Xartasia is still out there somewhere, with the Devourers by her side and some design that Maeve can only guess at. She has pled their case, but the Alliance isn’t listening to rumors and ghost stories of monsters more than a hundred years gone. So it falls to Maeve, Logan and the crew of the Blue Phoenix to stop Xartasia. But how can they stop the unfolding of a plan they know nothing about?
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 at 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 that you were out there, commander?” she asked. “With your men? 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 again onto Dhozo’s knotted, muscular body. The Devourer bared his wide mouthful of sharp white teeth.
“My men 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.”
It was not 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 men, aerad. I don’t trust you.”
Xartasia shrugged at his reflection. She did not trust Dhozo and his Devourers, either. Xartasia returned her attention to the scene outside. She had to squint. The Oslain’ii maintained a safe distance from the silvery oblong enormity of Koji Far-Orbit Station 144. Another gout of searing white flame flashed from one of the station’s large airlocks. The thick 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 now remained. Another Devourer stood on the station’s humped back. Xartasia knew the aliens’ ugly names but she could not tell them apart, not at this distance. The Devourer fired a pair of red 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. The hooks tore through the canopy as the Devourer pulled the fighter down. The Devourers required metal and minerals, but what they craved was meat.
“You truly deserve your name,” Xartasia said quietly.
Her words were not meant for Dhozo, but his smoky black nanites heard her and sent the audio signal straight to the monstrous commander’s brain. “Devourers?” Dhozo filled the air 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! What the hells happened to the airlocks?” The frightened voice on the com was distorted. Men and women 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 did not look at the Arcadian.
Somewhere 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 appeared small, but only from a 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 was not 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 of laser into that thing–!”
“–eating them! Oh God, they’re eating them!” It might have been the static, but Xartasia thought that she could hear the thick wet sounds of tearing flesh. The screaming did not stop.
“Any vessel… need assistance. Help us! Oslain’ii, do you read me? Please dock on level two! We have to evacuate! Get to level two–!”
Xartasia stepped into the cockpit and pressed a switch on a console with one slender white hand. The terrified cries finally went silent.
“Now we feed,” said Dhozo.
“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 eyes remained fixed on the twisting, shattering 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 that Devourers is not your name,” she asked at last. “Or not your only name, much as mine has become Xartasia. As you call the Arcadians by their old names, aerads. What do the Devourers call themselves?”
Dhozo finally turned away from the devastation to look at Xartasia. He towered over the Arcadian and had to bend at the thick waist to avoid hitting his slick, bald black head on the ceiling. Dhozo bared his multitude of long fangs again.
“Us? We are Glorious.”
Published 01.02.2014 by Loose Leaf Stories