around, Otis could see some papers on the desk, several which had fallen to the floor. His superior must have heard the ship crash, and gone to investigate.

Sighing, Otis turned and headed out the door. More running, Otis thought. Just what he needed. The ship hadn't crashed very far from town, but the fire had stopped burning a while ago. Something had put it out, perhaps an emergency response system, though even as Otis considered this, he doubted the technology would be available.

Jogging through town, Otis checked his equipment half-mindedly, making sure his pistol was loaded, and his sword was still within easy reach. It wouldn't be long before scavengers overtook the ship, if they weren't there already. Otis was sure Girthfield would be careful, but...

Gunshots rang through the air from the ship, and Otis' eyes tightened, and his jog turned into another headlong sprint as Otis got his second wind. Time to be a Guardian.

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"Work, you piece of stupid majestic crap of shit," Horik spat as she slammed her fist onto the maroon hood. She yelped in pain and jerked her hand back only to slam it again, this time making sure her first didn't linger. Shaking the singed hand, Horik sighed loudly and looked up at the blue of the sky. It was cloudless and the full force of the heat bore upon her face, the goggles no longer providing that little hint of shade masked as shadows. The pain lessened and Horik rubbed her eyes.

It was going to be a long day.

She sighed again and her yellow eyes trailed over the cobbled together ramshackle sorry excuse of a ship before her. The different parts that made it up were distinct in that they didn't look anything at all like the pieces they were connected to. The welds were messy and dents were caused by both her and the wreckage she had salvaged the piece from. It was shaped like a canoe someone made out of play-doh and then realized they had wanted it wider. They would have gone to get more play-doh but there was no more so they had to stretch it out so thin they had to pinch some of it together so the holes would close back up. Seeing no rips, they would stick a shitty sail and an engine made from legos.

That was Horik's ship.

Except Horik's ship had a flag attached on top of that bulky engine. It was a rust colored red piece of cloth with a poorly constructed meteor shower sewn into it using tinier scraps of cloth. It was this that Horik took in her hands as she wondered what part to abuse next in hopes of getting it to work.

"Just, just rockin'," she muttered to herself as she let go of her flag and went to work again. The ship clunked and groaned in protest. The sun beat down on her immobile form. Dread built in her chest.

Then, the engine roared and coughed and tried a guttural growl for good measure. Horik opened her mouth, no doubt to congratulate herself, before a loud explosion followed.

Ducking for cover, Horik could feel the burning heat of the sand but could feel no scorching heat on her back. Well, at least no the usual kind. When she was sure her limbs were intact, she looked back and glanced at her ship. It was intact and barely holding itself together as always. When Horik looked in the other direction however, she could see smoke and fire and the glint of steel.

A wreck.

No, a shipwreck.

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"You're in the trouble now son," Deputy Tackel of Schittle said as he spat grit and gristle and probably a loose tooth out to one side. "You done picked the wrong town to crime spree in, you hear?"

The scum in front of him was some dward teen, Tackel reckoned. Just beginning to grow those horrendous whiskers, their eyes just gaining the glossy dull look all the adults had. Tackel spat again. He hated dwards.

"I hate dwards!" Tackel sneered. "And I hate 'em even more when they real crimers, see. Me and the Sheriff... we don't take kindly to crimers. And you're a crimer, plain and simple."

"Sir I please, do not kill me," the dward in front of him cowered as Tackel leaned over the miscreant. "I just want to help family. They are very sick, see, and need food!"

"You brought your filthy family into my town!" Tackel slammed his fist into the dward's rocky head in pure outrage. "Are you tryin' to kill us all, you stupid dward? Get outta here, get outta here!"

The dward fled in tears, and Tackel snorted in satisfaction. Job accomplished. Time to report to the Sheriff. But as Tackel turned, he saw something he'd never seen before. A huge metallic meteor hurtled through the sky and exploded into the ground. The fires burned upwards brightly, and Tackel could hear the screams and sobs of his townspeople around him.

"S-Sheriff!" Deputy Tackel yelled, picking himself up off his bottom, which he had fallen onto in shock. "Sheriff, we done got a problem! SHERIFF!" Still yelling, Tackel ran towards the sheriff's office building, his bone-white hat held in one hand and his pistol in the other.

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  1. poo

    1 week 3 days ago by Anonymous

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Frey was coming in. People were coming out. The crowds dispersed haphazardly as they funneled out of the gate, bodies shouldering past one another into the open dunes to see what all the commotion was. Not that it mattered to her. She needed something to eat, something to drink, and somewhere to rest. Pulling her baggage up into the wall, she sat down under the shade for a moment of rest. It was a wooden box, a bit longer than it was tall. An airtight box, no less - a strip of metal was fastened around the length of the lid with no visible way to remove it. This was no accident. This was only something that she, or another Naraat phoenix - could pry open. Though, wood is wood. It wouldn't take much to just break the damn thing.

But right now, the more pressing concern was money; she was flat broke. It might be possible to make something back if she pawned off some of her junk, but survival wasn't just food and water - a single knife can be all that stands between you and death out in the wild. Stealing and banditry were always on the table, but the problem was. . .

Frey scowled as she looked down at her box. She couldn't just let this thing sit around unattended or some dumbass is gonna make off with it. Where the hell am I gonna put this thing? Leaning out from behind the wall, she squinted for a cursory look around the streets. The answer came sooner than expected, in the form of stacked hay.

The stable it is.

***

"I'm the sheriff, I'm the sheriff, I'm the sheriff," sang a man who was definitely not the sheriff. With spurred boots propped up on the desk he sat in the sheriff's chair, with the sheriff's hat, spinning the sheriff's gun. Closing one eye, he cocked the hammer back and pointed it at the empty doorway.

"Ooh-oh-oh, I'm the sheriff-"

"SHERIFF!" cried a familiar voice as a man burst through the doors.

"Oh, fuck-!" Deputy Bayte's finger slipped and the gun went POP as he flailed chaotically out of his chair and crashed into the hardwood floor. There was a moment of silence as his hand slowly reached up, trembling, before gripping the edge of the desk and pulling himself halfway up to meet face to face with his ol' partner, Tackel. "What in the goddamn. . ."

Taking a moment to fix his skewed ten gallon hat, his head quickly swiveled around to make sure no one else was witness to his tomfoolery. Thankfully, there was only a hole in the door, instead of his buddy.

"T-man! What's the big idea? The sheriff's out right now, he's in the can!" Bayte said as he hurriedly lifted the chair back to its original position and put both the gun and hat back. "I was just, uh, watching his post in the meantime," he continued, attempting to stealthily grab some of the marijuana he left on the counter and stuffing it messily into his pocket.

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Bullets smashed into the metal hull Girthfield hid behind, a few whizzing passed, off-aim, and plopping into the dune. Sand shot into the air on impact. Girthfield reloaded, his bullets and gunpowder packet falling into his lap as he prepared his weapon. Kugels in, blackpowder set. Weapon loaded. The pistol made a solid click as it snapped shut. Six shots.

Girthfield waited, doing quick math in his head. They had enough men to rotate their gunfire from the ants he'd seen. If they were smart they wouldn't give him a chance to retaliate. A bullet whizzed past, and then there was a pause, some yelling heard in place of gunfire. They weren't smart.

In a swift motion Girthfield twirled out of cover into a shooting stance. With a bang gunpowder smoke erupting into the air, his shot hitting one of the scavengers in the arm and flying them backwards. Through the smoke Girthfield charged, smashing into another with the hilt of his blade. He glanced up. There was a third scavenger, running toward a shotgun hanging off her ant's saddle. Girthfield glared at her before spotting a figure behind the ant and the wreckage: Otis, making his way down the dune. "Otis!" Girthfield called, ducking behind cover again. "Take her out!"

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Syra was woken rudely by an old soldier, Muskrat. Through the grogginess, she felt as she was pulled to her feet, and dragged from the tent. Something about a crashing ship. Crashed ships always lead either more soldiers or more Thralls. More often than not, thralls were all they'd collect. It never ceased to amaze her how easily people gave up their freedom in exchange for their lives. While she was one of those people, she never once thanked her captors the way most of the thralls did.

Before she could protest, she was placed on the back of an Ant, her hands bound together and attached to the belt of the former knight she rode behind. Why she was going, was anyone's guess. But as they rode, and the cool night air swept the dust up around them, she saw the ship break through the atmosphere. A ball of fire as it streaked across the sky.

"There's our prize!" A woman in crimson and black armor called from the back of the group, "Now let's make sure none of these crazy locals get to it first!" She shouted, causing the other members of the excursion to ride faster, pushing their mounts to their limits.

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"No time to wait, Deputy Bayte!" Tackel exclaimed, either not comprehending or not noticing Bayte's attempted murder. "A ship fell from the sky, a big one! Didn't ya hear the explosion?"

Tackel closed the door behind him, adjusting his Plains hat back onto his short-cropped hair, and brushed the remaining marijuana off to the side of the desk.

"We gotta get there and a... asset, abscess, uh, recess the situation!" Tackel told his partner, struggling to find the right word in his limited vocabulary. "We'll finally getta show the Sheriff what we're made of!"

***

Otis heard more than saw the gunfight between Girthfield and the scavengers as he crested the dune at top speed, skidding down the side in more of a controlled slide than a run. But as he slid, he could see six of them, one down from a gunshot, the other on the ground from Girthfield's hit.

"Otis, take her out!" Girthfield called, having seen his young companion. Otis' eyes narrowed as he came to a stop, and raised his hand, pointing his finger like a gun towards the woman Girthfield at mentioned.

"Bang," Otis muttered. A sharp crack was heard as a blast of sound slammed into the woman's left ear, sending her sprawling with a shriek. Otis quickly spun, aiming carefully as he let loose three more "bangs", each cracking into a bandit's ear, sending them to the ground clutching their newly ruined eardrums.

Otis quickly ran to Girthfield, nodding to his elder with unfeigned cheerfulness. "Looks like I made it just in time," Otis smiled. "Not hurt are you?"

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"Not my day yet, it would seem," Girthfield said. He nodded at Otis before turning toward the ruins of the ship. "But we're not done here yet."

They weren't. Only three scavengers lay incapacitated next to the ruined ship, and fourteen ants stood among them. Longs were ropes tied to their saddles.

Girthfield lifted one of the ropes, three strands, hand-woven. Strong and tied with a sailor's knot. He followed it toward the growing pond of steam water at the ripped open hull of the ship. The vessel was massive. Even bent and deformed it towered over him almost four storeys. It was, at one point, a long-vessel, before being twisted and blackened beyond recognition. A narrow bow, where the command deck of the ship was located, opposite a wide stern, now cracked open like an egg.

Girthfield held onto the rope. "Into the breach," he said, turning to his apprentice with a smile. Otis grabbed hold of the rope and trailed Girthfield. In unison the two men followed the rope into the pitch black opening of the hull. And the darkness consumed them. It felt as though they had entered a cave of metal.

Each step they took they could hear metal bend beneath them, rushing water washing their ankles as they moved through the dark. Suddenly, a hit- metal bar, hanging low enough to club both Otis & Girthfield in the head. "Shit," Girthfield swore. In the darkness he felt out his pocket matchbox. "Light... let's have... some... light."

The flame flickered to reveal a body standing before them, screaming- though now mummified in fire and ash. They stood in what was once a mess hall. The walls were twisted and scorched. Across the room there were more bodies. Some had melted into tables, some into the walls, others had collapsed in on themselves and had begun to flush away with the stream of engine water.

Girthfield swallowed at the sight. "No one in the stern of this ship survived the blast," He concluded after a moment, looking over the hall of death. "I count... twenty-three corpses."

"Alrighty, come on now! Before we drown..."

"Dadgum!"

Voices echoed. The rope Girthfield and Otis held was tugged suddenly. From the fire light they could see it and the other ropes trailed through a burnt doorway, deeper into the ship.

"If we tied it around this right here we can drag 'em out."

"Blow a wall maybe? I don't hear them gunshots no more, bet Larl and the others secured the area."


The voices grew louder. Lantern glow came into view as the two guardians further followed the ropes. Around a corner they went before stopping and taking in the sight. Before them a reinforced chamber stretched, reaching up to the full four-storeys of the hull. Crates once neatly stacked now lay shattered on the ground of the enclosure, food and fine goods scattered and broken. Among the debris a few dead crew-members lay. Unburnt, like everything else in the chamber, and instead bloodied by impact. They were wearing black Matranical uniforms.

But the ruined goods were not the purpose of this chamber. They were set dressing. The centrepiece was the towering machinery stretching forty-feet above them, nearly to the top of the chamber. A huge base, black bolts securing heavy metal. Treaded wheels of iron, ladders haphazardly leading up to a loading platform, an aiming chamber, and it's own engine, protected by an overhead shield twice the size of a man, all beneath a twenty-foot barrel. It must have weighed over thirty tons. And, without a doubt, it was the largest gun Otis or Girthfield had ever seen. It was also what the scavengers had discovered, the remaining dozen in sight, tying their ropes around every corner of it they could find... no doubt hoping their combined ant-power was enough to drag the machine out. Somehow, Girthfield doubted it would be. It was a giant. A single bullet must be able to blow a man's body off from the feet up. It was a mortar to end all mortars. A fury of industry. The artillery to end a cruiser from miles away. It was... it was.

"The sceptre..." Palavan spoke weakly.

"Otis, one of them lives," Girthfield said as they watched. A uniformed woman lay bleeding at the base of the artillery, her body amongst the smashed goods.

"Someone shut 'er up!" A bucked tooth scavenger yelled as she furiously tried to tie her rope around a wheel of the gun.

"Eh, maybe we should ask her what it is," One said from beneath a sand-covered bandana.

"Maybe we should shoot her and get rid of the whining."

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"I have an idea, sir," Otis said, eyeing the room and noting that several hallways connected in to the chamber, including several walkways that crossed near the back. "Can you get around to the other side without being noticed, while I climb up to one of those walkways?"

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Girthfield nodded, crouching and beginning to move through the damaged crates of the chamber.

"Now I tell ya," One of the scavengers began as he walked along the artillery's walkway, a hand gliding over the metal. "This is worth our weight in gold, boys. Know how much those warlords will pay?"

"Dirteater, how the hell we even gonna move this thing to sell it?" Another asked, double knotting the rope around a wheel tread. "I say we should just take it apart and sell it for parts."

Dirteater glanced down at the man. "Ain't nothin' like this on the Rock. You ever see a gun like this? Nah," Dirteater turned to the weapon, touching it again. "We take it apart... it just becomes another piece of trash, like everythin' else in this place." Dirteater smiled, his black teeth appearing beneath his thin mustache. "Nah... for the first time... we got the treasure."

Girthfield had managed to navigate to the other side of the chamber, the artillery reigning over him. From the corner of his eye he could see the Matran crew member- shot, most likely by the scavengers. No sign of the woman she had been with earlier, the smith...

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It didn't take long for the news to reach her ears. From the dunes, Frey gazed down at the smoking wreck in stunned silence. Though she'd never seen one in person before, she knew that was a goddamn space ship. It may be all busted to shit, but. . .

Frey walked calmly down the sandy slope, keeping her eyes peeled for scavengers as she headed to the smoldering wreckage. Metal is metal, after all.

Her gaze scaled the titan of a vessel, black streams of smoke billowing from its many wounds. She had known that they were big, but reality always had a way of exceeding her expectations. Frey planted a gloved hand against the outer hull. As though opening her eyes a second time, her senses reverberated throughout the entire chassis of the vessel like a series of bounding waves, sending signals and vibrations that translated into footsteps, the echo of voices absorbing into the walls. . .

Let's see how much I can fuck them up.

Frey slammed her other hand into the wall and heaved her entire weight as though she were motioning to shove it forward. Instead, the orifices of the ship began to slowly close up - entryways fused together into walls, ruptures closed in on themselves - the chimneys of smoke all but fizzled out, and the Meritocrat's presence vanished in the sea of sand.

That smoke was going to kill all those scavengers soon enough.

Idiots.

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"What's your vendetta against them?" M'Kama suddenly asked Frey, as he stood next to her. He glanced at the scavenger's assailant. A child. With no qualms about delivering unto others a most painful death. He drew out three cards from his pack. The first depicted a splattering of blood. The second depicted two dueling sword masters. The third depicted a field of mist.

Ominous.

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The ants began scavengers ants began to aggressively twitch beside M'kama and Frey, their ropes now leading into the smoldered scrunched up metal wall Frey had made of the opening. Their masters were trapped within.

***

From inside the scavengers began to notice their ropes twitching uneasily. Bangs were heard across the ship, the sound of metal breaking. "Ratman, Scatman! Investigate!" Dirteater ordered. He pulled out his sidearm as he stood at the controls of the artillery, the metal creaking above his head. From his cover Girthfield watched the two scavengers run past the hidden Otis, back out the hall... hoping to find the entranceway that no longer was.

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Frey whirled around and instinctively flung a knife at the larger man, huffing as she put distance between them.
What. . . ? Where the hell did this guy come from?

"Don't. Fucking. Sneak up on me," the girl warned, gripping the metal cord bound to the knife's handle. Didn't seem like he was itching to start a fight, but she wasn't above throwing the first swing. "What vendetta? I'm just getting rid of the competition."

Behind M'Kama, her eyes briefly fixed on the aggravated ants. Hopefully they weren't going to be a problem.

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The ants began to antenna M'kama, their hairy appendages rubbing against him roughly....