Underlord Page 1

Author: Will Wight

Series: Cradle #6

Genres: Fantasy


Iteration 986

Pariana was the last Abidan stationed in this nameless world. Sectors Ninety-Nine and One Hundred had been completely abandoned, but they still clung to Sector Ninety-Eight.

All the sectors from Ninety up were border worlds in the process of stabilization. The Way had a tenuous grasp on 986, so it was strange, lacking many of the fundamental laws that kept other Iterations stable. It was a flat plane, not a planet, with a sky that was a patchwork of a dozen bright colors during the day. At night, it became a sea of black, with ethereal creatures flying slowly overhead instead of stars.

She loved it here. Pariana had been born far from the human standard—she was three meters tall, bald, and golden-skinned, an outcast even in the world of her birth. But the population here, workers trained to operate in border worlds, had been born in Sanctum: the home of the Abidan. They were used to stranger sights than her.

They treated her no differently for her appearance, nor for her power or status. She was only a one-star Titan, not too far above them. So they treated her as one of her own.

That was why her teammates had left Pariana behind, as they were called one by one to fight off other border incursions in the sector. She actually liked it here.

Ten thousand souls called this place home, and they had brought with them a collection of buildings and machines to support colonization. The longer they lived here, the closer the Way would become, until eventually this world would be stable enough to support a long-term population. At that point, it would either become a source of raw materials for the Abidan or be split into multiple fragments that would become new Pioneer worlds.

She had long felt sadness at the thought of that day approaching; the day she would have to turn over this Iteration to someone else. Now, she couldn’t wait to see that day arrive.

It would mean they had all survived.

The Abidan had been without Ozriel for too long. Corrupted fragments were spreading, so it took longer for worlds to stabilize, and even stable worlds could begin to fall apart. The Abidan were stretched beyond their means, leaving Pariana alone in a world that should have been protected by a small team.

Protected from invasion.

Across the multi-colored sky, three massive circles of arcane symbols flashed into existence. Kilometers wide, these formation circles were her specialty. She had been recruited by the Abidan not because of her power, but because of her skill in creating these energy formations.

The golden circles blazed with power, shining like the suns this Iteration didn’t actually have, and Pariana heard a warning siren in her mind.

[Impending spatial violation,] her Presence warned her. [World defense formations have automatically engaged. Sector Control has been notified.]

The sky cracked like glass in between the golden formation-circles, revealing darkness beyond.

Pariana heaved great breaths, her hands trembling. With a thought, she summoned her armor, which flowed over her in seamless white plates. Another thought, and alarms sounded all across the colony.

“Danger!” a mechanized voice shouted. “Danger! Seek shelter immediately!”

She didn’t look back to see the workers dropping tools and hurrying toward the nearest fortified structures. She didn’t need to see armored plates lowering over windows, or buildings sinking down into the earth for protection. She knew the security protocols. They had drilled for this, and everyone in this world was a trained volunteer.

Many of them were also her friends. Now, she was the only one standing between them and the invaders.

In minutes, the colony had sunk entirely beneath the ground, leaving only plains of crops and abandoned machinery. The cracks in the sky had widened until she could see the void beyond.

She cast out her will, taking control over the formation-circles. Even as the one who designed them, she found it difficult; these were complex structures, and controlling them one at a time required great skill and concentration. Controlling three was a point of pride.

As soon as her Presence indicated that someone had slipped through the spatial crack, she fired.

Each of the three circles released a white-hot beam of destructive energy that thundered through the air, focusing on the crack. She had over-fortified this world, both in her zeal to protect it and out of a lack of other things to do; any one of these formations was powerful enough to scour Iteration 986 clean in a single blast.

Three at the same time released a blinding light and a deafening roar. Her Presence automatically protected her eyes and ears, throwing up a barrier around her to protect from the furious explosion of wind that tore up the plains for kilometers, shredding crops, sending a ring of dust blasting into the distance.

As a Titan, she had been trained to produce shields and barriers of all kinds. With her best efforts, she could maybe have defended against one of these attacks. She would have no hope against all three.

She trembled and caught her breath as the dust settled, trying to convince herself that this would be all there was to it. Her defenses had worked. The threat was over.

[Incoming!] her Presence warned her, and Pariana drew on the Way.

A perfect cube of blue power surrounded her, protecting her. It was just in time.

A cloud of black smoke stretched out from the crack in the world, forming into a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth. It bit down on her, large enough to swallow her whole, but had caught a mouthful of her Titan barrier instead.

The teeth scrabbled on the solid edges of the blue cube for a moment, trying to find a purchase.

Then her barrier began to break.

Panic threatened to swallow her from the inside. She had yet to catch a glimpse of the enemy, and they had already shrugged off her best attack and casually broken her defense. This was not a probe or a scout; it was a true assault.

And she was alone.

Pariana reached out for her formations again, turning them onto her enemy, but a spike of pain lanced through her brain and suddenly she could feel the defenses no more.

[Your authority has been overridden,] her Presence told her.

Impossible. She had designed and placed those circles herself. How could someone take them from her this easily?

But even to her eyes, the truth was clear. The golden formations were shot through with red light, and as she watched, they turned to focus on her.

The jaws stopped chewing on her barrier, the column of smoke slithering back to its summoner. Only then did she get a look at her attackers.

Four enemies of the Abidan floated in the air before her.

The first looked to be a standard human with dark brown skin, wearing a helmet with a pane of transparent red glass covering his face. Red light streamed from his fingertips, and its signature matched what had taken over her formations.

The second was an aquatic-adapted human, with slick blue skin, no hair, and gills at the side of her neck. She carried a pair of sickles that looked as though they had been torn off of a giant purple mantis, each of which carried a dark power that suggested they should be sealed away in an Abidan vault. The woman looked at Pariana with clear hatred, as though the Abidan had personally offended her.

She could see nothing of the third figure. He, she, or it was covered in a mechanical suit of synthetic fabric and steel. They carried a rifle, and even without examining it carefully, Pariana could tell the weapon carried far more power than her formations had. It felt like the sealed form of one of the Judges’ weapons; it terrified her.