A dry wind caught hold of the Warbringer’s tattered clothes, whipping them about for an instant before everything settled back onto the tilted floor — leaving only the red dust to whirl through the air in the aftermath.
Kneeling on the ground before the bodies of his comrades, the Warbringer barely noticed the wind. It mattered little in the grand scheme of things, not in the face of the tragedy before him. Reaching out, he turned the nearest body around, revealing a small child with its eyes wide open, staring up into the cracked ceiling above.
With shaky hands, the Warbringer closed the eyes of the child, as he closed his own in turn. This little one could not have been older than a standard cycle. With their powers dwindling, the kin had difficulty reproducing, and every offspring was more valuable than their fleet of flying citadels.
Now the fleet was in ruins, and most of the younger generation was lost — like the child before him. Opening his own eyes, the Warbringer stared up into the ceiling, where once a marvelous depiction of their homeworld had reminded everyone what they fought for.
Now it too was sundered and broken. Cracks across the ceiling shattered the image, and large chunks had fallen upon those who had taken refuge within this chamber, those who should have been safe.
They came too quickly this time, the Warbringer thought, gaining his feet and surveying the rest of the room with a glance, Perhaps the great chase will finally end.
Unwilling to let it end like this, the Warbringer stood up and left the room. With the devastation behind him, only the path to the future reflected off his cold, golden eyes. He passed through the many corridors, jumping over deep trenches, to finally exit the structure where a kinetic attack had blasted the wall in.
On the other side of this hole, the sight of endless desert greeted him. A red, dying, hopeless desert of an immensity that brought the reality of their situation home.
How did they miscalculate the jump? He asked the same question he had been asking ever since they landed here.
It was supposed to be impossible. They had checked and re-checked at least a thousand times over, ever since their surveys had located the next habitation. On the other hand, their surveys were also supposed to orient them of their enemy’s advance, and it had spectacularly failed at that.
In boots unsuited for the climate, the Warbringer walked down the makeshift ramp leading to a ragged camp. A few tents had been raised, and some quick shelters had been put together, but without enough resources, his people now huddled down and stared out at the empty desert with despair in their eyes. Above them, a dome of flickering light kept out the hostile environment, keeping them alive for a little longer.
When he appeared from within the structure, some turned their eyes to him — hopeful. When they saw him exit alone, the light in their eyes died once again. He made no move to speak or report to them; most of them were mere kertal after all, not true kin. Stepping out from the crowd, his second appeared.
Helix had fought for more than ten cycles, and he was not one to wallow in fear of anxiety. Despite this, the Warbringer identified the gleam of desperation in the stoic man’s eyes when he asked, “So, how was it?”
The Warbringer shook his head and turned back to look at the citadel he had just exited. The entire structure had fallen onto the side, the mighty tower cracked in twain, lying in the dust after its disastrous jump.
With a sigh, he turned back to the task at hand and said, “Is everything prepared?”
Sinking, his second nodded. “All is as you ordered it, Warbringer.”
Nodding, he walked through the crowd, Helix stepping in behind him. Passing the shelters and tents, the Warbringer saw the last of their supplies distributed and consumed. This would be the last meal of many, and most here knew it.
The kin accepted this with a certain, stoic demeanor, belying the unwillingness shining through their eyes. None of them could truly accept this end, however, they were unable to change anything. The kertal merely stared into the distance, the lesser beings having already lost hope long ago.
They had failed.
Some called out to him, trying to get his attention. He ignored them, knowing there was nothing he could say that would soothe the unwillingness in their hearts. A rock flew his way, and Helix moved to intercept. The Warbringer was faster, though, grabbing Helix’ arm before he could stop the projectile.
The rock hit him in the temple, slightly cracking his dried skin. A lingering tear of red blood grew from the crack, falling useless onto the ground.
The young kin who had thrown the stone looked as surprised at the Warbringer’s reaction as Helix was. With his cold, emotionless gaze of pure gold, the Warbringer forced both of them to avert their gaze, the young kin’s stature collapsing before him. Unable to stand in the light from the Warbringer’s eyes, the young kin moved back into the crowd and huddled down to cry in silent sorrow.
“Warbringer…” Helix began, but was cut off with a hand gesture.
“Not now. We have more important matters we must see to.”
Nodding, Helix gestured towards an open area within the dome that the survivors kept away from. The Warbringer walked forth, knowing he was dooming his people with his every step, knowing they would never be able to forgive him for the action he was about to perform. He might save them, but they would not thank him for it; not for the cost they would have to pay.
With these heavy thoughts set in his mind, the Warbringer entered the open area. The reason why the survivors kept away from this place was partly due to the twelve sheaths standing at the ready, the last remnants of their once-great army. However, it was the sight of the eleven primaries on their knees, held down by the sheaths, which truly terrified the rest of the kin.
The primaries were supposed to stand side by side and protect the kin; to see them now — dirty and weak, kneeling before the Warbringer with hollow and apathetic stares — was enough to send shivers down the spines of the survivors.
The Warbringer observed the sheaths first. The mechanized units took on the shape of the kin, but on the inside they were more like the enemy who pursued them still. The origins of these sheaths had been lost in the battle, though, and they were now nothing but sentinels.
Seeing their blank stare, it reminded him of his own sheath, the one he had abandoned so long ago after it had become compromised. In a desperate gamble, the Warbringer had stashed away his broken sheath, hoping to find a way of using the enemy’s strength against them. Knowing his people were on the path of dissolution, he had set up a back-up recovery system in case he needed it, but now he no longer had the time.
Time, he thought, staring up at the glaring, singular light on the horizon, Has always been against us…
“Warbringer…” The first of the primaries croaked, raising his ancient head and looked up at the one who had forced them down on their knees; the only primary to still stand straight.
“Old man,” the Warbringer responded, not unkindly, but with a hint of regret to his voice.
“You do this, and you doom us all. You will bind us to this place; to this time…” The first said, pleading with his gaze.
Looking over his shoulder, the Warbringer ignored the first and said, “Bring it here.” Helix nodded and called the command. From a nearby shelter, four of the Warbringer’s subordinates brought forth a circular globe with three legs.
The four men entered the circle of kneeling primaries, showing only a hint of discomfort, where they placed the circular object before retreating as fast as they could.
“Warbringer…!” The old man insisted, fighting slightly against the sheath holding him fast, “Do not do this. We can still do this right; this world is not dead yet, merely asleep—”
“This world died a long time ago. If we plant the seed here, the kin will end. Is that what you want, old man?”
“You wanted to play around for a little longer. Just one more cycle, what harm could it do?” The Warbringer raised his voice such that ever survivor could hear him speak, “You did not want to give up authority and plant the seed, did you? You thought that we could deal with the enemy one more time before the end… Well?”
“It wasn’t supposed to… I swear it, Warbringer, it was not supposed to be like this. I was assured—”
“You failed, Skycaller,” the Warbringer cut him off once more, using his proper title for the first time, “And now I must rectify your mistake.”
With a gesture of his hand, eleven sheaths each pushed a primary down, such that their faces were only inches from the red sand. Many of them wailed. Most cursed. Some made vows. One gave thanks.
Using his hands, the Warbringer called forth the majesty of their hereditary power. Within him, the walls separating dimensions cracked, and a flood of mana coursed through his system. Gritting his teeth, he threw the pure force at the globe in the middle of their circle, while he initiated the complicated calculations that would see the seed to its destination.
With a nod to Helix, his second gave the command. Eleven sheaths moved. Eleven heads fell upon the red ground, staining it with useless tears of blood. The mana within each primary exploded out, and without anyone guiding the force, a violent shockwave tore through the surroundings.
Even though he was prepared, the Warbringer could not stop this immediate explosion of power, and he heard the screams from the survivors behind him. There was no time to look. With all of his strength, the Warbringer forced the wild mana to bend to his will, gently coaxing it into the globe before him.
The globe began to glow and shake as he increased the input, infusing much more mana than should have been necessary for a simple seeding. Had all been as it should be, none of this would have been necessary.
Now screaming, the Warbringer made all the calculations on his own, knowing the place he would send the seed, and the time he had to send it to. He would send it to the world they should have jumped to, not so far away. The problem was time; he knew he would have to err on the side of caution. Without the primaries to guide the seed, its growth would be unpredictable, and could quite possibly take on a twisted form.
He would have to instill a certain desire into the seed; a need to expand and multiply, a constant search for something, something he would bury on this dying world for the seed to find one day.
If only it has time, he thought, straining to hold the raging energies in check. Without him to funnel the mana, this entire planet might break into pieces, destroying the remaining survivors. He had to give the seed time, and the only way to provide this would also be a surefire way to alert the enemy to the location of the survivors.
There was no other option. With a roar, the Warbringer split apart the walls between dimensions on a scale never attempted before. His mind churning, the calculations alone splitting apart the synapses of his brain, he threw the seed into the hole made in the very fabric of space and time.
Seeing it fade away, the Warbringer knew it did not have enough power to reach its destination. It needed one more push. Exhausted, he turned his head towards Helix and nodded. His second stared back at his old commander, hesitating.
“Now Helix,” the Warbringer said, biting out his words through gritted teeth.
The twelfth sheath moved at his back. The Warbringer felt the mechanized blade slide through his chest; through the heart that had been cold and dead for so long. Perhaps only in this moment was it blazing as truly as it had been supposed to.
Clinging onto life, the Warbringer forced out the last explosion of mana, flinging it after the seed. It smashed into the fading object, finally providing it the speed it needed.
The crack within him burst. Falling upon his knees, the Warbringer was unable to hold the opening, and it closed with a violent crash.
Finally, it was done. The Warbringer tilted forward, planting his face in the red sand. With the primaries gone, the seed would have to make its own. Hopefully, the gambles he had put in motion would allow new primaries to rise once more.
With his vision faltering, the last he saw was his heart-blood strewn upon the reddened ground, unable to bring life back to a dying world. Useless.