Synopsis

Under Dominus’ long reign, the Cassians evolved into a powerful interstellar empire, but the Mechari deemed warriors of a more savage aspect were required. After surveying thousands of worlds, they chanced upon the ideal species: the Draken of planet Mikros, ferocious, brutal warriors whose entire culture revolved around tests of strength and martial prowess. So it was that Azrion, son of Dominus, came to Mikros to challenge the Drakens’ Supreme Clanlord to trial by combat. And soon the two faced one another in a duel to the death...

352 AE Conquest of the Draken

Synopsis List
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Part One An Unlikely Challenge

Emperor Azrion stood before the High Clanlord, his small honor guard dwarfed on all sides by the thousands of Draken curious to behold the shiny visitors from the stars.

Zhur sat, contemptuously regarding them. He had ceased listening to their empty genuflections long ago. He felt no respect for these soft hornless maggots in their bright hard shells and weapons that killed from afar.

Just as he was just opening his mouth to order the slaughter of these insolent trespassers, Azrion's voice rang out, echoing across the vast plain in the Drakens' age-old tongue: "By the sacred ways of Mikros, I, Azrion, son of Dominus the Half-Blood, challenge you, Clanlord Zhur, here and now for command of both our races, and all the lives they comprise."

Grunts of outrage and barks of laughter rippled throughout the throng, reaching Zhur's ears as a steady patter of barely suppressed bloodlust.

As judging from his fluency in the One Tongue the invader was doubtless aware, his challenge meant combat to the death. But Zhur sensed no fear, only tightly coiled certainty. His poise was as flawless as any foe that Zhur had ever faced, and he had slain many.

"By the old ways let it be done," Zhur rumbled.

Zhur himself led the way to the Fields of Kazor. Each stripped to the waist and was given a blade forged in the fires of Mount Crucible. Their gazes locked. A hush fell over the massive arena. Zhur licked his lip, tasting the familiar coppery tang of glory to come.

Then he launched forward, swinging.

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Part Two The Search for Perfect Killers

Despite their unbroken run of military victories in the three centuries since the Dominion's founding, the Mechari determined a need for new blood. While tactically ingenious, the Cassians lacked a certain zeal for carnage that the Mechari's most recent battle metrics unanimously agreed would efficiently bring upstart races to heel. Shock troops of a more savage aspect were required.

After meticulously studying thousands of species to analyze their combat effectiveness, the Mechari had advised Azrion, the reigning Luminai emperor and son of Dominus Half-Blood, that the savage Draken of the volcanic planet Mikros would be ideal. But the loyalty of these ferocious hunters could not be won through parley.

The Mechari disliked leaving critical matters to chance. Prior to landing on Mikros in 344 AE, they had extensively studied and simulated the most probable fighting styles of the High Clanlord. Exhaustively they analyzed his techniques: his tendency to go for the carotid, his signature hamstring, and his insatiable fondness for decapitations. Then they devoted their arts to probing them for weakness and designing countermeasures. They isolated his vulnerabilities: the decades old ankle injury that had never healed, his mortal dread of infection, and the brittle base of his left horn. Then they systematically devised methods of exploiting them.

Azrion had been bred and trained his whole life for this bout. Races with a culture based around honor, the Mechari had instructed them, were predictable prey, easy to manipulate. But the more Azrion studied Zhur, the more convinced he became that the Mechari were wrong. He improvised. He adapted. He used cunning when least expected and retaliated with reserves undreamed of. He was a perfect fighter, and the Mechari for all their own perfection were unable to see it. Without fail, Azrion told them what they wanted to hear. But inwardly he vowed that this would be a fair contest, free of persiflage. His only hope in defeating Draken honor was not to disdain it but adopt it. And become its master.

Within hours of the Cassians' arrival, the pair reached the sacred dueling ground just outside the Draken capital of Red River. There they would decide by blood the fate of two empires and thousands of worlds.

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Part Three The Price of Defeat

The fight was terrible to behold. No duel fought before or since was fiercer or more brutal. Their blades wove a deadly dance too fast for the eye to follow. Soon the bodies of both combatants were streaming with blood.

Many times over did those who watched believe the contest done and were many times over proven wrong. As long as they lived, none forgot a moment.

By the close of the tenth hour, both combatants were bleeding from dozens of wounds and barely able to stand.

During the final exchange, a thunderous strike by Azrion shattered Zhur's blade. Azrion wrenched Zhur's horn from his skull with a deafening crack that was still reverberating across the caldera when he plunged it into the Clanlord's chest. Zhur crumpled to his knees. His expression remained astonished when Azrion hacked off his head, displayed it before the now silent throng, and flung it into their midst.

In expanding concentric rings, the Draken knelt. Azrion's voice rang out across the obsidian slopes: "Draken of Mikros! Welcome to the Dominion."