11/08/2018

Thank you to Pax Humana and Daisy Duck 39 for beta-ing.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed, you are the greatest!

Part 4 Empire
Chapter 85: One Step Before The End

-cfr-

47218 Years after Human Ascension, 2165 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

LMC Galaxy, Phoenix Empire, Planet: Home, Emperor's Office

"You look tired."

"You know that's an impossibility."

"I know but you still look tired," Harper repeated. She was within their Ascended form. Tiredness was simply a matter of how she projected her image.

"Well, when this is over I can sleep," Williams replied.

"You're entering the final tiers now?" Harper asked, already knowing the answer. For now, Williams' reports were more to let him know anything of interest since the end was almost inevitable.

"Yes," she rolled her eyes, "and I know I complained that the lower tier systems were infested but really, they were nothing. I don't know how they never ran into things."

"Well at least you won't run out of ammunition," Harper consoled Williams. The standard procedure now was to drop a few of the smaller habitats to soften up the planets below.

She flashed him a grin before her features became serious again. "We are discovering more biological and chemical weapons though."

"More of them?"

"Yeah, the last was a primitive form of mustard gas."

Harper looked at her sharply. "You are tracking down the developers?"

Williams nodded. She wasn't about to let the Nur use those weapons. And she hadn't for years. "I had everyone upgrade their immunities. It actually gave Lawson something to do. For a whole three days." She cocked her head slightly at him. "Have you decided what to do with Obaith and Yorath's clan?" she asked.

They'd confirmed that the previous Empress had been assassinated but those responsible had been double crossed before they could contact the Phoenix Empire. The majority of them were now concentrated on Obaith where they had managed to form a strong hold.

"Not yet," Harper said with a sigh. "I'm still deciding if they should see the new Empress fall."

"They've got another one?" Williams frowned. She should have been the first to know if the Nur got a new Empress.

"No, no," Harper clarified. "The same one."

Williams glared. He knew she hated ambiguity. "You've probably got another couple of months to decide in," she said. "The final tiers are going to be slow going unless we can rig up some giant nets to just trawl the systems clean."

"The engineers are busy," he reminded her. Not only were they constructing the detection net behind the invading fleet, but there were works within the Empire's territory that had to be seen to.

"You're actually doing it?"

"Every system within twenty light years of a white dwarf," Harper confirmed.

"The Nur aren't going to get another supernova," Williams growled.

"We didn't think they'd get a second one in but they did and we know they tried for more, so you can't guarantee that," he told her.

"I fucking can guarantee it," Williams retorted. "They don't have the eezo!"

"Didn't you tell me that you thought they got another manufacturing facility up and running?" Harper counted.

"Yes, I think they do," Williams said. "But that's barely keeping them going and I've already got fleets dispatched to the likely candidate stars. They don't have enough eezo to make another supernova."

Harper didn't look convinced. "Well, better to be safe," he said, referring to the planetary shield project.

"Or you could just give me the resources. I'd need to get to Xyrpyni faster," Williams said sarcastically. "I could ask their Empress then."

"I think I like this way better," Harper replied.

"Civilians," she muttered.

Harper didn't react, though he looked at her pointedly. "Speaking of which, I'm given to understand the Nur now know what the hus- Exanimates are." The statement was a demand for an explanation.

"It was bound to happen eventually," Williams shrugged. "I'm just surprised they didn't work it out immediately given their communication methods.

"There's nothing they can do about it anyway. All the Exanimates are made at least five systems back from the front. The ones Legacy and Instinct are making are ten systems back."

"They aren't meant to know at all," Harper pointed out, as if that should be the main concern.

"No," Williams corrected firmly. "The Phoenix Empire civilians are not meant to know, which is why we drew back some of the media. They aren't allowed in the systems where we are making or deploying them. And the military who do know aren't going to betray me."

"What concerns me is what happens once the Nur get into the Empire," he attempted to explain.

The Grand Admiral looked at him sceptically. "I don't see why that's a concern, unless you are going to allow mass migration?"

"The Nur are spread over half the galaxy," Harper reminded her. It wasn't mass migration when they were already there. .

"And the Attori are doing their best to claim as many systems as they can," Williams countered.

"Even with that, I do not need a hostile though conquered people covering that much of my territory," Harper said.

She sighed. She understood now but the solution was simple. "In the past, we've allowed species to keep their systems, subject to Phoenix Empire rules and with a few strategic system reductions. The Nur will be no different, excepting the scale of reduction," she concluded.

"They know about the Exanimates," Harper repeated. "They won't sit quietly for these reductions and once the word spreads…" He didn't need to say that if all the Nur knew, then eventually the civilians in the Phoenix Empire would as well.

"Then there are two solutions to that."

"Save me the 'I told you so's,' Ashley," Jack said.

She chuckled. "Most of the Phoenix Empire citizens view alien species as legitimate parts of the Empire but definitely as lesser citizens. We've made a rank system." Williams smiled coldly at that reality.

"If I look at just the space-faring races, then Humans are at the top. The Attori are next because they are the next best thing to a Human. The Boadu are next, but as they are still small, most won't ever see one. The Fedochi have been gaining ground and the Ullator are actually happy about the war, because it's raising their status.

"When the Nur are conquered, you know darn well they are going to be citizens in name only. And if we reanimated their dead to save our soldiers, our Human soldiers, well that's only good planning," she finished.

"Except we both know they weren't dead."

"I say again, two solutions," Williams retorted.

"You are not exterminating them all!" Harper snapped, flinching slightly as a burst of pain shot through him.

Williams saw it. "Ah," she murmured her understanding of his insistence. "I imagine we can get that order changed," she said.

"Yes, but not yet," Harper agreed.

"Well, I've just thought of another solution so there's still two. We can isolate them," Williams began explaining. "That might actually help them gain acceptance, at least up to Ullator standards as our generation's cycle.

"Or we could run that mass indoctrination experiment. Then they won't talk about anything."

Harper smiled at her. "We could," he agreed. "It worked out well, last time."

Williams looked annoyed. Lappela might have broken her father, but she had given Harper billions in taxes. At best, it was a draw but she knew he'd won that round.

"But that was individuals. I think isolation," he decided, "with selected indoctrination on a system level."

"I'll set aside some other systems for tourists then," Williams sighed, referring to the interest that would arise in the Empire once the war was over. There were those who'd want to see how the primitive non-Humans lived.

"Do that," Harper nodded.

"So what brought this on?" Williams asked. She could have searched Harper's logs but didn't feel like absorbing the details of his life. Sometimes, it was best to be ignorant.

Harper looked at her innocently.

"You know exactly what files you've included in your office's official documents now," she said tartly, not quite managing to hide her annoyance.

As Emperor, Harper was monitored twenty-four seven. The monitoring was not just his bodyguards but it was full biometric scanning that was partnered with a detailed log of his activity and the security cams. Generally, it was divided into two sections, public and private with public being limited to the times Harper was acting as Emperor and private being his off duty time. The division meant Williams could focus on the public files to find out what he was doing. She didn't need to know which of his women he was screwing.

In the wake of the Fedochi incident, just to be a bastard, Harper had combined public and private in retaliation. Absorbing the information about his brainwaves while he was relieving himself was part of the knowledge she was attempting to erase, especially as in her current Ascended state, she knew in intimate detail what every single signal meant.

She was not going to make that mistake again.

"I don't know what you are talking about," Harper murmured, shaking his head. "The Empress mentioned them," he continued to answer the question.

"So they are the current excuse for her pride," Williams shrugged again.

"Yes, and while we can deal with the citizens if they discover the truth, I'd prefer to avoid the problem," he said.

Williams nodded. She was politically astute enough to know that was easier. It wasn't like the entire military knew what the Exanimates were either. When it was necessary for interaction between troops and the Exanimates, there were special Exanimates that looked to be in full body armour that were seen. Military protocol meant no images were taken, so most believed them to be some sort of Special Forces.

"So how much longer before I can expect to see her grovelling?"

"A few years yet," Williams replied. "The lower tiers were empty compared to now," she reiterated. "And we keep getting hints about some super weapon. It's not a supernova," she added.

Harper frowned. He'd vaguely heard something about that but had put it down to Nur propaganda but if Williams was taking it seriously then there might be more to it.

"I don't know," she said, answering the unspoken question. "It could just be a play but, who knows? They are desperate. It does appear to be some sort of navy vessel," she added, putting up a blurry visual of something against a star field.

"That's the best shot we've got?" The picture was atrocious and he knew their tech was better.

"It's one we got off them. We haven't even seen this thing."

"It's not slowing you down?"

Williams snorted. "Of course not. It's only a weapon if you use it. Right now, it's a rumour." The words made it clear that she didn't consider it a very good one. "I think they hoped for something but it hasn't gone to plan."

"Or did it go to our plan?" Harper asked sharply. The Nur were capable of detecting indoctrinated agents but there were ways around that, if you were careful.

Williams looked contrite. "Possibly," she admitted.

"Are you going to tell me or do I just have to guess?"

She sighed. "It's pretty easy. Yorath was actually careful but while Iefana has given the orders, she doesn't check that they are obeyed. We have captured whole sibling groups, and a heap of those without siblings. Those without siblings are grouped into faux family units, and instructed to swear that they are family and it is those family groupings, real or fake that we control are working on the Nur weapon.

"I've done this before with the Attori, Jack. They never got the Guisarm class ships operational. This is the same," she shook her head easily. "Their population is small enough now that our agents can act without being detected too easily."

He nodded. It was a workable plan. "Iefana thinks they are still going to work?"

"We keep giving her tidbits," Williams grinned.

"Good," he murmured. The hope for the weapons would explain why the Nur hadn't surrendered after the coup. And if the hope of success was keeping them from making the sensible decision, that wasn't his fault. "Is the weapon workable?"

Williams had already refined the Nur calculations and plans for a supernova to be far more reliable. There were no plans to use that information but it never hurt to have such weapons available. "I suppose it could be," Williams said softly. "But we really don't want it to be."

"Hmm?" Harper prompted. There was a weapon his military leader didn't want to possess?

"It's a particle cannon, Jack."

"No, just no," Harper said, growling at her. She knew they couldn't have them!

"I'm taking care of it," she assured him. "I have Ascended dealing with the information. There won't be a working prototype in the Empire."

"Make sure of it," Harper reiterated Shepard's feelings on the matter.

Williams smiled. "I know. Sometimes, he's selfish," she gave the assessment.

Harper glared. She could say that. He couldn't. Sometimes he really hat- He shunted the thought away but the feeling remained. "Are we done?" Harper asked.

Williams looked thoughtful for a moment. "Yes, I think I've bitched about the problems enough for this week," she said.

"I am feeling sufficiently complained at," he murmured.

"Good," she grinned, nodding before her hologram disappeared.

Harper sighed and flicked the information on the screen away before he looked at a trade proposal.

The war might be entering its final phase but the Empire still needed his attention.

-cfr-

47219 Years after Human Ascension, 2166 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

LMC Galaxy, Phoenix Empire, Planet: Home, Throne Room

"Set is good. Lighting is good. We're going live in thirty seconds, Your Majesty."

"About fucking time, this get up is hot!"

The studio staff ignored the comment as they worked. They weren't used to dealing with the Emperor but the briefings they'd had before today made it clear that unless the Emperor was speaking directly to them, they should ignore him and concentrate on their jobs.

They were broadcasting from the Grand Hall, the place where Emperor Harper traditionally handed over the Empire's Sceptre to Lawson each century, which meant that whatever announcement the Emperor wanted to make was big.

Usually he addressed the Empire from his desk, after, so the rumours went, sweeping the data pads off it. This was a far more formal setting and the Emperor was attired in all the trappings of his rank.

Director Lawson was almost austere by comparison. Grand Admiral Williams' hologram had been present earlier but after a quick consultation she'd vanished, laughingly telling Emperor Harper that he really should do things her way.

The Emperor had glowered at the spot where she'd been standing for a few seconds before he'd settled himself in the rather plain chair that served as a throne. Someone had once replaced it with something more ornate. Emperor Harper had had them replaced very soon after and the original reinstalled. It had served as a warning.

"And we are live in five, four, three, two," the final number was mouthed silently and all attention turned to the Emperor. There was no sign he'd been complaining moments earlier.

The man before them on camera was regal and the epitome of power and they all felt a wave of respect.

"Citizens of the Empire, I come before you to relay the truth of the continuing conflict with the Nur.

"It began with their unprovoked and unlawful attack on our border systems and Atto. But the citizens of the Phoenix Empire, Human or not, are not that weak. We held the line. We endured and we planned and then we struck.

"The Nur learned we were not some paper warrior to be brushed aside. We are might, the flame of the Phoenix and we burned their worlds.

"But not to the ground. I heard the calls but to burn them to the ground is to deny them all life and the systems with minimal terraforming will be suitable for settlement." As he said that there was a soft smile playing on his features, as if this was what had intended all along.

"The Nur, despite what they believe have always had the ability to surrender. The comm lines to my office are not closed to them but I do not bow to threats and blackmail, which is all Nur command has offered.

"The first was escalation. The system of Njord will be remembered," Emperor Harper's voice was tight, as if he was fighting back tears but his look was determined. "In the aftermath of that attack, the Nur Empress Oydryd did contact me.

"She kindly offered to let me surrender and then upon realising that the Phoenix Empire would never agree to that, she sought the establishment of borders." Harper shook his head. "As if I could forget the blood spilt and the lives taken. As if I could forgive," he added, almost growling.

"And so we continued, pushing further into Nur territory because the lives of those lost demanded it. It is not, and never has been a battle for vengeance but it is a battle for justice. For us to tell the Nur with uncompromising force that we are not a nation they can dominate. And that we do not accept their view that we must bow."

At this, Emperor Harper's eyes, already bright with his implants seemed to glow further, casting the rest of his face into shadow despite the extra lighting brought in. He took a visible breath, his features shifting to take on a sorrowful mien and those watching knew he was getting to the heart of his speech.

"The Nur have made further attempts to create supernovas within the Phoenix Empire. Each attempt has been thwarted, the ships that they sent destroyed before they could fulfil their objectives. But the Nur have continued to try, thus proving that they lack honour to use such an indiscriminate weapon against civilian worlds.

"They seek, through the use of supernovas to make us fear but we are the Phoenix and the light of our fire burns away their shadow. Out of the ashes of destruction we rise. We rose from Njord, developing shields to protect our worlds.

"So the second supernova that the Nur, in their desperation, have triggered shall pass over the systems as the planets rest, protected by the wings of the Phoenix."

Harper bowed his head slightly, as if thanking those who had died for the protection to be made. "We shall rise again now and this time our navy and our armies shall be closing in on the Nur home world of Xyrpyni,

"It has been a long time coming but it is an inevitability and even now we fight with honour. We do not ravage their worlds beyond repair and my comm line remains open. At any time, I am open to accept Nur surrender.

"To end this conflict, the Nur Empress Eygyr needs to acknowledge their defeat with surrender for I will not accept the insult to those who have laid down their lives which her attempt to negotiate is!" Harper sounded angry and it was an anger echoed by the film crew, when they realised what he meant.

"Surrender must be unconditional because it was not the Phoenix Empire which started this conflict but we will be the ones who end it!"

For emphasis, Emperor Harper brought the hilt the sceptre down hard and the deep sound reverberated through the room. The crew felt the tone in their bones and they knew the Emperor would not negotiate with the Nur. They would be another conquered race.

The camera lingered on Emperor Harper's fierce expression for a few moments before the screen changed to the crest of the Empire and the fed was cut back to the channels.

"Good work everyone!"

The call was from all around and despite the gravity of the Emperor's news, that there were further planets living under shields there was a sense of jubilation. The war was nearly over and the Nur would soon be put in their rightful place.

"Ashley is close?"

While the crew continued working, they all strained to hear the conversation between Director Lawson and Emperor Harper.

"It will be a few years yet but she is closing in," the Emperor confirmed, rising and heading not for the plaza but towards the back rooms, so he could remove his heavy robes. The sceptre would accompany him back to the palace where it was stored.

"Will Yorath's clan surrender?"

"They should. That was their plan and the last few years haven't changed anything." The Emperor gave a short bark of laughter. "Besides, I'm going to need a seed population from somewhere. Legacy and Instinct are depopulating whole garrisons."

Lawson seemed to share Emperor Harper's amusement. "So with them being productive the plan for Xyrpyni is simple?" Lawson asked but he gave the impression he already knew the answer.

"We will just swarm it under," Emperor Harper smiled viciously. "I see no reason to risk Human lives on their home world. Besides, the younglings deserve a taste of what the cycle should be like."

Lawson gave the Emperor a measuring look, part amused, part surprised before he nodded. "At least, everyone will be fully crewed," he said.

"True. While I don't foresee any issues-"

"We know what's still out there," Lawson finished.

"Indeed. Has Williams sent you any more samples?" Emperor Harper asked, pausing at a small door near the reason.

"Nothing I haven't seen before. They haven't been that creative."

"Just keep working on it. I don't want persistence to pay off."

"Don't worry about it, Jack, it's already in the next immunisation roll out."

"Good," Emperor Harper nodded sharply. "Now I have to get out of this get up," he said, opening the door.

Lawson shook his head. "You know, she does have a point. You do have alternatives to actually wearing all of that in summer."

"That may be, but I'm not giving in on this point."

Lawson snorted. "Your decision," he said before nodding at his old friend, and turning away, his bodyguards moving with him to another exit.

Emperor Harper disappeared through the door and the crew became very interested in clearing away everything. Not that there was that much to pack up. It wasn't often that the Empire's citizens got an unguarded look at their ruler but between his speech and the conversation with Director Lawson, many felt reassured.

The war was in its final phases and the Phoenix Empire was ready for anything the Nur might try to delay that because they were the phoenix and they rose out of the ashes of destruction stronger. The galaxy was theirs, not by birth right, like the Milky Way but theirs by right of conquest and in the Empire's name, for those who had fallen, they would take it.

-cfr-

47222 Years after Human Ascension, 2169 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

LMC Galaxy, Nur Empire, Planet: Xyrpyni (Nur Home world)

Dylis waited with a well-practiced semblance of patience. It helped to keep the ranks calm and that was what they needed.

The fight for Xyrpyni had begun five days ago but for those on the home world, it had been accompanied by a sense of hopelessness.

The Phoenix Empire forces had appeared from light speed. Thousands of ships of all sizes, drawn into perfect lines. And then, instead of heading straight to Xyrpyni, they had swept the outer reaches of the system, destroying Nur bases and historical relics with no regard as to their worth.

They had even gone after Twyllod, the military base on the rogue planet. There had been some whispers of betrayal when that had happened before calmer heads had prevailed.

The Phoenix Empire was in possession of every other Nur system, they would have learned about Twyllod's existence from records on those worlds without anyone's betrayal. It had calmed people but Dylis knew that at least some of the Nur would have broken.

The Phoenix Empire was very good at turning Nur to their cause. She still remembered Cifion, her brother, who had long ago, before the war, been a merchant and the way he'd felt after returning from negotiating trade contracts in the Phoenix Empire. That negotiation had gone well but his loyalty, his feeling when they spoke, that had changed. Cifion had still been a merchant, he had still been her brother, but he was totally devoted to the Phoenix Empire.

There had been nothing Dylis, or any of her other siblings, could say to change Cifion's mind and when he turned, actually acting on his new loyalties, about a year after his return from that trading trip, family honour dictated that they be the ones to cut him down.

She'd never forgiven the Phoenix Empire for that because it was their fault! But no one could prove anything. Even going over their memories of what Cifion had done in Human territory, they could not find when he had been turned. He had not been tortured or experimented upon. That had made her hate even more.

The Empire knew, those who had come to deal with the incident had nodded and said it wasn't their first time dealing with something like her brother but no one knew how the Humans were doing it.

It did explain how they were keeping the other aliens races under control.

Dylis suppressed a shudder. She was not going to let that happen to her and so now, she waited. The battle for Xyrpyni would begin soon.

The Phoenix Empire's fleet had swept the system clean. The defensive minefields had been detonated, the military- and civilian-run bases swarmed and the remains of the navy, those not in high orbit, had been obliterated. Those in high orbit were fighting now with Xyrpyni at their backs but Dylis knew that battle would only have one outcome.

Every day, new Phoenix Empire ships appeared until it seemed as if the Humans would match every ship the Nur had ever produced. There would be no running the gauntlet to escape.

There was nowhere to escape to.

A distant alarm sounded. That was the signal. The Phoenix Empire was coming.

Anti-aerospace fire, which had until then been sporadic for fear of hitting their own ships became a torrent, flowing upwards as curtains with fiery tails. A black wave of ships dropped to meet it.

The two became a huge conflagration. It burned for a few moments, brighter than Xyrpyni's sun and Dylis imagined that over the night side of the planet that it was day again. But the wave of black continued to fall and the fire from below continued upwards.

Again and again, they met and all Dylis could do, all any of those who had been pressed into service could do, was watch. For a moment, it seemed as if the AA placements would succeed but that was only an illusion, shattered when red beams pierced the sky, lancing down to the ground in a vicious rain that left only ash in its wake.

Dylis could hear the explosions from her vantage but she did not spare a thought for those who died. It was quick and it was over and they had done their duty.

New fire trailed up to meet the black, from mobile placements, though Dylis knew they wouldn't be so mobile now. The red rain paused, tracking the shots and the black shuttles continued to fall.

"Those are our ships!" The cry raced through those who were gathered to fight. It was anyone would cold hold a gun or was prepared to swing their claws.

Dylis remained unmoved by the whispers that followed the cry and she felt vindicated when those in her immediate vicinity quickly silenced. They needed leadership now, not gossip. "Hold fast," she murmured, allowing her radio to pick up the words. "We strike when they land."

Because no matter the torrents of fire rising to meet the shuttles, the black was winning. The occasional red beam lanced down, burning the ground but shorter shots came down, little flashes that travelled almost too quickly to see. It was day here but against the night sky Dylis thought it would be beautiful.

All too soon the shuttles were low enough to dodge and while the majority were Nur design, they were accompanied by smaller, spherical objects that seemed not to heed gravity. They raced to the ground, firing on the remaining AA embankments and as Dylis watched, the curtain of fire became tattered before it faded entirely.

She could hear the roar of the shuttles and the higher pitched whine from the other vessels.

"Brace for incoming fire!" she yelled.

The ships would attack and all they could do was wait and hope not to be hit. Her resolve hardened. She was not going to die without taking at least one Human with her. Dylis didn't grab on to anything. Rather, she glared as if daring the Humans to hit her and while the air was punctuated by the sounds of distant screams, her unit remained undamaged.

A shuttle shot overhead, then another and another, going too fast to land near them but one eventually moved ponderously enough and she knew it would make planetfall in the small clearing nearby.

"Hold your fire!" she cautioned. None of their weapons could crack the shields. Firing now would be a waste of ammo and give away their position. "Let them come to us to die!" she added, flexing her claws.

Soon. It would be soon.

The shuttle landed, setting down heavily in the clearing and Dylis wasn't the only one to gather in preparation to charge. The rear doors opened, not straight into their path but close enough.

"For the Empire!" Dylis screamed, raising one hand. There was an answering roar and she didn't need the order as her troops charged into battle. The Humans would die!

The forms coming off the shuttle were large, she noted as she ran. Good! That meant Special Forces. She'd get to kill the Humans' best. It was only once they turned, charging straight for her unit did Dylis realise she was wrong.

Human Special Forces didn't have four arms, and while their face plates did sometimes have glowing eyes, they did not have five spaced widely over their heads. She felt a surge of disappointment but then her troops met them and all thought was forgotten in the battle.

She was reasonably tall for a Nur, standing approximately 2.3m but these things towered over her and their multiple limbs made it hard to find an opening. They were shrugging off the small arms fire that was being sent their way. Armoured, like Nur and as Dylis closed in, raking her claws down the chest of one, she felt the layers of chitin.

The creature didn't feel her attack but she certainly felt it when one limb slammed into her head. She rolled with the blow but the creature was faster and it caught her arm before its blow could send her spinning away. She didn't cry out as she was jerked to a halt but instead went for her gun.

At close range, through one of its eyes, the armour meant nothing. It seemed to know she'd try that because its arm reached out to grab hers and Dylis realised she was caught. She pulled against its grip but it didn't move.

There were screams coming from her troops but she was absorbed in her own struggle. Up close, the thing was hideous. Each eye glittered and its mouth was a black moar, gaping in its face. It stank of petrification and Dylis shook her head, trying to clear her nose.

The creature roared and she grimaced before screaming in pain as it jerked her captured limbs outwards. She was scrabbling for purchase on the ground but could feel her feet slipping. A scream to her left cut off abruptly and from the corner of her eye, Dylis saw the remains of Wiwlip dropped to the ground and the thing walked through them as if nothing had happened, heading towards the next soldier to kill them.

It was going to happen to her. The realisation was instant and unavoidable and even as panic lent her strength to fight against its hold, Dylis could feel no give. Its body lit up, lines tracing all over, glowing blue like its eyes but not giving enough light to truly see the black of its body.

It jerked outwards again, and Dylis felt her bones and carapace give way. Fire lanced through her, an all-consuming agony and for an instant, she tasted blood. Then she heard her own flesh tear and the scream that was ripped from her throat echoed through the clearing before tapering to a sick, wet gurgle. Agony was her world and darkness lapped at her vision and Dylis saw no reason to continue fighting.

She was dead before her two halves hit the ground.

-cfr-

47222 Years after Human Ascension, 2169 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

LMC Galaxy, Nur Empire, Planet: Xyrpyni (Nur Home world)

"What the hell are these things?"

Neirin had no answer as he took another step back. Retreating. But he didn't know to where. It wasn't like there was anywhere to retreat that wasn't under attack. The Phoenix Empire had come to Xyrpyni and he hadn't even seen one Human yet because while no one knew what these things were, they sure as hell knew they weren't Human!

For his part, Neirin kept firing but he was careful to remain near Veuric. She, with her larger stature, had a heavier weapon which was literally pushing back the things that had emerged from the shuttle. They had four arms and multiple glowing eyes. They were armoured but fast and they had no regard for their lives.

For every one they killed, two seemed to take its place and more shuttles were falling from the sky. Reinforcements for the Humans. As if they needed them!

The only thing that made the creatures pause, made them pause as well, was the sporadic rain of fire from the sky. Deep red beams that were scouring into Xyrpyni. With the way the ground shook, Nierin knew they were preventing retreat into the underground or maybe the Humans were collapsing the tunnels to avoid that fight.

Still, from his vantage, he could see that the palace was still intact. The surface portions anyway. The Human fleet above could probably reduce it to rubble in a few minutes but if the rumours about the Phoenix Empire were true, and Neirin was inclined to believe them, then the Emperor Harper wanted to parade the conquered Empress through the streets to prove his victory. If he was honest with himself, Neirin couldn't see how they could prevent that.

The weapon promised by Empress Oydryd to end the war had just made the Phoenix Empire angrier and the one promised by Empress Eygyr remained an illusion. No one had ever seen it, so if it had been deployed, Neirin rather imagined that the Phoenix Empire had smashed through it.

Some Nur blamed the Empresses and while they were undoubtedly at fault, Neirin didn't see the point. The Phoenix Empire was here now and there was nothing left to do but fight, if not for the glory of the Empress, then at least for the memory of the Nur, so that the Humans might know they had fought.

That was the theory but with these things, Neirin didn't know how that could be.

-cfr-

The Humans are knocking on the door and the next day is going to be a very bad day for the Empress and the now single planet Empire. She knows she should have surrendered but she kept getting feed bad information from those trying to develop weapons. And sometimes, even when you know you should do something, you are obstinate about it... This wasn't a good time for the Empress to have that reality.

Review please! Complete the trifecta of Fav, Follow and Review. Or just take out the review leg. I don't mind. :P