Again, I do not own anything. The Starcraft franchise is the property of Blizzard Entertainment.
THE SERPENT CLUSTER
A cluster of dwarf galaxies situated within 11 million lightyears from Earth.
From afar, the cluster gives a vague impression of a messy spiral galaxy. However, each spiral "arm" is actually separated from the others by clear gulfs of space and is a distinct galaxy by itself. Together, they look like a group of serpents curling and coiling towards each other, yet never touching. Hence their name.
Due to the small size of each serpent galaxy and its relative proximity to the others in the cluster, the intelligent inhabitants of the Serpents Cluster have developed intergalactic travel quite readily, as compared to those in the Milky Way.
The dominant species in this cluster have also evolved in extraordinary ways.
For the self-styled "Eternal Ones", reincarnation is real … and they can control it to a certain degree.
Advanced psionic technology and spiritual disciplines, perfected over an unfathomably long period of time, allows a Naga to preserve its consciousness after the death of its current physical body. It then gets reborn as a life form of its choice, and some time after that, recovers the memories from its previous physical existences.
In the past, a Naga would always prefer to be reborn among the original Naga species, for fear that after reincarnating in the body of a more "primitive" life form, it would permanently lose vital parts of its personality and memories, and its cycle of rebirth would start to go awry.
Later, some Naga found out that they did not have to wait until physical death for their spirits to transmigrate. Particularly accomplished Naga psychics can project their consciousness beyond their own bodies at will. These are more willing to be reborn among different species. They serve as the Nagas' liaison to other advanced cultures, and spiritual guides to less advanced ones.
Thus it was discovered that there were species other than the Naga that have the potential to remember their past lives. "Enlightened" individuals from these other species were invited to join the intergalactic community of the Eternal Ones. This emergent super-civilization that came to watch over most of the Serpent Cluster was heavily influenced by Naga culture, and after a while, all Eternal Ones were simply called Naga.
Assured of their spiritual immortality, the Naga took an extremely non-violent approach in everything. From their point of view, all sentient life is connected through the Cycle of Rebirth, whether aware of it or not. Killing in aggression or retaliation is a pointless accumulation of suffering. The associated rage, grief and fear are seen as hindrances to attaining Eternity.
A Naga sage would willingly sacrifice its physical life to shield another life form from harm. Another would enter a raging battlefield, unarmed, to persuade the warring armies to stop fighting. Etc. ( Arguably, a Naga's psionic abilities should protect it from those dangers anyway… )
That approach has not changed. However, the situation is made more complicated by the Nagas' encounter with the Void Terrors …
Around the same time that the Order of the Eternal Ones was established, a group of Naga decided that they were not content with simply the control of reincarnation that they had achieved.
If they were to be reborn, they reasoned, then why not be reborn as the Ultimate Life Forms !
Calling themselves Xel'Naga, or "Beyond Naga" ( analogous to "Transhuman" in Terran culture ), this group set out to guide the evolution of certain species towards what they perceived as the ideal sentient life form. Free from all the natural sources of suffering like hunger, disease, aging, and violent instincts. Pure in Form and Essence.
Whenever they judged that a certain species had become sufficiently close to those ideals, the Xel'Naga would be reborn among said species. Sometimes, there was more than one choice, splitting the next generation of Xel'Naga into various subgroups. Some began to diverge, little by little, from the original goals as well. Sometimes subgroups merged if they happened to choose the same species.
Whichever route they took, they all still shared the same drive: in their new bodies, they would continue their pursuit of perfection, seeking out yet more species to uplift and reincarnate into.
This quest took the Xel'Naga to places beyond the Serpents Cluster.
Tens of millions of years ago, one ancient subgroup arrived in the Milky Way, and began seeding thousands of new species on suitable worlds in their newfound domain.
This subgroup would eventually be known by the later inhabitants of the Milky Way as The Wanderers From Afar … or simply as the Xel'Naga.
The Titans would have been a favourite candidate species for the early Xel'Naga, if not for one problem:
The Titans did not trust the Naga ( and by extension, Xel'Naga ). They saw the Order of the Eternal Ones as a sinister means through which the Naga exerted subtle but deep control over the other species. Their persecution of the Naga once went so far as to try and hunt down and kill every living being in their empire suspected of being an incarnation of a Naga. Eventually they realized how unfeasible and pointless this was and learned to coexist with their supposed "rivals".
Unlike the Naga, the Titans strove for physical immortality.
Driven by this motivation, the Titans have achieved an astonishing level of sophistication in the fields of bioengineering, bionics and cybernetics, among others. Organism and machine have become so seamlessly integrated they are virtually indistinguishable from each other.
From the point of view of more primitive life forms, the Titans are like physical gods.
This is helped by the fact that the Titans now rule the largest and most powerful empire in the Serpent Cluster. ( since neither the Order of the Eternal Ones nor the Annihilator count as Empires in the conventional sense. )
Two of the Titans' assets have contributed majorly to their military success.
A variety of sentient starships that have helped secure the Titans' superiority in space and air.
Their greatest advantage is their intelligence. Most of the time they can regulate their systems, determine and plot courses, fight battles, even construct more ships, all by themselves. This allows the crews to concentrate fully on the mission at hand.
Despite this high level of autonomy, there is a close technopathic bond between a Garud and its Titan crew. In effect, the two are fiercely loyal to each other.
Garuds carry smaller craft called Garulas. These are not intelligent and are controlled either by Titan pilots or by their Garud motherships.
The former warrior aristocracy of the Titan empire.
Due to special selection pressures in the Titans' early history, there arose a group of Titans mentally and physically far more optimized for war than their brethren. Through untold generations of genetic and technological enhancements, these traits became even more pronounced, until the descendants of said group became terrifyingly proficient at battle, intrigue and little else.
During the Titans' wars of conquest, the Asuras were naturally held in high regard. They were the Titans' de facto commanders, feudal kings etc.
That changed when the Titan empire had reached its current extent, and its Supreme Ruler, Devendr, decided to devote its resources to fostering harmony and prosperity, rather than waging further wars.
Suddenly, the Asuras' predilection for war became a liability to the new order. With no more meaningful outlet to channel their innate warlike passions and instincts, they turned to piracy, brigandage and other destructive activities.
When ordered to disarm, they refused, and accused Devendr and his followers, the Devas, of being in league with the Nagas. Within the empire, opinions differed regarding said accusation. Yet one thing was clear: the Asuras had to be dealt with.
Through a secret method known as the Silent Chant, an overriding order was transmitted to all the Garud fleets carrying Asuras in them: they were to put their Asura passengers into stasis and leave the empire. This did not conflict with the Garuds' priority of protecting their crews, and was carried out with little incident. Those Asuras not travelling in starships were caught and either forced to change their ways, or exiled from the empire as well.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, one such exiled fleet arrived in the Milky Way and landed in a few disparate star systems. With no orders regarding when to awaken their passengers, the Garuds simply left them in stasis.
Recently, due to the disturbance caused by human and TaGal explorers, the Asuras in the Milky Way have begun to awaken en masse …
A convenient category applied to a group of Void-dwelling entities that share certain similarities. It is unclear whether all these entities share a single origin. Most of the time an origin cannot be ascribed at all. The Void Terrors seem unfathomably ancient and alien to those sentient species who encounter them.
The Voices in the Darkness
As the Xel'Naga in the Milky Way guided the evolution of sentient life forms in the Milky Way, they became aware of a group of spectral Void-based entities stalking their domain world by world.
Said entities would descend upon each world, and possess its native sentient inhabitants. The latter would have their life force and psychic energy drained, their bodies turned into twisted zombie puppets under complete control of the alien entities. When the victims had been worn out, they were discarded, as the entities set out in search of new prey.
One sign that the entities were arriving in a new world, was that the more psionically attuned inhabitants of said world would begin hear disturbing voices in their heads. And then the entities were upon them, smothering their world in veils of cosmic darkness.
In this way the Dark Voices possessed and wiped out entire fledgling civilizations, bringing them in direct conflict with the Xel'Naga and their work.
After a series of failed attempts, the Xel'Naga eventually found a way to stop the Dark Voices.
For all their previous claims of having transcended normal Naga culture, the Xel'Naga still inherited the Nagas' devotion to non-violence. They could not bring themselves to kill other life forms, even if said "life forms" were eldritch abominations like the Dark Voices.
Thus, the Xel'Naga simply separated them and imprisoned them in remote worlds specially established for this purpose.
No prison is completely airtight. Over time, some of the trapped void entities escaped, whether by accident or effort. Most of them were then too weak to threaten the Xel'Naga, and had to go into hiding, such as the entities responsible for the creation of the Space Vampires.
Yet one such entity not only escaped, but proceeded to stalk the Xel'Naga themselves, all the while plotting the latters' downfall.
The Dark Voice's chance came when it saw the Xel'Naga's creation of the Zerg species.
Silently, it seeped its way onto the Zerg homeworld Zerus, and subtly influenced the Zerg Overmind, causing the latter to turn against its creators. In the ensuing surprise attack, the Xel'Naga watching over Zerus were seemingly killed off and assimilated.
On top of the Zerg Swarm's innate drive to assimilate new life forms and evolve, the Dark Voice imprinted an overriding imperative to seek out the Xel'Nagas' other creations and destroy them ...
At the same time that the Asura were being exiled from the Titan empire, both the Devas and the Eternal Ones had become aware of a threat of cosmic proportions looming over the Serpent Cluster.
It was an entity similar to the Dark Voices, only far larger and more powerful. Entire stars systems were snuffed out by the entity's passage. Its tendrils extended for lightyears. Its sphere of subtle influence went even further, suspected to cover a sizable fraction of the Serpent Cluster.
The sheer amount of psychic energy it had gathered, from the sentient beings it had comsumed, allowed it to warp reality wherever it could establish its presence.
It could physically manifest the wants, fears and delusions of its victims from the darkness of the Void. The victims' bodies were also mutated and melded together into monstrous forms. Even their former homeworlds were slightly remolded to reflect the landscapes within their most common fantasies and nightmares.
Yet all these horrors were not what alarmed the Eternal Ones the most.
Rather, from the latters' observations, the Annihilator degraded its victims's very souls and absorbed the latter's essence into itself. From the Nagas' perspective, this ended all hope of rebirth for the victims. For the first time in eons, the fear of Death returned to the Naga.
Even worse, there were those that willingly gave themselves over to the Annihilator. Through its powerful psionic emanations, it reached out to the minds of select sentient life forms all across a galaxy, drawing them towards itself with promises of fulfilling their deepest or wildest desires.
In a sense such promises would be fulfilled. For the Naga, however, the price was not worth it, and they would try at every turn to undermine the Annihilator's progress, with little success.
The Titans, still distrustful of mystical powers, were mostly not swayed by its calls either. Yet, this would not protect a wandering Titan from getting killed and consumed by the Annihilator or its proxies. Nor would it prevent the other species within the Titan empire from the falling to the Annihilator's influence.
While the Nagas and Devas tried urgently to find ways to stop the Annihilator, one suggestion was brought up frequently among them:
Sending fleets out of the Serpent Cluster to either investigate the Annihilator's origins, warn those in neigbouring galaxies, or simply to prepare an evacuation route should the Annihilator take over the entire Serpent Cluster.
In retrospect, the above suggestion was both dangerous yet timely.
Shortly after a joint Naga-Deva expedition arrived in the Milky Way, they detected a group of Void Terrors entering the galaxy from a similar direction, giving the impression that a detachment of the Annihilator's forces had followed them here.
Later, taking care to avoid direct confrontation, the expedition observed a few differences between said entities and what they remembered about the Annihilator, to the expedition crews' slight relief.
First off, while these Nightmarish Invaders fed on sentient beings to empower themselves just as the Annihilator did, their powers focused only on their victims' fears.
Secondly, their shadowy Void constructs could be neutralized by sufficiently strong light and a particular kind of focused, pure psychic presence.
Now it seemed, all that the expedition needed to do, was to prepare the Milky Way's native inhabitants to confront this new threat …
- Yes, "Nightmarish Invaders" was the original name for the Zerg. Here I am recycling it to refer to a new faction.
- If you think the Silent Chant that exiled the Asura sounds too convenient, just think of Order 66 in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith ;) One galaxy-wide transmission, and an entire class of military elites get done away with …
- And yes, this chapter is influenced by Buddhist mythology :)
OK, that's all the background stuff done.
Have a nice day/night !