Grower and a Shower

My half of a trade I did for Avenue!

“The new you is just a few clicks away!”

Avenue was no stranger to banner ads – most of the internet seemed to have a few these days, scattered here and there. The strange thing, though, was somehow this one had managed to make it through his ad blocker. How that was possible, and why it had decided to appear now, he couldn’t quite answer.

…and, worryingly, was simply spread across his desktop, seemingly locking their inputs aside from clicking directly on it, as if funneling his attention directly towards it. He clicked here and there, hoping he could simply minimize it until he found a way to remove whatever malware had delivered the pop-up in the first place, but it stubbornly refused to budge.

Their first instinct was to simply turn the computer off and call someone to diagnose it, but the drawing open behind it hadn’t been saved in what felt like hours, and… losing it simply wasn’t an option. Sighing, Avenue clicked – hoping that opening whatever page it led to might let him close the ad for good.

Oddly, instead of the usual scammy pop-up laden page he expected, it led to nothing. A broken URL, with a “we’re sorry! this page has moved” message scrawled across it, joined by a little “:(“ at the middle of the page. Whoever or whatever it once might have led to was long gone, which… made the adware useless. Funny, in a cynical sort of way.

“Well that’s certainly a way to advertise,” Avenue said flatly, closing the page. Behind it, oddly, was another window – this one advertising a “ceiling strengthening” service, with a stylized stick-dog with a broken roof perched on their head like a hat. “Spend a lot of time counting shingles?” It read in bold, black font. “Sometimes growing pains don’t need to be so painful – Kaiju Roofing is here for you, no matter the height, no matter the problem!”

Avenue rolled his eyes and clicked the “x” there, too, only to be met with a series of “are you sure?” and “last chance!” pop-ups, until, finally, his desktop was clean and clear. He waited a few moments, expecting it to return with a vengeance – but nothing happened. He did feel slightly… tingly, but that could’ve been anything.

Now, drawing time.

He reached for his tablet pen, and realized something strange. It felt… smaller, in his grip – not exactly enough to be noticeable to the eye, but strangely different to hold. Had he just never noticed? How would he not have noticed it when he’d sat down earlier?

Come to think of it, his desk seemed a little smaller too, monitor just that tiny amount further away. Sighing, he leaned over, intent on continuing – only for the sound of ripping fabric to draw his attention away, again.

Slowly, Avenue glanced to his right where the sound had come from… and saw his white fluffy fur peeking through a long tear down his sleeve, surprisingly buff arm seemingly flexing right through it in a show of strength.


He felt it, now. A surge, building in his paws and barreling upwards with all the force of an earthquake – and, doubling over, Avenue began to swell. His midsection thickened, muscles he’d forgotten he even had thickening up with the physique he’d wished for so long to have – but that wasn’t all. Panting, the wolf realized that everything seemed further away, again.

Except the ceiling, of course. That was closer.

“M-Mmf… not again,” He whined, clothes barely hanging on as another surge swept through him. Somehow, despite the drastic size increase, Avenue’s underwear managed to hold on – even if knocking over the keyboard and mouse and sending his tablet flying was part of the deal.

He swelled larger, bracing a meaty paw against the ceiling, but the changes showed no sign of stopping, shirt finally giving out with a colossal RRRIP and falling to the floor in tatters, pajamas following suit as he quite literally flexed his way right through them. It was almost intoxicating being this strong and enormous, and despite his best efforts to rein it in he was wagging, tail sweeping wind across the increasingly small room like the rotor of a helicopter. It wasn’t that he was enjoying it, exactly, perhaps, but he was… enjoying it, quite a lot. The sensation of being so sensitive, the new strength flowing into his muscles with the force of a river, it was invigorating in a way he couldn’t quite describe. It was perfect!

Still taller he grew, starting to hunch against the ceiling of his room more and more with each swelling surge – until, accidentally, he crushed his bookshelf by trying to grab it to steady himself. Well. At least it’ll end soon?

Unfortunately, as the next surge proved, ceilings were not built for half-dragon wolves, no matter how sorry and apologetic he was about growing right through it. With his cheeks a rosy pink, Avenue tried to hunch back down – finding their enormous knees and thighs could barely even fit now that their pecs and biceps were so huge, making even attempting it difficult.

Still larger he grew, shingles and roofing falling from his impossibly fit frame, until, with a crash, his bulge went somewhere. It felt cold? Cold, and slightly wet, like morning… grass?

Glancing down, Avenue realized with (embarrassing) satisfaction it had literally broken straight through the wall, collapsing the computer desk and sticking straight out into the neighbor’s garden.

“S-Sorry, agh…!” The wolf managed, steaming in the cool morning air as the small figure of their neighbor peeked out in alarm – and shut the door as soon as they’d seen what happened, intent on leaving this behind until coffee was finished.

With a loud crash, the house gave up – and Avenue was left sitting in a pile of rubble and shingles, nearly thirty feet tall and nearly as wide – just in time for their computer, somewhere in the pile, to confirm their free trial. Thoughtful.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the swelling stopped, the tension in their growing muscles fading away to be replaced with something worryingly like satisfaction, a desire for more of their neighbors to see what has happened. A dragon’s pride, maybe?

“P-Phew,” Avenue sighed, wiping their brow and leaning back a little. “A lot to fix, but…”

There was a snap, and, without warning, their waistband fell loose.

With a titanic crash, their poor neighbor’s fence was ruined.

“Ah. Oh dear.”


Six months had passed since the Carrigan Incident – and life, as it so often does, had returned to what approached normalcy. It had taken Kye months to recover from their experience – their doctors had said it was a miracle they’d survived it at all.

As it was, their tie to their magic seemed deeper, stronger, a phenomenon they simply couldn’t explain. 

New Holland, devastated in the Restoration, had received assistance from across the Eventide League. While the Kingdom’s coffers were deep, some materials simply weren’t available on-world, and with the expulsion of the Ibrea after their plans had fallen apart, the Olesians felt they owed Carrigan some amount of repayment.

So, as the city skyline once more began to climb into the sky, Kye Celan, the Lost Prince of Carrigan, was lost no longer.

Yet, Kye felt… restless. Their stargazing resumed.

The halls felt empty. Petitioners and courtesans, traders and politicians – transient, in the scheme of things. Their portrait was hung in the ancestral gallery, the latest in a line going back millennia, but it wasn’t really them. Their gaze always lingered on Hallek.

Sometimes they still saw blood on the tiles of the throne room. Still heard the sounds of pitched battle in the halls.

Still heard the whispers of the Darksea, and felt the raw horror of the crystal sun.

The Rime Nova had been consumed by Cursa – a weapon from the ancient past obliterated wholly and utterly. Even still, it had left a mark upon the Eventide League – a mark discussed endlessly in tired debates and trite arguments, even as Kye tried – and failed – to appear interested. Hesse was as it always was, an exercise in futility. 

Perhaps they weren’t quite made for this life, after all.

Their proper coronation had been scheduled, rescheduled, and pushed off into the future; a problem Kye didn’t quite see as a problem. They were the Prince, the last in their line – it wasn’t as if any other options were feasible. A regent, perhaps.

…or a steward.

Their dreams were filled with adventure – their time among the stars, seeing new worlds and new places. Carrigan felt hollow without the reassuring presence of their father’s court and the driving forces leading them home. 

They wanted to see the galaxy again on their terms.

So it was, one cold night, that Kye penned a letter. Addressed to the Red Council, an unheard of request – but one they could simply ignore no longer, as they marked the letter with their own seal and handed it off to a palace messenger. A regency, instated by a Prince who wasn’t quite sure the world needed one.

Despite his faults, the Director had offloaded many duties onto the Red Council in exchange for their complacency – and the planetary constitution was quite clear on what the Kingdom could do without one, anyway.

Perhaps their father was right. Time away might do them good.

Gone were their robes – they wore but a tunic, breeches and a cowl against the night chill, drifting through the rebuilding city like a ghost.

Gone was the prestige of recognition – they’d tied their hair back to fit beneath the cowl, carefully plucking all the flowers but one.

Gone was the Prince as they purchased a ticket off of Carrigan, they simply traveled as Kye.

As the ship lifted away into the sky, they watched the Autumn House retreat behind the midnight sky – and smiled.

Gone, for now, but not forgotten.


// endgame

The Restoration was finalized at Tanager. Groups from across the Eventide League, from mercenaries offered contracts to vengeful Olesians to the scattered remnants of the Red Council and Carriganite exiles, many had a vested interest in the fall of Director Jayne Illor – but none more than Kye.

Kye fought for their throne, for their homeworld, and for their fathers, struck down by a tyrant’s ambition and a despot’s desires.

So it was, drifting in the cerulean clouds of the Iris Nebula, that Ulyn sat down with the Prince.

“Our forces are ready to depart as soon as you give the order,” Ulyn said off-handedly, gazing out into the dark.

“I hope I have not doomed us all.” Kye said quietly.

“It is the Director who has attempted to.” Ulyn said, frowning. “On Olesia, I received… disturbing data from an old colleague. Jayne Illor has in his possession a weapon predating the Collaborate, and has likely already tested it multiple times. The Ibrea referred to it as Sunshard, but that’s… likely not what it is called. A stellar deprivation weapon.”

“The crystal suns.” Kye muttered.

“We must assume he will attempt to use it at Carrigan.” Ulyn said sharply, standing. “Which is why we must strike before he has prepared.”

Kye nodded, staring out the vessels drifting in the void beyond the window.

“Give the order, Ulyn. May the future smile upon today.”

Ulyn nodded, and left the room – leaving Kye to their thoughts as the drive began to spin up.

No plan, as it is said, survived contact with the enemy.

Throughout the long thread of history, well-laid plans have met knots – and, as Kye’s armored bulk touched the shattered flagstones of the Autumn House courtyard, this plan seemed to have met an unexpected knot all its own.

Clearly, their actions across the Eventide League had drawn the Director’s attention – mercenaries littered the grounds as the Reforged Guard opened fire, their own weapon kicking against their grip as they shouldered it.

“Lord Celan, please stay down!” One of the guards shouted, planting a solid maglocked palm against their shoulder plate and extending their own shield across it. 

“I shall not allow my guard to take my home back for me!” The Prince shouted back, a grin in their voice. 

Already, two other landing craft had touched down – spilling forth Carriganite rebels and four members of the Easy Blues, power-armored bulk and warform synthframe bodies singing against the sound of battle. As the unprepared mercenaries shifted their aim, trying to keep the push away from the palisade, the Prince saw their chance.

Kye, throwing their rifle aside, drew their blade – and shouted something lost to the cacophony, raising it high over their head. The archaeotech shortsword hummed and pulsed, ancient circuitry glowing a brilliant gold, before igniting a soft yellow.

With a cry of “Retake the House! Leave none standing!”, they charged forward, their guard in their wake.

The push shattered their lines, sending the mercenaries who survived the onslaught reeling as they began to be pushed back into the Autumn House proper – leaving the ancient hallways of baroque opulence marred by battle for the first time in millennia, at the very least.

Kye did not care – this was their birthright, their legacy – they would take it back for their father’s memory, if nothing else. To rule a palace of ash was still to rule, if a tyrant’s head adorned it.

Beyond the palace walls the city itself was embroiled in the conflict – the Carriganite Rebellion was fully awoken, spurred into action by the declaration of the Red Council that the heir had returned, and that the Count Illor was to be removed. Jayne Illor’s guards had attempted to silence the Council, but were met by Ulyn Variss and the House Guard who’d survived. Clearly he was ahead of schedule.

“Lord Celan,” crackled a voice in their helmet as a slash from their blade bisected a House Illor guard, sending his two halves to the floor in a spray of augmetic synthblood.

“Speak,” Kye grunted, slashing the steaming blade through the air to clear it. 

“Commander Variss has touched down on the palatial grounds,” The voice said calmly, finally appearing in the top right of their vision. A number of infomorph posthumans had joined the cause, wreaking havoc among the planetary networks to prevent quick responses to the assault.

“Link him in.”

“Already done.”


“A moment,” came the reply, muted by gunfire. Ahead, one of the Reforged Guard unleashed their magic – the air itself rippled from the heat, a hapless guard igniting like so much kindling.

“I take it the courtyard fell?” Ulyn asked a moment later.

“Easily enough. It seems the Director has pulled his heaviest forces back.”

“Indeed. We’re encountering heavy resistance trying to push to the White Gallery, as well.”

Kye frowned, jogging forward as the fighting moved on – the throne room wasn’t particularly far, but the palace had designed to be defensible. Hopefully the two fronts would make this easier.

“Have some of your men watch the pads. I don’t want that snake slipping by us.”

“Aye,” Ulyn agreed, and cut the channel.

Kye charged ahead, meeting one of the rival guards mid-stride in an attempt to knock it off its feet, only to be met by a charging synthframe-clad guard from the side, both enormous arms raised in an attempt to crush them here and there. Kye managed to bring their blade up in time, but only just.

The blade hissed in protest against the bare metal of the synthframe, even as Kye pulled from the Darksea in spades to will the blade hotter, brighter, but the warform was simply too strong for conventional methods.

With a cry, the holding action failed, sending the Prince sprawling as the warform bellowed a digital war cry, knocking a pair of guards who stepped in to shield them out of the way with contemptuous ease. It began to increase in speed, clearly hoping to simply flatten the reclaimer – but was caught from the side by a flash of gold, sending it off-course and smashing through the wall into an adjoining gallery.

One of the heavy-framed Easy Blues vaulted the low remains of the wall, exomatter gauntlet reconfiguring around their forearm, before sending another shower of golden annihilation raining onto the frame as it bellowed another atonal cry. 

The particles left pitted scars across the synthframe’s body as their negative mass annihilated against normal matter, even as it charged again – meeting the mercenary hand to hand in a shower of sparks and visual distortions.

“Ahead!” The mercenary shouted with a laugh, gauntlet glowing blue-white against their armor as they met blow after blow with a counter. “Onwards!”

Nodding, Kye rushed up the stairs as another titanic blow shook the crumbling wall loose, sealing the fight away.

Glass shattered as Kye entered the royal gallery, a pitched running firefight engulfing the length of the room – some of their own forces had come through the ceiling from another landing craft, catching reinforcing guards by surprise. Unfortunately, they’d been able to recover, and as Kye crossed the outer circuit they were forced to take a few potshots simply to be able to pass. Their comms were alive with shouts and cries, even as the Reforged Guard began to regroup and push into the throne room proper, fighting their way through the ancient halls and past the great Carrigan steelwood doors.

Callister Rhose, steward to the Count Illor and Spymaster of the Carrigan Directorate, attempted to bar the doors – his own weapons singing as he cut through a pair of guards before falling.

Kye slammed into the vast chamber, eyes darting across the vast chamber for any signs of Jayne Illor, and found none.

The room had been more or less stripped bare, their house crest long destroyed and removed – but, as they watched, the throne flickered.

Holite sparks twinkled and flickered in the shimmering air, resolving into the figure of a reclining man – sharp, hawkish features somewhat older than the last time they’d laid eyes on him – and, worryingly, smug.

“Ah! The Lost Prince, I had so wondered when your presence would grace these halls once more.” Jayne Illor crowed, smiling.

“It’s over.” Kye said flatly, blade at the ready.

“A bold declaration, but is it?” 

“The transmission is being bounced,” one of the infomorphs whispered in their ear. “Tracing it. Keep him talking for a few moments more.”

“Where have you fled, traitor?” Kye shouted, pointing the blade accusingly. “Show yourself and surrender and I may show leniency!”

“I’m afraid I’m quite beyond your grasp,” Jayne Illor sneered, steepling his fingers. “You may have your petty kingdom, Prince Celan. I shall have the day.

“What are you saying, you bastard?”

“Ah! The Ibrea have granted me a device that shall shape the League in my image, of course. I believe you’ve seen its handiwork?”

Kye’s blood ran cold. Banne.

“A remarkable piece of pre-Collaborate technology, wondrous. They called it the Rime Nova, a weapon to turn stars to ice.

The Prince took a step closer, starting to reply – but the voice returned, whispering in their ear. “Carrigan low orbit and rising. Two of our vessels have been tasked to intercept, but something… something dropped in beneath the orbital plane.”

“Something?” Kye asked aloud, drawing a grin from the holite figure.

“I believe this is where our stories part,” Jayne Illor smiled, leaning back. “Goodbye, Little Prince. I shall pluck Cursa from the sky as a frigid pearl and leave your world to die.”

With that, the hologram dissolved.

Static washed across the comm, until, with urgency the Prince was unfamiliar hearing, Ulyn broke through.

“…unshard! It’s the weapon!”

Kye turned to their guards, and nodded. Both split away to finish the retaking of the Autumn House, leaving Kye alone before the empty throne.

How hollow it felt, now.

They tapped their ear, gazing through the glass ceiling at the darkening sky. Unnatural lightning flickered through the clouds as the vessel rose away. Debris rained down from on high, flaring as it burned up over the horizon.


“Already touching down at the northern pad. Hurry.”

Sprinting as fast as their armor would allow, they rushed through the devastated halls of the Autumn House into the cold night air of Carrigan, intimately familiar with each passing second. The Farsight was ready to leave as soon as their feet had passed the threshold, rising into the night.

“Catch that ship!” They shouted into their comm as the deck shuddered beneath the thrust of realspace engines spinning up, slicing upwards through the sky as a silver ribbon.

Ahead, the Rime Nova loomed – a black stain on the orange backdrop of space, crawling inexorably towards Carrigan’s star.

The battle around Carrigan was intense – the Ibrea had clearly fallen back to harass pursuit, blossoms of fire and shattered ships settling into a rough ring around the planet as the Farsight slipped through. The vessel itself was much too large to successfully get close to the defended weapon – but a plan had already formed in their mind, one they’d shared to much uproar.

“You surely can’t be expecting us to let you go alone?!” Ulyn was shouting over the comm, tied up planetside.

“I have no choice!” Kye shouted back, already locking spare magazines and their blade to the magnetic locks on their armor and checking the seals. “The ship can be boarded from other points, but I will not lose my Guard this way. Find your own ways in.”

There was silence on the comm.

The Farsight hurtled closer, realspace drives screaming as they redlined – and, as Kye watched the black expanse of the weapon fly beneath, they took a deep breath.

The red lights of the deployment airlock turned green, and with a fist, they hit the button.

The pressurized environment of the airlock exploded forwards, sucking the Prince into the vacuum of space. For a single terrifying moment they tumbled head over heels, the stars and the shrinking starship spinning away, before they managed to find their thruster controls and right themself. Fighting off nausea and adrenaline tremors, the posthuman rocketed forward, their combat armor rated for merely fifteen minutes in hard vacuum. 

Finding an airlock was easy – but they were all welded shut. Even their blade couldn’t make a dent, cooling too quickly in the void of space – until, out of sheer frustration and rage, Kye poured every ounce of energy they could into the plate – liquifying the hull like candle wax, and yanking the cooling material aside in a shower of sparks and steel.

Steeling themself, the Prince slipped inside – and sealed the airlock behind them, the rush of escaping air slowing to a trickle as the alarms sounded.

“I’m sure they noticed my entrance,” Kye muttered, reading their blade – picking a direction, and rushing onwards. Over the comm, they were notified that a few others had made it aboard the Rime Nova as it passed beyond the range of the Restoration. Already, pockets of fighting had broken out – some of which were members of Illor’s own retinue from Carrigan who’d learned of the Director’s goals.

The vessel was enormous, utilizing a tram system for movement between the decks. Kye had managed to board one of the trams, moving forward despite heavy resistance; until, with a lurching stop, the power was cut.

Bullets began to smash against the sides of the tram, exotic conduits casting the station it had stopped within in harsh violet – and, with an explosion of glass, Kye leapt outwards.

Their armor protested as bullets slammed into the kinetic shields, even as the Prince dealt with the first two guards in rapid succession. The third, however, managed to loose a round through their calf plate before the white-gold blade bisected him.

Kye collapsed to the deck, blood spurting from the wound – and tugged their helmet free, screaming in anguish.

Already, the armor had begun to inject heavy painkillers and coagulants, nanorepair systems attempting to repair the artery – but their vision swam, darkening at the edges.

To be so close, their thoughts swam – before, struggling to stay awake despite their heavy eyelids, Kye gave in.

Elsewhere, the four-person infiltration team that had followed the Prince in had broken free of their holding action – intending to shatter the bridge defenses before they arrived. They’d been notified when their vitals had yellow-lined, but their mission came first. None of them were Carriganites, and held a higher loyalty to the Eventide League itself – the weapon had to be stopped first and foremost.

The narrow halls of the hull had opened into vast tunnels, clearly meant for vehicular transit within the vessel – lines with power conduits the size of trees, carrying the vast amounts of energy from the Infraspace Drain Arrays to the weapon systems at the bow. The leader of the infiltration team held up a palm, before gesturing with two fingers, and smashing a fist into their open palm.

The second member of the team nodded, their spider-like frame leaping upwards into the dark to set demolition charges.

The other three continued on. All four were synths – forged for asymmetric warfare, and designed for ship-to-ship sabotage. 

A quartet of guards fell to nanoflechettes and exotic matter annihilation, clearing up their pathway to the forward transit nexus – and, as the tram pulled away, the station it had just left was destroyed.

Kye, groggy, sat up.

A gun was tucked neatly under their chin, the cold metal sending a shock through their system.

“Good morning, Little Prince.” The holder said coldly, staring. They were enormous, obsidian-black and berobed. The only visible part of their body beneath were the glowing red oculi, clicking and whirring as their focus changed.

The room behind came into focus – a vast, open space, a wrap-around bridge window showing the growing expanse of Carrigan’s sun. The bridge.

“I take it our guest has awoken, Karteh?”

Kye tensed. Bastard.

“They have.”

“It takes a certain amount of bravery to board a vessel, Lord Celan. For this, I applaud you. Truly! And to have nearly made it to me, through three dozen guards? Most impressive.”

Hazily, Kye noticed their armor had been stripped away – and their blade was missing.

“I’m afraid your mission is over.”

The Director frowned as his earpiece hummed. His frown deepened as something was said. 

The lights overhead flickered.

“Persistent. No matter. Once the weapon has fired, their wills shall shatter.”

“Sir,” One of the bridge staff said cautiously. “Cursa is within firing distance.”

Jayne Illor began to speak, but Karteh spoke first.

“Charge the subspace manifold system. Begin draining.”

The officer nodded, beginning to work on his console – and the ominous hum, omnipresent since Kye had come aboard, began to grow louder.

Space around the Rime Nova began to distort and crack, a roiling, ebon black effervescence boiling from the ship. The Farsight, engaged with an Ibrean cruiser, was in no position to assist – and the fleet around Carrigan was simply too far away.

“Ancillary systems are waking. The weapon has begun to charge.”

The Director scowled. “Boost their yield. I want it charged as quickly as possible.” 

His earpiece chimed again.

There was a commotion in the hallway, guards shouting orders.

A thud.


Jayne Illor turned to Karteh, and tilted his head towards the door. The light outside began to darken.

The man’s robes began to shift, four spindly metallic blade arms extending from within it – and he took a heavy step towards the door, intent on meeting whomever had decided to so rudely interrupt.

The ceiling blew open, shrapnel and sparks showering anything not armored or shielded. Kye shouted in pain as their cheek was cut, managing to fall out of the way of a larger chunk.

The heavily armored bulk of a multiframe fell through the hole, landing on an ensign with a sickening crunch of shattered bone and pulverized flesh – and it stood a moment later, dripping in the silence.

Karteh was moving in the instant the sound had reached him, blades a whir of silver – but the frame was too heavy, magnetic repulsors lifting it from the deck as it hovered backwards out of reach. 

Using the distraction to their advantage, Kye reached for a guard’s scabbard – drawing the force rapier from it in one smooth movement, and attempting to stand. Electric fire shot through their right leg from the wound, but they forced the pain down, hot blood flowing through their fur.

They sprang forward on their good leg, catching a guard with the blade – and the third infiltrator frame dropped through the hole, spindly arms a blur.

The multiframe was soundly losing to Karteh, his blades simply faster than the combined body could keep up with – and as he landed a heavy blow, it split. The two units that made it up, now fighting on equal footing, began to pick at his defenses – clearly not intending to kill him, but certainly keeping him occupied.

The third frame crouched near Kye, faceless steel plate regarding them.

“Designate CELAN. You are injured.”

“I’m aware.” 


With lightning fast speed and unerring accuracy, a medical hypo was jammed directly into their leg – causing them to scream in pain, which quickly subsided. Already, it began to ache less – something which only worsened their tunnel vision on the man panicking on the command dais as his exit was blocked.

Space beyond the bridge was darker yet, the golden expanse of the star now a pale yellow.

“We have to stop the charge sequence!” Kye told the infiltrator, who nodded.

“Conduit 6B.” It said simply – and the deck rocked.

The lights on the bridge flickered again, before cutting to harsh red – and the polarity on the forward windows cut completely, harsh direct sunlight spilling in.

The vessel began to list, gravity worsening – and the two frames struck a vital blow as Karteh lost his footing, red vitality spinning away in low gravity. He certainly wasn’t down, though, retaining his bearings and renewing his assault.

The frame regarded Kye. “Tertiary operational status has been reclassified as expended. Vessel is adrift.”

The Prince wasn’t quite sure what that meant. “Thank you.”

Immediate concern closed, their attention turned to the man stalking their way – a familiar golden blade clutched in their shaking hands, fury coloring their face in the harsh red light.

“I’ll handle this.” They said simply, waving the synthframe away.

“I was this close.” Jayne Illor said quietly, rage seeping through. “This. CLOSE. YOUR WORLD IN MY PALM. Bleeding. A stepping stone for this whole-damned League!”

The slash came so suddenly Kye barely had time to react – their blade meeting the Carriganite blade with a resounding clash of steel, and then shattering – the force behind the Director’s blow utterly rending the rapier. 

Kye threw themself backwards just in time for it to sail through their underclothes, turning the pale white shirt into so many ribbons.

Blood dripped to the floor.

“I’ll have your life for this, you vermin.” Director Illor hissed.

One of the frames fell to Karteh, who shattered it utterly – scattering its remains across the bridge. The remaining frame of the duo paused for only an instant, before doubling it’s efforts.

Kye, despair beginning to creep in as even their protector was pulled away by an attempted attack on the Prince by a pair of guards, began to pull on the Darksea once more – but whatever the ship had done to charge had weakened the veil.

The usual cool, honey-thick creep of magic felt… wrong. Slimy.

It coiled around their soul like tar, dripping and flowing towards their fingers like a landslide – even as their hands began to shake, their eyes rolling back, they couldn’t stop what was coming. It was as if they were trying to dam the ocean, even small cracks were too huge to handle.

The Director drew the blade back, intent on severing the head of the Lost Prince – and was suddenly cast in white, searing light.

Pure energy leapt from the Prince to the Director’s body, setting Kye’s fur alight – and drowning out the screams of agony from both, flowing through the posthuman like a living capacitor. Whatever limiting factors prevented mages from pulling on the Darksea had been removed by the draining effect of the Rime Nova, and both paid a terrible, terrible price.

As suddenly as it had started, it was over.

Kye, arms burned black and charred, collapsed to the deck, their eyes a brilliant white and smoking.

Jayne Illor, Count of Olesia and Director of Carrigan, Kingmaker and traitor, was ash scattered to the stars.

The Carriganite blade, resonant to the Tides, glowed a brilliant orange as it hissed and sputtered against the red-hot deck.

The Rime Nova shuddered as another explosion rocked the vast vessel, superstructure groaning under increased gravitic pressure. The bridge crew had fled when the fight started. None would survive this. Karteh lay bleeding, prone beneath the remaining drone.

It had begun to fall into the star.

“Primary.” The remaining multiframe infiltrator said, urgency creeping into its voice. “Recovery limit is approximately four minutes thirty six seconds distant. Recommend breach.”

The tall, spindly unit regarded the smoking body on the floor. An expense of energy like that likely killed it. 

The decision took a microsecond.

Clasping a rebreather over the posthuman’s face and making sure the helmet enclosed the ears, its mind was made up.

Striding to the vast exoglass window, the synth curled its fingers into a fist. The first punch sent cracks a few inches.

The second sent cracks six feet.

The third began to whistle, atmosphere rushing through the gaps.

“Brace.” It said, glancing at the second frame and down at the still form of the Prince.

The last punch shattered the window, sucking the corpses and the screaming form of Karteh of Lusa into the open void – and, with almost passive disinterest, the two synthframes disengaged their magnetic soles.

“Package recovered.” Primary announced over an open comm, receiving a handshake in return.

It looked to Secondary, intending to tight-beam directional thrust orders, but the second synthframe had been shattered by stray debris.

No matter. 

Checking the Prince for signs of decompression and finding none, the synth marked its mission as complete as the star grew brighter, their path a wide orbit.

Kye awoke to birdsong and wind.

Slowly, carefully, they cracked an eye open – searing sunlight making them blink. They were laying on soft grass – they could feel it against their fur, green with the sweet smell of summer heavy on the breeze. Tree leaves overhead dappled the light in a way they’d never seen, before. 

Slowly, they sat up. They were in a forest by a small stream – and, as they looked around, beat up as they were, they saw a familiar face, dipping a hand into the water.


The figure looked up, and smiled.


Right there, that very moment, they began to cry – blood seeping from their damaged tear ducts and running red rivulets down their cheeks, staining the fur.

“I- I thi… I think I’ve avenged you,” Kye finally managed to sputter, the weight of the last few years feeling like a lifetime.

“You have.” Hallek said quietly, crouching next to the crying prince.

“Was it worth it?” He asked after a moment. 

“No.” Kye said, very small. 

“That was the lesson I was never able to teach.” Hallek said, giving the smaller rabbit a slight squeeze. “Sometimes no matter what we do, we lose. There’s no happy ending. There’s no curtain call and we’re not played off. It just… ends. There’s finality to it. That, is how life’s greatest adventures usually close.”

Kye, realizing what was being said, stayed silent.

“It is, as Rhys would call it, “filler.”, The elder posthuman chuckled, staring up at the blue sky.

“Am… am I dead?” Kye managed after a few moments of silence.

“No. At least, not yet, I suppose.” Hallek shrugged. “You certainly came close. But not today.”

Kye, having so many questions to ask – so much advice they needed – started, but Hallek raised a hand. “All will come to you in time, Kye. Trust me. It did to me, and my father, and his father before him. You will do fine, and when the time comes the path you choose is yours, and yours alone. Remember that.”

He took the prince’s hand in his, and placed his other over it.

“Remember me. I have one last thing to ask you.”

Hallek smiled.

“I just need you to promise me you’ll wake up.”

Kye’s world shattered. They squeezed their eyes shut, wanting for all the stars in the sky to stay right there forever, but…

“-aking up! Get the surgeon!”

Kye opened their eyes, to little more than hazy gray shapes. The smell of medical supplies and ionized air stung at their nose, mixed with the stench of burned fur and seared skin. 

A figure leaned over them, darkening the scene – before, after a warning of brightness, the bandages were carefully removed.

It was a large and open hospital room – packed with equipment and with an open window, a bright winter’s day shining in from outside.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, my Lord,” The doctor said after a moment, taking the smallest of bows.

“Please,” Kye croaked, their throat parched. 

“Call me Kye.”



The bridge of the Farsight was largely empty apart from two figures, staring out at the stars.

Rembrandt, the pilot, glanced up. “Something on your mind? You look like you’re about to cry.”

“I’m… nervous.” Kye said, after a moment.


“Olesia is his homeworld, Kye. He has ties running back there decades before you were even born. He’ll be fine.”

The Prince sighed, running a palm through their hair, before nodding, once. The Farsight was currently cruising on sublight until it was far enough from Olesia to jump – which, due to the world’s lower mass than Carrigan, wasn’t very far at all.

As the ship’s pilot, Rembrandt got a more intimate view of the Prince than the guards did – and right now, they were terrified. Ulyn Variss was practically the thing holding their world together after the Exile, but he was a tough bastard – he’d be fine.

“So where are we headed next?” Kye suddenly asked, changing the topic.

“The wake we captured in the Heart was a directional one,” Rembrandt began, swiping their screen upwards so the contents resolved in midair from the mesh. A star map, highlighted with an estimated path based on systems in the direction the wake faced.

“Three systems of interest within a 90% margin, one of which could be marked off immediately as being openly hostile to the Directorate – that’s Avan, by the way, we’re not welcome there either – so that leaves… these two. Gyra, and Banne.”

Kye thought back to what they knew of the Eventide League. Gyra they knew nearly nothing of, but Banne was a name they recognized. 

“That’s the breadbasket, right? My father preferred Banne imports to all others in the League.”

“Bingo. Gyra’s a backwater industrial system, but Banne is a vital food production center… and a tempting target.”

They shared a glance.

“Get us underway as soon as you’re clear,” The Prince affirmed, hoping the sinking feeling in their stomach wasn’t a portent. “I want to be there as soon as possible.”

“Aye, Captain. Spinning up the drive.”

The journey of sixty lightyears took nearly a day and a half, but soon enough Kye was once more on the bridge of the Farsight, peering out into the pale nothing that was the Tides.

“Transition in five… four… three…”

The crew braced as the ship shuddered – and the void parted. A moon filled their view, airless and dead.

“… Rembrandt, this isn’t Banne.”

“…There’s no way we drifted that far,” The pilot began, checking their instruments – and shouting in alarm as multiple contacts began to fill in on the sensor map. A veritable fleet was on the far side of the world, escorting… something.

Killing the active systems and keeping the bare minimums alive, the Farsight began to drift – the quiet ambience of the ship the only sound as the strange vessels prowled about in the far distance.

“Can we get closer to Banne with maneuvering thrust? I want to see what’s going on down there.” Kye asked, eyes on the screen.

“Plotting a course now. Shouldn’t take too long.”

The ship shuddered as the control thrusters began to fire, shifting their ragged orbit into one carrying the vessel across the far side of the moon.

The sun rose as the vessel drifted, and instantly Kye’s stomach dropped. Where warm sunlight once shone, cold, sterile light remained. They didn’t need to get closer to know what had happened.

The vessel’s orbit took it closer. The strange ships were leaving, now – jumping away, their job complete. Banne rose in the forward observation window, and the crew collectively gasped.

Gone was the world of verdant greens and blue seas. Where once crop fields and agricultural arcologies coated the world from pole to pole, now only barren ice remained – feet of water vapor and particulates, an atmosphere flash-frozen. Cities preserved as if in amber.

A world, dead.

“This…” Kye began, but found they couldn’t quite manage the words. The rings in the Heart had been horrific, but there’d been no hard numbers, no expedition. Banne was a world of billions.

“Captain, huge signature. It’s making for the jump line.”

Kye found their composure. “Show me.”

It was… monstrous.

Kilometers long, the dark shape glided across the void away from the frozen sun, black effervescence still leaking from it like ichor from a wound. Reality recoiled from it, as if spacetime itself had been wounded by the use.

With the flash of a transit, the behemoth was gone – and the system’s map was empty.

“Give me readings on that… thing. On Banne. The star. I want every piece of information you can find me, and I want it now.

The bridge crew sprung into action as Kye crossed the room, placing a palm against the window. An expanse of ice stretched to the sloping curve of the planet’s horizon. How many had seen it coming? Had the star’s death been instant?

“…I’m getting a signal?”

Kye blinked.

“From the ship?”

“From the surface. Weak, but it’s there.”

The planet loomed below, silent.

“Patch it through.”

“Aye, Captain. Audio only.”

“—k, sta– your —nce!” The broadcast was choppy and awash with static. Clearly the antenna array it was traveling through had issues.

Kye glanced over, receiving only a shrug from the comms officer. The officer tapped a few things, before nodding.

“This is the League vessel Farsight, responding to your broadcast. Are you in need of assistance?”

The reply was static.

“I am going down there.” The Prince said simply, more command than query. 

“You cannot be serious. What if it’s a trap?”

“A trap left behind on a dead world when the ships could have done the work easier in half the time?”

“…I’ll admit, that is a fair point.”

Kye offered little else, turning and heading off.

Banne was… dead.

A wasteland of frigid ice and bare ruin stretched in every direction as the pinnace set down. Joined by a trio of guards, Kye ventured forth into the flash-frozen landscape, their suit helpfully notifying them the surface temperature was nearly absolute zero.

“Comms quiet,” one of the guards muttered, flipping through the bands. “Just the beacon signal. About four hundred meters that way, and down.”

He pointed, singling out a shelter half-buried in ice. It looked surprisingly airtight, a blessing.

“I want that airlock open.” Kye said suddenly. “Get whoever is in there aboard the pinnace, I don’t care how.

It turned out, as contact was established, to be a small gathering of colonial militia and civilians – around a hundred strong, survivors of the cataclysmic event that had struck Banne. Luckily, they possessed a number of exposure suits – and soon enough the first loads of rescues were being ferried into orbit.

Kye, though, had a different interest.

“Tell me of the ship,” They were saying, speaking to the captain of the guard, Anton Hull. “Did they land here? Who were they?”

“I know little of their actions, Lord Celan,” The guard sighed, salt and pepper hair falling over his face. “I was simply warned by the orbital command office that strange vessels had slipped in beneath the command and control altitude and began destroying communication satellites. Next thing we knew that behemoth had hit Banne, and there was little we could do but grab who we could.”

“Did you see it fire? What happened?”

“It blackened the sky. It was hard to… to observe. Difficult to explain.”

“Please attempt to do so, for our sake. We intend to stop it.”

“Stop it? Are you mad?”

“Quite. But that’s beside the point.”

The guard sighed. “It reminded me of a transition point, only… larger. If I’d have to wager, it’s pulling on the Tides – but I’m no scientist, and my opinion’s as good as dust, there.”

Kye nodded, as if placated. “I see. Thank you for the information, and I personally assure you your people will be welcomed aboard my vessel.”

With that, they bowed, and turned away.

Their thoughts were whirling. A weapon that drew upon the Tides for energy? The star’s readings had more or less revealed it was a resonance weapon of some description, and now they had the source of the energy used – but… how? A relic from the Collaborate? Older?

Who were the mysterious escorts? 

The thoughts followed them back to their ship, and further still – even as the Reforged Guard scattered across the Eventide League, seeking repaid favors and interested parties, Kye sat in their study, watching the stars.

They felt as if they had half of the puzzle – this was clearly tied to the Director, somehow. But how?

It stayed with them into the night, just out of reach.

ESCAPE (commission)

a commission for radiocabel!

“I’ll have his head for this.”

“Yeah, yeah. Move along your highness, you’re not special in the Icebox. Nobody is.”

Roughly, the guards shoved them further along the ice-crusted gangway – giving Kye their last glimpses of the world beyond iron walls. 

Hyelon was a prison moon of the Compact – a relic of cycles past, marred by ancient ash and frigid skies. It was where the worst of the worst from across Compact space were kept, and… due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, political prisoners as well. The prison was constructed into the side of a crevasse, sheltered from the bone-stripping frigid winds that blew across most of the exposed surface above. Temperatures outside of the climate controlled complex hovered just around -90C – a perfect barrier to escapes.

The rabbit was hustled through the depths of the prison, regal demeanour replaced with something more closely approaching a coiled viper. Every guard they saw, complicit in the schemes of the Compact, was as good as dead – but all that was forgotten when a familiar face glared back at the them from the bars of their new home.

“Well, well. It seems my aim faltered.”

“As did mine, you misbegotten bastard. I should have killed you when I had the chance.”

“That’s certainly no way to speak to your cellmate,” Maddie purred as the guards slid away, watching them go.

“I do not intent to stay for very long.”

“Perhaps this is one matter we can agree on.” Maddie frowned. “I trust you’ve not become a legendary raider of the Spur in the year we’ve been apart, Lord Celan? Surely you’re here for a visit.

“I am not sharing my business with a traitor.”

“We have naught but time, as I’m sure you’re well aware. While not an olive branch, I simply wish to ensure I’m not pondering escaping a prison with a criminal.”

The glare the Prince gave could have frozen stars.

“I shall take that as a “perhaps”, then.”

“An assassin helping their quarry escape sounds rather far fetched, does it not?”

Maddie sighed. “You are no longer my quarry. My failure to produce you led to… complications. And if you would listen for a moment, I would be happy to explain?”

While still visibly furious, the rabbit took a seat – what little of one there was in the bare monocrete cell. 

“While I personally would have enjoyed seeing the light bleed from your eyes, I no longer have… incentive, to do so. At least, for the moment. I’m to understand you’ve escaped prisons in the past?”

Kye frowned. “Perhaps, but not with assassins. Where are you going with this?”

“I’ve been here for nearly six months, and the schedule is regular. Shipments come in every two weeks, and depart on the third. Mostly supplies for the guards – foodstuffs, rations, stims. The freighters are automated. No crew.”

The white-furred rabbit flashed a grin. “No witnesses.”

“And the hundreds of guards in the Icebox? On Hyelon?”

Maddie simply grinned. 

“…Alright, fine. What are my assurances this plan won’t get us killed, though? How are we supposed to get to the freighter in the first place?”

Maddie pointed out of the small cell at the hallway. “Assassins memorize routes. I know the way, and… let’s just say a few guards gave their lives for the information, hm?”

Kye glared. As much as they wished to the end life of the assassin – as much as they wished to kill them with their bare hands for what they’d done, they… needed their help. 

Begrudgingly, Kye nodded. “Fine. Most of my magic is dampened by this damn device, but I should be able to help… some. When does the freighter arrive?”

Maddie shrugged. “Three days.”


To the surprise of Kye (and Maddie, but they weren’t telling), the plan’s first stages were executed without a hitch. The first guard had been dispatched as silently as could reasonably be, his keys and biopass lifted. The hallways were byzantine but navigable with the aid of the card and Maddie’s memory – and what few items needed to be grabbed off of guards or out of offices were easily obtained with Kye’s limited gravitic attraction.

The problems arose when the freighter landed not on the internal pad, where the others before had – but above, exposed to the wind.

Hyelon required hazcon suits to even think about going outside during a storm – and the racks were empty.

“Well what now?” Kye exclaimed in frustration, staring at the other rabbit with barely hidden fury. “All this for nothing?”

“I… I can’t believe–”

The airlock warning sounded, alerting them of a cycle.

Both dove out of the way, just in time for a pair of guards in the suits they needed to enter carrying crates of rations and medical supplies.

“Phew. Why do we always get the shitty courier duty?” The first guard, a deer, grumbled – his partner trying to shake feeling back into his paws even through the gloves, walking slightly out into the hallway. “I mean, aren’t there nearly two hundred of us here? Why us? Is everyone else just busy?”

The deer trailed off as there was no reply, and turned to see the hallway empty.

On cue, they felt a heavy object hit them from behind – and their world went dark just in time to catch a glimpse of glowing white flowers and furious purple eyes.

“Little more bloody than I prefer, but good hit.” Maddie was grinning, tugging their stolen suit on – shaking the gloves to slip their fingers in.

Kye, disrobing the concussed deer, dragged him into the hallway and left him there. Once the suits were on and securely checked, it was time for the last hurdle.

The freighter.

The door opened. Bitter wind howled inside, ripping at anything unprotected – and the two escapees braved the storm, the landing lights of the interstellar craft shining through the storm.

It was, unfortunately, not unmanned – a guard detail of around ten stood around the landing site overseeing a pair of loaders hefting crates – and Maddie’s plan of sneaking failed almost immediately, proximity sensors tripping when their biosignatures didn’t match authorized personnel.

Maddie leapt into action, blade singing through the blizzard – but Kye, trying to yank a blade over with their suppressed magic, took a round to the neck and spun away.

By sheer chance, the metal round had not found the flesh it sought. The shards of the dampener swirled away in slow motion, caught in the wind – and the might of the Darksea poured through their veins, howling for blood and justice.

Black fire erupted across the pad as the Prince voiced their displeasure, erasing the few guards remaining after Maddie’s spinning assault. Already, the whine of the ship’s engines was rising – clearly someone had made it aboard and was trying to make a getaway.

“No time to waste!” Maddie shouted, pointing. “On the ship, now!”

Wordlessly, Kye followed – their palms wreathed in notlight, ready to leap away at a moment’s notice.

Four more guards died in the trip to the freighter’s bridge, and the Captain’s gurgles marked the end of his final voyage.

Soon enough, the freighter had lifted off with new cargo aboard, and the prince and the assassin once again found themselves at odds.

Gone was the scared, unsure swordsman, though – Kye was powerful.

Besides. Maddie didn’t have a contract.

“Course is set for Holmen,” Maddie said after a few moments, the dark blue giving way to stars beyond the freighter’s windows. “We part ways there.”

“A shame,” Kye muttered sarcastically. “We make such a team.”

“Don’t tell me you’re finally tired of prison breaks?” Maddie grinned, crossing their arms. “But yes, I agree. When next we meet it will be as foes, yet I must admit… it was enjoyable, Lord Celan. You fight well.”

Kye rolled their eyes.

“Mention this to no one. It remains between us, until the other falls.”

“A fair deal.” Maddie grinned wider, offering a paw – and with a shake, the two parted to find their own areas of the ship until the autopilot made port, the soft whoosh of a transition into the Tides washing over them.

Instant Decorations (commission)

a commission for ehksidian!

The box was… pretty plain, if she was honest. 

Not that Xena was complaining, of course – a gift was a gift, even if generic brown paper and a twine bow didn’t exactly scream “effort”, to her. No return label, either.

Oh, well. Maybe it was like… jelly of the month, or something? A gift that keeps on giving.

Looks more like a bag lunch.

Still, as she carries the little brown box in from the rainy day outside, she was curious – after all, any package timed to arrive on her birthday had to be something special, at the very least, right? Surely?

Tearing the paper and removing the twine was easy, but that didn’t… quite explain the box underneath. Party Time?

There was a note there, but she was so focused on figuring out the box she simply sat aside, completely ignoring the large “PLEASE READ FIRST” scribbled on the back in urgent red ink.

The box was… 

…empty. Completely empty, aside from a weird sparkly glitter coating everything inside, some of which was thrown into the air by the force of her opening, tickling her nose.

Phew. Who sends an empty box as a birthday gift?!

Xena, fuming, picked up the card – and frowned.

“Party in a box? What the hell does that mean?”

Her question, funnily enough, was answered – loudly, and immediately.

Instantly, a loud hissing reached her ears – the sound of a balloon slipped over a helium tank, a cold, filling sensation sweeping across her tummy. The drakkai only had time to utter a bewildered “WHAT” before her tummy began to swell and stretch, scales giving way to an expanse of soft, pliable rubber. It was soft to the touch, squeaking beneath her claws – and for a moment there was silence, almost comically quiet.

Just a moment, though. The hissing returned, twice as loud.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, she wasn’t growing, exactly. While the changes were more or less proportional, she felt her clothes start to bunch and bag, but there was no way

As she tried to press on her tummy, hoping to squish it elsewhere, her tail began to shrink down – softening, losing definition as she began to round out. A brand new balloon knot tipped the end, and as she hurriedly tried to read the note (which, she now noticed, said very plainly not to open facing yourself), a long orange ribbon snaked to the floor from it. As she watched, her claws began to feel oddly flat – and, to her bewilderment and confusion, fell apart into a little pile of Xena-print napkins.

That, unfortunately, was the least of her worries – ribbons and decorations began to pop up here and there, conveniently drakkai themed and colored. Clearly magic was at work here, and it was decorating a party with her.

Xena was beginning to feel a bit full as her clothes grew baggier, tummy swelling into her clothes even as her arms and legs receded into her shirt and shorts – a bad sign, if she’d ever seen one. Her hair, usually long and fluffy, felt oddly scratchy – and as the swelling continued, slowly slid away as so much confetti – scattering the table, and floor, and… everywhere, really.

“S-Stop, damnit!” The drakkai protested, flailing for the table – and slipping completely out of her shorts, which fell to the ground with a thud of dropped fabric. Worryingly, she wasn’t touching the floor anymore with her claws.

…more worryingly, she couldn’t feel her claws – and a glance downwards only showed an increasingly generic ovoid shape, like… a party balloon. One of a few, now scattering the ceiling. She couldn’t see them, really, but had a sinking feeling she knew exactly what was on them.

Party in a box. Duh.

Cursing her bad luck, the drakkai began to shrink further as her midsection began to round out, slipping through the neck of her shirt and dragging the ribbon along with her! It was a slow, gradual rise – clearly she only just now held enough helium to be buoyant, not that it really made her feel any better. She was a dragon, not… a toy! Usually. Mostly? Verdict was out, on that one.

The pressure continued to build inside as the hissing grew louder, her face feeling as if it was being flattened with a rolling pin – until, gradually, everything went dark.

…the next thing she knew, she could see. It was an oddly fixed view, roughly in her “middle” – but it gave her a fine view of the front door for… however long she floated there. It was a bit hard to tell, but if she had to guess it was at least a few hours – as, a little before six, the first guest arrived. First knocking, and a confused grunt as the door swung open, clearly not shut completely before she’d opened the box.

“Um. Xena?” A familiar voice rang out. “Hey?”

No reply. Not for lack of trying, of course.

The rabbit glanced over, clearly recognizing the box open on the table – then down at the clothes, and with a weary realization, up, at the drakkai-print balloons bobbing on the ceiling. The expression was almost comical, a mix of “should’ve known” and “this again.” Clearly in the habit of sending these boxes.

“…You realize I wrote instructions for a reason, right? The big red “please read” didn’t strike you as important? Honestly, why does nobody ever read the card…”

Muttering something about “it’s like they all WANT to get changed,” the rabbit plopped down at the table.

“Should change back at the end of the night, but uh. Open it away from yourself next time, okay?”

Beep Beep (commission)

a commission for aurapuffs!

It was a cold, cold evening – as December evenings often are. Snow was falling beyond the frosted glass of the bedroom’s window, lit faintly by the bedside lamp, and as far as Aura was concerned it could stay out there! He was cozy, all snuggled up under three blankets and a duvet, as comfy and tucked in as a plushie fox could be.

Still, though, for whatever reason he couldn’t make that final leap. His eyes were droopy, he were all cozied up and warm, but tonight sleep simply wasn’t coming to him like it should’ve.

Oh, well.

He laid there a while, watching the snow – before, finally, turning the lamp off.

Ten minutes passed. Then an hour. Then an hour and a half, the brightly lit LEDs of the alarm clock framing the “1:30” in harsh relief against the streetlight-lit dark.


“C’monnnnn,” Aura groaned, sitting up. What’s the point of being all sleepy beepy if you can’t go-to-sleepy, anyway?

Sitting there in the dark, the plushie fox plopped back down on the bed – sinking in beneath the sheets and blankets, letting the warmth of his pillowy bastion against the cold creep in. One of the blankets was even wool, he thought sleepily. Like a sheep. Heh. Beep beep.

The plushie fox could hardly even really focus on anything else, seeing as there wasn’t really much to focus on. Squeaky sheep were just… the best. He dozily thought about how nice being all puffy and wooly would be. Wouldn’t need to worry about the cold then, would he? A built-in pillow and mattress!

Aura began to feel nice and soft, the faint sensation of swelling the best trick of his imagination it’d played yet. He could almost picture it – huge, oversized squeaky hooves squishing into a beach ball of a white fluffy squeaky sheep, blush plastered to its cheeks. Yeah, that’d be the stuff.

Heh. Sheep counting helps with sleep, doesn’t it? Let’s see… 1…. 2…

Before he even got to three, it was over – and the plushie was falling asleep.

…only to suddenly be back in his bed.

It happened so quickly the fox wasn’t really even sure if they’d actually fallen asleep, but what happened next couldn’t have happened anywhere else – a faint, distant hissing reached his ears.

It sounded… like a balloon being blown up, complete with the breaths between, and as Aura watched, surprised, his blankets began to slide away, revealing an expanse of expanding, squeaky white rubber.


The blanket, finally not having enough friction against the swelling tummy, fell aside – and Aura got a good glimpse of his puffy paws, swelling and stretching and squeaking over into toyish approximations of black squeaky sheep hooves.

This HAD to be a dream. Couldn’t be anything else!

Pressing his paws to his tummy, the fox pushed – effortlessly squishing in, and with a loud POOMPH his handpaws followed suit, squeaking over before his very eyes. He wiggled them and rubbed them together, delighting in the feeling of stretchy, swelling rubber.

“G-Gosh!” The fox giggled, cheeks rosy.

He could still see his puffy hooves for the moment, a good gauge of how big he was – but, as he began to swell sideways and up, the fox started to find it a bit tougher. Not that he really minded, of course, it felt…

…well, great. To be big, and squeaky, and sheep-y, who wouldn’t wanna spend the holiday season as a baa-lloon? Nobody, that’s who.

He squished his hooves into his swelling squeaky tummy again, hoping to change a little faster. His wish was answered by a loud puff, midsection swelling against his neck and head like a neck pillow – and, to his delight, his hooves disappeared over his tummy’s horizon, squishing into the rest of him as his arms began to follow suit. If he listened closely, he could hear the muffled squeaks of trying to wiggle them echoing through his tummy.


The squeaks and squirks practically filled the room as he kept swelling, echoing off the walls and through him, right up into his chest and hollowing-out snout.

He’d never had a dream like this before, but what a place to start! He’d have to have pizza before bedtime more often if this was the result he got…

Aura woke up in his bed. No swelling sheep fluff, no squeaks. Just the dark, the snow lightly falling outside, and the alarm clock.



Just a dream. Ugh.

Lifting the pillow and fluffing it a little, the fox laid back down – thoughts of sheep still spinning through his mind. Okay, where was I? 3? 4. 5…


Aura’s eyes snapped open, just in time for his snout to swell outwards, ballooning into a baa-llooning snout, printed grin and oversized overfilled squeaky rubber taking up a good quarter of his vision. He couldn’t see past his round, squishy white tummy, but he knew somewhere down there were an enormous pair of black squeaky hooves, easily the size of his pillow.

“B-Baa?” Aura giggled, even as his wool began to swell out around his head…

He glanced over, dreamily, spotting the clock. 1:45.


Aura woke… up?

All that filled his vision was an expanse of white, and the faintest light of the streetlights outside. Snow?


He wobbled, trying to do anything more than wiggle his arms in futility, and received little more than a symphony of squeaks for his troubles. G-Good. Perfect!

He’d have sighed in content, but… having a squeaky sheep snout doesn’t make that easy.

Oh, well.

He was so comfy, so full, so squeaky-sheepy that he felt as if he’d be able to doze off right then and there – and the thought of counting sheep made him giggle, again. Well. One, clearly.

Aura woke up just as his alarm went off at 7:00, on the dot. The sun had just risen, shining bright and cheery through the winter wonderland outside.

Wow, that was the best sleep I’ve had in years! Aura thought to himself, opening his eyes – greeted with a snowdrift. Wait, no. That’s my tummy.

His huge… balloon sheep tummy, massive squeaky black hooves faintly visible through it in the morning light.

“M-Mmph,” The squeaky sheep managed in realization. He had to still be dreaming, right? All he had to do was… was fall back asleep, right? Easy. Easy peasy, even.

The squeaky sheep shut his eyes, trying to will back the sheer comfy feeling he’d felt before, but… he was simply too full, too well rested.

He’d have to try again tonight, it seemed.

…was that hissing…?



Olesia was an ancient, craggy world of deep forests and towering mountains. Once the foremost power of the Eventide League, it had long ago been overshadowed by the rising stars of the League and the influence of distant Hesse – a low brought even lower with the advent of piracy along the frontiers, based in nearby systems. Now, much of Olesia’s effort was expended outwards, a fact worsened by the estranged Count’s recent actions.

Still, Ulyn knew it well – he’d served time here in his younger years as a mercenary hired on by one of the smaller merchant houses, protecting claims on Olesia’s moon, Tyche. It felt like a lifetime ago.

That same pale moon hung high above as the synth watched the retreating white bulk of the Farsight lift into the night sky, intent on following another lead the Prince had managed to track down in the days following the discovery in the Heart. Fine by him, he mused.

He had business to take care of.

The Count’s plays had been sloppy. Callister Rhose had been sloppier, still. Sentiment, as far as one could feel the pulse of a world from light-years away, was negative – and, with the world now neglected by the so-called Director playing king, Ulyn knew a few well-placed problems might just be the thing to set the house of cards tumbling.

He’d not counted on one small detail, though.

They called themselves the Ibrea, towering warriors of black robes and interlocking plates. The starport was guarded, but years of playing commander of the guard had taught Ulyn the benefits of being quick on your feet. Whoever – whatever – the Ibrea were, they were clearly aligned with the Count Illor, and as such… needed to be avoided. Whenever possible.

He was just finishing his last cigarette when the quiet of the night was disrupted by the approach of a vehicle, the whine of an electrolytic engine carrying on the wind. An older model, certainly; few drove, anymore.

The silver vehicle slowly slid to a stop in front of him, the driver’s window rolling down – and a familiar scruffy grey bearded face grinned back. “Thought you’d bought the farm, Variss. What’d I say about jobs that get you killed?”

“Haven’t got me yet, Holland,” Ulyn grunted, giving the hood a pat as he rounded the car and yanked the door open, piling in. “But I’m sure you’ll manage.”

The man laughed, putting it back in drive, and they turned away onto one of the many roads criss-crossing the outskirts of Olesia’s capital.

“So what brings you to our little slice of rust?” Holland offered, carefully avoiding a security checkpoint as they left the spaceport.

“I’m here to get the band back together,” Ulyn grinned, tapping the dash of the car. “Remember the border wars?”

“How could I forget? Every little noble with a grudge had a deeper pocket book than the last.”

“Big fan of the Count Illor, Jayme?”

“Fuck you. I’d kill him myself if he hadn’t run off to some core rock and taken half his cronies with him. Best thing to happen to Olesia in centuries and the people who took his place won’t take bribes.”

Holland sighed after a moment, connecting the dots. “Let me guess. You’re roped up in that mess, aren’t you.”

Ulyn laughed, a genuine, actual laugh.

“When I said don’t take jobs that’ll get you killed I wasn’t kidding, Ulyn. You sure have a hard-on for danger.”

“And you don’t?”

“We’re not talking about me here, are we?” The car shook slightly as the roads grew rougher, not as well maintained beyond the spaceport’s perimeter.

“So who the hell are these guys?” Ulyn asked suddenly, looking out at a gathering of the tall figures in armor, staring at the passing traffic. “They certainly weren’t here the last time I passed through.”

Ibrea. They’re some sort of… what the fuck’s the word, a PMC or something. Nobody’s sure. When the Count grabbed his guard and ran off, he had these ballbusters step in for him. They’re running this place like a dictatorship, and it’s really starting to grind against the other houses. Last I heard they were considering declaring the Count absent until the Ibrea disappeared a few of the loudest voices.”

Interesting. So even Olesia wasn’t a fan of their mutual friend.

“Any idea where they went?”

“What, in the prison breaking business again?”

Ulyn held his hands up, shrugging. “Can’t say it doesn’t spice things up.”

“You need to get a better hobby,” Holland scoffed, pulling off onto a smaller road. “And to answer your question – which, by the way, you made me have to dig through a decade of shit to find the cypher – fine. I know a few people, have plenty of strings to pull. I have no problem helping send that dickhead to whatever hell he doesn’t believe in and I doubt anyone else here does, either.”

“Apart from the Ibrea.”

“Yeah, well, they can get fucked.”

Slowly, the car slid to a stop. A small roadside bar was lighting up the night, invitingly loud and baudy. Julie’s Roadstop was a tradition going back to even before Ulyn had left for the stars – of course it would be this place.


“Oh, too good for the classics now, Variss?” Holland rolled his eyes. “Told the rest of the Blues to meet us here, everybody knows Julie’s. Practically the start of any good job, these days.”

With a shrug, they both piled out, and headed in. It was just as he’d remembered it – loud, bright, and welcoming.

The same couldn’t be said of the Easy Blues.

“Well, well, somebody dug up the tin can,” One of the three mercs seated at the booth quipped, rolling her eyes. “Surprised you came back, Ulyn. Let me guess, bills too big to keep you dirtside for long?”

“Shove it, Triss.” Holland snapped, taking a seat.

“What’s this all about, anyway?” A second merc, Harell, stated flatly, crossing his arms.

“I said I wouldn’t work with him again after Vind, Holland, you can’t just–”

“Can you all shut up for once? He’s here about a job, and if you want to settle your tabs you’ll listen.”

That shut them up.

“Ladies and… men,” Ulyn began, taking a seat. “Our good friend the Count Illor has bitten off more than he can chew, and I believe it’s about time he choked.”

Surprise flashed across their faces.

“I need his power base here on Olesia crippled. I’ve got a few names and targets, but… it’s been some time since I called this world home, and I’m sure my info’s outdated. Each of you keeps an ear to the ground – I remember the Easy Blues of yesteryear, and old habits die hard.”

Triss, scowling, took a sip of her drink, dark hair and silver scales on her cheeks glinting in the light. “I’ve had my people following a few big shots, sure. Mostly for blackmail, but I’ve got patterns and routines down. Taking a shot or two would be child’s play. But what’s in it for us, Ulyn? You hit it big out there when we weren’t looking?”

“One twenty five, split three ways.”

Even Holland blanched at that.

“You can’t be serious?”

“Dead serious.”

“How the hell did you get that kind of money?”

Ulyn shrugged. “I ran in high circles.”

“Fuck… not much of a choice now, is it?” Harell chuckled darkly, placing his elbows on the table. He was a mountain of a man, with a voice like a landslide.

Harell was the Easy Blues’ munitions expert and quartermaster – outfitting a few dozen mercs across the Eventide League was tough business, but few were tougher than him.

“You’re really going after Jayne, huh?” He said after a moment, a look in his eyes the synth couldn’t place.

“It’s… personal.” Ulyn said quietly, thinking of Hallek, and his heir. Probably most of the way to Banne, by now. “He’s a murderer and a usurper. Putting him down like a dog is what he deserves.”

“Didn’t think you were one to play hero.” Harell raised an eyebrow.

“I’m not. I’m here to get the dirty work done so the heroes can play hero. You know how our jobs end.”

“That I do. Fine, I’m on board. I’m sure I’ll find a few fun things to try out.” He grinned.

The third merc, the company’s personnel ops officer, frowned. Ulyn hadn’t met him before – he’d clearly joined the Blues after he’d left for Carrigan.

“No. I’m not risking people on this.”

“Gage-” Holland began.

“Holland, do you know who the Ibrea are? What they’d do if they thought we were starting a rebellion?”

“Frankly no, and I don’t give a damn, either.”

“Triss tapped their comms when she was building her network. They’re not from around here.”

“Well, surprise surprise.

Triss interjected. “No. I mean, they’re not from the Spur. They’re some… other, thing. Warriors from some kingdom deep in the black. They made some deal with the Count, and it’s what’s keeping him afloat.”

“That’s just further reason to why we have to get this ball rolling,” Ulyn muttered darkly, leaning in. “There’s something out there that can turn stars to ice. I saw it with my own eyes, a system killed as surely as with a bullet. I don’t know if they’re related, somehow, but the timing is too convenient for my liking.”


Ice. The whole damn thing crystallized.”

The table fell silent.

“…I’ll, see what I can do,” Gage said quietly, already working on his wristcom.

“That explains something.”

Ulyn frowned, turning to Triss. She wore a mask of concern, brows furrowed. “What?”

“The Ibrea kept mentioning something in offworld communiques, I thought it pertained to the Directorate matter. Something called “Project Sunshard”, whatever that means.”


“I don’t know. They were vague, and the parts I couldn’t see were encrypted in ways I’d never seen before. I’ve got the relevant dumps, but…”

“Send them to me,” Ulyn said, standing. “If you hear anything else about it, send that along, too.”

She nodded.

“I’m sending a list of targets and sites – most grabbed from orbit, but a few scoped out by… other means. Hit these, and the payday’s yours.”

“And what will you be doing while the Blues get busy?” Holland asked, raising an eyebrow.

Ulyn turned, already looking over the info he’d been sent. “Finding out what the hell this is.”



“We should be breaking through any moment, now.”

The Farsight’s crew was gathered in the command bridge, peering into the thick mists. The Glittershoal was denser than any natural nebula, formed of ever shifting clouds of strange material – and, thus far, had shielded their movements from the League patrol prowling the border edges like a deep-sea predator.

All members of the Reforged Guard were present, along with the two members of the ship’s engineering contingent – despite Chief Olson’s insistence the damage they’d taken at Tanis still wasn’t completely fixed, and likely wouldn’t be for days. This was simply too important, too… captivating.

None in living memory had reached the Heart. Only scrap made it back.

The ship began to groan.

“… We’re hitting gravitic turbulence.” The ship’s pilot, Rembrandt Kase, frowned. “Space itself is… strange, here, in a way the sensors can’t really make heads or tails of. I’m trying to compensate.”

“Simply do what is required.” Prince Celan said simply, golden gaze drifting outwards. “I have faith in your ability to deliver us without harm.”

The pilot nodded.

The shaking grew worse, one of the tiles along the bridge ceiling popping loose with a slam.

Beyond the viewports, the Glittershoal seemed to solidify, as if actively resisting the vessel. Pressure warnings began to blare as Rembrandt fought with the controls.

One of the guards put a hand on Kye’s shoulder, and in the chaos of reaching the Heart they weren’t sure who it was.

Their eyes flicked from the view, to the pilot, to the guard – and his hand, reaching for his scabbard–

In an instant Kye was moving, throwing themself backwards against the guard with enough force to cause him to drop the blade in surprise. The other members of the Guard shouted in alarm as the offender attempted to grab for the rabbit, but Kye was ready this time, their own sword at the ready.

“You damned traitor!” Kye shouted, fury in their eyes and voice. “At least show the decency of making your face known!”

The “guard” laughed, and reached up – removing their House helmet and tossing it aside. The person beneath was fair, almost Sylvan, with long braided gray hair and crystal blue eyes. Their fingertips crackled as magic oozed into the bridge, and with a fury unbridled they lashed at the closest guard, hitting him with three punches that sent him denting into the bulkhead.

Two more guards fell before Kye charged in, sword ready – and slashed downwards, intending to end the fight right then and there. Their own magic augmented their swing, the air singing as the blade parted it like nothing, but it was simply not fast enough. The man ducked out of the way, tugging a pair of hythel daggers free from their belt.

“My, what a dance!” The man laughed, giving a mocking bow. “It’s been some time since my last true duel, Prince Celan – please do not disappoint.”

“How long have you laid in wait in my Guard?” The Prince snarled, fury pouring down the blade in electric light, casting their face in relief.

“Long enough,” He smirked, pirouetting to his left and bringing one of the daggers down in a deadly arc. Kye slashed their sword to the side, catching their wrist on the flat and twisting it out of the way. One of the other guards attempted to grab their other arm from behind, receiving a hole in their helmet for the trouble. “My! How unsporting, duels are invite only.

The guard fell without a sound.

Fortunately for Kye, the killing blow had deprived the assassin of one of their blades, and in a brief moment of clarity they sliced inwards. The Carrigan-forged blade cut through the Guard chestpiece the man wore, slicing a bloody gash across his midsection that elicited a sharp cry of pain and surprise even as the undergarments began to wet.

By now the other guards on the bridge – including Ulyn Variss, the Bulwark, had begun to close, and any good assassin knew when to call it off. Eyes darting wildly, he spotted a conduit on the ceiling – and with a marksman’s aim the sparks coiling around his free wrist jumped away, overloading it. It exploded in a shower of sparks and smoke, and the assassin leapt from the bridge down the command deck access hallway. He stumbled slightly as the shaking grew worse.

“Seize him!” Kye cried, charging after – and followed closely behind by the Guard.

There was only place he’d be headed aboard the Farsight, and he could not be allowed to reach it.

“Take the lift! Cut him off in the rear hangar!” Ulyn was shouting, ordering a pair of guards into the level below – and squeezing off a shot from his sidearm, missing the fleeing assassin by scant millimeters and singing the doorframe.

The pursuit through the ship was short-lived, however, as another guard fell to his blades – and Kye managed to close the gap as the hangar doors flew open, catching the dagger on their crossguard. With a vicious kick Kye was knocked backwards into Ulyn’s armored bulk, prismatic lance readied and charged.

“The Director sends his regards,” The man sing-songed, clearly intending to make a run for the ship – but made it three steps.



As his foot hit the ramp boarding the shuttle, the hurled lance pierced his lower back, exploding from his stomach in a shower of gore-spattered light. The weapon had been thrown with such force it continued onwards after spearing the assassin, embedding in the hull of the shuttle to the hilt.

He took one more step, and collapsed to the deck.

“A waste of a good throw,” Ulyn muttered, calling the lance back to his palm.

Kye stared as the blood ran down the ramp, pooling on the hangar floor.

Blood, pooling on the floor of the throne room. White fur stained pink.

They closed their eyes, and turned away.

The lift opposite opened, the pair of guards rushing into the room as the rest followed from behind the Prince and the Bulwark.

“Ulyn, please… deal with the bodies. I cannot.”

The synth removed his helmet, and slightly bowed. “My Liege.”

His sympathetic gaze lingered a moment too long, before he was gone.

The ship’s shuddering abruptly stopped.

Blue-white light poured in from somewhere beyond, utterly unlike any starlight Kye had glimpsed before – omnipresent and harsh, yet soft. It reminded them of ice.

“Captain, you’re… gonna want to see this for yourself.” Their comm buzzed, the pilot’s voice a mix of wonder and apprehension. “We’ve pierced the Heart.”

It was… beautiful.

In the core of the Glittershoal, sculpted from swirling, thick clouds of miasma, was a… thing.

Metallic lattices of cyclopean scale and unknown make stretched the width and breadth of the unimaginably vast space the Farsight had entered – culminating in a lonely, centrally placed star. It had once been a standard K-class star of similar type to any other, but this star was surrounded by a system of six rings. Each ring was easily the size of Carrigan’s orbit, their inner faces once sporting habitable land and atmospheres, supported by a coronal shunt mounted around the star’s poles.

This star no longer shone, however.

Where once roiling seas of flaming gas had roared, was harsh crystal – a star of ice, and death. The coronal jets had frozen mid-transmission, shattering the collection apparatus on both poles and sending the rings spiraling into asymmetric orbits. Their surfaces, no longer graced by the warmth of their parent sun, were frigid and dead.

“What… happened here?” Rembrandt managed, the Farsight drifting over the furthest ring.

“A crystal sun…” Kye finally managed, the words of the Ovelle rising in their mind.

It was real? What did this? Who?

“Rembrandt, have you checked the Heart for wakes?”

“No, Captain. Should I?”

“Yes. I believe our friend may be involved, here.”

The pilot set to work, leaving Kye with a palm on the window, staring at the dead world below.

“Woah. We’ve got a wake, alright. Must be the size of a moon…

“Are you certain it’s not a mass transition?”

“Yeah. Sig’s too uniform, when ships jump together it’s more like… a collection of holes. This is one big one.”

Kye, brow furrowed, turned their gaze from the view. “What do you think did it?”

The pilot, tugging a little lighter from their pocket and shakily lighting the cigarette clenched in their teeth, shrugged.

“Plenty of weird shit out there these days, Lord Celan. My bet’s on someone testing something. Can’t imagine a better place than the Glittershoal – who’d see? Aside from, you know, those down there on the rings…”

He took a drag, exhaling a long sigh. “Poor bastards. Nobody even knew they were here.”

Kye was already deep in thought, and after bidding the pilot farewell for the time being, headed back down towards the hangar. Already the guards lost in the fight had been given their rites and committed to the void, but… Kye wanted answers.


“Ah, I was about to call for you,” The synth grunted, staring down at the corpse. “He’s one of the two we picked up on Tanis. Knew I recognized his face, but he’d looked… different, before. When he died this cut out.”

Ulyn opened his palm, a small holite emitter perched upon it.

“He’d been disguised for weeks. Just to get a shot at you.”

Fury rising, Kye gave the body a kick – and turned away, unable to look it in the eyes. “He was sent by the Director himself. Said as much. I highly doubt he hadn’t reported back to the man in the time we’ve been within the League.”

“We’ll simply have to accelerate our plans,” Kye stated darkly, signaling for a pair of guards to carry the body of the assassin away for disposal. “Carrigan is in striking distance.”

“You intend to simply charge in and try to kill him?”

“What choice do I have, Ulyn? My throne and the hall of my forefathers in the clutches of a kingslayer? My people, suffering beneath a petty king?”

“And what if he kills you?”

Kye said nothing.

Ulyn stared.

“What if he does, Kye? You’d waste every ounce of momentum we’ve gained in this year among the stars for the slightest chance at revenge?”

“You don’t know what it’s like!” Kye practically screamed, voice cracking. “I shed my blood, sweat and tears for this cause, Ulyn – I’ll be damned if I don’t have his head!”

Ulyn fell silent, regarding the Prince with a strange mixture of pity and sorrow. They were too young for this, too naïve, too simple. A child raised on stories of heroes and knights who believed all evil in the world was solved by the flick of a wrist. Ulyn had seen the truth of the Eventide League; fought on the rimward reaches with pirates, had participated in the Chalcyrus Nightfall. Wars were not won by heroics and one final blow.

A resolve burned behind those eyes, though – a will to move the stars themselves. The heir to the Kingdom of Carrigan, the last of their line.

“I am not endorsing your plan.” Ulyn said after a moment, carefully choosing his words. “We don’t have the men, or the arms. But I… may know a few people. Have a bit of sway. All I ask is a week.”

Done.” Kye said simply.

“Rembrandt?” Ulyn said into his comm, waiting for a reply.

Reading you.”

“Get us underway. We’re headed for Olesia.”

“Uh, correct me if I’m wrong – Olesia is where the Bad Guy’s from? Why the hell are we headin’ there?”

“Old friends.” Ulyn said simply.

“…If you say so. We’re locked in, we’ll be underway shortly.”

The comm clicked as the channel closed.

“Go get some sleep,” Ulyn said, gesturing to the hall.

“You’ll need it.”

Kye shuffled away, spent. Ulyn stayed behind, staring intently at the blood-stained ramp, and sighed. He’d left the mercenary life behind long ago, dragged along by another young prince fresh out of the Carrigan Military Academy much like the one he served today. What was it that kept bringing him back? Fate? Bad luck? Or was he simply attracted to danger and trouble like a moth to a flame?

Maybe that’s why he’d genuinely enjoyed the past few weeks – a return to form, as it were.

A cleaning drone puttered by, beeping in protest at the dirty floor as it began to scrub away the drying blood.

Ulyn knew there’d be a lot more of it, sooner or later.

With that, he turned, and headed for his quarters. He had a few calls to make.


Tomorrow’s stars are cold and distant.

It is the waning edge of the Eighth Cycle. Humanity’s golden ages are long past. Many long millennia have come and gone, the lessons of the past long forgotten. What remains endures, beneath alien suns and strange stars.

One hundred thousand years ago, the Orion Spur was united beneath the greatest civilization humanity ever created – the Collaborate, stretching from the Centauri Reaches to the Far Spur, and attaining heights unimaginable. The stars themselves moved at their will, the heavens a canvas for a delicate brush. This was the Fifth Cycle, the Age of Miracle, a moment beneath the brilliant sun in which all of humanity was united – shattered utterly by the Awakening, and leaving fracturous squabbling child-states in its place.

Many long years have passed since the Awakening and the subsequent collapse, leaving the Spur an overgrown, uncharted mess beyond the safety of city walls and planetary defense systems. There are those who brave the Long Dark, however. Clad in ships of silver and gossamer gold, skipping across the Tide and stars, these travelers bind posthumanity together – and the future rests on a razor’s edge.


ORION SPUR – the home arm of ancient humanity. Numerous posthuman and xenoform civilizations inhabit this region, making it a quite literal crossroads of interstellar culture and trade.

PERSEUS DRIFT – the thinning of stars to the galactic west of the Orion Spur, towards the Perseus Gulf that separates the Spur from the Perseus Arm. Sparsely populated, largely unexplored. Numerous xenofauna, no (confirmed) sapient xenoforms.

CENTAURI REACH – the region to the galactic north-east and corewards of the Spur, home to the Cavican Hegemony. Largely explored, very bright.

OLD CORE (CRADLESPACE) – the sixty lightyears surrounding Sol, sporting some of the highest populated worlds in the Spur. Has the largest number of Skipper lanes and routes in the region.

THE WOUND – a relic of wars immemorial, this region is scoured. starless, with drifting wrecks and forgotten relics

IBREAN WASTES – coreward side of the Perseus Arm, contains various splinter posthuman states and satellite xenoforms. Largely empty.

THE SHOALS – rimward side of the Spur, curiously calmer infraspace currents. Makes travel easier, sports large numbers of agricultural worlds and high food exports.

GLITTERSHOAL – artificial nebula within the Shoals seeded some twenty thousand years ago. few go in, fewer come out.

FAR SPUR – the far eastern end of the Spur, contains the posthuman state known as the Ovellian Collaborate. Stars are relatively distant from one another, large clouds of interstellar dust.

SAGITTARIUS HIGHLANDS – rimward side of the Sagittarius arm. Unexplored and unsettled.

CARINA GULF – coreward side of the Spur, contains the loose federation of states known as Lashan. Old colonies, deep roots.


“It is, perhaps, the most notable aspect of the Human – their predisposition to acclimation and adaptation, to overcome hazards by simply outlasting them.”

Over the untold millennia, humanity has diverged. Whether due to local climactic or gravitic pressure, genetic projects of various scope and goal, or simple time, the “standard” human no longer exists. Numerous types occupy the Spur, along with many others not listed below.

  • “Baseline” humans – ancient, Terran standard humans. Acclimated to 1G standard gravity on average, remarkably resilient and adaptive. Found across the Spur and beyond. Many subspecies, from aquatic to arboreal.
  • Bioframes – living tissue with a silicate vertebral core. Inhabited by posthuman consciousness, functions much as any other body would. Physiology varies wildly and is often tailored to personal preferences. Relegated to relatively high tech regions of the Spur, require specialized maintenance.
  • Synthframes – less organic than bioframes, usually retain a semblance of humanoid shape and aesthetic. Usually. Can hold a resident posthuman or an AI comfortably.
  • Wisps – holite-embodied digital consciousnesses. Functionally hard-light bodies driven and projected by a solid charybdum core.
  • Cavica – Mystics seeking to conquer the Tides and bend it once more to human wills. Powerful wielders of magic, the Cavica are a formidable player on the interstellar stage, and managed in an age past to create great Tide currents to dissuade errant vessels from penetrating their region of the stars.
  • Ovelle – The Ovelle, as a contrast to the Cavica, are machine-life. Posthumans who pursued the perfection and immortality of the digital, the Awakening hit the Ovelle much lighter than other members of the Collaborate. Sealing their borders in the depths of the Far Spur, they remain an isolationist society to this day. Ovelle are vast nanite-colony colossi, housing a number of consciousnesses within – known as “frameseeds.”
  • Savhara – designer “pet” bioframes from a cycle of decadence past that have established themselves as a population all their own. Largely exist in the older parts of the Spur, though a large number exist within the Shoals.


Few true xenoforms have ever been encountered. The ancient Alissids are one race who in cycles past interacted with humanity, but they, as many things do, passed into memory in the Long Years – as did the Turiga, and the Unari. Many others, however, still exist – and can be found across the Spur, if one knows where to look.

Hujia – vast interstellar dust collections granted sentience by chance and gravity. Communicate over vast distances with as of yet not understood means. Recycle starship wrecks, often found in orbital junkyards and battle sites.

Teshiko – squat, subterranean humanoids often found within asteroid habitats or mining firms. Build great inverted cities on worlds they colonize.



No one is quite sure what, or how the Collaborate awakened it – stories range from secret zero-point research to pacts with forgotten star-gods encountered in the void between, but whatever the truth the Fifth Cycle’s end was sudden, and drastic.

The Awakening sundered entire systems, great currents forging dark rivers through the stars. Warlords rose, wielding powers strange and formidable – the Age of Miracle ended not with clamor, but with silence.

Today, those currents flow stronger than ever – a black sea to pull upon, whispering to those who can hear. Old Collaborate sites seem to be steeped in it, drawing those attuned like moths to flame – and worse.


Perhaps the best known of these are the Halken Rings1, the vast ringworld megastructures dotted across the Spur – but the Collaborate’s secrets run deeper. Dyson spheres constructed within the Tides themselves, great sky-latticeworks around ruined worlds once so thickly populated the buildings required pressurized heights. The mysterious STARBRIDGE system, hyperlane gates powered by particle flux accumulation matrices.

The Collaborate, however, was not the only civilization to leave relics behind – autonomous fleets, rogue AI, pirates with strange weaponry dug up on forgotten worlds, for salvagers and scrappers the Spur is a bounty unimaginable. There are even rumors the Eventide League pays for leads, but… that’s just a rumor.


The gulf between the stars is not for the faint of heart, and in no area of the distant future will you find those more daring – and, surprisingly, mundane – than those who spend their lives plying the high-lanes for fame, fortune, and adventure. Some, like the venerable mining corporations of Chalem and the shipping conglomerates of the Core, do it for steady income and an honest living – others, however, do it for glory.

Pirates, mercenaries, adventurers with ked2 to spend and names to make – you’ll find a veritable rogue’s gallery at any starport bar or seedy outpost, whispering of legends of forgotten worlds and scores to settle.

The ships of the Eighth Cycle are varied, but largely are skippers, vessels that shunt themselves into the very shallowest regions of the Tide to “skip” to their destination. To sink deeper is dangerous, and to dive is unheard of. The largest skippers, the great liners that ferry passengers between the worlds of the Core, are known as “sunflowers”, referential of the great sun-sails used to recharge the phase transit engines.


Known to ancient scientists as “infraspace”, the Tides are… somewhere else. Even the heights of Collaborate science never fully explained their presence, or probed their depths, though not for lack of trying.

On the surface the Tides are an integral part of travel – it is through their oceanic depths that faster-than-light transit takes place, linking the disparate stars of the Spur together. The currents carry trade across the stars, and deliver explorers unto virgin systems.


Headquartered on the frost-world of Tir, the Concordat positions itself as the most valid heir to the Collaborate’s bounty – a claim many have challenged, but none disproven. Controlling barely even a quarter of the territory of the old Collaborate, the Concordat was born of regional alliances between successor states in the wake of the Awakening, banding together to fend off the dark as best they were able. Controlling Cradlespace, the ancient core of human influence, it has positioned itself as the strongest power on the interstellar table – though the Eventide League and the Ovellian Symposium are close behind.


The Collapse of the Collaborate scattered seeds across the Spur. Some of those, by chance or by fortune, found fertile soil – and on the high plains of the rimworld Carrigan, a new future was dreamt of. Here began the Eventide League – a loose union of merchant houses across the Shoals into an interstellar state, nominally ruled by an overseeing council of representatives. The actual governance of the member houses varies – some, like House Celan of Carrigan, are an elective monarchy, while others are oligarchies or democratic states. All are unified, however, by the collective desire for prosperity, and the peace brought by steering away from the excess that led to the Collapse.

Recent news from the Eventide League, though, is dire – whispers of internal strife, and worries of civil war.


Deep within the dusty depths of the Far Spur, lies the Helix.

A vast, cyclopean lattice of black steel and circuitry, it draws power from three equally-distanced stabilized white dwarves – and, with it, powers the beating heart of the Ovelle, the gargantuan data-racks and frame support systems that keep the Symposium running. Little is known about the Ovelle beyond what they have shared, their bodies ever-shifting and strange. Their state is even more shrouded in mystery, beyond the reach of most within the League or Concordat, and beyond the worries of most across the Spur.

Still, some wonder if the tales of Black Ships are related…


When the Awakening rocked the Collaborate, the Cavica were gifted. Blessed, it is said, by the magic pouring into the universe. Some were twisted into new forms, wielders of powers unimaginable – others were driven mad, consumed utterly by it until even their neighbors fell to its influence.

Even so, as the Collaborate disintegrated beneath the weight of a hundred internal struggles and the horror it had unleashed, the Cavica began to band together, covens and colleges fleeing the Fall to places unknown, intent on restoring the Collaborate as it should have been in their eyes – and intent on subjugating the Tides utterly, binding it to their will.

Today, the Cavica are a distant threat – their regions of space have been cut off for millennia, but sightings have begun to reach those who listen.

What that means, few know, but it cannot be good.

  1. A pair of heavily industrialized ringworlds constructed by the Collaborate around the desert world Hassa – one of the most populated worlds in the Spur. ↩︎
  2. Collaborate Credit Note, “ked” ↩︎