Duaal Sinnay may have banished Xartasia and the Devourers from Prianus, but they’re not gone. Maeve has gone to warn the Central World Alliance, but they have no interest in fairy tales and stories of monsters. So when rumors start of a mysterious White Queen promising the return of Arcadia, the Alliance takes no notice.
So it falls to the crew of the Blue Phoenix to discover what is happening. Maeve has little doubt that Xartasia is this White Queen, but if that’s true, then how can Devourers help her to bring back the kingdom that they themselves destroyed a century ago? Whatever the answer, it promises nothing good for the rest of the galaxy…
Hammer of Time is the third and final book of the Reforged Trilogy.
Chapter 1: Glorious
“Each new dawn is born of red fire.”
– Titania Cavainna (233 PA)
Xartasia stood in front of the window, her arms folded into her white sleeves. Her feathered wings moved restlessly and filled the Oslain’ii’s small observation deck with a faint rustling sound.
“Do you not wish you were out there, commander?” she asked. “With your soldiers? Surely you hunger.”
Xartasia could see his reflection in the smoothly curved glass. The oil-slick black nanite armor curled up from his skin, rippling in the ship’s recycled air like smoke and momentarily obscuring his shape. A moment later, the swarm of microscopic machines settled once more onto Dhozo’s knotted, hugely muscular body. The Devourer bared his wide mouthful of sharp white teeth.
“My soldiers will bring the best of the kill to me when it’s done,” the alien commander rasped. “They know better than to lie to me.”
That wasn’t really his voice, Xartasia knew. Dhozo’s own voice was that deep growl almost outside hearing that sounded like the rumble of thunder. The snapping, grating voice was the Devourer’s nanite swarm computer translating his words.
“Why not take it for yourself?” she asked.
“I trust my people, aerad. I don’t trust you.”
Xartasia shrugged at his reflection. She didn’t trust Dhozo and his Devourers, either.
Xartasia returned her attention to the scene outside. She had to squint to see much of anything. The Oslain’ii maintained a safe distance from the silvery oblong enormity of Koji Far-Orbit Station 144. Another gout of searing, blinding white flame flashed from one of the station’s large airlocks. The huge fibersteel door folded across the middle like a discarded mycolar wrapper, crumpled and then vanished, yanked inside by an unseen force. Unseen, but not unknown. Dhozo had dispatched seven Devourers to take the station run and protected by over a thousand Alliance personnel.
KFO Station 144 was tearing in half. Of the twelve starfighters that protected the installation, only two remained. Another Devourer crested the station’s humped back. Xartasia knew the aliens’ names, but she couldn’t tell them apart, not at this distance.
The Devourer fired a pair of particle beams that seared black lines of char across one of the fighter’s engines. The thruster flared and then went dark. A long barbed chain as thick as Xartasia’s waist lashed out from the Devourer and wrapped around the cockpit before the fighter could spiral further into the void. Hooks tore through the canopy as the Devourer pulled the fighter down. They required metal and minerals, but what the Devourers truly craved was meat.
“You have earned your name,” Xartasia said quietly.
Her words weren’t meant for Dhozo, but his smoky black cloud of nanites heard her and sent the audio signal straight to the huge commander’s brain.
“Devourers?” Dhozo filled the observation deck with a grating sound like scraping metal. He was laughing. “That’s not our name.”
A burst of static echoed from the direction of Oslain’ii’s cockpit and controls.
“Sections eight through twelve have lost pressure!” cried a voice in Aver. “What the hells happened to the airlocks?”
The frightened voice on the com was distorted. Security guards and researchers shouted over the Alliance frequencies.
“Something’s cutting through the bulkhead!”
“I can’t raise operations–”
“Where’s the fire? The core is full of smoke, but I can’t see any fire. Fire suppression–”
“There’s something in the smoke!”
Screams echoed through the Oslain’ii.
“You are ensuring that those will not be received, yes?” Xartasia asked. “Jamming them?”
Dhozo nodded. He didn’t look at the Arcadian.
Somewhere deep inside the Alliance outpost, a vital support gave way. The station’s blunt nose twisted and tore, collapsing in on itself. Bulkheads blackened as though burned and crumbled. A long-limbed shadow moved through KFO Station 144. It seemed small, but only from this distance. The Devourer was almost twice Xartasia’s height, she knew, and five times her weight.
Hooked black tendrils tore through the ruined metal that used to protect the space station. The flames guttered and died as their oxygen vented into space. But even the swiftly freezing gas wasn’t wasted. Barbed nanite nets flared out like wings from the indistinct black shape of the Devourer and raked through the pale cloud of frozen gas.
“Calling any CWAAF forces, please respond. Please!”
The voices from the Oslain’ii’s cockpit overlapped and blurred together.
“–But we’ll breach the hull!”
“Those things are tearing right through! Return fire!”
“I’ve put two batteries worth of laser into that thing–!”
“–eating them! Oh God, they’re eating them!”
Perhaps it was the static, but Xartasia thought that she could hear the thick wet sounds of tearing flesh. The screaming didn’t stop.
“Any vessel… we need assistance. Help us! Oslain’ii, do you read me? Are you out there? Please dock on level two! We have to evacuate! Get to level two–!”
Xartasia stepped into the cockpit and flipped a switch on one console with a slender white-gloved hand. The terrified cries finally went silent.
“Now we feed,” Dhozo said.
“And then?” Xartasia asked.
“We will build your ships, little aerad. We have made our deal. The station should have metal and minerals enough to begin.”
Dhozo’s gaze remained fixed on the twisting, shattering Alliance space station. One of the remaining portholes was smeared in red and stared back at the Oslain’ii like a bloodshot eye. The Devourers were monsters. But Xartasia would make her alliance with them worth the blood and horrors to come. For her people, for her fallen kingdom.
All would be as it should have been.
“You said Devourers is not your name,” Xartasia said at last. “Or not your only name, at least, like I have adopted Xartasia. And as you call the Arcadians by their old names, aerads. So what do the Devourers call themselves?”
Dhozo finally turned away from the devastation outside to regard the fairy. He towered over her and had to bend at the waist to avoid hitting his slick, bald head on the ship’s fibersteel ceiling. Dhozo bared his multitude of long fangs again.
“Us? We are the Glorious.”
Published 01.02.2014 by Loose Leaf Stories