Synopsis

For millennia, the fierce, agile Aurin had lived simple lives on the forest planet of Arboria, led by a line of queens who communed directly with the ancient Mother Tree. Having never before encountered offworlders, the Aurin were enthralled when the ancient ships of the Exile fleet appeared in their skies. The two groups shared food, water and stories, and quickly formed a lasting friendship. Dreading to bring the wrath of the Dominion down upon their new friends, the Exiles moved on. But the seeds of destruction had already been sown...

1656 AE The Ravaging of Arboria

Synopsis List
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Part One Dark Whirlwind

Arwick vaulted from branch to branch as cinders stung his eyes and his lungs filled with the acrid taste of his planet roasting. Over the din of crackling flames, screams assaulted him from the smoke, some imploring for aid, others venting grief. But his pace never slackened as he leapt without rest through swirling plumes of sooty flame. He had been on the move for days without rest or nourishment. But he hungered only for vengeance.

The ashen clouds were at least traversable, compared to the pools of sludge that were steadily forcing his passage higher. At first he'd taken it for mud, but when one caught flame, he realized it was sap, oceans of it, already congealing to organic mortar. Again he spat. He had known from the first those Exiles with their airships and burning mouthsticks brought only misfortune. For them Arboria burned. And now instead of repelling the invaders, all they feebly offered was joining them in a flight to certain death for nebulous causes. To keep from howling, he tried to douse his rage in recollections of Myala's hair. Did she live? If not, he preferred to perish in this inferno.

Such was his last thought before he reached out to seize a long familiar creeper that suddenly wasn't there. Then he was plummeting through a dusty maelstrom. He fell for an eternity until his face smashed into a steel slab slimy with bubbling rust. There he lay, splayed on the head of a screw wider than the trunk of the most ancient lansa. Peering over the rim, he got his first glimpse of the roaring beast that he had been listening to gorge for days.

Merely looking at it made his head ache. Jagged knobs and screeching axles protruded everywhere from its concave surfaces with no observable purpose, as if its designer despised grace. Far below, hundreds of turrets squirted toxic webs of defoliant everywhere while metal rollers gnashed steadily through greenery older than the moon.

A wave of white-hot madness lashed over him. He ran straight down its surface and, just as gravity dragged him forward, jackknifed between banks of revolving turbines that missed decapitating him by inches. Then his foot caught in a stray hose, swinging him upside down to slam against a spinning cone of spikes, dislocating his shoulder on the ricochet. Something swatted him into a sliding axle to which he clung over an abyss of screaming circuitry until his remaining fingers had no purchase left and sent him careening down through nightmarish cavities of clockwork guts.

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Part Two Guardians of the Forest

For thousands of years, the Aurin had lived simple lives on the forest planet of Arboria. Having developed a symbiotic relationship with the trees of their world, they had evolved into fierce and agile hunters devoted to cultivating Arboria's forests and preserving the creatures that lived within them. Led by an unbroken line of queens who communed directly with the ancient Mother Tree, the Aurin had enjoyed an idyllic existence on the periphery of the Fringe without ever considering the possibility that other worlds would be inhabited by those unlike themselves.

Encountering the ragtag humanoid remnants of Brightland's Rebellion, the Aurin were shocked to discover their long isolation had insulated them from events vaster in scope than they'd imagined. Entranced by the strangeness of their visitors (excepting the Mordesh, whose mere presence made them queasy), the Aurin listened to their florid stories of worlds in conflict with awe and received their gifts of gadgetry and mechanical servants with solemnity.

In return, they taught their visitors agricultural techniques that utterly transformed their methods of food production and provided abundant (and sorely needed) fresh supplies of food and water, seeds, cuttings, soils, and (best of all in the Granok's view) jugs of a fermented beverage as cleansing to the palate as it was debilitating.

Eventually, however, despite many urgings by the Aurin to stay indefinitely, the offworlders announced it was time to move on. They dreaded being caught out by the Dominion fleet, let alone the prospect of bringing its terrible wrath down upon their new friends. After heartfelt farewells and promises on both sides to someday rekindle their ties, the Exiles departed, confident at having done so unnoticed.

Then the Planet Reapers appeared...

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Part Three Destroyer of Worlds

With an impatient snort, Mondo Zax levered his chair up to smirk at the screens depicting the panoramic devastation taking place outside. The harvesting of planet 45658b progressed well. In the space of a mere week three continents had been defoliated, with much of the resulting detritus already compacted into protein modules. The only disappointment was the soil being too rich to support the construction of factories. Arboria's crust was fecund to a depth their deepest drills had yet to ascertain. But they certainly no longer lacked fuel.

"Anomaly detected," an assistant muttered.

Zax scowled. "Dislike those."

The aide tapped a key. A display by Mondo's head flickered to life, revealing a closeup of a native, snarling as it thrashed amidst severed cables and smoldering microcircuitry. It had yet to do any serious damage, but the creature's current rate of progress was carrying it inexorably towards the fuel rod bays.

"Flush the chamber!" Zax seethed, clenching his favorite wrench.

The aide looked uncertain. "Flushing. Leave us at half-power."

"Ahead of schedule already." Zax squinted. The thing was tearing out fistfuls of wires, prying coolant chips from their slots and bashing the panels to smoking ruin. How the pest had managed to worm its way in so deep was anyone's guess. But there was a certain ironic justice to drowning its body after fire had consumed so many of its fellows. Zax was unable to suppress a cackle at the thought.

The aide flicked a switch. The tank began to fill with viscous black fluid. The creature glared down at the rising ooze, then with a snarl dove in headfirst. Pathetic vermin. Perhaps he would have one scooped to run experi –

"Auxiliary crankshaft disabled," the aide muttered.

"Impossible!" Zax squealed, eyes narrowing. "Kill it!"

Fumbling, the aide hit another switch. The view shifted just in time for Zax to see the ventral fuel cap on the Reaper's underbelly pop off, followed by gushing oceans of fluid, the drenched intruder flailing in its wake. Its tiny figure shot improbably sideways from the fountain, grasped a charred branch, somersaulted between retaliatory volleys from the Reaper's bow-turrets, and was gone.

"Find it!" Zax bellowed. "I want its head on a -- "

Banks of warning lights glimmered, accompanied by a choir of alarms. Even as Mondo began sputtering commands, the entire cockpit shuddered. And Zax found himself screaming with fury as the deck beneath him began to tilt.