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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Veil of Shadow - 11. Angels And Monsters

The sky out the shuttle's window was naturally darker than both that of Earth and Lucere. Berchande was a world on the fringe of life; the air thin, the sun uninhibited, the surface bone-dry and next to barren. Only the most rudimentary organisms could survive in the unprotected elemental ruggedness of such a place, or the most advanced.

Mira glanced out the shuttle's forward window at the panoramic desert view, sitting down in the pilot's seat. The line of the horizon with sharp rocky hills and rambling silica flats was askew, the shuttle itself not properly level with the mesa top on the damaged landing supports. He paid no more attention to outside, and instead pulled the contents of a bag onto his lap.

There was a mixture of different types of food, mostly pre-made and wrapped in little metal tins or plastic containers. Choosing one that was a suitable mixture of the right nutrients, he opened a single serving, peeling the top off the container and setting it on one side of his lap. Then he poured some bottled water into a dish, the smallest he had been able to purloin from Berchande's RDA common room, and set it on the other side.

Only one thing was left.

Picking up another bag from the floor beside the chair, he unzipped the top, reached inside and pulled out the kitten by the scruff of its neck. Lifting it to face height, he looked the creature in the eyes and it stared unabashedly at him, dangling limply. The plaintive miaow that issued from it was both sad and pleading, and Mira knew without further assessment that his suspicions were quite correct.

It was very hungry.

He released it onto his lap between the open tin and the water dish. It looked at the food, then up to Mira again, letting out another softer mewling sound, a question of sorts.

In response, he nudged the food and water closer.

Accepting his signal, the kitten did not wait any longer. It sidled closer to the food tin, leaned in, sniffed for a moment at the offering, and then with no hesitation began to eat.

Encouragement done, he sat back, not moving his lower body as the kitten was using it as a dinner tray. If it was fussy about what it ate, this was not apparent; any feline aloofness was overridden by the desire to sate its hunger, attacking the meal with some enthusiasm. Every living thing needed a way to survive. They had brought this animal with them through very dangerous places and situations, and he owed it. Food was the least of those things.

Though, it had always been more than an animal.

The connection remained, latent in the kitten's brain. It was a pathway to another place, a bridge across a distance that was unimaginable. At Aspira, the recognition had been instant and hauntingly familiar. At that time, across that bridge, there was no view to see with his eyes. No literal image like the day he awoke and looked upon Shay's face for the first time, but he had known it. He had felt what was beyond, the hidden sunlight that was present through that pathway, and in his heart it was unreservedly true; this was the kin of what he protected, another angel of light.

An angel that was Shay's brother.

They were three. The Self; the guardian. The Other; the master. Then, a third, another that was close and yet, all the same, so far.

One whose sight had given them a chance.

The seer.

On his lap, the kitten was lapping delicately at the water, then it looked up at him, already having demolished the food. Without waiting, and with a disobedient curiosity that seemed to define it, the claws hooked into the shirt and it began to climb up his front like it was no more than a gently sloping hillside. With care, Mira transferred the two containers out of the way with one hand, onto the pilot's console. With the other, he plucked the wayward kitten up and placed it on his shoulder. It repaid him by mewing almost directly into his ear, the sound rather deafening so close, and then immediately curling up in the crook of his neck.

A chance through this link.

Link.

The gratitude he felt was indescribable. When his utmost at protection and warfare was not able to cover everything, to stave off all malicious possibilities, others had been there and done so. They had saved his beloved, his passion. The seer, through this little animal, had protected the one thing that touched to the core of his mind and body. In ways nothing else in existence would ever manage, that one entity gave him purpose, but it also terrified him because he could never control how he felt and he never wished to.

Mira's obsession.

Shay.

He could not escape it, and he had returned to ask the same question many times: is there any reason for control? Is there any reason to stop? The answer did not change, and the question was more a ritual that reinforced what was already far beyond certain. He was never going to let Shay go, and all the pressures that acted upon him from his origins would be there forever. The very fabric of his body dictated that his duty, his affection, his love, his lust, his constant yearning desire for this boy, would not relent.

A hundred images of the Other filled his head. A multitude of poses and movement and expressions and animation. Happy, sad, angry, surprised, confused. Running, walking, sitting, speaking, frowning, laughing. The feeling of completion, of everything being right when they were together.

The kitten purred, his fingers brushing the downy softness of the fur on its back and head, happily ensconced where it was. Absently, Mira stared out the window at Berchande's sky, his mind far away, still buried in the infatuated beauty of that obsession, of that brief time of safety under military protection, in Earth's orbit. Of Shay, stark naked and about to enter the shower cubicle, back turned. His arms, legs, shoulders, back; all slender and lissome and wonderfully supple. Then the lumbar muscles of the flank and the stretch of the hamstrings; both segueing into the sublime rounded gratification of his rear.

It was a vision of loveliness, a piece of artwork out of flesh and blood. Someone had snatched an ideal from Mira's dreams and sculpted it, breathed life into it, gave it heart and soul and emotion to enchant him remorselessly. Despite Shay's latent insecurity and fears over being judged, there was nothing feminine about how he looked or acted; none of that perceived weakness. He was perfect, and those supposed flaws were turned on themselves; blemishes that made the perfection true rather than spoil it. The whole vision was completed by the very smallest, most subtle arch of the back, twist of the hips, shimmer of softest silkiest pale flesh. Then, a glance back over his shoulder, all tinted in rose and with a look of 'come hither' silently inviting Mira on, offering him all he ever wanted if he would but follow.

There was no desire to refuse.

Shay was all he dreamed of.

On Mira's shoulder the kitten shifted, reorienting itself, getting comfortable in a new position. Stirring from his daydream, he glanced down, feeling his body respond to his thoughts. The bump in his lap was growing, and he watched it swell with a satisfied relaxed laziness. It was an indulgence to simply feel the arousal, to bask in the sensation that was granted by the mere memory of his beloved so beguiling. Still astray, unfocused on the present in a way that was very unlike his normal mode of acting, Mira rubbed the palm of his right hand unthinkingly over the rising material. A burst of thrill shot through him, his sex engorging, nerves dancing from the contact, and he lifted his hand from the now-straining fabric, up to his lips. There his fingers brushed, evoking the touch of Shay's mouth on his own, of his kisses before he exited to outside the shuttle, just minutes ago.

There was still so much for them both to learn, from each other and from the seer too, but at that moment, Mira let his desire and imagination float free, just for a little while.

So he closed his eyes as he sat back, his mask of solitary expression let go, allowing true feeling to be seen. The kitten was asleep on his shoulder, and his fingers were gliding over his lips as he smiled in remembrance.

-o-0-O-0-o-

They moved rapidly down the slope, the edge of the Sylvan Morass' canvas growing closer and more forbidding with each stride. Then, the spur where Mikom was waiting came into sight, and Yugan could not see her, nor their Unchosen companion Turil. For a moment, he feared the worst, but there was no sign of a struggle here, no proof of danger nor combat. Ralot was looking back sun-shy, suddenly uncertain, and so too was Yugan. Keenly, he swept the forest for any hint of what had happened, when the sound came again.

A melodious cry rose, drifting through the air like a snatch of music. It was animalistic, an ululating call, and at the same it held a sweetness, a promise of friendliness. Yet, it was still a siren song and there was no welcoming intention to it. Yugan had never heard this sound but he instantly knew what it was; a rendition of what Ralot described.

The telutuk, the shiver-stalker.

"This way." He motioned and they were running again, his voice low as she followed him down the slope, finally crossing the treeline into the actual Morass itself, the forest's edge. "It is close, but we must move with care."

She did not reply, and the light of Dagen's star dimmed as the ground sloped away, the first row of bordering wetwoods already larger and more gnarled than any others he had seen. In the direction they were to travel, the apparition of a wild forest, a thickness of woody entanglement, was all that could be seen. Off the ground, branching growths connected the giants in a rambling walkway through the air, the usually smaller paler dry-shell trees now grown tall and straight between like stakes in a vegetable patch. They provided both a sink for the excess moisture and acted as an attractor for pollinating insects, a symbiosis beneficial to both families. It was there, upon that aerial path of tree limbs, that Yugan saw Mikom.

She was motionless, balanced on a branch at least triple his height off the ground. Crouched, head low, three arms were held ready in front of her, the superior right arm to the side, gripping a neighbouring branch for counter-balance. She had seen them approaching, one eye glancing to their position, but the majority of her attention was on the telutuk themselves.

Four of them were near, in a loose scattering only dozens of paces from where the matriarch was. They appeared no less strange than what Yugan had been told as a child; a small fragile torso, clammy pale white-grey skin stretched over ribs, with two unusally long thin legs and an even longer prehensile tail. The arms were not so exaggerated, though like the legs, they ended in a triangle of three elegant tapering digits.

Then there was the head.

It was an ovoid, though misshapen and squashed, being thinner and flatter. The mouth was tiny and innocuous, but the eyes were huge, two opposing curved windows directly into the creatures' skulls. The visual lenses took up roughly a third of the face, and were opaque, a milky pale colour similar to the skin. The Dagenith knew that the telutuk's vision was very poor, much worse than the famously vision-impaired mire-haunt. They were not able to discern much more than very generalised shapes and patterns of light and shadow, though where the mire-haunt supplemented its shortcomings with a better sense of hearing, the telutuk was much more advanced.

Around the eyes and the back and sides and everywhere on the head except for near the mouth, the skin was fibrous, covered in a fine coating of follicles. This layer was a sensory organ and it was extremely acute, able to pick up vibrations in the air and ground with a very high degree of accuracy. They were also very nimble and quick, and it was for this reason the telutuk had the name of shiver-stalker, from the tales of dagenith being stalked and killed from little more than a breath, a footfall, the smallest shiver of the body.

The look in Mikom's eye, the lateral leftmost of the four, told Yugan much. The inner lid was down, and the outer not at all; it was protected, but fully open so that the field of view was at its utmost. The dilated X of the pupil was enormous, the violet iris almost wholly invisible along the outer edges. She was taking in everything, totally alert, making no sound nor motion, frozen so she was undetectable. No weapon was in her hands, nor any kind of tool, and it was clear to him that the matriarch and the Unchosen were caught by surprise while he was away on the mountain, seeking answers with Ralot.

Two of the stalkers were a little higher up, clinging to the neighbouring wetwood trunk with all four limbs. Their heads moved back and forth, weaving placidly from one side to the other, surveying the borders of the Morass, a kingdom of their ruling. The other two were walking separately along nearby branches; upright but very slow, like they were locked in some kind of formal ritual that required great deliberation. They would stop every few paces, then revert to a lower regular posture, legs bent in a crouch so flexible but so tight as to make the dagenith uncomfortable just seeing it; the arms placed close together directly front and centre on the branch, for balance. Their tails would swish, seeming to comb the air as thoroughly as their other senses were, waiting for an indication that their quarry was here. Then on again, a slow patrol that was inescapable as it was meticulous.

"Where is Turil?" Her whisper was very soft, and uncertain.

The comment was worth consideration. Where was the Unchosen? Yugan did not respond, instead edging forward, passing his spear from the right inferior to superior hand. This was enough for the nearest telutuk, above them on a tree limb parallel to Mikom, to pause and look curiously and pointedly in Yugan's direction.

Only it was not really 'looking.'

It was sensing.

It had felt the movement, noticed the odd change in the gradient of the forest's albedo, even thrice his height aloft and a score of paces away, small as it was.

Yugan froze, exactly like Mikom, and Ralot did the same behind him. It was beyond imperative that they not be noticed. Those that encountered the stalker and lived to speak of it always gave one piece of advice and it was simple. Do not let it know where you are until you are prepared to kill, for once it is aware, you are no longer the hunter but the hunted.

All the stories bore that same message: if you let it act first, you were dead.

The stalker continued to stare, the convex mottled pearl of its ocular sensors straining to complement the acuteness of the vibrations. With simian acrobatics, it stepped backward from where it was standing, falling from the tree. The tail wrapped around the branch for long enough to swing forward, then releasing, the stalker dropping nimbly onto all fours on the ground. Then it rose, bipedal once more, and it began to slowly advance.

It was coming directly toward them.

"Yugan." Ralot's voice was terrified and so quiet he could barely hear it. "It will find us. Strike!"

He could not.

If he waited until it was in striking range, the stalker would be too close, it would sense them, and then it would be too late.

If he threw his spear earlier, with the creature's full attention on where it suspected they were, there was a very high chance it would react on instinct and dodge. Then he would be weaponless, exposed, and at the tender mercy of this predator.

No.

There was nothing more important than reaching Usun-Gar, and no risk could endanger that.

Yet, as the stalker gained ground, the investigation of a potential meal calling it on, Yugan was faced with the fact that he was very low on alternatives.

What now?

Then, an opportunity came.

With a buzzing whirr as it sliced through the heady air of the Morass, Turil's spear came flying down from above. The topmost of the two idle telutuk flipped away only a split-second before the weapon embedded itself into the wetwood trunk with a solid thock, the spearhead buried all the way into the wood. It was followed by Turil, who landed on the far side of where Mikom was, a half dozen branches off. The naturally heavier Unchosen frame made a clear sound upon arrival, the connected trees quivering briefly. The impact was unmistakable, the weight and power of Mishith physicality on full display, but the dagenithi was not acting to begin combat. After a split second to regain balance, Turil was off, bounding and leaping in a diversionary flight away from their positions.

In a flash, the two previously idle stalkers dropped down and then were skipping in pursuit, drawn to follow and intent on catching their meal. The other two, both the one nearer Mikom and the one approaching Yugan on the ground, turned at the same to regard the disturbance, though they did not move, allowing their fellow stalkers to take up the chase.

In that moment, Yugan struck.

The hurled spear pierced it cleanly, biting deep into the back of the distracted telutuk's vulnerable torso. These creatures were all offense and kill-first, with no armour to absorb damage and little constitution. Yugan dashed forward before it could move, and reaching the spear shaft, he thrust it right through, the stalker falling on its front from the force as it was properly impaled. It let out a mournful lilting wail, a questioning reprimand that was still trying to enthral as much as bemoan the pain, but the dagenithi would have no trickery. Ripping the spear out, he stabbed it again, driving the bloodied point through the back of the prone telutuk's head.

Finished.

His own hunter instinct was operating at full strength now, and during his actions he knew Ralot had broken into a run from the moment he began to move. In seconds, she was scaling the tree, then alighting onto Mikom's branch at the far end, just as he was finishing their first foe. The second stalker had already turned, the movement bringing its attention to them and painting both dagenith plainly. With frightening aggression and discomforting speed, it was leaping across next to Mikom, the still-motionless matriarch invisible to its notice. Then it was scurrying to Ralot, who was running to meet it.

Her staff was heavy, but like all female Mishith, Ralot was no shy maiden, not secondary to her male and Unchosen kin. It was made of cured reinforced wetwood, and she spun it between her hands with practiced fluency and strength as she moved. The telutuk evaded the twirling spar, dodging from branch to branch with primate quickness. Then she clipped it, the creature tumbling away, though in an eye-blink, the tail was gripping the branch it was knocked from and then it was looping up and behind her, completely at ease fighting in this environment.

Yet, Ralot was not so slow, and with trained dexterity, she was already swapping the weapon to her inferior left hand, then sliding it deftly through her grip in a reverse thrust. It shot out behind, striking low on the telutuk's torso and with a jerk of the fingers, she flicked the creature airborne, vaulting it overhead and in front of her. It landed hard, tumbling over itself, but in the same manoeuvre, its tail had coiled around the weapon. The momentum and the unexpected power exerted by the anemic form of the stalker was surprising and proved too much. The staff was pulled free and the tail snatched it away, tossing the weapon to the forest floor.

She was disarmed and the stalker knew it.

On all fours it was scampering, the harmless almost-playful appearance directly at odds with the lethality it could wield. The stalker whipped the tail above its head, feinting and bobbing as the dagenithi backed away, her ears flattened, all her arms in a shifting protective screen of motion. A long grooved spike had emerged from a sheath in the tail's tip, a scorpion-stinger hovering in the air that was the telutuk's bloodletting means, and it closed for the kill.

No!

Ralot withdrew, the stalker pressing in, ready to commit. The tail rose high, prepared to do the work it had evolved for, but then ... then a hand closed around the limb and another. From behind, Mikom yanked it, pulling the legs out from beneath. The offending stalker appendage swivelled, trying to turn on the matriarch, but her right hands held it close to the barbed end and again further down, restraining the primary attack. With her two free left arms, she flipped the stalker's body over. Its own spindly forelimbs were moving in response, with that same vigour that seemed outsized for such a weak-looking creature.

The triad of fingers on each hand now displayed their own armaments; razor suckers were extruding, to clamp, hold and burrow into the flesh of the enemy, bleeding it. The stalker's reach was impressive too, the stretch greater at full length than the Mishith could manage. One hand had fastened two fingers onto Mikom's left shoulder, before anything else could occur. It easily cut even the thickened leathery skin, but Ralot came to her matriarch's aid. Both stalker arms were seized and forced away, Mikom's blood spraying from the gash where the suckers were torn from her skin, yet she did not so much as flinch.

The telutuk thrashed under Ralot's grapple but neither of the two dagenith would release it, weaponless as they were. Instead, the matriarch angled more to her right, still gripping the extremity with both of those arms. Then she stamped heavily on the base of the creature's tail, anchoring it to the branch and crushing the connective tendons beneath her with the drive of her right leg and her weight. The matriarch repeated the move with her left foot, planting it roughly down on the stalker's right leg. Short low-pitched grating cries came from it, a repetitive rhythm as it did not stop struggling, but Mikom ignored it, and her shoulder wound also, raising both left arms together above its head.

The stronger species would win, and she would let nothing on Dagen's Grace beat them; there would be no hungering beastling to despoil their fate.

Their heritage demanded no less.

Her claws were extended, a less-than-civilised last resort of attack normally reserved for situations of instinctual self-defence, but here, Mikom was willing. She slammed both left hands down, a fingers-first jab of a punch, right into the telutuk's face, one into each oversized eye. Churning them back and forth, mangling, she pulled out, the hands dripping with the gooey brown-grey of the stalker's viscera, the eyes torn to sludge, then in again. Now the claws raked around the outer rim of the ruined cavities, gouging through and across and into the sensory layer. For the first time, the creature let out a true sound of pain. The screech was so utterly agonised and wracked with intense hurt, the delicate perceptive apparatus unable to deal with the overload of damage, but she did not stop until she was satisfied. Mikom was crippling it, and it could no longer hinder her, the yowling matching the misery of its plight.

"By blade or claw," she hissed with immense boldness, fuelled by the frenzy of battle, "you will succumb." Her superior right hand, that still gripped the spiked tail, pulled it down, the telutuk's resistance and bodily control failing. Ralot had not released her pin, and finally Mikom freed the left hands from the horrific goring she had inflicted on the head.

"Now, hunter," she seethed, the stalker's life fluids spattering on the branch and its own body in a patter of viscous butcher's slurry, "you will move on in the Great Circle and begone from us."

Then she completed the fight, the tail gone lax and she brought the spiked end to bear at last, stabbing it directly into the centre of the telutuk's head.

Yugan had watched the entire confrontation, little more than an observer from below. Even as he moved to retrieve Ralot's staff from where it was discarded, the second stalker was already in the process of being terminated. Once dead, the immediate pressure was gone, but that brought a reminder with it: this had started because of the Unchosen enabling the chance to strike.

"Turil!" He called to the other two where they stood, tossing Ralot's staff up to her, an unperturbed Mikom flicking the telutuk's pulped innards off her fingers and claws. "We must find Turil and give aid!"

"Yes!" The matriarch was unapologetic in agreement. She leaped down from the branch, Ralot following, and together all three broke into a run. "Yes! The blood of our blood! We will find him! Onward!"

-o-0-O-0-o-

It was aware of me touching it. Aware, but docile, lacking initiative and aggression, it sat still, not an independent actor, nor with the confrontational attitude of the arbiters. Just a piece of their 'technology' doing as it was told, now only lacking a guiding will.

So, instead of computer systems, they have living minds in control of their vessels? I guess our style of technology is probably as bizarre to them as this is to us. The surface of the ship felt as solid as actual metal, and I supposed that it had to at least be as tough and resilient given the need to travel safely through the vacuum of space, and all of the cosmic radiation and other things it would need to protect its passengers from. The body was certainly little different to my touch than a human-constructed ship like the CorpSec shuttle. Question is, what is it capable of on its own? Can I influence it?

There was only one way to know.

Tendrils of aqumi shot out of my hand into the organic hull. It made no reaction, no painful clamour that I might have expected. The quantum power did not seem to hurt it, the most likely explanation being its metallic composition immunised it from any unpleasantness that normally affected biological organisms inundated with aqumi. After a moment's hesitation, I pushed the snaking lines deeper inside, searching for the core. It was simple to find the equivalent of a nervous centre, the flurry of bioelectric impulses giving the location away as they flitted out through pathways to the various 'systems' of its body. This was where the consciousness rested, and from that surprisingly small cluster I could feel the expansive nature of it exerting itself over its physical body. It was also concentrated, centralised, that locus serving as the only means of control. I wrapped my power around the 'mind' of the ship, and then spoke to it. The same universal language was enabled in its comprehension, exactly like an arbiter, and along with my words aqumi squeezed on the fringes just enough so it could not mistake my seriousness.

Whom do you serve?

Old lord, no lord? Shadow gone? It knew I was here, but it did not know what or who I was. Perhaps it had no concept of the individual and was responding as it would to differentiate between me and the arbiters. Bright lines! Bright ropes! Fire?

The phrasing it gave was nonsensical and rudimentary, a translated account of a misunderstood conversation. It was like trying to talk to an infant about something it did not know how to describe, but then I began to piece together, through the babble, what it was thinking. It was thrown into a sort of shock with the two arbiters being unexpectedly and prematurely dead. Alone and awaiting their return, it had maintained position, and then I showed up. Like the previous masters, I could speak directly, but I was their opposite in every other way. Though, the ship did not comprehend the situation in these terms, the complexity being beyond the limited understanding it could achieve. The intellect was not able to grasp such intricacy and the confused questioning continued.

New lord, new anger? No shadow? It seemed almost worried, perhaps dismayed, if I was to pick emotions to describe the responses. New fire. Bright cuts! Bright fear.

Silence! I warned it, and with my rebuke came further intuition that fit the circumstances. This being was created with no knowledge of right or wrong. It was simply a tool to be used; a pack animal carrying the enemy's weaponry and troops. It knew the power of authority, and very little else, and it would obey whatever was asked of it, because it was created to obey. Yet, it did not seem to discriminate between who had that ability to command. The fact alone that it was allowing dialogue and not simply spurning me due to an innate hatred of the arbiters' enemies was revealing.

With that considered, I imposed myself upon the ship's mind and seized control.

Your old master is dead. My voice, such as it was, filled it like a missive from some unimaginably potent divine force. The quantum encirclement pressed against the structure of the ship's physical brain, able to crush it to death, dissolve it, strangle it in moments. The shadows are gone and I am the fire. You will obey the fire from now until the time of your death. You are mine.

There was a moment of complete terror that transcended everything as it understood the plainly simple options: yield or die. In a second that choice was made, and then the terror was done. The chemical change was subtle but uniform and instant, the psyche immediately switching from agitation and supreme fear directly into a state of relaxed submission. At once the ship's mind was completely open to me, and the mental connections an arbiter would have interfaced with became active, ready for me to give it whatever order I pleased. Any order; to move, to alter the internal environment, to jump through space-time, to fire at an enemy, to cloak or decloak. It had given itself over, and was at my disposal, the freshly-enslaved mind embracing my domination as wholeheartedly as anything. It was transformed instantly into a loyal attendent, beholden to the one who held the reins, pledged to utter acquiescence.

Yes lord. Command your will.

Unable to help myself, I began to giggle, the latest in my series of achievements being a pretty damn major one. I just fucking mind-controlled an arbiter ship. I hotwired a flying organic vehicle. It was funnier to me every second I thought about it, and then I let go a snort and began to laugh uncontrollably, air whooshing through the rebreather. Bet the arbiters would be pissed if they knew I was jacking their car. Wonder what Ayize is going to think of this?

It was time to find out.

So, while I gained control of my amusement, and was climbing back up the mesa side to where the shuttle was grounded, the ship rose from the desert floor. Moving in a way that seemed to totally ignore gravity with no effort whatsoever, it glided to the top with an aerial agility that I had never seen in human vessels. Studiously avoiding any of the shuttle's fuselage debris, it set down close, immaculately precise. Even the sound of its propulsion was clean, muted and nearly noiseless, the whispering hum sighing away to nothing as it settled into place on Berchande's dust.

I had to admit that though the arbiters themselves were hateful, xenophobic, and hostile without exception, their 'technology' was both efficient and unexpectedly graceful.

This is turning out to be an interesting day, that's for sure.

"Shay?" Ayize was emerging from the shuttle, a momentary glance to me as I walked to him from the mesa's edge, but then back to his alarmed reaction at the decloaked alien ship on full display. "What in the hell is going on?" He jabbed at it accusingly with two fingers, his pointing hand then drifting to aim at me, in a not-entirely-illogical jump of assumption that I had something to do with this. "Did- ... did you bring ... this ... here?!"

"Well, we need a ride, don't we?" I cast a look back to the CorpSec shuttle. "That thing is busted. Figured it was time for an upgrade."

"But this is-" He stopped, frowned, rubbed his forehead and then started again, trying to understand what I had done. "Okay. It's one of their ships, obviously. I don't know how you're doing this, but is it even safe? Secondly, how are you doing this? Thirdly ... actually fuck thirdly. Please just explain."

"I can tell you a few things about it." I looked over the outward appearance of the ship, getting a proper visual without the uninformative colourlessness of invisibility getting in the way. It was naturally a deep blue-grey, but the colour was uneven; shading in some places more blue, in others more grey. Shapewise, it was a long sort of conical almost-teardrop outline from above, the bow narrowing to a point. No entrances or exits were visible, though I knew from my incursion into its consciousness that the primary access was on the underside. The ship sat comfortably on four uprights, which attached to the wider part of the hull, spaced apart for optimal balance under the stern's greater mass. They were crescentic extendables, arranged to distribute weight evenly and perpendicular relative to one another, echoing the layout of the primary bearings on a compass. The salient of each upright's curve was outward, not in, and it made the ship look like it was some insectoid creature, crouched low but agreeably on nimble spidery limbs as it waited patiently for the opportunity to take flight once more.

"For a start," I went on, "it's a living creature. I'm confident that all their ships must be similar to this one, though we won't know for sure until we see more. Also, it's not quite the same as the arbiters or those hounds we've encountered. I mean, it isn't naturally as fucked up as they are. They'll kill on sight, but their ships, or this one, at least? It's like a big slow-witted animal with not even a little bit of hate in it. It's just bred that way, I guess. It'll go with its owner to the end of the universe if told, and would do it without second guessing. Hey, and you know what? That owner is me."

"But how do you know this?"

"Because, like pretty much any other animal, it doesn't want to die." I folded my arms, gazing calmly at Ayize. He was still shifting, on and off, between incredulously staring at me and the ship itself. "Not without a really good reason, and it knows that I can kill it whenever I want and it can't do anything about it. Literally. I could do it right now and I wouldn't even have to move."

The African blinked, shook his head, then broke into one of his broad amiable grins, easily seen even under the rebreather. "Man, Konstantin's warning about your iqhawe was just the tip of the iceberg with you, wasn't it? You're really something else. So, let me get this totally straight: you stole one of their ships by, uh ... possessing it?"

"I'd say more like mind control than possession," I supplied, "though it's kinda like taming an animal too. Whatever you want to call it, it's fully converted to doing what I want it to do. I can't detect anything about it that would tell me it's going to betray us."

"Mind control," he repeated the phrase cautiously, as if afraid the words would attack him just for speaking them aloud, "and you don't see any danger at all? Your brain and your instincts are telling you this? Because we can't put our lives at risk on a 'maybe.'"

"None," I assured him. "There have been lots of things, since this all began, that I wasn't sure about. This isn't one. It's pretty much a dead certainty as far as I'm concerned."

"Fascinating." Ayize walked across to the ship and placed a hand on the hull, running it over the uneven surface. I followed, getting out of the worst of Berchande's late-day sun in the ship's shadow. He turned and looked at me thoughtfully, still touching it. "So, if we were to make use of this thing, what's the plan? Jumping back to Earth, they'd shoot us out of the sky before we could so much as blink. Maybe there could be ways to do it so we wouldn't be blown up on sight, but the military takes zero chances where the xenomorphs are concerned. So where are we going to go?"

Oh. Good point.

"I haven't though that far ahead." My admission was sheepish, and I shrugged. "What I would like to do is find these other aliens that are tied to me through aqumi. The problem is I have no idea how. Like, I don't know what they look like, where they're from or anything, and we can't wait around for one of them to contact me again."

"Right," he agreed, "so that means the obvious thing to do would be look for clues from the enemy himself, and maybe even do some reconnaissance while we're at it. I'd assume these arbiters don't do stellar cartography themselves, so I'd say this ship has some kind of navigation system of its own."

He's right. It'd have to be able to identify locations. If the arbiters could move between points in space by themselves, they wouldn't need transportation, and logically the ship would need to have some way of knowing where it's going. "That makes sense." I studied the blue-grey of the hull absently, lips pursed as I pondered a bit more. "Though, wouldn't it only know just where they've gone? Well, I'm guessing it'd have to be a shared record that their ships contribute to. Um, like a collected storage of all the places they've visited, including our colonies, and stuff like- ..." I cut myself off, my speech trailing away as a thought occurred to me.

The gas giant.

"Like what?" Ayize prompted.

"Remember I told you about a gas giant? One that the arbiter showed me?"

His eyes widened and he nodded slowly. "Yeah. This ship would have to know where that giant is, and, well, if it was important enough for our friendly neighbourhood xeno to intimidate you with in that vision?"

"Then I'd say it's pretty damn important." I finished his statement. "It was the only planet I didn't recognise out of the four, plus there were so many ships nearby. If we can find it, we have to warn Earth."

"We will." He rapped a knuckle against the hull, the sound of it just as metallic as the feel. "Living creatures or not, the federal military will slaughter these fuckers by the thousand with the best weapons money can buy. All they need is a chance to catch the xenos out at their marshalling point, and finding the location might be all that's needed. I can't tell you I'm completely comfortable with the idea of flying an enemy craft, but I believe you when you say you can control it." I could see Ayize's mind switching gear, buying into the possibility I had given us. He had come round to the idea of using their own against them and was running with it, adapting on the fly.

"We can shift some of the more vital equipment from the shuttle into this ship. Things like portable comms, a basic sensor suite and some environmental equipment. I'll be much more at ease with some good old-fashioned human-made gadgetry on board. You might be able to see into its mind, but me and Rashid are just grunts in this whole shebang. No hocus-pocus for us." He was back to his full-strength smile, the situation clearly sorted. Though he was much more a military type than Konstantin and quicker to jump to conclusions, he shared the Russian's ability to see humour in decidedly dark situations and was irrepressibly cheery. "Anyhow, once you've located the gas giant, I should be able to detect where it is, galactically speaking. So, after we are clear from enemy interference, I'll transmit this information to home base and they can see about destroying the crap out of those alien space resources. Sound good?"

It sure does. "I think that's definitely a plan worth following."

"Good. Then we know what we have to do."

I turned to walk back to the shuttle, wanting to tell Mira about the latest change in events, when Ayize spoke again. "Shay. There's something else I've been thinking about."

"Yeah?" I looked back to him.

"You've said what you're able to do, the abilities your quantum power allows. While I was sitting with Rashid, I got to thinking: you told me you absorbed that node on Lucere. That's a buttload of the aqumi energy, right? Now unless you got rid of all of it in that explosion afterwards, why can't you still access that?" He rubbed the scar on his nose, puzzled, and went on. "I mean, why does it seem like you sorta went back to 'normal' after? Is it something to do with your control over aqumi itself? Looks to me like it's probably related to your state of mind, how you feel or think, if what you told me about how you first activated aqumi is any guide. You know, when you figured out how you were 'connected' to Mira and helped him dispatch that mercenary lieutenant."

Wow, um, those are serious thoughts. He's pretty sharp on picking things up, again just like Konstantin. "I- ... I don't know." I swallowed nervously, even the memory of that day and Hartley's attempt to kill Mira still disturbing to recall. "You're right, it is to do with my emotions, and how I feel about Mira in particular. It still doesn't make total sense to me though. All I can say about that is just ... I've always felt connected to him, from the very start." I was making myself look the African in the eyes, and as uncomfortable as it was to speak so openly about a part of my life I didn't like to share, this was an important conversation. Ayize was regarding me solemnly, his smile muted down a little, letting me talk, and so I went on. "I love him. Anything that hurts him brings out that feeling of connection even more in me, like I just have to act. That day in Aspira when ... when Hartley tried to kill him, it was like that bond just became far more than obvious and then I just knew. The telekinesis, the shielding, all of it was just a natural response coerced by Hartley. Maybe something in my brain switched on because of how intense the situation was, and I was just focused in the right way on the right thoughts and feelings at the right time."

"Hmm." Ayize stared for a second, then glanced at the ship's hull, a momentary contemplation that roamed the surface before it returned to me again. "I want to say something to you, and I hope you'll understand. I had no idea of the scale of what I was getting into when we first decided to stop what CorpSec and RDA were doing on MFM's behalf and prevent you and your boy becoming commodities for their exploitation. You have technology inside your body that is alien and quite possibly the pinnacle of what science could achieve, ever."

Ever?

He continued. "I believe all of that energy you gained is still within you, and you just need to find a way for it to be totally, 100%, released and under your control. Not just running free in those moments of pressure and emotion where your hand is forced by what's happening, but constantly under your direction. Because if you could do that," he paused a second, his voice softening, his gaze still serious, "you would become what you are already close to being: a living god."

A living god ...

"Shay, understand this: you may know that your ability lets you play with reality like it is a toy, but you could do so much more. Honestly, it doesn't seem like there should be limits at all on what you can manage. The only thing restricting how strong you can be, how much control you have, is you. Find a way to remove that ceiling and you will have the means to do just about anything. I'm not exaggerating to make a point when I say that. I mean actually anything."

His insight was more than I expected and I was speechless because I now knew the entire point of his questioning was to make me realise what he had just pointed out. Once again, he's right. If I could learn to just unleash it on command, I could really do anything.

Anything at all.

The potential was, perhaps quite literally, infinite.

"Please just think about this. I may not be the man Konstantin is, and I'm not going to pretend to be," his smile widened again, dialling down the heavy monologue, "but I'll give you whatever moral support and advice you need, because, on one hand, we're all going to be in a shitload of trouble if anything bad happens to you, and on the other, you're still a fifteen year old boy and you're going to probably fuck up a few things along the way." The grin got even wider. "No offence."

I cracked a smile myself, and cleared my throat. "None taken. You're right. Uh, thank you, for all of what you've said. I think I needed to hear it. Though, I'm still fourteen, if you disregard all the time frozen in stasis." Then, a niggling doubt. It was September when I was on Lucere. I'm not sure when today is. "Wait a sec, what's the date?"

"The date?" Ayize shrugged, as we began to walk together back towards the shuttle. "Middle of October, I've lost track of the exact day. 13th or 14th of the month? Something like that."

"Oh. Then ... I am fifteen." I blinked, feeling a little weird that I'd missed it. "My birthday was on the 10th."

The African chuckled, and gave me a comradely clap on the shoulder. "Don't worry. I'll buy you a cake when we get back to Earth. There's this little shop in Cape Town that makes the best tiramisu on the planet ... "

-o-0-O-0-o-

I nearly walked into Rashid as I was entering the rear compartment of the shuttle, while Ayize had split off to enter the cockpit. He was standing, and although pale, as Konstantin had been after his aqumi experience, Rashid seemed healthy. I wanted to see Mira, feeling strangely anxious for some time with my miracle, but it was still important that I speak with Rashid too.

"Um, you're looking much better now."

He glanced at me from where he was sitting, expressionless as he applied a synth-skin bandage to his shoulder cut, not having long woken up. Still a little drugged, but mostly sobered.

No response.

"I'm glad you're okay. I want to thank you too. You arrived at the right moment to deal with that arbiter."

Rashid grunted, a bitter and irritable tinge creeping into his facial features, like he just wanted me to shut up and leave. For some reason, his lack of even common courtesy was beginning to piss me off. Why can't he just fucking say something? Even if it's just a 'that's fine' or whatever? Then I was reminded of his comments to me right before Ayize had drugged him, and without intending it, I found myself getting very very angry.

I hated the implications of what he had said to me then. Hated.

And now ... I couldn't let it slide.

"I am grateful for what you did." My tone started more assertive and became steadily more vehement and unimpressed word by word. "But, you've been acting like an asshole since I first met you, though that isn't what bothers me here. You're judging me and you don't even know me. Well, I want to let you in on a secret, even though it's really none of your fucking business," I spat. He blinked, sitting back startled, not expecting such confrontation, but I didn't stop my tirade. My voice had ratcheted up a notch in intensity, even though I wasn't speaking much louder. "You know that other boy? The one who's athletic, an action-figure assassin, who's exactly the sort of person that every other kid our age would kill to be? Well, the first time we made love, not 'had sex' or 'fucked' but made love, guess who was 'the girl'? Go on, guess."

I left him only a second to respond, and as soon as he started to form a word, I cut him right off, never intending to allow him a reply, the cynicism dripping off my oncoming phrasing. "Yeah, that's right, that amazing masculine warrior was 'the bitch' and me, the skinny geeky kid, was not. The best thing is, he didn't care then and he doesn't care now. Neither do I, because we are just happy to be together and in love." I took a deep breath there, my anger stronger than I'd anticipated, my breath shuddering tensely as I exhaled, but I kept on. "There is no 'girl' and 'boy', and I am fucking sick of people interfering in our lives to tell me how we should be, and I ... I won't take it. No-one gets to do that to us, and I don't want to hear that shit again. Not from you, nor anyone else. No-one." I growled it.

For a good ten seconds there was a deadpan look and nothing else. Then just three words from him

"I am sorry."

Out of nowhere, slyly, an amused smirk appeared. I was befuddled, thrown off by his apology and reaction. Rashid went on. "Surprising," he murmured, "but I think I see why he worships the ground you walk on."

Um, what?

He spoke clearly and slowly, and was quite calm. "I do not understand people like you. The principles of my faith, the Usul ad-Din, disagree with the culture you come from. It is taught that much of the modern world breaks our cherished traditions and is sinful and corrupt."

Rashid looked away, at the compartment's far wall, solemn. "When a man fears his death is near, he sees the world in another way. One of those principles is Adalah, the Justice of Allah. All good and evil is from within, and we are commanded to act in such a way that is just and rightly placed. Here on this world, we have encountered alien creatures, but I saw only a djinni covered in smokeless flame, possessing free will and full of malice, acting with the choice of evil. Yet, what did I see in you?"

He paused again, for several seconds longer, still not paying me any attention. A pensive intellect was revealed that was disarming my anger. "I saw a test of my faith, an obedience to what is right and a light through you as you spoke to the djinni in a holy tongue and banished it from the living world back to the realm of darkness. It is written that malaa'ikah, or as English names them 'angels', act in this way. Then, you cut from me the sickness it planted with a healing that is also a hot fiery light."

Rashid looked directly back at me, still displaying no emotion beyond his concentration and sober reflection. "I know what science says about all this and what rational explanation may exist, but I know better my faith than any science. I still do not understand you and maybe I never will, but I know I will not truly dishonour you again, nor him. I would martyr myself first. It is said in An-Nisa that to disbelieve the angels is to go astray, as it is also denying Allah. There is no greater cause than divine truth, and so my apology to your upset is fully real."

Confounded, all I could do was mutter: "Thank you."

Rashid gave a cool nod of his head. "Mmm," in an undertone, having reverted from eloquent introspection all the way back to non-communicative indifference in a second. With nothing more to say to me, he pulled his shirt down over the bandaged shoulder, stood and walked through to join Ayize in the cockpit.

Just like that, I was alone again, staring at the air.

What just happened?

Did he just say he thinks I'm an angel?!

There I had been, ready to rip into him about his attitude, when he went and talked like that. What do you say to someone who does something like that? Feeling tired and out of suitable ways to respond, I stifled a yawn, the excitement of the day starting to wear on me. Walking to the couch, I climbed into its wall cubby and lay down on my front.

So much to think about. Ugh, why is this all so complicated? From Mira this sort of talk could be expected, the whole 'angels' thing. With him, it was personal and about the two of us, but Rashid? It's more than that. It about his religion. For him, that's really major. Head turned to the side so I could gaze into space while I relaxed, I was quite comfortable on the couch's plushy upholstery and rather sleepy. Close to drifting off, still wondering where Mira had gone anyhow, there was the sound of the curtain being drawn across the cubby and the weight of another person behind me.

Mira was lying down on top, sandwiching me between himself and the couch. His legs lined up with mine, his hips coming to rest in the right place to make my butt into a cushion for his crotch, with his chest cleaving to my back. He was doing that magical thing where despite the fact he was slightly taller and heavier than me, his weight was distributed so well that I wasn't squashed by him, his arms leaning in support off either side of my body. Mira's left hand was resting on the couch's material close to my eyes, while he began to kiss my neck, while I watched him out of the side of my upturned left eye.

"Hey. I was looking for you." It was a drowsy whisper, though the touch of his lips stirred my attention and also made me snicker. Mira didn't stop the affection to make any response, his right hand fiddling with my hair on the back of the head, while he repositioned his lower body to get comfortable on his new 'cushion.' The skewing movement of him doing that on top of me was giving me butterflies and making me feel a bit giddy. "You really do enjoy using me as a pillow, don't you?"

In reply, he began to tease me, and started a gentle and playful thrusting of his hips. My ass compressed and squished with each push, his hips then bouncing up from the motion like my body was a springboard. I was smiling and then giggling involuntarily, his studious assault on my neck continuing while he pretend-humped. Then the game changed, and my amusement was dying down, pulse gaining speed at the same time. Face flushing with a different sort of warmth, no longer at all sleepy, I was swept with jittery tingles. First I was replying in kind, my own hips meeting his rhythm, then I was shamelessly wishing we were doing this totally naked, and squirming to turn over underneath Mira. Suddenly our arms were wrapped tightly around each other, hands up shirts, and grasping at backs and rubbing on shoulders and skimming over bare skin, running through hair. Lips and tongues were tangled like the rest of us, his excitement growing as quickly as mine while we ground against each other.

"Mira," I managed, speaking in a soft breathless mutter, breaking the make-out for long enough to talk, "we've got a bit of time alone. They're busy." He was breathing hard too, his cheeks coloured pink with arousal as we lay still wrapped together and so close face to face. He was wanting what he had been denied for so long by circumstance, and for me it was unbelievably gratifying to be with him, to be near him like this again, and I couldn't hold back. "I missed you so much, and I- ... mmmm."

There was no chance to say anything more. His mouth returned to mine, where it belonged, and his hand slid over my stomach, down to the waistband of my underwear. I wouldn't stop him, my body begging for the contact, the intimacy that was just so right. His fingers went under the fabric, grasping me and that moment, I felt like I was complete again. Sex and love and Mira. No separations, no abductions, no anger or greed to divide us.

Angels and aliens, gods and monsters; I didn't care about anything else.

We were meant to be this way.

That moment, there was nowhere better than right here.

-o-0-O-0-o-

She wasted no time at all, shaking Nyx's shoulder, while she cast aside the jacket that covered them. Sleep interrupted, muddled for a moment or two, the other blinked, sitting up in the darkness. At first Nyx did not understand what this was about, then immediately she felt it too.

They were coming.

No longer just a single dot of shadow that kept their scent as they sought escape, but now .... now, so many of them.

Bold.

Fast.

Fearless, pernicious, and unified by a single purpose.

Executors of the shadow, devourers of the sun.

There was no moonlight, but neither needed it. The sense they possessed showed each other as brighter than day, living beacons that moved in the nocturnal void as though it were clear to the naked gaze. Elia's face was aglow to her in the black, and though there was little way to tell feature nor intent, she felt the peril in the other girl, a feeling that was frantic and resolute. The message was more than obvious and it was stamped into her mind; 'we must leave here, we must escape, or we will never know freedom ever again.'

Yet, there was no way.

There were so many of them, and the echoes of their movement, the swelling aura of the arbiters, rampant and so angry, moved with all the rapidity they possessed through Leeuwenhoek's forest to the tower. With them, about them, came the champions, the executors of the horde; meaner, larger, stronger and far far quicker. Already the nearest was breaking out of cover barely a hundred metres from the tower, into the clearing where the trees had thinned away, and there was no more time to wonder or choose a path of flight.

The enemy was here.

There was a blur of supernatural movement and flickering illusion upon the air, and then it was flying, launched far up. In a heartbeat, Elia was shoving her behind, an upwelling of light bursting from her fists. Facing the gulf in the tower's wall, she was ready and when the executor completed its leap, plummeting toward their position, her fist met it in an impeccably-timed punch of adamant and fire. Huge as it was, thrice their height, it was stopped dead, run into an immovable object, and it contorted, crashing heavily to the tower's base.

That moment, something inside Elia changed.

Something else took over.

Everything had changed.

It was not what it once was.

The surroundings seemed to shrink and fall away, the physical trappings fading into insignificance. She was the burning wind of her memory, come to scour clean this world, to keep safe the Place of Light. Nyx was there, and the fleeting ghost of her sibling was also present, a guardian too, and another phantom ... the master. The best hope of the war, the defender of all that was left, sacred and inviolable.

All about them was a rising tide.

She moved without thinking, sound and colour gone from the world. All was a ceaseless whirl of light and dark, and she was diving from the tower onto the massive creature twisting to its feet beneath. The roar it gave was noiseless, and there was nothing but her vengeance, and a wide-eyed dreamlike dance of golden wrath as she collided with it, rolling the five-metre tall monstrosity on its back. Awash with black fire the clawing it sent to rip her throat was too slow and her fist drove directly through the centre of its skull, an unstoppable instrument of pure lethal power.

Already turning from the first corpse, she ignored the three arbiters and two more executors that were speeding in from opposing routes. Her humanity forgotten, Elia leaped straight back to the tower's gap, stories above, the tattoo of yet another executor's thundering footsteps on the stairway unheard but still felt. Nyx was dodging the creature, an agile roll as it reached the top, the swiping forearm missing her by inches to strike the wall, chunks of stone and support flying free in a clap of brute strength. Then Elia was on it from behind, her fist cleaving through the armour into the torso's interior from the side, to clamp onto the iron of its intestinal structure. Her rage was unforgiving and it fed her strength, staying the creature's forward momentum and then lifting it with impossible brawn. She turned rapidly clockwise with it in her grip and tossed it away, the wounded executor sailing through the night air to strike the ground hard, more than halfway across the clearing.

Words came from her, strange and full of furious nobility. The yell boomed over the surrounds, echoing throughout the clearing and the forest nearby.

[ Our war is eternal! It will continue until everything you are is burning! Until even your master beyond the Veil is AFLAME! ]

There were more than a dozen out from the trees now, and the first of the arbiters had reached the stair's base. It was without any coyness, the evasive speed and carving-knife blades relentless as it flew upward to meet the girl. Elia was blocking it, then switching the first blow away, the weaponry bouncing harmlessly off her juking super-fast martial craze. Her actions were beyond inhuman and her view, her oversight, felt so distant while the supreme anger played out through her actions. Then she was a step past it, before it knew what was occurring, and a flattened palm was moving in a glowing horizontal chop. The hand sliced the arbiter clean in two, the halves flying apart, the top falling outside, the bottom down to the half-floor of the previous story.

More were pouring into what had been temporarily their refuge, and Nyx did not know what to do, did not know how to act nor respond. Elia was transformed, going from simply a beacon to a star that felt like it scorched her ethereal vision just to perceive. She was something else, moving like no human could, not even one so buoyed as they were by the inner fire, but even this was not enough. Rushing down the stair, throwing another arbiter aside, bashing yet another executor through the lower wall, the entire structure shook.

Yet, still, more were coming.

They were going to die here, if something did not change. Elia was not stopping, her flow a continuous doom that could not and would not cease, even as a half dozen of the enemy had entered her sphere of combat. Nyx was transfixed, filled with potent terror and argumentative bravery together, and then an arbiter was past Elia onto the stair, the numbers too great for her to contain, and Nyx's heart was racing, ten thousand beats in a second. The thing bounded up the half-shattered spiral, unerring and hungry to be the one to finally reach her. Closer and closer, it was mere seconds from arrival and Nyx did not know what she would do, or could do. Above the din of the fray, Elia called in the alien language, somehow intelligible in a way Nyx knew not, a desperate yell.

[ Never let them have you! Never! Flee from here! ] Her voice was calling, pleading and commanding, desperate and defiant and refusing to ever surrender to this nightmare that pursued them everywhere. Elia's word rose into a scream, berserk as more of them crowded in, the foundations trembling as she fended them off, lost in the mania of what had consumed her. [ Run! Run and SURVIVE! ]

There was no way she could escape.

The arbiter seemed to run the last few stairs so slowly, the seconds drawn out into a horrifying reactionary sluggishness, the claws unfathomably long and sharp, the arms swinging with the motion. It reached the final stair, the head and eyes fixed thirstily on her, and Nyx was out of time, out of help, out of all but the presence of a demon that promised with every micron of its being that she was to submit or die.

Then, something within her changed too.

Instinctively she reached out, the hidden sunlight coming alive, shooting forth from her fingers to engulf the arbiter for a single moment. Immediately the light retreated, as if sucked straight back to her hand, the black fire pulled with it in some inconceivable rebellion against everything that was possible. Inverted, the fire was no longer fire but a thrumming field of shadow that flowed over her.

Right in front of the arbiter, she vanished from sight.

The prey was gone.

At the foot of the tottering building, the walls collapsing from the melee, Elia was drowning in a throng of aggressors and not able to stay them. Her voice was no longer speech but maddened yells, unable to escape and unable to win, an unabating storm of utter contempt.

Across the clearing, unhindered and unseen, Nyx fled. Her emotions were matching the sounds from behind her, in anguish and despair at the injustice that persecuted them without pause. The hurt was grievous and she could not bear to look. She could not watch for a moment, even as it tore her heart to leave alone, but she had to leave.

So, wrapped in a cloak of darkness, she ran.

Here it is! Plenty of excitement to go around for everyone. A note regarding a little bit of chapter-update spam that may have come through: you can read why this was going on right here.
I'd love to hear from you; be it review, comment or PM. If you're enjoying Veil of Shadow, please let me know!
Copyright © 2017 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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So, you come sneaking in like an arbiter and overwhelm me again.

Happy Birthday Shay, here's a giant Aphid!, -that's the picture in my

mind. It's a fabulous concept,... only what do they eat?

 

It's clear that Shay's powers are growing with his confidence, just

like Ayize says. He is a wise man and I like him more every time I get a

look. He has a very clear and distinctive perspective. Clever man.

 

Then you drop the bomb: Elia is Mira's sister? You leave us with an absolute

cliffhanger. Be careful; you may win the prize...

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It is nice to have you catch up on the story lines that were left out in the last few chapters, like Elia and Nynx, though I am kind of sad that we most likely won't see Elia again. Funnily, her death hurt me more than Carlos' back then.

What I don't like is the last part of the conversation between Shay and Ayize, they are only seeing the bright side of having the power of a god, not the danger in it. I don't think that it suits Shay to not even worry about it probably corrupting him to have too much power. I missed that train of thoughts there.

Also this was like a relapse for me, I was almost okay with not getting new chapters from you and now I can't WAIT for the next one. This world you created is just to fascinating. Please be quick on the next one. <3

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On 03/07/2015 07:48 PM, Stephen said:
So, you come sneaking in like an arbiter and overwhelm me again.

Happy Birthday Shay, here's a giant Aphid!, -that's the picture in my

mind. It's a fabulous concept,... only what do they eat?

 

It's clear that Shay's powers are growing with his confidence, just

like Ayize says. He is a wise man and I like him more every time I get a

look. He has a very clear and distinctive perspective. Clever man.

 

Then you drop the bomb: Elia is Mira's sister? You leave us with an absolute

cliffhanger. Be careful; you may win the prize...

Fun fact: it is little more than a month since Shay awakened on Lucere. All of the dramatic current events have happened over that rather short time. This is lightning fast given the history behind everything!

 

Ayize is pragmatic and adaptable, a necessity given the job he has. His advice will not be what Konstantin's is, but it will have that same strength of consideration behind it.

 

Regarding Elia, I will say this: Volkov had three patients they tested their viral aqumi treatment on. Shay Andersen, Synnove Ellefsen and Kajetan Dvoracek. Synnove's DNA is Mira's DNA, including the protective code sequence. Then consider that Synnove was sterotypically Nordic with pale eyes and skin, and fair hair. Mira shares these physical traits and so too does Elia, not to mention Elia's strong instinct for guardianship over Nyx -- and towards Shay, though she has not met him and has only a fractured understanding of who he is.

 

All together, the picture should be clear. Synnove's DNA was passed on to two sharpelings, not one. Elia is more than Mira's sister, she is his genetic twin. What would happen if they met? Will they *ever* meet given the events of this chapter? Time will tell!

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On 03/08/2015 11:16 AM, Scary said:
It is nice to have you catch up on the story lines that were left out in the last few chapters, like Elia and Nynx, though I am kind of sad that we most likely won't see Elia again. Funnily, her death hurt me more than Carlos' back then.

What I don't like is the last part of the conversation between Shay and Ayize, they are only seeing the bright side of having the power of a god, not the danger in it. I don't think that it suits Shay to not even worry about it probably corrupting him to have too much power. I missed that train of thoughts there.

Also this was like a relapse for me, I was almost okay with not getting new chapters from you and now I can't WAIT for the next one. This world you created is just to fascinating. Please be quick on the next one. <3

Thank you! I'm planning on reducing the down time between chapters. I want to get more of this done in 2015, so here's to a productive year.

 

While Ayize is now well aware of what Shay is capable of -- and also what he *could* be capable of in the future -- he has already borne witness to Shay's ethical centre and intelligence. The negative effect on personality that comes from having nigh-unlimited power is balanced by the fact that Shay is not, by nature, reckless, stupid, or any kind of self-indulgent megalomaniac. Ayize is a fairly sound judge of character and Shay is also consistently underrated in terms of his capacity to adapt and do the 'right' thing, whatever that may be. I would say neither takes this power lightly, nor the consequences of its use.

 

Elia! Well, what should I say here, exactly? I would start with a question back to you: why do you think you won't see her again? Why, exactly, do you think she is dead? It certainly looks bad, the situation she was left in, but I have to remind you that Chapter 11 of Hidden Sunlight had Mira (apparently) stabbed in the back and killed. Here we are, Chapter 11 of Veil of Shadow, and Elia is (apparently) overwhelmed and killed.

 

The kicker here is the she *could* actually be dead, but equally, I did not show her dying. Assumptions are all well and good, but if they rely on an uncertain premise, you have to question the conclusion. So, instead, ask yourself this: would it make sense for her to die at this point in the plot? What purpose has she served to be introduced and then killed here and now?

 

More food for thought.

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I've been silently, patiently, pressing'refresh'on my browser waiting for a new chapter. I can't wait for chapter 12. What I think would be cool is if the ship tells Shay that there is 'activity' on lucre. Then Shay finds Elia and then they (somehow) stumble upon Nyx. (Literally? I mean... She is invisible...) Can't wait for the next chapter! <3

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On 03/14/2015 11:07 AM, Hell_5pawn said:
I've been silently, patiently, pressing'refresh'on my browser waiting for a new chapter. I can't wait for chapter 12. What I think would be cool is if the ship tells Shay that there is 'activity' on lucre. Then Shay finds Elia and then they (somehow) stumble upon Nyx. (Literally? I mean... She is invisible...) Can't wait for the next chapter! <3
Awww! Thank you for your dedicated page-refreshing, and for stopping by to comment!

 

While the ship may not necessarily be able to tell Shay very much concrete information -- at least until he can figure out the intricacies of its brain a little more -- he could certainly jump to Lucere if he wished. Though, he has already made a plan with Ayize to find the xenomorphs' marshalling point, deciding that warning Earth about *that* is very important, so it is not so likely he'd go there first.

 

Though, after that -- anywhere is possible. Earth? Highly unlikely. Lucere? Maybe! Dagen's Grace and Yugan?? He'd have to find them first ;)

 

Stay tuned! I know I seem to say this about every chapter, but this time it should be for real. 12 won't be too far off!

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so there is a 4th type, the Oracle, eh... or perhaps that's just Mira's view lol.

I feel sorry for Nyx and Ellia, at least Shay had his history, and Mira had Shay, not to mention both had our Russian Friend... Nyx and Elia only have each other.... and now they are seperated... I do not presume to think that Elia is dead, it didn't sound like she was... yet... overwelmed yes...dead no....

actually i am frankly surprised given the fact of genetics and such that there are only 2 guardians and such on that world.... after all it was 200 years ago when the whole thing happened, and while it is true that the lady's family could have been overwelmed any time between now and then... it would have had to happen within the last 2 generations since all that Mira and she remember is being a critter and barely do they remember that. Besides which... i have the feeling people started killing themselves after 2 generations before the change took them... just guessing from the Dynamic of that world.

Also Stephen's Giant Aphid analogy is kind of how i picture it too... a big black insect.... although it could look like a shadow ship from Babylon 5... (which makes me think of a giant crab or spider (more the second than the first))

Also I like Rashid... especially after his confession.... and yes from a Religious point of view i could very much See him seeing Shay as Angelic verses a Demon.

Lets face it, Science or mystical, once you have that kind of power it practically equates to the same thing. Power doesn't nessarilly go to your head, if you have the power you use it... it's your morals that determine how you use it.

And really Mira bottomed did he ;) you didn't go much into that... :P however it somehow does not surprise me really. However it wouldn't surprise me if he topped next time too lol.

Because like Shay put it, why does one have to be the girl and the other the boy... and Mira just likes sex and loves Shay... i think ultimately it would be up to Shay if he bottomed or not... because Mira is the way he is.

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What a treat!

I guess this will set me back weeks on my own writing, considering my depression from the realization that I will never in my life be able to match the quality of my writing. ^^

 

Anyway, great chapter, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

The last scene: Déjà vu? :D

Either I'm, like, completely wrong, or I totally know what's gonna happen next on Lucere. Anyway, I had this really weird thought that if Shay wasn't gay and all, he could totally go to Lucere and start his harem. Disturbing, isn't it? ^^

 

Anyway, I really hope they do manage to locate and meet The Seer. Then again, I've been hoping for that from the very beginning, but I now I'm actually seeing the possibility.

 

I like how Shay takes 'being a god'.

It's really a rather unusual direction for a story to take (at least of those I know) but so far, you're keeping the balance and it's pretty awesome. Let's hope the 'fuck ups' kids his age are prone to do aren't too big to fix.

 

Love

Sammy

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On 04/16/2015 10:29 AM, Sammy Blue said:
What a treat!

I guess this will set me back weeks on my own writing, considering my depression from the realization that I will never in my life be able to match the quality of my writing. ^^

 

Anyway, great chapter, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

The last scene: Déjà vu? :D

Either I'm, like, completely wrong, or I totally know what's gonna happen next on Lucere. Anyway, I had this really weird thought that if Shay wasn't gay and all, he could totally go to Lucere and start his harem. Disturbing, isn't it? ^^

 

Anyway, I really hope they do manage to locate and meet The Seer. Then again, I've been hoping for that from the very beginning, but I now I'm actually seeing the possibility.

 

I like how Shay takes 'being a god'.

It's really a rather unusual direction for a story to take (at least of those I know) but so far, you're keeping the balance and it's pretty awesome. Let's hope the 'fuck ups' kids his age are prone to do aren't too big to fix.

 

Love

Sammy

Aww .. stop that! I am no kind of Shakespeare. A perfectionist, definitely, but that's all. Keep doing what you are doing; you can't reach any goals if you don't try.

 

So, you think you know where it's going? Is Elia about to fight her way free in an amazing feat of heroism? Or is Nyx? Hmm, there are a lot of possibilities. As for Shay, his sexuality is still something that is indefinite. It was a person he fell in love with, not a gender; in another reality he might have a girlfriend. Therefore not as unlikely as you may think, though the connection between them wouldn't default to 'romantic attraction.'

 

Then we have 'the seer.' This one has quite the journey of his own, and there is no small amount of importance attached to that. Shay's apparent godhood, also, is more closely related to him than might be first thought.

 

On the story goes! Glad you're enjoying it.

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I waited to review until I read all of what you have written. It's... quite good, and it makes me really wonder where you are headed with it. I like that you are showing the real effects of power, and I'm liking seeing Shay both be positive and negatively affected by it.

Sure, he could be a god... but should he? I think you have asked this question, and perhaps you don't have an answer, but so far, you seem to be aware that, omnipotant power? Is not something that should be within one person. And yet, Shay finds it within him.

It is too late for me to say much else... and in any event I'd like to see where you take this before I comment more. There are so many unknowns I'd like to know before I can say much more. But I will say this, I am definitely interested, and I hope we get a new chapter soon.

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On 04/16/2015 09:54 AM, Celethiel said:
so there is a 4th type, the Oracle, eh... or perhaps that's just Mira's view lol.

I feel sorry for Nyx and Ellia, at least Shay had his history, and Mira had Shay, not to mention both had our Russian Friend... Nyx and Elia only have each other.... and now they are seperated... I do not presume to think that Elia is dead, it didn't sound like she was... yet... overwelmed yes...dead no....

actually i am frankly surprised given the fact of genetics and such that there are only 2 guardians and such on that world.... after all it was 200 years ago when the whole thing happened, and while it is true that the lady's family could have been overwelmed any time between now and then... it would have had to happen within the last 2 generations since all that Mira and she remember is being a critter and barely do they remember that. Besides which... i have the feeling people started killing themselves after 2 generations before the change took them... just guessing from the Dynamic of that world.

Also Stephen's Giant Aphid analogy is kind of how i picture it too... a big black insect.... although it could look like a shadow ship from Babylon 5... (which makes me think of a giant crab or spider (more the second than the first))

Also I like Rashid... especially after his confession.... and yes from a Religious point of view i could very much See him seeing Shay as Angelic verses a Demon.

Lets face it, Science or mystical, once you have that kind of power it practically equates to the same thing. Power doesn't nessarilly go to your head, if you have the power you use it... it's your morals that determine how you use it.

And really Mira bottomed did he ;) you didn't go much into that... :P however it somehow does not surprise me really. However it wouldn't surprise me if he topped next time too lol.

Because like Shay put it, why does one have to be the girl and the other the boy... and Mira just likes sex and loves Shay... i think ultimately it would be up to Shay if he bottomed or not... because Mira is the way he is.

Ah! I've been a bit slack replying to reviews. I knew I had forgotten to comment on some, so please forgive the tardiness.

 

That there is an 'oracle' definitely is Mira's understanding, though it isn't necessarily wrong. Yugan is not the same as the humans, not merely because of species but also because the Mishith relationship with aqumi is not *quite* the same too! More to come on that in later chapters.

 

Regarding genetics and what's possible: the missing puzzle piece is that I have never described anything surrounding sharpeling genetic selection and reproduction. Also relevant is the way in which aqumi bonds to an individual, and the precise reasons the activator sequences function the way they do. There is a bit more to come on this as well, in the future. Watch this space.

 

Rashid is no fool; he knows there are valid reasons for the situation, but equally, there is an undeniable amount of mysticism apparent to the more spiritual eye. However, as Clarke stated: 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' Shay might appear an angel to Rashid, just as the technological wonders of the 21st century would appear truly astonishing to Victorian England, or even to the modern world 50 years ago, perhaps.

 

Lastly, I didn't go into detail because I didn't want to give a detailed account of them losing their virginity (which occurred in the final chapter of Hidden Sunlight.) I wanted that to remain private, and yes, Mira was on the bottom! It's no secret he's a big boy, and he didn't want to hurt Shay on their first time, so it was him that chose this. There was a long debate in my mind about whether to include the fact at all, considering it something that Shay might never want to share with other people, but he got angry enough at Rashid to talk about it.

 

You are quite right: Mira *does* have a preference but that preference is a distant second to simply being with the boy he loves. Whatever is most desirable for Shay is what he would do.

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On 04/23/2015 08:25 PM, Nightlit said:
I waited to review until I read all of what you have written. It's... quite good, and it makes me really wonder where you are headed with it. I like that you are showing the real effects of power, and I'm liking seeing Shay both be positive and negatively affected by it.

Sure, he could be a god... but should he? I think you have asked this question, and perhaps you don't have an answer, but so far, you seem to be aware that, omnipotant power? Is not something that should be within one person. And yet, Shay finds it within him.

It is too late for me to say much else... and in any event I'd like to see where you take this before I comment more. There are so many unknowns I'd like to know before I can say much more. But I will say this, I am definitely interested, and I hope we get a new chapter soon.

I would hesitate to describe Shay's power as omnipotence. He could (will?! ;)) reach that point, but for now there are issues surrounding this. Having a superheroic ability sits in a similar psychological vein as being a dictator: you are a single being wielding influence disproportionate to your actual physical size. The whims of personality and impulse are exaggerated because of the impact on everyone around you, and because of expectation and reality. A benign entity might be able to accomplish a world of good, though if the worst flaw should manifest, the situation could turn hellish with no warning.
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I’m reading this long past its publication, but I’m just very glad someone finally fed that poor kitten. Love the story!

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24 minutes ago, Lacuna said:

I’m reading this long past its publication, but I’m just very glad someone finally fed that poor kitten. Love the story!

 

It did get fed before this moment, but, 'off camera' so to speak, so the readers didn't see it happening. At this point though, the poor little thing had been imprisoned in Shay's backpack for a day or three while he was being kidnapped and forced to slog his way across alien landscapes, so ... it was getting rather hungry.

 

Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it.

Edited by Stellar
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Yes you are the Master of action so well acted out that the scene comes easily to life and is believable! High marks for this chapter I just loved it Thanks!

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And the pace is kept flying high. I am out of breath. What a chapter again.

I love the turn of events as Shay is able to seize the alien spaceship. Now, get all of the shuttle equipment on board for navigation and communication with Earth to enable save landing!

Why has Nyx left Elia? Don't actually both share the same aqumi power? My call to the girls: Nyx, don't leave Elia alone in her fight. You have to save her. No running away! Only you two together have a chance!

 

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19 hours ago, BarkingFrog said:

Why has Nyx left Elia? Don't actually both share the same aqumi power? My call to the girls: Nyx, don't leave Elia alone in her fight. You have to save her. No running away! Only you two together have a chance!

Except Elia knew they were not able to escape. She literally tells Nyx to leave so they aren't both captured.

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On 4/17/2015 at 1:14 AM, Stellar said:

As for Shay, his sexuality is still something that is indefinite. It was a person he fell in love with, not a gender; in another reality he might have a girlfriend. Therefore not as unlikely as you may think, though the connection between them wouldn't default to 'romantic attraction.'

I think this is true for more people than we care to admit. I firmly believe that it is our society that limits how we express ourselves.

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