|Starfall: The Last Protector|
Free Universe Forums - May, 2010
Original Open-Source Story
Today was the feast day of Merak, when the city would have been alive with rejoicing. The streets of the city would have rung out with music, the girls would have danced in their flowing robes with little bells on. Zemyan had stayed up late last night trying to finish copying the manuscript pages in time so he could participate in the festival. He had expected to be woken up by the raucous songs of the revelers. But instead he was woken up the screams of the dying and the shattering of the city walls. The thing that Zemyan had feared ever since he was young had finally happened. Vornakht had taken notice of his city.
The priests had walked out and drawn their swords while Zemyan stood cowering behind the window. Kerrin was putting up a fight as best he could, with his sword flashing swiftly in the light of the sunrise. Zemyan knew how well Kerrin could fight, as the High Priest had beaten him many times in the training. But even Kerrin was no match for the mutant, and his sword could not pierce its carapace. Zemyan instincitvely turned away from the window and heard the crunching of splintered bone and sharp, guttural cries of triumph.
He knew that it was only a matter of time before the mutants would come for him, and then it would be all over. The dance should have started by now. He should have have joined in the dance and gotten ahold of Iria. He'd been dreaming about her for weeks on end when he should have been working. Her eyes were red as rubies, and her iridescent green scales shone like the moon. And as the daughter of a prosperous merchant she was as rich as she was beautiful, rich enough that Zemyan could convince his father that he'd be better off as her husband than a priest of Ekrat. He'd learned many languages in his scribal training, and he could write fluently, which would make him useful to her family. Perhaps as a merchant he could leave the city, explore other lands, perhaps eventually join one of the kingdom of Mur's expeditions and go to another world... But he knew from the instant that he'd thought it that it was a mere dream. Iria was surely dead, and soon he would be dead too.
A loud sound shocked him out of his reverie. There was a harsh, terrifying scream that was loud enough he could feel it. He stared numbly for a few seconds before he realized what it was: one of the mutants dying. It was soon joined by another. He looked out the window, hoping no one would see him shaking. The corpses of the priests, every single one, lay in the sands. But there was another figure in the yard, moving so swiftly he could barely see it. It was tall and slim, in a black cloak, wearing midnight blue and red armor of a style he had never seen, and wielding a sword that seemed to be made of faintly glowing stone of a blue that was almost black. He saw this warrior pierce the hide of the mutant, spilling its own black blood on the sands to mix with that of the fallen priests. He felt a sudden hot urge to join with this warrior and kill some of the monsters himself before fear overcame him once again.
As he got a better view of the swiftly-moving figure he saw that it was every bit as strange as the mutants themselves. It was no Yrallin at all, but an alien. And a woman. What he'd thought at first was a cloak was actually what the Uralians and other such races had growing out of their heads. What was the word for it again? Hair? Hers was as black as a moonless night, flowing in the wind behind her. There was something strangely beautiful about her. Her body was sleek, athletic, well-built. Her skin, which without scales seemed so vulnerable for all her strength, was warm and dark. As she struck down the mutants she moved with the grace of a dancer and the dignity of a queen. It was as if the statue of some strange goddess had come to life to punish sinners.
Zemyan was so spellbound by the woman that he almost did not see the mutant that had scuttled up to his window. It leaped into the room with a shriek, snapping at him with his blood-and-sand-encrusted claws. Zemyan swiftly snatched up a polearm from the wall and struck at the creature with all his desparate strength. It snapped in half and left it unpunctured. Zemyan's fears suddenly surge back and left him in a babble of confusion. And then, swift as the wind, the woman leaped into the room and struck the mutant through the heart. It lashed futilely out her and she evaded its every blow. The creature collapsed and expired with a hideous shriek, while Zemyan was babbling something he himself didn't understand. But the woman made no sound.
A flash of light then filled the room. Zemyan shrunk into the corner. It had been so bright that, with the light burned into his retina, he could only dimly see the room around him. Gradually he began to make out a figure in some sort of armor, inlaid with metal of a strange hue that probably had not come from this world. "So," said a harsh, guttural voice. "You've been making quite a dent in my legions, whoever you are. But none have faced Vornakht and lived."
She did not respond. She simply raised her sword in and met the intruder's gaze with head held high.
"Who are you, woman?" he snarled. "Who thinks that she can defeat Vornakht?"
"Do you wish to know the name of the one who will kill you?" said the woman. Her voice was little louder than a whisper, yet it penetrated the whole room. There was no hatred or bravado in it, only fierce resolution. "It is Starfall."
"Whoever you are, you will soon regret this folly." Vornakht paced around her, sizing up his foe. "Since the fall of the Peacemakers, there is none living who can vanquish Vornakht!" His voice raised to a horrible screech.
"The Peacemakers are not yet fallen," she said. "As long as I live, the Peacemakers live."
Vornakht laughed, and Zemyan knew that even if by some miracle he should live he would hear that laugh in nightmares all his life. "I've heard tales of a Peacemaker who survived Ashkar and has roamed throughout the galaxy these last few hundred years hunting down and killing all the Virontyr. My makers told you tales of the Last Peacemaker to frighten me when I wouldn't behave. They said he was a man eight feet tall, with eyes as red as flame. And you expect me to believe that's you? You're far too pretty to be a bogeyman."
To this the woman said nothing. She raised her sword and struck at Vornakht, making a dent in his armor. At that moment she turned to Zemyan and looked him in the eyes with her piercing gaze. "Run!" she shouted. "If you value your life, run NOW!"
Zemyan did not hesitate to do so. He leaped up and scrambled out of the window, with the sounds of battle ringing out behind him. He had a sick feeling in his stomach when he realized that the manuscripts in the library would likely all be burned, but there was nothing he could do about that. He could hear the buzz of blasts of energy striking behind him, and remembered the rumors that Vornakht could command the Astralforce itself. But he did not hear the woman fall.
Despite himself Zemyan turned back around to see the combat. Vornakht was clearly too absorbed in fighting this woman to carea bout the fate of a mere scribe. He opened his huge, hideous eyes and released a blindingly bright blast of energy from them. Zemyan felt his guts twist again. He knew there was no way even this woman could survive that.
But she did not try to flee this bolt. She blocked it with her blade, which somehow absorbed it. The blade flickered with a red light. Crackling sparks of black energy swirled around it like a swarm of angry bees. Now it seemed that, with her eyes closed in intense concentration and her sword held high, she was trying to wrestle down this living flame with her force of will, while Vornakht looked on in utter astonishment. It flickered faster and spurted as her whole body shook, and seemed for a moment as if she would fall. But the light grew steady and strong, and she raised her blade and blasted it back at Vornakht, striking him right in the heart. He screamed his loudest scream yet, a scream of fear. The red and black energy was leaking from his body. She drew it out of him through the sword and shot it back with one mighty burst, striking him before he could scream again, his face contorted into a silent scream of death. And then there was nothing left of Vornakht, not even ashes.
"You... you killed him?" someone said, and Zemyan realized it was him. His voice was faint and squeaky. He felt euphoric, and wanted to rush out that moment and start the dance of Merak. But the woman seemed neither happy nor sad at the death. She simply stood still and silent.
The woman who called herself Starfall turned away and began walking out of the monastary which was burning all around him. The mutants, confused and frightened, were rushing around and screaming in the distance. "Wait!" screamed Zemyan, waving his arms frantically. "The... the... the mutants are still around. Aren't you going to stop them?"
She shook her head. "I am sorry. I cannot. Your people can defeat them. But there is none other who can defeat the Virontyr. There are only a few left now but enough to pose a threat to the galaxy. Already they are striking out at other worlds. Already other cities are burning from their wrath. Only I can defeat them." She turned to look at him one last time. There was no compassion in her cold, lovely dark eyes. She pressed a button on the hilt of her sword and in a burst of pale light she was gone.
The battle was over, and Starfall was alone. She had left the world of Yral behind, returning to the Preceptory that lay cloaked on the outskirts of the star system. It would take her to the world where she would fight her next battle, perhaps her last. For now she would have to rest.
She sheathed the sword Godslayer and walked once more through the long and empty corridors of the Preceptory. The statues of the great Peacemakers of the past lay around her, as silent as herself. Once the halls of the Preceptory were full of noise and life. It had been the home to a batallion of Peacemakers. She remembered, Rem, laughing and bright, and Satriel, silent and brooding, and Marina, sweet and shining. And Szarnath, their leader, the best and wisest being she had ever known. Every one of them had died in Ashkar. Whenever she walked through these hallways she felt as if they were here beside her still and heard their voices. The present was swallowed up by the past. One moment, they were there, conversing and quarreling and loving, the next they littered their halls together with all their comrades, quite dead along with a thousand Virontyr, Starfall herself unnoticed by all those outside as she lay quivering and wounded beneath a pile of corpses. Somehow she slogged through these hallways to the Core, her hands shaking, her eyes face streaked with tears, though she did not remember crying.
The hum of the Core and its pale, warm light brought her back to the present. She placed her hands on the pearly sphere and touched it with her mind. The program she had made caught ahold of her and lifted her out of the roaring sea of grief that threatened to swallow her up. The memories of the past faded away as the Core reinforced her mission in her mind: she must destroy the Virontyr. When it was finished she stood cold and still once more, and stiffly wiped the tears off of her face.
Now she would seek out knowledge of the new world where Kalthar and his men lay hidden. It was an insignificant world, whose inhabitants had no powers apart from a few, whose technological development was on the brink of ascent or collapse. Many had tried to invade it of late and failed. Its name was Earth.
Images took shape in the Core's light. Only a handful of Virontyr remained in the universe and as far as the Core could tell all of them were here. On the left she saw the hateful face of Kalthar, which she remembered well, a face she had last seen centuries ago when she helplessly watched his duel with Szarnath. He was the only other living being who had survived Ashkar. It was strange to imagine that she might defeat him once and for all. What would become of her then? Would she try to return to her homeworld of Antaclea, a home she had gladly renounced and which had renounced her, where everyone she knew would be long dead even if the world itself still lived? Would she try to somehow find peace on another world and forget the war she'd fought for almost all her life, if she could do this? Could she even live without that war? Or would she join all the others who had survived Ashkar and let Godslayer take her own life? She did not yet know. She would never know until the battle had been fought and won.
Next to Kalthar was his vile consort, Tenebrax, the only Virontyr who had escaped Starfall's sword. She would not do so again. And beside them was another who she had never seen before, a pale, dark-haired man with a seemingly kind face, dressed in the gaudy outfit of a would-be champion. The information collected in the advanced probe told them that his name was Steven Hiromatsu, and that in costume he posed as Earth's protector, Astro-Man.
She found her gaze lingering on the images the probe delivered. It had been able to collect very little information about this unknown Virontyr. She had no sense of his motives. As she reviewed what the Core had collected on his battles in the past and his many attempts to rescue the natives of Earth from natural disasters, a fear entered her mind. She knew that it wasn't an uncommon tactic of the Virontyr to pose as heroes and deliver the world that worshipped them into Kalthar's hands. She herself had killed many who'd attempted this. But what if this man were different? There seemed to be nothing villainous in his actions that she could see. To her horror, something within her heart ached to believe in him, in the kindness and courage and justice he showed. He almost seemed like a Peacemaker. Could some Virontyr had turned traitor to Kalthar to protect his native world?
Starfall found her temples throbbing and turned away in disgust. Even if her foolish thoughts somehow were true, the risk was too great. This world was still divided into many fractious and warring nations, which were in turn divided within themselves. But it seemed this Astro-Man was worshipped as a hero by almost every single one of them. He answered to no higher authority nor was he accountable to anyone. So it had been with Lightborn before him. Whatever they were, no one should have such power. And the soil of this galaxy, watered as it was with blood, was no longer a place where a true hero could grow. Whatever this man was, he had to die.
- "Virontyr" is a word for the genetically engineered "Super-Virons" who control the Astralforce, as opposed to the nonpowered rank-and-file Virons. Szarnath was the Peacemaker whose ghost merged with Michael Degner to form the Outworlder.
- Starfall is an open source character created specifically for use by anyone. Feel free to use it any way you wish; author citations are not necessary.